Signs of the Times (1/28/13)

U.S. Passes 55 Million Abortion Mark

At some point in the past year, the United States experienced its 55 millionth legal abortion — a number far more than the combined U.S. death toll of every American war since the nation’s founding, Baptist Press reports. The total spans 40 years, beginning with the Jan. 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The abortion count is based on data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. “That’s 55 million creative minds, 55 million people that could be working, 55 million that could be contributing to society,” said Randall K. O’Bannon, National Right to Life’s director of education and research. “It’s hard to fathom all the different ways in which any person has the potential to impact the community and impact our country. The loss is staggering.”

  • To put the total of 55 million in perspective, the combined number of military deaths in all of America’s wars — from the Revolutionary War to the second Iraq war — is 1.2 million.

53 Percent of Americans Say Abortion ‘Not That Important’ Compared to Other Issues

How important is the abortion issue to Americans? Fifty-three percent of the public says abortion is “not that important” compared with other issues, while 45 percent says abortion is either “one among many important issues” (27 percent) or “a critical issue facing the country” (18 percent), according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. However, the split masks stark differences between those who attend religious services at least once a week (37 percent of U.S. adults) and those who attend less often. About two-thirds (64 percent) of weekly churchgoers say abortion is a critical or important issue, while about two-thirds (65 percent) of those who attend less say abortion is not that important of an issue.

  • In this upside down world, secular issues trump morality as a direct consequence of a godless world view

Birth Control Insurance Mandate Heading to Supreme Court

The legal challenges over religious freedom and the birth control coverage requirement in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul appear to be moving toward the U.S. Supreme Court. Faith-affiliated charities, hospitals and universities have filed dozens of lawsuits against the mandate, which requires employers to provide insurance that covers contraception for free. However, many for-profit business owners are also suing, claiming a violation of their religious beliefs. But the lawsuits are yielding conflicting rulings in appeals courts around the country, so the line of cases will have to go to the Supreme Court for resolution.

  • The loss of religious freedom, whether we agree with the mandate or not, is the bigger issue here because it will lead to more federal jurisdiction over doctrinal beliefs

Court: Obama Appointments are Unconstitutional

President Barack Obama violated the Constitution when he bypassed the Senate to fill vacancies on a labor relations panel, a federal appeals court panel ruled Friday. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said that Obama did not have the power to make three recess appointments last year to the National Labor Relations Board. The unanimous decision is an embarrassing setback for the president, who made the appointments after Senate Republicans spent months blocking his choices for an agency they contended was biased in favor of unions. The ruling also throws into question Obama’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Sheriffs Uniting Against Proposed Gun Control Laws

Three Arizona sheriffs have joined a small but growing list of sheriffs across the nation who say they won’t enforce any unconstitutional laws that may result from President Barack Obama’s push to reduce gun violence. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio,Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher are among the more than 100 sheriffs nationwide expressing concern about any legislation that would diminish the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Babeu posted a letter on his website Friday morning that he sent to Obama on Jan. 16, informing him that neither he nor his deputies would carry out any unlawful mandates. Arpaio took a similar stance last week in a broadcast interview.

Brazil: Strict Gun Control, Worst Gun Violence

In Brazil, only police, people in high-risk professions and those who can prove their lives are threatened are eligible to receive gun permits. Anyone caught carrying a weapon without a permit faces up to four years on prison. But Brazil also tops the global list for gun murders. According to a 2011 study by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, 34,678 people were murdered by firearms in Brazil in 2008, compared to 34,147 in 2007. The numbers for both years represent a homicide-by-firearm rate of 18 per 100,000 inhabitants — more than five times higher than the U.S. rate. Brazilian officials admit guns flow easily over the nation’s long, porous Amazon jungle border.

Bipartisan Senators Offer a New Blueprint for Immigration

A bipartisan group of senators has agreed on a set of principles for a sweeping overhaul of the immigration system, including a pathway to American citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants that would hinge on progress in securing the borders and ensuring that foreigners leave the country when their visas expire. The senators were able to reach a deal by incorporating the Democrats’ insistence on a single comprehensive bill that would not deny eventual citizenship to illegal immigrants, with Republican demands that strong border and interior enforcement had to be clearly in place before Congress could consider legal status for illegal immigrants. Their blueprint, set to be unveiled on Monday, will allow them to stake out their position one day before President Obama outlines his immigration proposals in a speech on Tuesday in Las Vegas, in the opening moves of what lawmakers expect will be a protracted and contentious debate in Congress this year.

