Archive for June, 2012

Signs of the Times (6/29/12)

June 29, 2012

Supreme Court Upholds Obama Health Care Plan

President Obama’s landmark health care law remains standing today because of one Supreme Court justice’s unlikely vote. In a splintered 5-4 decision with momentous consequences for the nation’s health care system, balance of government power and politics, the high court handed Obama a stunning election-year victory. Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberal-leaning justices held that the law’s insurance mandate represents a tax on people who do not get health coverage — a tax the Constitution gives Congress the power to impose. Using that logic, the chief justice saved “Obamacare” — the most sweeping overhaul of the U.S. health care system since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, one that presidents from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton tried and failed to achieve.

Now it’s full steam ahead for the law, which already has provided limited benefits for some seniors, young adults and people with pre-existing conditions. By January 2014, unless Congress intervenes, millions of Americans will have to obtain insurance or pay penalties, insurers will be banned from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, states will have to decide whether to expand Medicaid and create new insurance exchanges where people can shop for affordable coverage, and many small businesses will have to cover workers with the help of tax credits or pay penalties.

Court’s Health Law Ruling Could Limit Congress’ Powers

The insurance mandate survives, but Congress’ power might never be the same. That was the upshot of the Supreme Court’s complex decision on Thursday, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, upholding the core of President Obama’s landmark health care overhaul, while simultaneously embracing potentially significant new limits on the sweep of the federal government’s authority to regulate commerce and spend money. Roberts joined the court’s conservatives and Justice Anthony Kennedy in finding that Congress’ separate power to regulate commerce did not give lawmakers the authority to force people to buy insurance if they don’t want to except as a tax. And he joined six other justices in saying that Congress could not use its checkbook to coerce state officials into going along with policies they don’t like, the first time in more than a generation that the court had put any real limits on the federal government’s power to spend money.

  • While this distinction may or may not impose future limitations on government spending, calling the mandate forcing people to buy health insurance under any definition is a major expansion of the government’s reach into individual freedom, the free-market system and states’ rights. Chief Justice Roberts is a major disappointment.

States Face a Challenge to Meet Health Law’s Deadline

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act shifts the focus from whether sweeping changes to the health insurance market should take place to a scramble to meet the law’s rapidly approaching deadlines. A number of largely Republican-led states that gambled on delay now face the unsettling prospect that the federal government could take over their responsibilities, particularly in setting up the health insurance marketplaces known as exchanges, where people will be able to choose among policies for their coverage. Under the law, individuals must be able to buy insurance coverage through the new state exchanges by Jan. 1, 2014. But a more immediate deadline is less than six months away, on Jan. 1, 2013, when states must demonstrate to the Department of Health and Human Services that the exchanges will be operational the next year. If they do not, the secretary, the federal government, “shall establish and operate” the exchanges for the states, according to the statute.

  • The Constitutional mandate for states’ rights continues to get trampled by federal power plays

Court Upholds EPA’s Global Warming Rules

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the first-ever U.S. government regulations aimed at reducing the gases blamed for global warming. The rules, which were challenged by industry groups and various states, will reduce emissions of six heat-trapping gases from large industrial facilities such as factories and power plants, as well as from automobile tailpipes. The court on Tuesday denied two challenges to the administration’s rules, including one arguing that the agency erred in concluding greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. The ruling is perhaps the most significant to come on the issue since 2007, when the Supreme Court found that greenhouse gases could be controlled as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. President Obama’s administration has come under fierce criticism from Republicans, including Mitt Romney, his almost certain opponent in November, for pushing ahead with regulations after Congress failed to pass climate legislation.

  • End-time heat and weather extremes will continue to build as we draw closer to the Great Tribulation

Attorney General Holder Held in Contempt by Congress

In a mostly partisan vote Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives held Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to release records from the 2009 Operation Fast and Furious gun-smuggling probe in Arizona. It was the first time in history that a sitting Cabinet member has been so sanctioned. Thursday’s action capped 16 months of politically charged congressional inquiry into a Phoenix-based firearms case that allowed an estimated 2,000 weapons to get into the hands of criminals, mostly south of the border. President Obama’s administration has argued that the records, about 140,000 pages, are privileged because they are part of the executive branch’s deliberative process and immune to congressional scrutiny under the separation of powers. The House also authorized civil litigation to seek a court order that would force the Obama administration to release records from the case.

Security Lapses Found at CDC Bioterror Lab

A federal bioterror laboratory already under investigation by Congress for safety issues has had repeated incidents of security doors left unlocked to an area where experiments occur with dangerous germs, according to internal agency e-mails obtained by USA TODAY. The e-mails document doors being left unlocked in the building’s high-containment lab block, which includes an animal-holding area and Biosafety Level 3 labs where experiments are done on microbes that can cause serious or potentially fatal diseases and can be spread through the air. Anthrax, monkeypox, dangerous strains of influenza and the SARS virus are examples. For safety and security, access to BSL-3 labs is restricted and they are supposed to have special airflow systems designed to help keep organisms inside. Problems with the airflow systems revealed by USA TODAY, including a February incident where air briefly blew out of a lab into a “clean” hallway, prompted the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week to launch a bipartisan investigation into safety issues.

  • Given human fallibility in a fallen world, it’s only a matter of time before one or more of these biotoxins escape into the general population

Bat Plague Continues Unabated

A plague killing bats nationwide shows no sign of slowing, say biologists whose winter cave surveys indicate the “white-nose syndrome” that decimates bat populations is still spreading. Starting from one cave in New York state in 2006, the fungal infection that preys on hibernating bats, has killed more than 5.5 million bats in 19 states. The bat deaths could cost farmers $3.7 billion in losses, biologists estimate, given the flying mammals eat insect crop pests, such as beetles, and pollinate plants. Until recently, most of the losses took place in Northeastern states and eastern Canadian provinces. But over the winter, the syndrome struck bats in Missouri, as far west as it has been documented, and in Alabama, as far south.

Persecution Isn’t Just ‘Over There’

Author David Limbaugh raised awareness with his big-selling book, Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity. The book went into great detail about a growing pattern of legal and cultural discrimination against Christians in the U.S. Christians in the West are encountering a growing wave of religiously based opposition, mockery or hardships in government and on the job. It’s still happening, and on an increasing scale. Although such persecution may seem minor compared to those whose lives are threatened abroad, it underscores the pervasive anti-Christ attitude that is growing at an accelerated pace.

Natural Gas Gold Rush

Since the late 1990s, American landscapes have become dotted with a small forest of shale gas wells — 13,000 new ones a year, or about 35 a day, according to the American Petroleum Institute. In the past decade, this steady stream of development has become a gusher as nearly half the country has staked claim to these energy riches. In 2000, the USA had 342,000 natural gas wells. By 2010, more than 510,000 were in place — a 49% jump. Twenty states have shale gas wells, so-named because they tap rock layers that harbor the gas in shale formations through controversial fracking techniques The process pumps millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to fracture shale layers and release its natural gas..

U.S. Opens More Arctic, Gulf Areas for Oil, Gas Drilling

To spur domestic energy production and quiet GOP critics, the Obama administration announced Thursday that it’s opening more areas in the Arctic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling. Angering some environmentalists, the Department of Interior plans 15 potential lease sales from 2012 to 2017, including 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea and Cook Inlet Planning Areas. It’s on track to hold the first sale later this year. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the “targeted” leasing strategy will put a few sensitive areas off-limits to minimize environmental risks. They include two whaling areas in Beaufort, a hunting and fishing area in Chukchi near Barrow, Alaska, and a 25-mile buffer area near Chukchi’s coast.

Large Cities Got Larger Despite Downturn

The nation’s largest cities are growing faster than the country as a whole, according to 2011 population estimates released by the Census Bureau Thursday. All but two (Baltimore and Detroit) of the 33 cities that have 500,000-plus people grew since 2010. Of the 100 most-populous cities, almost three-fourths are growing at or above the national average of 0.9%.In the 1960s and 1970s, economic downturns used to impact the central city more than its suburbs. Now the reverse is true. Growth slowed the most in the Sun Belt, especially in areas hard hit by the housing bust and foreclosures.

Stockton is Largest U.S. City to Declare Bankruptcy

Officials in Stockton said Tuesday that mediation with creditors has failed, meaning the city is set to become the largest American city ever to declare bankruptcy. Officials were unable to reach a deal to restructure hundreds of millions of dollars of debt under a new state law designed to help municipalities avoid bankruptcy. The river port city of 290,000 in Central California has seen its property taxes and other revenues decline, while expensive investments and generous retiree benefits drained city coffers. The bankruptcy of Stockton, Calif., could be the crucial test case that determines whether local governments can use the federal courts to shed burdensome retirement benefits in a way that corporations often do. The struggling city has been firing police, firefighters and other workers for several years to reduce payroll costs so it can pay retirement benefits and debt.

Economic News

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week, but the level of applications remains too high to signal a pickup in hiring. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications fell to a seasonally adjusted 386,000, down from 392,000 the previous week.

The Commerce Department says the overall economy grew at an annual rate of 1.9% in the January-March quarter. Economists believe economic growth in the nearly completed April-June quarter will also come in around 1.9%, a modest pace not strong enough to make a significant improvement in unemployment.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that orders for long-lasting manufactured goods rose 1.1% in May after two months of declines. The increase suggests companies remain somewhat confident in the U.S. economy despite a weaker job market and a likely recession in Europe. Durable goods are items expected to last at least three years. Orders in May rose to $217.2 billion, 46% above the recession low hit in April 2009. Orders are still 11.4% below their 2007 peak.

Barclays and its subsidiaries have agreed to pay more than $400 million to settle charges that it tried to manipulate key global interest rates. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission said Barclays senior management and multiple traders were involved in the matter and they also coordinated with traders at other banks to make false submissions from 2005 to 2009. The false data was used in determining many derivative interest rates. Four more global banks are being investigated for the alleged financial market manipulation.

Shares of JPMorgan Chase (JPM) tumbled in trading Thursday as a published report said the bank’s losses on a bad trade may be as much as $9 billion — far higher than the estimated $2 billion loss disclosed last month.

China is gobbling up U.S. real estate and U.S. assets at an astounding pace. In fact, some cities are in danger of becoming completely dominated by Chinese ownership. One of those cities is Toledo, Ohio. In many “rust belt” areas, real estate can be had for a song, and the Chinese are taking full advantage of this.

Eurozone

After 18 disappointing summits, Europe’s leaders unexpectedly appeared Friday to have finally come up with a set of measures that show they are serious about solving their crippling debt crisis. Leaders of the 17 countries that use the euro currency agreed to let funds intended to bail out indebted governments funnel money directly to struggling banks as well. The move is intended to stop banks from piling debt onto already stressed governments. The leaders also agreed to ease austerity requirements for countries that take bailouts — a victory for Spain and Italy, both of which say they have done much already to clean up their economies. The move is also a sign that Germany may be easing in its insistence on brutal austerity measures in exchange for loans. Leaders of the full 27-member European Union, which includes non-euro countries such as Britain and Poland, also agreed to a long-term plan for a tighter budgetary and political union.

Egypt

Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s new president, received his doctorate in engineering at the University of Southern California. Two of his five children are U.S. citizens. But his years spent studying in America have not dissuaded him from the extreme beliefs of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has called for religious law, segregation of the sexes and scorns the influence of the West and Israel, experts say. His public statements over time tend to say provocative things about the U.S. and Israel. The Brotherhood is clear on its goal of a global Muslim caliphate in which the Quran is the source of all law. Now that one of its own has attained a presidency, what that means for Egypt is unclear. However, his recent internal statement not meant for public distribution is quite troubling: “We say it loud and clear our capital shall not be Cairo or Mecca or Medina—it shall be Jerusalem. Our cry shall be millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem. Banish the sleep from the eyes of all Jews. Come on you lovers of martyrdom—you are all Hamas!”

Syria

A strong explosion rocked the Syrian capital Thursday, sending black smoke billowing into the sky. The explosion was in the parking lot of the Palace of Justice, a compound that houses several courts. Syria has been hit by a wave of massive explosions in recent months, killing dozens of people. Most of the explosions targeted the security agencies of President Bashar Assad, who is fighting to end a 15-month-old uprising against his rule. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared that his country was at war and ordered his new government to spare no effort to achieve victory, as the worst fighting of the 16-month conflict reached the outskirts of the capital. Major world powers will meet Saturday in Geneva for talks on Syria, but few observers expect a major breakthrough. Syria has the protection or Russia, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, and has so far been impervious to international pressure.

Turkey

Turkey deployed anti-aircraft guns and other weapons alongside its border with Syria, state television reported on Thursday, days after the downing of a Turkish military jet by Syrian forces heightened the tensions between the two countries. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Tuesday that any Syrian military unit approaching its border will be treated as a direct threat. Turkey’s NATO allies have expressed solidarity with Turkey and condemned the Syrian attack but made no mention of any retaliatory action against Syria.

Iran

Over the next four days, Western governments will launch their toughest sanctions yet against Iran. The steps are designed to eviscerate the oil-based economy, and to test Tehran’s determination to keep enriching uranium in defiance of United Nations resolutions. The United States and European Union will impose an oil embargo, as well as a ban on tanker insurance and other measures that analysts say could slash Iran’s foreign sales of oil – its largest source of revenue – by more than half. That would cost Iran about $4 billion a month, experts say, a substantial amount given the country’s estimated foreign currency reserves of $60 billion to $100 billion. Western governments hope the added pressure will help break the deadlock in a decade-old struggle to persuade Iran to accept limits on nuclear development – before it completes research that many nations fear is aimed at learning how to build a nuclear weapon.

Afghanistan

U.S.-led troop deaths from makeshift bombs in Afghanistan are dropping sharply even though the number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by insurgents are near record levels. Now, less than half of troop deaths come from the bombs, although there has been a 5% spike in homemade bomb incidents since March. Part of the decline in deaths can be traced to the changing nature of combat there. Attacks have shifted from southern to eastern Afghanistan where allied forces are focusing on insurgents in rugged, mountainous terrain. Troops in the east tend to travel in armored vehicles, which have experienced a 17% increase in attacks over the last three months, according to the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization. In the south, troops tend to touch off bombs while on foot.

Iraq

Two bombs have exploded in a Baghdad suburb, killing at least eight people and wounding 19 others in another attack against Shiites by al Qaeda. It is the latest attack in a particularly bloody month as the Iraqi government struggles to provide security.

Wildfires

A raging wildfire near Colorado Springs that forced tens of thousands to flee has left at least one person dead and destroyed an estimated 346 homes this week, making it the most destructive fire in the state’s history. The towering wildfire jumped firefighters’ perimeter lines and moved into the city of Colorado Springs, forcing frantic evacuation orders for more than 32,000 residents, including the U.S. Air Force Academy, and destroying an unknown number of homes. Heavy smoke and ash billowed from the foothills west of the city as the Waldo Canyon Fire became the top challenge for the nation’s firefighters.

In the Rocky Mountain West, firefighters say they’ve never seen the trees and grasses this dry so early in the summer, calling it “epic dryness.” Nationally, firefighters were battling 47 major fires Friday.  Throughout the West, firefighters have toiled for days in searing, record-setting heat against fires fueled by prolonged drought. Most of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Arizona were under red flag warnings, meaning extreme fire danger.

Weather

Across the United States, hundreds of heat records have fallen in the past week. From the wildfire-consumed Rocky Mountains to the bacon-fried sidewalks of Oklahoma, 1,011 records have been broken around the country, including 251 new daily high temperature records on Tuesday. It’s startling given that heat records usually aren’t broken until the scorching months of July and August. A record heat wave will continue to roast much of the USA through the weekend.

Florida officials said Thursday that Tropical Storm Debby was responsible for seven deaths in the state, including a 41-year-old woman caught in a riptide Wednesday at St. Pete Beach. She was among eight people pulled from rip currents. A Highlands County woman died in a tornado spawned by the storm.

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Signs of the Times (6/26/12)

June 26, 2012

Supreme Court Upholds Key Portion of Arizona’s Immigration Law

The Supreme Court has struck down most of the controversial Arizona immigration law, but upheld a key provision.  The Supreme Court has ruled that one key part of the Arizona immigration law known as Senate Bill 1070 is constitutional, paving the way for it to go into effect. The court, in a 5-3 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, upheld the portion of the law that requires an officer to make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested if there’s reasonable suspicion that person is in the country illegally. The justices, in a 5-3 vote, struck down three other provisions that created new state crimes targeting illegal immigrants, arguing that Arizona had usurped federal authority in the area of immigration enforcement.

The Supreme Court’s split ruling Monday on Arizona’s controversial immigration law did nothing to settle the debate — providing little clarity on how far states can go to police their borders and solidifying the topic as a key election-year issue. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said the “heart of the bill” was upheld, and state legislators around the country sounded emboldened, arguing that the ruling will not only help similar laws survive constitutional challenges but will lead to more laws when state legislatures reconvene in January. But activists held out hope that because the majority of the law was gutted, similar laws across the country — or those under consideration — will suffer a similar fate.

