Archive for August, 2012

Signs of the Times (8/31/12)

August 31, 2012

GOP OKs Platform Barring Abortions, Gay Marriage

Republicans emphatically approved a toughly worded party platform at their national convention Tuesday that would ban all abortions and gay marriages, reshape Medicare into a voucher-like program and reject federal spending as an antidote for the nation’s ailing job market. In contrast, the national Democratic Party’s platform committee endorsed homosexual “marriage” this weekend and called for the repeal of a federal law that recognizes marriage as between a man and a woman.

  • End-time lines of demarcation will continue to grow clearer and more polarized, forcing choices between the commandments of God and the ways of man

Texas Voter ID law Struck Down by Federal Judges

A law in Texas that would allow would-be voters to cast ballots with only certain forms of photographic identification has been knocked down by a U.S. court in Washington. Voter ID laws have become a hot-button issue leading up to the November presidential election, pitting state legislatures proposing and sometimes passing such laws against civil rights advocacy organizations who argue the laws are designed to keep minorities from the ballots. In issuing their 56-page opinion Thursday, the judges wrote that the Texas law likely would have a “retrogressive effect” on the ability of minority voters to cast ballots and said the “implicit costs” of obtaining necessary ID “will fall most heavily on the poor.” Texas and other proponents of voter ID laws say the measures are necessary to prevent voter impersonation or fraud. Last year, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Wisconsin passed new voter ID laws while Texas, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee tightened existing laws.

WorldNetDaily.com reports that the voter ID data submitted by the group, the Brennan Center for Justice, has been called into question by experts and has been contradicted by other credible studies. This “radical group has a history of biased research” utilized in federal court cases.

  • We can’t operate a car without proper ID, so why not voting which is far more important? Because the Obama administration knows most minorities vote Democratic.

Texas Students Revolt Against Mandatory RFID Tracking Chips

Students and parents at two San Antonio schools are in revolt over a program that forces kids to wear RFID tracking name tags which are used to pinpoint their location on campus as well as outside school premises. Students at John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School will be mandated to wear the tags which will be used to track them on campus as well as when they enter and leave school. Andrea Hernandez is leading a group of students who refuse to wear the tags because in her words, “It makes me uncomfortable. It’s an invasion of my privacy,” Hernandez is being backed by parents and privacy experts.

  • RFID chips will become more and more prevalent, eventually used as the end-time “mark of the beast”

Study on Troubled ‘Gay’ Families Affirmed

The University of Texas at Austin says it has investigated and found no evidence of research misconduct in a study by associate professor Mark Regnerus that found adult children from “gay” families are “more apt to report being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law” than children from traditional mom-and-dad households. It said a four-member advisory panel of senior university faculty members was consulted and an outside consultant, Alan Price, was asked to review the charges as part of the university inquiry into allegations made by Scott Rosensweig in a letter to the school. The university said it considers the issue closed after school Research Integrity Officer Robert Peterson told officials “none of the allegations of scientific misconduct put forth by Mr. [Rosensweig was] substantiated either by physical data, written materials, or by information provided during the interviews.”

French Anti-Semitic Attacks Up By 40 Percent

Anti-Semitic attacks against Jews in France have risen by 40 percent in the past five months, since an Islamic terrorist murdered a rabbi and three children at a Jewish day school in Toulouse, CBN News reports. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls confirmed “an increase of 40 percent in anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish crimes” since the March 19 attack, when Mohammed Merah gunned down 30-year old Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, his 3- and 6-year-old sons, and the school principal’s 8-year-old daughter. Valls called it a “shocking number” because “French authorities on both sides of the political aisle” immediately took the right steps in response to the murders. France has the world’s third-largest Jewish population (about 500,000), behind Israel (close to 6 million) and the United States (about 6.5 million).

  • End-time persecution of Jews and Christians will continue to escalate

West Nile Cases Rise 40%  Last Week

Federal health officials say that West Nile virus cases are up 40 percent since last week and are on pace to rival the record years of 2002 and 2003. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 1,590 cases of the mosquito-borne disease and 66 deaths so far this year. Half of the cases are in Texas. The disease first appeared in the United States in 1999, and health officials say this summer’s hot, dry weather may have contributed to the current boom in cases.

Distracted Walking Endangers Teens

A new study suggests “distracted walking” is taking a toll on teenagers as the number of pedestrian injuries soars among 16- to 19-year-olds even as it drops among nearly every other age group. The study found that the number of teens injured in pedestrian accidents rose 25% in the five-year period from 2006 to 2010, compared with 2001-05. Safe Kids Worldwide, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., suggested the rise in teen injuries “is related to distraction, caused by the use of electronics and handheld devices while walking.” Pew Research found that teens send and receive an average of 110 text messages daily.

Government Sets Fuel-Economy Goal of 54.5 by 2025

Strict new federal fuel-economy and carbon-emission standards made final Tuesday are the biggest technological challenge to the auto industry since the government began regulating emissions in 1970 and mileage in 1975. The tough “CAFE” standard (for corporate average fuel economy) sets the equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon as the average the auto industry must achieve by 2025, up from 29.7 mpg now and 35.5 mpg in 2016. As a result, we’ll be seeing a lot more gas-electric hybrids and plug-in hybrids. More electric cars. A few that run on natural gas. Maybe a few more hydrogen-fueled cars. Smaller cars powered by smaller gasoline engines, most using turbochargers to get back the power they lose as they give up size. More parts made from composites and high-price aluminum, titanium and high-strength steel.

Economic News

The economy grew at a 1.7% annual rate in the April-June quarter, boosted by slightly stronger consumer spending and greater exports. Economists expect some improvement in growth in the second half of the year after seeing more positive data in July. But most believe the economy will keep growing at a subpar rate of around 2%.Growth at or below 2% is not enough to lower the unemployment rate, which was 8.3% in July. Most expect the unemployment rate to stay above 8% for the rest of this year.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits was unchanged last week at a seasonally adjusted 374,000, suggesting slow improvement in the job market. Unemployment applications have risen slightly over the past three weeks. Employers added 163,000 jobs in July, not enough to lower the unemployment rate, which ticked up to 8.3% from June’s 8.2%. July’s hiring gains were an improvement from the previous three months, when the economy created 73,000 jobs a month on average.

Consumer spending rose 0.4% in July after being unchanged in June and declining in May. Income grew 0.3%, matching gains in May and June. The savings rate after taxes dipped to 4.2%. That’s down from 4.3% in June, a level that had been the highest in a year. U.S. retailers Thursday reported strong sales gains for August despite escalating worries about the anemic economic recovery.

Local Chinese governments recently unveiling more than $1 trillion of new stimulus funds. Chinese industrial companies’ profits fell 2.7% in the first seven months of 2012, a far cry from the 28.3% rise in the same period last year. China’s second-quarter GDP growth of 7.6% was down slightly from the 8.1% mark in the first quarter.

Instead of the U.S. leading the world in alternative energy, China is going to take the lead. Beijing just announced that it plans to invest a whopping $372 billion in alternative energy, including major steps to reduce the country’s energy demand and clean up pollution. It will likely make China the world leader in wind power, solar power, hydropower and more.

Middle East

Egypt’s Islamist president is using former jihadists to mediate with radical Islamists in Sinai, trying to ensure a halt in militant attacks in return for a stop in a military offensive in the lawless peninsula. The move marks a dramatic change from the iron fist policy of heavy crackdowns and waves of arrests under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, which critics say only fueled support for militancy among Sinai’s Bedouin population by subjecting them to torture and other abuses. But the dialogue and any possible truce could raise concerns in neighboring Israel, which has been targeted in cross-border militant attacks and has urged Egypt to stamp out the groups. The dialogue also raised concerns among some in Egypt that it would give a de facto recognition to some of the most hard-core, fringe Islamist movements, which have gained followers in Sinai and in other parts of the country.

The number of Syrian refugees has doubled in Jordan over the past week and may soon top 100,000 in Turkey, prompting pleas for help from both countries and calls for a safe zone for those fleeing inside Syria. About 400-500 refugees were arriving daily in the summer to refugee camps, but in recent weeks, up to 5,000 Syrians a day were coming. Turkey says 80,000 Syrians are in nine overflowing refugee camps, and more than 10,000 are waiting at its border. Turkey plans to ask the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to consider protecting a border zone inside Syria where people can live safely.

Iran, in continuing to support the Syrian government’s crackdown against protesters, publicly stated that it is sending military personnel from its elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to Syria. Though many have pointed for quite some time to the symbiotic relationship between Tehran and Damascus, including Iran’s training of Syrian cyber police and sending tactical support and cash, the statement appears to be the Iranian regime’s first public account of military participation in Syria. More than 23,000 Syrians, including many women and children, have been massacred in the more than 17 months of uprising against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

In a clear rebuke to Syria’s key ally Iran, Egypt’s new president said Thursday that Bashar Assad’s “oppressive” regime has lost its legitimacy and told an international conference in Tehran that the world must stand behind the Syrian rebels. The rebuke  drove home the difficulties for Iran as host of a gathering of the 120-nation Nonaligned Movement, a Cold War-era group that Tehran seeks to transform into a powerful bloc to challenge Western influence. Iran has been forced to endure stinging criticism from its most high-level participant as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited concerns about Iran’s human rights record and said Iran’s condemnations of Israel were unacceptable.

Syria

Syrian rebels have begun a major operation in the Aleppo region, aiming to strike at security compounds and bases around Syria’s largest city, activists said Friday. It would be evidence that weeks of intense bombardments by the Syrian military, including airstrikes, have failed to dislodge the rebels. Instead, fighting rages across the country in a 17-month civil war that shows no sign of ending soon. The rebel offensives in Aleppo are led by a brigade made up mostly of army defectors. Rebels took parts of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital, last month. Since then, government forces have been trying to recapture them. Rebels also control much of the wider Aleppo province, including areas on the border with Turkey.

Egypt

Egypt’s prime minister announced Saturday that the country’s new constitution would be drafted by the end of September, the Washington Post reports. According to International Christian Concern, there is grave concern that Islamic sharia law will become the sole source of Egypt’s legislation, meaning that religious freedom for Christians and other minorities will significantly decline. Already, the Constituent Assembly — a 100-member body appointed by the Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament to draft the document — has proposed that the “principles” of Islam become the highest law in the country. Christians and religious minorities continue to wonder what rights they will have in Egypt’s future.

Iran

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog says Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges for enriching uranium. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest quarterly report, Iran has also “significantly hampered” the agency’s ability to inspect the Parchin military site through “extensive activities” to “sanitize” evidence of possible nuclear explosion tests. Iran has now installed 75% of the machines needed to complete its underground site near the holy city of Qom to process nuclear fuel, possibly for weapons. The news comes as Israel has increased pressure on President Obama to attack the site, suggesting that it will if he won’t.

Afghanistan

The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan says three of its troops have been killed by a man in an Afghan army uniform. The attack is the latest in a rising number of disturbing shootings this year by Afghan soldiers — or insurgents dressed as government troops — on the international forces training them to fight the Taliban as the international coalition withdraws. Similar “insider attacks” have been rising sharply, with 34 of them so far this year. Forty-five coalition members have been killed, mostly Americans.

Iraq

Attackers killed six Iraqi security officials including an army general on Wednesday, officials said, the latest wave of insurgent attacks aimed at undermining the central government. Security forces are a top target for insurgents seeking to destabilize Iraq.

Pakistan

Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed Thursday that a U.S. drone strike last week near the Afghan border killed the son of the founder of the powerful Haqqani militant network, a major blow to one of the most feared groups fighting American troops in Afghanistan. Badruddin Haqqani, who has been described as the organization’s day-to-day operations commander, was killed in one of three strikes that hit militant hideouts in the Shawal Valley in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-6.6 earthquake struck Thursday off the east coast of Greenland, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The USGS says it was followed eight minutes later by a magnitude-5.2 quake in the region. The nearest community to the epicenter is Olonkinbyen, a small weather and radio station on the island of Jan Mayen in the Norwegian Sea about 58 miles to the southeast. The second quake was located 14 miles east of the island.

A 7.6-magnitude undersea quake struck off the eastern coast of the Philippines late Friday, triggering tsunami warnings across the region. At least one house collapsed and power was knocked out in several Philippine cities. A tsunami alert originally was issued for several countries including Japan and for Pacific islands as far away as the Northern Marianas, but most of them were soon lifted

Wildfires

There are currently 37 large wildfires over 100 acres in size burning in the U.S., with 34 of them in the northwest: nine are in Montana, eleven in Idaho, six in Oregon, six in northern California, one in Wyoming and one in Colorado.

Weather

As the long, wet slog that was Hurricane Isaac slouched off into Arkansas, weary residents of Louisiana and Mississippi confronted the muddy, powerless — and dangerous — mess left behind. Nearly 2 feet of rain fell on the states, leaving the ground too soaked to absorb the overflowing rivers and pushing dams and levees outside New Orleans to the brink. As the water swallowed cars, houses and roads, helicopters and boats swept in to pluck families and pets from rooftops. At least four deaths were reported in Louisiana and Mississippi. The National Hurricane Center said the storm surge and unrelenting rain will pose “significant and ongoing” hazards.

The storm knocked out power to almost a million households and businesses in Louisiana and 150,000 in Mississippi. Airline, rail and highway travel was expected to be snarled through week’s end. Officials estimate Isaac did $2.5 billion in damage. A few miles north near the Mississippi-Louisiana border, engineers started a controlled release of water Thursday afternoon to reduce the threat of a break at the earthen Percy Quin Dam. If the dam failed, it could send a devastating rush of water that would raise the river 17 feet and wash out hundreds of homes along its banks.

The $14.45-billion hurricane-protection system ringing the New Orleans area, installed after Katrina’s catastrophic levee breaches, continued to hold, keeping storm surge and floodwaters out of the city — but in suburbs and small towns nearby, the situation was dire: In LaPlace, the National Guard evacuated 3,000 people trapped by flooding. Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, said Thursday as he surveyed Ironton town, which was inundated by floodwaters and sludge. “There is more water here than Katrina.”

