Signs of the Times (12/14/13)

Planned Parenthood Report: $540 Million in Tax Dollars, 327,000 Abortions

National pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List released a fact sheet on information Wednesday from Planned Parenthood’s latest fiscal year report, revealing that while Planned Parenthood’s abortion rate declined by 2 percent, abortions still accounted for 93.8 percent of Planned Parenthood’s pregnancy services. Prenatal care services dropped 32 percent in one year, and 52 percent since 2009. Adoption referrals are also down 4.5 percent in one year. In 2012, Planned Parenthood performed 327,166 abortions, a 2% drop from 2011. In 2002, Planned Parenthood performed 227,385 abortions, meaning they perform 100,000 more abortions than they did 10 years ago. For every adoption referral, Planned Parenthood performed 149 abortions. The fact sheet also details Planned Parenthood’s finances, showing that during fiscal year 2012-2013, Planned Parenthood reported receiving $540.6 million in taxpayer funding, with $58.2 million in excess revenue, and more than $1.3 billion in net assets.

Catholic Bishop Defies Pope, Calls Mandela’s Support for Abortion ‘Shameful’

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, R.I., says that while there’s much to admire in Nelson Mandela’s life and public service, the former South African president’s support for abortion was “shameful.” Bishop Thomas Tobin, in a statement posted Sunday on the diocesan website, criticized Mandela’s decision in 1996 to sign legislation liberalizing South Africa’s abortion laws. Tobin wrote, “We can only regret that his noble defense of human dignity did not include the youngest members of our human family, unborn children.” Tobin’s comments stand in contrast to those of Pope Francis, who in a telegram to South African President Jacob Zuma last week praised Mandela’s steadfast commitment to “promoting the human dignity of all” his nation’s citizens.

Judge Orders Mountain-Top Cross Removal

A giant cross that has stood on a Southern California mountain for decades must be removed because it violates the constitutional separation of church and state, a judge ordered this week. The order Thursday by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns continues a long legal battle about the 43-foot cross atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego. Burns ordered that the cross would have to be removed within 90 days. But the cross may be able to stay if the case is appealed. Bruce Bailey, president of the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, said his organization plans to appeal, which would mean the cross would stay as the decades-long legal battle continued.

Kansas City Prayer Booths Reducing Crime

The Christian Post reports that Kansas City has installed “prayer phone booths” throughout its city to encourage residents to take time to kneel and pray throughout their day. The booths come equipped with a lowering kneel bar and instructions so passerby may use the device properly, and one local media outlet has noted that the booths’ presence in inner city areas is proportional to the decrease in crime rate. Citizens of Kansas City reportedly lobbied city council for the “prayer booths” to be placed around the city on public park space as “public service monuments of arts and counseling to the people of Kansas City.” Since their installment a couple months ago, the prayer booths have reportedly been used 100,000 times per week. According to Topeka News, some of the booths were installed in inner city areas with high crime rates several years ago, and city data confirms that crime has reportedly reduced in those areas in a proportionate manner to the number of people using the prayer booths. The booths are advertised to passersby as being nondenominational. There is a clear “warning” sign on the booth that states that although they may be used for religious purposes, the city is not forcing or condoning any religious participation.

1300 Weapons Recovered in Dominican Republic Guns-for-Bibles Program

Evangelicals and local authorities are asking some residents of violent Dominican Republic neighborhoods to put down their weapons and pick up a Bible. Santo Domingo authorities recovered more than 1,300 firearms, knives, and machetes in communities known for corruption and violence, in a guns-for-Bibles program, aimed at reducing the country’s crime rate.  Church leaders went into some dangerous neighborhoods to spread the word of God to gangsters and other criminals as part of the recent month-long initiative. The government has resorted to deploying military forces to patrol the streets to aid local authorities in several of the country’s crime-ridden cities.

HHS Obstructing Congressional Investigation of Healthcare.gov

The Health and Human Services Department has told contractors working on the problem-plagued ObamaCare website not to release documents to congressional investigators, a mandate slammed as “criminal obstruction” by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa. The Dec. 6 letter from CMS official Daniel Kane says that although the department understands Congress’ need for documents to continue its probe into the issues with Healthcare.gov, the agency is concerned about security risks from releasing testing information to third parties. The letter was sent after the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee contacted 11 of the top contractors on the ObamaCare website as part of its investigation into its problems.

