Signs of the Times (2/19/13)

Congressmen Urge Kerry to Seek Release of Imprisoned American Pastor

More than 80 U.S. senators and representatives have sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to “exhaust every possible option” to secure the release of American pastor Saeed Abedini, who is facing a lengthy prison sentence in Iran because of his Christian faith, the American Center for Law and Justice reports. “This is a significant bipartisan effort to secure the freedom of a U.S. citizen who faces incredible torture and life-threatening punishment in one of Iran’s most brutal prisons — simply because of his Christian beliefs,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ. “This letter from a politically broad spectrum of members of Congress underscores the real issue here: the U.S. government must protect its citizens and exercise every diplomatic tool available to secure the freedom of Pastor Saeed. We are very grateful for the Congressional support and urge Secretary Kerry to act without delay. Pastor Saeed’s life hangs in the balance. Secretary Kerry’s personal involvement in this case is critical to securing the freedom of this American.”

More GOP Governors Reject ObamaCare Health Exchanges

As the final deadline for creating state health insurance exchanges passed Friday, New Jersey, Tennessee and Florida said they would not work with the federal government on establishing insurance markets required under ObamaCare. With some exceptions, states led by Democrats opted to set up their own markets, called exchanges, and Republican-led states declined. Barring last-minute switches that may not be revealed until next week, 23 states plus Washington, D.C., have opted to run their own markets or partner with the Obama administration to do so. Exchanges are online markets required under the federal health care law where consumers will be able to buy individual private policies and apply for government subsidies to help pay their premiums.

Tens of thousands Demand Action on Climate Change

In what was billed as the largest climate rally in U.S. history, thousands of people marched past the White House on Sunday to urge President Obama to reject a controversial pipeline and take other steps to fight climate change. Organizers, including the Sierra Club, estimated that more than 35,000 people from 30-plus states — some dressed as polar bears — endured frigid temperatures to join the “Forward on Climate” rally, although the crowd size could not be confirmed. Their immediate target is Obama’s final decision, expected soon, on the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would carry tar sands from Canada through several U.S. states.

  • End=time weather will continue to grow more extreme no matter how many people protest and how much greenhouse gas emissions are reduced

Rise of Drones in U.S. Drives Efforts to Limit Police Use

Drones are becoming a darling of law enforcement authorities across the country. But they have given rise to fears of government surveillance, in many cases even before they take to the skies. And that has prompted local and state lawmakers from Seattle to Tallahassee to proscribe how they can be used by police or to ground them altogether. Although surveillance technologies have become ubiquitous in American life, like license plate readers or cameras for catching speeders, drones have evoked unusual discomfort in the public consciousness. “To me, it’s Big Brother in the sky,” said Dave Norris, a city councilman in Charlottesville, Va., which this month became the first city in the country to restrict the use of drones. Last week, the Seattle Police Department agreed to return its two still-unused drones to the manufacturer after Mayor Michael McGinn answered public protests by banning their use. On Thursday, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in Oakland, Calif., listened to the county sheriff’s proposal to use federal money to buy a four-pound drone to help his officers track suspected criminals — and then listened to raucous opposition from the anti-drone lobby, including a group that uses the Twitter handle @N.O.M.B.Y., short for Not Over My Back Yard.

U.S. Government Extends Federal Benefits to Homosexuals in Military

The U.S. government announced last week that it was extending a number of federal benefits to homosexuals in the military, the Christian News Network reports. The announcement was made by outgoing Department of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who stated that he would like to see the accommodations implemented by October 1, if not before. Among the 22 total benefits include hospital visitations, military child care and legal services, participation in family groups on base and privileges in commissaries. Because the federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the government from recognizing any other relationship outside of one man and one woman as being in a marriage, certain other benefits could not be extended, including assistance with housing and the provision of healthcare benefits. DOMA is currently being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to hear an oral argument on the issue next month and rule on the matter in June.

  • President Obama and his administration, including the Dept. of Defense, are in violation of DOMA and should be sanctioned or impeached

Singles Survey Reveals Casual Views on Sex

A new survey done for Match.com is shedding some light on what singles are saying about their sexual behavior, CBN News reports. According to the survey, 42 percent would not date a virgin, 47 percent report having a “friends with benefits” relationship, and 44 percent of women and 63 percent of men have had one-night stands. Almost a third say they’ve had sex by the third date and almost half said they had sex by the sixth date. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control released two new studies Wednesday showing that the United States faces an ongoing and severe epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. More than 19 million new infections are reported every year, up from 15 million in 1996, and half of the new cases affect people ages 15 to 24.

Fewer Bees a Threat to World’s Almond Supply

Bee brokers, beekeepers and almond growers around California say there’s a shortage of healthy honeybees for this year’s pollination, especially after colony collapse disorder took a higher toll this winter. The disorder, in which honey bees suddenly disappear or die, wipes out thousands of colonies each year. The shortage has some growers scrambling for bees — even sub-performers — as trees are about to bloom, driving up bee prices again this year, to an all-time high of more than $200 per colony. Since it was recognized in 2006, colony collapse disorder has destroyed colonies at a rate of about 30% a year. This year, experts say, the die-off has been as high as 40% to 50% for some beekeepers.

