Signs of the Times (5/21/13)

Department of Education to Eliminate ‘Mother,’ ‘Father’ From Student Aid Forms

The U.S. Department of Education has announced that student financial aid forms will begin using the terms “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” rather than the gender-specific terms “mother” and “father,” Baptist Press reports. The 2014-15 federal student aid forms will for the first time collect income and other information from a dependent student’s legal parents regardless of the parents’ marital status or gender, if those parents live together, according to the department. In addition to removing “mother” and “father,” the new forms will provide an option for applications to describe their parents’ marital status as “unmarried and both parents living together.” Traditionally, the forms have been written to collect information about a student’s parents only if the parents are married, thus excluding income and other information from one of the student’s legal parents when the parents are unmarried, even if those parents are living together. “Gender-specific terms also fail to capture income and other information from one parent when a student’s parents are in a same-sex marriage under state law but not federally recognized under the Defense of Marriage Act,” the department said. “All students should be able to apply for federal student aid within a system that incorporates their unique family dynamics,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

  • The end-time breakdown of God’s natural order continues unabated

Tea Party Groups to Sue IRS

A group of conservative activists, being represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, are preparing to sue the federal government for their admitted targeting Tea Party groups. ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow told FoxNews.com he’ll likely file the civil suits next Wednesday or Thursday on behalf of more than a dozen Tea Party groups who say they were singled out by the IRS and had their tax-exempt status severely delayed or denied altogether. The suits, combined with congressional inquiries an FBI probe, and the resignation of the IRS chief signal the start of a protracted legal and political battle over the scandal.

Sekulow said the number of plaintiffs in the civil suit are growing as is the list of who his organization wants held accountable. It’s still unclear whether the organization will file as a class-action or individually in the 17 different states where the complaints originate. “In testimony before Congress, the acting Commissioner of the IRS called the intentional targeting of conservative groups merely ‘horrible customer service.’ No, this was a direct violation of the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens,” said Sekulow. As a major tea party group plans protests Tuesday at Internal Revenue Service offices across the country, a new national poll indicates that the IRS controversy has given the four-year-old movement a shot in the arm.

AP Ponders Legal Action Against DOJ

Associated Press President Gary Pruitt says the Justice Department sent a strong – and negative — message to future sources that the government would go after them if they spoke to the press. It’s a move Pruitt called not only unconstitutional, but damaging to the ideal of a free press in the country. Pruitt said, “It’s too early to know if we’ll take legal action but… we do feel that our constitutional rights have been violated.” He said President Obama “should rein in that out-of-control investigation.” Although the Justice Department has not explained why it sought phone records from the AP, Pruitt pointed to a May 7, 2012, story that disclosed details of a successful CIA operation in Yemen.

Colorado Sheriffs Sue over New State Gun Restrictions.

Colorado sheriffs upset with gun restrictions adopted in the aftermath of last year’s mass shootings filed a federal lawsuit Friday, challenging the regulations as unconstitutional. The lawsuit involves sheriffs from 54 of Colorado’s 64 counties, most representing rural, gun-friendly areas of the state. The sheriffs say the new state laws violate Second Amendment protections that guarantee the right to keep and bear arms. The filing targets Colorado laws that limit the size of ammunition magazines and expand background checks. The regulations passed the Legislature this spring and are set to take effect July 1.

Chinese Hackers Resume Attacks on U.S. Targets

Three months after hackers working for a cyberunit of China’s People’s Liberation Army went silent amid evidence that they had stolen data from scores of American companies and government agencies, they appear to have resumed their attacks The Obama administration had bet that “naming and shaming” the groups, first in industry reports and then in the Pentagon’s own detailed survey of Chinese military capabilities, might prompt China’s new leadership to crack down on the military’s highly organized team of hackers. But Unit 61398, whose well-guarded 12-story white headquarters on the edges of Shanghai became the symbol of Chinese cyberpower, is back in business, according to American officials and security companies.

