Archive for April, 2013

Signs of the Times (4/30/13)

April 30, 2013

Prayer for America Takes Place Thursday

Millions of people across the country will gather in thousands of separate events to worship and pray Thursday in honor of the annual National Day of Prayer (NDP). Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, will serve at the Honorary Chairman of 2013 Pray for America. He will deliver the keynote address at the National Observance in Washington, D.C. Laurie has also written a special prayer to be simultaneously read throughout the nation Thursday at noon, ET. GOD TV will broadcast the D.C. event live from 9 to noon, ET. “Our country is at a place where we have many things we need to pray about,” NDP Director of Public Relations Dion Elmore told CitizenLink. “With attacks on marriage, the sanctity of life and religious freedoms, we need to rise up in our nation and pray.”

Obama: God Bless Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood ends the lives of over 330,000 babies every year while taking over 500 million of our tax dollars. What did President Obama tell them? “Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you.” Last week the most pro-abortion President in our nation’s history stood before the largest abortion provider in America and declared: “Planned Parenthood is not going anywhere. It’s not going anywhere today. It’s not going anywhere tomorrow.” President Obama became the first sitting president in American history to address Planned Parenthood at its annual conference.

Mormon Church Backs Boy Scout Gays

The Mormon church has given its blessing to the Boy Scouts of America on its latest proposal to lift the gay ban for youth members but continue to exclude gays as adult leaders. The Mormon church has more Scouting troops than any other religious denomination in the country so there was widespread interest in what it would say about the proposal.

  • The Mormon Church backs gay rights because that will ultimate redefine marriage and open the doors once again to polygamy

Abrupt Halt to Terror Suspect’s Questioning ‘Mind-Boggling’

Outrage is rising over the decision to read teenage Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights just as he was beginning to open up about the blast that killed three and injured about 270 people. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said it was “mind boggling” that a judge stopped the questioning while the 19-year-old was talking to FBI agents. And House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers called the decision to intervene a “God-awful policy.” Lawmakers are demanding to know why Tsarnaev, who has confessed to being involved in the planting of two bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line, was read his Miranda rights in the middle of his interrogation. Tsarnaev had been under interrogation for about 16 hours in his hospital room before a magistrate and representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office entered the room and read him his Miranda rights. He then stopped talking.

  • Terrorism is an act of war and combatants should be treated as war criminals

U.S. Gives Big, Secret Push to Internet Surveillance

The Justice Department agreed to issue “2511 letters” immunizing AT&T and other companies participating in a cybersecurity program from criminal prosecution under the Wiretap Act, according to new documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Senior Obama administration officials have secretly authorized the interception of communications carried on portions of networks operated by AT&T and other Internet service providers, a practice that might otherwise be illegal under federal wiretapping laws. The secret legal authorization from the Justice Department originally applied to a cybersecurity pilot project in which the military monitored defense contractors’ Internet links. Since then, however, the program has been expanded by President Obama to cover all critical infrastructure sectors including energy, healthcare, and finance starting June 12. The Justice Department agreed to grant legal immunity to the participating network providers in the form of what participants in the confidential discussions refer to as “2511 letters,” a reference to the Wiretap Act codified at 18 USC 2511 in the federal statute books.

Video Surveillance Booming

Video surveillance was already big business in the U.S. Expect it to get bigger. After law enforcement used closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to help identify last week’s Boston bombing suspects, lawmakers and surveillance advocates renewed calls for increased numbers of cameras nationwide. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly wants to “increase significantly” the amount of surveillance equipment in Manhattan, which already has one of the country’s most robust systems. The best way to limit events like last week’s bombings, the argument goes, is to accept 24-hour surveillance in public spaces. No amount of security can completely eliminate risk, so it’s difficult to know where to draw the line. Are 10,000 cameras really twice as good as 5,000? When the goal is to push risk as close to zero as possible, spending can asymptotically stretch into infinity.

  • Big Brother has arrived on the wings of terrorism. Certainly CCTV surveillance is a boon to law enforcement, but the likelihood of government abuse also increases. How much is too much. We’ll find out soon.

Black Voter Turnout Rate Passes Whites

America’s blacks voted at a higher rate than other minority groups in 2012 and by most measures surpassed the white turnout for the first time, reflecting a deeply polarized presidential election in which blacks strongly supported Barack Obama while many whites stayed home. Had people voted last November at the same rates they did in 2004, when black turnout was below its current historic levels, Republican Mitt Romney would have won narrowly, according to an analysis conducted for The Associated Press. Last year’s heavy black turnout came despite concerns about the effect of new voter-identification laws on minority voting.

Economic News

Under President Barack Obama, the federal government’s debt has increased by an amount per household that exceeds the annual median household income. Since Obama’s first inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, the federal debt has climbed $6,167,472,778,984.22. That equals about $53,616 for each of the 115,031,000 households the Census Bureau currently estimates are in the country. By contrast, the Census Bureau’s most recent estimate of the median household income was $50,502 (for 2011).

Personal income and spending both increased 0.2% in March, the Commerce Department said Monday. Personal income increased $30.9 billion. Personal consumption expenditures increased $21.0 billion. These figures are down from February in which personal income increased $151.2 billion, or 1.1%, and spending increased $81.6 billion, or 0.7%. Higher incomes helped offset an increase in Social Security taxes that kicked in Jan. 1st.

Eurozone

Unemployment has surpassed Great Depression-era levels in Southern Europe. Recession is drifting to the once resilient economies of the north. Even some onetime hawks on government spending say they cannot cut any more. After years of insisting that the primary cure for Europe’s malaise is to slash spending, the champions of austerity, most notably Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, find themselves under intensified pressure to back off unpopular remedies and find some way to restore faltering growth to the world’s largest economic bloc. On Friday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain, who once promoted aggressive budget cuts, became the latest leader to reject European Union targets for reducing deficits. A recent court ruling against job cuts in Portugal; a new, austerity-averse prime-minister-in-waiting in Italy; and mounting doubts among ordinary Europeans and even the International Monetary Fund have forced senior officials in Brussels to acknowledge that a move away from what critics see as a fixation on debt and deficits toward more growth-friendly policies is necessary.

Persecution Watch

The Supreme Ulema Council in Morocco, a body of Islamic scholars headed by King Mohammed VI, published a fatwa in the Arabic-language daily Akhbar al-Youm this week declaring that Muslims who renounce their faith “should be condemned to death,” International Christian Concern reports. Christians are concerned that the edict, which has sparked controversy in the country, will be used to “harass” and “harm” the church if approved. The Supreme Ulema Council, the only institution entitled to issue fatwas in Morocco, reportedly drafted the edict in April 2012, but only recently published it. Article 220 of Morocco’s Penal Code does state, however, that “attempting to undermine the faith of a Muslim or convert him to another religion” is punishable with six months to three years in prison.

Middle East

An Israeli aircraft attacked a motorcycle in Gaza on Tuesday, killing a man who the military said was a top militant in a shadowy al-Qaeda-influenced group who had been involved in a recent rocket attack on southern Israel. Israel responded Sunday to rockets fired from the Gaza Strip with airstrikes on sites used by Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory. Israeli jets struck “a terrorist weapon storage facility and a Hamas training installation” after rockets landed in southern Israel the night before. It also closed a closed a key border crossing with the territory. Gaza health officials said nobody was hurt in the strikes. On Saturday, thousands of Israelis had been outside in parks and forests celebrating the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer with traditional bonfires. The rockets exploded in open areas but caused no injuries.

Jordanian officials have confirmed that several Syrian missiles have crossed the border and landed near the village of Thneibat, setting some farmland on fire but otherwise causing no casualties. The cross-border hits appear to have been incidental to a campaign of air strikes against rebel-held territory along the Syrian side of the border, but also follow warnings earlier this week from Syria about Jordan’s support for the rebels. Jordan’s support for the rebels has been escalating dramatically in recent weeks, with more US trainers showing up and the announcement that Jordan will lead the arming of the rebels.

Syria

GOP lawmakers say Obama must stick with his vow to take action should Syria cross a ‘red line’ by using chemical weapons on its citizens, amid such mounting evidence, but caution against sending in American troops. Instead, President Obama revised and extended his “red line” for stopping Bashar Assad from using chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. “We cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations,” Obama said.

  • The key word in that statement is systematic, which the White House is using to fudge its earlier criteria

Syria’s prime minister escaped an assassination attempt Monday when a bomb went off near his convoy in Damascus, state media reported, the latest attack targeting a top official in President Bashar Assad’s regime. Syrian rebels attacked a sprawling military air base in the country’s northwest on Saturday, while in the south opposition forces assaulted a string of army checkpoints and positions, activists said. The raids follow nearly two weeks of advances by Syrian government troops, mostly in the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, and areas near the Lebanese border in the central province of Homs.

Afghanistan

For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency. All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader. Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan. “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”

The Taliban on Saturday announced the start of their spring offensive, signaling plans to step up attacks as the weather warms across Afghanistan, making both travel and fighting easier. The statement comes toward the end of a month that already has been the deadliest of the year. The militant group’s leadership vowed that “every possible tactic will be utilized in order to detain or inflict heavy casualties on the foreign transgressors.” It said that will include more so-called insider attacks by members of the Afghan security forces against their colleagues or foreign troops.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber targeting policemen killed six people in northwestern Pakistan on Monday in the latest attack ahead of next month’s parliamentary election. Pakistani Taliban detonated bombs at the campaign offices of two politicians in the country’s northwest on Sunday, police said, killing at least nine people in an escalation of attacks on secular, left-leaning political parties. Both politicians, who were not in the offices at the time of the blasts, are running as independent candidates for national assembly seats to represent constituencies in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, where scores of militant groups operate including some with links to al-Qaeda. The general elections will be held on May 11.

Iraq

Five car bombs exploded Monday in public areas in predominantly Shiite cities and districts in central and southern Iraq, killing 26 civilians and wounding dozens. The blasts come amid a week-long spike in sectarian violence following clashes at a Sunni protest camp in the north of the country. Coordinated bombings in civilian areas are a favorite strategy used by al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Libya

Armed men in trucks with anti-aircraft guns mounted on them occupied the Libyan Justice Ministry in Tripoli on Tuesday, forcing ministry staff to leave. The militants consisted of 20 to 30 armed men in military fatigues. This comes as the nation’s Foreign Ministry remains under siege for a third straight day. The armed protesters have said their main goal was to push the General National Congress to pass a proposed law that would ban Gadhafi-era officials from holding government posts.

Wildfires

Californians can expect a dangerous summer wildfire season due to a dry winter that has left the normally green hills of spring parched and tinder-dry, authorities warned. State fire crews have responded to more than 680 wildfires since the beginning of the year — some 200 more than average for the period. They included several 300- and 400-acre blazes around the state.

Weather

Firefighters responded to at least 50 calls for water rescues after heavy downpours and thunderstorms hit the Houston area on Saturday. most of the calls Saturday came from motorists who mistakenly drove into high water and became trapped. Flood Control District officials reported as much as 6 inches of rainfall in some parts of Harris County in three hours, mostly in the west, southwest and central parts of the area.

Only 65 tornadoes have touched down in the U.S. so far this April, according to preliminary data through April 25. Over the past 10 years (2003-2012), the April average through April 25 is 195 tornadoes, making it the quietest April, tornado-wise, since 1992. Contrast that with the record-setting April 2011, when an incredible 758 tornadoes recorded, including the massive “Superoutbreak” from April 25-28.

Signs of the Times (4/26/13)

April 26, 2013

Mosque That Boston Bombers Attended has Radical Ties

The mosque attended by the two brothers accused in the Boston Marathon double bombing has been associated with other terrorism suspects, has invited radical speakers to a sister mosque in Boston and is affiliated with a Muslim group that critics say nurses grievances that can lead to extremism. Several people who attended the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge, Mass., have been investigated for Islamic terrorism, including a conviction of the mosque’s first president, Abdulrahman Alamoudi, in connection with an assassination plot against a Saudi prince. Its sister mosque in Boston, known as the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, has invited guests who have defended terrorism suspects. A former trustee appears in a series of videos in which he advocates treating gays as criminals, says husbands should sometimes beat their wives and calls on Allah (God) to kill Zionists and Jews. The 19-year-old suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings has told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack, according to U.S. officials familiar with the interviews.

UN Official Says Boston Got What It Deserved

UN Human Rights Council “expert” Richard Falk has published a statement saying Bostonians got what they deserved in last week’s terror attack. He quotes W.H. Auden to make his point: “to whom evil is done/do evil in return.” Richard Falk is the UN’s “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” He has held the post since 2008, despite exposure as a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. Falk wrote that the police action in Boston was a “hysterical dragnet.” Boston’s dead were “canaries” that “have to die” because of America’s “fantasy of global domination.” Falk explains the attacks as justifiable “resistance.” In his words: “The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world.” He minimizes the crime and predicts worse if America doesn’t change its ways to better accommodate the demands of “the Islamic world.”

  • The Bible says: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21) Islam proclaims the opposite, promoting evil under the pretext of goodness

France Legalizes Gay Marriage After Months of Debate

France legalized gay marriage on Tuesday after months of debate that divided the country and sparked massive protests, WORLD Magazine reports. Police braced themselves by the thousands ahead of the vote, preparing for dueling protests around the National Assembly building and along the Seine River. They used tear gas and pepper spray against hundreds of thousands of supporters of traditional marriage the last time they gathered to publicly protest the law, claiming demonstrators got violent. The measure passed easily, 331-225, in the Socialist-majority National Assembly. At least one spectator, a supporter of traditional marriage, was thrown out of the gallery. According to Christiane Taubira, France’s justice minister, the first same-sex weddings could be held as early as June. France is the 14th country to redefine marriage, with Tuesday’s vote coming a week after New Zealand’s.

Boy Scouts Proposes to Lift Ban on Gay Members

Conservative and liberal religious leaders alike are expressing displeasure with the Boy Scouts’ proposal to accept gay members but reject gay leaders, the Religion News Service reports. The Boy Scouts released its draft proposal on April 19 that will be voted on at its annual meeting in May. “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” reads the proposed resolution, which also notes that the Scouts “will maintain the current membership policy for all adult leaders of the Boy Scouts of America.” Scouting officials had earlier proposed dropping the gay ban for both adults and children, but reconsidered after massive resistance from religious groups and conservatives. The policy shift would leave intact the Scouts’ ban on atheists and other nonbelievers, who decline to say the Boy Scout Oath because it begins: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.” Leaders of Scouting groups sponsored by religious organizations said their groups are mulling the Scout proposal. According to the BSA, religious organizations comprise 70 percent of its sponsoring organizations. Mormons, Methodists and Catholics — the three largest groups — sponsored more than 1 million of the 2.6 million Scouts in 2011. The Religious Relationships Task Force unanimously requested in February that the Scouts postpone a possible removal of the ban on gay members and leaders so they would have more time to consider it. “As you might imagine, there’s a variety of opinions among our faith groups,” said R. Chip Turner, national chairman of the task force.

