Signs of the Times (8/31/13)

Public Wants Obama to Clear Syria Military Plans with Congress

Nearly 80% of Americans think President Obama should seek Congressional approval before taking any military action in Syria, according to a NBC News poll published on Friday. The tough poll numbers for the White House come one day after members of Obama’s national security team provided 26 lawmakers with an unclassified briefing to detail some of the intelligence that they say shows regime loyalists linked to Syria President Bashar Assad was responsible for an Aug. 21 chemical attack outside Damascus that left hundreds dead.

The British Parliament also voted on Thursday to reject taking limited military action against Syria, despite the UK government releasing intelligence that shows the regime have deployed chemical weapons 15 times against the Syrian opposition. Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande said his country could go ahead with a strike on Syria. U.N. weapons inspectors have left Syria ahead of schedule amid high anticipation of an imminent U.S. attack. President Obama said any U.S. response to Syria’s chemical arms attack would not involve sending U.S. troops on the ground.

  • As a candidate, Barack Obama blasted George W. Bush for waging the Iraq war without key European allies; now President Obama finds himself on the verge of pursuing a go-it-alone approach in Syria, after British lawmakers rejected military action.

Syria Launches Cyber Attack on U.S.

The latest disruption to U.S. media outlets dealt out by the Syrian Electronic Army may be a precursor for warfare in the digital age. One aspect of the frontal assault that ought not be overlooked is the timing: The SEA, which supports strongman President Bashar al-Assad, knocked down websites of the New York Times, Huffington Post and Twitter, a few hours after US officials indicated the US may launch missile strikes against the Syrian government. A self-described operative of the SEA told ABC News in an e-mail exchange: “When we hacked media we do not destroy the site but only publish on it if possible, or publish an article [that] contains the truth of what is happening in Syria. . . . if the USA launch attack on Syria we may use methods of causing harm, both for the U.S. economy or other.”

Obama Announces New Gun Control Measures

Striving to take action where Congress would not, the Obama administration announced new steps Thursday on gun control, curbing the import of military surplus weapons and proposing to close a little-known loophole that lets felons and others circumvent background checks by registering guns to corporations. Four months after a gun control drive collapsed spectacularly in the Senate, President Obama added two more executive actions to a list of 23 steps the White House determined Obama could take on his own to reduce gun violence. One new policy will end a government practice that lets military weapons, sold or donated by the U.S. to allies, be reimported into the U.S. by private entities, where some may end up on the streets. The White House said the U.S. has approved 250,000 of those guns to be reimported since 2005; under the new policy, only museums and a few other entities like the government will be eligible to reimport military-grade firearms.

Obamacare Rate Hikes May Be Large

Health insurance policy holders across the country can expect letters from their providers notifying them of “staggering” rate increases, some even approaching 300%, according to Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens. Weber noted that officials in Florida, Ohio, Indiana, South Carolina and Kentucky say they expect rates to increase by averages of 35% to 80% or more. But at least one major health insurance provider has notified policy holders that their premiums may skyrocket due to Obamacare.  One Kentucky family received a letter from Humana stating that its premium would increase by nearly 300%. “It’s not Humana’s fault, they are being forced to go along with the program, what bothers me is that we were told our premiums would go down and that we could keep our policies. It looks like we were lied to,” said Andrew Mangione, a senior AMAC executive.

Fast-Food Workers Strike for Higher Pay

Workers at McDonald’s and other fast-food chains conducted strikes and walkouts in nearly 60 cities Thursday, hoping for super-size wage hikes that for many would boost their hourly pay to $15 from the current federal minimum $7.25. The pre-Labor Day protests, which follow a series of strikes that began last November in New York City. Targeted fast-food chains include McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Yum Brands, whose chains include KFC and Taco Bell. Workers are also seeking the right to unionize.

43% Pay No Taxes

A little more than 43% of U.S. households — or 70 million homes – will end up owing no federal income taxes for 2013, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. That’s down from recent years because of an improving economy and the expiration of various tax cuts that were passed after the 2008 financial crisis. The households with zero income tax liability are not evenly distributed across income groups. The majority this year — nearly 67% — have incomes below $30,000. An estimated 798,000 households in the nonpayer group make between $100,000 and $200,000 a year; 48,000 have incomes between $200,000 and $500,000; 3,000 make between $500,000 and $1 million; and just 1,000 nonpayer households bring in more than $1 million. That’s less than 1 million high income total nonpayers versus the 70 million low-income nonpayers.

