Signs of the Times (4/30/13)

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.

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