Signs of the Times (5/14/13)

Abortionist Gosnell Convicted of Murder

Now that jurors have convicted the 72-year-old Kermit Gosnell of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive jurors must decide whether his grisly abortion practices warrant putting him to death, or whether he spend the rest of his life in prison. The sentencing hearing begins May 21. Prosecutors said Gosnell delivered babies alive and killed them, or had untrained staff kill them. Gosnell was also convicted of infanticide, racketeering and more than 200 counts of violating Pennsylvania’s abortion laws by performing third-term abortions or failing to counsel women 24 hours in advance.

Benghazi memo Show State/White House Involvement in Coverup

A disclosure of e-mails showed the White House was more involved in revising talking points about the attack in Libya than officials have previously acknowledged. A top State Department official pressed the CIA and the White House to delete any mention of terrorism in public statements on the Benghazi terror attack that killed four embassy personnel in order to prevent critics from blaming lax security at the consulate, according to documents obtained by ABC News. According to ABC News, Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the State Department, objected in an email to White House and intelligence officials that the CIA description “could be abused by members (of Congress) to beat up on the State Department for not paying attention to warnings.” Nuland said she was expressing the concerns of her “leadership” when she sent the email.

AP Blasts Feds for Phone Records Search

The Justice Department secretly collected two months of telephone records for reporters and editors at The Associated Press, the news service disclosed Monday in an outraged letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. The records included calls from several AP bureaus and the personal phone lines of several staffers, AP President Gary Pruitt wrote. Pruitt called the subpoenas a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its reporting. The AP reported that the government has not said why it wanted the records. Lawmakers from both parties ripped the Dept. Of Justice over its effort to secretly obtain AP phone records. “The First Amendment is first for a reason,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. “If the Obama administration is going after reporters’ phone records, they better have a good explanation.”

IRS Apologizes for Targeting Conservative Groups

The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday. Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said. Many conservative groups complained during the election that they were being harassed by the IRS. Senior IRS officials were aware as early as 2011 that its agents were targeting Tea Party groups to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, Fox News confirmed. The agency also targeted groups focused on government spending, the Constitution and more.

Russia reportedly withheld intel on Boston bomb suspect

Russia withheld a crucial piece of information from the U.S. before the Boston bombings, U.S. officials say, bolstering a concern that distrust between the two governments erased an opportunity to avert the disaster. In 2011, Russia sent an alert to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about alleged bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, prompted in part by text messages between his mother and a Russian relative. The texts suggested Tsarnaev was interested in joining militant groups that Russia blames for attacks in the Caucasus region. U.S. officials call these text messages the most important in a series of missed signals between the two countries. The U.S. officials say they learned about them roughly a week after the April 15 bombings.

  • Blaming the Russians for our intel failures is just an easy way out from under harsh scrutiny

More Terrorist Acts to Come

Iran has given the go-ahead to operatives of three terrorist groups that have infiltrated the United States to carry out missions, including what is expected to be a Mumbai-style attack on a hotel where innocent bystanders would be killed, WorldNetDaily reported Tuesday. A full report with many details of the missions has been passed on to U.S. officials. Three targets have been chosen within America for imminent attack, and the terror teams have now cut communications with the operational center in Iran, a sign that they are moving ahead with the attacks, according to a high-level intelligence officer within the Islamic regime. One of the planned attacks resemble the Mumbai attack in 2008, the source added, in which a hotel was targeted, hostages were taken and 164 people were killed over several days.

Carbon Dioxide Levels Soar to New High

For the first time in recorded human history, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm), according to data released Friday morning from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The average level of carbon dioxide over the past five days is 400.03 ppm. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the greenhouse gas that is responsible for 63% of the warming attributable to all greenhouse gases, according to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory. Increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other gases caused by the burning of the oil, gas and coal that power our world are enhancing the natural “greenhouse effect,” causing the planet to warm to levels that climate scientists say can’t be linked to natural forces, NOAA asserts.

Economic News

Retail sales posted an unexpected gain in April, which may ease fears about how much this year’s federal tax increases and spending cuts are slowing the economy. Sales climbed 0.1% in April, the Commerce Department reported. Sales were up 3.7% from April 2012. This is a bounce back from a March decline of 0.5%.

The dollar rose Friday to more than 100 yen for the second straight day, staying at its highest level since April 2009, and a gain against the euro currency. The price of commodities including crude oil and gold fell as the dollar strengthened.

Persecution Watch

At least five people were killed and around 60 wounded in the bombing of a new church building in Tanzania during a service to mark its official opening. An explosive device was thrown into the church compound in Olasti, a predominantly Christian suburb of Arusha. Many of the wounded were in a critical condition. Radical camps in the country were teaching young Muslims that Christians must be killed or live as second-class citizens. Senior Christian leaders have reported details of these camps to the authorities, but no serious action has been taken against them.

