Signs of the Times (11/30/12)

U.S. Abortion Rate has Fallen

U.S. abortions have fallen by 5 percent, the biggest one-year decrease in at least a decade, according to a report from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Nov. 21. While the exact reasons for the decline are difficult to pinpoint, an Associated Press report attributed it to more people using contraceptives and more women being careful because they could not afford to get pregnant in the economic recession. However, the AP report didn’t mention other factors, such as the undeniable growth of the pro-life movement and pro-life groups and the growth of pregnancy resource centers across the country. Participation in Students for Life has doubled in the past five years, while 40 Days for Life now promotes prayer vigils in 400 cities, and Care Net has doubled the number of its affiliated crisis pregnancy centers to 1,100 in the past decade. The media has also failed to mention recent polls that found public opinion of abortion changing, with a majority of Americans identifying themselves as pro-life and only a little more than 40 percent being pro-abortion.

Mississippi’s Only Abortion Clinic Faces Shutdown

The owners of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic are headed back to federal court in another attempt to stop a new state law which could close its doors — effectively banning abortion in the state. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization filed for a preliminary injunction Wednesday to delay enforcement of the new law. Clinic officials say House Bill 1390, which was signed into law in April, imposes unnecessary guidelines and requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The clinic’s doctors have been unable to gain those privileges. In July, a federal judge in Jackson, Mississippi, temporarily blocked the law from going into effect to allow the clinic time to comply with it, and stopped the state from imposing civil and criminal penalties against the organization. If the federal court does not grant a preliminary injunction while the clinic fights the constitutionality of the law, it could close down as early as February.

Supreme Court Orders New Look at Obamacare Challenge

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a federal appeals court to reconsider Liberty University’s legal argument that President Obama’s health care law violates the school’s religious freedom. The case will be returned to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. The school is challenging the constitutionality of the part of the law that mandates employers provide insurance and whether forcing insurers to pay for birth control is unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause.

Atheist Group Gets Major Funding at the University of Wisconsin

An atheist group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison seems on track to receive nearly $70,000 in student fees for staffing and programming next year, in what is believed to be the first major funding of any atheist student group at a state university, the Journal Sentinel reports. The group — Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics, or AHA — said it would provide support services for students struggling with doubts about their faith and offer a safe place to discuss religious issues without fear of recrimination. The allocation marks the first time that an atheist group has qualified for funding beyond the small, event-specific grants most student-run organizations receive, and it appears to be the largest ever awarded to any campus group of its kind in the country. According to Dr. Albert Mohler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: “The decision to fund an atheist student group at the University of Wisconsin follows the appointment of atheist chaplains at several major universities, including Harvard University. Taken together, this is another sign of the increasingly secularized character of the nation’s leading academic institutions.”

Catholic Intensity Fades as Evangelical Devotion Surges

New research shows that Catholics now report the lowest proportion of “strongly affiliated” followers among major American religious traditions, while the data indicates that evangelicals are increasingly devout and committed to their faith. In the 1970s there was only a five-point difference between how strongly Catholics and evangelicals felt about their religion. By 2010, that “intensity gap” had grown to around 20 points, with some 56 percent of evangelicals describing themselves as “strongly affiliated” with their religion compared with 35 percent of Catholics. Even mainline Protestants reported a higher level of religious intensity than Catholics, at 39 percent. The decline in religious enthusiasm among Catholics began in the mid-1980s, and that coincided with the first revelations about the sexual abuse of children by clergy – a scandal that has haunted the church ever since. Moreover, Latino Catholics are less likely to report a strong religious affiliation compared with other Catholics, and the number of Latino Catholics in the U.S. has been growing steadily in past decades.

Immigrants Lead Record Drop in U.S. Birthrate

The U.S. birthrate fell to a record low last year, led by a big decline in babies born to immigrant women during the economic downturn. the 2011 birthrate fell 8% between 2007 and 2010 to 63.2 per 1,000 women of prime childbearing ages, 15 to 44. That’s half the Baby Boom rate of 1957, and the lowest since 1920, the earliest year for reliable data. The decline was most dramatic among Mexican immigrants: 23%. Overall, the birthrate for foreign-born women fell 14%. For U.S.-born women, it dropped 6%.

