Signs of the Times (12/14/12)

  • For those of you who have been asking, Book 6, The End of Judgment, of The End, series is now available as an ebook on Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Ministry Helps 38 Workers Leave Abortion Clinics

A ministry started by a former Planned Parenthood center director is succeeding in helping abortion clinic workers leave the industry, Baptist Press reports. And Then There Were None (ATTWN), started by Abby Johnson after her departure from a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas, has helped 38 workers leave the abortion business, according to a report by LifeSiteNews.com. Johnson said her organization was helping five workers leave the same clinic in Atlanta, and three already have jobs. It has also assisted three employees of a Houston clinic. Johnson worked at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan for eight years, serving as its director for more than two years. She left her position and became a pro-life advocate in 2009 shortly after witnessing the destruction of a 13-week-old unborn baby as part of an ultrasound-guided abortion she assisted in.

Government to See Red over Abortions

This year, 1.2 million American babies will never breathe their first breath, feel the gentle touch of a mother or find comfort in the arms of a loving father as victims of abortion. Now – after four decades of legally sanctioned abortion – Americans are sending a visual expression of moral outrage directly to Washington D.C., deep into the Halls of Congress, beyond the marble columns of the Supreme Court and into the Oval Office. Jan. 22 has been designated Red Envelope Day, with one group seeking to flood the offices of President Obama, key government officials and mainstream news media with 1.2 million empty red envelopes bearing a very clear message on the outside: “This envelope represents one child who died in abortion. It is empty, a life taken that was unable to offer anything to the world. Responsibility and life begin at conception.” A portion of the proceeds of every red envelope go directly to organizations committed to the pro-life cause.

New Insurance Fee from Obamacare Likely to Hit Consumers

Your medical plan is facing an unexpected expense, so you probably are, too. It’s a new, $63-per-head fee to cushion the cost of covering people with pre-existing conditions under President Obama’s health care overhaul. The charge, buried in a recent regulation, works out to tens of millions of dollars for the largest companies, employers say. Most of that is likely to be passed on to workers. Based on figures provided in the regulation, employer and individual health plans covering an estimated 190 million Americans could owe the per-person fee. The Obama administration says it is a temporary assessment levied for three years starting in 2014, designed to raise $25 billion. It starts at $63 and then declines.

  • Odd how information about Obamacare fees are coming out after the election – then again, not odd at all

Medical Companies Prepare for Obamacare Layoffs

Come Jan. 1, an ObamaCare-tied tax specific to the medical device industry is expected to go into effect. Though the Obama administration has downplayed the impact, ADM Tronics calls it “devastating.” Many other companies in the industry predict preemptive layoffs and significant cutbacks in research and development. The Affordable Care Act imposed the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices with the goal of raising nearly $30 billion over the next decade. Manufacturers say the impact of the tax is far greater than meets the eye — the 2.3 percent tax is on gross sales, meaning it’s a much greater percentage of net income.

U.S. Arming Egypt Despite Turmoil

Instability in Egypt, where a newly-elected Islamic government teeters over an angry population, isn’t enough to stop the U.S. from sending more than 20 F-16 fighter jets, as part of a $1 billion foreign aid package. The first four jets are to be delivered to Egypt beginning Jan. 22nd. The North African nation already has a fleet of more than 200 of the planes and the latest shipment merely fulfills an order placed two years ago. But given the uncertainty in Cairo, some critics wonder if it is wise to be sending more top gun planes. The U.S. government ordered and paid for the fighter jets for Egypt’s military as part of foreign aid for Egypt back in 2010, when Hosni Mubarak ruled. “Should an overreaction [by Egypt] spiral into a broader conflict between Egypt and Israel, such a scenario would put U.S. officials in an embarrassing position of having supplied massive amounts of military hardware … to both belligerents,” said Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute. “Given Washington’s fiscal woes, American taxpayers should no longer be Egypt’s major arms supplier.”

Michigan Passes Right-to-Work Law

Michigan has dealt a tremendous blow to unions, approving a right-to-work measure in the heart of organized labor’s industrial stronghold. The new law — passed by legislators and signed hours later on Tuesday — not only signals a change in America’s so-called Rust Belt, but is also the latest sign that the power of organized labor is shrinking in the United States. American unions already have a fraction of the influence they did a few decades ago. Only about 12% of workers are union members, down from 20% in 1983. Michigan has become the 24th state to adopt a right-to-work law, which removes the requirement for people to pay unions to work at unionized agencies, effectively decreasing union funding and making it less likely that workers choose to organize.