“Crazy Ants’ Threaten Ecology of Southeastern U.S.

Researchers at the University of Texas are warning that the invasive species from South America has the potential to change the ecological balance in the southeastern United States. The crazy ants, officially called “Tawny crazy ants,” are omnivores that can take over an area by both killing what’s there and starving out what they don’t kill. The crazy ants nest in walls, crawl spaces, house plants or empty containers in the yard. They don’t sting like fire ants do, but aside from that they are much bigger pests. Videos on YouTube show people sweeping out dustpans full of these ants, having to call pest control operators every three or four months just to keep the infestation under control. Scientists are unsure how far the ants, which are native to Argentina and Brazil, may spread in the U.S. Since being first seen in Houston in 2002, they’ve been found mostly in wetter environments with mild winters in parts of Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Economic News

Even as Americans held overall consumer debt to a 9 percent increase from 2004 to this year, student debt tripled to $986 billion after adjusting for inflation. It’s now 8.8 percent of all consumer debt, up from 3.1 percent in 2004. A system that pushes students to borrow whatever they need to get through college has come under increasing scrutiny as college gets more expensive and a new generation of students is hamstrung by larger and larger debt loads.

Last week, a measure of consumer sentiment showed buying attitudes toward appliances and other durable goods at the highest level since mid-2007. And the government reported that April retail sales solidly beat estimates despite huge federal spending cuts.

Sales at restaurants are at an all-time high. Sales at eating and drinking places in April reached $45.9 billion, a $200 million seasonally-adjusted increase from the previous high in December 2012.

Syria

Violence surged in the strategically important Syrian town of Qusayr on Sunday. Activists said the offensive marked some of the most intense fighting they’ve seen in the fiercely contested area near the Lebanese border. Rebels and the Syrian government both claimed to control parts of the city, where fighting has been raging for weeks. Activists said artillery shells, mortar shells and bombs from aircraft were raining down as government forces attacked. Makeshift medical clinics were reportedly filled with casualties.

Hezbollah was pulled more deeply into Syria’s civil war as 28 guerrillas from the Lebanese Shiite militant group were killed and dozens more wounded while fighting rebels, Syria activists said Monday. The overt Hezbollah involvement edges the war further into a regional sectarian conflict pitting the Middle East’s Iranian-backed Shiite axis against Sunnis. A staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hezbollah is heavily invested in the survival of the Damascus regime and is known to have sent fighters to aid government forces.

Turkey

Two bomb attacks in Reyhanli, Turkey claimed some 50 lives and injured hundreds more in the deadliest attack on Turkish soil in more than 20 years. Reyhanli sits at the border with Syria, where an increasingly brutal civil war has spilled over in an action that, many Turks say, demands international response. Turkey has endured several attacks by Syria and many are concerned the attacks will only increase. President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met at the White House on Thursday, emerging later to say they remain opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad and want his removal. But neither offered any initiatives to make that happen.

Iraq

Bombs ripped through Sunni areas in Baghdad and surrounding areas Friday, killing at least 76 people in the deadliest day in Iraq in more than eight months. Another string of car bombs and shootings tore through Iraq on Monday, killing at least 57 people. Additional attacks Monday killed another seven and wounded dozens more.The attacks hit markets and crowded bus stops. The major spike in sectarian bloodshed heightened fears the country could again be veering toward civil war. The attacks followed two days of bombings targeting Shiites, including bus stops and outdoor markets, with a total of 130 people killed since Wednesday. Tensions have been intensifying since Sunnis began protesting what they say is mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government, including random detentions.

Afghanistan

A suicide attack in northern Afghanistan on Monday morning killed at least 11 people, including the head of the local provincial government. The attack took place outside the Baghlan provincial council compound in the capital, Pul-e-Khumri. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to CNN.

