Signs of the Times (4/18/12)

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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