  • This is a major threat not just to almonds but a wide variety of food staples and could lead to debilitating shortages which will mostly affect the poor as food prices escalaate

K-5 Teacher Overload, Shortage of Content Teachers

The nation is training twice as many K-5 elementary school teachers as needed each year, while teacher shortages remain in the content specific areas of math, science and special education. National Council on Teacher Quality president Kate Walsh says the market is “flooded with elementary teachers” because universities and colleges don’t make the effort to match supply and demand as other professions might do.” Illinois trained roughly 10 teachers for every one elementary positions available. In New York, about 6,500 childhood education specialists were trained in 2010 to fill the projected demand of 2,800. A combination of state budget cuts, hiring freezes and teachers delaying retirement has shrunk the pool of open elementary teacher positions. Content certification in the low-staffed content-specific areas requires additional credits and hours, a discouragement for some to pursue the endorsement.

Feds Admit: Gun Laws Won’t Slow Crime

A study by the Department of Justice’s research wing, the National Institute of Justice, has the feds admitting that so-called “assault weapons” are not a major contributor to gun crime. The study also concluded those weapons are not a major factor in deaths caused by firearms, nor would an “assault weapons” ban be effective. “The existing stock of assault weapons is large, undercutting the effectiveness of bans with exemptions,” it said. “Therefore a complete elimination of assault weapons would not have a large impact on gun homicides.” The report finds no significant link between “assault weapons” and murders.

More States Push to Keep Feds Out of Gun Markets

States across the country are trying to protect gun ownership from the long arm of Washington by proposing bills declaring that firearms made and kept within their borders are not subject to federal restrictions. Nine states have proposed such legislation since President Obama and fellow Democrats in the Senate began trying to tighten federal gun laws in the wake of several mass shootings that occurred within months of each other. Montana was behind the original Firearms Freedom Act, which says the Commerce Clause allowing Congress to regulate inter-state commerce does not apply to the in-state manufacturing, selling and ownership of firearms. Montana passed the bill in 2009. Since then, a host of other states have tried to pass copycat legislation. Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington have proposed such legislation since January.

Gun Makers Boycott Governments Hostile To Second Amendment

In a turning of the tables, liberty minded gun makers and companies that supply firearms, accessories and ammunition have determined that they have had it with anti-gun governments at the city, state and Federal levels, even if it means lost revenue.Six firearms manufacturers are fed up with these gun control laws around the country, and they’ve made announcements stating that they will no longer be selling their products to any government agency within a jurisdiction that restricts firearms from citizens.

Taxpayers Spend Over $2 Billion on Illegals Emergency Health Care

Even though federal law largely bars illegal immigrants from obtaining Medicaid coverage, the program annually pays out more than $2 billion in free emergency coverage that mostly goes to illegal immigrants, according to Kaiser Health News. The vast majority of the total emergency care reimbursements cover delivering babies, Kaiser reports. Based on a Kaiser data analysis of the states believed to have the greatest populations of illegal immigrants — including California, New York, Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, Illinois and Florida — more than 100,000 Illegals annually receive emergency care that is reimbursed by Medicaid

Economic News

Federal workers could start facing furloughs as early as April, according to federal agencies trying to prepare for the worst. Unless Congress steps in, some $85 billion in massive spending reductions will hit the federal government, doling out furloughs to much of the nation’s 2.1 million federal workforce. he cuts coming as a part of the “sequester” will end up carving some 9% from non-defense programs and 13% from defense programs. They’re part of a larger effort to trim $1.2 trillion from federal deficits over 10 years.

Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan next year may see their war tours extended because budget cuts will drastically limit training for brigades to replace them, the top Army general said Friday. the Army is facing a shortfall of as much as $8 billion in operating funds for Afghanistan, and there could be an additional $5.4 billion in cuts if Congress can’t resolve a budget standoff and automatic sequester reductions go into effect.

Gas prices have risen for 32 days straight, according to AAA. That means that the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline has increased more than 13% over that period to $3.73. The rise is due to a confluence of factors, from rising crude oil prices, to production cuts and refinery closings. The average price for a gallon of gas has jumped to nearly 14% this year.

Beef prices are expected to increase as much as 10% by summer, leading beef producers and sellers to worry that their product might become a luxury. Retail beef prices have risen by an average of $1 per pound since 2007. Prices for cattle have jumped by as much as 25% in the past two years as the nation’s herd dropped to its lowest level in six decades while foreign export demand boomed.

Demonstrations were held across Spain on Saturday to protest harsh repossession laws that have led to hundreds of thousands of evictions during the country’s deep recession. In Madrid — one of 50 cities where such protests were planned — thousands of people marched to demand that the government amend the laws.

