Signs of the Times (5/29/12)

Kansas Passes Measure Blocking Islamic Law

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has signed a law aimed at keeping the state’s courts or government agencies from basing decisions on Islamic or other foreign legal codes, and a national Muslim group’s spokesman said Friday that a court challenge is likely. The new law, taking effect July 1, doesn’t specifically mention Shariah law, which broadly refers to codes within the Islamic legal system. Instead, it says courts, administrative agencies or state tribunals can’t base rulings on any foreign law or legal system that would not grant the parties the same rights guaranteed by state and U.S. constitutions.

  • The rise of states’ rights is a welcome relief from unconstitutional federal intrusion into private affairs and collusion with globalist elitists

Vatican Scandal Erupts

An already sordid scandal over leaked Vatican documents took a Hollywood-like turn Saturday with confirmation that the pope’s own butler had been arrested after confidential documents were found in his Vatican City apartment. The detention of butler Paolo Gabriele, one of the few members of the papal household, capped one of the most convulsive weeks in recent Vatican history and threw the Holy See into chaos as it enters a critical phase in its efforts to show the world it’s serious about complying with international norms on financial transparency. The tumult began with the publication last weekend of a book of leaked Vatican documents detailing power struggles, political intrigue and corruption in the highest levels of Catholic Church governance. It peaked with the inglorious ouster on Thursday of the president of the Vatican bank. And it concluded with confirmation Saturday that Pope Benedict XVI’s own butler was the alleged mole feeding documents to Italian journalists.

  • The significance of this isn’t financial or just prurient, but rather another black eye for the Christian community that feeds end-time unbelief.

Radioactive Traces from Japan in Fish off California

Scientists, for the first time, have found traces of radioactivity in fish off the California coast that migrated from waters off Japan, site of the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster last year, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The researchers say the evidence is “unequivocal” that the tuna, which were caught last year, were contaminated by the nuclear disaster in Japan last year. Scientists involved in the research say the radioactive cesium detected in samples of Pacific bluefin tuna is well below levels considered unsafe for human.

Economic News

Three years after the recession officially ended, most of the nation’s safety-net programs finally are serving fewer people. The downward trend that started with unemployment insurance in 2010 and welfare benefits in 2011 has reached food stamps, which have seen a two-month dip. Only Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, remains at its peak, due to the slow recovery. Still, even Medicaid has started to level off in some states. Still, half of American households are receiving government funds to support themselves.

Home prices hit new post-bubble lows in March, according to a report out Tuesday. Average home prices were down 2.6% from 12 months earlier, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 major markets. Home prices have not been this low since mid-2002. While there has been improvement in some regions, overall housing prices have not turned around yet.

Multiple offers and bidding wars have returned to some housing markets amid shrinking supplies of homes for sale. The dwindling inventories — driven by a mix of reluctant sellers, fewer foreclosure resales and rising demand — are spreading as the housing market gains strength. The number of homes for sale in April hit a 6.6-month supply, down from 9.1 months a year ago. A six-month supply is considered a healthy market.

A better hiring outlook and lower gas prices pushed a measure of U.S. consumer confidence to its highest level in four and a half years. The index of consumer sentiment jumped to 79.3 in May, up from 76.4 in the previous month. That’s the best reading since October 2007 — two months before the recession began.

American consumers appear to be more focused on the U.S. economy than on Europe’s financial crisis, which has weighed heavily on stocks in May. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped another 75 points Friday to close at 12,455. The Dow has fallen 824 points this month since hitting a four-year high of 13,279 on May 1.

More than 100,000 Americans out of work longer than a year in six states and Washington, D.C., are expected to lose their unemployment checks this summer. Affected are extended benefits, paid by the federal government, which provide an additional 13 to 20 weeks of payments to those already out of work 60 to 79 weeks. Economists say the cutbacks will lower the unemployment rate but hurt consumer spending.

Eurozone

The board of directors of Spain’s troubled bank, Bankia, has asked the Spanish government for €19 billion ($23.8 billion) in financial support. The bank’s president, said late Friday that the bailout would “reinforce the solvency, liquidity and solidity of the bank.” The request came on the same day as credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Bankia and four other Spanish banks to junk status because of uncertainty over restructuring and recapitalization plans. Concern about the health of Europe’s banks is a key constituent of the region’s financial crisis. Spanish banks are seen as particularly shaky because they were heavily exposed to the country’s collapsed real estate bubble and now hold massive amounts of soured investments, such as defaulted mortgage loans or devalued property. Bankia has been the worst-hit and holds €32 billion ($40 billion) in toxic assets. The president of Bankia tried Saturday to calm fears about the future of the bank, saying Spain’s second largest mortgage lender will emerge as a solid financial entity after it receives the country’s biggest-ever bank bailout.