Christian workers, arrested as part of an ongoing crackdown in Sudan, were interrogated by security officers, who threatened to bury them alive if they did not reveal information about their activities. The staff, from a university campus-based ministry, were arrested on 23 February and interrogated for a week. For the ensuing two weeks they had to report to the offices of the National Intelligence and Security Services every day for further questioning; they have since had to present themselves on a weekly basis.

Syria

Syrians are losing patience, confidence in revolution. As President Obama announces more support for the Syrian opposition, many caught in the crossfire worry about the proliferation of Islamist groups among rebels. Monday, President Obama said the United States is working with Britain to strengthen the moderate opposition in Syria. The fighting has killed more than 70,000 people, and 1.4 million Syrians live as refugees outside the country. Throughout Syria, it has become hard to make a living. In opposition-controlled areas, few people are able to work, and most people live off savings and humanitarian aid. The country has seen a sharp spike in crime. In many areas, kidnapping is emerging as a serious threat.

Russia defended its sales of anti-aircraft systems to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov avoided saying whether those sales included advanced S-300 batteries. Israel has asked Russia to cancel what it said was the imminent sale of the S-300 missiles, portrayed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as destabilizing to Israel’s security. The S-300s would make it harder for the U.S. and other countries to even consider intervening militarily or enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria. The U.S. has urged Russia — an Assad ally along with China, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia — to cut off weapons supplies to Syria.

Turkey

Turkey’s Interior Minister Muammer Guler says the death toll in two car bomb explosions in a town near the border with Syria has risen to 43 with 140 injured. The bombs exploded in the town of Reyhanli, just across the border from Syria’s Idlib province on Saturday. He says one of the car bombs exploded outside the city hall while the other went off outside the post office. Suspicion immediately fell on Syria, but there was no immediate confirmation of its involvement. Turkey, which shares a more than 500-mile border with Syria, has been a crucial supporter of the Syrian rebel cause and Ankara has allowed its territory to be used as a logistics base and staging center for Syrian insurgents.

Pakistan

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared victory as unofficial, partial vote counts showed his party with an overwhelming lead following a historic election marred by violence Saturday, including a string of attacks that killed 29 people. Defying the danger of militant attacks, Pakistanis streamed to the polls Saturday for a historic vote pitting a former cricket star against a two-time prime minister and an unpopular incumbent. The violence was a continuation of what has been a brutal election season with more than 130 people killed in bombings and shootings. Some are calling this one of the deadliest votes in the country’s history. Despite the violence, many see the election — the country’s first transition between an elected government fulfilling its term to another — as a key step to solidify civilian rule for a country that has experienced three military coups.

Earthquakes

Seismic activity has increased at the Popocatepetl volcano near Mexico City, leading authorities to alert towns in two central states and the capital. Mexico’s National Disaster Prevention Center says the white-capped volcano spewed a plume of steam more than a half mile into the sky. The volcano shook during Saturday night, sometimes emitting glowing rock over the crater. The government deployed soldiers and federal police to the area Sunday in the event of a bigger eruption, and officials closed off a seven-square-mile zone around the cone of the 17,886-foot volcano. State authorities also prepared shelters.

A 6.5-magnitude earthquake has hit the Pacific island nation of Tonga Saturday, but no tsunami warning was issued. The quake struck 218 miles northwest of the capital, Nuku’alofa. It occurred 127 miles below the surface.

Iranian state TV says a strong 6.2 magnitude earthquake has jolted the south of the country, injuring at least 15 people. The report said the quake struck the Arabian Sea port town of Jask at 6:38 a.m. Saturday damaging hundreds of homes. A 6.1 magnitude earthquake killed at least 37 in southern Iran last month.

Weather

Monday and Tuesday of this week offered an impressive contrast between morning frost and freezes and searing 90s and triple digits across the nation. On Monday morning, new record low temperatures for May 13 were tied or broken in Nashville, Tenn., Toledo, Ohio, Detroit, Mich., Tupelo, Miss. and Marquette, Mich., to name a few locations. Light snow was even reported in Bradford, Pa. and in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York. By Monday afternoon, the season’s first 90s surged as far north as the Dakotas. Some cities in the Dakotas have seen temperature rises of 65+ degrees from Sunday morning’s lows in the 20s. Aberdeen, S.D. saw a temperature swing of 70 degrees from 22 on Sunday morning to 92 on Monday afternoon. In Las Vegas, Nev., temperatures reached the 100-degree mark for the first time this year. Salt Lake City, Utah (93), Boise, Idaho (95) and Bismarck, N.D. (91) were among the cities that either tied or set new record highs for May 13.

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