Signs of the Times (7/6/12)

Catholic Bishops Pound the Drum for Religious Freedom

For two weeks now, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has pounded the drums for religious freedom from every available platform. On Independence Day, Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput brought theological fireworks in a bell-ringing homily on the Affordable Care Act as an enemy of freedom under God. The trigger: The ACA’s requirement for employers to provide free contraception insurance coverage, coverage bishops say will force the faithful to violate church doctrine on abortion. The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a national push called a Fortnight For Freedom, with special Masses and rallies in most of the nation’s 195 dioceses. Archbishop Chaput’s core message was that people don’t belong to their government, they belong to God, and only when they live by God’s plan are they truly free. Hence they are obligated, like the martyrs of the Church, to defy government acts that the Church calls unGodly.

New York City Churches Allowed to Remain in Public Schools Buildings

Christianity Today reports that the 60 or more New York City churches facing possible eviction from their public school locations will now be allowed to stay. Thanks to a permanent injunction issued Friday (06/29/12) from a district court judge. “An ongoing conflict between religious organizations and the Department of Education has kept churches in limbo over the right to rent public school buildings for Sunday worship service,” says Christianity Today. “Churches faced a July 1 deadline on their access to public schools unless the preliminary injunction was extended. Friday’s permanent injunction essentially means that those on the side of churches win the case at the district court level, prevailing on the free exercise clause and establishment claims.”

ObamaCare Raises Concerns of Massive Government Expansion

With the Supreme Court giving President Obama’s new health care law a green light, federal and state officials are turning to implementation of the law — a lengthy and massive undertaking still in its early stages, but already costing money and expanding the government. The IRS, Health and Human Services (HHS) and many other agencies will now write thousands of pages of regulations — an effort well under way. HHS has a huge amount of work to do and the states do, too. There will be new health insurance marketplaces in every state in the country. There has been much focus on the mandate that all Americans obtain health insurance, but analysts say that’s just a small part of the law — covering only a few pages out of the law’s 2700. Much bigger than the mandate itself are the insurance exchanges that will administer $681 billion in subsidies over 10 years, which will require a lot of new federal workers at the IRS and health department.

  • The socialist Obama administration is presiding over an enormous increase in federal bureaucracy, debt and loss of personal and states’ rights. This could be the tipping point in the end-time decline of America.

GOP Governors Resist ObamaCare

Far from being discouraged by the Supreme Court decision upholding the federal health care overhaul, Republican governors are cranking up opposition to the law’s implementation — refusing to carry out two key provisions in the hope November’s election will give the party enough votes to repeal it. At least 18 governors now say they are at least considering not expanding Medicaid — effectively exploiting the one part of the ruling that came down in Republicans’ favor. Previously, the law called on states to expand their Medicaid rolls and threatened to withhold money to those states that did not agree. The Supreme Court nixed that prescribed punishment, taking away the federal government’s stick. Several GOP governors have also said they will not move forward on creating so-called insurance exchanges. Those exchanges, set to go into effect in 2014, are meant to be the state-based marketplaces where strictly regulated insurance plans will be available for purchase. According to a detailed list maintained by the Kaiser Family Foundation, just 15 states are in the process of setting them up.

Five major ObamaCare Taxes in 2013

While the individual mandate tax gets most of the attention, the ObamaCare law actually contains 20 new or higher taxes on the American people. These taxes are gradually phased in through 2018. Six months from now, in January 2013, five major ObamaCare taxes will come into force:

  1. A 2.3 percent tax on medical device makers will raise the price of (for example) every pacemaker, prosthetic limb, stent, and operating table.
  2. The new ObamaCare provision will raise that threshold to for deducting medical expenses on your taxes from 7.5 to 10 percent, subjecting patients to a higher tax bill.
  3. The 24 million Americans who have Flexible Spending Accounts will face a new federally imposed $2,500 annual cap.
  4. The new ObamaCare surtax takes the top capital gains rate to 23.8 percent and top dividend rate to 43.4 percent. The tax will take a minimum of $123 billion out of taxpayer pockets over the next ten years.
  5. An increase in the Medicare payroll tax will soak employers by $86 billion over the ten years

Homeland Security Report Lists ‘Liberty Lovers’ As Terrorists

A new study funded by the Department of Homeland Security characterizes Americans who are “suspicious of centralized federal authority,” and “reverent of individual liberty” as “extreme right-wing” terrorists. Entitled Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970-2008, the study was produced by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. The organization was launched with the aid of DHS funding to the tune of $12 million dollars. Infowars.com note, “While largely omitting Islamic terrorism – the report fails completely to mention the 1993 World Trade Center bombing – the study focuses on Americans who hold beliefs shared by the vast majority of conservatives and libertarians and puts them in the context of radical extremism.”

