Signs of the Times (7/12/13)

Texas House Approves Abortion Law 98-49

The Texas House has approved new abortion limits in a second special session, less than two weeks after Senate Republicans failed to finish work on the bill amid a filibuster and raucous protests, ABC News reports. The bill requires doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, only allow abortions in surgical centers and ban abortions after 20 weeks. A final vote could be held as early as Friday in the Senate, where the measure died as the first special session expired. The House voted mostly along party lines Wednesday on what has become signature GOP legislation. Lawmakers spent more than 10 hours debating the bill on Tuesday, and Republicans rejected every attempt to amend it. Throngs of protesters were missing for Wednesday’s mostly procedural vote after days of protests by supporters and opponents. The Texas Senate votes on the bill Friday.

Coalition Says Military Christians are Being Silenced

Some officials in Washington are attempting to force military members to keep their religious beliefs quiet, according to CBN News. In response, a coalition of 14 groups concerned about religious liberty is backing the troops’ rights to speak about and act on their beliefs. The coalition announced they would be passing out palm cards to troops, letting them know what their religious rights are and who to turn to if they feel the military is violating those rights. “Back in April, Adm. William Dean Lee of the Coast Guard stood up at a local prayer breakfast and explained how he as an admiral in the Coast Guard was told that it was prohibited for him to give a Bible to a man who had just attempted suicide,” said Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William Boykin of the Family Research Council. “We have an Air Force officer [who] for 23 years, everywhere he set up his shop, he would always put a Bible on his desk,” said Col. Ret. Ron Crews of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “He came to a new location, put his Bible on his desk, [and] his superior officer told him, ‘You cannot put your Bible on the desk because it may offend someone.'” The coalition presented a report citing dozens of cases involving anti-religious acts by the military in recent months and years.

Study: Teen Girls Targeted for Sexual Exploitation on TV

New research from the Parents Television Council found that underage female characters on primetime broadcast television are more likely to be presented in sexually exploitative scenes than adult women, and the appearance of underage female characters in a sexually exploitative scene increased the probability that the scene would be presented as humorous. The study results revealed that out of 238 scripted episodes which aired during the study period, 150 episodes (63 percent) contained sexual content in scenes that were associated with females and 33 percent of the episodes contained sexual content that rose to the level of sexual exploitation. The likelihood that a scene would include sexual exploitation was highest when the female characters were underage (23 percent). Sexually exploitative topics targeting underage females were more likely to be humorous (42.85 percent) compared to adult women (33.02 percent).

More Pro-LGBT Curriculum Coming

At their just-ended convention, the National Education Association adopted a business item that encourages members to incorporate into the classroom lessons promoting the homosexual lifestyle. The business item states that the NEA encourages “all educators [to] integrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) history, people and issues into their instructional programs.” The primary curriculum, Unheard Voices, is produced by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and offers what it calls “thematic” lessons on such topics as gender identity, “anti-LGBT slurs,” and “winning the right to marry.” NEA delegate Sue Halvorson of Minnesota, a Christian, urges parents to investigate these lessons online “because kids might not bring home [the material] because this curriculum that’s discussed there is something that’s done in the classroom and [during] classroom discussion.”

Survey: Evangelicals Increasingly Countercultural on Same-Sex Issues

As Americans who believe in a “one man, one woman” definition of marriage become a minority for the first time ever, evangelical Christians have actually become more opposed to same-sex marriage, according to a recent survey by the Barna Group, Christianity Today reports. The poll reveals that as Americans have become more aware of the LGBT community’s agenda, a majority of Americans have likewise become more accepting of legal recognition of same-sex unions and granting these unions equal rights. Catholics, other religious groups, and religious “nones” have shown large increases in support for legal recognition of gay rights, but churchgoing Protestants — and evangelicals in particular — have maintained firm opposition to the legal measures on social and moral grounds. More than a third of practicing Catholics think same-sex relationships are morally sound, a marked increase since 2003, but those who identify as practicing Protestants show the least moral support for same-sex marriages, at only 15 percent. Evangelicals pronounced an even stronger rejection of the morality of same-sex relationships, with the percentage of disapproving respondents jumping from 95 percent to 98 percent. Pew found that for the first time in history, a (slim) majority of Americans support legalization of gay marriage. While only 22 percent of white evangelical Protestants favored same-sex marriage in 2013, the number who supported “legal agreements” recognizing same-sex unions more than doubled in the last 10 years.

Governments Lose Trust as Corruption Soars

More than one in four people around the world have paid a bribe in the past year, according to a global survey conducted by Transparency International. Released Tuesday, the survey finds that corruption is a growing problem, with a majority of respondents saying that the situation has deteriorated in their country over the past two years. Political parties are seen as the most corrupt class of organization in some 51 countries. Thirty-six countries name the police as the most corrupt, while another 20 countries say the judiciary is their biggest source of trouble. More than 50% of people think that their government is controlled by small groups and special interests.

