Signs of the Times (1/31/14)

Pro-Life Groups Boycott Girl Scout Cookies over Abortion Ties

National pro-life groups have banded together to launch a boycott of the sales of Girl Scout cookies over the ties the organization has to the Planned Parenthood abortion business and how it has promoted pro-abortion groups and activists. The pro-life movement has been concerned for a number of years about the ties between the Girl Scouts and the Planned Parenthood abortion business.  Although the Girl Scout organization maintains that it takes “no position” on the issue of abortion, parents, churches, and pro-life activists have long complained of the pro-abortion slant of the Girl Scouts’ resources, role models, and affiliations. LifeNews is a part of the coalition of pro-life organizations that are boycotting sales of the cookies along with American Life League, the Pro-Life Action League, the Radiance Foundation, blogger Jill Stanek, the National Black Pro-Life Union, the Issues4Life Foundation, and Life Coalition International.

The Liar-in-Chief At it Again

The mainstream media once again failed to hold President Obama accountable for the lies he told during Tuesday evening’s State of the Union address. Here are the two biggest ones:

  • The president said, “The more than eight million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.” The data actually show that since the start of his presidency, about 3.2 million jobs have been created — and the number of jobs in the economy still is about 1.2 million lower than when the recession began in December 2007.
  • Obama said, “More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.” However, he carefully did not say these numbers are the result of the Affordable Care Act, but he certainly left that impression. But the Medicaid part of this number — 6.3 million from October through December — is very fuzzy and not directly attributable to ObamaCare. Even the private insurance numbers — about 3 million — are also open to question. The troubled federal exchange counts people as enrolled if an individual has selected a plan, but it does not know if a person enrolled and paid a premium because that part of the system has yet to be built.

Obama Vows to Act Alone

President Obama’s State of the Union address represented a study in scaled-down ambition, noted the New York Times. A man who entered the White House yearning for sweeping achievements finds himself five years later threatening an end run around gridlock on Capitol Hill by using executive orders, essentially acknowledging both the limits of his ability to push an agenda through Congress and the likelihood that future accomplishments would be narrow. Obama vowed to tackle economic inequality with a series of limited initiatives on jobs, wages and retirement that he will enact without legislative approval. However, executive orders like the one he will employ to raise the minimum wage paid by federal contractors may be the only route available to the president. But only so much can be delivered through the president’s pen if he is not using it to sign legislation. He cannot raise the minimum wage for most workers, overhaul the Social Security system, grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, reorder spending and taxes, or even make necessary fixes to the health care law.

  • If it weren’t for a more conservative House of Representatives, we would be awash in new government-expanding, freedom-limiting, debt-ridden legislation

Al Gore Proposes ‘Fertility Management’ to Fight Global Warming

The globalists want to control every aspect of your life and will use whatever lie they can come up with as an excuse. Former Vice President Al Gore raised eyebrows last week when he suggested that “fertility management” was the key to fighting global warming and promoting economic development in poor countries. Gore’s comments drew criticism from free-marketers who said his remarks amount to “eco-imperialism.” The world is expected to have more than 9 billion people by 2075, with much of that growth coming from developing countries in Africa. This is alarming to environmental activists like Gore, who argues that “fertility management” is needed to address a whole slew of global development issues, including mitigating global warming.

  • An outgrowth of Agenda 21 and ‘sustainable development,’ the global elite value ‘mother nature’ more that human life and see the masses as objects to be manipulated, controlled or simply thrown away

Labor Unions ‘Bitterly Disappointed’ with Proposed ObamaCare Regulations

Leaders of major labor unions are pushing back against proposed regulatory changes that could affect some union-sponsored health plans under ObamaCare, arguing the proposals do nothing to help workers suffering under the law. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the presidents of two high-profile labor unions said they are “bitterly disappointed” with the administration’s proposed rules. Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and D. Taylor, president of Unite Here said the administration has failed to address their concerns about union plans and that ObamaCare threatens to lower the standard of living for the working class. Labor unions have complained the law will drive up the costs of certain health plans that are jointly administered by unions and smaller employers.