  • The Supremes dropped the ball here by leaving the matter largely unsettled, resulting in future scrums as states continue to cope with an immigration situation the federal government refuses to confront

Court Rejects Corporate Campaign Spending Limits

The Supreme Court on Monday reaffirmed its 2-year-old decision allowing corporations to spend freely to influence elections. The justices struck down a Montana law limiting corporate campaign spending. By a 5-4 vote, the court’s conservative justices said the decision in the Citizens United case in 2010 applies to state campaign finance laws and guarantees corporate and labor union interests the right to spend freely to advocate for or against candidates for state and local offices. The majority turned away pleas from the court’s liberal justices to give a full hearing to the case because massive campaign spending since the January 2010 ruling has called into question some of its underpinnings.

  • Pure politics. Liberals want limits because Republicans have the most money.

Mormons Excited About Romney

Most Mormons in Utah believe that Mitt Romney’s rise to become the likely GOP presidential nominee is a good thing for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But many do not trust the media to cover the church fairly, according to a new poll released Monday (June 25). More than eight in 10 Utah Mormons said they are “very excited” or “somewhat excited” about Romney’s feat. Nearly as many (77 percent) said his nomination is a good thing for the LDS church; just 2 percent told pollsters it was a negative development.

  • Mormonism is the worst sort of abomination, because it purports to be Christian even though it relegates Jesus’ status to that of Lucifer’s brother. As the fastest growing religion in the U.S., it serves Satan’s purposes to further confuse unbelievers about who Jesus really is.

Survey: Doubt of God Growing Quickly Among Millennials

The percentage of Americans under 30 who doubt the existence of God appears to be growing quickly, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, CNN reports. While most young Americans — 68 percent — told Pew they never doubt God’s existence, that’s a 15-point drop in just five years. In 2007, 83 percent of American millennials said they never doubted God’s existence. No other generation showed a change of more than 2 percent in the past five years when asked about doubts of God. The survey found that the percentage of millennials who identify with a religion is remaining constant, while most other generations have seen religious affiliation increase in the past 10 years. “Research on generational patterns shows this is not merely a life-cycle effect,” the Pew report said. “The millennial generation is far less religious than were other preceding generations when they were the same age years ago.”

  • The secular humanists are winning converts as Christianity continues to suffer from apathy, confusion and unbiblical practices

Jail Sentence Stands for Host of Home Bible Studies in Arizona

A federal district court in Arizona ruled that a Phoenix homeowner who held weekly Bible studies in his backyard must serve jail time for failing to comply with building, zoning, fire and safety codes applicable to churches, Christianity Today reports. In 2008, the city of Phoenix ordered Michael Salman to comply with code requirements for a church after neighbors complained about his Bible studies, which drew 50 people to a gazebo in his backyard. Salman refused, saying the order violated his free exercise rights, and was fined $12,000, sentenced to 60 days in jail and given three years of probation, during which he could not have more than 12 people in his home. On Friday, the federal district court dismissed Salman’s attempt to halt the judgment because a lower federal court had already heard his complaint and dismissed it for failing to first exhaust his legal options at the state level.

  • Christianity is under attack in all places and all ways. This wouldn’t have happened to a Muslim group.

FBI: 79 Teen Prostitutes Rescued, 104 Pimps Arrested

The FBI announced today that agents and local police rescued 79 teenagers and arrested 104 alleged pimps during a three-day sweep against child sex trafficking in 57 U.S. cities. The juveniles — 77 girls and two boys between the ages of 13 and 17 — had been held against their will and were forced into prostitution after their captors allegedly threatened to harm them and their families, the FBI said. The teens were found at hotels, truck stops, casinos and storefronts, Reuters says. One girl said she had been prostituted since she was 11. The crackdown, from Wednesday to Saturday, is the sixth since 2008 as part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, which was launched in 2003. Similar sweeps rescued 69 minors in November 2010, more than 50 in October 2009 and 48 in February 2009.

Economic News

Home prices rose in April for the first time in seven months, though they are still near record lows, according to a report out Tuesday. Average home prices increased 1.3% in April in 20 major markets, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index. This comes after prices hit new post-bubble lows in March. Prices are down 34% from their summer 2006 peak.

North Las Vegas is officially a disaster area. After five years of declining property taxes, massive layoffs and questionable spending, leaders of the blue-collar, family-oriented city outside Las Vegas declared a state of emergency, invoking a rarely used state law crafted for unforeseen disasters. The statute allows municipalities to suspend union contracts and avoid paying scheduled salary increases, but it doesn’t actually include fiscal emergencies among the list of potential disasters. “It says, in case of `emergency such as.’ You can’t list how many different types of emergencies there are in the world,” City Council member Wade Wagner said of the move, which will save the city $9 million.

Taxpayers next week will start paying more to prop up four of Arizona’s ailing public retirement plans, which continue to suffer such heavy market losses that their values are far below what they owe pensioners over the long term. The pension system for Arizona’s police officers and firefighters is in the worst shape and has little hope for a quick turnaround. “We can only hope the financial markets start improving,” said Jim Hacking of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. Arizona is among 34 states facing these problems.

A worsening shortage of truck drivers is pushing up freight rates and delaying some deliveries, defying the weak economy, high unemployment and falling gasoline prices. The annual turnover driver turnover rate at large carriers rose to a four-year high of 90% in the first quarter from 75% a year ago. Many Baby Boomers are retiring and fewer young people are interested in long-haul-trucking careers that often require drivers to be away from home for weeks at a time. Despite the 8.2% national jobless rate, many unemployed construction and factory workers can’t afford the $4,000 to $6,000 cost of a six-week driver-training course.

As Detroit continues to work through its financial difficulties, the city will lay off 164 firefighters by the end of July. The layoffs could be temporary, as the city hopes to secure a federal grant that would restore the jobs of 108 firefighters. The layoffs represent nearly 19 percent of the fire department’s 881 firefighters.

For the first time in three years, more than half of all churches report increases in giving: 51% said donations were up, 31% were down while 17% remained unchanged.

Eurozone

Cyprus on Monday became the fifth eurozone country to request financial aid from its partners in the troubled European currency union as it struggles to shore up its banks, which took heavy losses on Greek debt. A government spokesman wouldn’t say how much Cyprus would ask for from the European bailout fund, saying the amount will be subject to negotiations in the coming days. The 27 leaders of the European Union are meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. Analysts estimate the sum would likely be around €5 billion ($6.2 billion) but could go as high as €10 billion ($12.5 billion) That’s a fraction of the bailouts given to the other EU countries — Spain has asked for as much as €100 billion ($125 billion) for its banks.

Egypt

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi has won Egypt’s presidential runoff, the country’s election commission said Sunday. Morsi won by a narrow margin over Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak. The commission said Morsi took 51.7 percent of the vote versus 48.3 for Shafiq. The country’s last four presidents over the past six decades have all came from the ranks of the military. This is the first time modern Egypt will be headed by an Islamist and by a freely elected civilian. Egypt’s new president-elect, Islamist Mohammed Morsi, moved into the office once occupied by ousted leader Hosni Mubarak and started consultations Monday on forming his team and a new government. The announcement of the president was supposed to be the end of Egypt’s post-uprising transition to democracy. However the military made a series of last minute moves that stripped the office of president of most of its major powers and kept those powers concentrated in the hands of the military.

Syria

Turkey’s president said Saturday his country will take “necessary,” but unspecified, action against Syria, a day after Damascus said it had brought down a Turkish military plane that had entered its air space. Abdullah Gul said that Turkey was still trying to establish the exact circumstances of the incident and whether the jet may have been brought down in Turkish territory. The incident further escalated tensions between the two neighbors, which used to be allies before the Syrian revolt began in March 2011. Turkey has become one of the strongest critics of the Syrian regime’s brutal response to the country’s uprising. Turkey said Monday it would push NATO to consider Syria’s downing of a Turkish jet as an attack on the whole military alliance.

Meanwhile, activists are reporting heavy clashes between Syrian rebels and the elite Republican Guard in two suburbs of the capital Damascus. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the clashes erupted on Tuesday in the suburbs of Qudsaya and Hammah. Although Damascus is under the firm control of Assad’s forces, clashes erupt regularly in the suburbs between troops and rebels.

Iraq

Buoyed by an increase in oil production and declining violence, Iraq’s economy is showing signs of life. Iraq has boosted oil production to 3 million barrels a day with the help of international oil companies. That’s up from the 2.5 million barrels before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The government expects to expand capability to 10 million barrels a day in six years, which would put it at the top of world oil producers. The International Monetary Fund forecasts Iraq’s economy will grow 11.1% this year to about $144 billion.

But there’s no shortage of reasons to be wary. Iraq’s government is not fully formed, two years after elections. Bitter political and sectarian fights have threatened to bring the government to a standstill. The government still struggles to provide basic services, such as electricity. Al-Qaeda remains a threat and is trying to trigger a civil war by targeting Shiites with bombings. Meanwhile, Iraqi officials say two bomb blasts have killed 11 people Monday. Six people died and 26 were wounded when a minibus blew up as it pulled up to a popular soccer field. A bomb hidden in a plastic bag exploded outside a pet store in Baqouba killed another five and wounded three others.

Pakistan

Militants crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan and killed 13 Pakistani troops, beheading seven of them, the Pakistani military charged Monday. The border skirmish is a new sign of tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, two uneasy neighbors. Pakistan has complained that militants use parts of Afghanistan for sanctuary to stage attacks inside Pakistan. That claim helps Islamabad counter frequent U.S. and NATO complaints that militants behind much of the violence in Afghanistan come from Pakistan.

Nigeria

This could be the “bloodiest month yet” for Christians – if one Islamic terror group has its way. Nigerian Islamic terror group Boko Haram said it is commissioning 300 suicide bombers to spur a Christian bloodbath. The group made a statement to online news agency Sahara Reporters that it also plans to get revenge for security forces killing Boko Haram guerrillas. The new round of anti-Christian assaults comes only days after a series of street shootouts in Kaduna province killed 100 civilians and a continued string of church bombings killed at least 50 people.

Paraguay

Paraguay’s Senate voted to remove President Fernando Lugo from office on Friday in an impeachment trial that plunged the South American country into a crisis. Lugo is to be replaced by Vice President Federico Franco of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party. Crowds of pro-Lugo protesters took to the streets condemning the impeachment trial and expressing support for the president. Police in anti-riot gear drove them back on horseback and using water cannon. The Senate tried him on five charges of malfeasance in office, including an alleged role in a deadly confrontation between police and landless farmers that left 17 dead.

Earthquakes

A moderate earthquake Sunday toppled houses in a mountainous part of southwestern China, killing two people and injuring at least 100. The magnitude-5.7 quake was centered near the border of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces where many Yi ethnic minority live. A magnitude-5.8 quake in Yunnan in March last year killed 25 people and damaged thousands of homes.

Wildfires

Brutal wildfires across the West have put tourist destinations from Montana to New Mexico in danger just at the height of midsummer family road-trip season, putting cherished Western landscapes at risk along with hordes of vacationers. In Colorado, the $5 billion tourism industry is on edge as images of smoke-choked Pikes Peak and flaming vacation cabins near Rocky Mountain National Park threaten to scare away summer tourists. In central Utah, a wildfire in an area dotted with vacation cabins was burning an estimated 39 square miles and threatening about 300 homes. Firefighters had that blaze at 10 percent containment Monday. The Sanpete County Sheriff’s office has said that as many as 30 structures may have been lost.

The total number of homes destroyed by a two-week old wildfire in northern Colorado was raised to 248 on Sunday as residents of a subdivision near Fort Collins learned that 57 more homes in their neighborhood had been lost. The High Park Fire is the second-largest wildfire and among the most expensive in Colorado’s history. It has scorched more than 130 square miles but was 55 percent contained on Monday.

A wildfire near Colorado Springs has quickly grown to more than 4,500 acres and prompted thousands of residents to flee their homes, while another fire to the north claimed more than a dozen cabins and structures after sweeping through a Rocky Mountain neighborhood. The wildfire near Colorado Springs erupted Saturday and grew out of control to more than 3 square miles early Sunday, prompting the evacuation of more than 11,000 residents and an unknown number of tourists. Authorities said Sunday that they were allowing about 5,000 of those residents to return. The Little Sand fire northwest of Pagosa Springs has consumed over 22,000 acres, but no structures have been burned as yet, with no containment as yet. At least seven wildfires are now burning across Colorado, where officials have been challenged by the most severe wildfire seasons in recent memory.

In Utah, the Wood Hollow fire has scorched about 39,000 acres and consumed fifteen structures, with only 15% containment as of Monday. Meanwhile, thousands of residents whose homes were in danger of being threatened by a Utah wildfire have had to find shelter elsewhere as strong winds fueled a blaze that officials believe was started by target shooters. Residents of at least 2,300 homes in northern Utah were evacuated Friday, a day after the more than 9-square-mile fire started near the Saratoga Springs landfill, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City. High winds then helped fan the flames onto tinder-dry grasslands.

Following the recent Gladiator and Whitewater-Baldy fires, experts say that wildfire and drought have so severely damaged Arizona’s forests over the past 10 years, that repairing the damage will require decades, if not centuries, of methodical work. Now land managers and government leaders face tough decisions about how to balance competing needs, deal with drought and climate change and get the work done before another landscape-altering fire erupts. Forest experts say an Arizona without towering ponderosa forests, a loss that could occur within a generation, is not an option. Life without forests would put the state’s water supply at risk, push more wildlife species closer to extinction, weaken high-country tourist economies and forever alter a landscape that has come to define some of the most precious parts of Arizona.

Weather

Parts of the main interstate highway across northern Florida were closed by flooding Tuesday as Tropical Storm Debby hung stubbornly offshore over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening up to two feet of rain in places. In the Tampa Bay area, roads such as Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard were washed out. Residents tried to salvage belongings from flooded homes in low-lying areas. High winds and flooding concerns prompted authorities to close two major routes over Tampa Bay into St. Petersburg. A Florida toddler was miraculously found alive in the arms of her dead mother Sunday after they were flung approximately 200 feet from their home by a tornado spawned by Tropical Storm Debby.

After raking Florida’s Gulf coast with high winds and heavy rain, Debby promised to bring more of the same in the coming days as it drifted on a path forecast to take it over the state and east into the Atlantic by Friday. It had maximum sustained winds near 45 mph, barely tropical-storm status. Twenty-three percent of oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico was suspended, a government hurricane response team reported. Employees were evacuated from 13 drilling rigs and 61 production platforms.

From Cape Hatteras, N.C., to just north of Boston, sea levels are rising much faster than they are around the globe, putting one of the world’s most costly coasts in danger of flooding, government researchers report. Along the region, the Atlantic Ocean is rising at an annual rate three times to four times faster than the global average since 1990. Since 1990, sea levels have gone up globally about 2 inches. But in Norfolk, Va., where officials are scrambling to fight more frequent flooding, the sea level has jumped a total of 4.8 inches, the research showed. For Philadelphia, levels went up 3.7 inches, and in New York City, it was 2.8 inches. The rising sea levels are caused by melting arctic ice sheets and because warmer water expands.

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Signs of the Times (6/22/12)

June 22, 2012

Catholic Events Nationwide to Protest Federal Policies

U.S. Catholic leaders, claiming religious liberty is under assault from the Obama administration, are launching two weeks of non-stop nationwide teaching, preaching and public events to press their cause. The campaign kicked off Thursday. Government, they say, should not decide who is religious enough to be exempt from government mandates — particularly a requirement to provide free contraception insurance coverage — that would force the faithful to violate church doctrine. So far, nearly half of the nation’s 195 dioceses have announced events from prayer breakfasts to town-hall meetings and readings of the Constitution. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is providing resources. They’ve dubbed this a Fortnight for Freedom, set to stretch from the feast day of two saints — martyrs who were murdered for refusing to bend Catholic doctrine to meet a king’s demands — to Independence Day.

  • It’s not just about contraception insurance mandates, but rather the persistent policies of the Obama Administration to enforce secular humanist doctrine on other religions.

50 Years Without School Prayer

Fifty years ago this month, the Supreme Court declared an official school prayer unconstitutional. How have the schools fared since then? The June 25, 1962 ruling by the Supreme Court was Engel v. Vitale, the first in a string of decisions that ruled God and the Bible out of our public schools. The Supreme Court began a process of censorship of God in the public schools that continues to this day. The next year, the high court said you can’t read the Bible in the schools — for devotional purposes — but they explicitly said that objective “study of the Bible or of religion” is to be allowed in schools. But many schools eventually threw the Bible out entirely.

  • Secular humanism is a religion that holds the worship of human reason above all else, a concept that has turned our public schools into indoctrination centers which is clearly unconstitutional

3.1 Million Young People Covered by Health Care Law

More than 3.1 million Americans ages 19 through 25 are covered by their parents’ medical insurance policies because of a provision in the 2010 health care law, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday. That’s up from 2.5 million in December. About 75% of people in that age group now have insurance, up from 64% in 2010, records show. The provision has become so popular — both for security reasons for consumers and financial reasons for insurers — that several health companies and employers say they intend to keep it even if the Supreme Court were to strike down the law, or portions of it, this month.

  • The issue with Obamacare is forcing people to buy health insurance. Some of its provisions are okay, but not in expanding government control over freedom of choice.

