Signs of the Times (3/23/14)

Federal judge: Ariz., Kansas can Require Voters to Prove Citizenship

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Arizona can require residents to prove they are U.S. citizens in order to register to vote — a controversial change state officials said they’ll implement immediately. The ruling applies to prospective voters using the federal voter-registration form in both Arizona and Kansas. The states joined to challenge a decision by the Federal Elections Assistance Commission that blocked the states from requiring citizenship documents in order to register to vote. The case was filed in Kansas, and argued in February before U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren in Topeka. His ruling clears the way for the states to add their own requirements to the federal form. The ruling is a victory for state’s rights, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said, and eliminates the need for a “two-track” voting system for state and federal registration forms, which had different requirements related to proving citizenship.

Federal Judge Strikes Down Michigan’s Gay Marriage Ban

A federal judge on Friday ruled that Michigan’s prohibition on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution, ordering the state to stop enforcing the ban. Michigan is the latest state in which federal judges have struck down state constitutional bans on gay marriage. Similar rulings recently have been issued in Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Utah, though in those cases judges have put off enforcement of the decisions until higher courts can weigh in. Friday’s decision is different in that it opens the door for same-sex couples to get marriage licenses in Michigan right away.

  • Gay marriage will become more and more prevalent as end-time morality continues to decline just as the Bible prophesizes (2Timothy 3:1-5)

Legal Victory for Conservative Christian Professor

A jury Thursday found that the University of North Carolina-Wilmington retaliated unconstitutionally against one of its conservative, outspoken, Christian professors. The criminology professor, who was an avowed atheist when hired, became a Christian in 2000. His conversion impacted his view on political and social issues, topics which he addressed frequently in opinion columns. Consequently, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, Adams was subjected to “intrusive investigations, baseless accusations, and a denial of promotion to full professor” because the university often disagreed with his views – despite an award-winning record of teaching, research, and service, and scholarly output surpassing that of almost all of his colleagues. The school’s actions led to a lawsuit on Adam’s behalf.

Obama to Hispanics: ‘Immigration People’ Won’t Deport Relatives If You Enroll in Obamacare

President Barack Obama is putting on a full-court press during March Madness to push Obamacare before the March 31 deadline for 2014, and on Tuesday he went on a Spanish-language sports talk radio show to tell Hispanics that the “immigration people” will not deport their family members who may be illegal immigrants if legal Hispanics sign up for Obamacare. The White House has been emphasizing this point in recent weeks because it believes some Hispanics are not signing up for Obamacare because they are afraid that family members who are in the United States illegally will then get deported if they reveal that information in the application forms. Obama went on Univision Deportes, a Spanish-language sports radio show, and said that people “should not hold back just because they’re in a mixed-family status,” saying, “You know, you will qualify, you know, regardless of what your family’s status is.”

Another Glitch Discovered on HealthCare.gov

A newly discovered glitch in the main ObamaCare website reportedly is giving thousands of people the wrong information about whether they qualify for premium subsidies. The Philadelphia Inquirer discovered the glitch while entering hypothetical incomes into the calculator on HealthCare.gov. The newspaper found that the calculator is using the wrong year’s poverty guidelines — a simple mistake that, for months, has resulted in would-be enrollees getting inaccurate guidance. It’s unclear how many people have been affected, but the mistake raises the possibility that thousands are giving up the hunt for insurance after being told, inaccurately, that they don’t qualify for government aid.

Nation’s Top Cancer Hospitals Not Covered under Obamacare

Cancer is already enough of a killer without an assist from the government. Yet, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, some of the nation’s premier cancer hospitals are off-limits to patients. An Associated Press survey found examples coast to coast. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is excluded by five out of eight insurers in Washington State’s insurance exchange. MD Anderson Cancer Center says it’s in less than half of the plans in the Houston area. Memorial Sloan-Kettering is included by just two of nine insurers in New York City. In all, only four of 19 nationally recognized comprehensive cancer centers that responded to AP’s survey said patients have access through all the insurance companies in their state exchange.

