Archive for March, 2013

Signs of the Times (3/29/13)

March 29, 2013

New Research Suggests Shroud of Turin is Real

Tests conducted on the Shroud of Turin by researchers at Italy’s University of Padua indicate that the linen sheet believed by some to be Christ’s burial cloth dates back to Jesus’ lifetime. The 14-foot-long cloth bearing the image of a man with wounds similar to those suffered by Christ was analyzed by university scientists using infrared light, according to The Daily Telegraph. Giulio Fanti, a professor at Padua University, told the Telegraph that the results were based on 15 years of research on fibers taken from the cloth, which were subjected to radiation intensity tests. The Vatican has never confirmed the authenticity of the shroud, but a Vatican researcher in 2009 said that faint writing on the cloth proves it was used to wrap Jesus’ body after his crucifixion. The cloth is presently housed in Turin Cathedral in northwest Italy.

  • Whether it’s real or not is beside the point. Jesus is real. He died for our sins and rose again from the dead so that we might have eternal life with Him in Heaven

Next for Supreme Court: Defense of Marriage Act

The Supreme Court turns Wednesday from the threshold issue of sanctioning same-sex marriage to one with financial repercussions: Can the federal government deny benefits to those gays already married? At issue is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed by President Clinton that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. (Clinton has said he has changed his mind about the law.) At the time of its passage, no states had legalized gay marriage, but now nine states and the District of Columbia have done so — and legally wed gay couples are denied federal benefits. The case accepted by the court from among several it could have taken features Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old New York widow who married her partner of four decades, Thea Spyer, in 2007. When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was socked with a $363,000 estate tax bill that she would have avoided if DOMA wasn’t the law of the land.

A majority of the Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared ready to strike down a key section of a law that withholds federal benefits from gay married couples, as the justices concluded two days of hearings that showed them to be as divided as the rest of the nation over same-sex marriage. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the pivotal justice on the issue, said the federal Defense of Marriage Act may have intruded too deeply on the traditional role of state governments in defining marriage. Justice joined the four liberals in posing skeptical questions to a lawyer defending the law.

  • The secular shift away from God’s ordained family structure continues unabated as symptoms of the Tribulation to come

March for Marriage Draws More 15,000 Supporters

About 15,000 people swarmed the streets of Washington, D.C., Tuesday to march in support of God’s design for marriage. “This (turnout) shows that Americans are realizing that they are going to have to stand up and make their voices heard to take a stand for the definition of marriage,” Thomas Peters, communications director for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), told CitizenLink. The march, sponsored by NOM, took place the same day the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in cases challenging a federal law and a California marriage amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

9th Circuit Approves Jesus Prayers in California; Hawaii Senate Too

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week it’s OK for pastors to pray “in Jesus’ name” before city council meetings, and Jesus prayers do NOT violate the Constitution. This victory is significant, considering the 4th Circuit and 2nd Circuit have banned city councils from allowing Jesus prayers in many states on the East Coast. The anti-Jesus complainer intends to appeal, either en banc to the full circuit, or to the Supreme Court of the United States. The 75% of the citizens of Lancaster voted in 2010 to allow pastors to pray “in Jesus’ name” before city council meetings.  Diverse faiths were also invited. Now local governments in eleven West-Coast States or Territories may allow free speech by pastors.  AK, AZ, CA, HI, ID, MT, NV, OR, WA, Guam, and N. Marianas Islands have legal precedent to all prayers in ‘Jesus’ name’ without fear of frivolous lawsuits.The Hawaii Senate restored freedom to open legislative sessions with a “moment of contemplation” that may include Jesus prayers, after a 2-year ban on all prayer.

California Schools to Now Include LGBT-Themed Books

The California Department of Education’s newest reading list for students K-12 includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender literature, prompting complaints from critics who say a leftist agenda is being pushed on kids, Fox News reports. Controversial topics have been introduced to California students in the past, but this is the first time the state has put forth works celebrated by the Stonewall Book Awards, which since 1971 has recognized LGBT literature. The reading list has been met with controversy by those who say it promotes the LGBT lifestyle to children at such a young age. “It’s a frightening trend,” said American Family Radio talk show host Sandy Rios. “The reading lists are very overtly propagating a point of view that is at odds with most American parents. Leftist educators are advocates of everything from socialism to sexual anarchy. It’s very base; it’s raping the innocence of our children.”

Abortion Enters Arizona Debate on Medicaid Expansion

One of the Legislature’s most powerful lobbying groups says Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid-expansion plan would subsidize abortions and is pushing for an amendment that complicates negotiations and threatens the proposal. The Center for Arizona Policy is using an opinion from the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal-defense organization, to argue that the draft Medicaid legislation should be amended to disqualify the non-profit women’s health provider Planned Parenthood from receiving public money. It’s the first in what is expected to be a long line of suggested changes to Brewer’s proposal to broaden eligibility for the state-federal health-insurance program for the poor and disabled, each with the potential to gain or lose votes for the governor’s top legislative priority with thousands of lives and billions of dollars at stake.

U.N. Arms Treaty Blocked

Iran, North Korea and Syria blocked adoption of a U.N. treaty that for the first time would regulate the multibillion-dollar international arms trade. An agreement required approval by all 193 U.N. member states. The Control Arms Coalition, representing about 100 organizations which have campaigned for a strong treaty, said the earliest the General Assembly could vote is April 2, when the chair of the negotiations, Australian Ambassador Peter Woolcott, will present his report to the full world body. There has never been an international treaty regulating the estimated $60 billion global arms trade. For more than a decade, activists and some governments have been pushing for international rules to try to keep illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters and organized crime. Hopes of reaching agreement were dashed last July when the U.S. said it needed more time to consider the proposed accord — a move quickly backed by Russia and China.

  • U.S. critics argue that the U.N. treaty will lead to regulation and confiscation of weapons from private individuals in violation of the 2nd amendment

U.S. Releases Climate Change National Strategy

Climate change threatens U.S. fish, wildlife and plants, including brook trout, the lesser prairie-chicken and the Joshua tree, the Obama administration said Tuesday in releasing its first national strategy on climate adaptation. “Flowers are blooming earlier. Plants and animals are moving” to new places to cope with rising sea levels, higher temperatures, loss of sea ice and other climate effects, said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which co-authored the strategy. Ashe said the report, prepared at the request of Congress, amounts to an “urgent call to action” for federal. state, tribal and local officials in the next five to 10 years because — in his words — “as wildlife goes, so goes the nation.”

The report recommends seven goals, which include conserving land, maintaining species and informing the public. Ashe said many “millions of acres across the landscape” will need to be conserved as habitats for threatened species such as the polar bear. Under the Obama administration, he said 10 new wildlife habitats — totaling 4.5 million acres — have been established.

  • Government can strive all it wants (and conservation is always a laudable goal), but the severity of end-time weather will trump all such efforts

Obamacare to Raise Claims Costs 32%

Medical claims costs — the biggest driver of health insurance premiums — will jump an average 32% for Americans’ individual policies under the Affordable Care Act health care law, according to a study out Tuesday by the nation’s leading group of financial risk analysts. Much of the reason for the higher claims costs is that sicker people are expected to join the pool, the report said. While some states will see medical claims costs per person decline, the report prepared by the Society of Actuaries concluded that the overwhelming majority will see double-digit increases. By 2017, the estimated increase would be 62% for California, about 80% for Ohio, more than 20% for Florida and 67% for Maryland.

Tea Party Express reports that Obamacare is “a disaster waiting to happen.”  Premiums are expected to rise 169%, an estimated 7 million working Americans are going to lose their employer-provided health coverage, and small businesses are either being forced to lay off workers or will be unable to hire new workers. TPE also documents “20 hidden taxes in Obamacare” in the attached document.

Indiana School Vouchers Upheld in Court, Could Set Precedent

In a ruling that could reverberate nationwide, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state’s voucher program, which gives poor and middle class families public funds to help pay for private school tuition, including religious schools. Indiana has the broadest school voucher program available to a range of incomes and could set a precedent as other states seek ways to expand such programs. Supporters say it gives families without financial means more options on where to educate their children. However, opponents of the Indiana program had sued to block it, describing it as unconstitutional and saying it takes money from public schools. As many as 9,000 students statewide are part of the voucher program and more than 80% use the funds to go to religious schools. But in its unanimous 5-0 ruling, the Supreme Court said that was not an issue. It said it did not matter that funds had been directed to religious schools as long as the state was not directly funding the education. The tuition, the court said, was being funded by the parents who chose to pay it with their vouchers.

  • Below the surface, this is an ongoing effort of anti-Christian secularists to maintain their humanist indoctrination centers and restrict Christian alternatives

‘The Bible’ Miniseries Dominates Across Media

History Channel’s “The Bible” miniseries continues to draw audiences from across all platforms, including books, DVDs and downloads, as it heads into its finale, according to Grace Hill Media. The series, which has been viewed by close to 80 million people, has continued to outperform all other television shows on Sunday nights. It took over the No. 1 spot on iTunes for top TV show downloads, and is currently ranked No. 2 on the list of 100 on Amazon’s bestsellers list in movies and TV. Executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s novelization of the miniseries, The Bible: A Story of God and All of Us, which debuted Feb. 26, has also climbed to No. 10 on the Publishers Weekly top hardcover fiction list and No. 20 on the New York Times hardcover fiction list. “Roma and I continue to be grateful for the overwhelming global enthusiasm for ‘The Bible’ series,” Burnett said. Downey added: “The audience reaction says so much about what people are looking for these days. We are just thrilled that we were able to bring these stories to life.”

Texting While Driving: Adults Worse than Teens

Forget teenagers. Adults are the biggest texting-while-driving problem in the USA. Almost half of all adults admit to texting while driving in a survey by AT&T provided to USA TODAY, compared with 43% of teenagers. More than 98% of adults — almost all of them — admit they know it’s wrong but still do it. “Texting while driving is not just a teen problem,” says John Ulczycki of the National Safety Council. “Teens text. But you’re looking at around 10 million teen drivers, but about 180 million other adult drivers.” The AT&T survey follows a study this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found 31% of drivers in the USA reported texting or e-mailing while driving. Each day, an average of more than nine people are killed and more than 1,060 injured in crashes caused by distracted driving.

Economic News

The Commerce Department said Friday that consumer spending rose 0.7% in February from January. It was the biggest gain in five months and followed a revised 0.4% rise in January. Americans were able to spend more because their income rose 1.1% last month. That followed January’s 3.7% plunge. The jump in income allowed consumers to put a little more away in February. The saving rate increased to 2.6% of after-tax income, up from 2.2% in January. The jump in spending and income suggests economic growth strengthened at the start of the year after nearly stalling at the end of last year. Consumer spending accounts for 70% of economic activity.

The government reported durable goods orders rose a robust 5.7% in February, substantially higher than experts expected. Factory orders surged in February, helped by a surge in demand for commercial aircraft. Overall orders for durable goods, a catchall term for products ranging from refrigerators to jumbo jets, saw the biggest increase in five months.

Housing prices rose in January at the fastest pace since the summer of 2006, before the housing bubble popped. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city price index climbed 8.1% in the 12 months to January. That comes after a 6.8 % increase the previous month. Prices rose in all 20 cities, led by Phoenix.

New claims for unemployment benefits jumped unexpectedly last week to a seasonally adjusted 357,000, up 16,000 from a revised 341,000 the week before. The jump in claims was the second straight weekly increase. Despite weekly hiccups, claims have been declining steadily since November, coinciding with steady job growth. The number of people seeking aid averaged only 320,000 a week in 2007. That figure soared to 418,000 in 2008 and 574,000 in 2009.

Coming off a year in which the Standard & Poor’s 500 gained 13% and companies ended up sitting on record amounts of cash, CEOs are back to collecting big raises. All told, CEOs scored an 8% pay increase in 2012, taking the median to $9.7 million, for the biggest increase in two years.

Eurozone

Cypress reopened its banks for the first time since it agreed to stringent capital controls as part of a $13 billion bailout from international lenders. As part of Cyprus’ deal with the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and European Commission depositors with more than 100,000 euros (about $130,000) in the country’s two largest banks are being forced to take losses. Authorities have been putting measures in place to prevent a rush of euros out of the country’s banks. Cash withdrawals will be limited to 300 euros ($383) per person each day, and no checks will be cashed.

Persecution Watch

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is calling on the state university system chancellor to investigate a classroom lesson at Florida Atlantic University in which students were instructed to stomp on sheets of paper that had “Jesus” written on them. “As we enter the week memorializing the events of Christ’s passion, this incident gave me great concern over the lessons we are teaching our students,” Scott wrote in the letter to Chancellor Frank Brogan. “The professor’s lesson was offensive, and even intolerant, to Christians and those of all faiths who deserve to be respected as Americans entitled to religious freedom.” Scott said in his letter that he was “deeply disappointed” by the recent incident in an intercultural communications class taught by Deandre Poole, who also happens to be the vice chair of the Palm Beach Democratic party. Ryan Rotela, a devout Mormon was in the classroom and refused to obey the instructor’s directions. When he complained, Rotela was banned from the classroom and charged with violating the student code of conduct.

Middle East

Medical teams again provided first-aid to several wounded Syrians who approached the border on Wednesday. One of the wounded Syrians, who had suffered a gunshot wound to the head, died despite the best efforts of doctors at the Western Galilee Government Hospital in Nahariya. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council issued a statement of concern about recent incidents of cross-border fire which have violated the ceasefire line between Syria and the Golan Heights, as well as the danger to UN peacekeepers in the area. “The members of the Security Council expressed grave concern at all violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement,” the council said, adding its “grave concern at the presence of the Syrian Arab Republic Armed Forces inside the area of separation.”

Last week, President Obama visited with Israel and Palestinian authorities on their turf. Here’s what he said to Israel: “I genuinely believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.” Here’s what they said: President Abbas to media: “As far as I am concerned, there is no difference between our policies and those of Hamas.” Hamas leaders said: “We don’t want anything peaceful, only bullets and missiles.”

  • Islamic nations will never cease their efforts to completely destroy and eliminate Israel. And policy that doesn’t take that into account will result in Israel’s ultimate demise.

Syria

A Syrian government official says 12 people have been killed and 20 wounded in a mortar attack against Damascus University. The official says the mortar rounds struck the university’s architecture department’s cafeteria in the central Baramkeh district on Thursday.

Afghanistan

A blitz of attacks across Afghanistan led to the deaths of 52 armed Taliban members in the past day, the Ministry of Interior said Wednesday. The operations were carried out by Afghanistan’s national police and army as well as NATO-led coalition forces. An additional 45 Taliban members were wounded and 21 others arrested. Authorities also confiscated ammunition and improvised explosive devices in the sweep, which spanned 10 provinces. The Afghan government said another 23 armed members of the Taliban were killed in the previous day.

Pakistan

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a blast that killed 10 people near the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar on Friday. The strike also injured 31 others. A suicide bomber rode a motorbike up to a security checkpoint a third of a mile from the consulate and detonated 22 pounds of explosives attached to his body. Violent attacks occur frequently around Peshawar, which is in Pakistan’s northwest near the border with Afghanistan and adjacent to Pakistan’s tribal region.

Myanmar

As sectarian tensions continue to boil in central Myanmar, authorities have imposed curfews in more towns in an attempt to stop groups of Buddhists from setting fire to mosques and Muslims’ homes. The fresh restrictions come after a state of emergency was declared last week where clashes between the two communities first broke out, leaving at least 40 people dead. Police on Tuesday reported arson attacks on Muslim properties in three townships in recent days.

Mali

Up to 11,200 peacekeeping troops could maintain stability in Mali under a new U.N. proposal. And up to 1,440 police could also participate in a U.N.-led mission there, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the U.N. Security Council released Tuesday. Under the proposal, the West African multinational force currently in Mali would eventually become part of the U.N. stabilizing mission. French and allied forces, including Malian and Chadian troops, have made significant inroads in recent weeks combating Islamist extremist fighters in Mali. But fighting continues in the remote northeastern part of the West African nation.

North Korea

On Tuesday, North Korea threatened to strike Guam, Hawaii and the U.S. mainland with nuclear missiles. North Korea said it was putting its long-range rocket units on the highest possible combat-posture level following what is says are provocations from the United States. The U.S. military and the South Korean military have been conducting regularly scheduled drills on land this month. North Korea said Wednesday that it had cut off a key military hotline with South Korea that allows cross border travel to a jointly run industrial complex in the North, a move that ratchets up already high tension and possibly jeopardizes the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

Mexico

It was a staggering sight, even in a Mexican city that has seen its share of violence in recent years as drug-related crimes surged. Seven bodies sat slumped in white plastic chairs placed near a central plaza in Uruapan, Mexico. Local media reported messages were left behind, written on poster board and pinned to some of the victims’ bodies with icepicks. Investigators believe organized crime groups are to blame. The seven corpses were among at least 30 killed nationwide — a high death toll that once again drew attention toward violence in Mexico, where more than 60,000 people were killed in drug-related violence from 2006 to 2012.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake struck central Taiwan on Wednesday, killing at one person and injuring 19 as it damaged buildings on the quake-prone island. The Central Weather Bureau said the magnitude-6.1 earthquake was felt throughout the island. Buildings swayed in the capital Taipei, and sections of the high-speed rail were suspended from service. Emergency officials said a 72-year-old woman died when a temple wall she was standing next to collapsed and crushed her.

