Signs of the Times (4/8/13)

Sweeping Anti-Abortion Bill Passed in Kansas

Kansas legislators gave final passage to a sweeping anti-abortion measure Friday night, sending Gov. Sam Brownback a bill that declares life begins “at fertilization” while blocking tax breaks for abortion providers and banning abortions performed solely because of the baby’s sex. The House voted 90-30 for a compromise version of the bill reconciling differences between the two chambers, only hours after the Senate approved it, 28-10. The Republican governor is a strong abortion opponent, and supporters of the measure expect him to sign it into law so that the new restrictions take effect July 1.

States Look to Tax Guns, Ammo

Cook County, Ill., this month began collecting a $25 tax on gun purchases, and at least six states are considering new taxes on firearms or ammunition as a way to help pay for the consequences of gun violence. The Cook County tax applies to purchases in Chicago’s suburbs, but not the city. The tax is expected to raise $600,000 a year, which will help pay for indigent gunshot victims’ medical care at county-run Stroger Hospital. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, says 30% of the hospital’s trauma patients have gunshot wounds and it costs about $52,000 for initial treatment for each. A group of gun sellers and owners sued to block the gun tax, saying it violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Circuit Court Judge David Atkins denied a temporary restraining order, saying the lawsuit didn’t show “that this right is threatened by the tax.”

As Marijuana Goes Legit, Investors Rush In

Pot entrepreneurs have high expectations for a future market in legalized marijuana. The market for legal marijuana, which is accelerating with last fall’s legalization of most personal pot consumption in Colorado and Washington state. Advocates hope to legalize personal use in another 14 states by 2017, mostly among the 16 states besides Washington and Colorado where medical pot is legal (it’s also legal in Washington, D.C.). Industry estimates say today’s $1.5 billion legal market could quadruple by 2018. The public is trending toward legalization. In a Pew Research Center poll released Thursday, a majority of Americans (52%) favored legalization, the first time that threshold has been reached since polling on the issue began in 1969.

Politically Correct AP Strikes Again

For the second time in just days, Associated Press has redefined a word for its reporters that adopts a politically correct position, this time pleasing Muslim activists with a decision to ban the use of “Islamist,” replacing it with “fighters” and/or “militants.” The change by AP was made “after much prodding from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.” Earlier, the AP stylebook banned the use of “illegal immigrant.” Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, or ALIPAC, says it now will use the term “illegal invader” to balance AP’s edited terminology. “This Big Brother move by AP is political correctness on steroids,” said William Gheen, president of ALIPAC. “What class of criminals will the Associated Press and Congress make disappear next with the stroke of a pen?”

  • Mainstream media is at the forefront of the war against Christians and conservatives

Nearly Half of Young Women Live With Boyfriend Prior to Marriage

Nearly half of women ages 15 to 44 say their “first union” was cohabitation rather than marriage, according to a new survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a first union, 48 percent of women moved in with their male partner, up markedly from 43 percent in 2002 and 34 percent in 1995. Just 23 percent of first unions were marriages, down from 30 percent in 2002 and 39 percent in 1995. “Instead of marriage, people are moving into cohabitation as a first union,” said demographer Casey Copen, the report’s lead author. “It’s kind of a ubiquitous phenomenon now.” Experts say the numbers show living together is increasingly being used as a “testing ground” for marriage. Within three years of cohabiting, 40 percent of women had transitioned to marriage, 32 percent remained living together and 27 percent had broken up. The median duration of first cohabitation is 22 months, up from 20 months in 2002 and 13 months in 1995. The report also found that 19 percent of women became pregnant and gave birth in the first year of a first premarital cohabitation.

  • Marriage and God’s ordained family structure are under attack as never before as end-time “lawlessness” increases by leaps and bounds. (Matthew 24:12)

Discouraged Job Seekers Leave Work Force

A growing number of Americans discouraged by slow economic recovery are leaving the job market. The number of Americans in the labor force — those who have a job or are looking for one — fell by nearly half a million people from February to March, the government said last Friday. And the percentage of working-age adults in the labor force — what’s called the participation rate — fell to 63.3 percent last month. It’s the lowest such figure since May 1979. People without a job who stop looking for one are no longer counted as unemployed. That’s why the U.S. unemployment rate dropped in March despite weak hiring. If the 496,000 who left the labor force last month had still been looking for jobs, the unemployment rate would have risen to 7.9 percent in March.

