Signs of the Times (8/25/14)

Ferguson: A Preview of America’s Burgeoning Police State

“Even America’s smallest towns can be instantly turned into occupied territories as local police agencies quickly transform themselves from peacekeepers into occupying military forces. The small town of Ferguson, Missouri, is living proof of that,” notes Pastor Chuck Baldwin. The London Guardian reported that, “Michael Brown was shot dead by an officer from a police force of 53, serving a population of just 21,000. But the police response to a series of protests over his death has been something more akin to the deployment of an army in a miniature warzone. Ferguson police have deployed stun grenades, rubber bullets and what appear to be 40mm wooden baton rounds to quell the protests in a show of force that is a stark illustration of the militarization of police forces in the U.S.”

Since 2006, state and local law enforcement have acquired at least 435 armored vehicles, 533 military aircraft and 93,763 machine guns, according to an investigation by the New York Times published in June. This was made possible under a department of defense program that allows the agency to transfer excess military property to US law enforcement agencies. More than $4.3 billion worth of gear has been transferred since the program was created in 1997, according to the Law Enforcement Support Office. The ACLU said there are “no meaningful constraints” to what a local police force could acquire, meaning that even a 10,000 person town with no history of major violence could request. The increasing militarization of US police is also attributed to the skyrocketing proliferation of Swat teams across the US. There has been a more than 1400% increase in the amount of Swat deployments between 1980 and 2000.

  • A socialistic government needs enforcement power and the U.S. is gearing up to suppress resistance

ISIS Strategizing To ‘Blow Up’ U.S. City

The ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee in the U.S. Senate is warning that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists, those who this week beheaded an American journalist, are attempting to develop a bomb capable of blowing up an entire American city. The comments from Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., came in an interview with the Fox affiliate in Oklahoma City. He said the U.S. now is in “the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in.” Responding to questions about terror and the threat facing Americans, he said: “They’re crazy out there. And they are rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city.”

Former CIA covert operations officer Mike Baker said that he believes there is “a lot of communication” between ISIS and Mexican drug cartels,” on Thursday’s Laura Ingraham show. “We’ve had good intel over the years about al Qaeda, about their efforts to coordinate with Mexican cartels…in an effort to try to exploit our southern border” he reported, adding that a terrorist group like ISIS “absolutely” knows about the lack of security on the border.” Baker stated he believes there is “a lot of communication” between ISIS and drug cartels. And “the cartels are a business … if there’s a revenue stream they can exploit, then they will, and the extremists understand that.”

  • Border security is about a lot more than keeping Mexican and Central American immigrants from illegally entering the U.S. Our southern border is the primary route taken by terrorists seeking to harm our country.

U.S. Sued over Central American Immigrants

Four civil-rights and immigrant-rights groups filed a federal lawsuit Friday charging that the Obama administration is denying fair asylum hearings to women and children from Central America being held at a remote detention center in Artesia, N.M. The suit charges that the government is short-cutting a legal process intended to ensure that families are not being sent back to a death sentence. It alleges that asylum officers and immigration judges are pre-judging cases, following clear political directives from senior officials who want a tough line on deportation to discourage more migration from Central America. As a result, the suit claims, the percentage of successful asylum claims at Artesia is less than half of the nationwide average. The Artesia facility is one of two detention centers opened this summer to deal with the surge of single parents, mostly women and their children caught crossing illegally into the U.S.

Oregon Sues Oracle over Failed Health Care Website

The state of Oregon filed a lawsuit Friday against Oracle Corp. and several of its executives over the technology company’s role in creating the troubled website for the state’s online health insurance exchange. The lawsuit, filed in Marion County Circuit Court in Salem, seeks more than $200 million in damages and alleges that Oracle officials made false statements and submitted false claims. Oracle was the largest technology contractor working on Oregon’s health insurance enrollment website, known as Cover Oregon. The public website was never launched and has become a political albatross for Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is running for re-election. “Over the course of our investigation, it became abundantly clear that Oracle repeatedly lied and defrauded the state,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.

