Signs of the Times (1/25/13)

Anti-Abortion March to Draw Thousands to Washington

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to fill the National Mall on Friday to protest the 40-year-old landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the first trimester. Buses are shuttling in anti-abortion protesters from all over the country for the annual March for Life, many of them young people. Organizers  are expecting record-breaking crowds. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 37% of Americans do not know that Roe v. Wade dealt with the issue of abortion. Among the age group targeted by the March for Life, the number is higher — 57% of adults under age 30 don’t know what the case is about.

  • Lack of knowledge and apathy are the two of the enemy’s greatest advantages against us: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.(Hosea 4:6)

Majority of Americans Think Religious Freedom is Fast Declining in U.S.

Slightly more than half of American adults, particularly Protestants and evangelicals, feel religious freedoms have grown worse in the last decade in the United States and foresee further restrictions in the years to come, according to a new study by the Barna Group and the Clapham Group, the Christian Post reports. Twenty-nine percent say they are very concerned and 22 percent say they are somewhat concerned that religious freedom in the U.S. will become more restricted in the next five years. The survey found that 71 percent of evangelicals, 46 percent of practicing Protestants and 30 percent of practicing Catholics are “very concerned” about this prospect. Concerns are not only the future of religious freedom, but also about the current level of restraints: 48 percent of practicing Protestants say they perceive religious freedom to have grown worse in recent years, while 60 percent of evangelicals perceive religious freedom to have grown worse.

Is UN Arms Trade Treaty Part of Obama’s Gun Control Plans?

One day after President Barack Obama won re-election, his  Administration agreed to a new round of  international negotiations to revive a United Nations-sponsored treaty regulating the international sale of conventional arms, which critics fear could affect the Constitutionally protected right of U.S. citizens to purchase and bear firearms. The fate of the UN treaty, which enters a “final” round of negotiations this March, may loom as more important than ever, according to critics, some of whom argue that the U.S. should never have entered the talks in the first place. The critics say the draft version of the treaty is a mine field of clauses and propositions that mandate a much greater federal role in U.S. gun sales, and potentially tie the U.S. to the gun control agenda of other governments or regimes.

  • The New World Order folks are pulling Obama’s strings. Disarming the masses in order to prevent future dissent over their one-world socialist government is a top priority.

House Passes Bill to Defuse Debt Ceiling Crisis

The House on Wednesday passed the “No Budget, No Pay Act,” a Republican bill that would effectively defuse the debt ceiling threat for several months. The bill would let the Treasury Department borrow new money until mid-May. In exchange, the legislation would require lawmakers in both chambers of Congress to pass a budget resolution or have their pay withheld until they do. The vote was 285 to 144. The bill passed largely on the back of GOP support — 199 Republicans voted for it. But Democrats were needed, and 86 backed the measure. Most House Democrats, however, voted against the bill. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the salary provision a “joke” and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer called the bill a “political gimmick” that perpetuates uncertainty. But other leading Democrats said they would support the legislation because it takes the immediate threat of default off the table and divorces the debt ceiling from Republican demands for spending cuts.

Pregnancies Up in the Military

Despite access to free contraceptives, unplanned pregnancies are a rising problem for women in the U.S. military, according to a new study. Nearly 11% of more than 7,000 active-duty women surveyed by the Department of Defense in 2008 reported an unplanned pregnancy during the previous year. That’s 50% higher than the average rate in the United States. The rate has increased steadily since 2005. Unplanned pregnancies can have a significant impact on the health of military personnel and on troop readiness, according to the study. Servicewomen who become pregnant unexpectedly while at home cannot be deployed, which may affect their career. Servicewomen who become pregnant while overseas must be sent home, which can cost the military around $10,000. Approximately 43% of unplanned pregnancies in the United States end in abortion, perhaps more so for servicewomen.

