Archive for September, 2013

Signs of the Times (9/28/13)

September 28, 2013

Government Shutdown Monday if No Budget Deal

If Democrats and Republicans don’t reach a spending deal by midnight Monday, a partial government shutdown will take effect. The 2013 fiscal year ends at midnight Monday. Many federal programs and activities will stop beginning Tuesday and won’t restart until a new deal is in place. The House on Saturday will take up a short-term spending plan that has become a congressional version of hot potato with a looming government shutdown at stake. The ball is back in the court of the Republican-led House after the Senate pushed the plan through with an amendment to restore funding for Obamacare that the House had eliminated in an earlier version of the measure. House Speaker John Boehner must decide whether to urge his divided Republican caucus to vote with Democrats to pass the Senate plan, or yield again to a hardline conservative wing that demands making continued government funding contingent on undermining Obamacare.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other “entitlement” programs that are funded automatically will escape the worst effects. But government agencies that rely on yearly congressional appropriations will be hit a lot harder. That includes giant agencies such as the Pentagon and smaller ones such as the National Park Service. Federal agencies have prepared plans to continue programs they deem critical to maintaining public safety and protecting property despite the shutdown. Employees who perform those critical functions will continue to work and get paid. For instance, air traffic controllers and firefighters contracted by the National Forest Service would continue to work, but park rangers and researchers who conduct clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health would be furloughed.

Insurance Costs to Soar for Some People Under Obamacare

While the administration maintains that ObamaCare will make health insurance more affordable for Americans, experts say that won’t be the case across the board – and some people could see their rates soar. Former Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Holtz-Eakin said Thursday, “That’s not the reality. The reality is much messier. There’s going to be some people who do better. There are going to be a lot of people who do much, much worse.” “They cherry picked the data in order to highlight the fact that people of low income will benefit under the law,” adds Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a New York-based think tank. “But people of middle income will not. And they didn’t really talk about that.” The new law requires the addition of what it calls essential benefits — a list of things that must be covered and which make insurance more expensive than it is now.

Judge Orders New Jersey to Allow Gay Marriage

A New Jersey judge ruled on Friday that the state must allow same-sex couples to marry, saying that not doing so deprives them of rights that were guaranteed by the United States Supreme Court in June. It is the first time a court has struck down a state’s refusal to legalize same-sex marriage as a direct result of the Supreme Court ruling, and with lawsuits pending in other states, it could presage other successful challenges across the country. The decision was a rebuff to Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature last year that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry. His office said it would appeal to the state’s highest court. And he is likely to seek a stay preventing same-sex marriages from beginning on Oct. 21, as the judge ordered.

  • The gay agenda is a key end-time marker for moral decline (2Timothy 3:1-5) and will continue to progress as the ‘gross darkness’ of Isaiah 60:2 expands over the earth.

Arizona Broadens Driver’s License Ban

Arizona is expanding its driver’s license ban to nearly all undocumented immigrants whose deportations have been deferred under a White House policy. In 2012, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer banned licenses for immigrants given work permits under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But the state is getting tougher: Arizona now won’t issue driver’s licenses to immigrants with work permits in any deferred category.

Kerry Signs UN Small Arms Treaty

Secretary of State John Kerry signed a landmark treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar global arms trade during the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting this week, initiating an uncertain ratification process in the U.S. Senate. Some lawmakers have expressed strong opposition to the United States becoming a party to the treaty. The U.S. is the world’s largest arms dealer and its accession is seen as critical to the treaty’s success, although many of the world’s other top arms exporters and importers have not signed the document. This document has been long feared by pro-gun groups and individuals as an end run around the Second Amendment and open the US gun market to international regulation,

Scientists Forced to Embrace Intelligent Design

At a recent conference of scientists and mathematicians in Nice, France – including participants from Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Berkeley and Columbia – the scientific consensus was that the universe is exquisitely fine-tuned to create the possibility of life. Michael Turner, astrophysicist at the University of Chicago said, “The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bulls-eye one millimeter in diameter on the other side.” Roger Penrose, a professor of Mathematics at Oxford University writes that the likelihood of the universe have the right energy components is “one part out of ten to the power of 123… [i.e.] a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion zeroes.” Dennis Prager, a conference attendee, writes in the September issue of Whistleblower magazine, “Honest atheists – scientists and lay people – must now acknowledge that science itself argues overwhelmingly for a Designing Intelligence.”

Chemicals in Lake Michigan Rise to Worrisome Levels

Pharmaceuticals, caffeine and items such as toothpaste additives have been found farther out in the Great Lakes than ever before, according to a new study that also raises concerns about their levels. The presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products — or PPCPs — has previously gone largely unstudied within the Great Lakes. The expectation has been that the Great Lakes’ huge volumes of water would dilute the PPCPs into undetectability. Pharmaceuticals found in Lake Michigan 2 miles offshore from two Milwaukee wastewater treatment plants included a diabetes medication and a hormone used in birth-control pills. The new findings are alarming researchers, even as they continue to learn more about what the presence of PPCPs means. The concern is that the products, or mixtures of them, might affect fish and other aquatic life in ways that harm the ecosystem.

Test Scores Flat, Students’ Readiness Questioned

Average scores on the nation’s most widely used college entrance exams barely budged this year, raising anew concerns that today’s high school graduates will be unprepared to compete in a global marketplace. In a report out Wednesday, the non-profit College Board says just 43% of SAT takers in the high school class of 2013 earned a score that indicates they will succeed in the first year of college. That percentage has remained “virtually unchanged” for at least five years. Last month, an annual report by the Iowa-based non-profit ACT found that just 26% of high school graduates in the class of 2013 met college readiness benchmarks in all four of the subjects its tests cover: English, reading, math and science. : Low-income and minority students on average are less likely to be ready for college, though the percentage of black and Hispanic SAT takers who achieved scores indicating college readiness increased.

White House Sends Millions to Detroit

Even as the nation sits on the edge of a financial crisis driven by the need to incur more debt, the White House has found $300 million to send to mismanaged, financially beleaguered Detroit, according to CNN. The money is being taken “from programs that are available for cities across the nation, not just Detroit.” The action amounts to a backdoor assistance plan that effectively circumvents Congress, which would not support a bailout. A White House official was vague on how the money had been cobbled together.

Pension Woes: Detroit is Not Alone

The problems with Detroit’s pension funds, which helped to drive the city into the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy, are widespread across other major cities and local governments. A report by credit rating agency Moody’s finds that there are 30 major localities where the pension burdens are greater the government’s total operating revenue. Chicago is the city highlighted in the report as having the most severe pension liability problems. Other governments dealing with a pension funding gap that is more than double their annual revenue are Jacksonville, Fla., Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix, as well as school districts in Denver and Las Vegas.

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 5,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 305,000, the second-lowest level in six years. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Fewer layoffs suggest employers are confident enough to maintain their staffing levels. But companies have been reluctant to take the next step and ramp up hiring.

U.S. household net worth rose 1.8% in the second quarter to a record $74.8 trillion, fueled by a stock market rally and the housing recovery, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday. Household net worth — the difference between the value of assets like homes and mortgages and other debts — jumped by a total $1.3 trillion. Home values increased by $525 billion and the value of stocks and mutual funds rose nearly $300 billion. The rising household wealth is helping offset wages that have been stagnant after adjusting for inflation.

Syria

The inspectors responsible for tracking down Syria’s chemical arms stockpile and verifying its destruction plan to start work in Syria by next Tuesday. They will face their tightest deadlines ever and work right in the heart of a war zone. The investigation is the key to the U.N. resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons program. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously late Friday to require Syria to eliminate its arsenal of chemical weapons. Members of the council met shortly after another international group voted to fast-track Syria’s addition to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans such weapons, according to CNN. Syria has until November to destroy all of its chemical weapons stockpile.

As diplomats at the United Nations push for a peace conference to end Syria’s civil war, a collection of some of the country’s most powerful rebel groups publicly abandoned the opposition’s political leaders, casting their lot with an affiliate of Al Qaeda. As support for the Western-backed leadership has dwindled, a second, more extreme Al Qaeda group has carved out footholds across parts of Syria, frequently clashing with mainline rebels who accuse it of making the establishment of an Islamic state a priority over the fight to topple President Bashar al-Assad. The fractured nature of the opposition, the rising radical Islamist character of some rebel fighters, and the increasing complexity of Syria’s battle lines have left the exile leadership with diminished clout inside the country and have raised the question of whether it could hold up its end of any agreement reached to end the war.

Iran

After a group meeting and then a one-on-one session between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, U.S. and European diplomats said they were pleased with a new, more positive approach by Iran in talks aimed at resolving the impasse over its nuclear program. The long-fractured relationship between the United States and Iran took a significant turn on Friday when President Obama and President Hassan Rouhani became the first leaders of their countries to speak since the Tehran hostage crisis more than three decades ago. Hard-line protesters hurled eggs and a shoe at President Hassan Rouhani as he returned to Tehran on Saturday after supporters cheered him for reaching out to President Obama.

The newly energized nuclear talks with Iran could well be an Iranian scam to stave off a military attack, lift economic sanctions and play for time while putting the finishing touches on its nuclear program, or to cut a deal that will leave in place the infrastructure for building a bomb, Iran analysts say. Experience with rogue nations seeking nuclear capabilities, such as North Korea and Iraq, shows that Iran could use negotiations to play for more time.

As he conducts a high-profile good-will visit to New York this week, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, says he is bringing a simple message of peace and friendship. But on Wednesday, Mr. Rouhani set off a political storm here and in Iran, with an acknowledgment and condemnation of the Holocaust that landed him in precisely the kind of tangled dispute he had hoped to avoid. Mr. Rouhani, in an interview on Tuesday with CNN, described the Holocaust as a “crime that the Nazis committed towards the Jews” and called it “reprehensible and condemnable.” It was a groundbreaking statement, given that his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denied the systematic extermination of Jews during World War II. A semiofficial Iranian news agency accused CNN of fabricating portions of Mr. Rouhani’s interview.

Iraq

Bombs ripped through outdoor markets in and near Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 21 people and wounding dozens, the latest in a deadly wave that has hit Iraq in recent months. Three bombs went off simultaneously in the Shiite village of Sabaa al-Bour, 20 miles north of the Iraqi capital. The explosions — two at the market entrance and one inside the shopping area — went off as the place was packed with shoppers. The attack came shortly after a bomb blast hit the al-Athorien market in Baghdad’s southern neighborhood of Dora. Insurgents in Iraq often target crowded places such as markets, cafes and mosques in order to inflict huge casualties. More than 4,000 people have been killed in violence during the past few months.

Pakistan

At least 17 people were killed and more than 30 others wounded in an explosion that ripped through a bus carrying government employees in northwest Pakistan on Friday. The bus was carrying at least 70 employees of various departments of the secretariat of Peshawar, the capital of the volatile province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Police think the explosion was caused by a remote-controlled device planted in a tin can containing about 13 to 18 pounds of explosives.

Greece

Police arrested the leader and other top officials of the extreme-right Golden Dawn party on Saturday on charges of forming a criminal organization, in an escalation of a government crackdown after a fatal stabbing allegedly committed by a supporter. It is the first time since 1974 that a party head and sitting members of Parliament have been arrested. An operation by the counterterrorism unit was still ongoing late Saturday morning, with a total of about 35 arrest warrants for Golden Dawn members issued. Despite the arrests, the party’s lawmakers retain their parliamentary seats unless they are convicted of a crime. Golden Dawn holds 18 of Parliament’s 300 seats, after winning nearly 7% of the vote in general elections last year.

Earthquakes

A major earthquake rocked Pakistan’s southwest Saturday, sending people running into the street in panic just days after another quake in the same region killed 359 people. The Pakistani Meteorological Department measured the earthquake at 7.2 magnitude. The department said its epicenter was located about 90 miles west of the town of Khuzdar. There may have been little left to damage after Tuesday’s disaster. Few of the mud and homemade brick houses in the area survived the 7.7 magnitude quake that leveled houses and buried people in the rubble across the district of Awaran.

Weather

Calling man-made warming “extremely likely,” (95% certainty) the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change used the strongest words yet on the issue as it adopted its assessment on the state of the climate system. In its previous assessment, in 2007, the U.N.-sponsored panel said it was “very likely” that global warming was man-made. It now says the evidence has grown thanks to more and better observations, a clearer understanding of the climate system and improved models to analyze the impact of rising temperatures. The IPCC raised its projections of the rise in sea levels to 10-32 inches by the end of the century. The previous report predicted a rise of 7-23 inches. The IPCC assessments are important because they form the scientific basis of U.N. negotiations on a new climate deal. Governments are supposed to finish that agreement in 2015, but it’s unclear whether they will commit to the emissions cuts that scientists say will be necessary to keep the temperature below a limit at which the worst effects of climate change can be avoided.

