Signs of the Times (2/5/13)

Obamacare Opt-Out Expansion an Accounting Gimmick

The Catholic Association is adding its voice to those who remain unimpressed with the Obama administration’s so-called compromise on employers providing free contraceptives in their employee health insurance plans. The Obama administration claims to have expanded its opt-out provision for non-profit religious organizations due to the ongoing litigation and widespread public outcry against the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that requires employers to provide health insurance that includes coverage for free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacients. The new regulation reportedly attempts to create a barrier between the religious groups and the coverage by having insurers or a third party give women free access to contraception. But Ashley McGuire, senior fellow of The Catholic Association (TCA), asserts the changes are simply accounting gimmicks. The HHS mandate, she says, is still a violation of civil rights, religious freedom and First Amendment rights. Other conservative and religious groups panned the Obama administration’s long-awaited “accommodation” meant to spare religious-affiliated groups from the so-called contraceptive mandate, calling a proposal unveiled Friday “radically inadequate.”

Obamacare to Cost $20,000 per Family

Participating in ObamaCare will cost the average American family at least $20,000 per year. The IRS (which is charged with enforcing the onerous penalties and fines of the President’s healthcare “reform” law) has finally released a cost analysis based on ObamaCare regulations showing that the cheapest healthcare plan in 2016 will cost average American families of four or five members $20,000 per year for the so-called “bronze plan.” Under Obamacare, Americans will be required to buy health insurance or pay a penalty to the IRS.

According to a recent Gallup report, many employers just aren’t hiring, and sixty-one percent of America’s small business owners cite “the potential cost of healthcare” as a major influence on their hiring decisions.  Shortages of doctors are predicted to become the norm, as will lengthy waits for treatment.  Small medical practices will likely be forced to consolidate to stay in business, according to Liberty Counsel.

Children Conceived Through Rape Open New Front in Abortion Wars

Standing before the throngs at the March for Life on Jan. 25, Ryan Bomberger admitted that he was the poster child for one of the most difficult aspects of the abortion debate: his mother had been raped. “I’m the fringe case that even pro-lifers have a hard time embracing,” said Bomberger, an anti-abortion activist whose mother chose to continue the pregnancy and put him up for adoption. Forty years after the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion, children who were conceived through rape — and women who were raped and chose to end the pregnancy — are speaking out, opening a new front in the often-fraught discussions of a decades-old culture war. According to the website of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 10,000 to 15,000 abortions occur annually among women whose pregnancies resulted from rape or incest.

Media Ignores Life, Covers Non-Life

The major broadcast networks gave literally seconds of coverage to last month’s annual pro-life march in Washington, DC — but more than 500 times that amount to an imaginary woman. A new study from the Media Research Center shows the three major broadcast networks gave overwhelmingly more coverage to Manti Te’o’s fake dead girlfriend than given to more than half a million real people who attended the March for Life in Washington, DC. The study from MRC finds ABC, NBC, and CBS devoted close to two-and-a-half hours to the Notre Dame linebacker’s drama — but a mere 17 seconds to the March for Life. According to Matt Philbin, managing editor of MRC’s Culture and Media Institute, “This is basically censorship. They tell the story they want to tell; they don’t tell something that’s inconvenient,” he shares. “And what could be more inconvenient to liberal news media than 500,000 to 700,000 people protesting one of the worst [court] decisions that we’ve ever had in the United States?”

Feds: Drone Strikes on Americans Legal

A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S. The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes. The secrecy surrounding such strikes is fast emerging as a central issue in this week’s hearing of White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, a key architect of the drone campaign, to be CIA director.

