Signs of the Times (1/14/13)

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday – January 20th

In a January 13, 1984 proclamation, President Ronald Reagan designated January 22, 1984 as the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day. The date was chosen to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that first recognized the constitutionally-protected status of abortion in the United States. This January 22nd marks the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Over 50 million preborn children have lost their lives to abortion with countless women and men being harmed by legalized abortion. Thousands of churches across the U.S. will recognize this important day with special services and messages.

2012: A Good Year for Pro-life Legislation

A total of 43 new pro-life laws went into effect in 19 states last year, making 2012 the year with the second highest number of pro-life legislation passed at the state level. Arizona enacted seven provisions — more than any other state — to help protect preborn children. Following Arizona are Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, which enacted three or more pro-life laws. Most of the restrictions passed in 2012 focused on stopping late-term abortions and limiting coverage in health exchanges or chemical abortion. In addition to Arizona, Georgia and Louisiana enacted measures to ban late-term abortions, once the baby can feel pain. Laws adopted in Louisiana and Oklahoma require abortion businesses to make the pre-born baby’s heartbeat audible to the mother prior to undergoing an abortion.

Legal Woes for Mississippi’s Only Abortion Clinic

Mississippi’s only abortion clinic missed a Friday deadline to comply with a 2012 state law that requires each of its physicians to get hospital admitting privileges — a law the governor said he signed with the hopes of shutting the clinic down. Clinic administrator Diane Derzis said every Jackson-area hospital where the clinic applied for privileges said no. The state Health Department won’t immediately close the clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The department will set an inspection later, and if it orders a shutdown, the clinic can appeal.

Hobby Lobby finds Loophole to Avoid $1.3-Million-a-Day Obamacare Fine

By Friday, Hobby Lobby would have racked up $14.3 million in fines from the Internal Revenue Service for bucking Obamacare. But in keeping with the great American tax tradition, they may have found a loophole. The company is facing $1.3 million a day in fines for each day it chooses not to comply with a piece of the Affordable Care Act that was set to trigger for them on January 1. The craft store chain announced in December that, because of religious objections, they would face the fines for not providing certain types of birth control through their company health insurance. Hobby Lobby said in a statement that they” discovered a way to shift the plan year for its employee health insurance, thus postponing the effective date of the mandate for several months.”

Gay Marriage Protest in Paris

Holding aloft ancient flags and young children, hundreds of thousands of people converged Sunday on the Eiffel Tower to protest the French president’s plan to legalize gay marriage and thus allow same-sex couples to adopt and conceive children. The opposition to President Francois Hollande’s plan has underscored divisions among the secular-but-Catholic French, especially more traditional rural areas versus urban enclaves. The protest march started at three points across Paris, filling boulevards throughout the city as demonstrators walked three miles to the grounds of France’s most recognizable monument. Paris police estimated the crowd at 340,000. Public opposition spearheaded by religious leaders has chipped away at the popularity of Hollande’s plan in recent months. About 52 percent of French favor legalizing gay marriage, according to a survey released Sunday, down from as high as 65 percent in August.

Inaugural Pastor Withdraws over Anti-‘Gay’ Remarks

The evangelical pastor chosen to give the benediction at President Barack Obama’s inauguration withdrew from the ceremony after remarks he made two decades ago condemning the gay rights movement surfaced. The Rev. Louie Giglio of Passion City Church in Atlanta said in a statement he withdrew because it was likely that the “prayer I would offer will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.” A spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said the committee had chosen Giglio because of his work to end human trafficking.

Growth of Religiously Unaffiliated Slowing

After years of marked growth, the proportion of Americans who identify with no religion slowed in 2012, according to a study released Thursday. Since 2008, the percentage of Americans who identify as religious “nones” has grown from 14.6% to 17.8% in 2012, according to the Gallup survey. That number, which grew nearly one percentage point every year from 2008 to 2011, grew only 0.3% last year – from 17.5% in 2011 to 17.8% in 2012 – making it the smallest increase over the past five years.

