Signs of the Times (10/16/12)

Hobby Lobby’s Request to Halt Contraception Mandate Gets Hearing Date

A judge has scheduled a hearing for Christian crafts retailer Hobby Lobby’s request for preliminary injunction on the Health and Human Services mandate that would require the company to provide emergency contraceptive coverage or face steep fines, the Christian Post reports. The hearing will take place at 10 a.m. on Oct. 24 in Oklahoma City. Hobby Lobby’s owner and founder, David Green, says the mandate violates their religious beliefs because it forces the business to provide insurance covering abortion-inducing drugs, such as the “morning-after” pill. When Hobby Lobby filed suit against the federal government in September, it became the first evangelical employer to challenge the mandate. Thirty-one lawsuits have now been filed to date against the mandate, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

Home Depot Promotes Gay Marriage and Gay Military

This past weekend, Home Depot set up a booth at the Atlanta Gay Pride festival. They have done this for many years and continue to support events that push “gay” marriage. One of the main purposes of “gay” pride events is to push for the legalization of gay marriage. Rather than remaining neutral on the issue, Home Depot has taken the side of grown men who parade in public places dressed as drag queens and “fairies.” Home Depot also promoted homosexuality in the military. Posted on the back of the Home Depot float was a huge sign promoting OutServe. OutServe is a national organization promoting homosexuality in the military, including forcing chaplains to conduct same-sex weddings on military bases. The American Family Association is promoting a boycott of Home Depot.

  • There was a firestorm of media outrage over Chick-Fil-A’s president endorsing traditional, Biblical marriage. Where are they when corporations similarly, and more aggressively, promote gay marriage?

Liberal Universities Discriminate Against Conservatives

Conservatives have maintained for years that they are passed over for jobs and promotions at law schools because of their views, but formal challenges have been rare, in part because of the difficulty of proving discrimination. Teresa Wagner says she was blackballed at the University of Iowa because of her legal work against abortion rights and will take her complaint to a jury this week in a case that is being closely watched in higher education because of longstanding allegations of political bias at left-leaning law schools. At a federal trial that starts Monday in Davenport, Wagner will argue that the law school faculty blocked her appointment because she had opposed abortion rights, gay marriage and euthanasia while working as a lawyer for the Family Research Council and the National Right to Life Committee in Washington.

Conservatives are also calling foul against a Maryland university for disciplining one of its employees because she signed a petition to let voters decide the homosexual “marriage” issue. Family Research Council (FRC) spokesman J.P. Duffy explains that Gallaudet University has placed its chief diversity officer, Dr. Angela McCaskill, on paid leave because she signed the petition to put the issue on the Maryland ballot. “Up until just a few years ago, I think a decision punishing any employee for engaging in the democratic process would have actually been jaw-dropping. This discriminatory action reflects really a troubling nationwide trend of voter intimidation and bullying tactics against those who believe in marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

  • Liberals and gay activists are quick to cry “intolerance” and “hatred” but it is actually them that are intolerant, vengeful and hateful

Deficit Tops $1 Trillion for Fourth Straight Year Under Obama

The U.S. budget deficit has topped $1 trillion for a fourth straight year, but a modest improvement in economic growth helped narrow the gap by $207 billion compared with last year. The Treasury Department said last Friday the deficit for the 2012 budget year totaled $1.1 trillion. Tax revenue rose 6.4 percent from last year to more than $2.4 trillion, helping contain the deficit. The government’s revenue rose as more people got jobs and received income. Corporations also contributed more tax revenue than in 2011. Government spending fell 1.7 percent to $3.5 trillion. The decline reflected, in part, less defense spending as U.S. military involvement in Iraq was winding down. Barack Obama’s presidency has now coincided with four straight $1 trillion-plus annual budget deficits — the first in history. The government borrowed about 31 cents of every dollar it spent in 2012. The string of $1 trillion-plus deficits has driven the national debt above $16 trillion.

‘Waste Book’ Details $19 Billion in Wasteful Government Spending

The latest survey of government waste was released by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Known simply as the Waste Book, the report is a watchlist of eye-opening expenditures, which Coburn blames on a “let them eat caviar” attitude in Washington — at a time when “23 million of our fellow Americans do not have good jobs.” In all, the 2012 Waste Book report details 100 examples totaling nearly $19 billion. Coburn acknowledges that’s a drop in the bucket in contrast to the overall federal deficit, which tops $16 trillion, but he says the items are snapshots of the bigger problem. “The way you get rid of trillion-dollar deficits — a billion at a time,” Coburn told Fox News on Tuesday.

Economic News

Higher gas prices and strong car and electronics sales combined to lift retail sales in September. Overall retail sales rose 1.1%, according to the Census Bureau, little changed from the 1.2% rise in August. Much of the increased spending came from a 2.3% rise in spending at gas stations. Gas prices rose in much of the nation in September, especially in the Northeast. Car sales in the month reached their highest level in more than four years, driven by pent-up demand for new cars, higher prices for used cars and greater access to financing for many buyers. The sector with the biggest increase in demand was electronics and appliance stores. That was driven by the introduction of Apple’s latest iPhone.

