Archive for June, 2013

Signs of the Times (6/27/13)

June 27, 2013

Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA, Prop 8

In a big day for gay-rights advocates, the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a federal provision denying benefits to legally married same–sex couples and issued a separate ruling that paves the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California. The latter decision did not speak to the constitutionality of gay marriage bans in California, or in the country as a whole. The court avoided a broad ruling, and rather, determined that the defenders of California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage did not have the standing to appeal lower court rulings against the ban. As a result, California is likely to allow same-sex marriages to resume in a matter of weeks. The more sweeping decision, though, came in relation to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which the court said was unconstitutional. The 5-4 ruling means legally married same-sex couples would be eligible for federal benefits.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday left untouched the thicket of conflicting state and local laws that deny gays and lesbians in the vast majority of states the benefits and legal recognition that marriage provides. A state line still decides who is married and who is not. This disparate treatment under the law is likely to remain unless the 37 states that do not permit same-sex unions reverse course, or if the Supreme Court revisits the question in a broader case and issues a ruling that establishes a constitutional right to marriage. Given the court’s decision in a case involving California’s Proposition 8 on Wednesday, the number of states where gay marriage is legal rose to 13.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council calls the decision “The Defiance of Marriage Act” and notes, “Our country will be celebrating an America that its founders would barely recognize. Freedom, Alexis de Tocqueville once said, requires virtue. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that the pillars of both are under attack. By a single vote, five unelected justices determined that they know better than God and struck at the heart of marriage in America.”

  • A clear sign that the “beginning of sorrows” run-up to the Tribulation is escalating rapidly

Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Part of Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court on Tuesday effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, ruling that Congress had not provided adequate justification for subjecting nine states, mostly in the South, to federal oversight. Chief Justice Roberts said that Congress remained free to try to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so based on contemporary data. When the law was last renewed, in 2006, Congress relied on data from decades before. The chances that the current Congress could reach agreement on where federal oversight is required are small, most analysts say. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the towering legislative achievements of the civil rights movement. Its central provision, Section 5, requires many state and local governments, mostly in the South, to obtain permission from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before making changes in laws that affect voting.

  • A victory for states’ rights and a blow against the liberal establishment’s attempts to limit voter ID laws

Texas Lawmakers Fail to Pass Abortion Restrictions

The Texas legislature’s special session ended in chaos and confusion early Wednesday, when a marathon filibuster failed — but so did a Republican effort to pass a bill that would have greatly restricted abortions in the state. The Republican-dominated Senate needed to vote “yea” on the bill by midnight to send it to the governor to sign into law. Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis tried Tuesday to block the abortion bill by attempting a 13-hour filibuster, but fell short by about three hours when the chairman ruled she had gone off topic. The packed gallery of the session erupted in boos. And for 15 minutes — as the clocked ticked toward 12 a.m. — their raucous chants and shouts of “Shame, shame, shame” drowned out the proceedings. The disruption prevented lawmakers from completing their vote by the official end of the session — killing the bill which had enough votes to be passed. The pro-choice victory may be short-lived, though. On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry called a second special session beginning July 1, giving the Republican majority in the statehouse another 30 days to re-ignite the abortion debate — and likely finish the job this time.

Obama Sidesteps Congress to Combat Climate Change

President Obama announced Tuesday that he is planning to sidestep Congress to implement a national plan to combat climate change that will include the first-ever federal regulations on carbon dioxide emitted by existing power plants, despite adamant opposition from Republicans and some energy producers. In a speech at Georgetown University Tuesday, Obama said he’s issuing a presidential memorandum to implement the regulations, meaning none of the steps involved in the plan will require congressional approval. In addition, Obama says he is directing his administration to allow enough renewables on public lands to power 6 million homes by 2020, effectively doubling the capacity from solar, wind and geothermal projects on federal property. Obama also announced an additional $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to spur investment in technologies that can keep carbon dioxide produced by power plants from being released into the atmosphere.

Obama Doing What Americans Want Least

According to a survey conducted by Pew Research, Americans listed their priorities for President Obama’s second term as: 1) strengthening the economy – 86%; 2) improving job situation – 79%;  3) reducing budget deficit – 72%; 4) defending against terrorism – 71%; 5) making Social Security financially sound – 70%; 6) improving education – 70%;  7) making Medicare financially sound – 65%; 8) reducing health costs – 63%. The lowest priorities listed by Americans were: 17) dealing with illegal immigration – 39%; 18) Strengthening gun laws – 37%; 21) dealing with global warming – 28%. So far this year, what have been Obama’s priorities?  Gun laws, immigration and now climate control/global warming.  “The number one priority on Obama’s agenda in January was gun control.  When that failed, he turned to immigration and now he’s turning to global warming and climate control,” reports PoliticalOutcast.com

Senate Immigration Bill Collects Votes to Advance

The bipartisan push to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws took a major step forward Monday evening when the Senate endorsed a proposal to substantially bolster security along the nation’s southern borders as part of measure that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country. The 67-to-27 vote prevented any filibuster of the plan to devote roughly $30 billion to border enforcement measures, including nearly doubling the Border Patrol force to 40,000 agents from 21,000, and completing 700 miles of fencing. Opponents of the enhanced security questioned whether the steps would ever be taken and said that the legislation should require that the border be secure before undocumented immigrants could begin to seek legal status.

Global Military Spending Down

For the first time since 1998, global military spending is down. This coincides with a major decline in U.S. spending, which fell by more than $40 billion between 2011 and 2012. Even with this decline, however, the United States still had a military budget four times larger than China, the next biggest spender. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) measures annual military spending for most of the world’s armed countries. According to SIPRI, the United States spent $668 billion, more than the combined budgets of the next 10 countries. While the U.S. budget has declined, some of the other global powers, including Russia and China, have ramped up spending. The major decline in the U.S. military budget was the result of declines in overseas military spending after America’s eight-year war in Iraq ended in 2011, as well as the continued wind down of operations in Afghanistan.

Fracking Linked to Well Water Methane

Drinking water wells near natural gas “fracking” sites were six times more likely to be contaminated than others, finds a new study of northeastern Pennsylvania homes near oil and gas fracking sites. A nationwide boom tied to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has revolutionized the picture for U.S. energy production in the past decade. Natural gas production is up about 30% since 2005. Concerns about environmental effects on air and water from the wells, which shatter layers of shale deep underground to release gas or oil, have also risen.

Russia, China Among Worst Countries for Human Trafficking

China and Russia failed to meet minimum standards for fighting human trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department, which dropped the countries to the lowest possible ranking in its 2013 report. The annual “Trafficking in Persons” report ranks 188 countries on performance in fighting various forms of human trafficking. Promises to improve kept China and Russia on the Tier 2 Watchlist for nine consecutive years. Now, the State Department has dropped the two countries, along with Uzbekistan, to Tier 3, on par with countries such as Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Zimbabwe. The report accused China of state-sponsored forced labor under the name “re-education through labor,” as well as widespread sex trafficking. China’s one-child policy — and the skewed sex ratio of 118 boys to 100 girls it caused — has created a huge demand for the “trafficking of foreign women as brides for Chinese men and for forced prostitution. The report cited the Migration Research Center, which estimates that one million people experience “exploitative” labor conditions in Russia.

Report Shows Extremist Groups Flocking to Twitter

Twitter is the new frontier for jihadist propaganda, according to an extensive review of more than 75,000 tweets in a leading counterterrorism journal. The analysis explored the Syrian opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra and its established links to Al Qaeda as a case study. “Twitter has become the main hub for the active dissemination of links guiding users to digital content,” the ‘Tweeting for the Caliphate’ report found, adding that a new generation of jihadists now engages in attacks after extensive exposure to online propaganda. Increasingly, investigators found Al Qaeda web forums are buying into social media and promoting their official Twitter accounts on their main web pages. It is not uncommon for videos, linked to jihadist tweets, to get upwards of 5,000 views.

  • In a world of good and evil, the forces of darkness will always attempt to exploit the latest technology to advance its anti-Christ agenda

New Bird Flu Strain Kills One out of Three

More than a third of patients infected with a new strain of bird flu died after being admitted to the hospital earlier this year, Chinese researchers report in a new study. Since the new H7N9 bird flu first broke out in China in late March, the strain has sickened more than 130 people and killed 37. The World Health Organization has previously described H7N9 as “one of the most lethal influenza viruses” it has ever seen and said it appeared to spread faster than the last bird flu strain, H5N1, that threatened to unleash a pandemic. The outbreak was stopped after China closed many of its live animal markets — scientists assume the virus was infecting people through exposure to live birds.

Economic News

Home prices climbed 2.5% from March, posting the biggest one-month rise in the 12-year history of the index.  Prices are up 12.1% compared to April 2012, making their strongest gains in seven years. A drop in foreclosures, coupled with a tight supply of homes for sale, has fueled the rebound in prices over the last 11 months. The number of homes for sale appears to have bottomed in January and is up 6.1%.

Rising interest rates have hit mortgages big time. Rates on 30-year, fixed-rate home loans spiked 0.53 percentage points to an average of 4.46% this week — the largest weekly increase in more than 26 years. Rates for 15-year loans, popular with homeowners refinancing their mortgages, jumped 0.46 percentage points to 3.5%. An extra percentage point will cost home buyers with 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages $56 more a month for every $100,000 they borrow. “If sustained, the rate increase will take some of the steam out of the housing market.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 346,000 the week ended June 22nd. Since March, claims for jobless aid have fluctuated between 340,000 and 360,000, a level consistent with steady hiring. Employers added 175,000 jobs in May. However, job growth of more than 200,000 jobs a month is what’s really needed to kick-start economic growth.

Personal income rose 0.5% in May, a sign that steady – though slow – wage gains have continued as the economy puts itself back together. The rise in incomes was accompanied by a 0.3% bump in personal spending. Spending was down 0.3% in April, the biggest drop since 2009, and the jump suggests a rise in consumer confidence.

The price of gold Wednesday fell 3.5% to $1,229.60 an ounce, the lowest level since Aug. 24, 2010. Gold is down nearly 23% this quarter, positioning the metal for its largest quarterly loss since 1920. Meanwhile, the price of silver is at its lowest since August 2010. Wednesday, silver fell 5.5% to $18.57 an ounce.

Middle East

The southern Lebanese city of Sidon, near the Israeli border, was the scene of fierce clashes Sunday and Monday between soldiers of the national army and gunman from Sunni Moslem factions loyal to the Salafi-Islamist Sheikh, Ahmed al-Assir, who has ties to rebels fighting the regime of president Bashar Assad in neighboring Syria. The army reported that 15 of its soldiers were killed and dozens more wounded in the clashes with an unknown number of casualties among the Salafi-Islamist groups. Soldiers have surrounded al-Assir’s headquarters while the Sheik has issued an appeal over the internet for all Sunni Muslims to abandon the national army and rally to his cause.

Israel’s air force hit several terrorist related targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Sunday, following a salvo of rockets fired from the Strip into Israel earlier in the evening. The Iron Dome air defense system shot down two rockets headed for the Ashkelon Regional Council area and no damage or injuries were reported from the strikes.

Persecution Watch

Ethnic Fulani Muslims killed a Christian in Nigeria’s Plateau state, less than a week after the Islamic extremist Boko Haram sect killed a pastor in Nigeria’s Borno state, Morning Star News reports. In the latest of a series of attacks this year in the Wase area, 134 miles southeast of Jos in Plateau state, Fulani Muslims killed Toma Vongjen, 40, and left church buildings in four villages in ruins, Most churches in Wase have closed due to the violence, and surviving pastors have been relocated. “There are Christian villages that have been completely wiped out by these Muslim terrorists,” Rev. Dinfa Lamda said. “Just last week Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked some Christian farmers in Wase and destroyed all the crops they planted on their farms.”

Voice of the Martyrs reports that on June 2, Pastor Robert Ngai in Geita, northeastern Tanzania, was attacked by a large group of radical Muslims. The attackers broke into his home and attacked him with machetes, and Ngai received serious cuts on his hands and arms when he raised his arms to protect his head from the blows. The injuries were beyond local doctors’ ability to treat, so he was rushed to a hospital in a nearby, larger city for treatment. Ngai is the pastor of the Evangelical Assemblies of God Church. Two nights before the attack on Pastor Ngai, the home of Pastor Daudi Nzumbi in Geita also came under attack. Pastor Nzumbi leads the Free Pentecostal Church of Tanzania in Geita. Thankfully, the attackers fled after they were confronted by Pastor Nzumbi’s large, barking dogs. When Pastor Nzumbi called the police, the officer in charge told him, “I cannot protect every pastor!”

Voice of the Martyrs also reports that in Colombia FARC guerrillas had already killed one of the pastor’s sons. They said they’d kill each one of his children if he didn’t leave the village; In North Africa, when Musa’s coworkers and neighbors learned that he had become a Christian, he was fired from his job and his neighbors threatened to throw him out of the building unless he returned to Islam; In Somalia raddical Al-Shabaab militants literally hunt down and kill Christians to make Somalia a “pure” Muslim country.

Syrian Christians are the victims of disproportionate violence and abuse as sectarian violence continues to engulf Syria, Open Doors USA reports. Christian women are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse, while Christian men are facing pressure from both sides to join the battle. The result, the report claims, is that Christians are scared to engage in public displays of worship, while proportionally more Christian refugees are leaving Syria than any other religious or ethnic group.

Many Coptic Christians are fleeing to the United States and Europe because they no longer feel safe in Egypt, the Christian Post reports. They feel the Islamist government is not doing enough to protect them against discrimination and hate crimes, so they are resorting to fleeing the country. Many Copts are electing to go the United States, a country in which Egyptians now rank as the second highest nationality receiving asylum. In 2010, only 531 Egyptians received asylum in the U.S.; however, 2,882 Egyptians received asylum in 2012, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Copts are also fleeing to Georgia and the Netherlands because both countries have decreased restrictions on those seeking asylum.

Pakistan

Islamic militants wearing police uniforms shot to death ten foreign tourists (one American) and one Pakistani before dawn Sunday as they were visiting one of the world’s highest mountains in a remote area of northern Pakistan. The foreigners who were killed included five Ukrainians, three Chinese and one Russian. One Chinese tourist was wounded in the attack and was rescued. The local branch of the Taliban took responsibility for the killings, saying it was to avenge the death of a leader killed in a U.S. drone strike. The shooting is likely to damage the country’s struggling tourism industry. Pakistan’s mountainous north — considered until now relatively safe — is one of the main attractions in a country beset with insurgency and other political instability.

Turkey

Turkish police used water cannon to disperse thousands gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square on Saturday to observe a memorial for four people killed during recent anti-government protests. The officers later fired tear gas and rubber bullets, and in some cases beat people with batons, to scatter demonstrators who regrouped in side streets. The police move came as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that foreign-led conspirators he alleges are behind the anti-government movement in his country also are fomenting the recent unrest in Brazil. The protests in Turkey erupted three weeks ago after riot police brutally cracked down on peaceful environmental activists who opposed plans to develop Gezi Park, which lies next to Taksim. The demonstrations soon turned into expressions of discontent with what critics say is Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian leadership.