Weather

Danger lurks beyond our shores that will eventually threaten clams, mussels and everything with a shell or that eats something with a shell. The entire food chain could be affected. “Ocean acidification,” the shifting of the ocean’s water toward the acidic side of its chemical balance, has been driven by climate change and has brought increasingly corrosive seawater to the surface along the West Coast and the inlets of Puget Sound. Since the start of the industrial revolution, the world’s oceans have grown nearly 30% more acidic. Why? Climate change, where heat-trapping carbon dioxide emitted into the air by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels ends up as excess carbonic acid absorbed into the ocean.

  • Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died. (Rev. 16:3)

 

Signs of the Times (3/25/13)

March 25, 2013

N.D. Lawmakers Define Start of Life, Outlaw Abortion

North Dakota lawmakers Friday completed action to outlaw almost all abortions, voting to define life as beginning at conception. The Republican-dominated House also approved a so-called personhood amendment that asks voters to change the state’s constitution to recognize and protect “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development.” A third piece of legislation passed Friday by the House requires abortion clinic physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. The legislation is aimed at shutting down the state’s only abortion clinic, in Fargo.

Slim Majority Now Favor Same-Sex Marriage

A Fox News national poll shows that 49 percent of voters now favor legalizing gay marriage, while 46 percent oppose it.  That represents a significant shift since the question was first asked on a Fox poll in 2003.  At that time, 32 percent said gays should be allowed to marry legally, and 58 percent were opposed. Support for gay marriage has increased by 27 percentage points among moderates since 2003, 22 points among independents and 21 points among Democrats.  Over the same time period, the number of liberals backing gay marriage more than doubled. There are smaller yet still significant changes among Republicans (+10 points) and conservatives (+13 points). Those most likely to favor legalizing gay marriage include those who never attend church (76 percent), liberals (72 percent), voters ages 30 and younger (65 percent), and Democrats (65 percent).  Groups most likely to oppose it include “very” conservatives (82 percent), Tea Partiers (75 percent), white evangelical Christians (70 percent) and Republicans (64 percent).

  • Same-sex marriage is a barometer of our steady march through the “beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8) leading up to end-time tribulation. Romans 1:26-27 is clear that gay sex, let alone marriage, is “vile.”

Supreme Court to Hear Two Gay Rights Cases this Week

The future of Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage rests in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear two unrelated lawsuits on gay rights this week. The cases address bans on same-sex marriage and limits on domestic-partner benefits for same-sex couples. The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in Hollingsworth vs. Perry, a case in which same-sex couples allege California’s 2008 voter-approved Proposition 8 violates the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Proposition 8 defines marriage as the union between a man and a women, and is identical to the measure Arizona voters passed that same year. On Wednesday, the court will hear arguments in United States vs. Windsor, which alleges that the part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. Because of this federal definition, same-sex couples, even in states that allow them to marry, aren’t eligible for any of the federal benefits heterosexual married couples get, including tax breaks and Social Security benefits.

  • Whether it’s this week or further down the end-time road, gay rights will trump God’s ordained natural order, just as Satan planned. However, this near-term victory is but another nail in his forthcoming coffin.

Starbucks CEO to Christians: “We Don’t Want Your Business”

At the annual shareholder’s meeting on Wednesday, Starbucks CEO, Howard Shultz, told Christians, and all who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life, “we don’t want your business”. It is no surprise that Starbucks supports homosexual marriage.  They have been sending liberal messages for years.  But this is beyond anything we have seen from the left or the right.  Shultz went as far as to tell shareholder who support Christian values to sell their stock and support other companies. According to Forbes, a shareholder raised a question about the significant drop in sales after a boycott from the National Organization for Marriage, who was protesting Starbucks support of homosexual marriage in Washington.

  • Where is the mainstream media on this one, after they excoriated Chick Fil-A over its support of traditional marriage? Tolerance is only for everything non-Christian. So let’s do as Shultz asks and boycott Starbucks.

Is Polygamy Next?

There is nothing in our current legal system or national moral climate that will stop polygamy from becoming the next liberal cause, asserts the Christian legal group Liberty Counsel. “Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would jettison the rationale and logic behind prohibitions on polygamous marriages, according to several friend-of-the court briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the traditional definition of marriage. Ultimately, there is no principled basis for recognizing the legality of same-sex marriage without simultaneously providing a basis for the legality of consensual polygamy or certain adult incestuous relationships,” reads one of the briefs filed by Liberty Counsel. “In fact, every argument for same-sex marriage is an argument for them as well.” The Netherlands is a microcosm of how the homosexual community hoodwinked this once-Christian nation. A former Dutch Member of Parliament has admitted that polygamous marriage is the ‘next logical step’ following the introduction of same-sex marriages in the Netherlands.

  • Once this door is ‘legally’ opened, all sorts of abominations will follow

U.N. Chief Warns of Growing Water Scarcity

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that by 2030, nearly half the world’s population could be facing a scarcity of water, with demand outstripping supply by 40%.One in three people already live in a country with moderate to high water stress. Over 780 million people today do not have access to improved sources of drinking water, especially in Africa. With more people moving to urban areas, water use is projected to increase by 50% by 2025. “Competition is growing among farmers and herders; industry and agriculture; town and country; upstream and downstream; and across borders,” the secretary-general said.

Senate Passes Democratic Budget Plan

An exhausted Senate gave pre-dawn approval Saturday to a Democratic $3.7 trillion budget for the next fiscal year that embraces nearly $1 trillion in tax increases over the coming decade but shelters domestic programs targeted for cuts by House Republicans. While their victory was by a razor-thin 50-49, the vote let Democrats tout their priorities. Yet it doesn’t resolve the deep differences the two parties have over deficits and the size of government. The Senate’s budget for 2014 would shrink annual federal shortfalls over the next decade to nearly $400 billion, raise unspecified taxes by $975 billion and cull modest savings from domestic programs. In contrast, a rival budget approved by the GOP-run House balances the budget within 10 years without boosting taxes.

Economic News

As federal agencies scramble to avert or delay sequester-tied furloughs, the Obama administration continues to spend millions of dollars on foreign aid to the Palestinians – and seek millions more, despite past efforts by Congress to freeze the money. The State Department confirmed this month the administration has moved forward with $500 million in aid, and is trying to secure another $200 million from Congress, even as federal agencies were scrambling to manage sequester cuts and cushion their staff from the impact of furloughs.

Eurozone

Cyprus clinched a last-minute solution to avert imminent financial meltdown early Monday after it agreed to slash its oversized banking sector and use funds raised by seizing bank assets from large deposit holders — which in some cases could amount to 40 percent — in troubled banks to secure a 10 billion euro ($13 billion) bailout. The deal, described by the country’s politicians as “painful,” was approved by euro finance ministers in Brussels just in time. The European Central Bank had threatened to cut off crucial emergency assistance to the Cyprus’ embattled banks after Monday if no agreement was reached. Without that funding, Cyprus’ banks would have collapsed, dragging the country’s economy down with them and threatening the small Mediterranean island’s membership of the 17-strong group of European Union countries that use the euro — all of which would have sent the EU’s markets spinning.

Laiki, the country’s second-largest bank, will be restructured, with all bond holders and people with more than 100,000 euros in their accounts facing significant losses, with the guaranteed deposits being transferred to the nation’s biggest lender, Bank of Cyprus. It was not yet clear how severe the losses would be to Laiki’s large bank deposit holders, but he noted that it is expected to yield 4.2 billion euros overall — or much of the money that Cyprus needed to raise to secure the bailout.

  • Think your savings belong to you? Not if the government decides otherwise. Just a harbinger of things to come.

Middle East

Just before departing for Jordan on Friday, President Obama scored a diplomatic coup when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey for a 2010 commando raid that killed nine activists on a Turkish vessel in a Gaza-bound flotilla. The apology, long sought by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, eased strained feelings between Turkey and Israel, two vital U.S. allies in the Middle East.

Friday in Jordan, Obama focused on the civil war in neighboring Syria, with King Abdullah telling reporters that the conflict has already caused 460,000 refugees to flood his country and more are on the way. That is equivalent to 10% of Jordan’s population, and the total could double by the end of the year, the king said. He asked for more help from the international community as his country also deals with internal reforms in response to economic woes that are raising public discontent. Obama said he was working with Congress to provide an additional $200 million to Jordan this year to help deal with the refugee influx, but he remained steadfast in his refusal to pledge U.S. military assistance to the Syrian opposition movement.

American citizens’ support for Israel is at an all-time high, according to a Gallop poll measuring American sympathies between Israel and Palestinians. This information was released this week, coinciding with President Obama’s first visit to Israel as US president. 64 percent of the American public supports Israel, while only 12 percent of Americans support the Palestinians and only 23 percent of Americans are undecided.

  • The will of the people is of no concern to President Obama, who leads as a king more so than as the leader of a representative democracy

A day before Passover, farmers in southern Israel were suffering from another plague of locusts, entering the country from Egypt with biblical timing. The pests hit fields and greenhouses in the south as the Agriculture Ministry was working to prevent heavy damage to crops in the Negev and stop the insects from penetrating deeper into the country. Unlike previous swarms that have entered Israel in the past month, the locusts that hit Israel Sunday are yellow and fertile and, in this stage of their metamorphosis, pose less risk to crops because they eat significantly less. Once the insects lay eggs and they hatch, however, Israeli farmers will face the threat of this wave’s insatiable brood, who will eat anything green in their path.

  • “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” (Matthew 24:7)

Syria

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely says he has confirmation that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons against rebel forces and civilians, and those weapons are likely stockpiles received from Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion 10 years ago. Vallely has met twice in the region with military commanders for the Free Syrian Army, which he describes as the largest and much more moderate faction among the rebels, which also include elements of al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood. Vallely believes the chemical weapons are clearly the work of the Assad regime and that the regime will try to pin the blame on the rebels. But Vallely’s more stunning revelation is that he is virtually certain that Syria is in possession of Saddam Hussein’s old arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and some of those may be on display in this civil war. “If you go back to January through March of 2003, we had intelligence in the Defense Department that the Russians helped move, by convoy, a lot of the chemical and biological weapons into two locations in Syria and one in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon,” Vallely said. “We think Russia and Iran have enhanced their inventory. The vast majority of those chemical and biological weapons were from Iraq.”

Egypt

Egyptian protesters clashed with the president’s Muslim Brotherhood backers and ransacked three offices nationwide Friday as anger over allegations of beatings and power-grabbing boiled over into the largest and most violent demonstrations yet on the doorstep of the powerful group. Anger erupted a week ago when Brotherhood members beat journalists and liberal and secular activists during a protest outside the group’s Cairo headquarters. Protesters demand an apology, but the fundamentalist movement said its guards were provoked and acted in self-defense. After smaller demonstrations since last weekend outside the headquarters, thousands of activists thronged to the building and battled Brotherhood supporters with bird shot, rocks, knives, sticks and their fists Friday.

Pakistan

In his first address since returning to Pakistan from self-exile, former President Pervez Musharraf declared his intention to run for office, saying he defied risks to “save” the country. Musharraf landed in Karachi on Sunday after more than four years in exile. He faces criminal charges, and the Taliban have vowed to unleash a “death squad” to assassinate him. In 1999, Musharraf, then chief of Pakistan’s army, became its president in a bloodless military coup. He remained in power until resigning five years ago, a period that included the U.S.-led invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. Under his leadership, Pakistan attained respectable economic growth rates and established a generally favorable investment climate. Along with that came a growing middle class, more aggressive news media, and a more assertive judiciary. Musharraf supported the American war on terror and targeted the Taliban. The militants have accused him of pushing an American agenda in Pakistan.

Nigeria

At least 20 people have been killed by a series of bombings targeting buses in a predominantly Christian neighborhood in Nigeria’s northern city of Kano, International Christian Concern reports. The official death toll is expected to rise as security officials continue to examine the scene of Monday’s attack. Officials suspect the series of explosions were likely initiated by suicide bombers, though investigators are still collecting evidence to confirm that theory. Because the attacks took place in a Christian area of Kano, most officials suspect Christians were the target of the attack. The Islamic extremist group Boko Haram is suspected to be behind the bombings, but the group has yet to take responsibility. Since 2009, Boko Haram has been engaged in an armed insurgency in Nigeria’s northern states, attempting to carve out a separate Islamic state where it can institute sharia law. As part of its bloody campaign to drive all Christians out of Nigeria’s northern states, Boko Haram has targeted the Christian minority there by perpetrating suicide bombings at churches and killing Christians in their homes.

Australia

A little known policy slipped quietly under the radar in January 2012 as Twitter announced they will censor tweets if a country’s government requests them to do so. A year later, Australia became the first modern democracy to identify, filter and ban free speech while not in a state of War. In recent weeks, the censoring of tweets by Australian conservatives, or, indeed anyone who dares to either engage in political debate or offer opinion on the ruling Labor-Green alliance, has become so pervasive many have thought it was a bug with Twitter. Released to the press on 26 January, 2012, the company says: “Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country.”

  • Censorship is coming, all in the name of ‘national security’

Weather

The deluge of snow from the Rockies to the Midwest won’t go away anytime soon, no matter what the calendar says. Parts of eight states were under winter storm warning Sunday, despite the fact it’s not winter anymore. The storm threatens to pummel a swath from Missouri to Ohio with 6 to 10 inches of snow. Slick roads were being blamed for a series of crashes on Interstate 60 north of Indianapolis. The snowstorm had already rolled over parts of Kansas and Nebraska and was expected to continue barreling east. Flights were cancelled and the morning commute was a mess in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast corridor Monday morning as the winter storm dumped snow across the region. Some schools were closed, but a lot of students in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area were already on spring break.

The lowest dew point in Las Vegas in the last 50 years reached late Friday night. The dew point is the temperature at which dew forms from the moisture in the air. This past Friday… March 22nd… at 1156 PM PDT… the dew point temperature at the official Las Vegas climate station at McCarran International Airport was -23 degrees. This means the air was the driest it’s been since 1963.

The U.K. is experiencing its coldest March weekend in fifty years. According to the BBC, heavy snow over the past few days disrupted travel and forced closure of over 1,000 schools.  Power outages were reported in Northern Ireland and Argyll.  In the south of England, heavy rain triggered flooding. This scenario will persist at least through the first half of the work week, as chilly east winds continue to pour in from the continent.

Signs of the Times (3/22/13)

March 22, 2013

Alabama Proposes to Legalize Ten Commandments

A House committee approved a constitutional amendment Wednesday that would authorize governments and schools to display the Ten Commandments, but an American Civil Liberties Union attorney said the law can’t “trump the Constitution.” The legislation, sponsored by GOP Sen. Gerald Dial would allow public schools and public bodies to display “historically significant displays which reflect the foundations of the rule of law in America, notwithstanding that such displays may also have religious significance.” The Senate approved the measure last month 23-1. The committee approved the amendment on a voice vote; it now goes to the House of Representatives. If approved there, the amendment would go to voters in 2014.

China: 336 Million Abortions in Four Decades

China has aborted 336 million unborn children, many of them forcibly, during slightly more than four decades, the government has announced. The staggering number of abortions should prompt mourning for the victims, but it should not be shocking, said pro-life observers of China’s policy, because the Communist government has enforced a coercive “one-child” policy for more than 30 years. On March 14, the Chinese Health Ministry reported the following statistics for its family planning practices since 1971, according to the Financial Times: 336 million abortions performed, 196 sterilizations conducted and 403 million intrauterine devices inserted. China, the world’s most populous country, first instituted limits on population growth in 1971 and established its “one-child” population control program in 1979. The policy has resulted not only in many reports of authorities carrying out forced abortions and sterilizations, but also in accounts of infanticide. The 336 million abortions surpass the current U.S. population of about 315 million, and also dwarfs the number of abortions — 55 million — reported in the U.S. during the last 40 years.

Assistant Admits to Killing 10 Babies With Scissors During Trial for ‘House of Horrors’ Abortionist

As the trial for notorious Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell proceeded this week, one of Gosnell’s employees testified that she had personally been involved in the murders of 10 newborn babies, the Christian News Network reports. Adrienne Moton told the court the babies who were born alive had their spines “snipped” with scissors. “I learned it from Dr. Gosnell,” she said when asked by prosecutors where she came up with the idea. “I never asked why. … I could remember a good 10 times that I did it.” Moton has been incarcerated since 2011, and has pled guilty to third-degree murder, along with other charges, for her participation in Gosnell’s late-term abortion operation. She is the first of at least two employees who are set to testify against the abortionist in the trial. Gosnell, 72, faces seven counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of babies who were born alive but had their spinal cords “snipped”; he also faces one count of third-degree murder for the death of an abortion client who was administered a lethal amount of medication, in addition to approximately 20 other charges. Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams, who initially leveled the charges against Gosnell, described the clinic as a “House of Horrors.” Gosnell, if convicted, could face the death penalty for his crimes.

Seven States Running Out of Water

The United States is in the midst of one of the biggest droughts in modern history. At last count, over half of the lower 48 states had abnormally dry conditions and are suffering from at least moderate drought. More than 80% of seven states (South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas) were as of last week in “severe drought,” characterized by crop or pasture loss, water shortage and water restrictions. In addition to severe drought conditions, relatively large areas in the worst-off states are in “exceptional” drought. Depending on whether the hardest-hit regions see significant precipitation, crops yields could fall and drought conditions could persist for months to come.

