Signs of the Times (5/12/14)

Atheists’ New Strategy to Try and Ban ‘Under God’ Fails

After adopting a new tactical strategy in an attempt to strike “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, atheist activists were dealt a stunning blow Friday when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected a family’s lawsuit claiming that the recitation violates secular students’ rights. “Today the court affirmed what should have been obvious — ‘God’ is not a dirty word,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative legal firm. “And it isn’t discriminatory either. The words ‘under God’ are a reminder to our children that government doesn’t give us our rights and it can’t take them away either.” The state’s highest court rejected the notion that atheist children are discriminated against when the words “under God” are uttered in public school classrooms, noting that the recitation is optional. The American Humanist Association, the secular advocacy group that filed the lawsuit, dismissed the ruling as a failure to protect atheist students’ rights.

Atheists Conspire to Undermine Court Prayer Ruling

This week’s Supreme Court ruling allowing sectarian prayers at public meetings dealt a body blow to atheist organizations. That was the assessment of David Silverman, president of American Atheists, speaking Tuesday (May 6) to a group of nonbelievers at Stanford University. He then described a scenario that may raise eyebrows among some atheists: working with religious groups to fight against the ruling. “That’s what we have to do, not only organize the atheists, but the Satanists, the Scientologists,” he said. In a conversation before his talk, he added Muslims, Jews and Hindus. “We as atheists have the responsibility to urge them and push them and get them in there to get their prayers” said at public meetings. That’s a change for a man who has famously described religion as a “poison.” And it is emblematic, observers say, of the change that may result from the majority opinion in Greece v. Galloway, which found that prayers citing “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross” are permissible before government business.

  • The end-times will see more cooperation between seemingly disparate groups in order to come against the One True God and the One and Only Savior of the world, inspired by Satan himself

Pope Demands ‘Legitimate Redistribution’ of Wealth

Pope Francis called Friday for governments to redistribute wealth to the poor in a new spirit of generosity to help curb the “economy of exclusion” that is taking hold today. Francis made the appeal during a speech to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of major U.N. agencies who met in Rome this week. Latin America’s first pope has frequently lashed out at the injustices of capitalism and the global economic system that excludes so much of humanity. On Friday, Francis called for the United Nations to promote a “worldwide ethical mobilization” of solidarity with the poor in a new spirit of generosity.

  • Saint Malachy’s prophesied ‘last Pope’ has shown close agreement with the positions taken by the New World Order folks in their goals of establishing a totalitarian one-world government

Lawmakers Raise Alarm at Growing Gov’t Power to Seize Property

Motel owner Russell Caswell wasn’t expecting to find himself at the center of a national controversy when FBI agents came knocking on his door. They said they wanted his Tewksbury, Mass., business – and the land it was on – because they suspected it was a hotbed for drug-dealing and prostitution. The agents, who were working with state and local authorities, told a disbelieving Caswell they had the right to take the property, valued at as much as $1.5 million, through a legal process known as civil forfeiture. Caswell fought back and the case turned into one of the nation’s most contentious civil forfeiture fights ever – and one that legal experts say sheds light on a little-known practice that, when abused, is tantamount to policing for profit. Civil forfeiture is when police and prosecutors seize property, cars or cash from someone they suspect of wrongdoing. It differs from criminal forfeiture cases, where prosecutors typically must prove a person is guilty or reach a settlement before freezing funds or selling property. In civil forfeiture, authorities don’t have to prove guilt, file charges or obtain a conviction before seizing private property. Critics say it is a process ripe for abuse, and one which leaves citizens little means of fighting back.

  • Between civil forfeiture and eminent domain, government has vastly expanded its takeover of private property to satisfy its own needs

Millions More Health Plans to be Canceled Due to Obamacare

According to some experts, up to 20 million private healthcare policies will be cancelled for failing to meet the Obamacare guidelines. Obamacare established minimum requirements for all healthcare plans offered by the insurance companies and it is estimated that up to 20 million existing polices still fail to meet those minimum requirements. A number of insurance company executives were summoned before the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week to be grilled on the 6 million previous cancellations. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) asked them whose fault was it for the cancellation notices that were sent out last year. Gardner’s website posted the following response: “The witnesses confirmed that these [previous] cancellation notices were sent out due to the president’s healthcare law. It was also disclosed that millions more Americans will see their plans canceled when the president’s healthcare law is fully enforced.”

