Signs of the Times (3/28/12)

‘October Baby’ Opens as #8 Movie in America

The pro-life move, October Baby, opened across America this past weekend and finished eighth overall in ticket sales. The American Family Association notes, “Our hope and prayer is that with your continued support, the word of mouth for OCTOBER BABY will continue growing, allowing the film’s impact to increase exponentially. Your American Family Association has made a huge financial contribution to making sure the strong pro-life message of October Baby is shared across the country. With your movie ticket purchase, you are helping bring more Christian-based films to the theater…and sending a strong message to Hollywood that these are the types of films you want more of.” The producers of October Baby have assigned 10% of the profits of the movie to the Every Life is Beautiful Fund, which will distribute funds to frontline organizations helping women facing crisis pregnancies, life-affirming adoption agencies, and those caring for orphans.

Poll: Mississippi Most Religion, VT/NH Least

The latest Gallup Poll finds Mississippi is the most religious state, with Vermont and New Hampshire ranking as the least. Overall, Gallup says, “America remains a generally religious nation, with more than two-thirds of the nation’s residents classified as very or moderately religious.” But “dramatic regional differences” highlight and underscore the nation’s deep divisions, which spill over into politics and culture. Gallup found that 59% of Mississippians described themselves as “very religious,” followed by 57% in Utah and 56% in Alabama. Louisiana, Arkansas and South Carolina came in at 54%. New England — where the persecuted Pilgrims landed — continues to be a home for Americans focused less on religion than elsewhere in the union. Only 23% of the residents in Vermont and New Hampshire said they were “very religious,” followed by Maine (25%) and Massachusetts (28%).How did our most populous states rank? California, 35%; New York, 32%; Texas, 47%; Illinois, 39%; and Florida, 39%.

  • New York and California tend to drive the USA politically and are among the least religious states

Supreme Court Bores into Health Care Law’s Mandate

The nine justices of the Supreme Court sent an unmistakable reminder to President Obama and Congress from a packed, hushed courtroom Tuesday: When it comes to landmark statutes that must stand the test of time, such as the 2010 health care law, they will have the last word. Questioning whether the law’s central requirement that Americans buy health insurance fundamentally alters the government’s relationship with its citizens, the high court’s conservative justices suggested they might be willing to send lawmakers back to the drawing board just months before a presidential election — particularly if they can’t find a way to uphold the law without significantly expanding the power of the federal government. With the court’s four liberal justices seemingly aligned in favor of the law, two others — Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts— demonstrated by their questions that their votes will be pivotal when the case is decided in June. Without support from at least one of them, the law is unlikely to survive. The court’s historic three-day, six-hour review of the issue ends today, when the justices will consider its Medicare expansion and whether the rest of the law can survive if the insurance mandate doesn’t.

States’ Anti-Illegal Immigration Bills Hit Roadblocks

Republican state legislators are struggling to pass laws this year that would give local police more powers to crack down on illegal immigrants. After Arizona passed its landmark illegal immigration bill in 2010, legislators in Utah, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Indiana followed and passed similar laws last year. But portions of all those laws have been blocked by federal courts and will face costly legal challenges, which could ultimately be decided when the Supreme Court reviews Arizona’s law next month. Republican lawmakers say the threat of those lawsuits, some led by the Department of Justice, is one reason legislative leaders have put the brakes on immigration bills, or abandoned them altogether, as they wait to see how this election year plays out.

Support in U.S. for Afghan War Drops Sharply

After a series of violent episodes and setbacks, support for the war in Afghanistan has dropped sharply among both Republicans and Democrats, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The survey found that more than two-thirds of those polled — 69 percent — thought that the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan. Just four months ago, 53 percent said that Americans should no longer be fighting in the conflict, more than a decade old. The increased disillusionment was even more pronounced when respondents were asked their impressions of how the war was going. The poll found that 68 percent thought the fighting was going “somewhat badly” or “very badly,” compared with 42 percent who had those impressions in November.

One Nation Under Surveillance

The four-way traffic cameras at virtually every intersection. Police secretly attaching GPS tracking devices to citizens’ automobiles. Invasive TSA pat-downs and nude X-ray scannings – after first being required to raise your hands as though you were being arrested. Internet sites that track your online activities so thoroughly they almost seem to know what you’re thinking. In its March issue of Whistleblower magazine, WorldNetDaily asks, “Did you know that the ordinary-looking white van next to you on the highway may house government agents peering at you via backscatter X-ray scanners? Or that Miami and several other U.S. cities are experimenting with drones to spy on their citizens? Do you know how easy it is to track your every movement through your cell phone? Mesmerized by the amazing convenience and connectedness made possible by gee-whiz consumer electronics, most Americans don’t realize their world is rapidly coming to resemble the totalitarian society described by novelist George Orwell in “1984,” one characterized by universal surveillance.” WND concludes that in today’s America, “Big Brother is watching in ways Orwell never dreamed.”