Food Stamp Use Hits New High

Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, reached another high in September, according to new data released by the United States Department of Agriculture, the Daily Caller reports. The data, released on Friday, shows that 47,710,324 people were enrolled in the program in September, an increase of 607,559 from the 47,102,765 enrolled in August. The average monthly benefit was $134.29 per person and $278.89 per household, and Texas, California and Florida were the states with the most recipients. The new numbers mean that an estimated one in 6.5 people in America were on food stamps in America. In the 1970s, one out of every 50 Americans was on food stamps, but spending on the program has quadrupled since 2001 and doubled in just the last four years.

  • Our socialistic government wants as many people as possible on the dole because that gives our noble leaders the greatest control

Economic News

The Federal Reserve dropped more hints Wednesday as to when its unconventional easing measures might finally end. The Fed announced that it plans to expand its controversial stimulus program, known as quantitative easing, to keep long-term interest rates near record lows. It also set explicit economic targets for when it plans to end its easing programs. The Fed will buy $45 billion in Treasuries, in addition to its existing policy of buying $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities each month. The end date for all this easing? Until the job market improves “substantially” and the unemployment rate falls to 6.5%, or inflation exceeds 2.5% a year.

  • Tantamount to printing money, it only further postpones the inevitable debt-driven crash

November retail sales rebounded in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, helped by a strong and early start to the holiday shopping season. Overall sales bounced back to a 0.3% increase in the month, after a 0.3% decline in October. While sales at department stores fell 0.8% in the month, sales at electronics stores jumped 2.5% and clothing store sales rose 0.9%. In addition sales at non-store retailers, primarily online shopping sites, jumped 3%.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, and are now back to pre-hurricane levels. About 343,000 people filed initial jobless claims last week, 29,000 fewer than those who sought help in the previous week. A reading less than 375,000 indicates an expanding job market.

The U.S. trade deficit widened in October as exports suffered the biggest drop in nearly four years, indicating slowing global demand is likely to weigh on U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter. The Commerce Department said on Tuesday the trade gap increased 4.9 percent to $42.2 billion even as imports declined to the lowest level in 1-1/2 years. The wider trade gap in October reflected a 3.6 percent fall in exports of goods and services to $180.5 billion.

After years of budget cuts and sluggish recovery, states expect to see their revenues climb back to pre-recession levels this year for the first time since the financial crisis hit. But Washington’s efforts to tame the federal deficit, state officials fear, could end up further whittling away the federal aid that states depend upon and weakening the economy as it slowly mends. Federal aid provided states with roughly a third of their revenue last year.

The U.S. Treasury is selling its remaining stake in insurer American International Group Inc., bringing an end to government ownership of the company about four years after it was rescued from the brink of bankruptcy. The sale will close the chapter on one of the most politically contentious government rescues and turn a profit for taxpayers, a development once seen as inconceivable. But as AIG restructured and returned to viability, it was able to repay the entire rescue plus generate a profit for U.S. taxpayers. Imports of goods and services fell 2.1 percent to $222.8 billion in October, the lowest since April 2011.

Eurozone

Eurozone finance ministers formally agreed Thursday to release more aid to Greece, with the first installment of funds due in the coming days. In total, Greece will receive €49.1 billion, with €34.3 billion paid out shortly. The remainder will be disbursed during the first quarter of 2013, with the first part of that going toward covering bank recapitalization in a bid to revive lending to companies and households. EU finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund agreed on a deal that would lower interest rates for Greece and help the troubled nation cut debt targets to 124% of GDP by 2020.

Finance ministers agreed early on Thursday to place banks in the euro area under a single supervisor, a step enabling European Union leaders to deliver a show of unity at their year-end summit that starts later in the day. European leaders were expected to hail the breakthrough, which gives the European Central Bank the leading supervisory role over lenders, as a sign they are taking concrete steps to maintain the viability of the euro. The deal would put more than 100 large banks in Europe under the direct supervision of the central bank.

Middle East

Since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring almost two years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood has made significant advancements both in Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot in Gaza, celebrated its 25th anniversary over the weekend, and hundreds of thousands gathered in possibly the biggest rally in the history of Gaza to hear Hamas’ political leader, Khaled Meshaal, CBN News reports. Egypt’s new government allowed Meshaal to enter — something the Mubarak government would not do — and it marked the first time in 45 years that he had been in Gaza. He used the opportunity to pledge Israel’s destruction, saying: “Palestine will be Palestine. We will never surrender the land, Jerusalem, the right of return or [our right] to resistance. We will not leave any inch of Palestinian land and we’ll never give up any of our rights.” Israeli president Shimon Peres stated in response to Meshaal’s speech: “He unmasked the real nature of Hamas: to kill, to conquer, not to compromise, the people of Gaza can remain poor and hungry.” Some have speculated Meshaal could one day be a candidate for president of the PA.

