Signs of the Times (6/27/14)

Supreme Court Rules Pro-Life Advocates Have Free Speech at Abortion Clinics

A unanimous Supreme Court vote today ruled that pro-life advocates have the right to speak against abortion directly in front of abortion clinics. A previous law in Massachusetts prohibited pro-life activists from free speech within a 35-foot “buffer zone” of abortion clinics. Supreme Court justices ruled that the previous law was a violation of the First Amendment’s right to Freedom of Speech. According to the ruling, the buffer zone “restricts access to ‘public way[s]’ and ‘sidewalk[s],’ places that have traditionally been open to speech activities.” President of Students for Life of America Kirstan Hawkins said, “Today’s Supreme Court ruling in McCullen v. Coakley is wonderful news for all Americans because it upholds our crucial First Amendment rights of free speech but perhaps no more important than for women considering abortion because it frees sidewalk counselors at abortion facilities to be able to offer compassionate and caring alternatives.

Divorce Rate among Christians Lower than Previously Estimated

Harvard-trained researcher Shaunti Feldhahn says for years she was troubled with the staggering statistic touted by most social commentators claiming a 50 percent divorce rate in the United States, but equally concerned that the same rate applied to Christians, too. Eight years ago Feldhahn set out to investigate the validity of the widely shared statistic. According to Charisma Magazine, Feldhahn discovered the divorce rate is actually closer to 31 percent. Christians who attend church regularly fair even better. It’s “maybe 15 percent, maybe 20 percent for all marriages,” said Feldhahn. “People need to be able to look around the average congregation and say, ‘You know what, most of these people will have strong and happy marriages for a lifetime. Doing what God says matters. This is a big deal to know.”

  • It is a big deal because liberals have been touting false information in their goal to redefine marriage

Judge Overturns Indiana Same-Sex Marriage Ban

U.S. District Judge Richard Young ruled Wednesday that Indiana’s law banning homosexual marriage is unconstitutional. The federal judge claims marriage between one man and one woman violates the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. “The court has never witnessed a phenomenon throughout the federal court system as is presented with this issue,” Young wrote in his decision. “In less than a year, every federal district court to consider the issue has reached the same conclusion in thoughtful and thorough opinions – laws prohibiting the celebration and recognition of same-sex marriages are unconstitutional.”

  • This key end-time marker demonstrates the overall decline in morality and deviation from God’s Word, indicating that we have moved far down the path leading to the Great Tribulation

VA Scandal Worsens with New Disclosures

Records of dead veterans were changed or physically altered, some even in recent weeks, to hide how many people died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA hospital, whistle-blower Pauline DeWinter told CNN in stunning revelations that point to a new coverup in the ongoing VA scandal. DeWenter is the actual scheduling clerk at the Phoenix VA who said for the better part of a year she was ordered by supervisors to manage and handle the so-called “secret waiting list,” where veterans’ names of those seeking medical care were often placed, sometimes left for months with no care at all. But at least seven times since last October, records that showed that veterans died while waiting for care — records which DeWenter personally handled and had entered in details of veterans’ deaths — were physically altered, or written over, by someone else — trying to pretend that some dead veterans remain alive.

Supreme Court Rules Against Obama on Recess Appointments

The Supreme Court dealt a historic blow to the powers of the presidency Thursday, ruling decisively that President Obama violated the Constitution by going around the Senate to name key labor and financial watchdogs. Resolving a longstanding battle between the two other branches of government, the justices declared invalid key “recess appointments” made by Obama in 2012. The judgment was unanimous, but four conservative justices would have applied the restriction far more broadly. The court stopped short of limiting such appointments to remote periods and circumstances, as a federal appeals court had ruled last year. But it nullified actions Obama took while the Senate was holding “pro-forma” sessions every three days for the specific purpose of preventing such executive actions.

World’s Oceans Trashed with Plastic

A series of new reports are raising concerns about the damage plastic waste is doing to oceans — harming marine animals, destroying sensitive ecosystems, and contaminating the fish we eat. Plastic waste in oceans is causing $13 billion of damage each year, according to the United Nations Environment Program report, and that figure could be much higher. Worldwide plastic production is projected to reach 33 billion tons by 2050, and plastic makes up 80% of litter on oceans and shorelines. Ten to 20 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year, from litter, runoff from poorly managed landfills, and other sources. Once it’s in the water, plastic does not degrade but instead breaks into smaller pieces.