  • So-called climate change is an end-time phenomena beyond the ability of humanity to control one way or the other (Ezek. 38:22, Rev. 8:7, 11:19, 16:9, 21)

Signs of the Times (9/25/13)

September 25, 2013

Pastor Saeed Abedini Leads 30 to Christ in Iranian Prison

The wife of the American pastor imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith says her husband remains bold for Jesus Christ in prison, Charisma News reports. Pastor Saeed Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, recently spoke to students at Liberty University about her family’s plight. She said in spite of being tortured and asked to deny his faith in Christ and return to Islam, Pastor Saeed has been a light for Jesus in Evin Prison, one of the worst in the world. “They’ve told him many times that they would free him and allow him to return to our family, the kids and I, if he would deny his Christian faith, and he’s stood strong in that prison. He’s led many, many — over 30 people — to Christ in that prison,” she told the audience.

Supreme Court May Get Second Chance to Kill Obamacare’s Insurance Mandate

The last time Obamacare went before the US Supreme Court, they ruled that the insurance mandate was legal because it was a tax and not a penalty. Hidden away from the general public, the lawsuit Sissel vs. US Dept. of Health and Human Services moves forward and is one step closer the US Supreme Court. The lawsuit is based upon Article 1, Section 7 of the United States Constitution, commonly known as the Origination Clause, which states: “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.” Once the Supreme Court ruled that the insurance mandate was a tax, which meant the bill violated this section of the Constitution.  The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Matt Sissel by Pacific Legal Foundation, contends that the originated in the US Senate and not the House, as required by the Constitution.  They claim that Sen. Harry Reid used procedural gimmicks to launch the bill and therefore Obamacare violates the Origination Clause.

Same-Sex Benefits Extended to All States

The Obama administration said this week that same-sex couples “legally married” in one of the few states that offer such marriages now enjoy the same federal rights as other married couples when it comes to pensions, 401(k)s, health plans and other employee benefits, WORLD reports. That’s true even if they live in states that don’t recognize their union, the Labor Department said. According to the Associated Press, “The new guidance is the latest effort by the Obama administration to clarify questions left unanswered after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in June which invalidated part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. The interpretation is consistent with a ruling from the Internal Revenue Service last month that legally married gay couples can file joint federal tax returns even if they reside in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages.”

Obamacare Enacts Parity in Mental Health Coverage

Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” insurers will soon be required to give mental illness coverage equal to that for physical ailments. Starting next year, the ACA calls for one of the largest expansions of mental health and substance abuse coverage in a generation, requiring that all new small-group and individual market plans offer mental health services and cover them at a par with medical benefits. Federal officials estimate that the ACA will extend parity protection to nearly 30 million people and offer insurance with mental health coverage to another 32 million previously uninsured Americans.

Obamacare Premiums Less than Expected?

The Obamacare premiums will cost less than predicted, according to data released Wednesday by the Obama administration. The national average premium for the benchmark plan will be $328 a month before subsidies, 16% less than originally projected by the Congressional Budget Office. The long-awaited release of the premium rates also details for the first time what shoppers will pay on the 36 state-based exchanges that the federal government will fully or partly run. States that are operating their own exchanges have been revealing their rates over the past few months. Consumers will be able to start enrolling in the exchanges on Oct. 1, with coverage beginning in January.

National Park Service Video Praises Islam

The National Parks Service has made videos praising Islam for its contribution to women’s rights. This is the very same Islam that allows young girls to marry middle age men, promotes honor killings of disobedient wives and daughters and makes women the property of men. Shamelessly using children to argue that Islam honors women, one child is seen saying, “People think that Islam oppresses women and there’s no equality, but they’re wrong – there’s equity … 7th century A.D. Islam gave women the right to be involved in politics, the right to earn and keep her own money.” Just this past week, an eight year old girl died of internal injuries on her wedding night in Yemen. The groom was 40.

  • Under Obama, our government has become a promoter of Islam and a persecutor of Christians

Vet Suicide Rate Over 22 per Day

Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That’s a suicide every 65 minutes. As shocking as the number is, it may actually be higher. The figure, released by the Department of Veterans Affairs in February, is based on the agency’s own data and numbers reported by 21 states from 1999 through 2011. Experts have no doubt that people are being missed in the national counting of veteran suicides. Part of the problem is that there is no uniform reporting system for deaths in America. It’s usually up to a funeral director or a coroner to enter veteran status and suicide on a death certificate. Veteran status is a single question on the death report, and there is no verification of it from the Defense Department or the VA.

Chicago Tops for Murders

Chicago grabbed headlines last week as “the nation’s murder capital.” The distinction was based on a new Federal Bureau of Investigation report that showed Chicago, with 500 murders in 2012, had more killings than any other U.S. city that year. As if to underscore that dubious honor, at least another 11 people were shot since last Friday, five of them fatally.

Economic News

The fiscal year ends next Monday at midnight, and there will be a shutdown unless Obama and the Republicans agree to a new spending plan and resolve a dispute over Obama’s health care plan. Some GOP members say they will not approve a new spending plan unless it de-funds “Obamacare,” though there is division within the party over this tactic.

Home prices rose 0.6% in July, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas. Prices were up 12.4% from a year earlier. But many economists expect slower home price growth in the second half of this year.

The Commerce Department says durable goods orders increased 0.1% in August, after they plummeted 8.1% the previous month. July’s decline was driven by a drop in demand for commercial aircraft, a volatile category. Auto factories reported a 2.4% increase in orders, the biggest in six months. Orders for defense aircraft and other goods fell sharply. Excluding defense, orders rose 0.5%.

Already on a 23-straight-day slide, regular unleaded gas now averages $3.46 a gallon — the lowest national average since January, and 35 cents less than year-ago levels. Prices are expected to drop another 20 to 25 cents in the coming weeks. Behind the fall: Record high refining in the U.S., shrinking consumer demand and slumping crude oil prices.

Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad said his government will allow international experts access to its chemical weapons sites, but cautioned in an interview broadcast Monday that rebels might block them from reaching some of the locations. Assad said his government is dedicated to implementing a Russia-U.S. agreement to surrender its chemical weapons to international control. Assad’s government met a first deadline under a U.S.-Russia agreement aimed at swiftly ridding Syria of its chemical arsenal, submitting last week what was supposedly the full list of its chemical weapons and production facilities to the U.N. agency so they can be secured and destroyed.

Iran

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani will address the United Nations for the first time later Tuesday on a day when President Obama is also due to speak. Already, Rouhani has displayed a more conciliatory tone in his dealings with the West on a range of issues. On Monday, for example, Rouhani’s foreign minister agreed to restart nuclear negotiations with six world powers. Earlier this month, his cabinet sent Rosh Hashanah greetings to Jews on their New Year’s holiday. Iran is prepared to engage in nuclear talks and nuclear weapons have no place in his country’s security, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday at the United Nations.

Pakistan

A pair of suicide bombers detonated their explosives outside a historic church in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday, killing over 80 people in the deadliest-ever attack on the country’s Christian minority. The bombing in Peshawar, which wounded another 120 people, underlines the threat posed by Islamic extremists as the government seeks a peace deal with domestic Taliban militants. It will likely intensify criticism from those who believe that negotiating peace with militants is a mistake.

Egypt

An Egyptian court on Monday ordered the Muslim Brotherhood to be banned and its assets confiscated in a dramatic escalation of a crackdown by the military-backed government against supporters of the ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. The ruling opens the door for a wider crackdown on the vast network of the Brotherhood, which includes social organizations that have been key for building the group’s grassroots support and helping its election victories. The verdict banned the group itself — including the official association it registered under earlier this year — as well as “any  institution branching out of it or … receiving financial support from it,” according to the court ruling. The judge at the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters also ordered the “confiscation of all the group’s money, assets, and buildings.”

Kenya

Multiple barrages of gunfire erupted Sunday morning from the upscale Kenyan mall where there was an ongoing hostage standoff with Islamic extremists after they attacked using grenades and assault rifle. The militants held an unknown number of hostages in the shopping center located in the Westlands area of Nairobi, after killing at least 61 people. The militant group behind the takeover claimed Wednesday that a Kenyan government assault team carried out “a demolition” of the building, burying 137 hostages in rubble. A government spokesman denied the claim and said Kenyan forces were clearing all rooms, firing as they moved and encountering no one. Kenyan forces killed five of the terrorists, and 11 other people are in custody for possible links to the attacks,

Members of the Islamist terrorist group al Shabaab, wearing black turbans and carrying grenades and automatic weapons, ordered women, men and children to line up. Those who were Muslims could go, they said, but anyone who was not a Muslim would be executed. Merely stating that one was a Muslim wasn’t enough for the attackers, however, who demanded that those who claim the faith recite verses from the Koran or name the Prophet Mohammed’s mother. Some officials warned that Shabab, the Somalian terrorist group, could be signaling a wider offensive, particularly within Kenya, despite their losses in recent years at the hands of the African Union and Kenyan troops in its home country.

Earthquakes

The United States Geological Survey reported a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southern Pakistan on Tuesday, with the epicenter 43 miles north-northeast of Awaran in the province of Balochistan. The tremor occurred at 7:29 a.m. Eastern time (4:29 p.m. local time) and shook the Pakistani mountain region, according to the USGS. Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest but least populous province, with just under 8 million people in an area slightly smaller than Montana. Rescuers struggled Wednesday to help thousands of people injured and left homeless after their houses collapsed in the massive earthquake as the death toll rose overnight to 210. A new island appeared off Pakistan after a deadly 7.7-magnitude quake struck Tuesday afternoon in Baluchistan province’s Awaran district — a dirt-poor expanse of land that is roughly the size of Wales.

Weather

Coloradans who ventured back into the flood-ravaged town of Lyons found scenes of stomach-churning destruction, with dozens of homes destroyed, family keepsakes missing, food spoiling and mud everywhere. E. coli has been found in the town’s drinking water and it could be two to six months before the town is livable. However, residents willing to rough it will be allowed to stay. Millions of gallons of sewage have been released around the state because of septic systems and sewer lines torn out by flood waters and flooded waste treatment plants. People in some communities have had to boil their water. So far, there have been no reports of illness from the dirty water but people might not attribute their illness back to the water.

Massive flooding has forced thousands of people to evacuate villages in the west Indian state of Gujarat, where heavy rains and swollen rivers have inundated cities and closed off roads and railway lines, officials said Wednesday. At least three people have died. Almost 14,000 people were evacuated from Bharuch’s villages, while thousands of others elsewhere were also evacuated. The floods followed heavy rains that caused rivers, including the Vishwamitri and the Narmada, to swell above flood level.

At least 101 people have been killed, with 68 people missing in La Pintada after storms Manuel and Ingrid hit Mexico last weekend. Rescuers fighting tons of slippery, wet mud at the site of this week’s worst storm disaster unearthed a woman’s body Saturday, possibly one of 68 missing in a massive landslide that buried half of the remote coffee-growing town of La Pintada. Houses were filled to their roofs with dirt and vehicles were tossed on their sides when the hillside collapsed last week after several days of rain brought by Tropical Storm Manuel.

Signs of the Times (9/21/13)

September 21, 2013

New Pope Promotes Greater Tolerance

Pope urged the church to take a softer line on the hot-button issues that have become increasingly polarizing in recent years. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” Francis said in a 12,000-word article published Thursday in Jesuit journals in 16 countries. The statements were hailed by liberal Catholics as the latest evidence that Pope Francis could lead the church to a new age of tolerance toward abortion and homosexuality. New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based ministry that caters to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, characterized it as a “new dawn.”

  • Perhaps the new Pope is indeed the last end-time Pope prophesied by Saint Malachy as he weakens the Gospel in the name of tolerance.

Abortion Clinic Closures Up  44 This Year

In a year of record closures, two more abortion clinics have gone out of business. Operation Rescue has confirmed that an abortionist who wore a butcher’s apron while injuring a woman during an abortion has closed his Cleveland, Ohio, abortion clinic and is moving out of state. Meanwhile, a Livingston, Montana, abortion clinic has announced its closure as of October 1, 2013, due to the impending retirement of long-time abortionist Susan Wicklund. These two closures bring the tally of out-of-business abortion businesses to 44 so far this year.