Signs of the Times (8/28/12)

August 28, 2012

‘The American Bible Challenge’ Debuts as GSN’s Most-Viewed Program of All Time

Thursday night’s premiere of the Game Show Network’s new series “The American Bible Challenge,” hosted by comedian Jeff Foxworthy, was a mega-hit — debuting as the No. 1 program ever on GSN. “The American Bible Challenge” outperformed the previous record by more than half a million viewers and ranked among the top five cable networks in total viewers, women ages 25 to 54, and viewers ages 25 to 54 in its time period. “The best-selling book of all time is now GSN’s most-viewed program of all time, which proves that consumers are yearning for fun, family-friendly entertainment,” said Amy Introcaso-Davis, GSN’s executive vice president of programming and development. “We are incredibly proud of this show and are happy that it connected with so many viewers.” The Bible-trivia-based show, which airs Thursday nights at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central, is a first for mainstream television.

School District Sued Over Abstinence Education

A Christian education group says it’s an outrage that one California school district is being sued for teaching students abstinence. Clovis Unified School District is being sued for putting the health of students at risk by teaching abstinence-only curriculum. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The lawsuit asserts that the district is violating state law by only teaching abstinence. Finn Larsen, the executive director of Christian Educators Association International, finds that abstinence education is the most effective way to prevent pregnancies, STDs and promiscuity. “I have yet to find any research that shows that distribution of condoms or encouraging use of condoms cuts down promiscuity or even unwanted pregnancies or STD’s,” Larsen said.

300 Threatening Letters Sent to Family Values Advocate

A Connecticut homosexual is awaiting sentencing for threatening the life of a traditional values leader. fifty-three year-old Daniel Sarno reportedly sent more than 300 threatening messages to Peter Wolfgang of the Family Institute of Connecticut. A postal inspector was able to trace Sarno as the sender of the 300 letters, which were received between last November and this May. Federal authorities finally contacted him and were told Sarno would plead guilty to issuing the threats. That happened August 15 — the same day a homosexual activist walked into Family Research Council headquarters and shot the building operations manager. “There is a growing and disturbing trend of an effort to intimidate folks who are pro-family, who are pro-life, who believe in traditional biblical values — that if we stand up for those values, there’s a growing effort to try to intimidate us into silence,” Wolfgang observes.

ICE Employees Sue to Stop New Immigration Program

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees are suing the Obama administration over its plan to stop deporting many young illegal immigrants and grant them work permits. The 22-page filing contends that the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan violates federal law and forces ICE employees to break the law by not arresting certain illegal immigrants. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE Director John Morton are named as defendants. ICE agents have been ordered not to arrest illegal immigrants who claim to be eligible for the administration’s new deportation policy.

Social Security Administration Buys Tons of Ammo

174,000 rounds. That’s the number of hollow point bullets the Social Security Administration purchased last week. What part of delivering social security checks to grandma involves hundreds of thousands of rounds of deadly ammunition? Senator Rand Paul reports that, “Agencies you never would have known existed, let alone have a need for an armed police force, are piling up ammo to enforce laws you’ve probably never heard of. These ammo purchases are symptoms of a bloated government whose bureaucratic tentacles wrap themselves around nearly every decision we make.”

  • The federal government has been stockpiling ammo, food and survival goods over the past year. Some believe that’s because they plan to instigate a national crisis in order to impose emergency martial law.

Economic News

Consumers’ incomes have recovered about a quarter of the ground they lost during the recession and its aftermath, but progress has stalled in recent months, a new report says. Median household incomes, before taxes and adjusted for inflation, have risen 2.2% in the last year through June. They remain 7.2% below where they were in December 2007 — the start of the recession — and 4.8% below when the recession ended in June 2009.

Sales of new homes in the United States rose 3.6% in July to match a two-year high reached in May, the latest sign of a steady recovery in the housing market. The Commerce Department said Thursday that new-home sales reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 372,000. In the past 12 months, sales have jumped 25%. Still, the increase is from a historically low level. New-home sales remain well below the annual pace of 700,000 that economists consider healthy.

A sharp boost in home prices during the spring could signal a recovery in the long-suffering U.S. housing market, according to an industry report issued Tuesday. The S&P/Case-Shiller national home price index, which covers more than 80% of the housing market in the United States, climbed 6.9% in the three months ended June 30 compared to the first three months of 2012. Two other key indexes covered in the S&P/Case-Shiller report also showed gains. The 20-city index was up 6% for the quarter and the 10-city index rose 5.8%.

Orders for long-lasting U.S. factory goods, excluding the volatile transportation category, fell in July for the fourth time in five months, a sign that manufacturing may be faltering. The Commerce Department said Friday that orders for durable goods rose a seasonally adjusted 4.2% in July. But excluding aircraft and other transportation goods, orders dropped 0.4%.Durable goods are items meant to last at least three years. Orders for so-called core capital goods, a key measure of business investment plans, fell 3.4%. That’s the biggest drop since November and the fourth decline in five months.

U.S. consumers are on track to buy 1.3 million vehicles in August, or 16% more than a year ago. That would translate to a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 14.5 million, which would be the strongest pace for any month this year. Pent-up-demand among consumers that deferred purchases over the last several years and easier access to credit is prompting consumers to buy vehicles despite a national economy that continues to recover slowly.

Gas prices continued their unrelenting upward rise, crossing the $3.75 a gallon threshold, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Tuesday in its weekly survey. Gas stood yesterday at $3.776 a gallon for regular nationally, up three cents from $3.744 the previous week. Gas prices were highest both on the West Coast in general and California specifically where prices averaged $4.158 a gallon.

Middle East

Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a grim warning about Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. “Yesterday we received additional proof that Iran is continuing accelerated progress towards achieving nuclear weapons and is totally ignoring international demands,” he said. He was referring to the report that Iran has greatly upgraded its underground facility at Fordow, installing more centrifuges into the site that is deep in the mountains. The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes that, “Iran is getting closer every day to the ‘zone of immunity’ where their evil work will not be able to be stopped by the level of attack Israel is able to deliver. The window for Israel to act is rapidly closing. We may be only a few weeks away from the outbreak of war.”

Iran is in the final stages of sanitizing a military site it is suspected of using for secret nuclear weapons-related experiments, two senior diplomats said Tuesday, as the U.N. atomic agency intensified efforts to gain access to the area before the alleged clean-up succeeds in erasing any traces of such work. Iran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful contrary to Western fears, has denied experts of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency permission to visit the Parchin site despite multiple requests from the agency this year. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said wrecking crews at the site have removed buildings, moved soil and carried out other activities that “may hamper our future verification activities.”

The war in Syria is spilling across the country’s borders, threatening the stability of neighboring countries and the oil-rich Persian Gulf, Middle East analysts said. The violence in Syria is stoking existing sectarian rivalries. Firefights have erupted between Sunni and Alawite militias in Lebanon. Conflicts also have been reported between Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi government forces along the Syrian border with Iraq. Syrian government forces have fired into refugee camps in Turkey. The Syrians have also invited the PKK, a Kurdish group at war with Turkey, to operate out of Kurdish areas of Syria. Syrian intelligence operatives have harassed and beaten Syrian dissidents in Jordan. Shiite Iran is backing President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria and considers him a critical ally.

Some 10,000 Syrian refugees are waiting on the Syrian side of the border as Turkey rushes to build more camps to accommodate the influx and carries out more stringent security checks on the newcomers. The developments underscore the growing toll Syria’s civil war is having on neighboring countries, several of which have seen a massive flow of Syrians trying to escape the conflict which activists estimate has killed more than 20,000 people since March of last year. Turkey has so far taken in more than 80,000 Syrians, and all nine Turkish refugee camps along the border are full.

Syria

A “brutal massacre of civilians” in a Damascus suburb were reported by activists who claimed that more than 300 people have been killed over the past week in a major government offensive to take back control of rebel-held areas in and around the capital. The British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 32 more dead bodies were found in the streets of Daraya on Sunday and that they had been killed by “gunfire and summary executions.” Among them were three women and two children, the group said. It put the toll for the past week at 320 or more, with  633 people having been killed there since the government launched its assault last week.

Egypt

Hundreds of protesters are rallying on the streets in several Egyptian cities to denounce the country’s Islamist president and his Muslim Brotherhood group. Friday’s protests were the first attempt by Mohammed Morsi’s opponents to stage a major demonstration against the new president. But the low turnout was a far cry from the street protests during the uprising that toppled Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. The protesters say the Brotherhood is monopolizing power and that Morsi exceeded his authority when he assumed legislative and executive powers in the absence of parliament. They also also denounced Morsi’s forced retirement of the country’s top generals earlier this month.

Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt are under attack, hours after a call for their eradication appeared in the form of leaflets calling on Muslims to kill Copts, specifically naming regions of Upper Egypt, International Christian Concern reports. In Al Gallaweya Village in Sohag, Copts have been beaten, their stores burned, and their houses robbed. The attackers have declared that “any Christian who dares to leave his house will be killed,” and Christians say the police only arrive after the damage has been done. In Manfalut, a Muslim gang attacked the house of a Coptic Christian, threatening him to either pay a tribute or die, and also kidnapped the son of another Christian, not releasing him until his family paid a ransom. According to reports, the gang “picked this specific village because Copts form 80 percent of its inhabitants.”

Afghanistan

A NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan killed a dozen militants including a senior leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, the international military coalition said Saturday, dealing a blow to armed extremists operating on both sides of the countries’ porous border. The Friday strike in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province killed Mullah Dadullah, the self-proclaimed Taliban leader in Pakistan’s Bajur tribal area that lies across the border. Dadullah’s deputy, identified only as Shakir, was also killed in the strike along with 10 other militants.

Afghan officials say Taliban insurgents have beheaded 17 Afghan civilians for taking part in a music event in a Taliban-controlled area of southern Afghanistan. The Musa Qala government chief says the people had gathered for a celebration and were playing music and dancing and the insurgents wanted to stop the event. Neyamatullah Khan says the area where the slaughter took place is completely in Taliban control.

An Afghan soldier turned his weapon on international allies in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, killing two soldiers. The killings were the latest in a surge of insider attacks by Afghan forces against international troops, with 12 killed by their supposed allies this month alone.

Iraq

Attacks by insurgents killed eight police and soldiers in Iraq Sunday, police said, the latest onslaught meant to undermine the Baghdad government. Security forces and government offices are top targets for insurgents seeking to shake people’s confidence in the government’s ability to provide security. More than 200 people have been killed in attacks this month in Iraq.

Togo

An anti-piracy organization says pirates have attacked a Greek-owned oil tanker off the coast of Togo, kidnapping 24 sailors in an exchange of gunfire. The attack happened Tuesday morning about 17 nautical miles off the coast of Lome, Togo’s capital. Piracy in West Africa has drastically increased in recent years, with pirates increasingly willing to use violence in their attacks. Togo, officially the Togolese Republic, is a country in West Africa bordered by Ghana to the west, Benin to the east, and Burkina Faso to the north.

Women in Togo have called a week-long sex strike to back their call for the resignation of the country’s president. The ban is supported by an opposition coalition of political parties, civic groups and movements in the west African nation. The coalition wants President Faure Gnassingbe, whose family has held power for decades, to resign. Earlier this month, two anti-Gnassingbe protests were dispersed by police using tear gas and more than 100 people were arrested.

Mexico

A judge has ordered 12 Mexican federal police officers detained for 40 days while prosecutors decide whether to charge them for firing on a U.S. Embassy vehicle Friday and wounding two American officials. The Associated Press writes that the charge “can entail both criminal wrongdoing and extreme negligence. That leaves open the possibility of both a deliberate attack on the Americans by corrupt officers and a gross error by well-intentioned but trigger-happy police operating in a dangerous area.” Two unidentified U.S. officials are being treated for gunshot wounds and are expected to recover.

Earthquakes

On Sunday, hundreds of small to moderate earthquakes struck southeastern California, knocking trailer homes off their foundations and shattering windows in a small farming town east of San Diego. The largest quake registered at a magnitude 5.5 and was centered about three miles (five kilometers) northwest of the town of Brawley, east of San Diego. Another quake about an hour and a half earlier registered at magnitude 5.3. No injuries were reported.

A strong magnitude-7.3 earthquake struck off the coast of El Salvador followed an hour later by a magnitude-5.4 aftershock, authorities said early Monday. There were no immediate reports of damages or injuries. A minor, 10-centimeter (3.94-inche) tsunami was registered off Acajutla, El Salvador.

Wildfires

Sixty-four homes and 20 other buildings have been destroyed, mostly in Manton, California, since lightning ignited the blaze Saturday, state fire spokesman Don Camp said. It was threatening 900 other homes as it burned a new front to the south. About 2,500 firefighters were at the blaze, which has grown to 44 square miles in the piney hills about 25 miles southeast of Redding. It was 74% contained as of Monday morning.

The Trinity Ridge fire in Idaho has destroyed twelve structures and consumed 119,706 acres. It is only 5% contained. Two other wildfires in Idaho have burned over 100,000 acres with no containment reported thus far. The Taylor Bridge fire in Washington has consumed only 23,500 acres but destroyed 272 structures.

Weather

Tropical Storm Isaac pushed into Cuba on Saturday after sweeping across Haiti’s southern peninsula, where it caused flooding and at least three deaths, adding to the misery of a poor nation still trying to recover from the terrible 2010 earthquake. The Grive River overflowed north of Port-au-Prince, sending chocolate-brown water spilling through the sprawling shantytown of Cite Soleil, where many people grabbed what possessions they could and carried them on their heads, wading through waist-deep water. More than 50 tents in another settlement collapsed, forcing people to scramble through the mud to try to save their belongings. A government official says that Haiti’s death toll from Tropical Storm Isaac has reached at least 19.

Isaac was on the verge of becoming a full-blown hurricane Tuesday as it rolled over the Gulf of Mexico toward Louisiana, where residents of the low-lying coast left boarded-up homes for inland shelter while people in New Orleans waited behind levees fortified after Katrina. Forecasters predicted the tropical storm would power up to hurricane strength, which starts at winds of 74 mph, later in the day and be at least a Category 1 hurricane by the time it’s expected to reach the swampy coast of southeast Louisiana early Wednesday.

A good soaking from Tropical Storm Isaac’s remnants would be a godsend in dry parts of the nation’s midsection, but it would come too late to save some crops and wouldn’t end the historic drought. The rainfall deficit since June 2011 in parts of Missouri is nearing 20 inches. John Gagan, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Springfield, Mo., says, “What you need to break the drought is consistent rainfall over a period of weeks and weeks and weeks.”