House Panel Votes to Cite Holder for Contempt

A House oversight committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, marking an escalation of the long-running dispute between Republicans and the Justice Department over internal administration documents related to Operation Fast and Furious. The 23-17 vote to hold Holder in contempt of Congress came after meeting with Holder late Tuesday for about 20 minutes in an unsuccessful, last-minute effort to head off Wednesday’s contempt hearing. Holder told reporters following the meeting that he offered to provide the documents on the condition that the committees give him assurance that doing so would satisfy two subpoenas and resolve the dispute. Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said the conditions that Holder tried to set were unacceptable.

  • It’s hypocritical for the Obama White House to claim executive privilege when, in 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama condemned President George W. Bush for doing the same thing.

Obama Employs Executive Privilege on Fast and Furious Documents

President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over documents sought by a House committee investigating the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting operation. The move means the Department of Justice can withhold the documents from the House Oversight Committee. Two weapons traced to the gun operation — which allowed hundreds of firearms from the United States into Mexico — were recovered at the scene of the 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. A whistle-blower alleges that the government allowed the transfer of illegally purchased weapons into Mexico.

Supreme Court Rules Against FCC Profanity, Nudity Policy

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against the FCC’s policy regulating curse words and nudity on broadcast television. In an 8-0 decision, the high court threw out fines and sanctions imposed by the Federal Communications Commission. The case involved some uncensored curse words and brief nudity on various networks. “Because the FCC failed to give FOX or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcasts in question that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found actionably indecent, the Commissions’ standards as applied to these broadcasts were vague,” the Supreme Court said in its opinion. The court said the FCC is “free to modify its current indecency policy” in light of the ruling. The justices, though, declined to issue a broad ruling on the constitutionality of the FCC indecency policy.

  • By splitting hairs, the Supremes have allowed the gradual creep of profanity and nudity on TV to continue unabated.

27 Million People in Slavery Worldwide

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton decried the enslavement of up to 27 million people around the world as her department released its annual report on human trafficking Tuesday. More than half the victims are in India, China and Southeast Asia. Most are enslaved by private employers, but millions work the sex trade or are in state-imposed forced labor. Of the 186 countries rated in the report, only 33 were meeting standards for combating slavery, while 17 were totally non-compliant. Among the worst offenders: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria. Clinton cited progress in 29 countries and honored 10 “heroes” who have battled the problem from Argentina to Cambodia to Mauritania.

Economic News

Moody’s Investors Service has lowered the credit ratings on some of the world’s biggest banks, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, reflecting concern over their exposure to the violent swings in global financial markets. The ratings agency also cut its ratings on Barclays, Deutsche Bank and HSBC, some of the largest banks in Europe, a region fighting to contain a government debt crisis.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits dipped last week but not enough to indicate hiring will pick up. Weekly applications for unemployment aid fell 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 387,000. When applications fall below 375,000, it generally suggests hiring is strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate.

Americans bought fewer homes in May than April, suggesting a sluggish job market could threaten a modest recovery in housing. sales of previously occupied homes dropped 1.5 percent in May from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.55 million. Sales have risen 9.6 percent from a year ago, evidence that home sales are slowly improving. Still, the pace has fallen since nearly touching a two-year high in April and remains well below the 6 million that economists consider healthy.

Home builders started work on more single-family homes in May and requested the most permits to build homes and apartments in three and a half years.. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that builders broke ground on 3.2% more single-family homes in May, a third straight monthly increase.

Gasoline prices have dropped for the 11th week in a row and could fall to $3.00 a gallon by the fall.. According to AAA’s daily survey, the nationwide average price for a gallon of regular fell to $3.47 Thursday. That’s down from $3.629 last week and $3.76 a year ago at this time. Prices peaked in April just shy of $4 a gallon. With production up, oil inventories at 21-year highs and tepid consumer demand, gas prices will drop more sharply after the peak summer driving season.

State and local governments are keeping the tightest lid on spending in three decades, even though tax revenue is rising again and powerful interest groups are asking for more money. The tight budget controls represent a sharp reversal from several years ago when states struggled to control spending, despite a drop in tax collections, and got a $250 billion bailout from the federal government. State and local spending is down 0.8% this year — a 2.7% drop when adjusted for inflation — to an annual rate of $2.4 trillion. In a contrast to the federal fiscal turmoil, most state budgets are passing smoothly, on-time and balanced.

Greece

Greece has a government, the head of the country’s socialist party said Wednesday, ending nearly seven weeks of political uncertainty which threatened to plunge Europe deeper into a financial crisis with global repercussions. Details of the three-party coalition government were still being worked out and were expected to be finalized by the end of the day. The development is expected to calm fears that a protracted political crisis in debt-struck Greece could have led to the country being forced out of the joint European currency. Such an event could have dragged down other financially troubled Eurozone nations and hammered the global economy.

Middle East

Israeli aircraft fired missiles Wednesday at Gaza militants involved in a deadly infiltration from Egypt earlier in the week, killing one and severely wounding the other. It was Israel’s first official linking of the ambush to Gaza militants. The infiltration on Monday was part of a broader spike of attacks drawing retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, including one Wednesday that killed a 14-year-old Palestinian youth and brought the week’s death toll in Gaza to nine. More than 80 rockets have crashed into Israel this week from Gaza, wounding several Israelis.

Egypt

Officials postponed declaring a winner in Egypt’s disputed election on Wednesday, sending political tensions soaring as the country awaited its first new president in three decades. Last weekend’s runoff election was long touted as a landmark moment — the choice of Egypt’s first civilian president to take over the generals who have ruled since Mubarak’s removal on Feb. 11, 2011. Instead, it has turned into a confrontation between the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and the entrenched elements of Mubarak’s old regime, including the military. Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters along with some secular youth revolutionary groups camped out Wednesday night in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the birthplace of last year’s uprising, and denounced the military, trying to push back against a series of power grabs by the generals last week.

Afghanistan

Heavily armed Taliban insurgents killed 20 people — most of them civilians — in an attack Friday on a lakeside hotel just north of Kabul. Insurgents first killed the security guards at the hotel, then stormed inside it and began firing at guests who were dining. Some of the guests escaped while others were held hostage as the attackers battled Afghan security forces who rushed to the scene for the next 12 hours. Kabul police said all five attackers had been shot and killed by midday Friday, ending the standoff.

A suicide bomber killed 21 people including three U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint in a packed market in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday — the third assault targeting Americans in as many days. The daily violence is threatening to undermine international hopes of an orderly handover to Afghan forces at the end of 2014. Although American officials stress successes in establishing pockets of governance in some areas, the east and south continue to be plagued by regular attacks and clashes.

Syria

Several Syrian opposition groups announced a new joint action committee Tuesday to consolidate efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The development comes as world leaders remain deadlocked on what to do about Syria. At least 18 people have been killed in regime onslaughts in Syria on Tuesday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

Iraq

Two bombs tore through a market full of morning shoppers in northeastern Baghdad on Friday, killing at least 14 people and wounding scores more. The blasts were the latest in a fierce wave of attacks in Iraq in the past two weeks that has killed more than 125 people, mostly Shiite Muslims and government security forces. The bloodshed highlights the struggle the Iraqi government faces in defeating al-Qaeda-linked insurgents and staving off renewed sectarian warfare. The government itself is deadlocked over largely sectarian political conflicts.

Pakistan

Popular Pakistani singer Ghazala Javed and her father were reportedly shot to death as they left a beauty parlor in northwest Pakistan. The gunmen, who were riding motorcycles, escaped following the shooting. Several singers and musicians in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province have been gunned down in recent years by the local Taliban, who have declared music “un-Islamic.”

Nigeria

Around 16 people were killed and scores wounded in systematic suicide bombings at three churches in a Northern Nigerian state. The explosions in Kaduna state went off within the space of an hour on Sunday morning (June 17). The first two targets were in city of Zaria, the third in the capital Kaduna city. There are also unconfirmed reports of two further attacks at churches in Nassarawa and Barnawa, south of Kaduna city. Kaduna state, which lies on the dividing line between Nigeria’s largely Christian South and predominantly Muslim North, was hit hard in last year’s post-election violence; over 650 people were killed as Islamists rampaged against the re-election of Christian President Goodluck Jonathan.

Wildfires

The High Park Fire has hopscotched, scorched and charred through more than 100 square miles since it began June 9, destroying almost 200 homes. As merciless wildfires blaze throughout the West, exhausted firefighters are bracing for more. Colorado is on the brink of one of its worst fire seasons in history, blamed on very high temperatures and a very low snowpack, which left mountains tinder-dry. After 11 punishing days, the largest fire here, the High Park Fire near Fort Collins, was 55% contained Friday. Several other fast-growing fires have broken out in the state. Numerous wildfires are also burning all across the southwest. The Little Bear fire in New Mexico has consumed 42,980 acres (almost 70 sq. miles) and destroyed 254 structures. It is 75% contained as of Friday morning.

Weather

Summer started with a bang Wednesday with a blistering, record-smashing heat wave in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, where temperatures soared well into the 90s and hit 100 degrees in a few spots. Record-high temperatures were broken Wednesday in locations such as New York City’s LaGuardia Airport (98 degrees), Newark, N.J. (98), Hartford, Conn. (97), and Burlington, Vt. (95 degrees). Temperatures in the Northeast soared into the upper 90s Thursday for a second day. New York’s Central Park was forecast to reach a record 98 degrees.

More than 72,000 homes are powerless as severe storms blasted Minnesota Tuesday night. Power outages, downed lines and downed trees and branches snarled the morning commute in some areas. Gusts reached 83 mph in Belle Plaine and 80 mph around 4 a.m. Highs are forecast in the 90s Tuesday with high humidity. A flash flood watch is out for a large part of Minnesota from the south to the west and northeast. Residents evacuated their homes and animals escaped from their pens at a zoo as floods fed by a steady torrential downpour struck Duluth Wednesday.

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Signs of the Times (6/18/12)

June 18, 2012

Study Challenges Tax Exemption for Religious Organizations

How much money does the U.S. government forgo by not taxing religious institutions? According to a recent study, perhaps as much as $71 billion a year. The study examined U.S. tax laws to estimate the total cost of tax exemptions for religious institutions — on property, donations, business enterprises, capital gains and “parsonage allowances,” which permit clergy to deduct housing costs. U.S. tax law grants religious groups and other nonprofits the exemptions because of their charitable nature. The report appears in the current issue of Free Inquiry magazine, published by the Council for Secular Humanism, an organization of nontheists. The findings have raised eyebrows in the nontheist community, which has long sought to eliminate the tax exemptions.

  • As the end-times move forward, the religious tax exemption will be used to pressure churches to toe the secular humanist line or be abolished altogether.

G20 Summit Opens in Mexico

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin need one another, an uncomfortable truth for the superpower leader facing a tough re-election and the newly elected Russian leader who is deeply suspicious of the United States. The two men will use their meeting Monday, the first since Putin returned to Russia’s top job, to gain leverage. However, the rest of the Group of 20 economic meeting will be devoted to the European fiscal crisis and the fate of Greece as a part of the euro zone. The G-20 gathering is a natural forum for sideline discussions of the urgent crisis in Syria as well as diplomatic efforts to head off a confrontation with Iran. Russia is a linchpin in world efforts to resolve both crises, and to U.S. goals for the smooth shutdown of the war in Afghanistan. In the longer term, Obama wants Russia’s continued cooperation in nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

U.S. & China Lose the Most Natural Resources

The United States and China posted dramatic economic growth but also an irreversible loss in natural resources in the last two decades that will harm future generations, a new United Nations’ sustainability index shows. The index, unveiled this week as the U.N.’s Rio+20 conference on sustainable development begins June 20 in Brazil, shows that 19 of 20 countries surveyed lost considerable natural resources such as fossil fuels, forests and fisheries between 1990 to 2008. The U.S. lost 20% per capita while China lost 17% per capital. “Rio+20 is an opportunity to call time on Gross Domestic Product as a measure of prosperity in the 21st century,” said the executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. In a press release, he said the world is “too silent” on many measures of human well-being such as poverty and natural resources.

  • U.N. globalists will seek to use ‘sustainability’ along with climate change as the means to establish their socialistic policies worldwide

Gay Teens Less Likely to be Happy Than Straight Peers

According to a new study, teenagers who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are less likely to be happy, more likely to report harassment, and more inclined to experiment with drugs and alcohol than their straight peers, the Los Angeles Times reports. Of the more than 10,000 gay 13- to 17-year-olds surveyed, only around 40 percent described themselves as “happy,” compared to nearly 70 percent of straight teens. Fifty-two percent had experimented with drugs or alcohol — more than twice what their straight peers reported — and 17 percent said they had been assaulted at school, compared with 10 percent of straight youth.

  • Since homosexuality is unnatural, it serves as a poor foundation for life in general

Internet Search Results may Deliver Tainted Links

Internet search results have surpassed e-mail as the main way cybercriminals attempt to victimize Internet users. Researchers found criminals are poisoning the search results consumers receive when searching on Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search services — and at a rate four times more frequently than they are sending tainted links through e-mail. The end game in each case is to get you to fall for scams or to infect and take control of your PC. The bad guys are turning to tainted search results because e-mail defenses have gotten tighter, and most people are now on the lookout for suspicious email messages.

Economic News

Manufacturing output contracted in May for the second time in three months, a worrisome signs the American economy is cooling. Factory production shrank 0.4 percent last month, the Federal Reserve said on Friday. Until recently, manufacturing had been a buttress of strength for the U.S. economy. The economy isn’t growing fast enough to create the number of jobs the country needs to achieve a stronger recovery, says Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Foreign demand for U.S. Treasury securities rose to a record high in April. China, the largest buyer of Treasury debt, increased its holdings slightly after trimming them for two straight months. Total foreign holdings rose 0.4% to $5.16 trillion. It was the fourth consecutive monthly increase. Demand for U.S. debt is rising largely because investors are worried about Europe’s worsening debt crisis. U.S. government debt is considered one of the safest investments.

  • Increased foreign holdings of U.S. debt also means increased leverage over U.S. policy

Greece

Greek election victor Antonis Samaras said Monday he will continue efforts to build a broad coalition government, despite a refusal from the second-placed Syriza radical left party to join in. New Democracy came first in national elections Sunday, but without enough seats in Parliament to govern alone. Greek voters rejected a leftist coalition that had promised to toss out the stringent terms of Greece’s bailout, which could have led to the country abandoning the euro currency and thrown financial markets into turmoil. The New Democracy Party has said it generally backs the bailout deal. “The Greek people today voted for Greece to remain on its European path and in the eurozone,” Samaras said.

Middle East

Militants crossed from Egypt’s turbulent Sinai Peninsula into southern Israel on Monday and opened fire on civilians building a border security fence, defense officials said. One of the Israeli workers was killed, and two assailants died in a gun battle with Israeli troops responding to the attack. Troops were scouring the area to see if other gunmen remained on the loose inside Israel. Israelis living in five small communities in the area were instructed to lock themselves inside their homes, and two major southern roads were closed to civilian traffic. The attack underscored the growing lawlessness in the Sinai desert since longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising last year.

More than fifty international groups and United Nations agencies have issued a statement calling for Israel to end the security blockade that prevents weapons from being shipped to the terrorists in Gaza. The blockade was put in place when the Hamas movement took control of Gaza. Hamas has been and remains officially committed to the destruction of Israel.

Egypt

The winner of the presidential runoff held this weekend will be officially announced on Thursday. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful political group, claimed early Monday that its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, had defeated Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister. Egypt’s official news agency is quoting a senior member of the ruling military council as saying the generals will hand over power to the newly elected president at the end of the month. With parliament dissolved and martial law effectively in force, the generals issued an interim constitution granting themselves sweeping authorities that ensure their hold on the state and subordinate the president. But as they claimed a narrow victory over Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq in a deeply polarizing election, the Brotherhood challenged the military’s power grab. The group said Sunday it did not recognize the dissolution of parliament, where it was the largest party. It also rejected the military’s right to issue an interim constitution and oversee the drafting of a new one.

Syria

The chief of U.N. observers in Syria says the mission is suspending its activities and patrols because of escalating violence in the country. The bloodshed is posing significant risks to the observers and is impeding their ability to carry out their mandate. The suspension is the latest sign that a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan is disintegrating. The regime and the opposition have both ignored the cease-fire, which was supposed to go into effect April 12.The suspension will be reviewed on a daily basis.

Iran

Iran says about 20 suspects have been arrested for alleged links to assassinations of Iranian nuclear experts that Tehran claims is part of covert operations led by Israel. Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi claims the suspects moved between Iran and Israel through Azerbaijan which he said has been harboring terrorists linked to Israel. At least five Iranian nuclear experts have been killed since 2010. The U.S. and Britain have denied any roles, but Israel has remained silent on Iran’s accusations.

Iraq

Two car bombs in Iraq’s capital killed at least 26 people Saturday on the last day of a Shiite pilgrimage already hit by multiple bombings. The blasts, one in a heavily guarded area close to a revered shrine, raised the week’s death toll to more than 100 and cast further doubt on the divided government’s ability to secure the country after the American withdrawal.

Pakistan

A car bomb exploded at a crowded bazaar in a northwestern Pakistani tribal region near the border with Afghanistan on Saturday, killing 15 people and wounding 35 others. Several shops and vehicles were also badly damaged in the attack in the Khyber tribal region near the main border crossing point of Torkham. Suspicion fell on Pakistani Taliban who often target security forces and public places with bombings and shooting attacks.