Obama Waives Ban on Arming Terrorists to Aid Syrian Rebels

President Obama waived a provision of federal law designed to prevent the supply of arms to terrorist groups to clear the way for the U.S. to provide military assistance to “vetted” opposition groups fighting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Some elements of the Syrian opposition are associated with radical Islamic terrorist groups, including al Qaeda. The Arms Export Control Act allows the president to waive those prohibitions if he “determines that the transaction is essential to the national security interests of the United States.”

Climate Change Greatly Exaggerated says New Report

A peer-reviewed climate change study released Wednesday by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change finds the threat of man-made global warming to be not only greatly exaggerated but so small as to be “embedded within the background variability of the natural climate system” and not dangerous. The 1,000 page study was the work of 47 scientists and scholars examining many of the same journals and studies that the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) examined, producing entirely different conclusions. “This volume provides the scientific balance that is missing from the overly alarmist reports from the IPCC, which are highly selective in their review of climate science,” the authors write. The report comes in advance of the expected release later this month of a new U.N. report on climate change. Leaked drafts of that report show surface temperature increases have been statistically insignificant for the last 15 years, and that Antarctic sea ice is increasing, not decreasing.

Mental Health Becoming the Main Issue in Gun Debate

Despite deep divisions that have kept Congress from passing new gun safety laws for almost two decades, there is one aspect of gun control on which many Democrats, Republicans and even the National Rifle Association agree: the need to give mental health providers better resources to treat dangerous people and prevent them from buying weapons. Now the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard by a man who authorities say showed telltale signs of psychosis is spurring a push to move ahead with bipartisan mental health policy changes. The new debate over gun control is beginning to turn not on weapons or ammunition, but on the question of whether to spend more money on treating and preventing mental illness, reports the New York Times.

As World Becomes More Urban, Risk of Disaster Heightens

A report released Wednesday by reinsurance firm Swiss Re finds that the Tokyo/Yokohama region is the most at-risk city in the world. The report ranked more than 600 global metropolitan centers that are inhabited by 1.7 billion of the world’s population. “For the first time in human history, more people live in cities than in rural areas,” the report states. “The United Nations expects 6.3 billion people — or 68% of the world’s population — to be living in urban areas by 2050.” The study shows that floods endanger more city residents than any other natural peril, followed by earthquakes. The only U.S. city to make the “top 10” list of most-vulnerable world cities is Los Angeles, primarily because of its risk of earthquakes. L.A. ranked ninth on the list, behind eight cities and metro areas in Asia.

House Votes to Fund Government, Not Obamacare

House Republicans muscled through a stopgap bill Friday that would fund the government only if all spending for President Obama’s health care law is eliminated. Senate Democrats and President Obama quickly made it clear they had no intention of going along, putting the government on a course toward a shutdown unless one side relents. The 230-to-189 party-line vote in a bitterly divided House set in motion a fiscal confrontation with significant implications — politically and economically — but with an uncertain ending. Without a resolution, large parts of the government could shut down Oct. 1, and a first-ever default on federal debt could follow weeks later.

House Passes Bill Cutting $40 Billion From Food Stamps

House Republicans narrowly pushed through a bill on Thursday that slashes billions of dollars from the food stamp program, over the objections of Democrats and a veto threat from President Obama. The vote set up what promised to be a contentious fight with the Senate and dashed hopes for passage this year of a new five-year farm bill. The vote was 217 to 210. The bill would cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over the next 10 years. It would also require adults between 18 and 50 without minor children to find a job or to enroll in a work training program in order to receive benefits. It would also limit the time those recipients could get benefits to three months.

Economic News

The government could run out of cash to pay its bills in full and on time sometime between the end of October and the middle of November if lawmakers fail to increase its $16.7 trillion borrowing cap says the Congressional Budget Office. The government has never defaulted on its obligations and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned Tuesday that Congress needs to act to increase the debt limit by mid-October.

Census Bureau data released Thursday show that 13.6% of U.S. households received federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits last year, up from 13% in 2011 and only 8.6% in 2008 at the height of the recession. Experts say part of the rise in food stamps results from states expanding eligibility but that much of the past few years’ increase is due to extended unemployment. Congress is debating whether to tighten eligibility.

Syria

A report this week by the prestigious IHS Janes consultancy firm in London shows that of the roughly 100,000 fighters battling the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad, about half are members of Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda. The same report also shows that there are over 1,000 independent rebel factions, many of which fight each other nearly as much as they fight the regime. The report is sure to complicate efforts by Western governments to send weapons and other supplies to moderate rebel factions. However, US shipments of non-lethal assistance to certain rebel groups, including protection kits against chemical weapons, were reportedly on their way to Syria.

Government troops backed by allied militiamen have stormed a predominantly Sunni village in central Syria killing at least 15 people, while opposition forces began an offensive near Aleppo to try to cut the army’s supply route to the northern city, activists said Saturday. The assault came shortly after rebels captured Jalma, another village close to Sheik Hadid in Hama province, killing five soldiers. In addition, clashes between Islamic militants and Kurdish gunmen over the past months in northern Syria have left hundreds dead.

Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made his case Thursday to the American people and the world for “a constructive approach” to contentious issues including his nation’s nuclear program, arguing that failing to engage “leads to everyone’s loss.” “We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart,” Rouhani said in an op-ed published Thursday evening on the Washington Post’s website. My approach to foreign policy seeks to resolve … issues by addressing their underlying causes,” he said. “We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart.” Chief among those issues, for Iran, is its nuclear program. Iranian officials have insisted its aim is peaceful and for energy purposes only, but skeptical U.S., Israeli and other officials accuse Tehran of working to develop nuclear weapons. Iran’s lack of openness on the issue and its perceived lack of cooperation with international nuclear authorities, have led to stringent international sanctions and increased tensions in the region.

Iraq

Iraq has exploded with violence this year. On Tuesday, a new wave of car bombs rocked commercial streets in the Iraqi capital, part of a series of attacks across the country that left 31 dead. Wednesday, a suicide bomber blew up his explosives-laden vehicle in a town north of Baghdad. And a car bomb exploded in a commercial area in central Baghdad, killing one person. The death toll for August was above 800. The suicide attacks, bombings and death tolls rival those of the worst months of the Iraq War in 2007 and 2008, when Sunni-backed al-Qaeda terrorists and Shiite militias were killing each other in huge numbers in city streets. That violence decreased substantially after the troop surge policy of President Bush, which flooded regions with thousands of troops. But violence began in 2012 after President Obama ordered all U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Yemen

Taking advantage of heavy fog, al-Qaeda militants launched coordinated attacks on military barracks in a southern Yemen province on Friday, killing at least 38 troops and wounded dozens. The dawn attacks in Shabwa province, a known al-Qaeda stronghold and caught the soldiers unprepared. Yemeni authorities have been leading a war against al-Qaeda’s local branch, considered by Washington as one of the world’s most dangerous terror groups. The militants took advantage of the political unrest following the 2011 uprising against former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to reinforce their presence in the country’s mostly lawless south and step up attacks. Backed by the U.S. military, Yemen’s army was able to regain control of large parts of the south last year, but al-Qaeda fighters continue to launch deadly attacks on Yemeni forces. In response, the U.S. has stepped up its drone war in the country.

Kenya

Gunmen ambushed an upscale shopping mall in the Kenyan capital on Saturday, leading to a fierce gunbattle with police and at least 20 people killed, the Kenyan Red Cross said. Fifty people more people were wounded in the attack at the mall in Nairobi. The gunmen burst into the mall and shot indiscriminately, taking some people hostage. It was unclear how many hostages the attackers took, but police are trying to negotiate for their release and retake the building. Attackers appear to be of Somali origin, a Kenyan government source and Western diplomatic sources told CNN.

Weather

Crews are trying to clean up more than 5,000 gallons of oil that spilled from a damaged tank into the flood-swollen South Platte River near the northern Colorado town of Milliken. Meanwhile, urban search-and-rescue teams with dogs and medical supplies began picking through homes, vehicles and debris piles for victims as the number of people reported missing dwindled from a high of 1,200 to fewer than 200. Colorado’s flooding shut down hundreds of natural gas and oil wells in the state’s main petroleum-producing region and triggered at least two spills, temporarily suspending a multibillion-dollar drilling frenzy and sending inspectors into the field to gauge the extent of pollution. Eqecat, a catastrophe modeler, now estimates property losses will total near $2 billion in the Colorado flood, according to Reuters.

Mexico’s government said 68 people were missing after a massive landslide smashed through a tiny coffee-growing village deep in the country’s southern mountains, where fresh waves of rain threatened to unleash more danger for rescue workers trying to evacuate the last residents from the isolated hamlet. The storm that devastated Mexico’s Pacific coast over the weekend regained strength Wednesday and became Hurricane Manuel, dumping rain on fishing villages on the coast of Sinaloa state. It is a third blow to a country still reeling from the one-two punch of Manuel’s first landfall and Hurricane Ingrid on Mexico’s eastern coast. Federal officials raised the death toll from Manuel from 60 to 80 earlier Wednesday.

Thousands of exhausted, hungry and increasingly despondent tourists lined up late into the night on a muddy road outside a military base in Acapulco for a chance to get home on one of two precious air bridges out of this famed beach resort isolated by landslides set off by Tropical Storm Manuel. With the twin roads to Mexico City closed down, at least 40,000 tourists saw a long holiday beach weekend degenerate into a desperate struggle to get weeping children, elderly parents and even a few damp, bedraggled dogs back home. Two of Mexico’s largest airlines were running about two flights an hour from Acapulco’s still-flooded international airport Tuesday.

The most powerful typhoon of the year swept through the Luzon Strait separating the Philippines and Taiwan on Saturday, battering island communities and dumping rain as it eyes landfall in Hong Kong. Super Typhoon Usagi had maximum sustained winds of 139 mph and gusts exceeding 163 mph Saturday morning, and was 550 kilometers south of Taipei, Taiwan’s capital.

Signs of the Times (9/17/13)

September 17, 2013

Albuquerque Council Narrowly Approves Late-term Abortion Referendum

In what was expected to be a simple formality, the Albuquerque City Council narrowly approved a resolution placing a proposed late-term abortion ban ordinance on the city-wide ballot on November 19 after a contentious debate. Pro-life groups had collected nearly 27,000 signatures on a legislative initiative petition in just 20 days to put the ordinance up for a vote. The required signatures were certified, triggering an election under the City Charter. The City Council was then legally required under the Charter to schedule an election date. However, four of the nine Councilors argued that they should be allowed to circumvent the law. “Every court that’s reviewed this type of law has decided it’s unconstitutional,” said Councilor Roxanna Meyers, a Republican. However, Myers statement didn’t accurately reflect the facts. Only one lower court in Arizona out of 11 states that have passed a similar abortion ban has found the law unconstitutional. That decision is on appeal and is far from the final word.

North Dakota First to Ban Abortions Based on Down Syndrome

Earlier this year, Governor Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota signed legislation that banned abortions because of gender selection and genetic defects, such as Down syndrome. The state’s lone abortion provider, Red River Women’s Clinic (RRWC), immediately filed suit to stop these measures, as well as another provision that banned abortion as soon as a heartbeat could be detected. However, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland dismissed part of the suit this week at the request of RRWC, which claimed it never performed abortions for genetic or gender reasons. The dismissal means those two provisions will go into effect in the state. While RRWC claims they never perform abortions for such reasons, they also offered no proof that this was the case, nor did they explain why they challenged laws that have no bearing on their practice.

Persecution Watch

An Air Force veteran of 19 years was relieved of duty last month because of his beliefs about same-sex marriage. Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk, stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, ran into trouble when he disagreed with his senior officer about whether she should severely punish a chaplain who had expressed objections to homosexuality. Breitbart reported that Maj. Elise Valenzuela lives an openly lesbian lifestyle and ordered Monk to tell her whether he thought those who disagreed with same-sex marriage discriminated against homosexuals. Monk is a Christian and believes marriage should only be between one man and one woman. I was relieved of my position because I don’t agree with my commander’s position on gay marriage,” Monk told Fox News. “We’ve been told that if you publicly say that homosexuality is wrong, you are in violation of Air Force policy.”