Turkey

The United States gave the go-ahead Friday to deploy Patriot anti-ballistic missiles to Turkey along with 400 troops to operate them as the heavily embattled government in neighboring Syria again vehemently denied firing ballistic missiles at rebels. The United States has accused Damascus of launching Scud-type artillery from the capital at rebels in the country’s north. One Washington official said missiles came close to the border of Turkey, a NATO member and staunch U.S. ally. The surface-to-air interceptors will help in “dealing with threats that come out of Syria,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

Syria

American military satellites picked up and confirmed the infrared signature of four short-range Scud missiles launched from the Damascus area to northern Syria in the past several days. The missiles did not land on the Turkish side of the border but came close. “As the regime becomes more and more desperate, we see it resorting to increased lethality and more vicious weapons moving forward and we have in recent days seen missiles deployed,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Defeat could be near for Syria’s embattled regime, NATO and Syrian ally Russia said Thursday. “I think now it’s only a question of time,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. The al-Assad government is “approaching collapse,” Rasmussen said. The Syrian president’s control is crumbling at an accelerating pace but the latest assessment by U.S. intelligence finds few indications Bashar al-Assad is willing to step down.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday recognized the leading Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the country’s people, marking a “big step” in U.S. engagement with the nearly two-year-old crisis. “We’ve made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime,” Obama said. The United States joins Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council in recognizing the opposition. The move will be a major psychological boost for the rebels, but it doesn’t mean Washington will be arming them anytime soon.

Egypt

Masked gunmen attacked opposition protesters camped out at Cairo’s Tahrir Square early on Tuesday, firing birdshot at them and wounding nine people. The attack stoked tensions just hours ahead of rival mass rallies in the Egyptian capital by supporters and opponents of the country’s Islamist president over a disputed draft constitution. The charter has vastly polarized the nation and triggered some of the worst violence since Mohammed Morsi took office in June as Egypt’s first freely elected president.

Afghanistan

At least three people died when a suicide bomb exploded near Afghanistan’s Kandahar airfield Thursday, hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had left the city. One American was killed and three others were wounded, Panetta said. Two Afghan civilians were killed and 18 others were wounded. The attack struck an MRAP, the acronym for a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle used by U.S. forces, as it was about to enter the base. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

Iran

Sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program have pushed the country into recession, a global association of financial services said on Monday. Crude oil exports have dropped sharply, the Iranian rial has plummeted and inflation has soared in 2012, the Washington-based Institute for International Finance said in its report on the Middle East and North Africa. During the 2012/2013 fiscal year, revenues from oil (which accounted for about half of its total revenues in previous years) could drop by at least 40 percent,’ it said. The Iranian government has started consolidating public spending to offset a fall in revenues, it added. The rial has been ‘steadily depreciating this year as foreign currency inflows have been garnered by the central bank for use in payment for government imports and to meet essential import needs,’ it said. Inflation will average around 50 percent this year, up from 26.5 in 2011… ‘As the economy enters a recession, the regime faces pressures from rising public unrest and discontent within Parliament,’ the report said.

North Korea

North Korea successfully fired a long-range rocket on Wednesday, defying international warnings as the regime of Kim Jong Un took a big step forward in its quest to develop a nuclear missile. While the rocket launch will enhance the credentials of young leader Kim, who took power after his father Kim Jong Il’s death a year ago, it is also likely to bring fresh sanctions against the country and further complicate relations between North Korea, its neighbors, and the West. Even China, North Korea’s closest ally, expressed “regret” that North Korea went ahead with the launch “in spite of the extensive concerns of international community.” “North Korea will now turn its attention to developing bigger rockets with heavier payloads,” said Chae Yeon-seok, a rocket expert at South Korea’s state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute. “Its ultimate aim will be putting a nuclear warhead on the tip.”

Nigeria

Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram’s violent jihad against Christians in Nigeria pushed the country into seventh place in annual rankings of countries impacted by terrorism, fueling more calls for the State Department to reconsider its decision not to designate the Islamist group as a foreign terrorist organization, CNSNews.com reports. Nigeria’s ranking in the latest Global Terrorism Index, released this week, marked a shift from 12th place a year ago, from 16th place in 2008 and from 30th place in 2005. The top six countries this year are Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Yemen and Somalia. Produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the index is calculated based on the number of terrorist incidents, the number of deaths, the number of casualties and the level of property damage. The newly-published rankings relate to 2011, a year during which 168 terror attacks were recorded in Nigeria, accounting for 437 deaths and 614 injuries. This year, however, has already witnessed more than 700 Nigerian Christian deaths in Boko Haram-related violence, according to the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN), and the coming Christmas holiday could bring more, if past years are a guide.