Afghanistan

Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan’s key opium producing region has declined 40% over the past four years as coalition and government forces have secured key towns and villages and the Afghan government has ramped up eradication. Since insurgents are supported by drug revenues, the decline in poppy cultivation has cut into the Taliban’s ability to launch operations. Afghanistan is the source of more than 90% of the world’s heroin poppies.

Yemen

Security officials say a suicide bomber has killed the army general leading the fight against al-Qaeda militants in southern Yemen. The officials say Maj. Gen. Salem Ali al-Quton was killed Monday while on his way to work. The bomber threw himself at the general’s SUV in the southern port city of Aden. Four members of the general’s security detail and a passer-by were seriously wounded.

Nigeria

In the wake of separate attacks on two churches during worship services June 10 in northern Nigeria by members of the radical Muslim group Boko Haram, the Islamists vowed to continue their killing campaign until they succeed in establishing an Islamic state in Nigeria, ASSIST News Service reports. “The Nigerian state and Christians are our enemies, and we will be launching attacks on the Nigerian state and its security apparatus as well as churches until we achieve our goal of establishing an Islamic state in place of the secular state,” said Abul Qaqa, Boko Haram’s spokesman.

Earthquakes

Philippine officials say a strong quake has jolted Manila and outlying provinces, rousing some people from their sleep. There are no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The Sunday-morning quake has a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 on the Richter scale. The quake was not strong enough to generate a tsunami alert.

Wildfires

Winds of up to 50 miles per hour have grounded the aircraft helping fight the High Park Fire and sent a blanket of smoke into Fort Collins. Meanwhile, more homes are being evacuated north of the burn perimeter in case the fire spreads above Poudre Canyon. Grim totals are emerging from areas burned in the 88-square-mile High Park Fire, and the week-old blaze now is considered the most devastating wildfire in state history. The fire already has destroyed more than 181 homes, more than any other in the state. As of Monday morning, the High Park Fire was 45 percent contained, fire officials said. But more than 700 homes are within the perimeter of the fire about 15 miles west of Fort Collins. The fire’s growth potential remains “extreme,” the terrain is “difficult,” and 1,631 people are involved in the fight. Since the fire began with a lightning strike at about 6 a.m. June 9, more than 3,000 evacuations have been ordered; about a third of those have been lifted. A 62-year-old woman died in the wildfire when her cabin burned.

Fire has burned through one-quarter of Arizona’s ponderosa-pine and mixed-confier forests just in the past decade, leaving a blackened mosaic across 1 million acres. In all, nearly 4 million acres of Arizona’s forests, grasslands and deserts — an area slightly larger than Connecticut — have burned since 2002. With the high country embrittled by drought again this year, forest managers hold their breath every time another fire flares, fearful that it will rage out of control and wipe out another stand of ponderosas. One monster fire every 10 years could burn through what’s left in a generation.

A major fire south of the Greek capital raged for the second day Sunday, as gale-force winds were rekindling the flames and three new fronts broke out. Local officials said several homes had been burned, while three firefighters were injured. More than 250 firefighters and soldiers using more than 60 vehicles were battling the flames in a sparsely populated area south of Athens. Greece appealed to the European Union for help. Italy was sending another two water-dropping planes Sunday morning. Four people were to appear in court later Sunday after being arrested for allegedly accidentally causing the blaze while carrying out welding work at a construction site.

Weather

Thunderstorms damaged barns, blew out power and brought golf-ball sized hail to southern Minnesota and eastern South Dakota Sunday and early Monday. A tornado touched down in Traverse County, Minn., but no major damage was reported. Winds had gusts of around 75 miles an hour in Swift and Meeker counties, damaging some farm buildings. Hail 2-inches in diameter were reported in Le Sueur, Rice and Goodhue counties.

Hurricane Carlotta pushed northward toward the resort city of Acapulco on Saturday after making landfall near the Mexican beach town of Puerto Escondido, where it toppled trees and shook tourist hotels. Two people were killed. Earlier Friday, Carlotta had toppled billboards and shattered some windows in Puerto Escondido, a laid-back port popular with surfers, where it reached land as a Category 1 hurricane. Oaxaca’s civil protection service said some roads near the resorts of Huatulco and Pochutla were affected by mudslides, and that authorities had opened emergency shelters and evacuated dozens of families from low-lying areas. Officials downgraded Carlotta from a hurricane to a tropical storm later Saturday as it weakened while moving across southern Mexico.

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Signs of the Times (6/15/12)

June 15, 2012

Planned Parenthood to Set Up Health Centers in Public Schools

The American Life League reports that “Section 4101 of Obamacare creates ‘school-based health centers’ funded directly by the federal government to the tune of $50,000,000 of our tax dollars every year. Now get this: when you read the description of organizations ‘eligible’ for receiving grants for the creation of these centers it turns out that Planned Parenthood is set up as virtually the only organization to fit the description. It’s no wonder Planned Parenthood just endorsed Obama and launched a $1.4 million ad campaign praising him in swing states.

  • The secular indoctrination centers otherwise known as public schools will be getting even more anti-God and anti-family if this is allowed to proceed

Pentagon Plans June Pride Event for Gay Service Members

The Pentagon plans the military’s first event to formally recognize gay and lesbian troops, the Associated Press says. June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. This will be the first such celebration that will involve the Pentagon since the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday thanked homosexual military members for their service, as the Pentagon prepares to mark June as “gay pride” month with an official salute.

  • Bad enough to condone deviance, it’s a travesty to celebrate it. A sure sign of end-time godlessness.

U.S. to Stop Deporting Younger Illegal Immigrants

The Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives. The election-year initiative addresses a top priority of an influential Latino electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to administration deportation policies. The policy change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It also bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the so-called DREAM Act, a long-sought but never enacted plan to establish a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the United States illegally but who have attended college or served in the military

  • It’s always the children who suffer for the sins of their parents, but once again Obama bypasses Congress

Principal Pulls ‘God Bless the USA’ From Graduation

A Coney Island principal’s refusal to let students sing “God Bless the USA” at their graduation has sparked controversy at a school filled with proud immigrants, the New York Post reports. After kindergarteners at PS 90, the Edna Cohen School, spent months learning the patriotic Lee Greenwood ballad and practicing waving tiny American flags, principal Greta Hawkins walked in to a recent rehearsal, ordered a CD playing the song to be shut off, and told teachers to drop the song from the June 20 commencement program. “We don’t want to offend other cultures,” they quoted her as saying. Hawkins’ edict stunned both staff and parents. “A lot of people fought to move to America to live freely, so that song should be sung with a whole lot of pride,” said Luz Lozada, whose son is in kindergarten. The song has been sung at previous school events, and parents — many of them immigrants from Pakistan, Mexico and Ecuador — “love it,” Lozada said. A teacher agreed: “It makes them a little goosebumpy and teary-eyed. I’ve never come across anyone who felt it insulted their culture.” The Department of Education backed the principal’s decision, saying Hawkins found the lyrics “too grown-up” for 5-year-olds and concurring that the lyrics were “not age-appropriate.”

  • Not an isolated incident, but indicative of the anti-Christ and anti-America spirit infecting our once Christian and proud country

Voter Fraud Rampant in Wisconsin

ConservativeActionAlerts.com reports that during the Wisconsin recall election against Governor Scott Walker, there was the worst case of VOTER FRAUD seen in quite a while. In spite of voter fraud by his opponents, Gov. Walker was overwhelmingly victorious! Madison is the capital city of Wisconsin. Dane is the County. Voter statistics, verified by a Madison City Clerk, from Dane County, reported that of all registered voters 119% cast ballots! “This is merely a glimpse of voter fraud to come this Fall. We must have total election transparency this year.”

  • The Obama administration opposes voter ID laws because they get the majority of fraudulent votes

Jewish Support for Obama Plummets

In the first significant drop in Jewish support for a Democratic Party candidate in over two decades, President Barack Obama has seen a 10-point plunge in support among Jewish voters, according to the Gallup polling agency. To put the decline in perspective, Obama is pulling in the same support among Jews as Michael Dukakis, the former Massachusetts governor who lost to George H. W. Bush in 1988. Gallup notes the 10-point drop is “five points worse than his decline among all registered voters compared with 2008.”

  • It’s about time that Jewish voters woke up to the fact that Obama is the most anti-Israel president in history

Giant U.N. Conference Opens in Rio

The United Nations’ largest-ever conference has kicked off in Rio de Janeiro. The Rio+20 conference on sustainable development is expected to draw an estimated 50,000 participants including delegates, environmental activists, business leaders and members of indigenous groups. The event runs through June 22, with three final days of high-profile talks among about 130 top leaders from nations around the globe. Rio+20 is a follow-up to an environmental summit held in Rio in 1992. Sustainable development aims to find more environmentally healthy ways to achieve economic growth.

  • ‘Sustainable development’ will become another catchall for the New World Order folks to gain global control over national interests

U.S. Lags in Clean Energy

The United States has tripled its production of clean energy in the past decade, but it still lags far behind Europe and Indonesia and is only slightly ahead of Mexico and India in the share of electricity it gets from renewable sources. About 2.7% of U.S. electricity came from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources last year, up from 0.66% in 2002. Germany got four times as much — or 10.7% — of its power from these sources last year, followed by Italy (6.2%), Indonesia (5.7%), United Kingdom (4.2%) and Argentina (2.8%.) Mexico and India came in right behind the U.S. with 2.6% and 2.4%, respectively. China lags behind them, at 1.5%, but it invested more money than any other country last year to boost its clean energy production, which is now 27 times higher than a decade ago.

Global investment in renewable energy reached a record $257 billion last year, with solar attracting more than half the total. Investment in solar energy surged to $147 billion in 2011, a year-on-year increase of 52% thanks to strong demand for rooftop photovoltaic installations in Germany, Italy, China and Britain. China was responsible for almost a fifth of the total investment volume, spending $52 billion on renewable energy last year. The United States was close behind with investments of $51 billion, as developers sought to benefit from government incentive programs before they expired. Germany, Italy and India rounded out the top five.

Coal Use Down, Natural Gas Up

America is shoveling coal to the sidelines. The fuel that powered the U.S. from the industrial revolution into the iPhone era is being pushed aside as utilities switch to cleaner and cheaper alternatives. The share of U.S. electricity that comes from coal is forecast to fall below 40% for the year, its lowest level since World War II. Four years ago, it was 50%. By the end of this decade, it is likely to be near 30%.Utilities are aggressively ditching coal in favor of natural gas, which has become cheaper as supplies grow. Natural gas has other advantages over coal: It produces far fewer emissions of toxic chemicals and gases that contribute to climate change, key attributes as tougher environmental rules go into effect. Natural gas will be used to produce 30% of the country’s electricity this year, up from 20% in 2008. Nuclear accounts for 20%. Hydroelectric, wind, solar and other renewables make up the rest.

Terrorists Advertise Online for Suicide Bombers

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has reportedly begun posting Internet advertisements offering training for prospective suicide bombers to target US, Israeli, British and French targets. Ads have been posted on a number of jihadist forums and websites, asking for volunteers. “The aim of this training is to continue with our brothers who are seeking to carry out operations that make for great killing and slaughtering of the enemies of Islam,” the advertisement says. “It is a complete jihadist operation to be carried out by a single bomber.” The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes, “These people cannot be negotiated or bargained with. And because this is a spiritual battle, it must be fought and won not just with armies and intelligence services, but with the prayers of God’s people.”

Federal Deficit Down But Still High

The federal budget deficit is approaching $1 trillion for a fourth straight year even though the government is collecting more tax revenue than last year. The Treasury Department said Tuesday that the deficit grew by $124.6 billion in May. That put the deficit through the first eight months of the budget year at $844.5 billion, or 8.9% below last year’s imbalance for the same period. Still, the Congressional Budget office forecasts that the deficit for the entire 2012 budget year, which ends Sept. 30, will total $1.17 trillion. That’s only a slight improvement from the $1.3 trillion deficit recorded in fiscal 2011. So far this year, government receipts are running 5.3% higher than a year ago.

U.S. Government’s Single Largest Asset Is Student Loans

The largest asset on Uncle Sam’s balance sheet is not U.S. Official Reserve Assets, nor Total Mortgages, nor Taxes Receivable. The correct answer, as of the latest Flow of Funds report for Q1 2012, is … Student Loans. The loan balance has risen and astonishing 332% over since 2007, most of which dates from after the recession. Private loans make up an even larger amount. Earlier this year the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) posted an article with the attention-grabbing title: Too Big to Fail: Student debt hits a trillion. The details of the private student loan market are not readily available, but CFPB plans to publish its study results on the topic this summer.

Economic News

Falling gasoline prices pulled inflation lower last month, as consumer prices dropped 0.3% after being unchanged in April. The Consumer Price Index was led lower by a 3.9% drop in the price of energy, coupled with a small 1.7% gain in food prices. The so-called core inflation rate climbed 2.3%.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits the week ended June 9 rose 6,000 to 386,000, reflecting a weaker jobs market.The four-week moving average of initial claims for jobless benefits, considered a more reliable gauge of activity in labor markets, rose 3,500 to 382,000. Jobless claims less than 375,000 are required to lower the 8.2% unemployment rate.

Foreclosure filings in May spiked 9% compared with a month earlier. RealtyTrac reported that 205,990 U.S. properties received filings last month, including default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, marking the first monthly increase since January. Bank repossessions climbed steeply, up 7% to 54,844, after hitting a four-year low in April.

The median U.S. household lost nearly 39% of its wealth from 2007 to 2010, the Federal Reserve said Monday, emphasizing anew the impact of the financial crisis and the recession on ordinary Americans. Middle-class families took the biggest hit to their net worth during the crunch because much of their wealth was in their homes, whose values plunged during the recession and in its aftermath. Median incomes among the richest 10% of Americans fell 5.3%, compared with 7.7% for all Americans.

Retail sales fell in April and May, pulled down by a sharp drop in gas prices. But even after excluding volatile gasoline sales, consumers barely increased their spending. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that retail sales dipped 0.2% in May. That followed a revised 0.2% decline April. The back-to-back declines were the first in two years. The weakness reflected a 2.2% plunge in gasoline station sales. Still, excluding gas station sales, retail spending rose just 0.1% in May. And it dropped 0.1% in April.

Squeezed by state budgets cutbacks, the Los Angeles County court system is launching massive job layoffs, pay cuts and transfers. Cutbacks that will be implemented Friday will affect 431 court employees and 56 courtrooms throughout the nation’s largest superior court system.

The average tuition at a four-year public university climbed 15% between 2008 and 2010, fueled by state budget cuts for higher education and increases of 40% and more at universities in states like Georgia, Arizona and California. The U.S. Department of Education’s annual look at college affordability also found significant price increases at the nation’s private universities

Eurozone

Angry and despairing Greek voters head to the polls Sunday for the second election in six weeks, a make-or-break poll that may decide Greece’s economic future and whether it remains in the eurozone. Voters dealt a heavy blow to the ruling coalition May 6 as they flocked to fringe parties that oppose the budget cuts demanded by European finance ministers in return for help paying off Greece’s massive debt. Because no party won enough seats in the Parliament to form a government, elections are being held Sunday to see whether any party can achieve control. Polls indicate the anti-austerity fringe parties may prevail.

European leaders were facing increasing pressure on Thursday to respond to the euro crisis, as Spanish 10-year bond yields hit the 7 percent level that has served to trigger full international bailouts of other euro zone members, and Italian borrowing costs rose sharply at a debt auction. Spain’s borrowing costs soared after Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the country’s bond rating late Wednesday, with the yield on the 10-year bond touching 7 percent for the first time in the euro era. For both Spain and Italy, rising yields endanger hopes that the countries will be able to overcome their problems without full bailouts, because high interest rates make refinancing unsustainably expensive.

Egypt

Egypt’s highest court on Thursday declared the parliament invalid, and the country’s interim military rulers declared full legislative authority, triggering a new level of chaos and confusion in the country’s leadership. The court found that all articles making up the law that regulated parliamentary elections are invalid. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in control of the country since Mubarak’s ouster, announced that it now has full legislative power and will announce a 100-person assembly that will write the country’s new constitution. The Supreme Constitutional Court also ruled that a former member of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime may run in a presidential election runoff this weekend. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that dominates the Parliament, has said it disputes the court’s ruling and its authority to dissolve the legislature.

Syria

A suicide bomber detonated his van packed with explosives in a Damascus suburb on Thursday, wounding 14 people and damaging one of Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines. Car bombs and suicide bombings have become common in Syria as the 15-month uprising against President Bashar Assad becomes increasingly militarized. But most have targeted security buildings and police buses, symbols of Assad’s regime. As the violence grows more chaotic, it is difficult to assign blame for much of the bloodshed. Western officials say there is little doubt that Islamist extremists, some associated with al-Qaeda, have made inroads in Syria as instability has spread.

The United Nations says members of its observer team in Syria were attacked by angry crowds as they tried to reach an embattled mountain village near President Bashar Assad’s hometown. The U.N. says the crowds hurled stones and metal rods at the vehicles, which then turned back. The vehicles also were later shot at. None of the observers were injured.

