Signs of the Times (12/31/13)

New Year, 40,000 New Laws

Not everyone subscribes to a New Year’s resolution, but Americans will be required to follow new laws in 2014. Some 40,000 measures taking effect range from sweeping, national mandates under Obamacare to marijuana legalization in Colorado, drone prohibition in Illinois and transgender protections in California. Although many new laws are controversial, they made it through legislatures, public referendum or city councils and represent the shifting composition of American beliefs.

  • The also represent another surge in big-brother government as it gains more and more control over every facet of our lives

Congress Letting 55 Tax Breaks Expire

Congress is letting a package of 55 popular tax breaks expire at the end of the year, creating uncertainty — once again — for millions of individuals and businesses. Lawmakers let these tax breaks lapse almost every year, even though they save businesses and individuals billions of dollars. And almost every year, Congress eventually renews them, retroactively, so taxpayers can claim them by the time they file their tax returns. Trade groups and tax experts complain that Congress is making it impossible for businesses and individuals to plan for the future. “It’s a totally ridiculous way to run our tax system,” said Rachelle Bernstein, vice president and tax counsel for the National Retail Federation. “It’s impossible to plan when every year this happens, but yet business has gotten used to that.”

  • Our dysfunctional government seldom allows taxes to expire but tax breaks are always on the table as our voracious federal bureaucracy grows fatter and fatter

Boy Scouts Open Ranks to Gay Youth on Jan. 1

The Boy Scouts of America will accept openly gay youths starting on New Year’s Day, a historic change that has prompted the BSA to ponder a host of potential complications — ranging from policies on tentmates and showers to whether Scouts can march in gay pride parades. Some churches are dropping their sponsorship of Scout units because of the new policy and some families are switching to a new conservative alternative called Trail Life USA. But massive defections haven’t materialized and most major sponsors, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, are maintaining ties. The new policy was approved in May, with support from 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council. The vote followed bitter nationwide debate, and was accompanied by an announcement that the BSA would continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions.

  • The insidious gay agenda continues to spread its immoral cancer throughout society, a key marker of the inexorable march toward end-time moral decay.

Education Dept. to Recognize All Legal Same-Sex Marriages for Federal Financial Aid

The U.S. Department of recently announced new guidance on the use of “marriage” and “spouse” in the federal student aid programs, including on the completion of the federal student aid form (FAFSA). The new guidance is based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor, which struck down a key part of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. Under the new guidance, the Department will recognize a student or a parent as married if the couple was legally married in any jurisdiction that recognizes the marriage, regardless of whether the marriage is between a couple of the same sex or opposite sex, and regardless of where the student or couple lives or the student is attending school. This guidance impacts all questions concerning marriage and marital status on the FAFSA.

Abortion Groups Keep Population Control on the UN Agenda

As nations perform a 20-year review of population policies that include family planning and abortion, the UN agency in charge of the review has put abortion groups at the helm. They want countries to spend more money on policies that have an overall effect of reducing populations. Governments spent $60 billion last year on population policies that originated at the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development. Recipients of that money include the United Nations Population Fund, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International, Ipas, and groups that promote abortion, contraception and sterilization as a panacea for the world’s problems.

  • Population control by any means necessary is a key goal of the New World Order globalists to maintain ‘sustainable’ life on earth

Federal Judge: NSA Phone Surveillance Legal

A federal judge ruled on Friday that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ telephone and Internet records is legal and a critical component of the country’s effort to combat the threat of terrorism. The decision by U.S. District Judge William Pauley contrasts with a ruling earlier this month by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon and increases the likelihood that the issue will go before the U.S. Supreme Court. Leon had granted a preliminary injunction against the collecting of phone records, saying the program likely violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on unreasonable search. In the 54-page opinion issued in New York, Pauley said the sweeping program “represents the government’s counter-punch” to eliminate al-Qaeda’s terror network by connecting fragmented and fleeting communications.

NSA Unit Hacks into Computers

A German magazine, citing internal documents, claims the NSA’s hacking unit uses James Bond-style spy gear to obtain data, including intercepting computer deliveries and outfitting them with espionage software. Der Spiegel’s revelations relate to a division of the NSA known as Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, which is painted as an elite team of hackers specializing in stealing data from the toughest of targets. Der Spiegel said TAO had a catalog of high-tech gadgets for particularly hard-to-crack cases, including computer monitor cables specially modified to record what is being typed across the screen, USB sticks secretly fitted with radio transmitters to broadcast stolen data over the airwaves, and fake base stations intended to intercept mobile phone signals on the go. Some of the attacks described by Der Spiegel exploit weaknesses in the architecture of the Internet to deliver malicious software to specific computers.

