Signs of the Times (2/26/13)

Republicans Sign Brief in Support of Gay Marriage

Dozens of prominent Republicans — including top advisers to former President George W. Bush, four former governors and two members of Congress — have signed a legal brief arguing that gay people have a constitutional right to marry, a position that amounts to a direct challenge to Speaker John A. Boehner and reflects the civil war in the party since the November election. The document will be submitted this week to the Supreme Court in support of a suit seeking to strike down Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative barring same-sex marriage, and all similar bans. The court will hear back-to-back arguments next month in that case and another pivotal gay rights case that challenges the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act.

  • Politicians almost always abandon principles to ensure reelection

Report: Pope Resigned Because of Gay Priest Scandal

The Italian media is reporting that Pope Benedict XVI resigned after receiving the results of an internal investigation, delivered in a 300-page, two-volume dossier, that laid bare a sordid tale of blackmail, corruption and gay sex at the Vatican. The respected Italian newspaper La Repubblica stated Friday that the report stamped “Pontifical Secret,” contained “an exact map of the mischief and the bad fish” inside the Holy See. A similar story was carried by Panorama, a conservative weekly. “What’s coming out is a very detailed X-ray of the Roman Curia that does not spare even the closest collaborators of the pope,” respected Vatican expert Ignazio Ingrao writes in Panorama. “The pope was no stranger to the intrigues, but he probably did not know that under his pontificate there was such a complex network and such intricate chains of personal interests and unmentionable relationships.”

The Vatican has heatedly denied reports in the Italian media that the pope resigned in the week of sensational scandals involving financial irregularities and a secret gay network that controls key parts of the Vatican bureaucracy. Some Vatican observers believe that the leaks are part of an effort to influence the upcoming selection of the next pope. LIGNET, Newsmax’s global intelligence service, reported that a power struggle that took place in the months and days leading up to the Pope’s resignation.

Scotland’s Roman Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has resigned amid allegations that he abused four men studying to be priests in the 1980s. Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation last week, the Vatican said in a statement released Monday. O’Brien said he submitted his resignation to the pope months ago, citing his upcoming 75th birthday and his health. His accusers took their complaints to the Vatican representative in Britain and demanded O’Brien’s resignation.

  • It’s no surprise that a religion based on unbiblical doctrine would be infected by internal cancers

GOP Lawmakers Join Hobby Lobby’s Contraception Fight

Nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers have joined the legal fight against the Obamacare contraception mandate, CBN News reports. Nine senators and two House members challenged the mandate by formally backing arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby, whose owners filed a lawsuit against the government, saying the mandate required them to choose between their Christian beliefs and providing insurance for abortion-inducing drugs. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, led the group of lawmakers in filing a “friend of the court” brief on Hobby Lobby’s behalf. “Religious freedom is an issue our country was founded on, and it’s not a Democrat or Republican issue,” Hatch said. “Unfortunately, the Obama administration has time and time again ignored calls to stop the implementation of a policy some organizations or businesses are morally opposed to.” Hobby Lobby is among the few corporations not granted temporary relief from the mandate by the courts.

  • Religious freedom is under severe attack for Christians, not so for any other religion

New Drone Base in Niger Builds U.S. Presence in Africa

President Barack Obama said Friday that about 100 American troops have been deployed to the African nation of Niger. Two U.S. defense officials said the troops would be setting up a base for unarmed drones to conduct surveillance. Obama announced the deployment in a letter to Congress, saying that the forces “will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region.” The move marks a deepening of U.S. efforts to stem the spread of al-Qaida and its affiliates in the volatile region. It also underscores Obama’s desire to fight extremism without involving large numbers of U.S. ground forces.

Government Plans Drastic Expansion of Domestic Mini-Drones

When most Americans think of drones, they think of the government’s targeted killing of Al Qaeda operatives overseas. Lately, the debate in Washington has been over the killing of Americans, like U.S-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was taken out by the CIA in September 2011. Now there appears to be every intention to expand the use of so-called mini-drones inside the U.S. Used mostly by local police and first responders, the Federal Aviation Administration has already granted 327 licenses, and it projects as many as 10,000 licensed systems by 2017. Privacy concerns are rising over the potential for a tsunami of drones, cluttering a kind of digital wild West where the law is easily being outpaced by technology.

Texas, Mississippi Lure Gun &Ammunition Manufacturers

Top elected officials in Texas and Mississippi want gun and ammunition makers in several states to flee and relocate to their respective states. Texas Gov. Rick Perry reportedly sent letters to 26 firearms and ammunition manufacturers earlier this month. Perry’s letter to Connecticut-based gun maker Mossberg & Sons reads in part, “As you consider your options for responding to unwarranted government intrusion into your business, you may choose to consider relocating your manufacturing operations to a state that is more business-friendly.” Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn sent letters Thursday to 14 gun manufacturers in Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and North Carolina.

