Signs of the Times (8/23/13)

Judge Invalidates City’s Action Against Pro-Live Mobile Pregnancy Unit

A federal court has ruled the city of Elgin, Ill., acted unconstitutionally in shutting down a pro-life mobile pregnancy help center, Baptist Press reports. Federal judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan issued a permanent injunction Aug. 8 against a 2012 amendment to the city’s zoning code that effectively prevented Life Center from operating its mobile unit more than four times a year at each of two locations. The City Council of Elgin, which is located 35 miles northwest of Chicago, changed the zoning code to classify the mobile facility for “temporary land use,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents Life Center in the case. The new injunction means Life Center may again park its mobile pregnancy help center at Evangelical Covenant Church and JB’s Pub & Bar, both of which are located near Elgin Larkin High School. The mobile unit provides free ultrasounds, pregnancy information and services. “Women deserve access to the help they need for themselves and their unborn children without undue interference from the government,” said ADF senior counsel Steven Aden. “Life Center’s free services help both the city and its citizens, so the city’s actions have been both counterproductive and unconstitutional.” Life Center operates the mobile unit under the name TLC Pregnancy Services.

Arizona’s Anti-Abortion Medicaid Law Struck Down

Arizona has lost another battle in its ongoing war to restrict abortions, adding to a growing list of defeats this year for the state’s anti-abortion movement. On Thursday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Arizona cannot strip Medicaid funding from doctors and clinics that perform abortions, upholding a lower-court ruling. House Bill 2800, which the Legislature passed and Gov. Jan Brewer signed in 2012, would have halted Medicaid reimbursements for contraceptives, cancer screenings, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and annual women’s exams at the state’s more than 80 hospitals and clinics that also perform abortions. It is already a violation of state law to spend state or federal money on elective abortions, and that prohibition was not disputed in this case.

Christian Photographers Lose in Court

The case of Elane Photography v. Willock has been decided in favor of the lesbian plaintiffs. The case centered around Elaine Huguenin, a Christian in New Mexico who owned a photography business. She was asked to provide services to a gay commitment ceremony between two lesbians, Vanessa Willock and her partner. Ms. Huguenin and her husband declined to provide their services because they are Christians and the orthodox tenets of their faith tell them that marriage is between a man and a woman. Vanessa Willock, in an act of spite and retribution, decided to file a discrimination claim and punish Mrs. Huguenin for adhering to her religious beliefs. In a very profound decision, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that Christians, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and others must surrender the faithful practice of their religion in the name of citizenship. The judge wrote that it is, “tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people…. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.”

  • What about the reverse intolerance shown by the plaintiff and judge against the Huguenin’s beliefs?

NSA Surveillance Broader than Acknowledged

The National Security Agency’s surveillance network has the capacity to spy on 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic, The Wall Street Journal reported. Citing current and former NSA officials for the 75 percent figure, the paper reported that the agency can observe more of Americans’ online communications than officials have publicly acknowledged. The NSA’s system of programs that filter communications, achieved with the help of telecommunications companies, is designed to look for communications that either start or end abroad, or happen to pass through the U.S. between foreign countries. However, the officials told the Journal that the system’s reach is so broad, that it is more likely that purely domestic communications will be intercepted as a byproduct of the hunt for foreign ones. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, a former to intelligence official told the Journal that the government changed its definition of “reasonable” intelligence collection, enabling the NSA to widen the holes in the “filtering” system.

Obama Admin Seeks Warrentless Cell Phone Searches

Amid concerns from privacy advocates about the government’s sprawling surveillance programs, the Obama administration earlier this month petitioned the Supreme Court in support of a federal court ruling that allowed police searches of cell phones records without a warrant. The implications of the petition are huge, given that today’s smart phones are giant repositories of private information and can serve as tracking devices, as well. “The phone company, at any given time, knows where you are as a result of the basically technical functioning of the network, ” says Alan Butler of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The Electronic Communication Privacy Act , which governs police access to cell phone records, was written in 1986 when cell phones were in their infancy and had nowhere near the capacity of current smart phones to store personal information. Courts have recently split over police collection of cell phone data. A New Jersey state court ruled this year that cell phone privacy is protected under the New Jersey equivalent of the Fourth Amendment.

