Signs of the Times (1/21/13)

Gay-Affirming Pastor Chosen to Replace Giglio for Obama Benediction

An Episcopal pastor at a church not far from the White House has been chosen to replace evangelical pastor Louie Giglio for the official benediction at President Barack Obama’s public inauguration on Jan. 21, the Christian Post reports. The Rev. Dr. Luis Leon, who has led St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., since 1995 and who also delivered the invocation at George W. Bush’s second inauguration in 2005, was invited last week to deliver the benediction. After Giglio decided to decline the invitation to lead the benediction due to protests against an anti-homosexuality sermon he preached 20 years ago, many had predicted the minister chosen to replace him would be gay-affirming. St. John’s Church, which has been attended by Obama as well as former president George W. Bush, blesses gay and lesbian unions. Giglio was chosen to perform the benediction largely for his global anti-slavery campaign, which drew strong support from Obama, but he explained he did not want to stir negative emotions at a time when he said the country needed healing, not division.

European Court Says U.K. Equality Laws Trump Personal Religious Beliefs

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that equality laws trump personal religious beliefs, rejecting three appeals filed by British Christians who were fired or disciplined for expressing religious beliefs in the workplace, the Religion News Service reports. In what lawyers describe as “landmark rulings,” the court in Strasbourg, France, ruled that employers did not violate the religious rights of a registrar who refused to officiate for the civil partnership of a same-sex couple or of a counselor who was unwilling to offer sex therapy for gays. The court also rejected an appeal by a nurse whose hospital barred her from wearing a cross around her neck because it was a health hazard.

  • So-called ‘equality laws’ are derived from the religion of secular humanism which world and U.S. courts are blatantly favoring over Christianity.

March for Life this Thursday in D.C.

On January 25, 2013, Americans will gather for the 39th annual March for Life to memorialize the fateful Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. The location this year will be on the National Mall between 7th & 9th Streets. The rally will begin at 12:00 PM and continue until about 1:30 PM, followed immediately by the March. The March will begin immediately after the rally and follow its customary route up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill. The MARCH FOR LIFE Youth Rally will be held on Thursday, January 24, 2013, in the Regency Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency hotel, from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM. On January 22, 1974, the first MARCH FOR LIFE was held on the West Steps of the Capitol. An estimated 20,000 committed prolife Americans rallied that day “on behalf of our preborn brothers and sisters. Our numbers have gradually risen through the years…  testimony to the increasing ranks of prolife Americans and to the importance of the March’s work.”

ACLU Drops Challenge to Kansas Abortion Law

The American Civil Liberties Union ended its legal challenge Friday to a Kansas law restricting private health insurance coverage for abortions. A court filing shows the parties have agreed to dismiss all remaining claims, with each side bearing its own costs and attorneys’ fees. The agreement follows a federal judge’s Jan. 7 ruling that, as a matter of law, the ACLU failed to provide any evidence that the Legislature’s predominant motivation in passing the 2011 law was to make it more difficult to get abortions. The Kansas law prohibits private insurance companies from offering coverage for abortions in their general plans except for when a woman’s life is in danger. Kansas residents or employers who want abortion coverage must buy supplemental policies, known as riders.

Thousands Join Pro-Gun Rallies in State Capitals

Thousands of gun rights supporters gathered at state capitols around the country Saturday to rally against new laws to regulate firearms proposed by President Obama in the wake of last month’s school shooting in Connecticut. The crowds included people of all ages, some waving flags and holding signs saying “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Stand behind the Second Amendment.” A recurring message was that responsible gun owners should be left alone. The rallies were part of a grass-roots effort, called Guns Across America. Police in Connecticut said about 1,000 people showed up on the capitol grounds in Hartford, about 50 miles from the site of last month’s mass shooting at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. Around 500 protesters in Phoenix, Arizona, carried rifles and handguns, waving signs that said “We respect gun rights” and “Defend your constitution before it is too weak to defend.”

