Signs of the Times (4/16/13)

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.

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