Afghanistan

A group of attackers stormed the entrance to the presidential palace in Kabul early Tuesday — but they were quickly repelled. Three guards died in the attack and another was injured. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault. All of the attackers were killed. The palace is located in the Shash Darak district of Kabul, near the U.S. embassy and the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force. Some Kabul residents initially thought the gunfire was a coup attempt because the idea of a Taliban attack within the security zone seemed so unlikely.

Egypt

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued a peace offering to Morsy (Illustrative)opponents on Wednesday, offering them a larger share in the decision-making process for the new constitution as the entire country remained on edge ahead of protests planned for this Sunday. He also blamed remnants of the deposed Mubarak regime along with “thugs” and a hostile media for the recent unrest in the country, including demonstrations in several cities on Wednesday during which two people were killed and many others wounded. “Political polarization and conflict has reached a stage that threatens our nascent democratic experience and threatens to put the whole nation in a state of paralysis and chaos,” he said. “The enemies of Egypt have not spared effort in trying to sabotage the democratic experience.”

On the very day when the IRS targeting scandal broke, Secretary of State John Kerry provided a new, $1.3 billion cash stimulus for the Muslim Brotherhood. Without a press release or public fanfare, he waived human rights conditions placed on American military aid to Egypt’s anti-American and anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood government. With this action, the Obama Administration reinforces the Muslim Brotherhood even as it steps up its blasphemy prosecutions against Egypt’s Christians and even as Egypt’s president appointed an actual terrorist leader as governor of an important region.

Brazil

A quarter-million Brazilians took to the streets in the latest a wave of sometimes-violent protests that are increasingly focusing on corruption and reforming a government system in which people have lost faith. A new poll shows that 75 percent of citizens support the demonstrations. The turnout in Saturday’s protests was lower than the 1 million participants seen on Thursday and there was less violence. The protests have become the largest public demonstrations Latin America’s biggest nation has seen in two decades. They began as opposition to transportation fare hikes, then became a laundry list of causes including anger at high taxes, poor services and World Cup spending, before coalescing around the issue of rampant government corruption. Under pressure after more than a week of nationwide protests, Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff said Monday her government will spend $23 billion more on public transportation and announced five core areas that leaders will focus on to speed political reform and improvements to government services.

Wildfires

Fanned by another afternoon of high winds, the erratic wildfire threatening tourist areas of the southwestern Colorado mountains grew to 114 square miles on Sunday. Some 600 firefighters spent another day trying to keep the flames from moving in on the Wolf Creek Ski area and the historic mining town of Creede. Firefighters were strictly in defensive mode, with no containment of the fire. The blaze’s rapid advance on Friday prompted the evacuation of hundreds of summer visitors and the town’s 400 permanent residents, and it could be days before people are allowed back into their homes, cabins and RV parks.

Due to a record-setting heat wave, eighteen large (over 100 acres) wildfires are burning in Alaska, having already consumed over 376,000 acres (587 square miles) as of Tuesday morning. Fortunately, only four structures have been destroyed thus far, although many remain threatened.

Weather

Parts of the Midwest saw severe tree damage and serious flash flooding Monday, including a derecho (horizontal straight-line rain) that swept across the Chicago area after dropping several tornadoes in eastern Iowa and northwest Illinois. Over 200 reports of wind damage came from this storm system, including eight different incidents of semi-trucks being blown over from western Iowa to northeast Illinois. The Monday storms snarled traffic, air travel, and downed dozens of trees in the region. There were also several tornado reports.

Signs of the Times (6/22/13)

June 22, 2013

House Approves Bill Banning Most Abortions After 20 Weeks

The Republican-led House on Tuesday passed a far-reaching anti-abortion bill that conservatives saw as a milestone in their 40-year campaign against legalized abortion. The legislation, sparked by the murder conviction of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, would restrict almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, defying laws in most states that allow abortions up to when the fetus is considered viable, usually considered to be around 24 weeks. It mirrors 20-week abortion ban laws passed some states and lays further groundwork for the ongoing legal battle that abortion foes hope will eventually result in forcing the Supreme Court to reconsider the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal. The bill passed 228-196, with six Democrats voting for it and six Republicans voting against it. In the short term, however, the bill will go nowhere; the Democrat-led Senate plans to ignore the bill and the White House has already issued a veto threat.

Obama Calls for An End to Catholic Schools

The Catholic media is up in arms over comments President Obama made during a speech while in Northern Ireland for the G8 summit. Obama made what is described as “an alarming call for an end to Catholic education,” in spite of the fact that it is considered “a critical component of the Church.” In front of an audience of about 2,000 young people, including many Catholics, Obama claimed that Catholic education divides people and blocks peace, according to the Scottish Catholic Observer. “If towns remain divided—if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden—that too encourages division and discourages cooperation,” Obama said.

  • Obama is against all things Christian but usually keeps his bias more hidden. However, his teleprompter had issues, and his true feelings leaked out.

Marriage Rate Dives to New Lows

The marriage rate is at its lowest point in more than a century, and the number of marriages across the USA fell more than 5 percent during the recession. Cultural changes about whether and when to marry, the fact that two-thirds of first marriages are preceded by cohabitation and the recession’s financial fallout — including unemployment and underemployment — fueled the wedding decline. The research found marriage numbers are stagnant or declining among those with a high school education or less, younger Americans, and the less affluent. Numbers are rising among women ages 25-34, the college-educated and the affluent

Pew Report: U.S. Media Heavily Support Gay Marriage View

A new report by the Pew Research Center found that U.S. media largely focused on publishing stories with more supportive views of same-sex marriage than the opposing position between the period of March 18 to May 12, according to the Christian Post. As many as 47 percent of the 500 stories examined from March — which was a week prior to the Supreme Court hearings on the issue — had more supportive statements on same-sex marriage than opposing views by at least a 2-to-1 margin. Another 44 percent had roughly an equal mix of both viewpoints, while only 9 percent focused more on statements supporting traditional marriage. In total, news stories with more statements in support of gay marriage exceeded those supporting traditional marriage by a margin close to 5-to-1. Pew identified that most arguments in favor of same-sex marriage tried to paint it as a civil rights issue, while those opposing a change in the definition of marriage noted that it could lead to negative consequences for society.

Snowden Charged with Espionage for NSA Leaks

Federal authorities have charged a former defense contractor with espionage and theft in connection with the disclosure of details about two secret surveillance programs managed by the National Security Agency, a government official confirmed Friday. The official confirmed that the charges against Edward Snowden were filed in a sealed complaint released late today and that authorities were seeking the cooperation of Hong Kong officials to assist in his detention. Snowden, who turned 30 on Friday, has been the focus of a criminal investigation since he acknowledged to the Post and the Guardian newspapers earlier this month that he was the source of materials detailing surveillance programs that collected telephone records for millions of Americans and a separate operation that targeted the Internet communications of non-citizens abroad who were suspected of terrorist connections.

ObamaCare Hits Hurdles Ahead of Fall Deadline

With an October deadline fast approaching for the launch of the “exchanges” — the newly created government-regulated insurance marketplace — the law is running into logistical and political hurdles despite surviving last year’s Supreme Court ruling. A new Fox News poll finds that voters oppose the law by a split of 55-40 percent, marking a 6-point increase in opposition from this time last year. And a Kaiser foundation poll finds that only 19 percent of Americans think they will be better off under the new health care law. On top of that comes a Government Accountability Office report which says implementation is behind schedule and raises doubts about whether the law can be implemented on time.

Drunk Drivers on Path to Citizenship

Among the strangest, and most alarming, aspects of the rush to legalize our “undocumented” population is the adamant refusal of Democrats to consider deporting drunk drivers. The Gang of Eight bill would not even consider denying them amnesty until they were convicted of three offenses… at which point the federal bureaucracy might consider booting them off the pathway to citizenship, although it’s not obligated to do so. Every attempt to get tough on illegal alien drunk drivers has been defeated. Why the big rush to get drunk drivers on the pathway to citizenship? For the same reason the current legal regime shows little interest in deporting them, even after they have racked up multiple offenses: there are a lot of them. The incidence of drunk-driving among young, male recent immigrants is very high.

  • Democrats desire to keep as many aliens as possible since they largely vote for their members0

Britain’s Girl Guides Drop Oath to God

For more than 100 years, Britain’s Girl Guides — the equivalent of American Girl Scouts — took an oath to “love God and serve the King/Queen.” But on Wednesday the movement announced it would scrap its oath to God in an attempt to broaden its appeal and attract children from secular, nonbelieving families, the Religion News Service reports. The controversial shake-up is seen by some as the biggest in the Girl Guides’ history. Beginning in September, all new members who make the promise to be good and useful citizens will pledge an oath to “be true to myself and develop my beliefs” and “to serve my Queen (Elizabeth II) and my country.” “Taking ‘God’ out of the promise denies the history and foundations of the movement without offering anything in its place, with the result that the organization will lose its distinctive ethos and end up meaning nothing,” said Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern. The Girl Guides in Australia dropped their allegiance to God and the Queen last year, agreeing to be true to themselves and their communities instead. Girl Scouts in the United States promise to “to serve God and my country,” as do the Boy Scouts of America, for now.

  • End-time secularization and the great “falling away” are will underway

Oil Shale Development Hits Snag

Controversy is heating up over an administration plan to drastically reduce the amount of federal lands available for oil shale development in the American West. The Bush administration had set aside 1.3 million acres for oil shale and tar sands development  in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The new Bureau of Land Management plan cuts that amount by two-thirds, down to 700,000 acres, a decision that has prompted industry outrage. Oil shale is very different from the oil reserves driving the current energy boom in places like the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota or the Niobrara in Colorado. In those areas hydraulic fracking is being used to break through layers of shale rock to reach huge pockets of oil trapped between and pump it out. Oil shale refers to shale rock itself, which contains mineralized hydrocarbons. When subject to intense pressure and extremely high temperatures, oil develops.

Many Abandoned Homes Across America

One in five homes in the foreclosure process stands vacant after being abandoned by owners. While the housing market is on the mend, some cities still struggle as they wait for thousands of homes to complete the process. Nearly one in three homes in foreclosure are abandoned in Indianapolis. In five separate metro areas in Florida, more than one in four homeowners have given up. Many of the cities with the most homes in foreclosure that are abandoned were among the hardest hit during the housing crisis, areas that experienced the greatest price declines. In Lakeland and Las Vegas, prices fell by more than 40%, compared to a national decline of just 20.8%.

Economic News

Surging U.S. oil production and greater energy conservation are helping keep a lid on oil prices worldwide and may be limiting the sway OPEC holds over world markets. U.S. oil output rose by 14% in 2012, BP reported last week in its annual statistical review. The million barrel-per-day jump in output was the largest increase for any country in 2012, and the fastest single year increase in U.S. history. OPEC’s ability to keep prices at today’s levels could come under tremendous pressure.

Unemployment rates fell in 25 states in May, the government reported Friday. Seventeen states had increases while jobless rates were unchanged in eight states plus the District of Columbia. The U.S. jobless rate was 7.6% in May, up from 7.5% in April. Nevada had the highest unemployment rate in May, 9.5%. North Dakota again had the lowest rate at 3.2%.

Lackluster economic growth and stubbornly high unemployment didn’t stop Americans from being generous in 2012. Donations for everything from disaster relief to animal rescue totaled an estimated $316.2 billion in 2012, up 3.5% from the previous year, according to the Giving USA foundation. Giving by individual donors climbed almost to $228.9 billion, while corporate donations rose by 12.2% to $18.2 billion.

Persecution Watch

Six Iranian converts to Christianity were convicted of crimes related to their membership in a house church, according to World Watch Monitor. Four men, a woman and her teenaged son were convicted by a Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, in southwestern Iran. The four men were found guilty of attending a house church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign ministries, propaganda against the Iranian regime and disrupting national security. Each was sentenced to 44 months in prison. Two of the men each received an additional eight months. Also convicted was Fariba Nazemina, who is the wife of Shokouhi, and her son, Nima Shokouhi. Mohabat News did not specify the crimes for which the mother and son were found guilty, but reported that each received a suspended two-year prison sentence.

A new study by the Pew Research Center finds that the already high level of restrictions on religion in the Middle East and North Africa – whether resulting from government policies or from social hostilities – continued to increase in 2011, when most of the political uprisings known as the Arab Spring occurred. The findings run contrary to expectations expressed by many world leaders that the uprisings would lead to greater freedoms for the people of the region, including fewer restrictions on religious beliefs and practices. Before the Arab Spring, government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion were already higher in the Middle East and North Africa than in any other region of the world. The new study also finds that the Americas, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region all had increases in overall restrictions on religion in 2011. Government restrictions declined slightly in Europe, but social hostilities increased. Asia and the Pacific had the sharpest increase in government restrictions.

  • There is no tolerance whatsoever within Islam

Middle East

Residents in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon were targeted by rockets fired from within the Gaza Strip on Wednesday morning. The “Code Red” alarm sent residents scrambling to bomb shelters in the early morning hours, but the three rockets landed in open areas resulting in no casualties or damage. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) reacted to the first rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel in two months by ordering the closure of the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Gaza and Israel. The rocket fire came despite an effort, reported in the Arab press, by the Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Strip, to reign in Salafi groups who have vowed to continue rocket attacks despite a fragile and unofficial truce.

Syria

Al Qaeda’s affiliate inside Syria is now the best-equipped arm of the terror group in existence today, according to informal assessments by U.S. and Middle East intelligence agencies, a private sector analyst directly familiar with the information told CNN. Concern about the Syrian al Qaeda-affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the al-Nusra Front, is at an all-time high, according to the analyst, with as many as 10,000 fighters and supporters inside Syria. The United States has designated al-Nusra Front as a terrorist group with links to al Qaeda in Iraq. That assessment is shared by some Middle Eastern intelligence agencies that have long believed the United States is underestimating the Sunni-backed al Qaeda movement in the country.

  • So for now we arm our enemy who will one day thank us by turning those weapons on us or Israel.

Afghanistan

Angry voices within the Taliban movement could scuttle peace talks before they even begin, infuriated that a sign identifying their new office in the Gulf state of Qatar as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was removed, their spokesman said Saturday. The opening of the Taliban office was heralded as the best chance of bringing to a peaceful end 12 years of bloody war despite its rocky beginnings. But the peace process ran aground almost immediately when Kabul objected to the wording of its name.

The Afghan president on Wednesday suspended talks with the United States on a new security deal to protest the way his government was being left out of initial peace negotiations with the Taliban meant to find a way to end the nearly 12-year war. The move by Hamid Karzai raises tensions significantly and could derail the peace process even before it has begun. Karzai’s statement followed an announcement Tuesday by the U.S. and the Taliban that they would pursue bilateral talks in Qatar before the Afghan government was brought in.

