Signs of the Times (6/10/14)

Federal Judge Strikes Down Wisconsin’s Gay Marriage Ban

Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday shortly after a federal judge struck down the state’s gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling. Clerks in Madison and Milwaukee began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples shortly after 5 p.m. Friday, a little over an hour after the judge released her ruling. Judges were on hand at both courthouses to perform ceremonies. Court officials conducted the marriages even though Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the ruling did not clear the way for weddings to begin and sought an sought an emergency order in federal court to stop them.

More patients flocking to ERs under Obamacare

It wasn’t supposed to work this way, but since the Affordable Care Act took effect in January, many hospitals have seen their packed emergency rooms become even more crowded, some as much as 12% more people. That’s just the opposite of what many people expected under Obamacare, particularly because one of the goals of health reform was to reduce pressure on emergency rooms by expanding Medicaid and giving poor people better access to primary care. Nationally, nearly half of ER doctors responding to a recent poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians said they’ve seen more visits since Jan. 1, and nearly nine in 10 expect those visits to rise in the next three years. Experts cite many reasons: A long-standing shortage of primary-care doctors leaves too few to handle all the newly insured patients. Some doctors won’t accept Medicaid. And poor people often can’t take time from work when most primary care offices are open, while ERs operate round-the-clock and by law must at least stabilize patients.

Hundreds of Illegal Immigrant Children Sent to Arizona

The federal government on Friday began sending hundreds of unaccompanied children caught crossing the border illegally in Texas to a holding center in Nogales, Ariz., further straining relations with Gov. Jan Brewer, who was already angry over the recent release of hundreds of undocumented families at bus stations in Phoenix and Tucson. Brewer said she learned Friday that 432 children were transported to a holding facility in Nogales and that an additional 732 children would be brought there Saturday and Sunday. “I am disturbed and outraged that President Obama’s administration continues to implement this dangerous and inhumane policy,” Brewer said. Brewer’s spokesman, Andrew Wilder, told The Associated Press that conditions at the holding facility in Nogales are so dire that the state is releasing federal medical and other supplies to the facility. The flood of illegal immigrants — particularly children — crossing into the U.S. along the southern border is at a “crisis” level, creating a humanitarian emergency that both immigration officials and lawmakers are putting at the feet of the Obama administration.

  • This is simply Obama’s petty retribution for Brewer’s stands against his policies

Deportation Costs Surge with Increasing Number Of Central Americans

As the tide of undocumented immigrants from Mexico is replaced by a growing surge from Central America, federal authorities in the United States are faced with the issue of returning home those migrants slated for deportation — now that “home” is a few thousand miles farther. The Department of Homeland (DHS), the federal agency responsible for deporting undocumented immigrants, charters daily flights to return migrants to their home countries – but as the number of immigrants rises so have the number of flights … and the cost. The rise in flight costs and the number of flights – approximately one or two a day to countries like Guatemala and Honduras – has coincided with the rapid rise of Central Americans arriving in the United States, especially along Texas’ southern border. While undocumented immigrants from Mexico still make up the largest segment of the immigrant population – peaking at 6.9 million in 2007 – their numbers have dropped in recent years thanks to stepped-up border enforcement in traditional hotspots like Arizona and California as well as rebounding Mexican economic situation.

Taliban Now Have Modern U.S. Missiles

The Obama administration isn’t only giving the Taliban back its commanders (trading five Gitmo Taliban leaders for American captive Bowe Bergdahl) it’s giving them weapons, reports ConservativeByte.com. Miliary records and sources reveal that on July 25, 2012, Taliban fighters in Kunar province successfully targeted a US Army CH-47 helicopter with a new generation Stinger missile. Sources in the US Special Operations community believe the Stinger fired against the Chinook was part of the same lot the CIA turned over to the ­Qataris in early 2011, weapons Hillary Rodham Clinton’s State Department intended for anti-Khadafy forces in Libya. They believe the Qataris delivered between 50 and 60 of those same Stingers to the Taliban in early 2012, and an additional 200 SA-24 Igla-S surface-to-air missiles.

  • The U.S. has a long history of unwittingly arming our eventual enemies. Will we never learn?

Colorado’s Pot Production Creating Black Markets in Adjacent States

States are fighting a new kind of border battle against marijuana trafficking. The weed used to come from Mexico — now, it’s coming from Colorado. Ever since Colorado legalized pot, law enforcement officers in surrounding states have noticed a surge in marijuana being brought across state lines. These neighboring states face rising costs associated with arresting and processing those who mistakenly think they can get away with transporting marijuana purchased legally in Colorado. “One of the [arguments] for legalizing marijuana [in Colorado and Washington state] … was to reduce the black market,” said Tom Gorman, who heads a multi-state task force called the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. “In fact, the legalized marijuana has become the black market for other states.”

Economic News

The recovery hit a key milestone in May, as the U.S. economy finally recouped all 8.7 million jobs lost in the financial crisis. But not everyone has benefited equally. Men still lag behind women. Overall, men have 699,000 fewer jobs now than they did in December 2007, when the recession began. Women, on the other hand, recovered more than all their lost jobs last year. Why is this happening? First, men were hit harder in the recession than women. Second, the jobs that are returning are not the same ones that were lost in crisis. Male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing accounted for about half of all jobs lost in the downturn, and those positions have been slow to return. In contrast, female-dominated industries like education and health care have been growing quickly, adding about 2 million jobs over the last five years.

A new report finds that auto loans are becoming more supercharged than ever as financing terms reach record highs. The average auto-loan term increased to 66 months during the first quarter, a record high. Making matters worse, nearly 25% of all new vehicle loans originated during the quarter had terms extending out 73 months to 84 months, representing a 27.6% surge from a year earlier. The average amount financed for a new vehicle loan also reached an all-time high of $27,612.

Middle East

Pope Francis, flanked by the Israeli and Palestinian presidents, on Sunday hosted a special spiritual meeting in the Vatican gardens to pray for peace in the war-torn Middle East. The unprecedented encounter held in the early evening with the towering Basilica of St. Peter’s as a backdrop, was the fruit of Francis’ surprise invitation to Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas during the pontiff’s three-day visit to the Holy Land last month. Over the last several days, the Vatican repeatedly downplayed expectations the summit might lead to a quick breakthrough, and that turned out to be the case. The meeting was cordial but not warm, with Peres and Abbas lightly embracing at its end before planting a small olive tree the Vatican said would be “an enduring symbol of the mutual desire for peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.” Both leaders called for peace, but neither giving a hint that a spirit of compromise might be in the cards.

Syria

Syria is descending into a Somalia-style failed state run by warlords which poses a grave threat to the future of the Middle East, former peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said. Brahimi, who stepped down a week ago after the failure of peace talks he mediated in Geneva, said that without concerted efforts for a political solution to Syria’s brutal civil war “there is a serious risk that the entire region will blow up.” “The conflict is not going to stay inside Syria,” he told Der Spiegel magazine in an interview published at the weekend. More than 160,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which grew out of protests against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, inspired by prior uprisings in the wider Arab world.

Ukraine

Petro Poroshenko took the oath of office as Ukraine’s president Saturday, calling on armed groups to lay down their weapons as he assumed leadership of a country mired in a violent uprising and economic troubles. In his inaugural address to the Verkhovna Rada, the country’s parliament, Poroshenko promised amnesty “for those who do not have blood on their hands.” That appeared to apply both to separatist, pro-Russia insurgents in the country’s east and to nationalist groups that oppose them. Poroshenko also promised dialogue with citizens in the eastern regions, but excluded the insurgents. “Talking to gangsters and killers is not our avenue,” he said. Poroshenko said he will not accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He also promised to meet anyone challenging Ukraine’s territorial integrity with military might.

Egypt

Egypt’s former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was sworn in on Sunday as president for a four-year term, assuming the highest office of a deeply polarized nation that has been roiled by deadly unrest and an economic crisis since its 2011 uprising. El-Sissi’s inauguration came less than a year after the 59-year-old career infantry officer ousted the country’s first freely elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, following days of mass protests demanding he step down. Sunday was declared a national holiday for el-Sissi’s inauguration and police and troops were deployed throughout Cairo.

An Egyptian court sentenced 10 supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement to death in absentia Saturday on charges of inciting violence and blocking a road last July. The remaining 38 accused in the case will be sentenced at the next hearing on Jul. 5. The case is one of a series of ongoing mass trials of supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the largest of which saw 529 sentenced to death in one session in the southern Egyptian province of Minya. Under Egyptian law, those sentenced in absentia will have a new trial if they are arrested or surrender to authorities.

Afghanistan

For the first time since 2001, Afghans will be choosing a president later this week whose name is not Karzai. The transition is an opportunity for the Afghan people to turn the page on a tenure fraught with corruption and mismanagement, and for America to move beyond an increasingly bitter and contentious relationship. It also carries the risk that hard-fought gains could unravel in an instant — observers were reminded of this Friday, when the leading presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah escaped an apparent assassination attempt when his convoy was bombed. Those risks may have grown after the Obama administration freed five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo in exchange for captured American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Sources close to Abdullah told Fox News the candidate is extremely concerned about the Taliban members’ release. Aside from evident security challenges, another key question is whether the winner will survive the horse-trading and notorious political corruption to emerge a reformer, or send Afghanistan down a path to more of the same, or worse, civil war.

Five American troops were killed in an apparent friendly fire tragedy in southern Afghanistan, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday. The deaths occurred Monday when the unit came into contact with enemy forces. Monday’s event took place in Arghandab district when troops called for air support during an operation in Gizee area. Taliban fighters were locked in a gun battle with foreign troops when coalition planes bombed their own troops. The incident comes as U.S. and allied forces are drawing down and turning the fight over to Afghan security forces. Monday’s deaths rank among of the most serious cases involving coalition-on-coalition friendly fire during the nearly 14-year Afghan war.

Iraq

Iraqi police and army forces abandoned their posts in the northern city of Mosul after militants overran the provincial government headquarters and other key buildings, dealing a serious blow to Baghdad’s efforts to control a widening insurgency in the country. The insurgents seized the government complex — a key symbol of state authority — late on Monday, following days of fighting in the country’s second-largest city, a former al-Qaeda stronghold situated in what has long been one of the more restive parts of Iraq. The gunmen also torched several of the city’s police stations. The fighters are affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda splinter group that is behind the bulk of the bloody attacks in Iraq, freeing detainees held in lockups.

Pakistan

The Taliban claimed responsibility for a brazen siege on Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport overnight Monday that left dozens dead, saying the attack was in retaliation for drone strikes on villages in Pakistan’s troubled northwest border region. The militant group vowed to continue their campaign. The attack began late overnight Monday after 10 men armed with machine guns, grenades and rocket launchers stormed the busy airport at a terminal for cargo and VIP passengers. Some of the attackers were wearing suicide vests, with at least one blowing himself up as law enforcement approached. Some of the attackers, all of whom were killed by special army commandos, had been disguised as airport security personnel. At least 10 members of the security forces were also killed, as was a flight engineer for the country’s state airline. For the second time in two days, Pakistan’s largest and busiest airport was forced to shut down after militants launched another attack on airport security forces. Tuesday’s assault targeted the Airport Security Forces academy near Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport.

Pakistani lawmakers are set to adopt a bill to ensure other girls aren’t forced into marriage by increasing the punishment for the practice, already illegal under a 1929 law widely disregarded in the country. The measure has led to a fierce debate, intensifying an ongoing cultural clash in the country over secular and Muslim values. Advocates for harsher laws against child marriage argue that it’s an oppressive practice that traumatizes young girls, while traditionalists say it goes against the Koran to pass such a law. According to the Muslim holy book, the Prophet Muhammad married minors. Worldwide, more than 140 million girls younger than 18 will be married to men as old as 60 in the next decade, the United Nations Human Rights Council estimated recently.

Iraq

A double bombing at a Kurdish party office killed 29 people in a town northeast of Baghdad on Sunday. The attack took place in the morning when a suicide bomber set off his explosive vest at the gate of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan office in Jalula, 80 miles northeast of Baghdad in the ethnically mixed Diyala province. Minutes later, a car bomb exploded near the building as security forces arrived to inspect the scene of the first blast. Police put the death toll for both explosions at 29 killed and 150 wounded. An earlier series of bombings and clashes left at least 73 people dead. The PUK is headed by the ailing Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, who is receiving treatment in a hospital in Germany. According to U.N. figures, 8,868 people were killed in Iraq in 2013. The U.N. mission said that May was the deadliest month so far this year, with 799 Iraqis killed in violence, including 603 civilians.

Nigeria

Boko Haram gunmen have reportedly kidnapped 20 women from a nomadic settlement in northeast Nigeria near the town of Chibok, where the Islamic militants abducted more than 300 schoolgirls and young women on April 15. The gunmen arrived at noon Thursday in the Garkin Fulani settlement and forced the women to enter their vehicles at gunpoint and drove away to an unknown location in the remote stretch of Borno state. The group also took three young men who tried to stop the kidnapping. In another incident, the Defense Headquarters said Monday that troops prevented raids by Boko Haram this weekend on villages in Borno and neighboring Adamawa state. Soldiers killed more than 50 militants on Saturday night as they were on their way to attack the communities.

Weather

Several tornadoes touched down as a line of severe thunderstorms swept through Colorado, with one of the twisters hitting near a junior golf tournament, injuring a caddy and others while causing extensive property damage. Six of the tornadoes struck in northeast Colorado, while two others hit in Park County in the center of the state. A twister also touched down in a sparsely populated area of southeast Wyoming, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or major damage.

At least six people died in western Germany when a round of strong winds, hail and heavy rain slammed the region Monday night. Severe thunderstorms have ravaged parts of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany over the past several days. Supercells deposited hail from baseball to softball size near Paris, France both Sunday and Monday. Many flights from Düsseldorf Airport were delayed and some train routes were still closed Tuesday.

More than 80 bodies have been found two days after a devastating flash flood in Afghanistan’s mountainous and remote north, a provincial official said Sunday, as police and villagers scoured the rugged terrain for missing people and Army helicopters flew in supplies to thousands left homeless by the disaster. About 850 houses across several villages were completely destroyed and more than 1,000 were damaged by the heavy rain and flooding, leaving thousands of people in need of shelter, food, water and medicine.

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