Primary Care System Handling Obamacare Surge So Far

Despite dire predictions, the nation’s primary care system is handling the increased number of insured patients without major problems so far, according to interviews with community health centers, large physician practices and insurers nationwide. Five months into the biggest expansion of health coverage in 50 years — with about 13 million people enrolled in private insurance and Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — there are few reports of patients facing major delays getting care, say officials from more than two-dozen health centers and multi-group practices, as well as insurers and physician groups in nine big states. Some exceptions have surfaced, particularly in parts of Colorado, Kentucky and Washington state, which had some of the biggest gains in coverage. HealthPoint, a network of nine community health centers and six dental clinics southeast of Seattle, is turning away about 150 people a week although it had added two new facilities and expanded a third in anticipation of the surge. The centers have seen nearly 7,000 new patients this year — a 10% increase — most of them newly covered by Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor that expanded in Washington and 25 other states.

More Solar Energy Powering Corporate America

As solar costs plummet, U.S. corporate giants including Apple, Google and Wal-Mart are turning to the sun to power stores, data centers and other facilities. At a Wal-Mart store in Mountain View, Calif., on Friday, President Obama cited Wal-Mart’s commitment to double the number of solar energy projects at its stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers nationwide by 2020. Obama announced 300-plus other private and public efforts, including new solar panels on the White House, to boost energy efficiency and renewable power. Apple, for example, pledged to power all its facilities with green energy. The California-based company said its energy-intensive data centers already use 100% renewable power and so will the 2.8 million square-foot headquarters it’s building in Cupertino, which will feature a mammoth rooftop solar array. Google, which has made huge investments in solar projects, announced a $1 million prize to develop the next generation of power inverters to bring solar to more U.S. homes. Other companies such as Kohl’s, Staples and Whole Foods, have already committed to acquiring 100% of their power from renewable power either through on-site generation or energy credits.

Unpopular Bailouts Yield $52 Billion in Profit

Current accounting records show that taxpayers made a $51.8 billion profit on the $700 billion worth of unpopular federal bailouts in 2008 and 2009. About half of that profit came from the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two mortgage finance companies that the government took over in September 2008. The two firms’ payments back to Treasury has reached $213 billion, exceeding the combined $187.5 billion in government support by about $25 billion. The government also made a $22.7 billion profit on the bailout of AIG. The bailout of the nation’s banks cost the government $250.5 billion. But the sale of the stock the government got as part of the bailouts brought in a $22.3 billion profit. The government didn’t do as well with the rescue of automakers General Motors and Chrysler Group, or with the auto loan company GMAC, now known as Ally Financial (ALLY). Taxpayers came up $11.2 billion short when all those bailouts are added together.

Economic News

All of the major indices — the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq — closed firmly in positive territory Friday. The Dow’s close of 16,583 narrowly topped a prior record set on April 30 of 16,581. While the Dow eked out a win for the week, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq lost ground.

All-cash deals hit a record 43% of home sales during the first three months of 2014, according to RealtyTrac. That’s up from 19% a year earlier and is the highest rate recorded. The jump is due to two main factors: strict lending standards that make it difficult to get a mortgage and intense buyer competition. Even buyers who would ordinarily finance their purchases are making all-cash offers to appear more attractive to sellers.

More than a quarter of the 121 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 that reported research and development spending in the first quarter, including Merck, International Business Machines and Texas Instruments, spent less on Research and Development (R&D) than they did in the same year-ago period. These 33 companies cut their R&D budgets by 9% on average. It’s a continuation of a disturbing trend that showed up last year, when nearly 25% of companies cut their R&D budgets. Seeing so many large companies cutting their research spending at this point of the economic cycle is worrisome because it means innovation is lagging which will affect future sales.

Persecution Watch

The Benham brothers, whose HGTV reality show was canceled before it was ever broadcast, believe that LGBT activists are using bullying tactics to silence Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin. “There’s an agenda that wants to silence the beliefs that we have,” Jason Benham said during a Friday interview with CNN. His brother, David, agreed, adding, “They (HGTV) got bullied. There’s an agenda that’s out in America right now that demands silence, especially from men and women who profess Jesus Christ and hold to His standards.”

