Signs of the Times (7/20/12)

Boy Scouts Reaffirm Ban on Homosexuals

After a confidential two-year review, the Boy Scouts of America on Tuesday emphatically reaffirmed its policy of excluding “gays,” ruling out any changes despite relentless protest campaigns by some critics. An 11-member special committee, formed discreetly by top Scout leaders in 2010, “came to the conclusion that this policy is absolutely the best policy for the Boy Scouts,” the organization’ national spokesman, Deron Smith, told The Associated Press. Smith said the committee, comprised of professional scout executives and adult volunteers, was unanimous in its conclusion — preserving a long-standing policy that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000.

Chick-fil-A’s Gay Marriage Stance Causes a Social Storm

The fact that Chick-fil-A is a company that espouses Christian values is no secret. The fact that its 1,600 fast-food chicken restaurants across the country are closed on Sundays has long been testament to that. But the comments of company President Dan Cathy about gay marriage to Baptist Press on Monday have ignited a social media wildfire. “Guilty as charged,” Cathy said when asked about his company’s support of the traditional family unit as opposed to gay marriage. “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that,” Cathy is quoted as saying. Strong feelings of support and disagreement have followed, making Chick-fil-A the top Google trend on Thursday morning as the company’s Facebook and Twitter pages were burning up with arguments. Many charged the company with hate-mongering.

  • It’s curious how taking a principled stand is ‘hate-mongering’ when the venomous language comes from the gays and their supporters

Gallup Reports New Low in Religious Confidence

Americans’ confidence in organized religion, slowly but steadily declining since the 1970s, slipped to a new low in the latest survey by the Gallup Organization, the Religion News Service reports. Today, only 44 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in “the church or organized religion,” Gallup said, compared to 68 percent in the mid-1970s. Pollsters did not name any church or religion in particular, letting respondents define that as they wished, the organization said. Most Protestants, 56 percent, expressed confidence in the church, but only 46 percent of Catholics did. In 1975, “the church or organized religion” was the highest-rated of 16 institutions Gallup asked about. Today, it ranks fourth, behind the military, small business and the police. The least-trusted institution is Congress, in which only 13 percent of Americans voice “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence.

  • The end-time anti-Christ spirit is hard at work advancing Satan’s agenda, eventually resulting in the great falling away the Bible prophesies

Obama Administration Directly Funds Planned Parenthood

The Obama administration has again circumvented state or local governments to fund the country’s leading abortion provider, Baptist Press reports. Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis (Tenn.) will receive nearly $1.2 million from the Department of Health and Human Services during the next three years, a move that comes after the Tennessee legislature eliminated more than $700,000 in state funds for the Memphis Planned Parenthood affiliate and Shelby County transferred a nearly $400,000 family planning contract to another entity, according to the Nashville Tennessean. Last year, New Hampshire barred Planned Parenthood of Northern New Hampshire’s six state clinics from receiving $1.8 million in federal and state family planning funds, but the Obama administration granted a $1 million contract to the organization three months later. Federal family planning funds may not be used for the performance of abortions, but pro-life advocates point out the government grants free up other funds for use in Planned Parenthood’s abortion business. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates received government grants, contracts and reimbursements that totaled $487.4 million in 2009-10, the latest year for which statistics are available.

  • Obama desires to run the country like the Czars of old through fiats that circumvent both Congress and the Judicial System when they don’t do what he wants them to do

Families Sue U.S. over Drone Killings of Americans in Yemen

Families of three Americans killed in drone attacks in Yemen last year have sued Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus and two top special operations forces commanders. The airstrikes killed radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a senior figure in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman; and Samir Khan, the editor of an online, English-language jihadist publication. The suit contends the targeted killings “violated the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law.” Al-Awlaki was linked to the plot of the so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, who faces a military trial in a shooting spree that killed 13 and wounded 32 at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009.

  • This is the type of problem that ensues from fighting an undeclared war. Although we have declared a war against terrorism, Geneva conventions require a declaration of war against specific countries. While it appears the CIA is doing a good job attacking known terrorists, the situation is fraught with legal issues.

Arizona Gets Waiver for No Child Left Behind

Arizona is among six new states that have been granted relief from key requirements of the controversial federal No Child Left Behind law, meaning the state won’t face sanctions if it doesn’t meet certain benchmarks by 2014. The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that the six states and the District of Columbia have been approved for waivers from the decade-old law, which was designed to toughen accountability in public schools and dramatically expanded the federal role in testing students and rating schools. The waivers for Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon and South Carolina bring the total number of states to 32. Four others are still being evaluated. The waiver will give Arizona schools more flexibility in how they use federal money to improve student achievement.

  • The Obama administration is essentially eviscerating the NCLB program. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up for debate, but at least it’s a surprising shift away from federal to state control.

Homes Speaking Foreign Language in U.S. Increasing

The percentage of U.S. population ages five and older that speak a foreign language at home has increased from 13.8% in in 1990 to 20.6% in 2010 according to an analysis of census data. Of those who speak a foreign language at home, 42.4% admit that they don’t speak English very well.

