Signs of the Times (11/19/20)

Appeals Court Obamacare Decision Exposes Attack on Basic Rights

“We can thank God that there are still judges out there who seek to protect religious freedom, namely those at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago who decided a few days ago that Obamacare infringes on that freedom,” rights advocate Dan Weber said. Weber is president of the Association of Mature American Citizens, which early on “picked a fight” with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that require all Americans to subsidize contraception and abortion.  He pointed out that Freedom of Religion is guaranteed by the first amendment to the Constitution, which states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The Court’s decision on two suits brought by separate faith-based, family-owned companies means that challenges to the law’s contraceptive mandate may ultimately proceed until there is a final decision in the Supreme Court.

Hawaii Says Aloha to Gay Marriage

Although teeming crowds of thousands, perhaps the largest in the history of state politics opposed it, the Hawaii Senate gave final legislative approval last week to a bill extending marriage rights to same-sex couples in a state long popular as a wedding and honeymoon destination and regarded as a pioneer in advancing the cause of gay matrimony. Governor Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat who called the special session to consider the bill, has indicated he would swiftly sign the legislation into law, making Hawaii the 15th U.S. state to legalize marriage for gay and lesbian couples. The law will take effect on Dec. 2nd. Only six states and the District of Columbia recognized same-sex marriage a year ago, but the number has since more than doubled. Last month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dropped his legal opposition to gay marriage, making his state the 14th to legalize same-sex weddings. Illinois lawmakers gave final approval to a same-sex marriage bill on Nov. 5, and Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign that measure into law later this month.

  • This key end-time marker continues to underscore the rapid decline in morality (2Tim. 3:1-5, Romans 1:26-27)

Obama’s Fix for Canceled Insurance Will Raise Costs

President Obama’s proposal to allow insurance companies to keep offering consumers plans that would otherwise be canceled under the federal health care law could lead to an increase in premiums, according to insurance industry experts and state regulators. America’s Health Insurance Plans, the main industry trade group, said Obama’s offer comes too late and could lead to higher premiums, since companies already have set 2014 rates based on the assumption that many people with individual coverage will shift over to the new markets created under the law. “Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers,” Karen Ignagni, president of the industry group, said.

Obama Received Advance Warning about Healthcare Glitches

A newly disclosed report indicates that officials in the Obama administration and the Department of Health and Human Services received warnings from a private consultant group that the federal online healthcare enrollment site could potentially fail to function properly for the October 1 launch date, reports CNN. The analysis by McKinsey & Company was requested by the White House. It identified various problems with the exchange, including limited testing time and resources before the launch, and found that call-in centers wouldn’t function properly if the website malfunctioned. This report suggests problems were brought to the attention of key officials as early as March. The administration has said the President didn’t know of problems with the Affordable Care Act’s website until after its fumbled rollout – even though insurance companies had been complaining and the site crashed during a pre-launch test run.

  • The pathological Liar-in-Chief is at it again believing that we are so dumb as to accept everything he says as the gospel truth

States Received $4.4 Billion for Own Obamacare Websites

The Obama administration gave states roughly $4.4 billion in taxpayer dollars to set up their own ObamaCare websites, according to a new analysis, in the latest revelation about the faucet of federal spending switched on by the 2010 passage of the health care law. Some of the states even took federal money, then decided to let the federal site handle enrollment. While the steep cost of HealthCare.gov — which is the federally run site — has come under fire, the money granted to the states has so far generated little attention. The fourteen state-run sites have operated more smoothly than the problem-plagued federal site and have accounted for the lion’s share of signups.

Few Young People Signing Up for Obamacare

Among the concerns surrounding the rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul was that too few young, healthy people would sign up — a problem that could undermine the financial viability of the federal law. The insurance industry has increasing cause for concern as early enrollment reports suggest a trend that could cause insurance premiums and deductibles to rise sharply. Along with the paltry enrollment numbers released this week, officials in a handful of states said those who had managed to sign up were generally older people with medical problems. Insurers have warned that they need a wide range of people signing up for coverage because premiums paid by adults in the younger and healthier group, between 18 and 35, are needed to offset the cost of carrying older and sicker customers who typically generate far more in medical bills than they contribute in premiums.

