Signs of the Times (8/20/13)

Air Force OK with Drag Queens … But With Christian Faith, Not So Much

The U.S. Air Force recently confirmed to Fox News that it invited a well-known drag queen group known as “Jewels and the Brunchettes” to perform at Los Angeles Air Force Base on “Diversity Day” (August 8) because drag is a “symbol of gay pride and unity.” The event also featured a speech by Brigadier General Tammy Smith, who became the first openly homosexual general after the repeal of the law banning “gays” and lesbians from military service. Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis at the American Family Association, points out that while the Air Force is apparently okay with drag queens, it continues to be hostile to Christian chaplains, officers, and enlisted personnel who publicly share their faith. “Right now the American military, particularly the Air Force, is extremely hostile to any kind of expression of Christian faith,” he laments, “and they have clearly come down on the side of sexual perversity over biblical values in this case.

  • Just another end-time sign of declining moral values and the increased impact of the anti-Christ spirit

The Egyptian Conundrum

The U.S. military is heavily dependent on Egypt to move personnel and equipment to Afghanistan and around volatile parts of the Middle East, complicating U.S. efforts to place pressure on the Egyptian military in the wake of its violent crackdown on protesters. During the past year, more than 2,000 U.S. military aircraft flew through Egyptian airspace, supporting missions in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East. About 35 to 45 U.S. 5th Fleet naval ships pass through the Suez Canal annually, including carrier strike groups. Egyptian cooperation is particularly critical at a time when the Pentagon is facing budget pressures and tensions with Iran remain high.

Egypt’s military has long hoarded and sought to protect an empire of businesses – from banking to pasta factories – and that may be a reason it feels threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood. Estimates of the 1 million-member Egyptian military’s share of the country’s economy range from 5% to 40% and its hands reach into many industries. “It cannot afford to lose” if it’s economic empire and dominant political role is to survive, Nimrod Raphaeli, a senior researcher for the Middle East Media Research Institute in Washington.

U.S. military aid to Egypt has been temporarily cut off, reports Tuesday said, as Egyptian authorities continued an increasingly violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood group that previously ran Egypt. Saudi Arabia’s royal family gave its full backing—and its oil money—to Egypt’s interim government, and pledges to make up any loss of Western aid due to the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

  • Time and time again the U.S. gets in bed with what we think is the lesser of two evils only to have the lesser evil come back to bite us. Such is the lesson of dealing with Islamists – don’t ever count on them.

Feds Release $67 Million to Help Americans Navigate Obamacare

The Obama administration is announcing the release of $67 million in federal funds for individuals and groups such as Planned Parenthood to help Americans navigate ObamaCare. The announcement was made Thursday by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and stated the grant money, which is purportedly $13 million more than originally set aside, will go to so-called “navigators” to help people “make sense” of coverage options and “go shopping” for coverage plans under the president’s new heath care law. The money is going to 105 grantees in the 34 states that will have federally funded market places in which Americans can buy insurance starting Oct. 1. The 16 other states will have their own exchanges and outreach programs.

  • Obamacare’s hidden expenses will prove to be enormous, especially with the buildup of the IRS to enforce compliance

Paying for Obamacare: Some Feel Singled Out

The Affordable Care Act generates revenue through a hodgepodge of new taxes, financial penalties and IRS rule changes. Medical device manufacturers are among the federal health law losers, those that will have to pay up to 2.8% of gross revenue to cover the cost of implementing it. Others include high-wage earners, tanning salons and, in some cases, working parents and folks with big medical bills. Individuals won’t be able to pass along taxes as easily as businesses. People making more than $200,000 annually and couples making more than $250,000 will have to pay a 3.8 percent tax on net investment income when they file next year — and that’s not their only new tax. Besides the investment tax, people with these higher incomes also will have to pay an additional 0.9 percent in Medicare taxes.