The nation’s most withering drought in decades only got worse in several key farming states last week, despite cooler temperatures that at least gave those living there a break from this summer’s stifling heat, according to a new drought report released Thursday. The U.S. Drought Monitor showed that as of Tuesday, over two-thirds of Iowa, the nation’s biggest corn producer, was in extreme or exceptional drought — the worst two classifications. That’s up more than 5 percentage points, to 67.5 percent, from the previous week. Nearly all of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois are in extreme or exceptional drought, with Illinois showing the most-dramatic climb in those categories, spiking 17 percentage points in one week, to 96.7 percent.

Ice in the Arctic has shrunk to its lowest level on record, scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced Monday, breaking a mark set in 2007. The ice typically doesn’t reach its smallest point until September, so more melting is likely in the weeks ahead. The lack of Arctic sea ice allows the atmosphere to warm faster, causing land ice to melt — which can raise sea levels. This record loss of Arctic sea ice will have major effects on wildlife in the region from shrimp to walruses and polar bears.

A powerful typhoon pounded South Korea with strong winds and heavy rain Tuesday, killing nine and churning up rough seas that smashed two Chinese fishing ships into rocks. Rescuers saved 12 fishermen and searched for 10 still missing from the ships that hit rocks off South Korea’s southern Jeju island. At least five fishermen were killed. Separately, at least four other people died as Typhoon Bolaven knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of South Koreans, canceled flights and temporarily halted joint war games by U.S. and South Korean military forces.

Signs of the Times (8/22/12)

August 22, 2012

Federal Court Okays Texas Cutoff of Planned Parenthood Funds

A federal appeals court ruled late Tuesday that Texas can cut off funding for Planned Parenthood clinics that provide health services to low-income women before a trial over a new law that bans state money from going to organizations tied to abortion providers. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans lifted a federal judge’s temporary injunction that called for the funding to continue pending an October trial on Planned Parenthood’s challenge to the law. The state’s Republican-led Legislature passed a law banning funds to organizations linked to abortion providers.

U.S. Court Bans Ala. from Checking Kids’ Immigration Status

A federal appeals court has ruled it is unconstitutional for Alabama to check the immigration status of schoolchildren when they enroll, or to require illegal immigrants to carry identification. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals did uphold provisions of the state immigration law that allow police to stop people they have a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country unlawfully, and to ask about the immigration status of motorists without driver’s licenses. But the court also struck down a provision that barred residents and businesses from entering into contracts with people who are in the state illegally.

Canada’s Largest Protestant Denomination Elects Openly Gay Leader

Canada’s largest Protestant denomination elected its first openly gay leader at its 41st General Council on Thursday, Christianity Today reports. After nearly eight hours and six rounds of voting, the 350 members of the United Church of Canada selected Gary Paterson from a pool of 15 nominees, including three other openly gay candidates. “Among mainline denominations, as far as I know this is probably a first,” Paterson told council members following the vote. According to the Ottawa Citizen, he “added that he was heartened that his sexuality had been a non-issue with those who voted.” Paterson, who begins his three-year term August 18, will serve as the church’s primary spokesman and preside over General Council meetings.

‘Dreamers’ Cautious about Obama’s Amnesty Program

Undocumented immigrants are taking their time filling out the paperwork for President Barack Obama’s deferred-action program that allows them to legally stay in the country because they have only one chance to get the application right. The six-page application requires undocumented immigrants who want to stay and work in the U.S. for two years without fear of deportation to submit multiple documents proving they meet the program’s long list of requirements, among them that they are under age 31 and came to this country before turning 16. There is no chance to reapply.

U.S. Hostile to Religious Liberty

A joint study from Liberty Institute and the Family Research Council (FRC) records up to 600 incidents of hostility toward religion, most of which have occurred within the last ten years. For example, a Christian couple was fired as apartment complex managers and forced to move because a painting with a Christian reference was displayed in their office. Also listed is a student who was told he could not wear a t-shirt to school because of its Christian message. Liberty Institute attorney Justin Butterfield tells OneNewsNow, “We want to raise awareness of the issue. A lot of people think that hostility because of people’s religious beliefs and attacks on religious liberty are things that happen elsewhere in the world, not in the United States,” he notes. “We just want to show that it actually happens with increasing and alarming regularity here in the United States.” The Liberty Institute further points out that religious liberty is “facing a relentless onslaught from well-funded and aggressive groups” who are using whatever means available to suppress or attack religious freedom.

More Religious Give More to Charity

A new study on the generosity of Americans suggests that states with the least religious residents are also the stingiest about giving money to charity. The study released Monday by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that residents in states where religious participation is higher than the rest of the nation, particularly in the South, gave the greatest percentage of their discretionary income to charity. The Northeast, with lower religious participation, was the least generous to charities, with the six New England states filling the last six slots among the 50 states. Of the 10 least generous states, nine voted for Democrat Barack Obama for president in the last election. By contrast, of the 10 most generous states, eight voted for Republican John McCain.

U.N. Calls on Nations to Adopt Drought Policies

The world urgently needs to adopt drought-management policies as farmers from Africa to India struggle with lack of rainfall and the United States endures the worst drought it has experienced in decades. The World Meteorological Organization says the U.S. drought and its ripple effects on global food markets show the need for policies with more water conservation and less consumption. It is summoning ministers and other high-level officials to a March meeting in Geneva where it will call for systematic measures to combat drought.

  • Another opportunity for globalists to push for more worldwide control

Nearly Half of Physicians Report Burnout Symptoms

A national survey of physicians finds the prevalence of burnout at an “alarming” level, says a study released Monday. While the medical profession prepares for treating millions of patients who will be newly insured under the health care law, the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn.) reports nearly 1 in 2 (45.8%) of the nation’s doctors already suffer a symptom of burnout. “The rates are higher than expected,” says lead author and physician Tait Shanafelt. “We expected maybe 1 out of 3. Before health care reform takes hold, it’s a concern that those docs are already operating at the margins.” Differences varied by specialty: Emergency medicine, general internal medicine, neurology and family medicine reported the highest rates. Burnout can decrease the quality of care, lead to increased risk for errors and push doctors into early retirement, as well as cause problems in their personal lives.

Social Security ‘Fixable’ but Changes Politically Difficult

Despite Social Security’s long-term problems, the massive retirement and disability program could be preserved for generations to come with modest but politically difficult changes to benefits or taxes, or a combination of both. But the sooner changes are made, the more subtle they can be because they can be phased in slowly. Each year lawmakers wait, Social Security’s financial problems loom larger and the need for bigger changes becomes greater, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. Some options could affect people quickly, such as increasing payroll taxes or reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments for those who already get benefits. Other options, such as gradually raising the retirement age, wouldn’t be felt for years but would affect millions of younger workers. All of the options carry political risks. Liberal advocates and some Democrats say benefit cuts should be off the table. Conservative activists and some Republicans say tax increases are out of the question.

  • Because political deadlock has gone on too long, this is a case where we need both benefit cuts and tax increases to preserve the system with adding to the overwhelming federal deficit

Economic News

Gasoline prices rose for the seventh week straight, hitting an average $3.744 a gallon for self-serve regular in the government’s weekly survey. That’s up 2.3 cents since last Monday. California, the nation’s largest gas market, remains the place with the highest prices, the Energy Information Administration reports. A gallon averages $4.129, up about 3.3 cents from $4.096 last week. The Golden State is still reeling from a fire at a major Bay Area refinery that could take months to repair. The cheapest gas is now in the Rocky Mountain states, where it averages $3.535 a gallon, up 3.5 cents.

Regional airlines operate half the nation’s scheduled flights and are often the link between smaller communities and the national air service network. But now, several of those carriers are being closed or are in bankruptcy court protection. As a result, many smaller communities may lose some or all of their air service, and their residents will have to take longer drives to find a flight.

For the second consecutive quarter, auto loans that are at least 60 days past due are down. In fact, they are at their lowest levels since TransUnion, the big credit bureau, started keeping track in 1999. The percent of buyers more than two months due dropped to 0.33% in the second quarter, down from 0.36% in the first quarter and 0.44% a year ago.

The Treasury Department has been withholding as much as 15 percent of Social Security benefits from “a rapidly growing number of Social Security recipients who have fallen behind on federal student loans.” From January through August 6, the government reduced the size of roughly 115,000 retirees’ Social Security checks on those grounds. That’s nearly double the pace of the department’s enforcement in 2011. The amount that the government withholds varies widely, though it runs up to 15%.Some of these retirees are simply among the growing number of older consumers who’ve taken on loans to help their kids or grandchildren through college.

Middle East

When President Obama announced last month that he was barring a Baghdad bank from any dealings with the American banking system, it was a rare acknowledgment of a delicate problem facing the administration in a country that American troops just left: for months, Iraq has been helping Iran skirt economic sanctions imposed on Tehran because of its nuclear program, the New York Times reported. The administration has held private talks with Iraqi officials to complain about specific instances of financial and logistical ties between the countries.

Israel’s home defense minister has told the people of his nation to prepare for a “30-day war.” Families are being warned to stockpile supplies and prepare for extended stays in bomb shelters. When the war with Iran begins, tens of thousands of missiles will rain down on the Jewish people from Hezbollah and Hamas—missiles that Iran has provided for use against the nation of Israel.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah leads the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. He told an interviewer this week that his terrorist group has a list of Israeli targets that they are prepared to hit with the thousands of rockets Iran has supplied to them. “We can transform the lives of millions of Zionists in occupied Palestine to a real hell,” he said.

Egyptian security sources told reporters on Monday that the Egyptian military has plans to move heavy weapons, including large numbers of tanks and aircraft, into the Sinai Peninsula as it continues to engage criminal gangs and terrorist groups which have turned the territory into a lawless no-man’s land.

Syria

Syrian government forces heavily shelled the cities of Aleppo and Daraa and a suburb of Damascus on the second day of a major Muslim holiday Monday, killing up to 30 people, rights groups and activists said. Anti-regime activists say some 20,000 people have been killed since the revolt against Assad’s rule began in March 2011. Government forces stormed a rebel-held town outside Damascus Tuesday after days of fierce fighting, killing at least 23 fighters according to an activist group.

Afghanistan

Militants fired rockets into a U.S. base in Afghanistan and damaged the plane of the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff while he was on a visit, but the general was not near the aircraft. The rocket strike that hit the plane of U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey was yet another propaganda coup for the Taliban after they claimed to have shot down a U.S. helicopter last week. It also followed a string of disturbing killings of U.S. military trainers by their Afghan partners or militants dressed in Afghan uniform. Such attacks killed 10 Americans in the last two weeks alone.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s military chief ruled out a “joint” US-Pakistan invasion of the North Waziristan Agency, and also seemed to downplay the possibility of a unilateral offensive any time soon. The US has been pounding the agency ever since. At least 17 people have been reported killed, all of them listed as “suspected militants” in media reports, in three separate attacks. Pakistan has repeatedly demanded an end to US drone strikes against its territory, saying that the attacks are producing more enemies than they are eliminating. Major anti-US protests are a common occurrence in Pakistani cities, with many demanding the Zardari government limit ties in protest against the attacks.

Mali

Mali’s interim leaders announced a new government late Monday, months after a military coup unleashed political chaos that allowed an Islamist takeover of the north and forced nearly half a million people to flee their homes. None of the ministers in the new government are closely linked to the democratically elected president who was ousted in March. West African regional leaders had threatened to expel Mali from the regional bloc and impose sanctions if the country failed to assemble a unity government as promised.

Kenya

48 people have been killed in clashes over land between pastoral and farming communities in Kenya’s southeast.. The attacks began at dawn where a group of about 200 farmers belonging to the Pokomo ethnic group raided a village in the Riketa area and torched all the houses belonging to the Orma, a pastoralist community. The majority of those who died were women and children. Last week the Orma attacked the Pokomo.

Earthquakes

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that a powerful earthquake took place off the coast of New Guinea, north of Australia. The earthquake struck about 72 miles northeast of Mount Hagen, New Guinea’s third largest city.

Wildfires

Wildfires have charred nearly 7 million acres so far this year — destroying more acreage across the USA in the first eight months of any year since accurate records began in the early 1960s. This is an area larger than Maryland. The combination of the very hot summer and the worst drought since the Dust Bowl are providing fuel for the fires. Wildfires earlier this year have included the largest in Oregon since the 1840s, the largest fire on record in New Mexico, and the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history. Although this year is a record for total acres burned, it is well below average in the number of total fires, meaning the average acres per fire is well above previous records.

Over 50 buildings, many of them likely homes, have been destroyed in recent days a fire burning outside the Northern California community of Manton, fire officials said Tuesday night. The blaze, which was sparked by lightning on Saturday has consumed more than 33 square miles and continues to threaten hundreds of homes. Nearly 1,900 firefighters were battling the fire in rugged, densely forested terrain as it threatened 3,500 homes in the remote towns of Shingletown, Manton and Viola, about 170 miles north of Sacramento.

The Ponderosa Fire, one of 14 major wildfires burning in California, was among a rash of Western wildfires scorching parts of that state, Washington, Idaho and Utah.

In Idaho, residents around the town of Featherville, remained under a mandatory evacuation order as the Trinity Ridge Fire in the Boise National Forest continued to threaten their community. The blaze has charred some 82,000 acres and has been burning for two weeks. In Washington, better weather conditions over the weekend helped firefighters gain ground on a fire that has scorched dozens of homes east of the Cascades. That fire has burned across more than 23,000 acres in rural areas about 75 miles east of Seattle.

Weather

Farmers are resorting to pleas on Facebook, Craigslist and other online sites to track down hay to feed their cattle, horses, sheep and goats now and through the winter. The drought that’s affecting most of the country has hurt alfalfa and grass, the main types of hay, forcing livestock producers to pay more and travel farther. If they can’t find enough, some will liquidate their herds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates this year’s hay harvest will total 120 million tons, down from 131 million last year. This month, the USDA opened 3.8 million acres of conservation land for emergency hay harvesting and grazing.

