Signs of the Times (5/30/14)

Okla. Governor Signs Pro-Life Bill that Closed Abortion Clinics in Texas

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday signed the bill that requires abortion clinics to have a physician with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital present when an abortion is done on an unborn baby. When the state of Texas clamped down on abortion clinics that could not follow basic health and safety standards and failed to ensure abortion practitioners had admitting privileges at local hospitals in cases where women are injured in botched abortions, as many as 20 Texas abortion clinics closed or stopped doing abortions because they couldn’t comply. Based on Americans United for Life model legislation found in the Women’s Protection Project, the bill is designed to protect women from “house of horrors” clinics such as the clinic in which convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell operated.

United Methodist Church May Split Over Homosexuality Differences

A divide may be imminent for the United Methodist Church, as the denomination cannot reconcile differences over homosexuality. Religion News Service reports 80 UMC pastors believe that the split cannot be avoided, even by agreeing to disagree on gay matters. “We can no longer talk about schism as something that might happen in the future. Schism has already taken place in our connection,” Rev. Maxie Dunnam, former president of Asbury Theological Seminary said. According to the current church laws, UMC pastors cannot officiate same-sex weddings, nor can gay pastors be ordained. The church is the second-largest Protestant denomination, with 11.8 million members.

California Bill ‘Modernizes’ Birth Certificates for Gay Parents

A California bill that allows gay parents to identify as “parent” instead of “mother” or “father” on birth certificates was passed by the state assembly. The bill seeks to adhere to the shifting definition of family in society. The bill also allows multiple people to be listed as parents on birth certificates, with no limit given. “The definition of a family needs to be more flexible, and same-sex parents should not be discriminated against when filling out a birth certificate,” said Democrat Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez. Brad Dacus, religious liberty attorney for Pacific Justice Institute said, “It creates greater confusion with regards to the identity of a mother and a father and the role that they play.” The bill will “prove, undoubtedly, to be a huge disservice to the healthy development of children,” he continued.

  • The ‘shifting definition of family’ is both unnatural and ungodly. Gay parents? Physically impossible without laboratory intervention. No mother and father? An abomination to both evolution and creation.

Obama Blames Founding Fathers for Limiting His Powers

President Obama recently accused the nation’s Founding Fathers of establishing a flawed system of government. He used it as an excuse to circumvent Congress and ignore the constitutional system of checks and balances to advance his leftist agenda, reports Liberty Counsel. As reported by the Washington Times, Obama was addressing a group of wealthy Democrat donors when he told them that the logjam in Congress is because of an unfair apportionment of power in our government.   “Obviously, the nature of the Senate means that California has the same number of Senate seats as Wyoming. That puts us [Democrats] at a disadvantage,” Mr. Obama said. “So there are some structural reasons why, despite the fact that Republican ideas are largely rejected by the public, it’s still hard for us to break through,” Mr. Obama said.

Obama Administration Ordered IRS to Target Tea Party

For over a year, the Obama Administration’s IRS has been obstructing the truth. Now we know what they were hiding, reports the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ). New bombshell emails reveal that within 24 hours of the IRS flagging the first conservative group in 2010, top IRS officials in Washington ordered the targeting. Officials in Washington, not Cincinnati, instructed field offices to send the first “Tea Party” cases to Washington and “hold the rest.” And that’s what they did. Then, for years, IRS officials in Washington, including the Chief Counsel’s office, developed unconstitutionally intrusive demands, targeting conservative and pro-life Americans. An ACLJ lawsuit on behalf of 41 targeted conservative groups from 22 states is leading the charge for justice.

VA CEO Plans Sweeping Changes

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apologized to all veterans and the nation for scandal involving the systemic delay of health care to veterans at VA hospitals across the country. He also vowed to fire leaders at a Phoenix VA hospital where a VA inspector general investigation showed that 1,700 veterans were removed from any official list and kept waiting for appointments, some for up to six months or longer. He said he took full responsibility for the scandal, but did not indicate he would step down as called up to do by dozens of lawmakers from both parties and the American Legion, the nation’s largest veteran service group. Shinseki said he was shocked by the widespread evidence, admitted that he failed to see this happening and said he would provide no bonuses to any medical directors in the 150-hospital system this year. Shinseki resigned as on Friday after meeting face-to-face with President Obama.

VA Flush with Medical-Care Funds

The Obama administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expects to have more money for medical care than it can spend for the fifth fiscal year in a row, The Daily Caller reports. Despite claims that VA needs more funding, the scandal-plagued department actually has a surplus in medical-care funding. VA expects to carry over $450 million in medical-care funding from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2015. The VA received its full requested medical care appropriation of $54.6 billion this fiscal year, which is more than $10 billion more than it received four years ago. The VA carried over $1.449 billion in medical-care funding from fiscal year 2010 to 2011, $1.163 billion from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012, $637 million from fiscal year 2012 to 2013, and $543 million from fiscal year 2013 to 2014.

