Archive for November, 2013

Signs of the Times (11/26/13)

November 26, 2013

Iran Agrees to Nuclear Deal

Six world powers reached an interim agreement with Iran on its disputed nuclear program after four days of talks in Geneva. In the six-month interim deal, Iran agreed to limit nuclear activities in return for relief of up to $7 billion in sanctions that have hurt its economy. Late Saturday night, President Obama called the agreement “an important first step” but said sanctions can be reapplied if the Iranians violate it, adding “Iran cannot use negotiations as cover to advance its (nuclear) program.” Administration officials said the deal addresses several of Israel’s most serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program — including Iran growing its supply of 20% uranium and the Arak reactor coming online. The deal provides for daily visits by international inspectors to Iran’s uranium enrichment sites in Natanz and Fordow. The deal gives Iran about $7 billion in relief on oil, gold, auto exports and educational cash reserves. Enrichment is capped but not frozen or rolled back, leaving Iran close to a breakout for a bomb. Uranium enrichment capabilities are not dismantled, as had been demanded by U.N. resolutions. The deal also allows Iran to claim the West has accepted its “right” to enrich uranium.

However, on Sunday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the deal, calling it “a historic mistake” that leaves Iran with its nuclear capabilities mostly intact. He said Israel will not be bound by the deal, and that “Israel has the right and the duty to defend itself by itself.” The Israeli government said Sunday that a deal reached with Iran only slows a nuclear program that will still be capable of producing a bomb. There was silence from the capitals of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan — Arab countries who are extremely worried about Persians (Iran) having nuclear weapons. Bipartisan skepticism in the U.S. Senate about the Iran deal could mean a renewed push for more and tougher sanctions — and a possible veto showdown with President Obama. Even Democrats skewered Obama and the deal on talk shows Monday.

  • Iran desperately needed relief from the sanctions, but in the long-run its goals haven’t changed. They will continue to advance their nuclear program in secret, albeit at a slower pace.

Nuclear Deal Betrays U.S. Pastor Imprisoned in Iran

The Obama administration betrayed American pastor Saeed Abedini by reaching a deal with Iran that includes easing sanctions and providing humanitarian relief—a deal that leaves a U.S. citizen behind, imprisoned because of his faith, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is working to secure his release. “President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry turned their backs on a U.S. citizen by refusing to secure his freedom before reaching an agreement with Iran,” says Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ. “It is outrageous and a betrayal of American pastor Saeed Abedini, who has spent more than a year in an Iranian prison simply because of his Christian faith. The Obama administration has left Pastor Saeed behind. And by failing to secure his release as a precondition to any negotiations, the Obama administration sends a troubling message to the Iranian government that Americans are expendable.”

  • Obama only cares about his image and legacy, everything else is expendable

No Chance of Global Trade Deal

The director-general of the World Trade Organization says negotiators have failed to craft the first global trade deal in more than a decade, which could have given the world economy a $1 trillion boost. Diplomats from the WTO’s 159 members tried hard but “cannot cross the finish line here in Geneva” ahead of a summit in Bali, Indonesia next week where ministers were to have signed the deal. Without a deal the organization’s credibility will suffer, because it will only be viewed as a trade court and no longer as a forum for governments to negotiate trade agreements.

  • Globalists suffer a setback here but the one-world government is still coming just as Revelation 13 tells us

Not Wanted: 100,000 New Medicaid Enrollees

States don’t want them, but they have to take them. More than 100,000 people were approved for Medicaid last month in the 25 states that have opted not to expand the government program, according to a CNNMoney analysis. These folks currently qualified for Medicaid, but had not enrolled. Likely drawn in by all the campaigns to enroll the uninsured, the so-called woodwork effect, they applied through the federal Obamacare exchange. Expanding Medicaid has split the nation since the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states could decide whether to widen coverage to all residents up to 138% of the poverty level, or $15,900 for individuals and $32,500 for a family of four, as Obamacare called for. The federal government will pick up the total cost of the expansion for the first three years, after which the funding will phase down to 90%.

  • The unanticipated ripples from Obamacare continue to heap more costs and debt onto an already fragile economy

Up to 80 Million to Lose Employer Health Insurance

Almost 80 million people with employer health plans could find their coverage canceled because they are not compliant with ObamaCare, several experts predicted. Their losses would be in addition to the millions who found their individual coverage cancelled for the same reason. Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute said that in addition to the individual cancellations, “at least half the people on employer plans would by 2014 start losing plans as well.” There are approximately 157 million employer health care policy holders. An analysis by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, anticipates half to two-thirds of small businesses would have policies canceled or be compelled to send workers onto the ObamaCare exchanges. They predicted up to 100 million small and large business policies could be canceled next year.

Obama & Democrats Take More Hits in Polls

Only four out of 10 Americans believe President Barack Obama can manage the federal government effectively, according to a new national poll. That 40% figure is down 12 percentage points from June. In addition, a CNN/ORC International survey released Monday morning also indicates that 53% of Americans now believe that Obama is not honest and trustworthy, the first time that a clear majority in CNN polling has felt that way. Obama’s woes are not limited to honesty and his managerial skills. Fifty-six percent say he is not a person they admire, and fifty-six percent also say he does not inspire confidence, while 53% don’t view him as a strong and decisive leader.

A new CNN/ORC International poll indicates a dramatic turnaround in the battle for control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections. Democrats a month ago held a 50%-42% advantage among registered voters in a generic ballot, which asked respondents to choose between a Democrat or Republican in their congressional district without identifying the candidates. But the Democratic lead has disappeared. A new CNN/ORC poll indicates the GOP now holds a 49%-47% edge. The new survey was conducted last week and released Tuesday.

Newsroom Protests Against White House Spread

Over thirty-five news agencies are boycotting the use of official White House photography over what it says is an unprecedented lack of access to the president. Last Thursday, a coalition of major news organizations including the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, and CNN protested their photojournalists being locked out of public events in a letter to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. “Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the President while he is performing his official duties,” the letter said. “As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the Executive Branch of government.”

  • The Narcissist-in-Chief doesn’t like to be seen when things are going bad and his poll numbers are down

Oregon Ballot Initiative to Protect Religious Freedom

A Christian organization in Oregon has filed a ballot initiative that would protect business owners against lawsuits and other penalties in the event that they decline to directly or indirectly participate in a same-sex “wedding.” The Oregon Family Council filed the proposal, entitled the Protect Religious Freedom Initiative, on Thursday in light of the lawsuits and complaints lodged in recent months against several bakers, florists and photographers in the nation. Current non-discrimination laws prohibit businesses from refusing service based on “race, color, religion, sex [or] sexual orientation.” Earlier this year, the Christian owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham were placed under investigation after they declined to make a cake for a lesbian ceremony. The business states that it was soon forced to close its doors and operate from home due to protests and harassment from homosexuals.

  • Such ‘harassment’ needs to be prosecuted under the new ‘hate crimes’ law

NSA Steals Internet Data

The recent revelation that the National Security Agency was able to eavesdrop on the communications of Google and Yahoo users without breaking into either companies’ data centers sounded like something pulled from a Robert Ludlum spy thriller notes the New York Times. How on earth, the companies asked, did the N.S.A. get their data without them knowing about it? People knowledgeable about Google and Yahoo’s infrastructure say they believe that government spies bypassed the big Internet companies and hit them at a weak spot — the fiber-optic cables that connect data centers around the world that are owned by companies like Verizon Communications, the BT Group, the Vodafone Group and Level 3 Communications. In particular, fingers have been pointed at Level 3, the world’s largest so-called Internet backbone provider, whose cables are used by Google and Yahoo. The Internet companies’ data centers are locked down with full-time security and state-of-the-art surveillance, including heat sensors and iris scanners. But between the data centers — on Level 3’s fiber-optic cables that connected those massive computer farms — information was unencrypted and an easier target for government intercept efforts.

Economic News

The federal government made enough money on student loans over the last year that, if it wanted, it could provide maximum-level Pell Grants of $5,645 to 7.3 million college students. The $41.3 billion profit for the 2013 fiscal year is down $3.6 billion from the previous year but it’s a higher profit level than all but two companies in the world: Exxon Mobil cleared $44.9 billion in 2012, and Apple cleared $41.7 billion. Congress is expected to take a look at the issue in the coming months.

  • These profits are grossly unfair for a government program presumably designed to help students, not saddle them with a heavy debt load that will burden them for decades

Persecution Watch

The United Bible Society has reported a sharp increase in the number of Christian Scriptures distributed in some of the countries where believers suffer the highest levels of persecution. Statistics show that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. However, recent figures released from Bible Societies around the world indicate that more Christian Scriptures were distributed than ever before in 2012. Global Scripture distribution rose from just over 381 million in 2011 to more than 405 million in 2012; an increase of 6%Of the 405 million distributed, 32.1 million were whole Bibles, which matched 2011’s record-breaking year of Bible distribution. Surprisingly, the highest increase was in Syria, which is facing huge humanitarian crises as a result of ongoing conflict across the country. Despite this, over eight times more Scriptures were distributed by the Bible Society, through a network of church volunteers, in 2012 than 2011; 163,000 in total last year.

  • Just as with the twelve disciples, persecution opens the door for evangelism

Middle East

The Saudi Arabian king and his envoys — like the Israelis — have spent weeks lobbying fruitlessly against the interim nuclear accord with Iran that was reached in Geneva on Sunday. In the end, there was little they could do: The Obama administration saw the nuclear talks in a fundamentally different light from the Saudis, who fear that any letup in the sanctions will come at the cost of a wider and more dangerous Iranian role in the Middle East. Although the Saudis remain close American allies, the nuclear accord is the culmination of a slow mutual disenchantment that began at the end of the Cold War.

For decades, Washington depended on Saudi Arabia — a country of 30 million people but the Middle East’s largest reserves of oil — to shore up stability in the region. The Saudis used their role as the dominant power in OPEC to help rein in Iraq and Iran, and they supported bases for the American military, anchoring American influence in the Middle East and beyond. But the Arab uprisings altered the balance of power across the Middle East, especially with the ouster of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of both the Saudis and the Americans.

Syria

The Syrian government and opposition groups will hold peace talks early next year, the first time the parties will convene for negotiations since the beginning of the conflict in Syria that has left tens of thousands dead and displaced millions from their homes. The development was announced Monday by the United Nations. The international body will sponsor the talks to be held in Geneva on January 22, 2014. The conflict started in March 2011 and previous attempts to bring the two sides together have failed.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s president says he won’t immediately sign a security deal with the United States, ignoring a recommendation by an assembly of Afghan elders and leaders that he do so by the end of the year. Hamid Karzai spoke after the Loya Jirga issued its statement Sunday. He argued Afghanistan needed more time to ensure that the United States was committed to peace in the country. The chairman of the 2,500-member national consultative council approved the deal and asked that it be signed by the end of 2013.

Libya

Seven Libyan soldiers were killed and more than 39 injured in heavy clashes between the Libyan army and members of an Islamist group believed to be behind last year’s attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission. The clashes erupted Sunday night in eastern city of Benghazi between the military and members of Ansar al-Sharia. They continued into Monday morning. The fighting was intense and Islamist fighters used mortars and rocket propelled grenades.By midday, residents reported a tense calm. Schools were closed. And, according to local media reports, security forces secured the main roads and entrances into the city.

Iraq

At least 19 people were killed and 43 others were wounded in explosions and shootings across Iraq on Monday. The deadliest incident happened at the busy al-Sadriya outdoor commercial market in central Baghdad, as a hidden bomb there exploded, killing nine people and wounded 25 others. Violence continues to escalate between Shiite and Sunni sects.

Pakistan

Trucks carrying NATO troop supplies to Afghanistan remained stuck in Pakistan on Tuesday as concern lingered about demonstrators seeking to stop the vehicles in protest of U.S. drone strikes. Most trucks carrying both NATO supplies and commercial goods to neighboring Afghanistan stopped three days ago when the protests began in northwest Pakistan. Police intervened Monday to stop the protesters from halting trucks. But transportation companies did not yet feel comfortable enough to resume their shipments

Thailand

Three years after bloody street protests left more than 90 dead and thousands injured, Thailand’s simmering political tensions are once again threatening to boil over. Weeks of protests against have escalated into an attempt by opposition leaders to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai Party. The opposition group called for a rally of 1 million supporters in Bangkok on Sunday to protest a government they claim is deeply corrupt and still under the control of Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the deposed former prime minister. The protesters hope to display enough popular support Sunday to convince civil servants, the police and the military to join their cause. Protesters in Thailand’s capital swarmed the Finance Ministry compound Monday, overrunning several buildings and cutting electricity in an escalating campaign to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. Thailand’s embattled Prime Minister faces a no-confidence motion in parliament Tuesday.

Ukraine

Ukrainians angry at their government’s last-minute decision to suspend talks with the EU clashed for a second day with police in the capital Kiev on Monday. A day earlier, tens of thousands of protesters tried to break through a cordon around government buildings. On both occasions, police responded with batons and tear gas to disperse them. At the heart of the protests is Ukraine’s about-turn after a year of insisting that it was intent on signing a historic political and trade agreement with the European Union.

China

A murky Islamic militant group has described a deadly attack in China’s Tiananmen Square last month as a “jihadi operation” and warned of more violence to come, according to an organization that monitors extremist websites. Abdullah Mansour, the leader of the Turkestan Islamic Party (T.I.P.), said those who carried out the attack in the heavily policed center of Beijing were “mujahideen,” the SITE Intelligence Group said in a report late last week. On October 28, a vehicle drove through security barriers into a crowd in Tiananmen Square, crashed into a pedestrian bridge in front of the Forbidden City and burst into flames. The attack killed five people — including the three in the vehicle — and wounded 40 others.

Environment

The United States is spewing 50 percent more methane – a potent heat-trapping gas – than the federal government estimates, a new comprehensive scientific study says. Much of it is coming from just three states: Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. That means methane may be a bigger global warming issue than thought, scientists say. Methane is 21 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, the most abundant global warming gas, although it doesn’t stay in the air as long. Much of that extra methane, also called natural gas, seems to be coming from livestock as well as leaks from refining and drilling for oil and gas, the study says. It was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

A potential ban on plastic foam food containers in a city that thrives on takeout proved a piping-hot topic among lawmakers Monday, as they debated the material’s pros, cons and prospects for recycling. An environmental bane to some, a food-service staple to others, the familiar foam to-go cups, plates and cartons already are prohibited in San Francisco and dozens of other U.S. cities and could be on their way out in New YoThe City Council is weighing competing proposals, including a measure that would outlaw the containers after a year’s inquiry to see whether the tons of containers could be effectively recycled instead – a possibility ban backers and opponents vehemently dispute. The city’s plastics recycler says it’s not workable right now.

Volcanoes

Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano, has erupted again, showering volcanic ash on towns dotting the mountain’s slopes and nearby Taormina, Sicily. The eruption Saturday did not force any evacuations, but a highway was closed for half an hour as a precaution. Authorities also briefly closed two of four air corridors serving the nearby Catania airport but air traffic was not interrupted. Etna experiences minor eruptions occasionally. Its last major eruption occurred in 1992.

Weather

A wave of Arctic cold blamed for at least twelve deaths as it blasted California and the Southwest with heavy rains, flooding, snow and sleet will continue its assault across much of the nation and threatens to bring havoc to Thanksgiving travel this week. An Arctic air mass will probably keep temperatures 15 to 20 degrees below normal along the East Coast through Thursday. The storm has already left more than 100 wrecks. Passengers on nearly 500 flights out of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport had to find alternate routes when the storm iced the area over the weekend. But the snowy weather has yet to hit its target. It should finish icing up New England by Friday. The weather may put a further dent in the trip home, as winds rev up to 40 miles per hour as the holiday wraps up.

