Signs of the Times (5/17/12)

Black Clergy Challenge Obama on ‘Gay Marriage’

A group of leading black clergy and civil rights leaders are asking President Barack Obama to reconsider his support for same-gender “marriage.” The Coalition of African-American Pastors says “there is no civil right to do what God says is wrong” — and is asking President Barack Obama to reconsider his support for same-gender “marriage.” William Owens, Sr. is founder and president of CAAP, a group whose goal is to promote and support Christ-centered values in the culture. The CAAP is appalled that radical homosexual activists have managed to hijack the civil rights movement by linking sexual diversity to the historic fight for civil rights by black Americans. What those activists have done, says Owens, is “unacceptable.” “We are really tired of the homosexual community hijacking the civil rights movement,” Owens tells OneNewsNow. In a statement released on Tuesday, CAAP leaders said: “For activists, politicians, and now the highest office in the nation to link sexual behavior God calls sin to the righteous cause Martin Luther King gave his life for is abominable in and of itself.

Obama, World Leaders Begin Four Days of Meetings

President Obama and world leaders will kick off four days of high-level meetings Friday that will be dominated by the eurozone crisis and efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan. The back-to-back meetings of the Group of Eight and NATO alliance get started with G-8 leaders huddling at the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland where Obama will urge Europe’s leaders to increase emphasis on spurring growth and lessen their focus on austerity measures. Obama has argued that Europe has had more difficulty in pulling out of its economic malaise than the United States, in part because Europe didn’t take stimulus measures to bolster the economy there as his administration did to stem the U.S. financial crisis. But analysts are doubtful that European members will announce any concrete steps at the summit that would alleviate the Obama administration’s concerns. Afghanistan talks will center on bolstering the Afghan economy as the NATO mission winds down. G-8 members have contributed about 80% of the assistance doled out to Afghanistan.

Chicago is bracing for the worst and hoping for peace as world leaders and protesters gather for a two-day NATO summit that begins Sunday. Thousands of police officers — including reinforcements from Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Charlotte — will be deployed; a no-fly zone will be enforced; and some commuter trains will be canceled. Businesses are boarding up windows; Lake Shore Drive and the Art Institute will close, and the Postal Service warns of delivery delays. Fearing massive protests, a dozen arrests already have been made, but Occupy Chicago and the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda say their rallies and marches will be peaceful.

Republicans Kill Civil Unions in Colorado

A last-ditch effort by Colorado’s governor to give gay couples in the state rights similar to married couples failed Monday after Republicans rejected the proposal during a special legislative session. The bill’s demise was expected by Democrats, who have begun using the issue as a rallying cry to topple Republicans in the November elections. The debate in Colorado is playing out at a time when President Obama became the first U.S. president to publicly endorse gay marriage. But North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment that bars civil unions and defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. More than a dozen states allow either gay marriage or civil unions, including several that moved to pass such laws this year.

Colorado Day of Prayer Ruled Unconstitutional

A Colorado appeals court panel ruled that the state’s Day of Prayer is “predominantly religious” and therefore violates the constitutional rights of nonbelievers, CBN News reports. The Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the statewide Day of Prayer — proclaimed six times between 2004 and 2009 by Govs. Bill Ritter and Bill Owens — claiming it amounted to a government endorsement of religion. The three-judge Colorado Court of Appeals panel agreed because the proclamations included Bible verses and religious themes. “[The Day of Prayer] undermine[s] the premise that the government serves believers and nonbelievers equally,” Judge Steven Bernard wrote in the 73-page decision. The case will now go back to a trial court to decide whether future Colorado governors should be barred from making prayer proclamations.

California Faces More Budget Cuts

California Gov. Jerry Brown proposed more than $8 billion in cuts Monday to close a widening state budget deficit that he blamed partly on a slower-than-expected economic recovery. In addition to making cuts to a wide array of state services, Brown wants state workers to take a 5% pay cut, which would save $402 million in the coming fiscal year. Brown also used the announcement of his revised budget plan to make another pitch for his tax-hike initiative that he said would send more money to public schools if voters approve it in November. The revised $15.7 billion budget shortfall for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is roughly 17% of California’s $91 billion general fund. The deficit is far higher than the $9.2 billion gap Brown anticipated in January.