Half of Christian Men View Pornography

A new study by the Barna Group shows that 54 percent of Christian men and 15 percent of Christian women admitted to viewing pornography at least once a month, compared to 65 percent of men and 30 percent of women who identified as non-Christian. Of the Christian men who did look at pornography, the majority did so several times per week. Joel Hesch, president and founder of Prove Men Ministries, which commissioned the study, said the results point to a frightening pattern of addiction. “It needs to be openly addressed in the church, a safe place within the church,” Mr. Hesch said. “[Pornography] is addicting. It is a problem not just affecting individuals, but families. The church needs to be the front-runner in this. Heaping guilt and shame on a person only leads them to escape into the things we’re trying to rescue them from.”

Black-White Wealth Gap Widens

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri, have laid bare America’s ongoing racial divide. One source of that tension is the large financial gap between black and white Americans. A typical black household has accumulated less than one-tenth of the wealth of a typical white one. And it’s only getting worse. Over the past 25 years, the wealth gap between blacks and whites has nearly tripled, according to research by Brandeis University. That’s in large part because home ownership among blacks is so much lower. Housing is often Americans’ greatest asset and a major component of their overall wealth. Blacks also typically have lower incomes than whites, which also makes it harder for them to save and build wealth. The median income for black households is less than 60% that of white ones. Unemployment is also a major problem. The jobless rate for blacks is twice that of whites. The gap has been at least that large for years. More than one in four blacks live in poverty, while fewer than one in 10 whites do.

Food Stamp Fraud Rampant

Americans receiving food stamps were caught selling and bartering their benefits online for art, housing and cash, according to a new federal report that investigates fraud in the nation’s largest nutrition support program. Complicating the situation is the fact states around the country are having trouble tracking and prosecuting the crimes because their enforcement budgets have been slashed despite the rapidly-rising number of food stamp recipients, according to the Government Accountability Office report. Under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, 47 million people have been awarded $76 billion in benefits. State agencies are responsible for addressing SNAP recipient fraud under the guidance and monitoring of the Food and Nutrition Service. The report found that most states “reported difficulties in conducting fraud investigations due to either reduced or maintained staff levels while SNAP recipient numbers greatly increased from fiscal year 2009 through 2013.”

Economic News

The world is graying at a break-neck pace and that’s bad news for the global economy. By 2020, 13 countries will be “super-aged” — with more than 20% of the population over 65 — according to a report by Moody’s Investor Service. That number will rise to 34 nations by 2030. Only three qualify now: Germany, Italy and Japan. Canada, Spain and the U.K. will be “super-aged” by 2025, and the U.S. will follow by 2030. “The unprecedented pace of aging will have a significant negative effect on economic growth over the next two decades across all regions,” the report states. Rapid aging will knock nearly one percentage point off global growth rates over the next decade. Aging populations create problems because there could be fewer working people to drive economic growth and support the retired population.

A new report from the Census Bureau is the latest evidence that the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer. The study divided the U.S. into five groups, from wealthiest to poorest. The median net worth of the richest households rose 11 percent between 2000 and 2011, to $630,754. The next-wealthiest group’s net worth also rose. But because wealth dropped for the majority of Americans, the median household net worth for the country overall declined about 7 percent to $68,828. A rebound in the stock market and rising home values after the housing bust helped richer Americans regain their wealth since the recession, which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. But the bottom 20 percent owed more than they had and were worse off in 2011 than they were in 2000. In 2011, the median net worth of the poorest Americans was negative $6,029, compared with negative $905 a decade before.