Thousands of Doctors Dropped by Insurer after Obamacare Funding Cuts

UnitedHealth Group has dropped thousands of doctors from its networks in recent weeks, leaving many elderly patients unsure whether they need to switch plans to continue seeing their doctors, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. The insurer said in October that underfunding of Medicare Advantage plans for the elderly could not be fully offset by the company’s other healthcare business. The company also reported spending more healthcare premiums on medical claims in the third quarter, due mainly to government cuts to payments for Medicare Advantage services. The Journal report said that doctors in at least 10 states were notified of being laid off the plans

The Federal Reserve Is Monetizing a Staggering Amount of Debt

The Federal Reserve is creating hundreds of billions of dollars out of thin air and using that money to buy U.S. government debt and mortgage-backed securities and take them out of circulation.  Since the middle of 2008, these purchases have caused the Fed’s balance sheet to balloon from under a trillion dollars to nearly four trillion dollars.  This represents the greatest central bank intervention in the history of the planet, and Obama nominee Janet Yellen says she does not anticipate that it will end any time soon because “the recovery is still fragile”.  The truth is that quantitative easing has done essentially nothing for the average person on the street.  But what QE has done is that it has sent stocks soaring to record highs.  Unfortunately, this stock market bubble is completely and totally divorced from economic reality. A few months ago Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the Fed might begin to “taper” the amount of quantitative easing.  The mere suggestion that the flow of easy money would start to slow down a bit was enough to send the market into deep contraction.  This is why the Federal Reserve cannot stop monetizing debt.  The moment the Fed stops, it will throw our financial markets into a crisis even worse than what we saw back in 2008.

  • Quantitative Easing has turned into the largest financial market intervention by any central bank in history, what a former Fed official calls “the greatest wall street backdoor bailout of all time.”

Obama Administration Urges Reduced Ethanol in Gasoline

The Obama administration on Friday proposed to reduce the amount of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply for the first time, acknowledging that the biofuel law championed by both parties in 2007 is not working as well as expected. The change would drastically reduce — by almost 3 billion gallons less than the law now requires — the amounts of ethanol and other biofuels blended into gasoline in 2014. The 2007 law tried to address global warming, reduce dependence on foreign oil and prop up the rural economy by requiring oil companies to blend billions of gallons of biofuels into their gasoline each year. But politicians who wrote the law didn’t anticipate fuel economy to improve as much as it has in recent years, which reduced demand for gasoline.

Multi-Employer Pensions Face Cuts

Hundreds of thousands of retired union workers are facing pension cuts that could slash their monthly payments in half — or even more. The proposed cuts are part of a desperate effort to head off insolvency at multiemployer pension plans, pensions that typically provide benefits for workers at several companies. Pension law has long maintained that cutting the benefits of those already retired is off-limits. Multiemployer pension plans cover more than 10 million workers and retirees in the trucking, construction, retail, mining, manufacturing and other industries. But in the past decade, many plans have struggled with supporting an aging workforce, and large employers have been pulling out of the plans. In addition, many are still dealing with significant losses incurred during the recession.

Economic News

Joblessness has become a trap, an impediment to finding a job. Economists see it the same way, concerned that joblessness lasting more than six months is a major factor preventing people from getting rehired, with potentially grave consequences for tens of millions of Americans. Long-term joblessness — the kind that about four million others are experiencing — is now one of the defining realities of the American work force. The unemployment rate has fallen to 7.3 percent, down from 10 percent four years ago, but long-term joblessness is up 213 percent, according to the New York Times.

A curious thing has happened in the tech world. In an industry that has long been considered a boys club, suddenly firms are hiring more women than men. Over the last 12 months, the tech industry added 60,000 jobs, and 36,000 — or 60% — of those positions went to women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Stocks ended higher Friday as the Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 index continued their push into record-high territory. It was the 38th time this year the Dow has finished at a record level and the 36th time for the S&P 500. The Nasdaq is at a 13-year high. The indexes inched to yet another new high Monday.

Eurozone

Between 2,000 and 4,000 freight trucks have closed off major French highways and slowed traffic to a crawl on nine roadways to protest a proposed environmental tax on heavy loads. France’s Socialist government in late October suspended the tax, which initially was the focus of numerous protests in the region of Brittany, where opponents donned red caps in a series of demonstrations that sometimes erupted into violence and vandalism against the still-unused payment kiosks. The protesters pledged not to attack the kiosks but said they want the tax cancelled entirely.

Persecution Watch

More Christians were killed in Northern Nigeria last year than in the rest of the world combined, according to the head of a human rights organization. Ann Buwalda, executive director of the Jubilee Campaign, told The Christian Post on Thursday that an estimated 1,200 Christians were killed for their faith in Northern Nigeria, some by Boko Haram, some by Fulani herdsmen. Buwalda made it clear that this is a conservative estimate which represents approximately 60% of the world’s Christians that were killed for their faith in 2012.

