Signs of the Tims (1/4/13)

Justice Sotomayor Delays Health Law’s Birth Control Mandate

Just before leading the New Year’s Eve countdown in New York City’s Times Square, and only hours before the law was to take effect, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor blocked implementation of portions of President Obama’s health care law that would have forced some religion-affiliated organizations to provide health insurance for employees that includes birth control. Sotomayor acted on a request from an order of Catholic nuns in Colorado, whose request for a stay had been denied by the lower courts.

  • More importantly is coverage for the Plan B abortion pill which then opens the door for wider abortion coverage.

First Abortion Clinic of 2014 Closes Following Record Closures in 2013

The Ft. Wayne Women’s Health Center in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, is the first surgical abortion clinic to officially shut down in 2014 following a record-breaking year where 87 surgical abortion clinics permanently closed.  Abortionist Ulrich G. Klopfer has told the press that the closure is a “hiatus” after he lost his hospital back-up physician and could not legally operate after January 1. However, there is reason to believe the closure could eventually become permanent. A closure notice appears on his web site and the phone number to his clinic has been disconnected, actions that usually indicate there is no intention of reopening.

Mennonite Church USA Ordains First Openly Homosexual Pastor

Mennonite Church USA has ordained its first openly homosexual pastor. According to Mennonite World Review, the Mountain States Conference, a division of the Mennonite Church USA, has approved the ministerial license of a Colorado woman who identifies as a lesbian. Theda Good, who is in a relationship with another woman, began serving with First Mennonite Church of Denver in 2012, and has a master’s degree from Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. Her church submitted a letter requesting her licensure last year, and the Conference had been reviewing the matter over a period of many months. “Much of the work centered around the consideration of a person whose gifts and call to ministry are clearly affirmed, yet is in a committed same-sex relationship, which varies from denominational statements,” the Conference outlined in a press release.

  • If it goes against denominational statements, why violate them? A watered-down Gospel is an affront to Jesus who warns “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18)

Movies with Strong Christian, Redemptive Content Make the Most Money

Two new long-term studies by Movieguide:  The Family Guide to Movies & Entertainment show that moviegoers prefer to see movies with strong Christian, redemptive worldviews and content. According to the 10-year study of all the major movies released by Hollywood and the major independent studios, movies with very strong Christian worldviews averaged $73.27 million at the box office, but movies with very strong Non-Christian worldviews averaged only $21.01 million. “Media pundits don’t realize that the public prefers to see movies with positive Christian content and values,” said Dr. Ted Baehr, founder and publisher of Movieguide.

Obamacare Debuts with More Canceled Plans than Enrollments

At the end of 2013, more than 4.7 million Americans had their health insurance canceled as a result of the thousand-plus-page Affordable Care Act’s many new rules, the Associated Press reported. But the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed Tuesday that between federal and state exchanges, just 2 million Americans have signed up for Obamacare coverage. The health-care law requires that all insurance plans cover 10 “essential benefits,” eliminating millions of plans that don’t fit the bill and boosting costs for consumers that have to purchase coverage for services they may not want or need.

White House Denies Goal of 7 Million Healthcare Enrollees

A White House adviser backpedaled Tuesday on the target for ObamaCare enrollment, saying the widely cited goal of enrolling 7 million people by the end of March was “never our target number” — though Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius repeatedly has cited the figure. The Congressional Budget Office estimated earlier this year that 7 million people would likely sign up for health insurance under the new law by the end of open enrollment, and Sebelius has stated the administration’s goal was 7 million enrollees more than once. “That was never our target number,” Schiliro said. However, Sebelius told a group of reporters in June the 7 million number was a “realistic target” for sign-ups, and she reiterated that goal in a September interview with NBC News.

  • If the facts are discomforting, change them

ObamaCare Foul-ups Lead to Chaos at Hospitals

As expected, it’s chaos in the hospitals, as the disastrous system Barack Obama inflicted on America leaves medical staff uncertain whether patients have valid insurance after the first three days of the new coverage going into effect. Hospital staff in Northern Virginia turned away sick people on a frigid Thursday morning because they couldn’t determine whether their Obamacare insurance plans were valid. Patients in a close-in DC suburb who think they’ve signed up for new insurance plans are struggling to show their December enrollments are in force, and health care administrators aren’t taking their word for it. ‘The people in there told me that since I didn’t have an insurance card, I would be billed for the whole cost of the x-ray,’ Maria Galvez said, her young daughter in tow. ‘It’s not fair – you know, I signed up last week like I was supposed to.’