  • Look for more and more drones in the sky, as the federal government continues to step up its unprecedented monitoring of civilian activities.

Job Growth Expected from Cheap Natural Gas

The nation’s fast-growing supply of cheap natural gas is setting off a manufacturing revival that’s expected to create hundreds of thousands of jobs as companies build or expand plants to take advantage of the low prices. Royal Dutch Shell announced this month that it chose a site near Pittsburgh for a facility to convert ethane from locally produced natural gas into ethylene and polyethylene, used to make plastics that go into packaging, pipes and other products. It’s among nearly 30 chemical plants proposed in the U.S. in the next five years. The projects would expand U.S. petrochemical capacity by 27% and employ 200,000 workers at the factories and related suppliers. As U.S. natural gas prices soared in the late 1990s, chemical makers moved overseas, laying off 140,000 employees. But the U.S. has seen a natural gas boom in recent years, with producers using new drilling techniques to extract fuel from shale formations in Texas, Pennsylvania and other regions. U.S. natural gas prices, at slightly more than $2 per million British thermal units, are about 75% below Western European rates.

Giving Finally Rebounding for Majority of Churches

Churches suffered from plummeting donations after the recession began in 2008. But in the past year, a majority of congregations experienced giving increases because of a better economy, higher attendance and more church teaching on giving. The fourth annual “State of the Plate” constituency survey of more than 1,360 congregations revealed that 51 percent of churches saw giving increase in 2011, up from 43 percent in 2010 and 36 percent in 2009. Giving increases were greatest among larger churches, with more than 70 percent of megachurches — 2,000 or more in weekend attendance — experiencing giving increases last year. Heartland states saw the biggest rebound, with nearly 55 percent of churches experiencing giving increases

Economic News

U.S. companies ordered more long-lasting goods last month, showing businesses are willing to buy equipment and machinery even after an investment tax credit was halved. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that orders for durable goods rose 2.2% in February after a steep drop in January. Greater demand for machinery, computers, autos and aircraft drove much of the increase. Orders for so-called “core” capital goods, a good measure of business investment plans, rose 1.2%. Demand for these goods fell in January by the most in a year, after the full tax credit expired.

Home prices are still dropping, but the pace is moderating and expectations are growing that the bottom is near. Prices fell 0.8% in January from December, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city index. S&P described the home sales market as off to a “rocky start” this year, but the decline was less than the 1.1% drop in December and the 1.3% decline in November.

The price of an average gallon of regular gas surpassed the $3.90 mark Wednesday, moving to within a dime of the $4 threshold. The price has risen for 19 consecutive days. The current price compares to just below $3.70 a month ago, and $3.59 a year ago. Gasoline averages more than $4 a gallon in 10 states and the District of Columbia. At $4.55 a gallon, Hawaii has the nation’s highest pump price.

Primarily as a result of ongoing low interest rates, Americans spent just 5.8% of their after-tax income paying interest on mortgages, credit cards, car loans and other debt, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That’s the smallest share since 1977 and a steep drop from a record high of 9.1% in 2007. Household interest payments fell to an average of $469 per month at the end of last year, down from a peak of $728 in 2007, after adjusting for inflation. Three-fourths of the interest savings stem from falling rates, the rest from a reduction in debt.

Middle East

The new regime taking power in Egypt is taking steps to make life in Israel as difficult as possible. They have been steadily reducing the flow of natural gas to Israel—the main source of Israel’s electricity generation. Now there are reports that Egypt has completely shut off the transmission of the vital resource. That means that Israel is faced with going into the summer months without enough electricity for the population.

Drought and uprisings are threatening to undermine the Middle East’s economy, Arab officials said Tuesday as they discussed plans to boost the region’s stability at the start of a key summit in Baghdad. For the first time in a generation, leaders from 21 states gathered in Iraq for the Arab League’s annual summit. Iraq is hoping the summit will better integrate its Shiite-led government into the Sunni-dominated Arab world, and has deployed thousands of soldiers and police forces across Baghdad to prevent insurgent threats from upending it. As in Iraq, where the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers are drying up, water resources also are strapped elsewhere across the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates and Jordan say their ground water is rapidly depleting, and the Dead Sea is drying up. Much of the problem is due to the failure of governments in the region to manage growth and use of the major rivers.