Iran

The Jerusalem Prayer Team reports, “The ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have broken down again. One IAEA official called it “disappointing,” but it can hardly be a surprise to anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to Iran’s track record. They delay and stall and agree to talk only to change their minds. It is obvious that they are simply playing for time, hoping to prevent any serious steps being taken to stop their evil work.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s oil exports have fallen by an estimated 40 percent since the start of the year as Western sanctions tear into the country’s vital oil industry, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday. Oil exports – the lifeblood of Iran’s economy – fell to 1.5 million barrels per day in April-May from 2.5 million at end 2011.

Iraq

Car bombs ripped through Shiite and Kurdish targets in Baghdad and other cities Wednesday, killing at least 66 people, wounding more than 200 and feeding growing doubts that Iraq will emerge as a stable democracy after decades of war and dictatorship. Coordinated car bombs struck mainly Shiite pilgrims in several Iraqi cities, in one of the deadliest attacks since U.S. troops withdrew from the country. The bloodshed was a stark reminder of the political tensions threatening to provoke a new round of sectarian violence that once pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

Pakistan

Pakistan demanded an “unconditional apology” Thursday from the United States over a NATO strike that resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani troops — an apology that supposedly would be in exchange for reopening supply routes into Afghanistan closed since the incident. The demand from Pakistan’s foreign minister underscored the calcifying impasse between the two countries, one that is costing the United States millions of dollars every day. The closure of the supply routes forces U.S. troops to use a different transit route in order to both draw forces out of Afghanistan and re-supply forces inside Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress on Wednesday that the different route is costing about $100 million a month.

Yemen

Yemen says government troops have killed 40 militants in a push to rout al-Qaeda fighters from the last town under militant control in the southern Abyan province. The offensive on Shoqra comes just days after Yemeni forces regained control of Zinjibar and the town of Jaar, which have been under al-Qaeda’s control for more than a year. Yemen military officials also said nine al-Qaeda fighters have been killed in a missile attack on a house in Shabwa province, a hotbed for al-Qaeda militants. Some militants who fled the town of Jaar, which was recaptured by government troops and tribal fighters on Tuesday, had taken refuge in Azan. Tuesday’s operation also routed militants from Zinjibar, another al-Qaeda stronghold.

The U.S. military is expanding its secret intelligence operations across Africa, establishing a network of small air bases to spy on terrorist hideouts from the fringes of the Sahara to jungle terrain along the equator. About a dozen air bases have been established in Africa since 2007. Most are small operations run out of secluded hangars at African military bases or civilian airports, according to the Washington Post. The operations have intensified in recent months, part of a growing shadow war against al-Qaeda affiliates and other militant groups.

  • Such ‘missile attacks’ are actually conducted by U.S. drones from some these bases

Earthquakes

A moderate earthquake shook southeastern Turkey on Thursday, damaging a mosque’s minarets and injuring a handful of people who jumped off buildings in panic. The Kandilli Observatory seismology center said a magnitude 5.5 quake struck at a depth of 3.3 miles. The epicenter of the quake was in the village of Pinaronu in Sirnak province, close to the borders of Syria and Iraq.

Afghan officials say they are halting efforts to dig out more than 60 bodies from the site of a devastating landslide that followed earthquakes in northern Afghanistan earlier this week. The government has said 71 people were buried in Monday’s landslide, but the police chief of Baghlan province’s Burka district says they have pulled out only five bodies in four days of digging. He says that religious leaders in the area recommended that they leave the bodies buried under the hill and rename it “Martyrs Hill.”

Wildfires

Nationally, about 4,000 firefighters battled at least 19 large wildfires in nine U.S. states, the National Interagency Fire Center reported Tuesday afternoon. Fires in the worst-hit states of Colorado and New Mexico have destroyed hundreds of structures and forced thousands of people to flee their homes. A northern Colorado wildfire 60 miles away wrapped Denver in a pungent cloud of smoke for several hours Tuesday and complicated the aerial offensive against the spreading mountain blaze, which has killed one person and destroyed more than 100 structures. It has now burned over 49,760 acres, or about 77 square miles. More residents had to leave their homes near the large wildfire because it jumped the Poudre River.

 

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/06/15/colorado-wildfire-prompts-new-evacuations-as-governor-signs-order-banning-open/?test=latestnews#ixzz1xsRWjLpj

In southern New Mexico, a 56-square-mile wildfire threatening the village of Ruidoso damaged or destroyed at least 324 homes and cabins, and that number was expected to increase. With at least 19 large fires burning in nine states, President Barack Obama called Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to assure him that the federal government stood ready to provide personnel, equipment and emergency grants for Colorado and other states battling fire.

The government is bolstering the nation’s rundown aerial firefighting fleet by taking steps to add seven large tanker planes. But the aircraft likely won’t be available soon and several other firefighting planes are grounded. President Obama signed a bill Wednesday hastening the addition of those aircraft at a cost of $24 million. The same day, two firefighting C-130 military transport planes sat on a tarmac in Cheyenne, shrouded in an eye-watering haze from a Colorado wildfire just a 15-minute flight away. Starting in the 1970s, C-130s were fitted with Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems — devices that carry 3,000 gallons of fire-retardant slurry. But the Wyoming MAFFS can’t fly from Cheyenne, where the Wyoming Air National Guard is based. The airport is not among those designated as official staging area for attacking wildfires —— and it lacks built-in infrastructure for reloading planes with retardant.

Weather

Powerful storm Carlotta has intensified into a hurricane off the western coast of Mexico. The storm was about 120 miles southeast of Puerto Angel, Mexico, and 330 miles from the resort town of Acapulco early Friday. The storm, with sustained winds near 80 mph, was moving toward the northwest at 12 mph.

Get brief alerts on your PC or phone at www.twitter.com/SignsofEndTimes

 

Signs of the Times (6/11/12)

June 11, 2012

Obama Issues Gay Pride Month Proclamation

For the fourth straight year, President Obama has issued a proclamation recognizing June as Gay Pride Month, saying “more remains to be done” in advancing gay issues and for the first time acknowledging his support for gay marriage within a proclamation, Baptist Press reports. Obama’s latest proclamation lists his achievements for the gay community, such as signing a repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and signing a hate crimes bill that encompasses “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The proclamation reads: “Because we must treat others the way we want to be treated, I personally believe in marriage equality for same-sex couples. … Moving forward, my administration will continue its work to advance the rights of LGBT Americans. … I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people.” Bob Stith of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals says Obama is wrong to assert that opposition to homosexuality equals prejudice. “President Obama again casts all those who have a genuine, biblically-based belief that homosexual acts are sin as haters,” Stith said.

Majority of Christians Dislike Christian TV

Pastor David Wright, chief executive of DoersTV.com, polled his channel’s more than 100,000 Facebook fans to find out what they thought of Christian TV — and was shocked to discover the majority said they hate it and do not watch it, the Christian Post reports. Wright said 90 percent of the feedback to his poll was negative, and comments by respondents indicated several major turn-offs about Christian TV: too much begging for money and fundraising telethons, false prosperity teachers manipulating people for donations, a lack of quality programming, and a lack of integrity of the Christian leaders being broadcast. Wright said he was “flabbergasted” by the responses. “I kind of expected there would be those Christians who thought Christian TV was too boring or not relevant for the times, but I never would have imagined the disdain thousands of Christians have for Christian TV,” he said. “Unfortunately, the greed for money has replaced the need for ministry among many of our ministers and Christian TV networks. … We can’t have pastors indulging in sin and expect people not to be turned off.”

New Policy Slow to Clear Deportation Backlog

Federal immigration officials have closed less than 2 percent of the more than 230,000 cases they have reviewed in the past six months in their effort to reduce backlogged immigration courts and focus more attention on deporting serious criminals. Supporters of immigration enforcement are criticizing the case closures, saying the government is giving illegal immigrants a free pass by allowing so many of them to remain in the country. However, immigrant advocates say the numbers could further hurt President Barack Obama’s support among politically important Latino voters, already upset over the record number of deportations that have taken place under his watch.

  • No wonder deportations are lagging, it’s an election year for Obama who can’t afford to lose the Latino vote

Police Stomp on Religious Freedom Rally

On Friday, June 8, while thousands of people gathered in public squares around the country to observe “Stand Up For Religious Freedom” day, at least one law enforcement agency responded by clamping down on the demonstrators’ freedom of speech. Bryan Kemper, Priests for Life youth outreach director, told WND police officers with the Sinclair Community College Public Safety Department in Dayton, Ohio, informed the organizers of the local Stand Up For Religious Freedom event that no signs of any kind could be held by individual members of the public attending the Sinclair campus rally, which was just getting under way. Organizers had a permit and there is no specific rule banning signs.

  • College campuses have become secular humanist training camps and campus police have wider latitude to enforce gestapo measures in disregard of constitutional principles.

Cities Cracking Down on Homeless

A growing number of cities across the United States are making it harder to be homeless. Philadelphia recently banned outdoor feeding of people in city parks. Denver has begun enforcing a ban on eating and sleeping on property without permission. And this month, lawmakers in Ashland, Ore., is planning to strengthen the town’s ban on camping and making noise in public. And the list goes on: Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, Oklahoma City and more than 50 other cities have adopted some kind of anti-camping or anti-food-sharing laws, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. The ordinances are pitting city officials against homeless advocates. City leaders say they want to ensure public safety, while supporters of the homeless argue that such regulations criminalize homelessness and make it harder to live on the nation’s streets.

Violent Crime Down but Murders Up in Small Towns

Violent crime dropped nationwide last year, continuing a downward trend of more than a decade, new FBI statistics show. But in towns with populations under 10,000, murders saw a big jump. Overall, violent crime was down 4%. Numbers dropped in all categories nationwide. Murders fell by 1.9%, while rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults declined 4%. But murders jumped 18.3% in small towns of under 10,000. Property crime decreased slightly in 2011 — down 0.8% overall. Burglaries stayed almost even across the country, rising just .03% from the previous year. But they were up 3.2% in the Northeast and 1.3% in the Midwest.

Foreign-Made Fake IDs Flooding U.S.

Not even fake IDs are made in America anymore. Overseas forgers from as far away as China are shipping fake driver’s license and other IDs to the United States that can bypass even the newest electronic digital security systems, according to document security experts and the Secret Service. Most troubling to authorities is the sophistication of the forgeries: Digital holograms are replicated, PVC plastic identical to that found in credit cards is used, and ink appearing only under ultraviolet light is stamped onto the cards. The overseas forgers are bold enough to sell their wares on websites, the USA Today reports. Anyone with an Internet connection and $75 to $200 can order their personalized ID card online from such companies as “ID Chief.” Buyers pick the state, address, name and send in a scanned photo and signature to complete their profile.

Military Suicides Rising

Suicides are surging among America’s troops, averaging nearly one a day this year — the fastest pace in the nation’s decade of war. The 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan — about 50% more — according to Pentagon statistics. The reasons for the increase are not fully understood. The numbers reflect a military burdened with wartime demands from Iraq and Afghanistan that have taken a greater toll than foreseen a decade ago. The military also is struggling with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and other misbehavior.

Economic News

Fitch Ratings reiterated that it would cut its sovereign credit rating for the United States next year if Washington cannot come to grips with its deficits and create a “credible” fiscal consolidation plan. The United States is the only country (of four major AAA-rated countries) which does not have a credible fiscal consolidation plan, and its debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to increase over the medium term, Fitch noted. It also said it would immediately cut the credit ratings on Cyprus, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal if Greece were to exit the eurozone. Additionally, all eurozone nations would have their ratings put on its negative ratings watch list, setting a six-month time frame for a potential downgrade.

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in April, but only because a big drop in imports offset the first decline in U.S. exports in five months. The Commerce Department says the trade deficit narrowed 4.9% in April to $50.1 billion. The trade gap remains wide and could weigh on growth in the April-June quarter. A wider trade gap slows growth because it means the United States is spending more on foreign-made products than it is taking in from sales of U.S.-made goods. And the slip in exports is troublesome because it shows the weaker global economy is dampening demand for American-made goods.

With China’s domestic economy stumbling badly this spring as construction and retail sales slow, this country is unleashing a fresh surge of exports that is preserving millions of jobs in Chinese factories but could fan trade tensions with the West. China’s General Administration of Customs announced on Sunday that exports had surged 15.3 percent in May from a year earlier, twice as fast as economists had expected and vaulting May past last December as the biggest month ever for Chinese exports. China’s trade surplus has expanded in each of the last three months.

Eurozone

A European agreement to bail out Spain’s banks sent global stocks surging Monday, but analysts warn that the deal doesn’t solve all of the continent’s problems, and the goodwill could be short-lived. Eurozone finance ministers said Saturday they are prepared to lend up to $125 billion to Spain’s ailing banks. The banks’ problems stem from losses in the real estate crash. Spain did not spend wildly beyond its means like Greece, which is mired in debt, nor did it loosen up mortgage regulations like in the United States, which made real estate lending riskier. But Spain over the years has been hampered by a highly inflexible labor market that makes it difficult for companies to adapt to changing economic conditions. the unemployment rate is close to 25%, largely to labor laws that protect older workers at the expense of younger ones. Spain’s grinding economic misery will get worse this year despite the country’s request for a European financial lifeline of up to $125 billion to save its banks, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Sunday.

Japan

Japan’s leader appealed to the nation Friday to accept that two nuclear reactors that remained shuttered after the Fukushima disaster must be restarted to protect the economy and people’s livelihoods. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the government has taken ample safety measures to ensure the two reactors in western Japan would not leak radiation if an earthquake or tsunami as severe as last year’s should strike them. All 50 of Japan’s workable reactors are offline for maintenance and safety concerns since the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, swept into a coastal plant in Fukushima and sparked the world’s second-worst nuclear disaster. Noda said a 15 percent power deficit is expected in the western region, a level he called “severe.”

Egypt

A mob of hundreds of men assaulted women holding a march demanding an end to sexual harassment Friday, with the attackers overwhelming the male guardians and groping and molesting several of the female marchers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. From the ferocity of the assault, some of the victims said it appeared to have been an organized attempt to drive women out of demonstrations and trample on the pro-democracy protest movement. Thousands have been gathering in the square this week in protests over a variety of issues — mainly over worries that presidential elections this month will secure the continued rule by elements of Mubarak’s regime backed by the ruling military.

Afghanistan

The top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan offered a somber apology on Friday in an eastern province where officials say 18 civilians — half of them children — were killed in a coalition airstrike this week. Nighttime raids on militants taking cover in villages are a major irritant in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s relationship with the international military coalition. Karzai says the raids put civilians at risk of injury or death. Military officials say such operations are key to capturing and killing Taliban leaders.

A Taliban suicide bomber disguised as a woman wearing a burqa blew himself up in a market in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing four French troops. The French forces were responding to a report of a bomb planted under a bridge in the main market area of Kapisa province’s Nijrab district when the bomber walked up to them and detonated his explosives. Four Afghan civilians were also wounded.

Syria

Syrian troops shelled the southern city of Daraa early on Saturday, killing at least 17 people, And in Damascus, residents spoke about a night of shooting and explosions in the worst violence Syria’s capital has seen since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began 15 months ago. The nearly 12 hours of fighting in Damascus suggested a new boldness among armed rebels, who previously kept a low profile in the capital. It also showed a willingness by the regime to unleash in the capital the sort of elevated force against restive neighborhoods it has used to crush opponents elsewhere.

Syrian troops on Friday shelled a rebel-held neighborhood in the flashpoint central city of Homs as President Bashar Assad’s troops appeared to be readying to storm the area that has been out of government control for months. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees had no immediate word on casualties from the shelling of Hom’s Khaldiyeh neighborhood. Friday’s violence came two days after reports of mass killing in the nearby province of Hama where about 80 people, including women and children, were shot or stabbed. U.N. observers came under fire Thursday as they tried to reach the site in Mazraat al-Qubair, a small farming community of 160 people, mostly Bedouins.

Pakistan

A bomb tore through a bus carrying government employees and other civilians in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, killing 19 people in an attack that served as a reminder of the continued militant threat despite a significant drop in violence over the past year. Another 42 people were wounded in the explosion. The bus was near the city of Peshawar which is located near Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region, the main sanctuary for Taliban militants and their allies in the country. The city has suffered scores of bomb attacks over the past five years, but violence has fallen in recent months. The drop is partly due to Pakistani military operations against the Taliban in various parts of the tribal region. Meanwhile, a bomb attached to a bicycle exploded outside a seminary in southwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least 14 people. More than 40 people were wounded in the attack.

Bahrain

Riot police in Bahrain fired tear gas and stun grenades Friday as tens of thousands of protesters staged the biggest anti-government demonstrations in weeks in the divided Gulf nation. Opposition groups called for major rallies after a prominent rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, was placed back in detention earlier this week on fresh charges linked to his social media posts. Bahrain has experienced near daily protests for 16 months caused by an uprising by the kingdom’s Shiite majority seeking greater political rights from the Western-backed Sunni monarchy. At least 50 people have died in the unrest since February 2011.

Saudi Arabia

Several dozen Saudis chanted “release the distressed” and “freedom” as they marched through a fancy Riyadh mall Wednesday night in a rare public protest. The sign-carrying marchers reportedly were relatives of Saudi political detainees who have been jailed without trial. The protest was to demand their release. While the Arab Spring has engulfed much of the Middle East, Saudi authorities have managed to escape the social upheaval by cracking down hard on any signs of social unrest and putting pressure on the families of political activists. Protest activity, however, is alive and well on Twitter, Facebook and in other forms of social networking.

