Signs of the Times (8/28/12)

‘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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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