  • In a perfect world, law-abiding citizens would not fear cell-phone searches by a righteous government; however, in our imperfect world, such searches could be used illicitly or as a means of limiting dissent

Kansas & Arizona Sue Feds Over Voter ID

Kansas and Arizona filed a joint lawsuit against the federal government Wednesday over requirements needed to register to vote. The lawsuit demands that the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission modify the federal voter registration form in both states so it would allow for proof of citizenship when people sign up to vote. The federal form doesn’t require proof of citizenship. It only requires prospective voters to declare that they are citizens. “A mere oath without concrete evidence of citizenship, as allowed for by the current version of the Federal Form, does not suffice to effectuate the State laws of Plaintiffs or enable Plaintiffs to obtain information Plaintiffs deem necessary to assess the eligibility of voter registration applicants and to enforce their voter qualifications,” the lawsuit reads. It is the latest legal effort in a nationwide battle by states to crack down on voter fraud by making it harder for non-U.S. citizens to gain access to the ballot box.

Feds Sue Texas Over Voter ID Law

The Obama administration will sue to halt a Texas requirement that voters show identification at the polls, signaling a new effort on voting rights enforcement following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year that threw out a key part of a landmark federal law. The Justice Department said on Thursday that it had put in motion a plan to seek a court order declaring that the strict 2011 Texas law violates the Voting Rights Act and certain constitutional guarantees. “Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

Patriot Update reports that the mainstream media have “ignored the facts which show that not only do black voters support voter ID more than whites, getting an ID card is not nearly so onerous as anti-reform groups pretend it to be, and that helping people get identification for themselves is a good way of ensuring they are part of the many other parts of societal interaction that require identification. This much should be evident to reporters who continuously amplify incendiary, racially charged allegations that do not square with reality.”

  • Illegal immigrants vote Democratic, hence voter ID opposition

Obamacare Police Force Now Hiring

Freedom Outpost reports that “we should be at least somewhat concerned with a breaking news story about the new “ObamaCare” Police. It would seem that the IRS implementation will not be the only strong arm of ObamaCare but that Health and Human Services will have a substantial number of investigative storm troopers as well.” The Daily Mail reports: “More than 1,600 new employees hired by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources in the aftermath of Obamacare’s passage include just two described as ‘consumer safety’ officers, but 86 tasked with ‘criminal investigating’ – indicating that the agency is building an army of detectives to sleuth out violations of a law that many in Congress who supported it still find confusing.”

Obamacare Hurts Spouses

Republican lawmakers are raising new concerns about ObamaCare after several large employers announced they are dropping health coverage for some employee spouses due to rising costs under the new law. Both the University of Virginia and UPS told their employees recently they are no longer offering spousal coverage to those able to obtain insurance elsewhere. UVA said Wednesday this is only one of many “major changes” coming to their health plans as a result of ObamaCare. The university says the changes are necessary because the law is projected to add $7.3 million to the cost of the university’s health plan in 2014 alone. Similarly, UPS partially blamed the new health law for the change, which is estimated to affect roughly 15,000 employee spouses. The rising cost of health care “combined with the costs associated with the Affordable Care Act, have made it increasingly difficult to continue providing the same level of health care benefits to our employees at an affordable cost,” UPS said.

Black on White Attacks Continue

One of three teens charged in the ‘thrill kill’ of an Australian college student in Oklahoma last week has previously posted racist tweets on his Twitter account, according to a report. One tweet reads, “90% of white ppl are nasty. #HATE THEM.” Another post read, “Ayeee I knocced out 5 woods since Zimmerman court!)” The Daily Caller’s report noted that ‘woods’ is used as a derogatory term for white people. One suspect told officers that he and other boys were bored and that they followed Lane and killed him for “the fun of it.”