Mali

Mali’s prime minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra (a former NASA engineer, who holds U.S. citizenship), abruptly resigned Tuesday on state television, a day after he was arrested by a group of soldiers loyal to a former coup leader. The development is another blow to the stability of a country once hailed as a model of democracy in Africa, but one derailed by a coup and an uprising of Islamist militants. “The arrest was made by a small force loyal to coup leader Capitaine Amadou Sanogo,” said army spokesperson Colonel Idrissa Traore. “The majority of the military officers in Bamako were not informed about the arrest of Mr. Diarra, and no one knows what will happen now,”

Persecution Watch

The U.S. Navy directed service members serving in Bahrain to cancel and dismantle a live nativity after receiving a complaint from a military atheist group who said the manger scene endangered Americans serving in a Muslim country and violated the U.S. Constitution, Fox News reports. The live nativity was a long-standing tradition at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain that featured the children of military personnel dressed as shepherds and wise men along with Mary and Joseph. It was part of a larger celebration that included a tree lighting, Christmas music and photographs with Santa Claus and a camel. Some service members in Bahrain called the cancellation “heartbreaking,” and children who were supposed to act in the nativity were devastated. “Here we are serving in the Middle East, defending our country and other people’s religions, and we couldn’t understand why we can’t enjoy our own religious freedoms,” said one officer who asked not to be identified.

New restrictions on religious freedom are coming into force in Vietnam in the New Year, sparking concerns that Christian groups will face more harassment from the authorities. Religious activity is already strictly controlled in Vietnam; all churches and other religious groups are supposed to register with the government and submit to its direction. Unregistered house churches, particularly those in the hill-tribe areas, are subjected to a great deal of harassment and hostility from the authorities. Churches have been closed, members arrested and hundreds sentenced to long prison terms. The new Decree 92 measures have sparked alarm among the Christian and Buddhist communities. One article states that in order to receive full recognition, a religious group must prove that it has operated for 20 years without violating the law, including “infringing national security”.

Two church leaders were wounded in separate attacks targeting worship services in Sri Lanka.  A large mob, including numerous Buddhist monks, stormed the building. The attackers overwhelmed eight police officers, who had been sent to the scene to oversee a planned demonstration by the monks against the church. The mob vandalized church furniture and equipment and also vehicles belonging to church members that were parked outside the building. Children were present during the attack. The day before the incident, a group of Buddhists, including a number of monks, had visited the pastor and told him that he was not allowed to conduct Christian worship in Weeraketiya without the permission of Buddhist clergy.

Earthquakes

The U.S. Geological Survey is reporting that a magnitude 4.5 earthquake rattled Costa Rica early Wednesday. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. The USGS said the quake, which struck at 12:54 a.m. local time, had an epicenter about two miles south-southwest of Naranjo, which is about 22 miles west of the capital San Jose. Its depth was 6.3 miles.

A smaller earthquake shook Puerto Rico on Tuesday evening. The USGS says the magnitude 2.6 quake, which occurred at about 6:30 p.m. at a depth of 5.6 miles, had an epicenter three miles east-southeast of Mayaguez, or about 66 miles west of San Juan. No injuries or damage were immediately reported.

Weather

Tropical Cyclone Evan is battering the South Pacific with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph and gusts up to 144 mph. Forecasters predict Evan could get stronger over the next 36 hours, evolving into a more powerful Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 126 mph, as it creeps southwest, away from the Samoan islands and toward Fiji. There were reports of two deaths in Samoa, an independent country with a population of 183,000. American Samoa is a U.S. territory with a population of about 55,000.

Severe storms swept across the South Monday, December 10 with at least six preliminary tornadoes being reported from Arkansas to Florida.  The National Weather Service has confirmed that storm damage in Birmingham, Ala., was caused by a tornado with maximum winds estimated at 90 mph. the storm damaged roofs and broke windows. The storm damaged roofs and broke windows, but no injuries were reported. Despite the recent tornadoes, 2012 is on pace to have the fewest U.S. tornadoes in any year since 1989.

A weather system ejecting out of the Southwest may fire off some thunderstorms in the south-central states on Friday. Isolated hail is possible with these overnight in parts of Oklahoma and northwest Texas. A few isolated severe storms are possible ahead of this system on Saturday in southeast Texas, southern Arkansas and western/northern Louisiana.–

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