Short List of Health Care Providers Frustrating ObamaCare Enrollees

Some Arizonans who secured health coverage through the federal marketplace are now finding that their new plans drastically limit the providers they can use. Metro Phoenix and Tucson residents who signed up for plans with so-called narrow networks have discovered fewer options for primary-care doctors, specialists, hospitals, pharmacies, labs and clinics. And some rural Arizonans purchasing the least-expensive plan in their communities have discovered that the nearest participating doctor is 200 miles away. These plans pay little or nothing of the overall bill if customers go outside the network.

Senate Republicans Pitch ObamaCare Alternative

Seizing on the public’s continued anxiety over the ObamaCare rollout, a trio of Republican senators on Monday unveiled a sweeping alternative proposal they say would gut the law’s mandates and taxes while preserving consumer protections. The GOP proposal, dubbed the Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility and Empowerment Act, would repeal the president’s marquee legislative achievement while instituting new reforms the senators say would give states and individuals more flexibility and purchasing power. The Republican proposal would address the issue of pre-existing conditions by creating a new “continuous coverage” standard that would prevent any individual moving from one insurance plan to another from being denied on the basis of a pre-existing condition so long as that individual was continuously enrolled in a health plan. The requirements on individuals to buy insurance, and on mid-sized and large businesses to provide it, would be repealed.

House GOP Releases Plan for Immigration Reform

Republican House leaders released long-awaited guidelines for overhauling the nation’s immigration system Thursday, drawing measured praise from reform supporters for opening the door to negotiations with Democrats that could lead to passage of a bill this year. But the guidelines also set off a fiery debate among immigration advocates. On one side are those who are willing to settle for the GOP’s offer of legalization for undocumented immigrants but no special pathway to citizenship. On the other are those who insist any immigration reform bill must ultimately include citizenship. That debate is expected to grow louder as Republicans move from translating the guidelines into actual legislation that will need the support of both Republicans and Democrats to pass.

NSA Snooping via Online Games, Google Maps

The NSA and its British counterpart are tapping popular smartphone apps such as Angry Birds to peek into the tremendous amounts of very personal data those bits of software collect — including age, location, sex and even sexual preferences, according to new reports from the New York Times and The Guardian. Citing confidential documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the reports detail efforts to supplement data collection from cell phone carriers and smartphones by tapping into “leaky” apps themselves. That information can come from a user profile, which may contain martial status — options included “single,” “married,” “divorced,” “swinger” and more, the report said.

Western U.S. Residents Face Threat of Water Rationing

For years, experts have been warning people in the American West they will have to make do with less water in the future. That dryer future already may have arrived. This year, for the first time in history, lower flows in the Colorado River have prompted the federal government to reduce the amount of water flowing into Lake Mead reservoir outside Las Vegas. Bureau of Reclamation officials say if the river’s level doesn’t increase soon, there’s a 50 percent chance that by next year, residents in Arizona, southern Nevada and California will have to start rationing water. Seven states and Mexico have more than 30 million people who rely on the use of Colorado River water for municipal, agricultural and industrial purposes.

Economic News

The economy grew 3.2 percent in the final quarter of 2013, shrugging off the effects of the fall’s government shutdown and debt standoff, and raising hopes that the recovery is finally getting more robust. The pace of expansion in October, November and December slowed a bit from the third quarter, when the economy grew at an annual rate of 4.1 percent.

President Obama said during his State of the Union Address Tuesday evening that he will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. Obama said it’s a new savings bond which encourages people to build a nest egg that “guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in.” Obama also wants to reform unemployment insurance, but first he said Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance it let expire for 1.6 million people.

  • A guaranteed, no risk investment? From the government? There is no such thing, especially in the financial chaos to come

While President Barack Obama’s attempts to increase the nation’s minimum wage through legislation have stalled in Congress, the White House announced that Obama will issue an executive order to increase the minimum wage for new federal contract workers. The action will cover all workers employed under future government contracts, ensuring that none is paid less than $10.10 an hour. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25.