Signs of the Times (11/23/13)

November 23, 2013

Supreme Court Refuses to Block Texas Abortion Restrictions

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to block controversial Texas abortion restrictions that have been called some of the strictest in the country and have led a dozen abortion clinics in the state to stop performing the procedure. The court by a 5-4 vote denied a request by Planned Parenthood to block a ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing key parts of the Texas abortion law to stay in effect while the lawsuit challenging the restrictions moves forward. The panel of appeals court judges acknowledged that the law’s provision requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital “may increase the cost of accessing an abortion provider and decrease the number of physicians available to perform abortions.”

Albuquerque Voters Reject Ban on Late-Term Abortions

Voters in New Mexico’s largest city soundly defeated a ban on late-term abortions Tuesday in a municipal election that was being closely watched as a possible new front in the national abortion fight. Voters rejected the measure 55 percent to 45 percent following an emotional and graphic campaign that brought in national groups and hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising. The campaign included protests that compared abortion to the Holocaust and displayed pictures of aborted fetuses. This was the first municipal ballot measure on the matter, which usually is debated at the state and federal level. Abortion opponents had hoped a victory in Albuquerque would create momentum nationally in their long-running fight to ban abortion.

  • Abortion and gay rights are the two key end-time morality markers. Despite some recent gains against abortion, the body count continues to swell inviting severe end-time judgment

Obama Removes ‘God’ From Gettysburg Address

Washington DC talk show host Chris Plante reported today that Barack Obama omitted the words “under God” from the Gettysburg Address when reciting the great speech for a Ken Burns documentary. Burns had filmed all living presidents as well as various Hollywood personalities and luminaries to pay homage to the speech which was delivered by Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, this past Monday. In his version of the speech, President Barack Obama’s delivery contained an omission – in a line that every other celebrity delivered as “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom,” the President left out the words “under God.”

  • Obama is the most anti-God, anti-Christian, anti-Israel, pro-Islam president ever – by a wide margin

Sticker Shock for Obamacare Registrants

Sweeping differences in health care exchange pricing among states and counties is leading to sticker shock for some middle-class consumers and others who aren’t eligible for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The average prices for the most popular plans are twice as high in the most expensive states as those with the lowest average prices, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data for 34 states using the federal health insurance exchange. PPOs, the most popular type of health care plan, carry monthly premiums that range from an average of $819 a month in the most expensive state to $437 in the least expensive. Plans on the federal and state exchanges are grouped into four categories that cover 60% to 90% of out-of-pocket costs. The premiums for bronze-level plans are generally the least expensive, but the deductibles are simply not affordable, say some shoppers. “Many will not be able to afford the per person deductibles before insurance begins to pay. What are you really paying for?” asks one financial analyst.

Senate Changes Filibuster Rules

Most Americans would likely agree that Congress is broken. Many would disagree, though, that the way to ‘fix’ it is by way of a significant rule change that silences conservative lawmakers. The Democrat-led Senate approved the “nuclear option” today. The rules change reduces the number of votes needed to break a filibuster. This move follows frustration in the chamber over Republicans who have blocked — by way of filibusters — three of President Obama’s judicial nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The change will mean the Senate will only need 51 votes — instead of 60 — to break filibusters of Obama executive and judicial nominees. It will not apply to Supreme Court nominees. Democrats who claimed victory — including President Obama — in stripping the Senate minority of its power to block nominations may have done so at the sacrifice of the president’s legislative agenda. Any prospect for compromise on items ranging from immigration legislation to a fiscal deal to tax reform is now that much fainter.

Pro-Lifers Kicked Out of Parade

Grand Rapids Right to Life wanted to enter a float in the local Christmas parade replete with children and the theme “Life: A Precious Gift,” but the pro-life group will not be able to participate — even though the organization participated last year. The kids gave out candy to people along the parade route and everyone had a wonderful time. Not this year. “The understanding we received from (parade organizers) is that they wanted all of the entrants to be neutral,” said Laura Alexandria, director of operations for Grand Rapids Right to Life. Organizers did not respond to multiple phone and email requests for comment on Right to Life’s application to be in the parade.

Number of Homeless Down

The number of homeless Americans is on the decline, the government announced Thursday. Roughly 610,000 homeless people were living in emergency shelters, transitional housing or unsheltered locations during a count taken on a single night in January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development reported. That’s down 4% from last year and 6% from 2010, when the recession was still going strong. Big drops in veteran homelessness contributed to the overall decline, HUD said, thanks to increased participation in a federal program providing rental vouchers to veterans. The number of homeless veterans fell 24% from 2010, the housing agency found. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of chronically homeless fell 16%.

Kids Less Fit than Parents Were

Today’s kids can’t keep up with their parents. An analysis of studies on millions of children around the world finds they don’t run as fast or as far as their parents did when they were young. On average, it takes children 90 seconds longer to run a mile than their counterparts did 30 years ago. Heart-related fitness has declined 5 percent per decade since 1975 for children ages 9 to 17. The American Heart Association, whose conference featured the research on Tuesday, recommend that children 6 and older get 60 minutes of moderately vigorous activity accumulated over a day. Only one-third of American kids do now.

China to Stop Accumulating Dollars

China just dropped an absolute bombshell, but it was almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media in the United States.  The central bank of China has decided that it is “no longer in China’s favor to accumulate foreign-exchange reserves”.  During the third quarter of 2013, China’s foreign-exchange reserves were valued at approximately $3.66 trillion.  And of course the biggest chunk of that was made up of U.S. dollars.  For years, China has been accumulating dollars and working hard to keep the value of the dollar up and the value of the yuan down.  One of the goals has been to make Chinese products less expensive in the international marketplace.  But now China has announced that the time has come for it to stop stockpiling U.S. dollars.  And if that does indeed turn out to be the case, than many U.S. analysts are suggesting that China could also soon stop buying any more U.S. debt.  Needless to say, all of this would be very bad for the U.S. dollar.

  • China holds a major portion of U.S. debt giving it significant leverage over our economy and policies

Economic News

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits slipped 21,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 323,000, in a sign the labor market continues to improve. That is the lowest level of weekly unemployment benefit applications since late September, near pre-recession levels.

Despite the recent slowdown in the housing recovery, Federal Reserve policymakers last month said they still expected to dial down their easy-money policy within a few months, according to meeting minutes released Wednesday. The minutes’ release sent stocks down as investors reacted to the possibility that the Fed could start tapering its Quantitative Easing economic stimulus soon.

Women have regained all the jobs they lost during the financial crisis, but men are still lagging behind. After losing more than 6 million jobs, men have gained only about 70% of them back. Most of the missing jobs come from just two male-dominated industries: construction and manufacturing. These industries are barely recovering, whereas sectors populated with a lot more women — like education, leisure, hospitality and health care –have all been growing more rapidly.

This year’s Recruiting Trends report, being released Wednesday, shows an almost 10% increase in the number of employers planning to hire college graduates with a bachelor’s degree. “This is the fourth year in a row we’ve seen an overall expansion of labor market,” said Phil Gardner, the director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute. “We’re inching our way back to where we were in 2007.”

Persecution Watch

The persecution of Christians is “the greatest story never told in the Western media” and “the vast majority of serious anti-Christian violence is carried out in the name of Islam,” according to Ed West in an article for The Spectator, reports Christian Concern for our Nation. Every country in the Middle East reported Christian “suffering of either high, high to extreme or extreme suffering.” Faith Minister Baroness Warsi said in a recent speech: “A mass exodus is taking place, on a Biblical scale. In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct.”

Kidnapping in Egypt has been a persistent problem for the Christian community since the “Arab Spring” of 2011. More than 100 Christians have been seized, most of them from Minya province, which has the highest percentage of Christians in the country and is also an Islamist heartland. There has been a spike since August, when the authorities broke up pro-Morsi demonstrations by members of the Muslim Brotherhood; 17 cases were recorded in Minya alone in August and September. Christians are kidnapped for ransom and often subjected to abuse, threats and violence. There has also been an increase in the disappearance of Christian girls, who are forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men.

A French church leader who had been ministering in a dangerous part of northern Cameroon has been abducted by Islamist militant group Boko Haram. A group of 10-20 armed men kidnapped the minister from his home. The militants also broke into and raided a Christian compound, taking a number of valuables. Boko Haram, which is waging a brutal campaign to establish an Islamic state in neighboring Northern Nigeria, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, saying that it was a protest against the detention of its fighters in Cameroon.

The US State Department has finally designated Islamist militant group Boko Haram and its offshoot Ansaru as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) after a long campaign by Nigerian Christians, backed by Barnabas Aid. The decision means that the US can now deploy a host of measures to disrupt the groups’ activities: business and financial transactions can be blocked; and people suspected of association with them can be investigated and prosecuted.

Middle East

The bombing attack outside the Iran embassy here Tuesday shows that the Syrian civil war may be hastening open warfare between the two main branches of Islam and lead to attacks throughout the Middle East. The admitted perpetrators of the terror attack, which killed 23 people, is the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Palestinian affiliate of al-Qaeda in Lebanon. The attack was in retaliation against the terror group Hezbollah, a Shia Muslim group, is fighting in Syria on behalf of Iran and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad against rebels made up of Sunni Muslims. Al-Qaeda is a largely Sunni Muslim group.

Iran’s supreme leader vowed Wednesday no retreat from Tehran’s nuclear ‘rights’ in an anti-Israel diatribe that France said ‘complicates’ crunch talks getting under way in Geneva. Predicting the demise of ‘rabid dog’ Israel, which Iran has accused of trying to ‘torpedo’ a deal, ‘I insist on not retreating one step from the rights of the Iranian nation,’ Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 74, told militiamen of the Basij force in a rare, live televised address. France said that his comments — he said Israel’s leaders were ‘not worthy to be called human’ — are ‘unacceptable and complicate negotiations’ on Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics issued a report on Wednesday describing a difficult environment for youngsters in the Jewish State. Among the findings was that an astonishing 449,000, or 17% of Israel children, were registered with social services in 2012. 40% of those were registered as needy, including many with behavioral or emotional problems, broken homes, physical and mental disabilities, poverty and other issues. In related news, Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug addressed the Calcalist Capital Markets Conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, announcing that government projections show unemployment will probably increase in the coming months as the economy hits a slowdown.

  • We are exhorted by the Bible to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you.” (Psalm 122:6)

Syria

An estimated 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced by the fighting, and 2.2 million others have left the country altogether, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. The agency estimates that 9.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent got into Zakarya’s town of Madimiyet e-Sham earlier this month. The group said it found hundreds of people in famine-like conditions it blamed on government blockades preventing food and supplies from entering. Even as chemical weapons inspectors enjoy unhindered access to some of the country’s most sensitive locations, U.N. humanitarian aid cannot reach civilians in besieged areas,” said the International Crisis Group in Brussels in a statement. The coming winter will likely worsen the situation.

Egypt

A suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into one of two buses carrying off-duty soldiers in Egypt’s turbulent region of northern Sinai, killing 10 and seriously wounding 35. The 10 victims were the bus’s driver, three members of a security detail and six of the off-duty soldiers. The soldiers belong to the 2nd Field Army, which is doing most of the fighting against Islamic militant waging an insurgency against security forces in Sinai. The northern Sinai region, which borders Gaza and Israel, has been restless for years, but attacks have grown more frequent and deadlier since the July ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Iraq

Iraqi officials say a wave of attacks has hit commercial areas in Baghdad, killing at least 21 people and wounding 72 in mostly Shiite areas. The deadliest attack was in the central Sadria neighborhood, where a parked car bomb went off at an outdoor market on Wednesday, killing five shoppers and wounding 15. Other attacks took place in Shaab, Tobchi, Karrada, Azamiyah and Amil neighborhoods. Iraq is experiencing a surge in violence since April, following a deadly security raid on a Sunni protest camp in the country’s north. Since then, more than 5,500 people have been killed. The bloodiest attacks have targeted Shiites but Sunnis have also been killed in apparent reprisals.

Afghanistan

While many Americans have been led to believe the war in Afghanistan will soon be over, a draft of a key U.S.-Afghan security deal obtained by NBC News shows the United States is prepared to maintain military outposts in Afghanistan for many years to come, and pay to support hundreds of thousands of Afghan security forces. The wide-ranging document, still unsigned by the United States and Afghanistan, has the potential to commit thousands of American troops to Afghanistan and spend billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. The document outlines what appears to be the start of a new, open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan in the name of training and continuing to fight al-Qaeda. Afghanistan’s president said he backs a security deal with the United States but told a gathering of elders on Thursday that if they and parliament approve the agreement it should be signed after next spring’s elections. Before it’s signed, the freshly minted security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan must face the scrutiny of thousands of tribal elders, who have convened a grand assembly to confer in the coming days on the key issue of an ongoing U.S. presence.

Pakistan

A suspected U.S. drone carried out a rare missile strike in northwest Pakistan outside the country’s remote tribal region on Thursday, killing six people, including at least two Afghan militants. The missiles hit an Islamic seminary in Hangu district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that was known to be visited by senior members of the Afghan Haqqani network, an ally of the Taliban and one of the most feared militant groups battling U.S troops in neighboring Afghanistan. It was only the second drone attack to occur outside Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border since the strikes began in the country in 2004 and could increase tension between Islamabad and Washington.

Volcanoes

A volcanic eruption has raised an island in the seas to the far south of Tokyo. Advisories from the coast guard and the Japan Meteorological Agency said the islet is about 660 feet in diameter. It is just off the coast of Nishinoshima, a small, uninhabited island in the Ogasawara chain. The approximately 30 islands are 620 miles south of Tokyo, and along with the rest of Japan are part of the seismically active Pacific “Ring of Fire.” The coast guard issued an advisory Wednesday warning of heavy black smoke from the eruption. The last time the volcanoes in the area are known to have erupted was in the mid-1970s.

Wildfires

As the USA’s 2013 wildfire season comes to an end, it will be remembered for being unusually quiet for the number of blazes but one of the deadliest for firefighters. The tragic Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona killed 19 firefighters, the highest death toll for a single fire in 80 years. Colorado endured its most destructive wildfire in state history. And the Rim Fire — a massive blaze near the entrance to iconic Yosemite National Park — was the largest ever in the Sierra Nevada. Even so, the number of wildfires nationwide hit a 30-year low. As of Friday, just over 43,000 fires had been reported across the country so far this year, well below the 10-year average of nearly 68,000 fires and the lowest number since accurate record keeping began in the early 1980s.

Weather

Parts of Arizona have seen a soaking to a degree that is quite unusual any time of year, much less in late November. The culprit for the soggy scenario is a slow-moving area of low pressure in the upper levels of the atmosphere. This low is a slow-mover because it is temporarily cut off from, or left behind by, the jet stream, like a sailboat with insufficient steering winds. This so-called cutoff low tapped a plume of deep moisture from the Pacific Ocean and directed it into the Desert Southwest. From late Thursday until 5 a.m. MST on Saturday, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport received 2.34 inches of rain. Unusually heavy rainfall also occurred over the border in Southern California. The town of Imperial received 0.94 inches of rain on Friday. This is about 40 percent of Imperial’s average annual rainfall total of 2.35 inches all in one day.

Philippine officials say the death toll from one of the strongest typhoons on record has risen above 5,000 and is likely to climb further. The region were battered two weeks ago by fierce winds and tsunami-like storm surges from Typhoon Haiyan, locally called Yolanda. The situation was finally stabilizing, with major roads on Samar and Leyte islands cleared of debris, and some banks, stores and gasoline stations resuming business.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged developed nations to “lead by example” Wednesday as a climate change conference bogged down over support for poor nations trying to adapt to a warming world. The two-week conference in Poland’s capital, Warsaw, opened with a hunger strike by the top delegate from the typhoon-battered Philippines to demand concrete action toward a new global pact on climate change. But with two days of talks left, participants said countries remained split on the big issues. Ban called on countries to put their money where their mouths were by devoting more funding to deal with climate change and the carbon emissions blamed for causing it.