Fox Sports fired college football analyst Craig James after a video surfaced in which he said he opposed homosexual civil unions. James, a former pro running back for the New England Patriots, made the comments at a debate in Texas during his unsuccessful run in 2012 for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Ted Cruz.  In the video, James, in response to a question about whether benefits should be extended to those in same-sex civil unions, refers to homosexuality as “a choice,” adding that those who engage in homosexuality will “have to answer to the Lord for their actions.” When asked for comment, a Fox Sports spokesperson told The Dallas Morning News, “We just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department. He couldn’t say those things here.”

Last week, members of the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition met with senior Air Force officials to discuss several cases of religious discrimination against Air Force service members. While the meeting was cordial, the officials failed to answer a key question: why are Christians’ religious beliefs still unprotected in the armed forces even after legislation was passed to prevent such discrimination. The coalition says that lack of response is a red flag as to the true intentions of the Department of Defense,

  • Where’s the tolerance for Christian viewpoints?

Obamacare Faces Difficult Future

As the health care exchanges at the heart of the new health care law open for enrollment in two weeks, the public’s views of it are as negative as they have ever been, and disapproval of the president’s handling of health care has hit a new high. A new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll shows just how difficult the implementation of Obamacare will be. Confusion reigns supreme. Among the 19% polled who are uninsured, nearly four in 10 don’t realize the law requires them to get health insurance next year. Among young people, whose participation is seen as crucial for the exchanges to work, just 56% realize there’s a mandate to be insured or face a fine. Overall, 53% disapprove of the health care law, the highest level since it was signed; 42% approve. For the first time in polling that stretches back more than two decades, Americans narrowly prefer Republicans in dealing with health care policy, 40%-39%.

U.S. Bridges: Old, Risky and Rundown

The Associated Press analyzed the federal National Bridge Inventory to focus on the thousands of bridges that have the unfortunate designation of being both “structurally deficient” and “fracture critical” – a combination of red flags that experts say indicates significant disrepair and an increased risk of collapse. The Associated Press investigation comes after several notable bridge collapses in recent years, including the collapse of a bridge over Washington state’s Skagit River four months ago. The most recent federal National Bridge Inventory includes 607,380 bridges that are subject to uniform bridge inspection standards. Among those bridges, there were 65,605 classified as “structurally deficient” and 20,808 as “fracture critical.” Of those, 7,795 were both. Bridges with both red flags are open in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Brain-Eating Amoeba in Water Supply of New Orleans Suburb

Scientists have found a rare and deadly amoeba in the water supply of a Louisiana parish where a child died last month from a brain infection caused by the microscopic organism, according to state health officials. Test results from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the Naegleria fowleri amoeba was found in four locations of the St. Bernard Parish water system. State health officials say the water is safe to drink but can pose a risk of infection if the amoeba enters a person’s nose. St. Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans, started flushing its water lines with additional chlorine last week as a precaution.

  • Increasing pestilence is a characteristic of the end-times: For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. Matt. 24:7

Economic News

The Labor Department says the consumer price index increased just 0.1% in August, after a 0.2% increase in July. In the past 12 months, prices have risen 1.5%, below the Federal Reserve’s 2% inflation target.

U.S. factories increased output in August by the most in eight months, helped by a robust month at auto plants. Manufacturing production rose 0.7% last month from July, the Federal Reserve said Monday. That’s the biggest increase since December. It followed a 0.4% decline in July. Automakers increased production 5.2%, after a 4.5% decline in July. And factories stepped up production of other goods, including computers and electronics, furniture and business equipment.

Five years later, taxpayers still haven’t broken even on the $698.2 billion in government bailouts issued during the financial crisis, but it’s getting close. So far, Treasury and the Federal Reserve have recouped $670 billion of those funds. Most of the money has been returned to U.S. coffers via the sale of stock in the companies that were rescued. The firms also repaid the government by selling off assets and making loan and dividend payments.

There are more than 770,000 homes in foreclosure in the U.S. According to the latest data provided by RealtyTrac, roughly one in five of these, over 150,000 in all, has been abandoned by its owners, but remain unclaimed. These properties are referred to by the industry as “zombie” homes. In some states, the problem of zombie homes is particularly severe. In Indiana, for example, roughly 30% of the 16,618 foreclosed homes have been abandoned.

Syria

Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels battled more moderate Syrian opposition fighters in a town along the Iraqi border on Saturday, killing at least five people in the latest outbreak of infighting among the forces opposed to President Bashar Assad’s regime. Clashes between rebel groups, particularly pitting al-Qaeda-linked extremist factions against more moderate units, have grown increasingly common in recent months, undermining the opposition’s primary goal of overthrowing Assad.

Iraq

A new wave of insurgent attacks, mostly car bombs targeting Shiite-dominated cities in central and southern Iraq, killed at least 35 people on Sunday. The attacks continue a surge in bloodshed that has engulfed the country for months. Systematically organized waves of bombings are being used out by al-Qaeda’s local branch, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government.

Philippines

As Philippine security forces rescued scores of hostages held by Muslim rebels in a southern city, the rebels struck back by taking the local police chief captive Tuesday. The setback came on the same day that Philippine authorities announced significant progress against the rebels. Military officials said more than 120 hostages had been freed in the past 24 hours. The Muslim rebels came ashore early last week and took as many as 180 hostages in several coastal districts. The recent violence has significantly disrupted life in Zamboanga, a mainly Christian city on the southwestern tip of Mindanao, the southernmost island in the Philippines.

Japan

Japan’s only operating nuclear reactor will be shut down for maintenance before Monday. With the shutdown, all 50 of the country’s reactors will be offline. The government hasn’t said when or if any of the reactors will come back on. The public has been suspicious of nuclear energy and its regulatory bodies since a tsunami and earthquake triggered nuclear meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March 2011.

Mexico

A recently approved education overhaul proposes a radical change to the status quo by subjecting teachers to tests, making merit the criterion for promotions and putting limits on union influence in the hiring and firing process. Teachers in many parts of Mexico have walked off the job in protest, saying the changes scapegoat them for the failings of a school system rife with insufficient infrastructure and so short on funds that parents in poor communities often pitch in to pay the electric bill for buildings that lack running water or even roofs. Dissident sections of the National Education Workers’ Union (SNTE), mostly from southern Oaxaca state, have halted traffic in Mexico City for three weeks with marches. They even set up a tent city in the central Zócalo square until heavily armed federal police equipped with tear gas and water cannons evicted them on Friday afternoon to make way for the annual independence celebrations Sunday.

Volcanoes

A volcano in Indonesia prompted the evacuation of more than 6,000 people this weekend, blanketing buildings and cars in ashes, emergency officials said Monday. Mount Sinabung erupted early Sunday. It is the highest mountain in North Sumatra with an altitude of about 8,530 feet. More than 6,200 evacuees sought shelter in eight locations.

Wildfires

With more rain than normal this summer, wildfires in the U.S. were much less than average. The number of wildfires so far this year total 34,981, down 40% from an average of 58,434 over the previous ten years. Similarly, the total acreage burned was down to 3,956,258 acres from an average of 6,560,844 acres over the last ten years.

Weather

The worst of the rain stopped by Monday, but staggering numbers continue to come in after Colorado’s disastrous flooding. The Colorado Office of Emergency Management confirmed at least eight people had died, over 600 remain unaccounted for and 1,500 homes were destroyed. Weary Colorado evacuees have begun returning home after days of rain and flooding, but Monday’s clearing skies and receding waters revealed only more heartbreak: toppled houses, upended vehicles and a stinking layer of muck covering everything. Most homeowners in the state don’t have separate flood insurance.

Flood waters broke through dams, inundated neighborhoods and killed at least one person, leaving New Mexico residents with a major cleanup effort. The massive flooding prompted Gov. Susana Martinez to issue a state of emergency, opening up recovery funding after rivers overflowed because of heavy rains and caused millions of dollars in damage. Officials said heavy rain on Friday caused the Rio Grande and nearby creeks to overflow in Sierra County and forced an unknown number of residents to evacuate. The flooding also ruptured an earthen canal in Las Vegas and an aging earthen dam in southern New Mexico. Some areas of New Mexico received close to 10 inches of rain since a deluge that has caused widespread flooding started last Tuesday. Parts of Albuquerque have seen more than 4 inches, marking the wettest September on record for the city.

Rivers overflowed their banks, mudslides buried houses and roadways flooded as fierce tropical storm systems hit opposite sides of Mexico, killing at least 21 people, an official said. At least 16 people were killed when Manuel, downgraded later to a tropical depression, hit the Pacific coastal state of Guerrero, including a group of six tourists from Mexico City. And flooding and mudslides caused by Hurricane Ingrid’s rains killed at least six people in the states of Hidalgo and Puebla. Three people were killed when rains swept away the vehicle they were riding in.

A powerful typhoon lashed Japan with torrential rain Monday, leaving two dead as it damaged homes and flooded parts of the country’s popular tourist destination of Kyoto, where 260,000 people were ordered to evacuate to shelters. Typhoon Man-yi, packing wind speeds of 100 mph Monday night, was centered off the northern coast and heading to the northern main island of Hokkaido, dumping more heavy rain. Trains in Tokyo and its vicinity were largely suspended and hundreds of flights were grounded.

Signs of the Times (9/14/13)

September 14, 2013

Federal Court Upholds ‘In God We Trust’

A challenge to America’s national motto has been struck down by a federal district court, CBN News reports. Dr. Michael Newdow and the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued to have “In God We Trust” deleted from U.S. currency, but the court stated there was ample body of case law and they could only come to one conclusion. The order rejects arguments that the motto violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The American Center for Law and Justice represented 41 members of Congress and almost 90,000 Americans who opposed Newdow’s lawsuit. “The decision is welcomes and well-reasoned,” said ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow. The ACLJ, in a brief submitted to the court, points out the national motto reflects the historical beginnings of the United States and that removing all references to God to please atheistic preferences is not supported by the First Amendment. The brief also explains, “The national motto simply echoes the principle found in the Declaration of Independence that our freedoms come from God and not the state” and that the Establishment Clause is not intended to guarantee the public will not be exposed to religion or religious symbols.

Same-Sex “Marriage” Initiative Folds Due to Lack of Support

Proponents of redefining marriage in Arizona learned a simple reality this summer: the voters do not want to redefine marriage, reports the Center for Arizona Policy. The “Equal Marriage Campaign” could not overcome the support for one-man and one-woman marriage and failed to obtain anywhere near the number of signatures needed to place a new measure on the election ballot. Just five years ago, Arizona voters sent a clear message that marriage between a man and a woman serves a fundamental public purpose and should be protected in the state’s constitution. “Redefining marriage is a nonstarter today in Arizona, regardless of the out-of-state money and numerous political operatives that poured into our state for this failed effort.” writes CAP’s President Cathi Herrod.

AFL-CIO Condemns ObamaCare

The AFL-CIO approved a resolution saying that President Obama’s health care overhaul will drive up the costs of union-sponsored health plans to the point that workers and employers are forced to abandon them. In a strongly worded resolution released Wednesday, the federation said that the law is being implemented in a way that is “highly disruptive” to union health care plans. Some individual unions have complained about the law’s impact for months, but the resolution marks the first time the nation’s largest labor federation has gone on record embracing that view. Unions were among the most enthusiastic backers of the law when it passed in 2010.

  • Obamacare will prove to be a nightmare of unintended consequences and a bureaucratic boondoggle

Gun-Control Democrats Ousted in Colorado Recall

Voters booted out two Democratic state lawmakers in Colorado on Tuesday in a heated recall effort that generated national headlines as a referendum on the renewed gun control debate. Both lawmakers voted in favor of the state’s unpopular new gun laws earlier this year, sparking a wave of protest that got their names on the ballot for the state’s first-ever recall at the state level. State Senate President John Morse, who was a little more than a year shy of finishing his final term in office, conceded after he narrowly failed to win enough votes to keep his seat representing Colorado Springs. 51% of voters in his district said “yes” to the recall, while 49% said “no.” He’ll be replaced by Republican Bernie Herpin. Morse’s colleague, state Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, was also on the ballot and conceded late Tuesday night. She lost in a 56%-44% yes-no vote, and will be replaced by Republican George Rivera.

Multiple NASA Websites Hacked

Nearly a dozen NASA websites run from the heart of Silicon Valley were hacked on Tuesday and remain offline days later, following a politically motivated digital broadside against the space agency. The Ames Center in Mountain View, Calif., where scientists once worked on the Viking and Pioneer spacecraft, currently houses high-tech facilities for NASA and others. A group calling itself BMPoC took credit for the hack, saying it had taken down the sites to protest U.S. cyberintelligence activities.