Ivory Coast

Armed men ambushed and killed seven U.N. peacekeepers trying to protect villagers in Ivory Coast on Friday and more than 40 of their colleagues who stayed to guard from more attacks remain in danger. Hundreds of villagers were fleeing the area near the Liberian border, and U.N. officials said others may have been killed or injured. Ivory Coast’s deputy defense minister Paul Koffi Koffi said government forces, along with Liberian and U.N. forces, will launch an operation on June 15 to find the men responsible. He said they were “militia men or mercenaries.”

Nigeria

Three people died in clashes Sunday with police in Jos, Nigeria, hours after a car bomb killed five people during services at a church nearby. Angry crowds were in a standoff with police after chasing away security forces from the destroyed church. They also attacked journalists in the area, shouting at reporters and breaking a television crew’s camera gear. Bombers attacked churches Sunday in northern Nigeria during worship services in the latest attacks in a region under increasing assault by a radical Islamist sect. Nigeria faces a growing wave of sectarian violence carried out by a sect known as Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege.”

  • Notice that we never hear of Christians bombing mosques

Earthquakes

Scores of people are feared dead in an earthquake and landslide that buried 20 houses in northern Afghanistan on Monday morning. Details of the destruction were slow to emerge from the remote district. Rescuers have so far pulled two women’s bodies from the rubble of the landslide in Baghlan province and expect many others were buried. The earthquake measured a magnitude of 5.4 followed by a 5.7 quake. Baghlan province’s Burka district, the site of the landslide, is a remote collection of mountain villages.

A large dock that washed ashore in Oregon this week more than a year after it was ripped from Japan’s shoreline by a tsunami is adding urgency to preparations for a wave of such debris expected to hit the USA’s Pacific Coast in coming months. “At this point, we don’t know if we’re going to have a major problem,” said Phillip Johnson, Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition director. On Wednesday, Oregon confirmed the dock that washed ashore this week was from the tsunami. The dock — 7 feet high, 19 feet wide and 66 feet long — is the first official piece of tsunami debris to reach the state. A dozen volunteers on Thursday scraped the dock clean of marine organisms and sterilized it with torches to prevent the spread of invasive species. Japanese officials estimate that 5 million tons of debris washed into the Pacific Ocean after the March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami.

Wildfires

A sprawling wildfire in northern Colorado grew larger than the nearby city of Fort Collins on Monday, spewing towering plumes of smoke into the air and forcing thousands of people in its path to flee their homes. Firefighters in Colorado and New Mexico are battling wind-fueled wildfires that are moving fast through parched forests, forcing scores of evacuations and destroying or damaging numerous structures. A blaze in northern Colorado was first reported Saturday morning and had grown to about 36,900 acres by Monday morning. Evacuation remains a top priority as crews continue to battle what officials say could be the worst fire to date in Larimer County. Meanwhile a fire in southern New Mexico was small for a few days until it began growing Sunday, reaching about 26,900 acres. Both fires have damaged property and forced numerous evacuations. Ten structures have been damaged. No injuries have been reported.

Weather

Record amounts of rain dropped on the central Gulf coast Saturday, causing what could be millions of dollars in flood damage in the Pensacola area alone with more rain on the way. The National Weather Service said 13.11 inches fell on Pensacola over 24 hours by Saturday. The Florida Panhandle’s Escambia County declared a state of emergency. Sheriff David Morgan told the Pensacola News Journal that he estimated the damage around the county at around $20 million. The sheriff’s department’s central booking building was among the buildings flooded. Emergency shelters were opened at a few local schools for people who were urged to evacuate from low-lying areas. Streets were also flooded throughout Mobile, Ala., which got 5.79 inches of rain. County authorities warned residents to stay off the roads until the waters receded and workers could look for damage and downed utilities.

A quarter-mile-wide tornado cut a swath across mainly open country in southeastern Wyoming, damaging homes, derailing empty train cars and leaving one person with minor injuries. The twister was part of a powerful storm system that rolled through parts of Colorado and Wyoming Thursday afternoon and evening, packing heavy rains, high winds and hail. Thursday’s tornado in a sparsely populated area near Wheatland, Wyo., left five structures heavily damaged, and 10 to 12 other structures had lesser damage. The area is about 60 miles north of Cheyenne.

The surreal heat that enveloped much of the USA this spring turned out to be the warmest ever recorded in U.S. history — by an eye-opening margin, scientists report. The spring season’s nationally averaged temperature was 57.1 degrees, 5.2 degrees above the long-term average, and surpassing the previous warmest spring (1910) by 2 degrees. Coming on the heels of the fourth-warmest winter on record in the USA, nature and the economy were thrown off rhythm, as jobs, retail sales, crops and bugs sprouted outside their normal cycles. Thirty-one states were record warm for the season. Only Oregon and Washington had spring temperatures near normal.

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Signs of the Times (6/7/12)

June 7, 2012

Wisconsin’s Gov. Walker Survives Recall

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker beat back a recall challenge Tuesday, winning both the right to finish his term and a voter endorsement of his strategy to curb state spending, which included the explosive measure that eliminated union rights for most public workers. With his defeat of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the union leaders who rallied for months against Walker’s agenda, the rising GOP star became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall attempt. With nearly all precincts reporting, Walker had nearly 53 percent of the vote, compared with 46 percent for Barrett. Democrats and organized labor spent millions to oust Walker, but found themselves hopelessly outspent by Republicans from across the country who donated record-setting sums to Walker. Republicans hope the victory carries over into November and that their get-out-the-vote effort can help Mitt Romney become the first GOP nominee to carry the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

  • This is a landmark victory for the silent majority to stand up against wasteful government spending and bloated union perks

November Referendum Blocks Wash. Same-Sex Marriage Law

Opponents of same-sex marriage in Washington have gathered enough signatures to force a November referendum on the state’s marriage-equality law, which was to have taken effect Thursday. Preserve Marriage Washington turned in an estimated 232,000 petition signatures, and plans to submit 9,000 more by the end of the day, the Washington Office of the Secretary of State reports. Election officials must verify that at least 120,577 signatures are valid for Referendum 74 to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot. Pending the certification of the election, the Legislature-passed measure to allow same-sex civil marriages, Senate Bill 6239, is on hold.

Court: Gov’t Interests Trump Religious Beliefs

Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) will appeal a ruling that a young Christian couple who owns a photography business in New Mexico violated the rights of a lesbian couple by declining to handle their same-gender “commitment ceremony.” In 2006, Elane Photography of Albuquerque politely refused to photograph the ceremony — prompting a complaint to the New Mexico Human Rights Commission that business owners Elaine and Jon Huguenin discriminated based on sexual orientation. After a one-day trial, the Commission ordered in April 2008 that the Huguenins pay more than $6,000 in costs. On Monday the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld the ruling by the Commission that the Huguenins were guilty of “sexual orientation” discrimination under state anti-discrimination laws. But New Mexico recognizes neither same-gender “marriages” nor civil unions. ADF attorney Jordan Lorence: “Americans in the marketplace should not be subjected to legal attacks for simply abiding by their beliefs. Should the government force a videographer who is an animal rights activist to create a video promoting hunting and taxidermy? Of course not — and neither should the government force this photographer to promote a message that violates her conscience.”

  • The end-time anti-Christ spirit is hard at work attacking Christianity on all fronts, whether legally or not

JCPenney Releases Father’s Day Ad Featuring Two Gay Dads

JCPenney has released a Father’s Day print ad featuring a real-life same-sex couple hugging their two young children, Yahoo! Finance reports. The ad reads: “What makes Dad so cool? He’s the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver — all rolled into one. Or two.” Earlier this year, the retailer came under fire for its decision to employ openly gay talk show host Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman. Conservative group One Million Moms criticized the retailer for abandoning traditional values, but JCPenney stuck with Ellen, saying in a statement that “Ellen represents the values of our company.” One Million Moms released a statement on May 31 condemning JCPenney’s new ad. “It is obvious that JCP would rather take sides than remain neutral in the culture war,” the statement said. “We must remain diligent and stand up for biblical values and truth. Scripture says multiple times that homosexuality is wrong, and God will not tolerate this sinful nature.”

U.N. Issues Climate Warning

The earth’s environmental systems “are being pushed towards their biophysical limits,” beyond which loom sudden, irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes, the United Nations Environment Program warned Wednesday. In a 525-page report on the health of the planet, the agency paints a grim picture: The melting of the polar ice caps, desertification in Africa, deforestation of tropical jungles, spiraling use of chemicals and the emptying out of the world’s seas are just some of myriad environmental catastrophes posing a threat to life as we know it. Such adverse implications include rising sea levels, increased frequency and severity of floods and droughts, and the collapse of fisheries, said the report.

Climate change, by warming water and reducing river flows, has caused production losses at several nuclear and coal-fired power plants in the United States and Europe in recent years and will lead to more power disruptions in the future, researchers report. The Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama, for example, had to shut down more than once last summer because the Tennessee River’s water was too warm to use it for cooling. The likelihood of extreme drops in power generation from total or partial plant shutdowns will triple in the next 50 years, according to the study. Power from thermoelectric plants, which provide more than 90% of electricity in the U.S. and three-quarters in Europe, will decrease 4% to 16% in the U.S. and 6% to 19% in Europe due to lack of cooling water in the future, the researchers estimate.

  • Whether induced by humans or not, end-time weather will grow more and more unsettled and extreme

U.S. Gangs Growing in Numbers and Violence

The recent surge in violence that left 10 dead in Chicago during the Memorial Day weekend underscores a continuing national struggle to control criminal gangs whose numbers continue to grow. Of the 200 murders in Chicago so far this year — up from 139 at the same time last year — local police said that about 80% were gang-related in a city whose gang membership is estimated at more than 100,000. Chicago’s gang presence largely tracks a troubling national trend in which criminal gangs have been expanding in number and reach throughout the country. In Houston, there are an estimated 200 gangs and 10,000 gang members and murders are also up about 15% from last year, most of them gang related.

  • The end-time spirit of lawlessness will manifest in many different ways, such as the rapidly expanding drug killings in Mexico (Matt 24:12)

Counterfeit Products a Growing and dangerous Problem

From fake versions of the drugs Adderall and Avastin to phony designer watches and wedding dresses, counterfeiting is rising fast and is increasingly becoming a safety concern. U.S. Customs said agents seized 24% more shipments of counterfeit goods in the last fiscal year (ended Sept. 30, 2011) than in its previous year. And 325% more counterfeit goods were confiscated from 2002 to 2012 than in the previous decade. While phony designer purses are declining — and didn’t even make Customs’ list of top counterfeit products last year — counterfeit pharmaceuticals were up 200% in the 2011 fiscal year. According to Gallup Consulting and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 64% of counterfeit electrical products are purchased from legitimate shops and retailers. Most well-known brands have several hundred to several thousand pretenders selling their goods online, say industry watchdogs.

Economic News

The federal debt is expected to be 70% of the gross domestic product by the end of this year, and could be double the GDP by 2037 unless major changes are made, the Congressional Budget Office reports. Ultimately, this level of debt is unsustainable, requiring major changes in spending and taxation.

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week, suggesting modest job growth after three months of weak hiring. The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for weekly benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 377,000. That’s down from an upwardly revised 389,000 the previous week. It was the first decline in five weeks.

Worker productivity fell by the largest amount in a year from January through March. The steeper drop than first estimated suggests companies may need to hire to keep pace with demand. The Labor Department said Wednesday that productivity fell at an annual rate of 0.9% in the first quarter.

Moody’s rocked global markets Wednesday by downgrading not just one German bank, but all six of Germany’s largest banks. Moody’s also, downgraded Austria’s three largest banks. The strongest banks in Europe are melting down. In Spain. In Austria. In Germany — the economic engine of the entire continent. And even in France — the banking capital of the entire world.

China has cut its benchmark lending rate for the first time in nearly four years as it tries to reverse a sharp economic slowdown. The move gave stocks a boost around the world. The Chinese central bank said Thursday that the interest rate on a one-year loan will be reduced by a quarter percentage point to 6.31% effective Friday. The rate cut adds to a string of measures in recent weeks to boost slowing economic growth.

The global economy’s foundations are weakening, one by one. Already hobbled by Europe’s debt crisis, the world now risks being hurt by slowdowns in its economic powerhouses. The U.S. economy, the world’s largest, had a third straight month of feeble job growth in May. High-flying economies in China, India and Brazil are slowing, too. Unemployment in the 17 countries that use the euro is already at 11%, the European Union’s Eurostat office reported Friday. The most urgent threat is that in mid-June, Greek voters will reject the terms of a $170 billion bailout — which called for painful budget cuts — and abandon the euro.

Syria

Syria barred a string of U.S. and European diplomats Tuesday, saying they were “no longer welcome” as the country plunged into its most profound international isolation in decades. Last week, Western nations expelled Syrian diplomats in a coordinated move over the Houla massacre, in which more than 100 people were slaughtered over one weekend in a cluster of small villages. United Nations monitors who were trying to access the scene of “new massacres” in Syria’s Hama province were shot at with small arms, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, Syrian activists on Monday announced a new rebel coalition that aims to overcome deep divisions within the opposition in its fight against the forces of President Bashar Assad. But it was uncertain how the new organization would coordinate with other sectors of the Syrian opposition, whose failure to unite has hobbled its campaign to topple Assad despite a nationwide uprising that has lasted more than a year.

Iraq

Six months after the last U.S. combat troops left, an Iraq free of Saddam Hussein and overseen by a democratically elected government midwifed by the United States is standing on its own despite ever-present dangers from within and outside its borders. But the United States paid a heavy price in Iraq. More than 4,400 American servicemembers died during eight years of war and occupation, and according to recent polls, most Americans say the war wasn’t worth it. Hundreds of Iraqis have been killed in terror attacks since the last U.S. troops withdrew in December. Iran continues to retain ties to Shiite militias operating in Iraq. Political differences between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have frequently boiled over into threats of civil war. The government struggles to provide basic services, such as electricity.

However, signs that the country is making progress toward stability abound despite the headlines about political rivalries and terror attacks. Oil production is at its highest levels in decades, says the latest OPEC report, higher than almost any time under Saddam. Gross domestic product in 2011 more than doubled from the year before, says the International Monetary Fund, noting that Iraq’s economy is expected to expand 11% this year. Foreign investors that were banned under Saddam, such as Exxon/Mobil, have been welcomed back and are developing the country’s vast resources. New cars jam Baghdad streets; cafes and restaurants are busy late into the night. Experts say it might all add up to “stability.”

Afghanistan

Three suicide attackers blew themselves up in the largest city in southern Afghanistan Wednesday, leaving 22 people dead in a dusty marketplace. The attack in Kandahar also injured an estimated 50 civilians. The explosions occurred about three miles from the main gate of the massive military installation run by the U.S.-led coalition and roughly 500 yards from an Afghan military base. One suicide bomber detonated a three-wheeled motorbike filled with explosives first, said Rahmatullah Atrafi, deputy police chief in Kandahar province. Then, as people rushed to assist the casualties, two other suicide bombers on foot walked up to the site and blew themselves up.

American troops are suffering more extensive physical damage — measured in lost arms and legs — to buried explosives in Afghanistan than ever before, according to data collected by the Army Surgeon General’s office. This year through May, 60% of all combat amputation casualties in Afghanistan were troops who lost two, three or four limbs, according to statistics. The vast majority are caused by makeshift bombs known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the Army says. In 2009, about one in four combat amputations involved multiple limb-loss. Pakistan is impeding U.S. attempts to curb the flow of bombmaking materials from Pakistan to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, a report by the Government Accountability Office shows.

Iran

Iran accused the United Nations nuclear inspectorate of spying, vowed never to suspend uranium enrichment and cast doubt on whether a deal allowing wider atomic inspections is possible. ‘Iran will resist to the end’ and ‘will not permit our national security to be jeopardized’ by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors working for Western intelligence agencies, the Persian Gulf nation’s IAEA envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said today at a press briefing in Vienna. ‘Iran will never suspend its enrichment activities,’ he said… ‘The agency, which is supposed to be an international technical organization, is somehow playing the role of an intelligence agency,’ Soltanieh said.

Egypt

According to the popular Egyptian website El Bashayer, Muhammad Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate competing against former Mubarak official Ahmed Shafiq in the runoff election to become Egypt’s new president, has declared that he will “achieve the Islamic conquest of Egypt for the second time, and make all Christians convert to Islam, or else pay the jizya [Islamic tax required of non-Muslims],” the Gatestone Institute reports. Morsi allegedly made these comments while speaking with a journalist at the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, adding, “We will not allow [Shafiq] or anyone else to impede our second Islamic conquest of Egypt.” When the journalist pointed out that the first Muslim conquest of Egypt was “carried out at the hands of Amr bin al-As [in 641],” he asked Morsi who the second Islamic conqueror would be. Morsi replied, “The second Muslim conqueror will be Muhammad Morsi, and history will record it.” When asked what he thought about many Coptic Christians voting for his opponent, Morsi reportedly said, “They need to know that conquest is coming, and Egypt will be Islamic, and that they must pay jizya or emigrate.”