House Challenge DHS Ammo Buys

Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz said Thursday that the Department of Homeland Security is using roughly 1,000 rounds of ammunition more per person than the U.S. Army, as he and other lawmakers sharply questioned DHS officials on their “massive” bullet buys. “It is entirely … inexplicable why the Department of Homeland Security needs so much ammunition,” Chaffetz, R-Utah, said at a hearing. The hearing itself was unusual, as questions about the department’s ammunition purchases until recently had bubbled largely under the radar. Republicans said the purchases raise “serious” questions about waste and accountability. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who chairs the full Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he suspects rounds are being stockpiled, and then either “disposed of,” passed to non-federal agencies, or shot “indiscriminately.”

  • The DHS is either trying to get ammo off the market as a backdoor attempt at gun control or is arming itself for domestic suppression of dissention

Evangelicals Give More to Charity, Study Finds

Evangelical Christians tend to give more to charity than their peers, according to a new study by the Barna Group, Baptist Press reports. The study finds that 79 percent of evangelical Christians gave money to a church or charity last year, while 65 percent donated items and 60 percent volunteered their time. Only 1 percent of evangelicals say they donated nothing at all, which beats the national rate (13 percent) and the rate among those who claim no faith at all (25 percent). “A person’s religious identification has a lot to do with whether or not they donate to causes they believe in,” the study said. The study concluded that Americans support churches and nonprofits about equally. Of those who gave in the last 12 months, 43 percent say most of their contributions went to a church, while 45 percent indicated a nonprofit. Evangelicals are least likely to give to a nonprofit (28 percent), while about two-thirds of evangelicals (66 percent) who made charitable contributions gave to a church. Conversely, 82 percent of atheist and agnostic donors gave to a nonprofit, while only 4 percent gave to a church.

Bird-to-Human Infections Likelier with New Flu Strain

World Health Organization officials say a lethal new strain of bird flu that emerged in China over the past month appears to spread more easily from birds to humans than the one that started killing people in Asia a decade ago. Scientists are watching the H7N9 virus closely to see if it could spark a global pandemic but say so far there is little evidence to show the virus can spread easily from human to human. Health officials at a news conference Wednesday in Beijing said they believe the infections with the H7N9 strain are primarily taking place at live poultry markets. The virus has infected more than 100 people in China, seriously sickening most of them, and killing around 20 — mostly near the eastern coast around Shanghai. The World Health Organization warned that the H7N9 virus was “unusually dangerous” and one of the most lethal that doctors and medical investigators have faced in recent years.

America’s Air is Getting Cleaner

America’s air is getting cleaner, which doesn’t just mean a healthier public — it also saves the U.S. billions of dollars. The American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report — based on EPA findings for 2009 through 2011 — found that the three types of air pollution they track have all declined. Improved air quality helped prevent 160,000 deaths in 2010 (the last year data was available); avoid 1.7 million asthma attacks; and reduce hospital admissions and emergency room visits by 86,000 each. By 2020, the EPA estimates that the savings from cleaner air will total $2 trillion annually. Still, about 132 million people in the United States, or 42% of the country’s population, live in counties that have unhealthy levels of at least one form of air pollution.

Millions Can’t Afford See a Doctor

A growing number of Americans are skipping needed medical care because they can’t afford it. A growing number of Americans are skipping needed medical care because they can’t afford it. Some 80 million people, around 43% of America’s working-age adults, didn’t go to the doctor or access other medical services last year because of the cost, according to the Commonwealth Fund’s Biennial Health Insurance Survey, released Friday. That’s up from 75 million people two years ago and 63 million in 2003. Not surprisingly, those who were uninsured or had inadequate health insurance were most likely to have trouble affording care. But 28% of working-age adults with good insurance also had to forgo treatment because of the price. Nearly three in 10 adults said they did not visit a doctor or clinic when they had a medical problem, while more than a quarter did not fill a prescription or skipped recommended tests, treatment or follow-up visits. One in five said they did not get needed specialist care.

Doctors Blast Ethics of $100,000 Cancer Drugs

Should a life-saving drug that can be profitably sold for far less cost more than $100,000 per year? A group of more than 120 cancer researchers and physicians took the unusual step this week of publishing a research paper taking aim at pharmaceutical prices they see as exorbitant and unjustifiable. Drug companies are profiteering, the doctors say, by charging whatever the market will bear for medications that patients literally can’t live without. The paper analyzes and criticizes the cost of drugs used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare type of cancer that responds very well to drug therapy. The 10-year survival rate for CML patients now tops 80% for those who receive targeted drugs — but the annual price tag for the treatment is usually in the six-figure range. Those prices bear little relation to what the drugs actually cost to develop and produce, the doctors say.

Economic News

The nation’s economy perked up in the first quarter, expanding at a 2.5% annual pace, the government said Friday, but that was less than expected. The pickup was fueled by stronger consumer spending and increased business stockpiling that was partly offset by a drop in government spending. Growth is expected to slow in coming months as the impact of federal budget cuts ripple through the economy.

Consumer spending increased at a 3.2% annual rate in the first quarter, fastest pace in two years as Americans saved less. Business investment also picked up, but at a slower pace than in the fourth quarter. But business stockpiling of products increased at a 1% rate after falling in the fourth quarter.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell 16,000 to 339,000 the week ended April 20, the Labor Department said Thursday. It’s the second-lowest level in five years. The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out weekly fluctuations, fell 4,500 to 357,500 last week. When weekly claims for unemployment benefits stay below 350,000 for weeks in a row, economists agree that workers are more likely to be able to find a job.

The Commerce Department says orders for durable goods declined 5.7% in March, after a 4.3% gain the previous month. The steep March decline was exacerbated by a 48.2% fall in commercial aircraft orders. Still, even excluding aircraft, cars and transportation equipment, orders dropped 1.4%.One positive sign: So-called core capital goods, which signal companies plans to expand and modernize their operations, ticked up 0.2%.

The world’s largest economies are losing momentum. Recent data shows slowing growth in the United States and China, while Europe’s recession is still underway. Japan has announced a massive stimulus program, but it’s not likely to grow much this year either. Meanwhile, the euro zone is still stuck in a recession. Even Germany, the largest of the European economies, saw its services and manufacturing sectors contract in April.

Eurozone

With more than 6 million people unemployed for the first time, Spain’s jobless rate shot up to a record 27.2% in the first quarter, a 1.1% increase from the previous quarter, another grim picture of the recession-wracked country. The number of people out of work stood at 6.2 million, first time the number has breached 6 million. The number of people considered long-term unemployed — out of a job more than a year — increased to 3.5 million while the unemployment rate for those under 25 years old was a staggering 57%. In Greece, 34.2% individuals aged 25 to 34 are unemployed. It’s even worse for younger workers — 59.3% of Greeks aged 15 to 24 are out of work.

Britain dodged recession after official figures showed the economy grew in the first quarter. The Office for National Statistics said Thursday that the economy grew by 0.3% in the first quarter compared with the previous three-month period. A recession is typically defined as two quarters of economic contraction. The economy contracted in the fourth quarter of 2012. Observers had feared that news of another recession — what the media had been calling a “Triple Dip” — would scare consumers even more, feeding into a vicious cycle that has the economy flat-lining.

Persecution Watch

Islamist militants in Somalia have killed the widow of a Christian who was slain for his faith in December, leaving the couple’s five children orphaned, Morning Star News reports. Islamic extremist al Shabaab rebels shot 42-year-old Fartun Omar to death on April 13 in Buulodbarde, 12 miles from the central Somalian city of Beledweyne, sources said. The extremists had been searching for her for several months, as they knew that she was a secret Christian like her late husband, Mursal Isse Siad. Siad had been receiving death threats for leaving Islam, and was shot outside his home by two unidentified masked men on Dec. 8, 2012. After his death, Omar initially fled the area with her five children.

Two leaders of the Christian community in Aleppo, Syria, who were kidnapped by gunmen on Monday are still missing, WORLD reports. Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim were abducted Monday near the Turkish border while on a mission to negotiate the release of other kidnapped Christians. Muslim and Christian leaders in the region are calling for the two men’s release, but neither rebel groups nor government forces have claimed responsibility.

A Christian-run children’s home in India has been attacked by a group of Muslim extremists who beat staff and visitors and vandalized property. Islamic leaders have falsely accused the group running the home of converting Muslim children. A group of mullahs descended on the home in Srinagar, in the predominantly Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir. During the attack they tried to kill Pastor Neethi Rajan, who runs the home, and attempted to kidnap the children staying there. When police officers arrived, the distraction allowed the pastor’s family to hide in the attic.

Middle East

The Israeli air force shot down a drone approaching the nation’s coast Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces said. An Israeli F-16 shot the drone with air-to-air missiles, an Israeli military official told CNN. It went down five nautical miles off the coast of Haifa, and Israeli naval forces were searching the area while an investigation was initiated. “I view with utmost gravity this attempt to violate our border,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to do everything necessary to safeguard the security of Israel’s citizens.” Thursday’s incident marked the second time an unmanned aircraft had been intercepted in Israeli airspace within the past seven months. Hezbollah claimed responsibility for sending the drone, which Israeli officials at the time said appeared to have originated in Lebanon.

Syria

With Thursday’s news that U.S. intelligence shows evidence that sarin gas has been used in Syria, all eyes are now on President Obama, who said in August that any sign of chemical weapons use in the country’s civil war would be “a red line for us.” The Obama administration said Thursday that it is working to gather more information on the reports of sarin-gas use and is calling for a full-scale U.N. investigation into what may have happened. The first direct U.S. support for the armed opposition arrived in the country last month in the form of food and medicine. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen noted Tuesday that “the situation in Syria has dramatically deteriorated” and “continues to pose a threat to regional stability.”

As Islamists increasingly fill the ranks of Syrian rebels, President Bashar al-Assad is waging an energized campaign to persuade the United States that it is on the wrong side of the civil war. Some government supporters and officials believe they are already coaxing — or at least frightening — the West into holding back stronger support for the opposition. Confident they can sell their message, government officials have eased their reluctance to allow foreign reporters into Syria, paraded prisoners they described as extremist fighters and relied unofficially on a Syrian-American businessman to help tap into American fears of groups like Al Qaeda. “We are partners in fighting terrorism,” Syria’s prime minister, Wael Nader al-Halqi, said. Despite hopes in Damascus, President Obama has not backed off his demand that Mr. Assad step down. The administration has also kept up economic pressure on his government and has increased nonlethal aid to the opposition while calling for a negotiated settlement to the fighting.

  • Unrest in Muslim nations will continue to open doors to Islamic militants, an end-time scenario that will continue to grow in frequency and intensity

Iraq

Islamist extremists want Iraq to be a “Muslim only” country, and as a result, Christians in Iraq remain continuous targets of violent attacks, Open Doors USA reports. While most of the attacks against Christians are part of the general violence, such as bomb attacks and mortar fire which intensified during provincial elections last Saturday, a part of the violence can be labeled as specifically targeted against Christians. “Since the fall of Saddam Hussein 10 years ago, an estimated 1,000 Christians have been killed, a relatively high number compared with percentages killed from other groups in Iraqi society.” All these targeted attacks serve only one purpose, shares the field worker: “We received documents and threats stating that the aim of the Islamist Insurgents is to make Iraq a ‘Muslim only’ country; they want the Christians out.” According to Open Doors’ 2013 World Watch List materials, there are only an estimated 330,000 to 350,000 Christians left in Iraq. There were more than 1.2 million Christians in the early 1990s. Many of the believers have fled to Jordan and Lebanon or to the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. Iraq is ranked No. 4 on the list of the worst persecutors around the globe.

Korea

Seoul said Friday that it has decided to withdraw the roughly 175 South Koreans still at a jointly run factory complex in North Korea, raising a major question about the survival of the last symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. The statement by the country’s minister in charge of inter-Korean relations came after North Korea rejected Seoul’s demand for talks on the factory park that has been closed nearly a month. Seoul said it issued a Friday deadline for North Korea to respond to its call for talks because it was worried about its workers not having access to food and medicine. North Korea hasn’t allowed supplies or workers to cross the border since early this month.

Weather

The blast of cold air that took over the central states this week is broke records on Wednesday morning. New daily record low temperatures were set in more than a dozen locations in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

As of late April 2013, drought has been wiped out of the Ohio and mid-Mississippi Valleys, Alabama and most of Georgia. Drought improvement has also been noted in parts of the Plains and Rockies. A large area of the nation remains in drought from the Upper Midwest and Plains to Southern California.  A swath of central Florida has also slipped into drought.  Overall, 47% of the contiguous U.S. remains in drought, down from over 65% in late September 2012.

Just in time for the spring flood season, the federal sequester is threatening to shut off funding for hundreds of stream gauges used by the U.S. Geological Survey to predict and monitor flood levels across the country. Additional stream gauges may be affected if USGS partners at state and local agencies reduce their funding support. USGS is quick to point out, though, they won’t take out of service the gauges now being used to monitor the heavy floods currently soaking the Midwest.

Signs of the Times (4/23/13)

April 23, 2013

Boston Bomber Says Brothers Acted Alone

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, has told investigators that his brother was the driving force behind the attacks and that they were motivated by religion, but did not have help or contact from terrorists or groups overseas, according to media reports quoting U.S. officials. Dzhokhar, who has injuries in his throat and tongue, has responded to questions about the attack by writing down some answers or simply nodding. Tsarnaev indicated that the two brothers conceived of the bombing attack on their own and were motivated by religious fervor. Officials also say that Tsarnaev told them they learned how to make bombs on the Internet. The brothers appear to have gotten their ideas — and bomb-making know-how — from Inspire, an English-language website Al Qaeda uses to radicalize Westerners, officials say.

The young widow of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev learned of his alleged role in the attacks the same way millions of Americans did: She saw it on TV. Katherine Russell, 24, worked long days as a home health care aide and suspected nothing — neither as her husband allegedly planned last week’s terrorist attacks nor in the four days that followed, her attorney, Amato DeLuca, told the Associated Press. He said Tsarnaev, 26, cared for the couple’s 3-year-old daughter while Russell worked. Russell converted to Islam and they married in 2009.

A key question has emerged as investigators comb through clues: What did Tamerlan Tsarnaev do during a trip to Russia and Chechnya from January to July of last year? Tamerlan was flagged as a potential extremist by Russian security services. After Tsarnaev returned to the United States in mid-July, a video of an Islamic militant known as Abu Dujana was posted and then removed from Tsarnaev’s YouTube channel. Tamerlan had already been investigated by the FBI. Why wasn’t this trip explored for links to terrorist training camps in Chechnya, a hotbed of Islamic militancy? Why wasn’t Tamerlan on a watch list?

  • Expect a lot of coverups and false information as the FBI and CIA scramble to avoid blame

Terrorist Suspects Arrested in Canada

Two men accused of planning to carry out an al Qaeda-supported attack against a passenger train traveling between Canada and the United States will make their first court appearance on Tuesday, police said. The hearing in Toronto’s Old City Hall Court comes a day after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced they had arrested 30-year-old Chiheb Esseghaier of Montreal and 35-year-old Raed Jaser of Toronto. The two men face charges of “receiving support from al Qaeda elements in Iran” to carry out an attack and conspiring to murder people on a VIA railway train in the greater Toronto area.