Global Cooling?

A chilly Arctic summer has left nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at the same time last year – an increase of 60 per cent. The rebound from 2012’s record low comes six years after the BBC reported that global warming would leave the Arctic ice-free in summer by 2013. Instead, days before the annual autumn re-freeze is due to begin, an unbroken ice sheet more than half the size of Europe already stretches from the Canadian islands to Russia’s northern shores. The Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific has remained blocked by pack-ice all year. More than 20 yachts that had planned to sail it have been left ice-bound and a cruise ship attempting the route was forced to turn back. Some eminent scientists now believe the world is heading for a period of cooling that will not end until the middle of this century – a process that would expose computer forecasts of imminent catastrophic warming as dangerously misleading, according to the UK’s Daily Mail

Taxpayer Burden Rises as Big Companies End Retiree Plans

America’s biggest employers, from GE to IBM, are increasingly moving retirees to insurance exchanges where they select their own health plans, an historic shift that could push more costs onto U.S. taxpayers. Time Warner Inc. has said it would steer retired workers toward a privately run exchange, days after a similar announcement by International Business Machines Corp. General Electric Co. last year said it, too, would curb benefits in a move that may send some former employees to the public insurance exchanges created under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. While retiree health benefits have been shrinking for years, the newest cutbacks may quickly become the norm. About 44 percent of companies plan to stop administering health plans for their former workers over the next two years, a survey last month by consultant Towers Watson & Co. found. Retirees are concerned their costs may rise, while analysts predict benefits will decline in some cases.

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits plummeted last week 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 292,000. But the drop was mostly because of technical issues in two states that delayed the processing of applications. The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average fell to 321,250, the lowest in six years.

Retail sales rose 0.2% in August, bouncing back from a soft July as car sales rose almost 1% and the rest of the economy was little changed. The rise was less than expected and matched the 0.2% gain in July. Sales were 4.7% higher than in August 2012.

The gulf between the richest 1% of the USA and the rest of the country got to its widest level in history last year. The top 1% of earners in the U.S. pulled in 19.3% of total household income in 2012, which is their biggest slice of total income in more than 100 years. The richest Americans haven’t claimed this large of a slice of total wealth since 1927, when the group claimed 18.7%. The analysis is based on data from Internal Revenue Service data.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 is projected to reduce charitable giving because it imposes higher taxes on the wealthy, with the top income tax rate rising from 35% to 39.6%.  And the new tax rules also limit how much the wealthy can itemize as charitable deductions.

The Social Security Administration has paid an estimated $1.3 billion in disability insurance payments to thousands of people who weren’t eligible for the benefits, a government watchdog report finds. Since the beginning of the year, about 36,000 people have received “potential overpayments” from the agency, the Government Accountability Office reported.

Eurozone

Unemployment continues to rise in recession-hit Greece, with the overall rate reaching 27.9% in June. Even worse, 58.8% of people under age 25 are out of work. In June 2008 before the global financial crisis bared its teeth and Greece entered recession, the rate stood at 7.3%. Years of emergency taxes, pay cuts, and other austerity measures implemented as a condition of international bailout loans have hammered Greece’s private sector.

Persecution Watch

A Tennessee mom is looking for answers after her daughter’s teacher refused to let the child write about God for a school assignment. Erin Shead, a 10-year-old student at Lucy Elementary School in Millington, was assigned to write about someone she idolized. The girl, who is a Christian, decided to write about God. But Erica Shead said her daughter’s teacher objected to the choice and told her she could not use God as an idol for the assignment. The teacher then told the child that she had to take the paper about God home – because it could not remain on school property.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters have begun forcing the roughly 15,000 Christian Copts of Dalga village in Egypt to pay a Jizya tax as indicated in Koran 9:29, the Washington Times reports. Jizya is the money, or tribute, “that conquered non-Muslims historically had to pay to their Islamic overlords ‘with willing submission and while feeling themselves subdued’ to safeguard their existence,” according to author and translator Raymond Ibrahim. In some cases, families not able to pay have been attacked. As many as 40 Christian families have now fled Dalga, Ibrahim reported.

Muslim, ethnic Fulani herdsmen shot five members of a Christian family to death last week, including a 7-year-old boy, and killed another Christian as they fled, relatives said. As in other attacks by Fulani cattle herders, targeting a home on the edge of the village enabled the gunmen to slip back quickly into the bush before area Christians could defend themselves.

Middle East

A report in the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant Wednesday said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to go ahead with the long-stalled sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, in an $800 million deal which also includes the construction of an additional nuclear reactor in Bushehr. The details of the deal are expected to be finalized during a meeting on Friday between Putin and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, in the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan. Israeli officials have long feared that Iranian acquisition of the S-300 would massively complicate any plans to bomb the Islamic Republic’s renegade nuclear program.

Syria

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Saturday they have reached an agreement on a framework for Syria to destroy all of its chemical weapons, and would seek a U.N. Security Council resolution that could authorize sanctions — short of military action — if President Bashar Assad’s government fails to comply. Syrian President Bashar Assad said Thursday that Syria will put its chemical weapons arsenal under international control in response to a Russian proposal and not because of the threat of a U.S. military strike. However, a deal allowing Bashar Assad to surrender Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles runs the risk of extending his stay in power and undercutting support of rebels who have been fighting his regime.

The United States could still go ahead with a planned cruise missile strike if no agreement is reached, President Obama said in an address to the country Tuesday night. The president asked Congress to postpone a vote on military action while pursuing diplomacy. But Obama said military action could still be used if diplomacy failed. Russian President Vladimir Putin, writing in the New York Times, said Wednesday that “there is every reason to believe” poison gas was used in Syria by opposition rebels rather than that nation’s military.

The CIA has been delivering weapons to rebels in Syria over the past two weeks, with contributions of vehicles and other equipment from the State Department, The Washington Post is reporting. U.S. officials are hoping the donations will boost the muscle of the rebel fighters in Syria’s 2 1/2-year civil war, according to the Post. However, Free Syrian rebel commanders and the Syrian opposition told USA Today that the Arms smuggled by the United States to the Syrian rebels are just “symbolic” and won’t make a difference in the fight against the regime.

Evidence confirms at least eight massacres have been perpetrated in Syria by President Bashar Assad’s regime and supporters and one by rebels over the past year and a half, a U.N. commission said Wednesday. Calling Syria a battlefield where armed forces are getting away with large-scale murder, the U.N. commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria said that in each of the incidents since April 2012 “the intentional mass killing and identity of the perpetrator were confirmed to the commission’s evidentiary standards.” The four-member commission is probing nine more suspected mass killings since March.

Egypt

Clashes erupted between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s ousted president during nationwide protests Friday as the military battled al-Qaida-inspired groups in northern Sinai. The street rallies came a day after Egypt’s military-backed interim government extended a nationwide state of emergency by two months, citing ongoing security concerns. Officials said they feared more terrorist attacks after a failed assassination attempt targeting Egypt’s interior minister last week and suicide attacks this week at a military intelligence headquarters. Unrest in Egypt spiked after the popularly backed July 3 military coup that toppled President Mohammed Morsi. The interim government has responded by targeting members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood for arrest and detention.

Afghanistan

Taliban militants staged a suicide car bombing outside the United States consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat early Friday, killing two Afghan police and a security guard. U.S. and Afghan security forces then fought off an attack by insurgents. No Americans were injured in the attack. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham said: “We are grateful for the quick response of the Afghan and ISAF security forces who secured the facility and kept our personnel safe.”

Iraq

Iraqi officials say a double bomb attack on a Shiite mosque in northern Baghdad that struck as worshipers were leaving after prayers has killed at least 35. Police say more than 50 people were wounded in the Wednesday evening attack. They say it happened in a part of the Iraqi capital known as Kasra, a predominantly Shiite enclave in a part of the city that is otherwise largely Sunni.

Libya

A car bomb exploded outside a Foreign Ministry building in the Libyan city of Benghazi Wednesday, state media said, on the anniversary of an assault on the U.S. Consulate there that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The blast did not cause any casualties but blew away large parts of the building’s façade. The blast also damaged a branch of the Central Bank of Libya and slightly injured one of its security guards.

India

Every day, millions of girls and women are being discriminated against and murdered, simply because of their sex. As WORLD reports, India has come under increased scrutiny for this. A recent census revealed 37 million more men than women, the result of millions of baby girls being drowned, strangled or aborted. Sex selection, or “gendercide,” is rampant in India, driven by a strong culture preference for boys. A girl’s parents are expected to pay a generous dowry to her future husband. Poor families simply cannot afford this high price. India’s National Crime Records Bureau revealed that one woman is murdered every hour in India over dowry disputes. Wives who are unable to bear boys face further abuse.

Philippines

Philippine officials say government troops have started to battle their way into coastal villages in the south held by Muslim rebels holding scores of hostages in order to end a six-day standoff that has left 56 people dead. Government forces surrounding about 200 fighters from a Moro National Liberation Front rebel faction have started to retake some of the rebel-held areas and clear roads in coastal villages in Zamboanga city. The standoff has sent more than 60,000 residents fleeing from homes.

Weather

A desperate, life-threatening flooding situation continues in the Colorado Front Range. By air and by land, the rescue of hundreds of Coloradoans stranded by epic mountain flooding was accelerating as food and water supplies ran low, while thousands more were driven from their homes on the plains as debris-filled rivers became muddy seas inundating towns and farms miles from the Rockies. National Guard choppers evacuated 295 people — plus pets — from the mountain hamlet of Jamestown, which was isolated by flooding that scoured the canyon the town sits in. Thousands of evacuees sought shelter in cities that were nearly surrounded by raging rivers spilling over their banks. The days-long rush of water from higher ground has killed four people and turned towns on Colorado’s expansive eastern plains into muddy swamps. Crews used inflatable boats to rescue families and pets from stranded farmhouses.

Boulder County officials said Friday night that the number of people unaccounted for had risen to 172. The city of Boulder reported late Friday that the rushing waters had caused “a significant breach in its main wastewater pipeline” to the treatment plant, but officials said it would not affect drinking water. A 70-mile stretch of Interstate 25 was closed from Denver to the Wyoming line. The campus of University of Colorado Boulder was completely shut down with as many as 500 students, faculty and staff have been displaced by the surging water. Approximately 25 percent of buildings on the campus suffered some form of water damage.

Heavy rains pushed previously drought-stricken rivers from their banks and flooded streets and mountain canyons across New Mexico Friday, forcing evacuations from Las Vegas to the U.S.-Mexico border. In southern New Mexico, People around Las Animas and Palomas Creeks were told Friday morning to immediately leave their homes and head to the city’s convention center for emergency shelter. Authorities became concerned after the Rio Grande, which had been dry for months south of Albuquerque, overflowed. The three to four days of rain that have been falling across the state stem from the same storm system that has battered Colorado, causing at least three deaths. In northern New Mexico, the Las Vegas Optic reported major flooding forced the evacuation of homes, schools and businesses near the overflowing Gallinas River. Part of the canal that carries flood waters to Storrie Lake ruptured, which contributed to the flooding in the area.

Wednesday brought hot temperatures to the Northeast. Islip, N.Y. tied their record high temperature on Wednesday, reaching 88 degrees. The prior record was set in 1989. Binghamton, N.Y. reached 88 degrees as well, breaking the old record of 87 degrees set in 1983. Bridgeport, Conn., sizzled to 90 degrees, tying the record high set in 1983. Boston, Mass. officially hit 97 degrees on Wednesday, which is just 2 degrees shy of the record. New York City topped out at 96 degrees and Philadelphia peaked at 94 degrees.

A number of downtown buildings in Detroit, including City Hall, several courts, a college campus and an art museum closed after problems in Detroit’s aging electrical infrastructure combined with an unseasonable heat wave to cause a massive power outage. A number of people were trapped in elevators when power was knocked out about 1 p.m. Wednesday. Trials and arraignments in Detroit’s 36th District Court and Frank Murphy Hall of Justice were postponed as courtrooms were plunged into darkness.

Signs of the Times (9/10/13)

September 10, 2013

New Scouting Program for Boys God-Honoring, Christ-Centered

A Nashville convention culminated with the launching of a new Christ-centered organization for boys to provide a faith-based program for those who have become disenchanted with the Boy Scouts of America. Trail Life USA is the culmination of months of planning and prayer following the Scouts’ decision this summer to permit open homosexuals as members, turning its back on more than 100 years of being Biblically straight. Randy Sharp, director of special projects for American Family Association, attended the conference along with a packed crowd of 1,200 people, mostly men from 44 states who had been part of the Boy Scouts of America. Those men are now helping to launch the faith-based program called Trail Life USA. Trail Life USA’s motto is “Walk Worthy.”