Delayed Marriage Fallout: More Unwed Births

Forty-eight percent of first births in the U.S. are now outside of marriage. The National Marriage Project, based at the University of Virginia, has been sounding alarms about the growing disconnect between marriage and parenthood for a while. But the report is the first to make clear that a “tipping point” has been reached for many Americans in the middle class — those who have at least a high school educations but no college degree. Among young women with high school diplomas, 58 percent of first births are now outside marriage, the report says. For high-school dropouts it’s 83 percent; for college-educated women it’s 12 percent. The report notes that 54 percent of young women are high school graduates; 37 percent are college graduates. Overall, the median marriage age is now 27 for women, 29 for men. But the median age at which a woman has her first baby is 26.

  • Yet another end-time indicator of the breakdown of God’s ordained family structure

Autism Numbers Rise in Latest Count

Rates of all forms of autism in the U.S. may be substantially higher than previously estimated, according to a new government report that found that 1 out of every 50 school-age children – roughly one on every school bus – has the condition. That’s dramatically higher than the 1 in 88 announced by a different government agency last year. The numbers keep climbing in part because of different methods of counting. The study looked at children ages 6-17 and was based on parent reports, while last year’s study looked at 8-year-olds whose diagnosis was noted in school district or other official records. The autism spectrum includes autism, the most severe form, as well as Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder. The new study, like most others, found that boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls. The study also shows that 15% to 20% of children who were once diagnosed with autism no longer have the condition.

Congress Avoids Shutdown, Bickers over 2014 Budget

Capitol Hill lawmakers finally brought the 2013 budget fight to an end Thursday by approving a bill that ended the threat of a government shutdown — minutes before ratcheting up the partisan warfare over taxes and spending in 2014. Members of the House voted 318-109 to send President Barack Obama a bill funding the government through the end of the current fiscal year in September while easing the pain of $85 billion in forced spending cuts disliked by leaders on both sides of the aisle. The measure extending current federal funding authority was needed to avoid a partial shutdown of the government on March 27. The GOP-controlled House also passed a fiscal year 2014 budget Thursday that is guaranteed to go nowhere in the Democratic-run Senate. Both houses of Congress are scheduled to be on break over the next two weeks for the Easter and Passover holidays.

Economic News

Unemployment claims ticked up by 2,000 in the latest week to 336,000, but the four-week average fell to a 5-year low. The 4-week moving average was 339,750, down 7,500 from the previous week’s revised average of 347,250. That’s the lowest since February 2008, just three months into the recession.

Despite signs of an improving economy, the Federal Reserve Wednesday said it will continue to pursue an easy-money policy aimed at holding down long-term interest rates and stimulating growth. In a statement after a two-day meeting, the Fed said it will keep buying $85 billion a month in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities until the labor market improves substantially.

More Americans are debt-free than in 2000, but the ones who have debt owe nearly 40% more, and seniors have the biggest percentage increase in debt, the Census Bureau said Thursday. The percentage of U.S. households carrying any debt dropped to 69% in 2011 from 74% in 2000, the government reported. But the median debt load rose to $70,000, from an inflation-adjusted $50,971. Debt owed by seniors doubled, to a median of $26,000, according to the Census. The Census Bureau also said that, through 2011, the median household had a 16% lower net worth than in 2000.

Eurozone

Cypriot officials rushed Wednesday to find a new plan to stave off bankruptcy, a day after Parliament rejected an initial scheme to contribute to the nation’s bailout package by seizing up to 10 percent of people’s bank savings. Tuesday’s decisive rejection of the plan to take a slice of all deposits above 20,000 euros ($25,888) has left the country’s bailout in question. Without the bailout, the Cypriot banking sector would collapse, devastating the country’s economy and potentially causing it to leave the euro.

Cypriot politicians moved Thursday to restructure the country’s most troubled bank as part of a broader bailout plan that must be in place by Monday to avoid financial ruin. Concerned customers rushed to get cash from ATMs as bank employees protested. Cyprus has been told it must raise 5.8 billion euros ($7.5 billion) if it is to receive 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) from its fellow eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. If it does not find a way by Monday, the European Central Bank said it will cut off emergency support to the banks, letting them collapse.

Middle East

Hoping to move the Middle East peace process forward, President Obama flew by helicopter on Thursday the short distance from Jerusalem to Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government. The West Bank is a territory conferred limited state status by the United Nations in November 2012, and that the Palestinians hope to make into their nation. Palestinian Authority leaders want Obama to threaten Israel into agreeing to Palestinian aims for an independent state. “Palestinians deserve a future of hope,” Obama said. “Palestinians deserve a state of their own. It’s in our fundamental security interest to stand with Israel,” Obama said

  • By basing U.S. support of Israel on “security interests,” Obama has shifted away from the spiritual foundation of America’s relationship – leaving the door open should our security interests also shift

There was controversy even before Obama left Jerusalem on Thursday morning. Israel police said that militants in Gaza fired two rockets at southern Israel. The rockets exploded in the city of Sderot. One rocket landed next to a house causing damage, but no injuries. A second rocket landed in an open area., shortly after emerging from Air Force One around noon local time at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. Israelis, both Jews and Arabs, are skeptical that President Obama’s visit will lead to anything substantive on the peace front.

Persecution Watch

There are only 57 churches left in Iraq compared to 300 churches in 2003, and those that remain continue to be targeted. According to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, attacks by extremists on churcheshave force many Christians to emigrate abroad. Former Minister of Displacement and Migration, Pascal Warda, said a lot of young Christian people want to emigrate to find safety and jobs. “The last ten years have been the worst for Iraqi Christians because they bore witness to the biggest exodus and migration in the history of Iraq,” said William Warda, the head of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization. “The number of Christians has fallen from about 1,400,000 in 2003 to nearly half a million now, which means that more than two-thirds have emigrated,” Warda explained.

Religious freedom is losing even more ground in Kazakhstan: For the first time since the country gained independence in 1991, a court ordered religious literature to be destroyed, Mission Network News reports. According to Forum 18 News, 121 pieces of religious literature, mostly in the Kazakh language, were taken from a Christian in the northern part of the country. Vyacheslav Cherkasov was reportedly handing out the literature on the streets when police arrested him. He was fined a month’s wages, and a suitcase full of Bibles, children’s Bibles, books and Christian tracts were confiscated. This month, a judge ordered the literature to be destroyed. “Most likely the books would be burnt,” an official told Forum 18. Authorities accused Cherkasov of violating Kazakhstan’s Religion Law, which was rewritten in 2011 to include more things as “religious offenses.” Cherkasov is currently appealing his case. “We know that religious literature has frequently been confiscated since the new Religion Law came into force in 2011,” said human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis. “But I’ve never heard that religious literature is being destroyed, unless it is extremist. This is terrible, terrible!”

  • Imagine the backlash if Islamic literature was torched

Saudi Arabia

A Department of Homeland Security program intended to give “trusted traveler” status to low-risk airline passengers soon will be extended to Saudi travelers, opening the program to criticism for accommodating the country that produced 15 of the 19 hijackers behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Many voiced concern about the under-the-radar announcement which was first made by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano after meeting in January with her Saudi counterpart. This would be the first time the Saudi government has been given such a direct role in fast-tracking people for entry into the United States. Only an exclusive handful of countries enjoy inclusion in the Global Entry program — Canada, Mexico, South Korea and the Netherlands.

  • Napolitano has been a disaster as DHS chief, first labeling veterans and conservative Christians as the primary terrorist threat and now fast-tracking Saudi terrorists into the U.S.

Myanmar (Burma)

Mobs set fire to Muslim homes and mosques in frenzied sectarian rioting in a town in central Myanmar, leaving at least 20 people dead and more than 6,000 homeless amid growing fears Friday that the latest bout of Muslim-Buddhist bloodshed could spread. In an acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation, President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in Meikhtila. The declaration allows the military to take over administrative functions in and around the town. The government’s struggle to contain the unrest is proving another major challenge for Thein Sein’s reformist administration as it attempts to chart a path to democracy after nearly half a century of military rule that once crushed all dissent. The scenes in Meikhtila, where homes and at least five mosques have been torched by angry mobs, were reminiscent of sectarian violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that shook western Rakhine state last year, killing hundreds of people and driving more than 100,000 from their homes.

Korea

As South Korea braces for a possible military attack from North Korea, the first salvos may have been fired Wednesday in cyberspace. Three South Korean television networks and at least two major banks reported their computer networks had crashed Wednesday afternoon, local time. Screens went blank with skulls popping up on the screens of some computers — a strong indication that hackers planted a malicious code in South Korean systems. Some computers started to get back online more than 2½ hours later. Suspicion for the source of this large-scale hacking campaign fell quickly on the South’s bellicose northern neighbor, which has hit South Korean targets with cyberattacks in recent years.

China

The number of dead pigs recovered in the last two weeks from rivers that supply water to Shanghai has risen to more than 16,000. Tests show Shanghai’s water is still safe, but no official has given any full explanation about the massive dumping of pig carcasses. Hog farmers have told state media that the dumping of swine carcasses is rising because police have started cracking down on the illicit sale of pork products made from dead, diseased pigs. Local officials said that the upstream city of Jiazing lacks enough facilities to properly dispose of dead pigs. Hog farming is a major business in Jiaxing.

Weather

The Northeast and Upper Midwest were digging out from up to 15 inches of snow and temperatures in some areas are well below zero on the first day of Spring. Winter isn’t ready to give up yet as a lingering storm was dumping more snow across most of Maine on Wednesday, after hitting the rest of the region a day earlier.

A powerful winter storm blazing across Alberta, Canada, is blamed for a multi-car wreck that left as many as 100 people injured. The series of accidents happened Thursday afternoon along a stretch of Highway 2 that serves as a main artery between Edmonton and Calgary. No deaths were reported. Meteorologists say the storm will plunge from the Rockies to the Mid-Atlantic during the weekend.

At least 24 people died and scores were injured after a tornado carrying huge hailstones lashed southern China, causing widespread devastation and a ferry to capsize. Many of the dead in Dongguan were trapped in collapsed buildings. Another 148 people were injured, including 11 critically. Other provinces affected by storms and torrential rain on Wednesday were nearby Jiangxi, Hunan in central China and Guizhou in the southwest. A total of 1.53 million residents have been affected by the severe weather and 215,000 people were forced to relocate.

Signs of the Times (3/19/13)

March 19, 2013

North Dakota Passes Most Restrictive Abortion Bill in Nation

North Dakota’s Senate passed a pair of anti-abortion measures Friday that are considered to be the most restrictive in the nation, including one that would prevent women from having an abortion based on a genetic defect. The other measure would ban doctors from performing an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected — as early as five or six weeks. The measures now to go to Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple who has indicated he will sign them. The new state laws are even more restrictive than one finalized last week in Arkansas that would make the procedure illegal after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Miss. School Prayer Law Could Face Legal Challenge

A Christian attorney is confident Mississippi’s new school prayer law will stand up to any court challenge – and his legal firm promises free legal representation should the ACLU or anyone else raise such an obstacle to the law. The law, which goes into effect July 1, allows public school students to initiate prayers in what is described as a “limited public forum” – football games or morning announcements, for example. It also allows students to express their faith in classroom assignments without fear of it affecting their grade or causing them to be called to the principal’s office. “We believe that we’re on firm ground here with our opportunity for religious expression in a limited forum within public schools,” the governor said at the signing.

Atheist Group Demands ‘In God We Trust’ Be Removed From Currency

A prominent atheist activist group has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to have the historic phrase “In God We Trust” removed from the nation’s currency, the Christian News Network reports. The Freedom From Religion Foundation issued a press release this week about the suit, advising that the case is being handled by well-known atheist Michael Newdow, who has filed numerous lawsuits challenging the mixture of God and government. The complaint, which has been filed in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, claims the motto violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution as it serves to proselytize unbelievers. Those filing the lawsuit, which include seven children and their parents, along with other entities and the group New York City Atheists, state they do not like being forced to look at the name of God on their money every time they make a purchase. “The motto necessarily excludes atheists and others who don’t believe in one god or a god,” FFRF asserts. “Our government is prohibited from endorsing one religion over another but also prohibited from endorsing religion over nonreligion.” The motto “In God We Trust” has appeared on U.S. coins since 1864 and began being printed on paper currency in 1957.

  • The Constitution mandates freedom of religion, not freedom from religion

Judge Rules Secret FBI National Security Surveillance Unconstitutional

A federal judge has struck down a set of laws allowing the FBI to issue so-called national security letters to banks, phone companies and other businesses demanding customer information. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said the laws violate the First Amendment and the separation of powers principles and ordered the government to stop issuing the secretive letters or enforcing their gag orders. The FBI almost always bars recipients of the letters from disclosing to anyone — including customers — that they have even received the demands, Illston said in the ruling released Friday. The government has failed to show that the letters and the blanket non-disclosure policy “serve the compelling need of national security,” and the gag order creates “too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted,” the San Francisco-based Illston wrote.

Supreme Court Hears Arizona Voter-Registration Law

The U.S. Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s voter-registration law, which aims to keep illegal immigrants off the voter rolls but has made access difficult for some citizens, could come down to one swing justice if questions at Monday’s hearing provide any clues to opinions on the bench. Justice Anthony Kennedy, may reprise that role in a case that deals with election integrity and access to the voting booth. A number of controversial Arizona laws reviewed by the high court in recent years, including the immigration-enforcement measure known as Senate Bill 1070, have come down to split decisions. This measure requires Arizonans who register to vote to provide documentary proof of citizenship, such as a copy of a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport, tribal identification card or naturalization number. The law goes beyond what federal voter-registration rules require as proof of citizenship. Prop. 200 was almost immediately challenged by voting-rights advocates as burdensome to the young, elderly, minorities and naturalized citizens and to voter-registration organizations. Supporters touted the law as a check against voter fraud.

Big Increase in Border-Crossing Deaths Reported

Fewer people are illegally crossing America’s southwest border with Mexico, but the region saw a big increase in immigrant deaths in 2012, according to a report released Tuesday. U.S. Border Patrol identified 477 deaths along the southwest border, up from 375 the year before, according to the report from the National Foundation for American Policy, an Arlington, Va.-based group that researches immigration issues. That 27% increase in deaths comes even as total migration from Mexico has slowed in recent years. Part of the reason for the rise in deaths is the increase in Border Patrol agents that has driven immigrants to more remote, treacherous areas along the border. Lack of water and high desert heat combine to make such trips very dangerous.

Pentagon Plans to Bolster Missile Defense

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled Friday a $1 billion Pentagon plan to beef up missile defense in response to threats from North Korea, saying part of the plan would be to explore three new sites for ground-based interceptors. One of the potential sites would be at Alaska’s Fort Greely, which already is home to missile silos. The other two potential locations haven’t been disclosed but would be somewhere on the East Coast. The Pentagon would commit at least 14 additional ground-based interceptors to Fort Greely and send an additional radar system to Japan. The plan is expected to be “in place” by 2017.

UN Reopens Talks on Arms Trade Treaty

Negotiators will reconvene this week to try to hammer out a landmark U.N. treaty designed to regulate the multibillion-dollar global arms trade amid objections from a bipartisan group of legislators and the most powerful gun-rights lobbying group in the U.S. Governmental representatives will meet in New York starting Monday to try to reach consensus on the Arms Trade Treaty, which would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and to regulate arms brokers. The draft treaty under consideration does not control the domestic use of weapons in any country, but it would prohibit states that ratify the treaty from transferring conventional weapons if they would violate arms embargoes or if they would promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

Many countries, including the United States, control arms exports, but there has never been an international treaty regulating the estimated $60 billion global arms trade. Hopes of reaching agreement on what would be a landmark treaty were dashed last July when the United States said it needed more time to consider the proposed accord — then Russia and China also asked for a delay. The National Rifle Association has portrayed the treaty as a threat to gun ownership rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Colorado Sheriff Won’t Enforce New Gun Laws

Weld County Sheriff John Cooke won’t enforce new state gun measures expected to be signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. “They’re feel-good, knee-jerk reactions that are unenforceable,” said. Lawmakers in Colorado on Friday approved a landmark expansion of background checks on firearm purchases. Earlier in the week, Colorado lawmakers approved a 15-round limit on ammunition magazines. The sheriff also said that he and other county sheriffs “won’t bother enforcing” the laws because it won’t be possible to keep track of how gun owners are complying with the new requirements.

Economic News

Housing starts in February rose 0.8% from January, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 917,000, the Census Bureau said Tuesday. The rate is 27.7% above February 2012. Single-family starts were running at a 618,000 annual rate, up 0.5% from January. In addition, building permits for future construction were running at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 946,000, up 4.6% from January and 33.8% above February 2012.

Homes sold faster last month than in any February since 2007 as eager buyers met a tight supply of homes for sale, industry figures show. Homes were on the market for a median of 98 days last month, down from 123 days in February 2011, according to Realtor.com. In Oakland, homes spent just 14 days on the market last month before they went under contract. In Sacramento, just 21 days. While eight of the 10 fastest-moving markets were in California, Denver and Seattle made the top 10, too, with median market times of 28 and 33 days.