  • If we could trust NSA/Government officials to only focus on terrorism then we need not be concerned. If, however, we suspect officials will use their powers to suppress dissent and promote socialism/globalism, then we need to be very concerned.

Federal Health Market Surpasses 1 million Signups

A December surge propelled health care sign-ups through the government’s rehabilitated website past the 1 million mark, the Obama administration said Sunday, reflecting new signs of life for the problem-plagued federal insurance exchange. However, the administration had projected more than 3.3 million overall would be enrolled through federal and state exchanges by the end of the year. Of the more than 1.1 million people now enrolled, nearly 1 million signed up in December, with the majority coming in the week before a pre-Christmas deadline for coverage to start in January. The figures tell only part of the story. The administration has yet to provide a December update on the 14 states running their own exchanges. While California, New York, Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut have performed well, others are still struggling.

  • Falling so far short of its goals is cause for concern, because Obama needs millions of mostly younger, healthy Americans to sign up to keep costs low for everyone.

Affordable Care Act Rates Misquoted for 2000 Arizonans

At least 2,000 Arizonans who thought they bought bargain Affordable Care Act insurance from Health Net have learned that their rates will be more expensive than what they initially agreed to purchase. Health Net’s prices for some plans sold directly to consumers and through the federal marketplace,, quoted rates less expensive than those the health insurer filed with state insurance regulators. The Arizona Department of Insurance noticed the discrepancy and ordered Health Net to mail letters to customers who purchased incorrectly priced plans. The bottom line for affected consumers: Preferred-provider organization, or PPO, plans will be 7 to 13 percent more expensive than what Health Net quoted.

Reported Sexual Assaults in Military Rising

Heightened attention to the crime of sexual assault in the U.S. military may be causing more people to come forward and report problems. Defense officials cite the increased awareness as a possible reason the number of reported sexual assaults rose by more than 50% this year. More than 5,000 reports of sexual assault were filed during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, compared to the 3,374 in 2012. The increase suggests that confidence in the system is growing and that victims are more willing to come forward. While cautious in their conclusions, officials said surveys, focus groups and repeated meetings with service members throughout the year suggest that the number of actual incidents — from unwanted sexual contact and harassment to violent assaults — remained largely steady.

A&E Lifts Ban on Duck Dynasty Star

The “Duck Dynasty” family says they are excited to return to work after A&E Network announced Friday it would resume filming their hit show with Phil Robertson next spring in a reversal of its decision last week to suspend him for comments he made about homosexuality. In an exclusive statement to, the family said it was “excited to keep making a quality TV show for our dedicated fans, who have showed us wonderful support. We will continue to represent our faith and values in the most positive way through ‘Duck Dynasty’ and our many projects that we are currently working on. The outpouring of support and prayer has encouraged and emboldened us greatly.” The removal of the 67-year-old family patriarch triggered support from gay rights organizations but objections from many fans of the show, including political figures such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, forced A&E to reconsider.

Colorado Allows Recreational Marijuana

As Colorado prepares to be the first U.S. state to allow recreational marijuana sales, starting Jan. 1, hopeful retailers like Williams are investing their fortunes into the legal recreational pot world — all for a chance to build even bigger ones in a fledgling industry that faces an uncertain future. Officials in Colorado and Washington, the other state where recreational pot goes on sale in mid-2014, as well as activists, policymakers and governments from around the U.S. and across the world will not be the only ones watching the experiment unfold. So too will the U.S. Department of Justice, which for now is not fighting to shut down the industry.

Economic News

The retail-worker strikes that swept the nation in 2013 did not move Congress to raise the minimum wage, but a growing number of states are taking action. The minimum wage will rise in 13 states this week, and as many as 11 more states plus Washington, D.C., are expected to consider increases in 2014. However, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers hasn’t increased since 1991.Tipped workers are those who wait on tables in restaurants, serve guests at hotels, cut hair in salons and park cars at garages.

Stocks closed relatively flat Monday but the Dow Jones industrial average managed to rise slightly to post its 51st record close of the year in the second-to-last trading session. With just one more trading session left in 2013, the S&P 500 is on track for an annual gain of 29%, the biggest since 1997. With dividends included, it’s up 32%.

