Signs of the Times (11/23/13)

Supreme Court Refuses to Block Texas Abortion Restrictions

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to block controversial Texas abortion restrictions that have been called some of the strictest in the country and have led a dozen abortion clinics in the state to stop performing the procedure. The court by a 5-4 vote denied a request by Planned Parenthood to block a ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing key parts of the Texas abortion law to stay in effect while the lawsuit challenging the restrictions moves forward. The panel of appeals court judges acknowledged that the law’s provision requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital “may increase the cost of accessing an abortion provider and decrease the number of physicians available to perform abortions.”

Albuquerque Voters Reject Ban on Late-Term Abortions

Voters in New Mexico’s largest city soundly defeated a ban on late-term abortions Tuesday in a municipal election that was being closely watched as a possible new front in the national abortion fight. Voters rejected the measure 55 percent to 45 percent following an emotional and graphic campaign that brought in national groups and hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising. The campaign included protests that compared abortion to the Holocaust and displayed pictures of aborted fetuses. This was the first municipal ballot measure on the matter, which usually is debated at the state and federal level. Abortion opponents had hoped a victory in Albuquerque would create momentum nationally in their long-running fight to ban abortion.

  • Abortion and gay rights are the two key end-time morality markers. Despite some recent gains against abortion, the body count continues to swell inviting severe end-time judgment

Obama Removes ‘God’ From Gettysburg Address

Washington DC talk show host Chris Plante reported today that Barack Obama omitted the words “under God” from the Gettysburg Address when reciting the great speech for a Ken Burns documentary. Burns had filmed all living presidents as well as various Hollywood personalities and luminaries to pay homage to the speech which was delivered by Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, this past Monday. In his version of the speech, President Barack Obama’s delivery contained an omission – in a line that every other celebrity delivered as “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom,” the President left out the words “under God.”

  • Obama is the most anti-God, anti-Christian, anti-Israel, pro-Islam president ever – by a wide margin

Sticker Shock for Obamacare Registrants

Sweeping differences in health care exchange pricing among states and counties is leading to sticker shock for some middle-class consumers and others who aren’t eligible for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The average prices for the most popular plans are twice as high in the most expensive states as those with the lowest average prices, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data for 34 states using the federal health insurance exchange. PPOs, the most popular type of health care plan, carry monthly premiums that range from an average of $819 a month in the most expensive state to $437 in the least expensive. Plans on the federal and state exchanges are grouped into four categories that cover 60% to 90% of out-of-pocket costs. The premiums for bronze-level plans are generally the least expensive, but the deductibles are simply not affordable, say some shoppers. “Many will not be able to afford the per person deductibles before insurance begins to pay. What are you really paying for?” asks one financial analyst.

Senate Changes Filibuster Rules

Most Americans would likely agree that Congress is broken. Many would disagree, though, that the way to ‘fix’ it is by way of a significant rule change that silences conservative lawmakers. The Democrat-led Senate approved the “nuclear option” today. The rules change reduces the number of votes needed to break a filibuster. This move follows frustration in the chamber over Republicans who have blocked — by way of filibusters — three of President Obama’s judicial nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The change will mean the Senate will only need 51 votes — instead of 60 — to break filibusters of Obama executive and judicial nominees. It will not apply to Supreme Court nominees. Democrats who claimed victory — including President Obama — in stripping the Senate minority of its power to block nominations may have done so at the sacrifice of the president’s legislative agenda. Any prospect for compromise on items ranging from immigration legislation to a fiscal deal to tax reform is now that much fainter.

Pro-Lifers Kicked Out of Parade

Grand Rapids Right to Life wanted to enter a float in the local Christmas parade replete with children and the theme “Life: A Precious Gift,” but the pro-life group will not be able to participate — even though the organization participated last year. The kids gave out candy to people along the parade route and everyone had a wonderful time. Not this year. “The understanding we received from (parade organizers) is that they wanted all of the entrants to be neutral,” said Laura Alexandria, director of operations for Grand Rapids Right to Life. Organizers did not respond to multiple phone and email requests for comment on Right to Life’s application to be in the parade.

