Signs of the Times (3/2/12)

Senate Rejects Effort to Roll Back Birth Control Rule

The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate today narrowly rejected an amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., to circumvent a controversial Obama administration rule requiring employers to provide contraceptives. The Obama rule has provoked a passionate election year debate about the line between religious freedom and women’s health. The 51-48 vote to table the amendment to a transportation bill fell largely on party lines. Just one Republican — retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine — voted with Democrats against the Blunt amendment. Three Democrats voted with Republicans to support the amendment. Blunt’s amendment would have exempted insurers from having to cover contraception if it violates an employer’s religious beliefs. Vice President Biden admitted Thursday that the Obama administration “screwed up” the first iteration of the contraception mandate that has enraged Catholics and evangelical voters.

Va. Senate OKs External Ultrasound before Abortion

Virginia’s Senate has approved modified legislation to require an external ultrasound before an abortion. The initial proposal had sought to mandate an internal sonogram, which opponents argued was coercive, medically unnecessary and invasive. Amid a public outcry last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, withdrew his initial support for the invasive procedure and pushed for the external sonogram. Tuesday’s vote “marked a victory for anti-abortion advocates and the conservative wing of the Republican Party, which has been frustrated in recent days with the scuttling of bills aimed at restricting access, funding and length of time a woman may access abortion services,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Anti-Christian Bigotry on ABC

A pro-family organization says there’s good and bad news when it comes to a new TV show that debuts this weekend on ABC. “They have reworded the title. It was an inappropriate word in there. ‘Belles’ was swapped out for another ‘B’ word. They have improved the title, but as far as the program, it’s going to be a Christian-bashing program,” explains Monica Cole, director of the American Family Association’s  OneMillionMoms.com. “So we’re asking moms to contact ABC and their parent company, the Walt Disney Company, and let them know that we aren’t going to stand for it. We’re going protest this particular show.” One character says, “I feel certain that the good Lord would like me to have a new fur coat. God often speaks to me through Christian Dior.” This is reportedly among the cleanest clips from Good Christian Belles, a new television program premiering this Sunday night.

  • The networks have been subtly bashing Christianity for years, but now it’s becoming more and more blatant

Rick Warren says Christians, Muslims Worship Same God

A Messianic Jewish leader says it’s a tragedy that mega-church pastor Rick Warren appears to be ignoring the Great Commission as he reaches out to Muslims in southern California. The Orange County Register reports that Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, is part of an effort called “King’s Way” that is attempting to build a bridge between evangelical Christians and Muslims. According to that report, Warren wants to heal divisions by partnering with area mosques through a proposed set of principles that includes acknowledging that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

  • Rick Warren is the New World Order’s poster boy who is willing to sellout Christianity for his own ambitions

‘Trespass Bill’ Will Make Many Protests Illegal

The House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday that outlaws protests in instances where some government officials are nearby, whether or not you even know it. The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of H.R. 347 late Monday, a bill which is being dubbed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. Under the act, the government is also given the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest anywhere in the country. The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function if Secret Service is on the scene. The law stretches the mandate to include not just the White House, but any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.” Those grounds are considered any area where someone — whether it’s President Obama, Senator Santorum or Governor Romney — will be temporarily visiting, whether or not the public is even made aware beforehand.

  • Without the fanfare of major legislation, the Obama administration is forging ahead with adding control measures to minor bills as well as executive orders and departmental regulations. Big Brother is sneaking in the back door.

States Consider Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

Getting welfare and food stamps may become tougher as 23 states around the USA seek to adopt stricter laws that would require public aid recipients to take drug tests. Florida law now requires all aid applicants to be drug tested while Arizona and Missouri require testing for anyone they “reasonably” suspect of illegal drug use. Resistance is likely to be heated, and the American Civil Liberties Union has already filed a challenge in Florida. Those who pass would be reimbursed for the test, which costs between $8 and $12, while those who fail would have to get clean and reapply.

  • If you have enough money to buy drugs, then you don’t need – and shouldn’t receive –  public assistance

U.S. exported more gasoline than imported last year

For the first time since 1949, the United States exported more gasoline, heating oil and diesel fuel last year than it imported, the Energy Department reported Thursday. Imports of crude oil and related products fell 11% last year, reaching a level not seen since 1995. Crude oil inventories swelled by 4.2 million barrels last week, more than four times what analysts expected. The U.S. is still a net importer of crude oil.

Economic News

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to the lowest point in four years. Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 351,000. Applications have fallen steadily since October for a net 14.6% reduction.

Newsmax reports that since the recession officially ended in June, 2009, the economy added just 46,600 jobs per month through December, but it takes about 150,000 jobs per month just to employ all the young people entering the labor market. Meanwhile, U.S. household income fell by 3.2% during the recession and has dropped an additional 6.7% since.