Signs of the Times (11/19/20)

November 19, 2013

Appeals Court Obamacare Decision Exposes Attack on Basic Rights

“We can thank God that there are still judges out there who seek to protect religious freedom, namely those at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago who decided a few days ago that Obamacare infringes on that freedom,” rights advocate Dan Weber said. Weber is president of the Association of Mature American Citizens, which early on “picked a fight” with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that require all Americans to subsidize contraception and abortion.  He pointed out that Freedom of Religion is guaranteed by the first amendment to the Constitution, which states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The Court’s decision on two suits brought by separate faith-based, family-owned companies means that challenges to the law’s contraceptive mandate may ultimately proceed until there is a final decision in the Supreme Court.

Hawaii Says Aloha to Gay Marriage

Although teeming crowds of thousands, perhaps the largest in the history of state politics opposed it, the Hawaii Senate gave final legislative approval last week to a bill extending marriage rights to same-sex couples in a state long popular as a wedding and honeymoon destination and regarded as a pioneer in advancing the cause of gay matrimony. Governor Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat who called the special session to consider the bill, has indicated he would swiftly sign the legislation into law, making Hawaii the 15th U.S. state to legalize marriage for gay and lesbian couples. The law will take effect on Dec. 2nd. Only six states and the District of Columbia recognized same-sex marriage a year ago, but the number has since more than doubled. Last month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dropped his legal opposition to gay marriage, making his state the 14th to legalize same-sex weddings. Illinois lawmakers gave final approval to a same-sex marriage bill on Nov. 5, and Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign that measure into law later this month.

  • This key end-time marker continues to underscore the rapid decline in morality (2Tim. 3:1-5, Romans 1:26-27)

Obama’s Fix for Canceled Insurance Will Raise Costs

President Obama’s proposal to allow insurance companies to keep offering consumers plans that would otherwise be canceled under the federal health care law could lead to an increase in premiums, according to insurance industry experts and state regulators. America’s Health Insurance Plans, the main industry trade group, said Obama’s offer comes too late and could lead to higher premiums, since companies already have set 2014 rates based on the assumption that many people with individual coverage will shift over to the new markets created under the law. “Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers,” Karen Ignagni, president of the industry group, said.

Obama Received Advance Warning about Healthcare Glitches

A newly disclosed report indicates that officials in the Obama administration and the Department of Health and Human Services received warnings from a private consultant group that the federal online healthcare enrollment site could potentially fail to function properly for the October 1 launch date, reports CNN. The analysis by McKinsey & Company was requested by the White House. It identified various problems with the exchange, including limited testing time and resources before the launch, and found that call-in centers wouldn’t function properly if the website malfunctioned. This report suggests problems were brought to the attention of key officials as early as March. The administration has said the President didn’t know of problems with the Affordable Care Act’s website until after its fumbled rollout – even though insurance companies had been complaining and the site crashed during a pre-launch test run.

  • The pathological Liar-in-Chief is at it again believing that we are so dumb as to accept everything he says as the gospel truth

States Received $4.4 Billion for Own Obamacare Websites

The Obama administration gave states roughly $4.4 billion in taxpayer dollars to set up their own ObamaCare websites, according to a new analysis, in the latest revelation about the faucet of federal spending switched on by the 2010 passage of the health care law. Some of the states even took federal money, then decided to let the federal site handle enrollment. While the steep cost of HealthCare.gov — which is the federally run site — has come under fire, the money granted to the states has so far generated little attention. The fourteen state-run sites have operated more smoothly than the problem-plagued federal site and have accounted for the lion’s share of signups.

Few Young People Signing Up for Obamacare

Among the concerns surrounding the rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul was that too few young, healthy people would sign up — a problem that could undermine the financial viability of the federal law. The insurance industry has increasing cause for concern as early enrollment reports suggest a trend that could cause insurance premiums and deductibles to rise sharply. Along with the paltry enrollment numbers released this week, officials in a handful of states said those who had managed to sign up were generally older people with medical problems. Insurers have warned that they need a wide range of people signing up for coverage because premiums paid by adults in the younger and healthier group, between 18 and 35, are needed to offset the cost of carrying older and sicker customers who typically generate far more in medical bills than they contribute in premiums.

Thousands of Doctors Dropped by Insurer after Obamacare Funding Cuts

UnitedHealth Group has dropped thousands of doctors from its networks in recent weeks, leaving many elderly patients unsure whether they need to switch plans to continue seeing their doctors, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. The insurer said in October that underfunding of Medicare Advantage plans for the elderly could not be fully offset by the company’s other healthcare business. The company also reported spending more healthcare premiums on medical claims in the third quarter, due mainly to government cuts to payments for Medicare Advantage services. The Journal report said that doctors in at least 10 states were notified of being laid off the plans

The Federal Reserve Is Monetizing a Staggering Amount of Debt

The Federal Reserve is creating hundreds of billions of dollars out of thin air and using that money to buy U.S. government debt and mortgage-backed securities and take them out of circulation.  Since the middle of 2008, these purchases have caused the Fed’s balance sheet to balloon from under a trillion dollars to nearly four trillion dollars.  This represents the greatest central bank intervention in the history of the planet, and Obama nominee Janet Yellen says she does not anticipate that it will end any time soon because “the recovery is still fragile”.  The truth is that quantitative easing has done essentially nothing for the average person on the street.  But what QE has done is that it has sent stocks soaring to record highs.  Unfortunately, this stock market bubble is completely and totally divorced from economic reality. A few months ago Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the Fed might begin to “taper” the amount of quantitative easing.  The mere suggestion that the flow of easy money would start to slow down a bit was enough to send the market into deep contraction.  This is why the Federal Reserve cannot stop monetizing debt.  The moment the Fed stops, it will throw our financial markets into a crisis even worse than what we saw back in 2008.

  • Quantitative Easing has turned into the largest financial market intervention by any central bank in history, what a former Fed official calls “the greatest wall street backdoor bailout of all time.”

Obama Administration Urges Reduced Ethanol in Gasoline

The Obama administration on Friday proposed to reduce the amount of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply for the first time, acknowledging that the biofuel law championed by both parties in 2007 is not working as well as expected. The change would drastically reduce — by almost 3 billion gallons less than the law now requires — the amounts of ethanol and other biofuels blended into gasoline in 2014. The 2007 law tried to address global warming, reduce dependence on foreign oil and prop up the rural economy by requiring oil companies to blend billions of gallons of biofuels into their gasoline each year. But politicians who wrote the law didn’t anticipate fuel economy to improve as much as it has in recent years, which reduced demand for gasoline.

Multi-Employer Pensions Face Cuts

Hundreds of thousands of retired union workers are facing pension cuts that could slash their monthly payments in half — or even more. The proposed cuts are part of a desperate effort to head off insolvency at multiemployer pension plans, pensions that typically provide benefits for workers at several companies. Pension law has long maintained that cutting the benefits of those already retired is off-limits. Multiemployer pension plans cover more than 10 million workers and retirees in the trucking, construction, retail, mining, manufacturing and other industries. But in the past decade, many plans have struggled with supporting an aging workforce, and large employers have been pulling out of the plans. In addition, many are still dealing with significant losses incurred during the recession.

Economic News

Joblessness has become a trap, an impediment to finding a job. Economists see it the same way, concerned that joblessness lasting more than six months is a major factor preventing people from getting rehired, with potentially grave consequences for tens of millions of Americans. Long-term joblessness — the kind that about four million others are experiencing — is now one of the defining realities of the American work force. The unemployment rate has fallen to 7.3 percent, down from 10 percent four years ago, but long-term joblessness is up 213 percent, according to the New York Times.

A curious thing has happened in the tech world. In an industry that has long been considered a boys club, suddenly firms are hiring more women than men. Over the last 12 months, the tech industry added 60,000 jobs, and 36,000 — or 60% — of those positions went to women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Stocks ended higher Friday as the Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 index continued their push into record-high territory. It was the 38th time this year the Dow has finished at a record level and the 36th time for the S&P 500. The Nasdaq is at a 13-year high. The indexes inched to yet another new high Monday.

Eurozone

Between 2,000 and 4,000 freight trucks have closed off major French highways and slowed traffic to a crawl on nine roadways to protest a proposed environmental tax on heavy loads. France’s Socialist government in late October suspended the tax, which initially was the focus of numerous protests in the region of Brittany, where opponents donned red caps in a series of demonstrations that sometimes erupted into violence and vandalism against the still-unused payment kiosks. The protesters pledged not to attack the kiosks but said they want the tax cancelled entirely.

Persecution Watch

More Christians were killed in Northern Nigeria last year than in the rest of the world combined, according to the head of a human rights organization. Ann Buwalda, executive director of the Jubilee Campaign, told The Christian Post on Thursday that an estimated 1,200 Christians were killed for their faith in Northern Nigeria, some by Boko Haram, some by Fulani herdsmen. Buwalda made it clear that this is a conservative estimate which represents approximately 60% of the world’s Christians that were killed for their faith in 2012.

Running from assault, abduction, and assassination at the hands of jihadists and FSA rebels, Syria’s ancient Christian community fears a religious pogrom is set to erupt. Traumatized by what they have endured inside Syria and fearful for their future, Christians fleeing the 32-month-long civil war say the persecution of Christians is worsening in rebel-held territories in the country’s north—and that the kidnapping, rape and executions of Christians aren’t just being carried out by jihadist groups, but also by other Sunni Muslim rebels, including those affiliated with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Middle East

To the Israeli government, the preliminary deal with Iran that the Obama administration is trying to seal this week is a giveaway to a government that has spent two decades building a vast nuclear program. It enshrines the status quo — at a time when the Iranians are within reach of the technical capability to build a bomb — and rewards some unproven leaders with cash and sanctions relief. President Obama and his top aides see the same draft deal in sharply different terms. To them, it is a first effort to freeze the Iranian program, to buy some time to negotiate a more ambitious deal, and to stop two separate methods of developing a bomb, one involving uranium, the other plutonium. In return, the Iranians get modest relief from sanctions, but not what they desperately desire, the ability to again sell oil around the world. That would come only later as part of a final agreement that would require the Iranians to dismantle much of their nuclear infrastructure.

  • Obama still operates under the illusion that the Iranians can be trusted. They can’t, as they’ve proved over and over again. They’re still stalling for time to complete their bomb-making project. If they can get sanction relief while doing so, all the better.

The Palestinians will stay in peace talks with Israel for the planned nine months despite their fierce opposition to Israel’s settlement building, the Palestinian president said Monday. The remarks by Mahmoud Abbas came at a news conference with visiting French President Francois Hollande, who urged Israel to halt settlement construction on lands the Palestinians seek for a future state. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the terms of a Palestinian state resumed in late July, with U.S. mediators saying at the time they envision a deal within nine months. Since then, Israel has announced plans for thousands more settlement apartments, sparking Palestinian outrage.

While the world has been focused on eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons, a vicious war within a war has gained momentum in northern Syria. It is a complex conflict that pits al Qaeda affiliates against more moderate rebel factions and against Syria’s 2-million strong Kurdish minority. But it also threatens to spill far beyond Syria’s borders. The largest Kurdish group — the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — raised the stakes last week by declaring the autonomous region of “western Kurdistan” in a part of Syria that normally produces about one-third of the country’s oil. Other rebel factions condemned the move as a step toward a declaration of independence and the breakup of Syria. What happens in this region is of acute concern to the governments of Turkey and Iraq, and to the Kurds of northern Iraq, all of which have their own interests and allies there.

Syria

The organization managing efforts to remove Syria’s chemical weapons said Friday it has approved a plan that would remove the deadly stockpiles by the middle of next year. The plan calls for Syria to transport the stockpiles to a port, where the cargo will be shipped out and destroyed in a third country. A key challenge will be finding a country willing to take the stockpiles and capable of destroying them. Officials remain confident they will find a willing country, since the plan was approved by a broad international consensus.

A bomb attack Sunday against military offices in a suburb of Damascus killed at least 31 Syrian troops, including four high-ranking officers, an opposition group said. Rebel groups planted the explosives in Harasta, said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The 2-year-old conflict has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

Afghanistan

A suicide vehicle bomb tore through the Afghan capital Saturday, killing at least one soldier securing a site where leaders are to gather next week to discuss a controversial security agreement with the United States. Authorities said they expected casualties to rise from the powerful blast, which mangled a dozen cars and destroyed shops nearby. Ambulances raced away with dozens of wounded from the site. Police could be seen collecting body parts. The explosion came just hours after President Hamid Karzai announced that U.S. and Afghan negotiators had finished a draft to be presented to the Loya Jirga, a council of elders, whom Kabul says must approve the document before Afghanistan signs it.

Libya

At least 31 people were killed and nearly 300 injured on Friday in the bloodiest day in the Libyan capital since the fall of Tripoli in 2011. Fighting broke out after protesters marched on the Tripoli headquarters of militias from the coastal city of Misrata. Protesters and eyewitnesses said militiamen opened fire on the hundreds who marched on Gharghour, a southern district of the capital where Misrata militia are based, in an effort to evict the armed groups. The situation escalated into an armed confrontation that lasted for hours as protesters returned with weapons and militiamen from different parts of the capital. The scene at Tripoli’s overwhelmed hospitals was one of chaos and grief, as women wailed and a constant stream of ambulances delivered injured men, women and children.

Lebanon

Twin explosions went off next to the Iranian embassy in southern Beirut Tuesday, killing 23 people and wounding 147, Lebanon’s state news agency reported. Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam called the blasts “a terrorist crime which would aim to strike [at] stability and national unity.” The explosions took place before noon in the Jnah neighborhood of Beirut, with Iranian Cultural Counselor Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ansari reported as being among the victims. Reports said that the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Lebanon-based al-Qaeda affiliate, claimed responsibility.

Haiti

Thousands of critics of Haiti’s President Michel Martelly staged protest marches Monday that turned violent as people threw rocks and shots were fired in the air. It appeared at least one person was shot. The marches were among the biggest demonstrations against Martelly since he took office in 2011, and the crowd in the capital swelled as protesters passed each neighborhood. Their complaints ranged from the cost of living to high levels of corruption. Protesters lit fiery barricades of discarded tires on one of the busiest streets as they called for Martelly’s departure from office. Pro-Martelly groups held separate marches, and the two sides took turns throwing rocks at each other as riot police dispensed canisters of tear gas.

Environment

The U.N.’s chief climate diplomat has urged the coal industry to diversify to cleaner energy sources and leave most of the world’s remaining coal reserves in the ground. Christiana Figueres told CEOs of coal companies meeting Monday at Poland’s Economy Ministry that their industry needs to change radically to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases that scientists say are warming the planet. Poland generates about 90 percent of its electricity from coal. Environmental activists climbed the roof of the Economy Ministry and unfurled a banner that read, “Who rules the world? Fossil industries or the people?”

The rate at which people are polluting the air may be leveling off says a new study published Tuesday. In the West, emissions contributing to global warming even dropped last year. The United States pumped 3.7% less carbon dioxide into the air in 2012 than in the previous year; Europe 1.8% less. Globally, greenhouse gases are being emitted at a slower rate this year than they were last year, and in both years the climb in emissions was less intense than in the past decade taken as a whole. However, moke stacks and exhaust pipes around the world are still blasting raising total gas emissions to a new record annual high. They should break 39 million tons this year.

Weather

Desperation grew among Filipinos who’ve been without electricity or shelter for more than a week since Super Typhoon Haiyan reduced homes to splinters. The central government is being criticized for a slow and disorganized response to what all agree is a catastrophic disaster. The toll remains overwhelming with 3,633 dead, 1,179 missing and about 3 million people displaced, vast communities flattened and looting and violence erupting in Tacloban, a major city that’s the ground zero in the super typhoon strike. Many of the bodies remain tangled amongst piles of debris, or lining the road in body bags that seep fetid liquid. Some are believed to have been swept out to sea. Corruption is also a concern as millions of dollars in cash and goods rush in from around the world because is especially rife in the Philippines where graft has been a part of life for decades.

