Signs of the Times (3/15/12)

Christian Workers Have No Right to Wear a Cross in U.K.

As two British Christian women are defending before the European Court of Human Rights their right to wear a cross to work, British officials are preparing to make the case against them, CBN News reports. According to the London Telegraph, officials plan to argue that since wearing a cross is not a “requirement” of Christianity, employers can prevent workers from doing so — and even fire them for it. The case has drawn criticism from many Christians, who argue that people of other religions, such as Sikhs and Muslims, have been given special protections for their clothing and symbols. Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, said it was just another example of Christianity being marginalized in the public square. “The reasoning is based on a wholly inappropriate judgment of matters of theology and worship about which [the courts] can claim no expertise,” he said.

Kids of Lesbians More Likely to Be Gay

According to a recent study published in the Archive of Sexual Behavior, 64 percent of children raised in lesbian households consider having homosexual relationships, compared to 17 percent raised by heterosexual parents, Baptist Press reports. Girls raised by lesbian mothers are seven times more likely to consider a same-sex encounter and twice as likely to identify as lesbian or bisexual than girls raised by heterosexual parents. “We already know that girls who grow up without fathers are more likely to be sexually adventurous, and it has a lot to do with being fatherless,” says Glenn T. Stanton of Focus on the Family. “Two lesbians … can’t give a girl the kind of positive attention and other-gendered affirmation she needs from a dad.” While girls raised by lesbians tend to be more sexually experimental, boys raised by lesbians, on the other hand, tend to be more sexually reticent. “Boys without male role models tend to be either overly super-macho, trying to see how many girls they can get, or wallflowers,” Stanton said. “It’s not that they don’t want to go in the water — they’re not inclined to go anywhere near the water. … They haven’t developed emotionally and psychologically in the same ways.”

22 Arrested in Azerbaijan in Plot against US, Israeli Embassies

Officials in Azerbaijan have arrested 22 people suspected of plotting attacks on the American and Israeli embassies in the capital Baku, the Agence France Presse is reporting. The plot was reportedly on behalf of Azerbaijan’s neighbor, Iran, according to the national security ministry. The ministry said in a statement to AFP that those arrested were recruited beginning in 1999 and trained at military camps in Iran to gather information on foreign embassies and organizations in Azerbaijan. Their training included weapon use and spy techniques to stage attacks. Firearms, cartridges, explosives and espionage equipment were found during the arrest. The former Soviet nation of Azerbaijan is reported to have purchased hundreds of millions of dollars to weapons from Israel, allegedly angering Iran

10 Years Later, No Child Left Behind Gets Failing Grade

Ten years have passed since President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind (NCLB), making it the educational law of the land. A review of a decade of evidence demonstrates that NCLB has failed badly both in terms of its own goals and more broadly. It has neither significantly increased academic performance nor significantly reduced achievement gaps, even as measured by standardized exams. In fact, because of its reliance on one-size-fits-all testing, labeling and sanctioning schools, it has undermined many education reform efforts. Many schools, particularly those serving low-income students, have become little more than test-preparation programs.

  • Federal control almost always yields degradation of results, whereas free-markets and freedom of choice are what made this country great

U.S. Solar and Wind Industries Expand

Despite last year’s bankruptcies of several solar manufacturers, including government-backed Solyndra, the U.S. solar and wind industries continue to expand in the face of obstacles this year. Newly installed solar panels produced 109% more electricity nationwide last year than in 2010, reaching a record 1,855 megawatts, as the price of these panels plummeted by more than 50%. Solar power, which now produces less than 1% of U.S. electricity, is forecast to generate 10% by 2020, according to Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. Wind power increased 31% last year, says the American Wind Energy Association, and venture capital invested in clean technology grew from $3.8 billion in 2010 to $4.3 billion last year.

Economic News

Fewer people sought unemployment benefits last week, adding to signs that the job market is strengthening. The jobs report said applications for unemployment aid dropped 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 351,000. That matches a four-year low reached last month. The steady decline has coincided with the best three months of hiring in two years. From December through February, employers have added an average of 245,000 jobs per month.

Higher gas prices drove the government’s wholesale price index up last month. Excluding the big jump in gasoline, inflation elsewhere was mostly tame. The producer price index rose 0.4% in February, the most since September. But, the so-called “core” index, which excludes food and gas prices, increased 0.2%, the smallest gain in three months. In the past twelve months, wholesale prices increased 3.3%.

The Federal Reserve says four of the nation’s 19 largest banks have failed to show they have enough capital to survive another serious economic downturn. That list includes Citigroup, the nation’s third-largest bank. SunTrust, Ally Financial and MetLife also failed the stress test this year.

The U.S. current account deficit, which includes the trade balance of goods, services and investment flows, widened at the end of 2011 to the largest quarterly gap in three years. The current account trade deficit increased 15.3% to $124.1 billion in the 2011’s final three months. For the year, the current account deficit rose 0.6% to $473.4 billion, the biggest imbalance since 2008. A bigger trade deficit hampers economic growth since it means more goods and services are being imported while U.S. companies are making fewer sales overseas.

Eurozone

European countries are realizing how difficult it will be to adhere to the strict rules against overspending that they have chosen as the key policy response to a two-year old debt crisis. At a meeting here Tuesday, European Union finance ministers agreed to sanction Hungary over its high deficits, but gave in to pressure from some countries to reconsider the ruling in June. That push followed a decision by the finance chiefs of the 17-country eurozone Monday night to give Spain some leeway on cutting this year’s deficit. At issue is not only a deepening recession in many economies — which critics say makes budget cuts counterproductive — but also the difficulty countries have in punishing a fellow sovereign state.