Panetta to Lift Ban on Women in Combat

Women in all branches of the military soon will have unprecedented opportunities to serve on the front lines of the nation’s wars. Leon Panetta, in one of his last acts as President Obama’s defense secretary, is preparing to announce the policy change Thursday, which would open hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war. The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta’s decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

Jobs Recovery Favors Educated Workers

Workers across America are experiencing completely different versions of the jobs recovery, depending on their education level. The recovery is favoring the college educated, but leaving behind those with a high school diploma or less. Workers with the highest level of education — including master’s, doctorates and professional degrees — are a relatively small part of the population, yet they’ve experienced the fastest employment gain. 6.7%. Workers with just a bachelor’s degree reported gains of 5%. That contrasts starkly with workers at the opposite end of the education spectrum, who are not only reporting they have fewer jobs, but are also leaving the workforce in droves. Those with a high school education or less are a large group, making up 36% of all U.S. workers over age 25. Their job losses started in 2007 and have yet to stop. About 767,000 fewer workers reported having a job in 2012, than they did in 2010.

More Americans Delay Retirement

Retirement is becoming a more distant dream for a rising number of older Americans, largely because they need the money but also because they are healthy enough to keep working. The share of Americans 65 and older in the labor force went from 12.1% in 1990 to 16.1% in 2010, and the increase was larger for women, according to new analysis of Census data released Thursday. The percentage of 65-plus women who are working jumped more than 4 percentage points to 12.5%. Men in the same category rose 3.2 percentage points to 20.8%. For workers younger than 65, women increased 1.9 percentage points to 69.8%, while younger men’s participation dropped 5.2 points to 78.2%.

Economic News

The International Monetary Fund is projecting a modest rise in global economic growth for 2013, but also warns that problems in the Eurozone and the United States could derail momentum. The IMF forecasts growth of 3.5%.in 2013 The world economy grew 3.2% in 2012, according to IMF estimates.

A payroll tax increase of 2 percentage points has hit workers who have received their first paychecks of the year. The tax increase came when Congress decided not to renew a temporary payroll tax reduction as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations at the end of December. The rate returned to 6.2% as a result.

The number of Americans filing initial claims for unemployment benefits is hovering at its lowest level in five years, after falling for a second week in a row. First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell by 5,000 last week to 330,000, down from 335,000 the previous week. That’s the lowest level since January 2008.

Home sales are set to keep marching upward this year after hitting their highest level in five years in 2012, economists say. Existing-home sales for the full year rose 9.2% from 2011. However, the 4.7 million homes sold still pales in comparison to the 7.1 million sold in 2005.

For the first time in history, digital stores became the primary outlet for buying music albums, eclipsing mass merchants that had been the leading sales sector for the previous five years. And booming digital sales this month suggest the shift is broadening more dramatically.

Persecution Watch

Open Doors USA has confirmed the death of two Christians in North Korea. According to the ministry that serves persecuted Christians worldwide, one Christian was recently shot while he was on his way back to Bible training in China. The other died in one of North Korea’s notorious labor camps. The first Christian “was very excited about his new faith and wanted to share the gospel with his family,” said an Open Doors worker. “He wanted to come back to China to study the Bible more so he could explain the Christian faith better to his family. The second Christian, who also studied the Bible in China, recently died in a labor camp. Authorities found out about his secret faith after his return to North Korea and he was sent to prison. “We just received an update that he was dead,” said the Open Doors worker. “He was terribly tortured because of his faith. He was also forced to do heavy labor while hardly receiving any food. Before his return to North Korea, he was baptized and willing to deal with the all the hardships he had to face. … We are devastated to hear about these murders. We know Christians die for their faith almost every day in North Korea, but it is still hard to deal with.”

