Signs of the Times (7/30/13)

North Carolina Lawmakers Pass New Abortion Restrictions

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have passed new restrictions on the state’s abortion clinics, CBN News reports. The bill also mandates that a doctor be physically present during abortions, including those induced by drugs. The law’s passage comes as new polls show that most Americans favor restricting abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, rather than the 24-week mark established under current law. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 56 percent support those limits. Another 10 percent of those surveyed would prefer to outlaw abortion in the United States altogether or limit it earlier than 20 weeks after fertilization. More than half — 54 percent — say they oppose state laws that make it more difficult for abortion clinics to operate compared to 45 percent who support such legislation. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found similar results. Meanwhile, 55 percent of respondents say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

Pope Francis on Gays: `Who am I to judge?’

Pope Francis reached out to gays on Monday, saying he wouldn’t judge priests for their sexual orientation in a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference as he returned from his first foreign trip. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis asked. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten. When someone sins and confesses, he said, God not only forgives but forgets.

  • Yes, God forgives and forgets – but only if that person repents which means to ‘turn away’ from their sin. Gay priests should not be allowed to continue in their ministry. The (last?) Pope’s watered down Gospel is yet another sign that the end-times draw nigh.

Majority Would Support Gay Marriage in All 50 States

A slight majority, 52 percent, of Americans support making gay marriage legal in all 50 states, according to a Gallup poll released Monday. Forty-three percent say they would vote against it. The demographic grups who were most supportive of a national policy redefining marriage to include couples of the same gender were liberals (77 percent), those with no religious affiliation (76 percent), Democrats (70 percent), young adults aged 18 to 34 (69 percent), those who rarely or never attend church (67 percent), Catholics (60 percent) and those who live in the East (62 percent) and West (57 percent). The demographic groups that had a majority opposing the referendum were those who attend church weekly (73 percent), conservatives (67 percent), Republicans (66 percent), Protestants (58 percent), those aged 55 and older (58 percent), and Southerners (51 percent). Women were more supportive (56 percent) than men (48 percent), and whites were slightly more supportive (54 percent) than non-whites (51 percent). “Public opinion on gay marriage has reached a tipping point, whereby the majority now clearly supports it,” Gallup wrote. “Nevertheless, the issue remains highly divisive, as large majorities of left-leaning, nonreligious, and younger Americans endorse it, while right-leaning, religious, and older Americans still oppose it

  • Lawlessness will abound in the end-times (Matt. 24:12, 2Thess. 2:7, 2Tim. 3:1-5) – gay marriage is but one form of it

UN Advocating Gay Agenda

Fox News reports: “Amid a surge of anti-gay violence and repression in several countries, the United Nations’ human rights office on Friday launched its first global outreach campaign to promote tolerance and greater equality for lesbians, gays, transgender people and bisexuals. Called Free & Equal, it’s an unprecedented effort by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to change public attitudes around the world on issues that have bitterly divided the U.N.’s own member states.”

One-Third of Recently Married Met Online

According to a major study published recently by the National Academy of Sciences, 35% of those recently married met online. Researchers also reported that relationships that began on the Internet appeared to be happier and more enduring than traditional unions. But sociologists say it’s too soon to conclude that online relationships are stronger and more fulfilling.

  • Seems counterintuitive, even a bit creepy, but the digital age is redefining many aspects of society

FBI Arrests 150 in Child Prostitution Sting

In announcing the FBI’s latest crackdown on child prostitution, officials Monday described a dark underside of society that has grown through Internet sites that provide pimps easy access to johns in hotels, motels, at truck stops and just about anywhere else. The nationwide operation over the weekend resulted in 150 arrests, with 105 children between the ages of 13 and 17 rescued. Overall, the three-day undercover Operation Cross Country took place in 76 cities and involved 230 law enforcement units. It was the largest such sweep to date, he said, with 28 searches and 129 seizures of cash, drugs, vehicles and firearms.

Deadly Epidemic: Prescription Drug Overdoses

A growing epidemic of overdoses of prescription painkillers is leading to a record numbers of deaths, especially among women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More Americans now die from painkillers than from heroin and cocaine combined, and since 2008, prescription drug-induced deaths have outstripped those from automobile accidents, according to the CDC. The CDC’s latest figures show that 16,500 people died from overdoses tied to common narcotic pain relievers — such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Opana and methadone — in 2010. Of those, 40% were women. “Women are dying at rates that we have never seen before,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said. In the past 11 years, deaths from overdose increased more than 400% among women, compared with a 265% rise among men.

Health Care Costs Slowing

Health care costs rose last year at the slowest rate in the last 50 years, the White House announced Monday, citing statistics aimed at bolstering the case for the 2010 health care law. The 1.1% increase in personal consumption spending over the 12 months ending in May was due to decreases in hospital and nursing home services, according to a statement from Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Hospital readmissions rates dropped from an average of 19% to 17.9% for Medicare patients since the passage of the 2010 health care law, Krueger said. Monday’s announcement follows a recent study the Department of Health and Human Services that showed that for Americans who receive health insurance through their employers, premiums rose 3% from 2011 to 2012, the lowest increase since 1996.