A tornado outbreak in the Midwest on Sunday, killing at least eight people, leveling entire city blocks and tearing a path of destruction across twelve states. National Weather Service officials confirmed that several tornadoes touched down in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. It was an unusually large and strong storm system for November and it will take months to clean up the damage. Sunday yielded the first F/EF4 November tornado in the modern record in the state of Illinois. One of the worst-hit areas was Washington, a town of 16,000 about 140 miles southwest of Chicago. Entire blocks were leveled as a tornado cut a path about an eighth of a mile wide from one side of town to the other, destroying as many as 500 homes.

The first 10 months of 2013 have been the driest such period on record in California, dating to 1895, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Some locations are running over 20-inch precipitation deficits for the year, so far. As a result, 84 percent of the state is categorized in severe drought, according to the Nov. 12 Drought Monitor analysis. Kern, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and parts of eight other California counties are considered in extreme drought.

The death toll from flooding caused by heavy rains in central Vietnam has risen to 41, with about 80,000 people forced from their homes, disaster officials said Tuesday. The floods affected more than 400,000 homes and also injured 74 people and damaged 10,625 acres of rice paddies and other crops. The heavy rains began Nov. 14, but the flood waters have mostly receded, allowing many residents to return home.

Emergency crews worked to reach remote parts of flood-ravaged Sardinia on Tuesday after a torrential rainstorm killed at least 16 people, downed bridges and swept cars away. Italy’s civil protection chief, Franco Gabrielli, said one person remained unaccounted for and that the toll of 16 may still rise as crews reach isolated areas in the countryside where some homes are submerged. Olbia Mayor Gianni Giovanelli said the city had been destroyed by the “apocalyptic” storm, with bridges felled by gushing, muddy rivers and water levels reaching 10 feet high in some places. The island, famed for its Costa Smeralda beaches of crystal clear water and dry Mediterranean climate, received about 16 inches of rain in 24 hours.

Signs of the Times (11/15/13)

November 15, 2013

AFA Releases Christmas ‘Naughty or Nice’ Retailer List

As the Christmas shopping season begins full swing, the American Family Association has released its annual “Naughty or Nice” retailer list. They have taken the top 100 national retailers and reviewed their websites, media advertising and in-store signage in an effort identify which companies are Christmas-friendly. “There are secular forces in our country that hate Christmas because the word itself is a reminder of Jesus Christ. They want to eradicate anything that reminds Americans of Christianity. That is why it is important to remind governments and companies to keep the word Christmas alive. AFA wants to keep Christ in Christmas and Christmas in America.”

  • See AFA’s 2013 “Naughty or Nice” retailer list here

Obama & Obamacare Hit New Low mark in Poll

A new Quinnipiac University survey says American voters disapprove of Obama’s performance by 54% to 39%, the worst marks of his presidency. As with similar polls in recent days, most of Obama’s problems can be traced to criticism of the new health care plan, including website problems and cancellation notices on existing policies. Quinnipiac noted that Obama had a 45% approval rating at the start of October, the month the health care plan rollout began.

Approval numbers for the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, continue to illustrate wariness among American voters about health care reform, with only 19% saying they believe the quality of their health care will improve in the next year. Forty-three percent say it will get worse, while 33% say the controversial law won’t affect their health care, according to Quinnipiac.

Obamacare Problems Not Just with Website

Project Veritas undercover camera teams caught ObamaCare navigators in Texas on tape repeatedly encouraging applicants to commit fraud so they’ll get more money. The applicants are taught to conceal income so they’ll get higher taxpayer subsidies and lower premiums. Smokers are told to conceal their habit so they get lower premiums. ”I always lie on mine,” one navigator cheerfully says of the paperwork.

  • The billion-dollar program to hire largely unvetted “navigators” to help confused applicants navigate the maze of ObamaCare regulations is an open invitation for fraud

Though the number is estimated to eventually hit as high as 10 to 15 million, right now the number of insurance policies canceled due to ObamaCare is 5 million, reports Patriot Update. “Wednesday, the Obama administration claimed that 106,185 Americans enrolled in ObamaCare. Except, according to the White House, those are not actual enrollments. Some have not paid for but have only only “selected a marketplace plan.” Orwellian nonsense aside, that is still somewhere around a 50-to-1 ratio of cancellations to enrollees.”

Top Democrats Join Push to Keep Health Plans

An influential Democratic senator is now backing the push to restore insurance plans canceled due to ObamaCare, on the heels of a blunt critique from former president Bill Clinton on President Obama’s handling of the health care law’s rocky rollout. The president is rapidly facing questions and concerns from members of his own party about the law’s rollout. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Tuesday she is cosponsoring a bill by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., that would force insurance companies to reinstate canceled policies that Obama repeatedly vowed that people could keep. The involvement of Feinstein in the push to restore canceled policies adds considerable pressure on the Obama administration to address those concerns. A private meeting on Capitol Hill with House Democrats and White House officials on Wednesday became heated when rank-and-file members expressed frustration about continued Obamacare problems, according to multiple sources in the room.

Obama’s Insurance ‘Fix’ Stirs Confusion

President Obama’s “fix” for the wave of insurance cancellation notices going out as a result of ObamaCare is creating mass confusion for state-level insurance commissioners and companies who are unclear how they would implement the change — if at all — at this late stage. The change was meant to address the concerns of millions of Americans who have lost their current insurance plans because they didn’t meet the minimum standards under the law. “For three years, state insurance regulators have been working to adapt to the Affordable Care Act in a way that best meets the needs of consumers in each state,” the National Association of Insurance Commissioners said in a statement. “It is unclear how, as a practical matter, the changes proposed … by the president can be put into effect.” The statement was one of many complaints and outright cries for help at the state level after Obama announced Thursday that he’s allowing insurance companies to sell policies that would otherwise be out of compliance with the Affordable Care Act for another year.

Immigration Reform All but Bead for 2013

Immigration reform appears to be dead for 2013, or at least in critical condition. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said as much when he announced Wednesday that the House won’t consider negotiating over the comprehensive immigration package that the Senate passed in June. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., reportedly told immigration activists last week that the tight schedule meant lawmakers probably wouldn’t get to immigration reform until next year at the earliest. Even then it will be difficult to reach a consensus as partisan gridlock intensifies in advance of the 2014 congressional midterm elections.

Secret Service Accused of Misconduct in 17 Countries

Secret Service officials are being accused of recently engaging in sexual misconduct and other indiscretions in a total of 17 countries, according to a report Friday in The Washington Post. The paper reported that the claims were made by whistleblowers to a Senate committee. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., top Republican on that Homeland Security subcommittee, told the Post that the accounts contradict claims made by Secret Service leaders that the agency does not allow such behavior. The shocking allegations follow the April 2012 incident where a number of agents were caught drinking and seeing prostitutes while on assignment in Colombia.

  • End-time lawlessness is spreading, now contaminating even the revered Secret Service (2Thess. 2:7-9)

Federal Sequester Cuts Slash Hundreds of Programs

Cuts to critical retraining skills for unemployed Americans. Reduced help for struggling readers in elementary school. Fewer meals for seniors. Less food for starving children in far flung countries. These are just some of the effects of the deep federal budget cuts, also known as sequester, that went into effect on March 1. Details of the effects are listed in a new report released Tuesday by the NDD United, which represents about 3,000 non- defense groups fighting to end sequester. The report comes a day before a panel of lawmakers will meet to consider the 2014 budget. One of the panel’s decisions is whether the U.S. government will shrink, end, or go ahead with a second round of sequester cuts — this time $110 billion — slated to hit mid-January. The March sequester sliced $80 billion from defense and nondefense programs this year.

  • The trouble with budget cuts is that the bloated bureaucracy remains entrenched while the meat of such programs is slashed. We need to start cutting at the top of the inverted pyramid, not the bottom.

Milestone: U.S. Produces More Oil than it Imports

The United States edged closer to energy independence last month when — for the first time in nearly two decades — it produced more crude oil than it imported, federal officials said Wednesday. The nation has been moving toward this milestone, because two trends are converging. Domestic oil production is at a 24-year high while foreign oil imports are at a 17-year low. The result: production exceeded net imports for the first time since February 1995, although the nation still imports 35% of the petroleum it uses.

U.S. to Become Top Oil Producer by 2015

The United States will knock off Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil producer by 2015. Massive investment in the production of shale gas has driven the U.S. supply boom, thanks in large part to new technologies such as hydraulic fracking, which has made the extraction of oil and gas from shale rock commercially viable. But limited reserves will cap the surge in shale oil output within the next 10 years. “Shale oil is good news for the U.S, but we do not expect this trend will continue after the 2020s,” IEA chief economist Fatih Birol told reporters Tuesday. That will translate into an increase in OPEC producers’ share of global output since those nations would remain the only large source of relatively low cost oil.

Economic News

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, but an upward revision to the prior week’s figure suggested the labor market recovery remained gradual. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The four-week moving average for new claims, which irons out week-to-week volatility, dropped 5,750 to 344,000. Lackluster domestic demand is preventing the labor market from generating stronger jobs growth that would decisively lower the unemployment rate.

Fewer U.S. homeowners are falling behind on their mortgage payments, aided by rising home values, low interest rates and stable job gains. The percentage of mortgage holders at least two months behind on their payments fell in the July-September quarter to 4.09% from 5.33% a year earlier. The last time the mortgage delinquency rate was lower was the third quarter of 2008.

U.S. mobility for young adults has fallen to the lowest level in more than 50 years as cash-strapped 20-somethings shun home-buying and refrain from major moves in a weak job market. The new 2013 figures from the Census Bureau, underscore the impact of the sluggish economy on young people, many of them college graduates, whom demographers sometimes refer to as “Generation Wait.” Burdened with college debt or toiling in low-wage jobs, they are delaying careers, marriage and having children. Waiting anxiously for their lucky break, they are staying put and doubling up with roommates or living with Mom and Dad, unable to make long-term plans or commit to buying a home — let alone pay a mortgage.

The U.S. government sold another $1.2 billion worth of General Motors stock last month as it moves closer to selling its entire stake in the automaker. The government’s stake as of Oct. 31 was down to 4%. A report to Congress Tuesday said the government has recovered roughly $37.2 billion of the $49.5 billion it spent to save GM five years ago. That means taxpayers are still $12.3 billion in the hole. The government got 912 million shares, or a 61% stake in GM, in exchange for the bailout. A Treasury Department watchdog says the government expects to lose a net of at least $9.7 billion on the bailout.

Over 1.3 million jobless Americans are scheduled to lose federal unemployment benefits at the end of this year. That’s when an emergency program to help the long-term unemployed will expire. During the Great Recession of 2007-2009, when the unemployment rate climbed to more than 10%, the government extended federal benefits to jobless Americans, whose state unemployment insurance had run out. Those benefits have been either extended or expanded 11 times, since being first enacted in June 2008. The last time was in January, as part of a measure to avert the “fiscal cliff.”

Eurozone

Europe’s recovery from 18 months of recession stalled in the third quarter as exports slowed and the region’s second-biggest economy slipped back into reverse gear. The 17-nation eurozone’s first estimate of GDP showed growth of just 0.1% over the previous quarter, when the economy grew by 0.3% after contracting for six consecutive quarters through the depths of the region’s debt crisis. Germany’s rate of growth more than halved to 0.3%, while the French economy shrank by 0.1%.The figures confirm suspicions that the eurozone is struggling to generate any real momentum, as record levels of unemployment, weak investment, tight credit conditions and government austerity — albeit at a slower pace than last year — are weighing on demand.

Japan’s economy also slowed dramatically in the third quarter. The government said Thursday that the economy grew at an annual rate of 1.9% in the three months that ended Sept. 30, compared to 3.8% in the previous quarter. Weaker exports and private consumption were the main culprits.

Persecution Watch

A pastor who is serving an 11-year jail term in Vietnam for “undermining national unity” has told his wife that his life is in danger after repeated beatings by prison guards and inmates. Nguyen Cong Chinh (44), who was sentenced in March 2012, has reported the attacks to the prison authorities, but they have failed to take action against the perpetrators. Before his arrest in April 2011, the pastor had faced other forms of opposition, including the destruction of his church building, confiscation of his property and the withholding of his identity documents.

A pastor and his family have been subjected to a campaign of harassment by Cuban authorities in what appears to be an attempt forcibly to confiscate church property. Violent and abusive mobs have been sent by state security agents to surround the Rev. Yiorvis Bravo Denis’ home in Camagüey, which also serves as the national headquarters of one of the country’s largest Protestant church networks, in order to intimidate the family. They have received support from leaders and members of other churches, who have joined them inside the property in a show of solidarity. Government officials have also launched a defamation campaign against the pastor and his uncle, the Rev. Omar Gude Perez, who left Cuba earlier this year. They told members of the state media to publish defamatory articles about the pair, emphasizing that they “are not pastors, but rather common criminals”.

An Uzbekistan court has ordered the confiscation of a church group’s camp venue 13 years after it legally bought the site. Tashkent City Economic Court ruled on that the plot of land in Bostanlyk be expropriated, ordering that it be returned to its “lawful owner”, the state. The country’s Baptist Union bought the site from a restaurant chain in 2000 and has since used it for summer camps. These have been subjected to repeated raids, legal cases and media attacks.

Middle East

The Palestinian negotiating team has resigned and will not participate in peace talks with the Israelis, a spokesman for the Palestinian mission to the United Nations told CNN Wednesday. Settlement building in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank is “the issue that will make or break the negotiations,” Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erakatsaid. “(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has a choice: settlements or peace; he can’t have both.” Ending the talks would be a blow to efforts by the Obama administration to get long-stalled discussions back on track.

Israel canceled controversial plans to construct thousands of new homes in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank, hours after the announcement sparked strong criticism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel to reconsider long-term plans to build more than 20,000 units, according to a press release from Netanyahu’s office. Ariel said he would accede to Netanyahu’s request, according to the press release.

The nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva last weekend broke down when France refused to agree to a deal between the US and Iran that would have lifted many of the sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic due to its illegal nuclear program—which is still underway. Israeli leaders were reportedly furious that they had been “misled” (the polite, diplomatic word for lied to) by the State Department and other top US officials.

Syria

Most of the more than 1,000 jihadists who have poured into Syria to fight alongside Al Qaeda carry passports from North America and Europe, raising the possibility that they could easily bring terror back to the west. The prospect is especially chilling given that Al Qaeda-linked fighters in Syria seem determined to use the embattled nation as a haven from which to launch future attacks beyond the region. Terrorists hardened on the battlefields of Syria would not even require passports to get into the U.S., if the border with Mexico is not better protected, argued the head of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Outside support for the warring parties in Syria has helped sustain the conflict and transformed it into a proxy battle by regional powers, with Russia, Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah helping the government and with Saudi Arabia and Qatar providing the main support for the rebels. But the flow of private funds to rebel groups has added a wild-card factor to the war, analysts say, exacerbating divisions in the opposition and bolstering its most extreme elements. While the West has been hesitant to arm and finance the more secular forces that initially led the turn to armed rebellion, fighters have flocked to Islamist militias and in some cases rebranded themselves as jihadist because that is where the money is.

Iraq

The mayor of the Iraqi city of Falluja was shot to death while bombings there, in Baghdad and in another city killed 24 more people Wednesday, Adnan al-Jalbawi, Falluja’s mayor for the past three years, died in a burst of gunfire while visiting a sewage pumping station. Iraq’s Shiite-led government has blamed such killings on Sunni extremists loyal to al Qaeda in Iraq. The Baquba bombing targeted pilgrims gathering for the Shiite religious commemoration of Ashura, the holiest day of the Shiite calendar. In Baghdad, Shiite pilgrims and security forces were among the targets of gunfire and more bombs, which left 10 dead and 17 wounded in six separate incidents.