  • This is the backdoor opening to eventual drone strikes against a broader spectrum of those the government deems harmful to U.S. interests

World Cancer Day Dispels Stereotypes

Cancer now kills more people worldwide than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, and more than half of deaths are in developing countries. Yet many people, including policymakers, still harbor the misconception that cancer is a concern only for industrialized nations, rather than developing countries. Cancer activists tried to dispel such myths Monday, as they marked World Cancer Day, an annual event organized by the Union for International Cancer Control, a global health group. Organizers planned more than 200 events around the world. Some cancers are more common in poor countries partly because access to health care and preventive services is lacking. For example, 85% of cervical cancer deaths are in developing countries. Cancer rates are increasing in developing nations for many reasons. As poor countries industrialize, people are exposed to more hazardous chemicals. Nearly 80% of the world’s 1 billion smokers live in low- or middle-income countries. Yet developing nations are often ill-equipped to care for cancer patients.

Flu Attacking Elderly at Historically High Rates

There are currently three main flu strains circulating nationwide. H3N2 is the predominant one. It appears to be especially dangerous for the elderly. Although the flu is beginning to wane nationally, it is sickening and killing seniors at rates “higher than we’ve ever seen,” a CDC flu expert said Friday. Last week, people older than 65 who died from a laboratory-confirmed case of influenza died at a rate of 116 per 100,000. Those numbers are expected to go higher still. Hospitalization — and, in some cases, death — follows several weeks after a person first gets sick. Each year, between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans die from influenza-related cause. So far this season, 45 children have died as a result of the flu.

Army Suicides in 2012 a Record

The U.S. Army reported Thursday that there were 325 confirmed or potential suicides last year among active and nonactive military personnel, the highest on record. The grim total exceeds the number of total U.S. Army deaths (219) and total military deaths (313) in Afghanistan. The toll comes despite what the military touts as extensive support and counseling programs. For years, the Pentagon has struggled with how to identify service members at risk for suicide and to provide counseling and other services. The Army and Navy have focused on teaching “resiliency” to troops in hopes of helping them cope with stress.

  • Sending soldiers on repeated and extended tours into combat zones is the likely culprit, something the military doesn’t want to admit

Chinese Cyber Attacks are Widespread

Allegations that Chinese hackers infiltrated the computers of two leading U.S. newspapers add to a growing number of cyber-attacks on Western companies, governments and foreign-based dissidents that are believed to originate in China. According to one recent report, one in every three observed computer attacks in the third quarter of 2012 emanated from China. The United States was a distant second, originating 13% of observed attacks, followed by Russia with 4.7%.

Happy Birthday Federal Income Tax

On February 3rd, 1913, one of the two most historic events in US history took place: the ratification of the 16th amendment, which established Congress’ right to impose a Federal income tax on Americans, and overturned Article I, Section 9 of the US Constitution which explicitly prohibited a general income tax. The amendment was brief and to the point, and read as follows: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” And with that, the US Federal Income Tax was born and has been with us for precisely 100 years.

Economic News

A healthy jump in tax collections is letting states spend money on things they haven’t been able to afford since the recession struck five years ago. Big spending turnarounds are underway this year in education, tourism promotion and worker pay. Since hitting bottom in 2009, income and sales tax collections have risen about 15% nationwide. During that time, states, cities and school districts have been frugal. Total spending rose 1% last year and 6% since 2009. The result: Most states have budget surpluses.

Banks are slightly loosening standards for many kinds of loans, and cutting into their own profit margins to try to make more loans, especially to businesses and real estate developers, the Federal Reserve says. More than half of surveyed banks said they are accepting interest rates that are closer to what banks themselves pay for deposits, or other sources of money they lend out, according to the survey released Monday.

The average time Americans spent unemployed dropped a record 2.8 weeks in January … but that’s not a good thing. The reason is likely because many people ran out of unemployment benefits so they stopped looking for work, experts said. People are getting frustrated and are giving up. The average duration of unemployment was 35.3 weeks in January, down from 38.1 weeks in December and 40.2 weeks a year earlier

Americans are pumping about 4% of their incomes into buying gasoline, according to a government report. The Energy Department said on Monday that U.S. households spent an average of $2,912 on gasoline last year, the highest level in four years. The percentage reached similar levels in 2008, when a red-hot global economy and panic over dwindling supplies sent gas prices through the roof. But before then, the percentage hadn’t reached these levels in nearly three decades. But Americans are actually buying less gasoline than they have in the past because they are heading to the pumps less often as cars become more fuel efficient.