Persecution Watch

Christian business owners are under increasing gay activist legal attacks for refusing to participate in same-gender “weddings.” Last week the owners of Liberty Ridge Farm near Albany, New York, which is rented out for birthday parties and about a dozen weddings each year, have been levied a $10,00 fine and ordered to pay two women $1,500 a piece for not allowing the lesbian couple to have their 2012 wedding ceremony on the property And similar trouble is brewing in Pennsylvania, where The Cake Pros bakery in Schuylkill Haven and W. W. Bridal Boutique in Bloomsburg likewise declined to be part of same-gender weddings. Randall Wenger, chief counsel for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, tells OneNewsNow that the owners are Christians who recognize that the Bible expressly condemns homosexual conduct. “True tolerance should mean that we’re free to live according to our beliefs without being fined or forced out of business,” he said.

Reports have emerged that Iraqi Christians driven from their homes by Islamist militants are beginning to die in crowded camps and other temporary places of refuge. Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako released a statement on the plight of displaced Iraqi Christians, whom he said are sleeping in churches, schools, streets and public parks. “Death and sickness are taking hold of the children and elderly people among the thousands of refugee families spread over the Kurdistan region. The most vulnerable among the displaced Christians are dying because of shortages of water, food, medicines and shelter.” In addition, a United Nations report said that some 1,500 Yazidis and Christians may have been forced into sexual slavery by ISIS terrorists.

Middle East

Many Gazans had hoped nine days of calm here would turn into a lasting peace after six weeks of fighting that leveled neighborhoods, But those hopes were dashed this week as hostilities renewed and peace talks failed. Talks had been deadlocked, with neither side showing much willingness to compromise. Hamas demands an end to the Israeli-Egyptian Gaza blockade, which restricts movement of goods and people there, while Israel insists that Hamas disarm. The cease-fire dissolved when Hamas began firing rockets into Israel once again followed by Israeli air attacks against militant targets.

The recently renewed violence in the Mideast claimed more lives Sunday as Israeli strikes killed at least 16 people in Gaza and a Hamas attack on a border crossing wounded four Israeli civilians. At least 117 rockets were fired at Israel on Sunday, the IDF said via its Twitter account. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared Hamas to ISIS, the militant group that now calls itself the Islamic State. “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas. They simply work in the same way. They are branches of the same poisonous tree,” Netanyahu said. Al-Qidra told CNN that 92 people in Gaza have been killed since a ceasefire ended five days ago and more than 2,100 have died in this weeks-long conflict.

Syria

The Syrian regime says it’s ready to accept support from the United States and others working under the U.N. umbrella to fight “terrorists.” The comments, by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, were made Monday as ISIS fighters seized control of a strategically important air base in the country. The war-racked nation has been losing control of the northeastern region to ISIS militants. The Islamic extremist group, which has taken over large areas of Syria and Iraq, wrested the Al-Tabqa air base from the Syrian military on Sunday, ISIS, which refers to itself as the Islamic State, is part of the complex web of groups fighting in the long-running Syrian conflict — a war that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 191,000 people.

A freelance American writer held captive for nearly two years in Syria by al Qaeda-linked militants was freed just days after a rival group beheaded another U.S. reporter and threatened to continue killing others. Peter Theo Curtis, 45 years old, was released by the Nusra Front in Syria after the government of Qatar helped negotiate his freedom, according to his family and U.S. officials. While it remained unclear what led to Mr. Curtis’s release, his freedom may provide some hope to the families of other Americans being held hostage in Syria.

Iraq

Iraqi officials say a suicide bombing against an Interior Ministry building in central Baghdad has killed at least 11 people. A police officer says the suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden car into the gate of the intelligence headquarters in Karrada district Saturday afternoon, killing six civilians and five security personnel with 24 other people wounded. Since early this year, Iraq has been facing a growing Sunni insurgency with the Islamic State group and allied Sunni militants who have taken over areas in the country’s west and north. The crisis has worsened since June when the group declared an Islamic state, or caliphate, in territory under its control.