The Taliban claimed responsibility Wednesday for an attack in Afghanistan that killed four American troops just hours after the insurgent group announced it would hold talks with the U.S. on finding a political solution to ending the nearly 12-year war in the country. Insurgents fired two rockets into the Bagram Air Base outside the Afghan capital, Kabul, late on Tuesday. The deadly attack underscores the challenges ahead in trying to end the violence roiling Afghanistan through peace negotiations in Qatar with militants still fighting on the ground.

Iran

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rowhani was on the special Iranian government committee that plotted the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, according to an indictment by the Argentine government prosecutor investigating the case. The AMIA bombing is considered the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history, killing 85 and wounding hundreds more. The Argentine government had accused the Iranian government of planning the attack and Iran’s terrorist proxy Hezbollah of carrying it out. Numerous former and current Iranian officials are wanted by Interpol in connection with the bombing. Former Iranian intelligence official Abolghasem Mesbahi, who defected from Iran in the late 1990s, testified that the decision to launch the attack was made within a special operations committee connected to the powerful Supreme National Security Council in August 1993. According to the 2006 indictment, Mesbahi testified that Rowhani, who was then serving as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, was also a member of the special committee when it approved the AMIA bombing.

Years before he became Iran’s president-elect, Hassan Rohani spoke approvingly about concealing his nation’s nuclear program and said that when Pakistan got atomic bombs and Brazil began enriching uranium, ‘the world started to work with them.’ The comments offer an intriguing window into the past thinking of Rohani, widely seen as a moderate or pragmatic conservative, whose surprise victory in weekend elections to succeed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was perceived by the United States and other Western powers as positive – at least at first glance. Western diplomats familiar with Rohani’s work as chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005 told Reuters the 64-year-old cleric was no pushover and had always been firmly committed to Iran’s nuclear program… He argued in favor of a kind of nuclear fait accompli to force the West to accept Iran’s enrichment capabilities. He also referred to Pakistan’s successful acquisition of nuclear weapons in a positive light.

  • Ayatollah Khomeini still runs Iran; Rohani is just window dressing to cover over Iran’s true colors

Brazil

Brazil awoke Friday to city centers still smoldering after a night that shocked the nation: 1 million anti-government protesters took to the streets in scores of cities, with clusters battling police and destroying swaths of storefronts and government buildings. Police and protesters fought in the streets into the early hours Friday in more than 80 Brazilian cities in the biggest demonstrations yet against a government viewed as corrupt at all levels and unresponsive to its people. There were also growing calls on social media and in mass emails for a general strike next week. If it materializes, the action could bring in unions and other organized groups to what has so far been an amorphous explosion of discontent over everything from high crime to poor education. The protests continued even after the movement got a 9-cent increase in bus fares reversed.

Wildfires

Twenty-nine large (over 100 acres) wildfires are blazing across the drought-stricken western U.S. (including four in Alaska) as of Saturday morning. Eleven of these are in Colorado, having consumed over 54,000 acres, not counting the Black Forest wildfire which is now fully contained after becoming the state’s most deadly wildfire ever. New Mexico currently has five active wildfires, with over 84,000 acres burnt. Arizona has three fires burning on over 10,600 acres, including the Doce fire (6,732 acres) just outside Prescott in the Granite Mountain wilderness where 485 homes have been evacuated. The four Alaskan wildfires have already consumed over 223,000 acres of sparsely populated wilderness. California and Utah have three large wildfires currently burning on about 7,000 acres.

A massive wildfire threatened a tourist town in Colorado’s southwestern mountains on Friday, forcing its roughly 400 residents to flee ahead of the fast-burning blaze fueled by hot, windy weather. Wildland firefighters teamed up with local firefighters to try to protect South Fork, which is surrounded by the Rio Grande National Forest. State authorities said the 47-square-mile fire is about seven miles southwest of town and has been advancing at a rate of about a mile an hour. Thick smoke was limiting visibility.

A campfire left untended sparked a blaze near Yosemite National Park that is threatening hundreds of homeowners, but firefighters are starting to get a handle on it. About 500 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders. More than 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze in the steep, rugged terrain west of Yosemite. Summer wildfires are nothing new in California. But this one is happening weeks earlier than normal, and comes as parts of the state experience “exceptional” dryness that could fuel flames.

Weather

A fast-moving line of storms barreled across the northern Plains and Upper Midwest Friday evening, killing a woman in her trailer on a South Dakota lake and leaving thousands of people without power. The 63-year-old woman was hunkered down in the bathtub in her trailer on the east side of Lake Poinsett when a storm lifted the structure and dropped it to the ground. The county of about 6,000 residents was without power Friday evening, and the fire department was going door to door to assess the extent of damage, knowing that many homes have been damaged or destroyed. The National Weather Service said tornadoes touched down in Clark, Hamlin, Spink and Kingsbury counties and brought damaging winds and golf-ball-sized hail.

At least three people were killed by floodwaters that devastated much of southern Alberta, leading authorities to evacuate the western Canadian city of Calgary’s entire downtown. Inside the city’s hockey arena, the waters reached as high as the 10th row. Overflowing rivers washed out roads and bridges, soaked homes and turned streets into dirt-brown waterways around southern Alberta. As the sun rose in Calgary on Saturday morning it wasn’t raining. Some of the 75,000 flood evacuees were holding out hope they might soon be allowed back into their homes. However, the downtown area was still without power and remained off limit. Officials estimated that it is extremely unlikely that people will be able to return to those buildings before the middle of next week.

Soldiers were working to evacuate tens of thousands of people still stranded Saturday in northern India where nearly 600 people have been killed in monsoon flooding and landslides. With bad weather and heavy rainfall predicted over the next two days, there was an added urgency to reach the approximately 50,000 people still stranded in the flood-hit Uttarakhand state. Since helicopters could rescue only small groups of people at a time, Shinde said army troops were opening up another road route to the Hindu temple town of Kedarnath, worst hit by the floods.

Heavy floods in southwest France have forced the closure of the Catholic pilgrimage site in Lourdes and the evacuation of pilgrims from nearby hotels. Floodwaters swirled Wednesday in the grotto where nearly 6 million believers from around the world, many gravely ill, come every year seeking miracles and healing. It has been a major pilgrimage site since a French girl’s vision of the Virgin Mary there in 1858. Heavy rains around the region inundated town centers and prompted road closures.

June 18, 2013

Drugstores Debate ‘Conscience Clause’ for Plan B

Pharmacists aren’t required to sell the morning-after pill if they’re morally opposed to it. But now that a leading form of emergency contraception is set to hit shelves as an over-the-counter drug, the question facing drugstores is whether they will extend the same choice to all its employees, including cashiers. For more than a decade, Plan B One-Step, the most common morning-after pill, has been kept behind pharmacy counters. Pharmacists who did not feel comfortable dispensing Plan B could rely on “conscience clauses,” to turn customers down, as long as they refer them to another pharmacist or to a nearby pharmacy. Thanks to the Obama administration’s decision on Monday not to appeal a New York federal court ruling, Plan B One-Step will now be sold next to everyday drugstore items. The question the stores face now is whether to extend conscience clauses to all drugstore employees.

Is Islam Now the ‘Most-Favored’ Religion?

A pro-family spokesman says the recent revelation that the FBI is no longer conducting surveillance of mosques is just another indication that the Obama administration has given Islam “most-favored status” among religions. since October 2011, mosques have been off-limits to the FBI, with no more surveillance or undercover sting operations allowed without high-level approval from a special oversight body at the Justice Department dubbed the “Sensitive Operations Review Committee.” The panel was reportedly set up following complaints from Muslims about sting operations conducted by the FBI, which proved very effective in disrupting dozens of Islamic terror plots. Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis at the American Family Association, notes. “We’re at a place now under this administration where Islam has really been granted a most-favored status among all the religions of the world,” says the AFA spokesman. “There’s no question that this president has profound sympathies for the Muslim faith and seems to have at the same time a real antipathy for Christianity.”

Christian Baker Who Refused Homosexual ‘Wedding’ Cake Faces Jail

A Christian baker in Colorado faces up to 1 year in jail for “discrimination” because he refused to bake a wedding cake celebrating a homosexual “marriage” in Massachusetts. “The Colorado Attorney General’s office formally filed a discrimination complaint last week on behalf of a same-sex couple ‘married’ in Massachusetts who claim a Colorado bakery refused to provide a cake to honor their ‘nuptials’ last summer,” reports Christian Post. “Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, located in the suburbs surrounding Denver, Colo., reportedly denied making a wedding cake after learning of their sexual orientation, citing his Christian beliefs. “We don’t believe that this is a case about commerce. At its heart, this is a case about conscience,” Phillips’ attorney Nicolle Martin told The Associated Press, adding that as same-sex marriage is legalized in more states in the U.S., this case could serve as an example of the rights of business owners in refusing service.”

Arizona Law Requiring Citizenship Proof for Voters Judged Illegal

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states cannot on their own require would-be voters to prove they are U.S. citizens before using a federal registration system designed to make signing up easier. The justices voted 7-2 to throw out Arizona’s voter-approved requirement that prospective voters document their U.S. citizenship in order to use a registration form produced under the federal “Motor Voter” voter registration law. Federal law “precludes Arizona from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself,” Justice Antonia Scalia wrote for the court’s majority.

NSA Admits Listening to US Phone Calls Without Warrants

The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed this week that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed “simply based on an analyst deciding that.” If the NSA wants “to listen to the phone,” an analyst’s decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. “I was rather startled,” said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.

  • The Supreme Court is paving the way for illegals to vote as they make it easier for them to register. All they need to do is sign a registration form saying they are citizens and they will be allowed to vote.

Internet Leaders Disclose Information on NSA Surveillance Requests

Facebook and Microsoft disclosed that they received thousands of requests for user data from government agencies in the United States in the last half of 2012. Facebook said it got between 9,000 and 10,000 requests targeting between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts during that period. “These requests run the gamut — from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat,” Ted Ullyot, Facebook’s general counsel. “With more than 1.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, this means that a tiny fraction of 1% of our user accounts were the subject of any kind of U.S. state, local, or federal U.S. government requests. In an effort to combat criticism, Microsoft also disclosed information on its data requests Friday night. “For the six months ended December 31, 2012,

Microsoft received between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 consumer accounts from U.S. governmental entities (including local, state and federal),” said John Frank, Microsoft’s vice president. In addition, Yahoo said Tuesday it received between 12,000 and 13,000 requests for user data from U.S. law enforcement agencies over the last six months. Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. agencies over the past six months, the company said in a statement posted on its website.

US, UK Spied on G20 Summit

Britain, working with the United States’ National Security Agency, intercepted phone calls and monitored computers used by officials taking part in two high-level international finance meetings in London in 2009, a British newspaper said on Sunday. The latest report, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, reveals that the U.S. specifically targeted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s communication signals, or “meta-data,” back to the Russian embassy in London. Specifically, the details of the intercepts were in a briefing document prepared by the NSA and shared with high-ranking officials from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

IRS Supervisor in DC Targeted Tea Party

A Washington-based IRS supervisor acknowledged she was personally involved in reviewing Tea Party applications for tax-exempt status as far back as 2010, Fox News confirms — a detail that further challenges the agency’s initial claim that the practice of singling out those groups was limited to a handful of employees in Ohio. Congressional sources confirmed to Fox News that Holly Paz, who until recently was a top deputy in the division that handles applications for tax-exempt status, told congressional investigators she reviewed 20 to 30 applications. Some requests languished for more than a year without action. The account undercuts the narrative that senior officials only learned of the practice after it had already started in the Cincinnati office.

  • Whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light. (Lucke 12:3)

Benghazi Scandal Takes Another Turn

It seems that in the wake of the IRS and NSA scandals that the Benghazi scandal has almost been forgotten.  However the recent admission of Martin Dempsey, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, is certain to bring it all back into the limelight. In the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the US Consulate grounds in Benghazi, The White House and State Department both said that there were no troops or Special Forces that could have reached the consulate in time to help them, even though there were reports that said otherwise. Now we learn that both the White House (Obama) and the State Department (Clinton) were again lying to the American people.  According to a statement from Dempsey, a highly trained team of Special Forces, C-110, were within a few hours of Benghazi.  The consulate reported that they were under attack early on and the attack lasted over 8 hours.  If Dempsey is telling the truth, the Special Forces unit could have been there and possibly save the lives of the four Americans.

Obama Approval Rating Falls Amid Controversies

President Barack Obama’s approval rating dropped eight percentage points over the past month, to 45%, the president’s lowest rating in more than a year and a half, according to a new national poll. The CNN/ORC International survey released Monday morning comes as the White House has been reacting to controversies over a massive U.S. government surveillance program; the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of tea party and other conservative groups who applied for tax-exempt status; the administration’s handling of last September’s attack in Benghazi that left the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans dead; and the Justice Department’s secret collection of journalists’ phone records as part of a government investigation into classified leaks. The poll indicates that for the first time in Obama’s presidency, half of the public says they don’t believe he is honest and trustworthy.

Near Insolvency, Detroit Halts Debt Payments, Plans Pension Cuts

Detroit will immediately stop payments on about $2 billion in debt, the city’s emergency manager announced Friday, in an effort to conserve cash. Debt holders are likely to get only pennies on the dollar. Detroit will also need to cut pay and pension and health benefits for city workers. “Financial mismanagement, a shrinking population, a dwindling tax base and other factors over the past 45 years have brought Detroit to the brink of financial and operational ruin,” said manager Kevyn Orr. Orr’s statement and the 134-page restructuring plan did not mention the word “bankruptcy.” But the risk still looms.

Young Americans Ditching Credit Cards

The number of young Americans who are living without credit cards has doubled since the recession. About 16% of consumers ages 18 to 29 didn’t have a single credit card by the end of 2012 — up from 8% in 2007. As a result, credit card debt has declined by about a third among this age group — from an average $3,073 to $2,087 per person. After watching older generations — like their parents — get hit hard by the recession, many younger Americans are shying away from credit and opting for debit cards instead. Prepaid cards have also become attractive alternatives.

Feds Make over $50 Billion on Student Loans

The U.S. government projects to make more money off student loans this fiscal year than ExxonMobil, Apple, J.P. Morgan Chase or Fannie Mae made on their respective businesses last year. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest projections, the federal government projects a record $50-billion profit on student loans this year. ExxonMobil made $44.9 billion in 2012, according to published reports, making it the most profitable company in the country. And if Congress doesn’t stop rates on some loans from doubling on July 1, that profit will rise more, up to an additional $21 billion. The record-high profits on student loans come during a time of historically low interest rates on home mortgages and car loans. While a home buyer can get a 30-year mortgage at about 4.5% interest, the federal government is charging as much as 6.8% interest on unsubsidized student loans.

Energy Boom Lifts Some States Economies

While the national economy grew, some of the country’s largest state economies increased at an even faster rate primarily due to a boom in oil and gas extraction. In Texas, population growth and energy production helped boost the state’s overall GDP rate of 4.8%. The oil boom also contributed to the impressive 13.4% economic growth in North Dakota. Other states also saw significant growth due to their energy industries. West Virginia’s natural gas extraction contributed the second highest state GDP growth from the energy and mining sector, at 2.44 percentage points.

