Signs of the Times (8/2/13)

42nd Abortion Clinic Closed This Year

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that it has suspended the license of Femcare, an abortion clinic in Asheville, for two dozen serious health and safety violations discovered during a routine inspection on July 18 and 19th. This is the 42nd abortion clinic to close nationally in 2013. Clinic safety regulations have contributed to many of the closings. This number far eclipses the 24 abortion clinics that closed in 2012. Since 1991, over 70% of all abortion clinics in the U.S. have closed. “This is a wake-up call for abortion supporters. What they thought was a clinic that could meet high standards ended up being one with practices so shoddy and conditions so dangerous that it is not fit to operate,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.

Regional Differences over Abortion Widen

Opinion on abortion in the United States has held mostly steady for the past two decades, but regional differences are widening, according to the Pew Research Center, reports Yahoo! News. That growing regional divide comes as many of the states in conservative regions add new laws regulating abortion doctors and clinics. In particular, the South Central region — Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas — has seen significant growth in opposition to abortion since 1995, Pew found. “The most important trend in this report is that the balance has flipped” in the South Central part of the country, says Carroll Doherty, associate director of the Pew Research Center.

“You always saw less support for legal abortion in South Central, but since the ’90s, it’s flipped from modestly in favor to 12 points against.” In that region, 40 percent of adults surveyed in 2012 and 2013 said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, versus 52 percent who said it should be illegal in all or most cases. In 1995 and 1996, 52 percent of Southerners supported abortion rights in all or most cases and 45 percent said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. The growing polarization of views on abortion also reflects the polarization of politics in the U.S. between red (liberal) and blue (conservative) states. The most liberal region on abortion is New England, where 75 percent of adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 20 percent say it should be illegal.

Theater Owners Call for More Family Films

At CinemaCon 2013, the large annual convention of theater owners, John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, said: “If exhibitors could make one recommendation to our studio partners, it would be make more family titles and fewer R-rated movies.  Only two R-rated movies made the top twenty last year, even though more R-rated movies were distributed than any other rating category.” Addressing a 12 percent decline in box office, he said: “Our numbers suffered this year under the weight of too many R-rated movies.” Fithian’s points are backed by more than 21 years of box office research by Movieguide. From 1995 to 2012, the MPAA has rated 52 percent of movies R. Those movies have generated less than 15 percent of all box office. Since 1995, G-rated movies average more than twice the box office of R-rated movies. Furthermore, family movies (which includes movies rated PG) sell up to five times more DVDs.

NSA Snooping on Web Data

The National Security Agency is operating a massive database system that allows analysts to scour individuals’ emails, chats and Internet browsing histories at will, according to a new report from The Guardian based on leaked documents. The agency acknowledged the existence of the program — called XKeyscore — but said access is limited and suggested it was mainly aimed at foreign intelligence targets. According to The Guardian, the XKeyscore program is the “widest-reaching” system the agency has and allows analysts without prior authorization to dig around the database by filling out an on-screen form giving a basic justification.

  • The NSA also gave the same denial about phone calls until it was forced to admit the truth. If it focuses just on terrorism, it’s a worthy tool; but if it is used maliciously, it’s governmental abuse – which is on the rise as we shift toward socialism with the feds involved in almost all aspects of our lives

TSA Misconduct Rampant

A new government report says misconduct by Transportation Security Administration workers has increased more than 26% in the last three years. Some of the most serious violations include: Employees sleeping on the job, letting family and friends go without being screened, leaving work without permission and stealing. The Government Accountability Office report released this week says more than 9,000 cases of misconduct were documented over a three-year span. More than 1,900 of the incidents were deemed significant enough to be possible security threats. This may be just the tip of the iceberg,” said Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican and longtime critic of the TSA who ordered the audit.

Terrorists Not Involved in 4th Plant Explosion of the Year?

Following the most recent propane factory explosion in Florida, ConservativeByte.com observes, “It seems quite a coincidence that there have been so many accidents this year at plants across the country. They still don’t know what happened at the Texas fertilizer plant or the chemical plant in Louisiana. But we keep being told that terrorists aren’t involved. If they don’t know what happened I’m not sure how they can say this. Especially with how easy it is for illegals to get jobs at these places. It certainly seems that something is going on.”