China

China will loosen its decades-old one-child policy by allowing two children for families with one parent who was an only child and will abolish a much-criticized labor camp system, its ruling Communist Party said Friday. The Chinese government credits the one-child policy introduced in 1980 with preventing hundreds of millions of births and helping lift countless families out of poverty. But the strict limits have led to forced abortions and sterilizations, even though such measures are illegal. The changes were part of a key policy document released by the official Xinhua News Agency following a four-day meeting of party leaders through Tuesday in Beijing. The labor camp — or “re-education through labor” — system was established to punish early critics of the Communist Party but now is used by local officials to deal with people challenging their authority on issues including land rights and corruption.

Environment

A new global map of deforestation reveals that 888,000 square miles (2.3 million square kilometers) of forest has vanished since 2000 based on satellite data and is the first of its kind. During that time, 309,000 square miles of new forests were gained. Of the 888,000 square miles lost and 309,000 square miles gained, about 77,000 square miles were areas that were lost between 2000 and 2012 and then re-established. The calculations are accurate down to about 100 feet, enough detail to provide useful local information while still covering the whole globe. Brazil’s efforts to slow deforestation have paid off, with about 500 square miles less loss each year. But the rest of the tropics more than made up for Brazil’s improvements with rapidly increasing losses. Indonesia saw the fastest increases in deforestation.

The world’s oceans have become 26% more acidic since the start of the Industrial Revolution and continue to acidify at an “unprecedented rate,” threatening marine ecosystems, aquaculture and the societies that rely on them, scientists say. In a report released Thursday, researchers say that carbon dioxide emissions from human activities such as fossil fuel burning are the primary cause of ocean acidification. They say the rate of change may be faster than at any time in the last 300 million years, predicting that by 2100 there will have been a 170% increase in ocean acidity, compared to pre-industrial times. Unless carbon dioxide emissions are reduced, marine ecosystems will be damaged and the impact of climate change will be worsened, the scientists warn.

  • The Bible prophesies that one-third of trees and oceans will be tainted in the Tribulation (Rev. 8:7-8)

Weather

Tons of food from around the world have arrived in the Philippines, but hundreds of thousands left homeless and hungry after Typhoon Haiyan have yet to get a bite of it. People who survived the typhoon that ripped through here five days ago were struggling to survive in tropical heat without food and water Wednesday as lawlessness and destroyed roads and ports made delivery of aid difficult. Though massive amounts of food and water have arrived on nearby islands and in parts of Leyte, it cannot be moved into needy areas in large amounts because there is no fuel for trucks nor have many roads been cleared. Overall, there have been 3,621 confirmed deaths, 1,140 are still missing and 12,166 were injured, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

In hard hit Tacloban, Philippines, Super Typhoon Haiyan left boats tossed up on the shore, whole roofs and trees smothering cars and rickshaws. Its streets look more like garbage dumps, piled high with split wood, broken glass, concrete chunks. Bloated corpses still lay alongside roads covered partly by sheets and corrugated metal. As conditions grow more desperate, eight people were crushed to death when survivors stormed a government rice warehouse. Workers in Tacloban buried hundreds of its thousands of dead in a hillside mass burial Thursday as desperately needed aid began to reach some of the half-million people displaced by the disaster. Six days after Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines, many of the dead were still lying along roads as survivors searched for bodies buried under the rubble. Philippine soldiers on trucks distributed rice and water as chainsaw-wielding teams cut debris from blocked roads. The USS George Washington aircraft carrier arrived in the Philippine Sea near the Gulf of Leyte Thursday, and will set up a position off the coast of Samar Island to provide medical and water supplies, the 7th Fleet said in a statement.

Signs of the Times (11/12/13)

November 12, 2013

Philippines Devastated by Typhoon Haiyan

As many as 10,000 people are feared dead after Super Typhoon Haiyan — one of the most powerful storms ever recorded — slammed into the central islands of the Philippines. As many as 800,000 people have been displaced. The storm surge caused sea waters to rise 20 feet when Typhoon Haiyan hit Friday. “This area has been totally ravaged,” said Sebastien Sujobert, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tacloban. “Many lives were lost, a huge number of people are missing, and basic services such as drinking water and electricity have been cut off,” he said Sunday. Thousands of houses have been obliterated. Many areas are still cut off from transport, communications and power. The race to save survivors and bring relief to typhoon-ravaged areas of the Philippines escalated Tuesday as the United Nations appealed for as much as $301 million in aid, and several nations deployed supply ships in an attempt to ward off the growing threat of a public health crisis.

Atheist ‘Mega-Churches’ Taking Root Across U.S.

It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God. Dozens of gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. On Sunday, the inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted more than 400 attendees, all bound by their belief in non-belief. Similar gatherings in San Diego, Nashville, New York and other U.S. cities have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation less a higher power.

  • As we’ve been maintaining for years, atheism and secular humanism is a religion placing their faith in humanity over God and in random chemical processes over intelligent creation. The U.S. government is guilty of attempting to establish secular humanism as state religion in violation of the Constitution.

VA Forces Chaplains from Training Program for Quoting Scripture

Two Baptist chaplains said they were forced out of a Veterans Affairs chaplain training program after they refused orders to stop quoting the Bible and to stop praying in the name of Jesus. When the men objected to those demands, they were subjected to ridicule and harassment that led to one of the chaplains leaving the program and the other being ejected, according to a federal lawsuit filed last Friday. The Conservative Baptist Association of America is suing Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. The group’s suit alleges two of its chaplains were openly ridiculed by the leader of the San Diego-based VA-DOD Clinical Pastoral Education Center program. “Not only was the treatment these men received inappropriate, it was also a violation of federal law and the religious freedom guarantees of the First Amendment,” said John Wells, an attorney representing the Colorado-based denomination.

  • The end-time war against all things Christian continues to escalate and reverberate throughout all areas of society

CA ‘Bathroom Bill’ Gets Enough Signatures for Referendum

The coalition working to overturn California’s transgender bathroom bill submitted more than enough signatures to qualify a law-repeal effort, having submitted over 620,000 signatures to election officials. The Privacy For All Students coalition wants to qualify a referendum allowing California voters to decide on the transgender bathroom bill. “In order to qualify for the November 2014 ballot,” the coalition explains, “over 505,000 of the signatures must be validated. This will give the people of California the opportunity to vote and decide if they will support student privacy in public school restrooms, showers and locker rooms.”

Obamacare Falling Far Short of Goals

Fewer than 50,000 Americans have thus far bought a health-care plan on the problem-plagued ObamaCare website according to an insurance industry report, representing only a fraction of the half-million enrollees the administration apparently wanted the first month. The number was reported first Monday by The Wall Street and confirmed by Fox New. The administration has set a goal of signing up seven million Americans for insurance by next March, when open enrollment ends. Healthcare.gov went live Oct. 1 and was immediately plagued with such problems as slow response time, volume-induced crashes and supplying incorrect information.

The Coming Pension Meltdown

Voters in Cincinnati last week soundly defeated a ballot initiative which would have overhauled the pension system for public workers, leaving the city without a plan to deal with $872 million in unfunded liabilities. Cincinnati is not alone. Across the nation, cities and states are finding funding for basic services being crowded out of their budgets by the rising cost of retirees’ pensions and healthcare. More and more cities, counties, and even some states will face the harsh reality of having to fix their pension systems or deal with a Detroit-style bankruptcy. As in Cincinnati, pensioners are unwilling to forego any of their benefits and taxpayers don’t want to foot the bill, leaving municipalities between a rock and a hard place.

A study by the Pew Center earlier this year looked at 61 cities — those with populations over 500,000 plus the largest city in each state — and found a total gap of $217 billion between pension and retiree healthcare obligations and the funding saved to pay those costs. The situation regarding retiree healthcare benefits in those cities is far worse, with a total of $126.2 billion of liabilities that are only 6 percent funded. But here’s the real rub: experts are warning that many pension systems, those claiming they are well funded and those who say they aren’t, have all been using rosy projections about future investment returns.

Tax Refund ID Theft Is ‘Epidemic’

More Americans’ identities were stolen in tax refund crimes in the first six months of 2013 than in all of 2012, said a U.S. Internal Revenue Service watchdog on Thursday who described the problem as “a growing epidemic.” Tax refund fraud has exploded in recent years. Scammers typically use stolen names and Social Security numbers to file phony electronic tax forms for IRS refunds. About 1.6 million Americans were victims of ID theft/tax refund crimes this year through June, up from 1.2 million taxpayers in all of 2012, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) said in a recent report.

America is Using Less Oil

The United States is the largest consumer of oil in the world by a wide margin. In 2012, we used around 18.5 million barrels of oil per day. That represents around 20% of global oil consumption, and is still nearly twice as much oil as China uses. Until the mid-2000s, U.S. oil consumption was rising steadily. However, a sharp uptick in oil prices caused demand growth to stagnate after 2004. The Great Recession then led to a steep drop in demand as people found ways to make do with less oil. In 2010, oil consumption looked like it might rebound, but since then, it has started to decline again. This is likely the beginning of a long-term trend. The biggest factor undermining oil consumption in the U.S. is the growing abundance of natural gas. Natural gas production has been growing at a steady clip since 2005, U.S. proven reserves of natural gas have doubled since 1999.

Economic News

The average price of a gallon of regular gas now stands at $3.19, according to AAA, after falling by about a penny a day for the last week. The steady decline has taken the average price below $3 already in six states — Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Kansas and Louisiana. Another six states are enjoying an average price within a nickel of that benchmark and could dip below three dollars soon.

Iran

Three days of intensive talks about Iran’s nuclear program concluded early Sunday without an agreement, though key players insisted they believed the process is moving in the right direction. “A lot of concrete progress has been achieved, but some differences remain,” European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland. Iranians took to social media to blame French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius who warned against signing a “sucker’s deal” with Iran and told a French radio station: “It is necessary to take fully into account Israel’s security concerns.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the U.S. and its allies had agreed on the tenets of a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, only for the Iranians to say they were unable to accept the proposal.

Separately, Iran’s state TV said Monday that a deal for expanded monitoring has been reached in talks with the U.N. nuclear chief in a deal that could boost wider negotiations over Tehran’s atomic program. It’s a so-called “roadmap” that will give U.N. inspectors a broader reach, including access to a heavy water reactor under construction and a key uranium mine.

  • You can be sure that whatever sites Iran allows to be inspected will have already been sanitized from any incriminating evidence

Pakistan

A Pakistani Taliban commander and an intelligence official say a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network has been shot dead in Islamabad. Nasiruddin Haqqani was killed Sunday night on the outskirts of Pakistan’s capital in area called Bhara Kahu. The Afghan Haqqani network was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani and is one of the most feared militant groups fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Nasiruddin Haqqani is Jalaluddin Haqqani’s son. His brother, Sirajuddin Haqqani, currently leads the group.

North Korea

As many as 80 people were publicly executed in North Korea earlier this month, some for offenses as minor as watching South Korean movies or possessing a Bible.  South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported that the so-called criminals were put to death in seven cities across North Korea on Nov. 3, in the first known large-scale public executions by the Kim Jong-un regime. Wonsan authorities gathered a crowd of 10,000 people, including children, at Shinpoong Stadium and forced them to watch the killings. Relatives or accomplices of the execution victims implicated in their alleged crimes were sent to prison camps.

Weather

Even as relief efforts ramp up in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan, another tropical disturbance is crossing the Philippines. Tropical Depression Zoraida has brought locally heavy rain to parts of southern and central Philippines. Weather reports from the hardest-hit areas of the central Philippines are limited as most of the infrastructure was wiped out by Super Typhoon Haiyan.

The storm that devastated the Philippines has killed eight people in southern China and inflicted hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to farming and fishing industries, state media reported Tuesday. Typhoon Haiyan still had gusts up to 60 miles per hour and dropped up to 15 inches of rain over some parts of Guangxi province.

A powerful blast of Arctic air is rushing southward across the central and eastern U.S., bringing the season’s first snowflakes for some and the coldest air of the fall for many. The jet stream is currently taking a sharp plunge south from Canada across the eastern third of the country. This jet stream dip is accompanied by a chilly, expansive and very strong area of high pressure at the surface that can be traced back to the Arctic. This pattern change is leading to a widespread area of well-below-average temperatures. Temperatures over 20 degrees below average in some cases will progress south and east from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast and East Coast through Thursday.

Signs of the Times (11/9/13)

November 9, 2013

Bibles Dropped into North Korea via Balloon

On a rainy afternoon, American pastor Eric Foley and his wife stood in a muddy field near the North Korea border and prayed – their hands clasped to a 40-foot homemade balloon that would carry Bibles to the communist dictatorship’s underground Christians. The balloons, made from a large sheet of “farm plastic,” said Foley, are filled with hydrogen before the Bibles and “tracts” – testimonials written by other North Korean Christians – are attached at the bottom inside a sack or box. Timers are then used to release the materials in stages, dispersing them at high altitudes across North Korea. Foley and members of his Christian mission group, Seoul USA, use GPS technology to help direct where the Bibles land. Around 50,000 of them have dropped from the skies in the last year. “They are the most persecuted believers on earth,” Foley said of North Korea’s estimated 100,000 Christians – 30,000 of whom are believed to be locked inside concentration camps, where they are overworked, starved, tortured, and killed. Other activist groups, like Open Doors USA, estimate that number to be even higher, reporting that the secretive nation has about 400,000 Christians.

Christmas Comeback

About eight years ago, roughly 80 percent of the nation’s retailers ignored the theme of Christmas in their stores and in advertising, choosing instead to use the politically correct terms “Happy Holidays” or “Holiday Sales.” According to Randy Sharp, director of special projects for the American Family Association, there has been a major turnaround. “One particularly is GAP, which owns the GAP stores and Old Navy stores all across the nation,” he tells OneNewsNow. “We began working with GAP and Old Navy about five years ago when they adamantly refused to use the term ‘Christmas’ in any of their seasonal advertising.” For that reason, AFA called for a boycott of the stores during the Christmas shopping season last year. It appears the pro-family group’s persistence has paid off. Evidence of the turnaround will be seen in Christmas themes and signs in GAP’s stores and “Christmas” sales.

Senate Approves LGBT Non-Discrimination Bill

The Democrat-led Senate, as expected, passed legislation Thursday that would force most employers to provide special privileges to workers based on their “actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.” This would place severe restrictions on religious freedom in the workplace. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would require businesses with more than 15 employees to offer these special rights. Employers would not be able to consider the ramifications of a man suddenly dressing as a woman or a woman identifying as a man. “ENDA not only adds more costs to businesses, but tells them how they can and cannot practice the faith of their owners and managers,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “Under ENDA, employers can be held liable for workplace environment complaints, which will make them inclined to silence employees who express a religious belief or opinion that isn’t deemed as accommodating to perceived or changing gender identity. ENDA encourages discrimination against anyone with a different moral viewpoint.”

  • The only good news here is that House Speaker John Boehner said earlier this week that he opposes the legislation. Without his backing, it is unlikely to get a vote in the House.

Obamacare Woes Not Just With Website

A stack of daily updates written by Obamacare contractors shows the October rollout hit more walls than previously known: In the first days, half of the calls to the phone center had problems, paper applications could not be processed and up to 40,000 people at a time were sitting in the waiting room of http://www.HealthCare.gov. The 175 pages of internal updates during the sign-up chronicle the growing ailments and efforts to heal the system during October. “50% of the call center calls have issues,” reads an entry on day three of the sign-up. ” “Our call center reps can’t see their screens,” wrote an unnamed consultant on October 7. At the same time, the paper applications starting to arrive were in limbo. “Serco still cannot process online the 500+ applications they have,” reads one line from October 8 war room notes.

