Signs of the Times (7/27/12)

Bipartisan Senators Threaten to Oppose UN Arms Treaty

A bipartisan group of 51 senators is threatening to oppose a global treaty regulating international weapons trade if it falls short in protecting the constitutional right to bear arms, as the United Nations bumps up against a Friday deadline for action. In a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the senators expressed serious concerns with the draft treaty that has circulated at the United Nations, saying that it signals an expansion of gun control that would be unacceptable. “Our country’s sovereignty and the constitutional protection of these individual freedoms must not be infringed,” they wrote. Opponents in the U.S. have portrayed the treaty as a surrender of gun ownership rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

  • Globalists Obama and Clinton favor this New World Order bill that further restricts national rights in an effort to create the one-world government being orchestrated through the U.N., World Court, World Bank and International Monetary Fund

Senate OKs Tax-Cut Extension Bill

Democrats pushed a yearlong extension of tax cuts for all but the highest-earning Americans through the Senate on Wednesday, giving Democrats a significant political victory on a measure that is fated to go no further in Congress. Senators approved the Democratic bill by a near party-line 51-48 vote. The $250 billion Democratic measure would extend tax cuts in 2013 for millions of Americans that otherwise would expire in January. But it would deny those reductions to individuals making over $200,000 yearly and couples earning at least $250,000. Passage of the Democratic measure put the Senate on record as backing a bill that closely follows the tax-cutting vision of President Obama, who has made tax fairness — meaning tax increases on the rich — an overarching theme of his re-election campaign. The vote also serves as a counterpoint to the GOP-run House, which next week will approve tax cuts nearly identical to the $405 billion Republican plan the Senate rejected Wednesday.

House Passes Bill to Audit the Federal Reserve

The U.S. House overwhelmingly approved a bill by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, that would expand congressional authority to oversee deliberations at the Federal Reserve. The legislation is the culmination of more than three decades of activism by Paul, who has pushed for greater transparency at the central bank since he was first elected in 1976. The bill stands no chance of becoming law because the Democratic-controlled Senate will not take it up. The vote served as a symbolic swan song for Paul, who is not seeking re-election. It is also an indicator of how Paul’s economic views have gone more mainstream, particularly within the Republican Party, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that shook Americans’ confidence in Wall Street and the federal government.

  • The great divide between the Democratic Senate and Republican House will not be resolved until after the elections – if even then, depending on the outcome. Voting has never been more important.

Mass Murders Defy Falling Homicide Rate

The United States is a less violent country than it was two decades ago. The homicide rate, which hit a peak in the early 1990s at about 10 per 100,000 people, has been cut in half to a level not seen since the early 1960s. But there has been no corresponding decline in mass murder — these sudden, stunning eruptions of violence with multiple victims, often perpetrated by gunmen who researchers refer to as “pseudo-commandos.” The statistics on mass murder suggest it is a phenomenon that does not track with other types of violent crime, such as street violence. It does not seem to be affected by the economy or by law-enforcement strategies. The mass murderer has become almost a stock figure in American culture, someone bent on overkill — and, so often, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Many killing sprees are driven by grudges or a desire for revenge. The victims are bosses, co-workers, family members or fellow students, as was the case at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Columbine High School in 1999. So far, there is no clear motive in the recent Aurora killings.

After Colorado Theater Massacre, Gun Sales Jump

Firearms sales are surging in the wake of the Colorado movie massacre as buyers express fears about both personal safety and lawmakers who are using the shooting to seek new weapons restrictions. In Colorado, the site of Friday’s shooting that killed 12 and injured dozens of others, gun sales jumped in the three days that followed. The state approved background checks for 2,887 people who wanted to buy a firearm — 25 percent more than the average Friday to Sunday period in 2012 and 43 percent more than the same interval the week prior. In Arizona and some other states, gun retailers reported significant increases in sales that they say are likely connected to the Colorado shooting as well as fears of potential new restrictions on gun ownership.