  • The waters drying up is but a physical manifestation of the spiritual darkness enveloping this area where the One True God first established human civilization

Syria

Arab countries, divided over how to stop Syria’s bloodshed, are calling upon the Syrian regime to halt its crackdown on civilians, let in humanitarian groups and free detainees, according to recommendations Wednesday by foreign ministers preparing for a summit this week. Even before Arab heads of state began their Thursday summit in the Iraqi capital, Syria sharply rejected any measures they take. A Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdessi, said Damascus would “not deal with any initiative” that might come out of the 22-member Arab League. The rejection reflected Damascus’ refusal to work with the League after the pan-Arab body suspended Syria’s membership as punishment for the bloody crackdown on protesters demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad.

Syrian activists are urging international humanitarian organizations to urgently go to the northern Syrian town of Saraqeb, where they say security forces have killed more than 40 people in the past four days. They say the Syrian army launched a massive military assault on the opposition town on Sunday, leaving a trail of death and destruction. The U.N. says that over the past year more than 9,000 people have been killed in the violence.

Iran

Iranian oil exports have fallen significantly in March, industry sources said on Friday, as some buyers stop or scale back purchases to abide by Western sanctions aimed at slowing Tehran’s nuclear program. Crude exports from Iran appear to have fallen this month by around 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), or 14 percent, according to estimates from industry consultant Petrologistics and a leading European oil company. It is the first sizable drop in oil shipments from the OPEC producer since the European Union announced in January plans to embargo Iran’s crude from July and Washington and Brussels sanctioned Iran’s central bank.

Tunisia

Islamic law will not be enshrined in Tunisia’s new constitution, preserving the secular basis of the North African nation, Tunisia’s ruling Islamist Ennahda Party said Monday. The decision marks a break between the moderate Islamist Ennahda and an increasingly vocal minority of ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis who have been demanding Islamic law in a country long known for its progressive traditions. In many other Muslim countries, Shariah is enshrined in the constitution as the source of all legislation.

Mali

The body representing nations in western Africa has suspended Mali and has put a peacekeeping force on standby in the most direct threat yet to the junta that seized control in a military coup last week. A delegation of five African presidents will head to Mali within the next 48 hours to try to “restore constitutional order.” There is no immediate plan to deploy the peacekeepers who will be put on standby in the event that a military intervention is needed.

Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI prayed for freedom and a renewal of Christian faith Tuesday before a religious icon that is a powerful symbol of the Cuban nation on the second day of a visit to the communist-run island. Before arriving, he accused the socialist state of not living in reality or caring for its people. Leaders here said there would be no moves toward democracy following five decades of one-party rule led by Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl. The Cuban government pardoned 2,900 prisoners in December ahead of this papal visit. Amnesty International reported this month that the Cuban government wages a permanent campaign of harassment and short-term detentions of political opponents to stop them from demanding respect for civil and political rights.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake shook northern Japan on Tuesday, but no damage was reported and there was no risk of a tsunami. The Japan Meteorological Agency recorded a 6.4 preliminary magnitude. The agency said there may be a small change in sea levels but did not issue tsunami warnings. The epicenter was off the coast of Iwate and was about 10 kilometers (6 miles) below the sea surface. Iwate is in the region heavily damaged by last year’s massive 9.0 earthquake and tsunami.

Wildfires

A wildfire devoured 7 square miles of a mountainous area southwest of Denver. It was still out of control Tuesday night. Two people are dead and one is missing. a wildfire devoured 7 square miles of a mountainous area southwest of Denver. It was still out of control Tuesday night.. Residents of 6,500 more homes north of the evacuation area were warned Tuesday afternoon to be ready to leave. The fire, which has consumed 4,500 acres, erupted on Monday. It may have been a controlled burn that reignited, fanned by strong winds.

Weather

As the USA simmers through its hottest March on record — with more than 6,000 record high temperatures already set this month — a new study released Sunday shows that average global temperatures could climb 2.5 to 5.4 degrees by 2050. The study findings are based on the results of 10,000 computer model simulations of future weather overseen by researchers at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. It is a faster rate of warming than most other models predict.

The Obama administration has requested $770 million in federal funds to combat the effects of global warming in developing countries, a new congressional report details, continuing its policy of using foreign aid to combat the effects of global warming in the developing world. Despite another year of $1 trillion deficits, the Obama administration continues to pursue its policy of using foreign aid funds for anti-global warming measures – known as the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI). According to the Congressional Research Service, the government has spent a total of $2.5 billion on GCCI since 2010 on overseas anti-global warming efforts in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

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