The severe drought that has hit the Farm Belt does not immediately threaten to create another Dust Bowl or widespread crop failure, thanks to rapid innovations in the past 20 years in seed quality, planting practices and farming technology, farmers and plant scientists say. Soil conservation is generally holding land in place despite record heat and lack of rain in June and July. In the past 20 years, farmers have transformed from plowing fields 8 to 11 inches deep to “no-till” or “conservation-tillage” practices designed to minimally disturb the ground. That exposes the soil to less wind erosion, preserves natural nutrients, and captures and retains what moisture does fall.

The U.S. Coast Guard says 97 boats and barges are waiting for passage along an 11-mile stretch of the Mississippi River that has been closed because of low water levels due to the ongoing drought in the midwest. The stretch of river near Greenville, Miss., has been closed intermittently since Aug. 11, when a vessel ran aground. A Coast Guard boat is currently replacing eight navigation markers.

Signs of the Times (8/18/12)

August 18, 2012

9/11 Memorial Defends Display of Steel Cross

A lawsuit by a national atheists group seeks to stop the display of a cross-shaped steel beam found among the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Lawyers for the operators of the Sept. 11 memorial at ground zero said in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Monday that the 17-foot-tall beam will be displayed as a historical object because it tells part of the story of the rescue and recovery effort after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which destroyed the twin towers and killed thousands of people. They said the display of the cross among 1,000 artifacts, photos, oral histories and videos is no different from the showing of hundreds of religious paintings routinely displayed at government-supported art museums.

  • Anti-Christian fervor has reached a new low and greatly dishonors 9/11 victims and our country

Security Guard Shot at Pro-Life Group’s D.C. Headquarters

A security guard was shot Wednesday morning at the D.C. headquarters of the pro-life group Family Research Council, according to the Associated Press. A man posing as an intern shot the guard in the arm. The security guard, conscious and breathing after the shooting, was transported to a local hospital. According to a Fox News report, “a suspect walked in and started yelling about things [FRC] supported [and] opened fire.” The man accused of shooting the security guard in the lobby of the FRC’s D.C. headquarters had been volunteering at a community center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, CBS News reports. The day before the shooting, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) referred to FRC as a “Hate Group.” Others consistently refer to FRC and other organizations (including CAP) as bigots and extremists.

  • Not as much media attention when conservatives are attacked as when liberals are targeted

Superior Court Tosses Lawsuit Over Arizona Prayer

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit last week claiming Gov. Jan Brewer’s annual, voluntary day of prayer violates the state Constitution. On Aug. 8, Judge Eileen Willett granted a motion to dismiss with prejudice, which means the court will not hear a challenge on the same issue again. Each year since taking office, Brewer has invited people to voluntarily set aside a day to pray for their state and country. She praised the decision. “Uniting in prayer is a custom as old as our nation itself,” she said. “For centuries, millions of Americans of every race, creed and color have come together in voluntary prayer to seek strength and wisdom.” The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed the suit in federal court in March 2010, alleging the Day of Prayer proclamations violate the “fundamental principle of the separation of church and state.”

Arizona Blocks Undocumented Immigrants from Receiving Public Benefits

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday ordered state agencies to deny driver’s licenses and other public benefits to young illegal immigrants who obtain work authorizations under a new Obama administration policy. In an executive order, Brewer said she was reaffirming the intent of current Arizona law denying taxpayer-funded public benefits and state identification to illegal immigrants. Young illegal immigrants around the nation on Wednesday began the process of applying for federal work permits under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The federal policy defers deportations for that group if they meet certain criteria, including arrival in the United States before they turned 16 and no convictions for certain crimes.

Arizona has been in the vanguard of states enacting laws against illegal immigration. The U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned parts of the Arizona enforcement law known as SB1070 but ruled that a key provision on requiring police to ask people about their immigration status under certain circumstances can be implemented. In the past decade, Arizona voters twice approved laws denying publicly funded services, such as in-state resident university tuition rates, to illegal immigrants. Brewer’s order said the policy’s federal paperwork doesn’t confer lawful status on illegal immigrants and won’t entitle them to Arizona public benefits.

CO2 Emissions Fall to 20-Year Low in U.S.

Mainly because power plants have switched from coal to natural gas, climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions hit an unexpected 20-year low in the United States this year, the Associated Press reports. AP cites a “little-noticed technical report” released earlier this month by the U.S. Energy Department. It stated that CO2 emissions from January through April hit 1992 levels, a “surprising turnaround,” AP writes. AP says it contacted environmental experts, scientists and utility companies “and learned that virtually everyone believes the shift could have major long-term implications for U.S. energy policy.” Although conservation, the sluggish economy and wider use of renewable energy contributed to the decline, low-priced natural gas was the prime factor, the Energy Information Agency found. The speed of the electric-power industry’s switch from coal to gas surprised just about everyone.

  • This report was ‘little-noticed’ because the global warming folks don’t like it when facts contradict their oft-touted premise that humans are the cause. Instead, it’s an end-time phenomena independent of CO2.

Deadly Bacteria C-Diff Rampant in Hospitals

A potentially fatal infection called Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, ravages the intestines. The bacteria preys on people in hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities — the very places patients trust to protect their health. A USA TODAY investigation shows that C. diff is far more prevalent than federal reports suggest. The bacteria is linked in hospital records to more than 30,000 deaths a year in the United States— about twice federal estimates and rivaling the 32,000 killed in traffic accidents. It strikes about a half-million Americans a year. Yet despite a decade of rising C. diff rates, health care providers and the government agencies that oversee them have been slow to adopt proven strategies to reduce the infections, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and illnesses that could have been prevented, the investigation shows.

Large Companies Pay CEOs More than Taxes

Twenty-six big U.S. companies paid one person, their CEO, more last year than they paid the federal government in taxes, according to a study released Thursday by a liberal-leaning think tank. The study said deductions and credits are allowing companies to lavish big pay packages on executives so they can cut their tax bills while Washington gets less money in a time of trillion-plus deficits. The study, by the Institute for Policy Studies, says the companies, including AT&T, Boeing and Citigroup, paid their CEOs an average of $20.4 million last year while paying little or no federal tax on ample profits. On average, the 26 companies generated net income of more than $1 billion in the U.S., the study says.

  • The voluminous tax code is rife with deductions that primarily benefit the well-to-do, whether individuals or corporations. A major overhaul and simplification is necessary, from both a liberal and conservative perspective

U.S. Foreign Debt Hits Record $5.29 Trillion

The U.S. government’s debt held by foreign entities hit a record $5.2923 trillion in June, CNSNews.com reported, citing Treasury Department data. The government’s indebtedness to foreign entities has shot up 72.3 percent since President Barack Obama took office. China was the top creditor to the U.S. government, though Japanese entities were a close second. In June, the Chinese held $1.1643 trillion in U.S. government debt. Chinese ownership of U.S. government debt peaked at $1.3149 trillion in July of last year, with lending trending down since then. Japanese entities, meanwhile, have been buying more U.S. government debt. In June, the Japanese owned $1.1193 trillion, up from $1.1089 trillion in May. A year ago, in June 2011, the Japanese owned only $881.5 in U.S. government debt.

Although the Chinese maintained their place as the top foreign owners of U.S. debt in June, they are not the top owners of U.S. debt in the world, That distinction belongs to the U.S. Federal Reserve, which according to its July monthly report, owned $1.667 trillion in U.S. government debt in June. The Fed has dramatically increased its holdings of U.S. Treasury securities as part of a monetary-policy effort to push interest rates down to spur recovery. As of the end of June, the federal government’s total debt came to $15.86 trillion.

U.S. Reliance on Saudi Arabian Oil Growing Again

The United States is increasing its dependence on oil from Saudi Arabia, raising its imports from the kingdom by more than 20 percent this year, even as fears of military conflict in the tinderbox Persian Gulf region grow. The increase in Saudi oil exports to the United States began slowly last summer and has picked up pace this year. Until then, the United States had decreased its dependence on foreign oil and from the Gulf in particular. This reversal is driven in part by the battle over Iran’s nuclear program. The United States tightened sanctions that hampered Iran’s ability to sell crude, the lifeline of its troubled economy, and Saudi Arabia agreed to increase production to help guarantee that the price did not skyrocket. While prices have remained relatively stable, and Tehran’s treasury has been squeezed, the United States is left increasingly vulnerable to a region in turmoil.

Economic News

A measure of future U.S. economic activity recovered in July following a sharp drop in June. The Conference Board said Friday that its index of leading economic indicators increased 0.4% in July after falling 0.4% in June. For the six months ending in July, the index has been rising at an annual rate of 2.3% which is an improvement over the 0.6% annual rate of growth turned in during the previous six months.

Budget cuts are forcing districts to scale back on teachers and staff, resulting in larger class sizes and fewer school days. More than 300,000 education jobs have been lost since the end of the recession in June 2009, said a report prepared by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Domestic Policy Council and National Economic Council. As a result of the cuts, the national student-teacher ratio increased from 2008 to 2010, from 15.3 to 16.0, reversing nearly a decade of gains.

Unemployment rates rose in 44 U.S. states in July, the most states to show a monthly increase in more than three years and a reflection of weak hiring nationwide. The Labor Department said Friday that unemployment rates fell in only two states and were unchanged in four.

Nationwide, hiring improved in July after three months of tepid job gains. But the national unemployment rate ticked up to 8.3% from 8.2%. Monthly job gains have averaged 150,000 this year. That’s barely enough to accommodate population growth. As a result, the unemployment rate is the same as when the year began.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits edged up slightly last week but remained at a level consistent with modest gains in hiring, the government said. The number of workers who made first-time filings for unemployment benefits the week ended Aug. 11 rose by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 366,000, slightly lower than the 375,000 thought to indicate modest job growth.

U.S. builders slowed their pace of housing construction slightly in July. But in a hopeful sign for future construction, applications for building permits rose to their the highest level since August 2008. The Commerce Department said Thursday that construction of single-family homes and apartments dipped 1.1% in July compared with June, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 746,000. In June, the rate had been 754,000, the fastest pace since October 2008. But even with the gains, the rate of construction and the level of permits remain only about half the 1.5 million annual rate considered healthy.

Middle East

News is breaking that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak have “almost finally” decided on an Israeli strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities this fall, and a final decision will be made “soon.” Channel 2 News, Israel’s leading news program, devoted much of its Friday night broadcast to detailing the pros and cons of approving an Israeli military attack despite opposition from the United States and from many Israeli security chiefs.

According to Israel’s Channel 10 news, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon meet so that Obama can reassure Netanyahu that the US “will attack Iran by June 2013″ if diplomacy fails by then. If it’s true that Obama is planning to make a promise of a June 2013 US attack, it could be an attempt to stave off an Israeli attack before the November presidential elections.

As American officials sound the alarm over what they call a resurgent threat from the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, thousands of its members and supporters operate with few restrictions in Europe, raising money that is funneled to the group’s leadership in Lebanon. According to the New York Times, Washington and Jerusalem insist that Hezbollah is an Iranian-backed terrorist organization with bloody hands, and that it is working closely with Tehran to train, arm and finance the Syrian military’s lethal repression of the uprising there. Yet, the European Union continues to treat it foremost as a Lebanese political and social movement. As Israel heightens fears of a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, intelligence analysts warn that Iran and Hezbollah would respond with attacks of their own on targets abroad. Israeli and American officials have attributed the Bulgarian bus bombing last month that killed six people, including five Israeli tourists, to Hezbollah and Iran, saying it was part of a clandestine offensive that has included plots in Thailand, India, Cyprus and elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia has ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately, citing fear of kidnappings by Shiites angry over rebels in Syria taking prisoners from Lebanon and Iran. Saudi Arabia urged its citizens to leave immediately and warns travelers against visiting Lebanon, a popular destination for Gulf residents in the summer. Armed Shiite clansmen in Lebanon said Wednesday they had captured more than 20 Syrians and will hold them until one of their relatives seized by rebels inside Syria is freed. The tensions were a stark reminder of how easily Syria’s civil war could spill over to neighboring states.

Syria

Syrian rebel commander Abu Ammar has threatened to form an alliance with Al-Qaeda if the west fails to provide heavy arms in the effort to topple President Bashar al-Assad. “We don’t want al Qaeda here, but if nobody else helps us, we will make an alliance with them,” Ammar, a rebel leader in the city of Aleppo told AFP. Another source described as an “anti-regime activist” also threatened to unite with the terrorist group if arms were not forthcoming. “The main aim is to stop this bloodshed in Aleppo. If neither the West nor the Arabs will help us, we will ask for the help of al Qaeda to stop the bloodshed,” he said.

The Security Council has decided to end the U.N. military observer mission that was sent to monitor a cease-fire that never happened and back a small new liaison office that will support any future peace efforts. The move Thursday came in the face an escalating civil war in Syria. Members who have been deeply divided on tackling the 18-month conflict were united behind U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s proposal to replace the 300 unarmed observers with a small group of military advisers and political, human rights and civil affair experts.

Iraq

Iraqi officials said Friday that a blistering string of attacks across the country the previous day killed at least 93 people and wounded many more, as the extent of the violence grew clearer and mourners began to bury their dead. It was Iraq’s second deadliest day since U.S. troops left in December, surpassed only by a coordinated wave of killings last month. Thursday’s attacks seemed meant to strike fear in Iraqis and undermine faith in the Shiite-led government’s security measures, ahead of what was supposed to be a festive holiday weekend. Coordinated bombings and related attacks are a favorite tactic of the al-Qaeda offshoot, known as the Islamic State of Iraq. Since the beginning of August, more than 190 people have been killed in violence across Iraq, showing that insurgents led by al-Qaeda’s Iraqi franchise remain a lethal force eight months after the last U.S. troops left the country.