  • 57% are paying taxes to keep the 43% afloat in our welfare-oriented economy

Economic News

White House efforts to reach common ground with Senate Republicans on fiscal matters appear to have failed Thursday, with a key senator saying there is no “common ground.” The fiscal year ends Sept. 30 and the Obama Administration is looking for a long term deal to replace the government-wide spending cuts known as sequester that cut federal programs this year largely without distinction.

The U.S. economy grew at a 2.5% annual rate in the second quarter, faster than initially estimated, as American companies exported more and consumers imported less than the government had calculated last month. The Commerce Department said consumer spending climbed 1.8%, non-residential investment spending moved up at a 4.4% rate, and federal government spending fell 1.6%.

A big jump in home values has pulled 3.2 million homeowners above water on their mortgages in the past year. At the end of June, 12.2 million homeowners with mortgages — 23.8% — remained underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes were worth. That’s down from 15.3 million a year ago. The sizable drop in underwater borrowers correlated with a robust jump in home prices, which were up 12.1% for the 12 months ended in June.

In Detroit, America’s biggest bankrupt city — currently more than $18 billion in debt and home to 70,000-plus vacant structures — there is another problem: Tens of thousands of stray dogs roam the streets. As many of Detroit’s residents struggle to get by, many of its dogs have been abandoned.

Persecution Watch

During the last two weeks a total of seven Christians have been murdered and 17 kidnapped in violence directed at Christians by Muslim Brotherhood extremists. Hundreds more have been injured. Additionally, the rampage has resulted in the destruction or damage of 212 privately-owned Christian shops and homes and 95 church buildings. Orphanages, schools and Bible book stores have also been destroyed or damaged. Many Christian families have lost everything and escaped with only what they were wearing. In the wake of the unprecedented violence targeting Egypt’s Christian community,

International Christian Concern (ICC) is alarmed by the latest series of events that continue a pattern of egregious violations of fundamental rights and freedoms in Iran. Three Christians, Ebrahim Firouzi, Sevada Aghasar, and Masoud Mirzaei, were arrested on Wednesday, August 21, and detained without charges. On Sunday, August 25, an appeals court in Tehran rejected an appeal in the case of American Saeed Abedini, who has been sentenced to eight years in prison because of his religious beliefs.

Middle East

Iranian lawmakers and commanders issued stark warnings to the United States and its allies on Tuesday, saying any military strike on Syria would lead to a retaliatory attack on Israel fanned by ‘the flames of outrage.’ The warnings came against a backdrop of rising momentum among Western governments for a military intervention in the Syrian conflict over what the United States, Britain, France and others have called undeniable evidence that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used banned chemical weapons on civilians last week, killing hundreds.

Israeli leaders issued calm reiterations Thursday of their position that Israel is not involved in the Syrian crisis but will respond fiercely if attacked, providing a sharp contrast with the hysterical ranting of Iranian and Assad regime officials that Israel would be annihilated if Western forces attack the regime in the near future.


People in the Syrian capital of Damascus have been insulated from the civil war that has consumed whole cities and left nearly 100,000 people dead. But no longer. Residents of Damascus are fleeing the city, as well as other areas, for the nation’s borders as the U.S. and its Western allies prepare possible military strikes over alleged chemical weapons attacks by the regime of Bashar Assad. But Russia warned the West against intervening militarily in the Syrian conflict without the approval of the UN Security Council, saying such action would violate international law. Iran said that they will work with Russia in ‘extensive cooperation’ to prevent any military action against Syria.


A coordinated wave of bombings tore through Shiite Muslim areas in and around the Iraqi capital early Wednesday, part of a wave of bloodshed that killed at least 66 people and wounded many more, officials said. The blasts, which came in quick succession, mainly targeted residents out shopping and on their way to work. The attacks are the latest in a relentless wave of killing that has left thousands dead since April, marking the country’s worst spate of bloodshed since 2008. Coordinated waves of car bombs have hit Baghdad repeatedly each month, sometimes as often as twice per week.


Egyptian security forces arrested a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader on suspicion of inciting violence after last month’s ouster of then-President Mohamed Morsy, state-run media reported Thursday. Mohamed El-Beltagi was arrested in Giza province, state-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported. The Egyptian military and other security forces have arrested a number of Muslim Brotherhood leaders since the ouster of Morsy, who belonged to the brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. In many cases, those arrested have been accused of inciting violence. This month, hundreds of people — citizens as well as members of security forces — were killed. Many of the deaths occurred when the military used force to clear two pro-Morsy sit-in sites in Cairo, and when violence raged after pro-Morsy supporters staged demonstrations two days later.