Obama Tests Limits of Power in Syrian Conflict

In asking Congress to authorize an attack on Syria over claims it used chemical weapons, President Obama has chosen to involve lawmakers in deciding whether to undertake a military. The proposed strike is unlike anything that has come before — an attack inside the territory of a sovereign country, without its consent, without a self-defense rationale and without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council or even the participation of a multilateral treaty alliance like NATO, and for the purpose of punishing an alleged war crime that has already occurred rather than preventing an imminent disaster. Obama’s strategy ensures that no matter what happens, the crisis is likely to create an important precedent in the often murky legal question of when presidents or nations may lawfully use military force.

7 of 10 Americans Say No to Syria Strike

As President Barack Obama presses his case for a strike on Syria, a new national survey shows him swimming against a strong tide of public opinion that doesn’t want the U.S. to get involved. The CNN/ORC International poll released Monday shows that even though eight in 10 Americans believe that Bashar al-Assad’s regime gassed its own people, a strong majority doesn’t want Congress to pass a resolution authorizing a military strike against it. More than seven in 10 say such a strike would not achieve significant goals for the U.S. and a similar amount say it’s not in the national interest for the U.S. to get involved in Syria’s bloody two-year-long civil war.

Economic News

The labor force participation rate — the percentage of people over 16 who either have a job or are actively searching for one — fell to 63.2% in August. The last time it was that low was in August of 1978. In the latter half of the 20th century, the rate rose steadily for decades as more women were entering the workforce, eventually peaking at 67.3% in 2000. But the number has been on the decline ever since — a trend that was accelerated by the Great Recession. Economist say there are several reasons for the decline, including the retirement of the baby boomers and fewer students who also work. But the main reason for its recent fall is a lack of good jobs.

By the end of June, 7.1 million, or 14.5%, of mortgage borrowers remained underwater on their loans compared with 9.6 million, or 19.7%, at the end of the first quarter. In late 2009, during the worst of the housing market’s meltdown, 26% of all borrowers owed more on their mortgages than they were worth. The improvement is mainly due to soaring home prices, which jumped 7% during the quarter and more than 12% year-over-year.

Persecution Watch

More than four months after Islamist rebels seized control of the Christian-majority Central African Republic (CAR), Christians remain vulnerable to atrocities and the threat of imposition of Islamic law. Rebel groups and Islamist mercenaries from Chad and Sudan joined forces in December to form a militant coalition called Seleka, which took the capital, Bangui, on March 24 and sent then-President Francois Bozize into exile in Cameroon. Seleka Islamist leader Michel Djotodia took over as president. “Christians have been suffering under Seleka rule and Muslims have been profiting,” Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

Rebels including al Qaeda-linked fighters gained control of a Christian village northeast of the capital Damascus, Maaloula is a scenic mountain community known for being one of the few places in the world where residents still speak the ancient Middle Eastern language of Aramaic. The rebel advance into the area this week was spearheaded by the Jabhat al-Nusra, exacerbating fears among Syrians and religious minorities about the role played by Islamic extremists within the rebel ranks.

A Moroccan Christian man has been jailed for two and a half years and fined for evangelizing, World Watch Monitor reports. Mohamed el Baldi, 34, from the town of Ain Aicha, was ordered at a September 3 court hearing to pay 5000 dirhams ($600) for “shaking the faith of a Muslim.” He was arrested after his house was raided on August 28. Propagating Christianity is prohibited under Article 220 of the Moroccan Penal Code.

Middle East

Despite numerous acts of economic warfare against Israel by the Palestinian Authority and ongoing efforts by Palestinians and their supporters to delegitimize the Jewish State at the UN and around the world, Israel’s cabinet approved a measure on Sunday enabling another 5,000 Palestinians to work inside the Green Line, adding to an estimated 35,000 who already work there legally. “While we take a step that will help the Palestinian economy, they continue to call for a total boycott of settlement goods and industry – something that hurts them since they are employed in that industry – and are behind the calls in Europe for stiffer economic sanctions against settlements,” said a source in the cabinet.

he Egyptian military and security forces launched a large operation against Islamist and criminal groups in the Sinai Peninsula over the weekend, deploying large numbers of tanks, helicopters and artillery forces in an al- out effort to regain government control of the region. Scattered and unconfirmed reports include accounts of raids by government troops which have killed dozens of gunmen and ambushes of government forces during which several casualties were suffered by both sides.

Syria

The Syrian government has accepted a Russian proposal to turn over its chemical weapons to international control, Syria’s foreign minister said. The Arab League also announced that it would back the Russian proposal. Terms of the resolution will call for an “extremely serious” response were Syria to violate the conditions set by the resolution. The statement came as France said it would put before the United Nations Security Council a resolution appealing to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad to make public the details of its chemical weapons program. President Obama said he would “absolutely” put off a punitive strike if Assad gave up his weapons.

Syria’s top leaders amassed one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons with help from the Soviet Union and Iran, as well as Western European suppliers and even a handful of American companies, according to American diplomatic cables and declassified intelligence records. Proliferation experts said President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his father before him, former President Hafez al-Assad, were greatly helped in their chemical weapons ambitions by a basic underlying fact: often innocuous, legally exportable materials are also the precursors to manufacturing deadly chemical weapons.

Tens of thousands of people filled St. Peter’s Square for a four-hour Syria peace vigil late Saturday. The Vatican estimated about 100,000 took part in the Rome event, making it one of the largest rallies in the West against proposed U.S.-led military action against the Syrian regime.

Philippines

About 200 Muslim rebels held nearly 300 people hostage Monday after clashing with government troops and rampaging through coastal communities in the southern Philippines, leaving at least eight people dead, officials said. The fighting occurred after troops backed by tanks blocked the Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas — armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers — from marching into Zamboanga city, a major port city, to raise their flag at city hall. The military had boxed the rebels into a Muslim coastal slum, Rio Hondo. The rebels are refusing to negotiate with security forces. The violence is the latest flare-up of Muslim unrest that has plagued the country’s poverty-stricken Mindanao region on and off for decades. It shatters years of relative calm in Zamboanga city, a predominantly Christian region 540 miles south of Manila. The city remained in lockdown Tuesday as thousands of troops cordoned off areas held by members of the Muslim rebel group.

India

An Indian court convicted four men Tuesday in the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a moving New Delhi bus, a case that set off waves of protests and gave voice to years of anger over the treatment of women. The men, convicted on all the counts against them, including rape and murder, now face the possibility of hanging. The sentences are expected to be handed down Wednesday. Facing public protests and political pressure, the government reformed some of its antiquated laws on sexual violence, creating fast-track courts to avoid the painfully long rape trials that can easily last over a decade. The trial of the four men, which took about seven months, is astonishingly fast by Indian standards.

Wildfires

Firefighters were working to confine a wildfire within a San Francisco Bay Area wilderness park as it threatens about 100 homes and triggers a smoke advisory for three nearby counties. The fire in Mount Diablo State Park in Contra Costa County, which began Sunday, nearly tripled in size to 3,718 acres or nearly 6 square miles Monday afternoon. It was 20 percent contained. Officials said hot temperatures and wind gusts fueled the fire’s spread. While crews managed to stop the fire’s advance by Monday evening, they were bracing for more hot weather and winds Tuesday. The fire The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory Monday for parts of Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties. was burning in steep, rugged terrain near Clayton, a town of about 11,000 people northeast of San Francisco, alongside the park.

As a gigantic wildfire in and around Yosemite National Park entered its fourth week Saturday, environmental scientists moved in to begin assessing the damage and protecting habitat and waterways before the fall rainy season. Members of the federal Burned Area Emergency Response team were hiking the rugged Sierra Nevada terrain even as thousands of firefighters still were battling the blaze, now the third-largest wildfire in modern California history. Team members are working to identify areas at the highest risk for erosion into streams, the Tuolumne River and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, San Francisco’s famously pure water supply. The wildfire started in the Stanislaus National Forest on Aug. 17 when a hunter’s illegal fire swept out of control and has burned 394 square miles of timber, meadows and sensitive wildlife habitat.

Weather

Cleanup efforts began Sunday after heavy rains caused flooding and mudslides around Utah County that stranded 150 people at a popular recreation site and forced dozens of homeowners to evacuate. Flooding was also reported in areas of Provo, Orem and Payson, though no evacuations were ordered in those areas. Mudslides also forced the closures of State Route 92 in American Fork Canyon. Hundreds of volunteers showed up Sunday in Alpine to fill sandbags in preparation for the next wave of heavy rain. Officials said 12 homes were damaged, but no injuries were reported. Flooding damage was also reported in Santaquin and Orem.

Record-breaking temperatures scorched parts of the Plains on Sunday. Wichita, Kan. (101), McCook, Neb. (105) and North Platte, Neb. (101) were among the cities that either tied or broke daily record highs for Sept. 8. In Des Moines, Iowa, Monday became the latest 100-degree day on the calendar in records dating back to 1878, and tied the city’s all-time September record high of 101 degrees. Highs surged well into the 90s Monday in cities from Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago to St. Louis, Kansas City, and Omaha, Neb. Near-record heat will continue from Chicago and Detroit to St. Louis, with highs in the middle to upper 90s.

Fresno’s groundwater had become dangerously low. For decades, this city in California’s agricultural heartland relied exclusively on cheap, plentiful groundwater and pumped increasingly larger amounts from an aquifer as its population grew. But eventually, the water table dropped by more than 100 feet, causing some of Fresno’s wells to cave in and others to slow to a trickle. The cost of replacing those wells and extracting groundwater ballooned by 400 percent. Fresno is just one player in a water war that’s quietly being fought underground. Throughout the Central Valley – one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions – farmers, residents and cities have seen their wells go dry. Those who can afford it have drilled deeper wells that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Climate change and droughts are putting additional pressure on aquifers. Experts say water supplies have been strained by growing city populations and massive tracts of newly planted orchards and vineyards. California has few rules governing groundwater.

Signs of the Times (9/7/13)

September 7, 2013

20,000 Churches Pledge to Participate in National Back to Church Sunday on September 15

Event organizers announced today more than 20,000 churches will participate in National Back to Church Sunday®, achieving the ambitious target set for this year, doubling the goal of last year’s event. The target of 20,000 churches was not only reached, but achieved with two weeks to spare, with thousands more churches still expected to sign up and join in on the September 15 event. Organizers emphasize that reaching the target on the live online roster isn’t the real goal, it’s the significance of the people who will be attending church all over the nation, all on one day, as more than 20,000 churches make special efforts to welcome people back to church. Churches can sign up at www.backtochurch.com.

AFA Suspends Boycott of The Home Depot

After three years, a high-profile pro-family organization is suspending its boycott of The Home Depot. “We’re glad to report that we are suspending the boycott of The Home Depot,” says Randy Sharp, director of special projects for American Family Association. “After monitoring the company for several months, we’re satisfied that the company has withdrawn its major financial contributions to gay activist groups and to their activities. We truly believe that this is a direct result of people’s willingness to get involved in the culture war,” AFA reports more than 750,000 people signed an online pledge that they would not shop at The Home Depot.

Atheist Couple Suing to Remove ‘Under God’ From Pledge of Allegiance in Massachusetts

A lawsuit to strike the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance goes before the Massachusetts Supreme Court this week, CBN News reports. An atheist couple sued on behalf of three anonymous children in the Acton-Boxboro School District. The American Humanist Association, which is representing the students, argues that the pledge uses wording that “strongly favors one religious class” over another. A lower court rejected the suit last year because students can refuse to say the pledge. It also said that including the words “under God” does not violate children’s rights. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is defending the school district.

San Antonio Christians Face Unseemly Side of ‘Nondiscrimination’

Christians in San Antonio believe it’s a certainty they will face discrimination because of a new city council ordinance. By an 8-3 vote Thursday afternoon, the San Antonio City Council approved a controversial anti-discrimination ordinance which not only protects homosexuals but provides special rights for transgendered people. In addition, business owners who take a faith-based stance against the lifestyles will be barred from doing business with the city. Jonathan Saenz, president of Austin-based Texas Values, said “Today a majority of the San Antonio City Council voted to approve a radical ordinance that a majority of the people of San Antonio oppose… This ordinance will be used as a weapon against people of faith and family values… The ordinance lacks transparency, lacks evidence of a real need, and is plagued with major constitutional concerns. The question now is when will the first legal challenge begin and what will the cost be to taxpayers at the end of the litigation that will certainly come.”

