Archive for April, 2012

Signs of the Times (4/28/12)

April 28, 2012

Arizona Bans Funds to Abortion Providers

The Legislature once again demonstrated why Arizona has become one of the most pro-life states in the country. On Wednesday, the Senate passed HB 2800. This bill prohibits federal dollars that pass through the state for family planning from going to abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood. Despite being Arizona’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood claims this bill will deny women access to other medical procedures including cancer screenings and women’s health services. However, the bill does not reduce overall funding – it simply prioritizes the funding to healthcare providers who can provide more comprehensive services. There are plenty of options for women to access care in Arizona.

Abortion Restrictions Gain Momentum

New restrictions on abortion are sweeping through legislatures from Virginia to Arizona, and voters in some states could see proposed constitutional amendments on November ballots that would define life as beginning at conception. The abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America is tracking 235 bills in legislatures that it says would restrict abortion. The group says a dozen have passed so far this year. Some proposals would put new restrictions on when women can have abortions. Some would prevent insurance coverage of abortions. Some are aimed at funding or activities of the reproductive health organization Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions as one of a broad array of women’s health services.

The 2012 anti-abortion push is not even as heavy as last year, when legislators in 24 states, many elected in the 2010 Republican tide, passed a record 92 laws restricting abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a group that conducts sexual and reproductive health research, policy analysis and public education. Ten major court challenges in seven states are underway against some of the new laws, and they may take four or five years to resolve. A Texas law requiring women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound was upheld in a court challenge.

Connecticut Abolishes the Death Penalty

Capital punishment has been abolished in Connecticut, the 17th state to end executions. The repeal does not apply to the 11 men on death row, who “are far more likely to die of old age than they are to be put to death,” the governor said in a statement. The repeal comes two days after a California measure to abolish executions qualified for the November ballot. The repeal came the same day that a new poll showed that Connecticut voters overwhelmingly support capital punishment.

Congress Passes Unpopular CISPA Bill

The House on Thursday approved cybersecurity legislation that privacy groups have decried as a threat to civil liberties. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, passed on a vote of 248 to 168. Its goal is a more secure internet, but privacy groups fear the measure breaches Americans’ privacy along the way. The White House had weighed in on Wednesday, threatening a veto unless there were significant changes to increase consumer privacy. The bill was amended to provide more privacy protections, but it was not immediately clear whether the Senate or the White House would give the amended bill its blessing. The measure allows internet service providers to share information with the government, including the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, about cybersecurity threats it detects on the internet. An ISP is not required to shield any personally identifying data of its customers when it believes it has detected threats, which include attack signatures, malicious code, phishing sites or botnets. In short, the measure seeks to undo privacy laws that generally forbid ISPs from disclosing customer communications with anybody else unless with a court order.

Settlement OK’d over Mojave Cross on U.S. Land

A federal judge has approved a land-swap to settle a lawsuit over a remote site in the Mojave National Preserve where war memorial crosses have been erected for decades. The settlement announced Tuesday calls for the site at Sunrise Rock to be turned over to a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Barstow, California, in exchange for five acres of donated land. The National Park Service said it hopes to complete the swap by year’s end, allowing the VFW to once more erect a cross on the site. The most recent permanent cross was stolen and a replacement was removed to comply with a court injunction.

China Plans to Eradicate House Churches

China’s government is engaged in a three-phase campaign to eradicate Protestant house churches, according to a statement released April 20 by the China Aid Association (CAA), reports Compass Direct News. The government’s strategy was clearly outlined in a document released last September during a training class for “Patriots in the Christian Community” run by the State Administration for Religious Affairs. From January through June of this year, the document called for local authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of house churches nationwide and create dossiers on each of them. In phase two, for the following two to three years, authorities would strongly encourage unregistered churches to affiliate with the government-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), and in phase three, to be completed within 10 years, churches refusing to comply would be shut down. Officials would also ban the words “house church” and all reports on house churches from websites and other media and replace the term with “house gatherings” — a term that would refer to groups meeting in sites affiliated with the TSPM. In a recent survey, more than 95 percent of house church leaders said they had already felt the impact of these investigations, and 85 percent said local religious affairs departments had already created a dossier for their group. “Since the beginning of 2012, we have noticed an increase in the frequency of persecution,” the CAA said.

WTC1 Scales New Heights

Soon the iconic Empire State Building will no longer be the king of the city skyline. By Monday, the rising steel frame of One World Trade Center is expected to surpass the 1930s vintage skyscraper, passing the title of tallest building in the city — and in the Western Hemisphere— to lower Manhattan. Weather permitting, the heir to the title of tallest building in New York, which was held by the Twin Towers from the early 1970s until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, will return to the original site. At 1,776-feet and 104 floors, the new tower will be 408 feet taller than the Twin Towers. The tallest building in the world remains the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 2,717 feet. Construction of One World Trade Center is on track and won’t be completed until early 2014. The structure is about 55 percent leased and is “poised to be a commercial success.”

  • The real success is replacing what the terrorists destroyed, making the statement that “we will not be overcome.”

Economic News

The economy grew at a 2.2% annual rate in the first quarter, the government said Friday, as a pickup in consumer spending was partly offset by shrinking government and sluggish private investment. The pace was slower than the 3% growth in the fourth quarter last year. Auto manufacturing accounted for half the economy’s growth.

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits remained stuck near a three-month high last week, a sign that hiring has slowed since winter. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000, above the 375,000 level required to reduce unemployment. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 381,750, also the highest in three months.

Orders for long-lasting factory goods fell by the largest amount in three years in March, mostly because demand for commercial aircraft plummeted. But companies also ordered less machinery and other equipment, a sign manufacturing output may be slowing. Orders for durable goods dropped 4.2% in March, steepest fall since January 2009. Excluding transportation equipment, orders declined 1.1%. That’s the second drop in that category in three months.

  • Meanwhile, the total federal deficit continues to increase by $2,500,000 every minute!

Eurozone

The hole in Spain’s economy is getting deeper. The government reported Friday that unemployment rose to 24.4% in the first quarter — compared with 22.9% in the fourth quarter — and that more than half of Spaniards under 25 are now without jobs. The bleak employment came one day after ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s debt. The Spanish economy is in recession for the second time in three years as the damage from a housing bust persists. Foreclosures are rising, Spain’s banks are in worse financial shape and the government’s deficit is hitting worrisome levels.

The U.K. economy shrank in the first quarter as Britain slid into its first double-dip recession since the 1970s. Gross domestic product fell 0.2 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011, when it declined 0.3 percent, the Office for National Statistics said Monday in London. A technical recession is defined as two straight quarters of contraction.

Syria

Two weeks into a cease-fire agreement, there still was no peace in Syria: Security agents in Damascus collected the remains of 10 people killed in a suicide bombing. Activists reported troops firing on protesters. Video showed a crowd carrying a slain boy to U.N. observers as proof of regime violence. Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets across Syria for weekly anti-regime marches after Muslim noon prayers Friday. The head of the United Nations said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s continued crackdown on protests has reached an “intolerable stage,” and that the U.N. will try to speed up the deployment of up to 300 monitors to Syria. Only 15 are there now. A Syrian state-run newspaper accused U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday of encouraging “terrorist” rebel attacks by focusing his criticism on the government.

Yemen

An Islamist militant group in southern Yemen linked to al-Qaeda is threatening to begin executing 73 government soldiers who were captured in a raid on the militant stronghold last month. The militant group Ansar al-Sharia, or Partisans of Sharia Law, killed 185 soldiers and wounded more than 150 when the government raided their battalion base near Zinjibar on March 5. The group, which is intertwined with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or, AQAP, warns in posters distributed to residents of Abyan province that it would start killing the soldiers 10 at a time each week starting Monday. In a statement in March, AQAP demanded the release of al-Qaeda prisoners in exchange for the soldiers, adding that “full responsibility’ for the fate rests with U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein and Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi “who insist on escalation, launching an unjustified war against the mujahideen of Ansar al-Sharia in Abyan.”

Pakistan

The first concentrated high-level talks aimed at breaking a five-month diplomatic deadlock between the United States and Pakistan ended in failure on Friday over Pakistani demands for an unconditional apology from the Obama administration for an airstrike. The White House, angered by the recent spectacular Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, refuses to apologize. The Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, left the Pakistani capital Friday night with no agreement after two days of discussions aimed at patching up the damage caused by the American airstrikes last November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghanistan border. The negotiations are complicated by a complex web of interlocking demands from both sides. Without the apology, Pakistani officials say they cannot reopen NATO supply routes into Afghanistan that have been closed since November.

Iran

Iran is busy acquiring the technical know-how to launch a potentially crippling cyber-attack on the United States and its allies, experts told a congressional hearing on Thursday, urging the US to step up its defensive measures. “Over the past three years, the Iranian regime has invested heavily in both defensive and offensive capabilities in cyberspace,” said Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council. “Equally significant, its leaders now increasingly appear to view cyber-warfare as a potential avenue of action against the United States,” he told a House Homeland Security subcommittee. Patrick Meehan, Republican chairman of the committee, also sounded an alarm over the cyber-security threat posed by Iran to western nations. “As Iran’s illicit nuclear program continues to inflame tensions between Tehran and the West, I am struck by the emergence of another possible avenue of attack emanating from Iran — the possibility that Iran could conduct a cyber attack against the US homeland,” he said.

Malaysia

Police unleashed tear gas and chemical-laced water Saturday at thousands of demonstrators who staged one of Malaysia’s largest street rallies in years, demanding fair rules for national elections expected soon. At least 25,000 demonstrators swamped Malaysia’s largest city, hoping to pressure Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition — which has held power for nearly 55 years — to overhaul electoral policies before polls that could be held as early as June. Authorities insist the elections will be free and fair, rejecting activists’ claims that the Election Commission is biased and that voter registration lists are tainted with fraudulent names.

Ukraine

A series of blasts rocked an eastern Ukrainian city on Friday, injuring 27 people, including 9 teenagers, in what authorities believed was a terrorist attack. The violence undermines Ukraine’s security weeks before it hosts the European football championships in June. Ukraine has not been afflicted with political terrorism but there have been previous explosions connected to criminal extortion.

China

A blind legal activist who fled house arrest in his rural China village is under the protection of U.S. officials and high-level talks are taking place between the countries about his fate, an overseas activist group said Saturday. The whereabouts of Chen Guangcheng— amid unconfirmed reports that he sought protection at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing — could be a major political complication for the two countries as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top U.S. officials are due in China this coming week for the latest round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

Columbia

Colombian officials said eight people have been killed in two separate attacks they blame on leftist rebels. One of the dead is a 9-month-old girl. The military said that rebels used homemade mortars to attack a police station in the southern town of Puerto Rico, and that three civilians died in that attack. It said children, ages 7 and 9, were wounded in a neighboring home. In the second attack, five soldiers were killed while on patrol in the municipality of Florida. The area has a strong presence of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels who have been trying to overthrow the government for years.

Earthquakes

A moderate earthquake rattled Southern California on Saturday morning, shaking homes across the Inland Empire region and causing buildings to sway in downtown Los Angeles. The magnitude 4.1 quake struck at 8:07 a.m. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was centered along the San Andreas Fault about two miles northwest of Devore, in San Bernardino County. Some buildings swayed in downtown Los Angeles, about 60 miles to the west. A small 2.0 magnitude aftershock hit about a half-mile away about two minutes later

Weather

At least seven homes and a hog farm were destroyed after rare nighttime tornadoes reportedly ripped through sparsely populated counties on the southeastern Colorado plains. Overnight tornadoes are rare in Colorado, where cooler nighttime temperatures usually don’t create severe weather.

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Signs of the Times (4/24/12)

April 24, 2012

Arizona Governor Signs Bill to Allow Bible Classes in Public Schools

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law a bill allowing the establishing of elective classes that focus on the Bible and its influence on Western civilization, the Christian Post reports. House Bill 2563, sponsored by state Rep. Terri Proud, passed the state Senate last Thursday 21 to 9 and was signed by Brewer on Tuesday. According to the bill, “a school district or charter school may offer an elective course pertaining to how the Bible has influenced Western culture for pupils in grades nine through 12. A teacher who instructs a course offered under this section in its appropriate historical context and in good faith shall be immune from civil liability and disciplinary action.” The Bible class elective would teach students, among other things, the contents and history of the Old and New Testaments and their influence on “laws, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values and culture.” Arizona is the sixth state to pass such a law, joining Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and South Carolina.

Ariz. to Defend Immigration Law at Supreme Court

Arizona will go before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to defend its immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, in a case that will determine the future of immigration enforcement nationwide. National legal experts predict the high court’s ruling will be a landmark decision that determines whether states have the right to enforce federal immigration laws as they see fit. It is unusual for the Supreme Court to accept a case that hasn’t yet been fully adjudicated by the lower courts, but the court appears to want to resolve the issue sooner rather than later. Several other states have passed laws similar to SB 1070, prompting conflicting legal rulings in various appeals court districts. SB 1070, among other things, made it a state crime to be in the country illegally and stated that an officer engaged in a lawful stop, detention or arrest must ask about a person’s legal status when reasonable suspicion exists that the person is in the U.S. illegally.

More Mexicans Returning Home, Fewer Immigrating

Mexican immigration to the United States is on the brink of a historic reversal: More Mexicans may be going back to Mexico than coming in, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report Monday. The influx of Mexicans, which has dominated U.S. immigration patterns for four decades, began to tumble in 2006 and 2007 as the housing bust and recession created a dearth of jobs. At the same time, the number of Mexicans returning to their native country along with their U.S.-born children soared. Stricter border enforcement, more deportations and tough state immigration laws such as the Arizona statute also contributed to the reverse flow. From 2005 to 2010, 1.4 million Mexicans came to the USA— down by more than half from the 3 million who came from 1995 to 2000. From 2005 to 2010 , the number of Mexicans who moved from the USA to Mexico rose to 1.4 million, roughly double the number who had done so 10 years before.

Welfare Spending Up 41 Percent Under Obama

The federal government will spend more than $668 billion on anti-poverty programs this year, an increase of 41 percent or more than $193 billion since President Barack Obama took office. State and local government expenditures will amount to another $284 billion, bringing the total to nearly $1 trillion — far more than the $685 billion spent on defense. Federal, state and local governments now spend $20,610 a year for every poor person in the United States, or $61,830 for each poor family of three. The largest welfare program is Medicaid, which provides benefits to 49 million Americans and cost more than $228 billion last year, followed by the food stamps program, with 41 million participants and a price tag of nearly $72 billion.

