Signs of the Times (4/3/12)

Obama Praises Planned Parenthood

President Obama taped a video message praising Planned Parenthood and telling members he will continue fighting Republican efforts to cut their federal funding. “Over the past year, you’ve had to stand up to politicians who want to deny millions of women the care they rely on,” he said. A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows that support of women voters has shifted to Obama after recent weeks of debate about health care and contraception, giving him the lead in battleground states this November. Congressional Republicans say they want to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood because of its support for its abortion. Obama and congressional Democrats beat back an effort to cut federal funds for Planned Parenthood during the budget battles of last summer.

  • Just as the Bible prophesies, the tide of end-time public opinion continues to shift toward secular, anti-Christ positions

North American Summit

The president hosts Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexico President Felipe Calderon at the annual North American Summit on Monday. “This meeting will build on wide-ranging and ongoing cooperation among the United States, Canada, and Mexico with a particular focus on economic growth and competitiveness, citizen security, energy, and climate change,” said the White House.

  • A precursor to the North American Union, this annual summit has already laid substantial groundwork through executive orders and cooperative agreements at departmental/ministry levels.

Obamacare’s Insurance Requirement Not the Only Health Mandate

Republicans accuse President Obama of trying to ‘intimidate’ the Supreme Court after he suggested a ruling by an ‘unelected’ body against his health care law would be ‘judicial activism.’ Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, called it a “fantasy” to think “every law you like is constitutional and every Supreme Court decision you don’t is ‘activist.'”

  • In trying to turn the important judicial activism argument upside down, all Obama accomplished was further revealing his dictatorial inclinations

The individual insurance requirement that the Supreme Court is reviewing isn’t the first federal mandate involving health care. There’s a Medicare payroll tax on workers and employers, for example, and a requirement that hospitals provide free emergency services to indigents. Health care is full of government dictates, some arguably more intrusive than President Obama’s overhaul law. It’s a wrinkle that has caught the attention of the justices. Most of the mandates apply to providers such as hospitals and insurers. However, one mandate affects just about everybody: Workers must pay a tax to finance Medicare, which collects about $200 billion a year.

  • The most pernicious of all big-government rationalizations – because the feds have already imposed unconstitutional mandates, it’s okay to add more

3,168 Illegal Aliens Arrested Nationwide

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested more than 3,100 criminal aliens in a six-day nationwide operation that’s the largest of its kind. As part of Operation Cross Check, arrests were made in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories. “The results of this targeted enforcement operation underscore ICE’s ongoing commitment and focus on the arrest and removal of convicted criminal aliens and those that game our nation’s immigration system,” said ICE Director John Morton in a news release Monday morning.

Data Breach Endangers 1.5 Million

A data breach at a payments processing firm has potentially compromised up to 1.5 million credit and debit card numbers from all of the major card brands. Global Payments, a company that processes card transactions, confirmed late Friday that “card data may have been accessed.” The company said it discovered the intrusion in early March and “promptly” notified others in the industry. Global Payments did not say which card companies were affected, but Visa released a statement on Friday saying that it was all of the big players. That’s because Global Payments is one link in the long chain involved in card transactions. When a customer swipes a credit card, the data is sent to a payment processor like Global Payments, which coordinates the steps involved in authorizing the charge and submitting the transaction details to card networks like Visa and MasterCard. Visa removed Global Payments from its list of preferred credit-card processors.

New World Trade Center Reaches 100 floors

The new World Trade Center has reached a milestone: The skyscraper being built to replace the terror-wrecked twin towers is now 100 stories high — on its way to becoming New York’s tallest building. Another four feet, and it will surpass the Empire State Building. That should happen within weeks. One World Trade Center is expected to be finished by next year, its 104 floors towering over lower Manhattan. Upon completion, it will be 1,368 feet to its rooftop.

Economic News

Manufacturing grew in March at a faster pace than the previous month, driven by greater consumer and business spending on autos, machinery and other goods. The index of manufacturing activity rose to 53.4 in March from 52.4 the previous month. Readings above 50 indicate the sector is expanding.

Builders trimmed activity for a second straight month in February, pushing construction spending down by the largest amount in seven months. There was widespread weakness, with spending on home building, office construction and government projects all dropping. Construction spending fell 1.1% in February after a 0.8% drop in January

The Big Three U.S. automakers all reported strong March sales, as buyers flocked to dealerships in numbers not seen in years to buy everything from fuel-efficient small cars to large pickups. January through March was the best quarter for auto sales in the United States since early 2008. The strong sales came even as gas prices rose steadily throughout February and March.