Consumer confidence rose sharply in February, a sign that fast-rising prices for gasoline aren’t yet scaring U.S. consumers and taking the energy out of the economy’s recovery. The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index jumped to 70.8 from 61.5 in January. Prior to the recession, the index stood at 102 and sunk to a low of 40.

U.S. consumers are back to their old tricks… In December 2011, total consumer debt rose by around 9.3% to $2.498 trillion, according to the latest Federal Reserve numbers. That’s the highest point in a decade. Both revolving debt (credit cards) and nonrevolving debt (which includes cars and school loans) increased, 4.1% and 11.8%, respectively.

  • The trend is upward once again, bad news for our debt-ridden economy

Greece

Greece’s Parliament late on Tuesday approved new cuts in public sector pensions and government spending required to secure a second package of international rescue loans. Lawmakers voted 202-80 in favor of cutbacks worth a total $4.31 billion and aimed at bringing the 2012 budget back in line with targets. Greece is obliged to adopt a series of austerity measures and reforms before it can receive any funds from its new $174 billion package of rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. The rescue package is Greece’s second in less than two years. But more than two years of harsh austerity implemented to secure the rescue funds have taken a hefty toll on the recession-bound Greek economy, with businesses closing in the tens of thousands and unemployment at a record high 21%.

  • Debt-laden bailouts only postpone the inevitable collapse, making the final demise even worse

France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy took refuge from a crowd of several hundred angry protesters in a cafe Thursday, as riot police swarmed in to protect him while he campaigned in the country’s southwest Basque country. Riot police surrounded the Bar du Palais in central Bayonne where Sarkozy stayed for about an hour to get away from the protesters — some of them Basque nationalists, others carrying posters of rival Socialist candidate Francois Hollande. The quick reaction of riot police underscored how serious — and strange — the siege of a world leader was. While he was inside, some of the protesters outside threw eggs toward the barrier of riot police guarding the cafe.

North Korea

A senior North Korean nuclear negotiator is heading to New York next week on the heels of a breakthrough nuclear agreement with the United States. Word of Ri Yong Ho’s visit follows announcements in both capitals Wednesday of an agreement calling for the U.S. to provide food aid in exchange for a suspension of uranium enrichment and a moratorium on nuclear and long-range-missile tests by North Korea. The agreement, announced two months after the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il, raises hopes of a major easing in nuclear tensions under his son and successor, Kim Jong Un. It’s seen as a preliminary but necessary step to restarting broader six-nation disarmament negotiations that North Korea abandoned in 2009.

Middle East

Following a round of “sermons” claiming that Jewish people were going to launch an attempt to take over the Al-Aqsa mosque, a mob of Palestinians seized control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, stoning tourists and the police who were attempting to restore order. Palestinian incitement against the nation of Israel has dramatically escalated even beyond its normal level of hatred and bigotry in recent days. “And yet the Obama Administration continues to push Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu to make concessions to the same Palestinians who spread scandalous lies about the Jewish people and continue to insist that Israel has no right to exist,” reports the Jerusalem Prayer Team.

Egypt

Seven Americans on trial over charges their pro-democracy groups fomented unrest flew out of Egypt Thursday after the U.S. posted nearly $5 million in bail. Their departure eased a deep diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Egypt that had been building for two months, following a crackdown on pro-democracy and human rights groups by the Egyptian government. Though the seven Americans were safely on their way home, Washington indicated that its anger over the affair has not abated. As the crisis unfolded over the past two months, furious officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, warned the $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic assistance slated for Egypt this year was in jeopardy.

Syria

The Syrian National Council, which has been opposing the regime of Bashar Assad with non-violent means, said Thursday that it was abandoning that stance and will aid the flow of weapons to revolutionaries. The announcement from the Paris-based group came as rebels retreated Thursday from a battered area of Homs following a punishing, month-long military assault.After a punishing, month-long military siege, Syrian rebels made what they called a “tactical retreat” Thursday from a key district in Homs, saying that they were running low on weapons and that the humanitarian conditions were unbearable.

Britain’s foreign secretary says the U.K. is closing its embassy in Syria and withdrawing all diplomatic staff amid a worsening security situation in the country. Also Thursday, Syria’s main opposition group said it has formed a “military bureau” to organize and unify the armed resistance to President Assad. An armed insurgency comprised largely of defectors from the military has developed to fight the regime.

Iran

Though it received little attention in the news, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report on Iran’s nuclear program revealed the shocking news that Iran’s output of highly enriched uranium has increased by some 50% just since last fall! They are rapidly increasing their production, and at the same time moving more and more of their centrifuges into the super-hardened underground facility at Fordow.

