Signs of the Times (8/22/12)

Federal Court Okays Texas Cutoff of Planned Parenthood Funds

A federal appeals court ruled late Tuesday that Texas can cut off funding for Planned Parenthood clinics that provide health services to low-income women before a trial over a new law that bans state money from going to organizations tied to abortion providers. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans lifted a federal judge’s temporary injunction that called for the funding to continue pending an October trial on Planned Parenthood’s challenge to the law. The state’s Republican-led Legislature passed a law banning funds to organizations linked to abortion providers.

U.S. Court Bans Ala. from Checking Kids’ Immigration Status

A federal appeals court has ruled it is unconstitutional for Alabama to check the immigration status of schoolchildren when they enroll, or to require illegal immigrants to carry identification. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals did uphold provisions of the state immigration law that allow police to stop people they have a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country unlawfully, and to ask about the immigration status of motorists without driver’s licenses. But the court also struck down a provision that barred residents and businesses from entering into contracts with people who are in the state illegally.

Canada’s Largest Protestant Denomination Elects Openly Gay Leader

Canada’s largest Protestant denomination elected its first openly gay leader at its 41st General Council on Thursday, Christianity Today reports. After nearly eight hours and six rounds of voting, the 350 members of the United Church of Canada selected Gary Paterson from a pool of 15 nominees, including three other openly gay candidates. “Among mainline denominations, as far as I know this is probably a first,” Paterson told council members following the vote. According to the Ottawa Citizen, he “added that he was heartened that his sexuality had been a non-issue with those who voted.” Paterson, who begins his three-year term August 18, will serve as the church’s primary spokesman and preside over General Council meetings.

‘Dreamers’ Cautious about Obama’s Amnesty Program

Undocumented immigrants are taking their time filling out the paperwork for President Barack Obama’s deferred-action program that allows them to legally stay in the country because they have only one chance to get the application right. The six-page application requires undocumented immigrants who want to stay and work in the U.S. for two years without fear of deportation to submit multiple documents proving they meet the program’s long list of requirements, among them that they are under age 31 and came to this country before turning 16. There is no chance to reapply.

U.S. Hostile to Religious Liberty

A joint study from Liberty Institute and the Family Research Council (FRC) records up to 600 incidents of hostility toward religion, most of which have occurred within the last ten years. For example, a Christian couple was fired as apartment complex managers and forced to move because a painting with a Christian reference was displayed in their office. Also listed is a student who was told he could not wear a t-shirt to school because of its Christian message. Liberty Institute attorney Justin Butterfield tells OneNewsNow, “We want to raise awareness of the issue. A lot of people think that hostility because of people’s religious beliefs and attacks on religious liberty are things that happen elsewhere in the world, not in the United States,” he notes. “We just want to show that it actually happens with increasing and alarming regularity here in the United States.” The Liberty Institute further points out that religious liberty is “facing a relentless onslaught from well-funded and aggressive groups” who are using whatever means available to suppress or attack religious freedom.

More Religious Give More to Charity

A new study on the generosity of Americans suggests that states with the least religious residents are also the stingiest about giving money to charity. The study released Monday by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that residents in states where religious participation is higher than the rest of the nation, particularly in the South, gave the greatest percentage of their discretionary income to charity. The Northeast, with lower religious participation, was the least generous to charities, with the six New England states filling the last six slots among the 50 states. Of the 10 least generous states, nine voted for Democrat Barack Obama for president in the last election. By contrast, of the 10 most generous states, eight voted for Republican John McCain.

U.N. Calls on Nations to Adopt Drought Policies

The world urgently needs to adopt drought-management policies as farmers from Africa to India struggle with lack of rainfall and the United States endures the worst drought it has experienced in decades. The World Meteorological Organization says the U.S. drought and its ripple effects on global food markets show the need for policies with more water conservation and less consumption. It is summoning ministers and other high-level officials to a March meeting in Geneva where it will call for systematic measures to combat drought.

  • Another opportunity for globalists to push for more worldwide control

Nearly Half of Physicians Report Burnout Symptoms

A national survey of physicians finds the prevalence of burnout at an “alarming” level, says a study released Monday. While the medical profession prepares for treating millions of patients who will be newly insured under the health care law, the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn.) reports nearly 1 in 2 (45.8%) of the nation’s doctors already suffer a symptom of burnout. “The rates are higher than expected,” says lead author and physician Tait Shanafelt. “We expected maybe 1 out of 3. Before health care reform takes hold, it’s a concern that those docs are already operating at the margins.” Differences varied by specialty: Emergency medicine, general internal medicine, neurology and family medicine reported the highest rates. Burnout can decrease the quality of care, lead to increased risk for errors and push doctors into early retirement, as well as cause problems in their personal lives.