More Americans over 75 Keep Working

The number of workers who are 75 and older has skyrocketed by 76.7% in the past two decades, according to research by the AARP Public Policy Institute. It’s still a relatively small percentage of the American labor force. – 7.6% last year, up from 4.3% in 1990. Americans are living longer and healthier, but there are a number of other reasons why Americans workers may decide to put off retirement. Some may just love their jobs; others may need more money. But even those who have socked away plenty of cash are often terrified about rising medical bills and want to keep earning. It’s hard to know how many older workers are also forced to retire. But there is a growing number of older Americans who are not retired and are in search of a job. The number of unemployed Americans age 75 and older increased from 11,000 in 1990 to 75,000 in 2011, according to AARP.

World Wastes Half its Food

Up to half of the world’s food is wasted, according to a new report that found production inefficiencies in developing countries and market and consumer waste in more advanced societies. The British-based independent Institution of Mechanical Engineers said about 4.4 billion tons of food is produced annually and roughly half of it is never eaten. Some of it is lost to inefficient harvesting, storage and transportation, while the rest is wasted by markets or consumers. “This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands,” the group said in its report.

Pentagon Preparing for Drastic Budget Cuts

The Pentagon will begin taking steps to freeze civilian hiring, delay some contract awards and curtail some maintenance to prepare for drastic budget cuts if Congress can’t reach an agreement on a final spending plan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday. The Pentagon is facing a spending reduction of nearly $500 billion over a decade. An additional $110 billion in automatic spending cuts to military and domestic programs will take effect in early March if no agreement is reached. Panetta said that department officials must also develop detailed plans to implement unpaid furloughs for civilian personnel. The furloughs would kick in if the automatic cuts are triggered. But Panetta said he has asked defense leaders to ensure that any initial moves they make now should be reversible if at all possible, and they must minimize harmful effects on military readiness.

Post Office Faces its Own Fiscal Cliff

The U.S. Postal Service is facing its own fiscal cliff this spring. But it is in danger of being overshadowed by bigger fiscal issues facing the nation. For the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service, the cost of being ignored by Congress means that it will be on the brink of bankruptcy. For the American public, it could result in cutbacks on mail delivery. For postal employees, job cuts. The postal service has been in a financial bind for several years, borrowing billions of dollars from taxpayers to make up for shortfalls caused by a 2006 congressional mandate, under which it has to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees.

Economic News

The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly grew in November. The Commerce Department said on Friday the trade gap increased 16 percent in November to $48.7 billion. Analysts were expecting the deficit to shrink to $41.3 billion, so the report could lead some economists to trim their forecasts for economic growth in the fourth quarter. The trade deficit was the widest since April, and its expansion was driven by a 3.8 percent increase in imports, the largest gain in eight months.

Oil prices jumped 10% over the last month on several factors including a Saudi production cut, the fiscal cliff resolution and the reversal of a key pipeline, but analysts expect the gains will be short lived. Taking oil’s lead, gasoline prices have begun to rise too. Prices at the pump are up almost a dime a gallon from December lows.

Persecution Watch

A new report has exposed the West’s blindness to the persecution of Christians around the world; it highlights how the “lion’s share” of this is done by Muslims, whom the media do not want to criticize over misplaced fears of “racism”. Christianophobia, which was published last month, written by journalist Rupert Shortt for Civitas, argues that “Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers.” He quotes research by the Pew Forum and the World Evangelical Alliance, which estimates that 200 million Christians (ten per cent of the global total) are socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their faith. The report notes that the “lion’s share” of anti-Christian persecution happens in Muslim-majority societies. But such persecution is also rife under the Communist regimes of China and North Korea and also in mainly Buddhist societies such as Sri Lanka and Burma. Shortt suggests that the subject does not receive much attention for two reasons: first, because “persecuted Christians tend not to respond with terrorist violence”, and second, because “parts of the media have been influenced by the logical error that equates criticism of Muslims with racism, and therefore as wrong by definition”.

Middle East

Palestinian protesters who pitched tents at a strategic West Bank site to protest plans to build a Jewish housing project there were evicted early Sunday. Police evicted about a hundred protesters from the site after a court decision authorizing their removal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday evening ordered roads closed leading to the area and had the military declare a closed military zone and shut off access.

Syria

Attacks by government forces on Damascus’ rebellious suburbs killed at least 45 people, including eight children, activists said Monday. Sunday’s death toll was part of an intensifying regime offensive to dislodge rebels from strategic areas around the capital. Activists said the bombardments were some of the heaviest in the Damascus region since the government launched a series of offensives there in November. On Monday, Syrian fighter jets carried out fresh airstrikes on the strategic suburb of Daraya, from which opposition fighters have tried to storm Damascus, the seat of Assad’s power.