Public Support for Gun Control Fades

Four months after the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a USA TODAY Poll finds support for a new gun-control law ebbing as prospects for passage on Capitol Hill seem to fade. Americans are more narrowly divided on the issue than in recent months, and backing for a bill has slipped below 50%, the poll finds. By 49%-45%, those surveyed favor Congress passing a new gun-control law. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in early April, 55% had backed a stricter gun law, which was down from 61% in February.

  • The two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings were not licensed to have the firearms they used in several shootouts with police, Reuters reported. Gun control has little effect on criminals and terrorists.

Immigration Reform Bill Draws Criticism from Both Sides

Register with the government. Submit fingerprints. Pass background checks. Pay fines, application fees and taxes. Remain employed. Wait 10 years to apply for a green card. Learn English. Those are among the major hurdles immigrants currently in the country illegally would have to clear to eventually become citizens under the sweeping immigration-reform bill introduced last week by a bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators. The pathway to citizenship is expected to be the most contentious and scrutinized section of the proposed legislation as the debate in Congress and among the public unfolds over the coming weeks. The 844-page bill also calls for billions of extra dollars in border-security spending to prevent illegal immigration along the U.S.-Mexican border.

The proposal, introduced Wednesday, is already drawing criticism from both sides of the debate. Many immigrant advocates say the pathway is too long; many opponents of illegal immigration, who played a major role in derailing immigration-reform attempts in 2006 and 2007, remain opposed to any legalization program, no matter how long or difficult, calling it amnesty.

Americans ‘Snapping’ by the Millions

The sheer stress of living in today’s America is driving tens of millions to the point of illness, depression and self-destruction, according to WorldNetDaily:

  • Suicide has surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of injury death for Americans. Even more disturbing, in the world’s greatest military, more U.S. soldiers died last year by suicide than in combat.
  • Shocking new research from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that one in five of all high-school-aged children in the United States has been diagnosed with ADHD, and likewise a large new study of New York City residents shows, sadly, that one in five preteens – children aged six to 12 – have been medically diagnosed with either ADHD, anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Incredibly, 11 percent of all Americans aged 12 and older are currently taking SSRI antidepressants – those highly controversial, mood-altering psychiatric drugs with the FDA’s “suicidality” warning label and alarming correlation with school shooters. Women are especially prone to depression, with a stunning 23 percent of all American women in their 40s and 50s – almost one in four – now taking antidepressants, according to a major study by the CDC
  • Add to that the tens of millions of users of all other types of psychiatric drugs, including (just to pick one) the 6.4 million American children between 4 and 17 diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin or similar psycho-stimulants. Throw in the 28 percent of American adults with a drinking problem, that’s more than 60 million, plus the 22 million using illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and inhalants, and pretty soon a picture emerges of a nation of drug-takers, with hundreds of millions dependent on one toxic substance or another – legal or illegal – to “help” them deal with the stresses and problems of life.
  • Things are no better across the Atlantic – and may be worse, according to one major study that concluded almost 40 percent of Europeans are plagued by mental illness.
    • Separation from and rejection of God is the underlying cause of all mental/emotional problems

Economic News

Total existing-home sales fell 0.6% in March from February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million. The slip, which surprised Wall Street analysts, was blamed largely on a lack of supply. Buyer traffic was 25% above year-ago levels, NAR says, but housing inventories were down almost 17% year-over-year. But, home sales were up 10.3% from March 2012.

After a sharp early year run-up that was expected to continue propelling prices up to $4 or more a gallon by late spring, pump prices have reversed course and continue to slide. Nationally, a gallon of gas now averages $3.51, down 18 cents over the past four weeks and 37 cents lower than year-ago prices. With crude oil prices slumping, prices are expected to fall another 20 cents a gallon by Memorial Day. Meanwhile, April consumption is the lowest since 1997. In some states, prices could fall below $3 a gallon.

Afghanistan

A civilian transport helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in a Taliban-controlled area of eastern Afghanistan, and the insurgents took all nine people who were on board hostage, officials said Monday. Officials could not say whether the aircraft had made a precautionary landing or whether the Taliban had forced it down. Taliban fighters then captured all nine aboard the helicopter and took them from the area, The crew members and passengers are all civilian, but officials said they did not know their identities or nationalities.

Syria

Israel’s senior military intelligence analyst said Tuesday that the Syrian government had repeatedly used chemical weapons in the last month, and criticized the international community for failing to respond, intensifying pressure on the Obama administration to intervene. “The regime has increasingly used chemical weapons,” said Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, research commander in the intelligence directorate of the Israeli Defense Forces, echoing a recent finding by Britain and France. “The very fact that they have used chemical weapons without any appropriate reaction,” he added, “is a very worrying development, because it might signal that this is legitimate.”

The bodies of at least 566 people who were killed over a six-day period across Syria were found Sunday, according to Local Coordination Committees in Syria, an opposition group based in the country. That is the highest number of victims discovered in a single day since the war began in March 2011. Over the past six days, some 3,000 members of the security forces stormed the area. The dead include at least 300 civilians and 150 members of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Libya

France’s embassy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli has been hit by a car bomb, Libyan security officials told the Associated Press. Two guards were injured as a result of the attack and the blast caused extensive damage. The bomb set off a fire near the entrance to the embassy and two other nearby buildings also sustained damage. Foreign diplomatic missions have been targets in Libya since the country’s former leader, Moammar Gadhafi, was removed from power in 2011. The eastern city of Benghazi has also seen frequent attacks. An attack on the U.S. consulate on Sept. 11 left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and there was an assassination attempt on Italian Consul Guido de Sanctis in January.

Nigeria

Fighting between Nigeria’s military and Islamic extremists killed at least 185 people in a fishing community in the nation’s far northeast, officials said Sunday, an attack that saw insurgents fire rocket-propelled grenades and soldiers spray machine-gun fire into neighborhoods filled with civilians. The assault marks a significant escalation in the long-running insurgency Nigeria faces in its predominantly Muslim north, with Boko Haram extremists mounting a coordinated assault on soldiers using military-grade weaponry. The killings also mark one of the deadliest incidents ever involving Boko Haram. Officials could not offer a breakdown of civilian casualties versus those of soldiers and extremist fighters. Many of the bodies had been burned beyond recognition.

Earthquakes

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck in the Mexican state of Michoacan on Sunday night, causing buildings to sway 200 miles away in Mexico City. Some people evacuated buildings in the capital, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. State officials in Michoacan also said they had no reports of casualties or damage. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake’s epicenter was about 23 miles northeast of the Pacific port of Lazaro Cardenas. That is about 202 miles west-southwest of Mexico City.

Weather

We are now a month past the official start of spring and some parts of the central United States can’t shed the feeling of winter. Specifically, in the last two weeks we’ve seen three named winter storms spread significant snow in parts of the Rockies, Plains and Upper Midwest. Now, a fourth winter storm has delivered even more snow to those regions followed by record cold temperatures. This latest storm delivered more than a foot of snow to western South Dakota. Snow totals of 6 to 10 inches were measured in the Rapid City, S.D. area.

Flooding in the Midwest has turned fatal Saturday, with at least two deaths blamed on flash flooding and a third suspected. States of emergency were declared in half a dozen states, residents were evacuated and roads were closed in the affected areas. On Sunday, more than 45 river/stream gauges showed major floods in parts of Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. Record flooding has been been recorded at around a dozen river gauges in Illinois. Record flooding is ongoing on the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Mich. More rain is expected to fall on Tuesday in the areas hit hard by flooding last week.

Signs of the Times (4/20/13)

April 20, 2013

Boston Bombers are Islamic Militants from Chechnya

The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing remained hospitalized with serious injuries this morning as the hunt for answers goes full tilt to discover why the alleged terrorists turned against a country they once embraced. Police captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Friday night, ending a tense, five-day drama that gripped Massachusetts with fear and rekindled the specter of terror across the nation. He and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed in an earlier gun battle with police, are Islamic Chechens who came to the U.S. and – for a time – seemed to want to succeed in America. FBI agents interviewed one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings two years ago, but found no connection with terror groups.

Chechnya, a Russian republic, has been the scene of terrorism and related violence since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. Militants from Chechnya and other restive regions in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus have targeted Moscow and other areas with bombings and hostage-takings for more than 20 years. The allegations of ties to Monday’s Boston bombings are the first connection of terror attacks in the United States. Predominantly Muslim, Chechnya declared independence from Russia in November 1991. A full-scale separatist war broke out in 1994 and lasted through most of the 1990s. It was only after a second wave of Russian military action in the early part of the last decade that Chechnya fell under firmer Russian control. However, Chechen terrorists have committed sporadic large-scale attacks in Russia since then. In March 2010, Chechen terrorists claimed responsible for bombings on the Moscow subway system that killed more than 40 people.

  • No matter how much Obama and the liberal media wanted the bombers to be white, American Christian conservatives, the truth is that Islamists are the terrorists in 99% of the cases around the world

New Zealand Approves Gay-Marriage Bill

Hundreds of jubilant gay-rights advocates celebrated at New Zealand’s Parliament as the country become the thirteenth in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage. Lawmakers voted 77 to 44 Wednesday night in favor of the gay-marriage bill. Same-sex marriage is currently recognized in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark. Lawmakers in Uruguay approved a law last week that President Jose Mujica is expected to sign.

Gun Background Check Expansion Defeated

Supporters of new gun control legislation are vowing to ramp up their campaign for expanded background checks despite suffering a major defeat in the Senate Wednesday, threatening to overpower the gun lobby even if it takes years. A Senate proposal to expand background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, while exempting personal transactions, failed on a 54-46 vote Wednesday. It needed 60 to pass. Opponents, which included Republicans and rural-state Democrats, said the measure would infringe on Second Amendment rights by imposing a burden on law-abiding gun owners while doing little to stop criminals. They also repeated the concern that the system could lead to a gun registry.

‘Gang of Eight’ Releases Immigration Plan

The eight senators who authored the newly unveiled bipartisan immigration-reform bill said on Thursday that they are confident their efforts will not collapse the way a bipartisan gun-control bill did this week. Immigration reform has much wider support among both Democrats and Republicans than gun control does, said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Schumer is one of the “Gang of Eight” senators who released their bill this week. Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, said the most compelling reason for the senators’ confidence is the unprecedented coalition of diverse interest groups that have come together around the legislation. Among them: labor unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, farmers and farm workers, Catholics and evangelical Protestants, and immigrant-rights advocates and conservatives such as Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. A bipartisan coalition of more than 30 state attorneys general also is calling on congressional leaders to pass reform.

Obamacare Reality: Doctor Shortage on the Way

With 30 million new people expected to enter the health-care system in 2014 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, experts say a looming doctor shortage isn’t a chance—it’s a reality. Some experts expect the shortage to hit the primary care physician (PCP) arena the hardest and explain that there is approximately one PCP for every 15,000 people in the U.S. but come 2020, there will be about 70,000 less doctors available to consumers as a direct result of the law. A recent Deloitte 2013 survey  of U.S. physicians found 57% doctors view changes in the industry under health-care reform as a threat, and six in 10 physicians report it’s likely that many will retire earlier than planned in the next two to three years, fueling the shortage.

Chinese Bird Flu Puzzling

Almost three weeks after China reported finding a new strain of bird flu in humans, experts are still stumped by how people are becoming infected when many appear to have had no recent contact with live fowl and the virus isn’t supposed to pass from person to person. The uncertainty adds to challenges the Chinese government is facing in trying to control the spread of the H7N9 bird flu virus that has already killed 17 people and infected 66 others in the country. Theories among experts about how the virus may be spreading run from the ways poultry is slaughtered in markets to infected droppings from migratory birds.

Economic News

Prices aren’t going up very much. Should we celebrate? Not really. Inflation that’s too low could be a bad sign for the U.S. economy, and some Federal Reserve officials are starting to get concerned.Prices are up 1.3% over a year ago. “Economic history has shown that economies perform best with slightly higher levels of inflation, such as 2% to 3%,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist for the Economic Outlook Group. “Low and dormant inflation translates into a dormant economy.”

  • Some economists are worried about deflation (i.e. price decreases), which would also deflate the economy

Arizona is on track to become the second state in the nation to recognize gold and silver coins as legal tender, joining Utah as part of a conservative movement arising out of a lack of confidence in the Federal Reserve and fear that paper money could become virtually worthless as U.S. debt deflates the value of the dollar.

New claims for unemployment benefits rose 4,000 in the week ended April 13, to 352,000. The 4-week moving average was 361,250, up 2,750 from the previous week.

Jobs keep moving to the suburbs. Jobs within 3 miles of a city center fell from 24.5% of overall positions in 2000 to 22.9% in 2010, according to a report released Thursday from the Brookings Institution. During the same time, jobs in the outer suburbs — between 10 and 35 miles of a city’s center — grew from 40.9% in 2000 to 43.1% in 2010.

Persecution Watch

A weekend of violence left seven dead after three artillery shells crashed into a Central African Republic church, reports World Watch Monitor. At least twenty were reported dead after gun battles in sectors of Bangui, the capital of the republic, where rebel groups took power last month. The seven Christian victims in the attack were attending church service at the Evangelical Federation of Brothers church on Sunday. Many children were among the wounded and were transferred to a pediatric hospital for treatment, Rev. Mbaye-Bondoi told World Watch Monitor in a telephone interview. The pastor was also hurt but said the injury was not life-threatening. Various independent news reports said clashes erupted Saturday after members of the rebel forces known as Séléka began a sweep through parts of Bangui. There have been increased attacks on Christian clerics and lay people since the Séléka coalition formed in December.

Syria

The U.S. readied a package Saturday of up to $130 million in nonlethal military aid to Syrian opposition forces while European countries consider easing an arms embargo, moves that could further pressure the Assad government. Since February, the U.S. has shipped food and medical supplies directly to the Free Syrian Army. The aid was expanded later aid to include defensive military equipment. So far, the U.S. has provided an estimated $117 million in nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition.

In a critical indication of growing U.S. military involvement in the civil war in Syria, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the deployment of more American troops to Jordan. He said the troops will work alongside Jordanian forces to “improve readiness and prepare for a number of scenarios.” The deployment “creates an additional capability” beyond what has been there, one official said, and will give the United States the ability to “potentially form a joint task force for military operations, if ordered.” The new deployment will include communications and intelligence specialists who will assist the Jordanians and “be ready for military action” if President Barack Obama were to order it.

  • Syrian rebels are more and more directed by Islamic militants; they are not our friends and we should not support them in any manner

Iraq

A suicide bomber detonated explosives at a Baghdad cafe crowded with young people late Thursday, killing at least 26 and wounding dozens ahead of provincial elections scheduled for the weekend. The rare evening attack, which came at the start of the local weekend, brought to 30 the number of people killed across the country Thursday. Earlier in the day, a car bomb struck an army convoy in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, killing three soldiers and wounding five others. Hours later, one policeman was killed and three others were wounded when gunmen attacked a security checkpoint in western Baghdad.