Foreign-born mothers continue to give birth to a disproportionate share of the nation’s newborns, as they have for at least the past two decades. The 23% share of all births to foreign-born mothers in 2010 was higher than the 13% immigrant share of the U.S. population. The 2010 birth rate for foreign-born women (87.8) was nearly 50% higher than the rate for U.S.-born women (58.9).

Deadly ‘Superbugs’ Invade U.S. Health Care Facilities

A once-obscure family of drug-resistant bacteria has stalked U.S. hospitals and nursing homes for over a decade. Now, it’s attacking in hundreds of those institutions, a USA TODAY examination shows, and it’s a fight the medical community is not well positioned to win. The bacteria, known as Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, are named for their ability to fight off carbapenem antibiotics — the last line of defense in the medical toolbox. And so far, they’ve emerged almost exclusively in health care facilities, picking off the weakest of patients. There have been thousands of CRE cases throughout the country in recent years — they show up as everything from pneumonia to intestinal and urinary tract infections. Yet even the larger outbreaks have received little or no national attention until now. Death rates among patients with CRE infections can be about 40%, far worse than other, better-known health care infections such as MRSA or C-Diff, which have plagued hospitals and nursing homes for decades. And there are growing concerns that CRE could make its way beyond health facilities and into the general community.

  • Increased ‘pestilence’ is also an end-time phenomenon: “And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” (Matthew 24:7)  “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.” (Revelation 15:1)

Unemployment Benefits Cost $520 Billion

Jobless Americans have collected more than half a trillion dollars in benefits over the past five years. State and federal unemployment insurance programs have cost roughly $520 billion, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released Wednesday. The price of continuing this safety net will be the subject of intense debate in Congress as lawmakers decide whether to extend the deadline to file for federal benefits beyond year’s end as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations. Extending federal jobless insurance next year. The jobless generally receive up to 26 weeks of state benefits and then shift to federal emergency unemployment compensation, which is broken into four tiers and lasts up to 47 weeks.

Gun Sales Continue to Soar

For the second consecutive year, prospective gun buyers joined Black Friday shoppers in record numbers as firearms dealers swamped the FBI with required buyer background check requests. The FBI fielded 154,873 calls, a roughly 20% increase from last year’s previous one-day record of 129,166. The requests came in such volume throughout the day that FBI call centers experienced two brief outages. Dealers attributed the continuing gun surge to a variety of factors, including an increase in women buyers and concerns that lawmakers in President Obama’s second term could impose stricter gun laws.

Economic News

The economy grew at a 2.7% annual rate in the third quarter, much faster than initially estimated. The report is revised from the government’s initial estimate of 2.0% growth, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported. In the second quarter, GDP grew at a 1.3% rate. Gains in business inventory investment and federal government spending contributed to the revised growth rate.0

Consumer confidence in October rose to its highest level in four years, boosted by improvements in the job market. The closely watched index, which measures how Americans feel about the economy, edged higher to a reading of 72.2 from a downwardly revised 68.4 in September. It marks the highest level since February 2008, when the country was at the early stages of a long and deep recession.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 393,000 last week. It was the second straight drop after Superstorm Sandy had driven applications much higher earlier this month. Applications spiked to 451,000 three weeks ago after Sandy battered the East Coast. Before Sandy, applications fluctuated between 360,000 and 390,000 this year.

Online retailers had their biggest day ever on Cyber Monday as holiday shoppers drove sales up 30% vs. the same day last year, says IBM Smarter Commerce, which tracks Web sales at 500 top online retailers. Online sales for department stores account for much of the boost, as they were up 43% over last year. The iPad drove more than 7% of online shopping, more than any other tablet or smartphone. Mobile sales overall, which include smartphones and tablets, had a huge boost – up more than 96% from 2011.

New U.S. single-family home sales fell slightly in October and the prior month’s pace of sales was revised sharply lower, casting a small shadow over what has been one of the brighter spots in the U.S. economy. The Commerce Department said on Wednesday sales dropped 0.3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted 368,000-unit annual rate. The data leave the pace of new home sales just below that reported in May, suggesting little upward momentum in the market for new homes.