President Obama has added his voice to the push for stricter gun control in the wake of the massacre last week at a Colorado movie theater. Obama, speaking Wednesday evening to the National Urban League, affirmed his belief in Americans’ right to own guns, but he singled out assault rifles as better suited for the battlefield.

  • If someone in the theater had been armed, this massacre might have been limited to far fewer casualties

Planned Parenthood Faces Fresh Scrutiny After Death

Planned Parenthood is facing new calls for congressional scrutiny after a Chicago woman died following an abortion at a local clinic last week. Twenty-four-year old Tonya Reaves died Friday of hemorrhaging following the abortion, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. Her death has been ruled an accident. The abortion provider’s most vocal critics in Washington swiftly began calling for a closer look into the group’s safety guidelines and financial practices.

L.A. Council Outlaws Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

The Los Angeles City Council today voted to outlaw medical marijuana dispensaries but approved a separate measure that could allow about 180 storefronts to remain open under stricter regulations. If approved by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has voiced his support, the ban would go into effect after 30 days. The city “has fumbled with its medical marijuana laws for years, trying to provide safe and affordable access to the drug for legitimate patients while addressing worries by neighborhood groups that streets were being overrun by dispensaries and pot users, AP writes. The California Supreme Court is considering challenges to similar bans and regulation of pot dispensaries. In 1996, state voters approved the medical use of marijuana by verified patients who did not get pain relief or other therapeutic benefits from prescription drugs.

U.S. Poverty on Track to Rise to Highest Since 1960s

Poverty in America is on track to rise to levels unseen in nearly half a century, Fox News reports. Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall, and in a recent survey of more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics — nonpartisan, liberal and conservative alike — the Associated Press found a broad consensus that the official poverty rate will rise from 15.1 percent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 percent. Several predicted a smaller increase, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest since 1965. Demographers also predict that poverty will remain above the pre-recession level of 12.5 percent for many more years, that suburban poverty — already at a record level of 11.8 percent — will increase again in 2011, that part-time or underemployed workers will rise to a new high, that child poverty will increase from its 22 percent level in 2010, and that the poorest poor — defined as those at 50 percent or less of the poverty level — will remain near its peak level of 6.7 percent.

Economic Distress Hurting Children

The percentage of children living in poverty in the U.S. is on the rise, according to the new Kids Count report, which also finds more children living in single-parent homes and parents struggling to afford housing. The data also shows more children had parents lacking steady employment. The decline in children’s economic situations is ominous because living in extended periods of deep poverty threatens children’s development, experts say. 22% of children nationally were poor, up from 19% in 2005. In Mississippi, 33% of children lived in poverty.

Americans Put Off Having Babies Amid Poor Economy

Twenty-somethings who postponed having babies because of the poor economy are still hesitant to jump in to parenthood — an unexpected consequence that has dropped the USA’s birthrate to its lowest point in 25 years. As the economy tanked, the average number of births per woman fell 12% from a peak of 2.12 in 2007. Demographic Intelligence projects the rate to hit 1.87 this year and 1.86 next year — the lowest since 1987. The less-educated and Hispanics have experienced the biggest birthrate decline while the share of U.S. births to college-educated, non-Hispanic whites and Asian Americans has grown. Many young adults are unemployed, carrying big student loan debt and often forced to move back in with their parents — factors that may make them think twice about starting a family.

Economic News

The U.S. economy slowed in the spring, with second-quarter growth less than half the pace the economy hit late last year, the government reported Friday. Gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 1.5% between April and June, down from 2.0% in the first quarter and 4.1% late last year. More cautious consumers were the main reason. Consumer spending, which makes up about 70% of the economy, grew at a 1.5% rate, compared with 2.4% in the first quarter.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped by 35,000 last week, but the numbers were skewed by seasonal factors. The Labor Department says applications fell to a seasonally adjusted 353,000, down from a revised 388,000 the previous week. It was the biggest drop since February 2011.

Business cut back on orders for long-lasting U.S. factory goods last month, outside aircraft and other transportation equipment. That suggests the sluggish economy is weakening. The Commerce Department says orders for durable goods rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6% in June. But excluding transportation equipment, orders actually fell 1.1%, third drop in four months.