Nearly all of the markets with low median market times are also seeing big declines in homes listed for sale. The average drop-off was 48% from a year earlier in the markets with the greatest declines in supply. Most were in California. That compared with a 16% drop for 146 other metropolitan regions.

Eurozone

Cyprus’s Parliament is likely to reject an international bailout package that involves taxing ordinary depositors to pay part of the bill, President Nicos Anastasiades said Tuesday.Cash-strapped Cyprus secured a $13 billion bailout package from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund in a bid to prevent the island nation from entering a bankruptcy that could rekindle the region’s debt crisis, officials said early Saturday. In return for the rescue loans, Cyprus was required to trim its deficit, significantly shrink its troubled banking sector, raise taxes and privatize state asset. In a major departure from established policies, the package foresees a one-time levy on the money held in bank accounts in Cyprus. Analysts have warned that making depositors take a hit threatens to undermine investors’ confidence in other weaker eurozone economies and might possibly lead to bank runs.

Middle East

Apartment buildings and residences sandwiched into the very fabric of Arab East Jerusalem are undermining the idea that the area could ever serve as the capital of a Palestinian state. Israel’s building of Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and West Bank territories seized during the 1967 war has been a longstanding friction point between Jerusalem and Washington. With President Obama scheduled to visit this week, the government has postponed action on several East Jerusalem projects. While most Middle East experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have long imagined Jerusalem as ultimately being divided, with Jewish neighborhoods remaining part of Israel and Arab ones joining Palestine, these new buildings make such a plan more complicated if not impossible — which may be exactly the point.

  • A divided Jerusalem was never a practical solution, but more significantly, it would violate God’s will, having declared that it is His capital on earth.

Syria

Syria’s information minister says a chemical weapon fired by rebels on a village in the north of the country is the “first act” by the opposition interim government announced in Istanbul. Omran al-Zoubi says the missile containing “poisonous gases” was fired from Nairab district in Aleppo into Khan al-Assal village on Tuesday morning. He says 16 people were killed and 86 wounded in the attack. Rebels have denied the accusation and say regime forces fired the weapon. Omran also says the attack is the results of the decision by some in the international community to arm the Syrian opposition.

The Syrian regime is expanding its use of widely banned cluster bombs, an international human rights group said Saturday as the deadlocked conflict entered its third year. In recent months, the regime has escalated airstrikes and artillery attacks on rebel-held areas in the north and east of the country. In response, rebels detonated a powerful car bomb outside a high-rise building in the eastern city of Deir el-Zou. The blast came a day after Syrians marked the second anniversary of their uprising against President Bashar Assad. The rebellion had begun with largely peaceful protests but in response to a regime crackdown turned into an insurgency and then a civil war.

Iraq

The U.S. suffered more than 4,480 deaths and 32,000 wounded during the Iraq War, which opened 10 years ago this week. The price tag for the war, according to nonpartisan congressional researchers, was at least $806 billion, although that figure doesn’t take into account related expenses such as coming decades of veterans benefits and other costs including medical treatment. While history’s verdict is not yet in, the new Iraq so far hasn’t turned out to be the stable, strategic ally in the region that U.S. officials envisioned, despite the $60 billion that taxpayers spent on reconstruction. Greatly weakened, Iraq now is viewed as vulnerable to influence from neighboring Iran as well as internal sectarian violence, nor were any weapons of mass destruction ever found.

  • Much of the USA’s debt burden is due to the expensive Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

A wave of bombings tore through the Baghdad area Tuesday, killing 57 people on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion and showing how unstable Iraq remains more than a year after the withdrawal of American troops. Violence has ebbed sharply since the peak of Sunni-Shiite fighting that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in 2006-2007. But insurgents maintain the ability to stage high-profile attacks while sectarian and ethnic rivalries continue to tear at the fabric of national unity.

Iran

Harsh economic sanctions have taken a serious toll on Iran’s economy, but U.S. and European officials acknowledge that the measures have not yet produced the kind of public unrest that could force Iranian leaders to change their nuclear policies. Nine months after Iran was hit with the toughest restrictions in its history, the nation’s economy appears to have settled into a slow, downward glide, hemorrhaging jobs and hard currency but appearing to be in no immediate danger of collapse, Western diplomats and analysts say. At the same time, the hardships have not triggered significant domestic protests or produced a single concession by Iran on its nuclear program. Although weakened, Iran has resisted Western pressure through a combination of clever tactics, political repression and old-fashioned stubbornness, analysts say. The mixed results from the sanctions complicate the West’s bargaining position ahead of the next round of nuclear talks with Iran, in early April.

North Korea

North Korea test-fired a pair of short-range missiles into its eastern waters this past week in a likely response to ongoing routine U.S.-South Korean military drills, a South Korean official said Saturday. The North launched what appeared to be KN-02 missiles during its own drills. North Korea routinely launches short-range missiles in an effort to improve its arsenal, but the latest test comes at a time of rising tensions. Pyongyang has threatened nuclear strikes on Seoul and Washington because of the U.S.-South Korean drills and recent U.N. sanctions over its third nuclear test.

Though North Korea has threatened to launch nuclear strikes on the U.S., the most immediate threat posed by its nuclear technology may be North Korea’s willingness to sell it to nations that Washington sees as sponsors of terrorism. The fear of such sales was highlighted this week, when Japan confirmed that cargo seized last year and believed to be from North Korea contained material that could be used to make nuclear centrifuges, which are crucial to enriching uranium into bomb fuel.

Japan

The Japanese utility that owns the tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant says it has detected a record 740,000 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium in a fish caught close to the plant. That’s 7,400 times the government limit for safe human consumption. The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant, causing meltdowns that spewed radiation into the surrounding soil and water. Most fish along the Fukushima coast are barred from market.

Solar Flare

A massive eruption on the sun Friday unleashed a wave of intense solar particles at Earth that sparked a geomagnetic storm and boosted aurora displays over the weekend. The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle and is expected to reach its peak activity in 2013. The eruption sent a wave of solar particles streaking toward Earth at about 900 miles per second, about 3.2 million miles per hour. The northern lights are produced when charged particles from the sun interact with atoms in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The awe-inspiring displays — shimmering, translucent green, purple, and red “curtains” that seem to billow across the night sky — are common in extreme northern latitudes, where a constant stream of such particles arrives on the so-called “solar wind.”

Wildfires

A wildfire burning in a resort area outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee has destroyed more than 30 large rental cabins. Tennessee authorities declared a state of emergency and sent in the National Guard on Monday in an effort to control the fast-moving wildfire near the resort town of Pigeon Forge. The fire started about 5 p.m. Sunday and quickly spread, charring more than 30 cabins and turning propane tanks into shrapnel. About 20 fire departments have been fighting the fire. The 230 acre blaze started as a house fire. The area is home to rental cabins with some permanent residences. Heavy rains Monday helped firefighters contain the wildfire that damaged dozens of mountain homes outside the Tennessee resort town of Pigeon Forge.

A wind-driven wildfire scorched its way through Lory State Park west of Fort Collins on Friday, threatening hundreds of homes south of its path as flames flared above Horsetooth Reservoir. The Galena Fire was estimated at between 750 and 1,000 acres by fire officials, and there were no natural barriers blocking its spread to evacuated homes in the Inlet Bay area. Firefighters say the cause of the fire is unknown. High winds hampered efforts to control the blaze, but firefighters saved two homes and the park’s visitor center. People forced from their homes by a wildfire in the foothills west of Fort Collins have been given the OK to return Sunday after the fire was 45% contained.

Earthquakes

In 2011, the Oregon Legislature authorized the study of what would happen if a quake and tsunami such as the one that devastated Japan hit the Pacific Northwest. The commission determined that more than 10,000 people could die when – not if – a monster earthquake and tsunami occur just off the Pacific Northwest coast, researchers told the legislators Thursday. Coastal towns would be inundated. Schools, buildings and bridges would collapse, and economic damage could hit $32 billion. The Cascadia Subduction Zone, just off the regional coastline, produced a mega-quake in the year 1700. Seismic experts say another monster quake and tsunami are overdue.

  • Earthquakes have been increasing in frequency just as the Bible prophesied regarding the end-times: And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences. (Luke 21:11) I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake. (Revelation 6:12)

Weather

A winter storm brought severe weather into the southern states Monday, including intense thunderstorms that produced huge hailstones throughout the southern United States. Two tornadoes have been confirmed so far, both in Tennessee. Winds of over 100 mph destroyed one mobile home and several outbuildings. In all, there were 264 reports of severe weather Monday and Monday night across seven states from southeast Arkansas and northeast Louisiana to South Carolina.  For the entire month of March prior to Monday, there had been a total of just 165 severe reports.

The day before spring officially arrived, New England was promised one final, sloppy blow of the winter season, with forecasters predicting several inches of snow. A winter storm was forecast for late Monday and early Tuesday and could stick around throughout the day, covering newly bare patches of ground and forcing people to gas up their snow blowers again. The National Weather Service forecast 7 to 19 inches of a mix of snow and sleet in northern New England.

Communities and businesses all along the coasts of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are praying for rain as record-low water levels threaten the region’s economic stability. The area set record lows for precipitation in January and are expected to stay 2 feet below long-term averages at least through August. Blame the extended drought and hot weather that speeds evaporation, says Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of watershed hydrology for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Detroit district. Inaccessible harbors mean trouble for marinas, restaurants, resorts and almost every other business in waterfront towns. Commercial shippers must lighten their loads, increasing costs for their customers and consumers.

With the planet heating up, many scientists seem fairly certain some weather elements like hurricanes and droughts will worsen. But tornadoes have them stumped. These unpredictable, sometimes deadly storms plague the United States more than any other country. But as the traditional tornado season nears, scientists have been pondering a simple question: Will there be more or fewer twisters as global warming increases? They don’t yet have an answer.

  • End-time tornadoes will increase in both intensity and frequency

Signs of the Times (3/15/13)

March 15, 2013

New Pope Chosen

On Wednesday, throngs jamming St. Peter’s Square roared with joy as Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, stepped onto the balcony as the new pope. The election of the new pope shocked the Catholic world with a series of pontiff firsts: a Jesuit from Latin America who chose a name honoring St. Francis of Assisi. The pope chose his name after Francis of Assisi, the saint of the poor who preached a radical return to the gospel in a medieval church steeped in pomp, luxury and power struggles with worldly leaders. Not only is he the first Latin American pope, the first Jesuit pope, and the first non-European pope in more than a millennium, Francis appears to be the first pope bent on shaking the ritualized world of Vatican traditions and taboos. Pope Francis, 76, is considered a straight-shooter who calls things as he sees them, and is a follower of the Catholic Church’s most conservative wing. He is already taking heat in the mainstream media over his well-documented stand against gay marriage.

An author who predicted that Pope Benedict XVI would be the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to resign believes the election today of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th Roman Catholic pontiff lines up with a medieval prophecy that would make him the “final pope” before the End Times. Tom Horn, author of the book “Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope is Here,” told WorldNetDaily that Bergoglio’s selection was a “fantastic fulfillment of prophecy.” His book examines St. Malachy’s “Prophecy of the Popes,” said to be based on a prophetic vision of the 112 popes following Pope Celestine II, who died in 1144. Horn said a pope of Italian descent would fulfill the prophecy, noting Bergoglio is the son of Italian parents and a Jesuit. Horn said the name “Petrus Romanus” in the prophecy “implies this pope will reaffirm the authority of the Roman Pontiff over the Church and will emphasize the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Faith and the Roman Catholic Church above all other religions and denominations, and its authority over all Christians and all peoples of the world.” Horn points out the Jesuits order was organized “to stop Protestantism from spreading

‘The Bible’ Sees Big Numbers for History Channel Again

The second week of History Channel’s “The Bible” miniseries may not have delivered the ratings of the previous week’s record-breaking premiere, but the two-hour telecast still saw big numbers, Entertainment Weekly reports. “The Bible” had 10.8 million total viewers Sunday night, down 18 percent from its premiere, but still No. 1 in all of television from 8 to 10 p.m. More than 50 million cumulative viewers have seen at least a portion of the series since it began on March 3.

ICE Confirms 2,228 Immigrants Released

U.S. immigration-enforcement officials acknowledged Thursday that they released 2,228 illegal immigrants last month due to budget constraints, including more than 600 convicted criminals, some of whom had multiple drunken-driving and other serious offenses. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton’s testimony during a House subcommittee hearing drew an immediate and sharp rebuke from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and several Republican members of Congress. “The American people were initially told there were hundreds, not thousands of individuals released,” Brewer said in a written statement. “We were assured they were low-level detainees of little public risk. As we now know, neither of these claims was accurate.” The releases came to light as Obama was warning Americans that the sequester could devastate many federal programs, prompting Republicans to accuse his administration of using scare tactics to drum up support for tax hikes to avoid some of the cuts.

Drones Killing Innocent Pakistanis, U.N. Says

The United States has 8,000 drones, unmanned planes and helicopters flown by a remote control. They are outfitted with a video camera to help the operator spot targets and often armed with weapons used to neutralize them. The New America Foundation estimates that U.S. drones in Pakistan, drones have killed between 1,953 and 3,279 people since 2004 – and that between 18% and 23% of them were not militants. A study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that since 2004, Pakistan has had 365 drone strikes that have killed between 2,536 and 3,577 people — including 411 to 884 civilians. U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson says, “Adult males carrying out ordinary daily tasks were frequently the victims of such strikes,”

Physicists Find ‘God Particle’

The search is all but over for a subatomic particle that is a crucial building block of the universe. Physicists announced Thursday that they believe they have discovered the subatomic particle predicted nearly a half-century ago that will go a long way toward explaining what gives electrons and all matter in the universe size and shape. The elusive particle, called a Higgs boson, was predicted in 1964 to help fill in our understanding of the creation of the universe. Its existence helps confirm the theory that objects gain their size and shape when particles interact in an energy field with this key particle. The ongoing hunt for the Higgs entailed the use of CERN’s atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, which cost $10 billion to build and run in a 17-mile tunnel beneath the Swiss-French border.

  • If only the scientists would discover God through the particles that He created, worshiping Him instead of His creation

Bat-Killing Fungus Spreads South

A deadly fungal infection that has killed millions of bats has been confirmed for the first time in Georgia and South Carolina, report federal officials, raising the syndrome’s spread to 22 states. First seen in an upstate New York cave in 2006, white-nose syndrome spreads among closely-clustered hibernating bats, sapping their winter reserves. It has led to the deaths of more than 5.4 million bats since then, killing more than 90% of them in some afflicted caves. There is no treatment yet for the syndrome. Biologists are experimenting with altering cave conditions to make them less hospitable to the fungus responsible for the syndrome, but they expect it to spread to caves nationwide at some point.

Drought, Wildfires Shrink Monarch Butterfly Population

Monarch butterflies — one of the sure signs of spring and summer — may not be as plentiful this year across the USA, in part because of the ongoing drought and recent wildfires in Texas that ravaged their food sources. The butterflies usually fly north across Texas this time of year, as they migrate from Mexico into the USA. In 2012, Texas endured its hottest year on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center. This came on the heels of the state’s driest year on record in 2011. The lack of rain and raging fires diminished the main food source for butterfly larvae (milkweed) and also decreased food sources for adult butterflies (such as wildflower nectar).

Deluge of Sick Sea Lion Pups in CA

– Sick and malnourished sea lion pups are stranding themselves on Southern California beaches in some of the largest numbers seen in over a decade, perplexing scientists and leading one care facility to declare itself near capacity. Officials at the facility, the only one of its kind in Orange County, said they were caring for over 90 sea lions on Wednesday. Last year in March, the facility was caring for only 10 sea lions, which was an average number. The last time they saw such an onslaught of the mammal pups this early in the year was 1998, when an “El Nino” weather pattern warmed the waters off the California coast.

Huge Mosquitos Plague Florida

As if deadly sinkholes and Burmese pythons weren’t enough, now Florida may find itself contending with another summer of giant mosquitoes that pack a ferocious bite. Dubbed gallinippers, the quarter-sized mosquitoes hatch after a flood or rainstorm, and saw a bumper crop after Tropical Storm Debby struck Florida last summer. Now another rainy season could produce even more. A gallinipper is 20 times the size of a typical mosquito, “and it’s mean, and it goes after people, and it bites, and it hurts,” says Anthony Pelaez of Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry. A gallinipper bite “feels like you’re being stabbed.” What’s more, they may be resistant to bug repellent and like to strike fish, wild animals, and pets.

  • End-time pestilence will come in many shapes and forms, from microbes to mosquitos to locusts

Auto Crashes Top Killer of Youth

Twenty teenagers dead in five automobile crashes in five states. All within one week. Motor vehicle wrecks continue to be the number one killer of youths in the United States. Such accidents took the lives of about a quarter of 15- to 24-year-olds who died in 2010. They significantly outpaced the other top culprits: firearm wounds, homicides, suicides and accidental poisonings.

