Signs of the Times (2/17/12)

NYC Church Evictions Temporarily Lifted

Churches facing eviction from New York City public schools won a brief reprieve Thursday as a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order to allow congregations to meet in school buildings for 10 more days, OneNewsNow.com reports. “The court’s order is a message of hope for fundamental freedoms in New York City because it means that, for the time being, the city must welcome churches as it does other groups,” said Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund. The ruling gives the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York more time to consider arguments about the constitutionality of the city’s ban on religious groups to rent vacant public school space on weekends — the only such ban in the nation. State lawmakers now also have the opportunity to pass a bill to overturn the ban; a bill that would compel the city’s education department to allow the worship services passed the state senate earlier this month and awaits action by the state assembly.

Egypt: 20,000 Muslims Attempt to Kill Pastor and Torch Church

A mob of nearly 20,000 radical Muslims attempted to break into and torch the Church of St. Mary and St. Abram in the village of Meet Bashar, Egypt, ASSIST News Service reports. The mob was demanding the death of the church’s pastor, Rev. Guirgis Gameel, on false accusations of abducting a 15-year-old Muslim girl who disappeared after her father arranged a marriage for her. Nearly 100 terrorized Coptic Christians sought refuge inside the church as Muslim rioters threw stones in an attempt to break in, assault the Copts and set the building on fire. A home of a Copt living nearby and the residence of a church staff member were torched, as well as three cars, before security forces arrived. A Coptic member of parliament contacted Egypt’s Prime Minister, who ordered security officials to the village to disperse Muslims from the church and Gameel’s home after the crisis and remain as peacekeeping forces in the area for at least two weeks.

Syria: Islamic ‘Thugs’ Killing Christians

As fighting escalated in the Syrian city of Homs as citizens protest the regime of president Bashar al-Assad, area pastors are also reporting a significant increase in the number of Christian deaths, targeted killings and kidnappings, WORLDmag.com reports. Sources say Islamic militants have killed more than 200 Christians in Homs in recent days, including entire families and young children. “What we are hearing firsthand is the exact opposite of what’s being reported in Western media,” said Victor Atallah, director of Middle East Reformed Fellowship of Cyprus. “Most Syrians are most frightened of an Islamic takeover in Syria and are fleeing not from the government, but from Islamic thugs from all over.” Atallah said there were Islamic militants in the Homs area from Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia — many backed by al Qaeda — and added that those fighters were largely helping to sustain the conflict and uprisings that first began in the country 11 months ago.

Less Poverty for Seniors, More for Young

A national trend over the past three decades reveals that as child poverty has been steadily rising, poverty among seniors, aided by social programs, has steadily dropped. The ratio of senior-to-child poverty was close in 1980: Now, national Census numbers show 9% of seniors living in poverty while 22% of children — 15.6 million — subsist in poverty. Geographically, counties in the South and Southwest show the highest concentrations of poor children. The recession has added to the numbers of poor children as parents lost jobs and families lost homes to foreclosures. Social Security and Medicare are keeping seniors out of poverty. Overall, 15% of the USA— one in six Americans — are considered poor, the highest rate of poverty since 1993.

Child Homelessness up 33% in 3 Years

One in 45 children in the USA — 1.6 million children — were living on the street, in homeless shelters or motels, or doubled up with other families last year, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. The numbers represent a 33% increase from 2007, when there were 1.2 million homeless children. The Department of Housing and Urban Development reports a 28% increase in homeless families, from 131,000 in 2007 to 168,000 in 2010. The worst states for homeless children are Southern states where poverty is high, including Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, and states decimated by foreclosures and job losses, such as Arizona, California and Nevada.

U.S. Rate of Interracial Marriage Hits Record High

Interracial marriage in the USA reached an all-time high in 2010: 8.4% of all marriages, compared with 3.2% in 1980, finds a Pew Research Center study, released Thursday, that analyzes unions between spouses of different races or ethnic groups. Among marriages in 2010, 15% of couples married outside their race or ethnicity. In addition, another Pew survey found 43% agree that “more people of different races marrying each other has been a change for the better in our society.” Another 44% say it made no difference; 11% say it’s been a change for the worse. Pew found that minorities, younger adults, the college-educated, those who say they’re “liberal” and those who live in the Northeast and the West are more likely to view intermarriage positively.