Iran

Iran’s oil ministry says the country is considering exporting oil to North Korea as a way to improve its battered economy. Talks are underway between Tehran and Pyongyang bout the oil exports. An oil deal would bring the two nations – both deeply at odds with the U.S. and the West over nuclear weapons development – closer together. In September, they signed a scientific and technological cooperation agreement. A delegation from North Korea’s oil ministry is currently visiting Iran. Iranian and North Korean officials have said in the past that their nations are in “one trench” in the confrontation with Western powers.

North Korea

North Korea set out demanding conditions for any talks with Washington and Seoul, calling for the withdrawal of U.N. sanctions against it and a permanent end to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises. The United States and South Korea “should immediately stop all their provocative acts against the DPRK and apologize for all of them,” the North’s National Defense Commission said in a statement carried by state-run media, using the shortened version of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The commission listed a number of “practical measures” it said the United States and South Korea should take if they want to avoid “sledge-hammer retaliatory blows of the army and people” of North Korea.

  • Iran and North Korea operate from the same playbook: a lot of bluster, threats and stalling in order to keep their nuclear ambitions moving forward

Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake struck the steep hills of China’s southwestern Sichuan province Saturday, leaving at least 156 people dead and more than 5,500 injured, nearly five years after a devastating quake wreaked widespread damage across the same region. The quake – measured by the earthquake administration at magnitude-7.0 – struck the steep hills of Lushan county shortly after 8 a.m., when many people were at home, sleeping or having breakfast. Saturday’s quake triggered landslides and disrupted phone and power connections in mountainous Lushan county. The village of Longmen was hit particularly hard, with authorities saying nearly all the buildings there had been destroyed in a frightening minute-long shaking by the quake.

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck in seas off far northern Japan and far eastern Russia on Friday, but no damage was expected. No tsunami warnings have been issued. The tremor struck around midday in the Pacific Ocean at a relatively shallow depth of 6.2 miles. Japan and Russia both claim some of the sparsely populated islands in the remote region.

A strong earthquake and about 20 smaller temblors have struck a small volcanic island south of Tokyo, but there is no danger of a tsunami and no injuries have been reported. Japan’s Meteorological Agency says a magnitude-6.2 quake hit just off Miyake island Wednesday evening at a depth of 20 kilometers (12 miles). About 20 smaller temblors have also been recorded in the area since the morning. The volcano, located 180 kilometers (110 miles) south of Tokyo, most recently erupted in 2000, forcing all 3,000 of the island’s residents to evacuate.

A powerful earthquake shook Papua New Guinea’s northern coast Wednesday morning, sending residents fleeing for higher ground and items tumbling from shelves. There were no immediate reports of serious damage and no tsunami alert was issued. The shallow, magnitude-6.8 earthquake struck about 11 miles east of Aitape.

  • Earthquakes will continue to increase in frequency and intensity as we roll further into the ‘beginning of sorrows.’ (Matt. 24:8)

Weather

Heavy rain in the Midwest Wednesday into Thursday has created critical flooding problems in at least a half-dozen states. States of emergency were declared, residents were evacuated and roads were closed in the affected areas. As of Saturday morning, more than 50 river/stream gauges were showing major flood levels in parts of Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. Record flooding has been been recorded at around a dozen river gauges in Illinois. Record flooding is ongoing on the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Mich. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the Missouri National Guard to aid flood-fighting efforts. At Burlington, Iowa, the Mississippi Riverwas expected to rise to near its third or fourth highest level on record. In central Indiana, the Wabash River in Tippecanoe County near Lafayette could crest Saturday at 25.3 feet – its highest level in more than a half-century.

A powerful spring storm that snarled air traffic from Denver to Chicago moved into U.S. heartland Thursday, tormenting the region with everything from heavy snow to severe thunderstorms. Airlines reported more than 200 cancellations at Denver International Airport on Wednesday after the storm system dumped up to 7 inches of snow in the area and much more in the mountains.

A dust storm rolled through southeastern Arizona near the New Mexico border Wednesday, closing a 112-mile stretch of Interstate 10. The freeway was reopened Wednesday night after winds died down. Dust storms, or haboobs, are common in the Southwest in spring when strong storm systems move through the Rockies, generating gusty winds.

Signs of the Times (4/16/13)

April 16, 2013

Terrorists Bomb the Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon bombings killed at least 3 people and injured at least 144. Hospitals say scores more have life-threatening injuries. A Saudi man was observed running from the scene and sought medical treatment and police are searching his apartment for clues. Monday’s explosions were centered at the finish line of the Marathon in downtown Boston. Two explosive devices, which went off about about 12 seconds and 100 yards apart, were believed to be assembled with gunpowder and ball-bearing-type material to serve as shrapnel. Initial evidence indicates they were not detonated by suicide bombers. Police have cordoned off a 15-block area around Boston’s Copley Square and bolstered security around the city as they continue to gather evidence.

Cities and sports venues nationwide have upped their security in the wake of the Boston Marathon explosions. The New York Police Department bolstered security at hotels and other prominent locations, such as its subway system. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority said there would be extra patrols on the bus and rail system, including the possibility of bomb-sniffing dogs at the Los Angeles Union Station and other Metro facilities. World markets fell Tuesday on renewed concerns about the pace of economic growth and after U.S. stocks slumped in the wake of the Boston bombing.

U.S. & China Agree North Korea Must be Denuclearized

Secretary of State John Kerry and China’s top diplomat agreed Saturday that nuclear weapons must be removed from the Korean peninsula — amid North Korean’s heighten rhetoric about missile testing and its nuclear programs. The immediate crisis: a North Korean test of a mid-range missile with a range of up to 2,500 miles that the U.S. believes could happen any day. The long-term problem: a nuclear program that may soon — or already — include the capability to deliver a warhead on a missile. China is the only country with significant leverage over North Korea, a regime that like few in the world actually cherishes its isolation.

New NSA Data Center Prompts Concern

Twenty-five miles due south of Salt Lake City, a massive construction project is nearing completion.  The heavily secured site belongs to the National Security Agency. “The spy center” is what locals call it. The NSA says the Utah Data Center is a facility for the intelligence community that will have a major focus on cyber security. The agency will neither confirm nor deny specifics. Some published reports suggest it could hold 5 zettabytes of data. According to International Data Corporation, the total amount of global data is expected to grow to 2.7 zettabytes during 2012. This is 48% up from 2011, so this center is a ultra-major undertaking. Critics, including former NSA employees, say the data center is front and center in the debate over liberty, security and privacy.

  • Privacy in this ‘brave new world’ is a relic of the past; intrusive government is the new game in town

Media Late to Coverage of Abortion Doctor’s Trial

In an opinion column in Thursday’s USA TODAY, contributor Kirsten Powers chastised major media outlets for ignoring the trial of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, which began March 18. Gosnell is charged with causing the deaths of a patient and seven babies allegedly born alive as well as performing illegal late-term abortions. Eight former employees of his West Philly clinic have been charged in connection with the case, and three have pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. Some of the former employees have testified about the bizarre, horrific and often chaotic practices at the clinic.

  • This is a trial the mainstream media would like to ignore because it brings out the truth about abortion. Now they’re being forced to come to the table, but watch out for slanted coverage.

Tough New Gun Law Takes Effect in NY

Key measures of New York’s tough new gun law go into effect Monday, with owners of guns now reclassified as assault weapons required to register the firearms and with new limits on the number of bullets allowed in magazines. As the new provisions take effect New York’s affiliate of the National Rifle Association said it plans to head to court to seek an immediate halt to the magazine limit. New York’s new gun restrictions, the first in the nation passed following December’s massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, limit state gun owners to no more than seven bullets in magazines, except at competitions or firing ranges. The new regulations in New York commence as the U.S. Senate prepares to debate expanded gun legislation and weeks after Connecticut joined Colorado in signing into law tougher new gun restrictions.

In New Budget, Obama Cuts Abstinence Education Funds

In the budget he delivered to Capitol Hill, President Obama axed funds for sexual risk avoidance (SRA) education, even though research shows these programs can help curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, WORLD reports. The president also redirected funds away from avoidance education and towards sex-ed programs that emphasize contraception. In a statement, the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) said moving the money violates a 2010 congressional mandate to give states $50 million in Title V grants for SRA education. Currently, the ratio of federal funding for contraceptive-based sex education and abstinence-based programs is 16:1. Opponents of abstinence education criticize it as unrealistic and ineffective, assuming teens will choose to be sexually active. Consequently, they advocate for “safe sex” education instead. But SRA programs teach students more than just the wisdom of abstinence. They also learn other practical skills, like how to identify healthy relationships, avoid unwanted sexual advances, avoid STDs, and understand contraception.

  • The New World Order folks (and Satan) want to promote teen sex to further undermine God’s ordained social order

Food Donations Down, Companies Step Up

A growing number of food companies are teaming with Feeding America and the Walmart Foundation’s Fighting Hunger Together campaign in an effort to counter a nationwide slump in springtime food donations. Six more companies, including Campbell’s Soup, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and Nestle USA, have joined this year’s second annual, nationwide April food drive, along with returning companies, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kraft Foods group and Kellogg. The Walmart Foundation says the goal is to collect 35 million contributed meals. Last spring’s campaign collected 22 million meals from food companies. The drive is once again turning to social media to encourage a greater scope of user involvement. From now through April 30, people can vote for one of the 300 food banks or agencies listed on the campaign’s Facebook page. The 40 highest vote-getting food banks will each receive $45,000. In addition, 60 agencies will be awarded $20,000 each

Future Social Security: Pay More, Get Less

Up until now, Social Security has been a windfall for many retirees: They collected far more in benefits than they shelled out in taxes. That’s changing. Many of those retiring will have paid more into the coveted entitlement program than they will get back. A couple who each earned the average wage during their careers and retired in 1990 would have paid $316,000 in Social Security taxes, but collected $436,000 in benefits. Had that couple turned 65 in 2010, however, they would have paid $600,000 in taxes, but could expect to collect just $579,000. This is the first time in the program’s history that taxes outweighed benefits for those with average earnings. The imbalance will get more pronounced for future generations of retirees. Couples now in their early 40s will have forked over $808,000 in Social Security taxes by the time they retire, but get back only $703,000 in benefits.

Economic News

Gold, the world’s premier inflation-fighter, has plunged nearly $200 an ounce the past two trading days. It’s now down 25% from its 2011 high. Silver has fallen more than 9% in frenetic trading Monday. Futures prices for copper fell 3.6% overnight. Oil has fallen below $90 a barrel, to $88.50, lowest since Dec. 21. The collapse in commodity markets signals worldwide weak economic demand.

Housing starts took a big jump in March, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. Total starts were running at a 1.036 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, fastest in nearly 5 years and up 7% from February. Building permits, however, fell 3.9% from February, to a 902,000 annual rate.

The consumer price index declined last month as the cost of gasoline fell sharply and food prices were unchanged. The tame reading is the latest evidence that the sluggish economy is keeping inflation in check. The figures come a day after the prices of many commodities, including copper and oil, fell in response to a report of slower than expected growth in China. That suggests U.S. consumer prices will likely stay low in the coming months.

The bear market in gold intensified Monday with frenzied selling knocking the yellow metal down more than 9% and below the key $1,400-per-ounce level. Investors’ trashing of gold Monday follows a 5% plunge Friday. Gold, often viewed as a haven in tough times and a hedge against inflation, is down more than $527 from its all-time high of $1,888.70 on Aug. 22, 2011. Last week, gold plunged on worries that debt-troubled Cyprus would sell a big chunk of its gold reserves to foot the bill for portions of a bailout. This has spurred fears that other European countries struggling with high debts, particularly Italy, Spain, and Portugal, might also sell some gold reserves.

The International Monetary Fund trimmed its forecast for global growth this year due to government spending cuts in the U.S. and continuing economic stagnation in the Eurozone. The IMF reduced its projection for global economic growth to 3.3% from 3.5%. The U.S. growth outlook was downgraded to 1.9% from 2%.

China’s GDP rose 7.7% — a monster move in every nation but China, where analysts were calling for 8% growth or better. The lower figure means lower demand from Asia. With China slowing and Europe in recession, it seems unlikely the U.S., with its anemic economic growth, will be able to pick up the slack. And that means lower prices.

What’s wrong with lower prices? In a weak economy, lower prices lead to even lower prices, which means deflation. Ultimately, it means companies that can’t slash prices are forced out of business, which leads to further economic weakness. The Federal Reserve has been trying to fight deflation and keep the economy growing with rock-bottom interest rates and a program of buying longer-term bonds to keep interest rates low.

  • End-time economies will eventually fall into an even greater recession/depression

Persecution Watch

A Turkish court on Monday convicted top Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say of denigrating religion through comments he made on Twitter and handed down a 10-month suspended prison sentence. He is the latest in a series of intellectuals and artists to be prosecuted in Turkey for expressing their opinions and his case has raised further concern over rights and freedoms in the country, a democracy with a mostly Muslim population that seeks membership in the European Union.

Iraq

A series of car bombings across Iraq on Monday killed at least 25 people and wounded more than 170 others. The 24 attacks took place in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Baquba, Tuz Khurmato and Hilla. Two of the bombings pummeled a checkpoint near Baghdad’s international airport. Most of the attacks in Baghdad targeted Shiite areas. Attacks elsewhere hit security checkpoints, Shiite areas and political offices. Al Qaeda in Iraq, made up of Sunni extremists, has claimed responsibility for most of these attacks in recent months.

Somalia

Nine al-Shabab Islamic extremists, most wearing suicide vests, stormed Somalia’s main court complex on Sunday while the Supreme Court was in session, firing a barrage of bullets during a running gun battle with security forces that lasted two hours. A preliminary death toll stood at 29, including all ten attackers. Nearly 60 people were wounded in the skirmish. The assault was the most serious in Mogadishu since al-Shabab militants were forced out of the capital in August 2011. Al-Shabab controls far less territory today than in years past, and its influence appears to be on the decline, but Sunday’s attack proved the extremists are still capable of pulling off well-planned and audacious assaults.

Venezuela

Hugo Chavez’s handpicked successor won a narrow victory in Venezuela’s presidential vote, but his opponent slammed the results as illegitimate and demanded a recount. Nicolas Maduro secured 50.7% of votes in Sunday’s poll while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski won 49.1%, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council said. Capriles’ refusal to concede left key questions about Venezuela’s future unanswered

China

Two more people infected with a rare strain of bird flu in China died over the weekend, as the number of human cases of H7N9 climbed to 60, state media reported Sunday. The two deaths, both in Shanghai, takes the death toll to 13. The virus also appears to have spread beyond eastern China for the first time. Two new cases were reported in central Henan Province on Sunday morning, while a child in Beijing in the north tested positive on Saturday. The World Health Organization (WHO) said China had been infected with a new variation of bird flu. The agency said it continues to look for the source of the infection.

Earthquakes

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the Middle East on Tuesday, with the epicenter close to the border of Iran and Pakistan. According to the Associated Press via Iranian state TV, at least 46 deaths have been reported. Iran’s Red Crescent said it was facing a “complicated emergency situation” in the area with villages scattered over desolate hills and valleys. The epicenter was located 53 miles east-southeast of Khash, Iran. This event comes a week after a 6.1 earthquake killed at least three dozen people in western Iran. Pakistani news channels showed buildings shaking in the southern city of Karachi, where people in panic came out from offices and homes.

