Signs of the Times (7/13/12)

Traditional Marriage Laws Under Attack

As the debate over gay marriage intensifies on the heels of President Obama’s endorsement, an under-the-radar case pending before the Supreme Court has the potential, some say, to invalidate traditional marriage laws altogether. The latest ruling comes from the California-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that Arizona’s recent attempt to strip health benefits for domestic partners of state workers is illegal. But one veteran 9th Circuit judge thinks his colleagues have declared a war on marriage. Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote in dissent that his colleagues were ignoring Supreme Court precedent and all but called upon the high court to take the case. Arizona’s attorney general recently filed a brief with the justices asking them to accept O’Scannlain’s invitation.

Episcopal Church Approves Same-Sex Blessing Rite

Episcopalians approved a churchwide ceremony Tuesday to bless same-sex couples, the latest step toward accepting homosexuality by a denomination that nine years ago elected the first openly gay bishop. The denomination voted to authorize a provisional rite for same-sex unions for the next three years. Supporters of the same-sex blessings insisted it was not a marriage ceremony despite any similarities. Called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” the ceremony includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings. The Episcopalians also cleared the way for transgender ordination. Other mainline Protestant churches have struck down barriers to gay ordination in recent years or allowed individual congregations to celebrate gay or lesbian unions. However, only one major U.S. Protestant group, the United Church of Christ, has endorsed same-sex marriage outright.

  • The abandonment of Christian fundamentals is one of the clear signs that we are rapidly moving through the latter stages of the end-times

Arizona Pastor Begins 60-Day Jail Sentence for Hosting Home Bible Study

Michael Salman, the Phoenix pastor who was fined and sentenced to jail for holding Bible studies in his home, began his 60-day jail sentence July 9 at 10 a.m., the Christian Post reports. He asked for prayers as he left his wife and six children to report to Maricopa County Jail. Salman, an ordained pastor and owner of a burger restaurant who hosted Bible studies for seven years on his 4.6-acre property, was found guilty of failing to comply with building, zoning, fire and safety codes applicable to churches. In 2008, the city of Phoenix ordered him to comply with code requirements for churches after neighbors complained about the Bible studies, which drew 50 people to a gazebo in his backyard. When Salman refused, saying the order violated his free exercise rights, he was fined $12,180, 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. “They’re cracking down on religious activities and religious use,” he told Fox News Radio last week, contending that the building used in his yard was not a church. “They’re attacking what I as a Christian do in the privacy of my home.”

Americans Continue to Reduce Giving to Churches

The economy continues to impact Americans’ giving to churches and nonprofit organizations, according to a recent Barna Group survey showing that one-third of those surveyed had reduced the amount they gave to churches in the past three months, Baptist Press reports. “Church donors stayed more consistent in their giving than did those donating to nonprofits. However, church donors are now showing increasing fatigue. We expect the next six months to be continued cautiousness for donors of all types.” Barna also found that one-third of the roughly 1,000 adults surveyed said they had been affected in a major way by the economic downturn, that 41 percent of adults had reduced giving to nonprofits in the last three months as a result of the economy, and that 11 percent had completely dropped all giving to churches in recent months.

Obama Administration Closing Nine Border Patrol Stations

The Obama administration is moving to shut down nine Border Patrol stations across four states, triggering a backlash from local law enforcement, members of Congress and Border Patrol agents themselves. Critics of the move warn the closures will undercut efforts to intercept drug and human traffickers in well-traveled corridors north of the U.S.-Mexico border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it’s closing the stations in order to reassign agents to high-priority areas closer to the border. But at least one Border Patrol supervisor in Texas has called on local officers to “voice your concerns” to elected officials.

