Signs of the Times (4/26/13)

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.

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