  • Socialistic globalists seek to squelch all opposition to their plans for a one-world government (Rev. 13)

Scientists Claim Find of Elusive ‘God Particle’

Scientists said Wednesday that they had discovered a new particle whose characteristics match those of the Higgs boson, the most sought-after particle in physics, which could help unlock some of the universe’s deepest secrets. “We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature,” said Rolf Heuer, the director general of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which has been carrying out experiments in search of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest particle accelerator. The particle has been so difficult to pin down that the physicist Leon Lederman called it the ‘God particle.’ Finding the Higgs boson would help explain the origin of mass, one of the open questions in physicists’ current understanding of the way the universe works.

  • Science is simply discovering how God did what He did

Economic News

The European Central Bank has cut its key interest rate by a quarter percentage point to a record low of 0.75% to boost a eurozone economy weighed down by the continent’s crisis over too much government debt. The move followed a rate cut by China’s central bank and new stimulus measures by the Bank of England as global financial authorities seek to shore up a slowing global economy.

The employment market remained in a spring slump in June as employers added a disappointing 80,000 jobs. The nation’s unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2% for the second consecutive month, the Labor Department said Friday. The economy has added just 75,000 jobs a month in the April-June quarter. That’s one-third of 226,000 a month created in the first quarter. Job creation is also trailing last year’s pace through the first six months of 2012.

Unemployment aid applications have fallen to the lowest level in 6 weeks, a sign layoffs have eased. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly unemployment benefit applications dropped by 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 374,000, the fewest since the week of May 19. When applications consistently fall below 375,000, it generally suggests hiring is strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate.

Factory orders increased 0.7% in May from April, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Companies placed more orders with U.S. factories in May from April, demanding more computers, machinery and other equipment that signal investment plans. The increase is a welcome sign after two months of declining factory orders. Still, factory orders are down from the start of the year.

Mortgage rates fell again this week, smashing previous record lows. The rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate loan, the most popular mortgage product, dropped to 3.62% from 3.66% last week. The rate has matched or hit a new low for 10 of the past 11 weeks.

As millions take to their cars this week for Fourth of July getaways, they will be receiving a rare gift when they head to a service station: gas prices that are an average 22 cents cheaper a gallon across the country than this time last year. Self-serve unleaded averages $3.356 a gallon in the government’s latest weekly survey.

Pakistan

Ending a bitter seven-month standoff, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized to Pakistan on Tuesday for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops last fall and won in return the reopening of critical NATO supply lines into Afghanistan. The agreement could save the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars in war costs. “Pakistan will continue not to charge any transit fee in the larger interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region,” she said. The first trucks carrying supplies to American and NATO troops in Afghanistan crossed the Pakistani border Thursday after the seven-month-long closure of the supply routes.

Libya

Libya emerged in October from a brutal civil war in which dictator Moammar Gadhafi was killed after 41 years in power. On Saturday, Libyans will vote to fill the seats of a new National Congress after decades in which political parties were banned. The results may show whether political Islam continues its gains in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings. The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies hope to prevail as their counterparts have in Tunisia and Egypt.

Syria

The United States and its international allies called Friday for new, global sanctions against President Bashar Assad’s regime, seeking to step up the pressure after the defection of a top general dealt a major blow to the Syrian leader. Washington urged countries around the world to demand that Russia and China force Assad to leave power. Syrian Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, a member of the elite Republican Guards, abandoned Assad’s regime, according to Western officials. It was the highest profile departure in 16 months of brutal government crackdowns and civil war that activists say has killed more than 14,000 people.

Turkey

Turkish firefighters were battling several blazes along the Turkish-Syria border on Wednesday in areas that thousands of Syrians have crossed to flee the fighting in their country. Turkey officials said the fires were “deliberately started” at four different points on the Syrian side of the border and spread to Turkey due to strong winds. Turkey’s state-run TRT television said Syrian forces are believed to have started the fires to deny shelter to rebels along the border area. More than 35,000 Syrians are living in refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border that were opened to care for the many people fleeing Syria’s unrest.

Iran

The United States has quietly moved significant military reinforcements into the Persian Gulf to deter the Iranian military from any possible attempt to shut the Strait of Hormuz and to increase the number of fighter jets capable of striking deep into Iran if the standoff over its nuclear program escalates.  The deployments are part of a long-planned effort to bolster the American military presence in the gulf region, in part to reassure Israel as well as a signal to Iran. However, the buildup carries significant risks, including that Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps could decide to lash out against the increased presence.

