Signs of the Times (6/6/14)

Abortion Cartel Continues to Collapse

“The demand for abortion had dropped significantly in America so there is more competition for every abortion dollar. Planned Parenthood’s bloated organizations are collapsing under their own weight,” said Troy Newman of Operation Rescue. “But more importantly, Planned Parenthood is feeling the heat from new legislation that is forcing it to comply with new safety regulations and halting tax money that has freely flowed into its coffers for years. The downsizing of Planned Parenthood is one of many indicators that we are winning. Closed abortion facilities always translate into reduced abortion rates – and that means lives are being saved.”

Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette announced yesterday that it will be closing offices in Gresham and Clackamas, Oregon, and Salmon Creek, Washington. It also said that it closed the McMinnville, Oregon, office two months ago. This follows on the heels of an announcement by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland that it will shutter abortion facilities in Red Oak and Creston, Iowa, as of June 18. Those offices offered the abortion pill through a controversial process where an abortionist would interview women over an Internet video conferencing connection then would dispense abortion drugs by remotely releasing a drawer containing the pills. Women are never seen in person by a licensed physician and have no access to one at Planned Parenthood in the event of an emergency.

Missouri Principal Wows Graduates, Angers Atheists

A Missouri high school principal who garnered thunderous applause and a starring role in a viral video for a commencement speech in which he repeatedly invoked God in ways to dodge First Amendment objections has atheists seeing red. Lebanon High School Principal Kevin Lowery can be seen on a 3-minute YouTube clip reminding graduates that the nation’s motto of “In God We Trust” can be found on U.S. currency and in Francis Scott Key’s original version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Lowery also wryly noted during the May 23 commencement that even though “God is reflected in the very fabric” of the nation, it would be inappropriate to mention The Almighty at a secular ceremony. “So while it would not be politically correct for us to have an official prayer this evening, I would like for us to have a moment of silence in honor of tonight’s graduates,” Lowery told students. “Thank you. And just in case you’re interested, during my moment of silence, I gave thanks to God for these great students, their parents, their teachers and for this community.” Thunderous applause followed Lowery’s statement. But dozens of others commenting on the video blasted Lowery, including the American Atheists. The Freedom From Religion Foundation also voiced concerns on Lowery’s speech, characterizing it as a “serious constitutional violation.”

  • Since God is on our currency, in our nation’s motto and pledge of allegiance, and in our national song how can anyone seriously object to mentioning God in public ceremonies? Unconstitutional? Ridiculous.

VA Acting Chief says 18 Veterans Left off Waiting List Have Died

In the latest development in the mounting scandal surrounding the Department for Veterans Affairs, the acting head of the agency says that 18 of the 1,700 veterans kept off an official electronic appointment list have since died. Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said in a visit to Phoenix Thursday that he would ask the inspector general to see if there is any indication those deaths were related to long wait times. If so, they would reach out to those veterans’ families. Gibson’s remarks were the latest related to the scandal over long patient waits for care and falsified records covering up the delays at VA hospitals and clinics nationwide. More than 100,000 of America’s military veterans were victims of bogus waiting lists for medical appointments. Gibson has already placed mobile care units in Phoenix and more are on the way. Gibson’s announcement came as senior senators reached agreement Thursday on the framework for a bipartisan bill making it easier for veterans to get health care outside VA hospitals and clinics.

New EPA Carbon Regulations to Cost U.S. $500 Billion

An Energy Institute report provides clear evidence that, even with implementation features designed to keep compliance costs low in the recently proposed EPA rules regulating CO2 emissions, the cost will be nearly a half trillion dollars in total compliance expense. They estimate peak Gross Domestic Product losses of over $100 billion, hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, higher electricity costs for consumers and businesses, and more than $200 on average every year in lower disposable income for families already struggling with a weak economy. “Given the significant and sustained harm to the U.S economy coupled with the limited overall impact on worldwide greenhouse gas emissions that would result from implementing these regulations, serious questions must be raised and answered about the timing and scope of what EPA is pursuing,” the report notes.

