Signs of the Times (9/10/13)

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.

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