Christian-Owned Bakery Shuts Down Citing ‘Mafia-Style’ Tactics of Gay Activists

An Oregon bakery targeted by the state for refusing to provide a cake for a same-sex “wedding” says Mafia-style tactics have forced them to close the business. The owners of “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” in the Portland suburb of Gresham refused to provide the cake because their Christian faith rejects homosexual practices. The lesbian couple who requested the cake then filed a discrimination complaint with the Oregon Commissioner of Labor. After the complaint was filed, homosexual activists began conducting demonstrations at the shop and targeting the bakery’s vendors. Aaron and Melissa Klein said the opposition came from people who are simply intolerant of the Christian view of homosexuality. Their business dropped by half within a short time, so they have shuttered the business and moved it into their home. The discrimination complaint is now being handled by the attorneys with no end in sight.

Internet Bible Reading Surges; 4 in 10 Now Read God’s Word Digitally

While 88 percent of American homes own a Bible, more and more are switching to the Internet, cell phones and iPads to read God’s word, according to a sweeping new survey of Bible use. The American Bible Society founds that 41 percent of Americans used the Internet to read the Bible on a computer. Some 29 percent said they searched Bible verses on a cell phone, and 17 percent said they read an electronic version of the Bible on a Kindle or iPad. The trend is similar in the news business, with readers shifting to digital over paper. “The data shows a continual shift to digital content,” said the American Bible Society. “The number of Bible readers who use their smart phone or cell phone to search for Bible content has increased each year, with a 6 percent increase in the use of this format from 2012. Use of internet to find Bible content has also increased, up 4 percent from 2011.” According to the survey, the most read and searched version of the Bible was the King James version. Thirty-eight percent preferred that over the New King James version, which just 14 percent prefer.

Germany Employs Nazi Tactics Against Homeschooling Family

Early in the morning just as the four Wunderlich kids were starting their school lessons, twenty police and government agents armed with assault weapons and battering ram appeared at the family’s home with a court order to take the kids by force if necessary. Social workers that accompanied the police took custody of the Wunderlich children and informed the parents that there was no telling when they might see their kids again, if ever. The four Wunderlich children are now wards of the German government and are being held at undisclosed locations. What horrific crime had the parents, Dirk and Petra committed to have their family ripped apart with the threat of assault weapons? They were homeschooling their children. In 1938, Adolf Hitler established a law requiring all German children to attend state run public schools to insure that the kids would be properly indoctrinated with the Nazi fascist philosophy. That law has never been repealed. Now that Germany seems to be leaning towards socialist politics, Hitler’s anti-homeschool law is being enforced, with force if necessary. The actions of the German authorities are being described by some as an act of terrorism committed on its own people.

U.S. Birth Rate at Record Low

The U.S. fertility rate fell to another record low in 2012, with 63.0 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s down slightly from the previous low of 63.2 in 2011. It marked the fifth year in a row the U.S. birth rate has declined, and the lowest rate on record since the government started tracking the fertility rate in 1909. The falling birth rate is considered to be a challenge to future economic growth and the labor pool. If there are fewer younger people in the United States, there may be a shortage of young workers to enter the labor force in 18 to 20 years. It takes 2.1 children per woman for a given generation to replace itself, and U.S. births have been below replacement level since 2007. As of last year, a separate CDC analysis shows an American woman will give birth to an average of 1.88 children over her lifetime, also a record low.

Teen Births Hit Historic Low

Teen births have continued to drop, reaching a historic low in 2012 and hitting half of what they were in 1991, says a government report Friday. The birthrate for teens, ages 15 to 19, dropped 6% from 31.3 births per 1,000 teen girls in 2011 to 29.4 in 2012. Teen birthrates were down for all racial and ethnic groups. This is the lowest teen birthrate since 1940 when data on teen births started being collected. Bill Albert, a spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy says the decline is due to “less sex and more contraception that has driven the rates down,” Albert says. “More kids are delaying sex, which is a good and responsible thing to do, and the kids who are having sex are using contraception more consistently and carefully, also a good and responsible thing to do.”

Japanese Nuclear Plant Still Leaking Radioactive Water

New revelations of contaminated water leaking from storage tanks at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant have raised alarm, coming just weeks after Japanese officials acknowledged that radioactive water has been seeping into the Pacific from the plant for more than two years. The government announced this week that it would contribute 47 billion yen ($470 million) to build an underground “ice wall” around the reactor and turbine buildings and develop an advanced water treatment system. Experts estimate at least 300 tons of radioactive water are leaking every day. The main health concern is the impact on fish near the nuclear plant.

U.S. energy Lifting Economy More than Expected

Newly found sources of domestic oil and natural gas are having an even bigger impact on the economy than first projected, adding more than $1,200 last year to the discretionary income of the average U.S. family, a new study says. The explosion in domestic energy production now supports 1.2 million jobs, directly or indirectly, says consulting firm IHS, in a study released Wednesday. That number will grow to 3.3 million by 2020, and new energy’s contribution to U.S. families’ disposable incomes will hit $2,000 per household per year by 2015. The introduction of technologies like hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling, which made it practical to recover previously unused oil reserves, has helped drive a 58% increase in natural gas reserves since 2007, cut the price of natural gas by nearly three-fourths, and sparked more than $120 billion in U.S.-based investment last year.

Economic News

Employers added 169.000 jobs in August, as the labor market continues to show solid growth despite substantial federal spending cuts and a payroll tax increase. The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey of households, fell to 7.3% from 7.4%, the Labor Department said Friday. That’s the lowest since December 2008. However, the dip came because 312,000 Americans stopped working or looking for work–not because of a rise in employment. In August, businesses added 152,000 jobs, while federal, state and local governments added 17,000. The retail and health care industries led the job gains.

The nation’s trade deficit jumped 13.3% to $39.1 billion in July after hitting a four-year low of an upwardly revised $34.5 billion the prior month, the government said Wednesday. The monthly number was slightly higher than expected and it reflected the rising price of crude oil and strong domestic demand for foreign autos and their parts. In June, the trade deficit was at its lowest level since the fall of 2009. Overall, imports rose 1.6% to $228.6 billion while the total value of exports dropped 0.6% to $189.4 billion.

The average transaction price for a new vehicle set a record of $31,252 in August, according to TrueCar.com, up 3.2% from a year ago. The new high is up 0.5%, or $164, from July. TrueCar’s transaction price is meant to include everything – price of the vehicle, discounts, add-ons, taxes and license fees – all the amounts that total to the out-the-door price. The Hyundai Group – Hyundai and Kia brands combined was down 4.2% from a year earlier, to an average $22,418, and off 0.2% from July.

Persecution Watch

Nearly 1,000 people rallied on August 25 to destroy the construction site of a church led by Gospel for Asia pastor Tanvir in India. They proceeded to beat the pastor and other believers as well. The congregation in North India had recently resumed construction on the church building after opposition halted their plans two years ago. Only the roof remained unfinished when slanderous rumors were spread around the village, accusing the Christians of culturally offensive actions. After the anti-Christians destroyed the building, they proceeded to seize and beat up Pastor Tanvir and other believers who were present, including Pastor Tanvir’s mother. By God’s grace, the believers escaped, but they did not return to their homes the entire night as a safety precaution.

Afghan MPs have issued threats in parliament against converts from Islam to Christianity, calling for them to be killed in accordance with sharia law. The matter has been raised twice in recent debates, principally focused on Afghans who are living in India. Many converts to Christianity have fled there, fearing persecution from the Afghan authorities and the Taliban. There are around 250 in Delhi, where a growing Afghan church has been established. MP Nazir Ahmad Hanafi called for all Afghan converts to Christianity to be hanged to stop the conversions that were happening in India.

Islamist protesters in Indonesia are demanding the removal of a new local authority chief in a Muslim-majority area of West Java because she is a Christian. Mrs Zulkifli’s opponents claim that she is not fit for the post because she cannot take part in Muslim religious ceremonies or prayers. They have called for her to be moved to an area with a Christian majority.  She has responded graciously to the demonstrations, saying that everyone has the right “to make their voices heard in a peaceful manner.”

Syria

Divisions among world leaders over the conflict in Syria persisted on the final day of the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, with pressure from President Obama apparently failing to significantly turn the tide of global opinion in favor of military action. As the two-day summit wound down Friday, G-20 leaders issued a declaration to work to strengthen the global economy, but agreement on what to do about the Syrian government’s alleged used of chemical weapons seemed a distant prospect. G-20 members France, Canada, Turkey and Australia are among nine countries now supporting military action. However, those opposed to action have the upper hand, at least at the U.N. Security Council, according to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. “Even in the wake of the flagrant shattering of the international norm against chemical weapons use, Russia continues to hold the council hostage and shirk its international responsibilities,” says the State Department.

The main concern about aiding the rebels opposing the Syrian government is that they’re actually a constellation of groups and factions, each with its own agenda. Some are in league with al Qaeda. Secondly, the opposition has morphed in the last few years. It started with ordinary Syrians angry at police for arresting children who painted anti-government graffiti. Now it attracts fighters from outside Syria. Syria’s al Qaeda wing is known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and it’s been gaining a greater foothold.

Heavy government shelling of rebel positions near the Syrian capital killed 16 people on Saturday, activists said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported heavy fighting between rebels and troops loyal to President Bashar Assad around the Christian village of Maaloula. The rebel advance into the area that began on Monday was reportedly spearheaded by al-Qaida-linked fighters, exacerbating fears among Syrians and religious minorities in particular that Islamic extremists are playing an increasingly important role in the rebellion.

Egypt

A car bomb apparently targeting the Egyptian interior minister’s motorcade exploded in eastern Cairo Thursday, leaving four people injured, state media reported. The interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, is safe, according to the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper. Four security personnel were injured, with one policeman having a leg amputated as a result of his injuries. Cairo has witnessed wide unrest on its streets since former President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July and an interim administration was installed by the military. A crackdown last month by Egyptian authorities on Morsi supporters left hundreds of people dead.

Egyptian military engineers defused on Saturday mortar rounds rigged to explode on a railroad linking the canal cities of Ismailiya and Suez, security officials said. Police called in the military experts after residents of a village near the railroad spotted the bomb.

Sudan

At least nine people were killed in the Somali capital Mogadishu Saturday when two blasts ripped through a busy parking lot, police said. Witnesses said the first blast was a car laden with explosives that was parked by a restaurant close to the theater. The second blast, which followed minutes later, was a suicide bomber who blew himself up in the crowd of civilians who rushed to the scene of the first blast. The National Theater re-opened in 2012 after two decades. Just weeks after it re-opened, Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents struck, with a suicide bomber blowing herself up and killing two of the country’s top sporting officials who were attending an event there.

China

After the thousands of dead pigs, come the tons of poisoned fish. The Fuhe River is the scene of the latest disturbing example of river pollution in China. Authorities cleared about 110 tons of dead fish from a 40-kilometer section of the river in the central province of Hubei. The cause of the deaths, provincial environmental officials said, was the discharge of high levels of ammonia into the water by a local chemical plant in Yingcheng, outside the city of Wuhan. The Hubei environmental authorities ordered the company that runs the plant, Hubei Shuanghuan Science and Technology Stock Co., to suspend operations at the plant and sort out its pollution controls.

Earthquakes

A 6.5-magnitude earthquake shook Guatemala’s Pacific coastline on Friday evening, causing some adobe homes to collapse in a town near the epicenter. There were no immediate reports of injuries. The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter was 3 miles south of the small town of Pajapita, near the border with Mexico, and 168 kilometers west of Guatemala City. It had a depth of 41 miles. Two highways were blocked by landslides.

A magnitude 6.5 earthquake was recorded Tuesday in waters off Alaska’s remote Aleutian Islands region, where a 7.0 quake hit just last week. The quake was centered about 50 miles south-southwest of the tiny community of Atka, Alaska, at a depth of about 24 miles. Dozens of aftershocks have been recorded since Friday’s big quake. There have been no reports of tsunamis, damage or injuries.

Wildfires

Evacuation orders and advisories were lifted Tuesday for several Sierra Nevada communities once threatened by a raging wildfire in and around Yosemite National Park. Officials said they still are investigating the cause of the blaze, which started 18 days ago i

n an isolated area of the Stanislaus National Forest and has burned nearly 370 square miles. With higher humidity and lower temperatures, the fire reached 75 percent containment.

