Signs of the Times (1/10/13)

Planned Parenthood: Record Year for Abortions, Taxpayer Funding

Planned Parenthood’s latest annual report shows it performed a record number of abortions in the fiscal year 2011-2012 and received a record amount of taxpayer funding. Planned Parenthood performed 333,964 abortions during the 12-month period. That compares 332,278 abortions in 2009 and 329,445 abortions in 2010 — making a three-year toll of close to one-million abortions. Planned Parenthood also had a record year when it comes to funding from the government. An analysis done by the pro-life group, Susan B. Anthony List, shows the abortion provider received a record $542 million in taxpayer dollars by way of government grants, contracts, and Medicaid reimbursements. That amounts to almost half of all Planned Parenthood’s budget.

  • The Obama administration is the prime sponsor of abortion in the U.S.

National Cathedral to Perform Same-Sex Weddings

The Washington National Cathedral, where the U.S. gathers to mourn tragedies and celebrate new presidents, will soon begin performing same-sex marriages. The church will be among the first Episcopal congregations to implement a new rite of marriage for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members. As the nation’s most prominent church, the decision carries huge symbolism. The Very Rev. Gary Hall, the cathedral’s dean, said performing same-sex marriages is an opportunity to break down barriers and build a more inclusive community “that reflects the diversity of God’s world.”

  • If the Very Rev. read the Bible, as he says he does, then he would know from Romans 1:26-27 that God does not approve this kind of diversity

White House Ramps Up Talks on Gun Control

The Obama administration is making a big push this week to gather ideas for a comprehensive plan to curb gun violence, amid reports that the Vice President Biden-led task force is homing in on a host of gun control measures. Biden met Wednesday with gun safety organizations and gun violence victims’ groups. Thursday he met with gun ownership groups as well as advocates for sportsmen. Biden has also scheduled a meeting with representatives from the entertainment and video game industries. The administration has vowed, by the end of the month, to produce a comprehensive plan for addressing gun violence in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting massacre.

Bank Hacks Were Work of Iranian

The attackers hit one American bank after the next. As in so many previous attacks, dozens of online banking sites slowed, hiccuped or ground to a halt before recovering several minutes later. Instead of exploiting individual computers, the attackers manipulated networks of computers in data centers. The skill required to carry out attacks on this scale has convinced United States government officials and security researchers that they are the work of Iran, most likely in retaliation for economic sanctions and online attacks by the United States.

Hacker Attacks on U.S.Power, Nuclear Targets Spiked in ’12

America’s power, water, and nuclear systems are increasingly being targeted by cyber criminals seeking to gain access to some of the nation’s most critical infrastructure. The number of attacks reported to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity response team grew by 52% in 2012, according to a recent report from the team. There were 198 attacks brought to the agency’s attention last year, several of which resulted in successful break-ins. An unidentified group of hackers targeting natural gas pipeline companies gained access to the corporate systems of several of their targets and “exfiltrated” — that’s security-speak for “stole” — data on how their control systems work.

  • Cyber-warfare will continue to increase in our technologically-dependent world

Flu Season Starts Out Harsh

The flu is racing across nearly 41 U.S. states and it’s leaving a deadly trail. The current flu season is turning out to be a bad one, affecting more people than usual, starting earlier and covering a broader geographical area. Boston declared a flu emergency Wednesday morning after health officials reported 700 confirmed cases in the city, 10 times the total number for the previous flu season. Government health experts say 18 children, under age 18, have died because of the seasonal flu and 2,257 people had been hospitalized with flu symptoms through the end of 2012. For the fourth week in a row, the proportion of people seeing health care providers for flulike illness is above the national baseline, and jumped from 2.8% to 5.6% in that time. Last season’s proportion peaked at 2.2%.Twenty-nine states plus New York City are now reporting high flulike activity, up from 16 states the week before.

Americans Dying Earlier than International Peers

Despite spending more per person on health care than any other country, Americans are getting sicker and dying younger than our international peers — a problem persisting across all ages and both genders, according to a new report. Data from 2007 show Americans’ life expectancy is 3.7 years shorter for men and 5.2 years shorter for women than in the leading nations — Switzerland for men and Japan for women. As of 2011, 27 countries had higher life expectancies at birth than the United States. On the plus side, the U.S. has higher cancer survival rates, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and lower smoking prevalence rates than many of its peer countries.

But that’s where the good news stops. The report outlines nine health areas where the United States lags behind other rich nations, including infant mortality, homicides, teen pregnancy, drug-related deaths, obesity and disabilities. Americans have the highest prevalence of AIDS in the group. Seniors are at a greater risk of developing and dying from heart disease. And our children are less likely than children in peer countries to reach their fifth birthday.

“The U.S. health system is highly fragmented, with limited public health and primary care resources and a large uninsured population,” the authors wrote. “Compared with people in other countries, Americans are more likely to find care inaccessible or unaffordable.” But the panel says that’s not all that’s to blame. Studies show even white, insured, college-educated Americans are sicker than their peers in Europe. Although we are less likely to smoke and drink heavily than our peers, we consume more calories, have higher rates of drug abuse, are less likely to use seat belts and are more likely to use guns in acts of violence, according to the report.