Despite a slowdown in job growth last month and recent financial turmoil in emerging markets, the Fed said it will pare its bond-buying program by $10 billion for the second straight month. Fed policymakers said the central bank will buy $65 billion a month in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, down from $75 billion. In December, Fed policymakers took their first step in tapering the program begun in September 2012, reducing the bond-buying from $85 billion a month.

The January cold snap in the east and south has already set seven of the top 10 all-time demand days for natural gas. About half the U.S. households use natural gas as their primary heat source. Natural gas for February delivery rose 3.8% to $5.03 per million British thermal units Tuesday. Last year, prices averaged $3.73 per million Btus.

U.S. government agents have arrested Charlie Shrem, the CEO of Bitcoin exchange BitInstant, charging him with laundering money for customers of online drug bazaar Silk Road. Shrem, 24, is a major player in the Bitcoin world, but was forced to resign from the Bitcoin foundation. The BitInstant exchange, based in New York City, lets people buy bitcoins locally at more than 700,000 locations in the United States, as well as Brazil, Russia and elsewhere.

  • Bitcoin is popular among smugglers, drug dealers, money launderers and gamblers due to its anonymity

Persecution Watch

As the Syrian civil war presses on, the minority Christian community in the country is seeing an increase in attacks targeted specifically at them, according to leading clergy officials in Syria. Christians make up roughly 10 percent of Syria’s population. Bishop Dionysius Jean Kawa, a high-ranking bishop, for the Syrian Orthodox Church, says his religious community has come under increasing attack: “At the beginning of the Syrian crisis we didn’t have a real problem against Christians, but nowadays because of the growing radical groups, Christians are being targeted.”

Twenty-two Christians were killed in an assault on a Catholic Church service in northeastern Nigeria. The attack is thought to have been perpetrated by the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, which the Nigerian government has struggling to contain in the country’s northern and central states. On Sunday morning, suspected militants armed with guns and explosives attacked a Catholic church located in Waga Chakawa village in Nigeria’s northeastern state, Adamawa. The attackers set off bombs prior to opening fire on the Christian congregation. After assailing the church, the militants burned down houses and took local Christian residents hostage during a four-hour siege with local authorities.

Religious tensions are on the rise in Malaysia after a church was bombed early Monday morning. Police say that men on motorcycles threw Molotov cocktails into the church as they drove past. No one was injured. On Sunday, officials at the Penang church found a banner hung on the church fence stating, “Jesus is the son of Allah.” Church leaders believe the banner was hung by individuals trying to provoke further tension over the use of the word Allah, a controversial topic in Malaysia. The Malaysian government says Allah should be exclusively used by Muslims – they fear that use by non-Muslims might spark confusion and even conversions. But Christians in Malaysia are accustomed to using the same word for God, and they say the restriction is a violation of their rights. In recent weeks the Islamic authorities have seized over 300 Bibles written in Malay simply because of use of the world Allah. Of Malaysia’s population of 29 million people, around 60 percent of Malaysia’s are Muslims. Christians comprise about 9 percent of the population.

More than 2,000 Christians gathered in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Sunday (January 26) to protest against a perceived lack of religious freedom following recent attacks on Christian places of worship by Buddhist extremists. Two churches and a Christian prayer center were attacked on Jan. 12 by Buddhist mobs claiming they were illegal and aiming to take Buddhists away from their religion.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian diplomats and military officials refused to meet with a bipartisan delegation of senior congressional staffers who visited the Middle Eastern country last week, an unusual snub that suggests increased tension between the U.S. and a key ally. The delegation asked to meet with representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and Defense Ministry during the week-long trip, but the Saudis denied both requests. The rejection is especially unusual because the Saudis paid for the delegation’s visit, but did not allow them to talk to their most natural counterparts in the Saudi Arabian government.

