Signs of the Times (2/25/14)

Nation Fights over Gay Rights vs. Religious Liberty

Gay rights are colliding with religious rights in states like Arizona and Kansas as the national debate over gay marriage morphs into a fight over the dividing line between religious liberty and anti-gay discrimination. More broadly, the fight mirrors the national debate on whether the religious rights of business owners also extend to their for-profit companies. Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether companies like Hobby Lobby must provide contraceptive services that their owners consider immoral. The Arizona bill, which is headed to Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk for her signature, would allow people who object to same-sex marriage to use their religious beliefs as a defense in a discrimination lawsuit. Similar legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, according to The Associated Press, while other efforts are stalled in Idaho, Ohio and Kansas.

Proponents cite the case of a New Mexico photographer who was sued after she declined to take photos of a gay commitment ceremony. In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review her case, photographer Elaine Huguenin said she could take a portrait of a gay couple but not participate in their same-sex ceremony because it would violate her religious beliefs. In ruling against Huguenin’s case, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Bosson wrote that while Huguenin and her husband are “free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish,” the public accommodation of differing beliefs is “the price of citizenship.”

  • The price of citizenship has grown far too steep for Christians whose personal beliefs and rights are being trampled by secular socialism under the influence of the anti-Christ spirit

Court Rules Against Notre Dame over Birth Control

A federal appeals court on Friday ruled against the University of Notre Dame in a case over parts of the federal health care law that forces it to provide health insurance for students and employees that covers contraceptives. The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld a federal judge’s earlier ruling that denied the Roman Catholic school’s request for a preliminary injunction that would prevent it from having to comply with the birth control requirement as the university’s lawsuit moves forward. Notre Dame, located in South Bend, Ind., contends the law violates its freedom to practice religion without government interference.

  • Regardless of how we might feel about birth control, government infringement on religious liberty is unconstitutional as well as an unconscionable intrusion into private affairs

Bolivia Resists United Nations Pressure, Keeps Its Abortion Ban

The Constitutional Court of Bolivia has upheld the country’s laws protecting unborn children despite international pressure from the United Nations. Bolivia’s highest court handed down a surprise ruling in a challenge to its prohibition on abortion from advocacy group IPAS. The court held that unborn life must be protected, though it expanded a rape exception, and opened the door to embryo destructive research and the morning after pill. The case has been highly publicized in Bolivia, and was pending in the courts for two years. President Evo Morales reportedly weighed into the debate last year saying that “any abortion is a crime.”

  • The UN’s primary mission is to enforce secular humanism beliefs on the world at large

Almost 50% of 2012 Abortions in NYC were Black

According to the recently released Summary of Vital Statistics from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, ethnic cleansing is apparently occurring in the Big Apple. In New York City, there were 56,000 black pregnancies in 2012. Of that total, 31,000 were aborted. That figure represents almost 50 percent of all abortions in New York City, despite the fact blacks represent less than 15 percent of the population.

  • Liberal elitists publicly promote equality even as they support policies like abortion that afflict the lower class disproportionately in support of population control (i.e. reduction of the downtrodden)

2 Million U.S. Scientists Identify As Evangelical

At the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held this year on February 16th, Sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund reported that 17% of scientists polled in a recent survey describe themselves as evangelical. Another interesting facet the survey unearthed is that, according to the sampled demographic, evangelical scientists are more likely to attend church, read religious texts, and consider themselves “very religious” than their non-scientist evangelical counterparts. These findings give hope for many who wish to see more productive dialogued fostered between scientists and evangelicals.

  • Science is merely trying to figure out how God created the world. There doesn’t need to be a disconnect between science and faith

Obama Administration to Monitor Newsrooms to Control Content

An FCC commissioner Ajit Pai wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, warning about a plan that his agency is rolling out that would put monitors in the nation’s newsrooms. News managers and staffers would be interviewed by agency officials about the content that they choose to report on and how they choose certain stories. The alleged purpose of the proposed Federal Communications Commission study is to “identify and understand the critical information needs of the American public, with special emphasis on vulnerable-disadvantaged populations,” according to the agency. However, one agency commissioner, Ajit Pai, said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece Wednesday that the May 2013 proposal would allow researchers to “grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run.” He also said he feared the study might stifle the freedom of the press.