Many Doctors Driven to Bankruptcy or Retirement

As many doctors struggle to keep their practices financially sound, some are buckling under money woes and being pushed into bankruptcy. It’s a trend that’s accelerated in recent years, industry experts say, with potentially serious consequences for doctors and patients. When a practice shuts its doors, patients can find it harder to get the health care they need nearby. The weak economy has taken a toll on doctors’ revenue, as consumers cut back on office visits and lucrative elective procedures. Doctors also blame shrinking insurance reimbursements, changing regulations, and the rising costs of malpractice insurance for making it harder to keep their practices afloat.

As the U.S. healthcare system changes dramatically over the next few years due to Obamacare, increasing numbers of doctors are planning to retire or scale back the hours they work, a new survey reveals. The annual poll by Deloitte Center for Health Solutions found that six out of 10 doctors believe it is likely that many physicians will retire earlier than planned in the next one to three years. The survey also found that 55 percent of physicians think that doctors will scale back their practice hours “based on how the future of medicine is changing,” Deloitte stated. And 38 percent of doctors polled say Obamacare is “a step in the wrong direction,” while 44 percent say it is “a good start.”

Gas Prices Dropping

March gasoline prices fell for the first time in 10 years. As of Apr. 1, the price of gas had fallen in 29 of the previous 33 days. Nationally, gas costs 30 cents a gallon less than it did a year ago and 15 cents a gallon less than it did following the February run-up in prices. AAA predicts the average price of gas in 2013 will be lower than 2012’s average of $3.60 a gallon — the highest AAA has ever recorded. There are two significant reasons for the price drop. First, Americans are driving less — about 2.7% less, according to Department of Transportation figures, or nearly 90 billion miles since reaching a peak of more than 3 trillion miles in November 2007. Second, older, less-fuel efficient cars are being replaced by new ones that get better gas mileage.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve said Friday that consumer borrowing rose $18.2 billion in February from January. That’s up from a gain of $12.7 billion in the previous month. The increase brought total borrowing to a seasonally adjusted $2.8 trillion. That’s up from $2.78 trillion in January and a new record. Nearly all of the gains were in a category that covers student and auto loans.

Persecution Watch

A mosque in Cairo has been occupied by radical Islamic militias and turned into a torture chamber for demonstrators against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood. Officials at the Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque reported the takeover, which happened after Friday prayers on 22 March, to the police. Demonstrators, including Christians and moderate Muslims, were then rounded up from the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters and taken to the mosque, where they were tortured for hours. Mosque officials expressed regret for what happened, saying that they “had lost control over the mosque at the time.” President Mohammed Morsi is becoming increasingly unpopular in Egypt, and there have been numerous demonstrations against his rule, which opponents have labelled autocratic. And as protests have intensified, so have efforts by the Muslim Brotherhood to clamp down on dissenters. Christians, moderate Muslims and secular liberals are increasingly concerned about the Islamisation of the country.

An Islamic cleric has issued a fatwa calling for the rebels in Syria to rape women who are not Sunni Muslim as part of their campaign to oust President Assad. Salafi sheikh Yasir al-Ajlawni  posted the message on YouTube, saying it was “legitimate” for Muslim fighters who are trying to put in place an Islamist government to “capture and have sex with” Alawites, the sect to which President Assad belongs, and other non-Sunni, non-Muslim women. He described non-Muslim women as “melk al-yamin”, a Quranic term for non-Muslim sex slaves.

Church buildings have been attacked and the homes of Christians looted in the aftermath of a bloody coup by a band of Muslim rebels in the Central African Republic, The Seleka rebels seized control of the country on 24 March following a three-month uprising. Their leader, Michel Djotodia, has assumed the presidency from the ousted François Bozizé, becoming the predominantly Christian nation’s first Muslim president. Days of chaos and looting followed the takeover, with Christian property being targeted by the rebels, while that belonging to Muslims was spared.

Syria

A car bomb Monday afternoon ripped through an area near one of the largest public squares in Damascus, Syria, killing at least 15 people and injuring dozens of others. State TV reported that the blast was near a school. The square is surrounded by state buildings including the Central Bank of Syria. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the blast. Syrian state TV reported that authorities preliminarily believe that the explosion was “caused by a terrorist suicide bomber in a car.” Syria is in the midst of a civil war with roots that date back to March 2011, when protesters, partly inspired by Arab Spring uprisings in the region, began demonstrating for more freedom. The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 people have died in the violence.