Israel

A badly weakened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrambled Wednesday to keep his job by extending his hand to a new centrist party that advocates a more earnest push on peacemaking with the Palestinians after Israel’s parliamentary election produced a stunning deadlock. Israeli media said that with nearly all votes counted, each bloc had 60 of parliament’s 120 seats. Commentators said Netanyahu, who called early elections three months ago expecting easy victory, would be tapped to form the next government because the rival camp drew 12 of its 60 seats from Arab parties that traditionally are excluded from coalition building. A surprising strong showing by a political newcomer, the centrist Yesh Atid, or There is a Future, party, in Tuesday’s vote turned pre-election forecasts on their heads and dealt a setback to Netanyahu.

Tensions simmered in the West Bank on Thursday after a skirmish between Israeli Defense Forces and Molotov cocktail throwing Palestinians left a 21 year old Arab woman dead and several others wounded. According to the IDF, the incident started when an IDF vehicle travelling near the village of Al-Arroub southwest of Bethlehem was hit by several gasoline bombs on Wednesday. The soldiers within quickly abandoned the vehicle and fired on their attackers, hitting several. However, Palestinians who witnessed the event told Reuters the woman and several companions were innocently walking to Al-Arroub College when soldiers travelling in a civilian car opened fire on them for no reason. Rioting erupted in the area in the wake of the incident, but did not spread to other Palestinian cities.

Syria

As many as 20,000 Syrian refugees have flooded Jordan in just the last few days, the nation’s foreign minister and refugee officials said Wednesday, straining resources amid warnings from international aid organizations to prepare for a prolonged humanitarian crisis. The refugees are fleeing the ongoing violence in Syria, where the United Nations estimates at least 60,000 people have died in 22 months of fighting between government forces and rebels seeking to depose President Bashar al-Assad. Last week, the International Rescue Committee warned of a “protracted humanitarian emergency” in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, which have absorbed about 600,000 Syrian refugees since the conflict began.

Afghanistan

Explosions and gun fire rang out across central Kabul on Monday morning after a group of Taliban insurgents stormed the headquarters of the city’s traffic police, the second attack on a government office in the Afghan capital in less than a week. A suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance gate of the traffic police compound. Two or three other attackers then managed to charge inside the main building, armed with machine guns and more explosives.

Iraq

A suicide bomber killed at least 35 people and wounded scores more Wednesday at a funeral near a Shiite mosque in northern Iraq. Among the injured is Ahmed Abdul-Wahed, deputy governor of Salaheddin province, a largely Sunni region in north central Iraq. Last week, a series of car and roadside bombs targeting buses and bus stations rocked predominantly Shiite areas of Iraq and killed 19 people. More than 100 people were wounded in two separate incidents at bus stations in Karbala province, south of Baghdad.

Iran

An explosion deep within Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility has destroyed much of the installation and trapped about 240 personnel deep underground, according to a former intelligence officer of the Islamic regime. The previously secret nuclear site has become a center for Iran’s nuclear activity because of the 2,700 centrifuges enriching uranium to the 20-percent level. The explosion occurred Monday, but Iran is not discussing it.

Egypt

Egyptian opposition protesters are gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to mark the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime. The protesters, mostly led by liberals and secularists, are using the anniversary to stage a show of strength in a bid to force President Mohammed Morsi to amend a disputed constitution drafted by his Islamist allies. They are also demanding freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary. Hundreds of thousands are expected to turn out for the rallies planned in Cairo and several major cities. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups are staying off the streets to avoid clashes.

Mali

French troops in armored personnel carriers rolled through the streets of Diabaly on Monday, winning praise from residents of this besieged town after Malian forces retook control of it with French help a week after radical Islamists invaded. The Islamists also have deserted the town of Douentza, which they had held since September. Diabaly, located about 320 miles north of the capital of Bamako, fell into rebel hands on Jan. 14.

Algeria

The prime minister of Algeria offered an unapologetic defense on Monday of the country’s tough actions to end the Sahara hostage crisis, saying that the militants who had carried out the kidnappings intended to kill all their captives and that the army saved many from death by attacking. But the assertion came as the death toll of foreign hostages rose sharply, to 37, and as American officials said they had offered sophisticated surveillance help that could minimize casualties, both before and during the military operation to retake a seized gas field complex in the Algerian desert. American counterterrorism officials and experts said they would have taken a more cautious approach. The United States said that three Americans were among the dead and that seven had survived.

