Archive for January, 2014

Signs of the Times (1/31/14)

January 31, 2014

Pro-Life Groups Boycott Girl Scout Cookies over Abortion Ties

National pro-life groups have banded together to launch a boycott of the sales of Girl Scout cookies over the ties the organization has to the Planned Parenthood abortion business and how it has promoted pro-abortion groups and activists. The pro-life movement has been concerned for a number of years about the ties between the Girl Scouts and the Planned Parenthood abortion business.  Although the Girl Scout organization maintains that it takes “no position” on the issue of abortion, parents, churches, and pro-life activists have long complained of the pro-abortion slant of the Girl Scouts’ resources, role models, and affiliations. LifeNews is a part of the coalition of pro-life organizations that are boycotting sales of the cookies along with American Life League, the Pro-Life Action League, the Radiance Foundation, blogger Jill Stanek, the National Black Pro-Life Union, the Issues4Life Foundation, and Life Coalition International.

The Liar-in-Chief At it Again

The mainstream media once again failed to hold President Obama accountable for the lies he told during Tuesday evening’s State of the Union address. Here are the two biggest ones:

  • The president said, “The more than eight million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.” The data actually show that since the start of his presidency, about 3.2 million jobs have been created — and the number of jobs in the economy still is about 1.2 million lower than when the recession began in December 2007.
  • Obama said, “More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.” However, he carefully did not say these numbers are the result of the Affordable Care Act, but he certainly left that impression. But the Medicaid part of this number — 6.3 million from October through December — is very fuzzy and not directly attributable to ObamaCare. Even the private insurance numbers — about 3 million — are also open to question. The troubled federal exchange counts people as enrolled if an individual has selected a plan, but it does not know if a person enrolled and paid a premium because that part of the system has yet to be built.

Obama Vows to Act Alone

President Obama’s State of the Union address represented a study in scaled-down ambition, noted the New York Times. A man who entered the White House yearning for sweeping achievements finds himself five years later threatening an end run around gridlock on Capitol Hill by using executive orders, essentially acknowledging both the limits of his ability to push an agenda through Congress and the likelihood that future accomplishments would be narrow. Obama vowed to tackle economic inequality with a series of limited initiatives on jobs, wages and retirement that he will enact without legislative approval. However, executive orders like the one he will employ to raise the minimum wage paid by federal contractors may be the only route available to the president. But only so much can be delivered through the president’s pen if he is not using it to sign legislation. He cannot raise the minimum wage for most workers, overhaul the Social Security system, grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, reorder spending and taxes, or even make necessary fixes to the health care law.

  • If it weren’t for a more conservative House of Representatives, we would be awash in new government-expanding, freedom-limiting, debt-ridden legislation

Al Gore Proposes ‘Fertility Management’ to Fight Global Warming

The globalists want to control every aspect of your life and will use whatever lie they can come up with as an excuse. Former Vice President Al Gore raised eyebrows last week when he suggested that “fertility management” was the key to fighting global warming and promoting economic development in poor countries. Gore’s comments drew criticism from free-marketers who said his remarks amount to “eco-imperialism.” The world is expected to have more than 9 billion people by 2075, with much of that growth coming from developing countries in Africa. This is alarming to environmental activists like Gore, who argues that “fertility management” is needed to address a whole slew of global development issues, including mitigating global warming.

  • An outgrowth of Agenda 21 and ‘sustainable development,’ the global elite value ‘mother nature’ more that human life and see the masses as objects to be manipulated, controlled or simply thrown away

Labor Unions ‘Bitterly Disappointed’ with Proposed ObamaCare Regulations

Leaders of major labor unions are pushing back against proposed regulatory changes that could affect some union-sponsored health plans under ObamaCare, arguing the proposals do nothing to help workers suffering under the law. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the presidents of two high-profile labor unions said they are “bitterly disappointed” with the administration’s proposed rules. Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and D. Taylor, president of Unite Here said the administration has failed to address their concerns about union plans and that ObamaCare threatens to lower the standard of living for the working class. Labor unions have complained the law will drive up the costs of certain health plans that are jointly administered by unions and smaller employers.

Short List of Health Care Providers Frustrating ObamaCare Enrollees

Some Arizonans who secured health coverage through the federal marketplace are now finding that their new plans drastically limit the providers they can use. Metro Phoenix and Tucson residents who signed up for plans with so-called narrow networks have discovered fewer options for primary-care doctors, specialists, hospitals, pharmacies, labs and clinics. And some rural Arizonans purchasing the least-expensive plan in their communities have discovered that the nearest participating doctor is 200 miles away. These plans pay little or nothing of the overall bill if customers go outside the network.

Senate Republicans Pitch ObamaCare Alternative

Seizing on the public’s continued anxiety over the ObamaCare rollout, a trio of Republican senators on Monday unveiled a sweeping alternative proposal they say would gut the law’s mandates and taxes while preserving consumer protections. The GOP proposal, dubbed the Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility and Empowerment Act, would repeal the president’s marquee legislative achievement while instituting new reforms the senators say would give states and individuals more flexibility and purchasing power. The Republican proposal would address the issue of pre-existing conditions by creating a new “continuous coverage” standard that would prevent any individual moving from one insurance plan to another from being denied on the basis of a pre-existing condition so long as that individual was continuously enrolled in a health plan. The requirements on individuals to buy insurance, and on mid-sized and large businesses to provide it, would be repealed.

House GOP Releases Plan for Immigration Reform

Republican House leaders released long-awaited guidelines for overhauling the nation’s immigration system Thursday, drawing measured praise from reform supporters for opening the door to negotiations with Democrats that could lead to passage of a bill this year. But the guidelines also set off a fiery debate among immigration advocates. On one side are those who are willing to settle for the GOP’s offer of legalization for undocumented immigrants but no special pathway to citizenship. On the other are those who insist any immigration reform bill must ultimately include citizenship. That debate is expected to grow louder as Republicans move from translating the guidelines into actual legislation that will need the support of both Republicans and Democrats to pass.

NSA Snooping via Online Games, Google Maps

The NSA and its British counterpart are tapping popular smartphone apps such as Angry Birds to peek into the tremendous amounts of very personal data those bits of software collect — including age, location, sex and even sexual preferences, according to new reports from the New York Times and The Guardian. Citing confidential documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the reports detail efforts to supplement data collection from cell phone carriers and smartphones by tapping into “leaky” apps themselves. That information can come from a user profile, which may contain martial status — options included “single,” “married,” “divorced,” “swinger” and more, the report said.

Western U.S. Residents Face Threat of Water Rationing

For years, experts have been warning people in the American West they will have to make do with less water in the future. That dryer future already may have arrived. This year, for the first time in history, lower flows in the Colorado River have prompted the federal government to reduce the amount of water flowing into Lake Mead reservoir outside Las Vegas. Bureau of Reclamation officials say if the river’s level doesn’t increase soon, there’s a 50 percent chance that by next year, residents in Arizona, southern Nevada and California will have to start rationing water. Seven states and Mexico have more than 30 million people who rely on the use of Colorado River water for municipal, agricultural and industrial purposes.

Economic News

The economy grew 3.2 percent in the final quarter of 2013, shrugging off the effects of the fall’s government shutdown and debt standoff, and raising hopes that the recovery is finally getting more robust. The pace of expansion in October, November and December slowed a bit from the third quarter, when the economy grew at an annual rate of 4.1 percent.

President Obama said during his State of the Union Address Tuesday evening that he will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. Obama said it’s a new savings bond which encourages people to build a nest egg that “guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in.” Obama also wants to reform unemployment insurance, but first he said Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance it let expire for 1.6 million people.

  • A guaranteed, no risk investment? From the government? There is no such thing, especially in the financial chaos to come

While President Barack Obama’s attempts to increase the nation’s minimum wage through legislation have stalled in Congress, the White House announced that Obama will issue an executive order to increase the minimum wage for new federal contract workers. The action will cover all workers employed under future government contracts, ensuring that none is paid less than $10.10 an hour. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25.

Despite a slowdown in job growth last month and recent financial turmoil in emerging markets, the Fed said it will pare its bond-buying program by $10 billion for the second straight month. Fed policymakers said the central bank will buy $65 billion a month in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, down from $75 billion. In December, Fed policymakers took their first step in tapering the program begun in September 2012, reducing the bond-buying from $85 billion a month.

The January cold snap in the east and south has already set seven of the top 10 all-time demand days for natural gas. About half the U.S. households use natural gas as their primary heat source. Natural gas for February delivery rose 3.8% to $5.03 per million British thermal units Tuesday. Last year, prices averaged $3.73 per million Btus.

U.S. government agents have arrested Charlie Shrem, the CEO of Bitcoin exchange BitInstant, charging him with laundering money for customers of online drug bazaar Silk Road. Shrem, 24, is a major player in the Bitcoin world, but was forced to resign from the Bitcoin foundation. The BitInstant exchange, based in New York City, lets people buy bitcoins locally at more than 700,000 locations in the United States, as well as Brazil, Russia and elsewhere.

  • Bitcoin is popular among smugglers, drug dealers, money launderers and gamblers due to its anonymity

Persecution Watch

As the Syrian civil war presses on, the minority Christian community in the country is seeing an increase in attacks targeted specifically at them, according to leading clergy officials in Syria. Christians make up roughly 10 percent of Syria’s population. Bishop Dionysius Jean Kawa, a high-ranking bishop, for the Syrian Orthodox Church, says his religious community has come under increasing attack: “At the beginning of the Syrian crisis we didn’t have a real problem against Christians, but nowadays because of the growing radical groups, Christians are being targeted.”

Twenty-two Christians were killed in an assault on a Catholic Church service in northeastern Nigeria. The attack is thought to have been perpetrated by the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, which the Nigerian government has struggling to contain in the country’s northern and central states. On Sunday morning, suspected militants armed with guns and explosives attacked a Catholic church located in Waga Chakawa village in Nigeria’s northeastern state, Adamawa. The attackers set off bombs prior to opening fire on the Christian congregation. After assailing the church, the militants burned down houses and took local Christian residents hostage during a four-hour siege with local authorities.

Religious tensions are on the rise in Malaysia after a church was bombed early Monday morning. Police say that men on motorcycles threw Molotov cocktails into the church as they drove past. No one was injured. On Sunday, officials at the Penang church found a banner hung on the church fence stating, “Jesus is the son of Allah.” Church leaders believe the banner was hung by individuals trying to provoke further tension over the use of the word Allah, a controversial topic in Malaysia. The Malaysian government says Allah should be exclusively used by Muslims – they fear that use by non-Muslims might spark confusion and even conversions. But Christians in Malaysia are accustomed to using the same word for God, and they say the restriction is a violation of their rights. In recent weeks the Islamic authorities have seized over 300 Bibles written in Malay simply because of use of the world Allah. Of Malaysia’s population of 29 million people, around 60 percent of Malaysia’s are Muslims. Christians comprise about 9 percent of the population.

More than 2,000 Christians gathered in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Sunday (January 26) to protest against a perceived lack of religious freedom following recent attacks on Christian places of worship by Buddhist extremists. Two churches and a Christian prayer center were attacked on Jan. 12 by Buddhist mobs claiming they were illegal and aiming to take Buddhists away from their religion.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian diplomats and military officials refused to meet with a bipartisan delegation of senior congressional staffers who visited the Middle Eastern country last week, an unusual snub that suggests increased tension between the U.S. and a key ally. The delegation asked to meet with representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and Defense Ministry during the week-long trip, but the Saudis denied both requests. The rejection is especially unusual because the Saudis paid for the delegation’s visit, but did not allow them to talk to their most natural counterparts in the Saudi Arabian government.

Afghanistan

The U.S. government is keeping tens of millions of dollars flowing to Afghanistan despite a pair of private audits that found Afghan ministries could not properly account for the funds, according to a pointed watchdog report released on Thursday. According to the report, USAID has committed just more than $1 billion to Afghanistan. The lengthy study from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction revealed that the audits produced 696 recommendations, with 41 percent labeled as “critical” or “high risk.” The U.S. agency administering the funds, USAID, worked to address some of these — but despite the report’s conclusion that  it would not approve direct aid “under normal circumstances,” the money continued to flow. The report revealed glaring holes in the system that allow money to pour in with questionable accountability.

Iraq

Iraqi police have won back full control of a ministry building stormed by gunmen who took civil servants hostage, the Interior Ministry and security sources said Thursday. Six gunmen were killed in the police operation to retake the Ministry of Transport in northeast Baghdad. Police killed four militants, while two of the militants detonated suicide vests. Two police officers were killed and seven injured in the attack. The hostages were freed unharmed.

Ukraine

Ukraine’s parliament voted Tuesday to repeal harsh anti-protest laws just hours after Prime Minister Mykola Azarov submitted his resignation in a bid to end anti-government protests that have gripped the country since November. The protesters were demanding that every member of the current authority resigns from every position. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his government Tuesday, Anti-government, pro-Western street demonstrations have been taking place in Kiev since November 21 after Yanukovych shelved a long-planned political and economic treaty with the European Union and accepted a bailout from Russian President Vladimir Putin instead.