FDA Proposes Rules for Nanotechnology

Regulators are proposing that food companies that want to use tiny engineered particles in their packaging may have to provide extra testing data to show the products are safe. The Food and Drug Administration issued tentative guidelines Friday for food and cosmetic companies interested in using nanoparticles, which are measured in billionths of a meter. Nanoscale materials are generally less than 100 nanometers in diameter. A sheet of paper, in comparison, is 100,000 nanometers thick. A human hair is 80,000 nanometers thick. The submicroscopic particles are increasingly showing up in FDA-regulated products like sunscreens, skin lotions and glare-reducing eyeglass coatings. Some scientists believe the technology will one day be used in medicine, but the FDA’s announcement did not address that use. The FDA has previously stated its position that nanotechnology is not inherently unsafe; however, materials at the nano scale can pose different safety issues than do things that are far larger. The FDA will take comments on both proposals for 90 days.

  • Unknown territory offers great promise but high risk as well. Caution is required.

Measles Deaths Drop Worldwide

The number of measles deaths worldwide has apparently dropped by about three-quarters over a decade, according to a new study by the World Health Organization. Health officials estimate about 9.6 million children were saved from dying of measles from 2000 to 2010 after big vaccination campaigns were rolled out more than a decade ago. Researchers estimated that the number of deaths fell during that time period from about 535,300 to 139,300, or about 74 percent. Most of the deaths were in India and Africa, where not enough children are being immunized. The global 85 percent vaccination coverage rate was the highest ever recorded.

Eurozone Cuts Deficits, But Total Debt Rises

The 17 countries that use the euro still face an uphill struggle to control their debts in spite of managing to slash government deficits to 4.1% of economic output in 2011. Figures reported Monday by the European Union’s statistics office confirmed the effects of harsh austerity programs on the eurozone members’ economies, which in 2010 ran an overall deficit of 6.2% of gross domestic product. Yet despite these efforts, overall debt rose from 85.3% of GDP to 87.2% — the highest level since the euro was created in 1999. After a financial crisis that has now dragged on for nearly five years, Monday’s figures underscore how difficult it will be for the eurozone to bring its deficits and debts below the EU-stipulated limits of a deficit of 3% or less and debt of 60% or less of GDP.

This task will become even harder as the eurozone’s economy falls back into recession. Separate data released Monday indicated that the private sector in the 17-country block continued to shrink in April. The purchasing managers’ index for eurozone, compiled by private data firm Markit, fell to a five-month low of 47.4, down from 49.1 in March. A level below 50 means that the private sector is contracting.

Dutch Government Collapses over Debt Woes

The Dutch government, one of the most vocal critics of European countries failing to rein in their budgets, quit Monday after failing to agree on a plan to bring its own deficit in line with EU rules. Queen Beatrix’s office said she had accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his Cabinet after Rutte informed her talks on a new austerity package collapsed over the weekend. Opposition lawmakers called for a vote in late June. The Dutch government collapse came a day after the first round election victory of France’s socialist candidate Francois Hollande, who has said he wants to focus less on austerity and more on economic growth.

Economic News

The Medicare and Social Security trust funds are both on “unsustainable paths” and will be exhausted by 2024 and 2033, respectively, a trustee report released Monday said. The impact of Baby Boomers hitting senior-citizen status, Americans living longer and an economy that has supplied fewer workers to pay into Medicare and Social Security have left the trust funds paying out more than they take in.

  • There is no ‘trust fund’ – it exists only on paper. The actual money went into the general fund and has already been spent

Sales of new homes slowed in March. The Census Bureau reported that sales of new homes in the month came in at an annual pace of 328,000 when adjusted for the season. That was down 7.1% from the 353,000 sales pace in February. But year-over-year data showed a 7.5% increase over March 2010.

Home prices hit new post-bubble lows in February, according to a report out Tuesday. The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 cities recorded a decline of 3.5% from 12 months earlier. Home prices have not been this low since November 2002. There are still 6 million homeowners who are late on their payments.

A weak labor market already has left half of young college graduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don’t fully use their skills and knowledge. Young adults with bachelor’s degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs — waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example — and that’s confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans. Median wages for those with bachelor’s degrees are down from 2000. While there’s still strong demand in science, graduates of education and health fields, arts and humanities are floundering.

The International Monetary Fund says it has raised more than $430 billion in an effort to assure finance markets that it has sufficient firepower to handle any new problems from Europe’s prolonged debt crisis, nearly doubling the IMF’s available resources to make loans to nations in trouble.

Afghanistan

The United States and Afghanistan have finalized a “strategic partnership” to guide security arrangements as the U.S. and allies pull out from the war that has lasted more than a decade. The office of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said the document is ready for the signatures of President Obama and Karzai. Afghanistan is the major topic as Obama prepares to host G-8 and NATO summits next month. Under a 2010 agreement with NATO and other allies, the U.S. plans to have troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Syria

Syrian troops armed with heavy machine guns killed dozens in the central city of Hama Monday, activists said, just a day after chanting protesters welcomed a visit by a U.N. team sent to observe a shaky cease-fire. The day’s violence, the city’s worst in months, added a dangerous new aspect to the U.N. team’s work: that the Syrian regime might exact deadly revenge against opponents who feel empowered by the observers’ presence to spill into the streets. Observance of the truce, which was supposed to begin April 12, has been spotty at best.

Syrian troops stormed and shelled districts in a suburb of the capital Damascus Sunday, activists said, a day after the Security Council voted to expand the number of U.N. truce monitors to 300 members in hopes of salvaging an international peace plan marred by continued fighting between the military and opposition rebels. An eight-member team is already on the ground in Syria, and has visited flashpoints of the 13-month-long conflict since Thursday. Fighting generally stops when they are present, but there has been a steady stream of reports of violence from areas where they have not yet gone.

Egypt

Egypt’s Islamist and secular forces sought to relaunch the street uprising against Egypt’s ruling military Friday, packing Cairo’s Tahrir Square with tens of thousands of protesters in the biggest rally in months and accusing the generals of manipulating upcoming presidential elections to preserve their power. But attempts by protest organizers to form a united front against the military were blocked by competing agendas. The protest was riven by distrust and resentments that have grown between Islamists and liberals during the rocky, military-run transition process since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak more than a year ago. Liberals and leftists accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of abandoning the “revolution” months ago and allying with the military in hopes of securing power. In Friday’s rally, many said the Brotherhood was only turning to the streets after the generals proved more powerful in decision-making even after an Islamist-dominated parliament was elected.

Iran

Despite another round of talks in Istanbul regarding the status of its nuclear program and a professed willingness to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran continues to refuse to make any concessions or halt its work. In the latest discussion, Iran refused access to its military nuclear site at Parchin near the capital of Tehran. Experts believe Iran is “sanitizing” the site so that if inspections do take place in the future, they will not reveal the extent of Iran’s nuclear weapons work there. Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak pointed out that all these talks have accomplished is guaranteeing “Iran has five more weeks” of uninterrupted work on its nuclear program.”

Libya

The Libyan government assumed control Friday of the country’s main international airport, taking over from militia fighters who had been providing security for months in the absence of an official force to do the job. The handover marked a step forward for Libya’s new rulers as they try to stamp their authority on the country and bring under their control the various armed brigades that helped topple longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

Yemen

Yemeni government troops have fought their way into the center of an al-Qaeda-held city in the country’s lawless south after a fierce, six-hour battle that ended early Tuesday. Al-Qaeda militants seized Zinjibar last May when fighters from the terror network’s Yemeni branch took advantage of the turmoil in the impoverished nation to capture several cities and towns in the south. The coastal city is the capital of Abyan province, and driving al-Qaeda out of it should loosen al-Qaeda’s grip over Yemen’s southern territories. The city also lies near key shipping lanes through which millions of barrels of oil pass every day.

Sudan

Sudanese aircraft have bombed an area near Bentiu, the capital of Unity State in South Sudan, killing a boy and leaving at least two people wounded. Sudan and South Sudan have been drawing closer to a full-scale war in recent months over the sharing of oil revenues and a disputed border dispute. Sudan said Friday its forces drove South Sudanese troops from a contested oil town near the countries’ ill-defined border. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir threatened to topple the South Sudan government after accusing the south of trying to take down his Khartoum-based government. South Sudan broke away from Sudan last year after an independence vote, the culmination of a 2005 peace treaty that ended decades of war that killed more than 2 million people. Despite the treaty, violence between the two countries has been on the rise, in part because the sides never agreed on the where the border lies, nor how to share oil revenues from the border region.

Mali

Christians in Mali are in desperate need of aid after being forced to flee their homes when Islamists rampaged through the north as part of a violent rebel takeover. A Barnabas Fund contact in Mali said: “Horrible crimes have been made against the population: massacres, rape of women, obligation to wear the veil, chasing Christians. All the churches were destroyed in Gao and Timbuktu. All the believers had to flee towards the south, leaving their homes and giving up all their goods.” The heavily armed rebels ransacked and looted homes, vandalized churches and occupied a Bible school in Gao. Ansar Dine, which has links to al-Qaeda and wants to turn Mali into an Islamic state, is imposing sharia law on the region.

Volcanoes

The white-capped volcano that looms over Mexico City emitted a terrifying low-pitched roar Friday and spewed roiling towers of ash and steam as it vented the pressure built up by a massive chamber of magma beneath its slopes. Authorities prepared evacuation routes, ambulances and shelters in the event of a bigger explosion. Even a large eruption of the 17,886-foot (5,450-meter) cone of Popocatepetl is unlikely to do more than dump ash on one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas. But the grit could play havoc with Mexico City’s busy airport, and tens of thousands of people in the farming villages on its flanks could be forced to flee. Popo, as it’s commonly known, has put out small eruptions of ash almost daily since a round of eruptive activity began in 1994. A week ago, the eruptions started growing larger.

Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake hit waters off eastern Indonesia on Saturday, sending residents and school children running into the streets in panic. There were no reports of injuries or serious damage and no tsunami warning was issued. The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.6 quake hit 50 miles off Papua province. It was centered just 18 miles beneath the ocean floor. The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.6 quake hit 50 miles off Papua province. It was centered just 18 miles beneath the ocean floor.

Weather

Topsy-turvy winter weather – which saw a blizzard in October and 90-degree heat in March – returns Monday with an April snowstorm in the Northeast. Winter-storm watches and warnings are posted from the Appalachians of West Virginia, across western Pennsylvania and into southwest New York, where heavy, wet snow could topple trees already in full bloom after early spring warmth. The Weather Channel is forecasting 4 to 6 inches of snow for Pittsburgh and 5 to 8 inches in Buffalo during the day on Monday. Once the snow ends, frigid, February-like temperatures forecast in the 30s and 40s will make life miserable for those who lose power.

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Signs of the Times (4/20/12)

April 20, 2012

Photos of Troops with Corpses Roils Military

Photos of U.S. soldiers posing with dead Afghan insurgents published Wednesday were another blow for a military still recovering from the release of images of U.S. troops desecrating bodies, the alleged murder of 17 Afghan villagers by a soldier and reports that troops accidentally burned Qur’ans. The images, like those of a video showing Marines urinating on insurgent corpses that surfaced in January, demonstrate a lack of discipline among troops, according to one military analyst. Military officials, meanwhile, condemned the soldiers’ actions and denounced publication of the photos, saying their appearance endangered U.S. forces.

  • War is hell and opens the doors to satanic influence of all concerned

Internet Snooping ‘Dangerous to Human Rights’

The Guardian (UK) reports that “Extension of surveillance powers a destruction of human rights.” The government’s con­tro­ver­sial plans to allow intelligence agen­cies to mon­itor the internet use and dig­ital communications of every person in the UK suffered a fresh blow on Tuesday when the inventor of the world wide web warned that the mea­sures were dangerous and should be dropped. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web Foundation and director of the World Wide Web Consortium, says the extension of the state’s surveillance powers would be a “destruction of human rights” and would make a huge amount of highly intimate information vulnerable to theft or release by corrupt officials. The government ran into a storm of criticism earlier this month when it emerged that it was planning to monitor all communication on social media, Skype calls and email communication as well as logging every site visited by internet users in Britain.

New Federal Agency OFR Stirs ‘Orwellian’ Fears

It is the most powerful federal agency you’ve never heard of — and lawmakers from both parties on Thursday vowed to keep abreast of its astonishing growth and rein it in, if necessary. The Office of Financial Research, or OFR, was created by the Dodd-Frank financial services overhaul that President Obama signed into law in July 2010. Technically housed under the Treasury Department, the agency has until now received its funding not from the Congress, but directly from the Federal Reserve. Starting in July, the OFR Fiscal Year 2013 budget, estimated at $158 million, will be funded entirely through assessments — also known as taxes — on bank-holding firms with consolidated assets worth at least $50 billion. But as became clear at Thursday’s hearing by the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, a close reading of the law the president signed provides no limit on the growth of OFR’s budget, nor on the taxes the agency can impose on big banks to fund it. Congress holds no power of the purse over OFR. Detractors call it “the CIA of financial regulators,” and conjure “Orwellian” visions of “an omniscient Soviet-style central risk manager.”

  • Through executive orders and other sneaky, indirect methods, the Obama administration has laid a lot of groundwork for socialistic, even dictatorial, control over federal and economic affairs

Mandatory ‘Big Brother’ Black Boxes In All New Cars From 2015

A bill already passed by the Senate and set to be rubber stamped by the House would make it mandatory for all new cars in the United States to be fitted with black box data recorders from 2015 onwards. Section 31406 of Senate Bill 1813 (known as MAP-21), calls for “Mandatory Event Data Recorders” to be installed in all new automobiles and legislates for civil penalties to be imposed against individuals for failing to do so. Although the text of legislation states that such data would remain the property of the owner of the vehicle, the government would have the power to access it in a number of circumstances, including by court order, if the owner consents to make it available, and pursuant to an investigation or inspection conducted by the Secretary of Transportation.

EPA Issues Air Pollution Rules for Fracking Wells

Federal regulators issued first-ever air pollution rules for “fracking” wells on Wednesday, requiring that drillers burn or capture the gas and its smog-producing compounds released when the wells are first tapped. Environmental Protection Agency official Gina McCarthy announced the long-anticipated rules, the first to cover some of the 13,000 wells drilled yearly nationwide that use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to collect natural gas and oil from deep shale layers. In a compromise with the industry, regulators said the drillers can flare, or burn off, the gas for now, a process that can last for weeks. But starting in 2015 they would lose that option. Instead, they’ll be required to collect it — so-called green completion of new fracking wells.

More Sharia Law in U.S.

In yet another example of the Judicial Islamicization of America, a U.S. federal judge in Ohio has enforced “Sharia” Muslim law forbidding Christian prisoners from eating pork in prison. To accommodate Muslim complainers, an Ohio Prison Director Gary C. Mohr banned pork from all kitchen in all prisons under control of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.  The Muslims had threatened a lawsuit to demand “halal” meals and kitchens, so ODRC entirely removed pork and forced all Christian prisoners to eat Muslim food. One brave Christian prisoner, James Rivers, filed a lawsuit opposing the enforcement of Muslim “Sharia” law upon all the prisoners, and demanded his right to eat pork. Sadly, the federal judge James S. Guin threw out the case, ruled against all Christian prisoners, and enforced Sharia Muslim dietary law in all Ohio prisons.