Middle East

A new United Nations report has revealed a massive increase in Iran’s nuclear capacity this year. Despite the international embargo that is supposed to be in place, Iran has increased their number of centrifuges by more than 50% since February and has now enriched uranium to at least 27%. This represents a new level of technical ability and brings them even closer to having nuclear warheads. They are already capable of producing dangerous “dirty bombs” to release low-level radiation and devastate Israel’s cities.

Computer malware described as “the most sophisticated cyber weapon yet unleashed” has been uncovered in computers in the Middle East and may have infected machines in Europe, according to reports from antivirus researchers and software makers in Russia, Hungary and Ireland. The malware, dubbed Worm.Win32.Flame, is unusual in its complexity, size and the multitude of ways it has of harvesting information from an infected computer including keyboard, screen, microphone, storage devices, network, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB and system processes. Both Kaspersky Labs and CrySyS Lab said it was likely the malware was developed by a government-sponsored entity. “The results of our technical analysis supports the hypotheses that [Flame] was developed by a government agency of a nation state with significant budget and effort, and it may be related to cyber warfare activities,” a CrySyS Lab report said. Vitaly Kamluk, chief malware expert for Kaspersky Labs, said there were many pointers to it being a weapon, not the least of which was how highly-targeted it was. According to their investigations, only 382 infections have been reported, 189 of which were in Iran.

  • Too early to say for sure, but speculation is that Israel is the perpetrator of this focused cyber attack

Syria

Syria’s foreign ministry spokesman has denied government troops were behind an attack on a string of villages that left more than 100 people dead. Friday’s assault on Houla, an area northwest of the central city of Homs, was one of the bloodiest single events in Syria’s 15-month-old uprising. Gruesome video Saturday showed rows of dead Syrian children lying in a mosque in bloody shorts and T-shirts with gaping head wounds, haunting images of what activists called one of the deadliest regime attacks yet.

Special envoy Kofi Annan on Monday called on “every individual with a gun” in Syria to lay down arms, saying he was horrified by a weekend massacre, including women and small children. The massacre has emerged as a potential turning point in the Syrian crisis Monday, galvanizing even staunch ally Russia to take an unusually hard line against President Bashar Assad’s government. The U.S. State Department is kicking out Syria’s top diplomat to Washington, joining several other countries in expelling Syrian officials in a bid to increase pressure on Assad.

Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate and a veteran of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime will face each other in a runoff election on June 16-17 for Egypt’s presidency, according to first-round results Friday. The divisive showdown dismayed many Egyptians who fear either one means an end to any democratic gains produced by last year’s uprising. More than a year after protesters demanding democracy toppled Mubarak, the faceoff between the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and former air-force chief and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq looked like a throwback to the days of his regime — a rivalry between a military-rooted strongman promising a firm hand to ensure stability and Islamists vowing to implement religious law. Three top candidates in Egypt’s presidential race filed appeals to the election commission ahead of the deadline Sunday, alleging violations in the first round vote that they say could change the outcome.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s parliament has approved a strategic partnership agreement with the United States. The strategic partnership will now go to the Afghan senate, where it is also expected to be approved early next week. It governs the relationship between the two countries through 2024.

Afghan authorities said on Sunday that an airstrike by the U.S.-led NATO coalition killed eight members of a family in eastern Afghanistan. The U.S.-led coalition on Sunday disputed reports that eight civilians, including children, were killed. A senior NATO official said that so far, there is no evidence of any civilian casualties. Coalition forces were conducting an operation in Paktia province against a large number of insurgents. Meanwhile, four NATO service members were killed in separate roadside bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said Sunday.

The U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan killed al-Qaeda’s second-highest leader in the country in an airstrike in eastern Kunar province, the coalition said Tuesday. Sakhr al-Taifi, also known as Mushtaq and Nasim, was responsible for commanding foreign insurgents in Afghanistan and directing attacks against NATO and Afghan forces, the alliance said. He frequently traveled between Afghanistan and Pakistan, carrying out commands from senior al-Qaeda leadership and ferrying in weapons and fighters.

Iran

Iran’s nuclear chief says his country is planning to build at least two new nuclear power plants next to an existing facility that became operational with Russia’s help last year. Iran is in the very early stages of planning the new 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plants and it may begin construction within a year or two. Iran has repeatedly said in recent years that it is planning to build more nuclear power plants but nothing had been offered to show that any work is underway. Iran’s first power plant went into operation last May at the southern coastal city of Bushehr. Iran’s nuclear chief said Sunday there are no reasons at the moment for his country to halt production of uranium enriched to 20 percent, a key demand of world powers. The West is concerned that the 20-percent enrichment could quickly be turned into nuclear weapons-grade material.