Excess plant capacity, currency exchange rates that effectively lowered U.S. labor costs, quality and free-trade pacts have combined to make the U.S. a more attractive place to assemble cars for sale elsewhere. As the U.S. auto industry regains its footing, automakers both foreign and domestic are exporting more cars from this country than they were five years ago and plan to dramatically expand exports in the next five years.

According to a study released by credit and information management company TransUnion, consumers were more likely to pay their auto loans before their credit cards and mortgages last year. About 39% of consumers were delinquent on their mortgage while current on their auto loan and credit card payments. In contrast, 9.5% of consumers were delinquent on an auto loan while current on their credit cards and mortgage.

Reports from China and Europe suggested that global economic growth is slowing. A private survey of Chinese exporters released Monday fell to its lowest average reading in three years in the first quarter. And new European data showed that unemployment in the 17 countries that use the euro has risen to 10.8%. That’s the highest since the launch of the euro in 1999.

Syria

A coalition of more than 70 partners, including the United States, pledged Sunday to send millions of dollars and communications equipment to Syria’s opposition groups, signaling deeper involvement in the conflict amid a growing belief that diplomacy and sanctions alone cannot end the Damascus regime’s repression. The shift by the U.S. and its Western and Arab allies toward seeking to sway the military balance in Syria carries regional risks because the crisis there could exacerbate sectarian tensions. The Syrian rebels are overmatched by heavily armed regime forces. Wealthy Gulf oil states promised at a conference in Istanbul to give as much as $100 million to pay the salaries of the Free Syrian Army. The United States said it will give vital communication equipment to the rebels.

Islamic militants with ties to al Qaeda have launched an “ethnic cleansing of minority Christians” in Syria, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee the city of Homs and other areas, BosNewsLife.com reports. According to local aid workers, at least 90 percent of Christians living in Homs have fled after being forced to leave their homes. There are reports that Islamists ‘cleansed’ the Homs areas of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan without giving [Christians] the opportunity to take anything with them. Aid group Barnabas Fund said Christians had also been used as “human shields” by anti-government rebels — known as the Free Syrian Army — to prevent government forces from retaking control over the region. Christians have been viewed by critics as supportive of Syrian president Bashar Assad.

Libya

Six days of tribal clashes in a remote desert town in southern Libya have killed 147 people. The clashes in the oasis region some 400 miles south of Tripoli show the fragile authority of the Libyan government, particularly in the isolated settlements that dot the southern desert. With only a nascent national army and police force, Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council relies on militias comprised of former rebels to keep the peace, and the country’s vast distances makes it difficult to deploy them to trouble spots. Deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s 40 years in power moreover left behind a patchwork of local rivalries. The Sabha fighting pits southern Libyan Arab tribes that reportedly had close connections to Gadhafi against the African Tabu tribe, which fought against him.

Yemen

Yemeni officials say the latest government airstrikes in the country’s south have killed 43 al-Qaeda militants. Military officials say government forces on Tuesday took control over a mountainous area of al-Rahha in the southern province of Lahj, after pounding al-Qaeda hideouts there for the past three days. The offensive followed a surprise attack by militants on a Yemeni army base in the area earlier in the weekend. Al-Qaeda-linked militants have taken advantage of a year of internal political turmoil to expand their gains in south Yemen.

Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood’s surprise decision to field a presidential candidate is stirring fears that the two biggest powers to emerge from the ouster of Hosni Mubarak — the Islamists and the military — are maneuvering to put in place a new rule in Egypt not much different from the old, authoritarian one. If they succeed in divvying up the most important positions in government, the new leadership could be a blow to the hopes for an inclusive democracy that drove last year’s uprising against Mubarak. The Brotherhood controls nearly 50 percent of parliament and dominates the constituent assembly that is in charge of writing Egypt’s new constitution. Given its electoral strength, its candidate — Khairat el-Shater, the Brotherhood’s deputy head but in reality its strongest figure — instantly leaps to front-runner status for the presidency in the May 23-24 election.

Myanmar (Burma)u

Opposition leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in Myanmar’s parliament Sunday, her party said, a momentous victory following a decades-long fight for democracy. The formerly banned National League for Democracy was vying for 45 seats in the election. While the balance of power in the parliament will not change even if the opposition were to win all 45, the vote itself marks a symbolic victory for many in the country who have lived under military rule for 50 years. Suu Kyi, 66, won by a landslide the last time Myanmar held multiparty elections, in 1990, but the junta ignored the results and placed her under house arrest. Released in November 2010, Suu Kyi was allowed to crisscross the country to rally support for the NLD for Sunday’s race. The government promised the vote would be free and fair and allowed international observers to monitor the polling.

