Signs of the Times (11/9/13)

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.

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