Signs of the Times (8/31/12)

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.”

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