Signs of the Times (5/7/12)

Arizona Governor Signs Planned Parenthood Funding Ban

Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday signed into law a bill to cut off Planned Parenthood’s access to taxpayer money funneled through the state for non-abortion services. Arizona already bars use of public money for abortions except to save the life of the mother. But anti-abortion legislators and other supporters of the bill say the broader prohibition is needed to ensure no public money indirectly supports abortion services. Planned Parenthood Arizona claims a funding ban would interrupt its preventive health care and family planning services for nearly 20,000 women served by the organization’s clinics. The organization says it will consider a legal challenge.

Methodists Vote Against Gay Marriage

After an emotional debate, Methodists at a national legislative meeting Thursday upheld the denomination’s policy that same-sex relationships are “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Delegates at the General Conference voted by about 60% to 40% against softening the language on homosexuality in their Book of Discipline, which contains church laws and doctrine. The meeting is held once every four years, which means the policy won’t come up for a conference vote again until 2016. With just under 8 million U.S. members, the United Methodist Church is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the country. However, the number of Methodists is shrinking inside the U.S., while expanding in African and Asian countries where the church is theologically more conservative.

Mormonism is Fastest-Growing Religion in Half of U.S. States

A new study shows Mormonism is the fastest-growing faith in more than half of U.S. states, the Religion News Service reports. The 2012 Religious Congregations and Membership Study shows that Protestants and Catholics, who dominated the 20th century, are literally losing ground to the rapid rise of Mormons and, increasingly, Muslims. Mormons reported 2 million new adherents and new congregations in 295 U.S. counties were they didn’t exist a decade ago, and were also were the fastest-growing group in 26 states, expanding beyond their historic home in Utah to the heart of the Bible Belt and as far away as Maine. Muslims came in second, with growth of 1 million adherents in 197 new counties, to a total of about 2.6 million — and mosques have multiplied at a growth rate of about 50 percent. Overall, non-Christian groups grew by 32 percent in the past 10 years, and the study also found that while upwards of 80 percent of Americans claim to be Christians, only about 49 percent are affiliated with a local congregation.

  • False religions are rising as the great “falling away” accelerates just as the Bible prophesied (2Thes. 2:3)

‘Occupiers” Try to Blow up Bridge

The ‘Occupy’ movement is scrambling to distance itself from five men charged with plotting to blow up a bridge near Cleveland, but authorities have long been concerned about the group’s potential to inspire violence. Aside from some vandalism and skirmishes with police, notably in Seattle and Oakland, the movement has largely stuck to its nonviolent approach. But the angry rhetoric of ‘Occupy’ leaders has long concerned authorities, and an internal Department of Homeland Security memo leaked earlier this year warned that fringe members could be driven to acts of terror, such as the thwarted plot to blow up a busy commuter bridge on May Day. According to the Occupy Threat Center, a database established by data analytics company ListenLogic to analyze social media posts for threats to corporations from those associated with the ‘Occupy’ movement, leaders have called for physical destruction of buildings and violent action, and associated “hacktivist” groups have targeted financial and law enforcement institutions. Speakers at rallies around the nation have called for an uprising similar to the French Revolution.

New Blockbuster Avengers Movie has Patriotic, God-Centered Theme

The big new summer move, The Avengers, has a strong moral worldview with very strong patriotic themes that includes Captain America calling the shots during a crucial moment, with redemptive references to the story of Jonah and the Whale. Sacrifice is extolled in a dramatic way, and the dialogue indicates a return to “old-fashioned values” like patriotism and heroism. When the main villain claims to be a god compared to Earth people, the Hulk rebukes him and says he’s a “puny god,” and Captain America also says in referring to this villain, “There’s only one God.”

86 Million ‘Invisible’ Unemployed

There are far more jobless people in the United States than you might think, CNN reports. While it’s true that the unemployment rate is falling, that doesn’t include the millions of nonworking adults who aren’t even looking for a job anymore. Last year there were 86 million people who didn’t have a job and weren’t consistently looking for one, according to Labor Department data. And hiring isn’t strong enough to keep up with population growth. As a result, the labor force is now at its smallest size since the 1980s when compared to the broader working age population. A person is counted as part of the labor force if they have a job or have looked for one in the last four weeks. As of April, only 63.6% of Americans over the age of 16 currently fall into that category, according to the Labor Department. That’s the lowest labor force participation rate since 1981.