  • The federal government’s ongoing mantra is that more funds will solve any problem, but evidence clearly shows this is not the case as it wastes a large proportion of the funds it receives

Scores of Undocumented Migrants dropped off in Arizona

Scores of undocumented immigrants from Central America have been released at Greyhound Lines Inc. bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix over the past several days after they were flown to Arizona from south Texas. a spokesman for the Border Patrol in Tucson, confirmed that over the weekend federal officials flew about 400 migrants apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to Tucson to be processed. He said the migrants were flown to Arizona because the Border Patrol does not have enough manpower to handle a surge in illegal immigrants in south Texas. Border enforcement groups are concerned that the migrants will now disappear into the U.S., spurring even more to come illegally. Humanitarian groups are concerned that immigration officials are dropping migrants off at bus stations to fend for themselves without food, water and basic necessities.

Many Employees Hit with Higher Health Care Premiums

More employees are getting hit with higher health insurance premiums and co-payments, and many don’t have the money to cover unexpected medical expenses, a new report finds. More than half of companies (56%) increased employees’ share of health care premiums or co-payments for doctors’ visits in 2013, and 59% of employers say they intend to do the same in 2014, according to the annual Aflac WorkForces Report. Many employees are in a “fragile financial situation” and couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket expenses of many medical situations, with many switching to high-deductible plans.

Custom-Drug Makers Come Under Increased Scrutiny

Complex, custom-made medications produced in factory-like pharmacies are distributed to hospitals across the country with almost no state or federal oversight — a loophole dramatized by a deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak linked to tainted steroids from one of those facilities in New England. The nation learned of these shadow drug-makers when an injection formulated at Massachusetts’ New England Compounding Center was linked to the meningitis outbreak that ultimately was associated with the deaths of 64 people and illness among 750 others. The outbreak underscored lax regulation of drug-compounding facilities, which manufacture unique combinations of medicines for specific conditions and illnesses. There is no accurate count of how many of these facilities exist in the U.S. because they are totally unregulated. A federal law enacted in November as a response to the meningitis outbreak created voluntary regulations for these facilities for the first time, but it remains unclear how many facilities will opt in. The FDA began cracking down on these facilities, inspecting 42 of the biggest operations in the country in 2013.

Almost Half of American Adults Hacked in last Year

Hackers have exposed the personal information of 110 million Americans — roughly half of the nation’s adults — in the last 12 months alone. That massive number, tallied for CNNMoney by Ponemon Institute researchers, is made even more mind-boggling by the amount of hacked accounts: up to 432 million. The exact number of exposed accounts is hard to pin down, because some companies — such as AO and eBay — aren’t fully transparent about the details of their cyber breaches. But that’s the best estimate available with the data tracked by the Identity Theft Resource Center and CNNMoney’s review of corporate disclosures. The damage is real. Each record typically includes personal information, such as your name, debit or credit card, email, phone number, birthday, password, security questions and physical address. Cyberattacks are becoming more and more numerous.

Tech Workers Mostly White Males

Silicon Valley. It’s where the women, and the minorities, aren’t. Hit any tech event from South of Market to Santa Clara, and you see the same cast of characters. Scores of young white men in T-shirts and hoodies. A fair number of Asians. A few Hispanics. Rarely blacks. And a smattering of women. Google released its diversity numbers Wednesday after it (and most other tech firms) have spent years without disclosing such figures. Just 1% of its tech staff are black. Two percent are Hispanic. The one well-represented minority group is Asians, who make up 34% of the company’s tech workers. Eighty-three percent of Google’s tech workers internationally are male. For non-tech jobs, the number is 52%.

  • The high-tech world was supposed to be egalitarian but has failed to live up to the much-hyped promise

Economic News

The U.S. economy shrank in the first quarter for the first time in three years as businesses increased inventories more slowly than initially believed and bad weather hampered activity. The nation’s gross domestic product in the first three months of 2014 fell at a 1% annual rate. The last time the economy contracted was in the first quarter of 2011. Non-residential construction plunged 7.5%. State and local government spending fell 1.8%. On the positive side, consumer spending rose 3.1%.

U.S. consumers cut back on spending in April for the first time in a year. The Commerce Department says consumer spending fell 0.1% in April, reflecting reductions in purchases of durable goods such as autos and in services such as heating bills. The drop was the first in 12 months, but it followed a 1% surge in spending in March, which had been the biggest increase in more than four years. Income rose 0.3% in April after a 0.5% March gain.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to a strengthening labor market. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 300,000 for the week ended May 24, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 17,000 to 2.63 million in the week ended May 17, the lowest level since November 2007.