With Deadline Looming, White House Details Cuts

Food safety inspections, early education classrooms and mental health treatment are all at risk if massive forced spending cuts are allowed to take effect at the end of this week, the White House said Sunday. Those cuts would accompany deep reductions in defense spending. In detailed reports for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, President Barack Obama’s budget office spelled out how the cuts – which are the result of a stalemate between Congressional Republicans and the White House over reducing the federal deficit – will affect localities, putting the stakes of the budget debate in stark terms as Congress returns to Washington after a week-long break. Lawmakers in both parties agree looming $85 billion in cuts would cause problems, but blame each other on failure to reach a deal and express little optimism one will be reached this week.

Economic News

Despite 2013’s higher payroll taxes, late refunds and higher gas prices, consumer spending is surprising economists. Auto sales climbed in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 15.2 million. That’s up 14% from a year ago. Sales of gasoline, measured in gallons, are up 2.8% so far this year. Retail sales rose 0.1% in January, to a pace 4.4% above last year.

A titanic courtroom showdown with billions of dollars in the balance opened in New Orleans on Monday, with oil giant BP arguing it shouldn’t face the government’s steepest penalties for the 2010 Gulf oil spill. BP already pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to a record-setting $4 billion fine for the spill. But it could face more than $20 billion in additional environmental penalties if found to have committed gross negligence in the disaster.

Things are getting a little messy in Italy, but Wall Street was showing signs of a rebound on Tuesday. U.S. stocks sold off sharply Monday on concerns about Italy, with the Dow and S&P 500 suffering their biggest one-day declines of the year. But U.S. stock futures were modestly higher early Tuesday.

Eurozone

World markets retreated Tuesday as a big vote for anti-austerity parties in Italy’s elections left the eurozone’s third biggest economy in political deadlock, sparking fears of a revival of the region’s debt crisis. European stock markets were sharply lower. Final results showed the center-left coalition of Pier Luigi Bersani winning by a very slim margin in the lower house of parliament but unable to control the Senate. The former head of a technocrat government which steered Italy through the worst of the eurozone crisis last year, trailed badly in fourth place.

Credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded Britain’s government bond rating one notch from the top AAA to AA1, citing weaknesses in the economy’s medium-term outlook. Moody’s said “subdued” growth prospects and a “high and rising debt burden” are weighing on the British economy. The U.K. government pledged to stick to its program of austerity even as the sterling extended its recent slide Monday.

A key gauge of momentum in China’s manufacturing sector fell unexpectedly in February, raising concerns about the strength of recovery in the world’s second largest economy. The index, which had been on a winning streak, is now at a 4-month low. Global bank HSBC said its “flash” index of purchasing managers’ sentiment fell to 50.4 in February from January’s final reading of 52.3. Any reading above 50 signals expansion in the manufacturing sector.

Middle East

A group known as Asaib Ahl al-Haq, which is closely aligned with the Hezbollah terrorists (backed, funded, trained, and equipped by Iran) is establishing a political party in Iraq. They hope to follow the success of Hezbollah in Lebanon by gaining political power through the ballot box and drawing a cloak of respectability across their evil efforts. This very group was, according to The New York Times, “responsible for most of the attacks against US forces in the final years of the Iraq war.” This is no accident; it is a strategy designed to draw the net around Israel tighter and tighter until the Jewish state is destroyed.

Israel’s Defense Ministry says a joint exercise with U.S. forces has successfully tested the Arrow anti-missile system for the first time. The system is meant to defend Israel from the threat of an Iranian strike. The Arrow is produced jointly by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. and Chicago-based Boeing Co. Iran’s Shahab ballistic missile can carry a nuclear warhead and has a range of 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers), putting Israel well within range.

A rocket was fired into Israel from Gaza on Tuesday for the first time in three months amid days of riots by Palestinians over the death of a Palestinian man. The Al- Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which says it is affiliated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, took responsibility for the attack. The rocket fell on a road in southern Israel. No injuries were reported. All of the Palestinians in Israeli prisons — about 4,500 people — took part in a hunger strike Sunday, and crowds protested in the streets of the West Bank as Palestinian officials called for an international investigation into an inmate’s death. Israel said doctors had worked to save the inmate, who was suffering from previous injuries.

Syria

Syria is ready to hold talks with the armed opposition trying to topple President Bashar Assad, the country’s foreign minister said Monday, in the government’s most advanced offer yet to try to resolve the 2-year-old civil war through negotiations. Walid al-Moallem did not say whether rebel fighters would first have to lay down their arms before negotiations could begin, a key sticking point in the past. Still, the proposal marked the first time that a high-ranking Syrian official has stated publicly that the government would meet with opposition fighters. Syria’s 23-month-old conflict, which has killed more than 70,000 people and destroyed many of the country’s cities, has repeatedly confounded international efforts to bring the parties together to end the bloodshed.