Syrian activists say Islamic militants seeking to topple President Bashar Assad have taken full control of a strategic northwestern air base in a significant blow to the Assad regime. The activists say rebels from the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamic groups seized control of buildings, ammunition and military equipment in the sprawling Taftanaz air base in northern Idlib province Friday. Taftanaz is the biggest airfield in the country’s north for helicopters used to bomb rebel-held areas and deliver supplies to government troops.

Pakistan

Pakistani leaders dismissed the government of southwest Baluchistan province early Monday in response to the demands of protesters angry about an attack on minority Shiite Muslims there that killed 86 people. Over the past three days, thousands of Shiites have blocked a main road in the Baluchistan capital of Quetta with dozens of coffins of relatives killed in the twin bombing of a billiards hall in the city Thursday. They demanded the provincial government be dismissed and that the army take over responsibility for the city. A series of bombings killed 115 people across Pakistan, including 86 who died in twin blasts at a bustling billiards hall in a Shiite area of the southwestern city of Quetta. Pakistan’s minority Shiite Muslims have increasingly been targeted by radical Sunnis who consider them heretics.

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi king on Friday granted women seats on the country’s top advisory council for first time, a much-awaited step for women to get a toehold in Saudi Arabia where males dominate the political system and ultraconservative religious Islam law tightly controls daily life of females. The appointments come against the backdrop of heavy restrictions on women who are not allowed to travel, work, study abroad, marry, get divorced or gain admittance to a public hospital, without permission from a male guardian. The nation’s official news agency said that King Abdullah issued two royal decrees granting women 30 seats on the Shura Council, which has 150 members plus a president. The council reviews laws and questions ministers, but doesn’t have legislative powers. All members are appointed by the king and serve four-year terms.

Iran

Despite onerous sanctions that have basically shut Iran out of the global financial system, the country is still finding some ways to bypass them, the Treasury Department said Thursday, describing what it called a small but ’emerging threat’ to the effectiveness of the sanctions effort. Adam Szubin, director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which supervises American enforcement of the sanctions, said the Iranians were using private exchange houses and trading companies in other countries, masking transactions with fake identities and relying on the paperless practice known as hawala, common in parts of the Middle East and Asia, in which money is transferred informally and often illegally through trustworthy couriers.

WorldNetDaily.com reports that Iran already has built a nuclear bomb with the help of Russia and North Korea and has enough weapons-grade uranium and plutonium for more, according to a source in the Revolutionary Guards intelligence unit. The source, who has access to Iran’s nuclear program, said the Islamic regime is working out of seven nuclear sites, most unknown to the IAEA, and that its nuclear bomb program is complete. North Korea has provided the regime with plutonium for nuclear warheads, the source verified, and the last obstacle to overcome is arming missiles with those warheads. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is convening an emergency meeting Monday of his cabinet and others from the Supreme National Security Council over WND’s revelation of the Islamic regime’s secret nuclear facility. Iran is scrambling to find out who leaked the information.

Mali

France’s defense minister says that Islamist extremists have overrun Diabaly, a small town in central Mali where fighting in the four-day-old offensive continues to rage. French military forces on Monday widened their bombing campaign against Islamic extremists occupying northern Mali, launching airstrikes for the first time in central Mali to combat a new threat as the four-day-old offensive continued to grow. The al-Qaida-linked insurgents are now only 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Mali’s capital, Bamako. Mali’s north, an area the size of France itself, was occupied by al-Qaida-linked rebels nine months ago, following a coup in the capital. Since seizing control of Mali’s upper half, the Islamists have imposed an austere form of Islam, foreign to the people of Mali. In December, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a military intervention, but only after an exhaustive list of pre-emptive measures were fulfilled.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland police fought day-and-night street battles with Protestant militants Saturday as a protest march to Belfast City Hall degenerated into riots when many marchers returned home to the Protestant east side. The Protestants, who have blocked streets daily since Catholics on the council decided Dec. 3 to curtail the flying of the British flag, have frequently clashed with police in hopes of forcing politicians to overturn the decision. Saturday’s violence began as police donning helmets, shields and flame-retardant suits tried to shepherd the British flag-bedecked crowd past Short Strand, where masked and hooded Catholic men and youths waited by their doors armed with Gaelic hurling bats, golf clubs and other makeshift weapons. The two sides began throwing bottles, rocks and other missiles at each other and, as police on foot struggled to keep the two sides apart, Protestant anger then turned against the police.

