Signs of the Times (1/7/13)

Court Won’t Stop Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Supreme Court won’t stop the government’s funding of embryonic stem cell research, despite some researchers’ complaints that the work relies on destroyed human embryos. The high court on Monday refused to hear an appeal from two scientists who have been challenging the funding for the work. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia earlier this year threw out their lawsuit challenging federal funding for the research. Opponents claimed the National Institutes of Health was violating the 1996 Dickey-Wicker law that prohibits taxpayer financing for work that harms an embryo.

  • Adult stem cells have produced more tangible results without the attendant moral issues

The Truth about Children with Gay Parents

A group of professors has debunked the research of a sociologist, finding that children with heterosexual parents do better in school than those raised by homosexuals. Dr. Douglas Allen, Burnaby Mountain professor of economics at Simon Fraser University, tells OneNewsNow that he, Dr. Catherine Pakaluk of Ave Marie University, and Dr. Joseph Price of Brigham Young University took a look at a large study conducted by Stanford sociologist Dr. Michael Rosenfeld that found no difference between children who are reared by heterosexual parents and those raised by homosexual couples. The three found a mistake in the research that completely alters the outcome. “It turns out the children from these homes don’t do as well. They’re about 35 percent more likely to fail a grade,” Allen reports about youngsters raised by homosexuals.

New U.S. Congress has fewer Friends of Israel

Israel’s relations with the United States have long been the cornerstone of its defense and foreign policies, but the 113th Congress was sworn in on Thursday without some of Israel’s best friends who either retired, lost their re-election bids or in the case of Hawaiian Sen. Daniel Inouye, died. “It has to be considered quite a loss, but everything is relative, and in terms of support for Israel it shouldn’t make a difference,” said veteran Israel supporter Morrie Amitay. Referring to the large number of Congressional delegates who are unschooled in issues related to Israel, he sounded a cautiously optimistic note by saying “there’s no one coming in that’s waving a red flag. On the other hand, there’s no one coming in flying the blue and white flag.”

  • U.S. support of Israel is waning as the anti-Christ spirit gains more ground under the most anti-Israel administration in history

How Will Al Jazeera Translate in USA?

Media watchers in the Middle East say the Arabic news network Al Jazeera is well known for promoting radical Islamist causes overseas, but it remains to be seen how it will present the news on its newly purchased U.S. cable channel. There is a big difference between Al Jazeera’s Arabic programming and its international English-language broadcasts. The Arab broadcasts very often promote a very radical Islamist approach. The international programs occasionally interview people with differing opinions, including Israeli leaders. This creates a perception of balanced reporting, but in fact, the overall underlying agenda is very radical. Al Jazeera has a long history of close ties to and support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

  • Islam is determined to take over the entire world using any means necessary. This is yet another foot in the door for Islam in America.

Fiscal Crisis Package Loaded with Special-Interest Tax Breaks

The last-minute deal Congress approved for the stated purpose of sparing the middle class from tax hikes was iced with a host of special-interest favors — including tax breaks for Hollywood, Puerto Rico rum producers and the alternative energy industry. All told, the more than 50 temporary tax breaks, extended for another year thanks to the fiscal crisis package, are worth about $76 billion. Lawmakers, including those who approved the package earlier this week, are now lambasting the decision to load up the bill in the final hours with the tax break extensions. “It’s hard to think of anything that could feed the cynicism of the American people more than larding up must-pass emergency legislation with giveaways to special interests and campaign contributors,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said

Congress OKs $9.7B in Sandy relief

Congress approved a $9.7 billion aid bill for victims of Superstorm Sandy on Friday, amid a gusty debate between those who say Congress must ultimately approve a total of $60 billion to help communities rebuild and those who warn the aid package is festooned with unnecessary and costly items. House conservatives continued to object to more government spending without spending cuts to offset it. Sixty-seven of them voted Friday against the Sandy package, which replenishes the National Flood Insurance Program that was due to run out of money next week. And fiscal watchdog groups pointed out that plenty of items in the earlier Senate bill — a version of which would presumably make up the $51 billion House bill — were not necessarily specific to Sandy, or even the battered East Coast.