Foreclosures Affect 10% of U.S. Children

One in 10 U.S. children has been or will be affected by the nation’s surge in foreclosures, a new report says. Five years into the foreclosure crisis, an estimated 2.3 million children had lived in homes lost to foreclosure. Another 3 million children live in homes at risk of foreclosure because home loans are in the foreclosure process or are seriously delinquent. And 3 million children lived or live in rental homes lost to foreclosure or at risk. e crisis. In Nevada, almost 1 in 5 children lived or live in owner-occupied homes that were lost to foreclosure or are at risk of being lost. In other high foreclosure states, the percentage of children affected were 15% in Florida, followed by 14% for Arizona and 12% for California. In Alaska and North Dakota, only 2% of children were affected, the lowest rates in the country.

Women Missing Out on Jobs

More jobless Americans are finding work these days, but they are mainly male. The “mancession” has morphed into the “hecovery,” leaving women workers largely in the dust. The share of adult women who are employed is lower than it was two years ago, while men have seen an upturn. Women were generally spared the worst of the recession, accounting for only one-quarter of the jobs lost. Men, on the other hand, were hit hard by the devastation in the construction and manufacturing industries. While the private sector picked up nearly 2.9 million jobs over the course of the recovery, women secured only 23.5% of those positions.

Rising Fears That Recovery May Once More Be Faltering

Some of the same spoilers that interrupted the recovery in 2010 and 2011 have emerged again, raising fears that the winter’s economic strength might dissipate in the spring. In recent weeks, European bond yields have started climbing. In the United States and elsewhere, high oil prices have sapped spending power. American employers remain skittish about hiring new workers, and new claims for unemployment insurance have risen. And stocks have declined. The breadth of the recent weakening of activity shows that the economy remains fragile. Europe remains the central concern. In a report released this week, the International Money Fund’s economists said that financial institutions in the European Union would shrink their balance sheets by up to $2.6 trillion by the end of next year, reducing the availability of credit for businesses and households by as much as 1.6 percent.

Economic News

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits dipped last week but remained higher than in recent weeks. The Labor Department says weekly applications declined 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 386,000 last week. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 5,500 to 374,750, the highest in nearly three months.

Hiring slowed in March after a fast start this year. Employers added only 120,000 jobs in March — half the pace of the previous three months and substantially less than required to reduce unemployment.

Short sales outnumbered foreclosure sales in 12 states in January, indicating that more homeowners are finding an easier way out of a distressed home loan. Short sales — which occur when a lender agrees to a home sale for less than what’s owed — were up 33% in January over a year ago.

Revenue from Internet advertising in the U.S. hit a record $31 billion last year. That’s up 22% from $26 billion in 2010, the previous record. The fastest-growing category was mobile, with revenue of $1.6 billion in 2011, more than double the $600 million a year earlier. It’s still a small part of overall Internet advertising, however.

Syria

Syrian troops shelled a rebel-held neighborhood and sent reinforcements to border areas as the opposition called for fresh protests Friday after the United Nations accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of failing to honor a peace plan that went into effect a week ago. Earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Syria was not honoring a cease-fire, which took effect last week, and that violence was escalating. Syrian security forces opened fire Thursday on anti-regime demonstrators surrounding the cars of a U.N. team meant to monitor a shaky cease-fire, sending the observers speeding off and protesters dashing for cover. The shooting, which wounded at least eight people, could also complicate the deployment of a larger U.N. mission to help a cease-fire take hold between President Bashar Assad’s forces and opposition fighters.

Iraq

Bombings struck several areas in Baghdad and to the north Thursday, killing at least 30 people in the first major attacks in Iraq in nearly a month. The violence stoked fears that insurgents were trying to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government amid rising sectarian tensions. In all, officials said extremists launched 12 attacks in the Iraqi capital and seven other cities. At least 117Syrian troops shelled a rebel-held neighborhood and sent reinforcements to border areas as the opposition called for fresh protests Friday after the United Nations accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of failing to honor a peace plan that went into effect a week ago.  people were wounded in the rapid-fire explosions that unfolded over an hour and 15 minutes. Half of the bombs struck at security forces and government officials — two frequent targets for insurgents still seeking to undermine Iraq’s efforts to normalize after years of war and violence. Iraq’s al-Qaeda branch claimed responsibility Friday for the attacks.

Egypt

Hundreds of Egyptian demonstrators briefly blocked a main Cairo bridge over the Nile river Thursday to back their call for an end to military rule, a sign of growing concern that the generals might try to cling to power. An organizer told a private TV station that the move was an escalation ahead of a larger rally planned Friday by Egyptian political and revolutionary groups to protest the ruling military council’s handling of the transition period and calling for their quick exit. Egypt’s military took control after longtime President Hosni Mubarak was deposed in a popular uprising in February 2011. The generals have pledged to turn over power to a civilian government by the end of June, but created turmoil in upcoming presidential elections by banning three popular candidates.

Saudi Arabia

As Saudi Arabia’s highest Islamic authority has recently called for the destruction of all the churches on the Arabian Peninsula, religious rights groups are wondering why there hasn’t been a global outcry over the persecution, CBN News reports. Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, wrote in a recent Townhall.com column: “Imagine if Pat Robertson called for the demolition of all the mosques in America. It would be front-page news. It would be on every network and cable news program. There would be a demand for Christians to denounce him, and denounce him they would — in the harshest terms. The president of the United States and other world leaders would weigh in too. Rightly so. So why is it that when … the Grand Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia declares that it is ‘necessary to destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula,’ the major media do not see this as even worth reporting?” May added that he believed U.S. leaders and others had kept quiet on the issue to avoid promoting the notion of “Islamophobia,” but warned that “the world cannot stay silent much longer.”

Africa

The Nigerian religious sect Boko Haram had been sporadically attacking police stations and people for years with machetes and sometimes guns to create an Islamic state in its corner of Africa’s largest nation. Then, in 2010, the group exploded into violence with suicide bombings, car bombs and coordinated assaults, months after al-Qaeda got involved. Now Nigeria is headed for possible civil war in what experts say is an emerging strategy by al-Qaeda to convert local rebellions across sub-Saharan Africa into part of a global terror front against the West. The pattern is seen not just in Nigeria, but also in Somalia and Mali, where al-Qaeda is prompting independence movements to broaden and heighten attacks.

Yemen

The CIA wants to be able to launch drone strikes on terrorism suspects in Yemen even when it does not know the identities of those being targeted, U.S. officials have told The Washington Post. The “signature strikes,” which have been used by the CIA in Pakistan for years, target locations where the agency’s intelligence sources identify suspicious behavior. An example would be a strike carried out after satellite imagery showed pictures of militants gathering at Al Qaeda compounds. CIA Director David Petraeus has requested permission to use the strikes against Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate in a move that would likely accelerate the number of drone strikes in the country. There has already been eight in the past four months.

  • The very concept of the CIA waging war in any form is extremely troublesome, especially in a country where we are not officially ‘at war’

Sudan

The Arab League said Thursday it would hold an emergency meeting over the increasing violence between Sudan and South Sudan. The south reported new skirmishes even as Sudan’s president increased his threats of war toward the south. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir said the recent violence has “revived the spirit of jihad” in Islamic Sudan. Christian South Sudan said it had repulsed four attacks from Sudan over a 24-hour period as fighting on the border showed no signs of slowing.

Myanmar

EU officials say the bloc will suspend most sanctions against Myanmar, also known as Burma, while it assess the country’s progress toward democracy. The sanctions will be suspended for a year, with the possibility of a review in six months. They target more than 800 companies and nearly 500 people. Myanmar, long a dictatorship, appears to be undergoing a remarkable transition. Last year, the junta ceded power to a new government that has embarked on widely praised reforms.

South Asia

Reports of Islamic extremists attacking people of different faiths in South Asia have been growing in recent years, resulting in beatings and even beheadings, the Christian Post reports. In March alone in India, a Christian church was attacked, an elderly widow beaten and a 22-year-old woman driven from her village for giving thanks to Jesus. In neighboring Pakistan, the religious persecution is just as bad, where Christians are targeted even by government officials. Islamic militants in Pakistan have also targeted Sikhs, with recent incidents of kidnappings and beheadings. Attacks by Muslims against religious minorities are so common that they are at most condemned by authorities, and rarely punished — and violence continues to spread throughout the region.

Vietnam

A group of thugs stormed a Christian orphanage in a late night raid in Vietnam, beat the children and, with help from the police, destroyed the building. The attack on the Agape Family centre in the capital, Hanoi, started shortly after midnight on 14 April. The offenders cut the electricity before throwing stones and other objects at the building to frighten the children. Around 200 policemen arrived, but rather than protect the children and round up the offenders, they helped the mob to destroy the centre. Witnesses said that it was the police and local authorities who sent the thugs to carry out the initial attack; it appears to be part of their ongoing campaign to harass and intimidate the country’s Christians.

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Signs of the Times (4/18/12)

April 18, 2012

Global Genocide Against Christians Underway?

In addition to the widespread persecution of Christians in the Muslim-majority Middle East, one religious freedom expert says Christians are “very much threatened” throughout the rest of the world, CBN News reports. Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said: “We’re seeing a very vicious attack on Christians in a number of countries. … In many places in Iraq, we’re seeing a religious cleansing. That’s a euphemism — it means that Christians are being killed and driven out. About two-thirds of the Christians in Iraq have already left.” In Saudi Arabia, she said, the government is now hunting down people who pray in their homes, and in Egypt, Christians are “very, very worried about their future because there’s an Islamist parliament now.” However, Shea notes that it isn’t just the Middle East that’s seeing an increase in Muslim extremism: “There is a radicalization of Islam going on throughout the world and this is having an impact on the tolerance that there is for non-Muslims. So Christians are very much threatened throughout the world.” Those countries include Nigeria, North Korea, China, Vietnam and Pakistan, and “anyone who defends [Christians] who are Muslim — they’re being attacked and killed,” Shea said.

  • Islam’s goal, a Quranic imperative, is world domination through jihad, and Christianity is its primary target

AFA Urges Parents to Keep Children Home from School on ‘Day of Silence’

The American Family Associations notes that, “Day of Silence, which is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), fast approaches. This year it will take place in most public schools on April 20. On this day, thousands of public high schools and increasing numbers of middle schools will allow students to remain silent throughout an entire day-even during instructional time-to promote GLSEN’s socio-political goals and its controversial, unproven, and destructive theories on the nature and morality of homosexuality. Parents must actively oppose this hijacking of the classroom for political purposes. Please join the national effort to restore to public education a proper understanding of the role of government-subsidized schools. You can help de-politicize the learning environment by calling your child out of school if your child’s school allows students to remain silent during instructional time on the Day of Silence.”

Appeals Court OKs Ariz. Voter ID, But Voids Proof of Citizenship

Arizona voters can be required to show identification before casting their ballots, but they don’t have to prove U.S. citizenship to register, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday. The ruling by an 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, upheld the District Court in Arizona on the issue of showing identification to vote but overturned it regarding proving citizenship to register. Both measures were contained in Proposition 200, passed by Arizona voters in 2004. The plaintiffs argued that because the state charges for official photo identification, the requirement amounted to a “poll tax” that discriminated against poor people. The appellate court rejected that argument. Regarding Prop. 200’s requirement that “satisfactory evidence” of U.S. citizenship was necessary to register to vote, the 9th Circuit ruled that the National Voting Rights Act superseded the Arizona law.

  • This mixed message will only further churn the turmoil. The National Voting Rights Act went way too far in easing the path into the voting booth. We need to be diligent in preventing fraud and ensuring that only citizens get to vote.

AZ Gov. Vetoes Bill Allowing Guns on Public Property

Gov. Jan Brewer rebuffed gun-rights advocates by vetoing for a second time a bill to allow guns on public property, and sent a strong message that such a proposal would need wider support from police, cities and the public before she would sign it. Brewer’s veto of the bill, which could have let guns into city halls, police stations, county courts, senior centers, swimming pools, libraries and the state Capitol, was the latest setback for a push to expand the right to carry guns in public places in Arizona. Legislative efforts to put guns on university campuses, just outside K-12 school grounds and in homeowners associations all appear to have run into roadblocks this session. Citing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in her veto letter, Brewer, who vetoed a similar bill last year, recognized the legitimacy of laws banning guns in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.

Senate Fails to Advance Buffett Rule

The Democratic-controlled Senate failed on Monday to reach a super-majority needed to pass a tax plan offered by President Obama to require millionaires to pay a 30% minimum effective tax rate. The 51-45 defeat of the “Buffett rule,” named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, fell mostly along party lines. The bill needed 60 votes to move forward. Senate Republicans criticized the bill as an election-year ploy by the president who has been campaigning on a message that all Americans should pay their “fair share” in order to help balance the budget. The White House proposal was named for Buffett after he publicly called last year for a tax code that does not allow the wealthiest of Americans to pay a lower effective tax rate than the middle class, which is currently possible because of how tax rules apply differently to money made off of investments vs. money earned through a pay check.

  • It turns out that Obama paid a significantly lower tax rate (23%) last year than his own secretary (30%)

Obama Proposes Oil Speculation Curbs

The Obama administration proposed new measures Tuesday to limit speculation in the oil markets, seeking to draw a contrast with Republicans who have been calling for more domestic drilling during a time of near record gasoline prices. The new proposals require oil traders to put up more of their own money for transactions, ask for more money for market enforcement and monitoring activities, and call for higher penalties for market manipulation. The measures seek to boost spending for Wall Street enforcement at a time when congressional Republicans are seeking to limit the reach of federal financial regulations.

States Allow Telephone Companies to End Land-Line Service

First it was street-corner phone booths and home delivery of telephone books. Now, land lines are on their way to becoming part of American telecommunications history. As consumers continue to move to wireless, states are passing or considering laws to end the requirement that phone companies provide everyone land-line service. Indiana and Wisconsin are the two most recent states to end the requirement, and many others — including Alabama, Kentucky and Ohio — are considering it. Some consumer organizations fear the change will hurt affordable service, especially in rural areas. Bill sponsors and phone companies including AT&T say deregulating land-line phone service will increase competition.

Broad Pay Disparity Between Sexes

Women of all ages, races, ethnic backgrounds and education levels — and in almost every line of work — earned less than men, according to a report issued Tuesday by the American Association of University Women. Women in the USA earned 77% of what men earned in 2010, says the report from AAUW, which has advocated for pay equity since 1913. Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, which was started in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity to call attention to the gap between men’s and women’s wages. The largest disparities were in Wyoming, where women earned 64% of what men did, and Louisiana, where they earned 67%.The gender pay gap was smallest in Washington, D.C., where full-time working women earned 91% of what men earned. The gap in median weekly income was largest for Hispanic and Latina women, who earned only 61% of what white men earn, on average. The pay gap was smallest for Asian-American women, whose weekly median income was 88% of the weekly median income for white men. One-third of working women are their family’s breadwinner, which the report says makes equal pay a family issue.