  • Islamic terrorists have reportedly switched tactics from a few large scale attacks to more numerous smaller ones, like the Boston Marathon. So it is not unreasonable to suspect they might have had a hand in these plant explosions

House Passes Student Loan Interest Relief

The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill Wednesday to roll back a July 1 jump in student loan interest rates and reduce the borrowing costs for millions of students. The bill, passed by the Senate last week, now goes to President Obama who said he will sign it. The legislation links student loan interest rates to the financial markets, offering lower rates for most students now but higher ones down the line if the economy improves as forecast.

Obama Bailing Out Detroit Via Obamacare

In a Sunday New York Times piece, Monica Davey and Abby Goodnough indicated that the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) is a key component of Detroit’s bankruptcy plan to bail out Democrat controlled cities and corrupt public employee unions. In other words, Barack Obama is bailing out Detroit and he’s going to use American tax dollars to do it through Obamacare. They wrote: “As Detroit enters the federal bankruptcy process, the city is proposing a controversial plan for paring some of the $5.7 billion it owes in retiree health costs: pushing many of those too young to qualify for Medicare out of city-run coverage and into the new insurance markets that will soon be operating under the Obama health care law. It is being watched closely by municipal leaders around the nation, many of whom complain of mounting, unsustainable prices for the health care promised to retired city workers. Similar proposals that could shift public sector retirees into the new insurance markets, called exchanges, are already being planned or contemplated in places like Chicago; Sheboygan County, Wisconsin; and Stockton, California.”

  • Obamacare is dangerous legislation in so many ways

Economic News

The unemployment rate fell to 7.4% from 7.6%, the Labor Department said Friday. But employers added just 162,000 jobs in July, adding to worries that the labor market may finally be wobbling amid federal spending cuts and a payroll tax increase. May’s gains were revised to 176,000 and June’s to 188,000. The number of discouraged workers rose to 988,000, up 136,000 from a year earlier.

Initial jobless claims dropped to their lowest level since January 2008. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 19,000 to 326,000 the week ended July 27. Applications, which are a proxy for layoffs, have fallen more than 12% this year.

The U.S. economy’s growth picked up in the second quarter, as the impact of federal budget cuts outweighed the recovering housing market. The economy grew at an annual pace of 1.7% between April and June, the Commerce Department said. The government revised down its estimate of first quarter growth to 1.1% from the 1.8% originally reported. Consumer spending was held back partly by the increase in payroll taxes at the beginning of the year.

U.S. factory activity expanded in July at the fastest pace in two years The Institute for Supply Management said Thursday that its index of factory activity jumped to 55.4 in July, up from 50.9 in June. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

Spending on U.S. construction projects fell in June by the largest amount in five months as government building activity declined to the lowest level since 2006. Construction spending dropped 0.6% in June compared with May when spending had surged 1.3%. Total construction stood at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $883.9 billion in June, 3.3% above the level of a year ago.

The Federal Reserve said on Wednesday the economy continues to recover but is still in need of support, offering no indication that it is planning to reduce its bond-buying stimulus at its next meeting in September. The central bank said after a two-day meeting that it would keep buying $85 billion in mortgage and Treasury securities per month in its effort to strengthen an economy that it said was still challenged by federal budget-tightening. It also pointed to a recent run up in mortgage rates as a concern.

Eurozone

The Eurozone — plagued in recent years by sky-high joblessness and rampant youth unemployment — might be turning a corner. New figures for June indicate a slight decline in the number of jobless people across the region, though the unemployment rate remained steady at a record high of 12.1%.Compared to the previous month, there were 24,000 fewer people looking for work across the 17-nation region, according to Eurostat data. That’s not much of a change in the grand scheme of things, but it’s certainly a start.

Persecution Watch

Suspected terrorists from the Islamic extremist Boko Haram group set off four bombs that hit two churches in Kano city on Monday night (July 29), killing at least 45 people. The Rev. Ramsey Noah, chairman of the Kano state chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), told Morning Star News by phone the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were planted near three churches, blasting two of them as well as nearby Christian-owned businesses.