Number of Homeless Down

The number of homeless Americans is on the decline, the government announced Thursday. Roughly 610,000 homeless people were living in emergency shelters, transitional housing or unsheltered locations during a count taken on a single night in January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development reported. That’s down 4% from last year and 6% from 2010, when the recession was still going strong. Big drops in veteran homelessness contributed to the overall decline, HUD said, thanks to increased participation in a federal program providing rental vouchers to veterans. The number of homeless veterans fell 24% from 2010, the housing agency found. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of chronically homeless fell 16%.

Kids Less Fit than Parents Were

Today’s kids can’t keep up with their parents. An analysis of studies on millions of children around the world finds they don’t run as fast or as far as their parents did when they were young. On average, it takes children 90 seconds longer to run a mile than their counterparts did 30 years ago. Heart-related fitness has declined 5 percent per decade since 1975 for children ages 9 to 17. The American Heart Association, whose conference featured the research on Tuesday, recommend that children 6 and older get 60 minutes of moderately vigorous activity accumulated over a day. Only one-third of American kids do now.

China to Stop Accumulating Dollars

China just dropped an absolute bombshell, but it was almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media in the United States.  The central bank of China has decided that it is “no longer in China’s favor to accumulate foreign-exchange reserves”.  During the third quarter of 2013, China’s foreign-exchange reserves were valued at approximately $3.66 trillion.  And of course the biggest chunk of that was made up of U.S. dollars.  For years, China has been accumulating dollars and working hard to keep the value of the dollar up and the value of the yuan down.  One of the goals has been to make Chinese products less expensive in the international marketplace.  But now China has announced that the time has come for it to stop stockpiling U.S. dollars.  And if that does indeed turn out to be the case, than many U.S. analysts are suggesting that China could also soon stop buying any more U.S. debt.  Needless to say, all of this would be very bad for the U.S. dollar.

  • China holds a major portion of U.S. debt giving it significant leverage over our economy and policies

Economic News

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits slipped 21,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 323,000, in a sign the labor market continues to improve. That is the lowest level of weekly unemployment benefit applications since late September, near pre-recession levels.

Despite the recent slowdown in the housing recovery, Federal Reserve policymakers last month said they still expected to dial down their easy-money policy within a few months, according to meeting minutes released Wednesday. The minutes’ release sent stocks down as investors reacted to the possibility that the Fed could start tapering its Quantitative Easing economic stimulus soon.

Women have regained all the jobs they lost during the financial crisis, but men are still lagging behind. After losing more than 6 million jobs, men have gained only about 70% of them back. Most of the missing jobs come from just two male-dominated industries: construction and manufacturing. These industries are barely recovering, whereas sectors populated with a lot more women — like education, leisure, hospitality and health care –have all been growing more rapidly.

This year’s Recruiting Trends report, being released Wednesday, shows an almost 10% increase in the number of employers planning to hire college graduates with a bachelor’s degree. “This is the fourth year in a row we’ve seen an overall expansion of labor market,” said Phil Gardner, the director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute. “We’re inching our way back to where we were in 2007.”

Persecution Watch

The persecution of Christians is “the greatest story never told in the Western media” and “the vast majority of serious anti-Christian violence is carried out in the name of Islam,” according to Ed West in an article for The Spectator, reports Christian Concern for our Nation. Every country in the Middle East reported Christian “suffering of either high, high to extreme or extreme suffering.” Faith Minister Baroness Warsi said in a recent speech: “A mass exodus is taking place, on a Biblical scale. In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct.”

Kidnapping in Egypt has been a persistent problem for the Christian community since the “Arab Spring” of 2011. More than 100 Christians have been seized, most of them from Minya province, which has the highest percentage of Christians in the country and is also an Islamist heartland. There has been a spike since August, when the authorities broke up pro-Morsi demonstrations by members of the Muslim Brotherhood; 17 cases were recorded in Minya alone in August and September. Christians are kidnapped for ransom and often subjected to abuse, threats and violence. There has also been an increase in the disappearance of Christian girls, who are forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men.