Nigeria

Suspected Boko Haram militants opened fire on a village market and burned homes in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno late Sunday, killing at least 45 people and injuring 26 others. The gunmen arrived in the village of Kawuri in all-terrain vehicles, shot people at the market while traders were closing shop for the day, and burned a number of thatched homes. Bombs were also used in the attacks, possibly planted ahead of time. Boko Haram is an Islamist militant group that has waged a campaign of violence in northeastern Nigeria, trying to impose a strict version of Sharia, or Islamic law.

Weather

Below-average temperatures have been a common occurrence all January from the Upper Midwest to the Great Lakes, Northeast and the South. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the West has seen temperatures well above average in January. January is closing out just like it began with frigid temperatures east of the Rockies. This latest widespread surge of Arctic air began to dive into the Upper Midwest on Sunday, sending temperatures plummeting. On Tuesday morning, the cold air mass set daily record lows in Detroit (-10 degrees), Dayton, Ohio (-13 degrees – tie), Grand Rapids, Mich. (-9 degrees) and Lubbock, Texas (6 degrees).

A wet winter storm covered much of the Deep South with snow and ice Tuesday, prompting airlines to cancel thousands of flights while snarling traffic, triggering accidents and sending temperatures down into the teens. The winter storm delivered a long swath of snow and ice from parts of Texas to the coastal Southeast, coastal Mid-Atlantic and Northeast early Tuesday morning. In parts of the South where snow and ice fell Tuesday into Tuesday night, significant travel problems will continue into Wednesday. Streets, highways, Interstates were gridlocked with people in cars and trucks stranded on the ice for 8, 10, 12 hours. In Atlanta, seven students were still making their way home on a school bus at 5:30 a.m. ET Wednesday morning — a full 16 hours after school let out. Many motorists simply abandoned their vehicles.

Emergency officials said Wednesday that numerous bridges in the western Panhandle could remain closed through Thursday because of the icy conditions. The region hasn’t seen snow and ice for years. Treacherous travel conditions will last through Thursday morning in Savannah, Ga. because of black ice. Savannah-Chatham schools remained closed for students Thursday. While airports across the southeastern United States continued to dig out from Tuesday’s snowstorm, Wednesday turned into a long day of cancellations and delays for frustrated travelers. Airlines had canceled more than 2,200 U.S. flights by Wednesday at 5 p.m. That follows about 3,200 flight cancellations on Tuesday. The remnants of the winter storm have finally pushed off the East Coast, but lingering snow and ice means some Southern schools will be canceled again Friday. Meanwhile, another winter storm will spread a wintry mess to over 30 states from the mountain West to New England.

Signs of the Times (1/27/14)

January 27, 2014

Dramatic Increase in Hostility toward Christian Students in Public Schools

A California-based legal organization is reporting a marked increase in hostility toward Christian students in public schools. “We have seen a dramatic increase of phone calls nationwide as it pertains to kids in public schools who are facing hostility because of their faith,” General Counsel Bob Tyler of Advocates for Faith and Freedom told Christian News Network. But Tyler said that the upswing in incident reports do not pertain to bullying from other students, but rather mistreatment by school officials. The hostility comes from” teachers and school administrators who are curtailing the students’ free speech rights simply because they’re Christians and they might express a Christian worldview,” he stated.

  • Apparently tolerance is a one-way street open to everyone but Christians

Grammy Award Show Gets Political

This year, the Grammy Awards weren’t just about the music, they were also about making a statement in the same-sex marriage debate. Heavily hyped in the hours leading up to Sunday night’s show, 34 couples — both gay and straight — exchanged rings and said “I do,” as officiated on stage by Queen Latifah. The actress/rapper/talk show host was recently deputized by Los Angeles County to legally conduct wedding ceremonies and will sign the marriage certificates for each couple. The event took place on a stage set to resemble a giant chapel with stained-glass windows during a performance by hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, in which they sang their hit tune “Same Love,” a song embraced by the LGBT community last year. “The right-wing conservatives think it’s a decision/And you can be cured with some treatment and religion/Man-made rewiring of a predisposition,” Macklemore rapped. “Playing God, aw nah here we go/America the brave still fears what we don’t know/And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten/But we paraphrase a book written 3500 years ago.”

  • Can you just imagine the hue and cry if Christians expressed their beliefs during a major TV show? Secular humanism is a religion; it has its own set of beliefs, controls the media and is allowed freedoms unavailable to Christians. So where’s the equality and the tolerance they love to claim?

Thousands of Anti-Abortion Activists March in San Francisco

Thousands of anti-abortion protesters from across California marched through downtown San Francisco on Saturday to mark the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized the procedure. A massive and diverse crowd of protesters rallied in front of City Hall before marching down Market Street to Justin Herman Plaza for the 10th annual “Walk for Life West Coast.” They chanted “Pro Life” and carried signs that read “Defend Life” and “Women deserve better than abortion.” At one point marchers stretched across more than a mile of Market Street, the liberal city’s main thoroughfare.

Supreme Court Rules Nuns can be Exempt from ObamaCare Mandate for Now

The Supreme Court has ruled a group of Catholic nuns will not have to comply with the contraception mandate in ObamaCare while their lawsuit plays out in court, if they declare their objections in writing. The court ordered the group, the Little Sisters of the Poor, to inform the Department of Health and Human Services they will not comply with the requirement under the health care law that employers must offer contraceptive coverage. Under the health care law, most health insurance plans have to cover all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives as preventive care for women, free of cost to the patient. Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the birth control requirement, but affiliated institutions that serve the general public are not.

Secret Abortion Fee Hidden in ObamaCare Premiums

Insurance companies working under the Obamacare umbrella have secretly added a surcharge to cover the cost of abortions, an apparent violation of federal law that forbids the practice, congressional leaders charge. Consumers signing up for insurance in an Obamacare exchange won’t find a single sentence telling them that they will pay at least $1 a month to fund abortions. “The president promised when the health care bill passed that it would not cover abortion. We knew that was an empty promise as the bill stipulated a $1 a month surcharge for plans that covered abortions,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., who chairs the House’s Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Health.

Three Million Signed Up on Health Exchanges

More than three million people have now signed up for private insurance plans through the federal and state health exchanges, the Obama administration announced Friday. The numbers include new January enrollees announced by California and New York this week. Those two states by themselves have gained as many enrollees as the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov. Another 6.3 million people have been determined eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, the government-based health insurance program for children.

Gun Flight: Smith & Wesson, Ruger Quit California

A new gun law proponents say helps law enforcement has driven Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger out of California, and affirmed the suspicions of firearms rights advocates that the measure is really about making handguns obsolete. The two companies have announced they will stop selling their wares in the nation’s most populous state rather than try to comply with a law that requires some handguns to have technology that imprints a tiny stamp on the bullet so it can be traced back to the gun. The companies, and many gun enthusiasts, say so-called “microstamping” technology is unworkable in its present form and can actually impair a gun’s performance. Firearm microstamping, or ballistic imprinting, works by engraving a microscoping marking onto the tip of the firing pin. When the gun is fired, it leaves an imprint, usually of a serial number, on the bullet casings.

Accidents Surge as Oil Industry Uses Trains for Transport

As domestic oil production has increased rapidly in recent years, more and more of it is being transported by rail because of the lack of pipeline capacity. The trains often travel through populated areas, leading to concerns among residents over the hazards they can pose, including spills and fires. About 400,000 carloads of crude oil traveled by rail last year to the nation’s refineries, up from 9,500 in 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads. But a series of recent accidents — including one in Quebec last July that killed 47 people and another in Alabama last November — have prompted many to question these shipments and have increased the pressure on regulators to take an urgent look at the safety of the oil shipments. In the race for profits and energy independence, critics say producers took shortcuts to get the oil to market as quickly as possible without weighing the hazards of train shipments. Today about two-thirds of the production in North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil field rides on rails because of a shortage of pipelines.

Welcome to Sochi, the Security Games

A trip to the Winter Olympics in Sochi should be all about superhuman feats of skill or endurance on skis, skates or bobsleighs. But hearing the talk of U.S. security plans in the run-up to the Games in Russia next month, visitors may think they are entering a war zone. Contingency plans for evacuating Americans in case of an attack are well in hand, it would seem. The United States is moving to two warships into the Black Sea. If ordered, helicopters could be launched from there to Sochi, a U.S. official told CNN recently. And if more capacity is needed, C-17 transport aircraft will be on standby in Germany and could be on the scene in about two hours. That’s in addition to U.S. precautions on Russian soil, where FBI agents are now arriving in Sochi to work with their Russian counterparts. The State Department went so far last week as to issue an updated travel alert for the region, warning Game-goers that bombings and abductions continue to be a threat in Russia.

Economic News

The idea of a full-blown stock market correction is looking less far-fetched, as fears about a slowdown in China are sending investors scurrying. The Dow Jones industrial average Friday fell 318.24 points, or 2.0%, to 15,879. Added to Thursday’s 217-point loss in the Dow, the much-watched measure of the stock market is now down 4% from its recent high notched at the end of last year.

Businesses expect their companies to perform better this year but that optimism still isn’t translating into a push to hire more workers, according to a new survey from the National Association for Business Economics out Monday. Of the 64 members who responded to NABE’s January survey, most said they saw stronger sales in the final months of 2013, and 43% expect their companies to modestly hike selling prices this year. That’s the highest percentage in more than 12 months. However only 37% expect to create jobs in the next six months, the same as in NABE’s October survey.

The frigid winter of 2014 is setting the price of natural gas on fire. The price in the futures market soared to $5.18 per 1,000 cubic feet Friday, up 10% to the highest level in three and a half years. The price of natural gas is up 29% in two weeks, and is 50% higher than last year at this time.

First class postage rose Saturday to 49 cents from 46 cents per stamp. The 3-cent hike is the largest increase in consumer postage prices in more than a decade for the U.S. Postal Service. One way around it is buying Forever Stamps now and using them any time for first-class mail, the kind used by most consumers. Launched in 2007, Forever Stamps are always valid, no matter what people paid for them and even if prices go up in the future.

Persecution Watch

Christians in Sri Lanka are under fire. Over the last 18 months, there’s been a spate of violence with little intervention. Voice of the Martyrs Canada spokesman Greg Musselman explains, “Churches are destroyed, musical equipment is destroyed, and Bibles are burned. Terrible things are done to the church.” The violence has seen a dramatic uptick in the last six weeks with at least four major attacks on churches. Christians are often left in legal limbo as the government now demands an additional letter of registration issued by the Ministry of Buddhist Sasana and Religious Affairs. This gives extremist monks leverage to instigate mobs against Christians and Muslims, and allows local authorities to put pressure on them.

Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt continue to be targeted for kidnapping and extortion on a weekly basis. The most recent case occurred last week when masked men abducted 52-year-old Nady Farag Massad at gunpoint in the governorate of Minya. According to local sources, Massad was purchasing bread for his family at a local bakery when the gunmen forced him into their vehicle and fled the scene. Massad’s kidnapping is only the latest in a string of abductions targeting Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt over the past year. According to Ezzat Ibrahim, the director of the World Center for Human Rights in Minya and Asyut, there have been dozens of cases.

Egypt

Three years ago Egyptians rose up against a repressive regime and called for dignity, social justice and freedom. They’re still waiting. “Egypt has witnessed a series of damaging blows to human rights and state violence on an unprecedented scale over the last seven months,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International. “Repressive legislation has been introduced making it easier for the government to silence its critics and crack down on protests,” he said. “Security forces have been given free rein to act above the law and with no prospect of being held to account for abuses.”

Twenty-nine people were killed in clashes Saturday between security forces and anti-government protesters nationwide, most of those in Cairo. Another 167 people were wounded. Egypt’s interim president says he is amending the country’s transitional plan to allow for presidential elections before parliamentary polls. President Adly Mansour said the rise in terrorist attacks against police and military will not derail the country’s transition to democracy.

Syria

As tense talks over Syria’s future proceed in Geneva, the United States has restarted deliveries of nonlethal aid to Syrian opposition groups. The supplies — communications equipment and other nonlethal aid — for now are being delivered only to unarmed opposition groups, but deliveries could resume to others soon, two U.S. officials said Monday. The aid was stopped in December after Islamist militants raided a warehouse held by the Western-backed Free Syrian Army. It is being restarted because rebels have taken measures to strengthen security and prevent supplies from being diverted to extremists. But the talks in Geneva are making little progress on humanitarian issues, let alone complex political questions. The first meeting meant to discuss the contentious issue of a Syrian transitional government broke up less than an hour after it began Monday following a tense session that one delegate described as “a dialogue of the deaf.”