Senate Set to Approve Controversial UN Gun Treaty

As the United Nations prepares its final push to ratify a controversial gun treaty, the U.S. Senate is set to approve the measure in late July. Critics say the treaty will not only give away U.S. sovereignty but directly attack the individual gun rights of American citizens, according to a report published Thursday at Stand Up America. Known as “the U.N. small arms treaty,” the measure would regulate private gun ownership, according to firearms rights watchdog groups. The treaty has been in the works for several years, and both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have expressed full support for the measure, which critics say is an underhanded attempt to implement massive gun control without having to go through the normal legislative process in Congress.

83% of Doctors Consider Quitting Over Obamacare

Eighty-three percent of American physicians have considered leaving their practices over President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, according to a survey released by the Doctor Patient Medical Association. The DPMA, a non-partisan association of doctors and patients, surveyed a random selection of 699 doctors nationwide. The survey found that the majority have thought about bailing out of their careers over the legislation, which was upheld last month by the Supreme Court. Even if doctors do not quit their jobs over the ruling, America will face a shortage of at least 90,000 doctors by 2020. The new health care law increases demand for physicians by expanding insurance coverage. This change will exacerbate the current shortage as more Americans live past 65. By 2025 the shortage will balloon to over 130,000, Len Marquez, the director of government relations at the American Association of Medical Colleges predicted.

Majority say Obama has Made Things Worse

A new poll says President Obama has changed things for the worse in the United States. A survey by The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper, says that 56% of likely voters believe Obama has transformed the nation in a negative way, compared with 35% who believe the country has changed for the better on his watch. Most of the concerns revolve around the economy.

Facts Discredit Obama’s ‘Fair Share’ Claims

President Obama has elevated one question to a key campaign issue — what is a “fair share” of taxes? He claims the wealthy are not paying their fair share. However, IRS figures show the top 1 percent of earners take home 16.9 percent of the nation’s total income, but pay 36.7 percent of the nation’s income taxes. The top 2 percent of earners pay almost half of all taxes. And the top 10 percent earn just over 43 percent of the total income but  pay more than 70 percent of all income taxes. The top 1 percent pay an average tax rate of more than 24 percent. The top 5 percent — a tax rate of a little more than 20 percent. The top 10 percent — about 18 percent. For the bottom 50 percent of taxpayers, the average rate is 1.85 percent.

  • What’s really not fair is Obama whining about a non-issue. It’s the wealthy who are already supporting the millions of people on various forms of welfare.

Economic News

The budget deficit grew by nearly $60 billion in June, remaining on track to exceed $1 trillion for the fourth straight year. Through the first nine months of the budget year, the federal deficit totaled $904.2 billion, the Treasury Department reported Thursday. The Congressional Budget Office predicts the deficit for the full year, which ends on Sept. 30, will total $1.17 trillion. That would be a slight improvement from the $1.3 trillion deficit recorded in 2011, but still greater than any deficit before President Obama took office.

Wholesale prices rose only slightly last month, as higher costs for food and pickup trucks offset another drop in energy prices. Overall inflation stayed mild. The Labor Department says its producer price index increased 0.1% in June. For the past 12 months through June, wholesale prices have risen 0.7%.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits plunged last week to the lowest level in four years, but the decline was partly due to temporary factors. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped 26,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000. Automakers traditionally close their plants the first two weeks of July, but this year they are limiting shutdowns to boost production.

Americans stepped up their borrowing in May, helped by the largest one-month gain in credit card debt in more than four years. But overall credit card use is still well below where it was just before the Great Recession began. The Federal Reserve said Monday that consumer borrowing rose by $17.1 billion in May from April. Borrowing has increased steadily over the past two years. But most of the gain has been driven by auto and student loans.

Banks are increasingly placing homes with unpaid mortgages on a countdown that could deliver a swell of new foreclosed properties to the housing market by early next year, potentially weighing further on home values. The number of U.S. homes entering the foreclosure process for the first time increased in June for the second month in a row.