The problem-plagued ObamaCare website was only equipped to handle 1,100 users a day before it was launched, documents released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee reveal. The Obama administration has repeatedly insisted that the website’s repeated crashes were due to unexpectedly high traffic. U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said on Oct. 6 that the website was expected to draw around 60,000 simultaneous users but instead drew many more, around 250,000. However, a Healthcare.gov testing bulletin from Sept. 30, the day before the site’s launch, states that the website began to run into trouble with far fewer users. “Currently we are able to reach 1,100 users before response time gets too high,” the bulletin states.

  • Poor design is one thing, but it was an egregious error to launch the website with known deficiencies

Washington Voters Reject GMO Labeling

Washington state voters on Tuesday rejected an initiative that would have required foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled. The vote was 54.8% opposed to labeling and 45.2% in favor of it. Had it passed, Initiative 522 would have made the state the first in the nation to require such labeling. The initiative was the most expensive in state history, though it was largely fought by out-of-state interests. The No on 522 campaign set a record for fundraising, bringing in $22 million in donations according to The Seattle Times. Just $550 came from Washington residents. Food industry ads claimed that the initiative would raise food prices.

  • Powerful lobbyists still run the country, whether through funding elections or influencing officials. Money is always the lure and voters flock like lemmings toward anything that will reduce prices.

Military Services Fight for Pieces of Shrinking Budget

As the Pentagon withdraws from Afghanistan — and more than a decade of ground war — the services have begun an internal battle over the kind of military needed to protect America in the future and the money needed to buy it. The lines being drawn reflect the differing visions of the threats facing U.S. interests. The Army views another war with U.S. troops on the ground as almost inevitable. The White House, and to a large extent the Navy and Air Force, see conflicts like those in Iraq and Afghanistan as a thing of the past and the need to focus on the Pacific and the rise of China. The stakes: billions must be invested wisely to confront the next crisis — terrorism, a nuclear-armed Iran, a cyber-attack or something undreamed of. It will require a tradeoff: more troops in case of a new ground war — a strategy that favors the Army and Marine Corps — versus more modern weapons and equipment to fend off new threats, an approach more suited to the Navy and Air Force.

Cybercrime’s Bottom Line: Up to $500 Billion

No one knows the true cost of cybercrime. Annual loss estimates for U.S. corporations range from $70-140 billion in a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to $400 billion quoted by U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee leaders who introduced the Rogers-Ruppersberger Cybersecurity Bill. The CSIS report put global costs at up to $500 billion, while U.S. NSA Director General Keith Alexander calls cyber theft of intellectual property “the greatest transfer of wealth in human history.”

F.D.A. Moves to Ban Trans Fats, Citing Health Concerns

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed measures that would all but eliminate artificial trans fats, the artery clogging substance that is a major contributor to heart disease in the United States, from the food supply. Under the proposal, which is open for public comment for 60 days, the agency would declare that partially hydrogenated oils, the source of trans fats, were no longer “generally recognized as safe,” a legal category that permits the use of salt and caffeine, for example. That means companies would have to prove scientifically that partially hydrogenated oils are safe to eat, a very high hurdle given that scientific literature overwhelmingly shows the contrary. The Institute of Medicine has concluded that there is no safe level for consumption of artificial trans fats.

New Measure Shows Number of Poor 3M Higher

The number of poor people in America is 3 million higher than the official count, encompassing 1 in 6 residents due to out-of-pocket medical costs and work-related expenses, according to a revised census measure released Wednesday. The new measure is aimed at providing a fuller picture of poverty but does not replace the official government numbers. Put in place two years ago by the Obama administration, it generally is considered more reliable by social scientists because it factors in living expenses as well as the effects of government aid, such as food stamps and tax credits. Based on the revised formula, the number of poor people in 2012 was 49.7 million, or 16 percent of the overall population. That exceeds the record 46.5 million, or 15 percent, that was reported in September.

Economic News

The unemployment rate rose to 7.3 percent from 7.2 percent in September, the Labor Department said, while companies added 204,000 workers to their payrolls, double what the general consensus of economists expected. Stocks bounced back Friday thanks to the better-than-expected jobs report. The job gains came despite a partial government shutdown in October, which many economists had feared would hurt the economy.

The American economy grew at an annual rate of 2.8 percent in the third quarter, significantly better than economists had expected and the fastest pace this year, following growth rates of 1.1 percent in the first quarter of the year and 2.5 percent in the second quarter.

Fannie Mae, the government-controlled mortgage giant, said its third-quarter profit more than quadrupled, allowing it to pay taxpayers a $10.2 billion dividend that means Fannie will repay nearly all of its $116.1 billion 2008 bailout by the end of the year. A rising housing market has put Fannie, which is still in conservatorship, back on its feet. Revenue climbed 11% to to $6.32 billion. Fannie said it would pay the Treasury another $8.6 billion in December, bringing its total payments to the taxpayers since Fannie returned to profitability to $105.3 billion.

The U.S. stock market continued its record-setting pace, with the Dow Jones industrial average setting a new high at the close Thursday. The stock market has been bolstered recently by a solid third-quarter earnings season. Nearly seven out of 10 (68.3%) of the 423 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings have beaten expectations. Market sentiment is also high ahead of Friday’s highly anticipated initial public offering of micro-blogging site Twitter.

High- and low-wage jobs are expected to dominate employment growth the next four years as the share of middle-wage jobs in the economy continues to fall, says a new report. Low- and high-wage jobs each will comprise nearly 40% of new positions added through 2017, while middle-wage jobs will make up 22%, predicts the report by top online job site CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International.

Eurozone

Wearing raincoats and holding umbrellas, thousands of doctors and nurses, journalists, professors, judges and port workers took to the streets in the rain Wednesday for a nationwide strike organized by trade unions opposed to cuts in pay and benefits demanded by the creditors of this heavily indebted country. Over the past two years, the Greek government has implemented a series of significant budget cuts as agreed to with its international lenders, the so-called troika made up of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union. Those cuts were part of a deal in exchange for Greece receiving two bailouts of about $323 billion. As a result, Greeks have seen their wages and pensions cut in half and unemployment is expected to top 27% — more than double that for younger workers. This year is the sixth consecutive year Greece has seen negative economic growth.

The European Central Bank cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low Thursday, moving more quickly than expected to stimulate the euro zone economy in the face of falling inflation. The E.C.B. cut its main rate to 0.25 percent from 0.5 percent, which was already a record low. Inflation in the euro zone unexpectedly declined to an annual rate of 0.7 percent in October, well below the E.C.B.’s official target of about 2 percent, raising the specter of deflation — a sustained fall in prices that can destroy the profits of companies and the jobs they provide.

Persecution Watch

Apostasy, leaving Islam, is expected to become a punishable offence under a new sharia penal code that is being introduced in Brunei. Sharia prescribes the death penalty for an adult male apostate.  The sultan of Brunei announced on 22 October that the country will be ruled according to sharia law, which will be introduced in phases from April 2014. Penalties for hudud crimes will be in line with the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah (the deeds and sayings of Muhammed). Hudud crimes include theft, for which sharia requires the amputation of limbs, adultery, which is punished by stoning, and apostasy, which carries the death penalty.

The Sudanese authorities have been accused of helping a Muslim businessman to take over church property after breaking into the site and beating and arresting Christians present. Police and security forces used a truck and two Land Cruisers to batter down the fence around Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church as Muslim onlookers shouted “Allahu Akhbar” (“Allah is great”). Officers beat several Christians who were in the compound, arresting some of them along with church leader Dawood Fadul.

  • Funny how we never hear about Christians attacking others of different religious persuasions

Middle East

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva on Friday amid rising expectations for an accord that would freeze Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the easing of some financial sanctions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that he “utterly rejects” the emerging nuclear deal between western powers and Iran, calling it a “bad deal” and promising that Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself. Israel believes Iran will continue trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and says international pressure should be stepped up, not eased, in order to force Iran to dismantle its nuclear program. Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran, unilaterally if necessary, if he concludes that diplomatic pressure on Iran has failed. There has been no confirmation that a deal is close but foreign ministers from China and Russia were traveling to Geneva to join their counterparts from the USA, United Kingdom, France and Germany

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Israeli and Palestinian journalists Thursday and declared that there was a risk of a “Third Intifada” and a continuing spiral of isolation for Israel in the international community if the current round of negotiations with the Palestinians breaks down. “The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos,” Kerry said. “Does Israel want a third intifada? I believe that if we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, three will be an increasing campaign of the de-legitimization of Israel that has been taking place on an international basis.”

  • Kerry is right about the increasing isolation and persecution of Israel, an end-time phenomena that will lead to widespread war in the Middle East that will trigger Daniel’s peace pact that signals the start of the seven-year Tribulation

Iran

Long before a nuclear deal was in reach, the U.S. was quietly lifting some of the financial pressure on Iran, a Daily Beast investigation reveals. The Obama administration began softening sanctions on Iran after the election of Iran’s new president in June, months before the current round of nuclear talks in Geneva. A review of Treasury Department notices reveals that the U.S. government has all but stopped the financial blacklisting of entities and people that help Iran evade international sanctions since the election of its president, Hassan Rouhani, in June.

The prison that Pastor Saeed was recently transferred to has been described as “deadly and inhuman.” 22,000 of the most violent criminals in Iran are crammed into a prison built to hold 5,000. It’s where prisoners of conscience are sent to disappear. Pastor Saeed’s life is at stake. However, the unprecedented response to the ACLJ (American Center for Law & Justice) petition has led Senators, Representatives, and the U.S. State Department to speak out for Pastor Saeed once again. Keep praying.

Pakistan

The Pakistan Taliban has vowed to carry out revenge attacks on the national government after appointing a new leader following the death of their former chief in a U.S. drone strike. The terrorist group’s new leader, Maulana Fazlullah, is a longtime militia commander possibly linked to the assassination attempt on teenage activist Malala Yousafzai. The militant group said they would seek revenge against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government for the death of former leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in northwestern Pakistan last week.

Libya

Libya’s government on Wednesday warned oil companies not to buy from export terminals seized by militias in the east of the country. The government said such dealings were a “blatant violation” of Libyan sovereignty and a “crime” punishable by law. Separately, the government said that it would cut financial support to militias who assist in providing security by the end of the year. The weak central government’s authority is challenged by armed groups, but it also relies on them to keep order.

Iraq

At least 10 people were killed when a bomb exploded Friday evening inside a popular restaurant in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The bomb was hidden inside the Abu-Yahya restaurant in central Mosul when went it off around 8:30 p.m. In addition to those killed, 58 were wounded. Most of the casualties were civilians. Located about 250 miles north of Baghdad, Mosul is the capital of the predominantly Sunni province of Nineveh. At least another 11 people were killed and 21 wounded in violence elsewhere around Iraq Friday in the continuing escalation of al Qaeda’s efforts to destabilize the government.

Somalia

An attack Friday night on a hotel in Somalia’s capital left five people dead and at least 15 wounded. The bloodshed came after a car bomb went off outside Hotel Makkah Al-Mukarama in central Mogadishu. Somalian Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon put out a statement condemning what he described as a “terrorist attack” and offering “his condolences to the civilian casualties.” The violence was attributed to Al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked organization that the U.S. government calls a terrorist group and was behind the deadly siege earlier this fall of a Nairobi, Kenya, shopping mall.

Weather

Super Typhoon Haiyan’s estimated maximum sustained winds were up to 195 mph on Nov. 7, 2013. Since 1969, there have been only three other tropical cyclones worldwide with maximum sustained winds of 190 mph or more. Haiyan, though, is the most intense tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded history. Thursday’s 4 p.m. ET advisory from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center estimated wind gusts of 235 mph in Haiyan. Various satellite estimates of Super Typhoon Haiyan ranged from an unfathomable low pressure of 858 millibars. Superstorm Sandy’s pressure dipped to around 940 millibars before landfall in New Jersey in late October 2012.

Haiyan (locally named Yolanda) made its first landfall at 4:40am Friday morning (local time) near Guiuan, on the Philippine island of Samar. Due to the numerous islands that make up the Philippines, Haiyan continued to make numerous landfalls as it moved west through nation and is now moving towards Vietnam. Up to 1,200 people have died as a result of Super Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippine Red Cross said Saturday. There were reports of widespread power outages, flash floods, landslides and scores of buildings torn apart. Because communications in the Philippines were cut-off, it remained difficult to determine the full extent of casualties and damage.

A storm that trekked from southern South Dakota and northern Nebraska to northwest Iowa and central Minnesota Tuesday dropped up to 10 inches of snow with rates of one inch per hour in some locations. In South Dakota, as much as 9.5 inches of snow fell 5 miles east of the town of Porcupine. The top snow total in Nebraska was 10 inches in Gordon. Up to 8.5 inches covered the ground in Minnesota near Marshall. Minneapolis/St. Paul saw its first measurable snow of the season with 1.8 inches.

The U.N. weather agency says concentrations of carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere have accelerated and reached a record high in 2012, well beyond the 350 ppm that some scientists and environmental groups deem a safe level.. The World Meteorological Organization says carbon dioxide was measured at 393.1 parts per million last year, up 2.2 ppm from the previous year. Its annual inventory released Wednesday of the chief gases blamed for global warming showed that the 2012 increase in CO2 outpaced the past decade’s average annual increase of 2.02 ppm.

Signs of the Times (11/5/13)

November 5, 2013

In Midst of Syrian War, Giant Jesus Statue Arises

A giant bronze statue of Jesus has gone up on a Syrian mountain, apparently under cover of a truce among three factions in the country’s civil war. Jesus stands, arms outstretched, on the Cherubim Mountain, overlooking a route pilgrims took from Constantinople to Jerusalem in ancient times. The statue is 40 feet tall and stands on a base that brings its height to 105 feet. It took three days to raise the statue. That the statue made it to Syria and went up without incident on Oct. 14 is remarkable. The project took eight years and was set back by the civil war that followed the March 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad. Christians and other minorities are all targets in the conflict, and the statue’s safety is by no means guaranteed. It stands among villages where some fighters, linked to al-Qaida, have little sympathy for Christians. The project, called “I Have Come to Save the World,” is run by the London-based St. Paul and St. George Foundation.

Gay Rights Legislation Advances in Senate

The Senate pushed a major anti-bias gay rights bill past a first, big hurdle Monday, a clear sign of Americans’ greater acceptance of homosexuality nearly two decades after the law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The vote of 61-30 essentially ensured that the Senate has the votes to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would prohibit workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Final passage, possibly by week’s end, would cap a 17-year quest to secure Senate support for a similar discrimination measure that failed by one vote in 1996, the same year Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Reflecting the nation’s shifting views toward gay rights and the fast-changing political dynamic, seven Senate Republicans joined with 54 Democrats to vote to move ahead on the legislation.

  • The advance of the LGBT agenda is an end-time phenomena that exemplifies the ongoing decline of morality and the increased influence of the anti-Christ spirit (2Timothy 3:1-5, 1John 2:18)

Appeals Court Rejects Obamacare Contraception Mandate

A federal appeals court struck down Obamacare’s controversial birth control mandate, declaring that requiring contraception coverage in employee health plans is unduly burdensome for business owners who oppose birth control on religious grounds. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled 2-1 last Friday in favor of Francis and Philip Gilardi, the Roman Catholic owners of Ohio-based Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics, who argued that the provision in the new healthcare law would violate their religious freedom. Two of the judges on the panel disagreed with parts of the ruling, saying the rights of religious people do not extend to the companies they own. Religious conservatives have blasted the requirement as a violation of First Amendment rights.

