Signs of the Times (5/24/44)

Boy Scouts Vote to Allow Gay Members

The Boy Scouts of America’s decision Thursday to open its ranks to gay youths but not gay leaders has all the markings of a fiercely contested compromise: It disappointed almost everyone. The new policy will have little practical impact because most troops s have long operated under an unofficial “don’t ask, don’t tell” membership policy, though they were less accepting of gay leaders. Of the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council who cast ballots, 61 percent supported the proposal drafted by the governing Executive Committee. The policy change takes effect Jan. 1.

  • The ruling might not have much ‘practical impact’ but the approval lends further credibility and momentum for acceptance of homosexuality as ‘normal’ whereas Romans 1:26-27 calls it shameful

Department of Justice Forcing Federal Employees to Publicly Affirm Homosexuality

The Obama administration is apparently requiring federal workers to not only tolerate homosexuality, but to “publicly embrace and affirm” it, according to the religious liberty law firm Liberty Counsel, Charisma News reports. Last week, a whistleblower from the Department of Justice sent Liberty Counsel a copy of a brochure sent to all DOJ employees entitled “LGBT Inclusion at Work: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Managers.” The directive requires employees to vocally affirm homosexuality: “DON’T judge or remain silent. Silence will be interpreted as disapproval.” The DOJ also instructs managers to “use inclusive words like ‘partner,’ ‘significant other’ or ‘spouse’ rather than gender-specific terms like ‘husband’ and ‘wife'” and to “use a transgender person’s chosen name and the pronoun that is consistent with the person’s self-identified gender.” According to Liberty Counsel, “No longer can Christians quietly dissent or remain neutral to same-sex relationships. Now the DOJ is requiring federal employees to affirm sexual behaviors that every major religion throughout history has deemed immoral.”

In U.S., Record High Say Gay, Lesbian Relations Morally OK

Americans’ views toward a number of moral issues have shifted significantly since 2001. According to a new Gallup poll, Americans’ acceptance of gay and lesbian relations has increased the most, up 19 percentage points in the past 12 years to a record high of 59 percent today. Americans’ tolerance toward having a baby outside of marriage is also now much greater — up 15 points since 2001 to the current 60 percent. Americans have also become significantly more accepting of sex between an unmarried man and woman, divorce, embryonic stem cell research, polygamy, and cloning humans. The only issue that Americans have become significantly less accepting of over the past 12 years is medical testing on animals. A majority of Americans continue to say seven of the 19 items measured are morally wrong: married men and women having an affair, cloning humans, polygamy, suicide, pornography, sex between teenagers (measured for the first time this year), and cloning animals. Attitudes toward two items — doctor-assisted suicide and abortion — are fairly evenly split, with less than half of Americans seeing each as either morally acceptable or morally unacceptable.

Court Strikes Down Arizona’s 20-Week Abortion Ban

A federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday struck down Arizona’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, AP reports. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law violates a string of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, starting with Roe v. Wade, that guarantee a woman’s right to an abortion before a baby is able to survive outside the womb — generally considered to be about 24 weeks. Several states have enacted similar bans starting at 20 weeks, but the 9th Circuit’s ruling is binding only in the nine states under the county’s jurisdiction. Idaho is the only other state with a similar ban in the region covered by the 9th Circuit. A trial judge had ruled that the ban could take effect, saying it was constitutional partly because of concerns about women’s health and fetal pain, but abortion-rights groups appealed that decision, saying the 20-week ban would not give some women enough time to decide whether to abort. The ban included an exception for medical emergencies.