Social Security ‘Fixable’ but Changes Politically Difficult

Despite Social Security’s long-term problems, the massive retirement and disability program could be preserved for generations to come with modest but politically difficult changes to benefits or taxes, or a combination of both. But the sooner changes are made, the more subtle they can be because they can be phased in slowly. Each year lawmakers wait, Social Security’s financial problems loom larger and the need for bigger changes becomes greater, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. Some options could affect people quickly, such as increasing payroll taxes or reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments for those who already get benefits. Other options, such as gradually raising the retirement age, wouldn’t be felt for years but would affect millions of younger workers. All of the options carry political risks. Liberal advocates and some Democrats say benefit cuts should be off the table. Conservative activists and some Republicans say tax increases are out of the question.

  • Because political deadlock has gone on too long, this is a case where we need both benefit cuts and tax increases to preserve the system with adding to the overwhelming federal deficit

Economic News

Gasoline prices rose for the seventh week straight, hitting an average $3.744 a gallon for self-serve regular in the government’s weekly survey. That’s up 2.3 cents since last Monday. California, the nation’s largest gas market, remains the place with the highest prices, the Energy Information Administration reports. A gallon averages $4.129, up about 3.3 cents from $4.096 last week. The Golden State is still reeling from a fire at a major Bay Area refinery that could take months to repair. The cheapest gas is now in the Rocky Mountain states, where it averages $3.535 a gallon, up 3.5 cents.

Regional airlines operate half the nation’s scheduled flights and are often the link between smaller communities and the national air service network. But now, several of those carriers are being closed or are in bankruptcy court protection. As a result, many smaller communities may lose some or all of their air service, and their residents will have to take longer drives to find a flight.

For the second consecutive quarter, auto loans that are at least 60 days past due are down. In fact, they are at their lowest levels since TransUnion, the big credit bureau, started keeping track in 1999. The percent of buyers more than two months due dropped to 0.33% in the second quarter, down from 0.36% in the first quarter and 0.44% a year ago.

The Treasury Department has been withholding as much as 15 percent of Social Security benefits from “a rapidly growing number of Social Security recipients who have fallen behind on federal student loans.” From January through August 6, the government reduced the size of roughly 115,000 retirees’ Social Security checks on those grounds. That’s nearly double the pace of the department’s enforcement in 2011. The amount that the government withholds varies widely, though it runs up to 15%.Some of these retirees are simply among the growing number of older consumers who’ve taken on loans to help their kids or grandchildren through college.

Middle East

When President Obama announced last month that he was barring a Baghdad bank from any dealings with the American banking system, it was a rare acknowledgment of a delicate problem facing the administration in a country that American troops just left: for months, Iraq has been helping Iran skirt economic sanctions imposed on Tehran because of its nuclear program, the New York Times reported. The administration has held private talks with Iraqi officials to complain about specific instances of financial and logistical ties between the countries.

Israel’s home defense minister has told the people of his nation to prepare for a “30-day war.” Families are being warned to stockpile supplies and prepare for extended stays in bomb shelters. When the war with Iran begins, tens of thousands of missiles will rain down on the Jewish people from Hezbollah and Hamas—missiles that Iran has provided for use against the nation of Israel.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah leads the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. He told an interviewer this week that his terrorist group has a list of Israeli targets that they are prepared to hit with the thousands of rockets Iran has supplied to them. “We can transform the lives of millions of Zionists in occupied Palestine to a real hell,” he said.

Egyptian security sources told reporters on Monday that the Egyptian military has plans to move heavy weapons, including large numbers of tanks and aircraft, into the Sinai Peninsula as it continues to engage criminal gangs and terrorist groups which have turned the territory into a lawless no-man’s land.

Syria

Syrian government forces heavily shelled the cities of Aleppo and Daraa and a suburb of Damascus on the second day of a major Muslim holiday Monday, killing up to 30 people, rights groups and activists said. Anti-regime activists say some 20,000 people have been killed since the revolt against Assad’s rule began in March 2011. Government forces stormed a rebel-held town outside Damascus Tuesday after days of fierce fighting, killing at least 23 fighters according to an activist group.