Obama Expands the Regulatory State of Govt

President Obama has overseen a dramatic expansion of the regulatory state that will outlast his time in the White House. The reach of the executive branch has advanced steadily on his watch, further solidifying the power of bureaucrats who churn out regulations that touch nearly every aspect of American life and business. Obama famously signaled his intent to use the machinery of government to further his policy goals after the 2010 elections, declaring: “Where Congress won’t act, I will.” Since then, the administration has pressed ahead unilaterally on several fronts, including immigration, gun control, cybersecurity and sentencing guidelines for drug offenses. Meanwhile, new federal rules are accumulating faster than outdated ones are removed, resulting in a steady increase in the number of federal mandates. Data collected by researchers at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center shows that the Code of Federal Regulations, where all rules and regulations are detailed, has ballooned from 71,224 pages in 1975 to 174,545 pages last year.

  • Socialism is establishing deep roots in the USA that will be very difficult to undo

Colorado River Drought Will Cut Downstream Flows

A federal Bureau of Reclamation study released Friday says the Colorado River’s worst drought in a century will force reduced water releases from Lake Powell that could affect agriculture, downstream business and hydroelectric power production. Groups urging conservation warned of drastic water cutbacks and severe economic implications, while state officials sought to downplay the alarm. The bureau said releases from Lake Powell in the coming year will be cut from 8.23 million acre-feet to 7.48 million acre-feet — the lowest since the lake was first filled in the 1960s. An acre-foot is roughly 325,000 gallons. Water from Lake Powell flows through the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead, where levels are expected to drop eight feet next year, causing reduced deliveries to farms and water banks. Based on the projections, CAP officials said shortages could trigger a 20 percent decrease in Arizona deliveries to agriculture. “This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last 100 years,” said Larry Walkoviak, the Bureau’s Upper Colorado Region director.

Census: 7 Percent of Americans Speak English ‘Not at All’

The number of people in the United States who speak a language other than English at home has nearly tripled since 1980 — far outpacing the overall population growth. According to a new report from the Census Bureau, some 60.6 million people — nearly 1 in 5 people age 5 or older — spoke a language other than English at home in 2011, up from 23 million in 1980. That number rose 158 percent over the three decades, while the population grew only 38 percent. Among those who speak a language other than English at home, nearly two-thirds or 37.6 million speak Spanish, up from 11 million in 1980.  The report highlighted another sobering statistic — among those speaking a language other than English at home, 7 percent said they spoke English “not at all,” including 9.7 percent of Chinese speakers and 9 percent of Spanish speakers. And another 15.4 percent of those who speak another language at home said they spoke English “not well.”

Sequester Cuts Have Succeeded Beyond Expectations

The automatic government spending cuts that drew howls of protest from Washington when they began March 1 have turned out splendidly, says Stephen Moore, a Wall Street Journal editorial board member. “The biggest underreported story out of Washington this year is that the federal budget is shrinking and much more than anyone in either party expected,” he wrote Sunday. Annual spending peaked at about $3.6 trillion in fiscal 2011. Many experts had expected outlays would reach $4 trillion by 2014, Moore reported. Instead, spending dropped to $3.54 trillion in fiscal 2012, and is on track to dip below $3.45 trillion by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2013.

  • Pretty soon Obama will take credit for something he opposed

Economic News

Unemployment rates rose in 28 states and the District of Columbia in July, reflecting weaker job prospects across the country despite a drop in the national jobless rate. Unemployment fell in eight states and was unchanged in 14 states, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Monday. The unemployment rate rose sharply in eight states, including Alaska and Georgia which posted the largest increases.

An era of exceptionally affordable housing is fading in some parts of the U.S. as stagnant incomes collide with rising prices and interest rates. The share of median household income devoted to home mortgage payments recently surpassed historical averages in six of 30 major housing markets. Five of those are in California — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Jose and San Diego — and the sixth is Portland, Ore. Prices in Los Angeles and San Francisco were 21% higher in June than a year ago compared with the national average increase of almost 12%.