Economic News

For the first time in seven years, an index that measures sentiment about home building is above 50. It jumped to 52 in June from 44 in May. It was the biggest one-month jump in the index since 2002. A reading above 50 in the the NAHB/Wells Fargo index indicates more builders view sales conditions as good, rather than poor. The index hasn’t been that high since April 2006, just before the housing market collapsed.

With job growth averaging a solid 190,000 a month so far this year, seven of 10 economists surveyed by USA TODAY predict the Federal Reserve will begin scaling back its easy-money policies this year, with most of that group saying its initial move will come by early fall. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke also suggested the stimulus might be dialed back in coming months. In the meantime, the Fed will continue buying $85 billion a month in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities.

China’s new Tianhe-2 supercomputer officially became the fastest supercomputer in the world on Monday by blowing America’s Titan supercomputer out of the water. A group of computer scientists and engineers who twice a year release the “Top500” list of fastest supercomputers measured the Tianhe-2 at 33.9 petaflops (quadrillions of calculations per second). That’s nearly twice as fast as the Titan, which was relegated to a distant second spot on the list.

Eurozone

Exactly one year ago, Greece’s conservative prime minister won the mandate to form a coalition government with a daunting brief: Restart punishing economic reforms, keep the debt-stifled country in the eurozone and end months of political chaos. The latter has proved the hardest chore, and Antonis Samaras is now making a last-ditch bid to quell a revolt by key allies over his decision to close the country’s state TV and radio broadcaster, axing nearly 2,700 jobs to meet austerity targets. If talks launched late Monday with his two center-left minority partners fail, the country could be forced into its fourth election in less than four years, with grim effects. New reform delays could compromise Greece’s vital bailout program, while the vote would probably produce a hung parliament — with a quasi-neo-Nazi party polling third.

Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a Netanyahu (Israel GPO)statement on Monday reaffirming Israel’s commitment to the Two-State Solution, refuting a statement made earlier in the day by his Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) who said that “the idea that a Palestinian state would be established within the Land of Israel has come to a dead end.” The statement caused an uproar in diplomatic circles. “Israel has officially declared the death of the two-state solution,” declared chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. However, Netanyahu gave an exclusive interview with Reuters in which he said “foreign policy is shaped by the prime minister and my view is clear. I will seek a negotiated settlement where you’d have a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”

Syria

Syrian rebels, desperate for arms, said they are grateful to the United States for jumping into the fray as the Assad regime continues its steady stream of victories against opposition forces. The decision to provide rebels with weapons came after the U.S. administration concluded that the troops of President Bashar Assad have used chemical weapons against the rebel forces in the civil war. “Forget about anti-aircraft weaponry, machine guns and light arms – there aren’t even bullets or RPG shells, and when there are, the rebels can’t afford them,” said Abu Said, part of the Revolution Council in Outer Damascus.

As the United States prepares to supply Syrian rebels with small arms through a CIA-run program, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Saturday that U.S. troops temporarily in neighboring Jordan will leave behind fighter jets and a cache of Patriot missiles. So far the White House has committed only to supplying rebel forces with small arms and ammunition. Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and other Capitol Hill military hawks have called for much heavier arms including the Patriot defense missiles and for the United States to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria.

Iraq

A string of nearly a dozen apparently coordinated bombs and a shooting killed at least 30 and wounded scores across Iraq on Sunday, extending a wave of violence that is raising fears of a return to widespread killing a decade after the U.S.-led invasion. Violence has spiked sharply in Iraq in recent months, with the death toll rising to levels not seen since 2008. Nearly 2,000 have been killed since the start of April. Most of the car bombs hit Shiite-majority areas and were the cause of most of the casualties. The blasts hit half a dozen cities and towns in the south and center of the country and were believed to have been carried out by Sunni extremists.

Iran

Iranian centrist candidate Hassan Rouhani won the Islamic republic’s presidential election Saturday after campaigning on a “hope and prudence” platform in which he appealed to traditional conservatives and reform-minded voters alike. Rouhani spoke of reforms without threatening Iran’s supreme leader or its institutions, of which he is product. The former national security council chief promised an environment with greater personal freedoms and even indicated he would free political prisoners and jailed journalists. In his campaigning, Rouhani also pledged to improve the economy and unemployment, and as a former nuclear negotiator, he said he would reduce the high tension between Iran and the outside world by addressing sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program. He has a reputation for shunning extreme positions and bridging differences. Rouhani takes two-term President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s mantle, but he won’t be Iran’s most powerful man. That distinction belongs to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been Iran’s supreme leader since 1989.

Israeli Prime Minister refused to join in an international chorus of “cautious optimism” following the election of Hassan Rohani as Iran’s new president last week, telling the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday “the international community must not become caught up in wishful thinking and be tempted to relax the pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program. We are not deluding ourselves. We need to remember that the Iranian ruler [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] at the outset disqualified candidates who were not in line with his extreme worldview, and from among those whom he did allow, the one seen as least identified with the regime was elected. But we are still speaking about someone who calls Israel the ‘great Zionist Satan.

Turkey

Hundreds of riot police evicted protesters in Gezi Park at dusk Saturday, firing tear gas and rubber bullets and using water hoses in a bid to put down anti-government demonstrations that have been raging for more than two weeks. Police lines spread out from the park — where demonstrators have been camped out for weeks — to the adjacent Taksim Square. The scene at Gezi Park was one of chaos as demonstrators tried to flee in a fog of gas, causing panic and injuries as people fell and got caught in the stampede. The police crackdown sparked daylong unrest on the streets of Istanbul, while police also broke up demonstrations in the capital, Ankara, and the southern city of Adana. The protests began in Gezi Park more than two weeks ago and has spread to dozens of cities across the country.

Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced at a ceremony on Tuesday that his country’s armed forces are taking over the lead for security nationwide from the U.S.-led NATO coalition. The handover of responsibility is a significant milestone in the nearly 12-year war and marks a turning point for American and NATO military forces, which will now move entirely into a supporting role. It also opens the way for their full withdrawal in 18 months. Karzai said that in the coming months, coalition forces will gradually withdraw from Afghanistan’s provinces as the country’s security forces replace them. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the coalition will help militarily if and when needed but will no longer plan, execute or lead operations.

Brazil

More than 100,000 people took to the streets in largely peaceful protests in at least eight cities Monday, demonstrations that voiced the deep frustrations Brazilians feel about carrying heavy tax burdens but receiving woeful returns in public education, health, security and transportation. In Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic hub, at least 65,000 protesters gathered at a small, treeless plaza then broke into three directions in a Carnival atmosphere, with drummers beating out samba rhythms as the crowds chanted anti-corruption jingles. They also focused on the cause that initially sparked the protests last week — a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares. Monday’s demonstrations saw some violence. In Rio de Janeiro, a small group of protesters set a car on fire and threw rocks and flares at police. In the southern city of Porto Alegre, protesters hurled rocks at commuter trains.

Earthquakes

A moderate earthquake hit southern Mexico early Sunday, shaking buildings in the capital of Mexico City and sending frightened people into the streets. Electrical service had gone out in parts of the city, but there were no early reports of damage. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.8 and struck at 12:19 a.m. local time Sunday about 76 miles south of the Mexican capital.

Wildfires

With evacuees anxious to return, firefighters worked Sunday to dig up and extinguish hot spots to protect homes spared by the Black Forest wildfire. Crews gained the upper hand on the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history Saturday and had more than half the blaze contained as officials prepared to lift mandatory evacuation orders for hundreds of residents. While most mandatory evacuation orders had been lifted, as the fire zone remained at over 25 square miles, hundreds remained displaced after the fire destroyed nearly 500 homes and killed two people. The announcement that crews had made significant advances on the blaze and taken control of it came the same day authorities were able to gain a clearer picture of the grim landscape it left behind after exploding Tuesday outside Colorado Springs. It’s unclear what caused the fire, which sparked amid record-high temperatures and tinder-dry conditions, but officials believed it was human-caused, calling it a crime scene until proven otherwise.

A new wind-whipped blaze in California forced evacuations and threatened homes Monday near Yosemite National Park. The Carstens Fire began near the main route into Yosemite National Park in the Central Sierra foothills Sunday afternoon and has burned about 1 1/2 square miles or 900 acres. With more than 140 engines and two helicopters on the scene, the crews have contained about 15 percent of the blaze so far. No structures have been burned as the exact cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

In New Mexico, crews have contained the majority of the 94 square miles of wildfires raging throughout the state. The largest fire, the 37-square-mile Thompson Ridge Fire, was 80 percent contained.

Weather

Severe storms are being blamed for at least four deaths and hundreds of thousands of power outages across more than a dozen states Friday. The massive storms spawned the season’s first derecho, a storm of strong straight-line winds spanning at least 240 miles with wind gusts of 58 mph or greater, the Storm Prediction Center reported Thursday. The systems are distinctive and take on a comma or bow shape, and usually have a large area of very cold cloud tops not typically seen in an ordinary thunderstorm.

Maryland experienced the brunt of a long-lived line of storms last Thursday morning, and several severe thunderstorm warnings were issued. Officials are reporting trees down, roads closed and tens of thousands of power outages in Maryland and Delaware. Three tornadoes were reported in Maryland. In Virginia, more than 130,000 customers were still without power late Friday. Delmarva Power reported 17,000 customers in the dark by late Thursday morning, mostly in New Castle County, Delaware.

Signs of the Times (6/14/13)

June 14, 2013

Feds Drop Appeals over Morning-After Pill

The federal government on Monday told a judge it will reverse course and take steps to comply with his order to allow girls of any age to buy emergency contraception without prescriptions. The Department of Justice, in the latest development in a complex back-and-forth over access to the morning-after pill, notified U.S. District Judge Edward Korman it will submit a plan for compliance. If he approves it, the department will drop its appeal of his April ruling. The Food and Drug Administration has told the maker of the pills to submit a new drug application with proposed labeling that would permit it to be sold “without a prescription and without age or point-of-sale prescriptions.” The FDA said that once it receives the application it “intends to approve it promptly.

  • This is yet another step down the slippery slope of encouraging sexual promiscuity. While teen births may be down, abortions are up and sex without marriage is the new norm.

Earlier Denials Put Intelligence Chief in Awkward Position

For years, intelligence officials have tried to debunk what they called a popular myth about the National Security Agency: that its electronic net routinely sweeps up information about millions of Americans. In speeches and Congressional testimony, they have suggested that the agency’s immense power is focused exclusively on terrorists and other foreign targets, and that it does not invade Americans’ privacy. But since the disclosures last week showing that the agency does indeed routinely collect data on the phone calls of millions of Americans, Obama administration officials have struggled to explain what now appear to have been misleading past statements. Much of the attention has been focused on testimony by James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, to the Senate in March that the N.S.A. was not gathering data on millions of Americans, reports the New York Times.

Snooping Thwarted Dozens of Terrorist Attacks Says NSA

Phone records obtained by the government through a secret surveillance program disclosed last week helped to prevent “dozens” of terrorist acts, the director of the National Security Agency told a Senate hearing on Wednesday. Army Gen. Keith Alexander provided the most detailed account so far from a government official of the program in which the agency collects phone records that then can be accessed under federal court permission to investigate suspected terrorists. Questioned by senators from both parties at a hearing on broader cybersecurity issues, Alexander provided a spirited defense for the programs he described as critical to counter-terrorism efforts.

Google Requests DOJ Permission to Release More Snooping Details

There is a “serious misperception” about the National Security Agency’s PRISM program, Google chief legal officer David Drummond said in an exclusive interview with Fox News. On Tuesday the company pushed back against the layers of secrecy surrounding the agency’s alleged blanket snooping on American citizens. On Tuesday the Internet giant wrote on its official blog that it had sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and the FBI Director Robert Mueller, asking the agencies to allow Google to release more information about the national security orders it had received. Reports from the Guardian and the Washington Post stated that the NSA had “direct access” to the servers of Google, Facebook, and several other major Internet companies. Drummond stressed that that simply wasn’t true — but legal restrictions were preventing him from offering further details.

ACLU Sues Obama Administration Over NSA Surveillance

The ultra-liberal American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Obama administration over the National Security Administration’s massive phone data collection program. In its lawsuit, the ACLU said the program that harvests phone calls violates the rights of all Americans. “The program goes far beyond even the permissive limits set by the Patriot Act and represents a gross infringement of the freedom of association and the right to privacy,” said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director.

Main Core: A List Of Millions Of Americans That Will Be Subject To Detention

Are you one of the millions of Americans that have been designated a threat to national security by the U.S. government?  Will you be subject to detention when martial law is imposed during a major national emergency? There is actually a list that contains the names of at least 8 million Americans known as Main Core that the U.S. intelligence community has been compiling. “Main Core is the code name of a database maintained since the 1980s by the federal government of the United States. Main Core contains personal and financial data of millions of U.S. citizens believed to be threats to national security.” Wikipedia reports. The government would potentially watch, question or even detain people on this list during a national crisis.  If you have ever been publicly critical of the government, there is a good chance that you are on that list.

Six Months after Newtown: Rush of Gun Laws, Mixed Results

In the six months since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, lawmakers in four key states have approved significant restrictions on access to firearms. But elsewhere in the USA, the picture is far from clear. A USA TODAY analysis of the 86 state gun laws passed since Dec. 14 shows that states have both tightened and loosened access to guns. Lawmakers in many states used the spotlight the shootings created to broaden both who can carry a gun and where they can carry it. States including Colorado and Maryland tightened access to guns, Arkansas and Mississippi eased restrictions, and many other states issued rules whose impact could be debated either way. In the U.S. Senate, lawmakers on April 17 blocked a proposal to expand background checks for gun purchases.

USAID Sponsors Pro-Homosexual Events in Developing Countries

The U.S. Agency for International Aid (USAID) normally provides food, drugs and other essential items on behalf of the U.S. to poor countries around the world, but under the Obama administration, the agency has expanded its portfolio: it now ships homosexual activism around the world. In April, with help from the Levi Strauss Foundation and millionaire and homosexual activist Tim Gill, USAID began spending $11 million to train homosexual activists in other countries, WORLD reports. The training began last week, in Columbia, which has recently affirmed traditional marriage. “This partnership leverages the financial resources and skills of each partner to further inclusive development and increase respect for the human rights of LGBT people around the world,” said Claire Lucas, senior adviser of the USAID Office of Innovation and Development Alliances during a panel at the Ronald Reagan Building in D.C. “It can be a real game-changer in the advancement of LGBT human rights.”

Homeschooling Skyrockets in the U.S.

The number of homeschooled children in the United States has increased by 75 percent since 1999, according to a new report published in Education News, CBN News reports. The study’s findings serve as more proof that a growing number of parents are rejecting public schools. According to the report, discrepancies in achievement between sexes, income level and ethnicity are nonexistent in homeschooling. “Recent studies laud homeschoolers’ academic success, noting their significantly higher ACT-Composite scores as high schoolers and higher grade point averages as college students,” the report said. Researchers also found the number of primary-aged homeschool kids is growing seven times faster than public school kids. According to Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute, the increase is partly because the large number of children homeschooled in the 1990s are now homeschooling their own children. Currently, 4 percent of all school-age children are educated at home.

