New York Legalizes Gay Marriage

Same-sex marriage is now legal in New York after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that was narrowly passed by state lawmakers Friday, handing activists a breakthrough victory in the state where the gay rights movement was born. The measure passed when a handful of Republican state senators surrendered to pressure to legalize gay marriage in that state. New York becomes the sixth state where gay couples can wed and the biggest by far. Gay rights advocates are hoping the vote will galvanize the movement around the country and help it regain momentum after an almost identical bill was defeated here in 2009 and similar measures failed in 2010 in New Jersey and this year in Maryland and Rhode Island. The gay rights movement is considered to have started with the Stonewall riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village in 1969.

  • End-time moral decay will continue to spread like wildfire, tearing asunder God’s social order and replacing it with Satan’s demonic agenda.

Evangelical Leaders Believe Secularism is Greatest Threat

Evangelicals from around the world fear one religious trend more than any other: secularism. Slightly over 70 percent of global evangelical leaders at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization named secularism as a major threat. Meanwhile, only 47 percent said the influence of Islam is a major threat. The survey, conducted by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, polled more than half of the 4,000-plus evangelical leaders from over 190 nations last fall in South Africa. Evangelical leaders from the Global North (86 percent) more often felt secularism is a threat to the evangelical faith than those in the Global South (59 percent). “To put it in context, it is not as though it is not seen as a threat, it is just that secularism in its associated practices tend to be seen as much more of a threat,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, according to Voice of America.

  • Secularism is Satan’s replacement for Christianity while Islam is used to create conflict. Secularism, at its core, places emphasis on self over God.

Minorities Produce Majority of Babies in the U.S.

For the first time, minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and a growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies. Preliminary census estimates also show the share of African-American households headed by women — mostly single mothers — now exceeds African-American households with married couples, a sign of declining U.S. marriages overall but also of continuing challenges for black youths without involved fathers. Demographers say the numbers provide the clearest confirmation yet of a changing social order, one in which racial and ethnic minorities will become the U.S. majority by midcentury. In addition, married or two-parent heterosexual couples are now no longer the norm for a lot of kids, especially kids of color.

  • It isn’t the color that’s the problem but rather the breakdown of the family which will have dramatic and deleterious impacts on the social order

House Rejects Measure to Continue U.S. Role in Libya

The House refused to vote President Obama the authority for U.S. military operations against Libya on Friday but stopped short of cutting off funds for the mission, a mixed message reminiscent of congressional unease on Vietnam and more recent wars. In a repudiation of the commander in chief, the House voted overwhelmingly against a resolution that would have favored letting the mission continue for one year while barring U.S. ground forces. The vote was 295-123, with 70 Democrats abandoning Obama one day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had made a last-minute plea in a congressional meeting. But shortly after that vote, the House turned back a Republican-led effort to cut off money for military hostilities in the Libyan war. The vote was 238-180. While the first vote on White House authority has no immediate effect on American involvement in the NATO-led mission, it was an embarrassment to a sitting president and certain to have reverberations in Tripoli and NATO capitals.

Deaths Up from Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease

Nearly two-thirds of deaths in the world are caused by noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart and lung disease which are rapidly increasing at a cost to the global economy of trillions of dollars, according to U.N. estimates and preliminary results of a new study. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the report that while the international community has focused on communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, the four main noncommunicable diseases “have emerged relatively unnoticed in the developing world and are now becoming a global epidemic.” According to the report, 36 million people died from noncommunicable diseases in 2008, representing 63 percent of the 57 million global deaths that year. Nearly 80 percent of deaths from these diseases were in the developing world, and 9 million deaths were of men and women under the age of 60. Ban said the rapidly increasing magnitude of noncommunicable diseases is fueled by rising risk factors including tobacco use, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, obesity and harmful alcohol use — and is driven in part by an aging population, the negative impact of urbanization, and the globalization of trade and marketing.

Experts Wary of Hacking Group’s New Political Agenda

Lulz Security – “laughing out loud at your security” – has for the first time given a clearly defined political motive for an attack, stating on its website that it targeted the DPS to protest racial profiling and the state’s immigration policies. Its name is computer slang for laughter. But the theft of hundreds of computer files from the Arizona Department of Public Safety marks a dramatic change for an international computer-hacking group that until now has been known for high-profile publicity stunts and Internet pranks. Computer-security experts say this signals the group’s transition from a band of merry pranksters to “hacktivists” who declare Net war on agencies or groups in order to carry out a specific agenda. Since emerging in May, LulzSec has tampered with websites belonging to the CIA, the U.S. Senate and three media companies. It has claimed responsibility for disabling a law-enforcement website in Great Britain, stealing files from a private-security firm working with the FBI and publishing user names from a pornography website.