A strong earthquake shook Japan on Saturday near the southwestern city of Kobe, leaving 23 people injured, seven of them seriously. The magnitude-6.3 quake left some homes with rooftop tiles broken and cracked walls, while goods fell off store shelves. The earthquake was centered on Awaji Island, just south of Kobe, at a depth of 15 kilometers (9 miles). The quake was in the area where a magnitude-7.2 temblor killed more than 6,400 people in 1995. TV news footage showed that some areas of the island had liquefied, a common effect of strong earthquakes. The agency warned there may be aftershocks for about a week.

The U.S. Geological Survey says several earthquakes have shaken central Oklahoma. The temblors began around 1:45 a.m. Tuesday and all were centered northeast of Oklahoma City. Three earthquakes have been confirmed with a possible fourth under review. The strongest was a magnitude 4.3 quake centered near the town of Luther. All the quakes were shallow, which is common for the area.

Weather

Authorities in Washington state say one woman has died and one man is still missing after a pair of spring avalanches struck separate groups hiking in the mountains outside Seattle. Rescuers carried a female snowshoer off of Red Mountain in blizzard-like conditions early Sunday. The woman was confirmed dead at the rescue base. She had been hiking with her dog near a group of a dozen other people when an avalanche hit Saturday. A separate avalanche at Granite Mountain swept a group of three snowshoers more than 1,200 feet. Two men emerged, but a 60-year-old hiker from Kent, Wash., was still missing Sunday morning.

Fargo ND, officials said Monday they are resuming sandbag-filling operations to protect against spring flooding because of last week’s snowstorm and the prediction for more precipitation later this week. Mayor Dennis Walaker said his opinion on the severity of flooding “changed dramatically” after Sunday’s spring storm dumped nearly a foot of snow on some areas in the Red River Valley, where residents are expecting their fourth major flood in five years. The city had been preparing for the Red River to peak in Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., at 38 feet, or 20 feet above flood stage, based on last month’s probabilistic forecast by the National Weather Service. City officials are now shooting for protection to 41 feet —  and figure they have less than two weeks to get there.

The summer ice melt in parts of Antarctica is at its highest level in 1,000 years, Australian and British researchers reported on Monday. Researchers found data taken from an ice core also shows the summer ice melt has been 10 times more intense over the past 50 years compared with 600 years ago. They say that shows the ice melt can increase dramatically in climate terms once temperatures hit a tipping point.

Signs of the Times (4/12/13)

April 12, 2013

Judge Defends Cross at 9/11 Memorial

A New York City judge has protected the Cross of Jesus Christ to be displayed in the 9/11 memorial display, and thrown out a lawsuit by the American Atheists.  The Blaze reports:  “A judge sided with New Yorkers and others around the country who believe that a steel cross that was formed when World Trade Center buildings collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001 should be included in the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. American Atheists (AA), a secular group committed to church-state separatism, has long fought the presence of the symbol that is being included in an effort that remembers the lives lost during the nation’s most horrific terror attack.

Biggest Reason for Declining Church Attendance: Children’s Sports?

Sunday morning used to be a time reserved by many Christians for attending worship services, but new research indicates the extent to which American churches today are competing against other activities — the biggest competition being children’s sports, Christianity Today reports. According to a study published in the Review of Religious Research, an examination of declining attendance at 16 congregations revealed that most pastors place the most blame on children’s sports activities, since practices and competitions alike are increasingly “scheduled on Sunday mornings at the very time when many churches traditionally have provided religious education.” However, that doesn’t mean that families whose kids are highly involved in athletics will stop attending church. Instead, more Protestant churches are offering alternate service times to accommodate members with Sunday morning commitments. They’re also increasing their emphasis on physical fitness programs or sports ministries. According to David Briggs of the Association of Religion Data Archives, “More than two-thirds of congregations who said sports and fitness programs were a specialty of the congregation reported more than a 10 percent growth in attendance from 2000 to 2010. In contrast, only a third of churches with no athletic programs reported such growth.”

VP Biden Calls for New World Order

At a banking conference last Friday, Vice President Joe Biden called for the creation of a “new world order” with new financial institutions, updated global rules, a level playing field, and a prosperous China. Biden’s remarks also come one week after China, Russia and other powers announced the creation of a new economic order that would rival the Western-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Delivering the keynote address at the Export-Import Bank Conference in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Biden stated “the affirmative task we have now is to create a new world order… We have to update the global rules of the road.”

  • Globalists are seeking to create a one-world government, just as Revelation 13 prophesies.

Obama Sends Congress $3.8 Trillion Spending Plan

President Obama found himself weathering bipartisan broadsides Wednesday as he sent Congress his 2014 budget proposal, which in its effort to please both sides of the aisle has ended up angering both. The budget arrived on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning, delivered 65 days after the legal deadline. The $3.77 trillion spending plan, which is over 2,000 pages, tries to curb deficits by further raising taxes on top earners and reining in the growth of Social Security. But Republicans argue they already consented to increased taxes as part of the fiscal crisis deal and have expressed little interest in negotiating another hike. And liberal Democrats — particularly powerful advocacy groups — have launched a series of campaigns to oppose the changes to Social Security.

Obamacare Exchanges Costs Double to: $4.4 Billion

As a number of Republican governors continue to say “no” to Obamacare, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) on Wednesday acknowledged that the president’s signature healthcare law is racking up twice the costs to set up the all-important insurance exchanges. HHS more than doubled its previous cost estimate of $2 billion for the amount it expects to spend to help states set up insurance exchanges, which is a central component of Obamacare. Despite the projection overruns, the department is “determined to make them work,” said HHS. Exchanges were envisioned as places where private consumers, who aren’t necessarily covered by an employer healthcare program, can compare and purchase healthcare coverage.

  • Anytime the government gets involved in running a business, losses and cost overruns are all but guaranteed (e.g. the Postal Service and Amtrak)

Pentagon Report Says N. Korea Can Arm Missile with Nuke

Obama administration officials scrambled to downplay the errant disclosure of a classified portion of an intelligence report finding that North Korea has advanced its nuclear knowledge to the point that it could arm a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead. The analysis, disclosed Thursday at a hearing on Capitol Hill, says the Pentagon’s intelligence wing has “moderate confidence” that North Korea has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles but that the weapon was unreliable. The revelation was significant, because it has not been previously reported or believed that the country had the ability to miniaturize and deliver a nuclear weapon.

North Korea warned foreigners to leave South Korea Tuesday, to avoid harm in the event of war. The latest moves follow weeks of ever escalating threats from Pyongyang, which has reacted with increasing anger to United Nations sanctions punishing the North for its third nuclear test, conducted February 12th. North Korea has raised at least one missile into its upright firing position, feeding concerns that a launch is imminent, a U.S. official told CNN Thursday. After the raising of the missile Wednesday, it was not clear to U.S. officials why the North Korean government did not proceed with the firing.

U.S. Arming Islamist Militants Through Libya?

Questions remain about the Obama administration’s role in supplying arms to Libyan rebels as a United Nations report released this week reveals the weapons from Libya to extremists proliferating at an “alarming rate,” fueling conflicts in Mali, Syria, Gaza and elsewhere. In December 2012, the New York Times reported that after discussions among members of the National Security Council, the Obama administration backed arms shipments to Libyan rebels from both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The administration urged the emirates to ship foreign weapons to Libya that could not be traced to the U.S., the Times reported. The Times further reported in 2012 the White House “secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants. A report by the U.N. Security Council’s Group of Experts blamed Qatar and the UAE for arming the rebels, but omitted U.S. involvement in what some say is an elaborate coverup.

IRS Tells Agents PK to Snoop on Emails Without Warrant

The Internal Revenue Service believes it doesn’t need permission to root through emails, texts or other forms of electronic correspondence, according to recently released internal agency documents. The documents, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union, reveal that tax department agents have been operating under the assumption that they can bypass warrants. According to a 2009 IRS employee handbook, though, the tax agency said the Fourth Amendment does not protect emails because Internet users don’t “have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications.” A lawyer for the agency reiterated the policy in 2010. And the current online version of the IRS manual says that no warrant is required for emails that are stored by an Internet storage provider for more than 180 days. Privacy advocate groups, like the ACLU, say the government must obtain a search warrant based on probable cause.

  • Under the Obama Administration we belong to the government and they can do whatever they want

ATF Seeks ‘Massive’ Database of Personal Info

A recent solicitation from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) reveals that the agency is seeking a “massive” online database capable of pulling up individuals’ personal information, connections and associates. On March 28, ATF posted the notice on FedBizOpps.gov, entitled “Investigative System.”  The solicitation was updated on April 5 with a few minor changes. The document says that the system will be utilized by staff “to provide rapid searches on various entities for example; names, telephone numbers, utility data and reverse phone look-ups, as a means to assist with investigations, and background research on people, assets and businesses.” The system is described as a “massive online data repository system that contains a wide variety of data sources both historically and current that can be utilized in support of investigations and backgrounds.”

  • Government abuse of such information is sure to follow in order to quench dissent

Study Points to Overuse of Drug Prescriptions

Doctors are prescribing enough antibiotics to give them to 4 out of 5 Americans every year, an alarming pace that suggests they are being overused, a new government study finds. Overuse is one reason antibiotics are losing their punch, making infections harder to treat. There is no scientific consensus on an appropriate level of antibiotic prescribing. But some experts said the new study’s results are disturbing, and that rates are excessive. Experts say chances of resistance increase when antibiotics are not used long enough or are taken for the wrong reasons, allowing bacteria to survive and adapt. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking at least 20 strains of resistant bacteria.

  • One possible cause of end-time pestilence

Mood of the Nation Trending Upward

As the stock market continues to show record highs, the number of Americans who say things are going well in the country has reached 50% for the first time in more than six years, according to a new national survey. But that doesn’t mean the country is entirely out of the woods yet. The CNN/ORC International poll released Friday indicates that an equal 50% say the country is in bad shape. “The number continues an upward pattern since the summer of last year, when only 35% were optimistic about the country’s conditions,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. Americans haven’t been this optimistic since January 2007, when 57% felt the country was in good shape. For more of the next four years, the figure hovered in the 20’s and 30’s, and stayed mostly in the 30’s and 40’s last year.

  • Irrational exuberance? Time will tell. Most likely is the calm before the storm.

Economic News

Retail sales fell in March from February, taking the biggest drop in nine months, the Commerce Department said Friday. Retail sales declined a seasonally adjusted 0.4% last month, Commerce said. That followed a 1% gain in February. Consumers cut back across a wide range of categories. Sales at auto dealers dropped 0.6%.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell by 42,000 in the latest week to 346,000 from an upwardly revised 388,000 a week earlier. The data have been volatile the past two weeks largely because of the Easter holiday.

Foreclosure filings — including notices of default, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions — during the first quarter fell 23% from a year earlier, the lowest level since the second quarter of 2007. Last month, banks repossessed just under 44,000 homes, within striking distance of the pre-housing bust monthly average. At the height of the housing meltdown, in September 2010, repossessions topped 100,000 a month.

The number of homes listed for sale ticked up by almost 2.4% in March from February but remained down 15% from a year ago. The low inventory of homes for sale in many markets is helping drive up prices.

Personal computer shipments worldwide plummeted 13.9% in the first quarter, the latest evidence of a decaying market. Consumer preferences for tablets and smartphones continue to turn the PC industry upside-down. Desktops have been particularly hard hit as sales have been shaved nearly in half in the past 10 years.

Persecution Watch

Tens of thousands of Christians have left post-revolution Egypt due to concerns over rising Muslim conservatism and a general instability they say is emboldening attacks against them. Perhaps the most dramatic example of sectarian tension yet occurred Sunday in central Cairo, where a crowd attacked Christian mourners after they emerged from a funeral in Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral. Coptic Pope Tawadros II underscored rising tensions between Christians and Muslims when he criticized Islamist president Mohammed Morsi for the weekend violence which resulted in the deaths of four Christians. The state of instability, decaying economy and rise in crime have scared many Egyptians into leaving, or trying to — not least of all Egyptian Christians who say they are easy targets when trouble erupts and there is no system in place to protect them. “They feel if there is an issue, there is vigilante violence,” said Douglas May, a U.S. Catholic priest based in Egypt, where he has lived for 18 years. He said that although there were restrictions on minorities under former President Hosni Mubarak, Christians felt safer because there was at least a sense the country was under control. There are no official figures for how many Christians have left Egypt since the revolution, though estimates range as high as in the tens of thousands. “When there is no clarity, rumors abound,” said Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak, patriarch of Egypt’s estimated 250,000 Coptic Catholics. “There are those saying hundreds of thousands, others saying thousands, but there are people leaving, this we know — and not only Christians, Muslims are leaving as well.”

Syria

President Barack Obama has signed off on a new package of nonlethal aid for Syrian rebels, U.S. officials told CNN, signaling his administration is cautiously wading further into the conflict. The move reflects what officials describe as a ramped-up effort to change the military balance on the battlefield in Syria. It follows a decision by Obama last month to send food and medicine to the rebels, the first direct U.S. support for the armed opposition.

A Syrian rebel group’s pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda’s replacement for Osama bin Laden suggests that the terrorist group’s influence is not waning and that it may take a greater role in the Western-backed fight to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. Al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq said it has merged with Syria’s extremist Jabhat al-Nusra, a move that shows the rising confidence of radicals within the Syrian rebel movement and is likely to trigger renewed fears among its international backers. A website linked to Jabhat Al-Nusra confirmed on Tuesday the merger with the Islamic State of Iraq. Jabhat Al-Nusra has taken an ever-bigger role in Syria’s conflict over the last year, fighting in key battles and staging several large suicide bombings. The U.S. has designated it a terrorist organization.

Last month marked the deadliest month in Syria since protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime began two years ago, CBN News reports. More than 6,000 people were killed in what is being called “Bloody March”; a third of those were civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Those killed include 291 women, nearly 300 children and more than 1,400 rebel fighters. The United Nations reports that 70,000 people have died since the uprising began, but Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory, said, “We estimate it is actually around 120,000 people.” Efforts by foreign media and independent human rights organizations within the country have been curtailed, making the verification of casualty figures virtually impossible.

Iran

Iran’s crude exports declined in March to the lowest this year as international sanctions aimed at the Persian Gulf country’s nuclear program and weaker global demand cut purchases, the International Energy Agency said. Imports from Iran slipped to 1.1 million barrels a day in March, from a revised 1.26 million barrels daily in February, the Paris-based adviser to 28 oil-consuming nations said in a report today. The U.S. and its allies are restricting Iran’s oil exports, the country’s largest source of revenue, to pressure the government in Tehran to stop enriching uranium.

Mali

About 70,000 refugees who fled violence in Mali are living in “appalling” conditions in a camp in the middle of the Mauritanian desert, Doctors Without Borders said Friday. The situation has only got worse in Mbera camp since French forces entered Mali in January to help local forces take on Islamist militants. About 15,000 more refugees have flooded into the camp since the fighting, and conditions are so bad there that many who were healthy became ill or malnourished after they arrived. The number of children admitted to clinics in the camp for severe malnutrition more than doubled in that time, climbing from 42 to 106. The camp was set up by the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, with the Mauritanian government about 37 miles from the border.