Arizona School-Choice Program Expands

A new Arizona law that will significantly expand a school-voucher-type program allowing students to attend private schools with public money has been signed by the governor. Supporters of the program, who favor more school choice, say that students, especially those in low-performing schools, will benefit by having more alternatives. Opponents, however, view it as one more step toward creating a full-fledged school-voucher system that will provide state funding to parents, who can then spend it on tuition at private schools, including religious ones. They fear such a system will sap public schools of resources. House Bill 2622 expands eligibility for the program to those enrolled in schools that receive D or F letter grades from the state, children of active-duty members of the military and foster children who are being adopted. The money also can be used for tutoring and textbooks, and money not spent can be used for college. Families can apply for the expanded debit-card accounts beginning this fall for the 2013-14 school year.

  • Voucher programs should sap funds from the public schools which have been turned into secular humanist indoctrination centers

Can U.S. Become Energy Independent?

As Americans heave a sigh of relief at gasoline prices falling back from near $4 a gallon, big new discoveries of domestic oil and natural gas hold the promise of more substantial benefits for the U.S. economy for decades to come — even the possibility of energy independence. The U.S. is already the world’s fastest-growing oil and natural gas producer. Counting the output from Canada and Mexico, North America is “the new Middle East,” Citigroup analysts declared in a recent report. The U.S. Energy Information Agency says U.S. oil imports will drop 20% by 2025. Oil giant BP projects the U.S. will get 94% of its energy domestically by 2030, up from 77% now, as oil imports fall by half. The U.S. can make itself a net exporter of crude oil, refined products and natural gas — says Citigroup energy strategist Seth Kleinman. The USA’s 15% gain in crude-oil production since 2008 is by far the world’s biggest, with new fields just beginning to be developed. The U.S. has overtaken Russia as the world’s largest refined-petroleum exporter.

Minorities Now the Majority of Births

More than half of all babies born last year were members of minority groups, the first time in U.S. history. It’s a sign of how swiftly the USA is becoming a nation of younger minorities and older whites. Hispanics, blacks, Asians and other minorities in 2011 accounted for 50.4% of births, They also account for 49.7% of all children under 5 and slightly more than half of the 4 million kids under 1, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday. The new report offers a broad picture of where and how the nation is changing. One telling sign: vast differences in the median age — the mid-point of all ages — of racial and ethnic groups. For Hispanics, the USA’s largest minority group, the median age is 27.6. For whites who are not Hispanic, it’s 42.3. Blacks (30.9) and Asians (33.2) are in between.

Communities Start to Fine for Texting While Walking

A growing number of communities are trying to stave off pedestrian accidents that can happen when people walking become too engrossed with their phones. This spring, Fort Lee, N.J., police began issuing $85 fines for careless walking, and the Utah Transit Authority made distracted walking around trains punishable by a $50 fine. Delaware has taken a different approach, placing about 100 large stickers with the words “LOOK UP” on sidewalks near crosswalks urging pedestrians to pay less attention to their phones and more to what’s going on around them. Research from Ohio State University showed cellphone use by pedestrians led to more than 1,000 emergency-room visits. In March, a 45-year-old woman had to be rescued from Lake Michigan after she fell off a pier while texting and walking.

Millenials Forego Banks

Payday loans, check cashing and prepaid debit cards have found a new customer in the cash-strapped twentysomethings, as they forego using banks. Half of those surveyed said they used a prepaid debit card in the past year. And 34% of those with the lowest income said they used check cashers (which charge 1% to 4% of the amount of the check) in the past year. Respondents making more money used certain services at higher rates than those making less money, including payday loans and overdraft protection. Lack of financial literacy, mounting debt, poor credit and no savings all attract Millennials to the convenience of these services.

  • Our economic future is in the hands of a generation raised in the era of entitlements with an expectation of convenience and a lack of financial knowhow – may God have mercy on us

Economic News

Consumers barely increased their spending on retail goods in April. The Commerce Department says retail sales rose a scant 0.1% April. Retail spending had risen 0.7% in March and 1% in February. Meanwhile, the consumer price index was flat last month as cheaper gasoline offset modest increases for food, clothing and housing. The Labor Department says the seasonally adjusted consumer price index was unchanged in April, after a 0.3% gain in March. Excluding volatile food and gas costs, so-called “core” prices rose 0.2%, the same as in March. Over the past 12 months, prices have risen 2.3%, smallest increase in more than a year. Gas prices fell 2.6% in April, biggest decline in six months. Food prices and housing costs both ticked up 0.2%.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that builders broke ground at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 717,000 homes in April from March. That’s 2.6% more than March. However, building permits, a gauge of future construction, fell last month from a 3½ year high to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 715,000. But that was because of a 23% drop in the volatile apartment category. Permits for single-family homes rose almost 2%.Even with the gains, the rate of construction and the level of permits requested remain only half the pace considered healthy.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly unemployment aid applications stayed at a seasonally adjusted 370,000, the same as the previous week. Applications for benefits surged in April to a five-month high of 392,000. They have fallen since then and are near the lowest levels in four years, just below the threshold required to reduce unemployment.