Insurance companies and health officials analyzing insurance applications submitted through HealthCare.gov are reportedly still grappling with significant online enrollment errors despite the Obama administration’s push in November to improve the glitch-ridden website. Thousands of applicants from the federally-run ObamaCare website have received inaccurate assignments to Medicaid or to the private marketplace, or have received incorrect denials, The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday.

Health Sign-Up Pace Still Lagging

With time running short, the nation’s health-care rolls still aren’t filling up fast enough. New sign-up numbers Wednesday showed progress for President Barack Obama’s health-care law, but not enough to guarantee that Americans who want and need coverage by Jan. 1 will be able to get it. Crunch time is now, as people face a Dec. 23 deadline to sign up if they are to have coverage by New Year’s Day. The Health and Human Services Department reported that 364,682 people had signed up for private coverage under the law as of Nov. 30. That is more than three times the October figure but still less than one-third of the 1.2 million that officials had projected would enroll nationwide by the end of November. The administration’s overall goal is to sign up 7 million people by March 31, when open enrollment ends.

Budget Deal Could Prevent Another Shutdown

Congressional negotiators reached a bipartisan budget compromise on Tuesday that would prevent another government shutdown, if approved by the House and Senate. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Tuesday the deal with his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray, would set spending levels, reduce the deficit, and relieve some of the arbitrary, forced spending cuts — known as sequestration. The pair found common ground just days before a Friday deadline to settle the matter. President Barack Obama called the development a good first step. Both the House and Senate must still weigh in, but opponents in both parties immediately raised concerns about the agreement, which, if passed by Congress, would mark a significant departure from repeated budget showdowns in recent years.

The proposal will raise 2014 spending for the full fiscal year to $1.012 trillion. It would save $85 billion while eliminating $63 billion in forced spending cuts to the military and other programs through sequestration to achieve total deficit reduction of $23 billion. Specifically, it rolls back sequestration cuts to education, medical research, infrastructure investments, and defense jobs for the next two years. The deal did not include a proposal to extend unemployment benefits, which Democrats were pushing for this week. The Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed the compromise spending plan Thursday easing across-the-board federal spending cuts and designed to prevent future government shutdowns.

Economic News

Wholesale prices dropped in November for the third consecutive month, pushed down by cheaper gasoline and home heating oil costs. The Labor Department says the producer price index, which measures prices before they reach the consumer, declined 0.1% in November. This comes after decreases in October and September. Gas costs tumbled 0.7% last month after a steep drop in October. The costs for new cars also fell 0.8% in November. Energy costs have kept inflation low over the past 12 months. Prices have risen just 0.7% in that period. Excluding volatile energy and food prices, wholesale costs increased 0.1% in November and 1.3% in the past 12 months.

It’s not looking good for 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers who were overlooked by a budget deal reached by key lawmakers late Tuesday. Federal unemployment benefits will expire on Dec. 28. And with the House scheduled to leave town for the year this Friday, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that Congress will agree to extend the recession-era program that fills the gap when state unemployment insurance runs out for workers who can’t find a job. Extending benefits is a priority for Democrats and President Obama, but most Republicans have been cool to the idea.

Persecution Watch

A pastor and his two young sons were among at least 400 people killed in the worst outbreak of violence to rock the Central African Republic (CAR) since a coup by Islamist rebels in March. As the carnage continued over three days of fighting, thousands of Christian civilians fled their homes, many seeking refuge at Bangui airport, which is being guarded by French forces. Two thousand Christians sought refuge at the Central African Republic’s airport, fleeing violence from mostly Muslim ex-rebels. The French military, which controls the Bangui airport, guarded the area as the Christians sought safety from Seleka soldiers with machetes and guns. The UN Security Council had passed a motion last week to allow the French to protect civilians in the country from the violence, which is considered to be the worst the nation has seen since March. Approximately 2,000 Central Africans took refuge at the airport— and that most, if not all, were Christian.