Home prices are up 3% year over year, according to a widely followed index out Tuesday. The Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index of 20 major cities rose 0.3% in September from a month earlier, marking the sixth consecutive month of increases. Prices rose in 13 cities, declined in five and were unchanged in two. Phoenix has been leading the recovery with a 20% year-over-year gain. And prices in Atlanta prices finally rose 0.1% year over year in September, after 26 straight months of declines.

Eurozone

Eurozone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund announced Monday they had reached an agreement that moves Greece closer to receiving a massive bailout payment. The deal includes lower interest rates for Greece, a debt buyback and more time for the debt-laden country to repay its rescue loans. But plans to forgive Greek debt, a step some negotiators think is necessary to restore fiscal balance in the country, were shelved .

Middle East

The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday endorsed an upgraded U.N. status for the Palestinian Authority, despite intense opposition from the United States and Israel. The resolution elevates their status from “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state,” the same category as the Vatican, which Palestinians hope will provide new leverage in their dealings with Israel. The vote was 138 delegates in favor of the measure, nine against and 41 abstentions, including Germany. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the move, which many call symbolic, represents a “last chance to save the two-state solution.” But Israel’s U.N. ambassador Ron Prosor said the move largely ignores the specifics of longstanding issues, such as settlements in disputed lands.

Large billboards saying “Thank you Iran” have appeared next to three major road junctions in the Gaza Strip in an unprecedented public acknowledgment of the weapons terrorist groups in the Strip receive from the Islamic Republic. The message was written in Arabic, English, Hebrew and Farsi above a picture of an Iranian manufactured Fajr 5 rocket like the ones fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during the recent round of hostilities. “Iranian rockets struck at Tel Aviv. They reached Jerusalem. Therefore it was our duty to thank those who helped our people,” Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib told Reuters.

Egypt

An Islamist-dominated committee voted Friday to approve a new Egyptian constitution, angering protesters who say the vote is an unacceptable power-grab by President Mohammed Morsi. The vote by the constitutional committee could give Muslim clerics oversight over legislation and bring restrictions on freedom of speech, women’s rights and other liberties, say opponents. The draft must be put to a nationwide referendum within 30 days. The proposed new constitution will be based on “principles” of Islamic law though what that will mean in practice is not yet known.

Egypt’s two highest appeals courts suspended their work Wednesday to protest presidential decrees that gave the country’s Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi nearly absolute powers. Judges of the Cassation Court decided in an emergency meeting that they will not return to work until Morsi rescinds his decrees. The country’s lower appeals court also decided Wednesday to stop work nationwide. The move followed a defiant statement by the Supreme Constitutional Court that rejected charges made by Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood that it is working to bring down his government.

Syria

Rebel fighters were continuing Thursday to battle Syrian troops holding defensive positions on roads leading to Damascus’ main international airport. Internet service was shut down in the entire country. The unprecedented blackout, confirmed by U.S. Internet firms, comes amid intense fighting in the capital. The attacks follow the rebel capture of a dam in northern Syria that was part of a re-supply line to government soldiers in the embattled city of Aleppo.

Twin car bombs ripped through a Damascus suburb on Wednesday, killing at least 34 people and leaving dozens critically wounded in a district that is mostly loyal to President Bashar Assad. The area is populated mostly by Christians and Druse, a minority sect. A series of car and suicide bombings have struck regime targets in Damascus and elsewhere since last December, raising fears of a rising Islamic militant element among the forces seeking to topple Assad.

Iraq

A wave of bombings targeting Shiite Muslims in two major cities south of Baghdad killed at least 39 people and wounded more than 100 Thursday morning. The deadliest of the attacks was in the city of Hillah, where back-to-back explosions in a busy commercial area killed at least 27 people and wounded up to 90. Insurgents first detonated a roadside bomb that was followed by a car bomb explosion when rescuers rushed to the scene. Just hours earlier, a parked car bomb went off at one of its gates of the city of Karbala killing six people and wounding 20. Shiite religious ceremonies have often been targeted by Sunni militants who view the Shiites as heretics.