Economic News

The federal government hit its legal borrowing limit of $16.394 trillion on Dec. 31, and has begun taking “extraordinary measures” to cover shortfalls. The red alarm deadline to raise the debt ceiling could be as soon as Feb. 15 — but no later than March 1, according to the latest estimate from the Bipartisan Policy Center. If Congress misses that deadline, the Treasury Department will be forced to make legally questionable, no-win decisions on how to honor the tens of millions of bills owed every month.

Applications for unemployment benefits ticked up slightly last week. The Labor Department says applications rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 371,000, the most in five weeks. Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have fluctuated for most of the past 12 months between 360,000 and 390,000. At the same time, employers added an average of 153,000 jobs a month in 2012, the same as in 2011.

Sales of luxury homes spiked in the final months of 2012 as high-end homeowners rushed to take advantage of lower tax rates before January 1. Many sellers wanted to cash in on their homes before a widely expected capital gains hike — to 20% from 15% — that was part of the fiscal cliff budget deal. High-income earners (singles with income of $200,000 or more and couples making more than $250,000) also wanted to close sales ahead of a 3.8% Medicare surtax on investment income that was already slated to go into effect this year as part of Obamacare. All told, a high-earner would pay $88,000 less in taxes if they made a $1 million profit on their home in 2012 rather than in 2013.

A Nebraska Wendy’s franchise is slashing employee hours so the owners do not have to pay for health benefits for their workers under ObamaCare’s requirements. About 100 workers in non-management positions at 11 Omaha-area Wendy’s will have their hours cut to 28 a week. The restaurants cannot afford to pay for health coverage for all their employees under the new Affordable Health Care Act. President Obama’s health care overhaul requires employers to offer health insurance to employees working 32-38 hours a week.

Eurozone

Eurostat data published Tuesday showed unemployment in the 17-nation eurozone hit a record high of 11.8% in November, leaving 18.8 million people without work – two million more than a year ago. At nearly 27%, Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union, and youth unemployment is more than twice as high at 56%. Thousands of Spanish bank employees will lose their jobs as a result of an EU-backed bailout of Spanish banks. Only Greece, which is facing a sixth year of recession, has a greater proportion of young people out of work.

Persecution Watch

Persecution of Christians in Africa vastly increased in 2012, according to the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith. The number of countries on the African continent sharply increased on the annual list due to the increasing influence of Islam, states Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians worldwide. North Korea is still No. 1 when it comes to persecution of Christians. Apart from North Korea, the Top 10 on the World Watch List consists of eight countries where extreme Islam poses the largest threat for Christians. They are (from No. 2 to No. 9) Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran and Yemen.

Possessing a Bible in North Korea can be a reason for a Christian to be executed or sent to a prison camp along with three generations of his or her family. It is estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians suffer in horrific prison camps. The intense persecution has continued under new leader Kim Jong-Un. The number of defectors to China greatly decreased in 2012 and half of those who try to defect do not make it.

Middle East

A car bomb has gone off Thursday in Tel Aviv, injuring at least seven people. The explosion, apparently detonated by a motorcyclist, went off in the old north part of the city. Initial findings suggest the blast may be linked to criminal rather than terrorist activity, and that it may have been an assassination attempt on a known mobster.

President Obama has nominated an anti-Israel former Senator to be Secretary of Defense. Senator Chuck Hagel has blamed American support for Israel on the “Jewish lobby,” refused to sign a letter supporting Israel, and opposed labeling Hezbollah a “terrorist organization.” Senator Hagel supported direct dialogue with Hamas – a terrorist group that launches near-daily attacks on Israeli civilians – and even refused to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as terrorists.

Egypt

Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi appointed Islamists to key cabinet posts over the weekend, bringing new parts of the government under Muslim Brotherhood control, CBN News reports. Morsi swore in 10 new ministers in total, and handed the role of finance minister to an Islamic finance expert. According to Reuters, Morsi is taking steps to attempt to rebuild confidence in Egypt’s economy ahead of a visit from the International Monetary Fund. The country’s currency value has plunged more than 10 percent since the 2011 uprising brought the Muslim Brotherhood into power, and Egypt is seeking a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF to stop the currency crisis. Meanwhile, Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians continue to flee the country as Islamists gain more control and persecution rises.

Pakistan

Several missiles fired from American drones slammed into a compound near the Afghan border in Pakistan early Tuesday, killing eight suspected militants. An al-Qaeda operative was believed to have been killed in the strike. North Waziristan, the area where the strike occurred, is considered a stronghold for insurgent groups operating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is one of the few parts of the tribal areas that border Afghanistan in which the Pakistani military has not conducted a military operation to root out militants, despite repeated pushes to do so from the American government.