Five women were beaten in the Andhra Pradesh region of India while sharing about the love of Jesus in a public marketplace, Charisma News reports. Amazingly spared, they retreated to safety, thanking God for the honor of suffering for His sake. The women, all leaders in the Gospel for Asia-sponsored Women’s Fellowship ministry, had been sharing with store owners and shoppers when they were attacked. They reported that no bystanders came to their defense during the ordeal but they miraculously escaped from their multiple attackers and were delivered from further harm. “Jesus promised persecuting and hardships,” said Daniel Punnose, vice president of GFA. “These young ladies see it worth facing the beatings in order to share the love of Christ. … When we see young women publicly beaten for the faith, it tells us what the future holds in regards to persecution. Things will get worse, but the Lord is faithful in all things.”

Four girls were abducted from a Christian school in India and gang-raped by around 25 armed men in a case that has renewed outrage over rising sexual violence against women in the country. Around 25 masked men armed with knives and iron rods broke into the Evangelical Church of India and tied up and gagged four male teachers and a female warden before seizing four girls aged between 12 and 14 from their dormitory. Parliament has passed a new law toughening sentences for rapists, but the main problem, according to one Christian leader, is one of impunity. He added: “The preferred victims are girls from tribal, Dalit or marginalized communities. These groups are vulnerable, weak; they have little social and political influence and are often defenseless.” Christians are certainly among the most marginalized people in Indian society. A small minority among a Hindu majority, some of whom are becoming increasingly militant, they are frequently subjected to violent attacks, for which they rarely receive justice.

Middle East

Egypt is not the only place where Islamist groups are facing wrath. In the past few days Muslim Brotherhood offices have been ransacked in Libya, and thousands marched against the Islamist-led government in Tunisia. The unrest is seen by some as a backlash against Islamist groups that emerged politically powerful in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions but are spurring anger and disappointment with their governance. In Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, groups across political and social spectrums that united to overthrow ruling autocratic regimes in 2011 are now engaging in bitter conflict and competition that has left hundreds of people dead.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ indication that he would agree to land swaps with Israel to get a Palestinian state helps prospects for a peace deal but also opens the door to new problems. Even after land swaps, tens of thousands of Israeli Jews may remain scattered in cities and villages that would come under Palestinian domain. Israeli leaders may also be faced with having to turn over land in which Israeli citizens of Arab descent currently reside. In both cases, both Jewish and Arab Israelis are likely to resist what negotiators on both sides may agree to, analysts say. Israel’s victory against attacking Arab armies in 1967 left it in control of the land west of the Jordan River and East Jerusalem, both of which had been occupied by the country of Jordan for 19 years.

In a dramatic move, Palestinian Authority Minister for Wakf (Religious) Affairs Mahmoud Habbash issued a fatwa (Islamic religious decree) on Wednesday urging Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to overthrow the government of the Islamist terror militia Hamas which currently rules there. Habbash, part of the same PA which is currently negotiating with Israel towards the establishment of a two-state solution, declared on his Facebook page that Muslims have a duty “to liberate Palestine and Jerusalem” before explaining that in the current state of separation between his Fatah faction and Hamas, that was impossible. So he recommended either a Hamas surrender to PA control or “a revolution against Hamas.”

Al Qaeda is linked to a terror threat that has prompted the State Department to direct its embassies in key Middle East nations, including Egypt and Israel, to close Sunday, with the possibility they could remain idle longer. A U.S. official called the threat “credible and serious.” It was “directed at American targets overseas,” but may not be confined to main diplomatic facilities. The State Department action includes diplomatic facilities in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iraq and Kuwait.

Egypt

A group supporting deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi called for a million-man march from 33 mosques Friday amid concerns that tensions could erupt into further violence. The Anti-Coup Prodemocracy Alliance is behind the planned march under the banner of “Egypt against the coup,” which was announced in a statement Thursday. It is expected to start after noon prayers. The group also urged “all free people in all countries of the world to demonstrate peacefully” in support of their marches.