China

The death toll in China’s bird flu crisis stood at 10 on Friday, as Hong Kong authorities announced plans to test all poultry imported from the mainland. The total number of cases across eastern China climbed to 38. Seventy people have had close contact with the three patients, but none of them have exhibited abnormal symptoms. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese health officials continue to monitor for human-to-human transmission. On Wednesday, the Chinese Academy of Sciences said the H7N9 virus had probably originated from migratory birds from East Asia mixing with domestic fowl in China’s Yangtze River delta region.

Mexico

Gunmen in Mexico opened fire on police and civilians Wednesday in two separate incidents, in which at least 13 people. Police seized the gunmen’s vehicles and found five assault rifles with magazines and other combat paraphernalia, the National Safety Commission said. Mexico has a reputation for strict gun ownership laws. In the town of Apatzingan, gunmen opened fire twice on residents who were commemorating the anniversary of the death of a revolutionary figure popular in the region. Eight died when the same group, marching in a ceremonial parade, came under fire again. In addition, six civilians and two police officers were wounded.

Earthquakes

A 6.1 magnitude earthquake killed at least 37 and injured hundreds more in a sparsely populated area in southern Iran on Tuesday, Iranian officials said, adding that it did not damage a nuclear plant in the region. The report said the earthquake struck the town of Kaki some 60 miles southeast of Bushehr, a town on the Persian Gulf that is home of Iran’s first nuclear power plant, built with Russian help. Dozens of aftershocks have been reported by the official IRNA news agency.

Weather

Friday is a day of clean up across several southern and midwestern states, after a classic spring storm spawned tornadoes and damaging thunderstorms Thursday. A powerful spring storm hit parts of the Mid-Atlantic on Friday morning after unleashing tornadoes, hail and high winds as it swept through the Midwest and into the Deep South, where it left three people dead and thousands without power. A supercell thunderstorm spawned a tornado in eastern Mississippi killing one person. The severe storm system packed high winds and tornadoes ripped through sections of Arkansas and eastern Missouri overnight Wednesday, including a neighborhood in St. Louis, prompting the governors of two states to activate the National Guard. The storm was part of a dangerous system that raked the Midwest and may have also spawned a tornado in north-central Arkansas that left four people injured. In Missouri, where thousands of people were left without power in the southern parts of the state, Gov. Jay Nixon also called out the Guard and issued a state of emergency.

A winter storm was a major problem for the Plains, dropping temperatures dramatically and then dumping more than a foot of snow across parts of several states. More than two feet of snow fell in parts of South Dakota, while ice has become a problem in the southern Plains.

A wildfire due to extreme drought, a possible tornado touchdown and a blizzard warning all within a 50 mile radius — the weather in northeast Colorado went crazy overnight Monday to Tuesday. Hours after firefighters defeated a 2,600 acre blaze in Sterling County, a wind storm, suspected of being a tornado, tore down a home in adjoining Washington County to the south. Meanwhile, the National Weather Service is predicting a blizzard in the neighboring counties of Arapahoe and Adams to the east, where temperatures should drop into the single digits Tuesday night.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme

Signs of the Times (4/8/13)

April 8, 2013

Sweeping Anti-Abortion Bill Passed in Kansas

Kansas legislators gave final passage to a sweeping anti-abortion measure Friday night, sending Gov. Sam Brownback a bill that declares life begins “at fertilization” while blocking tax breaks for abortion providers and banning abortions performed solely because of the baby’s sex. The House voted 90-30 for a compromise version of the bill reconciling differences between the two chambers, only hours after the Senate approved it, 28-10. The Republican governor is a strong abortion opponent, and supporters of the measure expect him to sign it into law so that the new restrictions take effect July 1.

States Look to Tax Guns, Ammo

Cook County, Ill., this month began collecting a $25 tax on gun purchases, and at least six states are considering new taxes on firearms or ammunition as a way to help pay for the consequences of gun violence. The Cook County tax applies to purchases in Chicago’s suburbs, but not the city. The tax is expected to raise $600,000 a year, which will help pay for indigent gunshot victims’ medical care at county-run Stroger Hospital. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, says 30% of the hospital’s trauma patients have gunshot wounds and it costs about $52,000 for initial treatment for each. A group of gun sellers and owners sued to block the gun tax, saying it violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Circuit Court Judge David Atkins denied a temporary restraining order, saying the lawsuit didn’t show “that this right is threatened by the tax.”

As Marijuana Goes Legit, Investors Rush In

Pot entrepreneurs have high expectations for a future market in legalized marijuana. The market for legal marijuana, which is accelerating with last fall’s legalization of most personal pot consumption in Colorado and Washington state. Advocates hope to legalize personal use in another 14 states by 2017, mostly among the 16 states besides Washington and Colorado where medical pot is legal (it’s also legal in Washington, D.C.). Industry estimates say today’s $1.5 billion legal market could quadruple by 2018. The public is trending toward legalization. In a Pew Research Center poll released Thursday, a majority of Americans (52%) favored legalization, the first time that threshold has been reached since polling on the issue began in 1969.

Politically Correct AP Strikes Again

For the second time in just days, Associated Press has redefined a word for its reporters that adopts a politically correct position, this time pleasing Muslim activists with a decision to ban the use of “Islamist,” replacing it with “fighters” and/or “militants.” The change by AP was made “after much prodding from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.” Earlier, the AP stylebook banned the use of “illegal immigrant.” Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, or ALIPAC, says it now will use the term “illegal invader” to balance AP’s edited terminology. “This Big Brother move by AP is political correctness on steroids,” said William Gheen, president of ALIPAC. “What class of criminals will the Associated Press and Congress make disappear next with the stroke of a pen?”

  • Mainstream media is at the forefront of the war against Christians and conservatives

Nearly Half of Young Women Live With Boyfriend Prior to Marriage

Nearly half of women ages 15 to 44 say their “first union” was cohabitation rather than marriage, according to a new survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a first union, 48 percent of women moved in with their male partner, up markedly from 43 percent in 2002 and 34 percent in 1995. Just 23 percent of first unions were marriages, down from 30 percent in 2002 and 39 percent in 1995. “Instead of marriage, people are moving into cohabitation as a first union,” said demographer Casey Copen, the report’s lead author. “It’s kind of a ubiquitous phenomenon now.” Experts say the numbers show living together is increasingly being used as a “testing ground” for marriage. Within three years of cohabiting, 40 percent of women had transitioned to marriage, 32 percent remained living together and 27 percent had broken up. The median duration of first cohabitation is 22 months, up from 20 months in 2002 and 13 months in 1995. The report also found that 19 percent of women became pregnant and gave birth in the first year of a first premarital cohabitation.

  • Marriage and God’s ordained family structure are under attack as never before as end-time “lawlessness” increases by leaps and bounds. (Matthew 24:12)

Discouraged Job Seekers Leave Work Force

A growing number of Americans discouraged by slow economic recovery are leaving the job market. The number of Americans in the labor force — those who have a job or are looking for one — fell by nearly half a million people from February to March, the government said last Friday. And the percentage of working-age adults in the labor force — what’s called the participation rate — fell to 63.3 percent last month. It’s the lowest such figure since May 1979. People without a job who stop looking for one are no longer counted as unemployed. That’s why the U.S. unemployment rate dropped in March despite weak hiring. If the 496,000 who left the labor force last month had still been looking for jobs, the unemployment rate would have risen to 7.9 percent in March.

Many Doctors Driven to Bankruptcy or Retirement

As many doctors struggle to keep their practices financially sound, some are buckling under money woes and being pushed into bankruptcy. It’s a trend that’s accelerated in recent years, industry experts say, with potentially serious consequences for doctors and patients. When a practice shuts its doors, patients can find it harder to get the health care they need nearby. The weak economy has taken a toll on doctors’ revenue, as consumers cut back on office visits and lucrative elective procedures. Doctors also blame shrinking insurance reimbursements, changing regulations, and the rising costs of malpractice insurance for making it harder to keep their practices afloat.

As the U.S. healthcare system changes dramatically over the next few years due to Obamacare, increasing numbers of doctors are planning to retire or scale back the hours they work, a new survey reveals. The annual poll by Deloitte Center for Health Solutions found that six out of 10 doctors believe it is likely that many physicians will retire earlier than planned in the next one to three years. The survey also found that 55 percent of physicians think that doctors will scale back their practice hours “based on how the future of medicine is changing,” Deloitte stated. And 38 percent of doctors polled say Obamacare is “a step in the wrong direction,” while 44 percent say it is “a good start.”

Gas Prices Dropping

March gasoline prices fell for the first time in 10 years. As of Apr. 1, the price of gas had fallen in 29 of the previous 33 days. Nationally, gas costs 30 cents a gallon less than it did a year ago and 15 cents a gallon less than it did following the February run-up in prices. AAA predicts the average price of gas in 2013 will be lower than 2012’s average of $3.60 a gallon — the highest AAA has ever recorded. There are two significant reasons for the price drop. First, Americans are driving less — about 2.7% less, according to Department of Transportation figures, or nearly 90 billion miles since reaching a peak of more than 3 trillion miles in November 2007. Second, older, less-fuel efficient cars are being replaced by new ones that get better gas mileage.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve said Friday that consumer borrowing rose $18.2 billion in February from January. That’s up from a gain of $12.7 billion in the previous month. The increase brought total borrowing to a seasonally adjusted $2.8 trillion. That’s up from $2.78 trillion in January and a new record. Nearly all of the gains were in a category that covers student and auto loans.

Persecution Watch

A mosque in Cairo has been occupied by radical Islamic militias and turned into a torture chamber for demonstrators against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood. Officials at the Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque reported the takeover, which happened after Friday prayers on 22 March, to the police. Demonstrators, including Christians and moderate Muslims, were then rounded up from the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters and taken to the mosque, where they were tortured for hours. Mosque officials expressed regret for what happened, saying that they “had lost control over the mosque at the time.” President Mohammed Morsi is becoming increasingly unpopular in Egypt, and there have been numerous demonstrations against his rule, which opponents have labelled autocratic. And as protests have intensified, so have efforts by the Muslim Brotherhood to clamp down on dissenters. Christians, moderate Muslims and secular liberals are increasingly concerned about the Islamisation of the country.

An Islamic cleric has issued a fatwa calling for the rebels in Syria to rape women who are not Sunni Muslim as part of their campaign to oust President Assad. Salafi sheikh Yasir al-Ajlawni  posted the message on YouTube, saying it was “legitimate” for Muslim fighters who are trying to put in place an Islamist government to “capture and have sex with” Alawites, the sect to which President Assad belongs, and other non-Sunni, non-Muslim women. He described non-Muslim women as “melk al-yamin”, a Quranic term for non-Muslim sex slaves.

Church buildings have been attacked and the homes of Christians looted in the aftermath of a bloody coup by a band of Muslim rebels in the Central African Republic, The Seleka rebels seized control of the country on 24 March following a three-month uprising. Their leader, Michel Djotodia, has assumed the presidency from the ousted François Bozizé, becoming the predominantly Christian nation’s first Muslim president. Days of chaos and looting followed the takeover, with Christian property being targeted by the rebels, while that belonging to Muslims was spared.

Syria

A car bomb Monday afternoon ripped through an area near one of the largest public squares in Damascus, Syria, killing at least 15 people and injuring dozens of others. State TV reported that the blast was near a school. The square is surrounded by state buildings including the Central Bank of Syria. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the blast. Syrian state TV reported that authorities preliminarily believe that the explosion was “caused by a terrorist suicide bomber in a car.” Syria is in the midst of a civil war with roots that date back to March 2011, when protesters, partly inspired by Arab Spring uprisings in the region, began demonstrating for more freedom. The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 people have died in the violence.

Afghanistan

Six American troops and civilians and an Afghan doctor were killed in attacks on Saturday in southern and eastern Afghanistan as the U.S. military’s top officer began a weekend visit to the country. Rhree U.S. service members, two U.S. civilians and the doctor were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a car full of explosives just as a convoy with the international military coalition drove past another convoy of vehicles carrying the governor of Zabul province. One of the civilians, Anne Smedinghoff, 25, was the first U.S. diplomat  to be killed since a September attack in Benghazi, Libya. She was delivering books to a school, along with a U.S. civilian from the Defense Department, when a bomb struck their convoy. The attacks occurred the same day that U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Afghanistan for a visit aimed at assessing the level of training that American troops can provide to Afghan security forces after international combat forces complete their withdrawal at the end of 2014.

Iraq

A suicide bomber killed 20 people and wounded dozens of others on Saturday at a political rally in the Iraqi city of Baqouba. The bomber detonated his explosives as Muthana al-Jourani, who is a Sunni candidate for the council, was hosting lunch for supporters in a large hospitality tent pitched next to his house in the mixed Sunni-Shiite city, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad. Violence is expected to surge in the lead up to Iraq’s provincial elections on April 20.

Bangladesh

Tens of thousands of radical Muslims marched toward the capital on Saturday to demand laws to target bloggers they said denigrated Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. The bloggers initiated a recent sit-in at Shahbagh Square demanding the death penalty for people involved in war crimes perpetrated more than four decades ago. Muslim hard-liners under the banner of Hefazat-e-Islam on Saturday rallied against bloggers and authors. Meanwhile, some 25 liberal groups denounced the Hefazat rally and enforced a daylong general strike across Bangladesh, keeping capital Dhaka’s communications cut off with the rest of the country on Saturday.

North Korea

North Korea said Monday that it would pull out all its workers and temporarily suspend operations at the industrial complex it jointly operates with the South, the latest sign of deteriorating relations on the Korean Peninsula. The North said it would also consider permanently closing down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a shared manufacturing zone that is the last major symbol of cooperation between the two countries. Kim Yang Gon, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, accused the South of seeking “to turn the zone into a hotbed of war” against the North.

North Korean church leaders are asking Christians worldwide to pray for their country amid increased war threats and combat preparation by North Korean military officials, Open Doors USA reports. According to underground Christians, there is a war-like atmosphere in the country. “The military army, navy, air force troops, strategic rocket troops, the red guards and the red youth guards are already in combat mode. Urgent meetings are being held everywhere. The leader said North Korean Christians and other citizens feared war and its consequences, and requested prayers from believers worldwide. “We know that our journey will not be an easy one, but we are sure that our faith, desperate hope and passionate desire will some day bear many fruit. No matter how difficult life is for us, we never blame or complain about our circumstances.”

Japan

The operator of Japan’s crippled nuclear plant said Saturday that it was moving tons of highly radioactive water from a temporary storage tank to another after detecting signs of leakage, in a blow to the plant’s ongoing struggles. Tokyo Electric power Co. said about 120 tons of the water are believed to have breached the tank’s inner linings, some of it possibly leaking into the soil. TEPCO is moving the water to a nearby tank at the Fukushima Dai-chi plant — a process that could take several days. Contaminated water at the plant, which went into multiple meltdowns after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan, has escaped into the sea several times during the crisis. Experts suspect there has been a continuous leak into the ocean through an underground water system, citing high levels of contamination among fish caught in waters just off the plant.