Scientists are especially worried about the growing prevalence of tiny microplastics which are smaller than 5 millimeters and are used in toothpaste, gels, facial cleansers and other consumer goods. Microplastics aren’t filtered by sewage treatment plants, and can be ingested by marine animals with deadly effect. It’s expensive and ineffective to clean up existing marine debris. Picking trash off beaches or sweeping it from the ocean surface “does nothing to fix the problem.” Governments can help solve the problem by regulating the use of plastics and creating infrastructure to recycle them, the report recommends. For example, dozens of nations have banned plastic bags at supermarkets or restricted their use.

Supreme Court Shields Privacy of Cellphones

In a sweeping victory for privacy rights in the digital age, the Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled that the police need warrants to search the cellphones of people they arrest. The ruling almost certainly also applies to searches of tablet and laptop computers, and its reasoning may apply to searches of homes and businesses and of information held by third parties like phone companies. “This is a bold opinion,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. “It is the first computer-search case, and it says we are in a new digital age. You can’t apply the old rules anymore.”

Facebook’s Lack of Diversity Mirrors High-Tech Industry

Facebook, the world’s most popular social network, released statistics on the makeup of its workforce that do not reflect the demographics of its users around the globe. The lopsided numbers are just the latest from a major Silicon Valley company to paint a stark picture of an industry sector dominated by white men and are sure to escalate an already heated debate over the lack of diversity in the tech industry. Nearly 70% of Facebook employees are men and 57% are white. Asians make up 34% of employees. But Hispanics represent just 4% and African Americans are just 2% of Facebook’s workforce. Technology is a key driver of the U.S. economy. It makes the products from iPhones to Google search that Americans use every day. Yet the companies that make these products do not mirror the demographics of the United States in race, gender or age.

Sand Rush in Midwest for Fracking Material

It’s not a gold rush, but a sand rush that is taking place in the Midwest, where a rare type of sand used in the energy extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing is exclusively found. The smooth, round, very strong white sand known as “Northern White” or “Ottawa White” is pitting neighbor against neighbor, and neighbors against sand mining companies. The sand is 99.5 percent pure silica. The special sand is sold to the hydraulic fracking industry which unleashes fossil fuels from deep within the earth. When the hydraulic pressure is relieved from the well, the sand is pumped into the well to hold open the small fractures in the rock while allowing oil and gas to pass up to the surface. With horizontal drilling, even more sand is needed because the borings travel extend farther. Despite the financial bonanza for area towns, many worry that farmland is disappearing from America’s heartland.

Economic News

The economy turned in its worst quarter in five years during the first three months of 2014, shrinking more sharply than previously estimated. The nation’s gross domestic product in the first quarter fell at a 2.9% annual rate vs. the 1% contraction previously believed, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The decline was the sharpest since growth tumbled 5.4% in the first quarter of 2009 in the middle of the Great Recession. Many economists say much of the first-quarter weakness was the result of temporary factors, such as unusually harsh winter weather. They expect growth to exceed 3% in the current quarter and the rest of the year.

Weekly unemployment benefit applications fell 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 312,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 2,000 to 314,000. The average has fallen 9 percent since the beginning of this year. The number of people actually receiving benefits inched up by 12,000 to 2.57 million. But the small increase comes after the level fell to a six-year low in the previous week. The low level of applications indicates employers haven’t been rattled by the first quarter’s dismal showing.

U.S. consumers stepped up their spending slightly in May, boosted by a jump in auto sales and higher income. Spending rose 0.2 percent last month after no gain in April, the Commerce Department said Thursday. The two months followed a robust spending surge of 0.8 percent in March. Last month, spending on durable goods jumped 0.7 percent, a big rebound after having fallen 0.9 percent in April. In May, auto dealers reported their best sales month in nine years, helped by brisk demand for SUVs and pickup trucks.

Inflation edged up 0.2 percent in May. The 1.8 percent increase in the Personal Consumption Expenditures measure employed by the Federal Reserve over the past 12 months was up from a 12-month increase of 1.6 percent in April and increases of 1 percent or less for much of the past year.

Persecution Watch

ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq) is demanding Christians in Mosul pay a poll tax. The tax of at least $250 does not apply to Muslim citizens. Christian citizens may have to pay more depending on their profession. Council of High Commission for Human Rights in Iraq member Salama Al Khafaji said, “The economic situation in Mosul is extremely difficult, and there are no financial resources or job opportunities except for vegetable shops, any other businesses are non-existent. Citizens are at a loss now as to how to make ends meet; how can they pay those amounts to ISIS?”