Weather

Meteorological records are something we expect every month, says The Weather Channel, but August was an extreme month of extremes.  With abnormally cool and rainy weather in parts of the Deep South and searing heat in the Upper Midwest, records were shattered across the U.S. in August. Minneapolis, for example, saw nearly a week of temperatures at or above 90 degrees. In three of those days, temperatures soared into the upper 90s. That’s a significant departure from the average August high of 80 degrees. Fairbanks, Alaska also posted an uncharacteristically warm summer. The city recorded 36 days that were at or above 80 degrees. That’s never happened before.

Parts of the West Coast have been exceptionally dry, most notably, San Francisco. Normally through August, the Bay Area sees about 13.11 inches of rain. However, so far, San Francisco has only had 1.89 inches of rain, making it one of the driest years on record in the Bay Area. Parched vegetation in California has created tinderbox conditions, which explains the large number of wildfires aging across the state. Parts of the Southeast, Desert Southwest and Northeast were deluged with rain.   Flash flooding was a major theme in August in North Georgia, Missouri, Nashville, and most notably Las Vegas. Philadelphia also had an incredibly wet summer: Nearly 30 inches of rain fell from June 1 to Aug 31, making this summer one of the wettest on record in the city.

Signs of the Times (9/3/13)

September 3, 2013

Syrian Pastor Pours Out His Heart in Poignant Prayer

The eyes of the world are focused on Syria. Open Doors received the prayer of a pastor, one of their partners in Syria in the relief work there. It is a moving and heart-breaking prayer. It gives insight into the suffering of the people who have decided to stay in war-torn Syria: “I weep for my country! I am so sad and speechless…They advise me to leave my country … to emigrate. I respond saying:

  • I’m staying … for the church of Jesus … that the message of Jesus may remain a light guiding those who are lost and afraid.
  • I’m staying … because the harvest is plentiful … and the suffering is huge … a deep wound, a sense of despair.
  • I’m staying … to follow in the footsteps of my Master who went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.
  • I’m staying … because I’m busy in the ministry of saving souls (or can someone like me run. … Lord give me strength).

Do pray:

  • That the cup of war be taken away from our country of Syria.
  • That the Lord may crush the conspiracy of the evil ones … and their war plans … and consider their threats.
  • That He may send the power of His Holy Spirit on His church that it may reach out to the suffering souls … who — harassed and helpless — are like sheep without a shepherd.
  • That the Lord may give us to speak with great boldness and that many wonders and signs be performed. And souls return to Christ, and there be singing and praises.
  • That the Lord may send more help that the house of the Lord may have food to satisfy the needs of the internally displaced … hundreds of whom are without any shelter.
  • That the Lord may send more support for the wounded and the sick who need surgery, medication and healing.
  • That the Lord may send those who can help us build a center for children affected by the war, that we may be able to take care of those who have lost their supporters, and enable them to get back on their feet.
  • That the Lord may send those who can help our children who are now disabled, and have special needs.”

Obamacare Impacts Employers Unequally

Employers are just beginning to learn the financial ironies of the federal health law. While the Affordable Care Act will provide access to insurance for millions more Americans, it is not a law of equality for employers. Small nonprofits that pay no taxes can get tax credits. Some businesses that currently provide generous insurance may stop. And organizations could fork over more money covering part-time workers than full-time workers. The impact differs according to how an employer’s workforce is structured and the generosity of its health benefits. The law encourages employers to provide coverage through penalties and incentives, but employers say they don’t understand the rules — many of which are still being written. And premiums are going up because insurers are passing along the cost of having to cover people with pre-existing conditions.

Homelessness Down

Despite a deep recession and a slow, fitful jobs recovery, one key indicator of the nation’s economic well-being has quietly improved nearly every year since 2005: homelessness. The number has dropped 17% in that span: An estimated 129,000 fewer Americans were homeless in 2012 than in 2005, even after a mortgage crisis kicked thousands out of their homes. Advocates for the homeless give much of the credit to a bigger federal investment in housing, part of it from the Obama administration’s stimulus program in 2009 and 2010. As part of the stimulus, Congress set aside funding for housing, medical and mental health services and preventive measures such as helping renters at risk of homelessness repay rent. Many people just need temporary help to fend off eviction, often because of unpaid rent or utility bills. Only about 20% are chronically homeless.

Economic News

The economy may be in a recovery — the national unemployment rate fell from 7.6% to 7.4% in July, and the August jobs report comes this Friday — but hundreds of thousands of other workers, a sustainable full-time job remains elusive. Of nearly 1 million U.S. jobs created this year, 80% — four of every five — were part time and most had meager or no benefits.

It took a few months, but forced federal budget cuts are costing hundreds of science and medical research jobs. Nearly half of the recipients who get federal science funding say they’ve recently laid off or will lay off scientists and researchers, thanks to $85 billion in forced spending cuts, called sequester, that kicked in March 1. And as more research grants don’t get renewed, the layoffs will get worse, experts say.

Persecution Watch

Eritrean authorities arrested 30 members of the Church of the Living God gathered for prayer on the evening of Aug. 24 in the Kushet suburb of the capital Asmara, Open Doors USA reports. The group includes 12 women. Sources say they are held at Police Station 5 in Asmara and are under pressure to recant their faith. Since the beginning of the year, the religious atmosphere in Eritrea has deteriorated, with authorities arresting at least 261 Christians. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported that the government of Eritrea continues to incarcerate prisoners under inhumane condition, and officials continue to deny access to organizations like The Red Cross to investigate the state of prisons. “The church in Eritrea is deeply saddened by the continued scrutiny and distrust from the government and highly appreciates the prayers of our brothers and sisters around the globe,” commented an Open Doors source who remains anonymous for security reasons.

In a recent report released by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the non-partisan group says about 12,000 people have been killed since the start of 2012 in the largely anti-Christian violence that has swept across northern Nigeria, International Christian Concern reports. The report also outlines attacks against Muslim leaders and critics, as well as state and private institutions. USCIRF gathered the information from multiple sources, and said it only included the attacks claimed by the Islamic group Boko Haram, so the impact could be even greater. USCIRF has recently recommended to the U.S. government that Nigeria needs to be designated a “Country of Particular Concern” for its violations of religious freedom.

Middle East

Even as ongoing crises in Syria and Egypt rivet the world’s attention, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority quietly continued on Tuesday as representatives from each side met for the sixth parley in the current round of negotiations. The meetings have been held in almost total secrecy, with no media coverage and even their location is not being announced. “The negotiations have been serious, and US special envoy Martin Indyk and his team have been fully briefed on the bilateral talks and also participated in a bilateral negotiating session,” said a US State Department statement this week.

Syria

Saying military invention is needed now, Syrian rebels expressed disappointment after President Obama announced Saturday he would seek congressional approval for military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. In a news conference Saturday, Obama said congressional leaders have agreed to schedule a debate and vote on taking military action in Syria when they return to session on September 9th. Analysts, however, say that the impact of American military intervention would be far less significant than the Syrian opposition wants.  A Syrian state-run newspaper on Sunday called President Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval before taking military action against Syria “the start of the historic American retreat.” Germany and Italy called for military action only if the U.N. Security Council passes a resolution authorizing such an attack, which is unlikely because of Russian opposition. Israelis were questioning whether the U.S. is committed to wiping out neighbor Syria’s chemical weapons.

Syrian rebels in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta have admitted to Associated Press correspondent Dale Gavlak that they were responsible for last week’s chemical weapons incident which western powers have blamed on Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, revealing that the casualties were the result of an accident caused by rebels mishandling chemical weapons provided to them by Saudi Arabia. Rebels told Gavlak that they were not properly trained on how to handle the chemical weapons or even told what they were. It appears as though the weapons were initially supposed to be given to the Al-Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra.

The number of refugees fleeing Syria’s bloody civil war has surged past the 2 million mark, with almost 5,000 people crossing into that country’s neighbors every day, according to a new report from the United Nations Refugee Agency issued Tuesday. The report estimated that another 4.25 million Syrians have been displaced within the country’s borders. As of the end of August, the agency counted 716,000 refugees in Lebanon, 515,000 in Jordan, 460,000 in Turkey, 168,000 in Iraq and 110,000 in Egypt. It said over half of them were children.

  • Syria is a quagmire of poor options: prop up a brutal dictator or risk aiding al-Qaeda rebel groups? The best option is staying out of it for now

Iraq

Deadly violence erupted at a contentious Iranian exile camp inside Iraq early Sunday, leaving international observers scrambling to determine the cause of the bloodshed and the number of casualties. The dissidents alleged that more than 50 were killed and accused the Iraqi government. Baghdad said an internal dispute was to blame.

Afghanistan

Militants attacked a U.S. base in Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan on Monday, setting off bombs, torching vehicles and shutting down a key road used by NATO supply trucks. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the strike in the Torkham area, the latest in a surge of attacks in Afghanistan as U.S.-led foreign troops reduce their presence en route to a full withdrawal by the end of next year. NATO confirmed an “unsuccessful coordinated attack by enemy forces” but said none of its personnel were killed. The military alliance generally does not release information on wounded troops. No members of the Afghan security forces or civilians were killed or wounded.

Japan

Radiation at a tank holding contaminated water at a crippled Japanese nuclear power plant has increased by a factor of 18, the plant’s supervisor announced Sunday. The storage tank at the Fukushima nuclear power plant contained a radiation of 1,800 millisieverts per hour. That amount of radiation would kill an exposed person in four hours. By contrast, a reading of the same tank taken on August 22 found radiation of just 100 millisieverts per hour. TEPCO recently acknowledged the chronic leaking of radiation-tainted underground water into the Pacific, plus a 300-ton (80,000-gallon) seepage from one of more than 1,000 storage tanks. The leak was the firth and worst from a tank since the crisis began.

Brazil

The Brazilian government condemned a U.S. spy program that reportedly targeted the nation’s leader, labeled it an “unacceptable invasion” of sovereignty and called Monday for international regulations to protect citizens and governments alike from cyber espionage. In a sign that fallout over the spy program is spreading, the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported that President Dilma Rousseff is considering canceling her October trip to the U.S., where she has been scheduled to be honored with a state dinner. The action came after a report aired Sunday night on Globo TV citing 2012 documents from NSA leaker Edward Snowden that indicated the U.S. intercepted Rousseff’s e-mails and telephone calls, along with those of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose communications were being monitored even before he was elected as president in July 2012.

Wild Fires

The 2-week-old Rim Fire moved up a spot to fourth on California’s list of large wildfires dating back to 1932 when it grew to 368 square miles — an area larger than the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose combined. A relatively cool and humid Labor Day allowed fire crews to make major progress Monday toward corralling a massive wildfire searing the edge of Yosemite National Park. The fire was 70 percent contained at nightfall, up from 45 percent some 24 hours earlier, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Full containment is not expected until Sept. 20.

Weather

When city students arrived for the first day of school under the blazing temperatures of a Midwest heat wave, staff greeted them with some unusual school supplies: water bottles, fans and wet towels to drape around their necks. As temperatures soared past 90 last week, some Midwest schools gave students extra water and bathroom breaks or canceled after-school activities. Districts from St. Joseph, Mo., and Frankfort, Ind., sent kids home early. In Fargo, N.D., five schools got the week off, and schools in Minneapolis closed down, too. This year’s late August heat exposed a tug-of-war in school districts that are under pressure to start school earlier than ever but are unable to pay to equip aging buildings with air conditioning. Parents who worry hot classrooms are a disadvantage for their kids are issuing an ultimatum: Make classes cooler or start the year later.

A late afternoon severe thunderstorm deposited up to eight inches of accumulated hail near the town of Hay Springs, Neb. on Aug. 30. According to the National Weather Service office in North Platte, Neb., golf-ball size hail (1.75 inches in diameter) lasted 15-20 minutes. Straight-line wind gusts around 60 mph also snapped trees and damaged a gymnasium roof in Hay Springs. A swath of the High Plains from southeast Wyoming and northeast Colorado to the Texas Panhandle is called “Hail Alley”.

Tornadoes tore through eastern Japan on Monday, injuring dozens of people, at least one seriously, and destroying some buildings. Kyodo News reported that the tornadoes toppled power lines, blew roofs off homes and sent debris flying, smashing windows at an elementary school. The Japanese word for tornado is tatsumaki, which means dragon whirls/spiraling dragons.