More Deaths than Births Among Caucasians in U.S.

The USA’s largest population group — whites who are not Hispanic — recorded more deaths than births last year for the first time ever, according to an analysis of Census Bureau estimates out today. The milestone reflects the aging of the white population and lower birth rates than those among minorities. Between July 2011 and July 2012, an estimated 12,400 more white Americans died than were born. As recently as 2010-11, white births outpaced deaths by 29,600. Whites make up 64% of the population and might become a minority by 2050 if current trends continue.

Truckers Face Big Labor Shortage

Trucking companies have already been facing a labor shortage for years. New federal regulations may make it worse. New rules, set to go into effect July 1, will mean truckers cannot drive more than 70 hours in 7 days. Truckers had been allowed to drive 82 hours under the former rules. Experts estimate trucking companies have a shortage of about 30,000 workers. Reducing hours could create a need for an additional 100,000 drivers. Turnover for long-haul truckers is dramatic, averaging about 98% in 2012. Some are opting for higher paying jobs in construction and the shale oil industry, while others are retiring.

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 334,000, a decline that suggests steady job gains will endure. Since January, the filings have fallen 6.5 percent, suggesting employers are cutting fewer jobs.

The government also reported that U.S. retail sales increased 0.6% in May from April. That’s up from a 0.1% gain in April and the fastest pace since February. The gain shows consumers remain resilient despite higher taxes and could drive faster growth later this year.

Since 2000, the Labor Force Participation Rate has declined from 67.3 percent to 63.3 and since the recession, has significantly plunged below the “norm.” The LFPR has fallen back to a level not seen since 1980. Whatever the reason might be for someone who leaves the workforce (retirement, gave up looking, disability) the fact is that since the recession, there has been no real employment recovery. Not unexpectedly, the increase in food stamp recipients just about matches employment dropouts. Whatever fragile uptick in economic activity that might have occurred in the last 24 months, it hasn’t been been enough to reverse the deterioration of the middle class and the swelling of those on poverty roles, reports the August Forecast and Review.

U.S. oil production continues to boom. In its just-released, widely followed annual survey, giant oil firm BP reports that the U.S. saw its largest-ever annual production increase in 2012. The report says that the U.S. produced 8.9 million barrels of oil per day… up 14% from 2011. Expect more huge production numbers in the coming years as hydraulic fracturing expands in numerous shale fields around the country.

Some 30% of the federal workforce will be eligible to retire in the next three years, according to a Government Accountability Office report. That means the government could be hit by a wave of retirements at a time when it is already dealing with inadequate staffing, because large numbers of employees are on furlough and hiring freezes are in place to save money and dramatically shrink the federal budget deficit. Some 46% of air traffic controllers can retire in the next three years, creating a challenge for the government to replace them with similarly experienced workers.

Demonstrating the power of rising home prices, the number of underwater homeowners has dropped below 10 million for the first time in more than at least three years. Nationwide, 9.7 million, or 19.8% of homeowners with a mortgage, owed more on their homes than they were worth as of March. That’s down from 12.1 million at the end of 2011. All told, the nation’s negative equity decreased more than $50 billion to $580 billion.

However, banks repossessed 11% more homes in May than in April. Bank repossessions increased in 33 states, with some seeing a big jump. In North Carolina, repossessions were up 60% in May from April. Oregon saw a 57% jump, and Wisconsin and Illinois, a 44% increase. Overall, foreclosure filings — which include default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions — were up 2% in May from the 75-month low in April. Given the shortage of inventory and rising home prices, banks have little motivation to hold back on any foreclosures.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) announced that his committee will not take up the Senate-passed tax on Internet sales, effectively killing the proposed tax for now.

Persecution Watch

The conclusion of a new report by the U.S. Hudson Institute researcher Lela Gilbert is clear and unequivocal: gender-based violence plays a key strategic role in the plans of those who wish to eradicate Christians and Christian belief from Muslim lands, Open Doors USA reports. “Gender-Based Violence as an expression of Christian Persecution in Muslim Lands,” written for the World Watch List, describes how a profound lack of equality between men and women in Muslim countries means that all women in these societies are structurally vulnerable to systematic violence and discrimination in their daily lives. A parallel review of statistics on Christian persecution in these lands illustrates the plight of Christian women in Muslim lands. The resulting image is striking: the combined status of being both Christian and female significantly increases the likelihood of experiencing aggression and repression in society and at home.

UN Adds Syria, Mali to Child Soldier List

The United Nations has added three Malian militias and Syria’s main rebel force for the first time to an annual “list of shame” of armed groups that recruit children. The list was part of report released Wednesday that also harshly criticized the Syrian regime over accounts that it has detained and tortured minors to extract information on rebel groups. The annual report on children of armed conflict covered 21 countries, detailing new abuses against children in some conflict zones and progress in others. Fifty-five armed groups from 14 countries were included in “lists of shame,” some for recruiting children and others for other abuses against minors. The Syrian government forces were added to a list of groups that sexually abuse children. Hundreds of children, mainly boys between 12 and 15, were enlisted to fight by armed groups who fought over Mali’s north last year, according to the report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The “list of shame” of children recruiters included the Tuareg group MNLA and two Islamic groups, MUJAO and Ansar Dine.

Syria

The Obama administration announced Thursday that it has determined that the Syrian government has deployed chemical weapons against opposition groups, crossing what President Obama had called a “red line” and prompting him to provide direct military aid to the Syrian opposition groups for the first time. White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that the president has decided to step up “military support” to the main opposition group, the Supreme Military Council, to bolster its effectiveness, but declined to “inventory” what equipment would be provided.

The overall documented death toll in devastated Syria has reached 92,901, the United Nations said Thursday. “Unfortunately, as the study indicates, this is most likely a minimum casualty figure,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said. “The true number of those killed is potentially much higher.” The analysis shows a dramatic increase in the average monthly number of documented killings since the beginning of the conflict, from around 1,000 per month in the summer of 2011 to an average of more than 5,000 per month since July 2012. Nearly 83% of the documented victims are male, while about 8% are female. The genders of the others were not known.

Turkey

Riot police stormed Istanbul’s Taksim Square on Tuesday, using tear gas and water cannon to scatter protesters demonstrating against plans to redevelop a nearby park. A violent crackdown on May 31 against peaceful sit-in protesters in the park sparked nationwide unrest leaving at least three dead — including a policeman — and nearly 5,000 injured. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the protesters of harboring violent extremists and accused foreign nationals of stoking the unrest.

Police and protesters retrenched Wednesday after punishing overnight clashes. Nearly two weeks of protests across the nation is the biggest test in the 10-year rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who protesters say is increasingly authoritarian, a charge that he and his allies strongly deny. A night of tear gas and water cannons was too much for protest leaders set to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday. Most have bailed out of the talks, a protest leader said. Turkey’s prime minister ordered Thursday that “troublemakers” be removed from Istanbul’s Taksim Square within 24 hours, while lashing out at the European Parliament over their planned resolution that condemns the excessive use of force by the police.

Iraq

A senior Iraqi official on Wednesday said his country expects to ramp up oil production to 4.5 million barrels per day by the end of next year from around 3.5 million barrels now, thanks to work by a handful of international oil companies developing the country’s prized oil and gas fields. Oil revenues make up 95% of the country’s budget. Resource-rich Iraq sits atop the world’s fourth largest proven reserves of conventional crude.

Iran

More than 50 million Iranian voters are eligible to go to the polls Friday to pick a new president. The country faces a painful economic situation, resulting in part from international sanctions intended to pressure Tehran over its foreign policy stance and its nuclear program. The last presidential election, in 2009, sparked allegations of massive fraud and a protest movement that was subsequently crushed by the government of the re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Friday’s presidential vote thrusts Iran’s democratic process back into the spotlight. But a question mark hangs over how much of a difference its outcome can make to the Iranian people. Iranian citizens ages 18 and over, male and female, can vote for the president, but only an Iranian-born male Shiite can run for president. Only candidates who have Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s blessing can really contest the election.

China

In an unprecedented agreement, the U.S. Treasury has agreed to give China direct access to its auctions. China is allowed to bypass Wall Street, and purchase Treasury Bills without placing any bids through primary dealers. The deal wasn’t announced publicly. Not in the entire 237-year history of this great country has any foreign government been granted such intimate access. Although there are no laws being broken, the Treasury’s accommodation of China is definitely suspicious. China already holds more than $1.2 trillion in U.S. Treasuries. Before long, China will own 50 cents on every dollar of U.S. debt.

Wildfires

The El Paso County Sheriff announced two people died before they could evacuate from a raging wildfire that has burned over 15,700 acres northeast of Colorado Springs. More than 380 homes have been destroyed, and the evacuation order was widened into the Colorado Springs city limits, making it the most destructive fire in Colorado history. Part of neighboring Elbert County, including two camps with a total of about 1,250 children and adults, also was evacuated. The fire was only 5 percent contained.

Another fire sparked by lightning Monday in Rocky Mountain National Park has grown to an estimated 600 acres in area with trees killed by pine beetles. The Royal Gorge wildfire has destroyed 20 structures, including some in Royal Gorge Bridge & Park, and prompted evacuations of about 250 residents and nearly 1,000 medium-security prison inmates who were taken to other facilities. To the north, another fire burned in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Wildfires also were burning in New Mexico, Oregon and California, where a smokejumper was killed fighting one of dozens of lightning-sparked fires. Five wildfires continue to burn in New Mexico having consumed more than 5,000 acres as of Thursday, 6/13. No structures have as yet been destroyed. A wildfire in Arizona has burned 14,000 acres with zero containment.

Weather

A storm system that wracked the upper Midwest on Wednesday with hail, strong winds and at least one confirmed tornado, marched to the East Thursday. Clouds stalling out over Michigan will result in “excessive rainfall” that “will cause flash flooding to occur,” the weather service said. A system of straight-line winds that slammed Chicago with 50 mph gusts and golf-ball sized hail Wednesday reportedly bowled over trees and some buildings in Auglaize, Ohio, early Thursday. A broad swath of flood warnings and watches extend from Illinois to the Atlantic.

The flood-swollen Mississippi River is going down, but it will be some time before things dry out. The waterway has crested from Iowa through southern Missouri and Illinois, but it remained above flood stage at many spots Monday. Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland are under water and hundreds of roads remain closed. Levee breaches from flooding this spring have been limited to mostly small agricultural levees, most of them in rural Missouri north of St. Louis.

Floods continued to devastate communities alongside the surging River Elbe in Germany’s northeastern Saxony-Anhalt state Wednesday. Hundreds of people are being evacuated from their homes in the towns of Stendal and Aken, with the army using helicopters and amphibious vehicles to help move them to safety. In total, 45,000 people have been asked to leave their homes in Saxony-Anhalt, the state currently worst affected by the flooding. The village of Fischbeck, about six miles from Stendal, is completely flooded after a nearby dike was breached. Officials expect the water to devastate further cities downstream.

Signs of the Times (6/10/13)

June 10, 2013

Praying for America

On Sunday, June 30, 2013, over one and a half million people in thousands of churches in all 50 states will be on their knees, praying for our nation. To join this movement, visit Call2Fall.com.  Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, says, “In 2009, I was challenged by an elderly lady to use my influence to call our nation to “our knees” in prayer (see 2 Chron.7:14). That same day I read about the Continental Congress’ call to prayer in 1775 that resulted in 3 million colonial Americans gathering on their knees in repentant prayer for our troubled, fledgling country. That was the beginning of Call2Fall.” FRC is partnering with the National Day of Prayer, the Congressional Prayer Caucus, Intercessors for America and many others who are collaborating to call America to pray.

30 Days of Prayer for Muslim World

Muslims around the world are getting ready for Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month, starting this year on July 9. Christians are also gearing up again for the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World, an international movement that has united millions of Christians in concerted prayer for the Muslim world. This prayer focus, coordinated in North America by WorldChristian.com, began in 1993, and coincides annually with the 30 days of Ramadan, a time of the year when Muslims are much more deeply aware of spiritual matters. WorldChristian.com reports, “Much has happened since this worldwide prayer focus began. While we see disturbing sound bites from the Muslim world almost nightly on TV, there are now also confirmed reports of an unprecedented turning of Muslims to Jesus. WorldChristian.com annually publishes a new full-color, 50+ page 30 Days prayer booklet, available in adult and kids versions. Each day focuses on a specific issue or area of the Islamic world. As you read and pray through it, you’ll gain a better understanding and a heart for Muslims. To get your copy of the 30 Days booklets go to WorldChristian.com

NSA Taps Data from Nine Major Internet Providers

The National Security Agency and the FBI are siphoning personal data from the main computer servers of nine major U.S. Internet firms, The Washington Post and the London-based Guardian reported Thursday night. James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, acknowledged existence of the program Thursday night and blasted the reports as “reprehensible” and inaccurate. Clapper said the program does not allow the targeting of U.S. citizens or any person in the United States. He ordered information about the program declassified so that the public can understand what information is being collected. Clapper said the data collection is authorized by Congress and “is designed to facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States.”

According to the New York Times, “With little public debate, the N.S.A. has been undergoing rapid expansion in order to exploit the mountains of new data being created each day. The government has poured billions of dollars into the agency over the last decade, building a one-million-square-foot fortress in the mountains of Utah, apparently to store huge volumes of personal data indefinitely. It created intercept stations across the country, according to former industry and intelligence officials, and helped build one of the world’s fastest computers to crack the codes that protect information.”

NSA Secrets Leaker Seeks Asylum

Edward Snowden, the man behind of one of the biggest leaks in the history of U.S. intelligence, is a former technical assistant for the CIA who is now holed up in a Hong Kong hotel, in danger of running out of money and hoping to find asylum somewhere in the world. U.S. Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, called Snowden “a defector” who should be turned over to the United States with an eye toward harsh prosecution. Snowden, 29, identified himself this weekend in American and British newspapers as the person who exposed details of a top-secret American program that collects vast streams of phone and Internet data.

Mainstream Media Turning Against Obama

The New York Times editorial board, which twice endorsed President Obama and has championed many planks of his agenda, on Thursday turned on the president over the government’s mass collection of phone data — saying the administration has “lost all credibility.” The Times has criticized the escalation of the lethal drone program, and it lashed out after the Justice Department acknowledged seizing reporters’ phone records last month. The report that the National Security Agency has been collecting phone records from millions of Verizon subscribers appeared to be the last straw. An editorial published late Thursday said the administration was using the “same platitude” it uses in every case of overreach — that “terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us.”

Acceptance of Homosexuality Varies by Nation, Survey Says

The world is divided over the acceptance of homosexuality, a survey released Tuesday finds, the Religion News Service reports. There is broad acceptance of homosexuality in North America, the European Union and much of Latin America, according to the Pew Research Center survey, which was conducted by telephone and face to face in 39 countries among 37,653 respondents from March 2 to May 1. Juliana Horowitz, the report’s lead author and a senior researcher at Pew, said: “I can’t think of any question we have asked where we have this sort of global polarization. In North America, Europe and several countries in Latin America, we have really high acceptance of homosexuality. In predominantly Muslim nations and in sub-Saharan Africa, we have equally widespread views on the other side.”