IRS Workers Want Out of Obamacare

The federal employees who will be responsible for administering Obamacare for the American people don’t want it for themselves. The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents workers at the Internal Revenue Service, is asking its members to write letters to Capitol Hill saying they are “very concerned” about legislative efforts requiring IRS and Treasury employees to enroll in the Obamacare exchanges. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that Obamacare’s insurance subsidies are technically tax credits, falling under the authority of the IRS. The effort by the Treasury Employees Union comes two weeks after representatives of three large labor unions fired off a strongly-worded letter to congressional Democrats, complaining that Obamacare would “shatter … our hard-earned health benefits” and create “nightmare scenarios” for their members.

Four in Five Americans Face Economic Hardship

Four out of five U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty, or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream. Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press point to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend. The gauge defines “economic insecurity” as a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Nationwide, the count of America’s poor remains stuck at a record number: 46.2 million, or 15 percent of the population, due in part to lingering high unemployment following the recession.

Economic News

The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index was up 12.2% compared to a year ago, slightly better than the 12.1% rise in April. It was the biggest year-over-year jump in prices since March 2006, near the peak of the housing bubble. Just a year ago, the index showed a 12-month decline in prices. But they have increased every month since June 2012, and each month the increase has been greater than the month before.

Just over half of the companies in the S&P 500 have reported earnings for the second quarter and some sectors are performing better than others. Banks and other financial companies have been the standouts. Mining and chemical companies have fared the worst. Earnings are also contracting in the technology industry. Overall, earnings growth is projected to slow for a third straight quarter, estimated at 4.5% vs. 5.2% in the first quarter.

A flurry of merger activity Monday shows the megamerger is back, and more companies are starting to get traded like so many baseball cards. A potent cocktail of surging corporate cash piles and companies hungry for growth is fueling an uptick in merger-and-acquisition activity. The question is whether these deals might cause problems for the economy, such as higher prices or a wave of layoffs, as they did three decades ago.

Fast food workers will walk off work in seven cities across the country this week, continuing their campaign to garner higher wages and the right to unionize. Dozens of workers asking to be paid a minimum of $15 an hour and the right to organize without retaliation protested outside of McDonald’s and Wendy’s locations across New York City on Monday. The rallies will move to Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Flint, Michigan the rest of the week.

Persecution Watch

Organizations representing Nigerian Christians called on the United States to officially recognize Boko Haram as a terrorist group at a press conference on Thursday in the nation’s capital, the Christian Post reports. Leaders from the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) made their case, sharing that they have tried to get the Islamic jihadist militant organization in Africa to be labeled a terrorist group by meeting with members of Congress, drawing up petitions and working with other organizations, including several American groups. Pastor Laolu Akande, executive director of CANAN, said it was a question of universal human rights. For years, the extremist Islamic group Boko Haram has been targeting Christian communities, schools and churches in the predominantly Muslim northern region of Nigeria.

Middle East

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni had dinner with chief Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) negotiator Saeb Erekat and US Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department in Washington Monday evening, kicking off the latest round of negotiations which the two sides both pledged to continue for at least nine months. Livni and Erekat were joined at the dinner by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho and Fatah official Muhammad Shtayyeh, while Kerry was joined by Middle East envoy Martin Indyk and other State Department officials. “This is part and parcel of creating mutual trust between [us and the Palestinians],” Livni told Israel Radio Tuesday morning. She also praised Kerry’s “enthusiasm and determination to help both sides.”

President Obama on Friday afternoon ordered another waiver of congressional restrictions on direct funding of the Palestinian Authority, clearing the way for more U.S. aid. In the one-page order, Mr. Obama said he was taking the action due to the “national security interests” of the U.S. The move comes as the administration is preparing to host renewed direct talks in Washington between Palestinians and Israelis for the first time since 2010. The president in March directed about $500 million to be sent to the Palestinian Authority, also waiving the restrictions set by Congress. At the time, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said he was seeking to move another $200 million to the Palestinians. Some lawmakers oppose the aid, both because of sequestration budget cuts and the Palestinian Authority’s ties to the terrorist organization Hamas.

Egypt

Scores of protesters angry at Egypt’s military-backed government and the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi died in late-night clashes in the volatile nation’s capital Saturday. Medics in a Brotherhood field hospitals put the death toll at 66, with another 61 on life support and thousands more wounded. A wounded protester getting medical treatment at a field hospital said he saw men in plainclothes fire on pro-Morsi demonstrators with shotguns. “Police forces were standing behind them,” he added.

Syria

The Syrian regime says it has taken over a rebel stronghold in Homs, inflicting a strategic and psychological blow to rebels in the country’s 2-year-long crisis. The area in western Syria is crucial because it connects the capital, Damascus, to the Mediterranean coast. A regime capture of Homs could be a key turning point in the bloody war, which has killed more than 100,000 people.