With college costs continuing to rise, more students are receiving federal financial aid. Data released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics shows 71 percent of all undergraduate students received some type of financial aid in the 2011-12 school year, up from 66 percent four years earlier. Forty-two percent of students received federal grants, up from 28 percent, and 40 percent received federal loans, an increase of 5 percentage points. The data comes just weeks after President Barack Obama signed a law restoring lower interest rates for millions of college students.

U.S. stocks fell Tuesday for the fourth straight session. But bond yields continued to creep higher amid chatter that the Federal Reserve could begin winding down its stimulus sooner rather than later. Worries that the central bank could taper its $85 billion a month in bond purchases, or quantitative easing, as early as September has spurred a huge sell-off in bonds. Investors have yanked nearly $20 billion from bond mutual funds and exchange traded funds so far in August. That’s the fourth highest pullback ever.

India’s rupee is trading at record lows and stocks have lost 10% in a month, even as the Indian government insists the country’s faltering economy is not in crisis. The slide that has rocked Indian markets accelerated Monday, with the rupee hitting a new record low against the dollar. Investors are worried about India’s large current account deficit, which reflects the nation’s tendency to import many more goods than it exports and leaves it heavily reliant on foreign capital.

Persecution Watch

Egypt Islamists are targeting Christian churches and businesses as the country increases security at the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo ahead of planned mass protests by Morsi supporters. In the four days since security forces cleared two sit-in camps by Morsi supporters, Islamists have attacked dozens of Coptic churches, along with homes and businesses owned by the Christian minority. The campaign of intimidation appears to be a warning to Christians outside Cairo to stand down from political activism. Christians have long suffered from discrimination and violence in Egypt, where they make up 10 percent of the population of 90 million. Attacks increased after the Islamists rose to power in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that drove Hosni Mubarak from power, emboldening extremists. But Christians have come further under fire since Morsi was ousted on July 3, sparking a wave of Islamist anger led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

An organization called Barnabas Fund was able to transfer 3,400 Christians out of hostile Muslim Sudan to relatively safe South Sudan, International Christian Concern reports. Most of those rescued were widows and orphans, and the organization plans to continue focusing on aiding them. Those evacuated are living in tents, but praising God for their rescue. Christians are facing increasing levels of persecution in Sudan since the country divided, and the aggressive Islamist government wants to eradicate the Christian presence from the north. Because of border tensions, Christians in Sudan have been unable to flee to South Sudan, leaving many of them in shantytowns surrounding Sudan’s capital Khartoum. Barnabas Fund has airlifted and bussed nearly 5,000 vulnerable Christians to South Sudan.

Egypt

The death toll in Friday’s clashes across Egypt has risen to 173 with at least 1330 people injured. Witnesses said Egyptian security forces fired tear gas at hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters who barricaded themselves overnight inside the al-Fatah mosque at Ramses Square, the scene of some of the heaviest clashes Friday. The mosque has been serving as a field hospital and morgue following Friday’s violence. The day after marches in Cairo devolved into the fiercest street battles that the capital has seen in more than two years, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters were defying a state of emergency with new protests.

At least 25 policemen were killed Monday when militants ambushed two mini-buses carrying security personnel in Egypt’s North Sinai Peninsula, which shares a border with Israel and the Gaza Strip and has been a restive center for militant activity. Egyptian authorities arrested the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie.

Iran

Iran’s outgoing nuclear chief says Tehran has a total of 18,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment — a process that can be a pathway to making nuclear weapons. The number is higher by a third than publicly known. Abbasi says 10,000 centrifuges currently operating are of an older model, IR-1, while about 7,000 more of the same model are ready to be installed along with just over 1,000 centrifuges of an advanced new model. The U.S. and its allies fear Iran is seeking to produce nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

Afghanistan

If the Afghan government is going to take over all military operations in Afghanistan from U.S. forces next year, it will need to know who’s in its military. That’s why the Pentagon is looking for a contractor to upgrade the existing Afghan database to determine who is serving in the military, and whether those troops can read, write and whether they have received enough training to be able to train other Afghan troops. Literacy remains a problem for Afghan forces. New recruits receive only a 64-hour literacy course that makes a soldier able to write his own name, according to a recent Pentagon status report on Afghanistan.