Iranians head to the polls Friday in a parliamentary election marking the first nationwide balloting since a disputed vote triggered massive protests nearly three years ago. About 3,400 candidates are vying for 290 seats in the parliamentary election. Days before the vote, campaigning intensified as workers distributed leaflets and plastered candidate posters along tree-lined streets in Tehran. In Iran, elections are heralded by the revolutionary regime as a popular demonstration that it enjoys the overwhelming support of the population. But the poll marks the first time Iranians are voting since allegations of rigging in the 2009 elections triggered mass street protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election.

Pakistan

According to a Pakistani Christian leader who had to flee the country for his life, the miseries of Christians in Pakistan are enormous and visible at every level in a society that is dominated by the religion of Islam in the constitutional, political, judicial, social, cultural and governmental systems, the ASSIST News Service reports. Under the system of Islamic sharia law, Christians “do not have equal political and socio-economic status or equal opportunities,” says Pastor Baber George. “The Christians are hated at the worst level. … The Muslim fundamentalists are after them to search and kill them whenever they can find them.” George added that ” The Christians are treated inhumanely, socially degraded, and of the lowest community. … Even police authorities are chasing the Christian leaders. Those Christian religious ministers and human-rights activists who show special concern to the Christian victims, their life and properties, families and interests are under great danger.”

Tunisia

Post-revolution Tunisia is moving in an increasingly Islamist direction with a draft constitution that denotes sharia as “the principal source of legislation”. Popular List, a party in coalition with the main Islamist party Ennahda, which took the largest share of the vote in the elections for the National Constituent Assembly in October, has been tasked with drawing up the country’s new constitution. On 20 February, it announced that in its draft, Islam is called “the principal source of legislation” The draft says: Using Islamic sharia as a principal source of legislation will guarantee freedom, justice, social equality, consultation, human rights and the dignity of all its people, men and women. The tenets of sharia are however incompatible with Western understanding of many of these concepts, as evidenced in other countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, that are based on Islamic principles and completely subjugate women among other human rights abuses.

Turkey

A remote-controlled bomb mounted on a motorcycle exploded in Turkey’s largest city Thursday, wounding 15 police officers and one civilian. The blast occurred in an area of Istanbul close to the office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, where one policeman had been killed in a bomb attack last year. Thursday’s attack wrecked a police bus and nearby vehicles. There was no claim of responsibility, but Kurdish rebels and Islamic militants are active in Istanbul.

Serbia

European Union leaders formally made Serbia a candidate for membership in the bloc, in a remarkable turnaround for a country considered a pariah just over a decade ago. Serbia spent much of the 1990s ostracized and isolated from the EU after its then-strongman Slobodan Milosevic started the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. In 1999, NATO bombed Serbia to prevent a crackdown on ethnic Albanians. Serbia had been widely expected to get EU candidacy in December after it captured two top war crimes suspects, but was disappointed when Germany delayed the move, saying it wanted to see more progress in talks with Kosovo.

Mexico

A brazen gunpoint robbery of 22 tourists in Puerto Vallarta last week and an updated U.S. government travel warning have thrust Mexico travel safety back into the spotlight. The back-to-back events threaten to hurt spring-break bookings just as tourism businesses were optimistic that, after several rough years due to the weak economy, swine flu and drug-related violence, this would be the year Mexico rebounded. Instead, the fallout has begun. On Feb. 23, 22 Carnival Cruise Lines passengers on a bus tour were robbed by a gunman. Carnival responded by canceling the tour indefinitely, and some industry watchers wonder if the company might stop visits to the Pacific Coast city of Puerto Vallarta entirely. A Tempe travel agency canceled its annual spring-break bus trips to Rocky Point. The State Department warning urges travelers to avoid several areas in Mexico, especially near the U.S. border, and to use caution when traveling to select tourist destinations, including the coastal town of Rocky Point, a hot spot for college students because it is within easy driving distance of Tucson and Phoenix.

Weather

A late-winter tornado outbreak that pounded seven states Wednesday lashed the country music resort city of Branson, Mo., ripped into towns in other states and killed at least 12 people. Communities in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee felt the impact of storms that spawned at least 20 tornadoes. Six people died in Illinois, three in Missouri and three in Tennessee. More violent weather could come Thursday and Friday in parts of the central and southern USA. The tornado that blasted Harrisburg in southern Illinois, killing six, was an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage. Scientists said it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph.

Late winter storms forced school and road closures from Seattle to upstate New York on Wednesday, but the snow was most welcomed in California as it suffers through one of the driest winters in history. The blast from the Gulf of Alaska was expected to bring up to 5 feet of snow at the highest elevations of the northern Sierra Nevada, delighting skiers and the 28 million Californians who depend on snowmelt to meet their water needs. The storm that began in earnest just after midnight was supposed to keep hammering the Lake Tahoe area, the northeast part of the state and the counties surrounding Yosemite National Park well into Thursday.

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