U.S. home prices continued to rise in the first quarter of 2014, according to a housing report issued Tuesday. For the quarter, home prices across the country rose 10.3% on an annual basis, the S&P/Case-Shiller report said. That was, however, a slower gain than the previous two quarters, when prices rose more than 11% each.

Medicare paid out $6.7 billion in 2010 for health care visits that were improperly coded or lacked documentation, a report released Thursday found. That’s 21% of Medicare’s total budget for diagnostic and assessment visits, according to the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general. They found that 42% of diagnostic and assessment claims were improperly coded and 19% were improperly documented.

  • The inefficiency of the bloated federal government is enormous and out of control

Persecution Watch

Even after 21 years of independence, Christians in the small nation of Eritrea face tremendous suffering and persecution. According to Christian Today more than 1,000 Christians are imprisoned because of their faith. Most are behind bars because they are members of underground churches. Release Eritrea, a human rights organization launched in response to the gross religious rights abuse in the country that strategically borders the Red Sea, reports that some Christian leaders have been in prison ranging from three to ten years. A former Italian colony on the Horn of Africa, the militarized nation of Eritrea is split between Christian Tigrinyans and a number of Muslim tribes.

France

Police in northern France moved in Wednesday on makeshift migrant camps near the port of Calais, prompting a standoff with the defiant residents — many of whom have fled conflicts in Syria, Sudan and Eritrea. Hundreds of migrants are gathered in the ramshackle camps, some seeking to claim asylum in France and others hoping to find a way to reach British soil. Police asked the migrants to move to an undisclosed location, but that the migrants were refusing. In the meantime, authorities have asked the migrants to shower and decontaminate their clothes, amid concern over an outbreak of the contagious skin condition scabies. The migrants have also refused to do that because of concerns their tattered tents will be gone when they returned. Migrants were given scabies medication Tuesday night but didn’t understand what it was for.

Ukraine

A battle between pro-Russia separatists and government forces at Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine has claimed 40 lives, authorities said Tuesday, in what is the deadliest outbreak of violence yet in the flashpoint city. Armed men, believed to be pro-Russian rebels, stormed and set fire to a major ice hockey stadium in the eastern city of Donetsk Tuesday and border guards reported battles with insurgent trying to bring weapons into Ukraine from Russia. The Druzhba arena, home to the Donbass club, had been earmarked to host several games during the 2015 world championships. The attacks were the latest in an upsurge in fighting as Ukrainian anti-terrorist troops mount a major campaign against rebels in the wake of the weekend election of a new Ukrainian president, candy magnate Petro Poroshenko, who has vowed to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis.

A Ukrainian general and 13 servicemen were killed Thursday when pro-Russian rebels shot down a military helicopter near Slovyansk. However, U.S. defense officials say that Russia has pulled a large number of forces away from the Ukraine border, a withdrawal that the U.S. has been demanding for weeks and a move that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called “promising.” Hagel told The Washington Post that approximately seven Russian battalions remain of those that were deployed to the east and south of Ukraine, amounting to a couple of thousand troops.

Syria

A truck is loaded with munitions, then driven up a hillside in northern Syria. Moments later, there is a massive blast followed by cries of “Allahu Akbar,” or God is great in Arabic, as well as the rattling of gunfire. Suicide bombings like this are not new in war-torn Syria. But what could make this one different is the man who radical Islamists say played a part in pulling it off. An American. The Sunday attack was executed in coordination with the al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda-linked organization. One video was posted on YouTube, with the title “the American martyrdom from al-Nusra Front,” which identifies the suicide bomber as American Abu Hurayra Al-Amriki who grew up in Florida.

Afghanistan

President Obama announced on Tuesday that he planned to withdraw the last American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, declaring that it was “time to turn the page on a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Under a new timetable outlined by Obama, the 32,000 American troops now in Afghanistan would be reduced to 9,800 after this year. That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015, and by the end of 2016, there would be only a vestigial force to protect the embassy in Kabul and to help the Afghans with military purchases and other security matters. At the height of American involvement, in 2011, the United States had 101,000 troops in the country. Mr. Obama said the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan would free up resources to confront an emerging terrorist threat stretching from the Middle East to Africa.

Iran

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the era of negotiation of Tehran’s nuclear program has ended and that those who wanted to deal with America – which he said must be destroyed – are guilty of treason. ‘Those [Iranians] who want to promote negotiations and surrender to the oppressors and blame the Islamic Republic as a warmonger in reality commit treason,’ he said Sunday during a public address to members of parliament. “’Logic and reason command that Iran, in order to pass through a region full of pirates, needs to arm itself and must have the capability to defend itself. Battle and jihad are endless because evil and its front continue to exist. … This battle will only end when society can get rid of the oppressors’ front with America at the head of it.”