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits surged last week, although the figures may have been distorted by seasonal factors. The Labor Department says applications rose by 34,000 to a seasonally adjusted 386,000. The increase reversed a big drop the previous week. Economists note that the government struggles to adjust the data to reflect temporary summertime layoffs in the auto industry. And this year, many automakers are foregoing the shutdowns because stronger sales have kept plants busier, making the figures difficult to analyze.

The heat and drought ravaging much of the nation will soon be hitting America at the supermarket counter: cheese and milk prices will rise first, and corn and meat are probably not far behind. Temperatures in the 90s and above mean cows give less milk, and sky-high feed prices are making it more expensive to feed them. Add to that the cost dairies must pay for fans and sprinkler systems to keep the animals cool during long hot days and nights. Milk prices are actually the lowest they’ve been in 18 months because of surpluses built up over an ultra-mild winter and spring. By August, the cost of a gallon of milk at the supermarket could rise by 10 to 15 cents and by 2013 an additional 25 cents on top of that.

Builders broke ground on the most new homes and apartments in nearly four years last month. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that housing starts rose 6.9% in June from May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 760,000. That’s the highest since October 2008. Single-family housing starts rose for the fourth straight month to a two-year high.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke painted a somewhat darker picture of the economy Tuesday but gave no hint the central bank is poised to act to provide further stimulus. Bernanke also reminded the Senate Banking Committee that the nation is at risk of slipping back into a recession if Congress doesn’t reach a compromise to avoid a “fiscal cliff” — a confluence of tax increases and spending cuts that are slated to take effect at year’s end that would stymie growth.

Risky lending caused private student loan debt to balloon in the past decade, leaving many Americans struggling to pay off loans that they can’t afford, a government study says. Private lenders gave out money without considering whether borrowers would repay, then bundled and resold the loans to investors to avoid losing money when students defaulted. The private student loans spiked from $5 billion in 2001 to more than $20 billion in 2008. After the financial crisis, as lending standards tightened, the market shrank to $6 billion in 2011.

Middle East

Christians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip are taking a stand against forced conversions to Islam, CBN News reports. In an unusual public demonstration, men and women gathered in front of the Church of Saint Porphyrius Monday to protest the abduction and forced conversion of members of their congregation — a 25-year-old man and a 31-year-old mother of three — who are now staying with a Muslim official for “protection” from their Christian families. Forced conversion to Islam is not a new phenomenon in Gaza, but public protests by Christians are, according to Labib Nabanat, coordinator of the Israeli and Palestinian Bible Societies. “In the past, there were cases involving women, whole families and younger men,” Nabanat said. “But there has never before been such a public protest by Christians, which means they’ve reached the point of terrible desperation. … There’s no doubt that the general atmosphere on the street under the rule of an Islamist government has Christians feeling more and more under pressure.”

Turkey is building a new refugee camp for up to 10,000 Syrian refugees, officials said Tuesday, as hundreds more people fled the escalating violence. Turkey’s crisis management center said the camp is being set up near the town of Karkamis, in Gaziantep province on the border with Syria. The center said the number of refugees sheltering in eight camps along the 566-mile border reached almost 43,000 on Tuesday.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, standing within earshot of fighting in Syria, said Thursday that Israel would stop Syrian refugees from entering the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights if they try to flee there. The deteriorating situation in Syria has become a mounting concern for Israel, which fears that the collapse of a central regime would give Lebanese Hezbollah militants an opportunity to raid Syrian military arsenals for chemical weapons or sophisticated missiles that could strike Israel.

A lanky, long-haired man wearing a baseball cap and plaid shorts with a fake Michigan driver’s license carried out a deadly suicide attack on a bus full of Israeli vacationers, Bulgarian officials said Thursday. Israel stuck by its claim that the attack was carried out by Iranian-backed Hezbollah, a Lebanese guerrilla group, and threatened retaliation. Seven people — five Israelis, the Bulgarian driver and the bomber — died in the blast Wednesday. Israel has attributed a series of attacks on its citizens around the world in recent months to Iran, threatening to escalate a shadow war between the two arch-enemies.

Syria

White House press secretary Jay Carney said China and Russia “are on the wrong side of history” after the two countries earlier Thursday vetoed a U.N. Security Council effort to press for tougher sanctions against the Assad regime in Syria. The 11-2 vote, with two abstentions from South Africa and Pakistan, was the third double veto of a resolution addressing the Syria crisis. Carney also confirmed that the Obama administration won’t back extending the United Nations supervisory mission in Syria, whose mandate expires at the end of Friday. Carney said that the U.N. peace plan — spearheaded by former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Anna — has failed. Violence has escalated to a point of near chaos with the capital city of Damascus enduring some of the most intense clashes since the uprising began 17 months ago.

The explosion that killed three of Bashar Assad’s inner circle Wednesday eliminated the Syrian president’s top security team and, along with fighting in the capital, may indicate the regime is crumbling, Syria analysts say. Syria’s national security chief  died Thursday of wounds suffered in a rebel blast.Syria’s rebel commander says his forces carried out the attack in Damascus that killed the defense minister and other regime officials. Rebel forces planted a bomb inside a room where senior government officials were meeting Wednesday. Commander Riad al-Asaadsaid the attack marked “the beginning of the end of the regime.” Syrian government forces struck back against rebels with attack helicopters and shelling around Damascus Thursday. The rebels hae killed 21 Syrian border guards in clashes near the nation’s northern border with Iraq.