GOP Unveils $4.6 Trillion Plan to Cut Deficit

House Republicans unveiled a budget Tuesday that would balance the nation’s books in 10 years without raising taxes but by eliminating President Obama’s health care law, revamping Medicare for future retirees and creating just two tax brackets for individuals — 10% and 25%.By cutting $4.6 trillion in current spending over the next decade, the budget would achieve balance between what the government spends and what it collects in revenues by 2023. The conservative blueprint stands no chance of gaining traction with Senate Democrats or Obama, but the plan is a starting point for renewed debate about how to balance the budget. The measure would Cut the growth of the public debt to an estimated $14.2 trillion by 2023 instead of the nearly $20 trillion estimated by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Economic News

Americans spent more at the gas pump and less at department stores in February, but overall, retail sales were stronger last month. Retail sales climbed at an annual rate of 1.1% in February, as strength in auto sales helped show that consumers are not scared off by this year’s tax hikes. Higher gasoline prices also drove spending higher, but sales still rose 0.6% last month, excluding spending at the pump. Retail sales were 4.6% higher than a year ago.

The number of U.S. homes repossessed by lenders last month fell 11% from January and declined 29% from February last year, tumbling to the lowest level since September 2007. All told, 45,038 U.S. homes completed the foreclosure process in February. That’s less than half of the 102,000 homes lost to foreclosure in March 2010, when home repossessions peaked.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell by 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 332,000, hitting a five-year low. The number of claims have fallen 13% since November. Employers have added an average of 200,000 jobs per month from November through February, up from about 150,000 a month in the previous four months.

U.S. wholesale prices rose in February by the most in five months, pushed higher by more expensive gas and pharmaceuticals. But outside those increases, inflation was mild. The producer price index grew a seasonally adjusted 0.7% in February from January, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s up from 0.2% in the previous month. Wholesale gas prices increased 7.2%. Wholesale prices have risen just 1.7% in the past 12 months. The Consumer Price Index, the government’s key measure of inflation, showed prices rose 0.7% in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Year-over-year, inflation was up 2%.

The effects of the sequester have spread to the hallowed halls of education. Both graduate students and the parents of undergrads have been quietly receiving letters from the federal Department of Education. The letters say the fees on their Direct PLUS loans from the government are being raised from 4% to 4.2% as a direct result of the automatic budget cuts that kicked in this month because Congress and the White House couldn’t come to a fiscal agreement.

The top 10 percent of taxpayers paid over 70% of the total amount collected in federal income taxes in 2010, the latest year figures are available, CNN reported Tuesday. That’s up from 55% in 1986. The remaining 90% of U.S. taxpayers bore just 29% of the tax burden, down from 45% in 1986. And 47% of all Americans pay hardly anything at all — a fact that got Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney into political hot water last year.

Persecution Watch

Five Iranian Christian converts who were detained late last year will reportedly begin trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court this week, according to a human rights group following the case, Fox News reports. The five men were among seven arrested in October when security forces raided an underground house church in the city of Shiraz during a prayer session. They will be tried at the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz’ Fars Province on charges of disturbing public order, evangelizing, threatening national security and engaging in Internet activity that threatens the government, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. “Judging from recent cases, it is likely that, at the very least, those detained may face lengthy prison sentences,” said CSW spokesperson Kiri Kankhwende. According to Kankhwende, the crackdown on Christian converts and house churches comes as the government is leading up to June’s presidential elections. “There has been a noticeable increase in the harassment, arrests, trials and imprisonment of converts to Christianity, particularly since the beginning of 2012,” Kankhwende said.

Students at a Massachusetts charter school will perform a biblical play of Genesis with gay characters, despite objections from many who say it’s offensive to Christians, CBN News reports. The play is a 1998 comedy called “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” and in a letter to parents, administrators at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Public Charter School said it was consistent with the school’s philosophy and appropriate for a high school audience. But they did admit to receiving email petitions and phone calls describing the production as “blasphemous and hateful.” According to some of the messages, opponents said they planned to organize protests through local churches.

  • Imagine the hue and cry if the play satirized Islam or even gays. Only Christianity is considered a legitimate target for intolerance

Middle East

Unrest is growing in the Palestinian territories ahead of President Barack Obama’s first visit to Israel on March 20th. Riots and protests have erupted throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent days, prompting some Israeli officials and Middle East observers to warn that Obama’s visit could spark a third intifada (or uprising). Hamas officials have warned that Obama’s visit will further fracture its relations with the Palestinian Authority and have even stated that a presidential visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount will be viewed as a declaration of war.

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached an agreement Thursday to form a new coalition government that is expected to try to curb years of preferential treatment for the country’s ultra-Orthodox minority and may restart peace efforts with Palestinians. The new coalition will be the first in a decade to exclude ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties. Although Netanyahu’s bloc emerged as the biggest faction in the Jan. 22 election with 31 seats, he struggled to form a coalition with the necessary 61-seat majority in the 120-member parliament. His new coalition is expected to control 68 seats. The ultra-Orthodox make up about 10 percent of Israel’s 8 million citizens. Through the coalition government system, they have traditionally wielded disproportionate influence by ensuring a parliamentary majority for a string of prime ministers. With the exception of a three-year period in the early 2000s, they have served in every government since the late 1970s. This time, Netanyahu was forced to drop his plans to bring the ultra-Orthodox, his traditional partners, back into the coalition.

  • Israel continues its march toward secularism and away from its spiritual foundations

Iran

Iran is more than a year away from developing a nuclear weapon, but that does not mean the United States will wait for it to become a reality, President Barack Obama said in an interview that aired Thursday on an Israeli television station. “I have been crystal clear about my position on Iran possessing a nuclear weapon. That is a red line for us. It is not only something that would be dangerous for Israel. It would be dangerous for the world,” Obama told CNN affiliate Israeli Channel 2 TV before a scheduled visit next week to the country.

Syria

Bashar al-Assad’s regime has lost control of much of Syria’s long desert border with Iraq, as Sunni jihadist groups in both countries grow in strength, according to Western counter-terrorism officials and analysts. The resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq and the growing power of groups like the Nusra Front in Syria pose a broader threat: a cross-border alliance of militant Sunni groups capable of challenging governments in both Damascus and Baghdad and carving out a haven in a region where governments are struggling to exert control.

Afghanistan

The American commander in Afghanistan told his forces to intensify security measures on Wednesday, issuing a strongly worded warning that a string of anti-American statements by President Hamid Karzai had put Western troops at greater risk of attack both from rogue Afghan security forces and from militants. An array of Afghan political leaders issued a joint statement criticizing Mr. Karzai and saying his comments did not reflect their views. And though American military and diplomatic officials have mostly refrained from replying publicly to Mr. Karzai’s criticism, in private they have expressed concerns that relations between the allies had reached a worrisome low point right at a critical point in the war against the Taliban.

Iraq

A string of explosions tore through central Baghdad within minutes of each other on Thursday, followed by a coordinated assault by gunmen who raided a government building and battled security forces in the streets. The attack left at least 22 people dead and dozens wounded. The fighting lasted about an hour, ending with security forces storming the building, killing the gunmen and evacuating hundreds of people who had hunkered down in their offices. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda’s Iraqi arm. The group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, frequently uses car bombs and coordinated blasts in an effort to undermine Iraqis’ confidence in the Shiite-led government.

Pakistan

A separatist group fighting the Pakistani government for years has deployed a new weapon in its arsenal, police said: child bombers. Police in the southwestern Balochistan province say they have arrested a group of children as young as 8 that the United Baloch Army has been using to carry out attacks. All the children belong to extremely poor and down-trodden families. The militant group paid them $25 to $50 to drop off packages carrying bombs with timer. The militant group uses children because they seldom arouse suspicion.

Egypt

The announcement of a religious police force to uphold Muslim morals in Egypt is the latest chilling sign of the country’s move towards becoming an Islamic state. The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, an informal group, shares its name with the much-feared religious police (“mutawaah”) in Saudi Arabia. Opponents fear that the Islamists will abuse their position and force people, especially women, to adhere to strict, oppressive shariah law. There are concerns also for the country’s minority Christian community, who could be subjected to the indiscriminate enforcement of sharia law.

Falkland Islands

Residents of the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina voted overwhelmingly to remain a British Overseas Territory, an official said late Monday. The question put to voters was: “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?” More than 99% of voters said yes. Just three people voted no. Turnout was 92%.But the Argentinian Embassy in London said Friday that the referendum had no legitimacy, characterizing it as “a further attempt by the British to manipulate the question.” The two countries went to war over the territory in 1982. Now, renewed rhetoric between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the islands has escalated to a fever pitch.

Earthquakes

A modest but widely felt earthquake rolled through a wide swath of Southern California late Monday morning but there were no immediate reports of damage. The 9:55 a.m. quake had an estimated magnitude of 4.7 with several aftershocks of lesser magnitude. The epicenter was about a dozen miles from the Riverside County desert community of Anza, about 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

A small earthquake also jolted Northern California on Thursday morning, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The U.S. Geological Survey says a quake with a preliminary magnitude of 4.6 struck at 2:09 a.m. Thursday in Lake County. It was centered near the small rural community of Cobb, about 70 miles northwest of Sacramento. Some reports say it was felt as far away as San Francisco, some 70 miles away.

Weather

High pressure centered over the Four Corners will continue to expand, allowing temperatures to surge again Friday in the Southwest. Temperatures in cities such as Phoenix, Ariz., and Palm Springs, Calif., are expected to make it into the 90s for the second day in a row. Palm Springs got an early jump on the warmth, with the “heat wave” starting back on Tuesday, reaching 90 degrees, following with a warm 95 on Wednesday. Phoenix set a record high Thursday, also at 95 degrees.

Signs of the Times (3/11/13)

March 11, 2013

Obama Sequesters 9/11 Victims

With the Sequester, the Obama Administration is taking $27 million from the 9/11 Victim’s Fund even while it gives Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt a cash infusion of $250 million. “In other words, the American victims of terrorism are making financial sacrifices while the ideological fathers of modern jihad are getting an economic stimulus – at U.S. taxpayer expense. Jihadists should get nothing from American taxpayers,” writes Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law & Justice.

60,000 Border and Customs Agents Told to Take Furloughs

Sixty-thousand federal employees responsible for securing the nation’s borders and facilitating trade will be furloughed for as many as 14 days starting next month because of $85 billion in cross-government spending cuts. The federal government notified the workers on Thursday, CNN reports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said the furloughs and other austerity measures would cause delays at ports of entry, including international arrivals at airports, and would reduce the number of border patrol officers on duty at any one time. David Aguilar, the agency’s deputy commissioner, said it must cut about $754 million by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The agency plans to institute furloughs throughout its departments, a hiring freeze — and to reduce or eliminate overtime, compensatory time, travel and training. Other federal agencies are following similar steps because of the spending cuts that took effect on March 1 through sequestration.

  • The Obama administration is targeting the sequester cuts to advance their agenda

Communities Mull Mandates for Guns

A town of 140 people in western Maine is considering an ordinance making gun ownership mandatory, the latest of a handful of communities nationwide to pass or consider such a rule even though the measures are widely considered unenforceable. Communities from Idaho to Georgia have been inspired to “require” or recommend their residents arm themselves ever since a gunman killed 26 youngsters and educators Dec. 14 in a school in Newtown, Conn., and raised fears among gun owners about an impending restriction on Second Amendment rights. Backed by gun rights supporters, the ordinance is intended to pre-emptively block gun-control laws, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said. The idea has also caught on in Nelson, Georgia, a city of just over 1,300 about 50 miles north of downtown Atlanta, where supporters of the gun-ownership proposal say light police patrols leave city residents virtually unprotected for most of the day.

New Law Lets South Dakota Schools Arm Teachers

School boards in South Dakota will be able to let school employees, hired security personnel or volunteers carry guns in schools under a law signed Friday by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. The law, set to go into effect July 1, will let school boards establish “school sentinel” programs. Under these programs, the school boards can arm people “to secure or enhance the deterrence of physical threat and defense of the school, its students, its staff, and members of the public on the school premises against violent attack,” according to the legislation. All school sentinels would first be required to complete a training program. Some other states, including Utah, also allow teachers to have loaded weapons inside classrooms.

Gun Ownership Has Declined over Several Decades

The household gun ownership rate has fallen from an average of 50 percent in the 1970s to 49 percent in the 1980s, 43 percent in the 1990s and 35 percent in the 2000s. In 2012, the share of American households with guns was 34 percent, according to survey results released on Thursday. Measuring the level of gun ownership can be a vexing problem, with various recent national polls reporting rates between 35 percent and 52 percent. Responses can vary because the wording of questions differ.

Public Transportation Ridership Increasing

Ridership on buses, subways and other modes of public transportation in the USA rose 1.5% to 10.5 billion trips last year, the highest annual total since 2008, according to a new report. Although Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath slowed ridership on some of the nation’s largest transit systems, at least 16 systems reported record ridership numbers in 2012, says the American Public Transportation Association. The increase in transit ridership was driven, at least partly, by high gas prices, the volatility of those prices and the nation’s changing demographics. The popularity of public transportation is increasing, especially among Baby Boomers, empty-nesters and Millennials, who total about 150 million people.

America’s Fastest Growing Job Pays Poorly

Home health care aide is the fastest growing job segment in the U.S. but it pays poorly. These nearly 2 million (mostly minorities and women) workers do everything from prepare meals and clean homes, to bathe and change bedpans for elderly and disabled patients. As Baby Boomers age, this job is expected to explode, growing 70% between 2010 and 2020, according to the Labor Department. That makes it the single fastest growing job in the United States. But even though there are plenty of job opportunities, many of these people make the same wage as teenagers flipping burgers or selling clothes at the mall. The average hourly wage is just $9.70 an hour, according to the Labor Department.

Economic News

The jobs recovery is broadening as the housing revival and rising consumer wealth begin to lift an array of industries, from mortgage lending to charities. The spread of employment gains to previously lagging industries makes for a more sustainable recovery that’s less vulnerable to unforeseen events that could hobble certain sectors, economists say.

Federal government jobs fell by 4,200 in February, the fifth month in a row those jobs have been zapped from the economy. And, thanks to the automatic budget cuts, it’s going to get worse. In contrast to gains in the private sector, a total of 33,000 federal worker jobs have been lost since January 2012 — and that does not include jobs at the Postal Service, which is in the midst of a crisis of its own. Federal agencies have been freezing jobs as workers retire or leave for the private sector.

The supply of homes for sale is still unusually tight as the spring buying season opens, helping sellers by turning up the heat on already-rising prices. The number of homes listed for sale was down almost 17% in late February vs. a year earlier. In some California markets, they were down more than 40%.The supply crunch is likely to last all year.

The nation’s biggest banks, ranked by assets, agreed to pay more than $60 billion in settlements related to the national credit crisis and mortgage-related cases during the last three years, a new survey shows. Bank of America led the way, with more than $40 billion in settlements announced so far. Wells Fargo announced more than $8 billion in settlements while JPMorgan Chase agreed to a $1.95 billion national settlement with the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency over mortgage loan and foreclosure abuses. Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Metlife and Morgan Stanley also agreed to settlements in the millions.

Middle East

In what scientists describe as the worst locust swarm in decades, a massive locust outbreak—estimates run as high as thirty million—has now moved from Egypt into Israel. It was 1959 the last time something this severe threatened the crops and livelihoods of the Jewish people.

Persecution Watch

Hundreds of people in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore attacked a Christian neighborhood Saturday and set fire to homes after hearing accusations that a Christian man had committed blasphemy against Islam’s prophet. Blasphemy is a serious crime in Pakistan that can carry the death penalty but sometimes outraged residents exact their own retribution for perceived insults of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed. Pakistan is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and people of other faiths, including the nation’s small Christian community, are often viewed with hostility. Outraged Pakistani Christians took to the streets of Lahore on Sunday, protesting a rash of violence against their community over the weekend.

International Christian Concern reports that 125 Christians have been beaten and detained over the past week in Eritrea. “Police arrested these church members from homes and workplaces during broad daylight and then marched them through town to the police station while beating them,” an investigator for Open Doors said. Among the 125 Christians, 45 men and women were arrested on Feb. 27 for worshipping outside highly regulated government-approved churches in Eritrea. “Being a Christian in Eritrea is like living in hell,” a source inside Eritrea said. “Christians are treated like enemy number one.” President Isaias Afwerki, who has been in power since 1993, has instituted a totalitarian regime that seeks to control all aspects of life in Eritrea, including the religious practices of its citizens. “Systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations continue in Eritrea,” the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom states. “These violations include torture, sometimes resulting in death, arbitrary detention and prolonged bans on religious activities.” It is estimated over 2,000 Christians remain imprisoned in Eritrea, exposed to some of the most inhuman conditions in the world.

Islamic rebels have been taking over Christian villages in Syria, leaving Christians facing some tough choices, CBN News reports. A Muslim group recently captured the Christian village of Yacoubiyeh, and many residents fled, leaving behind empty homes and damaged churches. Some say they won’t return until they see how the Muslim rebel commander treats minorities. Though the commander says he will treat everyone fairly, like many rebel leaders he rules according to strict Islamic law. Elsewhere in Syria, reports abound of Muslim rebels murdering Christians and kidnapping others for ransom.

Syria

Syrian rebels on Saturday freed 21 U.N. peacekeepers after holding them hostage for four days, ending a sudden entanglement with the world body that earned those trying to oust President Bashar Assad a flood of negative publicity. The peacekeepers were part of a force that has spent four decades monitoring an Israeli-Syrian cease-fire without incident. The Filipino peacekeepers crossed from Syria to safety in Jordan on Saturday afternoon. Their captors from the Martyrs of the Yarmouk Brigades initially said they would only release the hostages once Syrian troops withdrew from the area. However, as the abduction made headlines, the rebels eventually dropped their demand and began negotiating a safe passage for the peacekeepers with U.N. officials.

