Signs of the Times (3/17/12)

Arizona Abortion Bill Stirs Debate on Fetal Pain

Debate surrounding this year’s battle over abortion-restriction legislation at the Arizona Legislature — and in at least two other states — has come down to a question of pain. Can a fetus feel pain, and at what gestational age does that ability develop? Abortion opponents believe it happens at 20 weeks. Abortion-rights supporters vehemently disagree. Both sides cite physicians who agree with them. Both sides cite medical research that they say scientifically proves their stance. But the science takes them only so far. Beyond that, it still comes down to a battle of beliefs. In the past 10 years, about a dozen state legislatures have debated and passed laws requiring that women seeking abortions be told that the fetus feels pain. In 2010, Nebraska was the first to ban abortions after 20 weeks based on the theory of fetal pain. Last year, Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma passed similar laws. This year, Arizona, Michigan and Georgia are considering bans.

  • The Bible says in many places, “the life is in the blood.” Science has shown blood is formed after 6 days.

Supreme Court to Consider ‘Limiting Principle’ of Obamacare

Can Congress require Americans to buy broccoli? How about gym memberships? Or Chevy Volts? Those or similar questions are likely to be posed to the Supreme Court later this month as it considers whether requiring Americans to buy health insurance is a law with a “limiting principle.” If President Obama’s health care law — his landmark legislative achievement — is to withstand legal challenge, government lawyers must convince a majority of justices that the health care marketplace is unique. By not buying insurance, their argument goes, millions of Americans transfer $43 billion in health care costs to others in the form of higher premiums. In dozens of briefs challenging just that argument, however, opponents of the law contend that the “minimum coverage requirement” — more commonly known as the individual mandate — would set a precedent that could apply to vitamin supplements, daily newspapers or kidney donations.

  • Give the federal government an inch and they take a mile. No such thing as a ‘limiting’ principle for them

Initial Impact of Obamacare More Negative than Positive

Two years after President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, some provisions have taken effect, while others still have two years to wait. In a recent poll by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, two in three Americans said they have not been affected by the law yet. Only 14% said they have benefited; 21% said they have been affected negatively. A study by Aon Hewitt estimates that the law raised costs by an average of 1.5% in 2011. Projection for 2012: 0.6%. Among the enacted provisions:

  • People uninsured for at least six months can join a new federal or state insurance plan. Children with pre-existing conditions must be covered.
  • Insurers cannot impose lifetime dollar limits on essential benefits, such as hospital services. More than 20,000 people hit their lifetime limits in 2009.
  • All new health plans must provide certain preventive services, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, without deductibles or co-payments. This affected about 54 million people in 2011.
  • About 2.5 million young adults without private insurance can stay on their parents’ plans until they turn 26.
  • Employers are eligible for federal assistance to provide health coverage to early retirees not yet eligible for Medicare. States are eligible for federal aid to cover certain additional low-income individuals and families.
  • Up to 4 million small businesses are eligible for federal tax credits if they offer insurance coverage to their workers.

Millions Could Receive Insurance Rebates in 2012

Millions of Americans stand to receive insurance company rebates by the end of the summer, as a result of a new requirement in the federal health care overhaul that strictly governs how insurers spend their cash.  Based on rules that were issued at the end of last year, Washington will require insurers to spend between 80 and 85 percent of premium dollars on medical care. Insurance companies that violate the rule will be required to effectively refund their customers. The insurance industry, along with a slew of state officials, have been fighting the policy. But while insurers say the rules could jeopardize plans across the country, customers are nevertheless expected to receive a rebate windfall starting this year. Preliminary estimates indicate as many as 9 million Americans could receive up to $1.4 billion in rebates. That’s an average of roughly $160 a person, though the amounts are likely to vary.

Conviction Shows Online Actions Have Consequences

The conviction of ex-Rutgers student Dharun Ravi sends a message to social media users that actions and words played out across the Web could lead to a prison sentence, legal and digital experts say. Ravi, convicted of invasion of privacy and other charges for electronically spying on his freshman roommate during a gay encounter, could face up to 10 years in prison in a case likely to have lasting implications on how people use the internet. The jury looked not only at Ravi’s use of the webcam to spy on his roommate but at the Twitter messages he sent to determine his intent — a key factor in deciding whether he committed a bias crime. The roommate, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide in September 2010, days after he discovered Ravi had secretly set up his laptop webcam to record him. John Verdi, general counsel at the Electronic Public Information Center, said the case means people “aren’t going to be exempt from liability just because they are hiding behind a Twitter handle.”

Big Pharma Pushes Drug to ‘Cure Racism’

As part of the headlong rush towards a Brave New World society, the establishment is feverishly pushing pharmaceutical drugs that chemically castrate an individual’s ‘aberrant thoughts’, with the latest proposal claiming that people can be given a drug to “cure” racism. A study conducted by Oxford University experimental psychologist Dr Sylvia Terbeck into the heart disease drug Propranolol, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, found that the drug “may have the unusual side-effect of combating racism.” “Volunteers given the beta-blocker, used to treat chest pains and lower heart rates, scored lower on a standard psychological test of “implicit” racist attitudes,” reports the Telegraph. “They appeared to be less racially prejudiced at a subconscious level than another group treated with a “dummy” placebo pill.”