Afghanistan

The U.S. military on Monday criticized a move by Afghanistan’s government to release 37 “dangerous” prisoners who it says pose security threats, calling the decision a “major step backward.” The release of prisoners has been a sticking point in Afghan-U.S. relations as the two sides struggle over a deal allowing U.S. and allied troops to remain in the country past the end of this year. American intelligence agencies are concerned that they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes if a final security deal cannot be struck. The simmering debate has involved 88 detainees at the Parwan Detention Facility who the U.S. says pose a threat to the country and region. Earlier this month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered the release of all but 16 prisoners from that group. The U.S. has stressed it wants all 88 prisoners to face trial in Afghanistan.

Thailand

Anti-government demonstrators swarmed dozens of polling stations in Thailand on Sunday to stop advance voting for next week’s general elections, chaining gates shut, threatening voters and preventing hundreds of thousands of people from casting ballots. A protest faction leader was fatally shot in a confrontation near a polling center that also left 11 people wounded, and isolated street brawls broke out in several parts of Bangkok. The chaos underscored the precariousness of Thailand’s fragile democracy, and the increasing weakness of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected administration. Yingluck had called the Feb. 2 vote in a failed bid to ease months of street protests.

Ukraine

Anti-government protests spread into mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine while the country’s justice minister warned protestors occupying the Justice Ministry in the capital Monday that she will declare a state of emergency if they don’t retreat. On Sunday, violent clashes broke out in major eastern Ukrainian cities Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhya. Violence broke out following the rejection by the Ukrainian opposition of offers from the president to share power. That offer came after protests which began in November turned deadly last week, killing at least two.

Central African Republic

Dozens of vehicles carrying emergency aid from the U.N. World Food Program are making their way under French military escort to the capital of Central African Republic. Some of the 100 trucks began arriving Monday from neighboring Cameroon after concerns about violence along the road to Bangui that had previously blocked the U.N. from delivering urgently needed supplies. Central African Republic’s capital has been in a state of anarchy since the rebel leader who seized power last year stepped aside and an interim transitional government was installed. Escalating violence between Muslims and Christians has left an untold number of dead in recent weeks.

Somalia

The U.S. military carried out a missile strike in southern Somalia on Sunday to target a senior figure in the Al Shabaab terrorist group who had ties to Al Qaeda, a senior defense official confirmed to Fox News. But it was unclear if the morning raid, in which witnesses said a vehicle was struck, was successful. The Associated Press, citing a member of Al Shabaab, reported that Sahal Iskudhuq, a member of the Somali rebel group, was killed in the strike, along with his driver.

Earthquakes

A strong undersea earthquake rocked parts of Indonesia’s main Java island on Saturday, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The 6.1-magnitude quake was centered 25 miles south of Kroya, a town near the southern coast of Central Java, with a depth of 51 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The quake was felt across many parts of Central and West Java provinces, causing panic among some residents. The world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

Weather

Because of the ongoing parade of winter storms, several cities, including Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, have seen more snow already than they typically get for the entire season. Indianapolis, which has had almost 2 feet of snow this month, may see its single snowiest month in the city’s history, where records go back to just after the Civil War. The costs of salting, plowing and employee overtime are close to exhausting the city’s $7.3 million snow-clearing budget, which is supposed to last for all of 2014. In Chicago, 45.4 inches of snow have fallen on the city this winter. In a full season, the Windy City typically sees 36.7 inches. In Detroit, 45.9 inches have fallen, more than the full season average of 42.7 inches, and there are at least two months left in winter.

Much of northern Plains, Midwest and Northeast will likely shiver through daytime high temperatures 10 to 30 degrees below normal through Wednesday, the National Weather Service said. A persistent weather pattern that’s driving Arctic air south was forecast to force temperatures to plummet for about 2½ days, starting overnight Sunday. People from Houston to Hilton Head, S.C. are bracing for what could be the most impactful winter storm to hit the region in years. A potentially major winter storm to affect a long swath of the Deep South this week – including places better known for their beaches, balmy breezes and hurricanes. The National Weather Service has issued winter storm watches, warnings and advisories from southeast Texas eastward along the Gulf Coast through Georgia, the southern half of South Carolina, eastern North Carolina and far southeast Virginia. For Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga.

A series of avalanches have put a crucial Alaskan road under 30 feet of snow and ice, cutting off the port city of Valdez and its 4,000 residents. Fifty miles of the Richardson Highway leading into Valdez have been closed in what the Alaska Department of Transportation says is one of the biggest avalanches ever seen in the Thompson Pass area. It could be a week before the highway that connects Fairbanks to Valdez is completely cleared.

Signs of the Times (1/24/14)

January 24, 2014

March for Life Draws Thousands to Washington DC

On Wednesday thousands of pro-life supporters descended on Washington DC, marching from the National Mall to Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court despite the snow on the ground and temperatures in the teens. Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, wrote about her participation in the march in an article for FOX News. “We must fight for those who cannot speak for themselves or, as the Bible calls them, ‘the least of these,’” she said. This year the march marks the 41st anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade. “We march for the 55 million children who have been aborted since Roe v. Wade and cannot speak for themselves,” Penny Young Nance concluded.

Global Elite Descend on Davos to ‘Reshape World’

The ski resort of Davos, Switzerland, attracts the global political and business elite each year for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum that began Wednesday. For several days at the end of every January, presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and corporate titans jostle with actors, rock stars and major influencers for top billing at the annual WEF meeting. Dignitaries ranging from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yahoo Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer, actors Matt Damon and Goldie Hawn, and any number of the approximately 2,500 heads of state, entrepreneurs, CEOs, young global leaders and assorted cultural and social visionaries are making the pilgrimage to Davos to talk about one thing: “The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business” — WEF founder Klaus Schwab’s characteristically abstruse theme for 2014.

  • The WEF isn’t the primary engine for creating the New World Order, but it is one of the many outlets employed by the globalists to push their agenda and get the elite into proper alignment

As Obama Hammers ‘Income Inequality,’ Gap Grows Under His Presidency

Income inequality — the gap between the rich and poor — is an issue U.S. presidents of both parties have spoken of for years. No president has hammered the issue as emphatically as President Obama. But a look back shows that income inequality has grown, not shrunk, under the current president. The share of income earned by the top 1% has dramatically increased since Obama’s inauguration in 2009. By 2012, the top 1 percent was back to where it was decades ago — taking in about a quarter of all pre-tax income. Yet the bottom 90 percent saw their share fall below 50 percent for the first time in history. “Rich people have pulled away, largely because the top 1 percent has been doing quite well — and disproportionately doing quite well under President Obama,” American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks said. “Remember that the stock market has doubled in value since President Obama took office, and at least 80 percent of those gains have gone to the top 10 percent of the income distribution.”

  • Obama pays lip service to this issue for political reasons but is subservient to the global elite in their quest to capture an even greater proportion of the world’s wealth in order to enforce its agenda

Administration Fears Health Care System so Flawed it Could Bankrupt Insurance Companies

While the Obama administration publicly expresses full confidence in its health care law, privately it fears one part of the system is so flawed it could bankrupt insurance companies and cripple ObamaCare itself. To justify a no-bid contract with Accenture after firing CGI as the lead contractor, the administration released documents from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services that offered a rare glimpse of its worst fears, saying the problems with the website puts “the entire health insurance industry at risk” … “potentially leading to their default and disrupting continued services and coverage to consumers.” Then it went even further, saying if the problems were not fixed by mid-March, “they will result in financial harm to the government.” It even added that without the fixes “the entire health care reform program is jeopardized.” In spite of the “urgent” need officials cited to keep the system from collapsing, the official White House spokesman said he knew nothing about it.

Most Mexicans Sent home have No Interest in Returning to U.S.

More than half of Mexican immigrants who moved back home said in a recent survey that they have no intention of returning to the U.S., even though many left family here and most had positive experiences. Those were among the findings of a recent report that said the cycle of Mexican-U.S. immigration has reached the “end of an era.” “We recognize a new era of return migration where record numbers of Mexicans are returning home and fewer are coming to the United States,” said Aracely Garcia-Granados, executive director of the nonprofit Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together.

The survey was based on interviews with 600 people in the Mexican state of Jalisco who had lived in the U.S. Just under two-thirds of them said they came to the U.S. for work. But while 77 percent said they came here illegally, about 89 percent said they returned home voluntarily. Only 11 percent claimed to have been deported. About 37 percent said they went home for family reasons and another 29.1 percent said it was because they were homesick. Only 4.3 percent said the fear of being deported drove them to cross back over the border. However they got back home, 53 percent said they had no plans to ever return to the U.S. This despite the fact that 54 percent said they have family in this country and 88 claimed they had a positive experience living here.

Europe, Facing Economic Pain, May Ease Climate Rules

For years, Europe has tried to set the global standard for climate-change regulation, creating tough rules on emissions, mandating more use of renewable energy sources and arguably sacrificing some economic growth in the name of saving the planet. But now even Europe seems to be hitting its environmentalist limits, reports the New York Times. High energy costs, declining industrial competitiveness and a recognition that the economy is unlikely to rebound strongly any time soon are leading policy makers to begin easing up in their drive for more aggressive climate regulation. On Wednesday, the European Union proposed an end to binding national targets for renewable energy production after 2020.

  • Globalists now hoisted on their own petard (caught by the very device one had contrived)

Payment Card Data Thefts Jump Five-Fold

More than 740 million records were exposed in 2013, making it the worst year in terms of data breaches recorded. That’s a very conservative number derived by analyzing approximately 500 breaches listed on the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Chronology Data Base, according to the Online Trust Alliance. That list is comprised of only publicly disclosed data breaches. Many of the breach cases listed for 2013 show an unknown or undisclosed number of records taken. So 740 million is a low number. Even so, the Clearinghouse’s tally shows a five-fold Increase in credit card and social security numbers stolen last year. “Consumers and businesses are both victims of rapidly escalating hacking attacks, and as stewards of consumer data it’s incumbent on businesses to adopt best practices to help protect consumers from harm,” says Craig Spiezle, executive director and president of the Online Trust Alliance. “Companies that fail to do so need to be held accountable.”

Economic News

Existing-home sales in the U.S. rose slightly in December, but the market lost momentum and inventories of homes for sale tightened. December existing-home sales rose 1% from November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.87 million. That marked the second month in a row that sales posted a year-over-year drop. December sales were down 0.6% from a year ago.

The United Nations’ labor agency says the number of unemployed people around the world rose above 200 million last year as job opportunities failed to grow at the same pace as the global workforce. The International Labor Organization said Monday that an estimated 201.8 million people were unemployed in 2013. That’s 4.9 million more than the previous year. East and South Asia together accounted for more than 45% of last year’s increase. The agency puts last year’s global unemployment rate at 6%, unchanged from 2012. It says it expects little improvement this year, projecting that the jobless rate will edge up to 6.1% and the number of unemployed will rise another 4.2 million.

Financial institutions all over the world are warning that there could be a “mega default” on a very prominent high-yield investment product in China on January 31st. They say that this could lead to a cascading collapse of the shadow banking system in China which could potentially result in “sky-high interest rates” and “a precipitous plunge in credit“. In other words, it could be a “Lehman Brothers moment” for Asia. And since the global financial system is more interconnected today than ever before, that would be very bad news for the United States as well.

Persecution Watch

Police have identified the individuals who attacked two churches in Sri Lanka on Sunday. The attacks were perpetrated by 24 people, according to police, including 8 Buddhist monks. No one was harmed in the attacks, but church members were threatened and one pastor was issued a death threat. Two churches were vandalized, and Bibles and other Christian books were burned by the mob. In the wake of the attacks, Police spokesman Ajith Rohana admitted “inaction” on the part of the police department, due largely to insufficient numbers. “We request your urgent prayer support for justice, peace and common sense to prevail and for the protection of these pastors, believers and their families,” said one Sri Lanka Assemblies of God leader.

Some Pakistani Christians are considering leaving their homeland to live in another country with less persecution. In an article on ChristianToday.com, Lubna Thomas Benjamin wrote about Christians leaving their country because of discrimination and blasphemy laws in the mostly Muslim country. Among other countries, Pakistani Christians are fleeing to Buddhist Sri Lanka. “The burning of Christian villages, assaults, desecrating the churches and the Holy Bible have happened over the years in Pakistan,” Benjamin wrote. “Therefore, the conditions in the homeland is bringing the Christians to the verge where they have to take this decision of leaving their motherland, which they have never thought of.”

According to Michael Wood of Open Doors USA, a nationwide church shutdown is underway. “It’s basically illegal to even go to a church,” Wood explains. “Those that have been going: the government has their names, their addresses; they’re really being scrutinized and followed.” Believers began meeting in houses instead, but even then they weren’t safe. “Anything that draws large crowds to a home brings attention and investigation,” says Wood. Wood says the situation has gotten increasingly difficult for believers since the last presidential election. More people are coming to Christ, he says, which results in resistance from Iran’s Islamic government.

Middle East

Rockets were fired into Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip early Tuesday, landing in open fields and causing no injuries or damages. Later in the morning, an improvised explosive device was detonated near the border fence in what the IDF believes was a deliberate attempt to target soldiers patrolling the area. “Palestinian terrorists are exploiting the area west of the border to attack soldiers and Israeli civilians,” an army spokeswoman said. “The IDF takes a grave view of this.” The attacks on the Gaza border came just hours after two Grad rockets were reportedly fired at Israel’s Red Sea resort city of Eilat. Meanwhile, Hamas has been observed deploying forces near the border in an apparent effort to bring the rocket-firing squads of rival terrorist groups under control.