Economic News

The month-long slide in gasoline prices likely will continue in the coming weeks, providing more relief for shell-shocked motorists heading into peak driving season. Nationally, gasoline averages $3.80 a gallon — about 12 cents below this year’s peak and nearly 20 cents below 2011’s $3.99 a gallon. Gasoline prices have now fallen 18 straight days.

Businesses added only 115,000 jobs in April, another weak month of job creation, but the unemployment rate came down from 8.2% to 8.1%. From December through February, employers added a strong 246,000 jobs a month. Small companies — those with fewer than 50 employees — hired 58,000 people in April, while large companies with 500 or more employees hired only 4,000 new workers.

Unemployment among the European Union nations rose to 10.9% in March from 10.8% in February – the highest since the previous record in April 1997. And unemployment among Europe’s youth hit 22% last month. Spain and Greece both have youth unemployment of more than 50%.

Eurozone

Renewed uncertainty over Europe’s ability to deal with its spawning debt crisis following elections in Greece and France hammered stock markets Monday, with the main exchange in Athens down a massive 8%.Investors have been particularly spooked by the Sunday election in Greece, which has resulted in a split Parliament where no party looks like it will be able to form a government.

French voters booted President Nicolas Sarkozy from power Sunday in one of several elections across Europe in which governments that cut a deal to slash budgets to solve a debt crisis were hammered by the electorate. Austerity can no longer be inevitable!” Socialist Francois Hollande declared in a victory speech Sunday night. Hollande has never held public office, but had vowed to renegotiate pacts Sarkozy made with the European Union to bail out struggling EU economies.

Voters outraged at biting budget cuts and tax hikes punished Greece’s two main incumbent parties Sunday, voting in droves for fringe parties on the left and far right. Official projections in Greece on Sunday showed the pro-EU New Democracy party winning 19% of the vote, giving it 108 seats in the 300-member parliament — far short of a majority needed to form a government. The anti-bailout left-wing Syriza party was projected to take second place with 17% and 51 seats. The extremist far-right Golden Dawn party, which opposes the open borders policies of the EU, was projected to win 7% of the vote, historically a massive gain for the party.

In Italy, opinion polls show that approval ratings for Prime Minister Mario Monti, who was installed after predecessor Silvio Berlusconi lagged in approving EU-demanded budget cuts, have gone down steadily as taxes have risen. Voters in Germany’s northernmost state ousted a governing center-right government made up of the same parties as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s federal coalition. Merkel has been a major backer of EU bailouts to spendthrift EU states as well as the imposition of austerity measures on those nations.

Afghanistan

The Taliban warned it will officially start its annual “spring offensive” in Afghanistan on Thursday. Wednesday’s announcement comes hours after an attack following a surprise visit by President Obama. Hours after Obama and President Hamid Karzai signed the strategic partnership agreement that will serve as the framework for future relations between the two nations, the Taliban issued a strong response. Taliban attackers targeted a heavily fortified, private compound in eastern Afghanistan that is mostly occupied by internationals with a car bomb at 6:15 a.m. Gunfire followed the bombing. Police officials say the incident was under control by 9 a.m., leaving seven people dead and 17 injured.

Still for most Afghans, the signing of the agreement comes as a welcome development that secures much needed international support for Afghanistan past the 2014 deadline for Afghans to take over security of their country. The strategic agreement secures relations with between the two nations until 2024, with Afghanistan as a “major non-NATO ally.” The document guarantees America’s commitment to Afghanistan after 2014, without detailing many of the specifics. Issues such as how long U.S. forces and their bases can remain in Afghanistan after 2014 and what the nature of their presence here will be determined in a separate bilateral security agreement.