Egypt

An Egyptian court on Saturday confirmed the death sentences against 21 people for taking part in a deadly soccer riot but acquitted seven police officials for their alleged role in the violence. On Saturday, the court announced its verdict for the other 52 defendants in the case, sentencing 45 of them to prison, including two senior police officers who got 15 years terms each. Protesters were enraged by the verdict and torched the soccer federation headquarters and a police club in Cairo in protest. As expected, the court’s decision failed to defuse tensions over the case, which has taken on political undercurrents at a time when the entire nation is mired in political turmoil over a worsening economy and growing opposition to the rule of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber on a bicycle struck outside the Afghan Defense Ministry on Saturday, one of two attacks that killed at least 18 people as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited the nation. Nine people were killed in the bombing at the ministry, a fresh reminder that insurgents continue to fight and challenges remain as the U.S.-led NATO force hands over the country’s security to the Afghans. About a half hour later, another suicide bomber attacked a police checkpoint in Khost, the capital of Khost province in eastern Afghanistan. An Afghan policeman and eight civilians, who were mostly children, died in that blast. “We are still at war,” Hagel said shortly before he arrived on Friday, the same day that three men wearing Afghan army uniforms and driving an Afghan army vehicle forced their way onto a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan and opened fire, killing one civilian contractor and wounding other U.S. troops.

Kenya

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta appears to have won the presidential election in the first round with the slimmest of majorities. Final numbers showed Kenyatta with 50.03 % of the vote. He needs more than 50 % to win outright and avoid a runoff with Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who had 43.3%. Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding president, is indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court and if he becomes president, problems with Western allies are expected.

North Korea

A new joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States began Monday amid heightened tensions across the region. The North Korean army has declared invalid the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953, the official newspaper of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party said Monday. The armistice agreement, signed in 1953, ended the three-year war between North and South Korea in a truce. “The U.S. has reduced the armistice agreement to a dead paper,” the newspaper said. North Korea also cut off direct phone links with South Korea at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. The phone line was the emergency link for quick, two-way communication between the two sides. Since the two sides remain technically at war, it remains to be seen whether the invalidation means that North Korea will resume hostilities.

Weather

Omaha public schools are shut down Monday, March 11 as a winter storm blanketed the region with heavy snow.  Interstate 80 was shut down for part of Sunday after multiple car accidents littered nearly 200 miles between Nebraska and Iowa. There were several reports of vehicles hitting the median or going into ditches. The National Weather Service forecast up to 8 inches of snow Sunday around east-central Nebraska and southwest Iowa. The heaviest snow was expected in a swath from around David City in Nebraska, to Missouri Valley and Onawa in Iowa. Up to 9 inches of snow was possible in some areas.

Signs of the Times (3/8/13)

March 8, 2013

Arkansas Lawmakers Pass Nation’s Toughest Abortion Bill

Overriding a veto by Arkansas’ Democratic governor, the state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate approved a bill to ban abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, the most restrictive such law in the country. The Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU of Arkansas promised to mount a legal challenge in federal court, while supporters said they were prepared to fight back. Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, vetoed the bill Monday, saying it “blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution.” Called the “Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act,” the bill requires testing to determine “whether the fetus that the pregnant woman is carrying possesses a detectible heartbeat.”

CDC Sounds Alarm on Deadly, Untreatable Superbugs

Health officials are raising concerns that it may soon be too late to stop superbugs. A family of “nightmare” superbugs — untreatable and often deadly — is spreading through hospitals across the USA, and doctors fear that it may soon be too late to stop them, senior health officials said Tuesday. “These are nightmare bacteria that present a triple threat,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “They’re resistant to nearly all antibiotics. They have high mortality rates, killing half of people with serious infections. And they can spread their resistance to other bacteria.” So far, this particular class of superbug, called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, has been found only in hospitals or nursing homes, rather than in the community, Frieden said. But officials sounded the alarm partly because, if the bacteria’s spread isn’t contained soon, even common infections could become untreatable. Fortunately, CRE doesn’t spread easily from person to person.

These superbugs are “the biggest threat to patient safety in the hospital that we have,” said Costi Sifri, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at the University of Virginia Health System. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like anything is slowing their spread.” In 2001, only 1.2% of the common family of bacteria, Enterobacteriaceae, were resistant to carbapenem antibiotics — the strongest class available. By 2011, that figure had jumped to 4.2%.CRE infections already are endemic in several U.S. population centers, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, which account for hundreds of confirmed cases. Smaller pockets of cases have been reported across much of the country, including Oregon, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina.

  • Pestilence is a major component of end-time plagues to come: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” (Matthew 24:7)

Health Care Spending Slows

Health care spending last year rose at one of the lowest rates in a half-century, partly the result of cost-saving measures put in place by the 2009 health care law, a USA TODAY analysis finds. Spending for medical care has increased modestly for five consecutive years, the longest period of slow growth since Medicare began in 1966. This respite comes just before a massive expansion of health insurance starts Jan. 1, 2014. Another 21 million people will get insurance, adding about $100 billion a year to total health care spending in 2014, according to the government’s actuary. Health care spending hit a record $2.67 trillion last year, but its share of the overall economy shrank, from 17.12% of gross domestic product in 2011 to 17.04%,

In 2012, the average price paid for medical care — a doctor’s visit, an operation, a pair of glasses — rose at about the same rate as other prices in the economy, an inflation rate of less than 2%.Total health care spending still rose 1.7 percentage points faster than inflation in 2012 because of an increased use of medical services, such as hospitals, home health care and drugs. However, even this extra demand for care was modest compared with past years, especially for an aging population.

  • Just when health care spending gets under control along comes Obamacare, a socialist welfare system that will add further spending and debt to an already overloaded economy

Drone Strike in U.S. “Possible”

Attorney General Eric Holder is not entirely ruling out a scenario under which a drone strike would be ordered against Americans on U.S. soil, but says he could only see it being considered in an extraordinary circumstance. Holder said a potential scenario might involve a president ordering such action “to protect the homeland” in a case like the 2001 al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington or the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. But he said the administration rejects the use of military force where law enforcement authorities provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.

  • When the government says something is “possible” it almost always paves the way for its eventuality. Suppressing dissent will be a hallmark of the run-up to the Tribulation

Privacy Advocates Petition to Shut Down Drones

A privacy organization is warning that just about anyone in the United States could be monitored by a drone run by the Customs and Border Protection Agency in violation of privacy standards, and it has launched a petition to have the government shut down its operations until reasonable rules are adopted to provide guidance. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has created an online petition to David V. Aguilar, deputy commissioner of the CBP in Washington, asking to have the controversial drone program suspended pending the development of privacy regulations for drones used in U.S. airspace. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has customized its Predator drones, originally built for overseas military operations, to carry out at-home surveillance tasks such as identifying civilians carrying guns and tracking their cell phones, government documents show.

DHS Purchases 2,700 Light-Armored Tanks for Homeland Use

In addition to the 1.6 billion bullets stockpiled by the Dept. of Homeland Security, DHS (through the U.S. Army Forces Command) has also recently retrofitted 2,717 of ‘Mine Resistant Protected’ vehicles for service on the streets of the United States. DHS even released a video on their newly purchased MRAPs. These are light-armored tanks. What possible use would they have within America? Quelling dissent and preparing for the implementation of martial law in days to come, say many whistle-blowers.

Huge burden on caregivers of military wounded

More than 1.1 million Americans are caring in their homes for relatives wounded or emotionally damaged in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to a RAND study made public Thursday. Some work 80 hours a week assisting their loved ones with bathing, dressing, eating, using the toilet, making medical appointments, managing finances or struggling through emotional difficulties. Researchers estimate that 800,000 servicemembers who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11 have suffered wounds, illnesses and injuries — the majority stricken with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. In an aging American society, family caregivers have become a broader societal issue.

Chicago Board of Education OKs Kindergarten Sex Ed

The Chicago Public Schools district plans to start teaching children sex education in kindergarten, CBN News reports. Its Board of Education passed the new policy Wednesday, which mandates that teachers spend a set amount of time on sex education lessons at every grade level. Across the country, most public schools begin teaching sex ed in fifth grade, but under Chicago’s new policy, kindergartners will learn about basic anatomy, reproduction, healthy relationships and personal safety. “It is important that we provide students of all ages with accurate and appropriate information so they can make healthy choices in regards to their social interactions, behaviors and relationships,” said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools system, which is the third-largest in the country. “By implementing a new sexual health education policy, we will be helping them to build a foundation of knowledge that can guide them not just in the preadolescent and adolescent years, but throughout their lives.” Parents will be able to opt their children out of the program.

  • The New World Order continues to promote unrestricted sex as the foundation to undermining God’s ordained family structure. Indoctrinating kindergarteners is beyond contemptible.

Marital Cheating Increases Dramatically in 15 Years

Last year, researchers at the University of Washington Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors who analyzed data on infidelity taken from the General Social Survey found that roughly 20 percent of men and 15 percent of women under age 35 admitted to cheating on their spouses in 2006 (the latest figures available), up from 15 and 12 percent, respectively, 15 years earlier, Fox News reports. According to David Popenoe, founder and co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, part of the problem “is that we’ve become an ‘anything-goes’ society, in which the indiscretions of politicians, sports figures, and pop celebrities are practically daily news.” Interestingly, research shows that infidelity rates are much higher among cohabiting couples — which are at an all-time high — than married couples who don’t live together first. Additionally, the study found that men under age 35 were two and a quarter times more likely to have cheated if they had seen an X-rated movie.

  • Whether its gay marriage, transgender rights or adultery, sex is one of Satan’s primary tools to break down Biblical principles as the basis for social order

Muslim’s Claim: ‘We are Above the Law of the Land’

A Council on American-Islamic Relations leader told a crowd at a rally for Islam that members of the faith should not be bound by American law. “If we are practicing Muslims, we are above the law of the land,” said Mustafa Carroll, executive director of the Dallas-Fort Worth CAIR branch. The rally in Austin, Texas was part of a nationwide effort to hold “Muslim Capitol Day” events. According to the event website, Muslims from around Texas went to the capitol to “promote civic and political activism throughout the wider Muslim community.”

  • Implementing Islamic Shariah law is the ultimate goal of Muslims throughout the Western world

Credit Checks Hindering Unemployed

Employer credit checks are preventing the nation’s hardest hit job seekers from entering the workforce, a new study shows. One in four unemployed Americans have been required to go through a credit check when applying for a job, and one in ten have been denied jobs due to information in their credit report. While people tend to think credit checks are only conducted for senior level positions, the study found they are often used for entry-level, low-paying positions as well. Bad credit is often a result of unemployment and the loss of health insurance, which makes it difficult for people to keep up with the bills.

Economic News

The American economy added 236,000 jobs in February as the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, the lowest level in more than four years, the Labor Department reported Friday. After peaking at 10 percent in October 2009, the unemployment rate fell steadily for three years but had been stuck at just below 8 percent since last September. It was 7.9 percent in January.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 340,000 last week, driving the four-week average to its lowest level in five years. The Labor Department says applications fell 7,000 in the week ended March 2. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 7,000 to 348,750.

The trade deficit in the U.S. widened more than forecast in January as demand for imported crude oil rebounded. The gap grew by 16.5 percent to $44.4 billion from $38.1 billion in December that was the smallest in three years. Sustained spending gains by U.S. consumers and businesses will probably keep driving up imports this year even as oil costs moderate.

It took 5½ years, but the Dow on Tuesday finally crossed over its record closing high of 14,164.53 set in October of 2007. The Dow, which closed Tuesday at a new all-time peak of 14,253.77, is just the latest in a long list of popular stock indexes that have made fresh all-time highs. After reaching a record high Tuesday, the Dow gained more ground Wednesday, rising another 0.3% to end at a new high of 14,296.39.

Surging stock prices and steady home-price increases have finally allowed Americans to regain the $16 trillion in wealth they lost to the Great Recession. The gains are helping support the economy and could lead to further spending and growth. The regained wealth — most of it from higher stock prices — has been flowing mainly to richer Americans. By contrast, middle class wealth is mostly in the form of home equity, which has risen much less.

Home prices jumped 9.7% in January from a year before and are on track for similar increases for February, market watcher CoreLogic says. The gain marks the biggest year-over-year increase in almost seven years and the 11th consecutive monthly increase. Only Delaware and Illinois experienced year-over-year price declines, down 0.1% and 0.4%, respectively.

Gas prices fell last week for the first time since December. The price of a gallon of self-serve regular averaged $3.759 across the nation, down a scant 2.5 cents from $3.784 last week. Oil prices declined below $90 a barrel this week.

Persecution Watch

Sudan’s president has pledged to preserve religious freedom in his proposed “100-percent” Islamic constitution, but Christians doubt the prospect in light of increasing persecution, Christianity Today reports. A government-led crackdown is forcing Christians to flee south into the Nuba Mountains, a region that borders the newly established nation of South Sudan, and ethnic Nuba Christians believe Sudan’s central government is attempting to eradicate Christianity from the region. Though the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has denied that it is discriminating against Christians, many recent reports have documented increasing attacks.

Officials at Florida’s Rollins College ordered a group of students to shut down a Bible study they were holding in the privacy of a dorm room — saying it violated the rules. The incident occurred in the midst of a campus battle over whether religious groups that require their leaders to follow specific religious beliefs are violating the school’s nondiscrimination policy. Four students affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship were holding an informal Bible study in the common area of a dorm suite when a resident hall assistant entered the room and asked the student leading the study to step outside. “He was told they were no longer allowed inside the dorm — even with the express consent of the students to do Bible studies,” said Greg Jao, InterVarsity’s national field director.

  • It is anti-Christian policies that are intolerant, bordering on ‘hate crimes’

Middle East

Mike Evans of the Jerusalem Prayer Team writes, “In a few days, President Obama will be going to Israel. This is his first trip to the Jewish state since he became president, and he is going with an urgent agenda—to divide the Holy City of Jerusalem and rush the creation of a Palestinian state with much of Jerusalem as its capital. He is hoping this will be the great international legacy of his second term in office. There is no doubt in my mind that if this plan succeeds, God will judge America in a way we have never seen in our history. Our nation is in the process of touching God’s prophecy and that is a very dangerous thing. The outcome of this plan does not just threaten Israel’s future, but that of America and every other nation that supports it as well. God will not allow us to contradict His Word in such an open and blatant way.”

Scientists estimate there are as many as thirty million locusts in the massive swarm that has ravaged crops in Egypt. Israel’s Agriculture Department is working to prepare a response, as the locust swarm is likely to move in Israel’s direction. Evans writes, “Pray for Israel—the locusts are coming! I’m sure you’ve heard about the new Bible mini-series being shown on the History Channel. The first program showed the plague of locusts striking Egypt during the days of Moses. Well, it is happening in real life…and Israel is in the crosshairs. Just as in Biblical times, the plague of locusts arrived shortly before Passover,” which commemorates events in ancient times including a “plague of locusts” in Pharoanic Egypt during the time of the Hebrew enslavement there.

  • The Bible mini-series broke all viewing records on the History Channel this past Sunday for its initial episode which continue this coming Sunday evening.

Eurozone

President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy is considering appointing a new technocrat government led by a non-politician as one way out of Italy’s political stalemate, Italian officials said this week. With no party able to control the upper house, the options for putting together a government depend on an agreement between at least two of the three main rival forces in parliament. Vito Crimi, newly appointed leader of the 5-Star Movement in the Senate, said the movement would not support a technocrat government. Italians may have had their fill of Technocracy when former President Mario Monti (a member of the Trilateral Commission) was appointed – not elected – to fix Italy’s economic problems. The first thing that Monti did was to appoint a 100 per­cent technocratic cabinet that included no politicians.

  • Technocracy is a New World Order objective to establish technology as the basis for governmental policies

Syria

The number of Syrians who have fled their war-ravaged country and are seeking assistance has now topped the 1 million mark, the U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday, warning that Syria is heading towards a “full-scale disaster.” The announcement came as troops and rebels fought street battles in Syria’s strategic northern city of Raqqa, and regime forces sent reinforcements in an attempt to push out opposition gunmen who now control most of the city. Syria’s two-year crisis has killed tens of thousands, left many more wounded and also internally displaced more than 2 million people.

Some 48 Syrians, most of them soldiers, and nine Iraqi soldiers were killed Monday in an attack near the western Iraqi town of Ar Rutbah, an official said, raising concerns that Syria’s civil war could spill over into Iraq. The Syrian soldiers’ convoy was ambushed by gunmen using roadside bombs and machine guns. Militant groups are very active on the border areas between Iraq and Syria. Some of these groups affiliate with al Qaeda in Iraq.

Egypt

At least four people were killed and hundreds more were injured in fresh clashes in the volatile city of Port Said. More than 150 of those hurt were still in the hospital. A government security building was set ablaze as police and protesters clashed. The violence snowballed throughout the weekend, as a March 9 verdict date neared for 52 defendants involved in a deadly riot at a soccer game in February 2012. Twenty-one defendants already have been sentenced to death for their alleged roles in the so-called “massacre at Port Said,” when 74 people were killed and 1,000 injured.