Middle East

The Shin Bet (Israel Security service) and IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) announced on Thursday that they had broken up a large cell of operatives working for the Islamist terror militia Hamas. Twenty terror operatives were arrested in the city of Hebron, in the southern part of the Palestinian Authority administered West Bank. The arrests, which were carried out over the last few months, were accompanied by seizures of weapons and the discovery of plans to kidnap Israelis in order to exchange them for Hamas operatives in Israeli prisons.

Egypt

A fire erupted at the entrance to Egypt’s presidential palace Friday night as protesters hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon. One person was fatally shot during clashes. The nation has been rocked by violence since last week’s second anniversary of its revolution. Protesters have fumed over the slow pace of change and recent edicts by President Mohammed Morsy, who imposed a 30-day curfew on areas engulfed by violence” The continued attacks suggest a real breakdown in central power, we’re coming close to that,” said Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “None of the political forces have control over the people in the streets.”

Iran

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Egypt on Tuesday for the first visit by an Iranian leader in more than three decades, marking a historic departure from years of frigid ties between the two regional heavyweights. Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi gave Ahmadinejad a red-carpet welcome. Ahmadinejad’s three-day visit, which is centered around an Islamic summit, is the latest sign of improved relations between the countries since the 2011 uprising ousted Egypt’s longtime ruler President Hosni Mubarak and brought an Islamist government to power in Cairo. Such a visit would have been unthinkable under Mubarak, who was a close ally of the U.S. and shared Washington’s deep suspicions of Tehran.

Syria

The recent horrors of finding yet another mass grave in an Aleppo canal are part of what’s driving more people toward Syria’s borders, Mission Network News reports. After 22 months of civil war, the death toll now exceeds 60,000, and the United Nations can’t keep up with the “unrelenting flow” of families fleeing violence. The number of documented refugees has topped 700,000 — and more than 3,000 crossed into Jordan on Monday alone. “Food is scarce, children can’t go to school, families can’t live, for fear of their lives,” says Jeff Palmer, CEO of Baptist Global Response. “So, now we have more people flooding outside the country. We have more internally displaced people inside the country and it’s just chaos.” If nothing changes, there will be over a million internally displaced people and over half a million scattered throughout the border countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. “When this started over a year ago, everybody thought it was going to be short-lived,” Palmer said. “Here we are, well over a year into it, and it just continues to grow and escalate.”

Pakistan

Militants attacked an army post in northwestern Pakistan with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and suicide vests before dawn on Saturday, killing 23 people including 10 civilians. Twelve attackers were also reported killed in the assault. The raid followed a suicide bombing at a Shiite Muslim mosque in the northwest on Friday that killed 24 people. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks. The group has been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for years and also has sometimes targeted country’s minority Shiite sect.

Iraq

A suicide car bomber joined by other suicide attackers on foot assaulted a provincial police headquarters in a disputed northern Iraqi city on Sunday, killing at least 18 people and wounding 90 others. Police killed all the militants before they could enter the building. The blast in Kirkuk appeared to be a fresh attack by militants seeking to undermine government efforts in maintaining security nationwide. Car bombs and coordinated attacks are favorite tactics for Sunni insurgents such as al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch.

Weather

After a very slow start to the season, Chicago has now seen four consecutive days of measurable snowfall. A clipper system was moving through the Great Lakes region Monday bringing a couple of inches to the Windy City. While it’s no major snowstorm, it is bringing a taste of winter to Chicago. Chicago had an an unusually mild winter in 2012, like much of the nation. They received 19.8″ of snow in the 2011-12 winter season.  The average seasonal snowfall is 36.4″.

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