Signs of the Times (1/3/15)

73 Abortion Facilities Shut Down in 2014

A new survey by Operation Rescue shows that there is a pro-life trend in the United States; 73 abortion clinics were closed for all or part of the year in 2014. According to the survey, 739 abortion facilities remain in the U.S.; the facility closings outweighed the openings, as 15 clinics opened this year. Operation Rescue President Troy Newman said, “We are continuing to witness the implosion of the abortion cartel in America. The only things that are preventing total collapse are court injunctions that are blocking several state abortion safety laws from being enforced. Once those laws clear the courts, we expect to see even more dangerous abortion facilities close.”

U.S. Sends 5 Gitmo Prisoners to Kazakhstan

The United States transferred five prisoners from its Guantanamo Bay prison to Kazakhstan overnight Tuesday, the Pentagon announced, amid renewed Obama administration efforts to close the controversial facility. This brings the total number of Gitmo transfers this year to 28. The prison that has held nearly 800 prisoners over the years began 2104 with 155 detainees; the prison population is now down to 127, an 18% decrease. This is the first time Kazakhstan has accepted detainees. President Obama has vowed to re-double efforts to close the facility that he says inspires anti-U.S. jihadists across the globe, and costs millions of American dollars per year to operate. Congressional Republicans have objected to Obama’s plans, saying many of the detainees transferred out of Gitmo return to the battlefield to fight the U.S. and its allies.

Obama Sanctions North Korea for Hacking

President Obama signed an executive order Friday imposing new sanctions against North Korea in retaliation for that nation’s suspected role in cyber-attacks and threats against the movie industry. In signing the new sanctions order from his vacation home in Hawaii, Obama cited “the provocative, destabilizing, and repressive actions and policies of the Government of North Korea, including its destructive, coercive cyber-related actions during November and December 2014.” This is the first time a country has been sanctioned for a cyber-attack against U.S. business interests. The new measures come on top of previous sanctions designed to punish North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. The executive order is written so broadly that it can be used against any official or agent of the North Korean government, its ruling Korean Workers’ Party, or anyone inside or outside of Korea who provides support to the regime. The sanctions allow the Treasury Department to block their assets or deny them entry into the United States.

Obama Readies another 2,375 New Regulations- Sets Record

The pace of agencies issuing new rules and regulations has hit a record high under President Obama, whose administration’s rules have filled 468,500 pages in the Federal Register. And, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the president is poised to unleash another 2,375 new rules on American businesses without first giving Congress an up or down vote. The Federal Register is a daily publication of federal issues proposed and final administrative regulations of federal agencies.

Oversight Report Finds Major Problems with DHS

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn released his final oversight report on the Department of Homeland Security, which has found major problems at DHS. The report finds that Homeland Security is not successfully executing any of its five main missions. The report found that 700 miles of the nation’s southern border remain unsecured. The DHS is not effectively administering or enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, while only 3 in 100 illegal immigrants will ever face deportation. The report also found that the DHS spends more than $700 million annually to lead the federal government’s efforts on cybersecurity, but struggles to protect itself, federal and civilian networks from the most serious cyberattacks. DHS spent $50 billion over the past 11 years on counterterrorism programs, but cannot demonstrate if the nation is more secure as a result.

Obamacare Employer Mandate Effective as of Jan. 1st

Obamacare’s insurance mandate on employers will quietly take effect for large companies Thursday, one year later than planned after a pair of unilateral delays fed into Republican claims the White House plays fast and loose with the implementation of its signature law. Starting in 2015, companies with 100 or more workers have to provide affordable insurance to at least 70 percent of their employees or pay heavy fines under the so-called “employer mandate.” Employers with 50-100 workers will have to comply starting in 2016, at which point all affected employers must insure at least 95 percent of their employees. Employers with fewer than 50 workers are exempt from the mandate.

Healthcare Deductibles Crippling the Middle Class

U.S. physicians are witnessing a reversal of health care fortunes: Poor, long-uninsured patients are getting Medicaid through Obamacare and finally coming in for care. But middle-class workers are increasingly staying away. A recent Commonwealth Fund survey found that four in 10 working-age adults skipped some kind of care because of the cost. The portion of workers with annual deductibles — what consumers must pay before insurance kicks in — rose from 55% eight years ago to 80% today, according to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And a Mercer study showed that 2014 saw the largest one-year increase in enrollment in “high-deductible plans” — from 18% to 23% of all covered employees. Meanwhile the size of the average deductible more than doubled in eight years, from $584 to $1,217 for individual coverage. Add to this co-pays, co-insurance and the price of drugs or procedures not covered by plans — and it’s all too much for many Americans.

Random Gene Mutations Primary Cause of Cancer

Roughly “two-thirds of cancer incidence” in adults can be attributed to random mutations in genes capable of driving cancer growth says a Johns Hopkins Medicine research study. Johns Hopkins anticipates that the study will change the way people think about cancer risk factors. They also believe it could lead to changes in the funding of cancer studies, with a greater focus on finding ways to detect those cancers attributed to random mutations in genes at early, curable stages. “The remaining third (of cancer incidences) are due to environmental factors and inherited genes,” Lung cancer is one of them. So is skin cancer. And some cancers are more strongly influenced by genetic heritage than others.