Vermont Legalizes Physician-Assisted Suicide

Vermont is now the fourth state to legalize physician-assisted suicide after Gov. Peter Shumlin signed it into law Monday, CBN News reports. Vermont joins Oregon, Washington and Montana in adopting such a measure, which allows doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill patients. Opponents are concerned the law could eventually target the disabled and elderly. “Physician-assisted suicide does not affirm the life or dignity of individuals facing serious illness or death,” said Dr. Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life. “Instead, it opens the door to abuses and dangers for extremely vulnerable individuals.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Immigration Overhaul

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws on a bipartisan vote, sending the most significant immigration policy changes in decades to the full Senate, where the debate is expected to begin next month. The 13-to-5 vote came as the committee reached a deal on one of the final snags threatening the legislation — and agreed to hold off on a particularly politically charged amendment, which would have added protections for same-sex couples. After intense behind-the-scenes negotiations, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, struck an agreement with the group of eight senators who drafted the original bill to address his concerns about visas for skilled foreign workers who could fill jobs in the high-tech industry.

Atty. Gen. Holder Admits 4 Americans Killed Abroad in Drone Strikes

Attorney General Eric Holder informed Congress on Wednesday that the U.S. has killed four Americans in drone strikes since 2009: radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and three others who were “not specifically targeted.” Under pressure from Congress and international allies, President Obama announced a change in what has been a central piece of his counter-terrorism strategy, saying he will place new restrictions on the targeting of terrorists with missiles fired from drones. The president said he would continue ordering lethal drone strikes to stop potential terrorist attacks because the relative precision of drone warfare is preferable to major troop deployments or traditional bombing. But a newly codified rule book, administration officials said, would hold U.S. authorities to a tougher standard when deciding whom to kill, where, and under what circumstances.

New Guns Effectively Banned in California

California has effectively banned the sale of all new guns after Attorney General Kamala Harris officially certified a law that will require all new semiautomatic handguns to use technology that stamps identifying information on bullet casings. Since gun manufacturers are not likely to spend money retrofitting their entire production lines, California has effectively banned the sale of all new guns. The law, which was initially signed back in 2007 by then governor Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was delayed because of patents on the technology. On Friday, the Attorney General of California certified the law, becoming the first state in the country to require new guns use this stamping technology. The “microstamping” act requires every new handgun produced or brought into the state of California to have a special firing pin that will stamp a serial number onto the primer of a round.

Teen Birthrate Hits Record Low

The teen birthrate in 2011 set another new record low, according to the latest federal data, released Thursday. The numbers reflect a continued trend downward for teens having babies. The new rate, 31.3 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19, is about half the 1991 rate of 61.8 births per 1,000 teens, which was an all-time high. The new report shows particularly steep drops more recently, with a 25% decline in the overall teen birthrate just since 2007. Rates fell 30% or more in seven states, with the largest drops — 35% each — in Arizona and Utah. In that same period, the three largest population groups all experienced declines in their teen birthrates, with Hispanic teens dropping the most at 34%, followed by declines of 24% among blacks and 20% for whites.

Amphibians Dying Off at Alarming Rate

Federal wildlife scientists report Wednesday that frogs, salamanders and toads are dying off at alarming rates nationwide, with the declines most dire among threatened species. Mandated by Congress, the Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative team report summarizes hundreds of studies conducted over the past decade into declines in amphibians. They study finds that even in national parks thought to be islands of conservation, amphibians are dying off. It finds that overall numbers of frogs and their kin drop 3.7% every year, meaning they could disappear in half of the habitats they now occupy nationwide in 26 years. For 12 threatened species, things are even worse, with their numbers dropping 11.6% every year. Worldwide, nearly a third of amphibian species are threatened with extinction. Habitat destruction and a spreading fungal syndrome are seen as leading causes.

I-5 Bridge Collapses in Washington State

Authorities said it appeared nobody was killed Thursday evening in the collapse of a bridge on Interstate Five about 60 miles north of Seattle in Skagit County. The bridge failure cut off the main route between Seattle and Canada and raised questions about the safety of aging spans in the U.S.  State Patrol detectives and the patrol’s commercial vehicle enforcement bureau troopers retained a commercial truck driver whose rig struck the structure. Several vehicles plunged into the Skagit River but there were no deaths and three people were taken to a local hospital.

