Signs of the Times (5/1/12)

Opposition to Gay Marriage Lower in 2012 Campaign

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, opposition to gay marriage is significantly lower in 2012 compared to the previous two presidential campaigns, the Religion News Service reports. For the first time, the level of strong support for gay marriage is equal to the level of strong opposition; 22 percent of Americans say they strongly favor gay marriage and 22 percent strongly oppose it. In 2008, strong opposition was twice as high as support — 30 percent to 14 percent. In 2004, a year when several ballot measures to define traditional marriage helped propel social conservatives to the polls, opposition was more than three times higher — 36 percent to 11 percent. This election cycle, as in other recent ones, voters say social issues like gay marriage and abortion are not as important as the economy and jobs. While more than 80 percent of Americans cite the economy and jobs as top voting issues, far fewer rated abortion (39 percent) and gay marriage (28 percent) as very important.

  • Christians are failing to “hold fast” to the faith, succumbing to secular political pressure

Oklahoma’s Top Court Rejects ‘Personhood’ for Embryos

The Oklahoma Supreme Court today unanimously struck down a proposed ballot measure that sought to amend the state Constitution to grant “personhood” rights to human embryos, thereby outlawing abortion and many forms of birth control. The state’s high court ruled that Initiative Petition No. 395, which supporters had hoped to put to voters in November, was “clearly unconstitutional” because if violated a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld a woman’s right to an abortion. The proposed amendment expanded the legal definition of humanity or “personhood” to include every human being, regardless of place of residence, race, gender, age, disability, health, level of function, condition of dependency, or method of reproduction, from the beginning of biological development to the end of natural life. Opponents said the measure would ban all abortions, limit a woman’s choice of contraception and jeopardize in vitro fertilization.

  • Overturning Roe v. Wade is the lynchpin that has rendered abortion ‘constitutional’ and must be overturned

Number of Painkiller-Addicted Newborns Triples in Decade

The number of babies born addicted to the class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers has nearly tripled in the past decade, according to the first national study of its kind. About 3.4 of every 1,000 infants born in a hospital in 2009 suffered from a type of drug withdrawal commonly seen in the babies of pregnant women who abuse narcotic pain medications. That’s about 13,539 infants a year, or one drug-addicted baby born every hour. Treating drug-addicted newborns, most of whom are covered by the publicly financed Medicaid program, cost $720 million in 2009.

May Day Protests

May Day moved beyond its roots as an international workers’ holiday to a day of international protest Tuesday, with rallies throughout Asia demanding wage increases and marches across Europe over government-imposed austerity measures. Europeans took to the streets to protest against the measures that are being blamed for a big increase in the number of unemployed, particularly in Spain where one in four people is out of work. In the United States, demonstrations, strikes and acts of civil disobedience are planned, including what could be the country’s most visible Occupy rallies since the anti-Wall Street encampments came down in the fall. In Asia, thousands of May Day protesters in the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan demanded hikes in pay that they say has not kept up with rising consumer prices.

Domestic Violence Rising in Sluggish Economy

Police are encountering more domestic violence related to the sluggish economy, a national survey of law enforcement agencies finds. The review, part of a continuing examination of how economic conditions are affecting law enforcement by the Police Executive Research Forum, found that 56% of the 700 responding agencies reported that the poor economy is driving an increase in domestic conflict, up from 40% of agencies in a similar survey in 2010. Domestic violence is not a separate category of crime tracked in the FBI’s annual crime report, which has recorded a sustained decline in overall violence since the financial collapse in 2008. But the survey concludes that police are responding to more reports of domestic incidents, regardless of whether charges are filed. In Camden, N.J., police responded to 9,100 domestic incidents in 2011, up from 7,500 calls in 2010. Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson said it was “impossible” to separate the economy from the domestic turmoil in the city where unemployment is 19%.