Obama Creates Climate Change Task Force

Through the stroke of a pen, President Obama on Friday used his executive powers to elevate and take control of climate change policies in an attempt to streamline sustainability initiatives – and potentially skirt legislative oversight and push a federal agenda on states. The executive order establishes a task force of state and local officials to advise the administration on how to respond to severe storms, wildfires, droughts and other potential impacts of climate change. The task force includes governors of seven states — all Democrats — and the Republican governor of Guam, a U.S. territory. Fourteen mayors and two other local leaders also will serve on the task force.

  • ‘Sustainability’ is the code word for a worldwide effort, formerly known as Agenda 21, to take advantage of climate change as the basis for implementing one-world control over virtually all aspects of life.

NSA Running Amok

From thousands of classified documents, the National Security Agency emerges as an electronic omnivore of staggering capabilities, eavesdropping and hacking its way around the world to strip governments and other targets of their secrets, all the while enforcing the utmost secrecy about its own operations, reports the New York Times. It spies routinely on friends as well as foes, as has become obvious in recent weeks; the agency’s official mission list includes using its surveillance powers to achieve “diplomatic advantage” over such allies as France and Germany and “economic advantage” over Japan and Brazil, among other countries. James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has repeatedly dismissed such objections as brazen hypocrisy from countries that do their own share of spying. But in a recent interview, he acknowledged that the scale of eavesdropping by the N.S.A., with 35,000 workers and $10.8 billion a year, sets it apart.

Since Edward J. Snowden began releasing the agency’s documents in June, the unrelenting stream of disclosures has opened the most extended debate on the agency’s mission since its creation in 1952. The scrutiny has ignited a crisis of purpose and legitimacy for the N.S.A., the nation’s largest intelligence agency, and the White House has ordered a review of both its domestic and its foreign intelligence collection. While much of the focus has been on whether the agency violates Americans’ privacy, an issue under examination by Congress and two review panels, the anger expressed around the world about American surveillance has prompted far broader questions.

  • The NSA’s growth and reach reveals an underlying principle of federal governance: give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. Many laws and agencies are launched with noble intentions, but power-hungry politicians and avaricious bureaucrats always find ways to attain their selfish, often nefarious objectives

Google ‘Outraged’ by NSA Snooping

Allegations of intrusive data collection by the National Security Agency have “shocked” and “outraged” executives at Google, according to chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt. “I was shocked that the NSA would do this — perhaps a violation of law but certainly a violation of mission,” Schmidt told CNN. “This is clearly an overstep.” Schmidt was speaking just days after documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the agency has apparently tapped into the fiber optic cables that carry data between the servers of major American tech companies including Google. Google said last week that it has “long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping” and is now working to extend the encryption of internal traffic.

Small Businesses Race to Renew Health Plans

Thousands of small businesses around the U.S. are racing to renew their health insurance policies Dec. 1 to beat large premium increases their brokers say will hit them Jan. 1 when the Affordable Care Act takes full effect. Some health insurance brokers also say 2014 may be the last year many of the companies even offer health insurance. Insurance brokers from several states told USA TODAY that 60% to 80% of their small-business clients — those with 50 employees or fewer — are renewing their policies early to skirt the law. Companies with more than 50 employees aren’t allowed to adjust their renewal dates. Many companies are still waiting to hear what rates they’ll be facing in 2014, as state insurance commissioners are backlogged with tasks related to ACA compliance.

Obamacare Website Down Nightly for Fix-Ups

The part of the problem-plagued Obamacare website that allows people to apply for coverage will now be taken offline nightly between 1 and 5 a.m. ET, according to a banner now appearing atop the site’s home page. “Additional down times may be possible as we work to make things better,” the banner adds. The nighty blackout comes amid furious efforts to fix the website and a new warning by the White House that initial enrollments are likely to fall short of expectations.

Millions Could Get Free Health Insurance

Millions of people could qualify for federal subsidies that will pay the entire monthly cost of some health care plans being offered in the online marketplaces set up under President Obama’s health care law, a surprising figure that has not garnered much attention, in part because the zero-premium plans come with serious trade-offs. The bulk of these plans are so-called bronze policies, the least expensive available. They require people to pay the most in out-of-pocket costs, for doctor visits and other benefits like hospital stays. A large number of those who qualify have incomes that fall just above the threshold for Medicaid, the government program for the poor.

Food Stamp Cuts Create High Demand for Food Banks

Food banks across the country, stretched thin in the aftermath of the recession, are bracing for more people coming through their doors in the wake of cuts to the federal food stamp program. Food stamp benefits to 47 million Americans were cut starting Friday as a temporary boost to the federal program comes to an end without new funding from a deadlocked Congress. Food banks served 37 million Americans in 2010, up from 25 million in 2006, according to the most recent numbers available. With supplies low, food banks plan to do one of two things when their food supply runs low: they will serve a set number of people and cut off the line when they run out of food baskets or they will put less food in the baskets so they can make more of them.

US No Longer Seen as Land of Opportunity

Just 52 percent — the lowest on record ‚ of the approximately 1,000 adults polled say America has plenty of economic opportunity, down from 57 percent in 2011 and 81 percent in 1998. Plus, almost half say future generations will enjoy less economic opportunity than the current generation does. Democrats are the more likely to have lost faith in the ability to improve their economic lot, with a 20-percentage-point drop, compared with losses of 16 points among independents and 14 points among Republicans.

Economic News

Financial firms are cutting tens of thousands of jobs because of a slowdown in the mortgage business, the sluggish economy, the growth of online banking and new regulations. The sector announced 49,000 layoffs the first nine months of 2013, most among all industries. The cutbacks represent a reversal from 2011 and 2012 when financial firms had begun contributing to overall U.S. job growth after recovering more slowly than other sectors from the 2008 financial crisis.

Surging oil and gas production is nudging the nation closer to energy independence. But new research suggests the boom could peter out long before the United States reaches this decades-old goal. Many wells behind the energy gush are quickly losing productivity, and some areas could hit peak levels sooner than the U.S. government expects, according to analyses presented last week at a Geological Society of America meeting in Denver. Unless more wells are drilled, the Bakken shale of North Dakota and Montana loses 44% of its production after a year and the Eagle Ford shale of Texas, 34%. Most of the nation’s major shale regions produce both oil and gas.

The Eurozone emerged from a recession lasting six quarters earlier this year but has struggled to gain momentum since. Gross domestic product across the 17-nation region will shrink by 0.4% in 2013, after contracting by 0.6% in 2012. The euro hit a two-year high against the dollar last week. The impact of harsh austerity measures in 2011 and 2012 has begun to fade this year, and Eurozone government spending will rise in 2014, but paying down debt remains a priority for companies and households.

Syria

Al Qaeda has swept to power with the aim of imposing a strict Islamist ideology on Syrians across large swathes of Syria’s rebel-held north, according to a CNN survey of towns, activists and analysts that reveals an alarming increase in al Qaeda-linked control in just the past month. Al Qaeda-backed militants known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are the predominant military force in northern Syria, according to activists and seasoned observers, and have a powerful influence over the majority of population centers in the rebel-held north. The swift al Qaeda expansion poses a severe policy dilemma for the United States and its European allies who have long delayed their promised armed assistance to rebel groups as they struggled with fears that the weapons could end up in the hands of al Qaeda-backed extremists.

Egypt

The trial of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi adjourned almost as quickly as it began Monday after a defiant Morsi rejected the charges against him and asserted his claim that he remains the “legitimate president” of the country. Morsi, who was flown to court at a police academy in eastern Cairo, was defiant as the trial began and broke out in chants with other defendants, disrupting the hearing, Egyptian security officials said the trial would resume Jan. 8, allowing defense lawyers to review the new documents in the case.

Attacks on vessels using Egypt’s Suez Canal and increased terrorist activity in the Sinai Peninsula are opening up a new front in the war on terror, posing a serious threat to a crucial international trade route and with it global shipping, warn analysts. On Aug. 31, an rocker-propelled grenade attack targeted the COSCO Asia container ship as it passed through the Suez Canal, while a separate attack on another vessel occurred July 29. Both attacks have been claimed by the Furkan Brigades, a new militant jihadist group operating in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, though no significant damage was recorded in either incident.

Pakistan

The Pakistani Taliban’s top council met Saturday to choose a new leader to replace the militant movement’s chief, killed in a U.S. drone strike the day before, intelligence officials and commanders in the movement said. The death of Hakimullah Mehsud, a ruthless leader known for attacking a CIA base in Afghanistan and a bloody campaign that killed thousands of Pakistani civilians and members of the security forces, is a heavy blow for the militant group. But the drone strike came as the Pakistan government was trying to negotiate a peace agreement with the Tehreek-e-Taliban. The strike threatened to worsen already fragile U.S.-Pakistan relations as some Pakistani politicians called the strike an attempt to sabotage the peace talks.

Iraq

Violence across Iraq killed nearly 1,000 people in October, the United Nations said Friday, as the world body’s representative there called on leaders to take bold action to stop the “current mayhem” gripping the country. Car bombings, shootings and other attacks have been on the rise all year, intensifying fears that widespread sectarian conflict again may overwhelm the country. Widespread chaos nearly tore the country apart in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Iran

Tens of thousands of demonstrators packed the streets Monday outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran in the biggest anti-American rally in years, a show of support for hard-line opponents of President Hassan Rouhani’s historic outreach to Washington. Such protests occur every year outside the former embassy compound to mark the anniversary of the 1979 takeover following the Islamic Revolution. But the latest demonstration is the largest in years after calls by groups such as the powerful Revolutionary Guard for a major showing, including chants of ‘death to America’ that some of Rouhani’s backers have urged halted. Opponents of thawing relations with the U.S. say they will not back down, opening the prospect of deeper internal rifts and tensions that could put pressure on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to reconsider his backing of Rouhani’s groundbreaking exchanges with the U.S.

An Iranian newspaper says more than 50 people were hospitalized in a southern city where air pollution levels spiked this week. The head of provincial health department, Mohammad Hossein Sarmast, as saying that at least 5,000 people rushed to the city hospitals in Ahvaz seeking medical assistance after pollution levels increased. Acid rain may have caused symptoms such as shortness of breath among those admitted to hospitals. Ahvaz is located in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, which is dotted with oil wells and factories, and is among Iran’s most polluted cities.

Pakistan

The Pakistani government is under pressure to block NATO supply routes to Afghanistan this month if the United States continues its campaign of drone strikes in northwestern Pakistan. The demands from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the opposition party led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, come amid anger in Pakistan over the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, in a U.S. drone strike last week. The Pakistani government had been working on proposed peace talks with the extremist group when Mehsud was killed.

Somalia

Somali pirates and their peers hijacking vessels in the region made about $400 million in ransom over the past eight years, according to a report published Friday. The report, Pirate Trails, was conducted by the United Nations crime unit, Interpol and the World Bank. It tracks the underbelly of the pirate world in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Seychelles and Somalia. Most of the funds came from exchanging captives for ransom, an increasingly sophisticated process mostly controlled from Somalia. In total, 179 ships were hijacked off the coast of Somalia and Horn of Africa between April 2005 and the end of 2012. About 85% were released for ransom.

Mali

Gunmen abducted and killed two French radio journalists on assignment in northern Mali on Saturday, French and Malian officials said, grabbing the pair as they left the home of a rebel leader. The deaths come four days after France rejoiced at the release of four of its citizens who had been held for three years by al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa. France launched a military intervention in January in its former colony to try and oust jihadists from power in Kidal and other towns across northern Mali. Separatist rebels have since returned to the area.

Volcanoes

A volcano in western Indonesia has erupted again, unleashing volcanic ash high into the sky and forcing the evacuation of villagers around its slope. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency says the 8,530-foot -high Mount Sinabung erupted early Sunday. It says authorities are working to evacuate residents from four villages located within the danger zone of 2 miles. So far, nearly 1,300 villagers have been relocated to safer areas. The volcano, located in North Sumatra province, last erupted Oct. 24. In September, more than 15,000 people were forced to flee when it rumbled to life after being dormant for three years. Mount Sinabung is among more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia,

Weather

Dangerous storms marched east on Halloween night and into Friday morning, creating numerous reports of flooding and wind damage. At least 22 confirmed tornadoes touched down on Thursday, most of which were rated EF0 and EF1, though an EF2 tornado touched down near Baker, Mo. This is a new record for the most confirmed tornadoes on any Halloween on record in the U.S. In addition, two additional tornadoes touched down just after midnight in the early hours of Nov. 1, bringing the event total to 24 tornadoes. A 9-year-old boy died at a Nashville hospital after being struck by a downed power line on Thursday evening.

Tuesday, snow will spread out into the Plains from western Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and western South Dakota into parts of eastern South Dakota, far northwest Iowa, Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and the western U.P. of Michigan. The snow may become locally heavy for some in central Nebraska through Tuesday night, and accumulations should become more significant from southern South Dakota northeastward Tuesday evening.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Tropical Storm Sonia has been downgraded to a tropical depression as it hit land in Mexico. The center of Sonia reached the coast of Sinaloa near the city of El Dorado early on Monday. Even though Sonia was weakening, heavy rains are still possible in Sinaloa, western Durango, and southern Chihuahua. While the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season has given the U.S. a breather, Mexico has been hit by eight hurricanes and tropical storms this year’

Some of the world’s top climate scientists say wind and solar energy won’t be enough to head off extreme global warming, and they’re asking environmentalists to support the development of safer nuclear power as one way to cut fossil fuel pollution. Four scientists who have played a key role in alerting the public to the dangers of climate change sent letters Sunday to leading environmental groups and politicians around the world. The letter urges a crucial discussion on the role of nuclear power in fighting climate change. Environmentalists agree that global warming is a threat to ecosystems and humans, but many oppose nuclear power and believe that new forms of renewable energy will be able to power the world within the next few decades.

Asian Lady Beetles, or ladybugs, have swarmed the Southeast in record numbers thanks to mild weather conditions over the last few years. The pretty little bugs appear to pose no threat to humans, but when they swarm in large numbers, there can be consequences. The ladybugs can make their way into homes and become a nuisance. When they die, their bodies and shells can become food for other pests, which could lead to infestations of roaches or rodents. A couple of hard freezes could eliminate a large chunk of the population, but until that occurs, expect to see plenty of ladybugs in the south.

Signs of the Times (11/1/13)

November 1, 2013

Federal Appeals Court Reinstates Most of Texas’ Abortion Restrictions

A federal appeals court issued a ruling Thursday reinstating most of Texas’ controversial new abortions restrictions, just three days after a federal judge ruled they were unconstitutional. A panel of judges at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital can take effect while a lawsuit challenging the restrictions moves forward. The panel’s decision means as least 12 clinics won’t be able to perform the procedure starting Nov 1. In its 20-page ruling, it acknowledged that the provision “may increase the cost of accessing an abortion provider and decrease the number of physicians available to perform abortions.” However, the panel said that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that having “the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate” a law that serves a valid purpose, “one not designed to strike at the right itself.”

Court Overturns New York Stop-and-Frisk Ruling

A federal appellate court on Thursday granted a stay in the landmark police stop-and-frisk ruling in New York City, and removed the trial judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, from the case. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that Judge Scheindlin “ran afoul” of the judiciary’s code of conduct by compromising the “appearance of partiality surrounding this litigation.” The panel criticized how she had steered the lawsuit to her courtroom when it was filed in early 2008. The ruling effectively puts off a battery of changes to the policy that Judge Scheindlin, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, had ordered for the Police Department.

DOJ Argues International Treaty Can Trump the Constitution

Justice Department attorneys are advancing an argument at the Supreme Court that could allow the government to invoke international treaties as a legal basis for policies such as gun control that conflict with the U.S. Constitution. Their argument is that a law implementing an international treaty signed by the U.S. allows the federal government to prosecute a criminal case that would normally be handled by state or local authorities. Justice Department attorneys are advancing an argument at the Supreme Court that could allow the government to invoke international treaties as a legal basis for policies such as gun control that conflict with the U.S. Constitution, according to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

  • Another step toward the one-world government prophesied in Revelation 11

Strange Dismissals of Nine Military Generals

The strange recent chain of high-level dismissals from the U.S. military is so bizarre and so unheard of that even Dianne Sawyer of ABC news reached out to cover it on October 12th when the 9th, yes 9th, general was relieved of duty in less than a year. This doesn’t include the long list last year, this is just the nine individuals this year alone.

