Signs of the Times (4/5/13)

Ala. Lawmakers Tighten Rules for Abortion Clinics

Alabama lawmakers late Tuesday gave final passage to a measure placing stricter regulations on clinics that provide abortions. The bill requires abortion clinics to use doctors who have approval to admit patients to hospitals in the same city. Some clinics now use doctors from other cities that don’t have local hospital privileges. Proponents say the regulations will protect women. Opponents say they will make it harder for women to exercise their right to get an abortion. A similar law in Mississippi is threatening to close that state’s only abortion clinic, which is challenging the law in court. The state House voted 68-21 to give final passage to the Women’s Health and Safety Act. The vote came hours after the state Senate voted 20-10 to approve the bill. The votes in the GOP-led legislature, mostly along party lines, send the measure to Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who backs the legislation.

Judge Strikes Restrictions on ‘Morning-After’ Pill

A federal judge has ruled that the government must make the most common morning-after pill available over the counter for all ages, instead of requiring a prescription for girls 16 and younger. The decision, on a fraught and politically controversial subject, comes after a decade-long fight over who should have access to the pill and under what circumstances. And it counteracts an unprecedented move by the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, who in 2011 overruled a recommendation by the Food and Drug Administration to make the pill available for all ages without a prescription. In a decision in a lawsuit filed by advocates, the judge, Edward R. Korman of Federal District Court, ruled that the government’s refusal to lift restrictions on access to the pill was “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.”

13 Attorneys General Push Obama on Contraception Mandate

Thirteen state attorneys general are urging the federal government to broaden religious exemptions for private businesses under the White House’s contraception mandate, claiming the policy violates religious freedoms. Put simply, the group — the attorneys general of Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia — believes any employer who says he or she objects to contraception should not have to provide contraceptive coverage. The Department of Health and Human Services’ latest proposal, unveiled Feb. 1, would require all employers to provide contraceptive coverage to workers; some nonprofit religious organizations — primarily houses of worship — that object to contraception on religious or moral grounds would be exempt. In a March 26 letter, the coalition asserted that the exclusion should be extended beyond religious institutions to include all conscientious objectors. At least two dozen suits by private businesses have been filed against the contraception mandate, and 16 have been granted a temporary injunction while the lawsuits are pending, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is spearheading much of the opposition to the mandate. In addition, 30 lawsuits by nonprofit religious groups have been filed against the mandate, although most have been rejected as premature because fines for noncompliance don’t kick in until 2014.

Same Sex Marriage Not Just a U.S. Issue

It’s not just the United States grappling with the issue of same-sex marriage. Many countries around the world are re-examining their laws, and some appear to be on the brink of changing them. Senators in Uruguay approved a marriage equality bill Tuesday that puts them on course to be the 12th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. And this week, senators in France will begin weighing a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage and allow same-sex couples to adopt children. The bill, which has the support of President Francois Hollande, has cleared the lower house of Parliament. But like the United States, France is far from united on the issue. In January, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Paris to protest same-sex marriage.

Across the English Channel, the United Kingdom is also considering legalization. In February, lawmakers in the House of Commons approved the second reading of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in England and Wales. (Scotland has its own legalization bill in the works, while Northern Ireland rejected a similar measure in October.) More debate and more votes are still necessary In the U.K. before the bill can become law, but the wide margin of February’s vote — 400-175 — suggests that it may have the support it needs to eventually pass.

  • This issue is a barometer of how far along we are in the end-time decline of God-ordained morality

Senators Vow to Oppose UN Arms Trade Treaty

Republican senators — joined by at least one Democrat — ripped the international arms trade treaty approved Tuesday by the U.N. General Assembly, calling it a “non-starter” and vowing to oppose Senate ratification. The treaty approved Tuesday was the first of its kind. The resolution was approved at the U.N. by a vote of 154 to 3 with 23 abstentions. But in the U.S. Senate, which must ratify the treaty in order for the United States to be a party to it, opposition is much stronger. The Senate already voted for an amendment last month to prevent the U.S. from entering into the treaty. The sentiment among conservative and moderate senators is that the treaty represents an infringement of Second Amendment rights.

Conn. Governor Signs USA’s Toughest Gun Law

Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy signed the nation’s most far-reaching gun control bill in Hartford Thursday, concluding several emotional weeks of debate and compromise since the state was rocked and the world stunned by brutal mass murder at an elementary school here. The state House voted early Thursday in favor of the 139-page bill crafted by leaders from both major parties in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. It passed the Senate in a 26-10 vote on Wednesday. The bill adds more than 100 weapons to the state’s ban on assault weapons, limits the capacity of ammo magazines and requires background checks for all weapon sales, including at gun shows. It would also establish the nation’s first statewide registry for people convicted of crimes involving dangerous weapons. Access to the registry would be available only to law enforcement.