A French church leader who had been ministering in a dangerous part of northern Cameroon has been abducted by Islamist militant group Boko Haram. A group of 10-20 armed men kidnapped the minister from his home. The militants also broke into and raided a Christian compound, taking a number of valuables. Boko Haram, which is waging a brutal campaign to establish an Islamic state in neighboring Northern Nigeria, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, saying that it was a protest against the detention of its fighters in Cameroon.

The US State Department has finally designated Islamist militant group Boko Haram and its offshoot Ansaru as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) after a long campaign by Nigerian Christians, backed by Barnabas Aid. The decision means that the US can now deploy a host of measures to disrupt the groups’ activities: business and financial transactions can be blocked; and people suspected of association with them can be investigated and prosecuted.

Middle East

The bombing attack outside the Iran embassy here Tuesday shows that the Syrian civil war may be hastening open warfare between the two main branches of Islam and lead to attacks throughout the Middle East. The admitted perpetrators of the terror attack, which killed 23 people, is the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Palestinian affiliate of al-Qaeda in Lebanon. The attack was in retaliation against the terror group Hezbollah, a Shia Muslim group, is fighting in Syria on behalf of Iran and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad against rebels made up of Sunni Muslims. Al-Qaeda is a largely Sunni Muslim group.

Iran’s supreme leader vowed Wednesday no retreat from Tehran’s nuclear ‘rights’ in an anti-Israel diatribe that France said ‘complicates’ crunch talks getting under way in Geneva. Predicting the demise of ‘rabid dog’ Israel, which Iran has accused of trying to ‘torpedo’ a deal, ‘I insist on not retreating one step from the rights of the Iranian nation,’ Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 74, told militiamen of the Basij force in a rare, live televised address. France said that his comments — he said Israel’s leaders were ‘not worthy to be called human’ — are ‘unacceptable and complicate negotiations’ on Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics issued a report on Wednesday describing a difficult environment for youngsters in the Jewish State. Among the findings was that an astonishing 449,000, or 17% of Israel children, were registered with social services in 2012. 40% of those were registered as needy, including many with behavioral or emotional problems, broken homes, physical and mental disabilities, poverty and other issues. In related news, Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug addressed the Calcalist Capital Markets Conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, announcing that government projections show unemployment will probably increase in the coming months as the economy hits a slowdown.

  • We are exhorted by the Bible to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you.” (Psalm 122:6)

Syria

An estimated 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced by the fighting, and 2.2 million others have left the country altogether, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. The agency estimates that 9.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent got into Zakarya’s town of Madimiyet e-Sham earlier this month. The group said it found hundreds of people in famine-like conditions it blamed on government blockades preventing food and supplies from entering. Even as chemical weapons inspectors enjoy unhindered access to some of the country’s most sensitive locations, U.N. humanitarian aid cannot reach civilians in besieged areas,” said the International Crisis Group in Brussels in a statement. The coming winter will likely worsen the situation.

Egypt

A suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into one of two buses carrying off-duty soldiers in Egypt’s turbulent region of northern Sinai, killing 10 and seriously wounding 35. The 10 victims were the bus’s driver, three members of a security detail and six of the off-duty soldiers. The soldiers belong to the 2nd Field Army, which is doing most of the fighting against Islamic militant waging an insurgency against security forces in Sinai. The northern Sinai region, which borders Gaza and Israel, has been restless for years, but attacks have grown more frequent and deadlier since the July ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Iraq

Iraqi officials say a wave of attacks has hit commercial areas in Baghdad, killing at least 21 people and wounding 72 in mostly Shiite areas. The deadliest attack was in the central Sadria neighborhood, where a parked car bomb went off at an outdoor market on Wednesday, killing five shoppers and wounding 15. Other attacks took place in Shaab, Tobchi, Karrada, Azamiyah and Amil neighborhoods. Iraq is experiencing a surge in violence since April, following a deadly security raid on a Sunni protest camp in the country’s north. Since then, more than 5,500 people have been killed. The bloodiest attacks have targeted Shiites but Sunnis have also been killed in apparent reprisals.