Brewer to Obama: Stop Dumping Illegals in Ariz. Bus Stations

Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer urged President Barack Obama on Monday to end a policy that saw hundreds of migrants detained in Texas released at bus stations in Arizona because of overcrowded facilities. Brewer said she had not been notified of the operation, which took place over the Memorial Day weekend. She described the “unconscionable policy” as “another disturbing example of a deliberate failure to enforce border security policies and repair a broken immigration system.” she said in her letter, asking for details of what she called a “dangerous and unconscionable policy.”

Many Americans Stop Buying Online Due to Data Breaches

News of Internet security breaches at eBay, Target and other large companies appears to be having an effect on online habits. A USA TODAY survey finds that almost a quarter of Americans have at least temporarily stopped buying online because of security concerns. 56% said they had cut back on the number of Internet sites they used and were only going to large, well-known companies they were confident were safe. The poll found that users are also keeping a closer eye on their accounts, with 55% saying they had started checking banking, investment and credit card sites more often for signs that someone had hacked into their accounts.

GM Fires 15 over Botched Recall

The delayed recall by General Motors that led to the deaths of at least 13 people was due to both the misconduct of about 20 employees, as well as “a pattern of incompetence and neglect” throughout the company, according to an internal probe of the recall released Thursday. GM CEO Mary Barra announced that 15 employees have been dismissed from the company and five more have been disciplined in the wake of the three-month probe by former federal prosecutor Anton Valukas. GM (GM) admitted in February that its engineers first discovered the problem with the ignition switch as early as 2004, but it did not recall the 2.6 million cars affected until earlier this year. The faulty ignition switch made the cars prone to shutting off while on the road, disabling the airbags, power steering and anti-lock brakes. The internal investigation by General Motors concluded that there was no deliberate cover-up, Barra said.

Economic News

Employers added 217,000 jobs in May as the labor market reached a milestone with the recovery of all 8.7 million jobs lost in the recession. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.3%.Employment, at 138.5 million, exceeds its pre-recession level for the first time in the nearly five-year-old recovery. While the milestone is noteworthy, U.S. employment is still below where it should be after taking into account the growth in population and the labor force since the recession. May’s tally also mark the fourth straight month that job gains have topped 200,000 — the first such stretch since October 1999-January 2000. Discouraged workers — those who have given up looking for jobs — remained at 3.4 million, a rate the Federal Reserve views as too high to push wages higher.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits rose by 8,000 to 312,000 last week. Claims have been trending down over the past year. Declining jobless claims mean fewer people are losing their jobs, a trend that may foreshadow stronger employment numbers in coming months. Late in the recession claims steadily ran over 600,000 a week.

Rising stock markets and home prices helped lift U.S. household wealth to a record in the first three months of the year. The Federal Reserve says household net worth increased $1.5 trillion in the first quarter to $81.8 trillion. The gain was driven by higher home prices, which boosted Americans’ home values $758 billion. A rising, if choppy, stock market pushed up stock and mutual fund holdings $361 billion. Checking account balances, pensions plan assets and retirement savings, such as 401(k) accounts, also rose. The wealth is flowing mainly to affluent Americans: Roughly 10% of households own about 80% of stocks.

The U.S. trade deficit widened to its highest in almost two years in April as goods imports set a record. The Commerce Department said last month’s trade deficit in goods and services was $47.2 billion, the highest since July 2012. That was up $3 billion, or 6.9%, from March. Total April exports were $193.3 billion, down $300 million from March. Imports rose to $2.7 billion to $240.6 billion. April’s $14 billion trade deficit with the European Union, and the $7 billion trade gap with Germany, were the highest on record. April imports from South Korea also set a record.

Eurozone

The European Central Bank cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low on Thursday and, in an unprecedented attempt to stimulate the euro zone economy, said it would begin charging interest on deposits held by the bank. The European Central Bank cut its benchmark interest rate to 0.15 percent from 0.25 percent, and the deposit rate to minus 0.10 percent from zero. The so-called negative deposit rate has never been tried on such a large scale and is a bid to push down the value of the euro and encourage banks to invest excess cash rather than hoarding it in central bank vaults. Those actions had become all but certain after data earlier in the week showed that inflation in the euro zone fell to an annual rate of 0.5 percent in May, a level considered perilously low.