Tibet

Two dozen Tibetans have set themselves on fire in western China this month in a dramatic acceleration of the protests against authoritarian Chinese rule. The surge in self-immolations, along with an increase in large demonstrations, mark a new phase in the Tibetan protests. At least 86 people have set themselves on fire since the immolations began in 2009. In a change in recent months, most self-immolators now are lay people — some of them acting together — rather than Buddhist monks and nuns who can be more closely watched by the authorities because they live in tightly monitored monasteries. Despite the altered approach, observers see little short-term possibility of Beijing changing its repressive policies.

Persecution Watch

Suicide bombers attacked a church inside a military barracks in Kaduna state in northern Nigeria, killing at least 30 people and injuring at least 45 others. According to ASSIST News, a military spokesman said two vehicles were driven into the barracks in Jaji in what he described as “surprising and an embarrassment.” A bus entered the barracks and was driven into the wall of the church, where it exploded. Ten minutes later, a car blew up outside the church. “The first blast caused no casualties, and curious worshipers gathered around the scene looking at the debris … and that was when the second blast happened,” the spokesman said. It is not clear who is responsible for the attack, but the army suspects the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has recently targeted churches in the state. The group is fighting to overthrow the government and impose a strict form of sharia, or Islamic law. The militant Islamist group Boko Haram has been responsible for an estimated 3,000 deaths since 2009.

A North Carolina community college has been accused of violating the First Amendment rights of students after it told a club they could not use the word “Christmas” to promote a Christmas tree sale, Todd Starnes reports. The BEST Society was planning to sell the Christmas trees to raise money for Angel Tree, an organization that provides Christmas presents to prisoners’ children. Club members followed college protocol and submitted forms to promote the sale, with the proposed text reading, “The BEST Society will be selling Christmas trees…” But when the announcement appeared on the college’s website and in other venues, every reference to “Christmas trees” had been replaced with “holiday trees.” The communications relations director allegedly told the students, “We cannot market your trees in association solely with a Christian event.” The Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to officials at Western Piedmont Community College, urging them to either reconsider their decision to censor the word “Christmas” or else face a possible lawsuit. “It’s ridiculous that anyone would have to think twice about using the word ‘Christmas’ as part of a Christmas tree sale,” said ADF attorney Matt Sharp.

Earthquakes

An earthquake struck the eastern part of Indonesia on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. There were no immediate reports of damage. The magnitude-5.5 quake was centered 56 kilometers (35 miles) under the sea. There have been 11 magnitude 5+ quakes in this region in the past week – including a 5.6 Tuesday.

Weather

An atmospheric river of Pacific moisture is now soaking parts of the West Coast and will continue to do so through the weekend. A deep dip, or trough, in the jet stream is currently in place over the eastern Pacific Ocean. This will continue to send a parade of frontal systems and upper-level disturbances into the West Coast. Winds have gusted in excess of 50 mph in San Francisco with this latest storm as of early Friday morning. Gusts of 120 mph have been reported along the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Storm total rainfall amounts will likely be over 10 inches through this weekend, leading to flash flooding, river flooding and, in recent burn areas, debris flows. This will particularly be the case in the coastal ranges of northwest California and the Sierra foothills. The strong winds could result in localized power outages and tree damage.

The snowstorm will bury California’s Mount Shasta in astronomical amounts of snow through the weekend — amounts that could flirt with world records. The forecast for Shasta predicted an incredible 33 to 39 inches of snow — just for Thursday alone. Add in another 37 to 43 inches of snow Thursday night, and additional amounts ranging from  21 to 35 inches every 12 hours through Saturday night, plus a light dusting of 11 to 17 inches on Sunday… …and you get a storm total of 176 inches.  On the low end. Add up the high end of the numbers and you get a forecast maximum of 218 inches of snow in four days. According to Weather Underground, the world record for a single snowstorm is 189 inches in six days at the Mount Shasta Ski Bowl in February 1959.

Two decades of satellite readings back up what dramatic pictures have suggested in recent years: The mile-thick ice sheets that cover Greenland and most of Antarctica are melting at a faster rate in a warming world. The net loss of billions of tons of ice a year added about 11 millimeters — seven-sixteenths of an inch — to global average sea levels between 1992 and 2011. Greenland and two of the three ice sheets that cover Antarctica have lost an estimated 237 billion metric tons of ice.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme and set many kinds of records

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