A video, shot in September 2013, shows an army commander briefing the MPs on their new command structure under the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security for domestic operations with the National Guard. The MP began recording the exchange after being shocked to hear that they were now under FEMA control. In this video you can clearly hear the commander discuss the suspension of the Constitution for martial law and gun confiscations in America. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LavSGvONNxc)

  • U.S. military is being eviscerated for two reasons: first to minimize its ability to act worldwide on its own; second, to prepare for the institution of martial law in America under the guise of responding to a major internal crisis (e.g. economic collapse), but instead its goal is to suppress rebellion and dissent. Hence the large ammunition buys and construction of detention centers.

Air Force Academy Drops ‘So Help Me God’ From Honor Oath

Air Force Academy cadets will no longer be required to include the words “so help me God” when taking their annual Honor Oath. On Friday (Oct. 25), officials at the Colorado Springs, Colo., campus announced its 4,000 current cadets would be allowed to opt out of the final phrase of their honor code, which they reaffirm each of their four years of study and training. “Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference — or not,” said Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the academy’s superintendent, in a statement. “So in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.’”

  • Lack of respect for God will prove to be much more significant and eternally fatal

Obama Approval Ratings Falling

Problems with the health care law — and perhaps fallout from the recent government shutdown — are taking a toll on President Obama’s public standing. The president’s approval rating hit a low point of 42% in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, down 5 points from earlier in October. The poll said 51% now disapprove of Obama’s performance.

Obamacare Website Down Again

Visitors trying to log on to the Obamacare website Thursday morning saw the same stubborn phrase that has roiled users for weeks: “The system is down at the moment.” It’s been almost a full month since the HealthCare.gov website launched, riddled with technical problems despite a series of advance warning signs. And even after a chorus of apologies out of Washington, it may be at least another month before everything’s running smoothly. Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized for the “miserably frustrating” problems during a 3 1/2-hour congressional grilling. She said she made a mistake when she told President Barack Obama that HealthCare.gov was “ready to go” for its October 1 launch.

Obama Administration Knew Millions Would Lose Insurance

Millions of Americans are getting their health insurance cancelled under the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration has known for about three years that this would happen, NBC News is reporting. Between half and three quarters of 14 million consumers who buy health insurance individually will receive a cancellation letter or its equivalent in the next year because their current policies don’t meet the standards laid out by the new law, the news organization reports. Of those who will be forced to buy new insurance, many will face huge price increases, NBC reports.

Lawmakers Seek to Delay Huge Flood Insurance Rate Hikes

A bipartisan group of lawmakers Tuesday unveiled legislation that would delay for about four years several changes to the federal government’s flood insurance program that are threatening to sock thousands of people with unaffordable premium hikes. The move comes as the government is beginning to implement a significant overhaul of the much-criticized program. That overhaul passed last year with sweeping support. The revamped program was backed by both liberals and tea party conservatives but has caused a panic in places like Staten Island, N.Y., and the New Jersey coast and in flood-prone areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida, where higher rates threaten to push some people out of their homes.

In southern states the new rules have sent some home values plummeting because of uncertainty over insurance rates and because subsidized rates can’t be passed along to buyers. New flood maps threaten to saddle some homeowners who are paying a few hundred dollars a year now with annual premiums of more than $20,000. Under the old rules, they could retain their old rates since they followed the rules when they bought or built their home, but they will soon lose those “grandfathered” rates under the new law.

US Out of Top 20 in Global Economic ‘Prosperity’ Index

The U.S. tumbled out of the top 20 most economically prosperous nations in an annual measure of wealth and well-being compiled by the Legatum Institute, falling below France and China. In a month in which lawmakers shut the government and struck a deal to avoid default only as the clock began running out, faith in the U.S. government also fell to an all-time low. “The U.S. can no longer be seen as the most prosperous nation in the world — indeed it’s no longer even in the club,” said Jeffrey Gedmin, the institute’s president and chief executive officer. “This year’s index shows that Americans are suffering increasing hardship as a result of the country’s economic condition.” The seven-year-old Legatum Prosperity Index is a study of wealth and well-being in 142 countries, based on eight categories such as economic strength, education and governance. It is an attempt to broaden measurement of a nation’s economic health beyond indicators such as gross domestic product.

Deep Cuts to Food Stamps Begin Nov. 1

Forty-eight million Americans will have their food stamps benefits slashed starting Friday, when a recession-era boost in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) expires. The move to cut back benefits will be the first wide-scale change to the program affecting nearly every single participant. The 13.6 percent cut comes out to about $36 a month less for a family of four getting government assistance or $420 a year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Since 2000, the costs for the plan have increased more than 358 percent. Enrollment in the food-stamp benefits rose markedly during the 2007-2011 recession.

Economic News

The federal government’s latest annual deficit is the smallest it’s been since 2008, according to Treasury Department data released Wednesday. At $680 billion, the fiscal 2013 deficit is 51% less than it was in 2009, when it hit a record high nominally of $1.4 trillion. As a percent of the economy, it’s also considerably smaller than it’s been in the past five years, coming in at 4.1% of gross domestic product. By contrast, the annual deficit in 2009 topped 10% of GDP. And last year it was 6.8%. The improvement was attributed to an improving economy and a mix of fiscal restraint — primarily, the expiration of stimulus measures, the imposition of across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester, and tax increases on high-income households during the 2013 fiscal year, which ended September 30.

Applications for unemployment benefits dropped for the third week in a row, down 10,000 to 340,000 for the week ended Oct. 26, the Labor Department said Thursday. Applications are now close to the pre-recession levels that were reached in August, before California’s computer problems and the federal government shutdown distorted the data.

In a statement after a two-day meeting, the Fed said it would continue to purchase $85 billion a month in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities to hold down long-term interest rates and stimulate economic growth. A growing chorus of Wall Street pros say a bubble is forming in the U.S. stock market. They blame the Fed’s unprecedented stimulus, including its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases, for artificially inflating stock prices. There is concern that if the Fed does not dial back its asset purchases soon, stocks could shoot higher and become even more delinked from business fundamentals.

  • Continuing to artificially boost the money supply, in effect printing money out of thin air, will keep the anemic recovery going in the short-term but increase the odds of an even bigger collapse in the future

A $7.6 billion federal program to help homeowners avoid foreclosure in 18 states and the District of Columbia has gotten just 22% of its funds to homeowners more than three years after its launch, a government report out Tuesday said. The report criticizes the Treasury Department, which oversees the Hardest Hit fund, for failing to set measurable goals for the program and lax oversight.

Consumer prices increased only slightly in September as higher energy costs were offset by flat food prices. The figures are the latest evidence that slow economic growth is keeping inflation tame. The Labor Department says the consumer price index rose a seasonally adjusted 0.2% in September, up from 0.1% in August. In the past year, consumer prices have increased just 1.2%, below the Federal Reserve’s 2% inflation target.

Persecution Watch

Since the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Egypt, Christians have been the targets of violence. Once the Islamist government was sacked, Christians hoped the situation would change, but, according to Mission Network News, it hasn’t. However, “Churches are united together. And the spirit of prayer is happening in all the churches. People are praying all the time… Christians posted signs on their burned-out churches that read: “You burned our church, but we love you. his makes many Muslims discover the reality of Christianity, and many of them come to know Jesus. … Until now, they find difficulty for security reason to join local churches, so they meet underground in a secret way.”

Eritrean security forces raided a prayer meeting and arrested 150 Christians found praying together in Maitemenai, a suburb to the north of Asmara, International Christian Concern reports. It is thought that the believers had gathered to pray about the escalating refugee crisis and the trouble in the country that has been of concern to many Eritreans in recent days. The gathering is said to have been under the auspices of an underground fellowship known as Hiyaw Amlak (Living God), part of a wide network of underground fellowships that have been in operation throughout Eritrea since 2002, when the government shut all churches not belonging to the officially sanctioned religious groups. Although no whereabouts of all the prisoners have been officially disclosed, friends and family of the detained believe at least some of them are held at a police station in the adjoining district from where the raid and arrests occurred.

Students won’t be allowed to sing religious holiday songs at winter concerts in a south-central New Jersey school district. Bordentown Superintendent Constance J. Bauer issued a statement on Oct. 18 saying that some of the selections were questioned and that “religious music should not be part of the elementary program,” mentioning how the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 declined to hear an appeal of a similar situation. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said public school administrations can determine which songs are appropriate according to constitutional guidelines to create a secular “inclusive environment.”

  • Secular humanism should also be classified as a religion because it places its faith in humanity instead of God. Therefore, this decision is discriminatory in advocating a federal religion.

Middle East

As Israeli prison officials prepared to release 26 Palestinian security prisoners, some of whom were convicted of grisly murders and other crimes prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared that he would continue to work for the release of more. “We won’t have comfort until they are all released,” Abbas said, referring to the more than 5,000 Palestinians serving time in Israeli prisons, many for acts of terrorism and murder, as well as common criminal offenses. A large and festive reception is planned for the released murderers when they return to Ramallah in the evening, while the only reference made to the ongoing peace negotiations between Israel and the PA which the prisoner releases are supposed to be a part of was made by PA Prisoner Affairs Minister Issa Karaka, who declared on Monday that there is no connection between the two things.

Israeli warplanes struck targets inside Syria on Thursday. The targets were SA-125 missiles that were being transferred to the militant group Hezbollah, according to a senior defense official. It was similar to an operation in May in which Israeli jets fired weapons at a shipment of accurate, Iranian-made guided missiles. That attack occurred near Damascus. Israel also struck suspected weapons bound for Hezbollah in January. Thursday’s attack occurred in the Syrian port city of Latakia.

IDF troops came under fire from suspected Palestinian terrorists early Friday morning as they were attempting to destroy a tunnel under the border built by the Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. Five soldiers were wounded in the attack, and IDF return fire directed at the suspects in the vicinity of the Gaza coast city of Khan Younis killed four suspects and possibly wounded others, according to Palestinian medical sources. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry will be back in the region next week as senior Palestinian Authority officials have threatened to quit rather than continue negotiations with Israel following this week’s approval of plans to expand building activity in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods and settlements in the West Bank.

Syria

Inspectors in Syria have completed the destruction of machinery used to produce chemical weapons, meeting a crucial deadline in the international effort to eliminate the deadly weapons from the war-torn country. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemicals Weapons “is now satisfied that it has verified — and seen destroyed — all of Syria’s declared critical production and mixing/filling equipment,” according to the statement. The deadline was to complete it by Nov. 1.

However, the international inspectors overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile have missed an early deadline in a brutally tight schedule after security concerns prevented them from visiting two sites linked to Damascus’ chemical program. Syria has identified 41 facilities at 23 chemical sites where it stored approximately 1,300 tons of precursors and agents, and over 1,200 unfilled munitions to deliver them. But the OPCW said inspectors were only able to visit 21 of the 23 sites because of security risks.

Iran

Iran announced that it would be building 34 new nuclear plants in the next seven years. Iran also announced that Russia has agreed to help them complete this project with technical and other support. Biblically, the alliance of Russia (Rosh) and Iran (Persia) is a key end-time indicator (Ezekiel 38)

The Iranian Judiciary should immediately halt its new wave of repression of the media and civil society and stop its numerous rushed executions, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today. In the past three days alone, the Judiciary has banned the reformist daily Bahar, sentenced the prominent actress Pegah Ahangarani to 18 months in prison, and put to death 18 individuals who are ethnic minorities. ‘President Rouhani has an immense responsibility to uphold his promises to protect citizenship rights and use all means at his disposal to stop this latest onslaught against civil and human rights,’ said Hadi Ghaemi, the Campaign’s executive director.

Iraq

Nearly two years after the U.S. military withdrew its last troops from his country, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will press President Obama on Friday to step up security assistance as violence in Iraq is tilting back to levels not seen in years. Ahead of his Oval Office meeting with Obama, al-Maliki said in a speech in Washington on Thursday that he needs significantly more help from the United States — including more weapons and greater sharing of U.S. intelligence — to stem the bloodshed that has left 7,000 Iraqi civilians dead already this year.

Pakistan

Missiles fired by a U.S. drone killed three people in Pakistan early Thursday, Pakistani intelligence officials said, the first such attack since Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asked U.S. President Barack Obama to end the campaign of drone strikes. The strike in northwest Pakistan also comes the week after human rights groups questioned the legality of the U.S. drone program in Pakistan and Yemen, documenting in detail some of the civilian casualties they say it has caused. North Waziristan is rife with militants and is the area where the United States conducts its most intensive drone campaign, against the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda operatives.

Nigeria

Heavily armed militants, suspected members of Boko Haram, attacked Damaturu, the capital of Nigeria’s Yobe state, last Thursday, Open Doors USA reports. It appears that hundreds of members of the Muslim terrorist sect took part in the surprise offensive in an area that hosts government institutions but is also dominated by Christians. According to the BBC, the militants also attacked a hospital, stole drugs and drove off in ambulances. An Open Doors worker in Nigeria reported: “Efforts to reach Christians in the town by telephone proved futile as all lines have been cut. That is common practice during attacks such as these. We are concerned over the effect of the continued violence on believers in Yobe state. They are living in constant fear. Every single day there are believers who lose loved ones and see destruction of their property.”

China

Chinese authorities named a pair of suspects from a majority Muslim western region of the country as suspicions grew that a deadly car crash and fire near Tiananmen Square was a terror attack. The crash at the center of the capital at lunchtime Monday plowed through dozens of pedestrians and police, killing five people, including the driver, two passengers, a female tourist from the Philippines and a male tourist from Guangdong province in South China, and injuring 38 people. Ethnic unrest has plagued the region as China’s majority Han people immigrated to the area and clashed with the native Uighur people. The Uighur, who are Muslim, have long complained about repressive rule by Beijing.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake hit eastern Taiwan on Thursday, shaking buildings over a wide area including the capital. There were no immediate reports of serious damage or casualties. The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake measured magnitude 6.6 and struck in the evening. It was centered in a remote mountainous area 28 miles south-southwest of the coastal city of Hualian at a depth of just 5.8 miles. In Taipei, the capital, buildings swayed for more than 10 seconds and startled residents ducked for cover.

Weather

From Anchorage to Fairbanks and Barrow, many cities in Alaska have seen very mild temperatures this October due to a persistent area of high pressure in the upper atmosphere. In the interior Alaskan city of Fairbanks, the monthly average temperature was 36.1 degrees. This is more than 11 degrees above average and ranks among the warmest Octobers on record in the city. Monday, Oct. 28 was extremely mild. The high temperature for the day reached a daily record of 51 degrees, more than 30 degrees above the late-October average high of 20 degrees. Even the low temperature of 38 degrees exceeded the average high by about 18 degrees.

Two people were killed as heavy rains across Central Texas swelled rivers and creeks and triggered flash flooding Thursday, prompting dozens of rescues across a region that’s been dealing with a long, punishing drought. About 10 miles south of Austin, one frightening rescue involved a couple whose SUV was swept away by floodwaters. They were forced to cling to trees for hours until a helicopter rescued them on Thursday morning. In all, the National Weather Service said, more than a foot of rain fell across Texas’ midsection, including up to 14 inches in Wimberley, southwest of the state capital.

A stream of thick, blowing dust crossing an Arizona highway led to a chain-reaction crash that killed three people in an area where gusting winds often stir up towering clouds of dirt that can reduce visibility to zero. At least 12 other people were injured Tuesday in the 19-vehicle pileup on Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson. Parts of westbound I-10 were closed for more than five hours.