Corn and soybean prices surged Monday after the latest government report showed that a widespread drought in the middle of the country is hurting this year’s crop. The U.S. Department of Agriculture report said 30% of the corn in the 18 states that produce most of the nation’s crop is now considered in poor or very poor condition.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that the trade deficit fell 3.8% to $48.7 billion in May, from $50.6 billion in April. Exports rose 0.2% to $183.1 billion. American companies sold more products in Europe and China, while cheaper oil lowered the amount spent on imports. Imports dropped 0.7% to $231.8 billion. The narrower trade gap is less of a drag on economic growth, although it still adds to the overall debt load.

San Bernardino became the third California city to choose Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection after a City Council vote on Tuesday night. The Southern California city of about 210,000 people will also become the second largest in the nation ever to file for bankruptcy. Stockton, the Northern California city of nearly 300,000, became the biggest when it filed for Chapter 9 on June 28. The much smaller city of Mammoth Lakes voted for bankruptcy July 3. The city is facing a budget shortfall of $45.8 million. It has already stopped paying some vendors, and may not be able to make payroll over the next three months.

Eurozone

Spain’s borrowing costs rose to dangerously high levels Monday. The interest rate, or yield, on the country’s 10-year bonds hit 7% Monday, a level that market-watchers consider is unaffordable for a country to raise money on the bond markets in the long term and the point at which Greece, Ireland and Portugal all sought an international bailout.

Euro area finance ministers agreed early Tuesday on the terms of a bailout for Spain’s troubled banks, saying that $36.88 billion can be ready by end of this month. The finance ministers for the 17 countries that use the euro as their official currency will return to Brussels on July 20 to finalize the agreement, having first obtained the approval of their governments or parliaments.

Unemployment in Greece has risen yet again, reaching 22.5% in April this year, a massive jump from the 16.2% in the same month last year, and up from the 22% in March. The country is mired in a deep recession, currently in its fifth year.

Credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded Italy’s government bond rating two notches on concern that deteriorating financial conditions in Europe will lead to a sharp rise in borrowing costs.

Egypt

Egypt’s Islamist-dominated parliament convened Tuesday in defiance of a ruling by the country’s highest court and swiftly voted to seek a legal opinion on the decision that invalidated the chamber over apparent election irregularities. The lawmakers’ session was brief — it lasted just five minutes — but it pushed Egypt deeper into a potential power struggle between new President Mohammed Morsi and the powerful military, which has vowed to uphold the judicial ruling that led to parliament being dissolved.

Syria

Syrian rebels are growing more effective as they have increasingly turned to roadside bombs and other guerrilla tactics to topple the regime of Bashar Assad. Syrian forces have pushed rebels from major cities, such as Homs, but insurgents operate with near impunity in parts of the countryside, outside the reach of Syria’s overstretched military. Russia on Monday signaled that it would not sign new weapons contracts with Syria until the situation there calms down. Putting it in conflict with the West, Russia has blocked the U.N.’s Security Council from taking strong, punitive action against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and is seen as Syria’s key arms supplier.

Syrian rebels say an attempt to renew a U.N. peace plan will only help the murderous regime Bashar Assad remain in power. Anti-regime activists in Syria said Friday that government gunners rained shells on a poor, farming village before armed thugs moved in, leaving scores of people dead in what rebels claim could be one of the worst single days of bloodshed in the uprising against Assad’s regime.

Afghanistan

The Taliban took responsibility Monday for a bomb blast in Afghanistan that killed six American troops, while other militants launched suicide attacks on two police headquarters that left 20 people dead. The deadly attacks on a particularly violent day showed the militants’ resilience, with the target date of NATO’s handover of security responsibility to local forces less than 18 months away. Moving the mountain of U.S. military gear out of Afghanistan after more than a decade of war will cost billions of dollars and prove far more difficult than last year’s withdrawal from Iraq, a Pentagon official said Tuesday.

Pakistan

At least half a dozen Taliban gunmen opened fire on a compound housing policemen in eastern Pakistan on Thursday, killing nine of them. The police who were targeted in the city of Lahore were training to become prison guards. The Pakistani Taliban have waged a blood insurgency against the government over the past few years, demanding it break ties with the United States and establish Islamic law throughout the country. The militants have killed thousands of soldiers, police and civilians in attacks.