Liberia and Sierra Leone rank at the bottom, with more than three in four of those surveyed saying they had paid a bribe in the past year. Bribery rates were over 50% in Cambodia, Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana, India, Tanzania, Kenya, Libya, Mozambique, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe. At the other end of the spectrum, Australia, Belgium, Portugal, Malaysia, Finland, Denmark and Croatia were among the countries reporting a bribery rate of less than 5%. Between 5% and 9.9% of respondents in the United States and United Kingdom said they had paid a bribe.

  • But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (2Timothy 3:1-4)

Taking the Military at Faith Value

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council writes, “There may not be a lot of atheists in foxholes, but there certainly are a lot of quiet Christians these days. Under an administration that views religion as more of a liability than an asset, more of our troops are taking the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” approach to faith. The climate of intimidation that began in the Air Force is bleeding over into every branch — leading even military chaplains to wonder about their security in referencing a Bible that some airmen aren’t even allowed to leave on their desks. In a Pentagon where evangelical Christians are viewed by some as “extremists,” the pressure to impose a secular culture on our nation’s military has intensified enormously during President Obama’s time as commander-in-chief. His administration, whose primary goal seems to be opposing Americans’ conscience rights, is continuing that attack on a military culture defined by a long tradition of faith.”

  • The attacks on all things Christian are rapidly intensifying as the anti-Christ spirit stirs the pot in the end-time lead-up to the one-world government led by Satan’s chosen anti-Christ leader

One-Third of Americans Receive Food Support

Roughly one-third of Americans receive subsidized food assistance from the government, outstripping the total number of people employed in the country’s private sector. Of the 316 million people living in America, a total of 101 million people currently participate in at least one of the nation’s 15 federal food programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, costing taxpayers $114 billion in 2012, The food stamp program represents the largest federally funded food assistance program, with a record 46.7 million participants, costing $88.6 billion in 2012. The next largest is the National School Lunch program which provides 32 million students with low-cost or no-cost meals daily.

Job Picture Not as Rosy as Claimed

The “official” unemployment rate held steady at 7.6%. The economy created 195,000 jobs in June. However, the number of people who gave up looking for work because they believe no jobs were available increased by 206,000 from a year earlier to 1 million. The number of individuals who were working part time increased by 432,000, twice the number of jobs created. Full time jobs actually declined by 272,000. In part, this increase in part time jobs and decline in full time jobs reflects a change in hiring practices in anticipation of ObamaCare taking effect. The new law substantially increases the cost of businesses providing employees health insurance but only requires that they provide coverage to full time employees. As result, employers are dividing available hours of work among more jobs, creating more part time employees and reducing the number of full time jobs. This actually reduces the official unemployment rate which counts part time jobs as equal to full time jobs.

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits the weekend July 6 jumped a more-than-expected 16,000 to 360,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The prior week’s figure was also revised up and the four-week moving average — a less volatile measure of claims for jobless aid — rose 6,000 to 351,750. The jobs market is still not solid enough for the Federal Reserve to speed up any plans to pull back on its massive monthly bond purchases, Chairman Bernanke said.

The Consumer Confidence Index, produced by the Conference Board, climbed to 81.4 in June, up from 73.4 in May. The Conference Board’s said that 19.6% of those surveyed in June expected jobs to be more plentiful, up from 16.3% those surveyed in May.

Shoppers broke out their credit cards in May, another sign that consumer optimism might be on the rise. Consumer credit soared a seasonally adjusted $19.6 billion in May vs. $10.9 billion in April. In percentage terms, the 8.3% annualized gain in total consumer debt in May was the largest since a 9% gain in May 2012. Revolving credit — credit-card debt, mainly — rose to $856.5 billion in May from $849.9 billion in April, a 9.3% annualized gain.

Credit card holders are more responsible about paying their bills than they’ve been in more than 22 years. Delinquencies on bank-issued credit cards — on accounts that were 30 days or more overdue — fell to 2.41% in the first quarter of 2013, the lowest level since 1990. Delinquencies on bank-issued credit card accounts, which declined for six consecutive quarters, were less than half the record high of 5.01% set in 2009 and well below the 15-year average of 3.87%.

Total foreclosure filings, including notices of default, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, dropped to 127,790 in June, down 35% over the past 12 months. The number of foreclosure filings have plunged so fast — down 14% since May — that the housing market could be back to pre-mortgage meltdown levels before the end of the year.

The average U.S. rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage rose this week to 4.51%, a two-year high. Rates have been rising on expectations that the Federal Reserve will slow its bond purchases this year.

Middle East

Dozens of people were wounded on Tuesday when a massive car bomb hit the Bir al-Abed neighborhood of Beirut, known to be a stronghold the Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah, the most dramatic evidence yet that the civil war in neighboring Syria is spilling over into its smaller Western neighbor. “This is the work of agents trying to create strife in Lebanon,” said Hezbollah parliamentary deputy Ali Meqdad. Interior Minister Marwan Charbel agreed, saying the attack was “a criminal act aimed at destabilizing the country and creating Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian strife.

Egypt

A senior member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has rejected the timetable announced by the country’s interim president for amending the country’s constitution and setting new presidential elections. “The Brotherhood will not drop its push to reinstate deposed President Mohammed Morsi,” said Essam el-Erian. Interim President Adly Mansour issued the timetable for the transition process late Monday. Under the plan, he would create two panels to amend the constitution. Those changes would be put to a referendum within about 4½ months, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in early 2014.