Afghanistan

The U.S. government is keeping tens of millions of dollars flowing to Afghanistan despite a pair of private audits that found Afghan ministries could not properly account for the funds, according to a pointed watchdog report released on Thursday. According to the report, USAID has committed just more than $1 billion to Afghanistan. The lengthy study from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction revealed that the audits produced 696 recommendations, with 41 percent labeled as “critical” or “high risk.” The U.S. agency administering the funds, USAID, worked to address some of these — but despite the report’s conclusion that  it would not approve direct aid “under normal circumstances,” the money continued to flow. The report revealed glaring holes in the system that allow money to pour in with questionable accountability.

Iraq

Iraqi police have won back full control of a ministry building stormed by gunmen who took civil servants hostage, the Interior Ministry and security sources said Thursday. Six gunmen were killed in the police operation to retake the Ministry of Transport in northeast Baghdad. Police killed four militants, while two of the militants detonated suicide vests. Two police officers were killed and seven injured in the attack. The hostages were freed unharmed.

Ukraine

Ukraine’s parliament voted Tuesday to repeal harsh anti-protest laws just hours after Prime Minister Mykola Azarov submitted his resignation in a bid to end anti-government protests that have gripped the country since November. The protesters were demanding that every member of the current authority resigns from every position. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his government Tuesday, Anti-government, pro-Western street demonstrations have been taking place in Kiev since November 21 after Yanukovych shelved a long-planned political and economic treaty with the European Union and accepted a bailout from Russian President Vladimir Putin instead.

Nigeria

Suspected Boko Haram militants opened fire on a village market and burned homes in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno late Sunday, killing at least 45 people and injuring 26 others. The gunmen arrived in the village of Kawuri in all-terrain vehicles, shot people at the market while traders were closing shop for the day, and burned a number of thatched homes. Bombs were also used in the attacks, possibly planted ahead of time. Boko Haram is an Islamist militant group that has waged a campaign of violence in northeastern Nigeria, trying to impose a strict version of Sharia, or Islamic law.

Weather

Below-average temperatures have been a common occurrence all January from the Upper Midwest to the Great Lakes, Northeast and the South. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the West has seen temperatures well above average in January. January is closing out just like it began with frigid temperatures east of the Rockies. This latest widespread surge of Arctic air began to dive into the Upper Midwest on Sunday, sending temperatures plummeting. On Tuesday morning, the cold air mass set daily record lows in Detroit (-10 degrees), Dayton, Ohio (-13 degrees – tie), Grand Rapids, Mich. (-9 degrees) and Lubbock, Texas (6 degrees).

A wet winter storm covered much of the Deep South with snow and ice Tuesday, prompting airlines to cancel thousands of flights while snarling traffic, triggering accidents and sending temperatures down into the teens. The winter storm delivered a long swath of snow and ice from parts of Texas to the coastal Southeast, coastal Mid-Atlantic and Northeast early Tuesday morning. In parts of the South where snow and ice fell Tuesday into Tuesday night, significant travel problems will continue into Wednesday. Streets, highways, Interstates were gridlocked with people in cars and trucks stranded on the ice for 8, 10, 12 hours. In Atlanta, seven students were still making their way home on a school bus at 5:30 a.m. ET Wednesday morning — a full 16 hours after school let out. Many motorists simply abandoned their vehicles.

Emergency officials said Wednesday that numerous bridges in the western Panhandle could remain closed through Thursday because of the icy conditions. The region hasn’t seen snow and ice for years. Treacherous travel conditions will last through Thursday morning in Savannah, Ga. because of black ice. Savannah-Chatham schools remained closed for students Thursday. While airports across the southeastern United States continued to dig out from Tuesday’s snowstorm, Wednesday turned into a long day of cancellations and delays for frustrated travelers. Airlines had canceled more than 2,200 U.S. flights by Wednesday at 5 p.m. That follows about 3,200 flight cancellations on Tuesday. The remnants of the winter storm have finally pushed off the East Coast, but lingering snow and ice means some Southern schools will be canceled again Friday. Meanwhile, another winter storm will spread a wintry mess to over 30 states from the mountain West to New England.

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