Christian leaders in Tanzania are in mounting danger and also facing opposition from the authorities; a youth worker was hacked to death in a brutal machete attack, while several pastors are facing false criminal charges. Eliya Meshack was killed while leading an overnight prayer session in Gilgal Christian Worship Centre in the Ilemela district of Mwanza province. He died on the spot, while two other Christians were seriously injured. Eliya’s wife Marry said that they had been receiving threats for more than six months, which they reported to the police, but no action was taken. A number of church leaders have been killed or injured in violent attacks this year.

Iran

More than two weeks after a landmark deal with Iran, House Republicans and Democrats called the Obama administration’s approach to nuclear negotiations naive and signaled that they will slap more sanctions on the country despite warnings that doing so would torpedo the United States’ best chance in years at rapprochement. Secretary of State John F. Kerry appeared to make no headway Tuesday in an urgent appeal to Congress to hold off on new sanctions. A bipartisan lineup of House lawmakers challenged his assertion that punitive new trade measures would undermine fragile diplomacy with Iran’s government. Even Democrats who applauded the administration’s diplomatic overture to Iran said they wanted to hedge their bets by maintaining sanctions pressure on the country. Iran ha quit nuclear talks with the major powers on Friday, accusing Washington on Friday of going against the spirit of a landmark agreement reached last month by expanding its sanctions blacklist.

The public is reacting skeptically to last month’s multilateral agreement aimed at freezing parts of Iran’s nuclear program. Overall, more disapprove than approve of the deal, and there continues to be broad skepticism about whether Iranian leaders are serious about addressing international concerns over the country’s nuclear program. The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center and USA TODAY, conducted Dec. 3-8 among 2,001 adults, finds that 43% disapprove of the agreement between the U.S. and Iran over its nuclear program, 32% approve of the deal, while 25% do not offer an opinion. The public’s doubts about the intentions of Iran’s leaders are as high as they were last month before the nuclear agreement. By roughly two-to-one (62% to 29%), those who have heard at least a little about the agreement say Iran’s leaders are not serious about addressing concerns over the country’s nuclear program.

Syria

Influencing events in Syria just got a lot harder for the Obama administration and its allies. Despite receiving months of training, diplomatic support and aid from the West, the Free Syrian Army’s command has lost control of its headquarters and supply depots in northern Syria to the recently formed Islamic Front — another sign that the balance among rebel forces is tipping toward Islamic militant groups away from more secular brigades. There are conflicting reports about just how they were taken over and what they held. The head of the SMC, Gen. Salim Idris, told CNN that only food and other humanitarian supplies were taken; other FSA officials say guns and two tons of ammunition were removed.

Yemen

A U.S. drone mistakenly targeted a wedding convoy in Yemen’s al-Baitha province after intelligence reports identified the vehicles as carrying al Qaeda militants, two Yemeni national security officials told CNN on Thursday. The officials said that 14 people were killed and 22 others injured, nine in critical condition. “This was a tragic mistake and comes at a very critical time. None of the killed was a wanted suspect by the Yemeni government,” said a top Yemeni national security official. Residents in Radda were outraged about the attack and called on the Yemeni government to put an end of drone strikes in their region.

Australia

For five days, same-sex couples could get married in Australia’s capital city of Canberra. But that fleeting window was slammed shut Thursday by the Australian High Court, which ruled that a recent local law legalizing same-sex marriage was invalid. That means that the marriages of the couples who took advantage of the law to tie the knot — 27 according to local media — will be annulled. The high court said Thursday that the federal Marriage Act, which doesn’t permit same-sex marriage, takes precedence over the law passed by the legislative assembly in Canberra.

India

India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a 2009 lower court decision to decriminalize homosexuality, dealing a blow to gay activists who have fought for years for the chance to live openly in India’s deeply conservative society. The judges said only lawmakers and not the courts could change a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality. Lawyers and supporters of gays, lesbians and transsexuals vowed to continue pressing for the removal of the law, which they say encourages discrimination, even if it is rarely invoked by prosecutors.