African nations and predominantly Muslim countries are among the least accepting of homosexuality. For example, about 98 percent of people in Nigeria say homosexuality should not be accepted. In Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country, 93 percent say homosexuality should be rejected. About 60 percent of Americans say society should accept homosexuality — a substantial increase from 2007, when 49 percent said homosexuality should be accepted. In several countries, younger respondents expressed more acceptance of homosexuality than older people. For example, in Japan, 83 percent of those younger than 30 say homosexuality should be accepted, compared with 71 percent of those ages 30-49, and 39 percent of those 50 and older. The survey is the first in the series “LGBT in Changing Times” that the center will release in the weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.

National Organization for Marriage Stands Up to Congress

NOM’s Chairman of the Board John Eastman went viral — and it’s the result of his amazing courage and eloquence in standing up to some Democrats in Congress who argued traditional marriage supporters have no right to the same tax-exempt status that gay rights groups have. When, shamefully, Rep. Earl Blumenauer said that NOM should be stripped of our nonprofit status because we oppose gay marriage, it was John Eastman who put him in his place. “Representative Blumenauer, it’s your kind of statement that have empowered IRS agents to make determinations about which organizations qualify for the public good and which do not.” The crowd burst into applause as Blumenauer, bow-tie in place looked sheepish. “The notion that defending traditional marriage doesn’t qualify as a defense of the public good is beyond preposterous,” Eastman said, as some in the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

House Votes to Resume Deporting Young DREAM Act Immigrants

The Republican-controlled House voted Thursday to resume the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children, the first immigration-related vote in either chamber of Congress this year and a measure of the daunting challenge facing supporters of a sweeping overhaul of existing law on the subject. The party-line vote of 224-201 was aimed at blocking implementation of President Barack Obama’s 2012 election-year order to stop deportations of many so-called DREAM Act individuals. The vote was largely symbolic. It nevertheless stood as a stark warning from conservatives who dominate the ranks of the Republican House majority about attempts in the Senate to grant a chance at citizenship to an estimated 11 million immigrants residing in the country illegally.

Vermont 17th State to Decriminalize Marijuana

Vermont has become the 17th state to get rid of criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a measure into law Thursday. The law replaces criminal penalties with civil fines similar to a traffic ticket for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana or five grams of hashish. The law also treats possession of such amounts of marijuana by people under age 21 the same as underage possession of alcohol, including referral to court diversion for a first offense, potential civil penalties and/or license suspension, and criminal penalties for a third violation. Previously, possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana was punishable by a six- to 24-month jail term. Vermont legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2004.

Seniors Face Serious Income Shortage

Seniors in almost every state in the country are falling short when it comes to affording their golden years, according to a study released Monday. Nationwide, seniors are living off of a median household income of $35,107, roughly 57% of the median income of their younger counterparts ages 45 to 64, according to an analysis of 2011 U.S. Census Bureau data by Interest.com, a financial information website owned by Bankrate.com. “We found that many senior citizens are significantly underfunded and risk running out of money,” said Mike Sante, the site’s managing editor. Financial planners recommend that retirees save enough to replace at least 70% of their pre-retirement income.

Economic News

Employers added a better-than-expected 175,000 jobs in May, providing further evidence of a resilient labor market despite huge federal spending cuts and global economic turmoil. Businesses added 178,000 jobs, while federal, state and local governments cut 3,000. The unemployment rate rose to 7.6% from 7.5%, the Labor Department said Friday, as the labor force, which includes people working and looking for work, increased by 420,000.

After trailing men through most of the jobs recovery since 2010, women this year are keeping pace and their unemployment rate has fallen far more rapidly. While the unemployment rate for men 16 and over rose to 7.9% from 7.7%, the jobless rate for women fell to 7.1% from 7.3%.

American families’ wealth grew by $3 trillion in the first quarter to reach an all-time high of $70.4 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. That topped the previous peak of $68 trillion in the third quarter of 2007, just before the recession began. In the January-March quarter, gains in stocks and mutual funds accounted for about half the nation’s $3 trillion increase in wealth. Rising home prices made up about one-fourth. The rest came from higher pension fund reserves, greater ownership of cars and other goods and lower debts. But Americans are still 11% poorer than in 2007, after adjusting for inflation and population growth.

Census Bureau data out this week show that the size of new homes keeps rising even as Americans over the past two generations have had fewer children. At 2,306 square feet, the typical new home is about 50% larger than its 1973 counterpart while the typical family is 10% smaller and the typical household 15% smaller. Industry observers say plus-sized houses fill an increasingly important role as smaller families come to expect more of their home and as multigenerational families proliferate, with aging grandparents, adult children and even friends added to the household mix.

The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Austria, which guarantees workers the most time off, has a legal minimum of 22 paid vacation days and 13 paid holidays each year. The average private sector U.S. worker receives a total of 16 paid vacation days and holidays. One in four Americans does not have a single paid day off. Some nations giving workers a generous combination of paid, legally-protected vacation days and holidays currently are struggling economically. To make matters worse, workers who have vacation and paid holidays also tend to have much higher levels of other benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans,

Persecution Watch

Last Tuesday morning, gunmen surrounded the village of Rubuki in Nigeria’s Nasarawa State, killing at least 16 people and destroying at least 25 homes, Open Doors USA reports. The motive for the attack is unknown, but it appears that the perpetrators may have been members of the Islamist group Boko Haram escaping the government clampdown under the state of emergency in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. The Nigerian government carries on efforts to bring an end to the Boko Haram insurgency; on Wednesday, Boko Haram was officially banned while the U.S. government declared a $7 million bounty for the capture of its leader, Abubakar Shekau. Boko Haram has killed hundreds of Christians and moderate Muslims and has a goal of establishing sharia law in all of Nigeria.

A Christian village in Syria was savagely attacked and almost 40 of its residents, including women and children, killed by opposition fighters, as UN investigators warned of increasing radicalization among the rebels. The village of Dweir on the outskirts of Homs, near the border with Lebanon, was invaded on May 27th. The following day, independent United Nations investigators warned that the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad is becoming increasingly radicalized and that the civil war is producing ever worse atrocities. The villagers who managed to escape the onslaught fled to Raman district, where Barnabas Aid is providing them with assistance.

Middle East

A senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party said in an interview broadcast Sunday that the Israeli government will not accept a Palestinian state with the borders favored by the Palestinians and the international community, a new hurdle to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to restart peace talks in his latest visit to the region. The Palestinians say final borders between Israel and a future Palestine must be based on the 1967 lines. Israeli hardliners oppose a broad withdrawal from the West Bank on both security and religious grounds.

The situation on Israel’s northern border got a little more unstable Thursday evening as Austria announced that it will withdraw the 380 peacekeeping troops it has stationed on the Golan Heights as part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) mission to monitor the border between Israel and Syria. “If at a time when a few bullets are fired, these forces run away from where they are needed to keep the peace, then what is it worth?” one Israeli official asked. “Even as part of peace agreements, Israel cannot place its security in the hands of international forces instead of relying on the presence of IDF soldiers

Syria

Thousands of Hezbollah’s fighters from Lebanon have streamed into Syria to help  President Bashar Assad take a stronghold for the rebels in Qusair this week and the seizure may turn the two-year conflict in his favor. While the West debates whether to intervene on the side of the rebels, and pushes for peace talks this month in Geneva, Hezbollah and its patron Iran have gone all in to keep Syria in the hands of an anti-American dictator. Iran is a Shiite Muslim theocracy and the Assad regime is headed by Alawites, who are a Shiite offshoot. The rebels are mostly Sunni. In addition, Syria has long been a conduit for Iranian weapons transfers to Hezbollah.

Iraq

Back-to-back car bombings at a market in central Iraq killed at least 14 people on Monday, officials said, the latest in a spike in violence that has ravaged the country in recent weeks. The explosions also wounded 34 people. Iraq is facing a spike in violence, with recent monthly death tolls rising to levels not seen since 2008. According to the United Nations, at least 1,045 Iraqi civilians and security personnel were killed in May.

Suicide attackers rammed car bombs on Friday into a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims and a police checkpoint west of Baghdad, killing 19 people in all, in the latest bout of violence to rattle Iraq. Since the 2003 invasion, foreign pilgrims from Iran and other countries have poured into Najaf, whose Imam Ali shrine is one of the holiest sites for Shiite Muslims. The attacks follow the deadliest two months in Iraq in half a decade, raising fears the country is descending into a renewed wave of widespread killing like the one that drove the nation to the brink of civil war following the U.S.-led invasion.

Afghanistan

Seven heavily armed Taliban fighters launched a pre-dawn attack near Afghanistan’s main airport Monday, apparently targeting NATO’s airport headquarters with rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and at least one large bomb. Two Afghan civilians were wounded and all the attackers were killed after an hours-long battle. It was one of three attacks on state facilities Monday morning by insurgents around the country.

A man in an Afghan army uniform turned his weapon on American trainers working with him in the country’s east on Saturday, killing three of them, while an attacker with a grenade killed an Italian soldier in the west, officials said. The shooting in Paktika province was the latest in a string of so-called “insider attacks” in which Afghan forces open fire on their own comrades or international troops. The incidents threaten to shake the confidence and trust of the two sides as the 2014 withdrawal of most of the international forces approaches.

Mexico

In just the last few weeks there have been stories of 12 young people allegedly abducted in daylight from a Mexico City club; the death by beating of Malcolm X’s grandson, also in the capital; the kidnapping of a U.S. Marine reservist from his father’s ranch; the freeing of 165 people, including two pregnant women, who had been held prisoner; and the case of an Arizonan mom traveling on a bus who was arrested and jailed, accused of smuggling drugs. At least 60,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence from 2006 to 2012, according to Human Rights Watch. Other observers put the number even higher. Outside of war zones, more Americans have been killed in Mexico in the last decade than in any other country outside the United States, and the number of U.S. deaths jumped from 35 in 2007 to 113 in 2011.

Wildfires

The growth in the Thompson Ridge fire burning in the Valle Caldera National Preserve and the Santa Fe National Forest near Jemez Springs led to the closure of several New Mexico highways. The blaze had grown to 33 square miles by Sunday evening. It was only 40 percent contained. An evacuation order remains in effect for Thompson Ridge, Rancho de la Cueva and Elk Valley. Meanwhile, crews reported no growth in another northern New Mexico wildfire. The size of the Tres Lagunas fire north of Pecos remained at more 15 square miles. Its containment grew slightly to 45 percent. New Mexico is experiencing the most severe drought in the nation.

Weather

Tropical Storm Andrea brought heavy rain, storm surge flooding, tornadoes and high winds to the eastern Gulf Coast and East Coast.  Andrea made landfall at 5:40 p.m. on June 6, 2013 about 10 miles south of Steinhatchee, Fla. in Dixie County. A preliminary count of 10 tornadoes touched down associated with Andrea downing trees and power lines, ripping apart roofs and tearing off shingles. In the Florida panhandle, up to 6.5 inches of rain fell in just 5 hours closing several roads. Tropical Storm Andrea was moving quickly toward the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas early Friday, promising sloppy commutes and waterlogged vacation getaways through the beginning of the weekend.

The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season made Friday the wettest on record for many cities and towns in the northeastern U.S. The National Weather Service says Andrea dumped 6.64 inches of rain on Gales Ferry, Conn. The 4.16 inches that fell on New York City’s Central Park was more than double the previous June 7 record, set in 1918. The 3.5 inches of rain that fell at Philadelphia International Airport doubled the 1.79 inches that fell in 1904. Newark, N.J., saw 3.71 inches, breaking the previous mark of 1.11 inches set in 1931. Cars were submerged in floodwaters on Long Island and about 50 residents were displaced by a rising stream in Chester, Pa.

The rain-swollen Mississippi River on Thursday slowly receded along earthen levees and sandbags that have thus far held up, but storms expected to blow through the nation’s midsection could keep water levels stubbornly high for a while. Crests of the Mississippi at many points along it have widely been among the top 10 on record, although they fell well short of the heights reached during the disastrous Great Flood of 1993. A 250-mile stretch of the Mississippi that’s been closed for days to barge traffic because the river’s rise made currents and drifting debris unsafe for navigation could reopen, perhaps as early as Friday. That navigational headache comes months after shipping along the Mississippi was perilously close to being halted altogether after the nation’s worst drought in decades made river levels nearly too low for barge traffic.

The swollen Elbe River breached another levee early Monday on its relentless march toward the North Sea, forcing German authorities to evacuate 10 villages and shut down one of the country’s main railway routes. As the surge from the Elbe pushed into rural eastern Germany, there was some relief further upstream as the river slipped back from record levels in Magdeburg, the capital of Saxony-Anhalt state. To the south, the Danube hit a record high Sunday evening in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, then began to ease back Monday. Weeks of heavy rain this spring have sent the Elbe, the Danube and other rivers such as the Vltava and the Saale overflowing their banks, causing extensive damage in central and southern Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. At least 21 flood-related deaths have been reported.

Signs of the Times (6/6/13)

June 6, 2013

More than 65 Countries Sign Landmark Arms Trade Treaty

More than 65 countries signed the landmark treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar global arms trade Monday and the United States announced it will sign soon, giving a strong kickoff to the first major international campaign to stem the illicit trade in weapons that fuel conflicts and extremists. While the treaty was overwhelmingly approved on April 2 by the U.N. General Assembly, key arms exporters including Russia and China and major importers including India, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Egypt abstained and have given no indication yet that they will sign it. The treaty will require countries that ratify it to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and components and to regulate arms brokers, but it will not control the domestic use of weapons in any country, or so supporters claim.

  • The danger in global treaties is losing national control; the danger nationally is that gun control advocates will seek to exploit the mandate to gradually strip away 2nd amendment rights of citizens to own firearms.

Colorado Recall over Gum Control Advances

A group of gun-rights activists seeking to oust a top Democratic state lawmaker in Colorado over the passage of strict gun control legislation on Monday turned in double the signatures needed to force a recall election of Senate President John Morse.. “This sends a strong message,” Rob Harris, who delivered three boxes full of petitions to the office, told KDVR. “We’ve obtained enough signatures to recall a state legislator for the first time in the history of Colorado.” Morse tells KDVR he is going to fight the recall effort.

Border Arrests Up, Still Near Historical Lows

For the first six months of this fiscal year, ending in March, Border Patrol apprehensions of undocumented migrants entering from Mexico climbed 13 percent compared with a year earlier. The new data come as the debate over immigration reform and how much more to spend locking down the border intensifies in Washington. The Senate is expected to soon begin considering a sweeping bipartisan reform bill. The increase in apprehensions generally signals an increase in attempted crossings. And the recent surge is coming almost entirely through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, which is beginning to rival the Tucson Sector as the busiest — and deadliest — route for migrants from Mexico. The number of apprehensions, 189,172, is still near historic lows. In the last 40 years, only the numbers for the first halves of fiscal 2011 and 2012 were lower.