  • Media control is one of the lynchpins of the one-world government elitists who think they know what’s best for the rest of us

Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to shrink the United States Army to its smallest force since before the World War II buildup and eliminate an entire class of Air Force attack jets in a new spending proposal that officials describe as the first Pentagon budget to aggressively push the military off the war footing adopted after the terror attacks of 2001. The proposal takes into account the fiscal reality of government austerity and the political reality of a president who pledged to end two costly and exhausting land wars. A result, the officials argue, will be a military capable of defeating any adversary, but too small for protracted foreign occupations. Defense department officials acknowledge that budget cuts will impose greater risk on the armed forces if they are again ordered to carry out two large-scale military actions at the same time, reports the New York Times. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that the drastic cuts to the U.S. Army are “absolutely dangerous” and would cause long-term damage to the military.

ObamaCare May Increase Premiums for 11 Million Workers

A new report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services concludes that 11 million small business employees may see their premiums rise under Obamacare. The report says the higher rates are partly due to the health law’s requirement that premiums can no longer be based on a person’s age. That has sent premiums higher for younger workers, and lower for older ones. The report found that 65 percent of small businesses would see a spike in insurance premiums. House Small Business Committee Chairman Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., said “The fact that two-thirds of Americans who work at small businesses will see premium increases because of the health law is devastating news. This is one more in a long line of broken promises from President Obama.”

Mexico Becomes Top Auto Exporter to U.S.

Mexico is on track to become the United States’ No. 1 source of imported cars by the end of next year, overtaking Japan and Canada in a manufacturing boom that’s turning the auto industry into a bigger source of dollars than money sent home by migrants. The boom is raising hopes that Mexico can create enough new jobs to pull millions out of poverty as northbound migration slows sharply. An $800 million Honda plant that opened Friday in the central state of Guanajuato will produce more than 200,000 Fit hatchbacks and compact sport-utility vehicles a year, helping push total Mexican car exports to the U.S. to an estimated 1.7 million in 2014, roughly 200,000 more than Japan.

Economic News

Finance chiefs from the 20 largest economies agreed Sunday to implement policies that they say will boost world GDP by more than $2 trillion over the coming five years. The world economy has sputtered since the 2008 financial crisis and global recession that followed. Progress in returning economic growth to pre-crisis levels has been hampered by austerity policies in Europe, high unemployment in the U.S. and a cooling of China’s torrid expansion. The G-20 said it would “significantly raise global growth” without overtaxing national finance through measures to promote competition and increase investment, employment and trade.

Federal labor unions are crying foul over President Obama’s proposal to raise federal employee pay by 1 percent next year, arguing the increase is inadequate. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the nation’s largest federal employee union, said Monday that the 1 percent increase is “pitiful” and fails to compensate for sacrifice by government workers. Federal employees have endured years of pay freezes and cuts in retirement benefits,” Cox said.

Persecution Watch

Kerolas Adel Abdel-Malak, a 25-year-old Christian from Egypt, was on his way home from Minya City last week when he was kidnapped at gunpoint and later held for ransom. Malak’s attack is the most recent in a long list of Christian kidnappings in Minya province in Upper Egypt, 125 miles south of Cairo. At least eight similar cases were reported in the last two weeks alone. Minya has probably the highest percentage of Christians in the country. While Christians make up an estimated 50 percent of Minya’s residents, they only amount to about 10 percent of Egypt’s overall population. Christians have been targeted largely because they view Christians as wealthy.

Middle East

Lebanese media reports Monday evening said that Israeli aircraft had struck military assets belonging to the Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah near the border with Syria. Foreign media have reported several Israeli strikes to enforce its policy of not allowing Hezbollah to import strategic weapons from the arsenal of Syria’s Assad regime. In related news, a senior Israeli security official told reporters this week that the military and intelligence apparatus of the Jewish State is deeply involved in monitoring the situation in Syria and Lebanon and is prepared for any attack Hezbollah or its allies might launch at Israel.