E-waste Piles Up, Disposal Issues Grow

New smartphones, TVs and laptops enter the marketplace at an ever-quickening pace, and many gadget-loving consumers feel compelled to have the latest and greatest with the most buzz. As a result, they find themselves with a growing stash of gizmos in need of disposal. Trashed computers, TVs and other gadgets make up the fastest-growing municipal waste stream in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. As much as 80% of electronic waste goes out with the trash, the EPA estimates, while only about 20% is properly recycled. Recycling of many materials — such as glass, paper and plastics — is common practice for many Americans. Yet, when eco-conscious people want to winnow down a growing stash of unneeded tech products, how do they do that in an environmentally friendly way? For starters, don’t just throw your electronics in the trash. Many gadgets have toxic materials in them that might be released in a landfill or when burned in an incinerator.

Companies such as LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony have joined the Consumer Electronic Association’s eCycling Leadership Initiative, announced in April, which aims to recycle one billion pounds of electronics annually by 2016, up from the 300 million pounds of electronics recycled in 2010. For a list of dozens of companies that accept products for recycling go to: www.digitaltips.org/green/default.asp. Retailers such as Best Buy, Office Depot, Staples and Target accept many products for recycling at their stores. For free, a small fee or a monetary incentive, these stores serve as pick-up spots for discarded consumer electronics, with the ultimate goal of reducing this growing form of waste.

U.S. to Release 30 Million Barrels of Oil from Strategic Reserve

The U.S. is releasing 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as part of an international effort to make up for the loss in supply from the disruption in Libya’s production in the face of ongoing “kinetic military action,” the Energy Department announced Thursday. The release coincides with another 30 million barrels to be released in the coming month from other nations in coordination with the International Energy Agency. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the SPR is currently at a record 727 million barrels in storage. He said the situation in Libya — which the U.S. began bombing in March, but which has been under NATO control since May — has caused a loss of roughly 1.5 million barrels of oil per day.

Postal Service Suspends Retirement Plan Contributions

The financially troubled Postal Service is suspending its employer contribution to the Federal Employee Retirement System. The agency said Wednesday that it is acting to conserve cash as it continues to lose money. It was $8 billion in the red last year because of the combined effects of the recession and the switch of much mail business to the Internet. It faces the possibility of running short of money by the end of this fiscal year in September. The post office said it has informed the Office of Personnel Management that the $115 million retirement payment made every two weeks will be suspended effective Friday.

NJ Legislature Approves Deep Cuts in Benefits to Public Workers

New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday approved a broad rollback in benefits for three-quarters of a million government workers and retirees, the deepest cut in state and local costs in memory, in a major victory for Gov. Chris Christie and a once-unthinkable setback for the powerful public employee unions. The Assembly passed the bill as Republicans and a few  Democrats defied raucous protests by thousands of people whose chants, vowing electoral revenge, shook the State House. Leaders in the State Senate said their chamber, which had already passed a slightly different version of the bill, would approve the Assembly version on Monday, and Mr. Christie, a Republican, was expected to quickly sign the measure into law.

Impasse in Debt Reduction Talks

Bipartisan efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit have broken down over the specter of tax increases as a threatened government default looms less than six weeks away. Republicans’ refused to consider the elimination of special-interest tax breaks as part of a deficit-cutting package and Democrats’ refusal to slash $2 trillion or more over 10 years from the spending side alone. The immediate problem is raising the $14.3 trillion ceiling on the government’s borrowing authority. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that must be done by Aug. 2 to avoid an unprecedented default. Republicans say they won’t do it without an equal amount of spending cuts. And Democrats say they won’t do that without tax increases.

Economic News

More Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, adding to evidence that the job market is weakening. Applications rose 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 429,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the second increase in three weeks and the biggest jump in a month. Applications had fallen as low as 375,000 earlier this year, a level that signals sustainable job growth.

The Commerce Department said the economy grew at a 1.9% annual rate in the January-March quarter. That’s not much better than the 1.8% rate estimated a month ago. The small upward revision reflected stronger exports and more business spending on stockpiles. Economists predict the economy will grow at a 2.3% rate in the current quarter and 2.6% for the full year, far below what is needed to make significant improvements in unemployment.

Businesses boosted their orders for machinery, electronics products and airplanes in May after a big cutback in the previous month. The Commerce Department says orders for long-lasting manufactured products increased 1.9% in May following a revised 2.7% decline in April.

The stock market fell Friday after poor earnings from technology companies suggested that companies are investing less as the economic recovery has slowed. Europe’s debt woes continued to weigh on markets as well. Moody’s warned that it might downgrade the credit rating of some Italian banks.