Afghanistan

Militants fired rockets into a U.S. base in Afghanistan and damaged the plane of the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff while he was on a visit, but the general was not near the aircraft. The rocket strike that hit the plane of U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey was yet another propaganda coup for the Taliban after they claimed to have shot down a U.S. helicopter last week. It also followed a string of disturbing killings of U.S. military trainers by their Afghan partners or militants dressed in Afghan uniform. Such attacks killed 10 Americans in the last two weeks alone.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s military chief ruled out a “joint” US-Pakistan invasion of the North Waziristan Agency, and also seemed to downplay the possibility of a unilateral offensive any time soon. The US has been pounding the agency ever since. At least 17 people have been reported killed, all of them listed as “suspected militants” in media reports, in three separate attacks. Pakistan has repeatedly demanded an end to US drone strikes against its territory, saying that the attacks are producing more enemies than they are eliminating. Major anti-US protests are a common occurrence in Pakistani cities, with many demanding the Zardari government limit ties in protest against the attacks.

Mali

Mali’s interim leaders announced a new government late Monday, months after a military coup unleashed political chaos that allowed an Islamist takeover of the north and forced nearly half a million people to flee their homes. None of the ministers in the new government are closely linked to the democratically elected president who was ousted in March. West African regional leaders had threatened to expel Mali from the regional bloc and impose sanctions if the country failed to assemble a unity government as promised.

Kenya

48 people have been killed in clashes over land between pastoral and farming communities in Kenya’s southeast.. The attacks began at dawn where a group of about 200 farmers belonging to the Pokomo ethnic group raided a village in the Riketa area and torched all the houses belonging to the Orma, a pastoralist community. The majority of those who died were women and children. Last week the Orma attacked the Pokomo.

Earthquakes

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that a powerful earthquake took place off the coast of New Guinea, north of Australia. The earthquake struck about 72 miles northeast of Mount Hagen, New Guinea’s third largest city.

Wildfires

Wildfires have charred nearly 7 million acres so far this year — destroying more acreage across the USA in the first eight months of any year since accurate records began in the early 1960s. This is an area larger than Maryland. The combination of the very hot summer and the worst drought since the Dust Bowl are providing fuel for the fires. Wildfires earlier this year have included the largest in Oregon since the 1840s, the largest fire on record in New Mexico, and the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history. Although this year is a record for total acres burned, it is well below average in the number of total fires, meaning the average acres per fire is well above previous records.

Over 50 buildings, many of them likely homes, have been destroyed in recent days a fire burning outside the Northern California community of Manton, fire officials said Tuesday night. The blaze, which was sparked by lightning on Saturday has consumed more than 33 square miles and continues to threaten hundreds of homes. Nearly 1,900 firefighters were battling the fire in rugged, densely forested terrain as it threatened 3,500 homes in the remote towns of Shingletown, Manton and Viola, about 170 miles north of Sacramento.

The Ponderosa Fire, one of 14 major wildfires burning in California, was among a rash of Western wildfires scorching parts of that state, Washington, Idaho and Utah.

In Idaho, residents around the town of Featherville, remained under a mandatory evacuation order as the Trinity Ridge Fire in the Boise National Forest continued to threaten their community. The blaze has charred some 82,000 acres and has been burning for two weeks. In Washington, better weather conditions over the weekend helped firefighters gain ground on a fire that has scorched dozens of homes east of the Cascades. That fire has burned across more than 23,000 acres in rural areas about 75 miles east of Seattle.

Weather

Farmers are resorting to pleas on Facebook, Craigslist and other online sites to track down hay to feed their cattle, horses, sheep and goats now and through the winter. The drought that’s affecting most of the country has hurt alfalfa and grass, the main types of hay, forcing livestock producers to pay more and travel farther. If they can’t find enough, some will liquidate their herds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates this year’s hay harvest will total 120 million tons, down from 131 million last year. This month, the USDA opened 3.8 million acres of conservation land for emergency hay harvesting and grazing.

The severe drought that has hit the Farm Belt does not immediately threaten to create another Dust Bowl or widespread crop failure, thanks to rapid innovations in the past 20 years in seed quality, planting practices and farming technology, farmers and plant scientists say. Soil conservation is generally holding land in place despite record heat and lack of rain in June and July. In the past 20 years, farmers have transformed from plowing fields 8 to 11 inches deep to “no-till” or “conservation-tillage” practices designed to minimally disturb the ground. That exposes the soil to less wind erosion, preserves natural nutrients, and captures and retains what moisture does fall.

The U.S. Coast Guard says 97 boats and barges are waiting for passage along an 11-mile stretch of the Mississippi River that has been closed because of low water levels due to the ongoing drought in the midwest. The stretch of river near Greenville, Miss., has been closed intermittently since Aug. 11, when a vessel ran aground. A Coast Guard boat is currently replacing eight navigation markers.

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