Running from assault, abduction, and assassination at the hands of jihadists and FSA rebels, Syria’s ancient Christian community fears a religious pogrom is set to erupt. Traumatized by what they have endured inside Syria and fearful for their future, Christians fleeing the 32-month-long civil war say the persecution of Christians is worsening in rebel-held territories in the country’s north—and that the kidnapping, rape and executions of Christians aren’t just being carried out by jihadist groups, but also by other Sunni Muslim rebels, including those affiliated with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Middle East

To the Israeli government, the preliminary deal with Iran that the Obama administration is trying to seal this week is a giveaway to a government that has spent two decades building a vast nuclear program. It enshrines the status quo — at a time when the Iranians are within reach of the technical capability to build a bomb — and rewards some unproven leaders with cash and sanctions relief. President Obama and his top aides see the same draft deal in sharply different terms. To them, it is a first effort to freeze the Iranian program, to buy some time to negotiate a more ambitious deal, and to stop two separate methods of developing a bomb, one involving uranium, the other plutonium. In return, the Iranians get modest relief from sanctions, but not what they desperately desire, the ability to again sell oil around the world. That would come only later as part of a final agreement that would require the Iranians to dismantle much of their nuclear infrastructure.

  • Obama still operates under the illusion that the Iranians can be trusted. They can’t, as they’ve proved over and over again. They’re still stalling for time to complete their bomb-making project. If they can get sanction relief while doing so, all the better.

The Palestinians will stay in peace talks with Israel for the planned nine months despite their fierce opposition to Israel’s settlement building, the Palestinian president said Monday. The remarks by Mahmoud Abbas came at a news conference with visiting French President Francois Hollande, who urged Israel to halt settlement construction on lands the Palestinians seek for a future state. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the terms of a Palestinian state resumed in late July, with U.S. mediators saying at the time they envision a deal within nine months. Since then, Israel has announced plans for thousands more settlement apartments, sparking Palestinian outrage.

While the world has been focused on eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons, a vicious war within a war has gained momentum in northern Syria. It is a complex conflict that pits al Qaeda affiliates against more moderate rebel factions and against Syria’s 2-million strong Kurdish minority. But it also threatens to spill far beyond Syria’s borders. The largest Kurdish group — the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — raised the stakes last week by declaring the autonomous region of “western Kurdistan” in a part of Syria that normally produces about one-third of the country’s oil. Other rebel factions condemned the move as a step toward a declaration of independence and the breakup of Syria. What happens in this region is of acute concern to the governments of Turkey and Iraq, and to the Kurds of northern Iraq, all of which have their own interests and allies there.

Syria

The organization managing efforts to remove Syria’s chemical weapons said Friday it has approved a plan that would remove the deadly stockpiles by the middle of next year. The plan calls for Syria to transport the stockpiles to a port, where the cargo will be shipped out and destroyed in a third country. A key challenge will be finding a country willing to take the stockpiles and capable of destroying them. Officials remain confident they will find a willing country, since the plan was approved by a broad international consensus.

A bomb attack Sunday against military offices in a suburb of Damascus killed at least 31 Syrian troops, including four high-ranking officers, an opposition group said. Rebel groups planted the explosives in Harasta, said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The 2-year-old conflict has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

Afghanistan

A suicide vehicle bomb tore through the Afghan capital Saturday, killing at least one soldier securing a site where leaders are to gather next week to discuss a controversial security agreement with the United States. Authorities said they expected casualties to rise from the powerful blast, which mangled a dozen cars and destroyed shops nearby. Ambulances raced away with dozens of wounded from the site. Police could be seen collecting body parts. The explosion came just hours after President Hamid Karzai announced that U.S. and Afghan negotiators had finished a draft to be presented to the Loya Jirga, a council of elders, whom Kabul says must approve the document before Afghanistan signs it.

Libya

At least 31 people were killed and nearly 300 injured on Friday in the bloodiest day in the Libyan capital since the fall of Tripoli in 2011. Fighting broke out after protesters marched on the Tripoli headquarters of militias from the coastal city of Misrata. Protesters and eyewitnesses said militiamen opened fire on the hundreds who marched on Gharghour, a southern district of the capital where Misrata militia are based, in an effort to evict the armed groups. The situation escalated into an armed confrontation that lasted for hours as protesters returned with weapons and militiamen from different parts of the capital. The scene at Tripoli’s overwhelmed hospitals was one of chaos and grief, as women wailed and a constant stream of ambulances delivered injured men, women and children.