Consumer prices held steady last month, as falling energy prices largely canceled out slight increases in food, clothing and shelter. The government’s key measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index, showed consumer prices were unchanged in July. Despite the Midwest drought, food prices only ticked up 0.1%. Higher prices on corn, wheat and soybeans are likely to drive inflation higher later this year, but only slightly, with food accounting for only 14% of the CPI’s basket of goods.

Middle East

The Israel Air Force struck a rocket-launching terror cell in the central Gaza Strip on Sunday evening, shortly after the Palestinians had launched projectiles at a southern Israeli farming district. Palestinian medical sources said two men were killed and two more were injured in the air strike. The attack marked the third IAF strike on Gaza terror targets within 24 hours, bringing the Palestinian death toll to five in that span. The Palestinian media reported that the raid was conducted on multiple targets in central Gaza, east of Deir el-Balah.

Israel has warned that it will confront by force a Gaza-bound ship if it tries to break the blockade of the Palestinian territory, a Finnish foreign ministry spokesman has said. “The foreign ministry has been informed by Israel that it would intervene if the ship Estelle which is flying the Finnish flag tries to break [Israel’s] blockade against Gaza from the sea,” spokesman Risto Piipponen said on state television on Saturday. The yacht, which was built in 1922, sailed from Naples, Italy on October 6 as part of the “Freedom Flotilla” movement, in the latest bid to break Israel’s blockade. The voyage was organized by an international pro-Palestinian coalition.

Fathi Hammad, minister of the interior and national security for Hamas, a recognized terror group, has admitted as much, confirming that “half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis.” A few years back, Hal Lindsey wrote that “Palestinians” are not “a homogeneous people, but rather a mixed conglomerate of workers with no cohesive organizational or political skills.”

  • The plight of Palestinians in Gaza is serious, but it’s not Israel’s fault. Arab nations flooded Gaza and the West Bank with its poorest, most troublesome Muslims in order to cultivate sympathy. Then they’ve used Gaza as a base for rocket launches and terrorist attacks. Hamas needs to clean up its own act and take care of its own people.

Libya

A month after the killing of the American ambassador ignited a public outcry for civilian control of Libya’s fractious militias, that hope has been all but lost in a tangle of grudges, rivalries and egos, the New York Times reports. Scores of disparate militias remain Libya’s only effective police force but have stubbornly resisted government control, a dynamic that is making it difficult for either the Libyan authorities or the United States to catch the attackers who killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Shocked by that assault, tens of thousands of people filled the streets last month to demand the dismantling of all the militias. But the country’s interim president, Mohamed Magariaf, warned them to back off as leaders of the largest brigades threatened to cut off the vital services they provide, like patrolling the borders and putting out fires.

Syria

Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats. That casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States, the New York Times notes.

The war in Syria has led to another war of words internationally, with Russia slamming a report that accuses the Syrian air force of using Russian-made cluster bombs. The report says the cluster bombs are Soviet-made, but says it’s unclear how or when Syria allegedly acquired them. “There are loads of weapons in this region, including in Syria and other countries of the region, and arms are supplied there in large quantities and illegally,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said

For the second time in a week, Turkish officials are searching a civilian airplane headed to Syria, in what appears to be the enforcement of a new Turkish air blockade against the Syrian government. An Armenian cargo plane destined for the battle-scarred Syrian city of Aleppo stopped first in the Turkish city of Erzurum for an inspection of its cargo Monday morning. Unlike last week’s unexpected grounding of a Syrian passenger plane flying from Moscow to Damascus, the plane transporting humanitarian aid to Syria and its stop in Turkey was planned.

Iran

European Union foreign ministers Monday gave their formal approval to a fresh, wide-reaching package of sanctions against Iran and called on the Islamic Republic to urgently comply with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program. In a joint statement, EU ministers voiced ‘serious and deepening concerns’ over Iran’s nuclear program and the expansion of its uranium enrichment capacities and called on the regime to cooperate with international nuclear inspectors. Iran says its nuclear activities are for peaceful, civilian purposes… One cornerstone of the latest measures is a ban on all financial transactions between European and Iranian banks, unless they relate to humanitarian aid. Iran’s central bank will face fresh restrictions and the export of materials and metals used for industrial or military purposes will be prohibited. New rules will seek to curb the movement of Iranian oil tankers and cargoes and impede the country’s ship-building capacities.

The United States believes that Iran is behind cyberattacks on American banks and the oil industry in the Middle East. The U.S. intelligence apparatus observed and tracked the attacks as coming out of Iran. “It certainly is the case that Iran is improving its capabilities in the cyber field. We’re paying attention. We are concerned about their increasing ability to operate in this realm,” a U.S. intelligence official said.

Official news agencies in Iran reported on Monday that security forces have launched a major crackdown on house churches in the Islamic Republic. Describing the churches as a “network of criminals” the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) linked Fars agency added that  “most people attracted to these networks come from weak and vulnerable segments of society, who have psychological, emotional and economic problems.”