  • The problem is a combination of unequal pay for the same job as well as higher-level jobs going more often to men. Until the recession, the gap had been narrowing.

Taxmageddon Coming?

As many Americans were scrambling to get this year’s taxes done, analysts were warning about a bigger tax day — what some call a tax Armageddon, or “Taxmageddon,” to characterize its potential effect on the U.S. economy. At the end of the year, some $500 billion in tax breaks expire all at once, hitting American households with an average tax increase of $3,800 — if Congress doesn’t act. The potential increases include $165 billion more from taxpayers as a result of expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, which would push taxes from a bottom rate of 10 percent and a top rate of 35 percent to a bottom rate of 15 percent and a top rate of 39.6 percent. It would cut the child tax credit by half, from $1,000 a child to $500. The marriage penalty would return. The tax on dividends, which many seniors rely on, would soar from 15 percent to as high as 39.6 percent. A separate $124 billion cut in the payroll tax would end. And a temporary fix to the alternative minimum tax would be erased. The tax originally was aimed at millionaires, but it could would hit some 34 million taxpayers next year. The expiring cuts would hit all income groups but those at low and middle incomes the hardest.

Economic News

The Commerce Department says builders broke ground at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 654,000 homes last month. That’s down 5.8% from February. Apartment construction, which can fluctuate sharply from month to month, fell nearly 20%. Single-family homebuilding was mostly unchanged.

Building permits, a gauge of future construction, rose 4.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 747,000. That’s the highest level since September 2008. Even with the gains, the level of permits requested remains only about half the pace considered healthy.

Shrinking budgets and enrollments are forcing school closures and consolidations across the nation. From 2008 to 2009, 1,822 public elementary and secondary schools closed, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. A year earlier, 1,515 closed.

Middle East

One Jerusalem asks, “Where is the outcry? Why is there silence as the United States moves ahead with supplying Iraq with sophisticated military aircraft? Why are we supplying the Iran-friendly government of Iraq with military equipment that will be examined, if not used, by Iran? Iraq’s current Prime Minister spent seven years living in Iran. He is on friendly terms with Hezbollah. This Iraq government is slated to get 36 advanced aircraft from the United States. One Jerusalem has learned that this transaction went through without consultation with Israel, whose defenses will be challenged by this deal. One more case of how not to treat an ally.”

  • The Obama Administration continues its anti-Israel, pro-Muslim ways

Syria

Nearly a week after a cease-fire took effect, Syrian troops pounded a rebel stronghold Wednesday. Despite the persistent violence in Homs and other cities, the international community is reluctant to declare the cease-fire dead in part because it is seen as the only way to end the 13 months of bloodshed in Syria triggered by an uprising against President Bashar Assad. Other options, such as foreign military intervention, arming Assad’s opponents and economic sanctions, have either been discarded or don’t have unanimous approval. A deadlocked international community would be hard put to offer an alternative if it were to acknowledge the collapse of the cease-fire.

Afghanistan

The United States and its NATO allies are readying plans to pull away from the front lines in Afghanistan next year as President Barack Obama and fellow leaders try to show that the unpopular war is ending. Top military and diplomatic officials from the U.S. and NATO allies met Wednesday to finalize the combat handover program and a strategy for world support to the weak Afghan government and fledgling military after 2014. At the same time, the nations that have prosecuted a 10-year war against a Taliban-led insurgency are reassuring nervous Afghans they will not be left to fend for themselves. The competing messages aimed at different audiences are both challenged by current events in Afghanistan, where insurgents staged an impressive, coordinated attack last weekend that struck at the heart of the U.S.-backed government and international enclave in Kabul.

At least 140 Afghan schoolgirls and female teachers have been hospitalized after drinking water that local officials say was poisoned by extremists opposed to women’s education, CNN reports. While no deaths have been reported, more than half of the victims — ages 14 to 30 — partially lost consciousness, while others suffered dizziness and vomiting. Education for women was outlawed by the Taliban government from 1996 to 2001 as un-Islamic, Reuters says. That began to change after the regime was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion.

  • How can Muslim women, ‘moderate’ or otherwise, support Islam with its gender repression?

Sudan

Fighting spread further along the Sudan-South Sudan border when soldiers from both countries got into a firefight, killing 22 troops,a southern spokesman said Wednesday. The river battle comes amid wider violence along the shared border around the oil town of Heglig, which South Sudan troops took control of last week. Sudanese aircraft have been bombing South Sudan’s Unity State as a part of that fighting. South Sudan broke away from Sudan last year after decades of civil war. But the two sides never agreed on how to share the oil wealth found in the region between the countries, and the border was never fully demarcated. South Sudan is largely Christian while the north is Muslim.

Yemen

In the aftermath of a series of US drone attacks in Yemen  — which US officials never officially acknowledge —  concern is growing that the airstrikes are strengthening, not hindering, militant networks in the region.  Though ‘unnamed’ security or military officials in Yemen often claim only “Al Qaeda members” or “militants” are killed, there is rarely media confirmation, especially in the US media, about who or how many civilians are killed. Fears are growing that the secretive US drone program will create a violent backlash and further destabilize a country teetering on the brink. “With every U.S. attack that is conducted in Yemen al Qaeda is only growing in power and we have to ask ourselves why that is happening,” Abdul Salam Mohammed, director of Abaad Strategic Center, told CNN.

Volcanoes

Authorities in Mexico have raised the alert level for the Popocatepetl volcano southeast of Mexico City due to increasing activity. It’s now at the fifth step on a seven-level warning scale. A lava dome is growing in the volcano’s crater, the National Disaster Prevention Center said Tuesday. The 17,886-foot (5,450-meter) volcano also has been spewing fragments of incandescent rock recently, as well as water vapor and ash. The volcano could experience “significant explosions of growing intensity that hurl incandescent rocks significant distances,” large ash showers and possible flows of mud and molten rocks down the volcano’s flanks, the center said.

Earthquakes

A strong magnitude-6.7 earthquake shook central Chile late Monday, prompting authorities to order a preventative evacuation of a stretch of coastline and causing hundreds of people in the capital to flee buildings in panic. The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake’s epicenter was 26 miles northeast of Valparaiso, and it had a depth of 23 miles.

Weather

While the United States baked to its hottest March by far, the rest of the world took a break last month from ever increasing temperatures. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the world as a whole had its coolest March since 1999. Still, the month was 0.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century average.

A spring storm swamped parts of South Texas with more than a foot of rain Monday, forcing some schools to cancel classes. Parts of San Patricio County received 15 inches of rain in about a five-hour period. Emergency management officials had no reports of anyone hurt. However, about 70 percent of 1½ square miles of the small town of Gregory was flooded.

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Signs of the Times (4/16/12)

April 16, 2012

Planned Parenthood’s ’40 Days of Prayer’ Angers Pro-Lifers

A prayer campaign launched by a California Planned Parenthood affiliate has angered pro-life groups who claim the counter-campaign mocks their own “40 Days for Life” effort. Officials at Six Rivers Planned Parenthood (SRPP) in Eureka, Calif., launched “40 Days of Prayer” last month and has offered up daily prayers for pregnant women and clinicians who perform abortions. “Today we pray for women for whom pregnancy is not good news, that they know they have choices,” read the prayer for Day 1. Day 18 offers prayers for “staff at abortion clinics around the nation.” The campaign, according to Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based pro-life litigation group, is another “desperate attempt” to regain positive public attention and funding by mimicking a pro-life campaign.

  • Rest assured, God will not listen to murderous prayers: Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (Galatians 6:7)

New Netherlands Clinic Makes House Calls for Euthanasia

“If the patients can’t find death, just take death to the patients” — that’s the thinking behind the new End of Life Clinic that opened in the Netherlands in March. The clinic will sent out mobile “Life End” teams at the request of patients who wish to die under the country’s decades-old euthanasia law, WORLD News Service reports. The teams will cater to terminally ill patients whose primary care doctors have refused to provide euthanasia for religious, moral or other reasons. Each Life End unit consists of a doctor, nurse and equipment, and patients can choose a two-dose lethal injection or a drinkable drug mixture. Within its first month of operation, at least 70 patients contacted the clinic; its services are free for now but it hopes insurance companies will eventually pay. Each year in the Netherlands, there are 2,500 to 3,000 cases of euthanasia, representing 2 percent of all deaths in the country.

  • The end-time ‘culture of death’ is expanding its reach through satanic influence

Evolution’s ‘Weaknesses’ Can Be Taught in Tennessee

A bill that will allow Tennessee public school teachers to present the “weaknesses” of scientific theories such as evolution has become law without the governor’s signature, Baptist Press reports. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam returned the bill to the legislature April 10 without vetoing it or signing it, signaling that he wasn’t fully pleased with it but acknowledging that his veto could be overridden. The bill passed the House 72-23 and the Senate 25-8. The new law states that legislators believe teachers may be “unsure” about some issues, including “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning,” and that since a major purpose of scientific education is “to help students develop critical thinking skills,” state officials cannot prohibit teachers from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” Casey Luskin, an attorney for the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, said the law would protect teachers around the country who are “harassed, intimidated and sometimes fired” for presenting arguments against evolution, even if they back up their claims with evidence.

Hillary Clinton Overrides Congress to Send $147 million to Palestinians

In a rare move, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has personally overridden a Congressional hold on $147 million in US taxpayer money and sent it to the Palestinians. Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee had blocked the money from being sent due to continued terrorist attacks and the Palestinian Authority’s push for world recognition without negotiation with Israel. The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes, “This shocking move is yet one more indication that the current administration does not have Israel’s best interests at heart. It is more imperative than ever that believers stand with the Jewish state.”

Cuba Split Leaves Summit Without Declaration

Though physically absent, Cuba cast a big shadow over this Caribbean port at a summit of 30 Western Hemisphere leaders that ended Sunday. Leftist Latin American leaders repeatedly harangued the United States for continuing to insist that the communist-run nation be barred from the 18-year-old Summit of the Americas circuit. Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua were unequivocal: They won’t come to the next summit, set for Panama in 2015, if Cuba can’t come, too. Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, boycotted this summit over the issue. The United States and Canada were alone in opposing Cuban participation, and they also refused to endorse in a final declaration on Argentina’s claim to the British-held Falkland Islands.

Birth Rate for U.S. Teens is Lowest in History

A new federal data report released this week shows teen births are at their lowest level in almost 70 years, USA Today reports. The teen birth rate dropped 9 percent from 2009 to 2010 to a historic low of 34.3 births per 1,000 teens — down 44 percent from 61.8 in 1991. The decline was seen in all racial and ethnic groups. According to Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, “young people are being more careful.” She attributes the decline to less sex and the increased use of contraception. The National Center for Health Statistics credited “strong pregnancy prevention messages” and says contraceptive use “may have contributed.”

  • Of course, the feds and media won’t mention the positive effect of abstinence education as well

Too Old to Drive?

With more older drivers hitting America’s roads every day, loved ones and lawmakers alike face the dilemma of whether — or when — to take away grandpa’s car keys. Roughly 10,000 Americans reach age 65 every day, and nearly 1 in 6 people will be in their golden years by 2020. And while many will continue to drive safely for years, the diminished eyesight and reflexes that come with aging will take a dangerous toll on others’ ability to operate cars, experts say. Striking a balance between road safety and respect for the independence of society’s elders falls to a broad coalition of family members and caregivers, state regulators, insurance companies and even carmakers. Many elderly drivers curtail driving voluntarily as their level of comfort at the wheel declines. For others, a string of fender-benders or more traumatic events may signal they waited too long. Family members are in the best position to judge an aging driver’s cognition, mobility and vision and get them off the road if necessary, but that can create emotional conflict.

  • Better for families to deal with the issue instead of abrogating their responsibility to the heavy-handed federal government

Economic News

The Commerce Department says retail sales rose 0.8% in March. That’s below February’s 1% increase but above January’s pace. Excluding car and gasoline sales, retail sales increased 0.7%, a healthier gain than February. The gain pushed retail sales to a record $411.1 billion, 24% higher than the recession low in March 2009.

The number of people quitting their jobs in February outnumbered the amount of workers who were laid off by companies for the first time since this economic recovery began. So-called quits jumped 9% over February 2011, pushing the number of voluntary departures into the majority. Quits go hand-in-hand with consumer confidence which has been rising steadily, if modestly.

Syria

President Obama has ramped up U.S. aid, including communications equipment and medical supplies, to Syria’s opposition in hopes of accelerating the downfall of President Bashar Assad, officials said Friday. After a year of violence in Syria, a tenuous truce has taken hold this week. Tens of thousands of Syrians protested against the government on Friday. Security forces used live fire, tear gas and beat some protesters, but there was no immediate sign of wide-scale shelling or sniper attacks.

Syrian troops shelled residential neighborhoods dominated by rebels in the central city of Homs Sunday, activists said, killing at least three people hours before the first batch of United Nations observers arrived in Damascus to shore up a shaky truce. The reported shelling in Homs is threatening the truce to which President Bashar Assad and rebels fighting to topple him had agreed. Both sides accuse each other of violating the truce at the center of the peace plan.

North Korea

Obama administration officials confirmed today that they will not move forward with a food aid program to North Korea in light of the regime’s failed rocket launch. “Their efforts to launch a missile clearly demonstrates that they could not be trusted to keep their commitments,” said Ben Rhodes, a spokesman for the National Security Council. Officials are concerned that the North Korean regime — seeking to save face after the failed rocket launch — may proceed with another underground nuclear test in North Korea.

Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood said Sunday that it will fight the banning of its candidate for president that has thrown Egypt’s move toward elected civilian rule into disarray and threatens a return to massive street protests. Ten presidential candidates were barred from contesting the nation’s top job in a decision announced Saturday by the presidential election commission, five weeks before the presidential race is set to begin in May. Among the 10 deemed ineligible to run, three were front-runners in the race for Egypt’s presidency. All three are appealing the decisions. One was banned for a previous criminal conviction, another because his mother is a U.S. citizen.

Pakistan

The White House has no intentions of ending CIA drone strikes against militant targets on Pakistani soil, U.S. officials say, possibly setting the two countries up for diplomatic tensions after Pakistan’s parliament unanimously approved new guidelines for the country’s troubled relationship with the United States. U.S. officials say they will work in coming weeks and months to find common ground with Pakistan, but if a suspected terrorist target comes into the laser sights of a CIA drone’s hellfire missiles, they will take the shot. It’s not the first time the U.S. has ignored Pakistan’s parliament, which demanded an end to drone strikes in 2008. What’s different now is that the Pakistani government is in a more fragile political state, and can no longer continue its earlier practice of quietly allowing the U.S. action while publicly denouncing it.