China

Chinese authorities have killed more than 20,000 birds from a live-poultry trading zone in Shanghai after an unusual strain of bird flu that has so far killed six people in the country and infected twenty was found in pigeons on sale in the city. The Chinese Minister of Agriculture said Thursday an analysis showed a strong genetic overlap between the strain found in the Huhai market pigeons and the one detected in infected humans. Officials are trying to track where the infected pigeons came from.

Earthquakes

A powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit a remote part of eastern Indonesia on Saturday, causing residents to run outside in panic, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The temblor struck about 47 miles underground in Papua province, according to U.S. Geological Survey. It occurred in a mountainous area, about 35 miles northeast of Tolikara. There was no tsunami warning issued due to its location.

Weather

Despite an overall relatively quiet weather pattern, there have been some severe thunderstorms over the past ten days.  Destructive hail pelted parts of Texas. There have even been a couple of tornadoes, including a “stovepipe” tornado on April Fool’s Day near Silverton, Texas. A sharp jet stream trough is currently swinging into the Desert Southwest and Four Corners. To the east of this feature, southerly winds will transport increasingly warm and humid air near the surface northward into the southern and central Plains, middle and lower Mississippi Valleys.  Once this jet-stream level energy pushes eastward overtopping the warmer and more humid air mass, we have a volatile mix for a potential severe weather outbreak, including tornadoes.

Signs of the Times (4/5/13)

April 5, 2013

Ala. Lawmakers Tighten Rules for Abortion Clinics

Alabama lawmakers late Tuesday gave final passage to a measure placing stricter regulations on clinics that provide abortions. The bill requires abortion clinics to use doctors who have approval to admit patients to hospitals in the same city. Some clinics now use doctors from other cities that don’t have local hospital privileges. Proponents say the regulations will protect women. Opponents say they will make it harder for women to exercise their right to get an abortion. A similar law in Mississippi is threatening to close that state’s only abortion clinic, which is challenging the law in court. The state House voted 68-21 to give final passage to the Women’s Health and Safety Act. The vote came hours after the state Senate voted 20-10 to approve the bill. The votes in the GOP-led legislature, mostly along party lines, send the measure to Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who backs the legislation.

Judge Strikes Restrictions on ‘Morning-After’ Pill

A federal judge has ruled that the government must make the most common morning-after pill available over the counter for all ages, instead of requiring a prescription for girls 16 and younger. The decision, on a fraught and politically controversial subject, comes after a decade-long fight over who should have access to the pill and under what circumstances. And it counteracts an unprecedented move by the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, who in 2011 overruled a recommendation by the Food and Drug Administration to make the pill available for all ages without a prescription. In a decision in a lawsuit filed by advocates, the judge, Edward R. Korman of Federal District Court, ruled that the government’s refusal to lift restrictions on access to the pill was “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.”

13 Attorneys General Push Obama on Contraception Mandate

Thirteen state attorneys general are urging the federal government to broaden religious exemptions for private businesses under the White House’s contraception mandate, claiming the policy violates religious freedoms. Put simply, the group — the attorneys general of Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia — believes any employer who says he or she objects to contraception should not have to provide contraceptive coverage. The Department of Health and Human Services’ latest proposal, unveiled Feb. 1, would require all employers to provide contraceptive coverage to workers; some nonprofit religious organizations — primarily houses of worship — that object to contraception on religious or moral grounds would be exempt. In a March 26 letter, the coalition asserted that the exclusion should be extended beyond religious institutions to include all conscientious objectors. At least two dozen suits by private businesses have been filed against the contraception mandate, and 16 have been granted a temporary injunction while the lawsuits are pending, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is spearheading much of the opposition to the mandate. In addition, 30 lawsuits by nonprofit religious groups have been filed against the mandate, although most have been rejected as premature because fines for noncompliance don’t kick in until 2014.

Same Sex Marriage Not Just a U.S. Issue

It’s not just the United States grappling with the issue of same-sex marriage. Many countries around the world are re-examining their laws, and some appear to be on the brink of changing them. Senators in Uruguay approved a marriage equality bill Tuesday that puts them on course to be the 12th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. And this week, senators in France will begin weighing a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage and allow same-sex couples to adopt children. The bill, which has the support of President Francois Hollande, has cleared the lower house of Parliament. But like the United States, France is far from united on the issue. In January, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Paris to protest same-sex marriage.

Across the English Channel, the United Kingdom is also considering legalization. In February, lawmakers in the House of Commons approved the second reading of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in England and Wales. (Scotland has its own legalization bill in the works, while Northern Ireland rejected a similar measure in October.) More debate and more votes are still necessary In the U.K. before the bill can become law, but the wide margin of February’s vote — 400-175 — suggests that it may have the support it needs to eventually pass.

  • This issue is a barometer of how far along we are in the end-time decline of God-ordained morality

Senators Vow to Oppose UN Arms Trade Treaty

Republican senators — joined by at least one Democrat — ripped the international arms trade treaty approved Tuesday by the U.N. General Assembly, calling it a “non-starter” and vowing to oppose Senate ratification. The treaty approved Tuesday was the first of its kind. The resolution was approved at the U.N. by a vote of 154 to 3 with 23 abstentions. But in the U.S. Senate, which must ratify the treaty in order for the United States to be a party to it, opposition is much stronger. The Senate already voted for an amendment last month to prevent the U.S. from entering into the treaty. The sentiment among conservative and moderate senators is that the treaty represents an infringement of Second Amendment rights.

Conn. Governor Signs USA’s Toughest Gun Law

Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy signed the nation’s most far-reaching gun control bill in Hartford Thursday, concluding several emotional weeks of debate and compromise since the state was rocked and the world stunned by brutal mass murder at an elementary school here. The state House voted early Thursday in favor of the 139-page bill crafted by leaders from both major parties in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. It passed the Senate in a 26-10 vote on Wednesday. The bill adds more than 100 weapons to the state’s ban on assault weapons, limits the capacity of ammo magazines and requires background checks for all weapon sales, including at gun shows. It would also establish the nation’s first statewide registry for people convicted of crimes involving dangerous weapons. Access to the registry would be available only to law enforcement.

Obama Using Disputed Gun Control Stat

As President Obama prepares to head to Colorado on Wednesday to push gun control legislation, some are calling into question the validity of a key statistic he’s using to tout his message on near-universal background checks. During several speeches, Obama has said 40 percent of all gun purchases were made without a background check. But that number is nearly two decades old and comes from a poll with a relatively tiny sample size. Gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association, as well as The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker,” are calling out the president’s stat, saying his numbers on background checks need a background check of their own.

CDC: 110+ Million Venereal Infections in U.S.

According to new data released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 19.7 million new venereal infections in the United States, bringing the total number of existing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the U.S. to 110,197,000. The STI study referenced by the CDC estimated that 50 percent of the new infections occurred among people in the 15-to-24 age bracket. In fact, of the 19,738,800 total new STIs in the United States, 9,782,650 were among Americans in the 15-to-24 age bracket. “CDC’s new estimates show that there are about 20 million new infections in the United States each year, costing the American healthcare system nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs alone,” said a CDC fact sheet. The most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States in 2008 was human papillomavirus (HPV), which caused 14,100,000 estimated infections.

Dementia Care Cost Is Projected to Double by 2040

The most rigorous study to date of how much it costs to care for Americans with dementia found that the financial burden is at least as high as that of heart disease or cancer, and is probably higher. And both the costs and the number of people with dementia will more than double within 30 years, skyrocketing at a rate that rarely occurs with a chronic disease. Behind the numbers is a sense that the country, facing the aging of the baby boom generation, is unprepared for the coming surge in the cost and cases of dementia. “It’s going to swamp the system,” said Dr. Ronald C. Petersen, who is chairman of the advisory panel to the federal government’s recently created National Alzheimer’s Plan. If anything, Dr. Petersen said of the study’s numbers, “they’re being somewhat conservative.” Dr. Petersen.

Stockton, Ca. Declared Bankrupt

Stockton, Calif., became the most populous city in the nation to go broke Monday, after a judge accepted the city’s application to enter bankruptcy. In the closely watched decision, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein said the bankruptcy declaration was needed to allow the city to continue to provide basic services. He determined Stockton would not be able to perform “its obligations to its citizens on fundamental public safety as well as other basic government services without” the protections provided under bankruptcy proceedings. Stockton was facing a $26 million shortfall when it filed for bankruptcy last summer, the result of the housing bust and soaring pension obligations. The city of nearly 300,000 people has become emblematic of government excess.

Economic New

Employers added a disappointing 88,000 jobs in March, confirming fears of a slowdown in payroll growth that economists say could persist for several months. The number of new jobs is less than half what economists had forecast, falling from 268,000 in February. The unemployment rate fell to 7.6% from 7.7%, largely because 496,000 Americans stopped working or looking for work, the Labor Department said Friday in its monthly employment report.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose to a four-month high last week. The number was higher than expected and though there is volatility in the figure at this time of year. The Labor Department says weekly applications increased 28,000 to a seasonally adjusted 385,000. That is the highest level since late November and greater than the 375,000 level considered to indicate job growth.

Delinquencies on bank-issued credit cards sank to 2.47% in the fourth quarter — the lowest level since 1994. The percentage of credit card accounts that were 30 days or more overdue during the quarter was roughly half the record high of 5.01% set in 2009 and well below the 15-year average of 3.87%.

After a sharp drop in January, personal incomes bounced back in February. Personal incomes rose 1.1% in February, while spending rose just 0.7%.The surprise jump in take-home pay came after incomes plunged 3.7% in January.

The Institute of Supply Management’s monthly reading on the U.S. manufacturing sector came in at 51.3 in March, down from 54.2 in February. Any number above 50 indicates the sector is growing. U.S. manufacturing activity continued to expand in March, but the rate of growth slowed.

Eurozone

The Eurozone economy has passed another bleak milestone. Official figures Tuesday showed that unemployment across the 17 European Union countries that use the euro has reached 12% for the first time since the currency was launched in 1999. Spain (26.3%) and Greece (26.4%) have massive unemployment and many other countries are seeing their numbers swell to uncomfortably high levels. A total of 19.07 million people were officially out of work in the Eurozone in February, nearly two million more than the same month the year before. For the 27-country European Union, of which the Eurozone is a large part, the unemployment rate was 10.9%.Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has an unemployment rate of only 5.4%, lower than the U.S. rate of 7.7%.

Middle East

Palestinian militants launched several rockets into southern Israel, as Israeli aircraft struck targets in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday in the heaviest exchange of fire between the sides since they agreed to an internationally brokered cease-fire in November. There were no casualties reported, but the violence nonetheless threatened to shatter the calm that has prevailed for more than four months and prompted Israel’s new defense minister to warn that the Jewish state will not sit back if militants attack the south of the country.

According to a report from Al-Jazeera, Syrian rebels have seized control of the area near the town of Aleppo that is believed to contain much of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’Alon has vowed that the Jewish state will take whatever action is necessary to prevent these dreadful weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists. “We’ll act to ensure that these types of weapons don’t reach irresponsible hands,” Ya’alon said.

Syria

The brutal civil war in Syria claimed more than 6,000 lives in March alone — making it the deadliest month since the conflict began a little more than two years ago, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday. The group said 6,005 people were killed in Syria last month. That’s more than all the deaths that occurred in the first nine months of the war. The tally, which do not include people who are held in detention centers or who have been kidnapped by rebels. Their fate is unknown. The U.N. estimates that more than 70,000 people are believed to have been killed in the conflict thus far.

Pakistan

Several dozen militants armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked a power grid station in northwestern Pakistan before dawn Tuesday, killing seven people and taking four hostage. The dead included three policemen and four government power workers. The grid that was attacked is located near Khyber, part of Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region bordering Afghanistan, the main sanctuary for the Taliban in the country. It supplies electricity to a large part of Peshawar, and many areas of the city were still without power on Tuesday morning because the station was damaged in the attack.

Korea

Hours after North Korea said that it had final approval to launch “merciless” military strikes on the United States, South Korea’s defense minister said North Korea has moved two missiles with “considerable range” to its east coast. South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told lawmakers at a parliamentary committee meeting that he did not know the reasons behind the missile movement, saying it “could be for testing or drills.” The U.S. Navy is moving at least one warship closer to the North Korean coastline and more may be on the way. U.S. officials quietly are expressing concern that North Korea could use its “space launch vehicle” to explode a high-altitude nuclear device over the United States, creating an electromagnetic pulse that would destroy major portions of the U.S. electrical grid system as well as the nation’s critical infrastructures.

North Korea on Wednesday barred South Korean workers from entering a jointly run factory park just over the heavily armed border in the North in the latest sign that Pyongyang’s warlike stance toward South Korea and the United States is moving from words to action. The move came a day after the North announced it would restart its long-shuttered plutonium reactor and a uranium enrichment plant, both of which could produce fuel for nuclear weapons that Pyongyang is developing and has threatened to hurl at the U.S. but which experts don’t think it will be able to accomplish for years.

China

China announced a sixth death from a new bird flu strain Friday, while authorities in Shanghai halted the sale of live fowl and slaughtered all poultry at a market where the virus was detected in pigeons being sold for meat. Four more people in China have fallen ill from a strain of avian flu not previously detected in humans, the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported, as authorities ramped up efforts to monitor the virus. Of the four latest victims, from four different cities in the east coast province of Jiangsu, two died and two are in a critical condition and receiving emergency treatment. The disclosure of new infections comes only days after authorities announced the first three known cases of humans infected with the H7N9 bird flu virus on Sunday, two of whom died.

We’ve seen the pictures of choking smog and pollution in China, but it might be far worse — and far more deadly — than originally thought. According to a story from the New York Times, 1.2 million premature deaths occurred in 2010 alone from Chinese pollution, accounting for 40 percent of global pollution deaths. The report goes on to project that by the year 2050, dirty air will kill 3.6 million people per year, mostly in China and India, which would surpass dirty water and lack of sanitation as the biggest environmental killer.

Weather

At least 52 people drowned in their homes and cars, were electrocuted or died in other accidents as flooding from days of torrential rains swamped Argentina’s low-lying capital and province of Buenos Aires. Many people climbed onto their roofs in the pouring rain after storm sewers backed up. Water surged up through drains in their kitchen and bathroom floors, and then poured in over their windowsills. The rains also flooded the country’s largest refinery, causing a fire that took hours to put out.

Softball-sized hail rained down on a community in Texas in the early morning hours of Wed., April 3 leaving significant damage in its wake.  The hail shattered windows in buildings and cars in Hitchcock, Tex.           The Hitchcock, Texas Police Dept. says 7 of its 11 police cars were seriously damaged by the hail.  Several trailer parks also sustained heavy damaged as well as a church and fire station. The storm front that produced this hail will linger from Texas and across the Gulf States through Thursday but will produce mostly rain.

Malibu’s celebrity haven of Broad Beach is struggling to survive as nature chews away at the shoreline and a $20 million effort to replace sand appears to be stuck in the mud. Homeowners have run up against opposition and complicated approval processes as they pursue a plan to dredge sand from elsewhere and dump it to restore the 1.1-mile beachfront, the Los Angeles Times reported. In recent years, winter storms and rising high tides have reduced the formerly broad beach, where Steven Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman and others have their beach houses.