Libya

A coalition of secular parties in Libya known as the National Forces Alliance won just shy of half the seats allocated to parties in parliamentary elections, besting the party of the Muslim Brotherhood, officials said Tuesday. The results go against the trend of recent elections in the Arab world, where Islamists have predominated in Egypt and Tunisia following the overthrow of longtime rulers in what has been dubbed the “Arab Spring.” The Muslim Brotherhood’s Libyan arm, the Justice and Construction party, took second place with 17 seats. Under a system set up by the transitional government, political parties hold 40% of the seats in the congress and independent candidates with no party affiliations will make up 60%.

Afghanistan

The Taliban said they detonated a bomb on a fuel tanker Wednesday and then opened fire on other NATO supply trucks in a morning attack that destroyed 22 vehicles loaded with fuel and other goods for U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. Violence continues across Afghanistan at a time when its own forces are taking charge of security in more areas as foreign troops continue to withdraw. Two NATO service members were killed in a roadside bombing Wednesday in the east, while another died Tuesday in an insurgent attack in the south. A NATO helicopter crashed in the west, injuring two other service members. And Afghan officials said nine Afghan soldiers died Tuesday night when militants attacked a checkpoint in in the south.

Pakistan

A minibus carrying Shiite Muslims hit a roadside bomb in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing 12 of them in the country’s latest apparent sectarian attack. Pakistan is a majority Sunni Muslim state, and most Sunnis and Shiites live peacefully together. But the country has a long history of sectarian attacks by extremists on both sides. Attacks by Sunni militants on Shiites have been on the rise over the last year. The Sunni-Shiite schism over the true heir to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad dates back to the seventh century.

Mali

The vast desert expanse of northern Mali has become a magnet for Islamic extremists who have tightened their grip on Timbuktu and other far-flung towns, imposing a strict form of justice that is prompting tens of thousands of people to flee what some are likening to an African Afghanistan. Recent arrivals at a 92,000-person makeshift camp here at Mauritania’s remote eastern edge describe an influx of jihadists — some homegrown and others possibly from afar — intent on imposing an Islam of lash and gun on Malian Muslims who have long coexisted with Western tourists in the fabled town of Timbuktu. The conditions in Mbera are grim, with many of the Malians sick, hungry and bewildered. But that is better, refugees said in interviews Tuesday, than the grueling life turned upside-down that an unexpected Islamist military triumph inflicted on their lives in a vast region in the heart of West Africa.

India

Hindu extremists in Chhattisgarh State in eastern India forced 15 Christians to participate in Hindu worship rituals, then beat them up and rousted them from their village, Open Doors News reports. The Christians were taken to a temple, where they were forced to worship tribal and Hindu dieties and participate in Hindu rituals. There have been no reports on injuries. Local officials provided no recourse, and the dislocated Christians have sought shelter among other families in a nearby town. The incident is consistent with a pattern of harassment of Christians, especially in rural locations and in the five Indian states, including Chhattisgarh, that have adopted a “Freedom of Religion Act.”

  • It is almost always extremists from other religions attacking Christians – further evidence that Christianity is the One True Religion with the One True God

Wildfires

Greek authorities declared a state of emergency Wednesday in the country’s third-largest city due to raging wildfires nearby, and hundreds of students and residents fled their homes. Authorities said the fires burned on three fronts, coming within 6 miles of the western city of Patras, a port of 220,000 people. Strong winds and soaring temperatures drove the wildfires, which sent smoke over the city. Nine planes and a helicopter were involved in the firefighting effort at Ano Kastritsi and at Argyra, to the east, dumping water on burning pine forests.

Weather

For those traveling to London for the start of next week’s Olympics, London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe has a bit of advice: Pack your wellies. After the wettest June on record in the United Kingdom, the downpour has continued, threatening to disrupt the summer Olympics which begin July 27th. There are contingency plans for the venues of the greatest concern, if those events need to be rescheduled as a last resort.

An ice island twice the size of Manhattan broke free this week from Greenland’s Petermann Glacier in the second major calving at the site in two years. The 46-square-mile island that formed on Monday is about half the size of one that broke off in 2010. The Greenland ice sheet as a whole is shrinking, melting and reducing in size as the result of globally changing air and ocean temperatures and associated changes in circulation patterns in both the ocean and atmosphere.

This year, every state east of the Rockies is enduring its hottest or second-hottest year on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Overall, 28 states are seeing their hottest year since accurate weather records began in 1895. A whopping 63.5% of the USA is now in a drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor. Water worries are springing up across the Midwest amid worsening the drought conditions. Demand is approaching record levels in some areas, forcing voluntary and mandatory usage restrictions as utilities strain to pump enough water while reservoirs and other sources shrink.

  • End-time weather disturbances and disparities will continue to grow more frequent and extreme

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