Economic News

Initial jobless claims dropped by 23,000 last week as more signs point to a recovery in the American job market. Initial claims are down to a seasonally adjusted 340,000 from 363,000 the previous week. Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. The decline in claims has coincided with steady job growth over the past six months. Since November, employers have added an average 208,000 jobs a month. That’s up from just 138,000 jobs a month during the previous six months.

Existing-home sales rose slightly last month to reach their highest level since late 2009, while the supply of homes for sale took a big jump but still remains tight, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. Total existing home sales increased 0.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.97 million in April, 9.7% above year-ago levels. But sales are still at a relatively low level. From 2000 through 2005, before the housing bubble burst, the annual rate of sales averaged more than 6 million a month.

The Commerce Department says durable goods orders rose 3.3% last month after a 5.9% decline in March. And a measure of business investment plans increased 1.2% after a revised 0.9% gain in March. Business ordered more machinery, computers and electronics last month.

The Federal Reserve’s release of the minutes of its last meeting set off a wave of jitters in the stock market after traders read that some Fed policymakers favored trimming Fed bond purchases as soon as June if the economy showed signs of strong growth. However, the minutes also suggested that the Federal Reserve is likely to keep buying bonds to drive down interest rates until the job market improves substantially.

Persecution Watch

Christians in the Central African Republic (CAR) are being targeted by Islamist militants who seized control of the country in March; they are being tied up, beaten and forced to hand over money to save their lives. A pastor in CAR said that “a reign of terror” is being conducted against Christians by the Seleka rebels who took over the country in a bloody coup on 24 March. The church leader said that the rebels have a hit list of pastors and other Christian workers, and that places of worship are being attacked. Christian property is being looted. In one incident, Seleka troops seized all the collection money given at a gathering of church leaders.

A Christian father of three was killed and a Christian teenager left in a coma in the second of two church attacks in Egypt last week. Sedky Sherif (36) died in the violence that broke out in the Dakhela district of Alexandria. Shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is great”), they threw Molotov cocktails and bricks at the church, burning the gate and breaking most of the windows. As Christians tried to defend the site, they also came under assault; the Muslims fired birdshot and threw bricks at them. Mina Milad Saber (19) needed brain surgery after being seriously injured in the violence; he was left in a coma. A number of other Christians were also wounded.

Middle East

US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority leaders on Thursday evening, after talks in the morning with Israeli leaders and statements to the press in which he urged both sides to compromise in order to restart negotiations. But PA President Mahmoud Abbas made it clear he’s not prepared to compromise on the PA’s long-held demands that Israel cease all construction in the West Bank and the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem and release Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails before he is even willing to begin negotiations.

Britain

A gruesome cleaver attack on a British soldier left London reeling Thursday, as Britain grappled with questions over who was responsible and whether Islamist extremism was to blame. A meat cleaver-wielding man with bloody hands addressed a camera, his victim lying mutilated in the street behind him. “The only reasons we killed this man … is because Muslims are dying daily,” he said in video aired by CNN affiliate ITN. The scene revealed through cell phone camera footage and witness accounts. “This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth,” he said. “We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.”

  • Why would they even question whether Islamist extremism is to blame. Like the Boston bombing, these smaller, public attacks represent the new face of Islamist militancy. Expect more.

Iran

Iran’s election overseers removed potential wildcard candidates from the presidential race Tuesday, blocking a top aide of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a former president who revived hopes of reformers. Their exclusion from the June 14 presidential ballot gives establishment-friendly candidates a clear path to succeed Ahmadinejad, who has lost favor with the ruling clerics after years of power struggles. It also pushes moderate and opposition voices further to the margins as Iran’s leadership faces critical challenges such as international sanctions and talks with world powers over Tehran’s nuclear program. Those cleared by the candidate-vetting Guardian Council included eight high-profile figures considered firm and predictable loyalists to the ruling Islamic establishment.