Afghanistan

A newly recruited Afghan village policeman opened fire on his American allies on Friday, killing two U.S. service members minutes after they gave him a new weapon as a present. It was the latest in a disturbing string of attacks by Afghan security forces on the international troops training them. Later Friday, another Afghan in uniform turned his gun on foreign troops in another part of the country, but no one was killed in the second attack. The attacks in the country’s far west and south brought to seven the number of times that a member of the Afghan security forces — or someone wearing their uniform — has opened fire on international forces in the past two weeks.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake of 6.6 has rocked a north Indonesian island on Saturday. No tsunami warning has been issued and there are no immediate reports of damages or casualties. The U.S. Geological Survey says Saturday’s quake struck 35 miles south-east of Palu city on Sulawesi Island at a depth of 12.6 miles. Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because it is in the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

Wildfires

In the worst wildfire season in over a decade, 43,985 large (over 100 acres) wildfires have consumed 6,545,810 acres, (10-year average = 5,062,228 acres). Currently, 49 large wildfires are burning, all in the west except for 3 in Texas and 2 in Oklahoma. The largest wildfire is the Holloway fire in Nevada which has burned 461,047 acres, but only three structures have been destroyed. Three other wildfires are burning in Nevada on about 64,000 acres. The most wildfires are in Idaho, where ten fires have burned through almost 340,000 acres but destroyed only twelve structures.

The Rush fire in Northern California increased in size by 49,638 acres overnight Friday to 209,638 acres. Evacuations are in effect and natural gas and power lines are threatened. Five other wildfires are burning in northern California, having consumed 86,000 acres. Three additional wildfires are burning in southern California, having consumed over 26,000 acres thus far.

Weather

Hotter-than-normal months still await drought-ravaged states federal weather experts projected on Thursday. “We are seeing a lot of (corn)fields that are a total loss, plowed under,” Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel says. That’s come despite “easing” of drought conditions so far this month with 100-degree days a rarity in the Midwest and some rain along the edges of the drought-afflicted Corn Belt. However, with harvests underway, the drought has already largely done its damage to the nation’s corn crop, expected to be down 13% this year.

Signs of the Times (8/15/12)

August 15, 2012

Arizona faith groups step up to fill foster-care need

Arizona’s faith-based community is increasingly becoming a key component in the statewide effort to find enough foster and adoptive families to care for the growing number of children in need. In a collaborative effort between the ArizonaSERVES Task Force and faith-based foster and adoption agencies, more church members are becoming certified to foster or adopt. During an informational meeting in April, the line of people interested in helping went out the door and wrapped along the sidewalk at Gilbert’s Mission Community Church. More than 300 families came to learn how they could help. Gov. Jan Brewer created the Arizona SERVES Task Force in 2010 to engage the faith community in the efforts to improve the foster-care system. Since then, faith-based agencies have increased their family foster-home applications from 18 percent to 21 percent of the total number of applications to the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

Religious Groups Divided on Gun Control

After the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., and a deadly shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., Americans remain divided on gun control. A poll, conducted in the wake of the Colorado and Wisconsin shootings, shows that a slim majority (52 percent) of Americans favors passing stricter laws, while 44 percent are opposed. Among white evangelicals, however, support for stricter gun control is weak, at 35 percent. That compares to the 62 percent of Catholics and 60 percent of unaffiliated Americans who would like to see tighter gun control laws on the books.

But on the question of guns in churches, there is actual consensus: A strong majority of Americans don’t want them in the pews, according to a new poll released Wednesday (Aug. 15) by the Public Religion Research Institute conducted in partnership with Religion News Service. More than three-quarters of respondents (76 percent) said concealed weapons should not be allowed in houses of worship, compared to 20 percent who disagreed.

Judge Won’t Halt PA’s Voter-ID Law

A Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday refused to stop a tough new voter identification law from going into effect, which Democrats say will suppress votes among President Barack Obama’s supporters. Opponents are expected to file an appeal within a day or two to the state Supreme Court as the Nov. 6 presidential election looms. The Republican-penned law — which passed over the objections of Democrats — has ignited a furious debate over voting rights as Pennsylvania is poised to play a key role in deciding the presidential contest in November. Opponents had asked Simpson to block the law from taking effect in this year’s election as part of a wider challenge to its constitutionality.

  • Democrats have the most fraudulent voters and, therefore, the most to lose when appropriate voter ID laws are enacted

Fast and Furious: House files suit vs. Holder

The Republican-run House on Monday asked a federal court to enforce a subpoena against Attorney General Eric Holder, demanding that he produce records on a bungled gun-tracking operation known as Operation Fast and Furious. The lawsuit asked the court to reject a claim by President Barack Obama asserting executive privilege, a legal position designed to protect certain internal administration communications from disclosure. The failure of Holder and House Republicans to work out a deal on the documents led to votes in June that held the attorney general in civil and criminal contempt of Congress. The civil contempt resolution led to Monday’s lawsuit. Holder refused requests by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to hand over — without preconditions — documents that could explain why the Obama administration initially denied in February 2011 that the gun-tracking tactic was approved at the highest levels of government.

DHS Launches Obama’s New Immigration Amnesty Program

Wednesday is the first day that as many 1.76 million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors can begin submitting requests for a two-year reprieve from deportation. The policy, introduced by President Barack Obama and known as “deferred action,” also will allow them to receive temporary work permits. Immigration analysts say fraud is a major concern because some undocumented immigrants may be tempted to submit fraudulent documents out of desperation if they don’t meet the age and other requirements for the program. Analysts also point out that a 1986 amnesty law that allowed nearly 3 million illegal immigrants to get green cards was rife with fraud.

  • Illegality breeds more illegality

Congress Mired in Inertia

Congress is on pace to make history with the least productive legislative year in the post World War II era. Not even the 80th Congress, which President Truman called the “do-nothing Congress” in 1948, passed as few laws as the current one, records show. Just 61 bills have become law to date in 2012 out of 3,914 bills that have been introduced by lawmakers, or less than 2% of all proposed laws. In 2011, after Republicans took control of the U.S. House, Congress passed just 90 bills into law. The only other year in which Congress failed to pass at least 125 laws was 1995.

  • This is not necessarily a bad thing since we already suffer under too many laws that inhibit individual freedom and states’ rights

State Department Climate Change Spending a Mess

Inadequate oversight, lax bookkeeping, sloppy paperwork, haphazard performance agreements and missing financial documentation have plagued U.S. State Department spending of tens of millions of dollars to combat climate change, according to a report by State’s internal financial watchdog — and the problem could be much, much bigger than that. The audit report, issued by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), casts an unflattering spotlight on a relatively obscure branch of the State Department that supervises climate change spending, and depicts it as over-extended in its responsibilities, unstaffed in critical monitoring posts, and more concerned with spending money than in monitoring its effectiveness. The State Department branch is known as the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and its Office of Global Change, or OES/EGC, which have become the nerve center of the Obama administration’s international climate change policy, and the epicenter of its foreign climate change spending, which continues to balloon despite serious economic problems at home.

  • Yet another federal boondoggle under the Obama Administration

West Nile Virus Spreading Faster

West Nile virus is spreading faster than it has in years, and the pace of the mosquito-borne disease is getting worse. States are reporting more cases than usual and Texas is getting the worst of it. Sixteen people have died of West Nile virus this summer in Texas. That’s out of 381 cases of the illness. Nationwide there have been at least 693 cases and 28 deaths. That’s up from 390 cases and eight deaths last week. Heat and scant rainfall are creating stagnant water pools, which make great breeding grounds.

Computer Firms Face Mainframe Worker Shortage

They are the dinosaurs of the computer industry. But anyone who thinks mainframe computers are going the way of typewriters and videocassette recorders is in for a surprise. “Big Iron,” as the machines are called, is not headed for extinction any time soon. But nearly 50 years after these once-giant computers were first introduced, companies like Detroit-based Compuware and IBM are preparing for a shortage of mainframe workers. Compuware estimates that as many as 40% of the world’s mainframe programmers will be retiring in the near future. The looming shortage has forced mainframe companies such as Compuware, IBM and CA Technologies to step up their talent-development efforts. But in a world with 3D graphics, video streaming and all kinds of social media, getting young people interested in a career in mainframes is a tough sell.

Economic News

U.S. retail sales rose in July by the largest amount in five months, buoyed by more spending on autos, furniture and clothing. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that retail sales rose 0.8% in July from June. The increase followed three months of declines, including a 0.7% drop in sales in June. All major categories showed increases, a sign that consumers may be gaining confidence after the longest stretch of declines since the fall of 2008.

U.S. wholesale prices increased in July from June, pulled up by higher costs for cars and light trucks and a 34.5% increase in corn prices — biggest one-month jump since October 2006. The Labor Department said the producer price index, which measures price changes before they reach the consumer, increased a seasonally adjusted 0.3% last month. That followed a 0.1% gain in June. Wholesale food prices rose 0.5% last month, a sign that the severe drought in the Midwest is driving costs higher. These increases haven’t yet reached the retail level as consumer prices remained unchanged in July from June.

U.S. factories made more cars, computers and airplanes last month, a hopeful sign that manufacturing is recovering after a weak spring. The Federal Reserve says U.S. industrial production increased 0.6% in July from June, the fourth straight monthly increase. Factory output has risen 21.9% since its recession low hit in June 2009 and is just 1.7% below the pre-recession peak for factory output reached in July 2007.

Gas prices surged in the past week to $3.721 a gallon nationally for regular, up 8 cents for the week, and California is taking the brunt. In the Golden State, the nation’s largest gasoline market, prices now top $4 a gallon. But prices were up just about everywhere in the country as the summer vacation season is passing its peak. The central Atlantic region was up 9 cents a gallon to $3.725 a gallon. Cheapest? The refinery-rich Gulf Coast has gas averaging $3.488 a gallon, up 7 cents a gallon.

Japan’s economy grew at a slower-than-expected annualized rate of 1.4% in April-June, adding to worries over the global outlook. The pace of growth dropped sharply from a revised 5.5% in the previous quarter.

Eurozone

Greece held its biggest debt sale since its economy imploded two years ago as it raised €4.06 billion ($5.01 billion) in short-term debt to pay off a bond due next week. Athens can now avoid having to ask for emergency funding to pay off a bond that matures Aug. 20 and is held by the European Central Bank.

Europe is edging closer to recession, dragged down by the crippling debt problems of most of the 17-country euro bloc. Without Germany continuing to post solid levels of growth, the eurozone would officially be in recession. The economies of both the eurozone and the wider 27-country EU shrank at a quarterly rate of 0.2% in the second quarter of the year.

Middle East

Egyptian military forces killed seven suspected militants on Sunday during raids on hideouts in a village in northern Sinai, security officials said. Tensions in Sinai, the desert peninsula that borders Israel and the Gaza Strip, have escalated sharply over the past week after suspected militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers near the border. Egypt launched a major offensive against the groups and sent reinforcements to the area following the attack last Sunday.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has no problem calling for the destruction of Israel and blaming it for attacks linked to his own party, but when his relative needs life-saving heart surgery, only Israeli doctors will do. The stunning hypocrisy comes to light after five Hamas-backed terrorists allegedly killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula that borders Gaza. Although evidence points to a Hamas-backed terror operation, Haniyeh inexplicably blamed it on Israel. The suspects were later killed by Israeli Defense Forces when they tried to cross the Kerem Shalom border. Yet only a few months ago, the revelation that Ismail Haniyeh’s brother-in-law received a special permit from the Israeli government to travel into the Jewish State to receive life-saving heart surgery has come as something of a surprise.

Egypt

Egypt’s Islamist president ordered the retirement of the defense minister and chief of staff on Sunday and made the boldest move so far to seize back powers that the military stripped from his office right before he took over. He fired the nation’s intelligence chief a few days ago  Mohammed Morsi has been locked in a power struggle with the military since he took office on June 30. But after militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers a week ago at a border post with Israel in Sinai, he has sought more aggressively to assert his authority over the top generals.

Syria

Syria’s former prime minister, who defected last week, says the Syrian regime is close to collapse and that President Bashar al-Assad’s government controls less than a third of the country. Riad Hijab says he is backing Syria’s rebel movement and that many other Syrian leaders, still in power, share his views. He says the besieged president has lost large patches of territory along the country’s northern and easter border and that fighting has weakened his grip on larger cities such as Aleppo and Homs.

Gunmen detonated back-to-back roadside bombs and clashed with police in central Damascus Saturday in attacks that caused no damage but highlighted the ability of rebels to breach the intense security near President Bashar Assad’s power bases. The apparently coordinated blasts point to the increasing use of guerrilla-style operations in the capital to undermine the government’s claims of having full control over Damascus. A bomb attached to a fuel truck exploded Wednesday outside a Damascus hotel where U.N. observers are staying in the Syrian capital, wounding at least three people.

Afghanistan

A member of the Afghan National Police opened fire at his colleagues at a checkpoint in southwestern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing at least 10 of his fellow policemen. The killings come a day after two Afghans, including a policeman, shot and killed six U.S. service members in separate attacks in neighboring Helmand province in the volatile south. Afghan attacks on their international partners are on the rise and have heightened mistrust between foreign forces and the Afghan soldiers, police and others they are training and mentoring. An Afghan official says Taliban insurgents have killed a district mayor and a member of the provincial peace council in two attacks in northern Afghanistan.

France

Months of tension between police and young people in a troubled district of northern France exploded on Tuesday, with dozens of youths facing off against riot officers in a night of violence. Seventeen officers were injured, a pre-school and public gym were torched, and at least three passing drivers in Amiens were dragged from their cars. The eruption of violence shows how little relations have changed between police and youths in France’s housing projects since nationwide riots in 2005 raged unchecked for nearly a month, leaving entire neighborhoods in flames in the far-flung suburbs. Unemployment skews higher in northern France and among the country’s youth.

North Korea

“The regime still has up to 70,000 Christians locked away in virtual concentration camps.” said Ryan Morgan, an analyst with International Christian Concern Asia. Morgan added that a Christian believer and three generations of his or her family can still go to prison for life just for owning a Bible. “We’re hoping and praying this changes soon, but we haven’t seen any sign of it yet,” he said. Believers in North Korea continue to tread softly because of the nation’s history of persecution as well as the message from the new dictator that “he is in control” and “will do anything to keep hold of power,” according to an Open Doors USA source. Open Doors lists North Korea No. 1 on its list of the worst persecutors of Christians in the world.

Earthquakes

Iranian state television has raised the toll from Saturdays’ twin earthquakes to over 300 dead and at least 3,000 injured. Many people were evacuated by rescue teams on stretchers to hospitals and clinics. At least six villages were totally leveled, and 60 others sustained damage ranging from 50 to 80 percent. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that Saturday’s first quake at 4:53 p.m. had a magnitude of 6.4 and struck 37 miles northeast of the city of Tabriz at a depth of 6.2 miles. Its epicenter was about 200 miles northwest of the capital Tehran. The second quake with a magnitude of 6.3 struck 11 minutes later, the U.S.G.S. reported. Its epicenter was 29 miles northeast of Tabriz at a depth of 6.1 miles. Scores of aftershocks have coursed through Iran’s mountainous northeast since the first two quakes.