  • With such poor recordkeeping and illiteracy, it’s no wonder that insider attacks by uniformed terrorist have been rising.

Volcanoes

Sakurajima, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes, experienced one of its most powerful eruptions in decades Sunday, sending an ash plume as high as three miles into the air. The volcano, located in the far southwestern part of Japan’s mainland on the island of Kyushu, began to erupt at 4:31 p.m. local time Sunday (3:31 a.m. EDT U.S. time). The smoke plume eventually reached a height of approximately 16,000 feet, the volcano’s tallest ash plume since records began in 1955. Visibility in the city of Kagoshima, where the volcano sits, deteriorated quickly as ash spread into populated portions of the city of 600,000 residents. A fast-moving current of gas and rock, was observed along a one-kilometer (0.6-mile) swath on the southeast flank of the mountain.

Wildfires

A wind-driven wildfire burned its way through sage and pine trees near the Idaho mountain resort community of Sun Valley as sheriff’s deputies expanded evacuation orders to 2,300 homes last Friday. The evacuation orders for the 160-square-mile Beaver Creek Fire included homes in drainages and foothills west of the towns of Hailey and extending to north of Ketchum in central Idaho. More than 1600 state and federal firefighters were working to get the blaze under control and protect property in the affluent resort region that’s a second home to celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis. Fire managers expressed optimism Sunday in their battle against the wildfire which was now 9% contained and growing more slowly.

Meanwhile, crews continued battling other wildfires across the West, including a group of fires near the Oregon city of The Dalles, on the Columbia River. Those fires were threatening about 70 homes Sunday, and some residents in the area were told to be ready to evacuate. Three wildfires were burning in the area, with the largest covering about 700 acres in The Dalles watershed. In Utah, the last evacuation orders were scheduled to be lifted Monday after a series of mountain fires burned more than a dozen homes last week. Utah’s biggest blaze, the Patch Springs Fire, was estimated at 50 square miles and 25 percent contained Sunday.

Erratic winds are fueling a wildfire in Northern California that is threatening more than 400 structures and forcing hundreds of people and animals to evacuate. The shifting winds mean the direction of the nearly 2,000-acre fire in Butte County can change rapidly. The 900 firefighters on the scene are among 5,000 firefighters battling 10 wildfires burning in California.

Weather

Flooding caused by some of the Philippines’ heaviest rains on record submerged more than half the capital Tuesday, turning roads into rivers and trapping tens of thousands of people in homes and shelters. The government suspended all work except rescues and disaster response for a second day. At least seven people have died, including four who drowned north of Manila on Monday. Throughout the sprawling, low-lying capital region of 12 million people, offices, banks and schools were closed and most roads were impassable. People stumbled through waist- or neck-deep waters, holding on to ropes strung from flooded houses. More than 200 evacuation centers were opened in Manila and surrounding provinces, filled with tens of thousands of people. Overall, more than 600,000 people have been affected by the floods.

A government news agency said Sunday that the death toll in flooding in China’s northeast and southeast has risen to 107 and landslides blocked a major train line. A total of 37 million residents in that region were affected by flood waters. Landslides blocked the rail linking Beijing with Guangzhou, the country’s southern railway center, delaying some 80,000 passengers. This summer’s inundation is the Northeast’s most severe in decades. Several hundred thousand residents have been relocated.

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry says around 20,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in the wake of floods in Russia’s Far East. The evacuation is underway in three Far East regions, some 3,100 miles east of Moscow. Some of the evacuees have moved into emergency shelters. Authorities estimate that another 14,000 people were also affected.

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