Signs of the Times (8/9/13)

Jesus Wins, Atheist Complainers Lose in Appeals Court

“The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this week that prayers [offered ‘in Jesus’ name’] given before legislative bodies are constitutional, despite atheist assertions that such practices cannot withstand legal scrutiny,” reports ChristianNews.net.  Last summer, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) mailed a letter to officials in Hamilton County, Tennessee to complain about citizen-led prayers that are regularly given before county commission meetings. Although county commissioners invite individuals from all different faiths to lead the prayers, FFRF argued that the practice was unconstitutional, since a majority of the invocations are given ‘in Jesus’ name.’ However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals published an opinion last Friday, likewise refusing to grant an injunction. In the 21-page opinion, Judge Avern Cohn wrote that—unless new evidence shows otherwise—the commission’s prayer policy is constitutional.

Planned Parenthood Investigation Launched

A congressional watchdog agency has agreed to investigate how Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights organizations spend federal funds, drawing praise from pro-life advocates inside and outside the legislative branch, Baptist Press reports. Members of Congress announced August 5 that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) had accepted their request for such an investigation. A GAO spokesman confirmed with Baptist Press on August 6th that the nonpartisan agency had agreed to conduct the review. Disclosure of the investigation comes at a time when Planned Parenthood’s use of government funds is drawing closer scrutiny. Only a week before, one of the affiliates of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) agreed to an out-of-court settlement of $4.3 million for alleged Medicaid fraud. Other Medicaid fraud suits are pending against Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading abortion provider. A January report by PPFA showed it established records for both the most abortions performed and most government funds received in the latest year for which statistics are available. PPFA said its affiliates performed 333,964 of the lethal procedures during 2010-11. It received $542.4 million in federal, state and local government grants and reimbursements during the latest fiscal year.

Abortion Clinics Close in Various States

Abortion centers across the country continue to close. According to Baptist Press, two Ohio clinics closed in recent months, and another is expected to shut down soon. A Toledo clinic closed after being unable to enter into a transfer agreement with a public hospital for its patients, as a new law prohibits public hospitals from participating in such arrangements. Another Toledo clinic is expected to close for the same reason, resulting in no such center in the city. A clinic in Cuyahoga Falls, which is near Akron, shut down in April after an inspection found it violated various health and safety standards. The only abortion clinic in Green Bay, Wis., was to close Aug. 1, when its sale to Bellin Health Systems took effect. Bellin will not provide abortions. A Harlingen, Texas, clinic will close because of a new state law. The law, signed by Gov. Rick Perry July 18, requires abortion clinics to meet the same health and safety requirements as outpatient surgical centers. Recent closings previously announced included clinics in Fairfax City, Va.; Durham, N.C.; and Bryan, Texas.

Gay Spouses Could Soon Get Military Benefits

The Pentagon could begin extending benefits to gay spouses in the military by the end of the August, under a new proposal by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, CBN News reports. The proposal would give same-sex spouses access to military health care and housing programs. Meanwhile, an earlier plan to provide benefits to gay partners who are not married is being reconsidered. The Pentagon might instead give same-sex couples 10 days of leave to travel to states where they can marry legally. “Although we have bases and installations in all 50 states, not all state laws are equal when it comes to same-sex marriage,” said one defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “That is why we are looking at providing extra leave for same-sex couples who want to get married to travel to a state where same-sex marriages are legal.” The Pentagon would not be able to begin implementing the plan until the Justice Department completes its review.

  • The government has become the leading proponent of the gay agenda as end-time morality continues to nose-dive

Obama Administration to Apply Social Engineering to U.S. Neighborhoods

In a move some claim is tantamount to social engineering, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is imposing a new rule that would allow the feds to track diversity in America’s neighborhoods and then push policies to change those it deems discriminatory. The policy is called, “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.” It will require HUD to gather data on segregation and discrimination in every single neighborhood and try to remedy it. Data from this discrimination database would be used with zoning laws, housing finance policy, infrastructure planning and transportation to alleviate alleged discrimination and segregation. Now published in the Federal Register and undergoing a 60-day comment period, the rule. “This is just the latest of a series of attempts by HUD to social engineer the American people,” said Ed Pinto, of the American Enterprise Institute. “It started with public housing and urban renewal, which failed spectacularly back in the 50’s and 60’s. They tried it again in the 90’s when they wanted to transform house finance, do away with down payments, and the result was millions of foreclosures and financial collapse.”