Mortar shells exploded in the Golan Heights following the Israeli PM’s visit to an Israeli Defense Forces field hospital treating Syrian civilians. The violence in the region shows the “true face of Iran,” Netanyahu said. The Israeli dignitaries were visiting a field hospital where IDF medics and soldiers risk their lives to treat wounded Syrians caught in the brutal fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels. “Iran is arming those who are carrying out the slaughter. This is the true face of Iran.”

Ukraine

Central Kiev was calm Sunday morning as protesters milled about, cleaning, congratulating and shaking their heads in wonderment over the dizzying events of the past day, when Ukraine’s president was forced to flee, his rival freed and a revolution was won. The opposition took control of the presidential palace Saturday on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital as the president flew to his base in the east and scores of his top party leaders resigned Saturday a day after a deal intending to stop the violence was reached. The protesters took over key sections of Kiev, including the entire government district of the capital. Protesters say they believe the ruling party intends to initiate a split of Ukraine. On Monday, the parliament in Kiev set new elections for May, well ahead of the December ones that Yanukovych had agreed to, and it reached out to Europe and the West for financial assistance for its ailing economy.

With questions lingering over the direction of the Ukraine even as it starts rebuilding its government, the nation’s acting interior minister on Monday issued an arrest warrant mass murder by former President Viktor Yanukovych, last seen in the pro-Russian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. Meanwhile, Russian military ships have arrived on Ukraine’s Crimean coast in what some are claiming could be the early signs of a Russian coup in the hotly disputed autonomous region of the Crimea. The White House warned Russia to keep its troops out of Ukraine, amid fears that Moscow may step in with military force following the overthrow of the President, its ally.

Egypt

Egypt’s military-backed government has resigned. Hazem el-Beblawi’s military-backed government was sworn in on July 16, less than two weeks after Field Marsh Abdel-Fettah el-Sissi, the defense minister, ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi after a year in office. The government’s resignation came amid a host of strikes, including one by public transport workers and garbage collectors. An acute shortage of cooking gas has also been making front-page news the past few days. It was not immediately clear whether el-Beblawi will stay at the helm of a new government or will step aside for a new prime minister.

Iran

At least 80 people and perhaps as many as 95 have been executed in Iran already this year, a surge in the use of the death penalty that has dampened hopes for human rights reforms under President Hassan Rouhani, the United Nations said on Friday… ‘There were some encouraging signs last year where political prisoners were released … But it appears at least in the past seven weeks that in fact executions have been scaled up,’ U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing. ‘We regret that the new government has not changed its approach to the death penalty and continues to impose capital punishment for a wide range of offences. We urge the government to immediately halt executions and to institute a moratorium.’ Last year Iran executed between 500 and 625 people, including at least 28 women and two juveniles,

Pakistan

A bomb planted at a busy bus terminal near a police station in northwest Pakistan killed 14 people and wounding 15 near the country’s lawless tribal region. The explosion Sunday targeted passengers in a motorized rickshaw and those on a minibus in Kohat, some 100 miles west of the capital, Islamabad. Kohat has seen past attacks by local Taliban fighters and allied sectarian groups against its minority Shiite population. Local Taliban militants have killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis in a bloody war against the state in a bid to overthrow the government and enforce their own harsh brand of Islamic Shariah law.

Central African Republic

Churches in Central African Republic are caring for thousands of Muslims who have been trapped in a cycle of revenge attacks, perpetrated by a pro-Christian militia. Since December, Anti-Balaka militias have been emptying Muslim quarters and avenging earlier attacks by the Seleka, an Islamist militia. The Seleka rampaged through the country in early 2013, terrorizing Christians and ransacking churches, hospitals and shops. Now that the Muslim president Michel Djotodia has stepped down, Seleka is being forced to withdraw from its strongholds, as the center of power shifts, amid a mass exodus and displacement of Muslims. One reason Muslims are able to take shelter in churches is because the country’s religious leaders believe this is a nonreligious conflict, said the Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbango, president of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches in the Central African Republic.

