Signs of the Times (8/18/12)

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.

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