Chinese officials say a strong earthquake has struck a remote area of the country’s far-western Xinjiang region. The government earthquake monitoring center said the quake registered magnitude 6.2 and hit Sunday evening. It said it was centered 175 miles southeast of the oasis city of Hotan. There were no initial reports of damage or injuries from the quake.

A magnitude 7.7 earthquake that hit waters off Russia’s Pacific island of Sakhalin on Tuesday inflicted no casualties or damage. The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry’s branch on Sakhalin said the quake was centered in the Sea of Okhotsk about 100 miles east of Poronaysk, Russia, at a depth of more than 373 miles. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 7.7.

Wildfires

A firefighter was killed in Idaho and another firefighter in Oregon suffered burns after she had to deploy her emergency fire shelter as wildfires continued raging across the Western United States. The Holloway Fire has so far burned 525 square miles in remote and rugged terrain straddling the Oregon-Nevada border. On the Nevada side, five ranches were evacuated Sunday evening in the Kings River Valley. In Utah, firefighters made gains throughout the weekend on several blazes burning across the state as milder temperatures coupled with sporadic rain and humidity helped with containment. A fire in central Washington has burned about 70 homes, scorching roughly 40 square miles of grassland, timber and sagebrush. At least 900 people were evacuated,

Meanwhile, crews in Northern California on Monday were making progress against an aggressive wildfire that has grown to more than 4 1/2 square miles and forced the evacuation of nearly 500 homes since it began Sunday. Three buildings have burned and two people were treated for minor injuries. In Northern California, the Chips Fire continues to spread, affecting some 600 homes as evacuation orders were still in effect Monday for the Seneca and Rush Creek communities in Plumas National Forest. The fire which began on July 29 was still only 12 percent contained. About 50 miles to the northwest, the Reading Fire has forced the closure of Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway and several trails as it burns in an area of pine forests and thick brush.

In Southern California, two fires sparked by lightning from Sunday thunderstorms continued to burn out of control Monday in the wilderness. A 222-acre blaze near in the Vallecito area of San Diego County was burning through pine trees in a remote, rugged area that was hard for ground crews to reach. The area got 635 lightning strikes from the weekend storms, which also caused flash flooding. Also, a 300-acre fire was burning in the Joshua Tree National Park, a desert preserve east of Palm Springs. Temperatures reaching 100 degrees and scattered afternoon storms were predicted.

Weather

After months of record-breaking heat and drought, many rural Americans who rely on wells for water are getting an unwelcome surprise when they turn on their faucets: The tap has run dry. No one tracks the number of wells that go dry, but state and local governments and well diggers and water haulers report many more dead wells than in a typical summer across a wide swath of the Midwest, from Nebraska to Indiana and Wisconsin to Missouri. The lack of running water can range from a manageable nuisance to an expensive headache. Homeowners and businesses are being forced to buy thousands of gallons from private suppliers, to drill deeper or to dig entirely new wells.

Signs of the Times (8/11/12)

August 11, 2012

Missouri Prayer Amendment Passes

Voters in Missouri overwhelmingly approved a “right to pray” amendment to the state’s constitution on Tuesday, despite concerns about the measure’s necessity and legality. Amendment 2, which supporters said would protect the freedom of religious expression in public schools and other public spaces, received nearly 80 percent of the vote. The language on Tuesday’s ballot stressed the rights of citizens to express their religious beliefs and the rights of children to pray and acknowledge God in schools. It also stated that students could be exempted from classroom activities that violate their religious beliefs.

Federal Judge Rules Against Hawaii Gay Marriage

A federal judge ruled Wednesday against two Hawaii women who want to get married instead of enter into a civil union, handing a victory to opponents of gay marriage in a state that’s been at the forefront of the issue. U.S. District Court Judge Alan C. Kay’s ruling sides with Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy and Hawaii Family Forum, a Christian group that was allowed to intervene in the case. “If the traditional institution of marriage is to be reconstructed, as sought by the plaintiffs, it should be done by a democratically elected legislature or the people through a constitutional amendment,” and not through the courts, ruled the judge.

Court Gives Feds the OK for Warrantless Wiretaps

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the government is immune to wireless wiretapping lawsuits in a decision that the plaintiff’s attorney says releases Washington and the White House from ever being held accountable for spying on citizens. “There is no accountability,” attorney Jon Eisenberg tells the Los Angeles Times. “That is what is so distressful about this decision. It means that President Bush got away with it, and it means that President Obama will be able to get away with it and every president after him.” The extent of government wiretapping “is a government secret, and the courts aren’t going to have anything to do with revealing those secrets,” Eisenberg adds.

Widespread Fraud in Taxpayer ID Program

A recently released report shows widespread tax fraud in connection with the federal government’s Individual Taxpayer Identification Number program. The inspector general specifically said there were 154 mailing addresses that were used 1,000 or more times on applications. The inspector general also found 10 individual addresses were used for filing 53,994 tax returns and receiving $86.4 million in fraudulent tax refunds. For example, 23,994 tax refunds totaling $46.3 million were issued to an address in Atlanta; and 2,507 tax refunds totaling $10.4 million were issued to an address in Oxnard, Calif. The U.S. Treasury inspector general report accuses the IRS of discouraging employees from reviewing applications for the ID numbers, which are generally from non-resident workers.

  • And we expect the federal government to be able to effectively overhaul the healthcare system?

Kids Most Vulnerable to New Swine Flu Strain

Swine flu is surging as people pick it up from pigs at state and county fairs. Cases of a new flu variety so far this year have soared from 16 last week to 165 now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. The new flu, called H3N2v, isn’t any more dangerous than regular flu, but children are most vulnerable. They are 90% of those infected so far, almost all of them by being up close and personal with sick pigs at fairs. The new flu is not a food-borne illness. You cannot get it from eating pork. There have been no deaths and only five hospitalizations since the new variety first appeared in 2011. In the past week, there have been 120 cases in Indiana and 30 in Ohio.

Schools Scrambling to Serve Healthier Lunch Choices

When students head back to school this fall, most will be offered a smorgasbord of healthier foods in lunch lines. The reason: New government nutrition standards for school meals go into effect this year, raising the bar for the first time in more than 15 years. Schools must meet the standards to get federal meal reimbursements. Many school districts are doing major overhauls. But some have already made significant improvements in nutritional quality of meals over the last few years. Standards call for dramatic changes, including adding more variety and larger portions of fruits and vegetables, requiring at least half the grains served be whole grains and limiting sodium.

Thousands File Claims after Chevron Refinery Fire

Several thousand Richmond residents have filed legal claims against Chevron Corp., seeking compensation for a refinery fire that fouled the region’s air for hours and sent more than 4,000 people to seek medical care for breathing problems and irritated eyes. Most of the claims appear to be asking for modest amounts, reflecting the fact that there have been no reports of serious injury and nearly all seeking medical care were treated and released after a few hours in the hospital. “It’s not about the money,” said Chanel Harris, who was seeking reimbursement for the cost of taking her three young children to the emergency room of the nearby Kaiser Hospital. “It’s about holding Chevron accountable.”

More Than 100 Million Americans Are On Welfare

There are more Americans dependent on the federal government than ever before in U.S. history. According to the Survey of Income and Program Participation conducted by the U.S. Census, well over 100 million Americans are enrolled in at least one welfare program run by the federal government. Many are enrolled in more than one. That is about a third of the entire population of the country. Sadly, that figure does not even include Social Security or Medicare. Today the federal government runs almost 80 different “means-tested welfare programs”, and almost all of those programs have experienced substantial growth in recent years.

Economic News

The drought that’s drying up the Heartland isn’t just an American problem. It’s causing food prices to surge worldwide. Food is a major U.S. export, so the drought affects prices around the globe. In July, food prices jumped 6%, after three months of declines, according to the United Nations’ monthly Food Price Index released Thursday. The main drivers behind the increase? Grain prices. And more specifically, corn prices, which have hit record highs in recent weeks. According to the U.N. report, global corn prices surged nearly 23% in July.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell by 6,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 361,000, a level consistent with modest gains in hiring. Weekly applications bounced around in July, skewed by the difficulty of accounting for temporary summer layoffs in the auto industry.

Motorists in West Coast states are about to see a big spike in gas prices, the fallout from a fire that cut production at one of the region’s largest oil refineries. Gasoline prices, now averaging $3.88 a gallon in California and $3.72 in Washington, could surge to $4.15 to $4.25 a gallon over the next week to 10 days.

Americans cut back on credit card use in June, further evidence that high unemployment and slow growth has made consumers more cautious about spending. Overall consumer borrowing rose because of increases in auto and student loans. The Federal Reserve says total borrowing increased 3% to $2.58 trillion in June from May, but credit card debt fell 5% to $864.6 billion. A category of borrowing that includes auto and student loans increased 7% to $1.71 trillion.

U.S. companies got slightly more out of their workers this spring after scaling back on hiring. The modest 1.6% annualized gain in productivity from April through June signals employers may need to hire more if demand picks up. The Labor Department said Wednesday that the increase followed a 0.5% decline in the January-March quarter.

China’s growth in factory output fell to a three-year low in July and retail sales weakened, suggesting Beijing might need more stimulus to reverse a painful slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy. Growth in industrial production weakened to 9.2% over a year earlier from June’s 9.5%, its lowest rate since May 2009. Retail sales growth slowed to 13.1% from the previous month’s 13.7%.

Eurozone

Across Spain, towns and villages are selling off assets, raising taxes and cutting budgets to avoid bankruptcy. Spain’s banks are seizing mortgaged property and selling it off to overcome nearly $250 billion in bad loans on their books. Though spending beyond revenues has been a habit for decades in Spain, it was the introduction of the euro, the currency created in the 1990s and joined by 17 European nations, that helped make budgets explode. The euro enjoyed immediate success backed as it is by fiscally solid nations such as Germany, France and the Netherlands. Interest rates fell for all, and municipalities in Spain borrowed heavily on easy credit that came with the AAA ratings of its neighbors.

Middle East

The most recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report presented to President Obama reveals a dramatically more serious estimation of the progress Iran has made on their nuclear weapons program. Previous versions of this report had sharply disagreed with the assessment of Israel intelligence that Iran was making rapid progress. The latest report, however, which was described as “alarming” by one intelligence official, says “Iran has made surprising, notable progress in the research and development of key components of its military nuclear program.”

The descendents of Palestinian families who fled to Syria during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 are now fleeing the fighting in Syria. About 800 such families have crossed into Lebanon over the past 10 days from camps in Damascus and other parts of Syria. Unwanted by the Lebanese, the Palestinians stay in hiding. The last time Palestinians moved into Lebanon in a major way was around the time when the Palestinian Liberation Organization tried to make it a base of operations, sparking a 15-year civil war that claimed more than 200,000 lives.

Syria

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Turkey’s foreign minister say their countries are creating a formal structure to plan for worst-case scenarios in Syria, including a possible chemical weapons attack on regime opponents. Clinton and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Saturday that their two nations would set up a working group to respond to the crisis in Syria as conditions there deteriorate. Clinton said the group was needed in order to explore the “real details” of potential new crises.

Libya

Libya’s newly formed national assembly elected former opposition leader Mohammed el-Megarif as the country’s interim president on Friday, the latest move to establish a democratically based leadership after decades of rule by deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi. El-Megarif, who authored a series of books on Gadhafi’s repressive policies, lived as a wanted fugitive for years, and was the leader of the country’s oldest armed opposition movement, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya.

Afghanistan

A man in an Afghan uniform shot and killed three American troops Friday morning in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military command said, in the third attack on coalition forces by their Afghan counterparts in a week. The Taliban claimed the shooter joined the insurgency after the attack. So far this year, at least 21 similar attacks — in which Afghan forces or insurgents disguised in Afghan uniforms have turned their guns on international troops — have killed 30 coalition service members.

Yemen

U.S. drones killed 10 al-Qaeda militants — one believed to be a top bomb-maker — in separate strikes targeting moving vehicles in Yemen Tuesday. The official SABA news agency said one of those killed was Abdullah Awad al-Masri, also known as Abou Osama al-Maribi, whom it described him as one of the “most dangerous elements” of al-Qaeda in the militant stronghold of Bayda province and the man in charge of a bomb-making lab. The agency said the dead also included a Bahraini, a Saudi, two Egyptians, and one Tunisian.

Egypt

A massive blackout hit many parts of the Egyptian capital on Thursday, briefly halting traffic on much of its crowded subway and delaying the start of trading on the stock exchange. Egypt has been beset by frequent power outages across the country since the hot summer months began. The blackouts, together with water cuts, have enraged Egyptians, sending many to the streets to protest. The decline in basic services have also led to criticism of the country’s new President Mohammed Morsi, who is facing a slew of festering economic and social problems and a crippling budget deficit.

Earthquakes

There are no reports of damage from a late-night moderate earthquake widely felt in Southern California. The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude-4.4 quake struck at 11:23 p.m. Tuesday and was centered two miles east of Yorba Linda in northern Orange County. There was a magnitude-2.7 aftershock about a minute later. The quake was felt throughout the Los Angeles area, including the San Fernando Valley some 50 miles from the epicenter.

Wildfires

Eight wildfires are burning in northern Nevada, having consumed over 261,000 acres, but only five structures have been destroyed. Meanwhile, ten large (over 100 acres) wildfires are active in California, with about 93,000 acres consumed but no structures burned thus far. As of Friday, a total of 54 large wildfires were burning in the U.S., all in the west except for 6 in Oklahoma and 1 in Texas.

Weather

The latest U.S. drought map shows that excessively parched conditions continue to worsen in the Plains states that are key producers of corn and soybean crops. The expanse still gripped by extreme or exceptional drought rose nearly 2 percentage points to 24.14 percent this week. The entire states of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado are now in a drought. The federal government says corn growers could end up with their lowest average yield in 17 years as the drought continues to take its toll. They estimate corn production will be down 13% from last year with the soy bean crop down by 12%.