Nigeria

An ongoing “massive deployment” against insurgent groups in northern Nigeria by the nation’s special forces killed at least 14 suspected terrorists and captured 20 others, according to a statement released Sunday by Nigeria’s defense ministry. The ministry had reported killing at least 10 suspected terrorists and apprehending another 65 on Saturday, as well as the deaths of over 20 dead on Friday. Sunday’s update noted that three soldiers were killed and seven more were wounded in the offensive. Among those targeted by the military was the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

Yemen

Yemeni security officials say a suspected U.S. drone strike killed four al-Qaeda militants in the country’s south. The officials say the attack took place around dawn Saturday in an area called Deyfa in Abyan province. Yemeni forces battled al-Qaeda in Abyan province last year, routing out militants from major cities that al-Qaeda had overrun during the country’s 2011 political turmoil. The militants fled to surrounding mountainous areas. There has been a dramatic rise in such drone strikes in Yemen since the country’s new U.S.-backed president assumed power early last year.

North Korea

North Korea continued firing short-range weapons over its own eastern waters Monday after a weekend of what it called “rocket launching tests” intended to bolster deterrence against enemy attack. North Korea routinely test-launches short-range missiles. But the latest launches came during a period of tentative diplomacy aimed at easing recent tension, including near-daily threats by North Korea to attack South Korea and the U.S. last month. North Korea has a variety of missiles but Seoul and Washington don’t believe the country has mastered the technology needed to manufacture nuclear warheads that are small and light enough to be placed on a missile capable of reaching the U.S.

Earthquakes

An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 has struck off the coast of Chile. The quake was recorded at 5:49 a.m. local time Monday, at a shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), some 370 miles from the city of Puerto Quellon. No tsunami warning was issued. The strongest earthquake ever recorded also happened in Chile, a magnitude-9.5 in 1960 that killed more than 5,000 people.

People on both sides of the border felt an earthquake originating around the Quebec and Ontario borders, the Canadian government said. Natural Resources Canada gave it a preliminary magnitude of 5.2; the U.S. Geological Survey put it at 4.4. With an epicenter about 11 miles from Shawville, in western Quebec, the quake was felt in the Ottawa-Gatineau area and out to Toronto, more than 260 miles away. It also was felt in New York state and Cleveland.

Volcanoes

One of Alaska’s most restless volcanoes shot an ash cloud 15,000 feet into the air Friday in an ongoing eruption that is visible for miles. The ash would have to rise tens of thousands of feet to threaten larger planes. The eruption began Monday 5/13, with lava spraying out from the summit of the Pavlov volcano, located 625 miles southwest of Anchorage. Residents of Cold Bay, about 40 miles from Pavlof, are concerned the ash could damage their power generators. But so far, the wind has blown the ash away from the area. The ash cloud reached 19,500 feet Sunday, just below the 20,000-foot threshold considered to be a major threat to trans-continental aircraft. The aviation warming level remained at code orange, a step below red, the highest of the four levels.

Wildfires

As firefighters took on a stubborn 3-day-old wildfire Friday in rough terrain north of Los Angeles, a second and more serious blaze broke out 30 miles away near Interstate 5, quickly surging to more than 500 acres, briefly threatening an elementary school and leading to the precautionary evacuation of nearly 20 homes. The new fire burned very close to I-5 during some of the busiest hours of the week for the heavily traveled route in and out of Los Angeles. The freeway has seen wildfire activity in its surrounding hills all week. But some 350 firefighters were able to get the edge on the blaze as quickly as it arose. The fire was 60 percent contained by nightfall.

Weather

Several tornadoes struck parts of the nation’s midsection Sunday, concentrating damage in central Oklahoma and Wichita, Kan. Entire subdivisions were destroyed. Altogether five states were hit with tornadoes. Search-and-rescue crews worked through the night after a monstrous tornado barreled through the Oklahoma City suburbs, demolishing an elementary school and reducing homes to piles of splintered wood. At least 24 people were killed, including at least seven children with 101 people pulled alive out of the rubble.

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