Signs of the Times (6/22/12)

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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