July was the hottest month in U.S. history, and August promises little relief. July’s average temperature for the contiguous USA was 77.6 degrees Fahrenheit, eclipsing the record set during the heart of the Dust Bowl in 1936. The average July temperature was 3.3 degrees above the 20th-century average and hottest month in records dating to 1895.

Thousands of fish are dying in the Midwest as the hot, dry summer dries up rivers and causes water temperatures to climb in some spots to nearly 100 degrees. About 40,000 shovelnose sturgeon were killed in Iowa last week as water temperatures reached 97 degrees. Nebraska fishery officials said they’ve seen thousands of dead sturgeon, catfish, carp, and other species in the Lower Platte River, including the endangered pallid sturgeon. And biologists in Illinois said the hot weather has killed tens of thousands of large- and smallmouth bass and channel catfish.

  • Perhaps this is how a third of the living creatures in the seas and rivers eventually die (Rev. 8:8-11)

Tropical Storm Ernesto skirted along Mexico’s far-southern Gulf coast early Thursday, passing among some of the country’s offshore oil wells while building again toward hurricane strength before landfall in a region prone to flooding. Ernesto moved out over open water late Wednesday after crossing the Yucatan Peninsula without doing serious damage. Ernesto weakened to a tropical depression as it moved inland Friday, killing seven people and dumping rains in the mountains of Mexico’s flood-prone southern Gulf region.

Thousands of Filipinos shoveled muck and debris from flood-ravaged homes, shops and roads under a shining sun Thursday after nearly two weeks of nonstop rain. The relentless rains submerged half of the sprawling Philippine capital, triggered a landslide that killed 49 people and sent emergency crews scrambling Tuesday to rescue tens of thousands of residents who called media outlets pleading for help. The deluge was set off by the seasonal monsoon that overflowed major dams and rivers in Manila and surrounding provinces. The capital and other parts of the country already were saturated from last week’s Typhoon Saola, which battered Manila and the north for several days before blowing away Friday. That storm was responsible for at least 53 deaths.

Signs of the Times (8/7/12)

August 7, 2012

U.S. Sikh Communities Fearful after Attack

The killing of six worshippers at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee brought fresh worries Sunday to the half million U.S. followers  Sikhs say people who are ignorant about their beliefs mistake them for potential terrorists. With their beards and turbans, Sikhs were associated in the minds of many Americans with the al-Qaeda leader bin Laden. The AP reports that the shooting “is reverberating through every Sikh American home. We are experiencing it as a hate crime,” Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Washington-based Sikh Council on Religion and Education said. “Every Sikh American today is hurting, grieving and afraid.” Sikhs follow the writings and teachings of the Ten Sikh Gurus in the 16th century. It is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world

Failure to Deport Illegal Aliens Yields Crimes

The Washington Times reports that a document compiled by the Congressional Research Service — and recently released by the House Judiciary Committee — revealed that between 2008 and 2011, the Obama administration declined to deport more than 36,000 illegal aliens. Some of those individuals went on to commit 19 murders, three attempted murders, and 142 sex crimes. William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC), says of the details in the report: “Most of these deaths are preventable deaths that are occurring due to the inadequate enforcement of our existing border and immigration laws.” Gheen believes there has been a concerted effort to conceal the high number of murders being committed by illegal immigrants.

Boy Scout Files Reveal Repeat Child Abuse

Internal documents from the Boy Scouts of America reveal more than 125 cases in which men suspected of molestation allegedly continued to abuse Scouts, despite a blacklist meant to protect boys from sexual predators. A Los Angeles Times review of more than 1,200 files from 1970 to 1991 found suspected abusers regularly remained in the organization after officials were first presented with sexual misconduct allegations. Predators moved from troop to troop because of clerical errors, computer glitches or the Scouts’ failure to check the blacklist, known as the “perversion files,” the newspaper said.

  • And the gay agenda calls for even greater access into the Boy Scouts

Obamacare Killing Expansion of Small Companies

Small firms such as restaurant franchises are under more pressure to rein in expansion plans since the Supreme Court in June upheld the main provisions of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, according to the Wall Street Journal. Under the law, firms with 50 or more full-time employees must provide health insurance to workers or pay a penalty. Restaurants and retailers, which are among companies that historically are the least likely to provide insurance, have to take into account a number of factors in deciding whether they will grow beyond the insurance-mandated threshold. Some restaurant owners who offer limited health benefits intend to drop them and pay the $2,000 per worker penalty instead of offering the more expensive insurance required under Obamacare.

Mars Rover Curiosity Lands on the Red Planet

Facing unfavorable odds, the U.S. scored a huge victory on Mars on Monday, landing the largest and most sophisticated mobile laboratory ever launched to another planet. The Curiosity rover survived a perilous seven-minute plunge to the surface of the red planet. The 1:32 a.m. landing came two years late. The $2.5 billion mission came in $900 million over budget. And the very future of the nation’s Mars exploration program was at stake. Almost 70% of previous missions to Mars had ended in failure. Rover instruments will be used to determine if Mars ever harbored the primary building blocks of life.

West Nile Virus rise in the U.S.

The United States is experiencing its biggest spike in West Nile virus since 2004, with 241 cases of the disease reported nationwide this year so far, including four deaths. Of the 42 states that have reported infections in people, birds or mosquitoes, 80% of them have been in Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma. The virus is transmitted through infected mosquitoes. In the United States, most infections occur between June and September, and peak in August.

New Retirees Receiving Less from Social Security than Paid In

People retiring today are part of the first generation of workers who have paid more in Social Security taxes during their careers than they will receive in benefits after they retire. It’s a historic shift that will only get worse for future retirees. Previous generations got a much better bargain, mainly because payroll taxes were very low when Social Security was enacted in the 1930s and remained so for decades. As recently as 1985, workers at every income level could retire and expect to get more in benefits than they paid in Social Security taxes, though they didn’t do quite as well as their parents and grandparents. Not anymore. A married couple retiring last year, after both spouses earned average lifetime wages, paid about $598,000 in Social Security taxes during their careers. They can expect to collect about $556,000 in benefits if the man lives to 82 and the woman lives to 85, according to a 2011 study by the Urban Institute.

Economic News

Government-controlled mortgage giant Freddie Mac posted net income of $1.2 billion for the second quarter and isn’t requesting any additional federal aid for the period. The government rescued Freddie and larger sibling Fannie Mae in September 2008 after massive losses on risky mortgages threatened to topple them. Freddie Mac requested $19 million in federal aid in the first quarter of 2012. The company received $7.6 billion in 2011 and $13 billion in 2010. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were set up by Congress to buy mortgages from retail lenders and package those loans for sale to investors. They were subsequently allowed to sell stock to the public.

Gas prices rose dramatically in the past week, up 13.7 cents a gallon, with the Midwest being hit hardest. The price of a gallon of regular averaged $3.645 a gallon nationally, up from $3.508 a week ago. Prices have risen now for five consecutive weeks from a low of $3.356 a gallon on July 2nd. In the Midwest, prices jumped 25.7 cents a gallon during the week to $3.772 a gallon.

Arizona went into its new budget cycle with more than $800 million in cash on hand — more than planners predicted and a stark contrast with years of battling billion-dollar budget deficits. However, the state is not planning on increased spending because the temporary 1-cent-per-dollar sales-tax hike expires next year. In addition, the federal health-care act will strain the budget, depending on the extent to which Arizona decides to fund its Medicaid population

Middle East

Masked gunmen killed 16 Egyptian soldiers Sunday at a checkpoint along the border with Gaza and Israel, the first such attack on troops — and then the attackers drove off, crashing into Israel. Egypt blamed Islamist militants from Gaza and Egypt’s troubled Sinai Peninsula. The Israeli military said the attack was part of a plot to abduct an Israeli soldier, and two vehicles commandeered by the attackers crashed into Israel, where one blew up. Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel’s military “thwarted an attack that could have injured many. The militants’ attack methods again raise the need for determined Egyptian action to enforce security and prevent terror in the Sinai.”

Saudi Arabia

On August 1, Saudi Arabia deported the last of 35 Ethiopian Christians arrested and detained for holding an all-night prayer vigil at a private home on December 15, 2011, International Christian Concern reports. Saudi officials originally accused them of “mixing with opposite gender,” but when pressured by U.S. officials, they started giving other reasons for the detention, including being in the country illegally and engaging in drug and human trafficking. Saudi security officials assaulted, harassed and pressured the Christians to convert to Islam during their incarceration, but finally released them after international efforts, petitions and protests led by ICC. “We have arrived home safe [and] we believe that we are released as the result of the pressure exerted by ICC and others,” one of the prisoners said. “The Saudi officials don’t tolerate any other religions other than Islam. They consider non-Muslims as unbelievers. They are full of hatred towards non-Muslims.” Jonathan Racho of ICC said: “Saudi Arabian officials clearly demonstrated their utter disregard for religious freedom by arresting, mistreating and deporting the Christians for holding a prayer meeting. The Saudis deceive the international community by pretending to promote tolerance among followers of different religious beliefs; however, in reality they don’t tolerate any other religion besides Wahhabi Islam.”

Syria

Syria’s prime minister defected and fled to neighboring Jordan, a Jordanian official and a rebel spokesman said Monday, evidence that the cracks in President Bashar’s Assad’s regime have reached the highest echelons of government. Heavy explosions shook the Syrian capital of Damascus Saturday and helicopters circled overhead as rebels appeared to be renewing their offensive in the city. The fresh battles show that President Bashar Assad’s victories could be fleeting as armed opposition groups regroup and resurge, forcing the regime to shuffle military units to react to attacks across the country. The country’s civil war has intensified in recent weeks as rebels focused on the country’s two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo.

The UN General Assembly has voted in favor of a non-binding resolution on Syria pushed by several Arab states. Before the vote, Russia announced that it would not support the resolution, calling it unbalanced. The bill was passed with 133 votes in favor, 12 against, and 31 abstentions. The resolution, authored by Saudi Arabia and actively supported by Egypt and Bahrain, demands that President Bashar al-Assad transfer power to a transitional government and that the Syrian Army ceases tank and helicopter attacks against rebel forces. It also demands that Syria refrain from using chemical and biological weapons. This clause comes after a recent announcement from Damascus alleging that Syria possessed chemical weapons, and would not hesitate to use them against an invading army.

Afghanistan

The Afghan parliament voted Saturday to dismiss the country’s defense and interior ministers, a move that threatens to throw the country’s security apparatus into confusion as foreign forces withdraw. The vote demanded the dismissal of two of President Hamid Karzai’s key security lieutenant. Legislators faulted the two for what they view as the government’s weak response to cross-border attacks that Afghans blame on the Pakistani military, with lawmakers asking why Afghanistan has not launched a military response. The parliamentarians also asked the ministers about allegations of corruption within their ministries and alleged security lapses that led to recent assassinations of top officials.

Yemen

A suicide bomber blew himself up at a wake in southern Yemen on Saturday night, killing more than 45 people and wounding at least 41. Officials expect the death toll to rise. Suspicion fell on al Qaeda which vowed to retaliate against tribesmen who fought alongside the government to uproot it from the region. Kidnappings and violence in Yemen have become increasingly common in recent years, especially since last year’s uprising that eventually ended President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year rule in February. Most of the violence has been blamed on affiliates of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Turkey

Turkey’s security forces have killed as many as 115 Kurdish rebels during a major security offensive over the past two weeks, the country’s interior minister said Sunday. The rebels were killed in an airpower-backed offensive near the town of Semdinli, in Hakkari province which sits on the border with Iraq. The security forces were trying to block the rebels’ escape routes into northern Iraq.

India

Following India’s massive blackout last week, it has been revealed that as much as 40% of the power generated in India is not paid for. The bulk of it is stolen. The lights are back on, for now, but the crisis is evidence of deep problems in a sector teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Scant rainfall has driven up demand, as farmers switch on electric pumps for irrigation, and crimped hydroelectric supply, which generates about 20% of India’s electricity. The deeper problem, however, stems from decades of populist pricing and inefficiency that have pushed losses at state utilities to an estimated $10 billion in the year that ended in March.

Greece

Authorities in Greece are rounding up thousands of suspected illegal immigrants in a large-scale deportation drive to combat what a government official compared to a prehistoric invasion. Greece has long been Europe’s main entry point for illegal immigrants from Asia and Africa seeking a better life in the West. But Greece’s severe economic problems and high unemployment are making the problem worse than ever. Police said Monday that 6,000 people were detained over the weekend in Athens. Officers across the city were seen stopping mostly African and Asian people in the street for identification checks.

Volcanoes

A volcano quiet for more than a century erupted in a New Zealand national park, spreading thick ash for several miles and causing some residents to evacuate their homes. Some domestic flights were canceled Tuesday. Mount Tongariro spewed ash and rocks for about 30 minutes late Monday night after a few weeks of increased seismic activity. It didn’t cause any injuries or damage in the sparsely populated central North Island region. Tongariro National Park has three active volcanoes, is a popular tourist destination and was the backdrop for many scenes in the “Lord of the Rings” movies.

Wildfires

Oklahoma’s governor has banned outdoor burning amid 113-degree heat and drought-fed fourteen wildfires that have destroyed homes and closed highways, including a stretch of I-35. Residents of 75 to 100 homes in Luther, south of Oklahoma City, were ordered to evacuate a wind-whipped fire that officials suspect is arson. 25 structures have burned. In Cleveland County, several homes near Slaughterville were destroyed by a wildfire that was threatening 75 to 100 homes and appeared to be heading north toward the Norman city limits. So far, no reports of injuries or losses of livestock. The stubborn wildfires burning across Oklahoma probably will continue for the next several days, as hot, dry conditions keep danger levels high there.

As a wildfire’s flames raced to the edge of Montana’s Lame Deer town limits, police drove the streets with loudspeakers blaring orders for residents of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation community to grab their most important belongings and get out. Buses were waiting to carry people from the danger area, which on Thursday night suddenly meant the entire town of 2,000. The fire had already burned two homes earlier in the day, then wind from a cold front whipped up the flames and drove the blaze straight toward town. Firefighters worked overnight to keep the flames back. At one point early Friday, the fire jumped Highway 212, but firefighters contained it with a backburn of the surrounding area, and the wildfire skirted around town without destroying any buildings or causing any injuries.