Georgia (former Soviet Republic)

Tens of thousands of people thronged the streets of Georgia’s capital on Sunday to show their opposition to President Mikhail Saakashvili in the largest anti-government demonstration in three years. The protest was seen as a test of public support for the opposition ahead of a parliamentary election in October. It also was a political coming-out party for organizer Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire businessman who is Georgia’s richest man and leading philanthropist. He made his entry into politics in October, announcing that he was forming a political party with the aim of winning the parliamentary vote and assuming the post of prime minister. As the participants marched from three directions to join the rally on Freedom Square, they carried Georgian flags but also the flags of the European Union and NATO, indicating that support remains high to one day join the Western organizations.

Sudan

The United Nations Refugee Agency warned Friday that a major humanitarian crisis is now underway in South Sudan, CBN News reports. At least 10,000 additional refugees crossed over the border from Sudan last week and another 50,000 are expected. More than 120,000 people in total have fled ongoing attacks by Sudan as it heads toward war with South Sudan, arriving at refugee camps in desperate need of food, shelter and water after walking for days in the heat. In the midst of the suffering, however, churches are gathering every Sunday morning in the refugee camps, often with only a tree to shelter them. Local pastors are working together to try to meet physical and spiritual needs of the thousands of refugees. “We need praying for faith in Sudan, and we need praying also for our communities,” one pastor said. “With so many people, they are backsliding now because the situation is not good.”

Earthquakes

A magnitude-5.8 earthquake hit northern Italy on Tuesday, killing at least 10 people in the same region still struggling to recover from another fatal tremor on May 20. The quake, which struck just after 9 a.m. local time, was centered 25 miles northwest of the city of Bologna, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was just miles from where a magnitude-6.0 temblor killed seven people earlier this month. The quake was felt from Piedmont in northwestern Italy to Venice in the northeast, and as far north as Austria. The LaPresse news agency said others were still buried under the rubble of collapsed homes and factories.

Wildfires

Firefighters are battling a massive wildfire in southwestern New Mexico that has destroyed a dozen cabins and spread smoke across the state, prompting holiday weekend air-quality warnings. The fire burned over the holiday weekend through remote and rugged terrain around the Gila Wilderness and has grown to 85,000 acres or more than 130 square miles. Smoke from the giant fire spread across the state and into Arizona. Health officials as far away as Albuquerque and Santa Fe issued alerts for the weekend, advising people to limit outdoor activities, keep windows closed. Residents near a privately owned New Mexico ghost town were ordered Saturday to evacuate.

In Southern California, firefighters worked to corral a wildfire that chewed through 4,100 acres of tinder-dry grass and light brush since it broke out Thursday afternoon east of Julian. On Friday, the fire forced about 50 people to evacuate an RV park in San Diego County. It earlier prompted the evacuation of about 100 homes in the Shelter Valley area, but residents were allowed to return late Thursday. In Arizona, residents of the historic mining town of Crown King were allowed to return home after being evacuated because of a wildfire about 85 miles north of Phoenix. The fire started May 13 and has burned more than 16,000 acres. It is 50% contained.

A wildfire burning across more than 30 square miles of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has destroyed nearly 100 buildings, but there have been no reports of injuries. The Duck Lake Fire has burned more than 22,000 acres, or 34 square miles, in Luce County. The fire is 51% contained and officials still are warning people to stay away from the nearby Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

In Nevada, questions were being raised over fire crews’ initial response to a backyard burn that rekindled two days later, destroying two homes in a rural community and scorching 7,500 acres. Volunteer firefighters with the East Fork Fire Protection District arrived at the scene and then left, apparently without fully extinguishing the blaze. Gusty winds rekindled the fire Tuesday, and it spread quickly through thick brush and dry grasses.

Weather

The Atlantic hurricane season got off to an early bang in Florida on Monday with the landfall of Tropical Storm Beryl, the most powerful May storm to hit the USA in more than 100 years. Beryl, the second named storm of the 2012 tropical season, came ashore with 70-mph winds early Memorial Day near Jacksonville Beach, Fla., ruining some holiday plans and beach trips, but bringing much-needed rain to the nation’s most drought-plagued region. The Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t officially begin until Friday and lasts through Nov. 30. Beryl is expected to produce rain accumulations of 4 to 8 inches — with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches — from northern Florida through southeastern North Carolina over the next couple of days.

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