Health Spending Rate Slows

The growth of health spending has slowed substantially in the last few years, surprising experts and offering some fuel for optimism about the federal government’s long-term fiscal performance. Much of the slowdown is because of the recession, and thus not unexpected, health experts say. But some of it seems to be attributable to changing behavior by consumers and providers of health care — meaning that the lower rates of growth might persist even as the economy picks up. Because Medicare and Medicaid are two of the largest contributors to the country’s long-term debts, slower growth in health costs could reduce the pressure for enormous spending cuts or tax increases. In 2009 and 2010, total nationwide health care spending grew less than 4 percent per year, the slowest annual pace in more than five decades. Data for 2011 is not yet available.

Economic News

The Commerce Department said Monday that consumer spending increased just 0.3% last month after a 0.9% gain in February. Incomes grew 0.4% following a 0.3% gain in February. Still, after-tax income when adjusted for inflation increased just 0.2% in March. The tiny gain followed two months of declines.

Home ownership in the U.S. fell to its lowest rate in 15 years during the first quarter as more delinquent borrowers lost their homes to foreclosure, forcing many to rent. The percentage of Americans who own their homes dropped a full percentage point over the past 12 months to 65.4% during the first three months of 2012. That’s the lowest rate since 1997 and down from the peak of 69.2% reached in 2004.

Michigan, one of the places hardest hit during the country’s economic downturn and home to the struggling U.S. auto industry, is showing signs of an economic rebound, the Detroit Free Press is reporting. While 400,000 people in the state remain without jobs, Michigan’s unemployment rate has gradually declined to 8.5% from a high of 14.2% in August 2009. Housing starts in southeast Michigan were up 47 percent in the first quarter of the year. In suburban Oakland County, new business investment projects are up 70% from last year’s levels.

Tens of thousands of people across Spain protested Sunday against education and health care spending cuts as the country slid into its second recession in three years. Unemployment is at a eurozone high of 24.4%.

Middle East

Saudi Arabia closed its Cairo embassy Saturday and recalled its ambassador following protests over a detained Egyptian human rights lawyer in a sharp escalation of tension between two regional powerhouses already on shaky terms due to uprisings in the Arab world. The unexpected Saudi diplomatic break came following days of protests by hundreds of Egyptians outside the Saudi Embassy in Cairo and consulates in other cities to demand the release of Ahmed el-Gezawi. Relatives and human rights groups say he was detained for allegedly insulting the kingdom’s monarch. Saudi authorities denied that and said he was arrested for trying to smuggle anti-anxiety drugs into the conservative oil-rich kingdom.

Syria

Two suicide bombers blew up cars rigged with explosives near a military compound and a hotel in a city in northwestern Syria on Monday, killing at least eight people. The blasts were the latest setback for troubled U.N. efforts to end Syria’s 13-month-old crisis. A team of U.N. observers is already on the ground to salvage a cease-fire that went into effect April 12 but has been widely ignored by both sides. U.N. officials have singled out the regime as the main aggressor in violations of the truce.

Egypt

Egypt’s Islamist-dominated parliament said Sunday it was suspending sessions for a week to protest the ruling military’s failure to heed repeated calls for the dismissal of the government. Anger against the country’s military rulers also spilled into the streets where a protester was killed late Saturday in a demonstration outside the Ministry of Defense. Protesters clashed for three hours with unidentified assailants supporting the military, throwing rocks, firebombs and glass bottles. The parliament seated three months ago has been demanding it be allowed to form a Cabinet to replace the one appointed by the country’s military rulers late last year.

Afghanistan

NATO said a Taliban leader and another insurgent were killed Tuesday after they opened fire on coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan. Villagers in the area disputed the statement and insisted the victims were civilians killed during a pre-dawn raid. According to the alliance, the Taliban leader killed in Laghman province’s Qarghayi district was wanted for coordinating roadside bombings against Afghan and coalition forces throughout the area. NATO also said that several other insurgents were detained in the Afghan-led operation.