Signs of the Times (4/1/13)

April 1, 2013

Pope’s Foot-Wash Final Straw for Traditionalists

Pope Francis has won over many hearts and minds with his simple style and focus on serving the world’s poorest, but he has devastated traditionalist Catholics who adored his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for restoring much of the traditional pomp to the papacy. Francis’ decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls — a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic — during a Holy Thursday ritual has become something of the final straw, evidence that Francis has little or no interest in one of the key priorities of Benedict’s papacy: reviving the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic Church. Virtually everything he has done since being elected pope, every gesture, every decision, has rankled traditionalists in one way or another. Francis may have rubbed salt into the wounds with his comments at the Good Friday procession at Rome’s Coliseum, which re-enacts Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, praising “the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters” during a prayer ceremony.

  • Foot-washing is a good thing, and many Catholic ‘traditions’ are not Biblical. But it will bear watching closely as this possible ‘final’ pope continues to reach out to Muslims

Top U.S. Catholic: Welcome Gays

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the top U.S. Catholic prelate, says the Catholic Church has to make sure that its defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gays. Dolan is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and last month was reputed to have gathered some votes in the Vatican conclave where Pope Francis was eventually elected. He made his remarks on two morning talk shows just days after the Supreme Court heard arguments in two same-sex marriage cases. Dolan says the church hasn’t “been too good at that” and could work on being more welcoming to gays and lesbians.

  • All churches should welcome all sinners and then lovingly point them in the right direction without watering down the Word of God

Google Controversy: Cesar Chavez over Jesus Christ

Google’s decision to mark Easter Sunday with a doodle of leftist icon Cesar Chavez atop its search engine angered some users in what they see as a snub of Jesus on the day Christians mark his resurrection. Google defended the decision by saying it reserves the spot for historical figures and events, but a review of its past doodles shows it has never honored Jesus on Christmas or Easter, despite his historical and spiritual significance to billions around the world. Microsoft’s Bing, in contrast, featured brightly-colored Easter eggs on its main search page on Sunday.

  • Google has always been blatantly anti-Christian

Fusion Centers “Only Spy on Anti-Government Americans”

In trying to clear up the ‘misconceptions’ about the conduct of fusion centers, Arkansas State Fusion Center Director Richard Davis simply confirmed Americans’ fears: the center does in fact spy on Americans – but only on those who are suspected to be ‘anti-government’. After claiming that his office ‘absolutely’ does not spy on Americans, he proceeded to explain that this does not apply to those who could be interpreted as a ‘threat’ to national security. Davis said his office places its focus on international plots, “domestic terrorism and certain groups that are anti-government.”

  • It’s how ‘anti-government’ is defined. If it follows Dept. of Homeland Security guidelines, you and I are most likely on their watch list

New Surveillance Tool Raises Concerns of Judges

Federal investigators in Northern California routinely used a sophisticated surveillance system to scoop up data from cellphones and other wireless devices in an effort to track criminal suspects — but failed to detail the practice to judges authorizing the probes. The practice was disclosed in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California — in a glimpse into a technology that federal agents rarely discuss publicly. The issues, judges and activists say, are twofold: whether federal agents are informing courts when seeking permission to monitor suspects, and whether they are providing enough evidence to justify the use of a tool that sweeps up data not only from a suspect’s wireless device but also from those of bystanders in the vicinity.

  • Give government a new tool and you can be sure that its use will be abused

Special Forces Commander: ‘Constabulary Force’ Coming

Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, retired, warns that America is well along the pathway that other societies have used to bludgeon and beat their populations into submission to socialism. Even to the point of establishing a “constabulary force” to control the people. Boykin now is executive vice president of Family Research Council. But during his military career, he was one of the original members of the U.S. Army’s Delta Force. He ultimately commanded those elite warriors in combat operations. Later, Boykin commanded all the Army’s Green Berets as well as the Special Warfare Center and School. His concern is that the six steps “done in every Marxist insurgency” now “are being done in America today.” He lists them: 1. nationalize major sections of the economy (the corporate bailouts), 2. redistribute wealth (the man appointed to head Medicare said health care is “nothing but a redistribution of wealth”), 3. discredit opposition (the Obama administration called returning vets, pro-lifers and others a terror threat), 4. censorship (Obama’s censorship has been through “hate crimes” legislation aimed at Christian pastors and others), 5. gun control (Washington’s present agenda), and 6. a constabulary force that Boykin says is the next step and why government is arming itself to the hilt.

In a campaign stop in Colorado on July 2, 2008, President Obama said, “We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.” This puts the DHS purchase of billions of rounds of ammunition into perspective.  Much of that ammo are hollow-point bullets, designed to expand in the body to cause more damage. These are never used for training exercises as the government claims they are doing. Experts estimate that, at the peak of the Iraq war, American troops were firing around 5.5 million rounds per month. At that rate, the Dept. of Homeland Security is armed for a 24-year equivalent war.

UN Humanitarian Aid is Disorganized

The United Nations spends billions annually to relieve the suffering caused by natural disasters and civil war, but those costly efforts are uncoordinated, overlap or duplicate effort, and often don’t show where the money went, according to a report by a special U.N. watchdog unit. Nor, the report adds, has the world organization done much about it, with several internal efforts to get a grip on at least part of the problem among a tangle of funds, agencies and programs with different operating procedures either ending in frustration or failing to materialize. The result: a sometimes chaotic U.N. global relief effort, where “basic humanitarian financing needs are only partly met in an inconsistent and unpredictable way. ”Keeping track of where the money goes frequently doesn’t happen (or, as the report delicately says, “the reporting and monitoring of financing remain somewhat elusive);” and even a coherent definition of “humanitarian assistance” seems to be lacking.

  • So why would anyone want a one-world government spearheaded by agencies such as the UN? Satan and his New World Order cohorts, that’s who, because it is the elitists who profit from such disorganization.

Most Effects of Sequester Cuts Yet to be Felt

A month after the so-called “sequester” triggered $85 billion in automatic cuts to the federal budget, you’d be hard-pressed to find much evidence that anything has changed. Flights haven’t been grounded, jobs haven’t been lost, and government personnel haven’t been sent home en masse. The fact is, it’s not going to be as bad as originally outlined by President Barack Obama’s administration and his Democratic allies in Congress. Some of the effects of sequester were lessened by passage of the 2013 budget, which moved money around inside many departments to avoid some of the harsher reductions.

However, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced civilian defense personnel will still face furloughs, only there will be 14 days without pay instead of 22, and they will begin in June instead of April. Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration went through with plans to close 149 contract air traffic control towers around the country. Education spending cuts also remained largely in place, though they won’t be felt until next school year, most likely. Many other sequester effects will slowly roll-out over the next few months.

Airports Suing FAA over Planned Control Tower Shutdowns

Airport operators are mounting a legal challenge to the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to cut funding for 149 air traffic control towers, accusing the agency of violating federal law meant to ensure major changes at airports do not erode safety. Several airports are now asking a federal court to halt the plan and compel the FAA to more carefully study the potential safety impact. Carl Olson, director of the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Ill., warned that without a more cautious approach, lives will be put at risk by cuts that he contends are arbitrary and the result of reckless political brinkmanship in Washington.

Economic News

After a drop last autumn, the U.S. dollar has climbed 5% against other currencies over the past two months, reaching the highest level since August. The main reason is the recovery in the U.S. economy. Although growth is still weak, the outlook for the U.S. is better than elsewhere in the developed world. Europe is stuck in a recession and struggling to control its debt. Japan is trying to push down the value of the yen to boost exports and end deflation.

Student loan interest rates are going to double on new student loans, to 6.8 percent on July 1st. The difference between 3.4 percent and 6.8 percent interest rates is $6 billion. Although Congress is talking about a deal to avert the large increase, but nothing concrete has yet emerged.

According to Census data released this week, state and local tax revenue rose in the U.S, for the 13th quarter in a row. However, some states remain much more tax friendly to businesses than others. According to the Tax Foundation, Wyoming is the most business friendly, while New York is the worst.

Activity in China’s manufacturing sector accelerated in March, bolstering hopes for a more robust economic recovery this year as the country completes a key leadership transition. China’s official manufacturing index posted a gain, rising to 50.9 from 50.1 in February. A reading above 50 signals expansion in the manufacturing sector. The index is now at its highest level in 11 months.

Eurozone

A Central Bank official and a senior Finance Ministry technocrat says that Bank of Cyprus savers with over 100,000 euros could take losses of up to 60%. Deposits over 100,000 euros at the country’s largest lender will lose 37.5% of their value after being converted into bank shares. They could lose up to 22.5% more, depending on an assessment by officials who will determine the exact figure aimed at restoring the troubled bank back to health.

Just as quickly as Cyprus’ euro area partners decided that a deposit grab was the only way out, so Cypriots decided their tiny island was ground zero in Europe’s new financial scorched earth policy and that it had to be resisted at all costs. Protests broke out at the country’s Parliament building. One placard stated, “It starts with us, it ends with you” as a warning to other Europeans that their savings were no longer safe.

Persecution Watch

Radical Islamists took over a Cairo mosque and used it to torture Christians who had been protesting against the Muslim Brotherhood, CBN News reports. According to Fox News, mosque officials were so upset over the incident that they had filed a police report. Leaders of Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque said radicals took control of the building after Friday prayers, then detained Christian and Muslim protesters and tortured them there for hours. Mosque officials said they “deeply regret what has happened and apologize.” Observers say that more radical elements of the Muslim Brotherhood are gaining power in Egypt and pushing an Islamist agenda.

A “sudden increase in violence against the Christian community” in Sri Lanka has been reported; incidents include a brutal attack on a pastor’s home and the burning down of a church building. Barnabas Aid received news last week of ten anti-Christian incidents in different parts of the country during March. The most violent of them was an attack by Buddhist extremists on Pastor Pradeep Kumara’s house in Katuwana, Weeraketiya.

The authorities in Indonesia have carried out their threat to demolish a church building in Bekasi, West Java. Workers were cheered on by Muslim protestors, who denounced Christians as “infidels”. HKBP Setu Church was sealed off on 7 March and the congregation were subsequently given a week to destroy their place of worship. Church members refused, so on Thursday (21 March), a bulldozer moved in. As the building was demolished, Pastor Leonard Nababan said that the government was “criminalizing our religion”.

Middle East

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced on Thursday that it had arrested 30 members of the Palestinian Tanzim Fatah terror group, all from the Palestinian village of Beit Fajar, near Bethlehem, on suspicion of carrying out multiple Molotov cocktail and shooting attacks earlier this year on the settlement of Migdal Oz. “During questioning by the Shin Bet, the suspects confessed to carrying out the attacks, and to plans to carry out additional shootings in Gush Etzion – a plot that was disrupted by the arrests,” the Shin Bet said. In related news, Judea Brigade commander Col. Avi Bluth told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the latest uptick in violence in the West Bank has not yet reached a level where it could be called a “third Intifada.”

Korea

North Korea declared Saturday it has entered “a state of war” with South Korea in the latest of a string of threats that have raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s government, parties and organizations said in a joint statement that all matters between the two countries will now be dealt with in a manner befitting war. The Korean Peninsula is already in a technical state of war because the Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. But Pyongyang ditched that armistice earlier this month. The U.S. has sent F-22 Raptors to the main U.S. Air Force Base in South Korea to support air drills in the annual Foal Eagle training exercises there.

Afghanistan

U.S. special operations forces handed over their base in a strategic region of eastern Afghanistan to local Afghan commandos on Saturday, a senior U.S. commander said. The withdrawal from Nirkh district meets a demand by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that U.S. forces leave the area after allegations that the Americans’ Afghan counterparts committed human rights abuses there. The transfer of authority ends a controversial chapter in which Karzai accused U.S. troops and an interpreter working with them of torture, kidnapping and summary execution of militant suspects in Nirkh — charges U.S. officials including top commander in Afghanistan Gen. Joseph Dunford firmly denied.

Syria

Syrian rebels pushed into a strategic neighborhood in the northern city of Aleppo after days of heavy clashes. The gains marked the biggest shift in the front lines in the embattled city of Aleppo in months. The city, Syria’s largest and a former commercial hub, has been a key battleground in the country’s civil war since rebels launched an offensive on it in July, seizing several districts before the fighting largely settled into a bloody stalemate.

The conflict in Syria entered its third year this month. More than 70,000 people have been killed, over three million displaced and much of the nation’s infrastructure destroyed. Hope of a political solution has all but dissipated, and as the official opposition is in a state of disarray, Islamist units are asserting their strength, imposing sharia law in rebel-held areas.

Egypt

A fuel shortage has helped send food prices soaring. Electricity is blacking out even before the summer. And gas-line gunfights have killed at least five people and wounded dozens over the past two weeks. The root of the crisis, economists say, is that Egypt is running out of the hard currency it needs for fuel imports. The shortage is raising questions about Egypt’s ability to keep importing wheat that is essential to subsidized bread supplies, stirring fears of an economic catastrophe at a time when the government is already struggling to quell violent protests by its political rivals. Farmers already lack fuel for the pumps that irrigate their fields, and they say they fear they will not have enough for the tractors to reap their wheat next month before it rots in the fields.

Iraq

A suicide bomber drove an oil tanker into a police station in central Tikrit on Monday, killing at least nine people and wounding 20 others. Tikrit is about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Baghdad. It’s a predominantly Sunni town located in Salaheddin province and is the hometown of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. In Baghdad, two policemen and a civilian were shot dead by gunmen in two separate incidents. Two other people were wounded. On Sunday, at least seven people were killed and more than 17 others were wounded in violence across the country. In figures complied by Iraq’s Interior, Defense and Health ministries for the month of March, 163 Iraqi civilians, policemen and soldiers were killed in acts of violence across the country and 256 others were wounded.

Algeria

Protests by the unemployed in southern Algeria are raising the specter of rising unrest in the country’s sensitive oil regions, and are increasingly attracting the attention of al-Qaeda. Algeria’s vast, sparsely populated Sahara only holds 10 percent of the country’s population but it is home to this North African country’s enormous oil and gas reserves — the basis of the entire economy and the source of the government’s power. Those who live there claim they aren’t benefiting from that wealth, and can’t get jobs with the oil companies. Now al-Qaeda has praised the protesters, raising the possibility that it is seeking support among the disaffected groups. The government is rushing to address the protesters’ demands, but hasn’t yet convinced them that it’s serious.

Weather

The term “Marchuary” has been floating around on Twitter to describe the frustrating cold temperatures that has been seen this March in the central and eastern United States. For several cities in this region, March 2013 has turned out to be colder than January 2013 based on the monthly average temperature (highs/lows combined).

Given the timing, you might think it’s a cruel April Fools’ Day joke as we look at the forecast to start out the upcoming work week. A cold front is ushering in yet another blast of late-season arctic air that will charge into the central and eastern states after a brief warmup to near-average temperatures over Easter weekend. Of course, this only piles on to the misery of what was a frustratingly cold March east of the Rockies.