Egyptian soldiers and police clashed with Islamists protesting the military’s ouster of the president in bloodshed Monday that left at least 51 protesters and three members of the security forces dead, officials and witnesses said, and plunged the divided country deeper into crisis with calls by the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party for all-out rebellion against the army. The carnage outside the Republican Guard building in Cairo — where toppled President Mohammed Morsi was first held last week — marked the single biggest death toll since massive protests forced Morsi’s government from power and brought in an interim civilian administration. Egypt geared up for another day of protests Friday as the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi planned to take to the streets to resist the military’s overthrow of the Islamist leader.

Iran

US intelligence agencies have assessed that as early as 2015, Iran will be set to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that has the capability to strike the United States, a released Pentagon report states. “Iran has ambitious ballistic missile and space launch development programs and continues to attempt to increase the range, lethality, and accuracy of its ballistic missile force,” the report says. “Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015.” The US Department of Defense assessment was compiled by The National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, together with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center and the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Pakistan

Taliban militants have pressed their violent campaign against girls’ education in northwestern Pakistan, bombing schools and terrifying pupils and parents. More than 800 schools in the region have been attacked since 2009. The Pakistani Taliban see schools as symbols of both Western decadence and government authority, but their attacks are also intended to deny the Pakistani military the possibility of establishing temporary bases in the buildings. Typically, they strike in the dead of night, planting explosives that topple buildings and shred desks and blackboards. And the Taliban continue to exert pressure on parents and pupils. Night letters posted in the town describe girls’ schooling as a “product of the West” and order pious Muslims to shun the schools.

Wildfires

Firefighters in the mountains near Las Vegas hoped that predicted rain showers and cooler temperatures would help them corral a massive wildfire that for 10 days charred almost 44 square miles and was still just 15 percent contained. Thunderstorms could be a mixed blessing for crews working to protect 400 woodsy homes, a rustic hotel and a scenic alpine lodge from the stubborn Carpenter 1 blaze. Flames have destroyed soil-anchoring grass and shrubs on hillsides in the pinion, juniper and bristlecone pine forest spread over steep and rocky terrain. Too little rain won’t help. Too much could cause mudslides in burned areas. Lightning could spark new fires. Crews were working Thursday to stop flames from advancing southeast toward the scenic Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip. Five structures at a remote ranch and one commercial building at Prospect Springs burned Tuesday.

In northern Nevada, a voluntary evacuation order was lifted for residents near a wildfire in the mountains near Gardnerville and Carson City. More than 1,060 firefighters have been battling the Bison fire that was sparked by lightning July 4. The blaze, which is 65 percent contained, is burning on roughly 43 square miles of rugged terrain.

In Arizona, residents were allowed to return Tuesday to about 100 of the 200 homes evacuated due to a wildfire in Kearny, 73 miles southeast of Phoenix. In Northern California, more than 800 firefighters battled a fire in the El Dorado National Forest west of South Lake Tahoe that spread to almost 1 square mile but was about 80 percent contained. In Southern California, cooler and calm weather helped slow an 11-square-mile wildfire that destroyed at least 100 buildings at a mountain camp near Julian, 60 miles east of San Diego. The blaze was 40 percent contained.

Weather

Flooding in western China, the worst in 50 years for some areas, triggered a landslide that buried up to 40 people Wednesday. There was no immediate word on the chances of survival for the 30 to 40 people buried in the landslide. Meanwhile, to the northeast, at least 12 workers were killed when a violent rainstorm caused the collapse of an unfinished coal mine workshop they were building. The accident Tuesday night came amid heavy rain and high winds across a swath of northern China, including the capital, Beijing.

Tropical Storm Chantal roared south of Puerto Rico early Wednesday on a path that will see it pass over the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where authorities warned of possible landslides and heavy flooding. Chantal was becoming disorganized and a hurricane watch was discontinued for the Dominican Republic’s southern coast. Officials in the Dominican Republic, where Chantal was expected to make landfall Wednesday afternoon, urged those living in low-lying areas to evacuate, but few paid heed.

A line of severe thunderstorms raced through the Ohio River Valley Wednesday, causing numerous power outages due to downed trees and power lines. Roughly 300 reports of either wind damage or high winds (greater than 58 mph) were received in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, the majority of which were in a swath from eastern Illinois and Indiana into Ohio, western Pennsylvania, southwest New York, and northern West Virginia.

Heavy rain sent rocks, mud, debris and running water rushing down part of U.S. 24 in a canyon in Manitou Springs, Colorado, leaving some vehicles covered or stuck in mud. The rockslide closed a four-mile stretch of U.S. 24 Wednesday afternoon. The American Red Cross opened a shelter for people seeking higher ground. The National Weather Service had issued flash flood warnings Wednesday afternoon for areas scarred by the Waldo Canyon Fire last year and the Black Forest Fire this year, since soil and vegetation that normally would absorb rainfall there has been burned away.

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