  • Liberals in Congress will use every opportunity to pad legislation with unrelated pork

New Food Safety Rules Will Take Years to Enact

The Food and Drug Administration’s new food-safety rules will make the food Americans eat safer and help prevent food-borne diseases that every year kill about 3,000 people and sicken at least 2 million others. The new rules will cost businesses about half a billion dollars annually. Proposed Friday, it will still be another three years before the rules are implemented at the biggest farms and even longer at smaller farms. The new rules come exactly two years to the day President Obama’s signed food safety legislation passed by Congress, But their administration delayed enactment until after the election. The 2011 law required the FDA propose a first installment of the rules a year ago and food safety advocates sued the administration to expedite the process.

  • The new rules will also cause food prices to rise

Health Insurers Raise Some Rates by Double Digits

Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers. Particularly vulnerable to the high rates are small businesses and people who do not have employer-provided insurance and must buy it on their own. In California, Aetna is proposing rate increases of as much as 22 percent, Anthem Blue Cross 26 percent and Blue Shield of California 20 percent for some of those policy holders, according to the insurers’ filings with the state for 2013. These rate requests are all the more striking after a 39 percent rise sought by Anthem Blue Cross in 2010 helped give impetus to the law, known as the Affordable Care Act, which was passed the same year and will not be fully in effect until 2014. In other states, like Florida and Ohio, insurers have been able to raise rates by at least 20 percent for some policy holders.

  • Government controls will never stamp out greed

Economic News

Bank of America said Monday it will pay $10 billion to federal mortgage issuer Fannie Mae to settle allegations that mortgages were improperly handled during the financial crisis. The Charlotte, N.C-based bank will pay $3.6 billion in cash related to how it sold and distributed certain residential mortgage loans. Bank of America (BAC) will also repurchase $6.75 billion worth of residential mortgage loans it and its Countrywide Financial unit sold to Fannie Mae. Bank of America bought Countrywide Financial in July 2008, just before the financial meltdown triggered by the bursting of a residential real estate bubble. Countrywide was a giant in mortgage lending, but was also known for approving risky loans.

Separately, federal regulators reached an $8.5 billion settlement on Monday to resolve claims of foreclosure abuses that included flawed paperwork used in foreclosures and bungled loan modifications by 10 major lenders, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citibank. About $3.3 billion of that settlement amount will go toward Americans who went through foreclosure in 2009 and 2010, while $5.2 billion will address other assistance to troubled borrowers, including loan modifications and reductions of principal balances. Eligible homeowners could get up to $125,000 in compensation.

Employers may be hiring, but there’s another big problem with the job market that isn’t being tracked as closely: the 3.25 million “hopelessly unemployed.” An often overlooked number calculated by the Labor Department shows millions of Americans want a job but haven’t searched for one in at least a year. They’ve simply given up hope. They’re not counted as part of the labor force, the official unemployment rate, or the category the Labor Department refers to as “discouraged workers” — those who haven’t bothered to look for work in the last four weeks. These hopelessly unemployed workers have just been jobless so long, they’ve fallen off the main government measures altogether.

Gasoline prices remain below $3 a gallon in at least 50% or more outlets in 14 states. But the national average has crept up three cents to $3.30 a gallon the past week and 8 cents since hitting a 2012 low of $3.22 in mid-December. It’s likely to get worse in the coming weeks with crude oil prices rising.