Air Cargo Not Well Screened

While much airport security is concentrated on screening passengers and their checked bags, about half the hold on a typical passenger flight is filled with cargo. In fact, over a third of cargo by volume that entered the United States in 2010 was shipped on passenger jets, according to the Department of Transportation. That is 3.7 billion tons. Another 7.2 billion tons of air cargo came in on all-cargo aircraft, according to the DOT. And the screening requirements for such cargo are not as strict as they are for passengers and their checked bags. While the Transportation Security Administration has been able to ensure the screening of all domestic cargo, it has fallen short when it comes to screening all inbound international cargo, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Audit Uncovers Extensive Flaws in Foreclosures

An audit by San Francisco county officials of about 400 recent foreclosures there determined that almost all involved either legal violations or suspicious documentation, according to a report released Wednesday. The detailed and comprehensive nature of the San Francisco findings suggest how pervasive foreclosure irregularities may be across the nation. About 84 percent of the cases contained what appear to be clear violations of law, the report said, and fully two-thirds had at least four violations or irregularities. The improprieties range from the basic — a failure to warn borrowers that they were in default on their loans as required by law — to the arcane. For example, transfers of many loans in the foreclosure files were made by entities that had no right to assign them and institutions took back properties in auctions even though they had not proved ownership.

  • Our financial system has grown so corrupt that the underpinnings of the entire economy are at stake

Economic News

The 17-nation eurozone has one foot in recession, according to official figures showing the economy contracted 0.3% in the final three months of 2011. The decline was the first since the second quarter 2009 and followed a meager 0.1% increase in the previous three-month period.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell to the lowest point in almost four years last week, the latest signal that the job market is steadily improving. Weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000. It was the fourth drop in five weeks. When applications drop consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

The Congressional Budget Office is projecting unemployment of more than 8% throughout this election year and into 2014. The CBO also notes that the percentage of unemployed people who have been looking for work for more than six months — referred to as the long-term unemployed — topped 40 percent in December 2009 and has remained above that level since.

A surge in apartment building offset a drop in starts of single-family homes, pushing housing starts up 1.5% in January from December. Meanwhile, the producer price index, which tracks price changes before they reach the consumer, rose 0.1 percent in January. Wholesale prices fell by the same amount in December. In the past 12 months, they have increased 4.1 percent, the smallest rise in a year.

American motorists have seen the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline rise above $3.50 a gallon on just three occasions, but it has never happened this early in the year. Analysts say it’s likely a sign that pain at the pump will rise to some of the highest levels ever seen later this year. $3.50 a gallon gasoline is already here in 2012, weeks before refineries typically shut down for springtime maintenance, and weeks before the states switch from their less expensive winter blends of gasoline to more complicated and pricier summer blends.

General Motors earned its highest profit ever last year. The 103-year-old company made $7.6 billion in 2011, up 62% from 2010. Annual  revenue rose 11% to $105 billion. The company says union workers will get $7,000 profit-sharing checks.

Greece

Patrick Wood of the August Review writes, “Greece was the birth­place of the Western world. It is now shaping up to be its deathbed as well. Greece has lost its democ­racy, being ruled instead by appointed global elites. The man­dated aus­terity pro­grams are imposed by unelected tech­nocrats. Greek cit­i­zens see this as eco­nomic enslave­ment to pay for the polit­ical and eco­nomic mis­deeds of the elite. They feel the dic­ta­to­rial pres­sure. Their country has been method­i­cally pil­laged and plun­dered by this elite, to the extent that the economy is shrinking at 7 per­cent per year. The death spiral cannot be stopped. With a con­tracting economy, how can an increased debt burden be paid back? Of course, it can’t. There is no pos­si­bility for a long-term solu­tion short of bank­ruptcy and revolution.”

  • The so-called elites who have taken over global finance and the media are creating a technocracy to replace democracy, using financial distress as the means to gain control. A technocracy is essentially a totalitarian form of government based on scientific principles and secular humanistic morality that says man is god.

Middle East

Iran has established an “operational relationship” with al-Qaida’s core leadership amid fears the terror organization is planning a spectacular attack against the West, according to a troubling new report. Sky News reports that the attack could come in retaliation for the killing of Osama bin-Laden last year, or as retaliation for any strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. And a likely target of the terrorist attack would be the Olympic Games to be held this summer in London. Iran has been supplying al-Qaida with training in the use of advanced explosives, funding, and a safe haven “as part of a deal first worked out in 2009 which has now led to ‘operational capacity,’” the Sky News website disclosed.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida reported on Thursday that police in Singapore cooperated with Israel’s Mossad to break up an Iranian plot to assassinate Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak during his recent visit to the Asian city-state. The report added that three alleged assassins were in custody including operatives from Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says sanctions imposed on Iran are important but so far haven’t been effective. Netanyahu said Thursday that the Iranian president’s guided tour of centrifuges at a Tehran research reactor on Wednesday was proof that sanctions have not properly crippled Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear capabilities.