Persecution Watch

As the world commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre today, leaders maintain that Christianity in the People’s Republic of China is growing rapidly in spite of continued persecution by the nations Communist government. Experts claim the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre motivated the underground Church and continues to impassion believers. “The really committed, devout believers will be increasingly strengthened in their faith by this ‘winds of persecution’ and honestly the church buildings may be torn down, but that doesn’t mean the congregations themselves have scattered,” Carsten Vala, assistant professor at the Political Science Department of Loyola University Maryland, told The Christian Post.

Middle East

The new Palestinian “unity” government is fully backed and supported by Hamas, a terrorist group that even the Obama Administration officially classifies as terrorists. Yet, despite protests from Israel and the US law that forbids funding terrorists, the Obama Administration has announced that they will continue sending $500,000,000 a year—half a billion of our tax dollars—to the Palestinian Authority. The fig leaf they are using to justify this is that no open members of Hamas are members of the leadership of the new unity government, notes the Jerusalem Prater Team. A senior Israeli official confirmed on Thursday that the Jewish State is poised to move forward with building plans for an additional 1,800 housing units in West Bank settlements. The announcements, taken in response to Monday’s swearing in of the Palestinian unity government in the West Bank, yielded an immediate chorus of condemnation from the U.S., the European Union and the Palestinians.

Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke briefly with Ukraine counterpart Petro Poroshenko on Friday, amid efforts by President Obama and other leaders to push a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine. After the G-7 meeting ended on Thursday, Obama said that “if Russia’s provocations continue, it’s clear from our discussions here that the G-7 nations are ready to impose additional costs on Russia.” President Obama announced an increase in non-lethal aid to Ukraine’s military, a package that ranges from training to body armor, night vision goggles and other equipment. So far, the administration has resisted calls to send weapons to Ukraine. Ukraine receives much of its energy supplies from Russia, which has often wielded its oil and gas sales as diplomatic weapons.

Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will maintain his position as president, according to the results of a landslide vote. Assad won the election with 88.7 percent of votes; however, opponents criticize the circumstances of the election. Voting only took place in the western and central regions of Syria, where Assad’s supporters primarily reside. Critics also argue that a credible election cannot be held in the midst of a three-year civil war that has killed 160,000 people and displaced millions. Secretary of State John Kerry criticized the results of the questionable election. “They are meaningless, and they are meaningless because you can’t have an election where millions of your people don’t even have the ability to vote, where they don’t have the ability to contest the election, and they have no choice,” he said.

Afghanistan

At the end of the year, the United States will be leaving 9,800 troops in Afghanistan; 1,800 of those will be designated for counterterror operations. The AP reports that other countries may also send troops designated to combat terrorism. The United States plans to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan in half by the end of 2015; by 2016, only several hundred troops will be necessary. The U.S. also has committed to assisting Afghan forces with logistics and budgeting, along with other allies.

South Sudan

A famine worse than anything in recent history looms in war-torn South Sudan – the predominantly Christian, oil-rich African nation that fought for decades to gain independence from Muslim-dominated Sudan. “An acute shortage of food is threatening the lives of millions,” reports the BBC, “at the same time as the country is mired in a civil war between government forces and armed rebels. The conflict has sparked widespread ethnic violence between the country’s largest tribal groups, the Dinka and the Nuer.” At least a million people are unable to meet basic needs, according to the United Nations. It’s a manmade famine. In 2011, the country experienced one of the best agricultural years in decades with farmers producing nearly three-quarters of the 1.3 million metric tons of food required to feed the population. However, “fighting has killed thousands of people and driven more than 1.3 million from their homes,” reported Reuters. They have been unable “to recover scattered livestock and rebuild looted markets.”