Police in Spokane, Washington are searching for two young suspects after a World War II veteran was severely beaten in a parking lot Wednesday and later died from his injuries. Authorities on Thursday released surveillance photos of the two suspects in the ‘random’ murder, who they describe as African-American males between the ages of 16 and 19.

A Department of Homeland Security manager in charge of buying weapons and ammunition for the government is, on the side, running an inflammatory website that throws around gay slurs and advocates the mass murder of “whites” and the “ethnic cleansing” of “Uncle Tom race traitors,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. His website, “War on the Horizon,” declares, “in order for Black people to survive the 21st century, we are going to have to kill a lot of whites – more than our Christian hearts can possibly count,” the Alabama-based SPLC said in its report.

  • A recent string of random black-on-white attacks has gone unreported by the mainstream press which focuses their reports on gun control. However, when a white attacks a black there is a hue and cry about racism.

Level of Long-Term Unemployment Unprecedented

The economy has seen an “unprecedented” number of long-term unemployed under the Obama administration, according to a liberal think tank. Nearly 5 million workers are classified as long-term unemployed, while 900,000 more have stopped looking for work altogether, according to a new series of reports issued by the Urban Institute. “That long-term unemployment would rise during a recession is not at all surprising, but the extent of the increase and its persistently high level since the start of the recovery are both troubling and unprecedented,” the report states. The center-left think tank said that those startling figures are unlikely to change unless the United States can achieve dramatic job growth, rather than the middling 2 percent overall economic growth figures the Obama administration has averaged.

Economic News

The nation may be in better economic shape, but that doesn’t mean Americans’ paychecks are, CNN reported Thursday. Median annual household income has fallen 4.4% to $52,098 in the four years since the economic recovery began. Black Americans took the biggest income hit since the Great Recession ended. Median household income for blacks dropped by more than $4,000 to $33,519. Whites, on the other hand, saw their median income slip just over $2,000 to $58,000.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week after reaching the lowest level in nearly six years. The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for first-time benefits rose 13,000 in the week ending Aug. 17 to a seasonally adjusted 336,000. The four-week average, which smooths week to week fluctuations, fell to 330,500. That’s the sixth straight decline and the lowest for the average since November 2007. At the height of the recession in March 2009, applications numbered 670,000.

Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages rose this week to their highest levels in two years, driven by heightened speculation that the Federal Reserve will slow its bond purchases later this year. the average rate on the 30-year loan jumped to 4.58%, up from 4.40% last week. The average on the 15-year fixed loan rose to 3.60% from 3.44 percent. Both averages are the highest since July 2011. Rates have risen more than a full percentage point since May.

Persecution Watch

“Undoubtedly, the last week’s wave of fierce attacks on Christians in Egypt is shocking and unprecedented,” a Christian leader in Egypt writes to Open Doors USA. “We’ve always witnessed occasional incidents of variable attacks on churches by radical Muslims in villages or towns, Christian families harassed or forced to migrate from their hometowns, and repeated everyday discrimination against Christians, wherever they lived or worked. But the systematic violence conducted against the Christians of Egypt over the last five days has been unprecedented. According to the latest report published by the head of the Coptic Cultural Center, Christian losses since the violent dismantling of the two sit-ins of the Muslim Brotherhood last Wednesday are massive: 73 churches and monasteries, as well as 22 adjunct church service buildings (including orphanages, schools and Bible bookshops), were either partially or totally burned down or damaged. Moreover, 212 private Coptic Christian properties have been attacked, looted or set on fire, and seven Christians’ deaths confirmed.

Middle East

Israeli warplanes struck a target south of Beirut early Friday, a day after militants fired four rockets into northern Israel. The Israeli military said that the aircraft targeted “a terror site located between Beirut and Sidon in response” to the rocket attack. It was the first air raid on the area since the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group. Ramez Mustafa, a Lebanon-based official with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said the raid caused no casualties or material damage. An Associated Press photographer in Naameh said the raid targeted a PFLP-GC base in a valley in the town. Lebanese troops in the area prevented journalists from reaching the base.