  • The move toward ‘transhumanism’ (i.e. enabling humans to attain ‘evolution 2.0) is well underway because the elitist New World Order seeks to develop improved methodologies of controlling the masses while enhancing their own capabilities. The dangers, both physical and societal, are enormous.

Study: Faith, Family Most Important to Reduce Race-Based Achievement Gap

According to a new study, the race-based achievement gap — the statistic that whites, on average, do better in school than blacks and Latinos — is greatly reduced among blacks and Latinos who have high levels of religious participation, personal religiosity and parental involvement, the Christian Post reports. William Jeynes, professor of education at California State University and author of the study, said the most important factor that correlated with blacks and Latinos closing the achievement gap with whites was religion — being actively involved in a religious institution and placing a high personal importance on faith. A stable family — either a two-parent home or a high rate of parental involvement in the student’s education — was the second most important factor in narrowing the gap. Jeynes found that existing programs designed to reduce the achievement gap only had a small, insubstantial impact. “In a public school setting, we should not proselytize, but if a child already has [a high level of religiosity], why not give a gesture of encouragement,” Jeynes said. “Faith is excluded from any such conversation and I really believe that’s hurting kids.”

‘Cash Mobs’ Descend on Small Businesses

Organized groups of do-gooders — “cash mobs,” modeled after public-spectacle “flash mobs” — are descending upon small businesses, snapping up merchandise and rallying at pubs afterward to celebrate their pro-community mission. The shopping sprees have taken place in dozens of cities from San Diego to Buffalo. The packs organize on platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, where they get details on where and when a strike will occur. The altruistic acts provide much-welcomed economic and emotional support for small-business owners

Economic News

After a 31-cent jump in the past month, regular gasoline averages $3.82 nationwide. Barring a major disruption in supplies from the Middle East, pump prices are expected to top out at about $4 nationally by Memorial Day weekend — about where they reached in 2011 and below July 2008’s record $4.08. Nearly one-third of the nation’s drivers now fork out $4 or more for a gallon of gasoline.

The consumer price index rose 0.4% in February, the biggest gain in 10 months, driven by a 6% spike gain in energy costs. However, the core inflation measure that excludes energy and food prices rose just 0.1%.

Pennsylvania’s cap­ital city, Har­ris­burg, is defaulting on $5.3 mil­lion of debt pay­ments. So far in 2012, there have been 21 defaults on muni debt totaling $978 mil­lion, according to Richard Lehmann, pub­lisher of Dis­tressed Debt Secu­ri­ties Newsletter, who expects the pace of defaults to increase. During the same period in 2011, there were 28 defaults totaling $522 mil­lion, while the full-year total was a whop­ping $25.2 bil­lion

Full-time employ­ment con­tinues to fall like a rock. Labor sta­tis­tics don’t report that the majority of new jobs “cre­ated” are part-time jobs without ben­e­fits. Exac­er­bating the problem is the fact that part-time jobs are often little more than minimum-wage jobs. The percent of employed people working full-time fell to 64% last week, down from over 66% last August.

Afghanistan

President Hamid Karzai on Thursday demanded NATO troops pull out of rural areas like the one where a U.S. soldier killed sixteen civilians. However, he has no authority to make such a move and the U.S. military maintains the village outposts are critical to keeping the Taliban out of cleared areas. The soldier, who has not been named, was flown to a U.S. military facility in Kuwait. The Taliban on Thursday said it was suspending talks with the United States, though such talks were preliminary and the Taliban has thus far refused a main demand that it recognize the Karzai government for talks to proceed further.

Iran

The US Navy is moving additional minesweeping ships and aircraft into the Persian Gulf in a highly visible reinforcement of US President Barack Obama’s warning on Wednesday that the time remaining for a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran’s renegade nuclear program is fast running out. The minesweepers will enhance the Pentagon’s ability to counter one of Iran’s most effective weapons, which would be especially dangerous in the shallow waters of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, through which a large amount of the world’s daily oil supply flows. The British and French navies also maintain minesweepers in the Gulf, along with a handful of ships from the Arab countries. Meanwhile, the efforts to confront Iran using economic and diplomatic sanctions also continued on Thursday, with the Belgian based SWIFT system governing bank transfers announcing that it would no longer facilitate business with Iranian banks, effectively cutting them off from international financial transactions.

Iran’s oil exports will probably decline by 50 percent when European sanctions take full effect in July, the International Energy Agency said. Shipments will fall by at least 800,000 barrels a day. Iran exported just below 2 million barrels a day last month, compared with 2.6 million in November.