The military is underreporting the number of times that Afghan soldiers and police open fire on American and other foreign troops, according to the Associated Press. Such attacks reveal a level of mistrust and ill will between the U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan counterparts in an increasingly unpopular war.

Pakistan

One year since U.S. commandos flew into this Pakistani army town and killed Usama bin Laden, Islamabad has failed to answer tough questions over whether its security forces were protecting the world’s most wanted terrorist. Partly as a result, fallout from the raid still poisons relations between Washington and Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment, support for Islamist extremism and anger at the violation of sovereignty in the operation continues to inflame Pakistani passions. Any discussions over how bin Laden managed to stay undetected in Pakistan were drowned out in anger at what the army portrayed as a treacherous act by a supposed ally. That bin Laden was living with his family near Pakistan’s version of West Point — not in a cave in the mountains as many had guessed — raised eyebrows in the West.

Iran

The U.S. Air Force is quietly assembling the world’s most powerful air-to-air fighting team at bases near Iran. Stealthy F-22 Raptors on their first front-line deployment have joined a potent mix of active-duty and Air National Guard F-15 Eagles, including some fitted with the latest advanced radars. The Raptor-Eagle team has been honing special tactics for clearing the air of Iranian fighters in the event of war. The fighters join a growing naval armada that includes Navy carriers, submarines, cruisers and destroyers plus patrol boats and minesweepers enhanced with the latest close-in weaponry. It’s been years since the Air Force has maintained a significant dogfighting presence in the Middle East.

Nigeria

Gunmen attacked worship services at a university campus and a church Sunday in northern Nigeria, killing at least 21 people in coordinated assaults that saw panicked Christians gunned down as they tried to flee. The attacks happened Sunday morning at Kano’s Bayero University. Police say gunmen attacked a Catholic Mass on the campus, using small explosives to draw worshipers out before shooting those who fled. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though it mirrored others previously claimed by a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram. That group carried out a coordinated assault in Kano in January that killed at least 185 people.

Kenya

One person died and 15 people were wounded when a grenade was thrown into a church in Kenya’s capital during Sunday service. The grenade exploded at God’s House of Miracles International Church in Nairobi. Doctors at Nairobi’s Kenyatta Hospital said they had treated 11 patients wounded in the attack. The incident is the latest in a string of grenade attacks since Kenya sent troops into Somalia in October last year. In March, grenade explosions at one of the main bus stations in Kenya’s capital killed nine people and wounded 40 others, the deadliest in the series of attacks. Al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants from neighboring Somalia have vowed to carry out a major attack on Kenya for sending troops in.

Haiti

Glimmers of hope are coming to this devastated capital and its surrounding cities, as the concrete Royal Oasis hotel rises over a metropolitan area still filled with displaced-persons camps housing hundreds of thousands. Signs of Haiti’s comeback can also be seen in the 105-room Best Western hotel being built within blocks of shanty-covered hillsides. At least seven hotels are under construction or are in the planning stage in Port-au-Prince and its surrounding areas, raising hopes that thousands of investors will soon fill their air-conditioned rooms looking to build factories and tourist infrastructure that will help Haiti bounce back from a 2010 earthquake that officials say claimed 300,000 lives. Together, the projects add up to well over $100 million in new investment and will generate several thousand jobs.

Wildfires

Firefighters are battling the first major Texas wildfires of the season, covering 20,000 acres in the Davis Mountains, including an area that was struck by uncontrolled burning exactly a year ago. No injuries or structural losses were reported late Monday in the fires at the remote mountains 175 miles southeast of El Paso. The forest service says lightning strikes sparked the fires.

Weather

One person was killed and 16 others hospitalized Saturday afternoon when a sports bar tent collapsed during a storm that swept through the St. Louis area. Five people suffered serious injuries. Nearly 100 others were treated at the scene, mostly for bruises, cuts, twisted ankles and one broken arm.

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