Lebanon

Lebanon’s official news agency says at least 12 people have been killed by twin explosions outside two Sunni mosques in a northern city. The National News Agency said another 25 were wounded in the Friday blasts. The explosions in Tripoli come amid rising tensions in Lebanon resulting from Syria’s civil war, which has sharply polarized the country along sectarian lines and between supporters and opponents of the regime of President Bashar Assad. Tripoli has previously seen clashes between Sunnis and Alawites, a Shiite offshoot sect to which Assad belongs.

Syria

Government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have carried out a “poisonous gas” attack near the capital Damascus that has left hundreds dead, Syrian opposition groups claimed Wednesday. Anti-regime activists are saying that regime forces fired “rockets with poisonous gas heads” in the attack. The Syrian government said there was no truth to the allegations “whatsoever” that chemical weapons were used. UN chemical weapons inspectors are in Syria this week to investigate claims that chemical weapons have been used there by both sides in a bloody and protracted civil war. Syrian government forces pressed on with a military offensive in eastern Damascus on Thursday, bombing rebel-held suburbs, the site of the alleged chemical weapons attack. Some first responders to a reported chemical attack in Syria have died after treating victims, providing more evidence that a weapon of mass destruction was used

The number of registered child refugees fleeing Syria’s violence has topped the 1 million mark in another grim milestone of the deepening conflict, the U.N. said Friday. Roughly half of all the nearly 2 million registered refugees from Syria are children, and some 740,000 of those are under the age of 11.

Egypt

Rallies are planned across the capital in what supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi are calling a “Friday of Martyrs,” threatening to propel more bloodshed in Egypt after weeks of deadly unrest. The marches will leave from 28 mosques across Cairo following Friday prayers. “To every revolutionary out there, tell your family & friends, Friday is the day we get back the revolution that was stolen from us,” an anti-coup and pro-Morsi coalition said on Twitter. Nearly 900 people were killed in four days of political violence last week, including security personnel, after security forces plowed down two sit-ins where people had gathered to resist a July 3 coup and demand Morsi’s reinstatement.

Iran

A gap in U.S. law has allowed China to import nearly $500 million of additional oil products from Iran this year while avoiding U.S. sanctions, demonstrating Washington’s challenge in designing effective measures to target Tehran. The latest twist stems from a gap in the sanctions law: When discussing exemptions, it mentions only crude oil, not fuel oil, a byproduct of refining crude into more expensive products such as diesel and gasoline. While fuel oil is significantly less valuable than other refined fuels, some Chinese refineries can process it into more valuable fuels. China imported 5.4 million barrels of Iranian fuel oil valued at $495 million in the first seven months of 2013, according to Chinese customs data, up from less than $1 million in all of 2012. China has purchased more Iranian fuel oil this year than in the past four years combined, according to the data

Congo

The deadliest war in modern African history is entering a new phase. For two decades, at least 20 armed groups have been fighting in a country about the size of the Eastern USA. Millions of people have died, most from starvation and disease brought on by relentless combat that has stymied intervention by the United Nations and forced millions of people to plod from village to village in search of safety. In a first-of-its kind arrangement, the U.N. Security Council authorized an offensive military force to join Congolese government soldiers in operations against the rebels. The 3,000-troop intervention brigade will be in addition to the peacekeeping force of 17,000 U.N. soldiers — the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world.

The U.N. mission, which has been trying to stabilize the Congo since 1999, is funded with an annual budget of $1.35 billion. Rebels in far-flung regions of a country that is home to more than 200 different ethnic groups say they want a measure of freedom from the dictates of the central government. They say the government is corrupt and refuses them a fair share of the country’s significant deposits of gold, platinum and coltan, a mineral critical to computer processors.

Japan

Japan is poised to declare a toxic water leak at the Fukushima nuclear plant a level 3 “serious incident,” its gravest warning since the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami that sent three reactors into meltdown. The leak previously had a level 1 “anomaly rating” on the scale, which ranges from zero, for no safety threat, to seven, for a major accident like the meltdowns at the plant after the earthquake and tsunami. Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, which is in charge of the plant, has struggled to manage the vast quantities of contaminated water at the plant since the tsunami, which swamped the facility. In response to the latest leakage of 300 tons of toxic water, a TEPCO spokesman said Wednesday the company has finished removing radioactive water from a leaky tank and transferred it to another tank at the plant.