Syria

Twin bombings struck government targets in the Syrian capital early Saturday, killing security forces and civilians and leaving carnage in the streets. At least 27 people were killed and 97 wounded in twin car bomb blasts that hit intelligence and security buildings in the Syrian capital. President Bashar Assad’s regime blamed the explosions in Damascus on the “terrorist forces” that it claims are behind the revolt. Preliminary information indicated the blasts were caused by car bombs that hit the aviation intelligence department and the criminal security department. The bombings were the latest in a string of suicide attacks in Syria, which have killed dozens of people since late December.

Libya

Thousands of Libyan protesters rallying Friday in an eastern city to press for an autonomous region were attacked by armed men wielding rifles and knifes. Protesters panicked and fled the square which was then occupied by the armed men. Benghazi militia fighters, who are responsible for security in the city, then deployed forces and chased the attackers. The demonstrators were showing their support for a declaration by tribal leaders and militia commanders in the oil-rich eastern Barqa state to create an autonomous region. Barqa makes up almost half of Libya. But the move to create an autonomous region has created a strong backlash among opponents who fear it will eventually lead to the disintegration of the country.

Egypt

The Egyptian parliament voted unanimously Monday to support a document declaring Israel its number one enemy, CBN News reports. The document, prepared by the Committee on Arab Affairs, calls for a complete overhaul of Egypt’s policies with Israel — including demanding a total cessation of natural gas exports to Israel, activating an Arab boycott against Israel and all international companies that do business with Israel, and calling for the immediate deportation of Israeli Ambassador Yaakov Amitai and the recall of Egypt’s ambassador to Israel. “Egypt after the revolution will never be a friend of the Zionist entity, the first enemy of Egypt and the Arab nation,” the statement read. Since the fall of the Mubarak regime last year, an interim military government has been in place in Egypt, which still maintains diplomatic relations with Israel based on the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries. However, as the document indicates, Egypt’s new Islamist-dominated parliament is eager to cut ties with the Jewish state.

Hundreds of Egyptian activists rallied in Cairo on Friday, lambasting a recent military tribunal ruling that cleared a military doctor of charges he forced a “virginity test” on female activists. The issue of the virginity tests has become a rallying cry by pro-democracy youth activists who say it is an example of how the revolution they helped bring about has been hijacked by the military generals who took power after the mass uprising last year forced longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak to step down. The generals have been harshly criticized for rights violations and practices, such as the “virginity tests,” that resemble those of security forces under Mubarak where female victims of sexual abuse are often more vilified than their abusers.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, the nation’s highest Islamic authority, said no Christian churches should be allowed in the Arabian Peninsula — which includes the nations of Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, CBN News reports. Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, responding to a question by a delegation from Kuwait asking about a Kuwaiti parliamentarian’s call to remove all churches there, said it was “necessary to destroy all the churches in the region.” Abdullah cited an Islamic hadith quoting the prophet Muhammad, who said on his deathbed, “There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula,” meaning only Islam could exist there; Abdullah later added in clarification: “Kuwait [is] a part of the Arabian Peninsula and therefore it is necessary to destroy all churches in it.” Christianity is forbidden in Saudi Arabia and there are no churches there.

Laos

Christians in two provinces in Laos are facing an ultimatum: recant their faith or be expelled from their villages, ASSIST News Service reports. Khamla, a new believer and the only known Christian in the entire Viengphuka district of Luang Namtha Province, has been told to recant or leave his village, and 10 Christian families — comprising some 65 believers — in the Pakoo district of Luangprabang Province have been given until March 18 to comply with the same order. Other Christian families in other villages are at similar risk, and some who have already been expelled after refusing to recant are struggling to survive. Religious liberty is enshrined in the Laos constitution, but it is restricted by two laws forbidding anything that could cause social division. Virtually all religious activity must be approved by government officials, and Christians refusing to recant their faith are routinely punished by denial of services and ultimately expulsion from their village.

Weather

The first three months of 2012 have seen twice the normal number of tornadoes. And 36 states set daily high temperature records Thursday. The unusual warmth will continue across most of the nation east of the Rockies this weekend. High temperatures will soar into the 70s and 80s. Severe storms flooded roads, homes and businesses Thursday in parts of southern West Virginia. State highways officials said that 11 roads and bridges in Logan County alone were closed due to high water, washouts and rock falls.

A tornado ripped through a Michigan village leaving more than 100 homes in splinters. Initial estimates indicate the tornado that hit Dexter, northwest of Ann Arbor, Thursday evening was packing winds of around 135 mph. It was on the ground for about a half hour and plowed a path about 10 miles long. The storm, which flooded roads and tossed trees, was part of a slow-moving system packing large hail, heavy rain and high winds. Gusts downed power lines, sparking fires. There were no reports of serious injuries or fatalities.

Even by Alaska standards, this winter is unusual for the hardy residents of the state’s largest city. Near-record snowfall buried Anchorage neighborhoods, turning streets into canyons with walls of snow on each side. The snow’s weight collapsed the roofs of some buildings. Moose are fleeing into the city to get away from too-deep snow in the wild. Love or hate it, some residents are hoping for more, at least another 3.3 inches. Then they could say they made it through the winter when the nearly 60-year record of 132.6 inches was broken.

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