Persecution Watch

Four foreigners were arrested in Libya on suspicion of distributing books about Christianity and proselytizing. The suspects were from South Africa, Egypt and South Korea, and one held both Swedish and U.S. nationality. Spreading Christianity is a crime in the predominantly Muslim North African county. The four were arrested in the eastern city of Benghazi on Tuesday.

Pakistan

Angry residents on Sunday demanded government protection from an onslaught of attacks against Shiite Muslims, a day after 81 people were killed in a massive bombing that a local official said was a sign that security agencies were too scared to do their jobs. Saturday’s blast at a produce market in the city of Quetta also wounded 160 people and underlined the precarious situation for Shiites living in a majority Sunni country where many extremist groups don’t consider them real Muslims. Most of the dead and wounded were Hazaras, an ethnic group that migrated from Afghanistan over a century ago.

  • Odd that we never hear of Catholics attacking Baptists, or maybe it’s the just the Islamic religion that promotes violence

Iraq

A series of car bombs exploded within minutes of each other in and around Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 28 people and wounding dozens in overwhelmingly Shiite areas. The attacks come amid rising sectarian discord in Iraq. The explosions, mostly in outdoor markets, struck at the start of the local work week and appeared aimed at causing mass casualties among residents going about their morning shopping. Violence in Iraq has fallen since the height of sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007, but insurgents still launch lethal attacks frequently against security forces and civilians in an attempt to undermine the Shiite-led government.

Bangladesh

Protests over a war-crimes trial verdict in Bangladesh have resulted in at least six deaths here in the capital city of Dhaka and in the southeast tourist city of Cox’s Bazar. The incidents stem from February 5, when an International War Crimes Tribunal sentenced Abdul Quader Mollah, a leader of the Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, to life in prison on war-crimes charges — including murder — that date back to the country’s war of independence in 1971. The protesters, many of them students, demanded that Mollah’s penalty be changed to death. Protests have also taken place 450 kilometers (280 miles) southeast of the capital in Cox’s Bazar, where at least three people were killed Friday when Jamaat-e-Islami activists clashed with police.

Nigeria

Police in northern Nigeria say gunmen have kidnapped seven foreign workers from a construction company. The attack happened in Bauchi state overnight Saturday. The attack first targeted a prison in the area, then moved on to the construction company STRAECO, where they killed a guard and kidnapped the foreign workers. The nationalities of the workers were not immediately known. Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north has been under attack by the radical Islamic sect known as Boko Haram in the last year and a half. The country’s weak central government has been unable to stop the group’s bloody guerrilla campaign of shootings and bombings.

Russia

A small army of workers set to work Saturday to replace the estimated 200,000 square meters (50 acres) of windows shattered by the shock wave from a meteor that exploded over Russia’s Chelyabinsk region. The astonishing Friday morning event blew out windows in more than 4,000 buildings in the region, mostly in the capital city of the same name and injured some 1,200 people, largely with cuts from the flying glass and damaged over 4,000 buildings. Fifteen of the injured remained hospitalized on Saturday, one of them in a coma. Officials promised to have all the broken windows replaced within a week. But that is a long wait in a frigid region. The midday temperature in Chelyabinsk was minus-12 C (10 F), and for many the immediate task was to put up plastic sheeting and boards on shattered residential windows. NASA estimated the meteor was only about the size of a bus and weighed an estimated 7,000 tons. It exploded with the force of 20 atomic bombs. NASA said it was the largest meteor to strike the earth in over 100 years.

China

Hackers at a secretive unit of the Chinese military have stolen huge amounts of data from 115 companies and organizations in the U.S. since at least 2006, a U.S. computer security firm said in a research report released online Tuesday. The details made public by Mandiant Corp. add weight to arguments that Chinese authorities are increasingly targeting foreign firms, institutions and government agencies. China is the “most threatening actor in cyberspace,” concluded a draft report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Earthquakes

A 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck Saturday near the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. It struck at a depth of about 98 kilometers. No tsunami warning or watch has been issued.

Weather

A little more than a week after a massive snowstorm hit New England, another storm brought several inches of snow and strong winds to parts of the Northeast on Sunday. Coastal parts of southern New England were expected to see the brunt of the storm, including Cape Cod and Nantucket. About 5 inches fell in Barnstable, Mass., and up to 10 inches was forecast before the storm tapered off later Sunday. Much of northern Maine received more than 6 inches of snow by Sunday, and a blizzard warning was in effect until Monday afternoon.

Landslides and floods triggered by torrential rain in northern Indonesia have killed at least 15 people and sent hundreds fleeing for safe ground. Disaster official Sutopo Purwo Nugroho says mud and rocks cascaded down hills Sunday in seven sub-districts of Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi province, while more than 1,000 houses were flooded after downpours caused a river to burst its banks. Rescuers are searching for those who may still be buried beneath mud and rocks.

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