Close to 150 Taliban fighters armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked a prison in northwest Pakistan before dawn Sunday, freeing hundreds of prisoners, including some suspected militants. The fighters freed 380 prisoners. At least 20 of them were “very dangerous Taliban militants.” The Pakistani Taliban have waged a bloody war against the government over the past several years and have killed thousands of Pakistani officials and average citizens.

Afghanistan

The Taliban launched a series of coordinated attacks on as many as seven sites across the Afghan capital on Sunday, targeting NATO bases, the parliament and Western embassies. Militants also launched near-simultaneous assaults in three other eastern cities. At least thirty-six attackers were killed as well as eleven policemen and civilians. Scores of suicide bombers assaulted the capital and three other provinces — Paktia, Nangarhar and Logar. The attacks were the most widespread in the heavily guarded capital since September, and demonstrated the insurgents’ resolve heading into the spring fighting season, when warmer weather typically brings increased attacks. The scale and scope of the assaults also raised doubts about the Afghan security forces’ ability to take over responsibility for the country’s security as the U.S.-led international force speeds up the handover in preparation for an end to the NATO mission in 2014.

Iraq

Iraqi officials say attacks across the country including a car bomb in a northern city have left five people dead. The explosion near the city’s university killed one and wounded 15, one of three attacks Sunday. A roadside bomb hit the car of a leader in the Sahwa anti-al-Qaeda Sunni militias, killing his son, in the town of Hawija. Meanwhile, gunmen blew up a Shiite family’s house in the Sunni-dominated Taji area, killing three and wounding two others. Violence has ebbed in Iraq, but Sunni insurgents still launch attacks to challenge the Shiite-led government.

  • Just like the Baptists and Methodists do

Somalia

The Somali Muslim terror group al Shabaab, which recently joined with al Qaeda in an attempt to implement sharia law, wants to rid the country of all Christians and is specifically targeting Christian converts from Islam, CBN News reports. Al Shabaab soldiers subject Christians to torture, punishment, humiliation and even brutal murders for refusing to conform to Islamic law. Somali Christian leaders estimate fewer than 200 Christians are left in the country of 10 million. One secret believer named Fozia said it was too risky to own a Bible, so she listened to nightly Christian radio broadcasts from neighboring Kenya. Some Somali Christians are receiving help from Voice of the Martyrs, who sponsors a safe house in a secret location in the Horn of Africa. At the safe house, Somali Christians and former Muslims seeking refuge have a place to eat, sleep and gather for worship, Bible study, discipleship and fellowship. “Pray that we Somali believers will live our lives closer to the kingdom of God,” Fozia said. “Pray that we will endure the weight of life in this Islamic nation.”

India

Islamic extremists in India attacked a Christian prayer meeting in West Bengal state, beating a 65-year-old widow and other women less than a month after they helped drive a young woman out of her home and village for her faith, Compass Direct News reports. On March 30, a mob of about 100 Muslims in Nutangram, Murshidabad district forced their way into a home where 11 Christians were gathered for lunch and worship. The mob shouted anti-Christian slogans and threatened to murder the Christians as they pushed, kicked and slapped them. 65-year-old widow Moyazan Bewa was beaten, and others received minor injuries. Hundreds of other Muslims gathered to watch as the mob chased the Christians outside and throughout the village and harassed them for about 90 minutes. “We pleaded with the radicals to let us go, and eventually they freed us while they were still shouting at us to leave Jesus or face more sufferings,” one Christian said. The Christians fled to the outskirts of the village and took refuge in a home; they filed a police complaint against the assailants but so far no arrests have been made. In the same area of Nutangram on March 9, Islamic extremists drove 22-year-old Rekha Khatoon out of her village after helping her parents beat her nearly unconscious because she gave thanks to Jesus for healing.

Russia

Thousands of protesters rallied Saturday in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan to support a hunger-striking politician who alleges a recent mayoral race was marred by fraud, the latest show of determination by opposition forces. The case of Oleg Shein. who claims the fraud denied him his rightful victory in the mayor’s race last month, has become prime cause for opposition figures who were at the forefront of this winter’s unprecedented huge protests in Moscow. Those protests and other large ones in St. Petersburg were sparked by reports of extensive fraud in December’s national parliamentary elections and continued in the March 4 presidential election. Vladimir Putin, the architect of Russia’s tightly controlled politics, won a six-year term as president in that election and showed disdain for protesters demands for changes.

Weather

A violent storm system unleashed dozens of tornadoes across the Midwest and Plains, leaving six people dead and at least 29 injured in Oklahoma Sunday morning. There were at least 120 reports of tornadoes Saturday and early Sunday, primarily in Kansas but also in northwest Oklahoma, Nebraska and Iowa. As the weather gripped the region, twisters or high winds damaged a hospital, homes and cut power to hundreds of thousands. The storms were part of an exceptionally strong system that the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., which specializes in tornado forecasting, had warned about for days. The center took the unusual step of warning people more than 24 hours in advance of a possible “high-end, life-threatening event.”

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Signs of the Times (4/13/12)

April 13, 2012

Arizona Passes Bill Banning Most Abortions after 20 Weeks

A measure signed by Gov. Jan Brewer will bar most abortions in Arizona after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a ban supporters say protects both mothers and fetuses but one that abortion-rights advocates say is among the most restrictive in the nation. It bans all abortions after 20 weeks except in a “medical emergency” where an abortion would prevent the mother’s death or “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” Seven states have similar restrictions. The bill signed into law Thursday makes other changes to abortion regulations, including the requirement of an ultrasound 24 hours before the procedure. The law becomes effective 90 days after the Legislature ends its session, which is likely to occur later this month.

Catholic Bishops to Rally for ‘Religious Freedom’

The nation’s Catholic bishops are calling on the faithful to pray and mobilize in a “great national campaign” to confront what they see as a series of threats to religious freedom, and they are setting aside the two weeks before July 4 for their “Fortnight for Freedom” initiative. The exhortation is contained in a 12-page statement released Wednesday by the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, and its chief concern is the Obama administration’s proposal to provide contraception coverage to all employees with health insurance, including those who work for religious groups. The document cites a number of other perceived threats to religious freedom besides the contraception policy, such as harsh immigration laws that could impede the church’s social ministry and university policies targeting campus student religious groups.

  • That typically cautious Catholic bishops are becoming so vocal and demonstrative is symptomatic of the underlying socialistic angst vexing our once great and Christian country.

Vanderbilt Faith Groups Form Coalition to Oppose ‘All-Comers’ Policy

A coalition of 11 Christian student groups at Vanderbilt University are insisting they should be allowed to choose their leaders based on shared faith and not the university’s “all-comers” policy, the Religion News Service reports. The groups, which are calling themselves Vanderbilt Solidarity, joined together to oppose the university’s policy that campus groups, and their leadership positions, must be open to all students; the religious groups say they cannot be led by students who do not share or profess their group’s faith. “Until recently, Vanderbilt explicitly protected the freedom of all student organizations to select members and leaders who shared and supported the group’s purpose, including — for religious groups — its faith,” the Solidarity groups said Monday. Stating that the policy violates “the central tenets of our faith,” the religious groups applied for registered status on campus, but included their own constitutions containing faith-based requirements for leadership positions. If the school does not recognize the constitutions, the groups would be considered unregistered next year. Solidarity’s decision comes two weeks after the campus Catholic group, Vanderbilt Catholic, decided not to register as an official student organization because of the policy. Beth Fortune, vice chancellor for public affairs, said the university stood behind its policy. “This debate is about nondiscrimination, not religious freedom,” she said.

  • All other freedoms now seem to trump “religious” freedom in today’s secular society

Drought Expands Across USA

The USA hasn’t been this dry in almost five years. Still reeling from last year’s devastating drought that led to at least $10 billion in agricultural losses across Texas and the South, the nation is enduring another unusually parched year. A mostly dry, mild winter has put nearly 61% of the lower 48 states in “abnormally dry” or drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal tracking of drought. The drought is expanding into some areas where dryness is rare, such as New England. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, stream levels are at near-record or record lows in much of New England. More than 63% of Georgia is now in severe or extreme drought.

Trouble also looms for water-dependent California. The state Department of Water Resources announced last week that water content in California’s mountain snowpack is 45% below normal. Arizona qualified for federal disaster relief with 100% of the state in some level of drought, with Maricopa County suffering through extreme drought conditions. Drought aid allows farmers and ranchers to apply for low-interest federal loans due to unprecedented agricultural production losses.

Economic News

Inflation stayed cool in March, as energy costs began to plateau after a three-month surge, keeping overall growth in consumer prices modest. The consumer price index rose 0.3% in March, the , the Labor Department announced Friday. Excluding the more-volatile prices of food and energy, the so-called core inflation monthly increase was 0.2%.The price of gasoline rose 1.7% in March, the government said, while total energy inflation rose a more modest 0.9% because of falling prices for electricity and natural gas. Food prices rose 0.2%. For the last 12 months, consumer prices have risen a total of 2.7%.

This year’s surge in gasoline prices appears to be over, falling short of the record highs some had feared heading into peak summer driving season. Prices have held at a national average of $3.92 a gallon the past week, below 2011’s $3.99 high and July 2008’s record $4.11. Analysts say the national average could dip to $3.70 a gallon by early May.

Three key economic indicators out Thursday suggest hiring remains weak even as growth continues to pick up and inflation remains in check. On the employment front, initial claims for jobless benefits rose 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 380,000 for the week ended April 6, suggesting that a hiring slowdown in March may not quite have ended. On the bright side, the U.S. trade deficit fell to $46 billion in February, the lowest in four months and narrowed by record-high exports. And U.S. wholesale prices were flat in March after a drop in energy prices offset rising costs for food and pickup trucks. The figures suggest that modest growth isn’t spurring inflation.

A new study finds that only about a third of hybrid owners buy another hybrid. Hybrid models have more than doubled since 2007, but just 35% of hybrid owners bought another hybrid when returning to the market in 2011. If you factor out the high-loyalty Toyota Prius, hybrid loyalty drops to 25%.

Middle East

As radical Islamic groups are rising to power across the Middle East as a result of the so-called Arab Spring, Christians are fleeing persecution in droves. However, CBN News reports, there is one safe haven still left in the region — Israel. Since Israel’s re-founding in 1948, the number of Christians has increased by 1,000 percent. “Christians are in every aspect, every realm of Israeli society,” says Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. “They’re in the Knesset. They’re on the Supreme Court, they’re in academia. The Israeli Defense Forces was at one point printing out Hebrew versions of the New Testament because there’s so many Christians swearing in for duty.” Oren said Arab Christians living in the Jewish state were among the most educated and prosperous in the Middle East. “And we protect them,” he said. Israel’s overall acceptance of Christians remains a stark contrast to the Palestinian-controlled areas of Gaza and the West Bank, where Christians are frequently persecuted and even killed.

  • The end-time conversion of Israel is underway

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has refused to commit to Israel not attacking Iran before the US presidential elections. Netanyahu has only agreed to wait on an Israeli military move until the fall of the year. Sources also said that Netanyahu agreed to give more time to “a dialogue” with Iran, accompanied by harsher sanctions. Netanyahu believes that after the fall season, the nuclear installations in Iran will enter ‘the zone of immunity’ from Israeli attacks, and Israel will no longer have the option of defending itself militarily.

The Egyptian government is trying to gain control over the Sinai Peninsula after Israel delivered a threatening message to the country in the wake of the recent rocket attack. Israel had intimated that if Egypt doesn’t gain control over the region soon, Israel will step in. Rockets, which landed near Eilat likely originated in the Sinai Peninsula, technically part of Egypt, but has become a “no man’s land” since the Egyptian revolution. Egypt denied all prior knowledge of the attack.

The Middle East Quartet (Russia, EU, UN, U.S.) expressed concern on Monday over “ongoing settler violence and incitement in the West Bank” and called on Israel to take “effective measures, including bringing the perpetrators of such acts to justice. In a statement issued following the meeting, the senior diplomats called on the international community to ensure the contribution of $1.1 billion in assistance to meet the Palestinian Authority’s 2012 recurrent financing requirements.

  • The Quartet is not only pro-Palestinians, but quite anti-Israel, fulfilling end-time Bible prophecy

Syria

In the first major test of a U.N.-brokered truce, thousands of Syrians poured into the streets Friday for anti-government protests, activists said. Security forces responded by firing in the air and beating some protesters, but there was no immediate sign of widescale shelling, sniper attacks or other potential violations of the cease-fire. A major outbreak of violence at a chaotic rally could give government forces a pretext for ending the peace plan, which aims to calm a year-old uprising that has killed 9,000 people and pushed the country toward civil war. The truce is at the center of international envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan to stop the bloodshed and launch talks on a political transition. Annan expressed cautious optimism that the plan has been “relatively respected” despite the continued presence of government troops and heavy weapons in population centers.

Iran

The six world powers gathering for nuclear talks beginning today are sharply divided over how best to curb Iran’s ambitions while defusing the possibility of a disastrous new military confrontation in the volatile Middle East. Officials from the six countries that will bargain with Iran have acknowledged in recent days significant differences over what a nuclear accord should look like, and under what conditions Iran could be granted partial relief from international sanctions that have put an unprecedented squeeze on the economy there. Partly because of the continuing disagreements, the six powers — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — are expected to skip the usual step of working out a common position before sitting down with Iran on Saturday in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. Diplomats say the lack of an accord could allow greater flexibility in negotiations, but some acknowledge that Iran probably will try to exploit the divisions to gain an advantage.

North Korea

North Korea’s widely condemned rocket splintered into pieces over the Yellow Sea soon after takeoff Friday, an embarrassing end to a launch that Pyongyang had infused with national pride during a week of high-level political meetings and celebrations. The satellite the rocket was carrying was unable to enter into orbit. World leaders were swift to denounce the launch, calling it a covert test of missile technology and a flagrant violation of international resolutions prohibiting North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programs.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s parliament has unanimously approved new guidelines for the country’s troubled ties with the United States on Thursday, in what could be an important step in putting relations back on track. Washington has been eagerly awaiting the results of the parliamentary review, saying it will be key to reopening supply lines to NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan. Islamabad closed the supply lines in November to protest U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border. The new guidelines call for an end to U.S. drone strikes, but also stated that the supply lines should be reopened, albeit with a higher fee charged to U.S. and NATO forces. The government will now formulate policy based on the guidelines.

Afghanistan

Roadside bombings on Wednesday killed a local Afghan government official and a NATO service member. So far this year, 102 members of U.S.-led coalition have been killed in Afghanistan. Separately, the Helmand provincial governor’s office said three local Afghan policemen were killed in Musa Qala district on Tuesday when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up near their vehicle. The three were responding to an earlier attack that killed four policemen at the district police headquarters building.