Israel

Israel has foiled an Al Qaeda plan to carry out a suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Fox News confirmed. Shin Bet said Wednesday it arrested three Palestinians it accuses of plotting to carry out bombings, shootings, kidnappings and other attacks. The Times of Israel reported that the arrests were made three weeks ago, shortly before at least one of the men was due to travel to Syria to make final plans for the operation. One of the suspected plotters, identified as Arib al-Sham — a Gaza-based Al Qaeda point man for the attacks — is still at large. Shin Bet said the men, two from Jerusalem and one from the West Bank, were recruited by an operative based in the Gaza Strip who worked for Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Overnight Wednesday the Israeli Air Force hit a vehicle carrying Ahmed Za’anin, an operative with the terror militia Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine which carried rocket attacks into Israel shortly after the funeral of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week. Following the strike which killed Za’anin, another terror militia, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, of which Za’anin was a former member, vowed revenge.

Syria

Syrian peace talks began Wednesday in Switzerland with a bitter clash over President Bashar Assad’s future. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Assad’s decision to meet peaceful dissent with brutal force had robbed him of all legitimacy while Assad’s foreign minister declared that no one outside Syria had the right to remove the government. The Syrian opposition said the whole point of the peace conference was to create a transitional government without Assad. Less than three hours into the peace talks, they appear to be on the verge of collapse with the two sides far apart. Syria’s government handed an ultimatum to a U.N. mediator hoping to broker peace in the country’s civil war, vowing to leave if “serious talks” do not begin by Saturday.

Iran

As President Obama lauds his nuclear deal with Iran on its launch date, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the world that this “historic mistake” empowers Iran to develop new centrifuges. And in a shocking announcement, one nuclear expert estimated Iran is likely 2-3 weeks from achieving nuclear weapons capability. The Prime Minister’s message coincides with expert analysis just released by Olli Heinonen, former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who saying “it would currently take the country two or three weeks to have enough uranium hexafluoride high-enriched for one single weapon.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif insisted Wednesday that the Obama administration mischaracterizes concessions by his side in the six-month nuclear deal with Iran, telling CNN in an exclusive interview that “we did not agree to dismantle anything.” “The White House version both underplays the concessions and overplays Iranian commitments” under the agreement that took effect Monday, Zarif said in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum.

  • How can anyone (e.g. Obama) be surprised any more that Iran is not to be trusted???

Egypt

A massive explosion hit Egyptian police headquarters in downtown Cairo early Friday in the deadliest bomb blast in Egypt’s capital since a military coup ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last summer. A car bomb tore through the site around dawn, killing 4 and wounding 76. In a separate, smaller attack, a home-made bomb exploded across the Nile River in Dokki, the state news agency said. One was killed and eight were wounded in the attack, which targeted police vehicles. A third bomb went off near a police station in Giza. The blasts come a day before the three-year anniversary of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt for three decades until hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest against him in early 2011.

Afghanistan

Military leaders have submitted a proposal to the White House that would keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after the U.S. combat mission ends in 2014. The plan has also been backed by both the State Department and intelligence agencies. The 10,000-troop plan or any other troop proposal could still be rejected by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has not yet signed a security agreement that would allow American soldiers to remain in the country.

Pakistan

A Pakistani police officer says a bomb rigged to a bicycle has hit a police patrol on its way to guard a polio vaccination team, killing six policemen and a boy who was a bystander. The bombing came just hours after a car bomb hit a bus carrying Shiite pilgrims in a restive region of southwest Pakistan, killing 20. And on Tuesday, three health workers were killed in an attack on a polio vaccination team in southern city of Karachi.

Thailand

Thailand’s government on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas to cope with protests that have stirred up violent attacks. Labor Minister Chalerm Yubumrung announced that the measure will take effect Wednesday and continue for 60 days. The emergency decree greatly expands the power of security forces to issue orders and search, arrest and detain people, with limited judicial and parliamentary oversight.

Burma

At least 48 Muslims were killed when Buddhist mobs attacked a village in an isolated corner of western Burma earlier this month, the United Nations said Thursday, calling on the government to carry out a swift, impartial investigation and to hold those responsible accountable. Burma, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million people, has been grappling with sectarian violence since June 2012. The total number killed nationwide has grown to more than 280, most of them Muslims. Another 250,000 people have fled their homes.

South Sudan

The South Sudanese government and rebels signed a cease-fire deal on Thursday after more than a month of fighting. It calls for an immediate end to all military operations and a freeze of forces at the “place they are in.” The parties also agreed not to attack civilians and to refrain from rape, sexual abuse and torture. Supply routes for humanitarian aid are to be opened to reach displaced populations. The agreement also sets up an unarmed group of monitors that includes members from surrounding East African nations and representatives from both the rebels and the government

Ukraine

Anti-government protesters have held their ground through a night of violent street clashes in the Ukrainian capital, despite police moving in to dismantle barricades erected in a street leading to government offices. Police attempted to move in on the protest camp early Tuesday, but faced fierce resistance from demonstrators who tossed fire bombs and stones in their direction. Police responded with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets, and were able to dismantle a catapult and a barricade built by protesters before being pushed back to their original positions by the crowd. Three protesters died in clashes with police in the Ukrainian capital Wednesday. Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko accused the government of paying thugs to delegitimize the protests through violence by smashing windows and burning cars. They were finally chased away by protesters. A second round of talks Thursday between Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders were fruitless, but both parties decided to keep talking.

China

Millions of Chinese were prevented from accessing huge swathes of the Internet Tuesday, with many rerouted to a website owned by a U.S. company with ties to a group outlawed in China. Security analysts quoted by the official Xinhua news agency said this could have been the result of a cyber-attack by hackers — though this has not been proved. Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT) confirmed it owns the web address users were redirected to but denied any involvement. It said the company’s IP address is already blocked in China so users would have been met by a blank web page. DIT President Bill Xia told CNN Wednesday that the Internet outage was likely caused by China’s own web censorship system, more widely known by its infamous “Great Firewall” moniker, which controls access to content on the Internet inside China deemed unsuitable.

Environment

China’s dangerous smog is well documented as a health and environmental danger, but last week the problem rose to a new height: It got so bad the country had to televise the sunrise in Tiananmen Square. On Thursday, Jan. 16, the capital city projected a video of a sunrise onto the giant video screen in Tiananmen Square, because the smog was so thick it blocked out the sun. This came on the same day Beijing’s air quality registered more than two dozen times the level considered safe.

Weather

Another wide swath of bitter cold air is sweeping the nation, thrusting temperatures to near zero degrees in the upper Midwest and blasting snow across parts of the Northeast Tuesday. Washington saw a high of just 18 degrees with 5 to 9 inches of snow; about 13 inches hit New York with 15 inches in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The snow extended as far south as Georgia which saw 1.5 inches in Mountain City. North Carolina received up to 8 inches across the state. An ongoing band of lake-effect snow occurring in northwestern Indiana contributed to slick road conditions caused more than 40 vehicles to crash on a busy highway leading into Chicago. Three people were killed and twenty injured in the massive pileup.

Wacky weather continues unabated. The intense cold that’s plagued much of the central, eastern and southern USA recently shows no signs of relenting, as wave after wave of cold air is forecast to continue. On Thursday, it was so cold in Florida that farmers joked the oranges are squeezing themselves to stay warm. But Alaska is so warm that a ski resort’s been forced to close. Add to this curious mix, giant waves in Hawaii, a historic drought in California, and bears coming out of hibernation in Nevada, causing CNN to wonder: What is going on with the weather? It was 37 degrees below zero Thursday morning in northern Minnesota. Contrast that with Anchorage, Alaska, where Thursday’s high was 45 degrees. A typical high would be in the low 20s. Waves up to 50 feet high have been pounding the North Shore of Oahu. And California’s drought continues to worsen with 63% of the state now officially in extreme drought, according to the Drought Monitor Index released Thursday.

The first typhoon of the year is leaving a new wave of destruction in the Philippines. Many areas are still recovering from the historic Typhoon Haiyan that hit the nation in November. For some, the latest system has set back the recovery. Temporary houses have been destroyed, tents where families have been living were blown over, and at least 40 people were killed.

Signs of the Times (1/20/14)

January 20, 2014

Annual March for Life Wednesday, 1/22

The MARCH FOR LIFE in Washington, D.C., began as a small demonstration and rapidly grew to be the largest pro-life event in the world. The peaceful demonstration that has followed on this somber anniversary every year since 1973 is a witness to the truth concerning the greatest human rights violation of our time, legalized abortion on demand. Last year, more than 500,000 concerned Americans took to Capitol Hill to demand equal protection for the first of all natural human rights, the right to life. The 2014 March for Life begins with a rally at 12:00 noon on National Mall (7th St. Intersection on Mall).  The march begins at conclusion of rally, around 1:00 P.M.

Dozens of Congressmen Speak Out Against Roe v. Wade

Nearly two dozen pro-life lawmakers took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to condemn the Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Roe v. Wade Wednesday, just one week before the 41st anniversary of the infamous ruling, which legalized abortion throughout America, reports LifeSiteNews. Led by Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, 21 Republicans and a lone Democrat offered speeches commemorating the more than 55 million lives ended by abortion since 1973, urging Congress to pass stronger laws to protect the unborn, and calling on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Birmingham, Alabama Abortion-Free for Now

Birmingham, Alabama is abortion free for now, as the sole abortion clinic there, run by Planned Parenthood, has temporarily closed. If it stays closed this is the second closure of an abortion clinic in 2014. Sidewalk counselors report that the facility does not appear to have performed abortions since before Christmas. One counselor confirms that she has only seen a handful of patients show up in the past four weeks, none of which stayed long enough to have an abortion. Ed Carrick, Director of Birmingham 40 Days for Life, comments, “We’ve done numerous prayer campaigns outside of this facility. A final shutdown would not only be an answer to many years of dedicated prayer, it would be a miracle for the city. We give God the glory for every day Birmingham remains free of these clinics.”

Judge Strikes Down North Carolina Ultrasound Abortion Law

A North Carolina law that made women who wanted an abortion get an ultrasound, and then have the image described to them, is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Friday. The law required abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and place the image in the woman’s line of sight. The fetus would then be described in detail, even if the woman asked the provider not to. Supporters of the law had argued that it would promote childbirth. Oklahoma lost a similar fight in its own effort to require health care providers to perform an ultrasound before terminating a pregnancy. The U.S. Supreme Court in November refused to accept Oklahoma’s appeal over the law, which lower state courts had found unconstitutional.

Judge Strikes Down Photo ID Requirement in Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania judge on Friday struck down a requirement that nearly all of the state’s 8.2 million voters show photo identification at the polls, saying it imposes an unreasonable burden on the right to vote and that officials failed to demonstrate the need for it. The judge said the law is not constitutional because it does not require that a valid photo ID be convenient and available to voters. “As a constitutional prerequisite, any voter ID law must contain a mechanism for ensuring liberal access to compliant photo IDs so that the requirement … does not disenfranchise valid voters,” judge McGinley wrote.

NSA Collects Millions of Text Messages Daily

The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents. The untargeted collection and storage of SMS messages – including their contacts – is revealed in a joint investigation between the Guardian and the UK’s Channel 4 News based on material provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The documents also reveal the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to people in the UK. The NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can”, according to GCHQ documents, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets.

  • NSA abuses are widespread and will continue to be so because the information is necessary to establish greater government control over the masses

Obama Calls for End to NSA Storing Metadata

President Obama called Friday for ending the National Security Agency’s ability to store phone data from millions of Americans, and he will ask Congress, the Justice Department and the intelligence community to help decide who should hold these records. Metadata provides information about a certain item’s content, in this case phone calls. In his speech Friday on surveillance policy, Obama argued that the metadata program is a major counterterrorism tool, but changes can be made to reassure Americans that it is not being abused. In the near term, Obama will modify the program to require a judicial finding every time the government seeks information from the phone database. Obama will ask Attorney General Eric Holder and the intelligence community to deliver a report by March 28 on how to handle the program in the long term. The president will also consult with the relevant committees in Congress on their views. A special committee appointed by Obama last year has recommended that telephone metadata by held by a third party, or the phone companies themselves. But some phone providers have balked at the latter idea.

