Signs of the Times (9/28/13)

Government Shutdown Monday if No Budget Deal

If Democrats and Republicans don’t reach a spending deal by midnight Monday, a partial government shutdown will take effect. The 2013 fiscal year ends at midnight Monday. Many federal programs and activities will stop beginning Tuesday and won’t restart until a new deal is in place. The House on Saturday will take up a short-term spending plan that has become a congressional version of hot potato with a looming government shutdown at stake. The ball is back in the court of the Republican-led House after the Senate pushed the plan through with an amendment to restore funding for Obamacare that the House had eliminated in an earlier version of the measure. House Speaker John Boehner must decide whether to urge his divided Republican caucus to vote with Democrats to pass the Senate plan, or yield again to a hardline conservative wing that demands making continued government funding contingent on undermining Obamacare.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other “entitlement” programs that are funded automatically will escape the worst effects. But government agencies that rely on yearly congressional appropriations will be hit a lot harder. That includes giant agencies such as the Pentagon and smaller ones such as the National Park Service. Federal agencies have prepared plans to continue programs they deem critical to maintaining public safety and protecting property despite the shutdown. Employees who perform those critical functions will continue to work and get paid. For instance, air traffic controllers and firefighters contracted by the National Forest Service would continue to work, but park rangers and researchers who conduct clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health would be furloughed.

Insurance Costs to Soar for Some People Under Obamacare

While the administration maintains that ObamaCare will make health insurance more affordable for Americans, experts say that won’t be the case across the board – and some people could see their rates soar. Former Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Holtz-Eakin said Thursday, “That’s not the reality. The reality is much messier. There’s going to be some people who do better. There are going to be a lot of people who do much, much worse.” “They cherry picked the data in order to highlight the fact that people of low income will benefit under the law,” adds Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a New York-based think tank. “But people of middle income will not. And they didn’t really talk about that.” The new law requires the addition of what it calls essential benefits — a list of things that must be covered and which make insurance more expensive than it is now.

Judge Orders New Jersey to Allow Gay Marriage

A New Jersey judge ruled on Friday that the state must allow same-sex couples to marry, saying that not doing so deprives them of rights that were guaranteed by the United States Supreme Court in June. It is the first time a court has struck down a state’s refusal to legalize same-sex marriage as a direct result of the Supreme Court ruling, and with lawsuits pending in other states, it could presage other successful challenges across the country. The decision was a rebuff to Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature last year that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry. His office said it would appeal to the state’s highest court. And he is likely to seek a stay preventing same-sex marriages from beginning on Oct. 21, as the judge ordered.

  • The gay agenda is a key end-time marker for moral decline (2Timothy 3:1-5) and will continue to progress as the ‘gross darkness’ of Isaiah 60:2 expands over the earth.

Arizona Broadens Driver’s License Ban

Arizona is expanding its driver’s license ban to nearly all undocumented immigrants whose deportations have been deferred under a White House policy. In 2012, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer banned licenses for immigrants given work permits under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But the state is getting tougher: Arizona now won’t issue driver’s licenses to immigrants with work permits in any deferred category.

Kerry Signs UN Small Arms Treaty

Secretary of State John Kerry signed a landmark treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar global arms trade during the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting this week, initiating an uncertain ratification process in the U.S. Senate. Some lawmakers have expressed strong opposition to the United States becoming a party to the treaty. The U.S. is the world’s largest arms dealer and its accession is seen as critical to the treaty’s success, although many of the world’s other top arms exporters and importers have not signed the document. This document has been long feared by pro-gun groups and individuals as an end run around the Second Amendment and open the US gun market to international regulation,

Scientists Forced to Embrace Intelligent Design

At a recent conference of scientists and mathematicians in Nice, France – including participants from Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Berkeley and Columbia – the scientific consensus was that the universe is exquisitely fine-tuned to create the possibility of life. Michael Turner, astrophysicist at the University of Chicago said, “The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bulls-eye one millimeter in diameter on the other side.” Roger Penrose, a professor of Mathematics at Oxford University writes that the likelihood of the universe have the right energy components is “one part out of ten to the power of 123… [i.e.] a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion zeroes.” Dennis Prager, a conference attendee, writes in the September issue of Whistleblower magazine, “Honest atheists – scientists and lay people – must now acknowledge that science itself argues overwhelmingly for a Designing Intelligence.”