Yemen

A suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside a police academy in the capital Sanaa, killing and wounding at least 20 people. The attacker threw himself into a crowd of cadets leaving the academy today after class. Ansar al-Sharia, an offshoot of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, claimed responsibility for the bombing. Yemen’s military is on the offensive against the radical group and has recently retaken several al-Qaeda-held towns in the south.

Nigeria

Coordinated attacks against Christian villages in Nigeria’s Plateau State this weekend left 58 people dead, the Wall Street Journal reports. The assailants launched “sophisticated attacks” on 13 villages near the city of Jos early Saturday, said Mustapha Salisu, spokesman for a special task force of policemen and soldiers deployed to the area to curb violence. “They came in hundreds,” he said. “Some had [police] uniforms, and some even had bulletproof vests.” He said the task force fought back for hours and lost two policemen in the battle, which also claimed the lives of 14 civilians and 21 assailants and displaced more than 300 people. Plateau State has been the site of increasing religious tension and violence in recent months as the Islamic terror group Boko Haram has declared a “war” to annihilate Nigerian Christians.

Mexico

U.S. and Mexican authorities have found two well-built drug-smuggling tunnels featuring power, lights and ventilation in the past week, U.S. agents found the exit of a 750-foot-long passageway in a small business in San Luis, Ariz., near Yuma. Mexican soldiers found the entrance in an ice plant in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora. In addition, the Mexican army found an unfinished, 600-foot-long tunnel that was started in a Tijuana bathroom and headed for a warehouse district in the San Diego suburb of Otay Mesa.

Wildfires

Wind-fanned wildfires in southern Idaho are proving stubborn, but across the West as a whole, firefighters are gaining ground and keeping an eye on the weather. A fast-moving blaze spread across nearly 300 square miles of sagebrush and dry grass in Idaho. Twelve large (over 100 acres) wildfires are burning in Idaho, the most in the nation. A total of 316,000 acres (494 sq. miles) have been consumed, but only five structures have been destroyed.

Weather

The first half of the year has been the USA’s warmest on record. Twenty-eight states and more than 100 cities have posted their warmest first six months on record, based on national weather data that go back to 1895. The national temperature this year was 52.9 degrees, which is 4.5 degrees above average and 1.2 degrees above the next-warmest year, which was 2006. Chicago is almost 7 degrees warmer than average this year. From January to June, a whopping 22,356 daily record high temperatures have been set across the USA. Temperatures flirted with the record high of 115 degrees Tuesday in Phoenix.

A severe drought is spreading across the Midwest this summer, resulting in some of the worst conditions in decades and leaving more than a thousand counties designated as natural disaster areas. Farmers in the region are suffering, with pastures for livestock and fields of crops becoming increasingly parched. Almost two-thirds of the nation — around 61% — is now in a drought, the highest percentage in at least 12 years, federal climate scientists announced Thursday. The Northeast is the only region untouched, although many parts of it are still classified as abnormally dry. In addition to the wildfire-charred West, the Midwest corn belt is particularly hard-hit. In Indianapolis, which the National Weather Service says is enduring its longest dry spell in 104 years, Mayor Greg Ballard has declared a water shortage warning, banning watering of lawns and restricting other water uses. The twelve states experiencing the severest drought are Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Missouri.

Heavy rain triggered flash floods and mudslides in southern Japan on Thursday, causing at least 15 deaths and leaving 11 more people missing. Television footage showed residents wading through muddy, knee-deep water on streets. Others shoveled out mud from their homes. Hundreds of homes were destroyed or damaged, and tens of thousands of people had to evacuate the area threatened by swollen rivers and mudslides. The heavy rains also disrupted local train services, blocked off roads and left about 22,000 homes without electricity. The Meteorological Agency said as much as 20 inches of rain fell overnight. It predicted up to 8 inches more rainfall through Friday.

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