More than 200,000 small businesses vanished between early 2008 and 2010 — a period covering the Great Recession and its immediate aftermath — taking with them in excess of 3 million jobs, according to Census figures which illustrate the depth of the country’s economic hole. While the country boasted 5.14 million firms with up to 99 employees as of March 2008, that number dropped to 4.92 million by March 2010 – representing a loss of roughly 223,800 businesses and 3.1 million workers.

Eurozone

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi told investors in London that the central bank could intervene in markets to bring down the government borrowing rates. After insisting for months that it was up to governments to restore confidence in the eurozone, he suggested the ECB could now take action to lower the borrowing rates of financially weak countries like Spain and Italy, which sent global stock markets surging upward.

The number of people out of work in Spain shows no sign of dropping, with almost one in four people unemployed and half of those under the age of 25 out of work. 53,500 people more joined the ranks of the unemployed between April and June, making for a total of 5.69 million people out of work.

Middle East

Israelis rushed to get government-issue gas masks Wednesday, the latest sign of mounting fears that the Syrian regime could lose control of its chemical weapons stockpiles and violence could spill over the border. Until a few days ago, the possibility of getting dragged into Syria’s civil war was not a major issue in Israel. That changed when Syrian President Bashar Assad’s grip on his country turned more doubtful last week, following startling military gains by rebels and a bomb attack that killed four top officials. Syria then threatened to unleash chemical and biological weapons if the country faces a foreign attack.

Syria

After a series of setbacks, President Bashar Assad’s forces are solidifying their grip on Aleppo and Damascus, knowing that their fall would almost certainly spell the regime’s end. The regime appears to be regaining momentum after a series of setbacks that put it on the defensive. But while its forces easily outgun the rebels in direct confrontations, the rebellion has spread them thin — pointing to a drawn-out civil war. Rebel fighters in Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital, were preparing Friday to make a stand against the military of dictator Bashar Assad, whose tanks and soldiers have been gathering for days outside the city. Tens of thousands of troops are deployed around the southern and eastern regions of the city. The Obama administration is considering its options for more direct involvement in the Syrian civil war if the rebels opposing the Assad regime can wrest enough control to create a safe haven for themselves, U.S. officials said.

Iran

Iran is defiantly forging on with its controversial nuclear activities by activating hundreds more uranium enrichment centrifuges, according to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. ‘There are currently 11,000 centrifuges active in enrichment facilities’ in Iran, he was quoted by state media as saying late on Tuesday in a meeting with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and senior regime officials. That was more than the 10,000 centrifuges Iran was last said to have had operating, according to a May 25 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Several thousand Iranians protested rising prices of food-and chicken in particular-in the northeastern city of Neishabour, in what appeared to be the first incident in which the country’s beleaguered economy sparked street unrest. Demonstrators gathered Monday on the city’s main Imam Square and its surrounding streets chanting ‘Death to inflation’ and ‘Shame on you government, you must resign,’ according to a video posted on YouTube and on opposition blogs and websites.

Iraq

Militants downed an Iraqi army helicopter on Thursday in clashes that have killed at least 19 people including 11 policemen, in what appeared to be part of an al-Qaeda surge to retake one of its former strongholds. The fighting around the town of Hadid, about 10 kilometers north of the Diyala provincial capital of Baqouba, follows a warning last weekend from al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq to push back into areas the group was driven out of by the U.S. military after sectarian fighting peaked in 2007. A day after al-Qaeda issued the threat, shootings and bombings killed 115 people in Iraq’s deadliest day in more than two years.

Pakistan

A truck packed with explosives detonates in a crowded market in northwestern Pakistan close to the Afghan border on Thursday, killing 11 people. The blast in Salarzai town in the Bajur tribal area also wounded nearly two dozen people, some of them critically, and damaged several vehicles and shops. The Pakistani Taliban have a strong presence in Bajur, but the group’s spokesman, Ahsanullah Ahsan, denied they were behind the bombing. The group often denies involvement in bombings with significant civilian casualties.