U.S. Military to Embrace Eastern Religion?

While Bible-based Christianity is increasingly under attack in the U.S. military, at least one branch of America’s armed forces appears ready to embrace eastern religion practices. The U.S. Marine Corps is studying how to make its troops even tougher through meditative practices, yoga-type stretching and exercises based on mindfulness. Marine Corps officials say they will build a curriculum that would integrate mindfulness-based techniques into their training if they see positive results. Mindfulness is a Buddhist-inspired concept that emphasizes active attention on the moment to keep the mind in the present. Facing a record suicide rate and thousands of veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress, the military has been searching for ways to reduce strains on service members burdened with more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • As Christianity was minimalized in the military, suicide rates are up, but the end-time anti-Christ spirit blinds officials to the correlation, just as removing God from schools has caused increased violence there

Child Flu Deaths Rising

The flu continues to take its toll on the most vulnerable age groups of Americans. Nine more children or teens have died of the flu, bringing the nation’s total this flu season to 29. That’s close to the 34 pediatric deaths reported during all of the last flu season, although that one was unusually light. The number of older people hospitalized with the flu has risen sharply, prompting federal officials to take unusual steps to make more flu medicines available and to urge wider use of them as soon as symptoms appear. The U.S. is about halfway through this flu season, and it’s shaping up to be a worse-than-average season.

83% Think Government Spending Out of Control

More than eight in ten American voters (83 percent) think government spending is out of control, according to a Fox News poll released Friday.  That’s up from 78 percent who said so in 2010 and 62 percent in 2009.  Some 11 percent think spending is being managed carefully. The poll also finds almost all voters rate the nation’s economy negatively. On the upcoming debt ceiling debate, most voters side with the position of some Republican lawmakers who say Congress should only raise the debt limit after agreeing on major cuts (69 percent).  The president says it is Congress’s duty to raise the debt ceiling without demanding spending cuts to do so — 23 percent agree with that position.

  • It doesn’t really matter what the people think, politicians will do what they want, which most often is to spend money to get votes

Twice as Many Favor More Guns over Banning Guns

Nearly twice as many voters say there would be less violent crime if more law-abiding Americans owned guns, than if guns were banned.  In addition, while American voters generally favor strengthening gun laws, 71 percent do not think tougher laws can stop shootings like the one last month in Newtown, Connecticut.  Some 22 percent say new laws can prevent the next Sandy Hook in a Fox News poll released Friday. Majorities of gun owners (81 percent), non-gun owners (58 percent), Democrats (58 percent), independents (72 percent) and Republicans (85 percent) say the people who do these kinds of things “will always find the guns” to commit violent acts.

Health Insurance Rates Rising Ahead of Obamacare

While the most sweeping provisions of the health care overhaul have not yet gone into effect, plenty of Americans will still be paying higher insurance premiums this year — as insurance companies try to preemptively cover the cost of a tax increase included in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. That tax doesn’t take effect until next year, when other major provisions like the so-called “individual mandate” and insurance subsidies also kick in. But that hasn’t stopped insurance companies from charging higher premiums this year to cover the hike, as well as the cost of ObamaCare benefits such as free birth control and preventive care. The looming tax on the insurance industry will cost health-insurance providers $8 billion in 2014, then $14.3 billion in 2018 and a total $100 billion over the next 10 years

Already, a pair of taxes has hit higher-income households to cover the law. Those making more than $250,000 are seeing a .9 percentage point increase in their Medicare tax, and another 3.8 percentage point hike on investment income.

Looming Defense Cuts Already Causing Contractors to Shed Jobs

With a March 1 deadline looming for Congress to once again strike a deal in order to avoid $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts — including $500 billion at the Pentagon — some companies that rely on the defense industry are already bracing for the worst by canceling contracts and laying off workers. While private businesses are used to ups and downs in the economy, the automatic spending cuts looming in Washington are something completely different. “We don’t know what’s going to be cut. Nobody knows. There is no plan. What successful business today has been successful without a plan?” said Jim Lynch, Chief Operating Officer at K2 Solutions.

