Signs of the Times (4/20/13)

Boston Bombers are Islamic Militants from Chechnya

The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing remained hospitalized with serious injuries this morning as the hunt for answers goes full tilt to discover why the alleged terrorists turned against a country they once embraced. Police captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Friday night, ending a tense, five-day drama that gripped Massachusetts with fear and rekindled the specter of terror across the nation. He and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed in an earlier gun battle with police, are Islamic Chechens who came to the U.S. and – for a time – seemed to want to succeed in America. FBI agents interviewed one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings two years ago, but found no connection with terror groups.

Chechnya, a Russian republic, has been the scene of terrorism and related violence since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. Militants from Chechnya and other restive regions in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus have targeted Moscow and other areas with bombings and hostage-takings for more than 20 years. The allegations of ties to Monday’s Boston bombings are the first connection of terror attacks in the United States. Predominantly Muslim, Chechnya declared independence from Russia in November 1991. A full-scale separatist war broke out in 1994 and lasted through most of the 1990s. It was only after a second wave of Russian military action in the early part of the last decade that Chechnya fell under firmer Russian control. However, Chechen terrorists have committed sporadic large-scale attacks in Russia since then. In March 2010, Chechen terrorists claimed responsible for bombings on the Moscow subway system that killed more than 40 people.

  • No matter how much Obama and the liberal media wanted the bombers to be white, American Christian conservatives, the truth is that Islamists are the terrorists in 99% of the cases around the world

New Zealand Approves Gay-Marriage Bill

Hundreds of jubilant gay-rights advocates celebrated at New Zealand’s Parliament as the country become the thirteenth in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage. Lawmakers voted 77 to 44 Wednesday night in favor of the gay-marriage bill. Same-sex marriage is currently recognized in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark. Lawmakers in Uruguay approved a law last week that President Jose Mujica is expected to sign.

Gun Background Check Expansion Defeated

Supporters of new gun control legislation are vowing to ramp up their campaign for expanded background checks despite suffering a major defeat in the Senate Wednesday, threatening to overpower the gun lobby even if it takes years. A Senate proposal to expand background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, while exempting personal transactions, failed on a 54-46 vote Wednesday. It needed 60 to pass. Opponents, which included Republicans and rural-state Democrats, said the measure would infringe on Second Amendment rights by imposing a burden on law-abiding gun owners while doing little to stop criminals. They also repeated the concern that the system could lead to a gun registry.

‘Gang of Eight’ Releases Immigration Plan

The eight senators who authored the newly unveiled bipartisan immigration-reform bill said on Thursday that they are confident their efforts will not collapse the way a bipartisan gun-control bill did this week. Immigration reform has much wider support among both Democrats and Republicans than gun control does, said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Schumer is one of the “Gang of Eight” senators who released their bill this week. Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, said the most compelling reason for the senators’ confidence is the unprecedented coalition of diverse interest groups that have come together around the legislation. Among them: labor unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, farmers and farm workers, Catholics and evangelical Protestants, and immigrant-rights advocates and conservatives such as Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. A bipartisan coalition of more than 30 state attorneys general also is calling on congressional leaders to pass reform.

Obamacare Reality: Doctor Shortage on the Way

With 30 million new people expected to enter the health-care system in 2014 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, experts say a looming doctor shortage isn’t a chance—it’s a reality. Some experts expect the shortage to hit the primary care physician (PCP) arena the hardest and explain that there is approximately one PCP for every 15,000 people in the U.S. but come 2020, there will be about 70,000 less doctors available to consumers as a direct result of the law. A recent Deloitte 2013 survey  of U.S. physicians found 57% doctors view changes in the industry under health-care reform as a threat, and six in 10 physicians report it’s likely that many will retire earlier than planned in the next two to three years, fueling the shortage.