Americans Now More Leery of Obamacare

Another poll, more bad news for President Obama’s health care plan. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey says that 49% of Americans believe that the new health care plan is a bad idea — the highest number on that question since the poll began asking it in 2009. Only 37% say that Obama’s Affordable Care Act is a good idea. the current poll also finds 38% of respondents saying that they (and their families) will be worse off under the health care law. That’s the highest percentage of respondents to express a negative outlook toward ‘Obamacare’ since 2010, when the president signed this signature piece of legislation into law. By comparison, 19 percent say they’ll be better off, and 39 percent say the law won’t make much of a difference. With new health care insurance exchanges set to come on line later this year, the administration is busy promoting the benefits of the new system.

Verizon Ordered to Give NSA All Phone Records

The Obama administration defended the National Security Agency’s need to collect telephone records of U.S. citizens on Thursday, but fell short of confirming reports that Verizon, under orders from a secret court, has been giving the NSA its call records for millions of U.S. customers since April. The Guardian reported Wednesday that Verizon has been required to turn over information on all domestic and international calls on an “ongoing, daily basis,” even if customers are not suspected of a crime. The order, effective until July 19, was issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, The Guardian said, adding that it had obtained a copy of the order. The contents of the calls are not reported, but “the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers and the time and duration of all calls.

  • Domestic spying is growing by leaps and bounds as Big Brother grows more and more entrenched

Calls for Attorney General’s Resignation Growing

On May 15, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee, saying that he wasn’t involved in the “potential prosecution of the press for disclosure of material.” But nine days later, the Justice Department confirmed that Holder had signed a search warrant for a FOX News reporter’s phone records and emails in May 2010. Grassfire notes, “Last month’s possible perjury by Holder was simply the latest symptom in an epidemic of evasiveness, deception and lies that have become the hallmark of his tenure as attorney general. The nation’s top law enforcement official also has selectively refused to prosecute crimes and enforce current law when it didn’t fit his or President Obama’s political leanings.” Many believe that Holder’s willingness to ignore — or reject outright — the rule of law make him unfit to serve the American people as attorney general. As a result, the calls for his resignation are growing louder. Even the “mainstream media” finally has begun to take notice. The New York Times reports, “some in the West Wing privately tell associates they wish he would step down.”

Nation’s Drinking Water System Degrading

The nation’s drinking water systems are deteriorating, and $384 billion needs to be spent in the next 17 years to maintain a safe supply for millions of Americans, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The most significant expense, $247.5 billion, should go to replacing the aging pipes, many of which are between 50 to 100 years old, the EPA said. Although upgrades need to be made to systems nationwide, the agency said California, Texas and New York need the money the most. The survey also found that $72.5 billion is needed to prevent contamination of 73,400 water systems across the country, as well as water systems in American Indian, Alaska Native Village and other U.S. territories.

Teen Birth Rate Hit Another Record Low in 2011

The teen birth rate in 2011 set another new record low, according to the latest federal data. 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, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The teen birth rate has been dropping steadily since the 1991 peak, save for blips in 2006 and 2007. The new report shows particularly steep drops, with a 25-percent decline in the overall teen birth rate just since 2007.

Charitable Giving Up for Large Churches, Down for Small

While charitable giving to large ECFA-accredited nonprofits and churches increased a modest 2.4 percent in 2012, as compared with a 1.4 percent decrease for 2011, giving to small organizations continued to decline for the second consecutive year, the faith-based financial accountability organization announced Thursday. When adjusted for inflation, cash gifts to ECFA members with fiscal years ending Dec. 31 were $5.3 billion last year, compared with $5.1 billion for the previous year. Religious nonprofits are still fighting to regain their pre-2008 giving levels.  When comparing pre-recession to current-giving data, giving to ECFA members is up a scant .4 percent over the six-year period,” said Dan Busby, ECFA president. Organizations with under $5 million in annual revenues saw cash donations decrease by 3.6 percent in 2012.

Economic News

The employment rate — the percentage of adult Americans who hold a job — has barely budged in the past three years. It’s hovering near its lowest level in three decades. About 58.6% of the civilian population over age 16 had a job as of April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This rate — officially called the “employment-population ratio” — has been stuck around that level for several years. Looking at the job market using that measure paints a stark picture. Companies have been hiring, but they’ve been creating jobs at a pace that merely keeps up with recent population growth.

About 346,000 people filed initial jobless claims last week, 11,000 fewer than a week earlier, the Department of Labor said Thursday. In early 2007, before the recession began, it was common to see about 315,000 initial claims filed each week. At the height of the jobs crisis in 2009, weekly claims surged as high as 670,000. So far in 2013, claims are hovering around their lowest levels since 2008, a sign that firms are firing fewer workers these days, but hiring remains sluggish.

States that have the lowest level of government financial intrusion — e.g., taxes and regulatory obstructions — also tend to have the highest economic growth rates, a new “economic freedom index” shows. “The results seem to imply that Americans value freedom and are willing to vote with their feet for it,” said Jason Sorens, one of the authors of the Mercatus report. Sorens said taxes and regulations have made life unaffordable for some Americans, and forced them from states like California, which lost 1.5 million people last decade, to places like Texas, which gained 2 million, according to City Journal. A separate Cato Institute study analyzing tax burdens by metro area found that the 10 lowest-taxed regions experienced three times the increase in the populations of the 10 highest-taxed metros.

The pace of home price increases stayed strong in April with prices up 12.1% year-over-year. The annual increase is the biggest in more than seven years. Prices were up 3.2% in April from March. The states with the highest year over year home price appreciation were Nevada, up almost 25%; California, 19%; Arizona and Hawaii, 17%; and Oregon, almost 16%.

In April, the supply of existing homes for sale grew to 5.2 months, up from 4.7 months in March, the National Association of Realtors says. Realtors generally consider a 6-month supply to be balanced between buyers and sellers

Persecution Watch

As the civil conflict in the country rages on, Christian women and children are particularly at risk. Because Islamist rebel fighters believe they have the right to rape non-Sunni, non-Muslim women, some Christian women are unable to leave their homes because the danger they are in is so acute. One Christian woman told Barnabas Fund that she had left her good job in Aleppo to return to her family home. She explained her decision by saying that if she had to die, she did not want to die alone. The woman also said, “During these two years we have felt more repressed and marginalized… It is becoming worse and worse for women.”

The Islamist Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) are carrying out a violent campaign against Christians in the country. Our brothers and sisters are being tied up, beaten and forced to hand over money to save their lives. A pastor in CAR said that the Islamist militants are conducting a “reign of terror” against Christians. The church leader also said that the rebels, who seized power in a bloody coup in March, have a hit list of pastors and other Christian workers. Church buildings have been attacked and Christian property looted. In one incident, Seleka forces seized all the collection money given at a meeting of church leaders. The threat of violence against Christians and their property has forced many believers to flee their homes and to take refuge in the countryside.

The recent spate of attacks on churches and Christian property in Egypt shows no sign of abating. Sedky Sherif, a Christian father of three, was killed in an attack on a church building in Alexandria on 17 May. Muslims began throwing Molotov cocktails and bricks at the building after an accusation was made against a local Christian man. When Christians tried to defend the site, the Muslims began firing birdshot and throwing bricks at them. The violence in Alexandria was the second anti-Christian attack in Egypt in one week. On 13 May, a church building in Menbal village, Minya, was attacked by rampaging Muslims who vandalized it and assaulted a person inside. The mob then stormed through the streets armed with firearms and knives, looted and destroyed Christian-owned businesses and torched vehicles. Several Christians were injured, and the Muslims threatened to expel them from the village. The violence followed an incident of harassment in a nearby village earlier that day, in which Muslim youths hurled bags of urine at Christian girls.

In Tanzania, anti-Christian violence continues to devastate communities. Five people were killed and around 60 injured when the inaugural service of a church in Arusha was bombed on 5 May. Many of the wounded were left in a critical condition. Eight people have been arrested in connection with the attack. A Barnabas Fund contact in Tanzania, who described the crime as a “well-planned attack”, said that radical camps in the country are teaching young Muslims that Christians must be killed or live as second-class citizens. He said that police had not taken serious action against the camps despite being told about them by church leaders. This atrocity is the latest in a series of attacks on churches and Christian leaders in Tanzania, where militant Islamism is gaining an increasingly sure foothold.

Middle East

Syrian rebels on Thursday captured a crossing point along a cease-fire line in the contested Golan Heights patrolled by U.N. troops, an Austrian defense ministry official said. The development is likely to deepen Israel’s concerns that the volatile area in the north along the Israel-Syria frontier could fall into the hands of radical Islamic factions fighting along with other insurgent groups in Syria against President Bashar Assad’s forces. The crossing’s seizure comes a day after the Syrian military, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah militants, captured the strategic town of al-Qusayr near the border with Lebanon in a significant blow to the opposition fighters trying to topple Assad’s regime.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a firebrand speech in Ramallah on Wednesday in which he declared that the Palestinians “won’t accept any city other than Jerusalem as our capital. The responsibility for defending and restoring Jerusalem and purifying its holy sites is not that of the Palestinians alone, but the entire Arab, Islamic and Christian nation.” He added that Muslims and Christians should visit Jerusalem “to affirm the Arab and Islamic depth of the holy city.” He continued by insisting that “there will be no peace without Jerusalem. There will be no Palestinian state without Jerusalem. There will be no security and stability without Jerusalem.”

Turkey

In Turkey, it’s not about the park anymore. It’s about the prime minister. What began as a small sit-in over the Turkish government’s plan to demolish a park in central Istanbul in favor of a shopping arcade has swelled to become the biggest protest movement against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he was elected more than 10 years ago. About a week since the demonstration started quietly in the park in Taksim Square, the now-angry protests show no sign of abating — and a defiant Erdogan shows no inclination to give in to their demands. On Monday, he dismissed allegations that security forces used excessive force, and downplayed that Turkey could be on the cusp of its own “Arab Spring.”

On Sunday night, protesters wearing face masks and goggles hurled rocks and police fired tear gas in the Besiktas district of central Istanbul. The protests have spread beyond Istanbul to other parts of the country. There were reports of confrontations in the capital, Ankara, as well as the port cities of Izmir and Adana. Trade unions claiming 240,000 members are throwing their weight behind anti-government demonstrations across Turkey. The KESK confederation of public sector workers was calling a two-day strike starting Tuesday to protest what it called the “fascism” of the governing party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has become one of the focal points of demonstrators’ anger.

Afghanistan

The U.S. military has scaled back the support American troops will provide for their Afghan counterparts after 2014 when the coalition finalizes its shift to an advisory role, reflecting pressure from the White House to keep the American presence there small. U.S. commanders had initially considered providing some level of air support, such as medical evacuation, and other support for Afghanistan’s military, since it will be several years before Afghanistan’s air force is capable of providing wide-scale medical evacuation and bombing. But the pace of withdrawal ordered by the White House ruled that out.

Iran

Western sanctions drove Iran’s crude exports to the lowest in decades in May, according to industry sources and tanker-tracking data, even before Washington toughens measures aimed at squeezing oil sales further. Crude shipments dropped to 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) last month, the data from sources showed, about a third of Iran’s oil exports before the current round of sanctions. U.S. and European sanctions aimed at pressuring Tehran over its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons have already more than halved Iran’s shipments – costing Iran billions of dollars in revenue since the start of 2012. And Washington is now seeking to cut shipments to less than 500,000 bpd through tighter sanctions.

Wildfires

Nearly 3,000 people from some 700 homes are under evacuation orders as a wildfire north of Los Angeles kept growing, feeding on old, dry brush, some of which hadn’t burned in decades. Nearly 3,000 people from some 700 homes are under evacuation orders as a wildfire north of Los Angeles kept growing, feeding on old, dry brush, some of which hadn’t burned in decades. It was spreading fastest into unoccupied land, but populated areas about 50 miles north of downtown LA remained in danger, with more than 2,800 people and 700 homes under evacuation orders that were expected to last until late Monday or Tuesday

Weather

Tropical Storm Andrea is set to wallop Florida with torrential rain as it prepares to make landfall Thursday. The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season made its debut Wednesday by pummeling Cuba with heavy downpours. As of 8 a.m. ET Thursday, Andrea was 160 miles west of Tampa, Florida, and was headed north-northeast at 14 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. The center of Andrea is expected to reach the Florida Panhandle late Thursday before cutting across southern Georgia and moving up the East Coast on Friday and Saturday.

The remnants of a violent storm that claimed 13 lives in Oklahoma sent punishing winds and torrential downpours to northern New England and a tornado to South Carolina. On Sunday, storms flattened trees and utility poles in parts of northern New England, delayed flights in New York City. The weather service issued a rare tornado warning as a line of thunderstorms raced through New Hampshire into western Maine. By early Monday, more than 12,000 customers were still without power in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, down from more than 40,000 outages at the peak. n northwestern South Carolina, a tornado reportedly knocked a home off its foundation and blew part of the roof off. Flash flooding inundated parts of South Carolina, particularly in Anderson, S.C.  Cars were left underwater in some low-lying parking lots.

Heavy rain over the past several days has spurred a second round of spring flooding this year in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. The Mississippi and Missouri rivers have crested in many places north and west of St. Louis – but to the south, the worst was yet to come. Over the past two weeks, most of Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and western Indiana have received 4 to 8 inches of rain — in a period that normally sees 1.5 to 3 inches of rainfall. And that’s on top of a very wet April in much of this region.

Waters from three swollen rivers gushed into the old town of Passau in southeast Germany on Monday, as officials warned that water levels – already the highest in 70 years – could rise further. Much of the city was inaccessible on foot and the electricity supply was shut down as a precaution, he said. Rescuers were using boats to evacuate residents from flooded parts of the city. The city was one of the worst hit by flooding that has spread across a large area of central Europe following heavy rainfall in recent days. At least eight people were reported to have died and nine were missing due to floods in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

Signs of the Times (6/2/13)

June 2, 2013

I will be traveling extensively for the next few weeks, so reports may become sporadic instead of bi-weekly

Poll: America Losing its Religion

More than three in four of Americans say religion is losing its influence in the United States, according to a new survey, the highest such percentage in more than 40 years of polling. A nearly identical percentage says that trend bodes ill for the country. “It may be happening, but Americans don’t like it,” Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief, said of religion’s waning influence. “It is clear that a lot of Americans don’t think this is a good state of affairs.” According to the Gallup survey released Wednesday, 77% of Americans say religion is losing its influence. Since 1957, when the question was first asked, Americans’ perception of religion’s power has never been lower. Conversely, 75% of Americans said the country would be better off if it was more religious.