Nigeria

A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives Sunday morning on a busy road in Kaduna, Nigeria after attempting to drive into a church compound holding Easter services and apparently being turned away by a security guard, the Christian Science Monitor reports. At least 38 were killed in the blast, which damaged the nearby All Nations Christian Assembly Church and the ECWA Good News Church and left debris strewn across the major road where many were gathered at restaurants and shops. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion falls on Boko Haram, the radical Islamist sect responsible for hundreds of killings in Nigeria this year alone. Christians have been increasingly targeted on holy days, such as the Christmas Day bombing of a church in Madalla that killed at least 44.

Mali

Mali is threatened with partition as the rebellion flares in the north and political uncertainty grips the capital, Bamako. Mali’s neighbors and western governments are looking on anxiously as drug traffickers and Islamist groups affiliated with al Qaeda take advantage of the vacuum — in a region already blighted by hunger, poverty and weak government. A Christian leader has been beheaded and others are being threatened with similar treatment as Islamist militants run amok in Mali. A vast country of few inhabitants (15 million) and searing desert, Mali lies at an awkward intersection in Africa. To the north is a 1,200 kilometer border with Algeria, to the east Niger with its own restive Tuareg minority, to the west Mauritania. All four countries are dealing with the growing presence of Islamist groups affiliated with al Qaeda. The latest revolt, launched by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or MNLA, is more serious than previous rebellions. Its fighters now control several important towns in the north, including Gao on the river Niger and the fabled city of Timbuktu. An area the size of Texas is now beyond the government’s control. The MNLA has declared independence for Azawad.

Earthquakes

A massive earthquake off Indonesia’s western coast triggered tsunami fears across the Indian Ocean on Wednesday, sending residents in coastal cities fleeing to high ground. The U.S. Geological Survey said the first magnitude-8.6 quake was centered 20 miles beneath the ocean floor around 269 miles from Aceh province where memories of a 2004 tsunami that killed 170,000 people in the province alone, are still raw. A wave measuring less than 30 inches high, rolled to Indonesia’s coast. There were no other signs of serious damage. But just as the region was sighing relief, a magnitude-8.2 aftershock hit.

A pair of strong earthquakes rocked Mexico’s Gulf of California only minutes apart early Thursday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The quakes — magnitude 6.9 and 6.2 — were centered about 85 miles northeast of Guerrero Negro in the Mexican state of Baja California, or 325 miles south-southwest of Phoenix in the United States. Both epicenters were shallow, a little more than six miles underground. People as far north as Tucson, Arizona, reported feeling them.

A strong earthquake struck a sparsely populated area in the mountains of western Mexico on Wednesday, and caused tall buildings to sway more than 200 miles away in Mexico City. People evacuated some buildings in the capital, but the city government said helicopter flights detected no signs of damage. The U.S. Geological Survey reported a reading of 6.5 magnitude for the quake. A quake of that magnitude is capable of producing severe damage in an urban area, but this one occurred about 41 miles below the surface and a tremor’s power to cause damage is often dissipated when it is so deep.

Weather

The United Nations says that flooding from two days of rainfall in Haiti has killed six people and displaced 700 others. Two people died in a landslide in the area of Limbe and two others drowned while trying to cross a river. Two bodies were pulled from the water near the coastal town of Anse-a-Foleur. The floods also damaged 125 homes, as well as much crops and livestock. The rainfall displaced 700 people and 68 of them moved into shelters. The annual rainy season had already killed 6 people. They died last month in the capital area after mudslides crashed through their homes.

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Signs of the Times (4/10/12)

April 10, 2012

Britain Can Send Terror Suspects to U.S.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Britain could legally extradite five suspects wanted in the United States on terrorism charges, including Abu Hamza al-Masri, an inflammatory former mosque cleric accused in a range of unprosecuted anti-American plots that date back 14 years. In a precedent that eases extradition of terrorism suspects — an issue that has surfaced repeatedly since Britain relaxed procedures after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington — the court ruled that the human rights of the defendants would not be violated by their incarceration in a maximum security American prison. Although the court said the defendants could not be extradited before further legal procedures were completed, including further objections by rights activists, which could possibly delay their transfer to America for months, the ruling was nonetheless viewed as one of the most important court decisions on the prosecution of terrorism suspects since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Violent Crime Falls, Killing of Officers Rises

As violent crime has decreased across the country, a disturbing trend has emerged: rising numbers of police officers are being killed. According to statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 72 officers were killed by perpetrators in 2011, a 25 percent increase from the previous year and a 75 percent increase from 2008. A majority of officers were killed in smaller cities. The F.B.I. and other law enforcement officials cannot fully explain the reasons for the rise in officer homicide. Some law enforcement officials believe that techniques pioneered by the New York Police Department over the past two decades and adopted by other departments may have put officers at greater risk by encouraging them to conduct more street stops and to seek out and confront suspects who seem likely to be armed.

  • Disrespect of authorities is running rampant among our young people who see the police as the face of an increasingly oppressive society

Why are Schools Promoting Violent ‘Hunger Games’?

There are rising fears that the “Survivor-style” theme in the blockbuster film The Hunger Games glamorizes violence and could promote copycat behaviors. Set in a dystopian future where an all-powerful, high-tech centralized government rules over “districts” of impoverished populations barely surviving in Third World conditions, The Hunger Games especially appeals to girls 12 and older. Released March 23, the PG-13 rated film portrays a dark humanistic worldview that ironically dehumanizes life itself, a concept public schools seem to be promoting. Dr. Brenda Hunter, a psychologist, practicing psychotherapist, and co-author of From Santa to Sexting, has serious concerns about the movie. “Middle schools across the country have taken instructional time out of the school day and have transported kids in school buses to see this Hollywood film,” she notes. “And this support has been so extensive that The Associated Press ran an article last week talking about the level of school support for this film through field trips.”

  • Our secular-humanist indoctrination centers strive to promote anything that denigrates God’s natural social order, driven by satanic anti-Christ compulsions toward violence, promiscuity and lawlessness

Pro-Marriage Organization Promotes Starbucks Boycott

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is continuing to encourage churches and believers to “Dump Starbucks.” Maggie Gallagher, co-founder of the traditional marriage advocacy group, says her group launched its boycott because of Starbucks’ strong endorsement of the homosexual agenda. “They’ve endorsed ‘gay marriage’ in the state of Washington; they’ve signed a legal brief, asking courts to overturn the federal definition of marriage.” In just the first week of its Dump Starbucks campaign, more than 25,000 people signed the pledge. Now, Christians are being encouraged to find out if Starbucks is being served in their churches.

Economic News

The unemployment rate dropped from 8.3% to 8.2% in March, its lowest rate since January of 2009. But the overall economy added only 120,000 new jobs in March, lower than expected. And, as the Associated Press pointed out, the unemployment rate “dropped because fewer people searched for jobs. The official unemployment tally only includes those seeking work.”

High gas prices used to hold down new car sales. Now it’s fueling them. So says Automotive News which points to March’s buoyant sales — 1.4 million vehicles, up 13% compared to the same month last year — and says much of the activity involved buyers trading in old, inefficient autos for new gas-saving models. Gas prices continue to rise and there’s a good chance they may top $4 a gallon nationally this week.

Buyers are paying record average prices for new cars. But it’s not gouging by automakers. Rather, more customers are ordering all the frills. Higher gas prices have customers buying loaded versions of smaller vehicles. The average price of a new car is running at $30,748, up 6.9% from a year ago.

Sony more than doubled its projected annual loss to 520 billion yen ($6.4 billion), its worst red ink ever. This would be the fourth year of red ink for Sony. Japanese news reports on Monday said Sony would cut about 10,000 jobs worldwide over the next year as it tries to return to profit.

Middle East

An Israeli airstrike wounded two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip near the Egyptian border on Saturday. Israel’s military said its air force targeted Palestinians in the town of Rafah attempting to launch a rocket from Gaza into Israel.

The leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, vowed on Friday to abduct more Israeli soldiers to pressure the Jewish state to release Palestinian prisoners. Last year, Hamas struck a deal with Israel to swap an Israeli soldier held by Hamas for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including many jailed for helping carry out bombings.

Syria

A U.N.-brokered plan to stop the bloodshed in Syria effectively collapsed Sunday after President Bashar Assad’s government raised new, last-minute demands that the country’s largest rebel group swiftly rejected. The truce plan, devised by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, was supposed to go into effect Tuesday, with a withdrawal of Syrian forces from population centers, followed within 48 hours by a cease-fire on both sides in the uprising against four decades of repressive rule by the Assad family. But on Sunday, Syria’s Foreign Ministry said that ahead of any troop pullback, the government needs written guarantees from opposition fighters that they will lay down their weapons. The commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, Riad al-Asaad, said that although his group is ready to abide by a truce, it does not recognize the regime “and for that reason we will not give guarantees.”  Syria’s main opposition group said Tuesday that 1,000 people have been killed by government forces in the last eight days.

With fighting escalating, the stream of Syrians fleeing to neighboring Turkey picked up considerably this week. Turkey’s disaster management agency said more than 2,700 refugees arrived on Thursday and early Friday, pushing the total to nearly 24,000. Syrian government shelling and offensives against rebel-held towns killed at least 43 people across the country on Saturday, as the U.S. posted online satellite images of troop deployments that cast further doubt on whether the regime intends to comply with an internationally sponsored peace plan.  A leading international human rights group says Syrian forces have summarily executed more than 100 people, most of them civilians. Monday’s report by Human Rights Watch says this includes several mass executions in the restive provinces of Homs and Idlib. Turkey says 3 people have been wounded after Syrian forces opened fire at refugee camp near the border inside Turkey.

Afghanistan

NATO says a member of an al-Qaeda-linked group who helped finance attacks against Afghan and foreign forces has been captured in northern Afghanistan. The unnamed militant is the third operative with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan reportedly detained or killed in the past two weeks. The group’s leader was killed March 26 in Faryab and another member was captured Friday in Badakhshan province.

A suicide blast blew up a four-wheel-drive vehicle during rush hour Tuesday outside a government office in Herat province in western Afghanistan, killing at least 10 people and wounding more than 20. Two men and a woman wearing a burqa were found dead inside the vehicle that exploded at the gate of a district headquarters building as people were waiting to go inside to see government officials about various business matters.

Pakistan

An avalanche smashed into a Pakistani army base on a Himalayan glacier along the Indian border on Saturday, burying around 135 soldiers. Helicopters, sniffer dogs and troops were deployed to the remote Siachen Glacier to rescue those trapped. Siachen is on the northern tip of the divided Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan. Both countries station thousands of troops there, who brave viciously cold temperatures, altitude sickness and high winds for months at a time. Troops have been deployed at elevations of up to 6,700 meters and have skirmished intermittently since 1984, though the area has been quiet since a cease-fire in 2003. The glacier is known as the world’s highest battlefield.

Egypt

Thousands rallied in Cairo on Friday in support of an ultraconservative Islamist presidential hopeful who may be disqualified from the race after it was announced that his mother was an American citizen. Hazem Abu Ismail is a 50-year-old lawyer-turned-preacher who in recent months vaulted to become one of the strongest contenders for president, with widespread backing from ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis. The showdown between Abu Ismail’s supporters and the government has shaken-up a race that includes former regime officials and Islamists competing against one another in the first presidential election since last year’s ouster or Hosni Mubarak. The balloting is slated for the end of May.

Yemen

Gunmen loyal to Yemen’s ousted president blasted buildings at the country’s main airport with anti-aircraft guns on Saturday, forcing authorities to shut it down, Armed tribesmen and troops in uniform driving pickup trucks mounted with heavy weapons opened fire on a tower and destroyed it. Then they surrounded the airport at the capital Sanaa, cut roads and sent passengers’ vehicles away. Authorities canceled all flights. The attack comes a day after Yemen’s new President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fired key security officials appointed by ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh including his half-brother, the air force commander Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, and his nephew, Tariq, who headed the presidential guard.

Tunisia

Police used tear gas and truncheons to disperse protesters seeking to march Monday along the Tunisian capital’s main boulevard despite a ban on demonstrations there. Some of the protesters hurled bricks in response. Bourguiba Avenue has been the main site for protests since Tunisians overthrew their longtime dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a year ago. But last week, authorities barred marches along the thoroughfare because of what they described as threats to “public order.” The ban followed weeks of rival demonstrations between groups calling for and against the implementation of Islamic law in the Arab country, which was staunchly secular under the former regime but now has a moderate Islamist party leading the government.

Mali

Mali’s parliamentary head, who was forced into exile after last month’s coup, returned Saturday to this nation in crisis, marking the first step in Mali’s path back to constitutional rule. Under intense pressure from the nations neighboring Mali, the junior officer who seized power 17 days ago agreed to return the nation to civilian rule, signing an accord late Friday in the presence of ministers from Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. The accord is a milestone for Africa, and especially for the troubled western corner of the continent, where coups or attempted coups are still a regular occurrence.

Mali’s Tuareg rebels, a traditionally nomadic people, have been fighting for independence for the northern half of Mali since at least 1958, when Tuareg elders wrote a letter addressed to the French president asking their colonial rulers to carve out a separate homeland for the Tuareg people. Instead the north, where the lighter-skinned Tuareg people live, was made part of the same country as the south, where the dark-skinned ethnic groups controlled the capital and the nation’s finances.

Weather

At least two tornadoes have touched down and hail the size of softballs pounded northwestern Oklahoma, injuring two people and damaging a county jail and numerous vehicles. In Woodward, hail up to 4.25 inches broke vehicle windows and damaged roofs. Sheriff Gary Stanley says hail broke every skylight in the jail.

A spring snowfall has broken the nearly 60-year-old seasonal snow record of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, which has been inundated with nearly double the snow they usually get. This season’s snowfall surpassed the record of 132.6 inches set in the winter of 1954-55. The 3.4 inches that fell by Saturday afternoon brings the total to 133.6 inches. Extreme weather has hit not only Alaska. It’s also struck the lower 48, where the first three months of 2012 has seen twice the normal number of tornadoes and it was the warmest March in recorded history, having set over 15,000 daily temperature records.

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Signs of the Times (4/5/12)

April 5, 2012

School Removes “God” from “God Bless the USA”

Parents at a Massachusetts elementary school are furious after educators first removed the word ‘God’ from the popular Lee Greenwood song, “God Bless the U.S.A.” and then pulled the song all together from an upcoming concert. Fox 25 in Boston is reporting that children at Stall Brook Elementary School in Bellingham were told to sing, “We love the U.S.A.” instead of “God Bless the U.S.A.” After parents started complaining, school officials removed the song from the school assembly concert. Greenwood released a statement to Fox News condemning the school’s actions. Greenwood said the phrase “God Bless the USA” has a “very important meaning for those in the military and their families, as well as new citizens coming into our country.” He said it’s also played at every naturalization ceremony behind the national anthem.

  • As we continue to remove God from all things American, the once-lauded ‘American Way of Life’ continues to spiral down the drain. Might there just be a causal relationship?