Iran

The House of Representatives easily passed a bill on Wednesday to tighten sanctions on Iran, showing a strong message to Tehran over its disputed nuclear program days before President-elect Hassan Rouhani is sworn in. The vote also highlighted a growing divide between Congress and the Obama administration on Iran policy ahead of international talks on the nuclear program in coming months. Iran insists the nuclear program is purely for civilian purposes. The bill, which passed 400 to 20, would cut Iran’s oil exports by another 1 million barrels per day over a year to near zero, in an attempt to reduce the flow of funds to the nuclear program. It is the first sanctions bill to put a number on exactly how much Iran’s oil exports would be cut. The legislation provides for heavy penalties for buyers who do not find alternative supplies, limits Iran’s access to funds in overseas accounts and penalizes countries trading with Iran in other industrial sectors.

Pakistan

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Pakistani counterpart, Sartaj Aziz, said Thursday that the two countries will resume high-level negotiations over security issues. Kerry also said he had invited Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, to come to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama. He said the talks will cover “all of the key issues between us, from border management to counterterrorism to promoting U.S. private investment and to Pakistan’s own journey to economic revitalization.” Following the talks with the Pakistani government, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States is making progress in the war on terror, and hopes to end the use of drone strikes “very soon.”

The U.S. and Pakistan launched high-level talks on a wide swath of security and development programs in 2010. But the talks stalled in November 2011 after U.S. drone on a Pakistani post on the Afghan border accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Even before that, the bilateral relationship was severely damaged by a variety of incidents, including a CIA contractor shooting to death two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore and the covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistani town of Abbottabad.

Afghanistan

Supporters of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan have been getting U.S. military contracts, and American officials are citing “due process rights” as a reason not to cancel the agreements, according to an independent agency monitoring spending. The U.S. Army Suspension and Debarment Office has declined to act in 43 such cases, John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said today in a letter accompanying a quarterly report to Congress. “I am deeply troubled that the U.S. military can pursue, attack, and even kill terrorists and their supporters, but that some in the U.S. government believe we cannot prevent these same people from receiving a government contract,” Sopko said.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s elections received cautious approval Friday from the head of African monitors despite allegations by the main challenger to President Robert Mugabe and a local monitoring group that the vote was heavily rigged. Olusegun Obasanjo, head of the African Union observer mission, said his monitors noted some apparent irregularities but that they did not constitute evidence of systematic tampering. Mugabe’s supporters have rejected allegations of rigging and claimed victory, raising fears of a fresh uncertainty in a country long afflicted by division and economic turmoil.

Weather

Anchorage, Alaska, set a record for the most consecutive days over 70 degrees during this unusually warm summer, while Fairbanks is closing in on its own seasonal heat record. The National Weather Service said Alaska’s largest city topped out at 70 degrees at 4 p.m. Tuesday, making it the 14th straight day the thermometer read 70 or higher. That breaks a record of 13 straight days set in 2004. In Fairbanks, temperatures Monday reached 80 or higher for the 29th day this summer. The record is 30 days of 80 degrees or higher, also set in 2004.

Another round of heat is building over much of Europe, not long after severe thunderstorms brought a violent end to intense heat earlier this week. The heat wave earlier this week sent Salzburg, Austria, to a new all-time record high of 101.5ºF. Triple-digit temperatures also gripped parts of Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and the former Yugoslav republics.

Record-breaking temperatures have been searing large swaths of China, resulting in dozens of heat-related deaths and prompting authorities to issue a national alert. People are packing into swimming pools or taking refuge in caves in their attempts to escape the fierce temperatures. Local governments are resorting to cloud-seeding technology to try to bring rain to millions of acres of parched farmland. The worst of the smoldering heat wave has been concentrated in the south and east of the country, with the commercial metropolis of Shanghai experiencing its hottest July on record.

A severe storm ripped through Jacksonville, damaging 15 to 20 homes and leaving at least one person with minor injuries. The National Weather Service confirmed an EF2 tornado touched down Thursday afternoon in the city’s Arlington neighborhood. The Florida Times-Union reports the storm also dumped between two and four inches of rain on the city. Fire officials say lightning may have sparked two house fires. Both were quickly extinguished. There were reports of multiple trees down across the area.

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