  • The contradiction is due to people doing whatever they want instead of what they know they should

Milwaukee Elementary School Has ‘Gender Bender Day’

A themed dress day at a Milwaukee elementary school has some parents up in arms, National Review reports. Last week’s “Gender Bender Day” at Tippecanoe School for the Arts and Humanities asked students to dress as a member of the opposite sex. “I think it’s just teaching them the wrong lesson about gender,” one parent told local Fox affiliate WITI. “If you’re a boy, stay a boy. You shouldn’t have something like that at school.” Another parent said she was “speechless” about the school’s decision; she, like some other parents, ended up keeping her son home from school that day. A school board member dismissed parents’ concerns, saying they were “using the kids for political purposes.” In an effort to appease upset parents, the school changed the name to “Switch It Up Day.” WITI couldn’t find many students participating in the themed day when it finally came last Friday; it appeared to be mostly teachers and other staffers.

Baptists Abandoning Boy Scouts

Baptist churches sponsor nearly 4,000 Scout units representing more than 100,000 youths, according to the Boy Scouts of America. That number will drop precipitously. The Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, will soon urge its 45,000 congregations and 16 million members to cut ties with the Scouts, according to church leaders. The denomination will vote on nonbinding but influential resolutions during a convention June 11-12 in Houston. For Southern Baptist pastor Tim Reed, it was Scripture versus the Scouts. “God’s word explicitly says homosexuality is a choice, a sin,” said Reed. “It’s not a hate thing… It’s a moral stance we must take as a Southern Baptist church.”

ExxonMobil Votes Against Special Rights for Gays

In its annual shareholder meeting this week, ExxonMobil Corporation overwhelming rejected a shareholder proposal demanding changes to the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policy that would grant special rights to homosexual employees. Had the resolution passed, the company would have been forced to begin promoting and providing “acceptance” training of homosexuality to all employees, even if they had religious objections. The Board of Directors strongly recommended shareholders vote “Against” the proposal. In a statement, ExxonMobil said it already prohibits “all forms of discrimination” and “believes the proposal is unnecessary.”

  • Should gays be persecuted? Of course not. Should they receive special rights? Not necessary. We have enough laws against discrimination and persecution.

Did Obama Approve IRS Targeting Conservative Groups?

The IRS Chief at the time that agency was targeting conservative groups was the most frequent visitor to the White House – by far.  The question stands, “How could President Obama NOT know about the targeting and the Inspector General’s investigation?”  The Daily Caller has revealed that former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House at least 157 times to meet with President Obama and was in his presence at least once weekly during the height of the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups. Shulman visited Obama substantially more than any other cabinet member, including those considered his closest confidants. Many groups are calling for a congressional investigation, including the commissioning of an Independent Counsel so that every responsible party is held accountable.

Obama Job Approval Tumbles in Wake of Scandals

President Barack Obama’s job approval rating has taken a huge hit in the wake of the scandals surrounding the White House, a new poll has found. Fewer than half the registered voters surveyed now believe Obama is “honest and trustworthy,” according to the poll conducted by Quinnipiac University. That figure had stood at 58 percent the last time the question was asked in September 2011. Now it is at 49 percent. And it is the scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service that is hitting Obama hardest, the survey found, more so than the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, or the seizure of phone records from journalists. According to the Connecticut university’s survey, more people now view the president negatively than positively. Slightly under half — 49 percent — say they have a negative view of Obama, while 45 percent have a positive view.

Judge Orders Google to Release Data to FBI

A federal judge has ordered Google to comply with FBI warrantless demands for customer data. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston on Tuesday rejected Google’s argument that the so-called “National Security Letters” the company received from the FBI were unconstitutional and unnecessary. Illston ordered Google to comply with the secret demands. Google is expected to appeal Illston’s decision.

Economic News

Consumer confidence surged to a five-year high in May, fueled by increased optimism about an improving job market. The Consumer Confidence Index, which gauges how consumers feel about the economy each month, rose to 76.2 in May — its highest reading since February 2008. It’s also up significantly from last month’s reading of 69.

However, consumers pulled back on spending in April even as their income remained steady, according to a government report Friday. The report showed spending fell 0.2% in the month when adjusted for inflation. Spending by consumers accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation’s economy.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 354,000, a level consistent with modest but steady job growth. In the past six months, employers have added an average of 208,000 jobs per month. That’s up from an average of only 138,000 in the previous six months.

U.S. banks earned more from January through March than during any quarter on record, buoyed by greater income from fees and fewer losses from bad loans. The banking industry earned $40.3 billion in the first quarter, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Wednesday. That’s the highest ever for a single quarter and up 15.8 percent from the first quarter of 2012.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei index dropped 5.2% Thursday as concerns mount over the long-term viability of the country’s ambitious economic turnaround plan. The index is now 14.7% off its peak. The yen has also weakened dramatically. Japan has ramped up government spending and the central bank is injecting money into the economy on a massive scale.

Eurozone

Unemployment across the 17 European Union countries that use the euro has hit another record high. Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, says Friday that unemployment rose to 12.2% in April from the previous record of 12.1% the month before. Another 95,000 people joined the ranks of the unemployed, taking the total to 19.38 million. The figures mask big disparities among countries. While over 25% are unemployed in Greece and Spain, Germany’s rate is down at 5.4%. Eurostat also says inflation in the eurozone rose to 1.4% in the year to May from 1.2% the previous month. Still, inflation is below the European Central Bank’s target.

Persecution Watch

Nigeria continues to own the shameful title of being the deadliest place to be a Christian. In 2012, 70 percent of Christians murdered due to persecution were killed in Nigeria. This deadly fact is characterized by the brutal murder of northern Nigerian church leader Rev. Faye Pama Musa, who was followed home by suspected Boko Haram militants and shot. Rev. Faye Pama was likely targeted by the militants attached to the Islamic extremist group because of his outspoken criticism of Boko Haram’s targeting of Christians and the discrimination against Christians in northern Nigeria. Hours before Rev. Faye Pama was murdered, Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three of Nigeria’s northern states, including the state where the pastor was killed. The state of emergency will allow the federal government to send more troops into the states where the emergency has been declared and use special measures to try to curb the violence being perpetrated by Boko Haram. Thousands of Christian families have been devastated by the violence unleashed by Boko Haram as they attempt to establish a separate Islamic state where they can impose their strict interpretation of sharia law.

The persecution of Christians in the African country of Eritrea is at record levels and increasing, according to an Eritrean Christian leader, World Watch Monitor reports. Churches in Eritrea have been monitored closely since May 2002, when the government closed all Protestant and Pentecostal churches which did not apply for registration. Eleven years later, there is evidence of widespread human rights abuses by the Eritrean government, according to human rights organization Amnesty International. The director of Release Eritrea, a UK-based human rights organization, said there had been an “intensification” of religious persecution since January. “We can’t pin it down to anything that has happened, or triggered it, but there have been lots of arrests,” she said.

Middle East

A report was aired Thursday evening on Israel’s Channel 10 news program about two building projects in Jewish neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem, totaling 1,100 apartments, which have been in the planning process for years. The report set off a firestorm of controversy and diplomatic activity, with Chief PLO Negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and declared that the “new” apartments were a deliberate attempt to scuttle the efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to re-start negotiations between Israel and the PA. “The Palestinians continue to look for excuses to escape negotiations,” an Israeli official responded.

Eighteen rockets and mortars rounds from Syria slammed into Lebanon on Saturday, the largest cross-border salvo to hit a Hezbollah stronghold since Syrian rebels threatened to retaliate for the Lebanese militant group’s armed support of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Syrian civil war is increasingly drawing in nations across the Middle East, a region-wide conflict that threatens to pit world powers against each other. On Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council pushed through a resolution to investigate the abuses of the Syrian regime, over the objections of the regime’s ally Russia, who insisted the West was making matters worse. On Monday, the European Union lifted its embargo of sending arms to the rebels and could later decide to do so. Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group says it will not participate in U.S.-Russian sponsored peace talks while the Syrian regime continues to carry out massacres.

Syria

Syrian president Bashar Assad told Lebanon’s Hezbollah-owned TV station that Damascus received the first shipment of Russian air defense missiles. The arrival of the long-range S-300 air defense missiles in Syria will further ratchet up tensions in the region and undermine efforts to hold U.N.-sponsored talks with Syria’s warring sides. Israel’s defense chief, Moshe Yaalon, said earlier this week that Russia’s plan to supply Syria with the weapons is a threat and that Israel was prepared to use force to stop the delivery.

Syrian state-run television reported Thursday that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed three Westerners, including an American woman and a British citizen, who it claims were fighting with the rebels and were found with weapons. The report said the three were ambushed in their car in the flashpoint province of Idlib in northwestern Syria, where government forces have been battling rebels for control.

Pakistan

The Pakistani Taliban withdrew their offer of peace talks Thursday, following the death of the group’s deputy leader in an American drone attack, a spokesman for the group said, a blow to the incoming government of Nawaz Sharif that was elected partly on promises to restore security after years of deadly attacks. The death of Waliur Rehman, wanted by the U.S. for a 2009 attack in Afghanistan that killed seven people working for the CIA, also focuses attention on the controversial U.S. drone program. Despite President Barack Obama’s sweeping promise last week of new transparency, Wednesday’s strike against a longtime American target shows that the CIA will still launch attacks on militants without having to explain them publicly.

Turkey

Thousands of anti-government protesters continued demonstrations Sunday in Istanbul and several major cities across Turkey, speaking against rising authoritarianism and calling for the government to resign after police used violence against demonstrators marching against plans to demolish a local park. Amnesty International said two were killed and more than 1,000 injured in clashes. The police crackdown against a peaceful sit-in protesting government plans to demolish a park ignited the biggest riots this city has seen in a decade. Demonstrators clashed with police in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city Friday, and protests spread to several other cities, including the capital Ankara and the port city of Izmir. In the predawn hours Saturday, crowds gathered across central Istanbul chanting “government resign” and “shoulder to shoulder against fascism.” Phalanxes of helmeted riot police responded with volleys of tear gas canisters. The security forces continued firing tear gas at demonstrators in Istanbul throughout the day Saturday.

Egypt

Egypt’s highest court ruled on Sunday that the nation’s Islamist-dominated legislature and constitutional panel were illegally elected, dealing a serious blow to the legal basis of the Islamists’ hold on power. The ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court says that the legislature’s upper house, the only one currently sitting, would not be dissolved until the parliament’s lower chamber is elected later this year or early in 2014. The same court ruled to dissolve parliament’s lower chamber in June, a move that led to the promotion of the toothless upper chamber, the Shura Council, to becoming a law-making house. The rulings deepen the political instability that has gripped the country since the overthrow of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak two years ago.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake jolted Taiwan on Sunday, killing one person and injuring at least 18 others and causing panicked shoppers to rush out of a shaking multi-story department store. The tremor that hit Taiwan on Sunday afternoon was felt all over the island, but most severely in the central and southern regions. The magnitude-6.3 quake’s epicenter was near Jenai township in Nantou County in central Taiwan, about 250 kilometers south of Taipei.One person was killed by a rockslide while driving a car on a mountain road. Rockslides at a scenic mountainous area near the epicenter injured several people.

An earthquake rattled a province in the southern Philippines Sunday morning as people slept, injuring at least nine people, damaging dozens of houses and setting off a landslide that partially blocked a road with boulders. The quake, which had a magnitude of 5.7, struck North Cotabato province and nearby regions late Saturday, causing the injuries, including to children, and damaging more than 30 houses, the approach to a bridge and water supply pipes in two villages. It damaged a school in the hilly village of Kimadzil where many residents remained jittery because of continuing aftershocks.

  • End-time earthquakes will grow in both frequency and intensity

Wildfires

Firefighting teams in California and New Mexico are battling early season wildfires that have blackened thousands of acres and threatened homes and building, spurring numerous evacuations. Residents of more than 1,000 California homes were ordered to leave as erratic winds pushed a wildfire closer to two foothill communities, where officials said five structures, possibly homes, were destroyed Saturday. North of Los Angeles, the wind shifted in several directions, fanning the fire in the Angeles National Forest to nearly 9 square miles. It marched downhill toward Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth, west of Lancaster, triggering the evacuation of nearly 1,000 homes.

Meanwhile, an uncontained blaze near Santa Fe, N.M., had spread to nearly 10 square miles by Saturday night, making it apparently the largest of several wildfires burning in the West as it placed the city under a blanket of haze. The thick smoke also covered the Gallinas Canyon and Las Vegas, N.M. The fire in New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Forest is burning just 25 miles from the city, prompting the Red Cross to set up an emergency shelter at a nearby high school. Another New Mexico blaze, the Thompson Ridge fire near Jemez Springs, grew to nearly two square miles by Saturday night, state forestry officials said. Between 40 and 50 homes in the area were evacuated as more than 200 crew members and a helicopter were fighting the blaze burning through pine forests and brush.

Weather

A violent weather system that claimed 12 lives in Oklahoma and Arkansas amid tornadoes and flash flood. A tornado killed nine people as it charged down Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City’s western suburbs on Friday night, twisting billboards and scattering cars and tractor-trailers along a roadway clogged with rush-hour motorists leaving work or fleeing the storm’s path. Flash floods in Arkansas killed three early Friday, including a sheriff attempting a water rescue. Damage from Friday night’s severe weather was concentrated a few miles north of Moore, the Oklahoma City suburb pounded by an EF5 tornado on May 20 that killed 24 people. Friday night’s storm formed out on the prairie west of Oklahoma City, giving residents plenty of advance notice. When told to seek shelter, many ventured out and snarled traffic across the metro area.

It was chaos. People were going southbound in the northbound lanes. Everybody was running for their lives. Friday night’s victims included a mother and a baby sucked out of their car as the EF3 hit near El Reno. More than 100 people were injured by swirling debris, most with puncture wounds and lacerations. Oklahoma wasn’t the only state hit by violent weather Friday night. In Missouri, areas west of St. Louis received significant damage from an EF3 tornado Friday night that packed estimated winds of 150 mph. In St. Charles County, at least 71 homes were heavily damaged and 100 had slight to moderate damage.

Once the tornadoes had passed, Oklahomans faced a new threat: floods. Heavy rains hosed Oklahoma City, with eight to 11 inches of rain. Widespread flooding throughout a 621 square mile area. Flooding stranded five city buses and some motorists. An Arkansas sheriff died early Friday during a rescue attempt at a home deluged by floodwaters. Two people at the home and a state wildlife officer who had been with Carpenter are missing.

A colossal river ice jam that caused major flooding in a remote Alaska town was starting to churn Wednesday as water finally chewed ice chunks away from the stubborn, frozen mass after most of the residents were forced to flee from the rising water. An aerial survey Wednesday afternoon revealed chunks of ice have broken off at the front of the 30-mile ice jam on the Yukon River. That means the jam will move soon and waters will begin to recede in the waterlogged town of Galena, 20 miles upriver. The flooding lifted homes off foundations and has threatened to break a dike protecting the airport, virtually the only dry spot left in the community of 500 where floodwaters washed out roads and submerged homes. The National Guard flew 32 more people and 19 dogs to Fairbanks Tuesday night. There are no reports of injuries.

  • End-time whether will continue to grow more extreme