Nigeria

Scores of residents in four villages in the northeastern Borno state of Nigeria, near the border with Cameroon, were killed Tuesday in Boko Haram raids Witnesses say Boko Haram militants dressed as soldiers slaughtered at least 200 civilians in three communities in northeastern Nigeria and that the military failed to intervene. A community leader who witnessed the killings on Monday said residents of the Gwoza local government district in Borno state had pleaded for the military to send soldiers to protect the area after they heard that militants were about to attack, but help didn’t arrive. Boko Haram wants to establish Islamic state in Nigeria.

Guinea

An Ebola outbreak in Guinea has led to more than 100 deaths. Despite the outbreak, missionaries in the area are seeing more conversations about salvation. “By demonstrating care for people’s temporal welfare, we find that they’re much more open to hear the Good News: that God has a plan of salvation for them,” Reach Beyond President and CEO Wayne Pederson said. So far Reach Beyond’s mobile medical clinics have cared for about 300 people in three villages. “We proclaim God’s love through the radio outreach, and through the media we use,” Pederson said. “And we demonstrate God’s love through healthcare.”

Iran

Speaking from a stage decorated with a banner proclaiming ‘America cannot do a damn thing,’ Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday asserted that the Obama administration had taken the option of military intervention to resolve conflicts off the table. ‘They realized that military attacks are as dangerous or even more dangerous for the assaulting country as they are for the country attacked,’ the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in an address to the country’s political and military establishment. A ‘military attack is not a priority for Americans now,’ he concluded. ‘They have renounced the idea of any military actions.’ The remarks by Ayatollah Khamenei, a Shiite Muslim cleric who has the final say in the Islamic Republic’s central policies, amounted to his first public reaction to President Obama’s commencement speech last week at the United States Military Academy in West Point, in which he asserted that the United States had other ways of carrying out foreign policy besides military force.

Volcanoes

The Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) issued a red alert warning this week when the Pavlof Volcano shifted into an intense eruption, sending ash 22,000 feet into the air. Pavlof is located in an uninhabited region of the Alaska Peninsula, 625 miles southwest of Anchorage. This is the state’s first red alert since 2009, Reuters reports, when Mount Redoubt sent ash flying 50,000 feet into the air, disrupting air traffic. This week’s eruption didn’t aggravate airline activity. Pavlof’s alert level was slightly lowered to Orange by late Tuesday because seismic tremors had decreased for the past 12 hours, but scientists are still watching the volcano closely.

Weather

A storm system which originated in Colorado and traveled nearly 1,000 miles across the Midwest and into the South, brought damaging hurricane force wind gusts, hail and thunderstorms to a wide swath of the U.S. for more than 15 hours straight Thursday. The powerful wind gusts blew roofs and walls off of buildings, tossed a Cessna airplane dozens of feet into the air, toppled a freight train in Arkansas and uprooted thousands of trees from Colorado to Georgia. Wind gusts from the derecho storm reached up to 111 mph in eastern Colorado, just after 10 p.m. local time Wednesday, causing extensive damage, including a flattened barn and downed power poles. As the storm moved east Thursday, strong winds and flooding led to the deaths of at least three people in the South.

Earlier, clusters of damaging thunderstorms swept from the Midwest to the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys Tuesday and Wednesday leaving costly damage across the Heartland. Although a handful of tornadoes were reported, baseball-sized hail and flooding rains left the biggest mark. In Blair, officials said nearly every home, as well as any car that was parked outdoors, was damaged. The courthouse alone sustained more than $1.2 million in damage because the rain continued for hours after hail shattered windows and skylights. More than 20 people were taken to the hospital from injuries they sustained from being out in the storm; none were seriously injured. The Woodhouse Auto Family, which owns car dealerships in both Iowa and Nebraska, said about 4,500 vehicles were damaged across their properties.

Much of the Israel was hit by sweltering temperatures on Wednesday as Israelis attempted to enjoy the Feast of Shavuot with picnics and family gatherings. The high temperatures and dry conditions, called in Hebrew a “sharav” were the result of a warm depression from northeastern Africa, with thermometers recording temperatures in excess of 105 degrees Fahrenheit in many areas. The high temperatures and dry conditions led to wildfires in the northeastern Negev on Tuesday, forcing evacuations of some communities near the Lahav forest, which saw over 300 acres burned before the blaze was brought under control.

 

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