Flu Season May be Brutal

We’re in the midst of what looks like a “very early and pretty aggressive flu season,” according to Michael Smith, a doctor and chief medical editor for WebMD. Flu season occurs during the colder months of the year and typically peaks between December and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This season is looking particularly bad because the predominant strain, H3N2, is not covered by the current flu vaccine and tends to have more severe symptoms, Smith said. H3N2 accounted for the majority of the strains tested by the CDC so far this season. The H3N2 flu strain isn’t uncommon; it’s just not what was predicted when the flu vaccine was created,

Economic News

Consumer confidence bounced back in December on plunging gasoline prices, rising stocks and strong job growth. A closely watched index of consumers’ outlook rose to 92.6 from 91.0 in November, the Conference Board reported. The measure unexpectedly fell last month after reaching a seven-year high in October.

U.S. home prices rose in October at a slightly slower pace, as real estate sales have fallen and affordability has increasingly become a challenge for potential buyers. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index increased 4.5% in October from 12 months prior. This marks the eleventh straight month of decelerating price gains and the smallest gain since October 2012. The slowdown in price growth comes after surging double-digit increases for much of 2013. The Case-Shiller index covers roughly half of U.S. homes.

The Commerce Department says construction spending slipped 0.3% in November, after having climbed 1.2% in October. Much of the decline came from a 1.7% retreat in government expenditures. Publicly-built school spending fell 2.5%, while the transportation, health care and public safety sectors also fell. Private construction spending rose a modest 0.3% in November. Total construction spending jumped 2.4% from a year ago.

U.S. factory activity grew at the slowest pace in six months in December, weakened by declines in orders and production. The manufacturing index fell to 55.5 in December from 58.7 in November. Any reading above 50 signals expansion.

Many Americans will get quite a shock when they open their electricity bills this winter. New England residents will see the steepest hikes — with rates as much as 37% above last winter’s prices. California giant Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will charge customers about 6% more this year, on top of a nearly 4% hike enacted in October. The problem: Many coal- and oil-fired power plants have closed in recent years and now more than half of the region’s electricity is produced from natural gas.

Red meat prices soared by more than 10% in 2014, and are expected to jump by another 5% this year, according to a recent forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lean ground beef sold for an average of $6.04 a pound in November — a nearly 45% increase from two years earlier. The culprit: a 2012 drought that caused prices for corn — a common ingredient in animal feed — to soar in the U.S. As a result, many ranchers were forced to reduce the size of their herds.

Despite some dips – and scares – along the way, U.S. stocks had another record-breaking year, with U.S. stocks posting a third straight year of 10%-plus gains, the first time it has scored a performance of that magnitude since the last great bull market in the late 1990s. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 11.4% in 2014, building on a nearly 30% gain in 2013 and a 13.4% rise in 2012. Every type of stock index – ranging from the blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average (up 7.5%) to the tech-packed Nasdaq composite (up 13.4%) to the small-company Russell 2000 (up 3.5%) – finished in the black last year. The three worst-performing stocks in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index were energy companies, hit by plunging oil prices.

The plunge in oil prices may not be over just yet. Oil took another hit Wednesday, sinking below $53 to a level last seen during the Great Recession. It’s hard to recall that crude oil traded for over $100 a barrel as recently as July. Few saw the energy meltdown coming. Now that it’s here, industry analysts warn another move lower is possible as the momentum remains firmly on the downside, with some predicting a drop into the $30s.

More than 1,000 employees at Civeo, a provider of housing for oil workers, have lost their jobs in recent months. There’s concern this is only the beginning of the energy sector layoffs. Now that crude oil has plunged to nearly $50, Big Oil companies like ConocoPhillips are significantly dialing back spending. That’s bad news for companies like Civeo that depend on the energy boom.

Middle East

The Security Council rejected a Palestinian resolution demanding an end to Israeli occupation within three years late Tuesday, a blow to an Arab campaign to get the U.N.’s most powerful body to take action to achieve an independent state of Palestine. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, had made clear its opposition to the draft resolution, insisting on a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, not an imposed timetable. It would have used its veto if necessary but it didn’t have to because the resolution failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes required for adoption by the 15-member council. The resolution received eight “yes” votes, two “no” votes — one from the United States and the other from Australia — and five abstentions. Until shortly before the vote, council diplomats had expected the resolution to get nine “yes” votes. But Nigeria, which was believed to support the resolution, abstained. Its ambassador, U. Joy Ogwu, echoed the U.S. position saying the ultimate path to peace lies “in a negotiated solution.”

Stung by the resounding defeat in the U.N. Security Council, the Palestinians announced Wednesday that they joined the International Criminal Court to pursue war crimes charges against Israel. The move by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas set the stage for a diplomatic showdown with the United States and drew an angry response from Israel. U.S. State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said America strongly opposed the move and warned it would be “counter-productive and do nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state.” “It will badly damage the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace,” Vasquez said in a statement.