Malaysia

Malaysian fighter jets and soldiers on Tuesday waged an offensive against a group of armed invaders from the Philippines, who have staked a claim to a remote part of the island of Borneo, authorities said. Previous efforts by Malaysian police to turn the men back had ended in deadly clashes. The group of Filipino men, believed to number between 100 and 300, arrived three weeks ago on the east coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah, on Borneo, demanding to be recognized as representatives of a sultanate that used to rule the area. The standoff has touched on an unresolved territorial issue between the Philippines and Malaysia, as well as Manila’s efforts to improve relations with Islamic insurgents in the country’s south after decades of violence.

North Korea

North Korea vowed Tuesday to cancel the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War, citing a U.S.-led push for punishing U.N. sanctions over its recent nuclear test and ongoing U.S.-South Korean joint military drills. Without elaborating, the Korean People’s Army Supreme Command warned of “surgical strikes” meant to unify the divided Korean Peninsula and of an indigenous, “precision nuclear striking tool.”

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to boost sanctions against North Korea for its third nuclear test Feb. 12. New sanctions on North Korea have as little chance of stopping Pyongyang from developing a deliverable nuclear weapon as previous efforts, unless China gets more serious about enforcing them, nuclear experts and China watchers say. After the vote Thursday, China’s U.N. ambassador, Li Baodong, said his nation wants to see “full implementation” of the sanctions.

Kenya

When the ballot counting began this week, Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, surged ahead in the race for president and stayed out front as the margin narrowed early on Friday. Soon, the Obama administration and its allies could face a tough choice, made even more complicated by the appearance of taking sides against a candidate who may very well win. Kenyatta has been charged with heinous crimes, accused of using a vast fortune to bankroll death squads that slaughtered women and children. His running mate also faces charges of crimes against humanity. Kenyatta’s election would  put at risk all the strategic American interests vested in Kenya, a vital ally in a volatile region and a crucial hub for everything from billion-dollar health programs and American corporations to spying on agents of Al Qaeda.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake has been felt throughout Taiwan, but no casualties or damage has been reported yet. The Central Weather Bureau says the quake Thursday registered at magnitude 5.6. The tremor struck about 23 miles north of Hualien city and it swayed buildings in the capital, Taipei. Hualien is about 110 miles southeast of Taipei.

Weather

An unyielding winter storm that ripped its way through the Midwest earlier in the week blasted east Wednesday, snarling traffic, closing schools and straining air travel for a third straight day. The Washington D.C. region was the latest target, with the city and suburbs bracing for 5 to 10 inches of snow and ice by Wednesday night. More than a foot could fall in some higher elevations west of the city. Federal offices and all area schools closed for the day. More than 3,000 flights have been canceled across much of the nation since the storm began its eastern march More than 90,000 customers already were without power in parts of Virginia. The storm dropped several feet of snow in West Virginia and Virginia and was blamed for at least four deaths on Wednesday night. All were traffic-related.

The storm earlier dumped about a foot of snow in parts of Illinois, Minnesota and North Dakota, and paved a white swath across the Upper Midwest. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport had 6 inches of snow Tuesday, besting a 1999 record for the date by 2.2 inches. Tuesday’s snow put a drag on air traffic in the Midwest, leading to delays and cancellations.

The amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the air jumped dramatically in 2012, making it very unlikely that global warming can be limited to another 2 degrees as many global leaders have hoped, new federal figures show. Scientists say the rise in CO2 reflects the world’s economy revving up and burning more fossil fuels, especially in China. Carbon dioxide levels jumped by 2.67 parts per million since 2011 to total just under 395 parts per million. That’s the second highest rise in carbon emissions since record-keeping began in 1959. More coal-burning power plants, especially in the developing world, are the main reason emissions keep going up – even as they have declined in the U.S. and other places.

  • Regardless of human causality, end-time weather will continue to grow more extreme

Signs of the Times (3/4/13)

March 4, 2013

Obama Signs Order to Begin Sequester Cuts

The White House made public an order at about 8:30 p.m. ET signed by President Obama making the budget cuts known as sequestration official and giving the federal government the authority to begin implementing mandatory $85 billion in across-the-board decreases. The cuts would run through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. the sequestration calls for a 7.8% cut in non-exempt defense discretionary funds and 5% cut in non-exempt non-defense discretionary funding. It also calls for 2% cuts to Medicare, 5.1% to other non-exempt non-defense mandatory programs and 7.9% to non-exempt defense mandatory programs. The federal government has said the cuts will soon translate into furlough notices to government workers. For the most part, the ramifications would kick in over months, not several days or weeks,

The order comes after both Republican and Democratic alternatives to imposing across-the-board spending cuts failed to pass in the U.S. Senate. The Democratic plan would have imposed a tax of 30% or more on millionaires, and cuts to defense and farm programs. The Republican plan would have forced responsibility on the president to determine how to implement the cuts as opposed to imposing an across-the-board decrease.

Tax Bills for Rich Approach 30-Year High

With Washington gridlocked again over whether to raise the taxes on the rich, it turns out wealthy families already are paying some of their biggest federal tax bills in decades even as the rest of the population continues to pay at historically low rates. President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress say the wealthy must pay their fair share if the federal government is ever going to fix its finances and reduce the budget deficit to a manageable level. A new analysis, however, shows that average tax bills for high-income families rarely have been higher since the Congressional Budget Office began tracking the data in 1979. It’s middle- and low-income families who aren’t paying as much as they used to.

For 2013, families with incomes in the top 20% of the nation will pay an average of 27.2% of their income in federal taxes, according to projections by the Tax Policy Center, a research organization based in Washington. The top 1% of households, those with incomes averaging $1.4 million, will pay an average of 35.5%.The average family in the bottom 20% of households won’t pay any federal taxes. Instead, many families in this group will get payments from the federal government by claiming more in credits than they owe in taxes, including payroll taxes. That gives them a negative tax rate. The middle 20% of U.S. households — those making an average of $46,600 — will pay an average of 13.8% of their income in federal taxes for this year, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Medicare Doctor’s Pay Cut

The nation’s Medicare doctors, already facing higher costs and sluggish revenue, now face a pay cut because of the automatic spending cuts that were triggered Friday. Under the so-called sequester, Medicare payments to health care providers, health care plans and drug plans will be reduced by 2% starting April 1st. Reimbursement for low-income beneficiaries is exempt. Overall, the cut will mean $11 billion less for doctors, hospitals and other providers in 2013.

Recovery in U.S. Is Lifting Profits, but Not Adding Jobs

With the Dow Jones industrial average flirting with a record high, the split between American workers and the companies that employ them is widening and could worsen in the next few months as federal budget cuts take hold. Stock markets are thriving even as the economy is barely growing and unemployment remains stubbornly high. With millions still out of work, companies face little pressure to raise salaries, while productivity gains allow them to increase sales without adding workers. The result has been a golden age for corporate profits, especially among multinational giants that are also benefiting from faster growth in emerging economies like China and India.

Rights Group Sues Over Internet Kill Switch

A privacy rights group has brought a lawsuit to gain more detailed information on the federal government’s ability to shut off the internet in the event of a national crisis. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, in response to a failure by the agency to release any documents pertaining to the “Emergency Wireless Protocols,” (Standard Operating Procedure 303 or “SOP 303″). SOP 303 outlines exactly how the DHS would carry out a complete communications shutdown in the event of what it deemed an emergency situation. EPIC explains in its complaint that the DHS has publicly stated that under SOP 303 an agency component “will function as the focal point for coordinating any actions leading up to and following the termination of private wireless network connections, both within a localized area and within an entire metropolitan area.”

DHS Censors Information About Firearms Purchase

Amidst continuing controversy over the Department of Homeland Security’s purchase of large quantities of guns and ammunition, the federal agency is getting more secretive about its activity by censoring information about a no-bid contract with Remington for firearms parts. Despite the fact that documents pertaining to government activity are only supposed to be redacted for national security reasons or if authorized by Congress, a new entry posted on the FedBizOpps website pertaining to the DHS’ plans for a $1.5 million contract with firearms manufacturer Remington contains numerous blacked-out sections. The document is an explanation of why the DHS has entered into a contract on a basis “other than full and open competition,” in other words a no bid contract. The contract with Remington Arms Company for firearms replacement parts is set to run for five years. The first censored portion of the document blacks out the precise year by year amount in dollars that the DHS plans to purchase from Remington. The second censored section blacks out the number of Remington firearms that have been serviced and maintained by the ICE National Firearms and Tactical Training Unit (NFTTU).

Flu No Longer Widespread in U.S.

The flu isn’t totally gone, but we’re on the downward slope, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Right now the states with the most flu are in the Northeast and the West. Oregon and Nevada are bearing the brunt on the West Coast while in the Northeast, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio all have lots of flu. Nationally, 8.4 percent of deaths reported in CDC’s 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System were due to pneumonia and influenza as of Feb. 23. The previous week it was 8.6 percent. That’s still above the epidemic threshold of 7.2 percent.

Doctors Report First Cure of HIV in a Child

For the first time, doctors are reporting that they have cured a child of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The landmark finding will help scientists better understand the nature of HIV, doctors say, and could potentially help countless HIV-positive babies in developing countries. Experts note that the girl’s story is also unique — involving a string of unusual events — and won’t immediately lead to a cure for the 34 million people living with HIV worldwide. The baby contracted HIV at birth. Because doctors suspected the baby would be infected, they began administering anti-AIDS therapy the day after birth.

Keystone Pipeline Considered Best Option

The State Department on Friday raised no major objections to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and said other options to get the oil from Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries are worse for climate change. But the latest environmental review stops short of recommending whether the project should be approved. State Department approval of the 1,700-mile (2,735-kilometer)pipeline is needed because it crosses a U.S. border. The lengthy report says Canadian tar sands are likely to be developed, regardless of whether the U.S. approves Keystone XL, which would carry oil from western Canada to refineries in Texas. The pipeline would also travel through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. The report acknowledges that development of tar sands in Alberta would create greenhouse gases but makes clear that other methods to transport the oil — including rail, trucks and barges — also pose a risk to the environment.

Economic News

Spending on U.S. construction projects fell in January by the largest amount in 18 months as home construction stalled and spending on government projects fell to the lowest level in more than six years. Construction spending fell 2.1% in January compared with December, when spending had risen 1.1%.Residential construction, which has been leading the rebound in building, stalled in January with no gain in activity following a 1.7% rise in December. Non-residential building dropped 5.1% while public construction was down 1%.

Personal income growth plunged 3.6% in January, the biggest one-month drop in 20 years, the Commerce Department said Friday. And consumer spending rose just 0.2% with most of it going toward higher heating bills and filling up the gas tank. The income drop was offset by Americans’ savings a hefty 2.6% rise in December. But most of that gain, analysts said, reflected a rush by companies to pay dividends and bonuses before income taxes increased on top earners at the start of 2013.

There were spending declines in January for big-ticket items that last three years or more, like cars and appliances, and non-durable goods, like clothing and food. Some economists said the declines could be blamed on a 2% federal payroll tax cut expired Dec. 31. Income taxes on the wealthiest Americans rose starting Jan. 1.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced Friday that the state will take over the operations of Detroit’s city government due to its long-standing financial problems. The takeover is short of a formal bankruptcy, but it will include appointing an emergency manager who would have many of the same powers as a bankruptcy judge. It could mean throwing out contracts with public employee unions and vendors that the city can’t afford, and could lead to further cutbacks in already depleted city services.

Eurozone

Many thousands of demonstrators held marches in more than 20 cities in Portugal on Saturday to protest against government-imposed austerity measures aimed at lifting the ailing country out of recession. Tens of thousands of people filled a Lisbon boulevard leading to the Finance Ministry. Portugal is expected to endure a third straight year of recession in 2013, with a 2 percent contraction. The overall jobless rate has grown to a record 17.6 percent. The marches were powered mostly by young people. Unemployment among people under 25 is close to 40 percent.

Persecution

Persecution of Christians in North Korea shows no sign of abating under the country’s new leader, Kim Jong-Un, according to a report by the worldwide ministry Open Doors. “North Korea is in a league of its own when it comes to persecution of Christians,” the report says. Of an estimated 200,000 prisoners in North Korea, 70,000 of them are Christians, Open Doors reported. For the 11th consecutive year, North Korea tops Open Doors’ list of the worst countries for its brutal treatment of believers. Christianity is viewed as a Western-instigated threat to the autocratic regime.

Liberty Counsel says a Florida public school principal acted unconstitutionally when he halted the invited speaker at an after-school club meeting and rudely escorted him off campus because the school disagreed with the guest’s conservative views. Controversial Christian radio talk-show host Bradlee Dean, an outspoken opponent of same-sex “marriage,” was invited to address the American Club, a student organization at Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton. Though the February 13 event had been arranged with school officials long beforehand, Dean was nonetheless stopped during his presentation. According to Liberty Counsel, as Dean was led off campus, one school official stated to the student group: “I warn you children – everything that [Bradlee Dean] is going to tell you is complete misinformation.” The legal group argues that that “parting shot,” which was captured on video, clearly illustrates the denial was based on Dean’s viewpoint.

  • Tolerance is for everything except Christians and Conservatives

Egypt

Calling it a “good-faith effort” to help the Egyptian people, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released $250 million in economic aid Sunday, with a pledge of more if President Mohamed Morsy implements economic and political reforms. “In light of Egypt’s extreme needs” and assurances by Morsy that he will take the steps necessary to obtain a major loan package from the International Monetary Fund, Kerry said the United States would provide the first $190 million of $450 million in already-promised support funds to the Egyptian government budget. In addition, Kerry said, the United States will provide $60 million in direct support for an Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund geared toward Egypt’s entrepreneurs and fund a higher-education initiative to help students, especially women, earn undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and business. Kerry said he was banking on Morsy’s assurances that he would implement “homegrown” reforms to help secure agreement with the IMF and “put Egypt on the path to establishing a firm economic foundation and allow it to chart its own course.”

  • Of more concern than economic stability is the increase in internal Islamic oppression and external threats against Israel’s sovereignty.

Syria

The civil war in Syria has already begun to seep into neighboring countries in the form of massive refugee flows and in the case of Lebanon, active combat between opposing camps. Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel declared on Thursday that Syrian refugees in his country have become a security threat because many of them have deep sympathies for the Sunni rebel factions battling the regime of president Bashar Assad, which is being actively supported by the Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah, Lebanon’s strongest armed force with representatives in the national parliament. Charbel added that Sunni rebel factions have already set up camps to arm and train rebels going to Syria.

Pakistan

The death toll from a massive car bombing in the southern port city of Karachi jumped from 37 to 45 as more victims died overnight from the Sunday evening blast. Another 146 people were also wounded, with 32 of them in serious condition. The blast targeted members of the minority Shiite Muslim sect who were leaving a mosque when the bomb went off. Sunni militant groups who do not consider Shiites to be true Muslims have carried out such attacks in the past.

China

China defended its booming military spending on Monday, saying vast investments in the armed forces have contributed to global peace and stability, despite concerns among the U.S. and Beijing’s Asian neighbors over sharpening territorial disputes. Chinese defense spending has grown substantially each year for more than two decades, and last year rose 11.2 percent to $106.4 billion an increase of about 67 billion. Only the United States spends more on defense. This year’s legislative session comes amid a continuing standoff with Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Ships and planes from both sides have repeatedly confronted each other in the area. China’s feuds with Vietnam and the Philippines over territory in the South China Sea have also flared periodically in recent months.

Kenya

Multiple attacks against security forces in Kenya on Monday killed at least 12 people as Kenyans waited in long lines to cast ballots five years after more than 1,000 people died in election-related violence. A group of 200 secessionists armed with guns, machetes and bows and arrows set a trap for police in the pre-dawn hours, killing five officers. A second attack by the Mombasa Republican Council secessionists in nearby Kilifi killed one police officer and five attackers. The country’s top two presidential candidates condemned the attacks. The U.N. restricted the movement of its staff on the coast because of the violence. Long lines around the country left voters frustrated in the election’s early hours. Anti-fraud fingerprint voter ID technology being used for the first time appeared to be greatly slowing the process. The technology broke down in many locations.

Uganda

Uganda is one of the poorest countries on earth with an economy based on agriculture but there is one industry that’s booming — international child adoptions. Extreme poverty combined with one of the world’s highest birth rates is creating a pressure cooker where many children are abandoned or put up for adoption. And there are also fears that as the adoption numbers grow more needs to be done to prevent children being exploited. Children — sometimes orphans, sometimes just with parents unable to care for them — find themselves taken into Uganda’s child welfare system. For some this can mean foster care or a temporary home. For others it is the first step on a road that will lead to adoption and a new life. While traditional adoption hotspots are becoming less attractive — Russia has banned Americans from adopting children, and it can take years to navigate China’s adoption bureaucracy — Uganda is seen as a quick and easy alternative for prospective parents.

Earthquakes

A moderate earthquake in southwest China has caused hundreds of homes to collapse and injured more than 30 people. Three of the injuries were serious. The official Xinhua News Agency says the quake damaged 2,500 houses and that 700 others collapsed. The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude-5.5 quake struck 32 miles from Dali city at a depth of 20 miles.