A court convicted an Egyptian Christian to six years imprisonment for blasphemy and contempt of religion on Tuesday. The Luxor court issued its verdict against Kerolos Ghattas, 30, after his arrest earlier this month for posting pictures deemed insulting to Islam on his Facebook page. Ghattas’ arrest sparked fears of sectarian conflict in his village, where unidentified assailants have hurled Molotov cocktails at shops owned by Christians.

  • Maybe the new hate crime laws in the U.S. could be used to stifle intolerant, blasphemous atheists?

Middle East

The Iron Dome air defense system intercepted two rockets fired into Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday evening, while several other rockets landed in open areas. Israel’s Air Force responded to the barrage later in the evening with attacks on underground rocket launching sites and other terrorist infrastructure in the Strip. Another rocket fired towards Israel from the Strip landed inside the coastal territory instead, killing a three year old Palestinian child and wounding three other people. Tuesday’s events was the largest in a string of cross-border incidents in recent days which have seen over a dozen rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, prompting retaliatory air strikes.

Israeli security forces searching for kidnapped teenagers Naftali Fraenkel, Gil- Ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah arrested several more suspects in raids early Tuesday morning, bringing the total number of those detained to 354, including 269 members of the Islamist terror militia Hamas. Israeli security forces continued Operation Brothers’ Keeper in the West Bank overnight Thursday, arresting 9 terror suspects and confiscating weapons just hours after naming the main suspects in the abductions as Marwan Kawasme and Amer Abu Aysha, Hamas operatives from Hebron. Meanwhile, diplomats from Iran and several Arab countries announced on Thursday that they intend to demand that the UN Security Council condemn Israel’s search for the teens, calling it an “overreaction” to the abductions. “Rather than denouncing this appalling attack, the Arab nations have the audacity to stand before you today and criticize Israel,” said Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Dermer.

Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Friday signed a broad deal with the European Union covering closer trade and political ties despite objections from Russia, which warned that the deal will have grave consequences. Deadly protests broke out this winter when the-then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych decided not to sign the EU trade deal under pressure from Moscow. But on Friday Poroshenko said the agreement — which allows for free trade within the EU as well as for key business-related reforms for Kiev — may be the “most important day” for his country since it became independent from the Soviet Union. The EU’s deal with Ukraine is especially sensitive now as it comes at a time when a fragile cease-fire between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russia separatists is due to end, and as Europe’s top diplomats decide whether to impose fresh economic sanctions on Russia. Georgia and Moldova also signed association agreements with the EU on Friday in a move that is also opposed by Russia.

Iraq

Secretary of State John Kerry traveled Tuesday to Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s northern, autonomous Kurdish region — his second day in the country where he is spearheading talks between Iraq’s leaders. Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani has for years feuded with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Kerry is hoping that by securing support from Barzani that will force al-Maliki to cede more power to Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities, a situation that could help diffuse one of the causes behind an insurgency by the Islamic State of Iraq militants. ISIL succeeded in seizing Iraq’s main oil refinery Monday, the BBC reports. The U.S. military began flying armed drones over Baghdad in the last 24 hours, a U.S. official confirmed to CNN on Friday. The Baghdad drones are not to be used for offensive airstrikes against fighters with the insurgent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but they are to provide additional protection for 180 U.S. military advisers in the area, the official said.

Iraqi insurgents executed at least 160 captives earlier this month in the northern city of Tikrit, Human Rights Watch said Friday. The U.S.-based rights group said militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant killed between 160 and 190 men in two locations in Tikrit between June 11 and June 14. “The number of victims may well be much higher,” they said. The extremist Sunni militants sweeping across Iraq may have a singular goal, but there’s a broad coalition of recruits from outside of the Middle East willing to help them achieve it. ISIL wants to establish an Islamic state stretching from northern Syria into Iraq. And as the brutal terror group racks up victory after victory on the battlefield, more foreign fighters are considering joining their ranks, some from the U.S. and Britain.

Syria

At least 57 Iraqi civilians were killed and more than 120 others were wounded by what local officials say were Syrian warplanes that struck several parts of Anbar province Tuesday. Sabah Karkhout, the head of Iraq’s Anbar provincial council, told CNN that the attacks struck markets and fuel stations in areas such as Rutba, al-Walid and Qaim. “Iraq is facing a cross-border terrorist attack that is supported by some neighboring countries,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a televised speech Wednesday. 140 Kurdish schoolboys were kidnapped in Syria last month by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and forced to take daily lessons in radical Islamic theology, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group, and local activists say.

Humanitarian group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that Syrian children are being used by the military in horrifying ways. According to the report, children as young as 15 are being trained to fight and kill, while those even younger take on “supporting” roles. The youngest children are forced to become suicide bombers, snipers, spies, lookouts, and army nurses, and deliver ammunition and supplies to the front lines. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in March 2011, 100,000 have lost lies; 11,000 of those people were children. HRW is now finding that 194 “non-civilian” boys have been killed since September 2011.