Iran

Days before resuming talks over its disputed atomic program, Iran said on Saturday it had found significant new deposits of raw uranium and identified sites for 16 more nuclear power stations. State news agency IRNA quoted a report by the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) which said the reserves were discovered in northern and southern coastal areas and had trebled the amount outlined in previous estimates… The timing of the announcement suggested Iran, by talking up its reserves and nuclear ambitions, may hope to strengthen its negotiating hand at talks in Kazakhstan on Tuesday with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his NATO counterparts are considering leaving 8,000 to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, but a dispute arose Friday between the U.S. and German defense officials over whether that contingent would be an international force or an American one. President Barack Obama has said that the last combat troops will leave Afghanistan Dec. 31, 2014. Panetta said he and the NATO partners talked about ranges of options for the post-2014 troop force. And he said the figures reflected contributions that other nations would make, in addition to the United States.

A series of early morning attacks hit eastern Afghanistan Sunday, with three separate suicide bombings in outlying provinces and a shootout between security forces and a would-be attacker in the capital city of Kabul. The attacks were a reminder that insurgents are still going on the offensive even as U.S. and other international forces draw down. All four attacks Sunday appeared to target Afghan forces, who have been suffering higher casualties this year. Afghan soldiers and police are easier targets than their NATO allies because their checkpoints and bases are less fortified.

The Afghan government says armed individuals who may be U.S. special forces carried out acts of torture and murder, allegations that spurred it to demand that members of the elite American military units leave a key province west of Kabul. The U.S. military says it is investigating. Attacks on coalition troops by allied Afghanistan security forces, which reached record levels last year, have declined dramatically so far this year, as coalition and Afghan commanders bolster security and improve screening of troops who might be a threat.

Mali

The Chadian army says that its troops killed 65 Islamic extremist rebels and destroyed five vehicles in fierce fighting northern Mali; 13 Chadian soldiers were also killed and six were wounded in the fighting Friday. Chad has deployed some 1,800 troops in Mali as part of the French-led military intervention begun in January to wrest control of northern Mali from the Islamic radicals linked to al Qaeda. The Islamic rebels retreated to mountainous hideouts near Mali’s northern border with Algeria, after being expelled at the end of January by French and Malian forces from the major towns in northern Mali.

South Korea

Park Geun-hye became South Korea’s first female president Monday, returning to the presidential mansion where she grew up with her dictator father. Park’s last stint in the Blue House was bookended by tragedy: At 22, she cut short her studies in Paris to return to Seoul and act as President Park Chung-hee’s first lady after an assassin targeting her father instead killed her mother; she left five years later after her father was shot and killed by his spy chief during a drinking party. As president, Park will face stark divisions both in South Korean society and with rival North Korea. South Koreans worry about a growing gap between rich and poor, and there’s pressure for her to live up to her campaign suggestion that she can return the country to the strong economic growth her strong-man father oversaw.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 5.7 earthquake rattled central Japan on Monday afternoon, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. A second quake — magnitude 4.6 quake — struck about 11 minutes later. The Japan Meteorological Agency said no tsunami alert has been issued. The quake was centered about 89 miles north-northwest of Tokyo at a depth of 6.2 miles.

Weather

A strong winter storm has dumped up to 27 inches of snow in the mountains just outside of Denver as of Monday morning. The storm is now blasting the snow-weary — but also drought-weary — Plains and Midwest with a combination of high winds and heavy snow that’s already closing roads and creating whiteout conditions. The ferocious blizzard blasted the southern Plains with heavy snow and high winds Monday, burying much of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles under more than a foot of snow, wreaking travel havoc on the roads and in the air. Overnight Monday and through the day Tuesday, the storm will slowly slog to the north and east, bringing a swath of snow across Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. This storm will have a huge impact, with additional heavy snows likely over portions of eastern Kansas and northern Missouri which received very heavy snowfall amounts last week. About 40,000 people in northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas awoke to no power as heavy, wet snow weighed on power lines.

Last winter produced pitiful amounts of snow for many cities across the country. In this winter, some places from the Northeast to the Midwest and Rockies have now doubled, tripled or quadrupled last winter’s low snow totals. Only 3.9 inches of snow fell in Kansas City last winter season. This season’s total more than triples that number with 14.2 inches. Just 6.3 inches of snow was recorded last winter. This season’s total of 12.7 inches doubles last season’s total. Boston’s total this winter is up to 42.6 inches. This more than quadruples last season’s paltry snow total of 9.3 inches.

 

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