Afghanistan

Six American troops and civilians and an Afghan doctor were killed in attacks on Saturday in southern and eastern Afghanistan as the U.S. military’s top officer began a weekend visit to the country. Rhree U.S. service members, two U.S. civilians and the doctor were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a car full of explosives just as a convoy with the international military coalition drove past another convoy of vehicles carrying the governor of Zabul province. One of the civilians, Anne Smedinghoff, 25, was the first U.S. diplomat  to be killed since a September attack in Benghazi, Libya. She was delivering books to a school, along with a U.S. civilian from the Defense Department, when a bomb struck their convoy. The attacks occurred the same day that U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Afghanistan for a visit aimed at assessing the level of training that American troops can provide to Afghan security forces after international combat forces complete their withdrawal at the end of 2014.

Iraq

A suicide bomber killed 20 people and wounded dozens of others on Saturday at a political rally in the Iraqi city of Baqouba. The bomber detonated his explosives as Muthana al-Jourani, who is a Sunni candidate for the council, was hosting lunch for supporters in a large hospitality tent pitched next to his house in the mixed Sunni-Shiite city, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad. Violence is expected to surge in the lead up to Iraq’s provincial elections on April 20.

Bangladesh

Tens of thousands of radical Muslims marched toward the capital on Saturday to demand laws to target bloggers they said denigrated Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. The bloggers initiated a recent sit-in at Shahbagh Square demanding the death penalty for people involved in war crimes perpetrated more than four decades ago. Muslim hard-liners under the banner of Hefazat-e-Islam on Saturday rallied against bloggers and authors. Meanwhile, some 25 liberal groups denounced the Hefazat rally and enforced a daylong general strike across Bangladesh, keeping capital Dhaka’s communications cut off with the rest of the country on Saturday.

North Korea

North Korea said Monday that it would pull out all its workers and temporarily suspend operations at the industrial complex it jointly operates with the South, the latest sign of deteriorating relations on the Korean Peninsula. The North said it would also consider permanently closing down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a shared manufacturing zone that is the last major symbol of cooperation between the two countries. Kim Yang Gon, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, accused the South of seeking “to turn the zone into a hotbed of war” against the North.

North Korean church leaders are asking Christians worldwide to pray for their country amid increased war threats and combat preparation by North Korean military officials, Open Doors USA reports. According to underground Christians, there is a war-like atmosphere in the country. “The military army, navy, air force troops, strategic rocket troops, the red guards and the red youth guards are already in combat mode. Urgent meetings are being held everywhere. The leader said North Korean Christians and other citizens feared war and its consequences, and requested prayers from believers worldwide. “We know that our journey will not be an easy one, but we are sure that our faith, desperate hope and passionate desire will some day bear many fruit. No matter how difficult life is for us, we never blame or complain about our circumstances.”

Japan

The operator of Japan’s crippled nuclear plant said Saturday that it was moving tons of highly radioactive water from a temporary storage tank to another after detecting signs of leakage, in a blow to the plant’s ongoing struggles. Tokyo Electric power Co. said about 120 tons of the water are believed to have breached the tank’s inner linings, some of it possibly leaking into the soil. TEPCO is moving the water to a nearby tank at the Fukushima Dai-chi plant — a process that could take several days. Contaminated water at the plant, which went into multiple meltdowns after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan, has escaped into the sea several times during the crisis. Experts suspect there has been a continuous leak into the ocean through an underground water system, citing high levels of contamination among fish caught in waters just off the plant.

China

Chinese authorities have killed more than 20,000 birds from a live-poultry trading zone in Shanghai after an unusual strain of bird flu that has so far killed six people in the country and infected twenty was found in pigeons on sale in the city. The Chinese Minister of Agriculture said Thursday an analysis showed a strong genetic overlap between the strain found in the Huhai market pigeons and the one detected in infected humans. Officials are trying to track where the infected pigeons came from.

Earthquakes

A powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit a remote part of eastern Indonesia on Saturday, causing residents to run outside in panic, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The temblor struck about 47 miles underground in Papua province, according to U.S. Geological Survey. It occurred in a mountainous area, about 35 miles northeast of Tolikara. There was no tsunami warning issued due to its location.

Weather

Despite an overall relatively quiet weather pattern, there have been some severe thunderstorms over the past ten days.  Destructive hail pelted parts of Texas. There have even been a couple of tornadoes, including a “stovepipe” tornado on April Fool’s Day near Silverton, Texas. A sharp jet stream trough is currently swinging into the Desert Southwest and Four Corners. To the east of this feature, southerly winds will transport increasingly warm and humid air near the surface northward into the southern and central Plains, middle and lower Mississippi Valleys.  Once this jet-stream level energy pushes eastward overtopping the warmer and more humid air mass, we have a volatile mix for a potential severe weather outbreak, including tornadoes.

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