Eurozone

Europe dodged a bullet, as the combined economy of the 17 countries that use the euro narrowly avoided recession in the first quarter of the year. There was one reason the eurozone avoided an overall recession — defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth: Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, was behind the better-than-expected performance as strong export figures helped it grow 0.5%. The economic bloc is still struggling with a raging debt crisis that’s raising the specter of the breakup of the currency union. And huge economic disparities exist across the single currency bloc. Of the euro’s 17 members, seven are in recession: Ireland, Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovenia.

Greece

A senior judge was sworn in Wednesday to head Greece’s caretaker government for a month as the debt-crippled country lurches through a political crisis that threatens its membership in the 17-nation eurozone. Panagiotis Pikrammenos, 67, was appointed earlier Wednesday to head a government that will lack the mandate to make any binding commitments until a new election, which is expected June 17. The political uncertainty is worrying Greece’s international creditors as well as Greeks themselves, who have withdrawn hundreds of millions of euros from banks since the May 6 election. Greece may be denied its next payout for its debt from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Without the payout, Greece may soon run out of money to pay public workers and creditors.

Middle East

The number of terrorist missile strikes launched against Israel, mostly from Gaza…the land Israel gave up seven years ago in exchange for promises of peace…has increased more than 250% over last year. “This sad news is just one more reminder of the incredible level of hatred directed toward the Jewish people by their enemies,” notes the Jerusalem Prayer Team. Meanwhile, a poll out of Egypt ahead of presidential elections later this month revealed that more than 60% of the people want the peace treaty with Israel repealed. “This treaty signed by Prime Minister Begin and Egyptian President Sadat (who was assassinated for making peace with Israel two years later by the same Muslim Brotherhood that is expected to win the upcoming election) at Camp David was a huge boost to the security of Israel. Now all that work and the years of peace between the two neighbors could be undone. The ending of the peace treaty would place a huge strain on Israel’s already limited resources. Egypt fields a large military, and Israel has been able to leave her southern border very lightly defended.”

In a statement that highlights the growing danger to the Jewish state posed by the increasing belligerence of Iran, one of the top hardline newspapers just published a column rejoicing over the fact that Israel has been “rejected by the West.” They cite the rumored willingness of the Obama Administration to accept Iran’s nuclear program (which Iran’s leaders still claim to be peaceful despite all the evidence to the contrary) in the upcoming talks. “It is clear that the current US government is desperate to avoid military action prior to the election this November. Whether they will abandon Israel in pursuit of that effort remains to be seen, but the fact that a growing number of people in Iran apparently believe so will greatly increase the likelihood of a dangerous and destructive war,” the Jerusalem Prayer Team concludes.

Iran

As Iran starts a critical round of talks over its nuclear program, its negotiating team may be less interested in reaching a comprehensive settlement than in buying time and establishing the legitimacy of its enrichment program, Iranian officials and analysts said. That is because though Iran finds itself under increased financial pressure from tightening sanctions, officials here argue that their fundamental approach has essentially worked. In continually pushing forward the nuclear activities – increasing enrichment and building a bunker mountain enrichment facility – Iran has in effect forced the West to accept a program it insists is for peaceful purposes. Iranians say their carefully crafted policy has helped move the goal posts in their favor by making enrichment a reality that the West has been unable to stop, reports the United Against Nuclear Iran organization.

Lebanon

Firing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, Lebanese gunmen clashed in street battles Monday as sectarian tensions linked to the 14-month-old uprising in Syria bled across the border for a third day. At least five people have been killed and 100 wounded in Lebanon’s second-largest city since the gunbattles erupted late Saturday, security officials said. Residents say differences over Syria are at the root of the fighting, which pits neighbor against neighbor and raises fears of broader unrest that could draw in neighboring countries. Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, which are easily enflamed. Tripoli has seen bouts of sectarian violence in the past, but the fighting has become more frequent as the conflict in Syria worsens.