  • Smoke and mirrors, small step, data will still be collected and used surreptitiously

Senate Says No Doubt al-Qaeda Involved with Benghazi Attack

A Senate report on the Benghazi attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans bolsters Obama administration critics who suspected from the start that al-Qaeda was involved and that it was not a spontaneous protest that went out of control. The report, released Wednesday by the committee’s Democratic majority, said individuals affiliated with groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were in on the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. compound. Whether the attack was ordered by a high-level al-Qaeda chief or planned on short notice by people on the ground remains unclear. But the report left no doubt that it was an organized terrorist attack — a fact denied for days afterwards by President Obama and former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Most ObamaCare Enrollees Already Had Health Plans

The majority of the more than 2 million Americans who signed up for health insurance under ObamaCare through the end of December were already enrolled in employer-sponsored plans or had previously bought their own coverage, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. Early data from insurers, brokers and consultants suggest that the marketplaces are popular with consumers who were previously covered elsewhere, raising questions about a law intended to expand coverage to millions of healthy, uninsured Americans to help offset costs. A survey by management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that only 11 percent of consumers who purchased new coverage under ObamaCare were previously uninsured.

Top Hacker calls Healthcare.gov Security ‘Shameful’

Security expert — and once the world’s most-wanted cyber criminal — Kevin Mitnick submitted a scathing criticism to a House panel Thursday of ObamaCare’s Healthcare.gov website, calling the protections built into the site “shameful” and “minimal.” Mitnick concluded that, “It’s clear that the management team did not consider security as a priority.” David Kennedy, CEO and founder of TrustedSec LLC which identifies and creates fixes for cybercrime, testified that most of the flaws they identified back in November still exist on the site, and said “indeed, it’s getting worse.”

Google Steps Up Fight against Bad’ Ads

Google yanked 59% more “bad” advertisements from its online systems last year as the world’s largest Internet search provider stepped up a battle against a barrage of counterfeiters, suspect downloads and other malicious activity on the Web. Google removed more than 350 million bad ads in 2013, up from about 220 million the year before. That’s almost 1 million suspect ads a day. The increase was partly driven by the overall surge in online advertising, most of which is legitimate. But as Google introduces new products, scammers adapt and develop new ways to game the system.

Fifty Years after Civil Rights Act Blacks Still Struggle

Fifty years after passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and on Monday’s observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the battle to end overt discrimination has been far more successful than the effort to attain economic, educational or social equality. Blacks have made huge strides in high school education but still lag in college graduation rates. Their incomes have risen and poverty rates have declined, but a mammoth wealth gap remains, along with persistently high unemployment rates. So great has been the increase in political power that the black voter turnout rate surpassed that of whites in the 2012 presidential race, and the number of black elected officials has risen sevenfold. But while school segregation and workplace discrimination have declined, many African Americans go home to segregated, often impoverished neighborhoods. Polling by the Pew Research Center shows that nearly nine in 10 blacks say discrimination still exists. One in three say they have experienced it within the past year; that number rises to one in two when it comes to the workplace or the voting booth.

Economic News

Housing starts dropped 9.8% in December after surging in November, the Commerce Department said Friday. Builders started construction at an annual rate of 999,000 last month, the third highest level of 2013. November’s 1.1 million rate was the highest level of the year. Overall, 2013 was the strongest year for home building since 2007. From its mining to the waste created when it is burned for electricity, pollutants associated with coal have contaminated waterways, wells and lakes with far more insidious and longer-lasting contaminants than the chemical that spilled out of a tank farm on the banks of the Elk River. Discharges from coal-fired power plants that alone are responsible for 50 to 60 percent of all toxic pollution entering the nation’s water.

China’s holdings of U.S. Treasurys increased $12.2 billion to a record $1.317 trillion in November, according to data released Monday on the Treasury Department’s website. Japan’s holdings rose $12 billion to $1.186 trillion. Foreign investment in U.S. debt has helped bolster our economy but gives foreign countries (including OPEC nations) unprecedented influence over America’s policies.

Research conducted by the British charity Oxfam has concluded that the combined wealth of the world’s 85 richest people is equivalent to that owned by 46% of all the world’s wealth. The report, titled “Working for the Few,” claims that the 1% richest people on the planet are rich to the tune of $110 trillion. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has identified income inequality as one of the greatest risks facing the world in 2014. The WEF annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland begins Wednesday.

  • New World Order globalists are in the process of concentrating wealth among the elites in preparation for the one-world government prophesied in Revelation 13

Syria

Syrian rebels “don’t have long” as they face not only the army of President Bashar al-Assad, but fierce attacks from the Al Qaeda fighters who once battled alongside them, an opposition leader told FoxNews.com. In recent days, the rebels have killed five top Al Qaeda leaders in eastern Syria, said Oubai Shahbandar, Turkey-based spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Coalition. He said taking on Al Qaeda, which is believed to be seeking to topple Assad not to bring about democracy, but to establish a base for terror operations, is stretching the Free Syrian Army to the breaking point. Shahbandar called on the West to provide military aid to the Free Syrian Army, and said time is running out. Assad’s forces are working with the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, giving the Free Syrian Army a wide spectrum of seasoned soldiers and militant jihadists to contend with.

Egypt

More than 98 percent of Egyptians backed a new constitution in a referendum, authorities said on Saturday, though the turnout was lower than some officials had predicted, with just over a third of the electorate taking part. The vote advances a transition plan the military-backed government unveiled after deposing Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last July following mass unrest over his rule. The death toll from street violence Friday rose to four, hours before authorities release the results of this week’s constitutional referendum. Fifteen people were also injured in the clashes, which began after supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi took to the streets in Cairo and other provinces to denounce the draft charter. Police fired tear gas and arrested dozens in their crackdown on demonstrations held without permits. Since a popularly backed military coup overthrew Morsi in July, Islamists have been staging near-daily protests against interim authorities they consider illegitimate.

Iran

Iran started suspending high levels of uranium enrichment Monday as an interim deal struck with six world powers went into effect, state media reported, making way for more talks and less financial sanctions. The nation stopped enrichment of uranium to the 20% purity level and disconnected cascades of centrifuges enriching uranium in Natanz, a top nuclear official told Press TV. The action is part of a six-month interim agreement that gives Iran and six other countries — the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany — more time to negotiate a permanent solution. As part of the agreement, it must eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium, dismantle some infrastructure that makes enrichment possible and allow broader and more intrusive inspections of its programs.

  • Iran is only buying time and sanction relief and remains determined to develop and use nuclear weapons to annihilate Israel. Verification is a must; they cannot be trusted.

Iraq

Iraqi authorities say a series of bombings across Baghdad, targeting marketplaces and two court buildings, has killed 21 people. The explosions came as Iraqi forces continue offensive military action against al-Qaeda and allied militants west of the capital. Police say the deadliest of Monday’s blasts hit an outdoor market in the south of Baghdad, killing seven people and wounding 13, continuing al-Qaeda’s attempts to undermine the Shiite government.

Afghanistan

The American University of Afghanistan says that three of its U.S. employees were among those killed in a Taliban attack on a popular Kabul restaurant that left 21 people dead, including 13 foreigners. The university, which has more than 1,000 students, was established in 2006 and has a number of Americans on its staff. The deadly attack on the restaurant popular among foreigners has raised worries that the assault could place pressure on the international aid community to reduce their presence in the country at a critical time. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has demanded that the United States must cease military operations and airstrikes, as well as resume peace talks with the Taliban, before he signs a security deal to keep some U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond this year.  Karzai’s deepening anti-American rhetoric comes as the Taliban intensifies its assaults ahead of the planned troop withdrawal and after Friday’s militant attack on the Kabul restaurant, the deadliest single attack against foreign civilians since U.S-led operations in Afghanistan began in 2001.

Pakistan

A bomb planted by the Taliban ripped through a vehicle carrying security forces inside a Pakistani army compound in the country’s volatile northwestern region Sunday, killing 22 troops and wounding 38 others The blast was a heavy blow for the Pakistani military which has been fighting a stubborn insurgency in the country’s northwest. Bombs and shootings have killed thousands of security forces and left thousands more wounded and maimed. The Pakistani military has been fighting for years against militants in the tribal areas who want to overthrow the government and establish a hardline Islamic state across Pakistan.

India

A pre-dawn stampede killed 18 people Saturday as tens of thousands of people gathered to mourn the death of a Muslim spiritual leader in India’s financial capital. At least 40 other people were injured in the stampede when mourners thronged the home of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the head of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Burhanuddin died Friday at the age of 102. The stampede occurred when the gates leading to the spiritual leader’s house were closed at about 1 a.m. The crowds surged forward, with many people getting crushed near the gates and with no way to escape.

Thailand

Two explosions shook an anti-government demonstration site in Thailand’s capital on Sunday, wounding at least 28 people in the latest violence to hit Bangkok as the nation’s increasingly volatile political crisis drags on. The blasts near Victory Monument, in the north of the city, were caused by fragmentation grenades — the same kind that killed one man and wounded dozens Friday in a similar explosion targeting protest marchers. The demonstrators, who control several small patches of Bangkok, are vying to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government and derail Feb. 2 elections she called in a bid to quell the crisis.

Ukraine

Anti-government protesters and police clashed anew Monday in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev after a night of vicious streets battles. Hundreds of protesters, many wearing balaclavas, hurled rocks and stun grenades and police responded with tear gas. The violence has seriously escalated Ukraine’s political crisis. The pro-Western protests in Kiev began Nov. 21 after President Viktor Yanukovych shelved a long-planned political and economic treaty with the European Union and then accepted a huge bailout package from Russian President Vladimir Putin instead. The protests swelled to hundreds of thousands — the biggest since Ukraine’s 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution — after riot police violently broke-up a small peaceful student protest.

Russia

An Islamic militant group in Russia’s North Caucasus claimed responsibility Sunday for twin suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd last month and posted a video threatening to strike the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. No one had previously claimed responsibility for the bombings, which killed 34 people and heightened security fears before next month’s Winter Games. U.S. lawmakers expressed serious concerns Sunday about the safety of Americans at the Games, which begin Feb. 7.

Central African Republic

The man chosen to lead what he says is 51% of the population of the Central African Republic, its Protestants, says that the conflict in the country has nothing to do with religion. Nicolas Guerékoyamé-Gbangou, a guest lecturer at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies this week, said that fighting between members of the disbanded Séléka rebel group and the anti-balaka (anti-machete) self-defense militias is not a battle between Muslims and Christians.c1″There is no Christian militia and there is no Muslim militia as well… This conflict is not religious at all,” he said, explaining that the anti-balaka militias developed from local village self-defense groups originally formed against cattle rustlers and bandits.

Environment

The chemical spill that contaminated water for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians was just the latest and most high-profile case of coal sullying the nation’s waters. For decades, chemicals and waste from the coal industry have tainted hundreds of waterways and groundwater supplies, spoiling private wells, shutting down fishing and rendering streams virtually lifeless, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal environmental data. But because these contaminants are released gradually and in some cases not tracked or regulated, they attract much less attention than a massive spill like the one in West Virginia.

Wildfires

The Colby Fire quickly burned through more than 1,570 acres of land at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains Thursday, right outside of Los Angeles. Approximately 3,700 people had been evacuated at the height of the blaze. The area is heavily populated and families watched the flames creep closer and closer to their homes. Hundreds of firefighters are trying to cut off the blaze. The Santa Ana winds that fanned a campfire into a wildfire that destroyed five homes and threatened foothill neighborhoods east of Los Angeles relented by Friday, halting the blaze in its tracks, while police held three men in custody after they allegedly started the blaze. Hundreds of residents returned to their homes Saturday night. The Los Angeles County Fire Department said the fire was 78 percent contained, with full containment expected Wednesday.

More than 90 wildfires are burning over Australia’s New South Wales state, but the danger has ebbed in neighboring Victoria and South Australia states. Many of the 93 fires burning across New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, on Sunday were sparked by overnight lightning strikes. Heat wave conditions across southeast Australia last week intensified wildfires that destroyed at least 25 houses and scorched 320,000 acres of grass and woodlands in Victoria and South Australia over several days.

Weather

Portions of nearly a dozen states have been designated as primary natural disaster areas by federal officials, putting an even brighter spotlight on the financial hardships farmers are likely to see in those areas due to an ongoing drought. The announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday included counties in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas, Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma and California. The designation means eligible farmers can qualify for low-interest emergency loans from the department. While storms have dumped rain and snow in the East, droughts are persisting or intensifying in the West.

Major floods in the French Riviera have left at least two people dead and thousands more are stranded with no access to roads or electricity. Up to 8 inches of rain fell over the past 3 days in parts of southeastern France, causing flash flooding and sending several rivers out of their banks. The region that was flooded is part of the Var area, which is along the Mediterranean coast and is popular with tourists. Roads are washed out leading to some resort towns, including Saint-Tropez, and villages in Provence.

A BP study released this week says that greenhouse gas emissions worldwide will rise by 29 percent in the next 20 years, imperiling hopes that the world will be able to prevent the impact of dangerous climate change by the end of the century, the U.K.-based Guardian reports. The oil and gas company’s study comes at a time when the British government is “going all-out” in promoting shale gas fracking as an eventual replacement for coal-powered electricity. Shale gas exploration has boomed in the U.S. over the past decade, driving down natural gas prices here to historic lows. Because natural gas releases roughly half the carbon dioxide emitted from burning coal, it has been touted as a substitute for dirtier fossil fuels while usage of renewable energy ramps up. But the study found that the boom in shale gas won’t cut emissions after all – the coal that countries would have burned to produce electricity, they now export to other countries that burn it.