  • So now we move from website glitches to more significant coverage issues as the federal government proves once again that it knows how to make laws but not how to manage complex businesses

Harvard Study: Obamacare Drives up ER Visits

The number of costly emergency room visits is set to soar under Obamacare, according to a  “gold standard” Harvard study, which directly contradicts claims by President Barack Obama that his healthcare law would cut ER trips. The millions of people who have just been enrolled in Medicaid will go to ERs on a regular basis instead of their local doctors, according to the research. Obama had said that his signature healthcare reform law would help cut back on government spending by reducing trips to the ER. The study, published in the journal Science and released on Thursday, shows that the nearly 4 million new patients subsidized by government under the expansion of Medicaid are more likely to end up seeking treatment in emergency rooms for non-emergency health problems than before they entered the program.

Sen. Rand Paul Launches Class-Action Lawsuit against NSA Spying

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is suing the Obama administration over the National Security Agency’s spying practices in an effort to “protect the Fourth Amendment,” he announced Friday. Paul said he began collecting signatures about six months ago, and says it’s “kind of an unusual class-action suit” because everyone in America who has a cell phone is eligible to join in the legal action, he said. He added that Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of Virginia who ran for governor last year, is part of the initiative’s legal team. “We’re hoping, with his help, that we can get a hearing in court, and ultimately get [it] all the way to the Supreme Court.”

New York Gun Law Is Largely Upheld by a Federal Judge

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that New York’s expanded ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines was constitutional, but struck down a provision forbidding gun owners from loading their firearms with more than seven rounds. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers passed the new legislation, among the most restrictive in the country, in January in response to the mass shooting last December at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The judge, William M. Skretny of Federal District Court in Buffalo, called the seven-round limit “an arbitrary restriction” that violated the Second Amendment.

Murder Totals Down Sharply in Some U.S. Big Cities

Homicide in America last year was a tale of two cities: those where it plummeted and those where it soared. Murder declined in some places with which it was once synonymous, such as Chicago (down 17% from 2012), Philadelphia (down 25%), Los Angeles (16%) and New York (20%). Chicago’s total was the lowest since 1965, Philadelphia’s the lowest since 1967, L.A.’s the lowest since 1966. New York logged the lowest total at least since 1963. Homicides declined in some of the nation’s most troubled cities, including bankrupt Detroit (from 386 to 333) and Camden, N.J. (from 67 to 57). However, homicides increased in other cities, including Washington D.C., Baltimore, which saw the most murders in a decade; and Newark.

Obama Calls for Restoring Unemployment Benefits

President Barack Obama is urging Congress to reinstate jobless benefits for more than a million Americans. In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama says the unemployment insurance is a “vital economic lifeline” for many people. And he says failure to reinstate the benefits will cause the economy to slow for all Americans. A bipartisan proposal in the Senate would restore the benefits for three months. Obama says if lawmakers pass the measure, he will sign it. The measure passed the House in December.

  • Obama fails to mention that these are the extended benefits enacted during the last recession. Regular unemployment benefits are still in place. These benefits have masked the underlying weakness of the economy which Obama is loath to see surface during his term in office.

Bernanke: Recovery ‘Remains Incomplete’

“The recovery clearly remains incomplete,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said, in what sounded like a swan song speech at the American Economic Association’s annual meeting in Philadelphia, Friday. Bernanke’s term officially ends on January 31, at which point Fed Vice-Chair Janet Yellen is expected to take the helm. (The Senate is scheduled to vote on her confirmation Monday evening). Among the unfinished business that concerns Bernanke: the unemployment rate at 7% “still is elevated,” he said. Meanwhile, participation in the labor market has continued to decline, partly because workers remain discouraged about their job prospects. As of December, only 63% of Americans over age 16 participated in the job market — meaning they either had a job or looked for one. Before the recession, it was around 66%.

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dipped 2,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, evidence that layoffs are low and hiring will likely remain steady. The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average rose 8,500 to 357,250. The average was driven up in recent weeks by spikes that reflected seasonal volatility around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The job market has picked up in recent months. Employers have added an average of 200,000 jobs a month from August through November. That’s helped lower the unemployment rate to a five-year low of 7%.