Chemicals in Lake Michigan Rise to Worrisome Levels

Pharmaceuticals, caffeine and items such as toothpaste additives have been found farther out in the Great Lakes than ever before, according to a new study that also raises concerns about their levels. The presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products — or PPCPs — has previously gone largely unstudied within the Great Lakes. The expectation has been that the Great Lakes’ huge volumes of water would dilute the PPCPs into undetectability. Pharmaceuticals found in Lake Michigan 2 miles offshore from two Milwaukee wastewater treatment plants included a diabetes medication and a hormone used in birth-control pills. The new findings are alarming researchers, even as they continue to learn more about what the presence of PPCPs means. The concern is that the products, or mixtures of them, might affect fish and other aquatic life in ways that harm the ecosystem.

Test Scores Flat, Students’ Readiness Questioned

Average scores on the nation’s most widely used college entrance exams barely budged this year, raising anew concerns that today’s high school graduates will be unprepared to compete in a global marketplace. In a report out Wednesday, the non-profit College Board says just 43% of SAT takers in the high school class of 2013 earned a score that indicates they will succeed in the first year of college. That percentage has remained “virtually unchanged” for at least five years. Last month, an annual report by the Iowa-based non-profit ACT found that just 26% of high school graduates in the class of 2013 met college readiness benchmarks in all four of the subjects its tests cover: English, reading, math and science. : Low-income and minority students on average are less likely to be ready for college, though the percentage of black and Hispanic SAT takers who achieved scores indicating college readiness increased.

White House Sends Millions to Detroit

Even as the nation sits on the edge of a financial crisis driven by the need to incur more debt, the White House has found $300 million to send to mismanaged, financially beleaguered Detroit, according to CNN. The money is being taken “from programs that are available for cities across the nation, not just Detroit.” The action amounts to a backdoor assistance plan that effectively circumvents Congress, which would not support a bailout. A White House official was vague on how the money had been cobbled together.

Pension Woes: Detroit is Not Alone

The problems with Detroit’s pension funds, which helped to drive the city into the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy, are widespread across other major cities and local governments. A report by credit rating agency Moody’s finds that there are 30 major localities where the pension burdens are greater the government’s total operating revenue. Chicago is the city highlighted in the report as having the most severe pension liability problems. Other governments dealing with a pension funding gap that is more than double their annual revenue are Jacksonville, Fla., Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix, as well as school districts in Denver and Las Vegas.

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 5,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 305,000, the second-lowest level in six years. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Fewer layoffs suggest employers are confident enough to maintain their staffing levels. But companies have been reluctant to take the next step and ramp up hiring.

U.S. household net worth rose 1.8% in the second quarter to a record $74.8 trillion, fueled by a stock market rally and the housing recovery, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday. Household net worth — the difference between the value of assets like homes and mortgages and other debts — jumped by a total $1.3 trillion. Home values increased by $525 billion and the value of stocks and mutual funds rose nearly $300 billion. The rising household wealth is helping offset wages that have been stagnant after adjusting for inflation.

Syria

The inspectors responsible for tracking down Syria’s chemical arms stockpile and verifying its destruction plan to start work in Syria by next Tuesday. They will face their tightest deadlines ever and work right in the heart of a war zone. The investigation is the key to the U.N. resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons program. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously late Friday to require Syria to eliminate its arsenal of chemical weapons. Members of the council met shortly after another international group voted to fast-track Syria’s addition to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans such weapons, according to CNN. Syria has until November to destroy all of its chemical weapons stockpile.

As diplomats at the United Nations push for a peace conference to end Syria’s civil war, a collection of some of the country’s most powerful rebel groups publicly abandoned the opposition’s political leaders, casting their lot with an affiliate of Al Qaeda. As support for the Western-backed leadership has dwindled, a second, more extreme Al Qaeda group has carved out footholds across parts of Syria, frequently clashing with mainline rebels who accuse it of making the establishment of an Islamic state a priority over the fight to topple President Bashar al-Assad. The fractured nature of the opposition, the rising radical Islamist character of some rebel fighters, and the increasing complexity of Syria’s battle lines have left the exile leadership with diminished clout inside the country and have raised the question of whether it could hold up its end of any agreement reached to end the war.