Iraq

Market blasts and other bombings across Iraq killed at least 33 people and wounded nearly 100 on Tuesday, spooking an already-rattled public and spurring security officials to clamp down on traffic as Shiite Muslims brace for more tragedy during pilgrimages this week. The wave of morning bombings struck four Iraqi cities, the worst hit being Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, where an explosives-laden vegetable truck detonated in a crowded market, killing 25 people and leaving 40 injured. Tuesday’s attacks come as hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims head to the holy city of Karbala this week for religious ceremonies that are expected to peak on Friday. Shiite pilgrimages are a favorite target of Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaeda, and attacks timed to strike during a similar march in Baghdad last month left 100 dead. Police said a car bomb in a southern Iraqi town has killed at least eight people and wounded 28 Wednesday in the latest deadly attack.

Japan

Nuclear power returned to Japan’s energy mix Thursday as the first reactor to be restarted since last year’s earthquake and tsunami came back online, ending a nationwide shutdown that left the country without nuclear-generated electricity for the first time since 1970. After the tsunami, all of Japan’s working reactors were gradually taken offline for maintenance or safety checks. The country had been without nuclear power for two months. Officials say the situation at the Fukushima plant has stabilized, though it will take decades to safely decommission and the area around it remains off limits because it is a health hazard.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck off the coast of New Zealand Tuesday sending shock waves into its capital city of Wellington. Its epicenter was between the country’s two large islands at a depth of 147 miles. Residents across the country felt long rumblings but a fire department spokesman said there were no immediate reports of significant damage. A magnitude 3.8 aftershock felt in the city of Christchurch.

Wildfires

Firefighters took advantage of a lull in searing heat and shifting winds in Wyoming and Montana on Thursday to attack wildfires that have charred thousands of acres and forced dozens of residents to flee their homes. In southeast Wyoming, heavy air power, including four large air tankers, helped increase containment of the 16-square-mile Squirrel Creek fire to 51 percent. In southeastern Montana, more than 1,300 personnel took advantage of calm winds and temperatures in the 80s to make headway on five blazes that officials are now managing as one 470-square-mile wildfire complex so they can quickly deploy resources among the blazes.

Rains cooled Colorado wildfires Wednesday, but more than a dozen wildfires elsewhere in the West continued chewing through bone-dry pine and brush .Wildfires in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado sent haze and smoke across Colorado’s Front Range, prompting air-quality health advisories as firefighters warned of growing fires in sparsely populated areas. In all, 14 states, mostly in the West, are dealing with numerous large (over 100 acres) fires. Nationally, wildfires have scorched about 2.4 million acres this year. Officials have called Colorado’s Waldo Canyon Fire the most destructive in state history. Last week, it was like a monster roaring down a mountainside, swallowing houses whole, consuming 28 sq. miles and destroying 350 homes.

Weather

At least two people have been killed as a violent thunderstorm struck the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Multiple injuries were reported.The storms struck Thursday evening at the west end of the 500,000-acre park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Most of the damage appeared to be in the popular Cades Cove area of the park and in communities just outside the park boundaries.

The heat wave cooking most of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic will keep raging through the weekend as cities in at least 13 states have endure triple-digit heat for a full week. Hundreds of cities around the country set record high. Hundreds of thousands of people from Illinois to New Jersey are still without power Friday after a line of deadly storms struck a week ago. The culprit was a ferocious summer storm that cut a swath of destruction Friday night across 11 states, toppling trees, knocking out traffic lights, and sending thousands of people to shelters and into community pools to escape the heat.

Drought conditions are contributing to a Mississippi River level that has become a cause for concern. At Natchez, Miss., about 60 miles downriver from Vicksburg, the Mississippi is at 12.72 feet, about 49 feet below what was the record high on May 19 of last year. “We’ve had barges running aground, shoaling in a few places,” Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Walthour said. “We’ve had some groundings, but none have resulted in a major incident yet.” If the channel gets too narrow, barges hit bottom or they can’t pass each other, the Coast Guard will have to institute one-way traffic, she said.

In Arizona, the prolonged 17-year drought has brought reservoirs to dangerously low levels. Bartlett Lake is at 44 percent capacity. Horseshoe is empty. And the Verde River looks about as thin as it’s been in a long while. On Sunday, the Clarkdale gauge hit an all-time low, registering 53 cubic feet per second of Verde River flow. The previous record was 59 cfs registered in 2007.

In Bangladesh and India, devastating flooding has killed nearly 200 people and forced millions to flee their homes.

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