GOP Offers Debt-Limit Concession

Scaling back their ambitions in the latest fight over the nation’s borrowing limit, House Republicans said Friday that they will try to pass a bill next week to raise the limit for three months without spending cuts. But they warned that the Senate must work with them to pass a budget deal during that time before they would agree to raise the debt ceiling for the long term. Under the proposal, Congress would increase the debt limit through mid-April — long enough, House Republicans say, to give both chambers time to pass a budget agreement.

GAO Reports U.S. on Unsustainable Long-Term Fiscal Path

The Government Accountability Office warned in a report that if cuts are not made to mandatory spending — including Social Security and Medicare — there will be a fundamental gap between spending and revenue as more baby boomers retire. “Significant actions to change the long-term fiscal path must be taken,” the GAO warned. The GAO said that discretionary spending is not the crux of the problem. “Discretionary spending limits [which includes defense spending] alone do not address the fundamental imbalance between estimated revenue and spending, which is driven largely by the aging of the population and rising health care costs.” The GAO says the costs of mandatory government programs must also be reined in.

Economic News

The Dow and S&P 500 climbed during the last hours of trading Friday to finish the week at their highest levels since December 2007. All three major indexes logged a third straight week of gains. The Dow gained 1.2%, the S&P 500 rose 1% and the Nasdaq added 0.3%.

A preliminary reading of the University of Michigan-Thomas Reuters index of consumer sentiment showed it at 71.3 in January, below December’s final 72.9 reading and the lowest level since December 2011. Consumers and investors remain wary of the ongoing budget battles in Washington, despite the 11th-hour “fiscal cliff” agreement that temporarily averted massive spending cuts and even more tax hikes.

China’s economy is finally rebounding from its deepest slump since the 2008 global crisis but the shaky recovery could be vulnerable to a new downturn in global trade. For the year, the economy grew by 7.8 percent, which was China’s weakest annual performance since the 1990s.

Persecution Watch

The 15-year prison sentence given to a woman and her seven children by an Egyptian court for converting to Christianity is a sign of things to come, according to alarmed human rights advocates who say Egypt’s Islamist government spells trouble for Christians, Fox News reports. A criminal court in the city of Beni Suef gave the shocking sentence last week to Nadia Mohamed Ali, who was raised a Christian but converted to Islam when she married her husband 23 years ago. After he died, she planned to convert her family back to Christianity to obtain an inheritance, and sought the help of the registration office to process new identity cards between 2004 and 2006. But when the conversion came to light under Egypt’s new regime, Nadia, her children and even the clerks who processed the identity cards were all sentenced to prison. Samuel Tadros of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom said conversions like Nadia’s have been common in the past, but said Egypt’s new sharia-based constitution “is a real disaster in terms of religious freedom.” He added: “The cases will increase in the future. It will be much harder for people to return to Christianity.”

Middle East

The most recent report on poverty in Israel shows the shocking fact that one out of every three Israeli children is living in poverty. Many of them are facing hunger—their families, even in those families where at least one parent has a job, simply do not make enough money to cover all of their living expenses.

Iran

An Iranian diplomat says Tehran will not stop uranium enrichment “for a moment,” defying demands from the U.N. and world powers to halt its suspect nuclear program. The comments by Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, come just two days after senior IAEA investigators ended two days of intensive talks with Iranian officials on allegations the Islamic Republic may have carried out tests on triggers for atomic weapons.

Afghanistan

U.S. troop deaths and wounds from makeshift bombs in Afghanistan dropped by almost half in 2012 as Afghan forces take a larger share of fighting and Americans find and defuse more bombs than ever, according to Pentagon data. Improvised explosive devices — the top threat in Afghanistan — killed 104 U.S. troops in 2012 compared with 196 in 2011, a 46% decline. Bombs wounded fewer, too, from 3,542 in 2011 to 1,744 in 2012, a 50% drop. A flood of surveillance equipment, metal detectors and intensive training have helped spur the decline in casualties.