Chinese Bird Flu Puzzling

Almost three weeks after China reported finding a new strain of bird flu in humans, experts are still stumped by how people are becoming infected when many appear to have had no recent contact with live fowl and the virus isn’t supposed to pass from person to person. The uncertainty adds to challenges the Chinese government is facing in trying to control the spread of the H7N9 bird flu virus that has already killed 17 people and infected 66 others in the country. Theories among experts about how the virus may be spreading run from the ways poultry is slaughtered in markets to infected droppings from migratory birds.

Economic News

Prices aren’t going up very much. Should we celebrate? Not really. Inflation that’s too low could be a bad sign for the U.S. economy, and some Federal Reserve officials are starting to get concerned.Prices are up 1.3% over a year ago. “Economic history has shown that economies perform best with slightly higher levels of inflation, such as 2% to 3%,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist for the Economic Outlook Group. “Low and dormant inflation translates into a dormant economy.”

  • Some economists are worried about deflation (i.e. price decreases), which would also deflate the economy

Arizona is on track to become the second state in the nation to recognize gold and silver coins as legal tender, joining Utah as part of a conservative movement arising out of a lack of confidence in the Federal Reserve and fear that paper money could become virtually worthless as U.S. debt deflates the value of the dollar.

New claims for unemployment benefits rose 4,000 in the week ended April 13, to 352,000. The 4-week moving average was 361,250, up 2,750 from the previous week.

Jobs keep moving to the suburbs. Jobs within 3 miles of a city center fell from 24.5% of overall positions in 2000 to 22.9% in 2010, according to a report released Thursday from the Brookings Institution. During the same time, jobs in the outer suburbs — between 10 and 35 miles of a city’s center — grew from 40.9% in 2000 to 43.1% in 2010.

Persecution Watch

A weekend of violence left seven dead after three artillery shells crashed into a Central African Republic church, reports World Watch Monitor. At least twenty were reported dead after gun battles in sectors of Bangui, the capital of the republic, where rebel groups took power last month. The seven Christian victims in the attack were attending church service at the Evangelical Federation of Brothers church on Sunday. Many children were among the wounded and were transferred to a pediatric hospital for treatment, Rev. Mbaye-Bondoi told World Watch Monitor in a telephone interview. The pastor was also hurt but said the injury was not life-threatening. Various independent news reports said clashes erupted Saturday after members of the rebel forces known as Séléka began a sweep through parts of Bangui. There have been increased attacks on Christian clerics and lay people since the Séléka coalition formed in December.

Syria

The U.S. readied a package Saturday of up to $130 million in nonlethal military aid to Syrian opposition forces while European countries consider easing an arms embargo, moves that could further pressure the Assad government. Since February, the U.S. has shipped food and medical supplies directly to the Free Syrian Army. The aid was expanded later aid to include defensive military equipment. So far, the U.S. has provided an estimated $117 million in nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition.

In a critical indication of growing U.S. military involvement in the civil war in Syria, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the deployment of more American troops to Jordan. He said the troops will work alongside Jordanian forces to “improve readiness and prepare for a number of scenarios.” The deployment “creates an additional capability” beyond what has been there, one official said, and will give the United States the ability to “potentially form a joint task force for military operations, if ordered.” The new deployment will include communications and intelligence specialists who will assist the Jordanians and “be ready for military action” if President Barack Obama were to order it.

  • Syrian rebels are more and more directed by Islamic militants; they are not our friends and we should not support them in any manner

Iraq

A suicide bomber detonated explosives at a Baghdad cafe crowded with young people late Thursday, killing at least 26 and wounding dozens ahead of provincial elections scheduled for the weekend. The rare evening attack, which came at the start of the local weekend, brought to 30 the number of people killed across the country Thursday. Earlier in the day, a car bomb struck an army convoy in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, killing three soldiers and wounding five others. Hours later, one policeman was killed and three others were wounded when gunmen attacked a security checkpoint in western Baghdad.

