Signs of the Times (6/11/12)

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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