Signs of the Times (6/22/13)

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.

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