Home prices in most U.S. cities are increasing more slowly than earlier in the year, and consumer confidence is rising, in dual signs that expectations of a stronger economy in 2014 are taking root. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index rose 6.1 points in December, to 78,1, recouping almost all of the drop it sustained during the October government shutdown. Separately, the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 0.2% from September to October. Monthly price gains slowed in 18 of the 20 cities tracked by the index, Prices have risen 13.6% over the past 12 months, the fastest since Feb. 2006.

After three decades of steady gains, bonds had a bad year. Prices for Treasuries and other kinds of bonds slumped as the U.S. economy improved, investors’ nerves steadied and the Federal Reserve prepared to pull back on its huge bond-buying program. Gold was another investment that went from haven to headache. The price of gold gained steadily for more than a decade, driven by concerns about the health of the U.S. economy and rising inflation. The metal plunged in 2013 as the U.S. maintained its recovery and inflation was nowhere in sight. However, stocks did well with the Dow spiking 26.5%, the S&P 500 soaring 29.6% and the Nasdaq surging by 38.3% for the year.

Oil prices finished the year up 7% with much of the gain coming this month on signs that an improving U.S. economy is leading to greater demand for gasoline and diesel fuel. As of Jan 1, U.S. drivers are paying an average of $3.32 for a gallon of gasoline, about the same as at the end of 2012, when gas was $3.29 per gallon. But gas was less volatile this year, peaking at $3.79 in February, compared with a high of $3.94 in April of last year. Drivers fueled up for the lowest price in three years during 2013, according to AAA, and even lower prices are expected in 2014. The motorist group reports that the national average price for a gallon of regular gas was $3.49 in 2013. That’s down about 12 cents from the record price set in 2012 and is a couple of cents cheaper than 2011.

The auto industry topped 15 million vehicles in a year for the first time since 2007. Sales were strong across the industry in 2013, with every major automaker reporting improved sales. U.S. sales reached 15.6 million for the year, up 7.6% from 2012. The results cap a five-year turn around for the industry, lifting sales a full 50% above the dark days of 2009, when GM and Chrysler tumbled into bankruptcy and required federal bailouts.

Persecution Watch

Iran, a country notorious for its persecution of religious minorities, has recently taken another step in its campaign against Christians. According to CNS News, the Iranian government is attempting to curb religious freedom by cracking down on minority groups. Iranian Christians, already a minority in the Muslim dominated country, is composed mostly of Armenians and Assyrians who attend a mixture of Catholic and Protestant denominations. Most of the churches attended by these ethnic groups have been closed, while others have announced they are being forced to close. “Since 2011, pressure and restrictions on Iranian churches have increased dramatically,” it said. “Many Christians, especially newly converted Christians, have faced imprisonment, pressure and harassment in the past few years. Iranian intelligence and security forces have recently focused their efforts to close down more churches around the country.”

International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that twelve Christians were brutally murdered by suspected Boko Haram militants in northern Nigeria last weekend. According to reports, these Christians were killed in two attacks on separate Christian villages in Nigeria’s Muslim majority state of Borno. The first attack took place on Saturday, December 28, in the Christian village of Tashan-Alede where eight people attending a wedding celebration were killed when militants connected with Boko Haram opened fire on the Christians gathered. On December 29, the day after the attack on Tashan-Alede, suspected militants killed four more Christians when they attacked the neighboring village of Kwajffa. The attacks on minority Christian villages in the predominantly Muslim region came hours after the leader of the Boko Haram terrorist network, Abubakar Shekau, clearly stated that his war is against Christians.

Clashes between Muslims and Christians in Central African Republic’s capital killed at least three on Wednesday as angry residents threw grenades and torched homes. French and African troops deployed in the country have struggled to stop the tit-for-tat violence between Muslim Seleka rebels, who seized power in March, and Christian self-defense militia, clashes that killed more than 1,000 people in December. Residents of Bangui said that Seleka forces wearing civilian clothes threw grenades at Christian houses in a northern district of the city, setting them alight. Christian youths then launched reprisal attacks, burning nearby Muslim homes.

  • Christians should avoid reprisal attacks for two reasons; 1) “Vengeance is mine” says the Lord God in three Scriptures (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19, Hebrews 10:30); 2) The reprisals enable the initial perpetrators to get in a ‘you started it’ war of words that makes both look culpable to the world at large, the basic problem Israel faces.