Ukraine

Many of the trucks in a disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine crossed back into Russia on Saturday, helping to ease tensions in the region. The developments come after a tense day Friday, when the aid convoy carrying “humanitarian cargoes” defied the Ukrainian government and International Committee of the Red Cross by crossing the border and arriving in Luhansk, the separatists’ stronghold in eastern Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen condemned Russia for sending the unauthorized humanitarian aid convoy into Ukraine on Friday without the involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Kiev government called the advance of the Russian trucks into Ukrainian territory a “direct invasion.”

A column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles has crossed into southeastern Ukraine, away from where most of the intense fighting has been taking place, a top Ukrainian official said Monday. He said that the column of 10 tanks, two armored vehicles and two trucks crossed the border near Shcherbak and that the nearby city of Novoazovsk which was also shelled during the night from inside Russia. He said they were Russian military vehicles bearing the flags of the separatist Donetsk rebels. The reported incursion and shelling could indicate an attempt to move on Mariupol, a major port on the Azov Sea, an arm of the Black Sea. Mariupol lies on the main road between Russia and Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia annexed in March. Capturing Mariupol could be the first step in building a slice of territory that links Russia with Crimea.

Russia

Name brand American and European conglomerates are feeling the impact from the turmoil in Russia. Many are reporting slower Russian sales and, in some cases, store closures as the Ukraine-Russia conflict drags on. Some have seen their share price get pummeled since the start of the year. Cold War-style tensions and escalating sanctions are slamming companies such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Carlsberg, Adidas, Volkwagon, Ford, Renault, BP, Societe Generale, and Danone.

France

French President Francois Hollande dissolved the government on Monday after an open feud in his Cabinet over the country’s stagnant economy. Prime Minister Manuel Valls offered up his Socialist government’s resignation after accusing the economy minister of crossing a line with his blunt criticism of the government’s policies. Hollande accepted the resignation and ordered Valls to form a new government by Tuesday. France has had effectively no economic growth this year and Hollande’s approval ratings are in the teens. The country is under pressure from the European Union to get its finances in order, but Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg has questioned whether the austerity pressed by the EU will kick start French growth.

Pestilence

Two alarming new cases of Ebola have emerged in Nigeria, widening the circle of people sickened beyond the immediate group of caregivers who treated a dying airline passenger in one of Africa’s largest cities. The outbreak also continues to spread elsewhere in West Africa, with 142 more cases recorded, bringing the new total to 2,615 with 1,427 deaths, the World Health Organization said Friday. Most of the new cases are in Liberia, where the government was delivering donated rice to a slum where 50,000 people have been sealed off from the rest of the capital in an attempt to contain the outbreak. New treatment centers in Liberia are being overwhelmed by patients that were not previously identified. The WHO’s website says the survival rate for people with Ebola in this outbreak has been 47%, which is a substantial improvement over the disease’s historical survival rate.

Ivory Coast announced Saturday that it’s closing its borders in response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Ivory Coast borders Guinea and Liberia. The announcement comes the same day the British government announced one of its citizens was infected with the deadly virus. The Brit, who lives in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, tested positive for the Ebola virus Saturday. The Democratic Republic of Congo is reporting new Ebola cases in a northern town, sparking fears that the deadly virus is expanding far beyond West Africa. Two people in Gera tested positive for Ebola, a government spokesman said Sunday. The central African nation said its test showed that the strain is different from the one that has killed nearly 1,500 people in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

Earthquakes

A 6.0-magnitude earthquake, the strongest in 25 years, rocked the San Francisco Bay area early Sunday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The earthquake struck 4 miles northwest of American Canyon, California in Napa County at around 3:20 a.m. local time. The quake was felt over a large portion of northern California, including San Francisco, with the strongest shaking experienced in Napa, Solano and Sonoma Counties. The earthquake knocked out power to more than 50,000 people early Sunday. The quake caused extensive damage, with reports of people being trapped in buildings as well as extreme structural damage. The quake damaged historic buildings and portions of major highways, ruptured gas lines and water mains, ignited fires, and knocked out power to thousands of residents in the region. Scores of people were injured by the quake, and at least two people remained in critical condition on Monday morning.