Jewish Support for Obama Down, but Still Strong

The Jewish Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 62 percent of American Jews would like to see President Obama re-elected in November. By comparison, only 30 percent want a Republican to win. The 62 percent for Obama is down from the 78 percent he received from Jewish voters in the 2008 election. David Rubin, former mayor of the West Bank town of Shiloh and author of The Islamic Tsunami: Israel and America in the Age of Obama, says “The American Jewish population, for the most part, is reflexively knee-jerk Democrat — and the fact is that even though the Republicans are much stronger on Israel, most American Jews are not strong on Israel.”

  • Obama is not only the least supportive president of Israel, but he is anti-Israel and pro-Muslim. Jewish voters need to wake up and stand up for their country and their God

Muslim Publishes Wife-Beating Handbook

A prolific writer on almost every topic of Islamic learning has published a handbook for Muslim men who want to beat their wives. Hazrat Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s so-called “Islamic marriage guide” titled A Gift for the Muslim Couple, which recently sold out at a Toronto bookstore, advises husbands on how to beat their wives — instructing them not beat their women too “excessively.” Scolding her, pulling her by the ears, and hitting her “by hand or stick,” however, is good for discipline. It also offers tips on how to confine a wife and withhold cash if she acts up. Robert Spencer, director Jihad Watch, is not surprised that the book was sold out. “The fact is that Islam teaches that a man can beat a disobedient woman, should do so,” he reports. “It’s in chapter four, verse 34 of the Koran. We see that while this is widely denied by Islamic spokesmen in the West, it’s also widely practiced. The attitude portrayed in the book should make it easier to understand why the practice of honor killings is on the increase in places like Pakistan.”

  • How much more proof do we need of Islam’s satanic heritage?

Pakistan’s Muslims Warn Christians Not to Celebrate Easter

Pakistan’s Christian community has received threats and warnings from Islamic radicals against celebrating Easter, Asia News reports. In the Christian colony of Eidgah in Pakistan’s Sarghoda District, Muslims defaced Easter signs and decorations with black paint and threatened Christians not to continue in their preparations. When the Christians went to local police to file a report, no one at the station would do it, instead telling the Christians to leave. Some Christians replaced the Easter decorations, but on Palm Sunday, Muslims destroyed them again in another raid and threatened punishment against the Christian community. “For years, colony residents have come together to prepare Holy Week,” said local resident Yasir Masih. “For years, we have been threatened. Even though we reported it to the authorities, they didn’t take it seriously. This year, [the Muslims] have come to our streets and threatened us. We are not safe, and we are scared.”

Justice Dept. Ordered to Answer for Obama’s Supreme Court Comments

The Obama Justice Department has roughly 24 hours to explain to a federal appeals court whether the administration believes judges have the power to overturn federal laws — in the latest escalation between the two branches of government over the federal health care overhaul. A three-judge panel for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday ordered the Justice Department to explain by Thursday at noon whether the administration believes judges have that authority. The challenge came after President Obama cautioned the Supreme Court against overturning the health care law and warned that such an act would be “unprecedented.”

U.K. Defends Expanded ‘Snooping’ Proposals

Britain’s prime minister on Tuesday defended controversial plans to monitor all calls and emails in the country, as a backlash over the proposals grew within the coalition government. David Cameron sought to downplay worries that the proposals for an extended surveillance network covering the public’s phone calls, texts, and web activity would erode civil liberties. Monitoring digital communication is “absolutely vital” in stopping serious crime and terrorism, he stressed. The proposed network has been criticized by members of Cameron’s Conservative Party as well as their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.

  • Under the guise of national security, expanded government intrusion into civilian privacy will become an end-time norm

2.4 Million Human Trafficking Victims

The U.N. crime-fighting office said Tuesday that 2.4 million people across the globe are victims of human trafficking at any one time, and 80 percent of them are being exploited as sexual slaves. Another 17 percent are trafficked to perform forced labor, including in homes and sweat shops. The report estimates that $32 billion is being earned every year by unscrupulous criminals running human trafficking networks, and two out of every three victims are women. Only one out of 100 victims of trafficking is ever rescued. The U.N. commission called for coordinated local, regional and international responses that balance “progressive and proactive law enforcement” with actions that combat “the market forces driving human trafficking in many destination countries.”

Painkiller Sales Soar Across U.S.

Sales of the nation’s two most popular prescription painkillers have exploded across the country, an Associated Press analysis shows, worrying experts who say the push to relieve patients’ suffering is spawning an addiction epidemic. Drug Enforcement Administration figures show dramatic rises between 2000 and 2010 in the distribution of oxycodone, the key ingredient in OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan. Some areas saw sales increase sixteenfold. Meanwhile, the distribution of hydrocodone, the key ingredient in Vicodin, Norco and Lortab, is rising as well. Opioid pain relievers, the category that includes oxycodone and hydrocodone, caused 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, and the death toll is rising, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. The increases have also coincided with a wave of overdose deaths, pharmacy robberies and other problems.

Shortfall of Mental Health Specialists at VA

As thousands of additional veterans seek mental health care every month, the Department of Veterans Affairs is short of psychiatrists, with 20% vacancy rates in much of the country served by VA hospitals. The vacancies occur at a time when the number of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder is increasing by about 10,000 every three months, what experts say is the cumulative effect of a decade of war. More than 230,000 servicemembers have suffered traumatic brain injuries ranging from mild to severe since 2000. The VA needed 266 psychiatrists as of last September and it was taking an average of eight months to fill each job, according to an internal report. The VA has expanded its behavioral care staff by 50% since 2005 to nearly 21,000.

  • The ‘cost’ of these two wars is far more than the billions of dollars spent militarily

Older Workers Capture More New Jobs

Older workers are snaring an outsized share of job gains in the economic recovery as they put off retirement amid shrinking nest eggs, changes in Social Security benefits and improved health. In February, employment for workers 55 and older rose by 277,000 from January, or 65% of the total 428,000 gains, according to the Labor Department’s household survey, which is used to calculate the unemployment rate. Since the start of the recession in December 2007, employment for those 55 and older is up by 3.9 million, even as total payrolls have fallen by 4.2 million. More-experienced employees are often more productive and earn higher salaries, generating economic growth that itself yields additional jobs, experts say.

House Democrats Propose Substantial Tax Increases

Liberal House Democrats of the Congressional Progressive Caucus unveiled a budget on Monday that would increase taxes by $4.7 trillion more than President Obama proposed in his own budget. Obama proposed tax hikes of $1.5 trillion, but the Heritage Foundation exposed that number to be closer to $2 trillion. They can’t take all that money from the top 1%. Taking every penny from them would yield a one-time grab of about $930 billion. They can only take so much from businesses without shutting them down, changing the way they do business or completely crippling the economy. So the rest of that $7 trillion will have to come from us.

  • We may have to pay some increased taxes to bail out our diseased economy, but there must first be some very real and very large reductions in federal spending.

Economic News

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell to a four-year low last week. The Labor Department says weekly unemployment benefit applications dropped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 357,000. That’s the fewest since April 2008. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to 361,750, also the lowest in four years. The average has fallen nearly 13% the past six months.

Businesses added 209,000 jobs in March, according to a report issued Wednesday by payroll-processing company ADP. Those job gains were slightly lower than forecasts for 217,000, and marked a slowdown from 230,000 private sector jobs added in February. The economy needs about 125,000 new jobs each month just to keep the unemployment rate steady.

Encouraged by job growth, the Fed’s policy makers seem more willing to allow the economy to move forward on its own, the Federal Reserve indicated that further monetary stimulus is unlikely, sending stocks into a nosedive Wednesday. Though Fed policymakers voiced some concern over U.S. economic growth and the pace of hiring, they showed no sign that they were ready to pump more money into the world’s largest economy.

March came in like a lion for retailers, as warm weather and demand for spring fashions helped push sales up. Retailers from discounter Target to department-store chain Macy’s to outdoor sports retailer Zumiez reported better-than-expected sales during the month. Stripping out higher gas prices and the negative impact of foreign currencies, revenue at stores in the U.S. increased 5% and climbed 9% internationally.

Yahoo is laying off 2,000 employees as new CEO Scott Thompson sweeps out jobs that don’t fit into his plans for turning around the beleaguered Internet company. The cuts announced Wednesday represent 14 percent of the 14,100 workers employed by Yahoo, which is based in Sunnyvale, Calif. The housecleaning marks Yahoo’s sixth mass layoff in the past four years under three different CEOs.

China’s great wall of cash is pouring into the struggling U.S. property market, from multi-million-dollar mansions on the West Coast to venerable hotels on the East Coast. Buyers from mainland China and Hong Kong are snapping up luxury homes, often paying cash, in major U.S. cities such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. They’re coming by the dozens to buy foreclosed properties in downtrodden cities in Florida and Nevada. Chinese buyers are even starting to snap up pricey commercial buildings and hotels in Manhattan. A rising yuan — up more than 8% since mid-2010 — gives the Chinese greater purchasing power, and the mainland’s restrictions on property purchases encourages them to look overseas.

Middle East

When Israel defended itself against terrorist attacks, the Palestinian Authority claimed that it was Israel that committed “war crimes” and filed charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The American Center for Law & Justice presented oral arguments before the ICC, in support of Israel and its soldiers. Tuesday, the ICC has agreed with ACLJ’s arguments and has dismissed the case against Israel. The ICC agreed that the Palestinian Authority lacked standing to bring a case against Israel because Palestine is not a state. Successfully defending Israel at the ICC is a major victory, but now we must be ready for the terrorist-led Palestinian Authority’s attempt to gain statehood at the U.N., in violation of international law.

  • Palestine is not and has never been a state or a nation.

France

Preliminary charges are being filed against 13 Islamist radicals in France, a prosecutor announced Tuesday, saying some had been calling for Muslim Shariah law in the country, stashing weapons and hatching plots, one to kidnap a judge. Members of the Forsane Alizza group received physical training in parks and forests around Paris and religious indoctrination “in order to take part in a jihad,” or holy war. The group preached hate and violence on their Internet site which “called for an Islamic caliphate in France, the application of the Shariah and incited Muslims to unite to prepare for civil war, prosecutors charged. France also expelled a foreign radical imam Monday and an Islamist militant and others were in line to be forced to return to their homelands.

  • The U.S. also needs to crackdown on Islamist militants operating openly within our own borders. Hate crime legislation should not just be used for anti-Christian applications

Syria

Syrian troops launched a fierce assault on a Damascus suburb Thursday, days ahead of a deadline for a U.N.-brokered cease-fire, with activists describing it as one of the most violent attacks around the capital since the year-old uprising began. Activists say Assad wants to make gains on the ground before the truce is supposed to take effect. Syrian troops also launched assaults on several other towns across the country on Thursday, activists said. Syrian troops clashed with army defectors and shelled rebellious districts in the central city of Homs Wednesday, killing at least 11 civilians a day after the government claimed it had begun a troop withdrawal ahead of the deadline to implement an international truce plan. Activists said the renewed violence proved President Bashar Assad’s regime was not serious about implementing the cease-fire brokered by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.

Afghanistan

Gunmen attacked an outpost of a government-sponsored militia in western Afghanistan and killed 10 members of the security force late Wednesday. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack. Militants armed with assault rifles stormed the outpost of the militia known as the Afghan Local Police in Farah province’s Khaki Safed district. A suicide bomber blew himself up at a park earlier Wednesday in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 10 people, including three NATO service members. Afghan and NATO security forces have frequently been targeted in the surge of violence as militants fight to assert their power and undermine U.S. efforts to try to build up the Afghan military and leave combat responsibility to local forces by the end of 2014. The bomber was riding a motorcycle when he detonated his explosives at the gate of the park in Maimanah, the capital of Faryab province.

Iraq

Iraqi officials say a car bomb targeting a local police chief missed him but killed five people and wounded 15 in a Sunni town north of Baghdad. All the casualties were civilians. Although violence has dropped significantly in Iraq, security forces frequently come under attack by insurgents.

Pakistan

A bomb ripped through a passenger van, killing six people in a violent region near the Afghan border Wednesday. The bomb was planted inside the van, but it was unclear whether it was a remote controlled or a timed device. Islamist militants have carried out scores of bombings in northwest Pakistan in recent years, often targeting civilians or those from tribes who do not support them. On Thursday, a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a vehicle carrying a senior police official in a southern Pakistani port city on Thursday, killing two people. Nine people were also wounded in the attack. The target of the bombing, Malir police chief Rao Anwar, was unharmed.

Somalia

A suicide blast during a ceremony at Somalia’s newly reopened national theater on Wednesday killed at least 10 people and wounded dozens of others. The dead included the president of Somalia’s Olympic committee and the president of its soccer federation. The wounded included the country’s national planning minister. The national theater reopened for the first time in 20 years in a ceremony attended by many government officials. Wednesday’s ceremony was held to mark the first anniversary of the start of a national TV station. The Islamist terrorist group, al-Shabab, has continued to carry out suicide and roadside bomb attacks, killing hundreds.

  • How many people must be killed before people finally realize that Islam is Satan’s counterfeit of the One True Religion – despite its fake face of piety.

Mali

The rebel group that recently seized control of Mali’s three main northern cities, in a maneuver that effectively partitioned the country in two, announced a cease-fire Thursday, saying they had reached their military goal. The group was declaring the cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid to resume in the north. The rebels launched their insurgency in January, saying they wanted to establish an independent Tuareg homeland in the north, known as the Azawad. They only succeeded in taking small towns until late last month, when disgruntled soldiers stormed the presidential palace in the distant capital of Bamako, overthrowing the democratically elected president. In the confusion that followed the coup, the rebels launched a new offensive and succeeded in taking the capitals of the three main northern provinces: Kidal, which fell last Friday; Gao on Saturday and Timbuktu on Sunday.

Mexico

While Mexicans appear ready to boot out the ruling center-right National Action Party, or PAN, it’s not the Democratic Revolution Party they are turning to for change. Instead, it’s the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which governed Mexico for 71 uninterrupted years before the PAN nabbed the presidency in 2000, suddenly looking new, with a fresh-faced candidate and a strong lead in the polls. Mexicans voted for change 12 years ago when they tossed out the long-ruling PRI, which had been accused of electoral fraud, repression and economic mismanagement. But Mexico that has seen nearly 50,000 people killed in drug violence since the last presidential contest. The left’s PRD party seems out of touch with today’s Mexico. And though the PAN has had limited success in governing over the past 12 years, the violence supersedes all, opening the door again to what used to be considered the autocratic, repressive PRI.

Weather

Violent tornadoes pummeled towns around Dallas on Tuesday, flattening over 200 homes, flipping tractor-trailers and grounding flights, but few injuries and no deaths were reported. Starting about 1:30 p.m., severe storms caught residents by surprise and continued for more than two hours. Preliminary estimates show thirteen twisters touched down in North Texas. In suburban Dallas, 10 people were injured, two severely. Three people were injured in Arlington, including two nursing home residents. An entire wing at the Green Oaks nursing home in Arlington crumbled. The Red Cross put a preliminary estimate of damaged homes at 650. In Lancaster, where damage was especially widespread, around 150 people remained in a shelter Tuesday night. Some big rig tractor-trailer trucks were sent spiraling into the air.