Noting that unemployment remains stubbornly high and other indicators show a weak economy, the Fed reaffirmed today with a unanimous vote that it will keep the federal-funds rate — currently at 0 to 0.25 percent — at historic lows “for an extended period.” The Fed also said it has no plans yet to take steps to continue its quantitative easing program by greenlighting a third round in a program that involves the Fed buying government bonds as a method to increase the overall supply of U.S. dollars.

After facing $4 sticker shock at the pump for much of 2011, consumers are now likely to get a break by the July Fourth holiday weekend as gas prices fall to $3.40 or lower. Regular gasoline peaked at a national average of $3.98 a gallon in early May. Slumping demand has pushed the average to $3.61. Recently announced reserve sales could cut prices another 20 cents or more.

The largest economies in the world agreed Thursday to a series of measures to stabilize world food prices after years of sudden fluctuations caused global instability, especially in poorer countries. French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said the G-20 summit of agriculture ministers had agreed to calm the world market by establishing a transparent system to track global supplies, emergency food reserves, engage in more research into new wheat strains and create a rapid response mechanism to deal with drought in producer countries. Rising energy prices prompted a spike in food prices in 2008 that caused worldwide hardship and sparked riots in a number of developing countries.

Afghanistan

President Obama heralded the beginning of the end of the nation’s 10-year war in Afghanistan on Wednesday, citing success in the battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban but offering no guarantee that the nation’s heavy investment in lives and treasure will leave behind a stable and secure nation. In ordering 10,000 service members home by the end of this year and 23,000 more by the end of next summer, Obama rejected the advice of Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of troops in Afghanistan. He had urged that fewer troops be withdrawn, as did many Republican leaders. Instead, the president ceded to public discontent with a war that has cost $444 billion and seen more than 1,500 service members killed and 12,000 wounded. Some lawmakers, including many of Obama’s fellow Democrats, point out that even after these withdrawals, there will still some 67,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, more than twice the number than when Obama took office.

Afghanistan’s NATO-trained military is ready to take responsibility for fighting Taliban insurgents and securing key parts of the country that will be the first to transition as the U.S. begins a troop drawdown in July, the Afghan Defense Ministry said Wednesday. Many Afghans are eager to see an American departure nearly 10 years after U.S. forces invaded to oust al-Qaeda’s Taliban hosts from power. A suicide attacker blew up his sport utility vehicle packed with explosives outside of a small medical clinic in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing at least 25 people and wounded 50 or more.

A new report says little has been accomplished to end the relationship between corruption and the conflict in Afghanistan despite a decade of U.S.-led military efforts. The International Crisis Group’s 46-page report provides sobering analysis of a culture of corruption in Afghanistan, which includes collusion with the Taliban at high levels of government. It says violence and billions of dollars in international aid have brought wealthy officials and insurgents together. The result is an economy increasingly dominated by what the report calls a “criminal oligarchy of politically connected businessmen.”

Belarus

Belarusian authorities have detained more than 450 demonstrators in a series of anti-government protests organized through social media in the ex-Soviet nation, Most of those detained were released a few hours after the Wednesday evening’s protest, but several dozen went on trial Thursday,. The protest in the capital, Minsk, and nearly 30 other Belarusian cities was the third such action in as many weeks. Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko is facing growing public discontent over the nation’s worst financial turmoil since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The country recently devalued the national currency, causing panic buying of goods and huge lines at currency exchange offices.

Pakistan

A mobile phone of Usama bin Laden’s trusted courier recovered in the U.S. raid last month that killed both men in Pakistan contained contacts to a militant group that is a longtime asset of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, The New York Times reported late Thursday. It raises questions about whether the group and others helped shelter and support the Al Qaeda leader on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency. In tracing the calls on the cell phone, U.S. analysts have determined that Harakat commanders had called Pakistani intelligence officials. Bin Laden was able to live comfortably for years in Abbottabad, a town dominated by the Pakistani military just 35 miles from the capital city of Islamabad

Libya

Supporters of Moammar Gadhafi rallied Thursday in Tripoli after the Libyan leader lashed out at NATO over civilian casualties, calling the alliance “murderers” following an airstrike on the family home of a close associate. Gadhafi blasted the alliance for that strike, calling NATO “criminals” and “savages.” “Go on and attack us for two years, three years or even 10 years. But in the end, the aggressor is the one who will lose. One day we will be able to retaliate in the same way, and your houses will be legitimate targets for us,” Gadhafi added.

Syria

In a weekly ritual of defiance, thousands of protesters took to Syria’s streets Friday calling for the downfall of President Bashar Assad’s autocratic regime, despite a bloody military crackdown that has failed to silence a pro-democracy movement that has now lasted more than 100 days. Security forces opened fire, killing at least 15 people, including two children, activists said. The protests, which have occurred every Friday after weekly Muslim prayers, come as Syrian refugees continue to stream across the border to safe havens in Turkey to escape a military sweep in Syria’s northwest. More than 1,500 Syrian refugees crossed into neighboring Turkey on Thursday alone, boosting the number sheltered in Turkey to more than 11,700.