Ukraine

Locals in Ukraine’s predominantly Russian-speaking east went to the polls Sunday to vote in regional referendums on independence that have been called illegal and look set to further pit Russia against the West. Independent observers reported a number of irregularities at polling stations Sunday, with some people seen voting twice. Law and order at the polling stations in Donetsk was being provided by pro-independence “self-defense” militia due to lack of enthusiasm from local police. Ukrainian law does not stipulate for regional elections. Separatists insisted the poll was legal, citing a U.N. charter on local self-determination.

Pro-Russia insurgents claimed that voters in Donetsk and overwhelmingly supported secession on Sunday but Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called the voting a “criminal farce.” About 90% of voters in Ukraine’s sprawling industrial heartland backed their regions’ independence in the controversial referendums on Sunday. Moscow said the results of the vote should now be implemented without resorting to violence, and that it should be done in a “civilized way.” The European Union warned of new economic sanctions depending on how Moscow responds to the elections.

  • Sanctions have had little or no effect on Russia’s determination to annex portions of the Ukraine

Afghanistan

The Taliban unleashed a wave of attacks Monday across Afghanistan to mark the start of their spring offensive, storming a government building in the east, a police checkpoint in the south, the NATO base at Bagram and the international airport in Kabul. The attack on the government killed two police guards and five civilians. Attackers at the police checkpoint killed nine policemen. Rockets that hit the airport caused no damage. NATO officials said the rockets that hit the base caused minor damage. This year’s Taliban spring offensive comes at a sensitive time, against the backdrop of a key presidential election. Final results of the first round of voting, held April 5, are scheduled to be announced on Wednesday.

Iraq

Militants in Iraq launched an audacious attack on a military barracks in a remote area in the country’s north and killed 20 troops overnight, including some who had been bound and shot at close range, authorities said Sunday. The killings at the barracks in the village of Ayn al-Jahish outside the northern city of Mosul represent the latest blow to the government’s efforts to achieve stability in restive Sunni-dominated areas. The slain troops are in charge of protecting an oil pipeline that sends Iraqi crude oil to international markets and guarding a nearby highway. Attacks on this pipeline are common in that area near Mosul, a former insurgent stronghold located about 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Iraq has launched a large-scale military operation to regain control of the city of Falluja, held by anti-government fighters since December, the Defense Ministry said Friday. Soldiers and police officers have killed many fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and confiscated a large amount of weapons and several vehicles. On Friday, military shelling left 13 dead and 27 others wounded, health officials said. Mosques and houses were damaged. About 700,000 people live in Falluja, a Sunni city in Anbar province west of Baghdad. More than 300 people, most of whom are civilians, have been killed in Falluja since the beginning of the year.

Yemen

A suspected U.S. drone strike in southern Yemen killed six Al Qaeda militants on Monday, military and security officials said. The drone hit a car with Al Qaeda fighters in Marib province, in the Husoun al-Jalal area in Abieda Valley. Authorities were checking for the identities of the slain militants. Drone strikes have killed more than 12 suspected Al Qaeda militants in the same area of Marib province. The U.S. considers Yemen’s branch of Al Qaeda, also known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to be the most dangerous in the world. The group overran large swaths of territory in southern Yemen in 2011 but the military has pushed back and over the past few weeks. The army and security forces have stepped up an offensive to rout militants from their strongholds.

Nigeria

The Nigerian government was warned hours in advance that Boko Haram was preparing a raid on Chibok, but failed to prevent the kidnapping of more than 300 school girls last month, according to a report released Friday by Amnesty International. Audu Ogbeh, founder and chieftain of the opposition party All Progressives Congress, said “This is what everybody in Borno says, that it has been going on like this for the last year and a half,” Ogbeh said. “That intelligence is provided but the military doesn’t show up or just walks away.” Military reinforcements didn’t arrive until after the raid.

South Sudan

South Sudan’s President has reached a cease-fire deal with a rebel leader following five months of violence in the world’s youngest nation. The deal signed Friday in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa comes a week after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with President Salva Kiir. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.3 million displaced since clashes erupted in December between forces loyal to the two rivals. The parties signed an initial peace deal in January, but it fell apart days later. The violence started late last year after Kiir accused Machar of trying to oust him through a coup, a charge he denied. Since the attempted coup, violence spread rapidly, with reports of their forces conducting mass killings nationwide. The violence ran down ethnic lines — the Nuer tribe backs the rebel leader while the President hails from the Dinka tribe.

