Signs of the Times (11/12/13)

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.

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