Growing Use of Drones Poised to Transform Agriculture

Drones are quickly moving from the battlefield to the farmer’s field — on the verge of helping growers oversee millions of acres throughout rural America and saving them big money in the process. That’s because agriculture operations span large distances and are mostly free of privacy and safety concerns that have dogged the use of these aerial high-fliers in more heavily populated areas. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the trade group that represents producers and users of drones and other robotic equipment, predicts that 80% of the commercial market for drones will eventually be for agricultural uses. Farmers are going to be able to see things and monitor their crops in ways they never have before. In the next 10 years almost every farm will be using it, the trade group predicts.

Facing Drought, California Farmers Protest

Thousands of farmers in drought-stricken California are rallying this week in opposition to regulations that have frozen water supplies across the state. At issue is a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last week that upheld federal guidelines limiting water deliveries from the northern part of the state to the southern part of the state — to protect an endangered fish called the Delta smelt. The ruling went against a lower-court ruling that overturned the 2008 guidelines from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Environmentalists fought to preserve those guidelines, but farmers say they’re preventing vital water supplies from reaching the areas that need it most. “I’m looking at tens of thousands of people being out of work,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said. “We’re probably going to have upwards of five, six, seven hundred thousand acres of farm ground that’s going to be out of production.” As a result of the drought and water restrictions, experts believe retail food prices could jump as much as 3.5 percent this year.

State Pensions in Dire Straits

Three years after a wave of pension overhauls swept across America, many states find themselves still hemmed-in by ballooning retiree costs and budget-sucking liabilities, setting the table for more battles between states and public workers. More than 40 states have enacted some sort of pension changes since 2011, yet for all states in aggregate, the net pension liability increased 24%, from $998 million in 2011 to $1.2 trillion in 2012, the latest data available. A 2013 Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government report said some economists estimate both state and local pension liabilities to be as much as $4 trillion. These mounting bills expose many states’ history of counting on higher returns and not making required payments to pension funds, but also show that the overhauls to this point have not been enough.

Not making payments to the pension funds, or only paying a portion of what an actuary has recommended, is largely what got these debt-burdened states to where they are today. For some states it is, and has been, a painful reckoning. In Illinois, which has the lowest credit rating in the U.S, its $187 billion pension liability represents 318% of its revenues despite a range of overhauls. Connecticut’s $57 billion liability is at 243%, and Kentucky’s $41 billion liability is 211% relative to revenues. New Jersey’s pension system is still short by $52 billion, and Governor Christie, who successfully pushed through pension overhauls in 2011, is looking for another round of concessions from unions and public employees to rein in the soaring cost of retiree benefits.

Economic News

Thirty-eight percent of America’s private employers say they will lay off workers if Congress agrees to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, according to a new survey by the nation’s largest privately held staffing firm. Fifty-four percent of employers who are paying their workers the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour say they would reduce hiring, while 65 percent say they would raise prices on their goods and services to offset the bumps in pay.

A new study documents the bleak plight of Americans who have been unemployed for more than six months: Just 11 percent of them, on average, will ever regain steady full-time work. The findings by three Princeton University economists show the extent to which the long-term unemployed have been shunted to the sidelines of the U.S. economy since the Great Recession. The long-term unemployed are more than twice as likely” to stop looking for a job than to find one. They number 3.8 million, or 37 percent of all unemployed Americans.

Gasoline prices have risen steadily the past six weeks through March 18. There was an uptick in gas prices all but one of the past 38 days, and gas is now more expensive than at any point the past six months. In a number of states, the price of gas is now more than $3.75 per gallon, vs. $3.52 nationwide. In Hawaii, the price of gas is $4.17 per gallon.

Persecution Watch

The election last year of self-professed moderate President Hassan Rouhani has not brought Iran’s Christians any relief, according to a new United Nations report which finds the Islamic Republic’s Bible believers more persecuted than ever. The detailed report finds Iran has continued to imprison Christians for their faith and designated house churches and evangelical Christians as “threats to national security.” At least 49 Christians were among 307 religious minorities being held in Iranian jails as of January 2014, noted the UN, which also blasted the regime for its hostility to Jews.

