Signs of the Times (6/2/13)

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

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