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency published a report on Wednesday which, as expected, showed that Iran has increased its capacity to refine uranium by installing hundreds of new centrifuges at its main facilities at Fordow and Natanz, despite years of efforts by the international community to convince the Islamic Republic to abandon its renegade nuclear program. However, the report adds that Iran has not yet accumulated enough weapons-grade plutonium to violate Israel’s “red line” for military strikes. The report also said Iran has proceeded with construction of a nuclear research reactor in the central town of Arak, although the facility is not yet operational.

Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Arab and European allies Wednesday on stepping up support for Syria’s rebels to help them “fight for the freedom of their country” if Assad refuses to join hoped-for peace talks in Geneva next month.

Afghanistan

An explosion has sent smoke rising over the heart of Afghanistan’s capital. The strong blast was felt several miles away. An Associated Press cameraman who witnessed Friday’s blast said it was near a hospital for the National Security Directorate, the state intelligence service. He said the blast collapsed a building wall, but was not clear if there were any casualties. Police quickly cordoned off the area, which also houses buildings used by international aid agencies. It is the second explosion to hit Kabul in just over a week.

Sweden

Suburbs of Stockholm, the Swedish capital, were engulfed in a fourth night of rioting early Thursday in the country’s worst civil unrest in years. Groups of youth have smashed shop windows, set cars ablaze and burnt down a cultural center as the riots that started in one Stockholm suburb after a fatal police shooting spread to other low-income areas of Stockholm. Thirty vehicles were set ablaze in six suburbs where mainly immigrants live. Gangs of up to 60 youths also set fire to a school and a nursery and hurled rocks at police and fire fighters. Seven people were briefly detained early Wednesday and one person was arrested on suspicion of arson of a cultural center housed in a 19th century building. The unrest began Sunday in response to the May 13 shooting, in which police killed a 69-year-old, knife-wielding man in a northwestern suburb.

Earthquakes

An earthquake in far northeastern California was felt by thousands of people as far away as San Francisco and in two other states, but there have been no reports of injury or serious damage. The magnitude-5.7 quake broke dishes and shook mirrors when it struck at 8:47 p.m. Thursday. It was centered near Greenville, about 25 miles southwest of Susanville. There have been several aftershocks, including a magnitude 4.9 that struck early Friday morning.

A powerful earthquake on Friday hit Russia’s Far East with tremors felt as far away as Moscow, about 7,000 kilometers (4,400 miles) west of the epicenter. The epicenter was in the Sea of Okhotsk, east of the Russian coast and north of Japan. The quake registered 8.0 on the Richter scale. The earthquake originated 600 kilometers (375 miles) under the sea bed and with the tremors so far down they have the potential to spread quite far. Tremors were felt in Moscow, prompting some people to evacuate from buildings across the city. Tremors are extremely rare in Moscow, the last recorded instance was in the 1977.

Weather

The tornado that tore through the Oklahoma City suburbs this week ranks among the strongest storms ever to strike the United States, packing powerful winds that topped 200 mph. Officials from the National Weather Service gave the tornado that hit Moore on Monday a preliminary EF5 rating — the highest score on the scale that measures tornado intensities. The tornado spanned 1.3 miles — the length of more than 22 football fields lined up end-to-end — carving a 17-mile path of destruction and releasing an amount of energy that dwarfed even the power of the atomic bomb that leveled Hiroshima, according to experts. Pounding rain soaked tornado-ravaged Moore, Oklahoma, on Thursday morning, and winds sent pieces of debris flying, hindering recovery efforts three days after the devastating tornado.

A blistering heat wave has swept across most parts of north and western India, causing massive electricity cuts and leading angry residents to protest and even attack power company officials and property. In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, enraged citizens have set fire to a power station and held power company employees hostage for several hours. Police said Thursday that at least 21 people have been arrested for the violence and for damaging government property. Uttar Pradesh, home to 190 million people, is India’s most populous state and one of the poorest. Its inadequate energy infrastructure has been unable to cope with the high demand for electricity as temperatures have peaked above 116 degrees Fahrenheit in recent days.

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