Obama Cancels Talks with Putin Ahead of G-20 Summit

President Barack Obama formally canceled a much-discussed visit to Moscow next month for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing a lack of progress in bilateral relations since Putin regained the presidency a year ago. Obama will still attend a G-20 summit in St. Petersburg in early September, but now will go to Sweden beforehand instead of stopping in Moscow to meet with Putin. A statement said the cancellation was due to lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights. The statement also cited Russia’s recent decision to grant asylum to classified NSA leaker Edward Snowden as a factor in the decision.

Obama/Congress Plan to Eliminate Fannie Mae & Fannie Mac

Homebuyers could feel the pinch if Congress follows through on plans to shut down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-controlled mortgage guarantee giants that were rescued by a $187 billion taxpayer bailout during the financial crisis. Borrowers would probably end up paying slightly higher mortgage rates under House and Senate bills that would phase out Fannie and Freddie over five years and shrink the government’s huge role in guaranteeing mortgage securities. Fannie and Freddie teetered under a crush of massive losses on risky mortgages before being bailed out. The idea behind both plans is to shift more mortgage financing risk from the government to the private sector to prevent taxpayers from having to pay for future bailouts. Community bankers and mortgage lenders are skeptical the call from President Obama to shutter mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, arguing that the still-fragile US housing industry is not ready for such a change.

House and Senate Find Common Ground on E-Verify

While the Senate and House remain far apart on the best way to overhaul the nation’s broken immigration system, there is strong agreement on the need for an electronic employment-verification system that would affect all U.S. workers and impose huge new penalties on employers who knowingly hired undocumented immigrants. Currently, the system is voluntary for most employers. The one area where the two chambers’ approaches are almost identical are provisions making it mandatory for employers nationwide to check all new employees through a federal database known as E-Verify. A few states, including Arizona, require employers to use the system under state law. Some federal contractors must use the system. All employees, including U.S. citizens, would have to undergo the check when they apply for a job to ensure they are legally eligible to work here.

One In 25 Americans Was Arrested In 2011

According to the FBI, in 2011 there were 3991.1 arrests for every 100,000 people living in America. That means over the course of a single year, one in 25 Americans was arrested. More people were arrested for drug crimes than any other class of crimes — about one in every 207. One in every 258 of us was arrested for drunk driving.

  • End-time lawlessness continues to ramp up infecting all areas of society (Matt. 24:12)

Medical-Marijuana DUIs Create Legal Quandary

Medical-marijuana cardholders in Arizona who drive after using the drug may face a difficult legal choice: their driver’s license or their marijuana card. If they use both, they could be charged with DUI. Phoenix area prosecutors say that any trace of marijuana in a driver’s blood is enough to charge a motorist with driving under the influence of drugs and that a card authorizing use of medical pot is no defense. But advocates of medical marijuana, which voters approved in November 2010, argue that the presence of marijuana in a person’s bloodstream is not grounds for charging drivers who are allowed to use the drug.

The legal battle over the rights of medical-marijuana cardholders to drive while medicating is being fought in the state’s court system. Motorists convicted in municipal courts, which typically rule it unlawful for a driver to have any trace of marijuana in his or her blood, are appealing cases to Superior Court, where judges’ decisions could set precedents for how the medical-marijuana law applies to Arizona drivers. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia authorize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, making marijuana-related DUIs an issue for police, prosecutors and politicians nationwide.

Economic News

Americans borrowed more in June to buy cars and attend schools. But they were frugal again with their credit cards, indicating many are still wary of taking on high-interest debt. The Federal Reserve says borrowing rose $13.8 billion in June from May to a seasonally adjusted $2.85 trillion, the highest ever. The gain followed a $17.5 billion increase in May. The category that includes credit card use dropped $2.7 billion in June. Overall credit card debt has fallen 16.5% from its July 2008 peak.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose by 5,000 last week to 333,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The four-week average, which often gives a clearer read of the labor market’s underlying health, fell to its lowest since November 2007, just before the United States fell into recession. The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid rose 67,000 to 3.018 million in the week ended July 27.