Persecution Watch

A new court ruling in Britain says Christians have no right to refuse to work on Sundays because it is not a “core component” of their beliefs, The Telegraph reports. The judgment came on an appeal brought by a Christian woman who said she was forced to resign from the job she loved at a care home because she refused to work on Sundays. Celestina Mba said when she took the position in 2007, her managers initially agreed to accommodate her church commitments, but after a few months they began pressuring her to work on Sundays and threatening her with disciplinary measures even though other workers were willing to take her shifts. The ruling has caused an uproar among Christians who say the decision puts them at a disadvantage to other religions and essentially means the courts are now in a position of deciding what is and what is not a “core” doctrine of Christianity.

Middle East

Egyptian authorities seized six U.S.-made missiles in the Sinai Peninsula Friday that security officials said were likely smuggled from Libya and bound for the Gaza Strip. Libya’s 2011 uprising and subsequent civil war left the country awash in weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades, automatic rifles and other munitions. Since the end of the country’s eight-month conflict, smugglers have transferred some of the weapons to Islamic militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which has faced a security vacuum since the country’s own uprising, and from there onward in underground tunnels to neighboring Gaza.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians gathered in Gaza in a show of support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party on Friday, the 48th anniversary of the party’s founding. It was an unusual scene in Gaza because it was the first mass rally showing open support for Fatah since 2007. That is the year Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah, which now controls only the West Bank. High-level Fatah Party officials also showed up for the event after entering Gaza for the first time since being ousted by Hamas. Leaders of both parties described it as another step toward unity.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has issued a decree renaming the organization the “State of Palestine.” The change comes a little more than a month after the United Nations voted to upgrade the authority’s status to “non-member observer state.” With the decree, Palestinian identification, passports and other documents will be branded with the new name. The rebranding comes amid efforts to unify rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas following the watershed U.N. vote — widely seen as a victory for Abbas’ Fatah faction — as well as the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

  • Palestinians are acting under the assumption that a two-state solution with Jerusalem as its capital is a lock, and virtually no one (including the U.S.) is opposing that notion.

Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday outlined his vision for a road map to end nearly 22 months of violence in Syria but also struck a defiant tone, calling on his countrymen to unite against “murderous criminals” whom he said are carrying out a foreign plot seeking to tear the nation apart. In a one-hour speech to the nation in which he appeared confident and relaxed, Assad ignored international demands for him to step down and said he is ready to hold a dialogue but only with those “who have not betrayed Syria.” He offered a national reconciliation conference, elections and a new constitution but demanded regional and Western countries stop funding and arming rebels trying to overthrow him first. The proposal, however, is unlikely to win acceptance from Syria’s opposition forces who have repeatedly said they will accept nothing less than the president’s departure.

As the civil war in Syria nears its two-year anniversary, the United Nations estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed, with monthly casualty figures steadily increasing, reports Yahoo! News. The death toll, based on reporting by seven different sources, is a third more than the figure of 45,000 given by activists opposed to the regime of President Bashar Assad — the first time that the U.N.’s estimates are higher. “The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking,” said Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Syrian ground and air forces bombarded rebel strongholds on the outskirts of Damascus and other areas around the country Friday while anti-government forces targeted a military post near the capital with a car bomb. Government troops were firing rockets and mortars from the Qasioun mountains overlooking the capital down at orchards near the southern suburbs of Daraya and Kfar Sousseh.

Turkey

U.S. troops have started to arrive in Turkey to man Patriot missiles meant to protect the NATO ally from potential Syrian warheads, the U.S. military said Friday. The United States, Germany and the Netherlands are each deploying two batteries of the U.S.-built defense system to boost ally Turkey’s air defenses against any spillover from Syria’s nearly 2-year civil war. The Patriot systems are expected to become operational later this month. Some 400 personnel and equipment from the U.S. military’s Fort Sill, Oklahoma-based 3rd Battalion were to be airlifted to Turkey over the coming days

Afghanistan

A pair of suicide bombers targeted a meeting of tribal elders in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, killing up to eight people. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the dual attacks. The attack occurred at a weekly meeting where tribal elders listen to concerns from constituents. Fifteen people were injured in the attack.