Taliban militants detonated a car bomb at the gates of the Kabul traffic police headquarters early Monday and then stormed the compound, setting off a six-hour gunbattle with security forces that killed at least one policemanIt was the second brazen raid inside the Afghan capital in less than a week, a sign that the insurgency is determined to keep carrying out such spectacular attacks even as the U.S. and Afghan governments try to entice the Taliban into holding peace talks.

Algeria

Fourteen of BP’s 18 employees at the Amenas plant were safe after Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in a final assault Saturday that ended a four-day-old hostage crisis. The fate of the four missing BP employees appears bleak. Seven hostages are believed to have been killed by terrorists during Saturday’s assault, bringing the death toll to at least 55 — 23 hostages and 32 Islamist militants. The death toll from the bloody terrorist siege at a natural gas plant in Algeria has climbed past 80 Monday as the country’s forces searching the refinery for explosives found dozens more bodies, many so badly disfigured they could not immediately be identified A total of 685 Algerian and 107 foreigner workers were freed over the course of the standoff, which began last Wednesday

Mali

The French military says its fighter planes and helicopter gunships have carried out a dozen operations over the weekend in Mali, most of them aimed at “terrorist vehicles.” Radical Islamists have fled Diabaly, a key Malian town, on foot following French airstrikes that began after they seized the town nearly one week ago. The departure of the Islamists from Diabaly marks a success for the French-led military intervention that began Jan. 11 to oust the Islamists from northern and central Mali. Earlier in the week, the Malian military was able to retake another key town, Konna, whose capture had sparked the French intervention. France now has 2,000 troops in Mali.

  • One of the reasons for this latest intervention lies in the determination of the world’s powers to preserve Mali’s great resource wealth, including gold, oil and uranium. Mali was once one of France’s colonies.

Yemen

A U.S. drone airstrike on a car east of Yemen’s capital of Sanaa on Monday killed two suspected Al Qaeda militants and wounded three others, two of them seriously, according to security officials. They said the five were traveling in a pickup truck when it was hit Monday in the province of Maarib. The three wounded were traveling in the vehicle’s back bed. Yemen’s government, aided by the U.S., has waged a campaign against Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch. The group is considered among the world’s most active, having planned a series of foiled or aborted attacks on U.S. territory.

Weather

Heavy flooding in the Indonesian capital Jakarta this week has killed 12 people, driven thousands from their homes and paralyzed the sprawling city — and officials are warning that more water is on its way. Caused by unusually strong monsoon rains, the flood waters — often carrying trash and human waste — have inundated the city’s central business district, closed schools and offices, and entered the presidential palace.

Parts of the Southeast were digging out Friday from a winter storm that dumped snow around the region. In Virginia, the areas hardest hit Thursday and Friday were in the southwest, where the National Weather Service says 13 inches were reported in Giles County, while Grayson County and the Galax area received about a foot.

Temperatures in Sydney, Australia on Friday hit their highest levels since records began 150 years ago. While a vicious cold snap has recently hit Russia and eastern Europe and the Middle East has suffered its worst winter storm in a decade, Australian firefighters were battling scores of wildfires in stifling summer heat. In Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, the temperature smashed the previous hottest recorded temperature peaking at 114.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The old record, of 113.5 Fahrenheit, was set in January 1939.

Hundreds of fights were canceled in Britain, France and Germany on Monday as snow and ice blanketed Western Europe. Flights have been disrupted since Friday at London’s Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, which has seen long lines and stranded passengers camping out on its terminal floors. Forty percent of flights were canceled at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris. In Munich, which saw more than 5 inches of snow overnight, another 200 flights were cancelled, and long delays were expected at both airports. In northern Germany, slick roads outside Berlin caused a stretch of a major highway to be closed down for the Monday morning commute, and the high-speed train that runs through Brussels from Paris to Germany was experiencing long delays.

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