Eurozone

Signs of economic recovery are popping up in Europe. But not in Greece. Stuck in recession for a sixth consecutive year, Greece reported a jobless rate of 27.6% in May, a new record high. Most worrying is the rate of youth unemployment. Almost 65% of Greeks aged 15-24 are unable to find work. The number of Greeks out of work has increased by nearly 200,000 to 1.38 million over the past 12 months, and by one million over the past five years. The Greek GDP has shrunk by about 30% since 2008. Greece has been kept afloat since 2010 by funds drawn from a €240 billion bailout program financed by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

The Bank of England said Wednesday it would not raise interest rates until U.K. unemployment falls to 7%, a level it doesn’t expect to see for about three years. Issuing detailed “forward guidance” on monetary policy for the first time under new Governor Mark Carney, the central bank said it wanted to avoid a premature rise in market rates of interest that would risk choking off the recovery in the world’s sixth biggest economy,

Persecution Watch

Pro-Morsi supporters and other Islamists still blame Christians for the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood leader from the Egyptian presidency, and attacks against Christians, especially in upper Egypt, continue unabated. In the latest wave of attacks on August 3, militant Muslims attacked homes and businesses in three Christian villages near al Minya, where rioting Islamists planted a black al Qaeda flag at a Coptic Orthodox church in Sohag. While Islamists are on the defensive in Cairo following the military coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi, in Assiut and elsewhere in Egypt’s deep south they are waging a stepped-up hate campaign, claiming the country’s Christian minority. The hostility led a coalition of 16 Egyptian rights groups to warn on Wednesday of a wave of violence to come, and to demand that the post-coup authorities protect the Christians who are 10 percent of the population and suffer chronic discrimination. Nile-side Assiut, a city of one million people 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Cairo, dates back to the pharaohs. The New Testament says Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus passed through as they fled the infanticidal King Herod. Today, its Christian fears are compounded by the failure of authorities to curb the graffiti-spraying and the Islamists’ demonstrations, which have gone on almost nightly since the July 3 coup that ousted Morsi.

Christians in Central African Republic have been shocked by the violent arrest on Tuesday of the president of the Evangelical Alliance of Central African Republic (CAR), Pastor Nicolas Grekoyame Gbangouon, Open Doors USA reports. Sources, who cannot be named for security reasons, told Open Doors the arrest was ordered by the acting president Michiel Djotodia through the Attorney General. It is not clear where he is being held or what the conditions are, but Open Doors expects him to endure harsh treatment. Local Christians say the arrest came as a result of a July 2013 interview the pastor did with a local publication called the Democrate, in which he blamed the government and key government officials for the continuing violence in the country. Christians in CAR now face open persecution. They expressed grave concern over information that Seleka soldiers have been distributing arms to Muslims living around the area of the capital city of Bangui.

Middle East

The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes, “Iran’s new president began his four-year term in office this past weekend. After eight years of the public ranting and raving of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s new leader offers a different tone but very little difference in policy or philosophy. Though he is often described in the Western press as a moderate, the reality is that Hassan Rouhani, like every other Iranian leader, is firmly under the thumb of Supreme Leader Khamenei, and he is just as intolerant toward Israel as Ahmadinejad, although less given to outrageous public pronouncements.”

Syria

As foreign fighters pour into Syria at an increasing clip, extremist groups are carving out pockets of territory that are becoming havens for Islamist militants, posing what United States and Western intelligence officials say may be developing into one of the biggest terrorist threats in the world today. Known as fierce fighters willing to employ suicide car bombs, the jihadist groups now include more than 6,000 foreigners, counterterrorism officials say, adding that such fighters are streaming into Syria in greater numbers than went into Iraq at the height of the insurgency there against the American occupation. But others are assembling under a new, even more extreme umbrella group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, that is merging some Syrians with fighters from around the world — Chechnya, Pakistan, Egypt and the West, as well as Al Qaeda in Iraq The concern is that a new affiliate of Al Qaeda could be emerging from those groups.

Iran

Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, on Tuesday used his first news conference to call for serious negotiations to solve the decade-long dispute over the country’s nuclear program, and he repeatedly suggested openness to direct talks with the United States, an idea that until recently had been unthinkable for many years. At the same time, Mr. Rouhani said Americans needed to take the first step in the stalled nuclear negotiations, and he would not specify what his country would be prepared to do, if anything, to make those negotiations advance. While the tone of Mr. Rouhani’s remarks appeared more accommodating than that of his predecessor, he broke no new ground on Iran’s position regarding the nuclear dispute, the most serious international issue confronting the country. ‘As the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I state that the Islamic republic system is very seriously determined to solve the nuclear issue. It will defend its people’s rights and at the same time will remove the concerns of the other party,’ Mr. Rouhani said.