Egypt

About 200 demonstrators in Egypt clashed with security forces and local residents Wednesday, leaving two dead in Alexandria, the country’s second-largest city. A crackdown by authorities on Muslim Brotherhood rallies in the coastal city left two demonstrators dead and two policemen wounded. During the demonstrations, protestors cut off roads, threw Molotov cocktails, set fires, damaged private cars, and fired birdshot pellets, and clashed with local residents. The Muslim Brotherhood, which was recently designated a terrorist organization by Egypt’s military-backed government, claimed security forces had opened fire on demonstrators.

Lebanon

At least four people were killed and 77 injured when a car bomb exploded in a residential neighborhood in southern Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday. The district, Haret Hreik, is known as a Hezbollah stronghold. The car bomb exploded near Al-Jawad restaurant, about 55 yards from a building used by Hezbollah. There has not yet been any claim of responsibility for the blast. The explosion comes less than a week after a car bomb exploded in downtown Beirut, killing half a dozen people and injuring dozens.

South Sudan

Anti-government rebels in South Sudan took control of nearly all of a strategic city on Tuesday. Around 1,000 people have died so far in hostilities that erupted on Dec. 15 between the government of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel forces led by the country’s former vice president, Riek Machar. Over 100,000 South Sudanese refugees who have crossed the border to Uganda and Kenya to escape the hostilities, according to the United Nations. Another 80,000 are displaced inside South Sudan, including in UN bases. Most are women and children. The UN has warned of a major humanitarian crisis in East Africa unless the international community provides at least $166 million in aid for the refugees.

Somalia

A double car bomb attack outside of a hotel in Somalia’s capital Wednesday night killed at least one person and injured up to a dozen others. The first suicide car bomb exploded outside the main gate of the Jazeera Palace Hotel, with the second blast from a parked car following as first responders began gathering to evacuate the injured. Three of the wounded were security personnel stationed outside the gate. At the time of the Mogadishu blasts, there were several senior members of the Somali government inside the Jazeera hotel. It is believed the injured guards were part of the security detail of government officials.

Environment

A southeastern North Dakota town narrowly escaped tragedy when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded nearby, the mayor said Tuesday, calling for changes in how the fuel is transported across the U.S. No one was hurt in Monday’s derailment of the mile-long train that sent a great fireball and plumes of black smoke skyward about a mile from the small town of Casselton. Most residents heeded a recommendation to evacuate their homes as strong winds blew potentially hazardous, acrid smoke toward the town overnight. The fire had been so intense as darkness fell that investigators couldn’t get close enough to count the number of burning cars. The National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation.

Earthquakes

Iran State TV says a magnitude 5.5 earthquake has killed one person and injured 30 in a small town in southern Iran. It says the quake struck early Thursday morning in the town of Bastak, about 750 miles south of the capital, Tehran. It says many of the town buildings were damaged and that rescue workers were on the scene. Sixteen of the injured remain in hospital while fourteen have been released after assistance. It also reported several aftershocks in the region of about 50,000 residents.

Weather

A massive winter storm pounded the Northeast early Friday with heavy winds and driving snow, shutting down Boston’s airport, and prompting cancellations of thousands of flights as well as state emergency declarations in New York and New Jersey. The onslaught was forecast to continue Friday with more heavy snow, howling winds and bitterly cold temperatures. The National Weather Service said 21 inches of snow had fallen in Boxford, just north of Boston. Parts of Upstate New York had 18 inches. Six inches of snow had fallen on Central Park by 7 a.m. and it was 10 degrees in New York City. At least 15 deaths were blamed on the storm as it swept across the nation’s eastern half.

Nationwide the arctic air was affecting 22 states and on Thursday more than 3,000 flights were cancelled because of the weather and over 10,000 flights were delayed. The worst weather is expected along coastal New England and on Long Island, where blizzard warnings are in effect until late Friday. Looking ahead, one of coldest Arctic outbreaks in the past two decades is ready to plunge into the nation’s Midwest, while also sweeping its shivering air into the East and South.

Areas of Britain on Friday were bracing for severe flooding and what Environment Secretary Owen Paterson called “exceptional weather” that may last through the weekend. The Environment Agency issued nearly two dozen severe flood warnings as strong winds and heavy rain combined with higher than normal tides to present what the government agency says is a “danger to life” in parts of the southwest and Wales. Hundreds of lower-level warnings are also in place across the United Kingdom, with the Devon and Cornwall coasts thought to be particularly at risk of severe flooding.

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