India/Pakistan

Tensions between India and Pakistan flared Sunday in the Kashmir region, with at least one Pakistani soldier killed in the violence, its military said. But exactly what happened depends on the source. According to the Pakistani military, Indian troops crossed the Line of Control — the de facto border between India and Pakistan in the disputed Kashmir region — and attacked a military post. The Indian Defense Ministry, however, said Pakistani troops opened fire unprovoked on Indian posts in the north Uri sector of Indian-administered Kashmir. The territory under dispute lies in India’s Kashmir Valley, separated from Pakistan by the 450-mile Line of Control. The two south Asian nuclear neighbors have had a bilateral ceasefire along the de facto border since November 2003. But the ceasefire has been violated repeatedly, with both sides accusing each other of offenses.

Sudan

The presidents of the two Sudans concluded talks Sunday aimed at addressing outstanding economic, oil and security issues after tensions between the two nations nearly led to a return to war. Talks between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir concluded in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, where the two agreed to temporary arrangements over a disputed oil-rich region claimed by both countries. The agreement called for the creation of temporary administrative and security arrangements for the Abyei region, including the creation of a police service and a limited governing council.

  • This agreement will not likely hold for long as the underlying source of tension is the hostility between Islamic North Sudan and Christian South Sudan.

Central African Republic

Opposition and pro-government militias are recruiting child soldiers as the Central African Republic faces a rebellion in the north, the United Nations warned. Rebels demanding the resignation of President Francois Bozize have seized various towns and threatened to head to the capital of Bangui. As the government scrambles to quash the rebellion, alarm is growing as children are separated from their relatives. Armed groups are forcing children under age 18 to fight, carry supplies and serve as sex slaves, the U.N. children agency said Friday.

Northern Ireland

Fresh pro-British protests erupted Saturday in the Northern Ireland city of Belfast, police said, hours after nine officers were hurt in rioting. Tensions have been high since city council members there voted a month ago to stop flying the Union flag year-round, restricting it instead to certain days. Officers came under sustained attack in east Belfast from more than 100 people, some throwing fireworks and bricks. Friday night, more than 30 petrol bombs were thrown at officers during serious disorder in the same part of the city. Police have arrested more than 20 people in connection with the disorder.

Cuba

Political arrests in Cuba jumped to more than 6,600 in 2012, the highest in decades as authorities shifted their strategy for dealing with growing civic resistance, dissident groups say. Cuba’s communist government is using more short-term arbitrary arrests to disrupt and intimidate critics rather than slap them with long prison sentences like those used against dozens of Cubans in a crackdown on dissent in 2003. Most people are freed within a few hours or days. Some of them report being beaten.

Earthquakes

A tsunami was caused by the magnitude 7.5 quake that struck off the Alaskan coast Friday night. The powerful earthquake sparked a tsunami warning for hundreds of miles of Alaskan and Canadian coastline, but the alert was canceled when no damaging waves were generated. The temblor struck at 1 a.m. PST Saturday and was centered about 60 miles west of Craig, Alaska. “Houses shook; mine had things tossed from (the) wall,” Craig Police Chief Robert Ely said. But he added that there were “no reports of any injuries, no wave, no tidal movement seen.”

Wildfires

Australian authorities were searching Sunday for a number of people reported missing in wildfires that destroyed more than 100 homes and an elementary school in southeast Tasmania. The wildfire was advancing on Taranna, a small town known for the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park. Hundreds of people have been evacuated by sea and air from the Tasman Peninsula because the fires have blocked roads in and out of the rural communities.

Weather

More than 100 people have died of exposure as northern India deals with historically cold temperatures. At least 114 people have died from the recent cold in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Many were poor people whose bodies were found on sidewalks or in parks. The weather department said temperatures were 7 to 18 degrees below average in the state. Temperatures in New Delhi, which borders Uttar Pradesh, hit a high Wednesday of 49.6 degrees F, the lowest maximum temperature in the capital since 1969. Overnight lows were below freezing.

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