U.N. Human Rights Council Fails to Protect Religious Freedom

Human Rights Without Frontiers International, a non-profit advocacy organization based in Brussels, released a report on Monday highlighting what we’ve long known to be true: The U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a joke. Eight of the UNHRC’s 47 member states, including newly elected Morocco, China and Saudi Arabia (their three-year terms begin Wednesday), imprisoned people in 2013 for breaking laws that restrict religious freedom. The five current member states to do the same were India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Libya and South Korea. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the U.N. General Assembly adopted in 1948, clearly states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or beliefs.” The resolution establishing the UNHRC declares that member states “shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” Yet at least eight member states are failing, epically, to do so. In 2013.

Middle East

Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries. Residents of the northern Israel town of Kiryat Shmona awoke to a pair of large explosions. Lebanon’s state news agency said its border area was shelled after the rockets hit Israel. The agency said over 20 shells hit the mountainous region around the southern Lebanese border area of Rachaya. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the government of Lebanon of “not lifting a finger” to stop the “war crimes” committed in its territory by Hezbollah guerrillas.

The familiar rhythms of Christmas season in the Holy Land have been disturbed by a new development: the rise of an independent voice for Israel’s Christian community, which is increasingly trying to assert its separate identity. For decades, Arab Christians were considered part of Israel’s sizable Palestinian minority, which comprises both Muslims and Christians and makes up about a fifth of the country’s citizens, according to the Israeli government. But now, an informal grass-roots movement, prompted in part by the persecution of Christians elsewhere in the region since the Arab Spring, wants to cooperate more closely with Israeli Jewish society—which could mean a historic change in attitudes toward the Jewish state. Of Israel’s 8 million citizens, about 130,000 are Arabic-speaking Christians (mostly Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox), and 1.3 million are Arab Muslims. As a minority within a minority, Arab Christians in Israel have historically been in a bind. Fear of being considered traitors often drove them to proclaim their full support for the Palestinian cause, but now that’s changing with many openly proclaiming their allegiance to Israel.


A Syrian government airstrike hit a crowded vegetable market in a rebel-held neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo on Saturday, killing at least 21 people. For nearly two weeks, President Bashar Assad’s warplanes and helicopters have pounded opposition-controlled areas of the divided city. Activists say the aerial assault has killed more than 400 people since it began Dec. 15. The campaign comes in the run-up to an international peace conference scheduled to start Jan. 22 in Switzerland to try to find a political solution to Syria’s civil war. Some observers say the Aleppo assault fits into Assad’s apparent strategy of trying to expose the opposition’s weakness to strengthen his own hand ahead of the negotiations.

The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OCPW) said Saturday that it did not expect to meet a December 31 deadline for transporting the most potent chemical weapons in the Syrian regime’s arsenal out of the country. Plans called for the weapons, which include around 20 tons of mustard gas, to be transported from 12 storage sites across Syria to the northern port of Latakia, where a Norwegian frigate would collect them. The weapons would then be taken to Italy, where a U.S. Navy will take the weapons into international waters and destroy them using a specially equipped titanium tank.


Iran is taking steps to improve its ability to speed up uranium enrichment that could delay implementation of a nuclear deal with six world powers because Tehran’s moves are opposed by the United States and its allies. Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said late Thursday that his country is building a new generation of centrifuges for uranium enrichment but they need further tests before they can be mass produced… But two officials familiar with Iran’s nuclear activities said Tehran has gone even further by interpreting a provision of the interim Geneva nuclear deal in a way rejected by many, if not all, of the six powers that sealed the Geneva deal with Iran.

  • Not the least bit surprising. Why does our government not realize that the Iranians can never be trusted?

South Sudan

Twenty-five thousand young men who make up a tribal militia known as the “White Army” are marching toward a contested state capital in South Sudan, an official said Saturday, dimming hopes for a cease-fire. The “White Army” gets its name from the white ash fighters put on their skin as protection from insects. Seeking an end to the nearly two-week crisis in which an estimated 1,000 people have been killed, leaders from across East Africa announced on Friday that South Sudan had agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” against forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, whom the government accuses of leading a coup attempt Dec. 15 that erupted into spiraling violence. But Machar rejected that, saying in an interview with the BBC that any cease-fire had to be negotiated by delegations from both sides. In addition to those killed, tens of thousands are seeking shelters at United Nations camps. East African nations had set Tuesday as a deadline for the two sides fighting in South Sudan to talk. Instead, they fought heavily in the key town of Bor, undermining efforts to bring more than two weeks of violence to an end.