Mali

Rebels on Saturday attacked Mali’s strategic northern city of Gao, a day after they took the provincial capital of Kidal. The move deepens the crisis in the landlocked nation at the feet of the Sahara after a coup earlier this month by Malian soldiers angry at the government’s handling of the rebellion. The two towns are major prizes for the Tuareg rebels, who launched an insurgency in January fueled by the flow of arms from the fall of neighboring Libya, where many of the rebels had been on the payroll of Moammar Gadhafi. Gao is around almost 750 miles from the capital of Bamako, where junior officers overthrew the elected government and claimed power 10 days ago.

The junior officer who overthrew Mali’s democratically elected leader last month and dissolved the nation’s constitution made a public U-turn Monday, declaring amid enormous international pressure that he was reinstating the 1992 constitution and planning to hold elections. The body representing nations in West Africa announced Monday that starting immediately they are closing the land borders with Mali. The landlocked nation of over 15 million imports nearly all its petroleum products from neighboring Ivory Coast, and economists say gas stations could run dry within weeks.

Sudan

Sudanese aerial strikes last week were aimed at church buildings and schools in Kauda, Compass Direct News reports. Planes dropped bombs on March 22 and 23, destroying some houses and cattle near the church buildings and schools but causing no casualties. Humanitarian agencies consider the Islamic government’s targeting of civilians in the Nuba Mountains — which has a large Christian population — an “ethnic cleansing” against non-Arab people in the multi-ethnic state, with the added incentive of ridding the area of Christians, a humanitarian aid worker said. Churches in the Nuba Mountains are holding worship services early in the mornings and late in the evenings to avoid aerial bombardments; most of the bombings take place during daytime when visibility is better for pilots. Khartoum continues to actively recruit more security personnel and send them to South Kordofan to help kill or arrest Nuba civilians, including Christians.

Cuba

Cuba has honored an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI and declared next week’s Good Friday a holiday for the first time since the early days following the island’s 1959 Revolution, though a decision on whether the move will be permanent will have to wait. The Communist government said in a communique Saturday that the decision was made in light of the success of Benedict’s “transcendental visit” to the country, which wrapped up Wednesday. Religious holidays were abolished in the 1960s after brothers Fidel and Raul Castro came to power, ushering in a Marxist government.

Columbia

Colombia’s main rebel group on Monday freed what it says were its last 10 military and police captives, returning the men to their families after at least 12 years spent jungle prisons. The release of the six police and four soldiers highlighted efforts to seek peace talks by Latin America’s oldest and most potent guerrilla band, which has been weakened by Colombia’s U.S.-backed military. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, had announced Monday’s liberation on Feb. 26 in tandem with a halt in ransom kidnappings as a revenue source.

China

Numerous websites remained shut down Sunday as the Communist government sought to penalize popular social media sites for circulating rumors of a coup. The government shut down 16 websites, including two Twitter-like services that have more than 250 million users. The state-run Xinhua News Agency said Beijing police questioned and admonished an unspecified number of Internet users and detained six people for “fabricating or spreading” online rumors. Twitter, like Facebook and YouTube, is banned because the Chinese government want more control over the services.

Tibet

Dozens of Tibetans have set themselves on fire over the past year to protest Chinese rule, sometimes drinking kerosene to make the flames explode from within, in one of the biggest waves of political self-immolations in recent history. But the stunning protests are going largely unnoticed in the wider world — due in part to a smothering Chinese security crackdown in the region that prevents journalists from covering them. The Tibetan self-immolations have so far failed to prompt the changes the protesters demand: an end to government interference in their religion and a return of the exiled Dalai Lama.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck southern Mexico today in an area hard hit by a quake two weeks ago. The jolt was felt in Mexico City, but there were no reports of injuries or major damage. The U.S. Geological Survey says the epicenter was in southern Mexico near the border of Guerrero and Oaxaca states, 111 miles east southeast of Acapulco at a depth of 12 miles.

Wildfires

Fire experts are concerned that the unusually warm, dry winter could lead to a bad wildfire season across parts of the western and especially the southern USA. “Florida will remain the highest fire risk area into May, where the traditional fire season is May through June,” according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The Florida Forest Service reported that 74 separate wildfires, most of them small, were burning across the state as of Monday morning. Other parts of the Southeast, such as coastal areas of the Carolinas and Georgia, are also at risk over the next four months.

Weather

Meteorologists used the terms “staggering,” “astonishing” and “incredible” to describe the heat across the eastern two-thirds of the nation that set thousands of temperature records for March in cities and towns from the Dakotas to Maine to Florida. March 2012 will go down as the warmest March on record in the USA. Across the nation, over 7,500 daily record-high temperatures were set in March. The warm month came on the heels of the fourth-warmest winter on record across the contiguous 48 states.

Nationally, as of mid-March, more than 58% of the contiguous USA was either abnormally dry or in some form of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal website that tracks drought. This is the nation’s highest percentage in that category since November 2007.

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