Libya

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday tried to douse a political firestorm over the deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, saying she’s responsible for the security of American diplomatic outposts. “I take responsibility,” Clinton said during a visit to Peru. “I’m in charge of the State Department’s 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts.” But she said an investigation now under way will ultimately determine what happened at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed on September 11. Administration officials initially suggested that the attack was “spontaneous” violence that grew out of protests over an anti-Islam film, rather than a premeditated attack. It later became clear that intelligence officials suspected terrorism almost immediately, and investigators now think extremists tied to Al Qaeda carried out a coordinated attack.

The White House has put special operations strike forces on standby and moved drones into the skies above Africa, ready to strike militant targets from Libya to Mali — if investigators can find the al-Qaida-linked group responsible for the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya. But officials say the administration, with weeks until the presidential election, is weighing whether the short-term payoff of exacting retribution on al-Qaida is worth the risk that such strikes could elevate the group’s profile in the region, alienate governments the U.S. needs to fight it in the future and do little to slow the growing terror threat in North Africa.

Afghanistan

Now at its biggest size yet, 195,000 soldiers, the Afghan Army is so plagued with desertions and low re-enlistment rates that it has to replace a third of its entire force every year, officials say. The attrition strikes at the core of America’s exit strategy in Afghanistan: to build an Afghan National Army that can take over the war and allow the United States and NATO forces to withdraw by the end of 2014. The Afghan deserters complain of corruption among their officers, poor food and equipment, indifferent medical care, Taliban intimidation of their families and, probably most troublingly, a lack of belief in the army’s ability to fight the insurgents after the American military withdraws. On top of that, recruits now undergo tougher vetting because of concerns that enemy infiltration of the Afghan military is contributing to a wave of attacks on international forces.

Pakistan

Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl activist shot in the head by the Taliban, is on her way to Britain for treatment as she struggles to overcome her injuries. Malala will require prolonged care to fully recover from the physical and psychological effects of trauma. She is being transferred to a facility in Britain specializing in care for children with severe injuries. Malala has gained renown in Pakistan and around the globe for her efforts to defend the right of girls to go to school where she lives, the Taliban-heavy Swat Valley. While the Pakistani news media debate how the country should respond to the attack, thousands of people nationwide have joined in rallies in support of the wounded 14-year-old.

Mauritania

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who came under fire from his own troops just hours before, took to his country’s airwaves Sunday, saying the shooting incident was an accident. Troops shot the president late Saturday in what the government is calling a case of “friendly fire” — though others believe it may have been something more sinister. Aziz’s convoy mistakenly came under fire as it was heading back toward the capital of Nouakchott. The gunshots came from a military unit stationed alongside the road in the west African country. Aziz said Sunday he had a successful operation to treat minor injuries. But witnesses said they believe the incident was an assassination attempt, because unknown armed men shot their guns at the president and ran away. Mauritania has a history of political instability and faces threats from al Qaeda militants.

Weather

There were 116 reports of severe thunderstorm activity over the weekend. This sum consisted of 10 tornado reports, 65 severe wind reports, and 41 severe hail reports. The average number of tornadoes for October is 56 for the full month and 23 for the first two weeks of the month; so far in October 2012, the preliminary count stands at 15. This follows six consecutive months (April through September) of below-average tornado activity.

Saturday, Valdez, Alaska, America’s snowiest city, witnessed its first measurable snow of the season, picking up 1.6″ accumulation.  A whopping 438″ of snow fell in Valdez last season.  That’s 36 feet of total snow accumulation!  The 2011-2012 season delivered over 100 inches above the average (326″).Saturday’s first measurable snow in Valdez occurred 17 days earlier than last season.

Last year’s mild winter and a bumper crop of nuts have caused an apparent explosion in the squirrel population in patches of the country, bewildering fruit growers with their ravenous appetites, littering highway shoulders as roadkill, and keeping homeowners and pest control experts busy. Biologists know squirrel populations have rare but periodic “eruptions,” when conditions coincide to produce abundant foods that fuel the fast-reproducing animals. This year’s squirrel boom in parts of Vermont followed two seasons of bountiful acorn and beechnut crops and last year’s mild winter.

Tropical Storm Rafael unleashed heavy rain and powerful gusts on the Virgin Islands early Sunday. Rafael became a category one hurricane Monday evening, making it the ninth hurricane of the Atlantic season. Bermuda is the next land area near Rafael’s path. It may brush southeast Newfoundland later Wednesday or early Thursday.

A tornado that struck the northern suburbs of Marseille, France, on Sunday has been rated an EF1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, with estimated winds of 86 to 110 miles per hour. The tornado traveled about 2.5 miles with an average width of about 500 feet, tearing through a commercial center as well as a mix of industrial areas, forests, and farmland. Many automobiles were damaged by small bits of flying debris as well as shopping carts pushed by the wind. Trees were uprooted or snapped off, as were some small electrical poles. Several homes and businesses suffered roof damage. There were 20 minor injuries in the tornado.

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