Throngs of protesters converged on Tahrir Square in the relative cool of a recent evening, waving flags, wearing face paint and trying to unite around a slew of demands. The gathering was reminiscent of the massive demonstrations last year during 18 days of revolt in which Egyptians of all persuasions were united in calling for a government that respects human rights and delivers impartial justice. Sixteen months after Egypt’s revolution and days away from an election for president, many Egyptians said that the central complaint of the revolution has yet to be addressed. Activists and rights groups say violations of human rights are numerous despite the overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak and the election of a new parliament. “There is no improvement in human rights protection overall… in the legal and institutional framework that sustains abusive practices, or policy changes,” said Heba Morayef, researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Wildfires

Firefighters in southern New Mexico are making slow progress against the massive Gila wilderness fire, which has grown to 263,589 acres, over 400 square miles. It is now 30% contained and has destroyed 20 structures, although it continues to burn in mostly isolated areas. Evacuations of two small towns are still in effect.

Meanwhile crews in the northern part of the state worked to contain a lightning-sparked blaze in the Santa Fe National Forest. The blaze was one of several sparked by lightning around the state as dry thunderstorms moved in Sunday and Monday, including two others in the Santa Fe Forest, one near Silver City and two near Taos. Firefighters were able to contain most of the fires quickly.

Weather

Crews will assess damages to roads and bridges following a storm that dumped more than 8 inches of rain across parts of Maine, closing numerous roads and bridges Monday. Heavy rains, which began Saturday and resulted in minor flooding when the Presumpscot, Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers overflowed their banks.

A sudden, violent storm in southeast Missouri has left a man and his two adult sons dead. Authorities are assessing the damage after high winds, heavy rain and hail ripped through parts of Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky late Monday. The worst hit is Diehlstadt, Mo., where winds blew over a mobile home, killing the three men. There were several reports of damage to homes in and around Diehlstadt, a town of 163 residents in Scott County about 100 miles south of St. Louis.

Oklahoma suffered through the hottest summer ever recorded in the U.S. last year. Oklahoma’s average temperature last summer was 86.9 degrees, while Texas finished with 86.7 degrees. The previous record for the hottest summer was 85.2 degrees set in 1934 – also in Oklahoma. Average summer temperatures are usually higher in states in the Southeast and southern Plains than in states in the Desert Southwest.

Storms in Texas have left nearly 20,000 homes and businesses without electricity and canceled dozens of flights. American Airlines on Thursday canceled 35 flights in and out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport after canceling 140 DFW flights Wednesday. Strong winds Wednesday damaged the roof of a Fort Worth apartment complex. Nobody was hurt.

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Signs of the Times (6/4/12)

June 4, 2012

National Motto Proclaimed in Orange County, CA

A vote in favor of displaying “In God We Trust” has made one California county the leader in displaying the national motto. The Anaheim City Council agreed to install the phrase “In God We Trust” in the City Council Chambers. The motto, displayed in four-inch black- or gold-colored letters, will be placed above the city seal. Jacquie Sullivan of In God We Trust America says “With Anaheim voting yes, that makes Orange County the leading county in California and in the country,” she explains. “There are 32 cities [in the county], and Anaheim makes 17 cities now that will soon be displaying our national motto.” The motto has already been placed in 16 cities in Orange County and in almost 300 cities nationwide.

The Single-Mom Catastrophe

The LA Times reports that the single-mother revolution started in the 1960s when the nation began to sever the historical connection between marriage and childbearing and to turn single motherhood and the fatherless family into a viable, even welcome, arrangement for children and for society. The reasons for the shift were many, including the sexual revolution, a powerful strain of anti-marriage feminism and an outbreak of American individualism that hit the country in the 1960s and ’70s. In 1965, 93% of all American births were to women with marriage licenses. Over the next few decades, the percentage of babies with no father around rose steadily. As of 1970, 11% of births were to unmarried mothers; by 1990, that number had risen to 28%. Today, 41% of all births are to unmarried women. And for mothers under 30, the rate is 53%. Author Kay S. Hymowitz notes, “The single-mother revolution has been an economic catastrophe for women. Poverty remains relatively rare among married couples with children; the U.S. census puts only 8.8% of them in that category, up from 6.7% since the start of the Great Recession. But more than 40% of single-mother families are poor, up from 37% before the downturn.” The Brookings Institution’s Isabel Sawhill calculates that virtually all the increase in child poverty in the United States since the 1970s would vanish if parents still married at 1970 rates.

  • The breakdown of the traditional family, God’s ordained natural order, is Satan’s primary end-time strategy, whether it be single moms. abortion or the gay agenda

Target T-Shirts Promote Gay Marriage

Two years after Target Corp. angered gay marriage supporters with a political donation that benefited a fiery gay marriage opponent seeking the governor’s office, the retailer is now upsetting same-sex marriage opponents by selling T-shirts to raise money for a group working to defeat a gay marriage ban in Minnesota. The Minneapolis-based retailer is taking heat in its home state, where voters will decide this November whether to put a gay marriage ban into the state constitution. One organizer of gay marriage opponents warned that their displeasure could spread to 32 other states where voters have banned gay marriage. “Target is attacking traditional marriage, which is an incredibly misguided thing for them to have done,” said Chuck Darrell, spokesman for Minnesota for Marriage, a group campaigning to pass the constitutional marriage amendment. “It’s an insult to the overwhelming majority of their customers.”

  • Target and Home Depot are the most active retailers in promoting the gay agenda

Congress Votes Against Prenatal Nondiscrimination

The American Center for Law & Justice reports that 168 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives chose to stand on the side of legal protections for those who would end the life of a baby with full knowledge that the only reason for doing so is that the baby is a little girl.  That is not a typo — 168 Members of Congress actually went to the Floor of the U.S. House today and opposed H.R. 3541, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA).  These 168 votes, while a minority of votes cast, were enough to deny the 2/3 required for passage of the bill. The ACLJ notes that, “It is a tragedy of epic proportion that the United States is the only industrialized nation of the world that does not restrict abortions that are performed solely because of the gender of a child.  It’s equally alarming that the largest abortion provider in the world [Planned Parenthood] is actively opposing legislation that would right this wrong, even as they are repeatedly caught on tape participating in abortions that are chosen because the baby is the ‘wrong” gender.” Congressman Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), the bill’s sponsor, said: “Worldwide now, we’re probably missing 200 million girls because of sex-selective abortions, and in America we have now allowed thousands of little girls to be dismembered, usually late in the pregnancy when they can feel extreme pain, simply because they are little girls.”

  • Unconscionable support for gender-selected murder. Doesn’t this qualify as a hate crime?

IRS: Politics Can Jeopardize Churches’ Tax-Exempt Status

Pastors meeting in Washington have been warned about political activities that could jeopardize their churches’ tax-exempt status. IRS regional manager Peter Lorenzetti told the Faith Leaders Summit that prohibited activities include endorsing or opposing candidates, campaigning for them, or making contributions to their campaigns. But pastors are free to do any of those things as private citizens, according to Congressman G.K. Butterfield.  The North Carolina Democrat, a former judge, said, “You simply cannot do it in your capacity as the pastor of the church and give the implication that the church is endorsing the candidate.” Lorenzetti said churches can distribute voter guides that educate about political issues without favoring a particular candidate.

  • This will become a major end-time issue when the government imposes hate-crime and other limitations on what can be preached and taught in churches. Churches should begin shedding costs (e.g. expensive real estate) and prepare to surrender their tax-exempt status before they are forced to choose between closing their doors or adhering to a watered-down gospel.

DOJ to Florida: Don’t You Dare Clean Up Your Voter Rolls

A simple way to help prevent voter fraud and election abuse is for states to purge voter rolls. What does this mean? Getting rid of names on voter rolls of people ineligible to vote such as illegal aliens, dead people, duplicates, etc. For nearly a year, Florida election officials have asked the Department of Homeland Security for access to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement database in order to take illegal aliens and non-citizens off Florida voter rolls. Not surprisingly, DHS has been dragging its feet and has yet to comply with the request and now, the Department of Justice is stepping into the purging process and ordering Florida, a vital swing state, to stop.

  • Democrats will continue to fight for the ‘rights’ of illegal immigrants because they overwhelmingly vote in their favor. Forget principles, politics is all about gaining and retaining power.

Addiction to Synthetic Marijuana Alarms Officials

Many young people are getting hooked on synthetic marijuana — often called K2, Spice or fake weed. But the substance has been even more devastating than regular marijuana. Police believe two young men smoked it before they attacked a Farmington Hills family with baseball bats in April. A West Bloomfield teen killed by his grandmother tested positive for the substance, the grandmother’s attorney said. And police blame it for the overdose death of a young man in Bloomfield Township last weekend. Now, Michigan lawmakers, police, judges, health professionals and parents say they’re on a mission to get the products banned. It’s not the first time the state or federal government has tried to outlaw synthetic marijuana. In the last two years, both have banned certain chemicals that were being used to make the products. Manufacturers quickly skirted the laws and developed new formulas. Today, it’s easy to find across much of the nation.

Synthetic marijuana is usually sold in packets or clear containers with names like Legal Devil, the Presidential, Demon, LOL, Tsunami and Scooby Snax. It comes in flavors like grape, blueberry, mango, strawberry, apple and watermelon. The products are made up of plant material, not marijuana, and sprayed with chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. It doesn’t show up in many drug tests. National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske said calling the product synthetic marijuana is a mistake because that term doesn’t convey the dangerousness of the drug. Some variations can be legally purchased online, at gas stations, tobacco stores and various other outlets — usually for $5 to $50. It’s often marketed as incense or potpourri with a label that warns “not for human consumption.”

CNN Lost Half Its Audience in Past Year

Liberal CNN in May suffered its worst month for ratings in nearly 20 years, according to Nielsen figures, and has lost 50 percent of its audience in the past 12 months, losing many of its viewers to Fox News. CNN anchor Anderson Cooper has lost a quarter of his viewers in the past 12 months, and ratings for Wolf Blitzer’s two-hour “Situation Room” are down by more than half.

  • How long can the media and government deny that America is largely conservative and Christian? As long as they remain in control, they will continue to promote their secular, socialist agenda.

Public Transit Soaring in 2012

Use of public transit is soaring. Transit agencies had record or near-record ridership in the first three months of the year, thanks to high gas prices and a mild winter. At least a dozen communities set records for the number of people riding buses, trains and light rail, even though some cut service because of tight budgets. ridership on what’s called heavy rail — subways and elevated trains — increased in 14 of the 15 systems that have such transit. Use of light rail — streetcars and trolleys — rose in 25 of the 27 cities that have it. And 34 of 37 large cities saw increases in bus ridership.

States Explore New Ways to Tax Motorists

States are looking for new ways of taxing motorists as they seek to pay for highway and bridge repair and improvements without relying on the per-gallon gasoline tax widely viewed as all but obsolete. Among the leading ideas: Taxing drivers for how many miles they travel rather than how much gasoline they buy. Minnesota and Oregon already are testing technology to keep track of mileage. Other states, including Washington and Nevada, are preparing similar projects. The efforts are being prompted by the fact that gasoline taxes no longer provide enough money to pay for roads and bridges — especially when Congress and many state legislatures are reluctant to increase taxes imposed on each gallon. The federal tax of 18.4 cents a gallon hasn’t been raised in nearly two decades. More than half the states have not raised their gas tax this millennium. Fuel-efficiency also is behind the efforts. Electric-powered vehicles are growing in numbers.

Economic News

There’s some good news behind the discouraging headlines on the economy: Gas is getting cheaper. It’s dropped to $2.99 in some areas of South Carolina and could soon fall below $3 in a handful of Southern states. A plunge in oil prices to an eight-month low has knocked more than 30 cents off the price of a gallon of gas in most parts of the U.S. since early April. The national average is now $3.61. Experts say it could drop to at least $3.40 before Labor Day.

China and Japan inked a deal last Friday to cut the U.S. dollar out of all trades between the two countries, and instead, trade directly in yuan and yen, yet another step toward eliminating the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Already this year, Iran, Taiwan, and Russia — to name just a few countries —traded directly with each other without using the dollar as a reserve currency.

Middle East

A damaging cyberattack against Iran’s nuclear program was the work of U.S. and Israeli experts and proceeded under the secret orders of President Barack Obama, who was eager to slow that nation’s apparent progress toward building an atomic bomb without launching a traditional military attack, current and former U.S. officials say. The origins of the cyberweapon, which outside analysts dubbed Stuxnet after it was inadvertently discovered in 2010, have long been debated, with most experts concluding that the United States and Israel probably collaborated on the effort. The current and former U.S. officials confirmed that long-standing suspicion Friday, after a New York Times report on the program. Code-named Olympic Games, it was first developed during the George W. Bush administration and was geared toward damaging Iran’s nuclear capability gradually while sowing confusion among Iranian scientists about the cause of mishaps at a nuclear plant.

Egypt

Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison Saturday for failing to stop the killing of protesters during the uprising that forced him from power last year. But the ousted president and his sons were acquitted of corruption charges in a mixed verdict that swiftly provoked a new wave of anger on Egypt’s streets. After the sentencing, the 84-year old, ailing Mubarak cried in protest and resisted leaving the helicopter that took him from the Cairo courtroom to a prison hospital for the first time, according to security officials. Since Mubarak was ordered detained last April, he has been held in several different military hospitals but never in a prison hospital. The charges related to killing protesters carried a possible death sentence that the judge chose not to impose, opting instead to send Mubarak to prison for the rest of his life. Thousands of riot police in helmets and shields held the restive, mostly anti-Mubarak crowd back behind a cordon protecting the court.

Thousands of people took to the streets in cities across Egypt on Friday to demand that Ahmed Shafiq, a former senior official in Hosni Mubarak’s ousted regime, be disqualified from next month’s presidential runoff due to his close ties to Mubarak. Shafiq, who served as Mubarak’s last prime minister, was one of the top two finishers in the first round of Egypt’s landmark presidential election last month, advancing to a June 16-17 runoff against Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. Neither candidate represents the mostly young, secular activists who led the popular uprising last year.

Syria

The U.N.’s top human rights body voted overwhelmingly Friday to condemn Syria over the slaughter of more than 100 civilians last week, but Damascus appeared impervious to the crescendo of global condemnation following a string of horrific massacres. Syria’s most important ally and protector, Russia, voted against the measure by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. Russia has refused to support any move that could lead to foreign intervention in Syria, Moscow’s last significant ally in the Middle East. New bloodshed was reported across Syria on Friday, with troops firing on protesters and more execution-style killings coming to light.

Libya

A Libyan security official says disgruntled militiamen have taken over the country’s main airport, storming it with heavy machine guns and armored vehicles and forcing airport authorities to divert flights. Militiamen from the city of Tarhouna occupied the airport runway on Monday. Flights were diverted to Metiga air base in the city’s center. The militiamen are angry over arrest of their commander, Abu Elija, on Sunday. Tarhouna in central Libya was widely seen as a favorite of deposed ruler Moammar Gadhafi. Its dominant tribe, also called Tarhouna, held many positions in the Libyan military under Gadhafi. Tribal rivalries have swept Libya since Gadhafi was overthrown last year.

  • “Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction. He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, nd every man’s hand against him.” (Genesis 16:11-12)

Afghanistan

Taliban insurgents detonated a truck bomb, then tried to storm a NATO base Friday in eastern Afghanistan, but coalition forces repelled the attack, killing 14 militants. NATO plans to pull combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and turn security over to local forces. If security allows, Karzai said foreign forces could pull out earlier. Karzai said that while the U.S. had helped Afghanistan build roads, schools, clinics and welcomed the country into the world community, U.S. and NATO troops had not been able to provide security to the Afghan people. “It did not bring the defeat of terrorism as we thought it would,” he said. “But the American presence did bring an overall stability to Afghanistan.”

Iraq

A suicide bomber detonated an explosive-rigged car outside Iraq’s main religious affairs office for Shiite Muslims on Monday, shearing off the facade of the three-story building and killing at least 23 people in the deadliest single attack in the country in three months. More than 70 people were wounded in the explosion that shattered nearby windows and damaged cars in Baghdad’s central Bab al-Muadham area. In apparent retaliation, a mortar shell hit close to Iraq’s main office for Sunni Muslim religious affairs in northeastern Baghdad later Monday, but caused no damage or injuries. Monday’s explosion came at a time of a prolonged political paralysis caused by sectarian tensions.

Pakistan

A drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas killed eight suspected militants early Monday, Pakistani officials said, as the U.S. pushes ahead with the controversial drone program despite Pakistani demands to stop. The strike was the seventh in less than two weeks and highlights the importance that Washington places on the drone program as a way to combat al-Qaida and Taliban fighters who use Pakistan as a base for attacks against American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The attack followed closely on the heels of another drone strike Sunday that killed 10 suspected militants.

Yemen

Yemeni military officials say 21 al-Qaeda militants have been killed in a southern province where the Islamists took advantage of the country’s political turmoil last year to seize entire cities. The military has not yet fully reclaimed the city of Jaar in its offensive. The U.S. Embassy in Yemen says Washington is providing another $6.5 million in aid to the impoverished Arab country, bringing the total of U.S. humanitarian assistance to Yemen to $80 million this year.