Vietnam

Vietnamese anger toward China is running at its highest level in years after Beijing deployed an oil rig in disputed waters as naval ships from both countries engage in a tense standoff near the rig off the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. The Wall Street Journal reported that even prior to the standoff, Vietnam has been beefing up its military by investing in advanced military capabilities, with a special focus on its navy. “Vietnam has ordered these [new capabilities] as a deterrent to China and to show, if push comes to shove, that they’d be able to give China a bloody nose,” said a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Venezuela

The Venezuelan government detained 243 protesters in a swift, predawn operation targeting four campsites set up at public squares around Caracas, the capital. Officials say the operation involved more than 900 members of the Venezuelan National Guard and police. But anti-government demonstrators who witnessed the operation complained about the way it was carried out. The protesters complained that the National Guard showed up and destroyed the campsite and came against the demonstrators in a” totally violent way.” Venezuelan Peace and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez said he had no option but to deploy security forces to ensure public safety. Clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces have left more than 40 people dead and around 800 injured since February. The protesters cites increased crime, shortages of essential goods, power blackouts and a dire economic situation.

Brazil

Brazil has surpassed the United States as the world’s No.1 consumer of crack cocaine, according to the Federal University of Sao Paulo. It shares borders with the world’s biggest cocaine-producing countries — Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Strong economic growth has meant more disposable income for everything from microwave ovens to drugs. Brazil is in the middle of a drug epidemic as it prepares to host the World Cup soccer tournament in 12 cities beginning in June. Officials have launched a string of initiatives to address the addiction with mixed results. Critics say the focus has been on cleaning up the streets rather than specifically addressing the causes of addiction or providing solutions for users.

Wildfires

A grass fire swept through Hutchinson County on Sunday, destroying at least 100 homes and forcing the evacuations of about 700 residents. Hutchinson County Emergency Management officials said no injuries have been reported. The Texas Department of Public Safety said the fire burned Monday near Fritch, a town of about 2,100 located 30 miles northeast of Amarillo. As of Monday morning, the fire was 75 percent contained. Highway 136 through Fritch was closed overnight due to blowing dust, smoke and soot.

Weather

More severe thunderstorms are forecast to rattle the central U.S. on Monday following a wild weather Sunday that included heavy snow in the Rockies and tornadoes in the Midwest. Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas and San Antonio are just a few of the cities in the path of severe thunderstorms on Monday and Monday night. Damaging wind gusts, large hail and tornadoes will all be possible with the storms that develop, especially during the afternoon and evening hours. Sunday, there were about 30 reports of tornadoes in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Indiana. Some of the worst damage was in Iowa and Nebraska.

It may be mid-May but that doesn’t mean that snow can’t be in the forecast. Winter Storm Zephyr is sweeping across the Western and Central U.S., dumping heavy snow on mountainous regions like the Rockies, Cascades and Tetons. Heavy snow from Winter Storm Zephyr led the Wyoming Department of Transportation to shut down a roughly 150-mile stretch of I-80 from Rawlings, Wyoming to Cheyenne, Wyoming Sunday. Additionally, the Wyoming DOT shutdown stretches of U.S. 30, U.S. 280 and Highway 210 across the state. As of early Monday morning, here are some notable snow totals from Winter Storm Zephyr: 43 inches estimated west-southwest of Encampment, Wyoming; 22 inches in Leadville, Colorado; 9 inches in Cedar City, Utah; Sunday was the heaviest calendar-day snow so late in the season in Cheyenne. The weight of this heavy, wet snow damaged many trees in Cedar City, Utah on Sunday.

Severe thunderstorms swept through the eastern third of the country on Friday and Saturday, producing a few isolated tornadoes, flash flooding and large hail. A confirmed tornado that was part of a supercell storm hit the Ray County town of Orrick, Missouri, on Saturday evening. The town of about 900 residents northeast of Kansas City suffered quite a bit of structural damage to 200 to 300 homes, including roofs blown off homes and power lines blown down. On Friday, strong wind gusts blew roofs off of houses and knocked out power in Indiana.

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