Pakistan

The U.S. State Department on Thursday warned Americans not to travel to Pakistan and ordered nonessential government personnel to leave the U.S. Consulate in Lahore because of a specific threat to that diplomatic mission. In a travel warning, the State Department said the presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups posed a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan. The personnel drawdown at the Lahore consulate was a precautionary measure and wasn’t related to the recent closures of numerous U.S. diplomatic missions in the Muslim world,

A suicide bombing tore through the funeral of a police official in the Pakistani city of Quetta Thursday, killing 30 people — as well as the bomber — and wounding at least 40 others. The blast happened as people lined up for a funeral procession at a mosque. Most of the victims were policemen. A bomb blast that appeared to be targeting a provincial government minister killed 11 people before dawn Wednesday at a soccer field in southern Pakistan, the latest in a series of attacks that left 28 people dead across the country. The bomb planted next to the field in the city of Karachi was hidden in a motorcycle. Karachi is Pakistan’s largest city and has a long history of political, criminal and religious violence.

Yemen

Three U.S. drone strikes killed a total of 12 suspected al-Qaeda militants Thursday in one of the group’s former strongholds in a central province. The strike was the eighth by a U.S. drone over the past 10 days. So far, about 29 suspected militants have been killed by unmanned U.S. aircraft in an apparent stepped-up drone war in Yemen. The uptick in drone strikes signals that the Obama administration is stepping up its efforts to target Yemen’s al-Qaeda offshoot — al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — amid fears of attacks after the interception of a message between its leader and the global leader of the terror network.

Yemen foiled an al Qaeda plot to capture oil and gas facilities and seize two key southern ports earlier this week. News of the foiled plot came a day after the United States urged all Americans to leave the country amid fears of a possible terror threat. Two U.S. military transport aircraft landed in Yemen on Tuesday to evacuate American citizens. A senior Yemeni Interior Ministry official told CNN that “a few” al Qaeda operatives have arrived in Sanaa over the past three days, which forced government authorities to put Yemeni forces on high alert.

Wildfires

A wildfire that broke out in the inland mountains of Southern California has expanded exponentially, burning homes, forcing the evacuation of several small mountain communities and leaving three people injured, including two firefighters. The rapidly spreading wildfire raging through a rugged Southern California mountain range Thursday had already destroyed 26 homes and was threatening more than 500 other residences, forcing some 1,800 people to flee. More than 1,400 firefighters and nine helicopters battled the flames as they pushed eastward along the San Jacinto Mountains, a desert range 90 miles east of Los Angeles. The fire was estimated at nearly 22 square miles Thursday with 20 percent containment.

Weather

Torrential rains continued across the nation’s midsection on Thursday, causing flash flooding that killed a woman and a child, damaged homes and forced multiple water rescues. Up to 10 inches of rain pounded southern Missouri overnight. Missouri has gotten the worst of it. The area near the tourist boom town of Branson, Mo., was hit especially hard early Thursday. At least 100 homes and businesses in Hollister, Mo., right next to Branson, were damaged when Turkey Creek flooded.

Over the past three days, 12-16 inches of rain has fallen in areas of Kansas and Missouri. Heavy thunderstorms early Wednesday hit already saturated areas of south-central Missouri, where flooding forced the closure of major highways and a handful of evacuations. The Missouri Department of Transportation closed Interstate 44 south of Rolla along the Gasconade River, and U.S. 63 in Maries County after about 6 inches of rain fell in the area early Wednesday. Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday also ordered the deployment of 50 military policemen of the Missouri National Guard to help local authorities dealing with flooding.

Heavy rain in northern Georgia Wednesday morning caused mudslides that blocked traffic on Highway 5 in Gilmer County as well as Highway 136 in Pickens County. At least one home has been evacuated. Numerous roads were reported closed in Gilmer County, Pickens County, Dawson County and northern Forsyth County. More than five inches of rain was reported near Jasper, Ga. and more than 7 inches was measured near Dawsonville, Ga. A stationary cluster of thunderstorms parked over Nashville on Thursday, triggering flash flooding over some parts of the metro area.

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