Obama Using Disputed Gun Control Stat

As President Obama prepares to head to Colorado on Wednesday to push gun control legislation, some are calling into question the validity of a key statistic he’s using to tout his message on near-universal background checks. During several speeches, Obama has said 40 percent of all gun purchases were made without a background check. But that number is nearly two decades old and comes from a poll with a relatively tiny sample size. Gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association, as well as The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker,” are calling out the president’s stat, saying his numbers on background checks need a background check of their own.

CDC: 110+ Million Venereal Infections in U.S.

According to new data released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 19.7 million new venereal infections in the United States, bringing the total number of existing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the U.S. to 110,197,000. The STI study referenced by the CDC estimated that 50 percent of the new infections occurred among people in the 15-to-24 age bracket. In fact, of the 19,738,800 total new STIs in the United States, 9,782,650 were among Americans in the 15-to-24 age bracket. “CDC’s new estimates show that there are about 20 million new infections in the United States each year, costing the American healthcare system nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs alone,” said a CDC fact sheet. The most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States in 2008 was human papillomavirus (HPV), which caused 14,100,000 estimated infections.

Dementia Care Cost Is Projected to Double by 2040

The most rigorous study to date of how much it costs to care for Americans with dementia found that the financial burden is at least as high as that of heart disease or cancer, and is probably higher. And both the costs and the number of people with dementia will more than double within 30 years, skyrocketing at a rate that rarely occurs with a chronic disease. Behind the numbers is a sense that the country, facing the aging of the baby boom generation, is unprepared for the coming surge in the cost and cases of dementia. “It’s going to swamp the system,” said Dr. Ronald C. Petersen, who is chairman of the advisory panel to the federal government’s recently created National Alzheimer’s Plan. If anything, Dr. Petersen said of the study’s numbers, “they’re being somewhat conservative.” Dr. Petersen.

Stockton, Ca. Declared Bankrupt

Stockton, Calif., became the most populous city in the nation to go broke Monday, after a judge accepted the city’s application to enter bankruptcy. In the closely watched decision, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein said the bankruptcy declaration was needed to allow the city to continue to provide basic services. He determined Stockton would not be able to perform “its obligations to its citizens on fundamental public safety as well as other basic government services without” the protections provided under bankruptcy proceedings. Stockton was facing a $26 million shortfall when it filed for bankruptcy last summer, the result of the housing bust and soaring pension obligations. The city of nearly 300,000 people has become emblematic of government excess.

Economic New

Employers added a disappointing 88,000 jobs in March, confirming fears of a slowdown in payroll growth that economists say could persist for several months. The number of new jobs is less than half what economists had forecast, falling from 268,000 in February. The unemployment rate fell to 7.6% from 7.7%, largely because 496,000 Americans stopped working or looking for work, the Labor Department said Friday in its monthly employment report.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose to a four-month high last week. The number was higher than expected and though there is volatility in the figure at this time of year. The Labor Department says weekly applications increased 28,000 to a seasonally adjusted 385,000. That is the highest level since late November and greater than the 375,000 level considered to indicate job growth.

Delinquencies on bank-issued credit cards sank to 2.47% in the fourth quarter — the lowest level since 1994. The percentage of credit card accounts that were 30 days or more overdue during the quarter was roughly half the record high of 5.01% set in 2009 and well below the 15-year average of 3.87%.

After a sharp drop in January, personal incomes bounced back in February. Personal incomes rose 1.1% in February, while spending rose just 0.7%.The surprise jump in take-home pay came after incomes plunged 3.7% in January.

The Institute of Supply Management’s monthly reading on the U.S. manufacturing sector came in at 51.3 in March, down from 54.2 in February. Any number above 50 indicates the sector is growing. U.S. manufacturing activity continued to expand in March, but the rate of growth slowed.

Eurozone

The Eurozone economy has passed another bleak milestone. Official figures Tuesday showed that unemployment across the 17 European Union countries that use the euro has reached 12% for the first time since the currency was launched in 1999. Spain (26.3%) and Greece (26.4%) have massive unemployment and many other countries are seeing their numbers swell to uncomfortably high levels. A total of 19.07 million people were officially out of work in the Eurozone in February, nearly two million more than the same month the year before. For the 27-country European Union, of which the Eurozone is a large part, the unemployment rate was 10.9%.Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has an unemployment rate of only 5.4%, lower than the U.S. rate of 7.7%.

Middle East

Palestinian militants launched several rockets into southern Israel, as Israeli aircraft struck targets in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday in the heaviest exchange of fire between the sides since they agreed to an internationally brokered cease-fire in November. There were no casualties reported, but the violence nonetheless threatened to shatter the calm that has prevailed for more than four months and prompted Israel’s new defense minister to warn that the Jewish state will not sit back if militants attack the south of the country.