Weather

Heavy snow that fell in northern Japan over the weekend killed eight people on Hokkaido island, including a family whose died of of carbon-monoxide poisoning when their car became buried by the snow. Separately, 23 year-old woman froze to death after leaving her car, stuck in the snow. A 53-year-old man died Sunday after getting buried in the snow, although his 9-year-old daughter found with him was recovering. The storm caused six-and-a-half-feet drifts and was blamed for derailing a bullet train in Akita prefecture, south of Hokkaido, on Saturday afternoon.

Signs of the Times (3/1/13)

March 1, 2013

In Gun Debate, It’s Urban vs. Rural

The gun debate rages in two Americas. One of the biggest factors in where you stand on gun ownership and gun violence depends, literally, on where you live. A compilation of December Gallup polls showed that rural Americans — roughly one-sixth of the population — are more than twice as likely to have a gun in the home than those living in large cities. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are six times more likely to hunt. Rural residents are also most likely to say the best way to reduce gun violence is to better enforce current gun laws rather than pass new ones, an argument echoed by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups. The National Skeet Shooting Association (NSSA) estimates that up to 4 million Americans shoot skeet and the same number shoots sporting clays, a rapidly growing sport. The number of high school and college students shooting competitively is growing by 10% to 15% a year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says 13.7 million Americans hunted in 2011; hunting license sales were up 9% from 2006, reversing a 25-year downward trend.

U.S. Linked to New Wave of Web Censorship, Surveillance

Even the most open, democratic governments have sought laws and new forms of surveillance that many see as a new wave of censorship — and that includes the United States. The U.S. government asked Google for data on its users more than 31,000 times in 2012 alone, for example. And the government rarely obtained a search warrant first, Google recently revealed; in nearly all cases, the company ended up turning over at least some data. Some argue that heightened surveillance, restrictions on Internet freedom and even censorship are necessary to protect intellectual property rights, prevent cyberespionage, fight child pornography, and protect national interests such as nuclear power plants from hackers. However, the road to better security could also stifle free speech.

When the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) met in Dubai in December, some 89 member countries including Russia, China, Cuba and Iran, supported a treaty that would give individual governments more control over the Internet’s infrastructure. Sensing a thinly veiled attempt to suppress dissent, 55 countries — including Canada and the U.S. — said no. While the agreement has failed (for the time being), individual governments — including Canada and the U.S. — continue to introduce their own legislation to control what’s online. the Canadian government proposed Bill C-30, known as the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act. Proponents claimed the measure was designed to combat the exploitation of children, but it required Internet service providers to create monitoring systems that would allow the police to intercept and track all online communications — without a warrant.

  • In a world of good and evil, it’s difficult to know where to draw the line between surveillance and privacy. Only when Jesus returns to rule and reign will such dichotomies be resolved.

Massachusetts & Phoenix to Allow Boys in Girls’ Restrooms

Under a sweeping directive issued by the Massachusetts Department of Education, boys and girls who identify as the opposite sex are now allowed to use whichever school bathroom and locker room they feel most comfortable in, and schools are discouraged from using gender-based clothes and from conducting gender-based practices such as lining up children based on their sex, Baptist Press reports. The 11-page directive to the state’s public schools was issued Feb. 15, supposedly in light of a new Massachusetts law that adds “gender identity” to the state’s nondiscrimination code. Traditional groups argue the new law did not require such a wide-sweeping directive from the education department, but say it demonstrates the repercussions of passing any law that adds gender identity to state non-discrimination policies. “Transgenderism is only part of what same-sex marriage is plowing the way for,” said Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family. Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, says the new policy puts students — particularly girls — in harm’s way: “The School Commissioner’s first duty is to protect all students … not endanger them. The overriding issue with this new policy is that opening girls’ bathrooms to boys is an invasion of privacy and a threat to all students’ safety.”

Tuesday night after nearly a five-hour hearing, the Phoenix City Council passed a dramatic expansion of the city’s human relations ordinance, known as the Bathroom Bill. Under the guise of “prohibiting discrimination” on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, this new law has “devastating consequences for churches, religious organizations, businesses, and families,” according to The Center for Arizona Policy. “Despite the mountain of legal testimony highlighting the numerous constitutional, moral, and ethical problems with the law, the Council, led by Mayor Greg Stanton, forced the vote through.”

  • The dissipation of the traditional & Biblical family and gender structure is further evidence of the downward moral spiral into what Jesus called “the beginning of sorrows” leading to the Tribulation

Vaccine Linked to Rare Sleep Disorder in Kids

Children in England who were given a version of the swine flu vaccine between 2009 and 2010 were at increased risk of developing narcolepsy after they got the shot, a new study suggests. The findings are similar to those of previous studies conducted in Finland and Sweden, which also found a link between the 2009 swine flu vaccine called Pandemrix (made by GlaxoSmithKline) and narcolepsy in children. However, because a large number of people were vaccinated and narcolepsy is rare, a child’s chances of developing the disorder following vaccination were “extremely small” around 1 in 55,000.

  • 55,000 doesn’t seem small to me

Bumblebees Disappearing in Midwest

It’s not just honey bees that are in trouble. The fuzzy American bumblebee seems to be disappearing in the Midwest. Two new studies in Thursday’s journal Science conclude that wild bees, like the American bumblebee, are increasingly important in pollinating flowers and crops that provide us with food. And, at least in the Midwest, they seem to be dwindling in an alarming manner, possibly from disease and parasites. What’s most noticeable is the near absence of one particular species, the yellow-and-black American bumblebee. There are 4,000 species of wild bees in America and 49 of them are bumblebees.

Wealth Gap Widens for Blacks

The wealth gap between blacks and whites has nearly tripled over the past 25 years, due largely to inequality in home ownership, income, education and inheritances. The difference in wealth between typical households in each racial group ballooned to $236,500 in 2009, up from $85,000 in 1984, according to the study, released Wednesday. By 2009, the median net worth of white families was $265,000, while blacks had only $28,500. Also the home ownership rate for whites is 28% higher than that of blacks.

America’s Energy Boom

America’s energy production is booming. What we should do about it is one of Washington’s most divisive issues. Since 2006, the country’s natural gas production has surged 30%. Oil production is up 33%. The country is on track to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer by 2020. Champions of this boom point to the hundreds of thousands of jobs it has created and its significant contribution to reducing the country’s reliance on foreign oil. Critics counter that with those gains come real threats to the nation’s environment, particularly its water supply. They also worry that this new-found abundance will foster a greater reliance on fossil fuels and a dangerous inattention to global warming.

On Wednesday, a group from the Bipartisan Policy Center — including former senators, oil company executives, environmentalists and others with a stake in the game — released a set of recommendations on how the country can best balance these competing interests. Here’s a rundown on their suggestions: Open up areas in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida to more drilling, as well as sections off the East Coast, particularly the Mid-Atlantic states; Continue using hydraulic fracturing, but with tighter regulations, including increased federal oversight; Allow energy exports, with virtually no restrictions; Provide government cash for commercializing technology to capture the carbon dioxide emitted by coal-burning power plants; Phase out all tax credits for renewable energy by 2016 as part of broader tax reform, which would likely see tax breaks for the oil industry dry up as well.

Feds Release Illegal Immigrants

After detaining growing numbers of immigrants in deportation proceedings for years, the federal government reversed course this week, releasing more than 300 immigrants from facilities in Arizona and hundreds more in other states. The highly surprising move was made to save money in anticipation of looming budget cuts known as sequestration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said. The decision drew praise from immigrant advocates who favor alternative ways of supervising immigrants in deportation proceedings that are less disruptive to families and less costly. But the release of hundreds of detainees, with possibly more to come, outraged Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and other immigration-enforcement advocates who accused the Obama administration of using federal budget cuts as an excuse to soften deportation policies to placate immigrant- rights groups.

Sequester Cutbacks Start March 1

The federal government, the nation’s largest consumer and investor, is cutting back at a pace exceeded in the last half-century only by the military demobilizations after the Vietnam War and the cold war. And the turn toward austerity is set to accelerate on Friday if the mandatory federal spending cuts known as sequestration start to take effect as scheduled. Those cuts would join an earlier round of deficit reduction measures passed in 2011 and the wind-down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that already have reduced the federal government’s contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product by almost 7 percent in the last two years.

The budget cuts scheduled to go into effect Friday are designed to save the government $85 billion this year. But officials and budget analysts say some of those short-term savings could actually cost the government money in the long run. The most obvious example: tax collections. Through across-the-board cuts, the so-called sequester would take $436 million out of the Internal Revenue Service’s enforcement budget this year. Given the widely accepted belief that the IRS generates $4 in increased tax payments for every $1 in enforcement, the government could eventually lose $1.7 billion.

In the next month, Democrats and Republicans, so at odds with one another that they are no longer even negotiating to avert the across-the-board cuts set to kick in at the end of the week, will have to find a way to agree on spending levels for the remainder of this year. If they fail, they could risk a government shutdown starting March 27, when the current authorization for spending runs out.

Foreign Military Sales Growing

US foreign military sales are growing fast and they may well grow still more if a Defense Department policy easing exports of unmanned aircraft to 66 countries gets interagency and Congressional approval. New Foreign Military Sales (FMS) for fiscal year 2012 were at $64 billion. “It’s now $65 billion and will go up more this fiscal year,” DSCA deputy director Richard Genaille said at the ComDef 2012 conference. All told, Genaille said, “the FMS portfolio is valued at $385 billion dollars,” and supports “at least 3.5 million jobs, [at] a conservative estimate.” Almost every nation on Earth now buys US military gear, excepting only a handful of countries like China and Vatican City.

  • In the battle for domestic job growth, we are arming our enemies which will come back to haunt us in the near future

Economic News

The U.S. economy grew at a 0.1% annual rate from October through December, the weakest performance in nearly two years. But economists believe a steady housing rebound and solid business and consumer spending is pushing growth higher in the current quarter. Hiring has picked up in recent months, providing more income. Employers have added an average of 200,000 jobs per month in the past three months. That’s up from an average of 150,000 in the previous three months.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, according to a government report that showed an unexpected improvement in the labor market. The Labor Department report showed 344,000 Americans filed for jobless benefits in the latest week, down from 366,000 the previous week. Overall, average claims are down about 3% from where they were a year ago.

Orders for the factory goods that signal business investment plans jumped last month by the most in more than a year, suggesting companies are more confident about their business prospects. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that orders for so-called core capital goods, which include industrial machinery, construction equipment and computers, rose 6.3% in January from December.

New home sales surged in January, rising almost 16% from December in another sign of an improving housing market. Sales of new single-family homes in January came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 437,000. The pace of sales was almost 29% above the January 2012 total of 339,000, and almost 16% above the revised December rate.

Nationwide, the supply of existing homes for sale has fallen for seven straight months, hitting an almost eight-year low in January. Much of the country is now a seller’s market. Competing offers for the same homes are rising in more markets, especially in the West. The shortage of sellers, the primary force behind higher prices, is expected to ease as prices rise, economists say.

Persecution Watch

As police looked on, militants attacked a Christian church in central India earlier this month, causing severe injuries to some and sending the pastor into hiding, World Watch Monitor reports. The assault took place during the second day of a Feb. 7-9 revival meeting at India Christian Assembly of God Church in the city of Rajnandgaon, in the overwhelmingly Hindu state of Chhattisgarh. The revival meeting included a graduation ceremony of 14 students who attended a short Bible-training program, and around 300 Christians had gathered for the event. Around 3 p.m. on the second day, a group of more than 30 young men from several Hindu nationalist groups disrupted the meeting and started to interrogate the pastor and other church leaders. “They started to manhandle and beat people, tear Bibles, abused the God of Christians and strode over children,” witnesses said. More attackers joined in, beating men, women and children with sticks and iron rods and damaging church property and vehicles. “There was chaos and Christians started to flee for their lives in whichever direction they could,” witnesses said. Police were summoned, but they did not intervene and “played the role of mere spectators.” Attacks continued until 6 p.m., and some Christians were admitted to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Three incidents of violence against ministers in Tanzania have left believers in the eastern African nation concerned over the future of religious freedom, Open Doors USA reports. On Feb. 17, gunmen shot and killed a Catholic priest on the island of Zanzibar. Police say they have arrested three suspects in connection with the murder, but their motive remains unknown. On Feb. 2, on mainland Tanzania, an Assemblies of God minister, Pastor Mathayo Kachili, was hacked to death in the Geita region when he intervened in an altercation between villagers over the slaughter of an animal. On Dec. 26, Catholic priest Father Ambrose Mkenda sustained serious injuries when unknown gunmen shot at him. He sustained two bullet wounds, one to the cheek and one to the back, and underwent surgery to extract the bullets. Father Anthony Makunde, secretary general of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference, told a local newspaper, The Guardian, that the situation signaled a plot to destroy peace in the country. Tanzania is ranked No. 24 on the 2013 Open Doors World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians; it was previously unranked. Tanzania is a majority-Christian country with a substantial Muslim population, and Islamic extremism is the main persecution dynamic for the country.

Middle East

The European Union issued its Jerusalem Report 2012 on Wednesday giving advice and recommendations to its 27 member states about issues between Israel and the Palestinians. Among the more noteworthy items in the report was a recommendation for EU member states to engage in a full-scale economic boycott of Israeli businesses and communities in the West Bank. In the report, the EU suggests its member states “prevent, discourage and raise awareness about problematic implications of financial transactions, including foreign direct investments from within the EU in support of settlement activities, infrastructure and services (and to) ensure that imports of settlement products do not benefit from preferential tariffs and make sure that all such products are clearly labeled as originating from Israeli-occupied areas.

Reports are coming out of the Middle East that appear to confirm that a top Iranian general was killed in the recent Israeli airstrike on a Syrian weapons convoy. The convoy was believed to be carrying advanced weapons to Lebanon for use by Hezbollah terrorists and was destroyed by Israeli jets. The news that one of Iran’s highest-ranking generals was involved in this operation is a confirmation that Iran is actively working to support, fund, train and lead the terrorists who are attacking Israel.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr issued a statement on Monday condemning Israeli policies in regards to Palestinian security prisoners and warned of a deterioration in regional relationships. He also urged the international community to take a firm stance against Israel’s “inhuman practices against the Palestinian prisoners.” The comments came as Egypt’s tourism minister visited Teheran in a bid to lure tourists from the Islamic Republic to Egypt, the latest sing in a thawing of relations between Israel’s next door neighbor and its most dangerous enemy.

  • End-time pressure and persecution against Israel continues to ramp up

Syria

The Obama administration said Thursday that it will provide the Syrian opposition with an additional $60 million in assistance and — in a significant policy shift — will for the first time provide nonlethal aid like food and medical supplies to rebels battling to oust President Bashar Assad. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the new support and the decision to back the rebel fighters on the sidelines of an international conference on Syria in Rome, where European nations were also expected to signal their intention to provide fresh assistance to the opposition, possibly including defensive military hardware. Weapons that Western officials say were bought by Saudi Arabia and funneled to opposition fighters in Syria have been a factor in the rebels’ small tactical gains this winter.

Iran

Diplomats emerged Wednesday from an unusually secretive round of talks on Iran’s controversial nuclear program with a joint announcement to hold a follow-up meeting within weeks. Citing the delicacy of the negotiations, representatives of the so-called P5+1 — the six-nation diplomatic bloc consisting of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia — did not reveal details of a new proposal submitted to the Iranians at Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Bangladesh

Protesters clashed with police for a second day Friday as the death toll rose to at least 44 in clashes triggered by a death sentence given to an Islamic party leader for crimes linked to Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war. Delwar Hossain Sayedee, one of the top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamic party had called for protests after Friday’s Islamic prayers, and authorities responded by dispatching thousands of police and paramilitary troops to clamp down on Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka.

Mexico

More than 26,000 people have gone missing in Mexico over the past six years as violence surged and the country’s government cracked down on drug cartels. Mexico’s Interior Ministry announced the staggering statistic on Tuesday but noted that authorities don’t have data about how many of the disappearances are connected with organized crime. In the northern Mexican state of Coahuila alone, officials reported nearly 2,000 disappearances between 2006 and 2012, Human Rights Watch said. Rights groups and activists have long said that forced disappearances are among the most troubling problems Mexico faces. The new government has formed a special working group to focus on finding the missing.

Wildfires

Flames from a ferocious wildfire burned palm trees along residential streets and came very close to homes in inland Southern California, but waning winds have helped firefighters stop its progress. Residents from two streets in Riverside County were advised to evacuate Thursday night at the peak of the fire that burned about 150 acres in and around Rancho Jurupa Regional Park. “This ‘wet season’ has been quite dry,” says weather.com Senior Meteorologist Jon Erdman. “Riverside has picked up only 36% of their average rainfall since fall.”

Weather

A massive, slow-moving storm paralyzed parts of the nation’s midsection with heavy, wet snow Tuesday, straining power lines, closing schools, clogging roadways and delaying hundreds of flights before churning eastward, where forecasters expected it to dump 5-8 inches of snow in southeast Michigan on Wednesday afternoon and up to a foot in northern New England by later in the evening. The storm’s toll was still being tallied in deaths and damage as remnants of the storm hit portions of New Hampshire and Maine early Thursday morning. Up to 10 inches of snow is expected in the interior regions of Maine and eastern New Hampshire. As it marched on, officials said at least seven people have been killed.