Iran

A new report has revealed that Iran has imported well over half a billion dollars of arms and war equipment in the last three years in spite of the fact that Iran is supposedly under a United Nations arms embargo because of their nuclear program. Russia and China have been the biggest providers of weapons to Iran, flaunting the world community and refusing to consider the impact on the Middle East in order to line their pockets. The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes that Iran’s “massive military buildup is one more indicator of the seriousness of their statements desiring to see Israel ‘wiped off the map.’ This total for imported arms is in addition to the major internal manufacturing increase Iran has mounted as well. The mullahs of Tehran want to see the entire world placed under Muslim sharia law, and they believe that a bloody war is an essential step in that process…a war they are clearly preparing for diligently.”

Pakistan

An American drone fired a volley of missiles into a house close to the Afghan border on Saturday, killing eight suspected militants and indicating U.S. resolve to continue with the attacks despite renewed Pakistani opposition. The strike in North Waziristan was the second American drone operation in Pakistan in the past week. The attacks come amid American efforts to rebuild its relationship with Pakistan, which in November blocked the passage of U.S. and NATO war supplies to neighboring Afghanistan. The country’s parliament has called for an end to the drone strikes, which many here regard as an unacceptable violation of sovereignty.

Egypt

At least eleven people were killed in Egypt during election-related protests last week. The rioting was so intense that large numbers of army personnel had to be sent to restore order. Five others were killed in an apparent mob attack on the Army Headquarters Building in Cairo. Clashes erupted on Wednesday between assailants and mostly Islamist protesters gathered outside the Defense Ministry in the Egyptian capital, leaving nine people dead and nearly 50 wounded. The violence is the latest episode in more than a year of turmoil in Egypt following the ouster of longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak and will likely fuel more tensions just three weeks ahead of presidential elections. The military generals who took over from Mubarak in February last year have promised to hand over power to a civilian administration by July 1 but that has not stopped rallies demanding the generals leave immediately. Military prosecutors have detained more than 300 Egyptian protesters following clashes outside the country’s Defense Ministry who face accusations including attacking troops and disrupting public order, lawyers said Saturday.

Yemen

Yemeni military officials say 15 Al Qaeda-linked militants have been killed in a missile hit on their training camp in the country’s south. U.S. drones have been active over Yemen, tracking and striking Al Qaeda operatives with missiles. Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen is considered one of the most dangerous and has been linked to several attempted attacks on U.S. targets.

Japan

Thousands of Japanese marched to celebrate the last of this nation’s 50 nuclear reactors switching off Saturday, shaking banners shaped as giant fish that have become a potent anti-nuclear symbol. Japan will be without electricity from nuclear power for the first time in four decades. After last year’s March 11 quake and tsunami set off meltdowns at Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, no reactor stopped for checkups has restarted amid growing public worries about the safety of nuclear technology. The government wants to restart nuclear reactors, warning about blackouts and rising emissions as Japan is forced to turn to oil and gas for energy, but Japan now requires reactors to pass new tests to withstand quakes and tsunami and needs local residents’ approval to restart them.

Mexico

It was a gruesome day for Mexican drug-gang violence in Nuevo Laredo, where nine tortured corpses were hung from a highway bridge and 14 decapitated bodies were stuffed into a van, according to news reports from across the Texas border. Motorists encountered the dangling bodies of five men and four women early this morning next to a profane message alluding to drug gang disputes. Hours later, police found the bodies and 14 severed heads in coolers outside city hall. Three weeks ago the dismembered remains of 14 men were found inside a van left behind Nuevo Laredo city hall, where the heads were found today. The San Antonio Express-News notes that a banner left with those bodies April 18 was allegedly signed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, considered Mexico’s leading crime boss — and vowed his Gulf Cartel would take back Nuevo Laredo from the Zeta.

Weather

A tornado tore through a city northeast of Japan’s capital on Sunday, killing one person, injuring dozens of others and destroying scores of houses. Firefighters and medical teams rushed to the area after the tornado struck Tsukuba city, 40 miles from Tokyo. The city is a science center, with dozens of research and academic institutes, but the tornado appeared to be mostly in residential areas. More than 30 other people were injured. Public broadcaster NHK showed rows of houses without roofs, apartment complexes with smashed balconies and shattered windows, and tilting telephone poles that could barely stand. Tornadoes are relatively rare in the Tokyo area.

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