India

A young photojournalist was gang raped while her male colleague was tied up and beaten in an isolated, overgrown corner of India’s business hub of Mumbai, police said Friday. The case was reminiscent of the December gang rape and death of a young university student in the Indian capital that shocked the country. The latest attack took place Thursday evening in Lower Parel, a onetime textile-manufacturing neighborhood of south Mumbai that over the past decade has changed dramatically. Today, upscale malls, trendy restaurants and super-luxury condominiums sit side-by-side with abandoned textile mills and sprawling slums. Police said the 22-year-old woman was on assignment to take pictures of the neighborhood.

  • End-time lawlessness is on the rise worldwide

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake struck near Mexico’s Pacific coast resort of Acapulco on Wednesday, causing cracks in some buildings and knocking bricks and plaster off other structures. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake at 7:38 a.m. had a magnitude of 6.2. It was centered near the Pacific coast and about 60 miles east of Acapulco. At least one aftershock of 5.62 magnitude has already been registered. Mexico City is vulnerable even to distant earthquakes because much of it sits atop the muddy sediments of drained lake beds that quiver as quake waves hit. Located atop three of the large tectonic plates, Mexico is one of the world’s most seismologically active regions.

Wildfires

A wildfire outside Yosemite National Park – one of more than 60 major brush blazes burning across the western U.S. – raged beyond the control of firefighters, but several days after it started it there has been minimal property damage. The blaze in Stanislaus National Forest west of Yosemite grew to more than 25 square miles and was only 5 percent contained Wednesday, threatening some 2,500 homes, hotels and camp buildings. The fire has destroyed two residences and seven outbuildings and led to the evacuation of the private gated summer community of Pine Mountain Lake, which has a population of 2,800. Several organized camps and at least two campgrounds have been evacuated since the fire broke out Saturday.

Sixty-one major uncontained wildfires are burning throughout the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, including in California, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. More than 19,000 firefighters were fighting the fires. But the U.S. Forest Service, the nation’s top wildfire-fighting agency, said Wednesday that it is running out of money to fight wildfires and is diverting $600 million from timber, recreation and other areas to fill the gap. The agency said it had spent $967 million so far this year and was down to $50 million – typically enough to pay for just a few days of fighting fires.

Weather

Summer’s heat and humidity is making a comeback. A dome of high pressure in the upper-levels of the atmosphere will set up over the central Plains and Missouri Valley later in the weekend into early next week. Sunny skies, sinking air, and gusty southerly surface winds will send temperatures rocketing into the 90s over a large swath of the Plains and Upper Midwest.  Little relief is in sight through the end of next week, as the stubborn dome of high pressure aloft will stay put.  By late next week, it’s not out of the question parts of Iowa or Nebraska may flirt with the 100-degree mark.

Severe Tropical Storm Trami struck Wednesday in heavily populated northern Taiwan, prompting schools and offices to close down as heavy rains triggered landslides and other disruptions throughout the island. In Taiwan, the storm had dumped 12 inches of rain on Taipei by nightfall Wednesday, and close to 20 inches in mountainous areas of northwestern Taiwan. Southern China was hit by fresh flooding Thursday as the second typhoon in a week lashed the region after killing 17 people in the Philippines. Typhoon Trami skirted Taiwan and brought heavy rain to a region still feeling the effects of Typhoon Utor. Flooding around China over the past week has left about 250 people dead or missing.

The US.is in the middle of a tornado drought, and 2013 is on track to possibly be a record low tornado year. Only 674 tornadoes have been reported in the U.S. so far this year. That’s 38 percent below average. The numbers don’t mean it has been an easy tornado year. At least 44 people have died in the U.S.from tornadoes this year. Two extremely destructive tornadoes devastated towns in Oklahoma in May.

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