Central African Republic

Heavy weapons fire rang out in the north of Central African Republic’s capital Bangui on Monday during inter-religious clashes and the Red Cross said at least four people were killed. French and African troops have struggled to contain violence between Muslim Seleka rebels and Christian militias that has already killed 1,000 people this month and displaced hundreds of thousands. The country’s Christian majority has complained of waves of looting and killing by Djotodia’s loose band of militias who seized power in March with the aid of fighters from Chad and Sudan. Violence intensified in early December after Christian militias launched reprisal attacks on Seleka forces, raising fears of generalized conflict in the country.


Two suicide bombings within 24 hours killed at least 31 people in the southern Russia city Volgograd, highlighting the terror threat Russia faces as it prepares to host the Winter Games in six weeks. A suicide bombing on a trolleybus early Monday killed 14 people, Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry says, a day after another suicide bombing killed at least 17 at a railway station in the city. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but they came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for attacks against civilian targets in Russia.


Authorities in western China said Monday that police fatally shot eight “terrorists” who had attacked them using knives and explosives in the latest in a string of violent incidents in the region. The group of nine attacked officers and burned police cars in Shache County, which is near the famed Silk Road city of Kashgar. It’s the latest outbreak of deadly unrest in Xinjiang, a large, resource-rich region that is home to the Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking, predominantly Muslim ethnic group.

China, which has the world’s largest number of smokers, appears to be making another effort at limiting smoking by banning officials from lighting up in public. Officials are not allowed to smoke in schools, hospitals, sports venues, on public transport or any other places where smoking is banned, or to smoke or offer cigarettes when performing official duties.


Something is killing starfish up and down the West Coast and no one knows what. A mysterious illness that first appeared in June in Washington state has now spread from Sitka, Alaska, to San Diego. Starfish first waste away and then “turn into goo,” divers say. Whatever is causing it can spread with astonishing speed — a healthy group of starfish can die in just 24 hours. “It’s widespread, it’s very virulent and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen in the past,” said Pete Raimondi, a marine ecologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz who is one of the lead researchers in an international effort to track the outbreak. The ailment seems to hit starfish the hardest, with smaller numbers of sea urchins and sea cucumbers reported falling to it. No one knows what percentage of the West Coast’s starfish are affected but in some areas they’ve been wiped out.

Sixteen bald eagles have died in north and central Utah this month from similar symptoms of a mystery illness, state wildlife officials said Friday. Wildlife officials have said the illness could be encephalitis, which is caused by West Nile Virus, though other experts said it seems too late in the year for that. The symptoms include head tremors, signs of seizures, weakness in legs and feet and a paralysis of the bird’s wings. The animals are being tested and officials hope for some preliminary results as soon as next week.


A rumbling volcano in western Indonesia that has been spewing lava and clouds of gas high into the sky let out a new, powerful burst Tuesday, prompting warnings for airplanes and triggering panic among villagers. Nine eruptions Tuesday sent lava and searing gas tumbling out of Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra province. The volcano started spitting clouds of gas and lava as high as 23,000 feet in the air late Monday, but no casualties were reported. More than 19,000 people have been evacuated from villages in a danger zone 3 miles around the crater.


Another Arctic blast has invaded parts of the Midwest, just in time to ring in 2014. In the wake of a strong cold front, bitterly cold temperatures have anchored themselves over the northern tier of the country. Sunday, Minneapolis saw a 32 degree temperature swing; starting the day at 29 degrees, at midnight, temperatures plummeted to 3 below zero by 10 a.m. And factoring in the winds, it felt closer to 20 below. The combination of the frigid air mass and gusty winds will drop wind chills as low as 30 below zero from the Dakotas into Minnesota and northern Wisconsin.

Thousands of residents were still without power Saturday from Michigan to Maine and were becoming more and more frustrated with each passing hour that their homes have remained dark and cold since before Christmas. They’re scrambling to buy or borrow generators to keep pipes from freezing. Some have fled their homes while others are choosing to stay or have nowhere else to go. With frigid temperatures descending upon the region, cold and weary utility crews worked Monday to finish restoring electricity for customers who’ve been in the dark for more than a week as another winter storm takes aim at the region.

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