  • Regardless of what humanity does or doesn’t do, end-time weather will grow more chaotic and severe

Signs of the Times (1/16/14)

January 16, 2014

New Mexico Doctors Can Help Terminal Patients Die

In a decision sure to cause debate, a New Mexico judge has ruled that terminally ill, mentally competent patients have the right to get a doctor to end their lives. The landmark decision Monday by New Mexico Second Judicial District Judge Nan Nash came after a two-day trial and could make New Mexico the fifth state to allow doctors to prescribe fatal prescriptions to terminal patients. The ACLU and Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life choice advocacy group, filed the lawsuit on behalf of two New Mexico doctors and cancer patient Aja Riggs. The judge was asked to consider whether the doctors should be allowed to write prescriptions for a terminally ill cancer patient who wanted to use drugs to end her life.

  • While seemingly compassionate on the surface, euthanasia represents a further expansion of a culture of death beginning with abortion and ending with population control (i.e. the depopulation required to meet the sustainability espoused in Agenda 21)

Oklahoma Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that an Oklahoma law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violates the U.S. Constitution, giving yet another victory to same-sex marriage supporters. U.S. District Court Judge Terence Kern said the court would not immediately enforce this ruling — therefore not opening the doors right away to marriages of gay and lesbian couples in Oklahoma — pending appeals. Still, he delivered a clear opinion on how the voter-approved Oklahoma state constitutional amendment relates to the U.S. Constitution. “The Court holds that Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” the judge wrote.

  • In today’s USA it doesn’t matter anymore what voters decide, the activist Judiciary can set those aside and establish policy on its own, a clear violation of states’ rights and legislative prerogatives.

Illegal Sex-Selection Abortions Widespread in Britain

The illegal practice of sex-selection abortions is so widespread in England that it is responsible for killing thousands of girls and as many as 5,000 girls are missing from the census, official reports say. Official figures suggest as many as 4,700 females who should have been included in census numbers have disappeared from the latest national census records of England and Wales, raising fears that the bias in favor of boys that results in sex-selection abortions in Asian nations like China and India has made its way to the U.K. The practice of sex-selective abortion is now so commonplace that it has affected the natural 50:50 balance of boys to girls within some immigrant groups.

Administration Lies Again about Obamacare Numbers

Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog post Monday that “More than 6 million Americans have now either signed up for a private health insurance plan through the Marketplace or for Medicaid coverage.” But that number is misleading. It includes 3.9 million people who learned they’re eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And, the 3.9 million figure includes people who were already on Medicaid and are just renewing, as Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services noted in a separate blog post.

The nearly 2.2 million people who signed up for Obamacare last year, is well below the 7 million expected. Of even greater concern is that the proportion of younger applicants is also running well below the expectations of experts and the White House itself. Insurers based their premiums on a decent share of younger, healthier Americans enrolling on the exchanges to balance out older, sicker applicants, who run up higher bills. If too few young people sign up, premiums for 2015 could rise to reflect the increased risk and cost.

Taxpayers to Bail Out Insurers Under Obamacare

Robert Laszewski—a prominent consultant to health insurance companies—recently wrote in a remarkably candid blog post that, while Obamacare is almost certain to cause insurance costs to skyrocket even higher than it already has, “insurers won’t be losing a lot of sleep over it” because insurance companies won’t bear the cost of their own losses—at least not more than about a quarter of them.  The other three-quarters will be borne by American taxpayers. It’s bad enough that Obamacare is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to funnel $1,071,000,000,000.00 (that’s $1.071 trillion) over the next decade (2014 to 2023) from American taxpayers, through Washington, to health insurance companies. Even worse, Obamacare contains a “Reinsurance Program that caps big claim costs for insurers (individual plans only).”  He writes that “in 2014, 80% of individual costs between $45,000 and $250,000 are paid by the government [read: by taxpayers],

  • For some reason, President Obama hasn’t talked about this particular feature of his signature legislation.

Congressional Negotiators Unveil $1.1T Spending Bill

Congressional negotiators unveiled a bipartisan, $1.1 trillion spending bill Monday night that will reverse a 1 percent cut to cost-of-living increases for disabled veterans and provide $1.525 billion in aid to Egypt, among other provisions. The measure fleshes out the details of the budget deal that Congress passed last month; it would fund the government through October. The budget pact gave relatively modest relief to the Pentagon and domestic agencies from the deep sequester budget cuts they would otherwise face. On Tuesday, the House is slated to approve a short-term funding bill to extend the Senate’s deadline to finish the overall spending bill until midnight on Saturday. The current short-term spending bill expires at midnight Wednesday evening. The GOP-led House is slated to vote on the measure Wednesday.

NSA Spying on Computers Around the World

The National Security Agency has placed software on nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows it to conduct covert surveillance on the machines, the New York Times reports. The technology gives the agency access to private computer networks and could also create a virtual highway for cyberattacks. The agency describes its efforts as part of an “active defense” against foreign cyberattacks rather than an offensive tool. But U.S. officials have protested when similar software was discovered to have been placed on computers in this country by Chinese attackers. “What’s new here is the scale and the sophistication of the intelligence agency’s ability to get into computers and networks to which no one has ever had access before,” James Andrew Lewis, the cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told the Times.

Net Neutrality Struck Down by Courts

Many Internet content providers may be exposed to higher costs in the wake of a major court decision that voided rules governing Internet access known as net neutrality. On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit struck down FCC rules requiring Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, to be neutral in their restrictions on bandwidth. The move means ISPs will be allowed to charge content providers based on how much bandwidth they use. This ruling will impact those websites that transmit the most data, so sites that stream video content (particularly in high definition) will potentially feel the most significant impact.

Jobless Aid Bill Fails to Advance

A Senate plan to restore long-term jobless benefits to at least 1.3 million Americans hit a wall Tuesday after Republicans withdrew their support amid complaints over cost and other issues. Two versions of the plan failed on two separate test votes. The benefits expired Dec. 28, immediately cutting off support for unemployed workers who have exhausted state-paid benefits that generally run for 26 weeks

Economic News

The U.S. labor force has dropped by six million. Workers began to disappear during the Great Recession, but it has continued even after the economy has improved. The current labor force participation rate averaged 63.3% in 2013 — the lowest rate in three and a half decades. The dropouts aren’t just the young and retirees. The labor force participation rate has been dropping for workers aged 25 to 54. And in fact, in the past year, the number of dropouts from that category has been increasing. The real reason, those critics say, is the so-called Obummer economy. Despite government propaganda, there really hasn’t been a recovery, at least not as large as some think. And more and more people are deciding it will never get better and dropping out of the workforce.

More than 2.3 million children currently live with a long-term unemployed parent. That’s three times more than in 2007, according to research by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. While still large, the number of children who live with long-term unemployed parents, has fallen since 2010 when it reached a high of 3.6 million. Federal unemployment benefits ended on Dec. 28, cutting off 1.3 million workers, many of whom are parents. Poverty has tripled among parents who have not had a job for six months or more — from 12 percent to 35 percent.

Total foreclosure filings for 2013, including notices of default, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, were reported on 1.36 million properties, down 26% from 2012, the lowest level since 2007. With one in every 96 homes reporting at least one foreclosure filing in 2013, the national foreclosure rate has dropped to 1.04% — close to the historic norm of just below 1%. During the 2010 peak of the housing crisis, the national foreclosure rate was 2.23%.  However, in December, 9.3 million properties, or 19% of all homes, were reported to be “deeply underwater,” meaning borrowers owed at least 25% more on their mortgage than the homes was worth.

Forty-two percent of Americans said they’re worse off financially than they were last year, compared to 35 percent who feel they’re better off, according to a new Gallup poll released Wednesday. Twenty-two percent of respondents said their financial situation has stayed the same. Those who believe they’re worse off rose from 39 percent one year ago.

Persecution Watch

Six evangelical Christians were shot to death at the weekend in El Salvador by gang members. The Christian men, whose ages ranged from 16 to 54, were killed in Ahuachapán State, a rural western region close to the Guatemala border. Those targeted were leaving a church service when gunfire broke out. Investigators have been unable to determine what motivated the shootings. El Salvador’s government has struggled to crack down on gangs that control large parts of the country and are seen as the primary driver behind its high murder rate.

Middle East

Israeli Iron Dome air defense systems shot down five rockets fired into Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip Thursday morning, underlying the ongoing tensions in Israel’s southern region. The rockets came hours after the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) announced that an attempt by Hamas to set up a cell in the West Bank, with the purpose of kidnapping Israelis, had been broken up. The Shin Bet explained that the effort had been directed by operatives of the self-named “Holy Warriors Brigade” who are serving time in Israeli prisons. “The Holy Warriors Brigade is a terror group that splintered off from Fatah’s al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, and adopted extremist Islamist characteristics,” the Shin Bet said. “We can say that in effect, the Holy Warriors Brigades is a Hamas front-group in every way.”

Iran

Iranian officials have been keen on portraying the new nuclear pact with the West as advantageous to their country in easing sanctions in return for what they say are minimal nuclear concessions. President Hassan Rouhani’s remarks Tuesday appeared to be part of efforts to bring around hard-liners who have denounced the deal, claiming it tramples on Iran’s enrichment rights. ‘Do you know what the Geneva agreement means? It means the surrender of the big powers before the great Iranian nation,’ Rouhani told a crowd in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan. ‘The Geneva agreement means the wall of sanctions has broken. The unfair sanctions were imposed on the revered and peace-loving Iranian nation,’ he said. ‘It means an admission by the world of Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.

  • Meanwhile, Kerry/Obama continue to portray it as a win. They are either delusional or purposely lying

Iraq

A wave of bombings across Iraq striking busy markets and a funeral north of Baghdad killed at least 44 people Wednesday, authorities said, as the country remains gripped by violence after al-Qaeda-linked militants took control of two cities in western Anbar province. Insurgent groups, mainly al-Qaeda’s local branch and other Sunni militants, frequently target civilians in cafes and public areas, as well as Shiites and members of Iraqi security forces in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government and stir sectarian tensions.

Syria

Wounded Syrians streamed across the Turkish border seeking first aid Wednesday after a car bombing in a border town that’s become a battleground in the fight between Syrian rebel factions. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the car bomb exploded near a cultural center controlled by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. That al Qaeda-linked force has taken control of much of northern Syria amid that country’s bloody civil war. The Syrian Observatory said heavy clashes were still going on in Jarablus. ISIS, which has also taken control of parts of western Iraq, has attempted to impose strict Islamic law in towns where it holds sway. Rebel troops who had been battling forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched an effort to push back the Islamists two weeks ago, but that offensive appears to have faltered after hundreds of deaths on both sides.

Christians uprooted and left destitute by fighting in the Central African Republic (CAR) urgently need food and other essentials. The violence has claimed at least 1,000 lives and displaced nearly a million people from their homes. Some fled to the bush, where they are dying of hunger, exposure and disease. Others are living in dire conditions in overcrowded makeshift camps, without food, water, shelter and medical supplies. Children are showing signs of malnutrition.

Egypt

Egypt’s proposed new constitution, backed by the nation’s military leaders, is expected to pass with overwhelming support from Egyptians who cast their ballots this week, according to initial unofficial results published in local news media. The charter’s passing is not a surprise  Because authorities have been increasingly cracking down on dissent and many of those who opposed the document did not vote. The charter paves the way for upcoming fresh presidential and parliamentary elections. The vote is a milestone in a military-backed political roadmap toward a ballot-box test of public opinion on the coup that removed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi from power last July. The balloting has laid bare the sharp divisions in the nation between the supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood in one camp, and the military and security forces in another, backed by a large segment of the population that is yearning for stability after three years of deadly turmoil and economic woes since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak.

South Sudan

Dozens of dead, mangled and bloated bodies line the roadside from the airport into this state capital of one of South Sudan’s oil-producing regions. Houses, buildings and shops have been looted, burned or destroyed, as blackened cars and buses smolder. The remnants of war in Bentiu show the damage being done across the world’s newest country, as the military continues to battle men who served in the same ranks only a month ago but who are now labeled rebels. Bentiu was re-captured by the military over the weekend. Next up for government troops is the rebel-held town of Bor.

Thailand

Tens of thousands of demonstrators on Tuesday continued anti-government protests in Bangkok intended to drive Thailand’s Prime Minister out of office. The protesters have laid siege to major intersections in Thailand’s large and hectic capital city. At their peak on Monday evening, they numbered as many as 170,000. The protesters, who say they want Thailand’s political system overhauled instead of new elections scheduled for next month, occupied seven main intersections and blocked one government office on Monday. Groups of them marched to several government buildings on Tuesday, including the labor, commerce and foreign ministries. In each case, the protesters entered the offices for a short period and then left — a form of symbolic occupation. Gunshots rang out in the heart of Thailand’s capital overnight in an apparent attack on anti-government protesters early Wednesday that wounded at least two people and ratcheted up tensions in Thailand’s deepening political crisis.