The attack signals changes in the terror landscape of North Africa. It showed that al Qaeda-linked groups now have the resources to reconnoiter and launch complex attacks against places far from their strongholds, using a network of camps and intermediaries throughout the desert. And it raises the alarming prospect that al Qaeda affiliates and other jihadist outfits could turn parts of northern and western Africa into no-go zones — places too dangerous for Westerners to work, or even visit. If their rhetoric is to be believed, their goals include targets farther afield — leveraging sympathizers among the vast North and West African diaspora in Europe.

China

China has essentially said it wants to chase every nation from the South China Sea. It has laid claim to 1 million square miles of the sea and in recent months has been dispatching ships and aircraft to enforce its ownership, infuriating many Asian nations whose coastlines also touch the sea. It’s not just for the rich sources of fish that China and others are battling. The World Bank has estimated that the seabed contains huge deposits of oil and natural gas. The sea is a major route for the world’s cargo (50% of global oil tankers pass through it). As Asia’s economies and populations grow, the food source and the energy resources of the South China Sea will become even more important. Confrontations that have already taken place between China and its neighbors over the sea could escalate and lead to war, observers of the situation say.

Japan says it may fire warning shots and take other measures to keep foreign aircraft from violating its airspace in the latest verbal blast between Tokyo and Beijing that raises concerns that a dispute over hotly contested islands could spin out of control. Japanese officials made the comments after Chinese fighters tailed its warplanes near the islands recently. The incident is believed to be the first scrambling of Chinese fighters since the tensions began to rise last spring. a pair of J-10 fighters was scrambled after Japanese F-15s began tailing a Chinese surveillance plane near the disputed islands in the East China Sea. Japan says this represents a rapid intensification of Chinese air force activity around the islands, where Japanese and Chinese coast guard ships have squared off for months.

North Korea

North Korea’s top governing body warned Thursday that the regime will conduct its third nuclear test in defiance of U.N. punishment, and made clear that its long-range rockets are designed to carry not only satellites but also warheads aimed at striking the United States. The National Defense Commission, headed by the country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, rejected Tuesday’s U.N. Security Council resolution condemning North Korea’s long-range rocket launch in December as a banned missile activity and expanding sanctions against the regime. The commission reaffirmed in its declaration that the launch was a peaceful bid to send a satellite into space, but also said the country’s rocket launches have a military purpose: to strike and attack the United States. The commission called it “a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century [that] will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people,”

Earthquakes

A strong, shallow earthquake has rocked parts of western Indonesia, reportedly killing a young girl. Several other people were injured. The quake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.9 hit Aceh province around dawn on Tuesday. Local media said it was felt strongly in the capital Banda Aceh and surrounding districts. Aceh is on the western tip of Sumatra Island. In 2004, a monster temblor off its shores triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people across Asia. Most of the deaths were in Aceh.

Weather

The same brutal arctic cold front that’s already delivered sub-zero temperatures across the upper Midwest and Northeast is forecast to bring ice and freezing rain to the South and Mid-Atlantic states on Friday. The National Weather Service expects widespread accumulations of ice across parts of five states: Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and North and South Carolina. Southern cities like Atlanta are not prepared for wintry weather because it comes so seldom. Southern drivers have little experience driving on the stuff. An ice storm in December 2010 resulted in hundreds of accidents across metro Atlanta. Many motorists just ditched their cars and gave up.

The National Weather Service forecasters urged caution early Friday as they warned “bitterly cold conditions” were expected to continue across much of the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast into the weekend. With temperatures plummeting, warming centers were opened in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other areas. Dozens of school systems in Tennessee and some in northern Georgia said they would be closed.

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