Afghanistan

While many Americans have been led to believe the war in Afghanistan will soon be over, a draft of a key U.S.-Afghan security deal obtained by NBC News shows the United States is prepared to maintain military outposts in Afghanistan for many years to come, and pay to support hundreds of thousands of Afghan security forces. The wide-ranging document, still unsigned by the United States and Afghanistan, has the potential to commit thousands of American troops to Afghanistan and spend billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. The document outlines what appears to be the start of a new, open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan in the name of training and continuing to fight al-Qaeda. Afghanistan’s president said he backs a security deal with the United States but told a gathering of elders on Thursday that if they and parliament approve the agreement it should be signed after next spring’s elections. Before it’s signed, the freshly minted security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan must face the scrutiny of thousands of tribal elders, who have convened a grand assembly to confer in the coming days on the key issue of an ongoing U.S. presence.

Pakistan

A suspected U.S. drone carried out a rare missile strike in northwest Pakistan outside the country’s remote tribal region on Thursday, killing six people, including at least two Afghan militants. The missiles hit an Islamic seminary in Hangu district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that was known to be visited by senior members of the Afghan Haqqani network, an ally of the Taliban and one of the most feared militant groups battling U.S troops in neighboring Afghanistan. It was only the second drone attack to occur outside Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border since the strikes began in the country in 2004 and could increase tension between Islamabad and Washington.

Volcanoes

A volcanic eruption has raised an island in the seas to the far south of Tokyo. Advisories from the coast guard and the Japan Meteorological Agency said the islet is about 660 feet in diameter. It is just off the coast of Nishinoshima, a small, uninhabited island in the Ogasawara chain. The approximately 30 islands are 620 miles south of Tokyo, and along with the rest of Japan are part of the seismically active Pacific “Ring of Fire.” The coast guard issued an advisory Wednesday warning of heavy black smoke from the eruption. The last time the volcanoes in the area are known to have erupted was in the mid-1970s.

Wildfires

As the USA’s 2013 wildfire season comes to an end, it will be remembered for being unusually quiet for the number of blazes but one of the deadliest for firefighters. The tragic Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona killed 19 firefighters, the highest death toll for a single fire in 80 years. Colorado endured its most destructive wildfire in state history. And the Rim Fire — a massive blaze near the entrance to iconic Yosemite National Park — was the largest ever in the Sierra Nevada. Even so, the number of wildfires nationwide hit a 30-year low. As of Friday, just over 43,000 fires had been reported across the country so far this year, well below the 10-year average of nearly 68,000 fires and the lowest number since accurate record keeping began in the early 1980s.

Weather

Parts of Arizona have seen a soaking to a degree that is quite unusual any time of year, much less in late November. The culprit for the soggy scenario is a slow-moving area of low pressure in the upper levels of the atmosphere. This low is a slow-mover because it is temporarily cut off from, or left behind by, the jet stream, like a sailboat with insufficient steering winds. This so-called cutoff low tapped a plume of deep moisture from the Pacific Ocean and directed it into the Desert Southwest. From late Thursday until 5 a.m. MST on Saturday, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport received 2.34 inches of rain. Unusually heavy rainfall also occurred over the border in Southern California. The town of Imperial received 0.94 inches of rain on Friday. This is about 40 percent of Imperial’s average annual rainfall total of 2.35 inches all in one day.

Philippine officials say the death toll from one of the strongest typhoons on record has risen above 5,000 and is likely to climb further. The region were battered two weeks ago by fierce winds and tsunami-like storm surges from Typhoon Haiyan, locally called Yolanda. The situation was finally stabilizing, with major roads on Samar and Leyte islands cleared of debris, and some banks, stores and gasoline stations resuming business.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged developed nations to “lead by example” Wednesday as a climate change conference bogged down over support for poor nations trying to adapt to a warming world. The two-week conference in Poland’s capital, Warsaw, opened with a hunger strike by the top delegate from the typhoon-battered Philippines to demand concrete action toward a new global pact on climate change. But with two days of talks left, participants said countries remained split on the big issues. Ban called on countries to put their money where their mouths were by devoting more funding to deal with climate change and the carbon emissions blamed for causing it.

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