  • Neither the Palestinians nor Islamists in general actually want peace, but rather plot the total annihilation of Israel. The so-called ‘two-state’ solution is merely a step in that direction

Islamic State

After 13 years of combat, the U.S. has formally ended the war in Afghanistan. The Taliban declared “defeat” of the U.S. and its allied forces, though the foreign troops were able to prevent the terrorists from gaining a significant amount of territory. In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, “ISAF (the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force) rolled up its flag in an atmosphere of failure and disappointment without having achieved anything substantial or tangible.” The U.S. will now transition most troops out of the country but 13,500 foreign forces will remain in Afghanistan for two more years to train Afghan security forces. The Huffington Post reports 3,500 soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, 2,224 of whom were Americans throughout the course of the war.

  • The sad thing is the Taliban are right because, once again, we didn’t follow through due to Obama’s misguided peace policies. Iraq is back into chaos, the Islamic State rose up, and now we can expect to see the Taliban make major gains in Afghanistan in 2015.

Syria

More than 76,000 people were killed in fighting in Syria last year, making 2014 the deadliest year in the four-year-old civil war, according to the UK-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group said the 2014 death toll of 76,021 is slightly up from 2013’s toll of 73,000. More than 200,000 have been killed since the conflict began in 2011. Civilians accounted for 17,790 of the deaths, while about 17,000 were fighters from militant groups, including the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front. Another 15,000 fighters killed in fighting came from moderate rebel groups and other Islamist factions. Syrian soldiers and militias loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad accounted for 22,627 of the deaths.

Kashmir

The sound of gunfire marked New Year’s Eve in the tense disputed region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Pakistani rangers shot and killed an Indian soldier, India’s military said. India’s military shot and killed two Pakistani rangers, Pakistan’s military said. Both sides claimed that the other started the gunfight. Kashmir has been in the throes of separatist violence since 1989, which has claimed over 43,000 lives. The two nuclear armed South Asian neighbors had agreed to a bilateral ceasefire in border regions in November 2003, and the agreement has held for several years.

Philippines

A huge blaze believed to have been ignited by firecrackers razed nearly a thousand shanties and killed three people in a creek-side slum in the Philippine capital, one of more than a dozen fires across the country linked to raucous New Year’s celebrations. Strong winds fanned the flames racing through a half-mile long row of shanties in a village in suburban Quezon city in metropolitan Manila before dawn Thursday. Firefighters struggled to get near the burning shanties because of narrow alleys. Residents struggled to save anything they could from the fire, including cats and dogs, with many using improvised floating devices to cross a murky river and escape the flames.

Japan

Japan is suffering from an acute baby shortage. Just slightly more than 1 million babies were born last year in Japan, according to new government figures. The tally is the lowest figure on record, and the latest sign that little progress is being made in the country’s battle against unfavorable demographic trends. Japan’s health ministry also estimated that 1,269,000 people died in 2014, indicating a natural population decline of 268,000. The country’s shrinking population has raised alarm bells at the highest levels of government. The trend threatens to severely limit economic growth as workers struggle to pay for the booming number of elderly.

China

New Year’s revelers jammed along Shanghai’s historic riverfront stampeded about a half hour before midnight Wednesday, killing at least 35 people and injuring 43 others, Chinese media reported. City officials said they had not yet determined what triggered the stampede about 11:35 p.m. in Chen Yi Square on the Bund River. A witness said people had scrambled to grab coupons resembling U.S. dollar bills that were being thrown from a third-floor window near the Bund. It is the worst disaster in Shanghai in recent years.

Wildfires

Thousands of Australians fled their homes as wildfires raged across the nation’s south on Saturday, with firefighters struggling to contain the blazes fanned by strong winds. Six homes were destroyed by the fires in South Australia and Victoria states, officials said, though no serious injuries have been reported. Dry conditions and temperatures in the upper 30s Celsius (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit) were causing headaches for firefighters battling the blazes. Officials said it would likely take days to get the fires under control. Residents of 19 communities had been asked to evacuate as a predicted shift in the winds later Saturday prompted fears the flames could worsen.

Weather

Monday, record highs were tied in Orlando (84), Melbourne (84) and Vero Beach (85). Tuesday, Miami tied its daily record high (83). While cold air plunged into the nation from Canada, the configuration of the jet streams left Florida largely untouched while the West, Plains and Upper Midwest suffers from the abnormal cold.

A blustery winter storm has dumped snow across the West, killing at least five people and forcing residents in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year’s. Strong gusts toppled trees in Northern California, killing two people in the town of Paradise on Tuesday. Another person was killed by a tree early Wednesday in Redding. Revelers planning to celebrate in Las Vegas or by attending the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., were bracing for near freezing temperatures. Ice and snow also made roads and highways treacherous in New Mexico and along the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma.

Firefighters in Southern California completed the rescue early Wednesday of more than 180 motorists who were stranded when a winter storm brought snow to State Highway 138 in the San Bernardino Mountains near the communities of Crestline and Mount Baldy, about 50 miles from Los Angeles. The drivers became stuck after more than a foot of snow fell in the area, which was also swept by high winds. Some motorists were able to drive away as plows cleared snow away. Others abandoned their cars and walked to their homes or nearby shelters.

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