Signs of the Times (9/21/13)

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.

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