Signs of the Times (8/7/12)

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’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.


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.


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’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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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