Flu Waning in East and South, Gaining in West

Although the flu appears to be leveling off in the East, South and Midwest, numbers are still rising in the Southwest and Northwest, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Nationally, 37 children have died from flu this season. Last year the entire season’s toll was 34. This year’s flu season got off to an early start, ramping up in late December, almost a month earlier than usual. The CDC doesn’t track statistics for adult flu deaths, but during the week of Jan. 13-19, 9.8% of deaths reported in CDC’s 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System were due to pneumonia and influenza. That’s above the epidemic threshold of 7.3%.

Nearly Half are Overqualified for Their Jobs

Nearly half of working Americans with college degrees are in jobs for which they’re overqualified, a new study out Monday suggests. The study, released by the non-profit Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says the trend is likely to continue for newly minted college graduates over the next decade. the problem is the stock of college graduates in the workforce (41.7 million) in 2010 was larger than the number of jobs requiring a college degree (28.6 million).

The number of Americans whose highest academic degree was a bachelor’s grew 25% to 41 million from 2002 to 2012. The number with associate’s degrees increased 31%, while the number of Americans for whom the highest level of education attainment was a master’s or doctorate degree grew fastest of all — 45% and 43%, respectively.

Economic News

Sales of new homes cooled in December from November, but sales for all last year were the best since 2009. The Commerce Department said Friday that new-home sales fell 7.3% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 369,000. That’s down from November’s 398,000 rate, which was the most in 2 ½ years. For all of 2012, sales rose nearly 20% from 2011, to 367,000.

The supply of homes for sale has been shrinking for six months and shows no improvement so far in January — a bad sign for buyers. New listings of existing homes for sale were down 14% year-over-year in the first two weeks of January. In Phoenix, where prices were up 24% in November from a year earlier, new listings through the first three weeks of January hit their lowest level in 13 years. Prices need to go up to bring more sellers to market.

Last Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished at its highest level since October 2007, while the S&P 500 closed above the 1,500 mark for the first time since December 2007. Both indexes also logged their fourth consecutive week of gains.

The price of sending mail with a first-class stamp, the kind of postage most consumers use, will go up by one cent Sunday to 46 cents — a hike the U.S. Postal Service first announced last October. Postcard postage will also rise one cent to 33 cents. Letters to international destinations will rise in cost to $1.10, up from the old prices of 85 cents to Canada and Mexico and $1.05 to other destinations. Overall, prices for mailing and shipping services will increase by 4% on average, with priority mail prices rising 6.3%.

Social Security’s disability trust fund won’t have enough money to pay full benefits by 2016. The fiscal security of the disability trust fund got rapidly worse as the unemployment rate rose. The number of applications has almost doubled in the last 10 years, from 1.5 million in 2001 to more than 2.8 million in 2012.

  • Even more alarming is the fact that the fund exists only on paper (or digital bits). The actual money has already been spent against the budget deficit

Eurozone

The British economy slipped back into reverse in the final quarter of 2012, raising the prospect of a third recession since the financial crisis and increasing pressure on the government to ease up on its austerity drive. Gross domestic product for the U.K. fell by 0.3% in the fourth quarter, a weaker performance than many economists were expecting. A fall back into recession could put the country’s AAA credit rating in doubt, risking an increase in borrowing costs. The government said last month that the belt tightening would have to continue into 2018, a year longer than expected, due to low revenues. National output remains about 3% below pre-recession levels.

Persecution Watch

The U.S. State Department says an American pastor who has been jailed in Iran since September has been sentenced to eight years in prison. Earlier this month Iran’s semi-official news agency, ISNA, quoted Abedini’s attorney as saying his client stood trial in the Revolutionary Court on charges of attempting to undermine state security by creating a network of Christian churches in private homes. The pastor, who is of Iranian origin but lives in Boise, Idaho, has rejected the charges.