China

Chinese authorities say they have arrested more than 10,000 suspects and smashed more than 600 gangs during a four-month crackdown on Internet crimes. At the same time, Beijing police are threatening to punish any online “political rumor” or “attack” on Communist Party leaders, the system or the country, raising fears of tighter controls on speech on the country’s 538 million Internet users. The Ministry of Public Security said “major crimes uncovered” during the nationwide operation since May include “spreading pornographic information, trading guns, wiretapping devices, counterfeiting [professional] certificates as well as illegally collecting and selling citizens’ personal information.” The cyber-police have also deleted 3.2 million messages deemed “harmful,” closed hundreds of Internet cafes and punished 30 service providers for granting access to unlicensed sites.

Earthquakes

Seismologists say a mild earthquake widely felt throughout Southern California was centered along the coast west of downtown Los Angeles. The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude-3.8 quake struck at 3:18 a.m. Wednesday. The epicenter was 2 miles east-southeast of Marina del Rey near Culver City and Inglewood. Within half an hour of the quake hitting, dozens of people from as far away as Riverside and the San Fernando Valley reported feeling the shaking on the USGS website. Twenty structures have been destroyed, but no injuries have been reported.

Wildfires

The wildfires burning in north-central Nebraska threatened to force the evacuation of a second small town Tuesday and continued to interfere with boating along the scenic Niobrara River. Monday’s windy, hot weather helped the main Fairfield Creek fire expand to nearly 92 square miles — an area bigger than the state capital of Lincoln. Two other smaller fires about 20 miles east of the main fire had burned more than six square miles. Officials say the fires, which have already destroyed at least 10 homes, are about 15 percent contained.

Weather

Communities around the Northeast are cleaning up after strong thunderstorms swept from Ohio into upstate New York, knocking out power to tens of thousands and leaving at least two people dead. In New York City, the storm is blamed for killing a 61-year-old man who was struck by collapsing scaffolding outside a Brooklyn church. Police say lighting brought bricks down onto the scaffolding. A woman in Pennsylvania was killed by a tree felled by Thursday’s powerful storms. A state of emergency and curfew remains in effect in Elmira, N.Y., as crews continue clearing trees and repairing power lines that were brought down by a possible tornado.

The enormous drought scorching the central USA will almost certainly cost at least $12 billion. The Department of Agriculture said Wednesday that food prices next year could go up by 3%-4% as a result, with beef expected to take the highest jump at 4%-5%. About 64% of the contiguous USA is in a drought. In many areas of the Corn Belt, rain wouldn’t help because it is getting too late in the growing season.

Nearly all of Greenland’s massive ice sheet suddenly started melting a bit this month, a freak event that surprised scientists. Even Greenland’s coldest and highest place, Summit station, showed melting. Ice core records show that last happened in 1889 and occurs about once every 150 years. While some ice usually melts during the summer, what was unusual was that the melting happened in a flash and over a widespread area. The ice melt area went from 40 percent of the ice sheet to 97 percent in four days due to a warm mass of air that washed over all of Greenland. However, NASA’s claim that Greenland is experiencing “unprecedented” melting is nothing but a bunch of hot air, according to scientists who say the country’s ice sheets melt naturally with some regularity.

The strongest typhoon to hit Hong Kong in 13 years swirled into southern China as a tropical storm Tuesday, still potent enough for mainland authorities to order the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and warn residents of possible flooding. Vicente departed Hong Kong midmorning, after leaving more than 100 residents injured and paralyzing business in one of the world’s leading financial centers.

The worst rainstorm to hit Beijing, the Chinese capital, in six decades has given rise to widespread anger against officials who are accused of censoring the scope of massive floods. Government authorities raised the death toll Thursday to 77 from the previous total of 37, but some suspect the toll could be much higher from flash flooding. China’s state-controlled media continue to publish and broadcast positive news about the relief effort while censors deleted negative postings online.

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