Afghanistan

The NATO command says an individual wearing an Afghan army uniform has turned his weapon against foreign troops, killing one in southern Afghanistan in another apparent attack by Afghans against their foreign allies. Killings by uniformed Afghans of foreign soldiers and civilians rose dramatically last year, eroding confidence between the sides at a crucial turning point in the conflict. Deadly insider attacks surged to 61 last year compared to 35 a year earlier.

President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington this week will center on talks to help shape the U.S. commitment to his country after the bulk of American combat forces leave in two years, according to analysts. Afghans worry about U.S. abandonment, fearing a repeat of history when the United States supported the mujahedin in their fight against the Soviets, then walked away after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The Soviet-backed Afghan government collapsed within a few years, and Afghanistan plunged into a bloody civil war in the 1990s that led to the Taliban’s takeover in 1996.

Northern Ireland

Police and their vehicles were attacked with petrol bombs, hatchets and sledgehammers in East Belfast as rioting broke out in Northern Ireland for a fifth consecutive night, police said Tuesday. Officers responded with plastic bullets and water cannon before calm was restored. Authorities accused pro-British extremists of exploiting protests over a decision by Belfast City Council to stop a century-old tradition of flying the Union Jack year-round. About 400 people gathered at Belfast City Hall on Monday as the City Council met for the first time since it voted in December to fly the British flag only on certain days. Protesters called for the council to reverse its ruling over the flag.

China

Journalists and activists are pressing their battle against the Communist Party censorship at one of China’s most daring newspapers, the Southern Weekly, which has seen 20 stories per issue altered or scrapped by party censors. Free-speech protesters in masks Tuesday competed with flag-waving communist loyalists in the southern city of Guangzhou in a dispute over censorship at a newspaper. Though government censorship is routine, the killing and changing of numerous articles at popular Southern Weekly has riled people nationwide and prompted authorities to shut down bloggers who support the paper. Strict state censorship has prevailed in China, in print, broadcast and online, for more than six decades. Officials and editors reached an agreement Thursday that requires the government to stop directly censoring content prior to publication and to not punish the journalists who walked off the job

Wildfires

Firefighters battled scores of wildfires raging across southeastern Australia on Tuesday as authorities evacuated national parks and warned that blistering temperatures and high winds had led to “catastrophic” conditions in some areas. No deaths have been reported, although officials in Tasmania were still trying to find around 100 residents who have been missing since last week when a fire tore through the small town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, destroying around 90 homes. On Tuesday, police said no bodies were found during preliminary checks of the ruined houses. The entire country is scorching, including the island of Tasmania.

Weather

According to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, the average high temperature measured over Australia on Monday set an all-time record of  104.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The first 7 days of 2013 have been in the top 20 hottest days on record. Marree reached 119 on Jan. 5; Melbourne 107 on Jan. 4;  and Canberra:  104 on Jan. 5.

2012 is officially in the books as the hottest year on record for the continental United States and the second-worst for “extreme” weather such as hurricanes, droughts or floods, the U.S. government announced Tuesday. The year’s average temperature of 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit across the Lower 48 was more than 3.2 degrees warmer than the average for the 20th century.

A mild winter has forced organizers to cancel construction on a popular ice palace in northern Wisconsin. The Eagle River Ice Palace is usually built between Christmas and New Year’s. However, there have not been enough cold nights to thicken the ice on Silver Lake. The Eagle River Ice Palace has been a tradition for more than 80 years.

Chinese nationwide are shivering through the coldest weather in nearly three decades. Freezing weather has sent temperatures diving to a national average of 25 degrees Fahrenheit since Nov. 20, the lowest average temperature in 28 years. And a new cold front will hit south China later this week. About 180,000 cattle have died in the north. Ice covered 10,500 square miles of China’s sea surface, the most expansive since 2008 when authorities began to collect ice data, and it said the ice coverage will likely continue to grow.

The fiercest winter storm to hit the Mideast in years has unleashed deadly flash flooding in the West Bank, dumped a rare foot of snow on desert Jordan, and disrupted traffic on the Suez Canal in Egypt. The unusual weather was a particularly harsh blow for the vulnerable Syrian refugees, especially about 50,000 sheltering in the Zaatari tent camp in Jordan’s northern desert. Torrential rains over the past four days have flooded 200 tents and forced women and infants to evacuate in temperatures below freezing at night, whipping wind and lashing rain. In the West Bank town of Ramallah, two West Bank women drowned after their car was caught in a flash flood a day earlier.

Rain continued to pour down on Israel with massive flooding causing damage and road closures in Tel Aviv and several other Israeli cities, as traffic accidents damaged several vehicles and killed three Israelis late Monday evening. Snow fell on Mount Hermon and in the southern mountains of neighboring Jordan, with snow expected in Jerusalem on Wednesday. The Ayalon Highway, Tel Aviv’s main traffic artery, was closed due to flooding Tuesday morning, causing police to advise against any unnecessary travel to the city. Throughout the country temperatures were lower than normal and strong winds buffeted many areas. Army Radio reported on Tuesday that Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) rose 22 centimeters within 24 hours, the fastest rate ever recorded.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme

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