After remaining silent for several weeks, the Islamist group Boko Haram killed five Christians in Nigeria’s northeastern city of Maiduguri, International Christian Concern reports. The five victims were beheaded in their homes overnight after militants suspected to be working with Boko Haram broke in. At least 23 others were killed this week in separate attacks in Nigeria’s north blamed on militants wanting to impose Islamic law. Boko Haram has killed more than 3,000 people since it started its armed insurgency in 2009, and many Christians fear the group will be successful in creating a purely Islamic state in northern Nigeria.

Algeria

Algeria’s foreign minister acknowledged that security forces made mistakes in a hostage crisis at a Saharan gas plant in which many foreign workers were killed by Algerian military strikes. Mourad Medelci, in an Associated Press interview, also conceded that Algeria will need international help to better fight terrorism. Algeria’s decision to refuse foreign offers of aid in handling the crisis, and to send the military to fire on vehicles full of hostages, drew widespread international criticism. The Jan. 16 attack, which an al-Qaeda-affiliated organization has claimed responsibility for, sent scores of foreign energy workers fleeing across the desert for their lives. A four-day siege by Algerian forces on the complex left at least 37 hostages and 29 militants dead. Some of the fatalities were badly burned, making it difficult to identify them.

Egypt

At least seven were killed Friday after clashes erupted between police and protesters on the second anniversary of the uprising that ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak. Six deaths, including a 14-year-old boy, occurred in Suez Canal city as protesters marched across Cairo in outrage over unfulfilled demands for reform and calling for change. Another person died in clashes in Ismailia, another Suez Canal city east of Cairo. At least 480 people were injured nationwide, the Health Ministry said, including five with gunshot wounds in Suez, raising the possibility of a higher death toll. Clashes continued Monday near Tahrir Square mark the fifth consecutive day of street violence in Egypt, a day after President Morsi declared a state of emergency in three provinces hit hardest by political violence.

The death toll climbed to 37 in Saturday’s riots in the northern city of Port Said after an Egyptian court handed down 21 death sentences in connection with last year’s deadly soccer melee. At least 300 have been injured, local media reported, in ongoing clashes between security forces and protesters who are angered by the verdicts related to a February brawl in which 74 soccer fans were killed.

Mali

French and Malian troops held a strategic bridge and the airport in the northern town of Gao on Sunday as their force also pressed toward Timbuktu, another stronghold of Islamic extremists in northern Mali. The advances come as French and African land forces also make their way to Gao from neighboring Niger in a bid to defeat the al-Qaida-linked Islamists who seized control of northern Mali more than nine months ago. The United States will support the French military by conducting aerial refueling missions. Leaders also discussed plans for the United States to transport troops from African nations, including Chad and Togo, to support the international effort in Mali. Ground forces backed by French paratroopers and helicopters took control of the airport and roads leading to the fabled desert town of Timbuktu in an overnight operation, a French military official said Monday.

Afghanistan

A police truck packed with officers and detainees struck a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan’s largest city, killing 10 of those aboard. It was one of four blasts Saturday that left at least 24 people dead across the country. Attacks by insurgents are a daily occurrence around Afghanistan and the Afghan police with their unarmored pickup trucks and remote checkpoints are a common target.

Weather

A winter storm dumped snow and ice on the Midwest this weekend before moving into the Northeast and snarling Monday morning travel. Several hundred schools are closed in the Detroit, Michigan region. The snow began falling Sunday night in downtown Detroit followed by freezing rain. Accidents dotted the roads in the Detroit metro region. The freezing rain and snow is moving into the Northeast Monday morning. In Washington D.C. most schools districts are opening late. The federal government and several other major employers are also opening late on Monday. Flight cancellations and delays are rolling in throughout the Northeast corridor, including Newark, Laguardia, Philadelphia, and Dulles.

A powerful storm system will cross the country this week. Ahead of it, temperatures will skyrocket in many areas, only to crash well below freezing immediately behind the system. Just two days after seeing snow, sleet and freezing rain, Chicago will aim for the 60-degree mark. Detroit and even Buffalo could touch 50. And as far east as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., temperatures will be some 10 to 15 degrees warmer than Monday.

And while sometimes strong temperature swings can come without a lot of other weather drama, that won’t be the case this time. The strong cold front that brings the temperature drop may also bring a widespread area of severe thunderstorms Tuesday and Wednesday, from Texas east and northeast into the mid- and lower Mississippi Valley, the Tennessee Valley and the central Gulf Coast as a cold front pushes east.

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