Iran

Iran’s oil ministry says the country is considering exporting oil to North Korea as a way to improve its battered economy. Talks are underway between Tehran and Pyongyang bout the oil exports. An oil deal would bring the two nations – both deeply at odds with the U.S. and the West over nuclear weapons development – closer together. In September, they signed a scientific and technological cooperation agreement. A delegation from North Korea’s oil ministry is currently visiting Iran. Iranian and North Korean officials have said in the past that their nations are in “one trench” in the confrontation with Western powers.

North Korea

North Korea set out demanding conditions for any talks with Washington and Seoul, calling for the withdrawal of U.N. sanctions against it and a permanent end to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises. The United States and South Korea “should immediately stop all their provocative acts against the DPRK and apologize for all of them,” the North’s National Defense Commission said in a statement carried by state-run media, using the shortened version of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The commission listed a number of “practical measures” it said the United States and South Korea should take if they want to avoid “sledge-hammer retaliatory blows of the army and people” of North Korea.

  • Iran and North Korea operate from the same playbook: a lot of bluster, threats and stalling in order to keep their nuclear ambitions moving forward

Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake struck the steep hills of China’s southwestern Sichuan province Saturday, leaving at least 156 people dead and more than 5,500 injured, nearly five years after a devastating quake wreaked widespread damage across the same region. The quake – measured by the earthquake administration at magnitude-7.0 – struck the steep hills of Lushan county shortly after 8 a.m., when many people were at home, sleeping or having breakfast. Saturday’s quake triggered landslides and disrupted phone and power connections in mountainous Lushan county. The village of Longmen was hit particularly hard, with authorities saying nearly all the buildings there had been destroyed in a frightening minute-long shaking by the quake.

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck in seas off far northern Japan and far eastern Russia on Friday, but no damage was expected. No tsunami warnings have been issued. The tremor struck around midday in the Pacific Ocean at a relatively shallow depth of 6.2 miles. Japan and Russia both claim some of the sparsely populated islands in the remote region.

A strong earthquake and about 20 smaller temblors have struck a small volcanic island south of Tokyo, but there is no danger of a tsunami and no injuries have been reported. Japan’s Meteorological Agency says a magnitude-6.2 quake hit just off Miyake island Wednesday evening at a depth of 20 kilometers (12 miles). About 20 smaller temblors have also been recorded in the area since the morning. The volcano, located 180 kilometers (110 miles) south of Tokyo, most recently erupted in 2000, forcing all 3,000 of the island’s residents to evacuate.

A powerful earthquake shook Papua New Guinea’s northern coast Wednesday morning, sending residents fleeing for higher ground and items tumbling from shelves. There were no immediate reports of serious damage and no tsunami alert was issued. The shallow, magnitude-6.8 earthquake struck about 11 miles east of Aitape.

  • Earthquakes will continue to increase in frequency and intensity as we roll further into the ‘beginning of sorrows.’ (Matt. 24:8)

Weather

Heavy rain in the Midwest Wednesday into Thursday has created critical flooding problems in at least a half-dozen states. States of emergency were declared, residents were evacuated and roads were closed in the affected areas. As of Saturday morning, more than 50 river/stream gauges were showing major flood levels in parts of Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. Record flooding has been been recorded at around a dozen river gauges in Illinois. Record flooding is ongoing on the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Mich. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the Missouri National Guard to aid flood-fighting efforts. At Burlington, Iowa, the Mississippi Riverwas expected to rise to near its third or fourth highest level on record. In central Indiana, the Wabash River in Tippecanoe County near Lafayette could crest Saturday at 25.3 feet – its highest level in more than a half-century.

A powerful spring storm that snarled air traffic from Denver to Chicago moved into U.S. heartland Thursday, tormenting the region with everything from heavy snow to severe thunderstorms. Airlines reported more than 200 cancellations at Denver International Airport on Wednesday after the storm system dumped up to 7 inches of snow in the area and much more in the mountains.

A dust storm rolled through southeastern Arizona near the New Mexico border Wednesday, closing a 112-mile stretch of Interstate 10. The freeway was reopened Wednesday night after winds died down. Dust storms, or haboobs, are common in the Southwest in spring when strong storm systems move through the Rockies, generating gusty winds.

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