Middle East

Though the pace of attacks has lessened slightly since the weekend, there have been more than 250 rockets fired into southern Israel this week. The Israeli “Iron Dome” missile defense system has functioned well, destroying many of the larger rockets before they could reach their targets, and limiting the damage done by the attacks. Yet despite that defensive success, there has still been a number of Jewish civilians injured and a great deal of property damage. More than a million Israelis spent part of the last few days in bomb shelters, and children missed several days of school during the worst of the attacks. Though it has received very little attention in the media, this round of attacks is really just a trial run for the terrorists sponsored by Iran to test their ability to strike at Israel if and when war breaks out.

Afghanistan

Afghans took to the streets Thursday to demand a U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 civilians be prosecuted in Afghanistan as word spread that the American military moved him out of the country. “The reason we are protesting is because of the killing of innocent children and other civilians by this tyrant U.S. soldier,” said Sardar Wali, a university student. “We want the United Nations and the Afghan government to publicly try this guy.” Meanwhile, the U.S. military completed a 48-hour probable cause assessment and the servicemember continued to be confined. The soldier, who has not been named, could face the death penalty if found guilty in a court-martial of gunning down the civilians, including nine children, in two villages of Kandahar province before dawn Sunday.

Determined to show momentum in a war marred by setbacks, President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron said for the first time Wednesday that NATO forces will hand over the lead combat role to Afghanistan forces next year as the U.S. and its allies aim to get out by the end of 2014. Obama said he still plans to gradually withdraw forces through 2014 as Afghan forces take on more responsibility.

Syria

The Syrian army has recaptured most of the northern rebel stronghold of Idlib near the Turkish border, pushing hundreds of military defectors out of a major base they had held for months even as pockets of resistance kept up their fight on Tuesday. The Human Rights Watch said Thursday that activists have compiled a list of at least 114 civilians killed since the assault on Idlib began Saturday. The three-day operation to capture the city followed a similar offensive to dislodge the opposition from another key piece of territory it had controlled, the Baba Amr district in central Homs. The two victories gave President Bashar Assad’s regime unmistakable momentum as it tries to crush the armed opposition fighters. A pledge Tuesday from Syria’s staunch ally Russia that Moscow will continue selling weapons to the regime was yet another boost. And a diplomatic bid by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan to broker a cease-fire and start negotiations failed over the weekend.

Iran

In the past several months, Iran appears to have increased its political outreach and arms shipments to rebels and other political figures in Yemen as part of what American military and intelligence officials say is a widening Iranian effort to extend its influence across the greater Middle East. Iranian smugglers backed by the Quds Force, an elite international operations unit within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, are using small boats to ship AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and other arms to replace older weapons used by the rebels. American officials say the Iranian aid to Yemen mirrors the kind of weapons and training the Quds Force is providing the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. It also reflects a broader campaign that includes what American officials say was a failed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in October, and what appears to have been a coordinated effort by Iran to attack Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia earlier this year.

Iran’s parliament grilled President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday over a long list of accusations, including that he mismanaged the nation’s economy and defied the authority of the country’s supreme leader. Ahmadinejad is the first president in the country’s history to be hauled before the Iranian parliament, a serious blow to his standing in a conflict pitting him against lawmakers and the country’s powerful clerical establishment. Iran’s constitution gives parliament the legal right to question the president, but the body had never before taken that step. The unprecedented move undermines Ahmadinejad’s prestige and could set the stage for his subsequent impeachment should lawmakers determine his answers were unsatisfactory.

Somalia

Three people, including a suicide bomber, were killed in a bomb attack inside the government compound in Somalia’s capital on Wednesday. Six others were injured, and the death toll may rise. The blast happened near the home of the former parliamentary speaker. Villa Somalia is a heavily fortified compound in the heart of the city where the most senior Somali government officials, including the president, have their offices. Some also live inside the compound.

Earthquakes

A series of earthquakes rattled Tokyo and northeast Japan late Wednesday evening but caused no apparent damage or injury in the same region hit by last year’s devastating tsunami. The strongest tremor, off Hokkaido island, was 6.8 magnitude and caused tidal changes that prompted some communities to issue evacuation orders or tsunami advisories to residents nearest the coast. A swelling of 20 centimeters (8 inches) was observed in the port of Hachinohe in Aomori, northern Japan, about one hour later. The earthquake felt in Tokyo was magnitude 6.1 and centered just off the coast of Chiba, east of Tokyo, at a rather shallow 6 miles below the sea surface.

A strong earthquake has struck about 110 miles east of Kandrian in the Asian island nation of Papua New Guinea. There are no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude-6.4 quake struck Thursday morning local time about 372 miles northeast of the capital, Port Moresby. The quake struck at a depth of 29 miles.

Weather

Authorities declared a state of emergency Monday in four south Louisiana parishes — Lafayette, Acadia, St. Landry and St. Martin — after floodwaters from heavy overnight thunderstorms inundated dozens of homes with up to 7 feet of water on some streets. some areas saw up to 19 inches of rain. Search-and-rescue teams responded to about 150 calls for help, either from homes or vehicles. No deaths or injuries were immediately reported.

As office workers from Chicago to New York City enjoy lunches outdoors this week, let’s all give a hearty thank you, in part, to …the Madden-Julian Oscillation. Far-flung climate patterns hundreds or even thousands of miles away are helping fuel the nation’s bizarre, record-shattering March heat. Three global climate patterns — the Madden-Julian Oscillation, La Niña and the Arctic Oscillation — are contributing in some way to this surreal March, according to the Weather Channel. All of these patterns are coming together in such a way to fuel continued warmth in the eastern USA. Chicago, for example, was a record-breaking 81 degrees Wednesday afternoon, a whopping 35 degrees above the average high of 46 degrees. Washington, D.C., also soared to 80 degrees, far above the average of 55 degrees.

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