Weather

Tropical Storm Ernesto swirled along Honduras’ northern coast early Tuesday, staying offshore and bringing the threat of torrential rains as it headed toward landfall as a possible hurricane near Mexico’s border with Belize. Nicaraguan authorities moved some people from low-lying areas, while Honduran officials urged people along its Caribbean coast to stay alert.

An official says flash floods and landslides triggered by torrential rains have killed at least seven people in northern India. 19 other people are missing and may have been washed away by floods that swept the Himalayan foothills in Uttarakhand state. There has been incessant rain in the state since late Thursday and several rivers are overflowing their banks.

 

Signs of the Times (8/3/12)

August 3, 2012

U.S. Appeals Court Blocks Arizona’s Abortion Ban

A federal appeals court on Wednesday temporarily prohibited Arizona from enforcing its new ban on most abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its order two days after a trial judge ruled that the ban could take effect Thursday as scheduled. The appellate court put the ban on hold until a pending appeal is decided, which will take at least several months. It said in a brief order that it will hold a hearing as soon as possible this fall after receiving legal briefs due in September and October. The case centers on whether the ban violates U.S. Supreme Court rulings that states cannot prohibit abortion before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb. That’s generally considered to be about 24 weeks.

Chick-fil-A Supporters Line Up for Appreciation Day

People across the country flocked to Chick-fil-A Wednesday in support of remarks by the restaurant’s CEO backing traditional marriage, ABC News reports. Many of the chain’s stores reported record crowds, and the local outlet in Augusta, Ga., ran out of food and had to close early. At one Atlanta location, the line for the drive-thru looped twice around the building and out onto the street, and in Crystal City, Va., a steady line went down the block for three hours. Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy appeared at a Fayetteville, N.C., location to thank customers for eating there. More than 630,000 supporters had signed up to celebrate Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, which former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee created to counter a boycott launched by gay-rights activists after Cathy said his company supported the biblical definition of marriage.

LGBT Group Files Human-Rights Complaint Against Chick-fil-A

The Civil Rights Agenda, a local LGBT rights advocacy group, filed multiple complaints with the Illinois Department of Human Rights Thursday, alleging that the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A restaurant chain’s “intolerant corporate culture” violates Illinois law and a provision in the state’s Human Rights Act. “They have made it clear the lives of LGBT individuals are unacceptable to them and that same-gender families are unwelcome at Chick-fil-A,” said Jacob Meister, Governing Board President of TCRA and the attorney who filed the complaint.

  • A ‘kiss-in’ scheduled for today (Friday) is expected to garner more coverage by the liberal media despite far fewer numbers than showed up Wednesday in support of Chick-fil-A and traditional marriage

Governments Attacking Religious Freedom in Nearly Half the World’s Countries

Attacks on Christians are rising in Arab Spring countries, anti-Semitism is growing around the globe, and people worldwide are paying with their lives for their religious beliefs, according to the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report, released this week at the State Department, CNSNews.com reports. “[In] nearly half of the world’s countries, governments either abuse religious minorities or did not intervene in cases of societal abuse,” said Suzan Johnson Cook, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. In all eight countries named last August as “countries of particular concern” — Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan — religious freedom deteriorated during the last year, according to the report. In North Korea, “genuine religious freedom does not exist,” Cook said, while religious freedom in Iran “has deteriorated from an already horrible situation.” Other countries, especially in the Muslim world, are “increasingly using blasphemy and apostasy and dissent laws to curb religious freedom,” she said.

  • Most such attacks are committed by Islamists against Judeo-Christian supporters as well as against other Muslim sects

Global ‘Weirdness’ in Summer’s Extreme Weather Events

A plague of extreme weather events, from Greenland briefly thawing to the derecho thunderstorms that knocked out power for millions across the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest has struck this summer. Above all, an exceptional drought has marked roughly 50% of all U.S. counties nationwide as federal disaster areas. That’s on top of last year, which saw record U.S. tornadoes, floods and a drought that tortured Texas and Oklahoma, leading some scientists to call it global weirdness. Greenland holds enough ice that if it melted instantly — which no one is predicting — sea levels worldwide would rise about 20 feet, explaining the interest in its weather. In reality, such surface thaws have happened before: A melt in 1889, judging by ice cores, and much of the four-day melt this summer refroze once the heat wave passed.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more ‘weird’ and extreme regardless of the causes

Immigrants Are Big Business for Prison Companies

The U.S. is locking up more illegal immigrants than ever, generating lucrative profits for the nation’s largest prison companies, and an Associated Press review shows the businesses have spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying lawmakers and contributing to campaigns. The cost to American taxpayers is on track to top $2 billion for this year, and the companies are expecting their biggest cut of that yet in the next few years thanks to government plans for new facilities to house the 400,000 immigrants detained annually. After a decade of expansion, the sprawling, private system runs detention centers everywhere from a Denver suburb to an industrial area flanking Newark’s airport, and is largely controlled by just three companies. In 2011, nearly half the beds in the nation’s civil detention system were in private facilities with little federal oversight, up from just 10 percent a decade ago. The financial boom, which has helped save some of these companies from the brink of bankruptcy, has occurred even though federal officials acknowledge privatization isn’t necessarily cheaper.

  • With illegal immigrants courted as voters and locked up for profit, there’s little hope for any real immigration reform anytime soon

Number of U.S. Farmers Markets Surges

As demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables has increased, so too has the number of urban farmers markets sprouting up across the nation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Friday that the number of direct-sales markets has increased 9.6% in the past year, with California and New York leading the way. After 18 years of steady increases, the number of farmers markets across the country now registered with the USDA is 7,864. In 1994, there were 1,744. Today, some markets are so popular that there are wait lists for farmers to sell there.

Tax-Delinquent Providers Get $6.6B in Medicaid Funds

Despite owing at least $791 million in federal taxes, about 7,000 Medicaid providers in Florida, New York, and Texas received $6.6 billion in reimbursements during 2009, the Government Accountability Office says in a report released Friday. Because Medicaid payments to doctors, hospitals and other providers are channeled through state health programs, they are not considered “federal” funds. As a result, the Internal Revenue Service says, it cannot collect the unpaid taxes. The report says the amount of unpaid federal taxes “is likely understated” because IRS data reflect “only the amount of unpaid taxes either reported on a tax return or assessed by IRS through enforcement; it does not include entities that did not file tax returns or underreported their income.”

  • With a behemoth federal bureaucracy comes greater inefficiency, not less

House Votes to Extend Tax Cuts for All Through 2013

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to extend tax cuts through 2013 for all income levels, defying a veto threat from President Barack Obama. The 256-171 vote, mostly along party lines, continues a stalemate on tax policy that lawmakers say will last beyond the Nov. 6 election. Nineteen Democrats voted for the Republican bill, and one Republican was opposed. The measure won’t advance in the Democratic-led Senate. Obama and congressional Democrats want to let the tax cuts expire for top earners, and each side is accusing the other of holding the country hostage to get its way.

Economic News

The nation’s unemployment rate ticked up from 8.2% to 8.3% as the economy added just 163,000 jobs in July. Overall, private employers added 172,000 jobs in July while governments cut 9,000, the Labor Department reported. The number of unemployed was 12.8 million in July and the number of long-term unemployed was 5.2 million. The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose last week. Weekly applications increased 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 365,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

About 1 million long-term unemployed Americans are seeing their jobless benefits phasing out this year as the federal government reels in Great Recession lifelines that provided unemployment checks for as long as 99 weeks in many states. By year’s end, another 2 million will see their checks cut off sooner because extended unemployment benefits will end beyond the standard 26 weeks that states pay for. Congress could renew the program, but many economists say that’s unlikely.

After dipping to $3.33 a gallon and flirting with $3 in the South, the nation’s average gas price climbed 17 cents over 26 consecutive days in July. It was the first monthly gain since March and the biggest July jump since at least 2000, AAA said Tuesday. Nationally, regular gasoline averaged $3.50 a gallon Wednesday, although it’s pricier in 25 states.

War on Terror

Western strikes on Al Qaeda have shown progress in taking out the terror group’s core in Pakistan, but affiliates still are increasing “operational capabilities,” the State Department said in releasing its annual Country Reports on Terrorism. The report also notes the threat from other terror groups, including the Lebanese-based Hezbollah, which is engaging in their most active and aggressive campaigns since the 1990s. The report counted more than 10,000 terrorists attacks in 70 countries in 2011, which resulted in more than 12,500 deaths, though that measurement is down from 2010. The worst regions for terrorist attacks are South Asia and the Near East, and most of the victims are Muslim. Sixty-four percent of all attacks worldwide occurred in just three countries, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan

Middle East

In a speech published on his website Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the ultimate goal of world forces must be the annihilation of Israel. Speaking to ambassadors from Islamic countries ahead of ‘Qods Day’ (‘Jerusalem Day’), an annual Iranian anti-Zionist event established in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini and which falls this year on August 17, Ahmadinejad said that a “horrible Zionist current” had been managing world affairs for “about 400 years.” Repeating traditional anti-Semitic slurs, the Iranian president accused “Zionists” of controlling the world’s media and financial systems.

  • Like Hitler, Ahmadinejad knows if you repeat a lie often enough, eventually a majority of the people will believe it

Egypt

Egypt’s new prime minister and his Cabinet were sworn in on Thursday, the first government since the election of a Muslim Brotherhood leader as the country’s first freely elected president. The Cabinet seemed designed to avoid any appearance of Brotherhood domination, including several members of the out-going, military-picked government and mainly technocratic figures. Still, Brotherhood members took four ministries. It also retains in his post Hosni Mubarak’s defense minister of 20 years, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, a reflection of how the military, which Tantawi heads, still holds overwhelming powers in the country. The new government is the first since the June 30 inauguration of President Mohammed Morsi, a longtime Muslim Brotherhood leader. It comes at a time when tensions are mounting over the country’s recent sectarian violence and growing popular discontent over issues such as widespread power and water outages as well as shortages.

Syria

Mortars rained down on a crowded marketplace in a Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital, killing 21 people as regime forces and rebels clashed on the southern outskirts of Damascus. The Britain-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights said the mortars hit as shoppers were buying food for the evening meal. Clashes continued on Friday and sounds of explosions from the neighborhood could be heard as far as the mostly deserted Damascus downtown, with plumes of smoke seen rising into the sky. Violence worsened across Syria on Friday as defiant demonstrators took to the streets. An all-out battle is expected in Aleppo, the nation’s most populous city. For days, it has been engulfed in fighting between regime forces and rebels.

Iraq

A double bombing struck at an upscale neighborhood Iraq’s capital Tuesday, killing at least 21 as the government strained to control al-Qaida-based chaos gripping the country. The bloody explosions came on the same day that Iraq’s government discussed security issues with Iran, a measure of Tehran’s growing influence. The violence brought the July death toll to 245 people killed in shootings and bombings.

Afghanistan

Terrorists will stop at nothing to keep Afghan girls from receiving an education. There were at least 185 documented attacks on schools and hospitals in Afghanistan last year, according to the United Nations. The majority were attributed to armed groups opposed to girls’ education. “It is heartbreaking to see the way these terrorists treat … women,” said Razia Jan, founder of a girls’ school outside Kabul.. “In their eyes, a woman is an object that they can control. They are scared that when these girls get an education, they will become aware of their rights as women and as a human being.”

Wildfires

A once-thriving Colorado neighborhood of homes and healthy trees has been reduced to a barren expanse of ash and debris. Across the state, a river prized for its trout, rapids and pristine water instead flows as an oily, black brew every time rain falls on nearby slopes charred by wildfire. In New Mexico, the Santa Clara Pueblo is seeking volunteers to fill sandbags for fear the American Indian village of 3,100 will be washed away by runoff from mountainsides left denuded by a blaze last year. Wildfires across the West are burning homes, businesses, bridges and other infrastructure necessary for everyday life — and the disaster isn’t over when the wildfire is snuffed out and the firefighters go home. Erosion from seared hillsides buries roads in mud and pollutes rivers that supply tap water. The point was driven home earlier this week when a mudslide following heavy rain in Colorado’s Waldo Canyon burn area temporarily closed U.S. 24 near Manitou Springs. Experts say recovery can take years and untold millions of dollars simply to make conditions livable again.

Weather

Drought and scorching heat are warming lakes, streams and rivers in the Midwest and Plains to temperatures seldom seen before. In Chicago, Lake Michigan hit 82 degrees in late July. The water temperature of the Mississippi River at Moline measured 91 degrees, the highest since records began in 1943. Customers complained to the water department in Moline that the “cold” water is coming out warm now. Fish kills because of the warm water have been reported in Michigan, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota.

Some farmers are selling off their livestock herds because they can’t afford to buy feed, marking a new level of fallout from the drought that will affect consumers and possibly the entire U.S. economy. The cost of meat at the grocery likely will drop as farmers liquidate cattle and pigs in the next few weeks, but higher prices and even shortages could follow. Small meatpacking plants might be forced to reduce shifts or lay off workers just as consumers tighten their budgets after a summer of high air-conditioning bills.

Although the withering drought and relentless heat wave made weather headlines throughout July, there was some good news last month: July 2012 was one of the quietest Julys for tornadoes on record in the U.S. Only 24 preliminary reports of tornadoes were filed in July. An average July has 98 tornadoes. There were also no named tropical storms or hurricanes in the Atlantic.

Nearly a year after the remnants of Hurricane Irene unleashed devastating floods in much of Vermont, a new report by an environmental group says extreme downpours and snowfalls are the new normal — up 85 percent in New England since 1948. Nationally, Environment America’s report found that storms with extreme precipitation increased in frequency by 30 percent across the contiguous United States from 1948 to 2011. It said the largest annual storms produced 10 percent more precipitation, on average. It said New England was the region where the trend was most pronounced. Intense storms more than doubled in New Hampshire during the period studied.

Torrential rains from an approaching typhoon battered eastern Taiwan on Wednesday after killing at least 14 people and displacing 154,000 in the Philippines. Parts of northeastern Taiwan already reported rainfall of close to 30 inches by Wednesday afternoon, while the bureau said about one-third of that amount had fallen in suburban Taipei. It could dump more than 59 inches of rain in northern Taiwan before moving west toward the Chinese coast late Thursday.