Pakistan

More than 450,000 Pakistanis have fled their homes for safer areas in the past two weeks as the military has attacked suspected anti-government militant hideouts in northwestern Pakistan. Many of the displaced civilians have moved from the North Waziristan region, where the military campaign is largely focused, to camps in Pakistan’s nearby Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Pakistan launched a military operation in North Waziristan and other restive parts of Pakistan’s loosely governed tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan on June 15. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif said the offensive is meant to “finish off” militants in the area “once and for all,”. The Pakistani Taliban is among the targets

Egypt

Four minor explosions struck subway stations in Cairo on Wednesday, wounding at least four people and causing widespread panic among morning commuters. The blasts, which were caused by homemade explosive devices, took place at four different stations in central and northern Cairo, in the teeming neighborhoods of Ghamra and Shubra el-Khemia. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks — the first in the Egyptian capital since last month’s election of former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as the country’s new president. El-Sissi led the military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi after millions demonstrated against him in the streets last July. Since Morsi’s ouster, his supporters have staged near-daily protests demanding his return to power.

Libya

Libyans are defying the turmoil roiling their nation to vote in parliament elections on Wednesday, the third nationwide balloting since the toppling of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The vote is a key step in transition for the oil-rich Libya, embroiled in deep political chaos and instability mainly because of the absence of a strong military and police force. Successive transitional governments have depended on militias to achieve security. But it’s unclear how balloting for parliament can take place in the violence-stricken east. In the provincial council elections, voters in the eastern city of Darna came under attack when militants bombed polling centers in their city, a stronghold of Islamic militias.

Nigeria

Islamic extremists have abducted 60 more girls and women and 31 boys from villages in northeast Nigeria. Security forces denied the kidnappings. Nigeria’s government and military have attracted widespread criticism for their slow response to the abductions of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped April 15. An explosion rocked an upscale shopping mall in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Wednesday and police said at least 21 people have been killed and 17 people were wounded. It is the latest in a series of violent attacks blamed on Islamic extremists from Boko Haram.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck Monday about 15 miles from Little Sitkin Island, Alaska at a depth of 71 miles. It was the largest quake to hit the U.S. in more than a decade. The town of Adak evacuated its 150 residents to a shelter about 600 feet above sea level after the initial tsunami warning which was later cancelled. There were no initial reports of quake damage in Adak or on Shemya Island. There were 17 measurable aftershocks in the two hours after the quake.

A trio of earthquakes struck in the South Pacific Ocean Tuesday morning southeast of Raoul Island, New Zealand, There were no immediate reports of damage. Two quakes, with magnitudes of 6.9 and 6.3, hit within minutes of each other. A third, 6.2-magnitude quake struck about 45 minutes later. The quakes hit near the eastern edge of the Australian tectonic plate, one of the most active seismic regions in the world.

Wildfires

Despite the mainstream media’s portrayal of global warming contributing to increased wildfire dangers and the calls for increased funding, the last two years have been way below average in the U.S. The National Interagency Fire Center reports that as of 6/26/14, the number of wildland fires so far this year total 25,096 versus the ten-year average of 36,542. The acreage burned this year-to-date totals 865,030 acres versus the ten-year-average of 1,968,856 acres. Last year also was far less than the previous decade.

Weather

A tornado tracked through western and northern Indianapolis on Tuesday afternoon, damaging homes and forcing thousands to take shelter. The National Weather Service (NWS) gave the storm an EF1 rating, with wind speeds up to 100 mph and an estimated 75 to 100 homes in the metro area receiving at least minor damage. Buildings in the city’s commercial district were also hit. No injuries were reported.

River levels have soared over the past few weeks in South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, flooding towns, killing crops and even setting off a mudslide in Minneapolis. The Mississippi River has been pushed into major flood stage in the Twin Cities, as have 50-year-old levees. In St. Paul, Minnesota, the Mississippi River was nearing a crest early Thursday, just over 6 feet above flood stage. The river is expected to remain at major flood stage through at least the middle of next week, depending on how much more rain the region receives.

Social media has been filled with photos Thursday morning of fans trying to get to the World Cup game between the USA and Germany in Recife, Brazil, in streets flooded due to heavy rain. Rain has been falling in Recife for the better part of 17 hours. Some t U.S. fans were abandoning their vehicles and walking through torrential rain to stadium, which was 17 miles away.

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