Egypt

The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes, “The United States has provided billions of dollars to prop up Egypt’s struggling economy since the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was signed. Now the new Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government is warning Washington not to stop the handouts…or else.  The decision by an Egyptian court to bring criminal charges against more than a dozen Americans (including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood) who were in Egypt to train candidates for the elections has sparked outrage in Congress. Leaders of both parties have threatened to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt in response. The Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t just hate Israel, they hate America too…but they still want our money! They have sent a message to Washington that if U.S. aid is stopped, they will repudiate the peace treaty with Israel. This poses a grave threat to the Jewish state. Egypt’s massive military capacity—much of which was funded with our tax dollars—is sophisticated and poised like a dagger at Israel’s throat. Coupled with the threats from Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran, this is grave news indeed.”

Syria

Syrian forces attacked the city of Daraa on Thursday, carrying out arrests and shooting randomly in the city where the uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted 11 months ago The push into Daraa follows sieges on the rebellious cities of Homs and Hama and appears to be part of an effort by the regime to extinguish major pockets of dissent. On Wednesday, Assad ordered a Feb. 26 referendum on a new constitution that would create a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the same family dynasty for 40 years. Such a change would have been unheard of a year ago. But after almost a year of bloodshed, with well over 5,000 dead in the regime’s crackdown on protesters and rebels, Assad’s opponents say the referendum and other promises of reform are not enough and that the country’s strongman must go.

The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Thursday for a resolution backing an Arab League plan calling for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down and strongly condemning human rights violations by his regime. Russia and China, who vetoed a similar resolution in the Security Council, voted against the General Assembly measure along with North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba. There are no vetoes in the General Assembly and while their resolutions are not legally binding, they do reflect world opinion on major issues.

Libya

More than six months since Muammar Qaddafi was killed near his hometown, the torture and murder of former Qaddafi loyalists (or suspected loyalists) remain widespread. The militias that toppled Qaddafi’s dictatorship remain outside of any central authority and, according to Amnesty International, are increasingly behaving like ferocious regional mafias. Amnesty says “hundreds of armed militias … are largely out control,” that armed clashes between rival militias are “frequent,” and that “thousands” of people remain illegally detained by the militias.

Pakistan

Pakistani officials say a bomb that went off close to a mosque in the country’s northwest has killed eight people. Friday’s blast took place in the town of Parachinar close to the Afghan border. Many thousands of Pakistanis have died in bombings over the last five years, most of them carried out by Sunni Islamist militants. The militants routinely kill civilians opposed to them or those belonging to different Islamic denominations.

Senegal

Protesters defied a government ban Wednesday and made their way to a square only blocks from the presidential palace, the closest that the opposition movement has come to the seat of power in two weeks of demonstrations ahead of next week’s election. The country’s opposition had vowed to march on the palace in protest over 85-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a third term in the Feb. 26 ballot. Besides his age, many are angered by what they see as a violation of the constitution, because the electoral code was revised after Wade came to office to impose a two-term maximum.

Tunisia

Tunisia’s defense minister has called for increased cooperation with the United States to help guard his country’s borders. Tunisian forces have recently clashed with armed groups with links to militants in neighboring Libya. There also have been clashes with groups believed to have ties to al-Qaeda militants active in the desert south of Tunisia. Violence from the civil war in Libya and the battles with al-Qaeda in neighboring Algeria has sometimes spilled over into Tunisia.

Weather

Violent and deadly weather events have affected more than 240 million Americans — about 80% of the nation’s population — over the past six years, says a report out Friday from an environmental advocacy group. Environment America’s report looks broadly at county-level weather-related disaster declarations from FEMA for 2006 through 2011 to find out how many Americans live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. Whether directly tied to climate change or not, the number of Americans impacted by weather calamities in recent years is sobering: From 2006 to 2011, federally declared weather-related disasters have occurred in 2,466 of the 3,068 counties, parishes or boroughs across the USA. During that time, weather-related disasters have been declared in every state except South Carolina. The group says that the onslaught of catastrophes could become the norm in decades to come.

In the last month, 177 dolphins have been stranded on Cape Cod beaches, but researchers are at a loss to explain what’s driving the dolphins into shallow muddy waters in record numbers. So far, 124 dolphins have died. Researchers are mystified as to why five times as many dolphins as usual have been stranded on Cape Cod this year. Theories range from changes in weather, water temperature or behavior of the dolphins’ prey.

A cyclone has left 16 people dead in Madagascar, and 65 were injured. Among the dead were six killed when a building collapsed in Alaotra Mangoro. Cyclone Giovanna struck land about 1 a.m. Tuesday in Brickaville, 160 miles east of the capital, Antananarivo. It brought heavy rain and high winds and some neighborhoods in the capital and elsewhere were flooded.

Through most of the last decade, mountain glaciers and ice caps around the globe collectively lost 148 billion tons of ice a year, according to new satellite measurements. Although significant, the rate is some 30 percent lower than previous studies predicted. Mountain glaciers and ice caps represent a major source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The losses coincide with the global average temperatures that turned the first decade of the 21st century into the warmest decade in the instrument record.

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