At least 119 people were killed in attacks on three Christian villages in Kaduna state, Northern Nigeria; the villages were razed to the ground as hundreds of homes and some churches were set ablaze. The onslaught was staged by scores of ethnic Fulani Muslim herdsmen armed with guns and machetes. The official death toll stood at 119 on Sunday, but local sources suggested it could be as high as 200.  Only a handful of properties in Ugwar Sankwai and the other two targeted villages, Ungwar Gata and Chenshyi, were left standing.

Middle East

What some analysts are describing as the beginning of a historic sea change in the orientation of the Middle East away from the West and towards Russia picked up steam this week amidst reports that Egyptian army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, widely expected to be Egypt’s next President, is working to speed up completion of a massive deal to purchase Russian weapons and military equipment. The deal, which has been in negotiations for several months, reportedly includes some of Russia’s most advanced platforms, following moves by the Obama Administration to restrict the export of US equipment to Egypt. In related news, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov hinted to reporters on Wednesday that the Kremlin is considering moves to block US efforts to deal with Iran’s renegade nuclear program, in retaliation for sanctions Washington has put on some Russian officials after the Russian invasion of the Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Turkey shot down a Syrian fighter jet Sunday after the warplane strayed into its airspace, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. There was no immediate response to the claim from Syria, where a civil war periodically spills over across its neighbors’ borders.

Ukraine

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk signed the political elements of a trade pact with the European Union on Friday, even as Russian lawmakers finalized the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. The signature of the deal in Brussels, Belgium, signals Europe’s solidarity with Ukraine — and has additional symbolic force because it was the decision of ousted Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych in November to ditch it in favor of closer ties with Russia that triggered the protests that spiraled into the current crisis. In another sign of defiance, Russian President Vladimir Putin, flanked by the speakers of both houses of Parliament, signed a treaty Friday that finalized the accession of the Crimea region and its port city of Sevastopol to Russia.

Russia’s moves to annex Crimea, following a contested weekend referendum in the Black Sea peninsula, have turned a confrontation with Europe and the United States into the biggest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War. American and European sanctions rattled Russia’s economy on Friday, with Moscow’s stock indexes opening sharply lower, rating agencies threatening to reduce the country’s creditworthiness, and hints of trepidation coming from Russia’s tycoons as they concluded an annual conference here. Russian forces moved Saturday to consolidate control over Crimea. Six Russian Special Forces’ armored personnel carriers broke through the gates of Belbek Airbase and took completely control. One journalist was injured in the attack.

Egypt

Egyptian militants have intensified violence ahead of a presidential election to pick a replacement for jailed president Mohamed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood party has called the ouster “a murderous military coup d’etat.” Militants who seek an Egypt under strict Islamic law are saying the ouster of Morsi and arrests of his leading party members prove that only violence will achieve their aim, analysts say. The attacks are increasing in frequency, in intensity and in geographic spread. Outside the capital, terrorists have been concentrating most major attacks in the northern Sinai, an arid and mountainous land in eastern Egypt on the border with Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Tunisia

Islamist militants across North Africa have been fighting governments in Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Mali for not imposing harsh sharia law, launching terror attacks and even full blown military offensives against them. Tunisia is pushing back. The first to cast off a dictator and herald the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere, Tunisia has been dealing with political unrest and terrorism from those who hoped to take advantage of the uncertain times to establish a Muslim theocracy. But Tunisia seems intent on not letting go of the fledgling democracy that came out of its Jasmine Revolution, to date perhaps the most successful of the Arab Spring. The country has developed significant counterterrorism forces that have been given the means to fight back. And the government is infiltrating the once-sacrosanct haven of the mosque to root out imams accused of inciting violence.

Iraq

At least 51 people were killed and 78 more were wounded in attacks and clashes across Iraq Monday. Once again, the greater Baghdad area was the scene of multiple bombings, while Anbar province continued to suffer clashes between militants and security forces. Another wave of violence swept across Iraq on Friday, resulting in at least 38 deaths, police said. Most of the casualties occurred in Sunni towns and cities. The attacks came a day after the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad noted that hundreds of Iraqis, including women and children, have been killed or wounded in recent weeks “by terrorists who pursue their goals through the senseless slaughter of the innocent.”