According to a report from Al-Jazeera, Syrian rebels have seized control of the area near the town of Aleppo that is believed to contain much of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’Alon has vowed that the Jewish state will take whatever action is necessary to prevent these dreadful weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists. “We’ll act to ensure that these types of weapons don’t reach irresponsible hands,” Ya’alon said.

Syria

The brutal civil war in Syria claimed more than 6,000 lives in March alone — making it the deadliest month since the conflict began a little more than two years ago, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday. The group said 6,005 people were killed in Syria last month. That’s more than all the deaths that occurred in the first nine months of the war. The tally, which do not include people who are held in detention centers or who have been kidnapped by rebels. Their fate is unknown. The U.N. estimates that more than 70,000 people are believed to have been killed in the conflict thus far.

Pakistan

Several dozen militants armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked a power grid station in northwestern Pakistan before dawn Tuesday, killing seven people and taking four hostage. The dead included three policemen and four government power workers. The grid that was attacked is located near Khyber, part of Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region bordering Afghanistan, the main sanctuary for the Taliban in the country. It supplies electricity to a large part of Peshawar, and many areas of the city were still without power on Tuesday morning because the station was damaged in the attack.

Korea

Hours after North Korea said that it had final approval to launch “merciless” military strikes on the United States, South Korea’s defense minister said North Korea has moved two missiles with “considerable range” to its east coast. South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told lawmakers at a parliamentary committee meeting that he did not know the reasons behind the missile movement, saying it “could be for testing or drills.” The U.S. Navy is moving at least one warship closer to the North Korean coastline and more may be on the way. U.S. officials quietly are expressing concern that North Korea could use its “space launch vehicle” to explode a high-altitude nuclear device over the United States, creating an electromagnetic pulse that would destroy major portions of the U.S. electrical grid system as well as the nation’s critical infrastructures.

North Korea on Wednesday barred South Korean workers from entering a jointly run factory park just over the heavily armed border in the North in the latest sign that Pyongyang’s warlike stance toward South Korea and the United States is moving from words to action. The move came a day after the North announced it would restart its long-shuttered plutonium reactor and a uranium enrichment plant, both of which could produce fuel for nuclear weapons that Pyongyang is developing and has threatened to hurl at the U.S. but which experts don’t think it will be able to accomplish for years.

China

China announced a sixth death from a new bird flu strain Friday, while authorities in Shanghai halted the sale of live fowl and slaughtered all poultry at a market where the virus was detected in pigeons being sold for meat. Four more people in China have fallen ill from a strain of avian flu not previously detected in humans, the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported, as authorities ramped up efforts to monitor the virus. Of the four latest victims, from four different cities in the east coast province of Jiangsu, two died and two are in a critical condition and receiving emergency treatment. The disclosure of new infections comes only days after authorities announced the first three known cases of humans infected with the H7N9 bird flu virus on Sunday, two of whom died.

We’ve seen the pictures of choking smog and pollution in China, but it might be far worse — and far more deadly — than originally thought. According to a story from the New York Times, 1.2 million premature deaths occurred in 2010 alone from Chinese pollution, accounting for 40 percent of global pollution deaths. The report goes on to project that by the year 2050, dirty air will kill 3.6 million people per year, mostly in China and India, which would surpass dirty water and lack of sanitation as the biggest environmental killer.

Weather

At least 52 people drowned in their homes and cars, were electrocuted or died in other accidents as flooding from days of torrential rains swamped Argentina’s low-lying capital and province of Buenos Aires. Many people climbed onto their roofs in the pouring rain after storm sewers backed up. Water surged up through drains in their kitchen and bathroom floors, and then poured in over their windowsills. The rains also flooded the country’s largest refinery, causing a fire that took hours to put out.

Softball-sized hail rained down on a community in Texas in the early morning hours of Wed., April 3 leaving significant damage in its wake.  The hail shattered windows in buildings and cars in Hitchcock, Tex.           The Hitchcock, Texas Police Dept. says 7 of its 11 police cars were seriously damaged by the hail.  Several trailer parks also sustained heavy damaged as well as a church and fire station. The storm front that produced this hail will linger from Texas and across the Gulf States through Thursday but will produce mostly rain.

Malibu’s celebrity haven of Broad Beach is struggling to survive as nature chews away at the shoreline and a $20 million effort to replace sand appears to be stuck in the mud. Homeowners have run up against opposition and complicated approval processes as they pursue a plan to dredge sand from elsewhere and dump it to restore the 1.1-mile beachfront, the Los Angeles Times reported. In recent years, winter storms and rising high tides have reduced the formerly broad beach, where Steven Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman and others have their beach houses.

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