  • Despite living in a state known for its active fault lines, most Californians don’t buy earthquake insurance. Only about one in ten Californians have insurance to cover the damage to their homes and property, according to the California Earthquake Authority. It estimated the numbers are even lower in some of the areas that were affected Sunday, such as Napa, where as few as 6% have coverage.

Two earthquakes measuring over 5 in magnitude — the biggest yet — have shaken Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano after the country issued an aviation red alert warning that an ash-emitting eruption may be imminent. Iceland’s Meteorological Office recorded earthquakes of 5.3 and 5.1 in the early hours of Sunday. The volcano, underneath Iceland’s vast Vatnajokull glacier, has been rattled by thousands of small earthquakes over the past week. Authorities have declared a no-fly zone of 100 nautical miles by 140 nautical miles around the epicenter as a precaution. A 2010 eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano caused a week of international aviation chaos, with more than 100,000 flights cancelled.

A major 6.9-magnitude earthquake was recorded in central Peru on Sunday night, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Peruvian news outlet El Comercio reports that residents in Huamanga, the capital of the Ayacucho region, fled their homes and ran to a local parade ground for safety. In Cusco in southeastern Peru, cellphone and power outages were reported. Local media said that the quake was felt in parts of Lima and in many major cities of southeastern Peru, including Cuzco and Arequipa. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

A 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked the region around Valparaiso, Chile on Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. No injuries or serious damage from the strong quake, but electricity and telephone service was interrupted in some areas. The quake was centered about 11 miles west-northwest of a community called Hacienda La Calera, about 67 miles northwest of the capital of Santiago at a depth of about 19 miles. Each whole-number increase on the Richter scale represents a tenfold increase in an earthquake’s strength.

Wildfires

Firefighters battling a Hawaii wildfire caused by young boys playing with a lighter are using helicopters and clearing terrain to attack the 1¼-square mile blaze. The fire started in the Makakilo area of Oahu and has forced some 40 people in 20 homes to evacuate and damaged at least one residence, but no one has been hurt. The parents of twin 7-year-old boys told investigators their sons inadvertently ignited the blaze with the lighter. Since then, fire has chewed through about 800 acres of brush, grass and trees as strong winds pushed the flames uphill and into a rugged, inaccessible mountain area.

A fast-growing wildfire near the Northern California town of Weaverville forced the evacuation of about 150 homes and is threatening about 500 additional residences, authorities said Monday. The fire about 2 miles west of Weaverville was also threatening about 20 businesses and facilities, including the town airport and high school. The fire was sparked Sunday afternoon near Highway 299, the main road into town, and rapidly grew to a little more than 1 square miles, or 650 acres. Weaverville is at the base of the Trinity Alps Wilderness area in Trinity County in far northern California.

Weather

The third tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season formed on Sunday over the Turks and Caicos Islands after the system dumped heavy rain on Puerto Rico Saturday, sparking flooding and landslides and downing trees and power lines. On Saturday, Tropical Storm Cristobal (a tropical depression at the time) left more than 17,000 people without power and nearly 5,600 without water in Puerto Rico. A small bridge collapsed in the central town of Barranquitas, isolating some 25 families in the area. In the central mountainous municipality of Adjuntas, landslides were reported along the PR-123 highway. Cristobal continued to spin Monday morning about 100 miles east of the central Bahamas. Cristobal is not expected to hit the U.S. East Coast.

A serious flooding situation caused numerous problems in the Midwest, where roads were closed overnight Thursday and some cars have been caught under feet of water. Flood warnings were issued for most of Chicago, as well as areas in eastern Illinois, northern Indiana and western Ohio on Friday morning as heavy rain caused problems across the region. In Chicago, several inches of rain fell overnight, forcing officials to close stretches of Interstate 90. Indiana has also experienced severe flooding from the system. A two-mile stretch of Interstate 69 in Grant County was closed due to floodwaters, and Blackford County Schools were closed for the day.

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