The Revolutionary Court in Tehran has sentenced eight Facebook users to a total of 123 years in prison on charges of ‘propaganda against the state’ and ‘insulting the Supreme Leader.’ In addition, the individuals were also charged with ‘assembly and collusion against national security,’ ‘blasphemy,’ ‘creating public anxiety,’ and ‘spreading falsehoods.’ The ruling by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh, which is harsher than what the law allows, is clearly intended to spread fear among Internet users in Iran, and dissuade Iranians from stepping outside strict state controls on cyberspace.

Egypt

Egypt’s presidential election is expected to end Wednesday night following three days of scrambling by authorities to boost voter turnout amid what appears to be little enthusiasm for the ballot box. An extension of the election to a third day was announced late Tuesday by the nation’s election commission. The decision seeks to encourage people to head to the polls and underscores authorities’ apparent concerns that weak voter participation could undermine the legitimacy of the election, which is expected to catapult former military chief Abdel al-Fattah al-Sisi to the presidency. “People are actually bored,” said Nadine Sika, an assistant professor of political science at the American University in Cairo. “Everyone knows the final result so there’s no use in just going and casting the vote.” Exit polls suggest el-Sisi won 95.3% of the vote, while opponent Hamdeen Sabahy garnered only 4.7%.

Libya

In the three years since the uprising that overthrew long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s central government has failed to secure its oil ports, pipelines and fields, disrupting its primary revenue source. The battle for oil wealth in the increasingly lawless land reflects the turmoil that wracks the country in these post-revolutionary times. In fact, the State Department recommended Tuesday that Americans leave Libya immediately, saying the security situation in Libya “remains unpredictable and unstable” with crime levels high in many parts of the country.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s military knows where the more than 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram are but has ruled out using force to rescue them. Most officials think any raid to rescue them would be fraught with danger and probably not worth the risk that the girls would be killed by their captors – an Islamist group that has shown extreme ruthlessness in killing civilians. Since the girls were captured, at least 470 civilians have been killed by Boko Haram, which says it is fighting to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria.

Wildfires

A massive wildfire in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula had grown rapidly to more than 181,000 acres, but there was finally some good news Tuesday – welcomed rain fell, instead of the dry, 30-mph wind gusts of past days. The wildfire’s growth was slowed and by Friday had only grown to 193,243 acres (about 300 square miles) and was 46% contained.

The Slide fire in Arizona has burned more than 32 square miles in northern Arizona between Flagstaff and Sedona. The fire was 75% contained as of Friday morning, having consumed over 21,217 acres. No structures have burned and no injuries have been reported. Authorities are now investigating who started the human-caused wildfire that shut down the popular tourist area over Memorial Day weekend. About 300 evacuees have been allowed to return home.

Another wildfire in the remote mountains of southeast Arizona has burned over 49,000 areas (about 77 square miles) with no reported containment as of yet. Of the eight large wildfires (over 100 acres) in the fifty states, five of them are burning in drought-stricken Arizona.

Weather

Up to half of the nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables are grown in California’s Central Valley, one of the planet’s most fertile growing regions, between Los Angeles and Sacramento. Now, for the first time this century, the entire state is in severe to exceptional drought. The San Joaquin River runs through the heart of this arid growing region and in a normal year would flow with fresh snow melt from the Sierra. But there’s little snow in the mountains, and little water in the river. Many farms are in uncharted territory and on the verge of catastrophe. The consequences are staggering near towns like Mendota. Dried-up fields blow dust into the sky. River beds and canals, once full of water, are now full of dead weeds and rattlesnakes. Fruit orchards along Interstate 5 look like burned piles of firewood. Workers who used to make a living picking fruit and working machinery now stand in government supported food lines to feed their families. No water means no jobs. Unemployment in the area is running around 40%.

Nine people were hurt and one sustained critical injuries when a tornado roared through a camp near Watford City, North Dakota, Monday night, destroying at least 15 trailers where oil workers had been living. The camp is about five miles south of Watford City, located in western North Dakota. Thirty miles to the northwest is the town of Williston, the epicenter of the state’s oil boom.

A slow-moving storm system drenched parts of the Plains states during the week of May 21-27, bringing relief from the extreme to exceptional drought that has gripped much of the region. Several cities saw at least as much rain during that one-week period than they had in the first 20 weeks of 2014, from Roswell, New Mexico to San Angelo, Texas Several rounds of strong storms triggered deadly flash flooding that washed caskets away from their graves in southern Louisiana, wiped out rainfall deficits in a single day for southeast Texas and even spawned a tornado Wednesday which damaged property around the Marathon Oil refinery in Garyville, Louisiana.

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