The Syrian regime, besieged by street protests at home and condemnation abroad, on Wednesday lashed out at European governments for threatening a new round of sanctions and accused the West of trying to sow chaos and conflict in the Arab nation. But Foreign Minister Walid Moallem also reiterated the president’s call for national dialogue and spoke of democracy over the horizon — a bold assertion after more than four decades of iron-fisted rule by the Assad family and months of bloody reprisals. It was the regime’s latest attempt to blunt three months of widespread demonstrations.

Iraq

Four bombs ripped through Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad Thursday evening, killing at least 40 people in the worst violence the capital has seen in months, Iraqi officials said. An American civilian contractor also died in a separate attack. The violence underscored the fragile nature of the security gains in Iraq at a time when American forces are preparing to withdraw by the end of this year.

Iran

The U.S. imposed sanctions Thursday on the Iranian state airline and a ports operator for allegedly helping the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps move weapons to Tehran’s allies around the Middle East. The sanctions are the latest American bid to use economic pressure to try to weaken the Tehran regime, the main U.S. nemesis in the region. Top administration officials said Thursday’s action was targeted specifically at the Revolutionary Guard, an elite unit of Iran’s security forces they said is Tehran’s domestic enforcer, plays a major role in proliferation activity, supports terrorism in the region, and commits human-rights abuses at home.

Increased public statements against Christianity in Iran have intensified pressures on Christians, sources said, but that’s not all. At their core, the statements reflect Islamic leaders’ dismay with the growth of house churches and may signal dissension within Iran’s leadership. “The reality is most of the house churches are so hidden that the government can’t do anything, and they know it,” said a regional expert who requested anonymity, Compass Direct News reports. In May, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi said authorities have not done enough to quench the growth of Christian house churches, considering the “massive funding” the government has spent toward that end. Experts believe public attacks on Christians resulted in the arrest of more than 120 Iranian Christians between December and January.

Myanmar

Bombs exploded almost simultaneously in three Myanmar cities Friday, wounding at least two people. Bombings have become increasingly frequent in Myanmar, where pro-democracy activists and ethnic groups are at odds with the military-backed regime. There was no claim of responsibility. The government had blamed ethnic Karen rebels for a bombing in Naypyitaw this month and a May train attack near the capital that killed two and injured nine.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-6.7 earthquake rattled northeast Japan early Thursday in the same area where a massive quake triggered a deadly tsunami in March, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. It was followed by several smaller aftershocks, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Thursday’s quake hit about 30 miles off the shore of Iwate prefecture at 6:51 a.m. the Japan Meteorological Agency said. Much of the coast in the area is still heavily damaged from March’s disasters. The U.S. Pacific Tsunami warning center said it did not expect a destructive Pacific-wide tsunami.

Wildfires

Fire crews are making major strides in corralling three major wildfires that have been burning in Arizona for weeks, and they expect to have one of the fires fully contained by this weekend. The 348-square-mile Horseshoe Two fire that will be the first contained has burned through almost an entire forest atop southeastern Arizona’s Chiricahua mountains. The forest supports a huge diversity of plants and animals and is a world-renowned bird watching area. The fire was tamed because it basically had burned across the whole mountain range. The Chiricahua is one of the state’s so-called “sky island” mountain ranges, which rise from the surrounding desert and grasslands and aren’t connected to other ranges.

The thousands of firefighters battling the state’s other two major blazes also were making progress, with 70% containment of the Wallow Fire, the state’s largest-ever which has burned 828 square miles in eastern Arizona. Meanwhile, the Monument fire in the Huachuca Mountains in southern Arizona has been burning since June 12. It has consumed 44 square miles and 57 homes on the outskirts of Sierra Vista, Ariz., about 15 miles north of the Mexican border. The fire is 64 percent contained.

Weather

With a threat of still more rain looming, Minot, N.D. was bracing Saturday for the Souris River to cascade past its already unprecedented level and widen a path of destruction that had severely damaged thousands of homes and threatened many others. Fed by heavy rains upstream and dam releases that have accelerated in recent days, the Souris surged past a 130-year-old record Friday and kept going. City officials were expecting the river to peak as early as Saturday evening at some 8 1/2 feet beyond major flood stage and remain there for several days, straining the city’s levees to the limit and overwhelming some of them. Forecasters said there was at least an even chance of additional storms in coming days. After a flyover Friday, officials estimated at least 2,500 homes had been swamped and predicted the number would rise to 4,500 by the time the river crests. At least two schools, a nursing home and hundreds of businesses also were endangered.

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