Wildfires

A record wildfire raged on in southwestern New Mexico on Sunday, belching out a wall of smoke as it devoured thousands of acres and advanced across the rugged wilderness. Authorities cautioned children, adults with heart disease and other sensitive groups to stay indoors and avoid the smoke. The blaze — the biggest in the state’s history — has scorched an area more than one and a half times bigger than Chicago. The more than 1,200 firefighters who are battling the nation’s largest wildfire in rugged mountains and canyons of southwestern New Mexico were racing over the weekend to build lines to corral the massive Whitewater-Baldy blaze before more threatening winds and dry conditions developed. The fire had charred more than 380 square miles of the Gila National Forest by Saturday morning, and is only 17% contained as of Monday morning. Fire managers expected it to start backing down the mountains east of the community of Glenwood. While there was no immediate threat, residents there have been immersed in a thick haze of smoke for days.

To land managers and scientists, the record-setting New Mexico blaze represents a true test of decades of work aimed at returning fire to its natural role on the landscape — a test that comes as many Western states grapple with overgrown forests, worsening drought and a growing prospect for more megafires. Unlike last year’s megafires in New Mexico and Arizona, this blaze is burning in territory that has been frequently blackened under the watchful eye of the Gila’s fire managers. The question that the Whitewater-Baldy fire is expected to answer is whether that strategy will pay off with more natural, less intense fires. So far, the word from the fire lines is that the majority of the 241,000-acre blaze has burned with low to moderate intensity, not the kind of near-nuclear strength that was exhibited last year with the Las Conchas blaze in northern New Mexico. In that case, entire mountainsides were vaporized, leaving nothing behind but the white ashy skeletons of what used to be trees.

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Signs of the Times (6/1/12)

June 1, 2012

Court Strikes Down Key Part of DOMA

A key part of the law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage was struck down as unconstitutional by a U.S. appeals court Thursday. The Defense of Marriage Act — known as DOMA — defines marriage for federal purposes as unions exclusively between a man and woman. At issue is whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can legally marry. The 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, based in Boston, did not rule on the federal law’s other key provision: that states that do not allow same-sex marriages cannot be forced to recognize such unions performed in other states. Marriage between two males or two females is legal in seven states and the District of Columbia. Many other states have legalized domestic partnerships and civil unions for such couples, including New Jersey, Illinois, Delaware, Rhode Island and Hawaii, a step designed in most cases to provide the same rights of marriage under state law. But other states have passed laws or state constitutional amendments banning such marriages. The appeals court said it recognizes how divisive the issue is, and noted it may ultimately be up to the Supreme Court to decide.

Washington Reports at Least 70 Assisted Suicides

Washington state may already have surpassed Oregon as the leader in legal physician-assisted suicides. According to data released earlier this month by the state’s Department of Health, at least 70 Washington residents died in 2011 as a result of taking lethal drug doses prescribed by doctors, Baptist Press reports. The total may have been higher, however; it is uncertain if five other people who died after receiving prescriptions of lethal medication did so after taking the drug. Another 19 people who received the prescription died without taking the medication. Oregon set its record of 71 assisted suicides in 2011, and has recorded 596 since it became the first state to legalize assisted suicide in 1997. Washington, which legalized the practice in 2009, has reported at least 157 such deaths. As in Oregon, the three leading concerns expressed by Washington residents who received lethal prescriptions in 2011 were reduced ability “to engage in activities making life enjoyable” (89 percent), loss of autonomy (87 percent) and “loss of dignity” (79 percent).

Eight States get Waiver from No Child Left Behind

Another eight states are gaining flexibility from the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday. The Education Department has approved waivers for Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. Eighteen other states and Washington, D.C., also applied for a waiver and could receive approval in coming weeks. President Obama’s administration is granting waivers in exchange for promises from states to improve how they prepare and evaluate students. In all, 19 states have been given waivers so far. “These states are getting more flexibility with federal funds and relief from NCLB’s one-size-fits-all mandate in order to develop and implement locally tailored solutions to meet their unique educational challenges,” Duncan said.

America’s War on Baby Girls

The pro-life investigative group Live Action says its latest probe has found that some Planned Parenthood clinics are willing to do abortions based on the sex of the unborn child. Lila Rose, head of Live Action, notes that an estimated 160 million preborn girls have been killed through abortion in countries such as China and India. She was asked: She says it is happening in America as well. “We actually went undercover into Planned Parenthood and non-Planned Parenthood abortion clinics across the country, posing the scenario of a late-term, sex-selective abortion of a baby girl,” she describes. “And we uncovered — and we have documented — Planned Parenthood clinics across the board encouraging the late-term abortions of little girls just because they are girls.” Rose notes that several countries have banned the practice, but it is completely legal in most of the United States. The ACLJ is actively supporting Rep. Trent Franks’ bill to make it illegal to abort a child based on his or her gender.

‘Distinctly Christian’ Lord’s Prayer Banned in Delaware Council Meetings

A U.S. district court judge in Delaware ruled that members of a local city council who had been reciting the Lord’s Prayer at every meeting for six years must stop because it violated the Constitution, the Christian Post reports. Four Sussex County residents filed suit last year, claiming the prayer violated the First Amendment. The city council argued that the Lord’s Prayer was not exclusive to Christianity since it did not make a specific reference to Jesus, but judge Leonard P. Stark said in his decision, “The fact that the Lord’s Prayer has been the only prayer recited at the beginning of council meetings for over six years is likely to be found to demonstrate that the council gives Christianity an unconstitutionally preferred status.” Judge Stark’s injunction to stop the prayer takes effect June 15, meaning that any council meetings after that date that begin with the Lord’s Prayer would be in violation of the order. “Whatever happened to freedom of speech?” asked councilman Sam Wilson. “I don’t know how we’re gonna get around it, but we’re gonna have to find a way.”

  • The secularists’ war on Christianity continues to gain end-time steam

U.S. Broadening Cyberwarfare Strategy

The Pentagon is turning to the private sector, universities and even computer gamers as part of an ambitious effort to develop technologies to improve its cyberwarfare capabilities, launch effective attacks and withstand the likely retaliation. The previously unreported effort, which its authors have dubbed Plan X, marks a new phase in the nation’s fledgling military operations in cyberspace, which have focused more on protecting the Defense Department’s own computer systems than on disrupting or destroying those of enemies. Plan X is a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon agency that focuses on experimental efforts and has a key role in harnessing computing power to help the military wage war more effectively. Military officials say that cyberweapons are unlikely to be used on their own. Instead, they would support conventional attacks, by blinding an enemy to an impending airstrike, for example, or disabling a foe’s communications system during battle. The five-year, $110 million research program will begin seeking proposals this summer.

Debt Tsunami Set to Crash Economy

Just as you thought things couldn’t get any worse, credit markets are about to be hit by a veritable tsunami of maturing corporate debt. Standard & Poor’s estimates that companies in Europe, the US and the major Asian economies require a combination of refinancing and new money to fund growth over the next four years of between $43 trillion and $46 trillion. The wall of maturing debt is unprecedented, raising the prospect of further, extreme difficulties in credit markets. With the eurozone debt crisis still at full throttle, the Chinese economy slowing fast and a still tepid US recovery, it’s not clear that the banking system is in any position to deal with this incoming wave of demand.

  • The world’s central banks will continue to print money until the entire system implodes

Economic News

U.S. employers added just 69,000 jobs in May–the fewest in a year– as payrolls gains were disappointingly tepid for a third month. Businesses added 82,000 jobs, while governments cut 15,000. Economists called the result “shockingly low” and the stock market took a steep, early dive.

The nation’s unemployment rate rose to 8.2% from 8.1% as 642,000 Americans surged into the labor force, the Labor Department said. Monthly job growth averaged 252,000 from December through February, raising hopes that a halting job market was finally kicking into a higher gear, but job growth has slowed down below the level required to reduce overall unemployment.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to a five-week high, evidence that the job market remains sluggish. Weekly applications for unemployment aid rose 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 383,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased for the first time in a month to 374,500 (375,000 is considered the threshold for reducing unemployment).

The government said Thursday that the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.9% in the first three months of the year, slower than first estimated. Consumers and governments spent less than first estimated, businesses restocked more slowly, and the U.S. trade deficit grew sharply.

U.S. consumer spending edged up modestly in April, but personal income growth was the slowest in five months, raising concerns about the ability of Americans to keep spending in the future. Consumer spending increased 0.3% in April following a revised 0.2% gain in March. Americans’ income grew 0.2% in April, the poorest showing since incomes fell 0.1% in November.

The latest global financial jitters are producing big savings for the U.S. government, homeowners and other long-term borrowers, but tough times for savers. The yield on the closely watched 10-year Treasury note — which helps set mortgage rates — swooned to a record low of 1.62% Wednesday. Five years ago, it was 5.03%. Low rates are a huge savings for U.S. taxpayers because they’ll save billions of dollars on the cost of repaying some of the federal debt. A 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was at an all-time low of 3.78% last week.

Homes in some stage of the foreclosure process saw their share of overall U.S. home sales grow in the first quarter even as sales of bank-owned homes fell. The increase was driven by a spike in short sales, or homes that sell for less than what the owner owed on their mortgage. Short sales make up the vast majority of homes sold while still in the foreclosure process. Those that aren’t sold or auctioned off typically end up being repossessed by banks. In the first quarter, short sales grew 25% from a year earlier, hitting a three-year high. In contrast, sales of bank-owned properties declined 15% versus the first three months of last year.

Eurozone

European voters furious that they are not being consulted about how to solve a debt crisis are threatening to derail the plans of political elites at the ballot box in coming weeks. The Irish vote Thursday on a deal negotiated by European Union financial ministers in Brussels that will force nations that use the euro as currency to adhere to strict spending and borrowing limits or be penalized. The fiscal compact, which surrenders sovereignty on budget matters to the European Union, is being demanded by richer nations who are funding bailouts of debtor nations. But whether increasingly angry voters will go along as Europe heads for a summer of elections is a big question.

French voters go to the polls in June in parliamentary elections, and media polls indicate they will vote heavily against candidates who supported the spending cuts known as austerity measures. The German parliament must vote on the fiscal compact in early summer. Chancellor Angela Merkel is a prime backer of the compact — her party has lost significant support in recent elections to the Social Democrats. She may have to agree to allowances for more public spending to get approval. The entire continent is holding its collective breath for June 17 elections in Greece, when Greeks vote for the second time in two months on whether to hand the government to anti-austerity leftists who vow to default on the nation’s debts rather than enact the compact. Such a move could roil financial markets worldwide.

Syria

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Syria on Thursday to stop its attacks, saying the U.N. observers monitoring the cease-fire were not there to watch the killing of innocent people. The warning came as activists reported that Syrian troops again shelled the country’s central region of Houla where more than 100 people were massacred last week. The latest shelling and sniper fire killed at least one person and made scores flee in fear of more government attacks.

Iran

Iran’s key oil industry was briefly affected by the powerful computer virus known as “Flame” that has unprecedented data-snatching capabilities and can eavesdrop on computer users, a senior Iranian military official said Wednesday. The comment is the first direct link between the emergence of the new malware and an attack inside a highly sensitive computer system in Iran, which counts on oil revenue for 80 percent of its income. It would be the latest high-profile virus to penetrate Iran’s computer defenses in the past two years, boosting speculation that Israeli programmers could have struck again. Experts see technological links between Flame and the highly focused Stuxnet virus, which was tailored to disrupt Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in 2010.

“Iran has significantly stepped up its output of low-enriched uranium and total production in the last five years would be enough for at least five nuclear weapons if refined much further”, a U.S. security institute said. The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a think-tank which tracks Iran’s nuclear program closely. Friday’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a Vienna-based U.N. body, showed Iran was pressing ahead with its uranium enrichment work in defiance of U.N. resolutions calling on it to suspend the activity. It said Iran had produced almost 6.2 tons of uranium enriched to a level of 3.5 percent since it began the work in 2007 – some of which has subsequently been further processed into higher-grade material. This is nearly 750 kg more than in the previous IAEA report issued in February, and ISIS said Iran’s monthly production had risen by roughly a third. ‘This total amount of 3.5 percent low enriched uranium hexafluoride, if further enriched to weapon grade, is enough to make over five nuclear weapons,’ ISIS said in its analysis.

Egypt

The official results of the first round of the Egyptian presidential elections are in, and the run-off will be between Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy and independent candidate Ahmad Shafik, former president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister. ASSIST News Service reports that many Islamists, fearing Shafik if he comes to power — especially after he vowed to bring back order and security within one month of his election — are blaming Coptic Christians for voting for him and bringing him to second place. Copts have been accused of being “traitors” and “anti-revolutionary” for voting to bring back the old regime. “These accusations are part of a terror and intimidation campaign to prevent them from voting again for Shafik, or even boycotting the elections altogether, which would be the same as voting for Morsy,” said Egyptian writer Saad Namnam. Coptic human rights lawyer Athanasious Williams says that regardless of who wins the election, persecution of Christians will continue in Egypt — the question is just how bad it will be. “I am expecting the worst in all cases,” he said. “If the Islamists take over, we will be like Iran, and they will enforce sharia law, and there will be no freedom of religion. There will be no freedoms of any kind. … If Shafik takes over, it will be the same way it was before.”

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber detonated a vehicle full of explosives outside a district police headquarters in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing five policemen. The attack in Kandahar province’s Argistan district also wounded six policemen. Kandahar is the spiritual heartland of the Taliban and has been one of the most heavily contested areas between the militants and Afghan and foreign forces. The U.S. poured tens of thousands of additional troops into Kandahar and other areas of the south in 2009 and 2010 to reverse the Taliban’s momentum. While violence has fallen in some areas, attacks still occur frequently.

The number of Afghan civilians killed has dropped 36% so far this year compared with last, the U.N. said Wednesday, the first time the death toll has declined over multiple months since the United Nations started keeping track. The senior U.N. envoy for the country, Jan Kubis, called the trend promising but cautioned that too many civilians were still being caught up in the violence as insurgents fight Afghan and foreign forces. Kubis’ office said 579 civilians were killed in the first four months of this year, down from 898 killed in the same period of 2011. The number of wounded dropped from 1,373 to 1,216 in the January to April period.

Iraq

Bombs exploded at a crowded Baghdad restaurant and a near police patrol Thursday, among attacks that killed at least 18 people and wounded 53 in Iraq’s bloodiest day in more than a month. Five blasts hit the capital, and the northern city of Mosul was the scene of a fatal shooting attack. Violence has fallen in Iraq since a wave of sectarian bloodshed in 2006 and 2007, but insurgents carry out frequent attacks on security forces and civilians to undermine the Shiite-led government. The violence threatens the stability of the country following the pullout of U.S. forces in December.

Nigeria

Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), has raised the alarm over silent and unreported killings of Christians in the northern part of the country, according to AllAfrica.com. As violence against Christians by the Islamist group Boko Haram continues to escalate, Oritsejafor called on CAN leaders across the nation to organize times of prayers and fasting, adding that it was imperative for Christians to be security-conscious at all times. Oritsejafor said a pastor in Maiduguri had contacted him complaining that the “killing is going on from door to door, shop to shop, church to church. … But these things are no longer heard on television. Nobody talks about it. It is only when police station is burnt or bomb explosion that catches people’s attention.” Oritsejafor declared June 16 as a special day of prayer and fasting for Nigeria.

Wildfires

A massive wildfire that has burned more than 300 square miles in the Gila National Forest has become the largest fire in New Mexico history. The erratic Whitewater-Baldy blaze grew overnight to more than 197,000 acres. The Gila forest fire is also the largest currently burning in the country. It formed last week when two lightning-sparked blazes merged in an isolated mountainous area in southwestern New Mexico, where it has destroyed about a dozen homes and prompted evacuations of nearby towns and health alerts for some of the state’s largest cities. About 1,200 firefighters from around the state were battling the growing blaze, but that they continue to face low humidity and shifting winds in their efforts. It is only 10% contained. Twenty structures have been destroyed, but the blaze so far has threatened few communities and was burning away from many of New Mexico’s largest towns and cities. But state officials issued air quality alerts for cities as far as Albuquerque, nearly 170 miles away.

Officials say 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 57% contained and officials are warning people to stay away from the nearby Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

Weather

The remnants of Tropical Storm Beryl spun off a tornado that destroyed three homes and damaged dozens of others near the North Carolina coast Wednesday as the system sped toward the Atlantic. Between 40 and 50 homes were damaged near Peletier in the western part of Carteret County. There were no reports of injuries. The remnants of the storm were skimming the North Carolina coast and prompting flood watches in eastern North Carolina. Beryl was expected to gain strength again over the Atlantic.

Even by the standards of the typically torrid Desert Southwest, the heat expected over the past couple of days has been excessive and record-breaking. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for parts of Arizona, California, and Nevada for Thursday and Friday as temperatures are expected to reach up to 119 degrees in some areas. Bullhead City, Arizona, reached 118 degrees Thursday.

The world’s air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant. Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. It’s been at least 800,000 years — probably more — since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, the scientists said. Carbon dioxide is the chief greenhouse gas and stays in the atmosphere for 100 years. Some carbon dioxide is natural, mainly from decomposing dead plants and animals. Before the Industrial Age, levels were around 275 parts per million.

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