Iran

After a group meeting and then a one-on-one session between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, U.S. and European diplomats said they were pleased with a new, more positive approach by Iran in talks aimed at resolving the impasse over its nuclear program. The long-fractured relationship between the United States and Iran took a significant turn on Friday when President Obama and President Hassan Rouhani became the first leaders of their countries to speak since the Tehran hostage crisis more than three decades ago. Hard-line protesters hurled eggs and a shoe at President Hassan Rouhani as he returned to Tehran on Saturday after supporters cheered him for reaching out to President Obama.

The newly energized nuclear talks with Iran could well be an Iranian scam to stave off a military attack, lift economic sanctions and play for time while putting the finishing touches on its nuclear program, or to cut a deal that will leave in place the infrastructure for building a bomb, Iran analysts say. Experience with rogue nations seeking nuclear capabilities, such as North Korea and Iraq, shows that Iran could use negotiations to play for more time.

As he conducts a high-profile good-will visit to New York this week, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, says he is bringing a simple message of peace and friendship. But on Wednesday, Mr. Rouhani set off a political storm here and in Iran, with an acknowledgment and condemnation of the Holocaust that landed him in precisely the kind of tangled dispute he had hoped to avoid. Mr. Rouhani, in an interview on Tuesday with CNN, described the Holocaust as a “crime that the Nazis committed towards the Jews” and called it “reprehensible and condemnable.” It was a groundbreaking statement, given that his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denied the systematic extermination of Jews during World War II. A semiofficial Iranian news agency accused CNN of fabricating portions of Mr. Rouhani’s interview.

Iraq

Bombs ripped through outdoor markets in and near Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 21 people and wounding dozens, the latest in a deadly wave that has hit Iraq in recent months. Three bombs went off simultaneously in the Shiite village of Sabaa al-Bour, 20 miles north of the Iraqi capital. The explosions — two at the market entrance and one inside the shopping area — went off as the place was packed with shoppers. The attack came shortly after a bomb blast hit the al-Athorien market in Baghdad’s southern neighborhood of Dora. Insurgents in Iraq often target crowded places such as markets, cafes and mosques in order to inflict huge casualties. More than 4,000 people have been killed in violence during the past few months.

Pakistan

At least 17 people were killed and more than 30 others wounded in an explosion that ripped through a bus carrying government employees in northwest Pakistan on Friday. The bus was carrying at least 70 employees of various departments of the secretariat of Peshawar, the capital of the volatile province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Police think the explosion was caused by a remote-controlled device planted in a tin can containing about 13 to 18 pounds of explosives.

Greece

Police arrested the leader and other top officials of the extreme-right Golden Dawn party on Saturday on charges of forming a criminal organization, in an escalation of a government crackdown after a fatal stabbing allegedly committed by a supporter. It is the first time since 1974 that a party head and sitting members of Parliament have been arrested. An operation by the counterterrorism unit was still ongoing late Saturday morning, with a total of about 35 arrest warrants for Golden Dawn members issued. Despite the arrests, the party’s lawmakers retain their parliamentary seats unless they are convicted of a crime. Golden Dawn holds 18 of Parliament’s 300 seats, after winning nearly 7% of the vote in general elections last year.

Earthquakes

A major earthquake rocked Pakistan’s southwest Saturday, sending people running into the street in panic just days after another quake in the same region killed 359 people. The Pakistani Meteorological Department measured the earthquake at 7.2 magnitude. The department said its epicenter was located about 90 miles west of the town of Khuzdar. There may have been little left to damage after Tuesday’s disaster. Few of the mud and homemade brick houses in the area survived the 7.7 magnitude quake that leveled houses and buried people in the rubble across the district of Awaran.

Weather

Calling man-made warming “extremely likely,” (95% certainty) the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change used the strongest words yet on the issue as it adopted its assessment on the state of the climate system. In its previous assessment, in 2007, the U.N.-sponsored panel said it was “very likely” that global warming was man-made. It now says the evidence has grown thanks to more and better observations, a clearer understanding of the climate system and improved models to analyze the impact of rising temperatures. The IPCC raised its projections of the rise in sea levels to 10-32 inches by the end of the century. The previous report predicted a rise of 7-23 inches. The IPCC assessments are important because they form the scientific basis of U.N. negotiations on a new climate deal. Governments are supposed to finish that agreement in 2015, but it’s unclear whether they will commit to the emissions cuts that scientists say will be necessary to keep the temperature below a limit at which the worst effects of climate change can be avoided.

  • So-called climate change is an end-time phenomena beyond the ability of humanity to control one way or the other (Ezek. 38:22, Rev. 8:7, 11:19, 16:9, 21)

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