Mexico

The head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel who was the world’s most powerful drug lord was captured overnight by U.S. and Mexican authorities at a condominium in Mazatlan, Mexico, ending a bloody decades-long career that terrorized swaths of the country. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was taken alive overnight by Mexican marines in the beach resort town. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Marshals Service were “heavily involved” in the capture. Guzman faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. and is on the DEA’s most-wanted list. An innovator in the underworld, Guzmán went about building illegal businesses that stretched across borders, growing in size, scale and reach to the point they threatened the state itself and made many parts of Mexico ungovernable. His drug empire stretches throughout North America and reaches as far away as Europe and Australia. His arrest Saturday leaves questions about what comes next, especially since the takedown of cartel kingpins in recent years has led to violence as underlings fight over the spoils.

Venezuela

Venezuelans on both sides of the nation’s political divide took to the streets on Saturday after nearly two weeks of mass protests that have President Nicolas Maduro scrambling to reassert his leadership of this economically stricken country. In Caracas, tens of thousands of opponents of President Nicolas Maduro filled several city blocks in their biggest rally to date against Maduro’s 10-month-old government. Across town, a crowd of government backers gathered in T-shirts and baseball caps, forming a sea of red — the color of Maduro’s Socialist party. The dueling protests capped a violent week in which a government crackdown jailed hard-line opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and dozens of other activists. The violence also left at least nine people dead on both sides and injured at least 100 others. Residents awoke Monday morning to find barricades of pipes, trash and branches burning in the streets and the sound of banging of pots and pans in support of the protest movement against Maduro.

China

China banned outdoor school sports and cookouts as it grappled with a fourth straight day of thick, choking smog, a pollution problem that a recent report says makes Beijing “barely suitable” for living. The city has been spraying streets with water to reduce dust in a severe smog attack that has made the Chinese capital’s pollution 10 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization. Other areas in north and central China have been blighted by smog for days. The reliance on cheap high-sulfur coal as China’s chief energy source and a lack of clean-coal technology are blamed for the extraordinary pollution plaguing China cities.

Weather

After a brief tease of spring, the polar vortex returns this week with a punishing blast of frigid air for much of the central and eastern USA. Record cold temperatures are possible for the High Plains, Upper Midwest and Great Lakes later this week. These areas will endure several days of high temperatures only in the teens and single digits. Some locations will see temperatures that are as much as 40 degrees below average by midweek. Tuesday morning, temperatures had dropped to -16F in northern Minnesota and is forecast to hit -3F in Chicago by Wednesday morning.

Winter Storm Seneca wound down over the Midwest Friday, casting a final round of heavy snow and vicious winds across the area. At least two deaths have occurred – one on icy roads in Minnesota and one in Minnestoa. More than 1,000 flights were canceled Friday. The storm dumped more than a foot of snow in some places in Michigan. Schools closed Friday in the state’s three largest districts: Anoka-Hennepin, Minneapolis and St. Paul. The 55.5 inches total accumulation so far this year in the Twin Cities is 16.2 inches above normal. Blowing snow caused whiteout conditions Friday in western Michigan, leading to numerous crashes on the roads, while strong winds caused scattered power outages and contributed to shutting down the Mackinac Bridge. In Muskegon County, whiteout conditions forced motorists to abandon their vehicles.

Nearly 90 percent of the Great Lakes has been covered in ice thanks to this year’s bitterly cold winter, a number that’s up dramatically from last year’s ice cover maximum of 38.4 percent and way up from 2012’s cover, which reached a maximum of just 12.9 percent. But in the Arctic, ice amounts have followed the opposite trajectory as this winter has brought record low amounts of sea ice, down slightly from last year. Much warmer-than-normal Arctic temperatures are believed to be the main cause, as temperatures during the first half of February ranged from 7.2 to 14.4°F above average across the polar region.

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