Lebanon

Twin explosions went off next to the Iranian embassy in southern Beirut Tuesday, killing 23 people and wounding 147, Lebanon’s state news agency reported. Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam called the blasts “a terrorist crime which would aim to strike [at] stability and national unity.” The explosions took place before noon in the Jnah neighborhood of Beirut, with Iranian Cultural Counselor Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ansari reported as being among the victims. Reports said that the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Lebanon-based al-Qaeda affiliate, claimed responsibility.

Haiti

Thousands of critics of Haiti’s President Michel Martelly staged protest marches Monday that turned violent as people threw rocks and shots were fired in the air. It appeared at least one person was shot. The marches were among the biggest demonstrations against Martelly since he took office in 2011, and the crowd in the capital swelled as protesters passed each neighborhood. Their complaints ranged from the cost of living to high levels of corruption. Protesters lit fiery barricades of discarded tires on one of the busiest streets as they called for Martelly’s departure from office. Pro-Martelly groups held separate marches, and the two sides took turns throwing rocks at each other as riot police dispensed canisters of tear gas.

Environment

The U.N.’s chief climate diplomat has urged the coal industry to diversify to cleaner energy sources and leave most of the world’s remaining coal reserves in the ground. Christiana Figueres told CEOs of coal companies meeting Monday at Poland’s Economy Ministry that their industry needs to change radically to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases that scientists say are warming the planet. Poland generates about 90 percent of its electricity from coal. Environmental activists climbed the roof of the Economy Ministry and unfurled a banner that read, “Who rules the world? Fossil industries or the people?”

The rate at which people are polluting the air may be leveling off says a new study published Tuesday. In the West, emissions contributing to global warming even dropped last year. The United States pumped 3.7% less carbon dioxide into the air in 2012 than in the previous year; Europe 1.8% less. Globally, greenhouse gases are being emitted at a slower rate this year than they were last year, and in both years the climb in emissions was less intense than in the past decade taken as a whole. However, moke stacks and exhaust pipes around the world are still blasting raising total gas emissions to a new record annual high. They should break 39 million tons this year.

Weather

Desperation grew among Filipinos who’ve been without electricity or shelter for more than a week since Super Typhoon Haiyan reduced homes to splinters. The central government is being criticized for a slow and disorganized response to what all agree is a catastrophic disaster. The toll remains overwhelming with 3,633 dead, 1,179 missing and about 3 million people displaced, vast communities flattened and looting and violence erupting in Tacloban, a major city that’s the ground zero in the super typhoon strike. Many of the bodies remain tangled amongst piles of debris, or lining the road in body bags that seep fetid liquid. Some are believed to have been swept out to sea. Corruption is also a concern as millions of dollars in cash and goods rush in from around the world because is especially rife in the Philippines where graft has been a part of life for decades.

A tornado outbreak in the Midwest on Sunday, killing at least eight people, leveling entire city blocks and tearing a path of destruction across twelve states. National Weather Service officials confirmed that several tornadoes touched down in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. It was an unusually large and strong storm system for November and it will take months to clean up the damage. Sunday yielded the first F/EF4 November tornado in the modern record in the state of Illinois. One of the worst-hit areas was Washington, a town of 16,000 about 140 miles southwest of Chicago. Entire blocks were leveled as a tornado cut a path about an eighth of a mile wide from one side of town to the other, destroying as many as 500 homes.

The first 10 months of 2013 have been the driest such period on record in California, dating to 1895, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Some locations are running over 20-inch precipitation deficits for the year, so far. As a result, 84 percent of the state is categorized in severe drought, according to the Nov. 12 Drought Monitor analysis. Kern, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and parts of eight other California counties are considered in extreme drought.

The death toll from flooding caused by heavy rains in central Vietnam has risen to 41, with about 80,000 people forced from their homes, disaster officials said Tuesday. The floods affected more than 400,000 homes and also injured 74 people and damaged 10,625 acres of rice paddies and other crops. The heavy rains began Nov. 14, but the flood waters have mostly receded, allowing many residents to return home.

Emergency crews worked to reach remote parts of flood-ravaged Sardinia on Tuesday after a torrential rainstorm killed at least 16 people, downed bridges and swept cars away. Italy’s civil protection chief, Franco Gabrielli, said one person remained unaccounted for and that the toll of 16 may still rise as crews reach isolated areas in the countryside where some homes are submerged. Olbia Mayor Gianni Giovanelli said the city had been destroyed by the “apocalyptic” storm, with bridges felled by gushing, muddy rivers and water levels reaching 10 feet high in some places. The island, famed for its Costa Smeralda beaches of crystal clear water and dry Mediterranean climate, received about 16 inches of rain in 24 hours.

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