Signs of the Times (9/17/13)

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.

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