Environment

Cincinnati plans to shut down intake valves along the Ohio River to protect the city’s drinking water from a chemical spill in West Virginia. Mayor John Cranley announced Monday that the valves will be shut down for at least 20 hours beginning Tuesday night. Cranley says that will allow the water to pass the city without any chemicals entering the drinking supply. The city plans to use a reserve of 60 hours of treated water, built up specially following the West Virginia spill. Last Thursday, a chemical used in coal processing leaked from a plant into the nearby Elk River in Charleston, W.Va. The Elk River feeds into the Ohio River. More than half of the 300,000 West Virginians who haven’t been able to turn on their faucets since last week now have access to safe water again.

Beijing’s skyscrapers receded into a dense gray smog Thursday as the capital saw the season’s first wave of extremely dangerous pollution, with the concentration of toxic small particles registering more than two dozen times the level considered safe. Many of the city’s commuters wore industrial strength face masks as they hurried to work Stagnant weather patterns combined with an increase in coal-burning exacerbate other forms of pollution and create periods of heavy smog for days at a time. But the readings early Thursday for particles of PM2.5 pollution marked the first ones of the season above 500 micrograms per cubic meter.

Wildfires

A dangerous combination of record dry conditions, rare January red flag warnings and the Santa Ana winds could be a recipe for disaster in the fight against California wildfires. Red flag warnings are in effect for the Sierra Nevada and a huge portion of central and southern California as small fires broke out throughout the state. It’s the first time they’ve ever issued red flag warnings in the month of January. Following the driest year on record, 2014 is kicking off as what may be the driest January on record in many locations in California.

Dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes overnight were raging in heat wave conditions across rural southern Australia on Wednesday. Firefighters were able to contain most of the fires in South Australia and Victoria. But authorities warned of worsening fire conditions on Friday, when winds were expected to gather pace. The number of fires peaked at 350 in that state since Tuesday, most of them sparked by lightning strikes. Lighting had also started 256 blazes across Victoria by early Wednesday

Weather

A dominant ridge, or dome of high pressure aloft, is acting as a block to any precipitation in the Golden State. Not only does this so-called ridge prevent Pacific weather systems from affecting California with rain and snow, it’s also leading to offshore winds, record high temperatures and a high fire danger this week.

Having already taken enough heat for not stopping matches earlier, blistering temperatures finally halted play on Day 4 of the 2014 Australian Open as a high temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded nearby. It was the first time since 2009 play had been halted due to heat at the Australian Open. American Varvara Lepchenko received medical treatment during her match against 11th-seeded Romanian Simona Halep, lying flat on her back during a changeover as trainers rubbed iced on her body.

Days of torrential rain triggered a landslide and flash floods on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island, killing at least 13 people and sending tens of thousands fleeing for safe ground, disaster officials said Thursday. Residents and rescuers in Sangihe district of North Sulawesi province dug through debris with their bare hands and shovels. Two bodies were pulled from the mud, and eleven others were found in the water late Wednesday. More than 1,000 houses were flooded by overflowing rivers in five other districts of the province.

Signs of the Times (1/13/14)

January 13, 2014

Megachurch Gives $1 Million for Bible Translation Projects

An Indiana mega-church is giving away its biggest Christmas Offering ever – more than $1 million – to help fund Bible translation projects in Asia. Each year, College Park Church in Indianapolis holds a special collection the Sunday before Christmas to support a specific missions project in one of the neediest parts of the world. The most recent Christmas Offering, collected Dec. 22, is being donated to the world’s largest scripture translation organization, Wycliffe Bible Translators USA. The funds will be used to support Wycliffe’s work in Asia, where there is a “tremendous need” for Bible translation, according to a press release. The money will fund a New Testament translation from start to finish, the training of native-language translators, the printing of scriptures and a wide variety of other projects.

  • And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14)

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Important AZ Abortion Decision

President Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy writes, “I am greatly troubled that the United States Supreme Court has declined to hear arguments in the case of Isaacson v. Horne, and in doing so has let a dangerous decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stand.” Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decision against an Arizona law restricting non-emergency abortions after 20 weeks. The law was designed to protect children in the womb who experience pain during a late-term abortion and to protect mothers from the dangers and psychological consequences of late-term abortions. Herrod adds, “The facts are clear: Abortion after 20 weeks of a pregnancy puts women’s lives at risk, and preborn children at this age can feel pain. This is why the Arizona Legislature and Governor Brewer enacted the Mother’s Health and Safety Act. It is also why ten states have laws in effect today that prohibit most abortions after 20 weeks. These laws have not been challenged by the abortion industry, yet the nation’s highest court has allowed an activist court decision to remain the law in our state.”

  • What the Supreme Court declines to hear is often as or even more important than the cases they decide to take on. Lately they’ve been avoiding getting involved in the contentious abortion debate.

Congress Strengthens Religious Freedom for Military

The Senate passed a defense bill with strong bipartisan support last week that includes important language to strengthen and protect the religious freedom of military members and chaplains. “I commend the overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress for protecting the right of service members to freely practice and express their faith,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a statement. “Congress acted appropriately after investigating numerous incidents involving service members who have had their careers threatened and harassed simply for practicing their faith in a real and tangible way.”

FEMA Buying Up Survival Food

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently ordered 420 million survival meals. Why? FEMA is scared that people will hoard survival food because it is the #1 most critical item in a crisis. FEMA knows that if you control the food supply, then you control the people. And it explains why emergency food is flying off the shelves and is sold out at many suppliers. One supplier reported that FEMA attempted to buy up their entire inventory (they refused to sell to FEMA). Why would the government do this? What do they know that we don’t? InfoWars.com notes that “the federal government is accelerating its preparations for social disorder or an environmental calamity.”

  • The globalist New World Order folks will manufacture calamities disrupting the economic system in order to gain more control under the guise of martial law (the imposition of military power over designated regions on an emergency basis).

Gun Reform Wars to Heat Up in 2014

Both sides of the gun law debate have geared up to wage war across the country in 2014 using millions of dollars, midterm elections, opposing messaging strategies and dueling grass-roots campaigns. This year, groups will focus on pouring money into candidates that support their ideals and changing or upholding laws in hot spots such as Colorado, Washington and Illinois. On one side, gun rights activists plan to challenge laws in states like New Jersey and California that they believe overly restrict law-abiding firearms owners. Advocates of tougher laws say they plan to build stronger state infrastructures and work on issues such as prohibiting domestic violence offenders from having weapons.

The NRA will focus much of its $200 million to $250 million annual budget on educating its members about candidates and on making sure that laws don’t infringe on Constitutional rights. Billionaire and former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, lads a group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, that is prepared to spend much of his personal wealth on strengthening gun laws. In December, Bloomberg’s group, which claims 1.5 million supporters and about 1,000 mayors, announced plans to merge with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a year-old grass-roots campaign launched the day after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

  • In a world of good and evil, there is no perfect solution to the issue of guns – that is, until Jesus returns to rule and reign and rid the world of all evil eliminating the need for guns entirely.

U.S. Names Militants Involved in Benghazi Attack

The Obama administration for the first time on Friday identified two militant groups in Libya, including one led by a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, as being allegedly involved in the attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The department designated the two branches of the Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, those in the cities of Derna and Benghazi, and a third branch in Tunisia as foreign terrorist organizations. It also named Sufian bin Qumu, the leader of the Derna branch, and Ahmed Abu Khattala, a senior leader of the Benghazi branch, as specially designated global terrorists. U.S. officials have said that Khattala and an unspecified number of others have been named in a sealed complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington. The Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi is still a political issue in Washington. Republicans in Congress criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the attack and the level of security at the diplomatic outpost. Some have accused the Obama administration of an illegal cover-up.

Shelves Empty, Businesses Shutdown after West Virginia Chemical Spill

As hundreds of thousands of people in West Virginia enter a third full day without clean tap water following a chemical spill, frustrations are beginning to mount. Most visitors have cleared out of Charleston while locals are either staying home or driving out of the area to find somewhere they can get a hot meal or a shower. Meanwhile, business owners with empty dining rooms and quiet aisles of merchandise around West Virginia’s capital were left to wonder how much of an economic hit they’ll take from the chemical spill. The chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol leaked out of a 40,000-gallon tank at a Freedom Industries facility along the Elk River Thursday. It could take days for clean tap water to flow again.

More Troubles with Obamacare

CNN reports that many people who signed up for coverage through the state and federal exchanges are running into roadblocks now that they are trying to use their new benefits. And though exchange officials and insurers have urged consumers to call their insurers if they encounter problems, many say they either wait endlessly on hold or get the runaround. Coverage for the first wave of Obamacare applicants took effect Jan. 1. Some people just gave up trying to get through. Kyle Watts of Louisville, Ohio, has been trying to reach Anthem Blue Cross for a month. He and his wife were excited to sign up on healthcare.gov in early December because they were eligible for subsidies that would save them $6,000 in premiums annually. Aware the policy wouldn’t be active until they paid their first premium, they called Anthem to find out where to send the check. But they grew concerned after the check was not cashed, so they went onto the Anthem website and paid with a credit card last month. Though they got a payment confirmation email and were told they’d get an enrollment confirmation letter, they never received anything further from the company and remain without an ID number.

Flu Season Ramping Up

Flu season is ramping up in the United States, with the illness now widespread in at least 35 states, up from 25 in the previous week, according to a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The season hasn’t peaked yet, so it’s too soon to know if it will be worse than normal. The numbers aren’t as high so far as last year, when flu season started early. The number of people seeking medical care for the flu climbed to more than 4 percent of all doctor visits last week, a near doubling from two weeks earlier.

More Retailers Hit by Cyber Attacks

At least three other well-known retailers in addition to Target and Neiman Marcus were apparently hit by cyber-attacks over the holiday shopping season that have not been publicly disclosed. Reuters reported late Saturday that breaches may have also occurred at some retailers earlier in 2013. The method of the attacks was similar to the one against Target, in which the personal information of at least 70 million customers were stolen. Reuters reported that authorities suspect the ringleaders behind the hacks are based in Eastern Europe. The hackers used a variety of tools and techniques to capture the encrypted data, including a malware device called a RAM scraper, which captures encrypted data as it passes through a computer’s live memory.

New Mortgage Rules in Effect Friday

New mortgage lending rules are going into effect Friday that aim to put an end to the worst mortgage lending abuses of the past. The new rules are designed to take a “back to basics” approach to mortgage lending and lower the risk of defaults and foreclosures among borrowers. Mortgage lenders are being asked to comply with two new requirements: The Ability to Repay rule and Qualified Mortgages. Lenders must determine that a borrower has the income and assets to afford to make payments throughout the life of the loan. In an effort to put an end to no- or low-doc loans, where lenders issue risky mortgages without the necessary financial information, lenders will be required to document and verify an applicant’s income, assets, credit history and debt.

Economic News

Low wages has become the raging issue of the day, sparking protests and discussions nationwide. But dig a little deeper, and workers say another problem is gnawing at their paychecks: not getting enough hours at work. Many fast food and retail employees say it is hard to make anything above poverty-level wages because they don’t get scheduled to work enough. Advocates say many employers don’t give workers sufficient hours as a way to avoid paying benefits.

China became the world’s largest trading nation in 2013, overtaking the US in what Beijing described as “a landmark milestone” for the country. The shift in the trading pecking order reflected China’s rising global dominance, despite a slowdown in economic growth last year. China had already become the world’s largest exporter of goods in 2009.

Persecution Watch

Open Doors, a nondenominational group tracking persecuted Christians worldwide, reported that 2,123 Christians were killed last year due to their faith, compared to 1,201 in 2012. More than half of those reported killings (1,213) occurred in Syria, followed by Nigeria (612) and Pakistan (88). But North Korea — a country of more than 24 million, with an estimated 300,000 Christians — remained the most dangerous country worldwide for Christians for the 12th consecutive year. An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians live in North Korean concentration camps, prisons and prison-like circumstances under the regime of leader Kim Jong-Un.

Iran

Iran and six world powers have agreed on how to implement a nuclear deal struck in November, with its terms starting from Jan. 20, officials announced Sunday. The announcement, made first by Iranian officials and later confirmed elsewhere, starts a six-month clock for a final deal to be struck over the Islamic Republic’s contested nuclear program. It also signals an easing of the financial sanctions crippling Iran’s economy. About $4.2 billion in seized oil revenue would be released under the deal. European Union negotiator Catherine Ashton praised the deal in a statement, saying “the foundations for a coherent, robust and smooth implementation … have been laid.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the deal “a decisive step forward which we can build on.”