Uruguay

The passage of a landmark marijuana legalization measure Tuesday means Uruguay is set to become the first country in the world to have a system regulating legal production, sale and consumption of the drug. It places the South American country at the vanguard of liberal drug policies, surpassing even the Netherlands, where recreational drugs are illegal but a policy of tolerance is in place. The proposed law would allow individuals to grow up to six plants of marijuana and possess as many as 480 grams for personal use. Marijuana clubs of anywhere from 15 to 45 members would also be allowed and granted permission to grow up to 99 plants at a time. Users would have to register, and those claiming to use cannabis for medical reasons would have to show a doctor’s prescription. Marijuana would also be sold at licensed pharmacies. Conservative critics of the measure have said it promotes drug addiction.

Ukraine

Riot police moved in on pro-Western protesters in the center of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, with force in the early hours of Wednesday, leading to reports of injuries on both sides. Hundreds of officers used chainsaws and brute force to tear down barricades put up by demonstrators around the city’s Independence Square, or Maidan, which has been the focus of protests. The demonstrators are angry at the refusal of Ukraine’s Russian-allied president, Viktor Yanukovych, to sign an agreement that would strengthen cooperation with the European Union. Protesters have been gathering around the clock to demand the resignation of the government in a crisis that threatens the leadership of President Viktor Yanukovych. Earlier Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters Ukraine’s leader intended to sign a deal for closer ties with the union.

China

China’s first lunar rover is expected to land on the moon on Saturday, less than two weeks after it blasted off from Earth, according to Chinese media reports. The landing will make China one of only three nations — after the United States and the former Soviet Union — to “soft-land” on the moon’s surface, and the first to do so in more than three decades. On landing, Chang’e-3 will release Jade Rabbit (called Yutu in Chinese) — a six-wheeled lunar rover equipped with at least four cameras and two mechanical legs that can dig up soil samples to a depth of 30 meters. The solar-powered rover will patrol the moon’s surface, studying the structure of the lunar crust as well as soil and rocks, for at least three months.

Environment

The federal government is getting involved in the fight against citrus greening disease, in hopes of saving Florida’s, and possibly the entire nation’s citrus crop. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it’s creating an “emergency response framework” to battle citrus greening. It will gather various groups, agencies and experts to coordinate and focus federal research on fighting the disease. The citrus greening bacteria, which is spread by an insect, causes trees to produce green, disfigured and bitter fruits by altering nutrient flow to the tree, eventually killing it. It threatens Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry. Growers and scientists suspect that many of Florida’s 69 million citrus trees are infected, with some estimates as high as 75 percent. This year’s orange crop is expected to be the smallest in 24 years, largely due to greening.

Weather

Utilities, airports and road crews are on high alert as wintry weather heads toward the Northeast again, bringing with it ice and perhaps a foot or more of snow in parts of New England. The storm, which was forecast to move from the Ohio into New England over the course of the weekend is likely to affect travel and shoppers looking to hit stores as Christmas approaches. The National Weather Service said 6 to 12 inches of snow are expected from Saturday to Sunday in New England. It said up to 14 inches are possible along the Maine coast.

A snowstorm forced a lockdown in Jerusalem on Friday, with police blocking access to and from the ancient city, while Egypt’s main ports on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea remained closed for the third straight day due to bad weather. Israelis were told over media and public broadcasts on Friday not to enter or leave Jerusalem and some 1,500 people were evacuated from stranded vehicles overnight. Rare snow also fell in Cairo’s suburbs, the port city of Alexandria and a blanket of white covered St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai. The cold weather was part of a storm which has been pounding much of Lebanon and parts of northern Syria since Wednesday, pushing temperatures below zero and dumping snow and heavy rains. The snow has heaped another layer of misery on the already grim existence of many of the more than 2 million Syrians who have fled the civil war raging in their homeland.

The rapid melting in the Arctic eased up this year. Overall Arctic temperatures didn’t soar quite as high, and Greenland ice sheets and summer sea ice didn’t melt as much. However, Central Alaska’s summer was one of the warmest on record, coming months after its coldest April since 1924, NOAA said. Fairbanks experienced a record 36 days of more than 80 degrees. And snow cover in May and June was near record low levels in North America and broke a record for the least snow in Eurasia.

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