Signs of the Times (3/22/13)

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.

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