Yemen

Government troops and warplanes pounded Al Qaeda positions in southern Yemen on Wednesday, killing at least 29 militants as part of a ramped up campaign against the group, Al Qaeda-linked fighters have taken over a swath of territory and several towns in the south, including the Abyan provincial capital of Zinjibar, in the past year, pushing out government forces and setting up their own rule. In recent weeks, the army has launched a concerted effort to dislodge the militants from their strongholds — and is closely coordinating with U.S. troops who are helping guide the operations from inside Yemen.

  • Our sneaky administration is conducting war in Yemen without authorization and without admitting it

Afghanistan

Officials say a group of militants has attacked a government compound in western Afghanistan, killing at least five people. The militants first fired a grenade at the gate of the governor’s complex in Farah province on Thursday, then stormed into it. The fighting is ongoing and ten people have been wounded thus far.

Libya

Clashes in a western Libyan city left six dead and at least 20 injured on Wednesday. Unidentified assailants attacked an airport and a hospital in Ghadamis near the Algerian border. Clashes have been common throughout the country since last year’s overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. They have sometimes pitted rival members of the former rebel militias that fought his regime against each other. Other conflicts have involved ethnic groups with grievances dating back to his time in power.

Britain

Binge drinking has reached crisis levels in Britain, health experts say, costing the cash-strapped National Health Service 2.7 billion pounds (US$4.4 billion) a year, including the cost of hospital admissions related to booze-fueled violence and longer-term health problems. Unlike all other major health threats, liver disease is on the rise in Britain, increasing by 25 percent in the last decade and causing a record level of deaths, according to recent government figures. Doctors believe rising obesity is combining with heavy drinking to fuel the spike in liver disease, which is hitting more young people than ever. Anyone who’s gone out on a Friday night in any of Britain’s larger towns and cities will be familiar with boozed out groups of people shouting, brawling and causing a scene as they spill out of bars and pubs.

Earthquakes

A 4.3-magnitude earthquake rattled eastern Texas early Thursday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The quake, at a depth of three miles, was centered near Timpson, about 155 miles east-southeast of Dallas. At least one building in Timpson showed damage, with a number of chimney bricks falling to the street below and crashing through the roof. The quake was the second to hit the area in a week.  A 3.9 quake shook Timpson May 10. Thursday morning’s earthquake was the third-strongest in East Texas history.

Wildfires

The Gladiator Fire more than doubled in size to roughly 5,400 acres Wednesday as it roared through the heart of the Bradshaw Mountains, claiming one more home and moving ever closer to others in the remote community of Crown King, Arizona. Most of the roughly 30 residents who remained in Crown King on Wednesday had evacuated by nightfall after electrical power to the area was lost and public-safety officials urged stragglers to leave while they still could. The fire so far has claimed four residences. At a community meeting late in the day at Mayer High School, about 150 residents were told the fire would continue burning and remain wild for at least three more days. Fire officials expect to fight a defensive battle to protect Crown King until the winds shift later in the week. Then, their strategy is likely to change if, as expected, the fire heads in a northeasterly direction into uninhabited wilderness. “It’s getting a lot closer to town every day,” said Joe Reinarz, incident commander for the fire, which still is only 5% contained. Weather conditions could worsen by Friday, with wind gusts of 40mph expected.

Three other large fires continued to burn elsewhere in Arizona, signaling an ominous start to the state’s wildfire season. The largest of those, the Sunflower Fire 21 miles south of Payson in the Tonto National Forest, had burned more than 12,000 acres but was not threatening structures. Meanwhile, more evacuation notices have been issued as a wildfire in northern Colorado grew from 1,000 acres to more than 5,000 acres overnight. The blaze northwest of Fort Collins is still only about 5 percent contained. Nearly 400 firefighters headed back to the fire lines on Thursday. Two groups of residents have received notices to be prepared for possible evacuations, but no one has had to leave. The fire is within a quarter mile of some homes.

Weather

Long-running arguments over who needs to do what to stop the planet from overheating are back in focus this week as rich and poor countries meet in Bonn, Germany, to resume talks on a new global climate treaty. U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres noted that the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions pledged so far fall short of what scientists say is needed to avoid serious effects of global warming. The talks have been hampered by bickering over how to divide such cuts among developing nations, emerging economies and industrialized countries.

  • Regardless of what countries do or don’t do about greenhouse gas emissions, end-time weather will continue to grow more extreme

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