Suspected Islamist extremists killed at least 44 villagers this week in continuing attacks in an Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria, The Blaze reports. According to an official from the National Emergency Management Agency, the attackers hit Dumba village in Borno state before dawn Tuesday and slit their victims’ throats — a new strategy since gunfire attracts security forces. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the attackers gouged out the eyes of some victims who survived. Dumba is near the fishing village of Baga, where security forces in March gunned down 187 civilians in retaliation for an attack by extremists. It is difficult to get information from the area under a state of emergency, with cell phone and Internet service cut. Borno is one of three northeastern states under a state of emergency declared May 14 to crack down on the Boko Haram terrorist network. Since 2010, more than 1,700 people have been killed in attacks by Islamic insurgents, according to an Associated Press count.


U.S. drone strikes in Yemen on Friday killed six militants, including two senior leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Qaed al-Thahab, the top AQAP leader in the country’s Baitha province and described as a “high-profile target,” was among those killed. The sources said eight missiles were launched by two unmanned drone planes targeting vehicles.


A magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked Alaska’s Aleutian Islands with a jet-like rumble Friday that shook homes and sent residents scrambling for cover. There are no immediate reports of damage or injuries from the earthquake, which occurred in a seismically active region. The quake was followed by multiple aftershocks, including one measuring magnitude 4.9. The earthquake didn’t trigger a tsunami warning. The Alaska Earthquake Information Center said the primary earthquake was centered 67 miles southwest of Adak, about 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage. Shaking lasted up to one minute.

An earthquake hit a mountainous area in southwestern China Saturday morning, killing at least three people injuring 10 others. The quake, which measured 5.9 on the Richter scale shook several counties, including the scenic Shangri-La and Deqen counties in Yunnan province, and Derong county in Sichuan province just to the north. The quake also destroyed 600 residential units and damaged 55,500 others. More than 9,000 residents were forced to relocate. China’s mountainous areas in its southwest are prone to earthquakes.


The giant wildfire burning at the edge of Yosemite National Park has not only destroyed buildings and threatened water supplies, electricity and sequoias, it has also unleashed a smoky haze that has worsened air quality more than 100 miles away in Nevada. The plume from the Rim Fire in California triggered emergency warnings in the Reno and Carson City area. Schoolchildren were kept inside for the second time in a week, people went to hospitals complaining of eye and throat irritation and officials urged people to avoid all physical activity outdoors. The Rim Fire, so far, has burned through 301 square miles, destroyed 23 structures and threatened water supplies, hydroelectric power and giant sequoias. On Wednesday night, authorities said the blaze was 30 percent contained.


Monday was once more a day for record-breaking heat in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The temperature at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport topped out at 97 degrees, shattering the old record of 94, set in 1948.  on Tuesday. Chicago tied its hottest day of the year, so far (96).  Des Moines, Omaha, and Pierre, S.D. (each 99 degrees) narrowly missed the century mark. Rapid City, S.D. and North Platte, Neb. (101) weren’t so lucky. On Thursday, daily record highs were broken or tied in McCook, Neb. (105), Goodland, Kan. (101) and Omaha, Neb. (98). From Oklahoma City to Chicago, we expect much of the Midwest to roast in the mid-upper 90s to low 100s on Friday. Despite spring flooding, some parts of the Midwest are in danger of returning to drought conditions.

Meanwhile, the southwest monsoon season continues in earnest with flash floods all over Arizona and Nevada. Las Vegas reported its highest dew point temperature ever recorded – 75 degrees F – with 100% humidity.

Tropical Storm Kong-Rey battered Taiwan on Thursday, dumping more than 19 inches of rain on the heavily populated west coast and causing widespread flooding. Particularly hard hit in Taiwan were the large west coast cities of Chiayi, Tainan and Kaohsiung, where flooding in some areas reached second-story levels. In Tainan, officials evacuated 29 residents from a nursing home and cancelled some train services. Kong-Rey is the second major storm to hit Taiwan this month. Last week, a severe tropical storm dumped up to a meter (39 inches) of rain on the southern part of the island. High winds caused the cancellation of scores of international flights and in conjunction with the rain led to the disruption of high speed rail service between the capital of Taipei and Kaohsiung.

The flattening over the past 15 years of a rise in the world’s average surface temperature springs from a natural cooling pattern in the eastern Pacific Ocean, climate scientists reported Wednesday. That leveling off fed part of the skepticism toward global warming predictions in recent years, but researchers behind the new report see this “hiatus” as a pause in an inevitable climb. For now, the “hiatus” in global warming has left average surface temperatures lodged about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for the past century.

  • Records only go back to the late 1800s, so it’s impossible to say what normal is; now that data shows a leveling off, global warming alarmists are forced to admit it but with an excuse of course; nevertheless, end-time weather will continue to grow more extreme as Biblically prophesied


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