  • Most of the violence is between the Shiite and Sunni sects as they vie for power, along with Islamic terrorists who want to impose stricter Sharia law

Afghanistan

Nine civilians died in a Taliban attack on a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital. The dead were a mix of Afghans and foreigners, children and adults. The incident began when four teenagers entered the Serena Hotel in central Kabul on Thursday and started shooting randomly. Afghan security forces killed the four gunmen, who police said were all under 18 and were “government opponents.” This is latest attack to claim the lives of foreigners in the Afghan capital. Earlier this month, gunmen shot and killed a Swedish journalist in broad daylight. In January, a bomb and gun attack by the Taliban on a restaurant in Kabul killed 21 people, most of them foreigners.

Turkey

Turkey blocked access to Twitter on Friday after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to “rip out the roots” of the social media network where links have proliferated to recordings that appear to incriminate the Turkish leader and other top officials in high-level corruption. Turkey in the past blocked access to YouTube, but it is the first ban on Twitter, which is hugely popular in the country and was instrumental in organizing flash protests against the government last year. Uproar over the recordings has damaged the government’s reputation ahead of local elections this month. A similar ban backfired in the Ukraine and actually resulted in increased usage and overthrow of the government. The same appears to be happening in Turkey after Twitter posted instructions on how users could change the Domain Name Settings, or DNS, on their PCs and mobile devices to disguise the fact that they were located in Turkey.

Guinea

An Ebola outbreak has killed at least 59 people in Guinea, UNICEF said, as the deadly hemorrhagic fever has quickly spread from southern communities in the West African nation. Health Minister Remy Lamah said Saturday initial test results confirm the presence of a viral hemorrhagic fever, which according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refers to a group of viruses that affect multiple organ systems in the body. “In Guinea, a country with a weak medical infrastructure, an outbreak like this can be devastating,” the UNICEF representative in Guinea, Dr. Mohamed Ag Ayoya, said in the statement. UNICEF has prepositioned supplies and stepped up communication on the ground to sensitize medical staff and local populations on how to avoid contracting the illness, Agoya added.

Venezuela

At least 31 people have died in Venezuela and 461 have been injured in violent clashes between opposition demonstrators and government forces that began last month, and are continuing on a daily basis. Another 1,854 people have been detained during the unrest. The weeks of protests across Venezuela mark the biggest threat President Nicolas Maduro has faced since his election last year. Demonstrators say they have taken to the streets to protest shortages of goods, high inflation and high crime.

Weather

Spring has officially arrived. However, sometimes the atmosphere doesn’t play along and provide instant relief from winter’s icy grip. Another chunk of cold air is charging south and east, spreading a widespread area of chilly temperatures through all states east of the Rockies this weekend except Florida. This will be reinforced by a second surge of cold air early in the upcoming week, which will succeed at invading Florida. Some locations are or will be 10 to 20 degrees below late-March averages. A powerful winter storm to develop just off the East Coast, bringing the potential for a nasty winter storm for parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

Rescue crews are searching for survivors after a huge mudslide came down on homes in Snohomish County in northwest Washington, killing at least three. At least eight people, including a six-month-old baby boy, were taken to a local hospital. Six homes were destroyed. The slide cut off the city of Darrington and dammed up the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, causing the water to pool behind the dam. The landslide completely covered State Route 530 near the town of Oso, about 55 miles north of Seattle. It was at least 135 feet wide and 180 feet deep. The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for Snohomish County through Sunday afternoon.

The central and eastern USA shivered through a colder-than-average winter, but most of the rest of the globe did not share in the chill, registering the eighth warmest overall winter on record. The winter was 1.03 degrees F warmer than average, the NCDC reported. Europe was very warm. Countries such as Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands each had one of their five warmest winters. In Austria, where weather data go back 247 years, the nation had its second-warmest winter on record. The USA was 1 degree cooler than average this winter and had its 34th-coldest winter on record. But while the West was warmer than average, the central and eastern US were much cooler than average.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: