Signs of the Times (6/13/14)

University Ordered to Pay $710,000 for Discrimination against Christian Professor

University of North Carolina-Wilmington must pay over $710,000 for denying a Christian professor a promotion because of his beliefs. Dr. Mike Adams, an associate criminology professor at the university since 1998, was denied a promotion to full-time professor in 2006 because of his faith. Adams hired the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to defend his case; the university must now pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and $50,000 of back pay to Adams. According to Christian News, Adams was an atheist when he was hired at the university, but became a Christian in 2000. At that time, he adopted conservative viewpoints which he expressed on political website TownHall.com.

Christians Demand Accuracy for Biblical Films

A survey has concluded that Christian moviegoers want to see films that are biblically accurate. The poll, conducted by Christian News Service and American Insights, found that “historical and biblical accuracy is important” to most Christians. “This poll was conducted for the purpose of guiding the film and television industry in its production of both historically-based films and movies that explore questions about God. The results clearly show that the public will not be toyed with in regard to accuracy in both biblical and historical accounts,” said president and CEO of Christian News Service Russ Jones. Specific findings of the survey included the following: 79 percent of Christian respondents indicated the importance of biblical accuracy for Christian films; 80 percent of Christian respondents said they were interested to the coming “Exodus” film if it is biblically accurate; if “Exodus” does not follow scripture, only 29 percent of Christian respondents were interested in viewing the film

VA Awarded $100M in Bonuses as Vets Awaited Care

Even as federal inspectors repeatedly warned that patient wait lists were having a detrimental impact on care, the troubled Veterans Affairs health system handed out $108.7 million in bonuses to executives and employees the past three years, an Asbury Park Press investigation found. The biggest bonuses went to top executives in the Veterans Health Administration, which has come under fire for what its Office of Inspector General called “systemic patient safety issues” that may have led to wrongful deaths. On Tuesday, the U.S. House voted 426-0 to ban all bonuses through 2016, which would save the VA $400 million annually, according to House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the bill’s author. Miller said that money could be used for expanded care for veterans. The measure also would let veterans facing long delays for appointments or living more than 40 miles from VA facilities opt to get care from non-agency providers for the next two years.

Cantor ‘Earthquake’ Rattles Capitol Hill

In a year when mainstream Republicans have mostly bested tea party-backed challengers, a little-known and little-funded tea party challenger in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District pulled the upset of the year, defeating House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by 10 percentage points. The victory by economics professor Dave Brat gives the tea party an instant jolt of energy, sends shock waves through Capitol Hill, shakes up the GOP House hierarchy — as Cantor was seen by many as the next speaker — and effectively kills any chance of immigration reform passing through the House any time soon. Cantor becomes only the second member of Congress running for re-election this year to go down in defeat in the primaries. Thad Cochran of Mississippi may soon become the third. He’s fighting for his political life as he faces a primary runoff election in two weeks against a tea party-backed state senator who narrowly edged him in last week’s primary but not by enough to win outright. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor plans to step aside from his leadership post on July 31, following his primary election loss and with several leading Republicans jockeying to run for his No. 2 position.

Influx of Central American Child Immigrants Continues

Taxpayers are footing the bill for relocating what could be as many as 90,000 children this year from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who are crossing the U.S. border without their parents. In recent years, the number of children younger than 18 found trying to cross the Mexican border without their parents has skyrocketed. Between 2003 and 2011, between 6,000 and 7,500 children a year were landing in the custody of Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement program. In 2012, border agents apprehended 13,625 unaccompanied children, and last year that number surged to more than 24,000 as children fled drug and gang violence in their home countries. This year, the number of kids that border agents catch in the USA is expected to more than triple. Several temporary and permanent resettlement centers on the border have opened just to house unaccompanied migrant children.

New Heroin Epidemic in U.S.

The United States is in the grips of one of the worst heroin epidemics in its history, due in part to a flood of cheap doses of the drug flooding across the Mexican border which can be had for as little as $4 apiece. Much of the heroin is now ordered from dark corners of the Web and delivered to front doors in the suburbs. In some regions, such as the Great Lakes states, heroin is deemed “highly available” by local police in more than three times the number of communities as it was just seven years ago. The resurgence of the deadly drug has sparked a flurry of action from governors’ mansions and statehouses across New England and the Midwest to small-town police stations from northern Kentucky to Wisconsin. Even Capitol Hill and the White House are weighing in on what’s become a full-blown health crisis that cuts across geographic, social, racial and economic boundaries. Government studies estimate the number of heroin users is around 330,000 and growing, up about 75% from five years ago. All told, heroin and related opioid pain pills have killed more than 125,000 in the U.S. in the past 10 years.

USDA Wildlife Service Killed More Than 4 Million Wild Animals in 2013

The U.S. Department of Agriculture killed 4.3 million wild animals in fiscal year 2013, 2 million of which were native species, according to data posted to the agency’s web site. A program called Wildlife Services, which falls under the USDA agency Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), is tasked with managing invasive species and handling wildlife when it interferes with human activities like agriculture and property threats. The number of animals killed varies widely from year to year, according to The Washington Post, hitting a peak of 5 million in 2008 after remaining at a relatively low 1.5 million in the early 2000s. Last year, Wildlife Services killed 75,326 coyotes, plus destroying 366 coyote dens; 345 mountain lions; 321 wolves, including one extremely rare Mexican gray wolf; 603 monkeys; 6,498 vultures; 10,486 mynas, a type of starling; and 37 frogs, among many others. The animals included three eagles, one bald and two golden, which are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Birds are among the most highly targeted, according the Post, in part due to the problems they cause at airports.

Economic News

Higher sales of autos, building materials and gardening supplies in May lifted retail sales to their fourth straight monthly gain, but growth was less than many economists forecast. The disappointing report raises questions about consumers continuing to step up spending and spur greater economic growth the rest of this year. Retail sales rose 0.3% in May down from 0.5% in April. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, retail sales rose only 0.1% in May compared with a 0.4% increase in April.

More Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, but claims for jobless aid remain near pre-recession levels. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment benefits rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 317,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased to 315,250. These figures are near the jobless claims levels before the outbreak of the Great Recession in December 2007.

Job openings in April soared to their highest level in almost seven years in another sign of the labor market’s growing strength. Employers recruited candidates for 4.5 million open jobs in April, up from 4.2 million in March, the most since September 2007. Openings are “in shouting distance” of their pre-recession high, 4.7 million, in March 2007.

Wholesale prices fell for the first time in three months, indicating inflation remains low. The government’s producer price index, which measures the cost of goods and services before they reach consumers, fell 0.2% in May. Last month’s decline followed a rise of 0.6% in April and 0.5% in March.

Student loans. Credit cards. Many millennials feel as if they are drowning in debt. Four in 10 millennials say they are “overwhelmed” by their debt — nearly double the number of baby boomers who feel that way, according to a Wells Fargo survey of millennials between 22 and 33 years old, and 1,500 baby boomers between 49 and 59 years old. To try to get out from underneath it, 47% said they spend at least half of their monthly paychecks on paying off their debts.

Persecution Watch

Bodies of Christian children and their parents litter the chaotic streets of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, as violent Muslim extremists have seized a terrorized city Iraqi Christians once considered their last safe refuge. “Very critical and even apocalyptic,” was an emailed description from Catholic Priest Najeeb Michaeel who signed off abruptly, saying armed extremists had surrounded the convent to which he had fled. “What we are living and what we have seen over the last two days is horrible and catastrophic. The priory of Mar Behnam and other churches fell into the hands of the rebels this morning and now they have come here and entered Qaraqosh five minutes ago. Pray for us. I’m sorry that I can’t continue. They are not far from our convent. Don’t reply. We are now surrounded and threatened with death.”

Hamas—which fully supports the new Palestinian government that is receiving tens of millions of US tax dollars every month—is not backing down on its calls for Israel’s destruction. They issued a call this week for the “men of the resistance” to strike at Israeli targets, both civilian and military. “The occupation must pay a high price in the blood of its soldiers and settlers,” the statement said. David Evans of the Jerusalem Prayer Team comments, “It breaks my heart to know that our leaders in Washington are fine with funneling money into the hands of those who publicly declare their intention to murder my Jewish brothers and sisters. It is a tragedy and an outrage.”

Pressure from Islamic extremists has forced the closure of seven churches by the authorities in Cianjur district of West Java, Indonesia. An average of 40 churches are being shut down every year. Building permit irregularities were cited as the reason for the closures, which are the latest in a long line of similar incidents, most of them in West Java. Some of the members of the seven churches have moved to other locations for security reasons. Church officials in Cianjur have reported the matter to the national human rights commission, which says local authorities “should not be so quick to close down and disqualify [places of worship]”. All of the churches pre-date the 2006 decree that sets out the conditions for a building permit. Although this is meant to apply only to new places of worship, local authorities are imposing it retrospectively to long-standing ones.

Israel

Newly elected Israeli president Reuven Rivlin said during his victory speech on Tuesday that he was dropping all his long-held “political” positions and from now on would be the president of all Israel’s citizens whether they were “Jews, Arabs, Druse, rich, poor, those who are more observant and those who are less.” Lamenting the loss of public trust in the presidency following a bruising campaign season he added “as president, I must rehabilitate that trust. I will continue to serve the public faithfully.” He concluded by saying “Long live Israeli democracy! Long live the State of Israel!”

Iraq

Extremist militants have overrun the northern city of Mosul, the country’s second-largest. As many as half a million civilians have fled their homes to escape the violence, and the brazen incursion has highlighted all the weaknesses of the government’s ability to maintain security. Militants seized Mosul’s airport, its TV stations and the governor’s office. They freed up to 1,000 prisoners. Police and soldiers ran from their posts rather than put up a fight, abandoning their weapons as they went. The militants took their place in the city’s boulevards and buildings. The devastating militant advance, which had been building for some time, is proving an object lesson of much that is wrong in Iraq and the region — growing sectarian tensions at home and a festering civil war over the border in Syria. Critics of the Obama administration argue that leaving a residual force behind after combat troops left in 2011 would have helped stiffen the resolve of Iraq’s armed forces

The militants are part of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, an al Qaeda splinter group so extreme that al Qaeda has disowned it. The al-Qaeda splinter group vowed to seize the Iraqi capital Thursday following its seizure of two provincial capitals earlier this week as the U.S. mulls action in the country it withdrew from almost three years ago. The militants — who aim to create an Islamic state spanning Syria and Iraq — captured Mosul and Tikrit earlier this week and already control the city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi along with most of Anbar province. It’s Washington’s worst nightmare. Less than three years after the last American combat troops rolled out of Iraq, the country is plunging into chaos — again. Islamic radicals are on the march toward Baghdad, the capital, as the country edges closer to civil war.

Iran

Iran’s oil production is increasing despite sanctions, the country’s oil minister said Tuesday. Speaking as he arrived for a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Bijan Zanganeh said “we will do everything we can to increase our production. We have done it during the last month.” China is set to take more Iranian crude than it did before tough sanctions were put in place in early 2012, as Asia’s biggest refiner Sinopec Corp buys more oil from Iran.

Pakistan

A suspected U.S. missile strike targeted a militant compound early Thursday in a northwestern tribal district in Pakistan near the Afghan border, killing at least 10 people. It was the second such strike since Wednesday night, when three militants died in a drone attack in the same area in North Waziristan, marking the resumption of the CIA-led program in Pakistan after a nearly six-month hiatus. Pakistan’s northwest, particularly the North Waziristan tribal area that borders Afghanistan, is home to numerous militant groups — both local and al-Qaida-linked foreign groups — who often work together, sharing fighters, money and expertise.

Brazil

Brazilian police have clashed with anti-World Cup protesters trying to block part of the main highway leading to the stadium that hosts the opening match of the tournament. Riot police used tear gas and rubber truncheons to disperse demonstrators that tried to block the Radial Leste highway. Police moved in after the demonstrators refused to clear the highway. Protesters decried corruption that generated a flow of excess funds to the wealthy as the costs to host the World Cup skyrocketed.

Weather

Severe weather hammered the San Angelo, Texas, area Wednesday night, damaging buildings, downing trees and leaving nearly half the population without power. A supercell thunderstorm raked through the north and east sides of the city of almost 100,000with a measured gust to 73 mph at a Weather Underground station. A few buildings suffered major damage during the storm. One building “appeared” in a field near Central Freshman Campus, and the Sea Arrow Marine building collapsed into Rust Street, blocking the roadway.

Flooding killed at least nine people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes in southern Brazil ahead of the World Cup soccer tournament, which opens Thursday. Torrential rains caused rivers to swell to record levels on Tuesday in Brazil and neighboring Paraguay and Argentina. 132 cities in Brazil’s Parana state have been affected, including the state capital of Curitiba, which is one of 12 World Cup host cities. Over the weekend, torrential rains upstream in the Barigui River forced 13,000 people to evacuate the city. The torrential rainfalls of recent days also have caused widespread flooding in Argentina and Paraguay, where officials said about 100,000 people had been forced to evacuate.

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