Iraq

As violence and political turmoil tear through a war-wrecked Iraq, military experts are warning Congress that Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist cells are regrouping and working together not only in Iraq but in the entire region to undo a decade of U.S.-led progress. Iraq’s parliament speaker painted a grim picture of a crumbling country that is taking another beating by terrorists. “The situation is grave,” Osama al-Nujaifi said during a press conference. Speaker Al-Nujaifi believes recent spikes in sectarian violence coupled with political instability are fueling concerns that the country could be pushed into another civil war.

A wave of over a dozen car bombings hit central and southern Iraq during morning rush hour on Monday, officials said, killing at least 47 people in the latest coordinated attack by insurgents determined to undermine the government. The blasts, which wounded scores more, are part of a months-long surge of attacks that is reviving fears of a return to the widespread sectarian bloodshed that pushed the country to the brink of civil war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Suicide attacks, car bombings and other violence have killed more than 3,000 people since April, including more than 500 since the start of July.

Libya

More than a thousand prisoners escaped during a riot at Kuayfia Prison near Benghazi Saturday and remain on the run. They escaped while a group of the prison’s 4,000 inmates were engaged in “civil disobedience.” The escapees are serving sentences for a range of crimes, including murder, drug dealing and crimes of morality. They were able to escape because the prison did not have enough security equipment to secure either the staff or the facility, officials said.

Pakistan

Prison guards say they were totally overwhelmed when dozens of Taliban militants attacked their jail in northwest Pakistan, freeing over 250 prisoners on Tuesday. The militants killed more than a dozen people, including six policemen, six Shiite Muslim prisoners and two civilians. Authorities are searching for both the militants and the prisoners who escaped.

Tunisia

Thousands of protesters chanting anti-government slogans joined a funeral march to lay to rest an assassinated Tunisian opposition politician on Saturday, a display of the anger threatening the survival of a government once seen as a model in the region for the transition to democracy. Adding to the tension, a bomb exploded in the early morning underneath a car at the port in Tunis outside a police station. Though there were no injuries, the rare attack helped deepen the sense of unease in this North African country, where two opposition politicians have been shot dead in the last six months.

Somalia

A bomber detonated a minivan laden with explosives outside a Turkish hospital in Somalia’s capital on Saturday, killing at least one person and wounding more than three others. The bomber also died in the attack at the Al-Shifa hospital in Mogadishu. Al-Shabab insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter saying they were targeting a group of Turkish diplomats. Al-Shabab, which has links with al-Qaida, has been carrying out guerrilla attacks in Somalia since the group was expelled from the capital by African Union troops in August 2011. It has long been threatening Turkish workers and aid agencies in Somalia accusing them of spreading secularism in Somalia.

Nigeria

Multiple explosions at a bar and entertainment area in a Christian quarter of Nigeria’s northern and mainly Muslim city of Kano killed at least 24 people. The blasts were blamed on suspected members of the Islamic extremist Boko Haram network. Nigeria is fighting an Islamic uprising by extremists based mainly in the northeast, where the government has declared a state of emergency. Kano city and state are in the northwest and not part of that emergency. Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden,” wants to impose Islamic law in all of Nigeria,

Weather

Folks in the Midwest must be wondering where summer went, with record-low temperatures blanketing the region this weekend and another unusually cool day expected Monday. Chicago saw a high of just 65 at O’Hare on Saturday, breaking the daily coolest-high record of 69 set in 1981. Up the road a bit, Milwaukee tied its 1981 record-cool high of 64. Sunday morning brought even chillier temperatures, with numerous daily record lows broken from the Dakotas all the way to the Ohio Valley. For Sioux City, Iowa, it was the coolest July morning since 1995, with a low of 44. Sunday afternoon in Concordia, Kan. was unlike any other July day in the history books, there.  The daytime high was only 62 degrees, topping the previous record coolest July daily high of 63 degrees.

Heavy rains that caused power outages and flash floods in western North Carolina were blamed for the deaths of a 10-year-old girl and 48-year-old man who were swept away while swimming in a rural creek. Parts of Catawba, Lincoln and Cleveland received up to a foot of rain Saturday as a result of a slow-moving rain system. The county and the cities of Hickory and Newton – where dozens of streets were underwater Saturday afternoon – were among the communities declaring local emergencies as a precursor to seeking state and federal aid.

Philadelphia has set a record for one-day rainfall as strong storms rolled through the region, causing flash flooding, power outages and airline cancellations. The National Weather Service says 8.02 inches of rain fell in the city Sunday, shattering the previous record of 6.63 inches set during Tropical Storm Floyd on Sept. 16, 1999. The deluge caused a power outage at Philadelphia International Airport, where some sections of Terminal A were still without power Monday. The soaking rains also flooded roads and caused traffic headaches.

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