It’s not just the “Tornado Alley” any more. Tornadoes are striking in more parts of the U.S., more often, a new study shows. Weather experts are enlarging the area of the U.S. they believe is regularly in the path of severe storms, tornadoes, and hail damage. Tornadoes and the storms that generate them account for 57% of insured catastrophic losses in the U.S. each year. New analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association shows that these storms are increasing in frequency, and the region of the country where they strike is growing as well.

A powerful storm with typhoon-strength winds and heavy rain halted air and train traffic in Tokyo and killed four people around the country. Winds of more than 89 miles per hour were recorded Tuesday as the storm swept across Japan’s main island of Honshu. The storm had halted commuter train service and grounded more than 500 flights in and around Tokyo on Tuesday. At two nuclear power plants in northern Japan, cooling of a spent fuel storage pool temporarily stopped because of power failures but resumed in about 30 minutes without affecting safety.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme

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Signs of the Times (4/3/12)

April 3, 2012

Obama Praises Planned Parenthood

President Obama taped a video message praising Planned Parenthood and telling members he will continue fighting Republican efforts to cut their federal funding. “Over the past year, you’ve had to stand up to politicians who want to deny millions of women the care they rely on,” he said. A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows that support of women voters has shifted to Obama after recent weeks of debate about health care and contraception, giving him the lead in battleground states this November. Congressional Republicans say they want to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood because of its support for its abortion. Obama and congressional Democrats beat back an effort to cut federal funds for Planned Parenthood during the budget battles of last summer.

  • Just as the Bible prophesies, the tide of end-time public opinion continues to shift toward secular, anti-Christ positions

North American Summit

The president hosts Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexico President Felipe Calderon at the annual North American Summit on Monday. “This meeting will build on wide-ranging and ongoing cooperation among the United States, Canada, and Mexico with a particular focus on economic growth and competitiveness, citizen security, energy, and climate change,” said the White House.

  • A precursor to the North American Union, this annual summit has already laid substantial groundwork through executive orders and cooperative agreements at departmental/ministry levels.

Obamacare’s Insurance Requirement Not the Only Health Mandate

Republicans accuse President Obama of trying to ‘intimidate’ the Supreme Court after he suggested a ruling by an ‘unelected’ body against his health care law would be ‘judicial activism.’ Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, called it a “fantasy” to think “every law you like is constitutional and every Supreme Court decision you don’t is ‘activist.'”

  • In trying to turn the important judicial activism argument upside down, all Obama accomplished was further revealing his dictatorial inclinations

The individual insurance requirement that the Supreme Court is reviewing isn’t the first federal mandate involving health care. There’s a Medicare payroll tax on workers and employers, for example, and a requirement that hospitals provide free emergency services to indigents. Health care is full of government dictates, some arguably more intrusive than President Obama’s overhaul law. It’s a wrinkle that has caught the attention of the justices. Most of the mandates apply to providers such as hospitals and insurers. However, one mandate affects just about everybody: Workers must pay a tax to finance Medicare, which collects about $200 billion a year.

  • The most pernicious of all big-government rationalizations – because the feds have already imposed unconstitutional mandates, it’s okay to add more

3,168 Illegal Aliens Arrested Nationwide

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested more than 3,100 criminal aliens in a six-day nationwide operation that’s the largest of its kind. As part of Operation Cross Check, arrests were made in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories. “The results of this targeted enforcement operation underscore ICE’s ongoing commitment and focus on the arrest and removal of convicted criminal aliens and those that game our nation’s immigration system,” said ICE Director John Morton in a news release Monday morning.

Data Breach Endangers 1.5 Million

A data breach at a payments processing firm has potentially compromised up to 1.5 million credit and debit card numbers from all of the major card brands. Global Payments, a company that processes card transactions, confirmed late Friday that “card data may have been accessed.” The company said it discovered the intrusion in early March and “promptly” notified others in the industry. Global Payments did not say which card companies were affected, but Visa released a statement on Friday saying that it was all of the big players. That’s because Global Payments is one link in the long chain involved in card transactions. When a customer swipes a credit card, the data is sent to a payment processor like Global Payments, which coordinates the steps involved in authorizing the charge and submitting the transaction details to card networks like Visa and MasterCard. Visa removed Global Payments from its list of preferred credit-card processors.

New World Trade Center Reaches 100 floors

The new World Trade Center has reached a milestone: The skyscraper being built to replace the terror-wrecked twin towers is now 100 stories high — on its way to becoming New York’s tallest building. Another four feet, and it will surpass the Empire State Building. That should happen within weeks. One World Trade Center is expected to be finished by next year, its 104 floors towering over lower Manhattan. Upon completion, it will be 1,368 feet to its rooftop.

Economic News

Manufacturing grew in March at a faster pace than the previous month, driven by greater consumer and business spending on autos, machinery and other goods. The index of manufacturing activity rose to 53.4 in March from 52.4 the previous month. Readings above 50 indicate the sector is expanding.

Builders trimmed activity for a second straight month in February, pushing construction spending down by the largest amount in seven months. There was widespread weakness, with spending on home building, office construction and government projects all dropping. Construction spending fell 1.1% in February after a 0.8% drop in January

The Big Three U.S. automakers all reported strong March sales, as buyers flocked to dealerships in numbers not seen in years to buy everything from fuel-efficient small cars to large pickups. January through March was the best quarter for auto sales in the United States since early 2008. The strong sales came even as gas prices rose steadily throughout February and March.

Excess plant capacity, currency exchange rates that effectively lowered U.S. labor costs, quality and free-trade pacts have combined to make the U.S. a more attractive place to assemble cars for sale elsewhere. As the U.S. auto industry regains its footing, automakers both foreign and domestic are exporting more cars from this country than they were five years ago and plan to dramatically expand exports in the next five years.

According to a study released by credit and information management company TransUnion, consumers were more likely to pay their auto loans before their credit cards and mortgages last year. About 39% of consumers were delinquent on their mortgage while current on their auto loan and credit card payments. In contrast, 9.5% of consumers were delinquent on an auto loan while current on their credit cards and mortgage.

Reports from China and Europe suggested that global economic growth is slowing. A private survey of Chinese exporters released Monday fell to its lowest average reading in three years in the first quarter. And new European data showed that unemployment in the 17 countries that use the euro has risen to 10.8%. That’s the highest since the launch of the euro in 1999.

Syria

A coalition of more than 70 partners, including the United States, pledged Sunday to send millions of dollars and communications equipment to Syria’s opposition groups, signaling deeper involvement in the conflict amid a growing belief that diplomacy and sanctions alone cannot end the Damascus regime’s repression. The shift by the U.S. and its Western and Arab allies toward seeking to sway the military balance in Syria carries regional risks because the crisis there could exacerbate sectarian tensions. The Syrian rebels are overmatched by heavily armed regime forces. Wealthy Gulf oil states promised at a conference in Istanbul to give as much as $100 million to pay the salaries of the Free Syrian Army. The United States said it will give vital communication equipment to the rebels.

Islamic militants with ties to al Qaeda have launched an “ethnic cleansing of minority Christians” in Syria, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee the city of Homs and other areas, BosNewsLife.com reports. According to local aid workers, at least 90 percent of Christians living in Homs have fled after being forced to leave their homes. There are reports that Islamists ‘cleansed’ the Homs areas of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan without giving [Christians] the opportunity to take anything with them. Aid group Barnabas Fund said Christians had also been used as “human shields” by anti-government rebels — known as the Free Syrian Army — to prevent government forces from retaking control over the region. Christians have been viewed by critics as supportive of Syrian president Bashar Assad.

Libya

Six days of tribal clashes in a remote desert town in southern Libya have killed 147 people. The clashes in the oasis region some 400 miles south of Tripoli show the fragile authority of the Libyan government, particularly in the isolated settlements that dot the southern desert. With only a nascent national army and police force, Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council relies on militias comprised of former rebels to keep the peace, and the country’s vast distances makes it difficult to deploy them to trouble spots. Deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s 40 years in power moreover left behind a patchwork of local rivalries. The Sabha fighting pits southern Libyan Arab tribes that reportedly had close connections to Gadhafi against the African Tabu tribe, which fought against him.

Yemen

Yemeni officials say the latest government airstrikes in the country’s south have killed 43 al-Qaeda militants. Military officials say government forces on Tuesday took control over a mountainous area of al-Rahha in the southern province of Lahj, after pounding al-Qaeda hideouts there for the past three days. The offensive followed a surprise attack by militants on a Yemeni army base in the area earlier in the weekend. Al-Qaeda-linked militants have taken advantage of a year of internal political turmoil to expand their gains in south Yemen.

Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood’s surprise decision to field a presidential candidate is stirring fears that the two biggest powers to emerge from the ouster of Hosni Mubarak — the Islamists and the military — are maneuvering to put in place a new rule in Egypt not much different from the old, authoritarian one. If they succeed in divvying up the most important positions in government, the new leadership could be a blow to the hopes for an inclusive democracy that drove last year’s uprising against Mubarak. The Brotherhood controls nearly 50 percent of parliament and dominates the constituent assembly that is in charge of writing Egypt’s new constitution. Given its electoral strength, its candidate — Khairat el-Shater, the Brotherhood’s deputy head but in reality its strongest figure — instantly leaps to front-runner status for the presidency in the May 23-24 election.

Myanmar (Burma)u

Opposition leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in Myanmar’s parliament Sunday, her party said, a momentous victory following a decades-long fight for democracy. The formerly banned National League for Democracy was vying for 45 seats in the election. While the balance of power in the parliament will not change even if the opposition were to win all 45, the vote itself marks a symbolic victory for many in the country who have lived under military rule for 50 years. Suu Kyi, 66, won by a landslide the last time Myanmar held multiparty elections, in 1990, but the junta ignored the results and placed her under house arrest. Released in November 2010, Suu Kyi was allowed to crisscross the country to rally support for the NLD for Sunday’s race. The government promised the vote would be free and fair and allowed international observers to monitor the polling.

Mali

Rebels on Saturday attacked Mali’s strategic northern city of Gao, a day after they took the provincial capital of Kidal. The move deepens the crisis in the landlocked nation at the feet of the Sahara after a coup earlier this month by Malian soldiers angry at the government’s handling of the rebellion. The two towns are major prizes for the Tuareg rebels, who launched an insurgency in January fueled by the flow of arms from the fall of neighboring Libya, where many of the rebels had been on the payroll of Moammar Gadhafi. Gao is around almost 750 miles from the capital of Bamako, where junior officers overthrew the elected government and claimed power 10 days ago.

The junior officer who overthrew Mali’s democratically elected leader last month and dissolved the nation’s constitution made a public U-turn Monday, declaring amid enormous international pressure that he was reinstating the 1992 constitution and planning to hold elections. The body representing nations in West Africa announced Monday that starting immediately they are closing the land borders with Mali. The landlocked nation of over 15 million imports nearly all its petroleum products from neighboring Ivory Coast, and economists say gas stations could run dry within weeks.

Sudan

Sudanese aerial strikes last week were aimed at church buildings and schools in Kauda, Compass Direct News reports. Planes dropped bombs on March 22 and 23, destroying some houses and cattle near the church buildings and schools but causing no casualties. Humanitarian agencies consider the Islamic government’s targeting of civilians in the Nuba Mountains — which has a large Christian population — an “ethnic cleansing” against non-Arab people in the multi-ethnic state, with the added incentive of ridding the area of Christians, a humanitarian aid worker said. Churches in the Nuba Mountains are holding worship services early in the mornings and late in the evenings to avoid aerial bombardments; most of the bombings take place during daytime when visibility is better for pilots. Khartoum continues to actively recruit more security personnel and send them to South Kordofan to help kill or arrest Nuba civilians, including Christians.

Cuba

Cuba has honored an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI and declared next week’s Good Friday a holiday for the first time since the early days following the island’s 1959 Revolution, though a decision on whether the move will be permanent will have to wait. The Communist government said in a communique Saturday that the decision was made in light of the success of Benedict’s “transcendental visit” to the country, which wrapped up Wednesday. Religious holidays were abolished in the 1960s after brothers Fidel and Raul Castro came to power, ushering in a Marxist government.

Columbia

Colombia’s main rebel group on Monday freed what it says were its last 10 military and police captives, returning the men to their families after at least 12 years spent jungle prisons. The release of the six police and four soldiers highlighted efforts to seek peace talks by Latin America’s oldest and most potent guerrilla band, which has been weakened by Colombia’s U.S.-backed military. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, had announced Monday’s liberation on Feb. 26 in tandem with a halt in ransom kidnappings as a revenue source.

China

Numerous websites remained shut down Sunday as the Communist government sought to penalize popular social media sites for circulating rumors of a coup. The government shut down 16 websites, including two Twitter-like services that have more than 250 million users. The state-run Xinhua News Agency said Beijing police questioned and admonished an unspecified number of Internet users and detained six people for “fabricating or spreading” online rumors. Twitter, like Facebook and YouTube, is banned because the Chinese government want more control over the services.

Tibet

Dozens of Tibetans have set themselves on fire over the past year to protest Chinese rule, sometimes drinking kerosene to make the flames explode from within, in one of the biggest waves of political self-immolations in recent history. But the stunning protests are going largely unnoticed in the wider world — due in part to a smothering Chinese security crackdown in the region that prevents journalists from covering them. The Tibetan self-immolations have so far failed to prompt the changes the protesters demand: an end to government interference in their religion and a return of the exiled Dalai Lama.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck southern Mexico today in an area hard hit by a quake two weeks ago. The jolt was felt in Mexico City, but there were no reports of injuries or major damage. The U.S. Geological Survey says the epicenter was in southern Mexico near the border of Guerrero and Oaxaca states, 111 miles east southeast of Acapulco at a depth of 12 miles.

Wildfires

Fire experts are concerned that the unusually warm, dry winter could lead to a bad wildfire season across parts of the western and especially the southern USA. “Florida will remain the highest fire risk area into May, where the traditional fire season is May through June,” according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The Florida Forest Service reported that 74 separate wildfires, most of them small, were burning across the state as of Monday morning. Other parts of the Southeast, such as coastal areas of the Carolinas and Georgia, are also at risk over the next four months.

Weather

Meteorologists used the terms “staggering,” “astonishing” and “incredible” to describe the heat across the eastern two-thirds of the nation that set thousands of temperature records for March in cities and towns from the Dakotas to Maine to Florida. March 2012 will go down as the warmest March on record in the USA. Across the nation, over 7,500 daily record-high temperatures were set in March. The warm month came on the heels of the fourth-warmest winter on record across the contiguous 48 states.

Nationally, as of mid-March, more than 58% of the contiguous USA was either abnormally dry or in some form of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal website that tracks drought. This is the nation’s highest percentage in that category since November 2007.

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