Pollution

Beijing, China has a history of wretched air pollution but smog on Monday has pushed the situation to an extreme health emergency that’s never been seen before. Children were keep indoors at schools and coughing residents went to hospitals in droves. the peak air quality index measured at the U.S. embassy in Beijing Saturday night was 755. This is more than twice the level considered ‘extremely rare’ in the U.S. The skyline was so murky, you could barely see the top of buildings. Many wore face masks to protect against the dangerous smog.  The particular dust and smog particles contained within the Beijing smog are so small they can get deep within a person’s lungs and cause dangerous health problems. Air pollution is a major problem in China due to the country’s rapid pace of industrialization, reliance on coal power, explosive growth in car ownership and disregard to environmental laws. It typically gets worse in the winter because of heating needs.

Weather

As water levels already at or above flood stage continue rising in rivers in southwestern Louisiana, the weather forecast says more rain is on the way. Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon after thunderstorms drenched the state with as much as a foot of rain this week. Hundreds of people have been evacuated. There were no initial reports of injuries. Many rivers in the southwest, closer to Texas, where flooding has been prominent, are still rising and expected to crest over the weekend.

Consumers in the Valley of the Sun and nationwide can expect a bump in the prices of lettuce and other winter crops as a result of a four-night freeze moving through Arizona. It will be nearly impossible to save all the crops, say farmers and agricultural experts. Lettuce and leafy vegetables will be hardest hit. Root crops, such as carrots, beets and radishes, will be affected, as will broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Citrus also is likely to take a hit. Much of the state, including Yuma and Phoenix, is under a freeze warning through the weekend. Pinal, Pima and Santa Cruz counties have freeze watches in place.

Frost and freeze warnings were also in effect early Sunday for parts of San Diego County with lows in some areas dipping to 25, Temperatures dropped to 5 degrees in the snow-covered Big Bear mountain resort east of Los Angeles on Saturday. Freeze warnings were issued for Sunday morning across wide swaths of the Los Angeles Basin. Residents were being urged to cover outdoor plants and bring pets inside.

In Atlanta, meanwhile, shorts-wearing residents basked in the balmy weather as it and two other major Georgia cities set record highs for this date. The weird weekend weather had temperatures as much as 30 degrees below normal in parts of the West and 30 degrees above normal in the East. Atlanta’s spring-like high of 76 topped the 1890 record by 1 degree. Columbus (77), and Macon (78), also broke records.

As rain continues to fall over much of Sri Lanka, the country’s death toll from floods and landslides has reached 43 people, and more than 300,000 have been affected by the damage. More than 31,000 people are living in 246 relief camps. Adding to the island nation’s problems, which began nearly a month ago, the minister of health announced an outbreak of leptospirosis, or rat fever, a potentially deadly disease often caused by contaminated water. Citizens were advised to stay hydrated, but many have lost their clean water sources.

Western Australians witnessed a freakish dust storm off the coast of Onslow on Wednesday. Storm gusts reached 75 mph about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The dust storm was not related to Tropical Cyclone Narelle, which was a couple hundred miles north of the dust storm location. Dust storms, or haboobs, are common in the U.S. Desert Southwest in the summer months. Thunderstorms form over higher terrain, but the dry air in the lowest layers of the atmosphere evaporates precipitation falling out of the thunderstorm, leading to strong winds at the surface, surging outward, picking up dust, instead of rain with a typical thunderstorm.

In the Middle East, flooding rains this week were followed by rare snow. Several inches of snow accumulated in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Thursday. The snow, reportedly the most in a decade, had significant impacts on transportation. The record-breaking rainfall followed by rare snow have ended a nearly decade-long drought in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Turkey, Egypt and the Palestinian-ruled territories. But the torrential rains and arrival of a few inches of snow Wednesday overwhelmed a region more accustomed to sandstorms than snow.

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