  • Any deal is just an illusion perpetrated by Iran to gain financial relief from sanctions and more time to complete their nuclear arsenal

Iraq

Two separate car bomb explosions targeted Sunday morning commuters in Baghdad, killing at least 13 civilians, officials said, amid an ongoing standoff between Iraqi forces and al-Qaeda-linked militants west of the Iraqi capital. The deadliest blast occurred at a bustling bus station in central Baghdad when an explosives-laden car exploded outside the station in the Allawi area, killing at least nine people and wounding 16. Another parked car bomb targeted a gathering of buses and taxis in Baghdad’s northern Hurriyah neighborhood, killing four civilians and wounding 12 others. The attacks come as Iraqi security forces and allied Sunni tribal militias have been battling al-Qaeda-linked militants in Anbar to recapture strategic territory overrun by militants from the local al-Qaeda franchise, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Fighting between security forces and al-Qaeda-linked militants in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar province has killed at least 60 people over the past two weeks

When the last U.S. combat troops departed Iraq in December 2011, they left behind a defeated al-Qaeda and an Iraq where traditional rivals Sunni and Shiite Muslims were sharing power in the world’s only Arab democracy. Two years later, al-Qaeda has seized major cities where hundreds of U.S. troops died while fighting alongside their Iraqi brethren. The population once freed by the U.S.-Iraqi alliance has now watched those same jihadist insurgents return to command the streets and impose their will. Iraqis are threatened again by civil war. Many significant gains of the 8-year-long Iraq war in which more than 4,400 Americans died have been lost or are now threatened. The reversal of fortune in Iraq could have a devastating effect on the battle to end militancy and conflict in the Middle East, say analysts and military experts, entangling the West in a new and dangerous front against emboldened jihadists who the U.S. has recently declared were on the run.

  • The lives and money spent liberating Iraqis and gaining a foothold in the Middle East have now been lost by Muslim sympathizer Obama

Syria

Clashes among different rebel factions in northern Syria have killed nearly 500 people and may determine the future of al-Qaeda-linked regiments fighting in the country. The al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) has battled an informal alliance of Islamist groups for a week in north Syria. The Islamic Front and Free Syrian Army-aligned brigades accuse ISIS of trying to hijack their rebellion against President Bashar Assad, whose military has battled all the opposition factions for nearly three years. Some analysts say the West may finally decide to send arms to the civil war if al-Qaeda loses the fight in the north.

Pakistan

A Pakistani police officer says a bomb targeting an aide of the country’s prime minister has killed five people in a northern area, but Amir Muqam was unharmed. The bomb exploded Sunday in the Shangla area. Muqam escaped unhurt, but the blast killed two police and his three private guards. Shangla is part of the scenic Swat valley that local Taliban militants captured before an army offensive drove them out in 2009. Swat Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah escaped to neighboring Afghanistan. He was selected to lead the Pakistani Taliban after a suspected U.S. missile strike killed his predecessor in late 2013.

Libya

A Libyan minister was shot dead in the first assassination of a transitional government official since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted from power nearly three years ago. Gunmen driving a car opened fire on Deputy Industry Minister Hassan al-Darouei, killing him instantly while he was visiting his hometown of Sirte. Nearly three years after the start of the popular uprising that ended Gadhafi’s 42-year rule, Libya is still plagued by violence and targeted killings as a myriad of armed groups often do as they please. With plentiful weapons left over from the 2011 war, militias, former rebel fighters and militants often resort to force to impose their demands on the weak central government.

Philippines

A grenade attack wounded at least 24 people on a school campus in the southern Philippines, including government personnel, who were battling a fire, police said Monday. Firefighters, disaster-response personnel and police were trying to control the fire in a bunkhouse of security guards at the state-run Cotabato Foundation College of Science and Technology late Sunday in Arakan town when somebody lobbed a grenade near a firetruck. The attacker escaped, police said. Policeman, government firefighters, students and school guards were among those wounded with shrapnel and flying debris.

Egypt

Protesters in parts of Egypt rallied Friday against the government and a vote on a constitution that would ban religious parties, leading to clashes with security forces or demonstrators’ opponents in at least three cities, Egyptian media reported. The demonstrations are the latest by members or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that has regularly protested Egypt’s interim government since Brotherhood- backed President Mohamed Morsy was ousted in a coup in July.

Russia

Russian authorities are investigating six suspicious deaths and at least one car explosion this week about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the site of next month’s Winter Olympics The bodies of three men and explosive material were found Thursday in a vehicle in Maryinskaya in Stavropol province. A day earlier, a vehicle containing a body exploded in Tambukan, in the same province, as police approached it, and two other bodies were found in other vehicles in Zolskaya Wednesday. The deaths in southern Russia’s Stavropol territory, which borders the province where the Olympics will be held in Sochi, have prompted security forces to conduct an anti-terrorism sweep there, state-run RIA Novosti news agency said. Five terror suspects were detained Saturday in one of Russia’s North Caucasus provinces as the country’s security agencies were scrambling to uproot any potential threat to the Sochi Games.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake out to sea shook Puerto Rico early Monday, causing minor damage in some places. Some people reported items falling in their home and dozens said they felt buildings sway in the capital of San Juan, about 61 miles from the quake’s epicenter. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.4 and struck just after midnight about 35 miles north of Hatillo. It said the quake occurred 17 miles deep. Earthquakes of similar magnitude have struck near Puerto Rico in recent years, including a 5.4-magnitude one that shook the U.S. territory in March 2011 and another one of the same magnitude that struck on Christmas Eve in 2010.

Weather

Gusty winds knocked down trees throughout northern Georgia and the Carolinas on Saturday as severe storms brought heavy rains, tornado watches and flood warnings. At Raleigh-Durham international Airport in North Carolina, wind gusts reached 85 mph, which was higher than the wind speed recorded at the airport during hurricanes Ivan and Fran, according to the National Weather Service. High winds blew down part of a condo that was under construction, leaving behind a heap of plywood. In Georgia, firefighters successfully rescued a teenager from a mobile home after it was hit by a tree Saturday morning.

The South Pacific nation of Tonga was lashed by a powerful cyclone on Saturday, destroying homes and ripping roofs from churches and other public buildings in the populous northern islands. There were no immediate reports of injuries. A state of emergency was declared for two of Tonga’s three island groups, Vava’u and Ha’apai, on Saturday morning as category-five storm Cyclone Ian brought heavy rain and strong winds. Tonga is an archipelago of 176 islands, 36 of which are inhabited by more than 100,000 people. After passing east of Tongatapu, the most populated island in Tonga, Ian will no longer pose a threat to any other land areas as it gradually weakens.

Scientists who study climate change and human-caused global warming have been forced to admit that global temperatures haven’t risen nearly as much this century as model projections say they should have. But instead, they are saying it’s mostly a ‘pause’ and that global warming is manifesting in ‘different ways.’

  • Regardless of what scientists believe, end-time weather will get more extreme eventually culminating in the 100-pound hailstones of Revelation 16:21 (also see Psalm 149:8)

Signs of the Times (1/10/14)

January 10, 2014

Israel Goes Molech

Israel will pay for abortions for women aged 20 to 33 regardless of circumstance starting next year, health officials said Monday, adding that they hope to make eligibility for state funding universal in the future. Until now, subsidized abortions for women of all ages were available in medical emergencies or in case of rape and sexual abuse. Women under the age of 20 or over 40 were also eligible for abortion funding even when the reason was personal. Israel currently has 41 “termination committees” by which the state approves abortions. Talk about death panels! Israelis abort about 20,000 babies a year illegally, without the approval of the committees. That’s about half of all Israeli abortions, according to AmericanVision.org.

  • This has become modern Israel’s method of passing their children through the fire of Molech. (Leviticus 18:21, Ezekiel 16:21) which will increasingly curse this secularized nation

Signatures Delay Controversial Calif. Transgender Law

Thousands of signatures to repeal California’s “transgender bathroom” law will be counted after state and county officials tried to refuse them. The law, which was set to go into effect January 1, has now been put on hold on account of the signatures. A California judge has finalized an order that requires California Secretary of State Debra Bowen to accept thousands of signatures supporting an effort to repeal the state’s transgender bathroom law. This referendum placed on hold AB 1266, the California law allowing “self-identified transgender” students to choose which sex-segregated activities and facilities (e.g., locker rooms, bathrooms) they will use. If enough signatures are verified, the referendum would go before voters in November.

Most Christians Not Sharing the Gospel

A new survey suggests that Christians are not sharing their faith despite many feeling the responsibility to do so. In a survey of over 1,000 Canadian Protestants, 43% claimed they felt a “personal responsibility to share my religious beliefs about Jesus Christ with non-Christians.” However, 78% had not “shared with someone how to become a Christian” in the past six months. The survey was conducted by Nashville-based LifeWay Research. Other statistics emerging from the data proved similarly discouraging. Although 58% of those asked reported that they felt comfortable sharing their faith, 59% had also not invited anyone to church for at least six months. Twenty-one per cent said they had invited one person to church in that time, while only 10 per cent said they had invited three or more people. The researchers did find that mature Christians are more likely to evangelize than those who are new to the faith.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Vows to Fight ObamaCare Employer Mandate

The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce vowed Wednesday to fight Obamacare’s so-called employer mandate and other “onerous” provisions in the year ahead, even as the pro-business group acknowledged the bill as a whole cannot be repealed in the current climate. Though the law’s requirement on mid-sized and large businesses to provide health coverage to workers was delayed by a year, Donohue said the Chamber still plans to lobby against that mandate in 2014. “In 2014, we will work to repeal onerous health care taxes; repeal, delay, or change the employer mandate; and give companies and their employees more flexibility in the choice of health insurance plans,” Donohue said. Donohue said the health insurance cancellations that “swamped” the individual market last year are expected to hit the small business market even harder this year. And many firms are not hiring and are cutting workers’ hours because of the law’s mandates.

War on Poverty 50 Years Old, Victory Nowhere in Sight

Five decades after the so-called ‘War on Poverty’ was initiated, the war is far from won. Back in 1964, 36 million Americans lived in poverty; today it’s close to 47 million. Of course, the U.S. population has grown dramatically over the last 50 years, and the percentage of Americans in poverty has declined in that time span, from 19 percent to 15 percent. Still, that’s higher than at any point in the first decade of this millennium, when George W. Bush was president, and far from the record low of 11.1 percent achieved under President Nixon in 1973. What’s more, the percentage of children living in poverty is essentially unchanged since 1964. In 1964, only 11 percent of Americans families with children were headed by a single parent. By 2012, that figure had risen to 35 percent: more than a third of all American households. By some estimates, Uncle Sam has spent $15 trillion on anti-poverty programs over the last five decades.

  • More evidence that the federal government is inept in implementing and managing major programs. The only thing really accomplished by the $15 trillion is huge growth in the size and scope of the government itself which voraciously finds many ways to feed itself off we taxpayers.

Obama Designates Five “Promise Zones”

President Obama designated troubled neighborhoods in five cities and areas as “Promise Zones,” eligible for tax breaks and other forms of assistance designed to create jobs and improve education, housing, and public safety. The first five Promise Zones will be located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Under the proposed Promise Zones, the federal government plans to partner with local governments and business to provide tax incentives and grants to help combat poverty. The project is part of Obama’s effort to address income inequality. In his State of the Union address a year ago, Obama said his administration plans to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet.

  • The federal government has proven over and over again that they cannot successfully follow through on such promises. Detroit received the most federal intervention in recent years and is now worse than before.

Colorado River Drought Forces A Painful Reckoning For States

The Colorado River and its numerous man-made reservoirs from the Rockies to southern Arizona are being sapped by 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years. The once broad and blue river has in many places dwindled to a murky brown trickle. Reservoirs have shrunk to less than half their capacities. Seeking to stretch their allotments of the river, regional water agencies are recycling sewage effluent, offering rebates to tear up grass lawns and subsidizing less thirsty appliances from dishwashers to shower heads. But many experts believe the current drought is only the harbinger of a new, drier era in which the Colorado’s flow will be substantially and permanently diminished. Faced with the shortage, federal authorities this year will for the first time decrease the amount of water that flows into Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, from Lake Powell 180 miles upstream. That will reduce even more the level of Lake Mead, a crucial source of water for cities from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and for millions of acres of farmland.

Young Veterans Most Vulnerable for Suicide

Whatever torment has driven U.S. troops to commit suicide in historically high numbers is following them as they leave the service, according to new data released by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Young veterans just out of the service and receiving health care from the government committed suicide at nearly three times the rate of active-duty troops in recent years. VA officials say the data show that severe personal issues driving self-destructive tendencies for those in uniform follow them when they leave the military. The Army has struggled with suicide among active-duty troops more than other service branches during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the risk persists after soldiers return to civilian life.

Just 1 in 4 Young Teens Meet Federal Fitness Guidelines

Young teens aren’t exactly embracing the government’s Let’s Move mantra, the latest fitness data suggest. Only 1 in 4 U.S. kids aged 12 to 15 meet the recommendations — an hour or more of moderate to vigorous activity every day. Obese kids were less active than normal-weight girls and boys. “It’s definitely very concerning to see that our kids are engaging in such a limited amount of physical activity each day when we are still battling” an obesity epidemic, said Dr. Stephen Pont, an Austin, Texas, pediatrician and chairman of  the American Academy of Pediatrics’ section on obesity. Data suggest obesity may have decreased slightly among some kids but the overall obesity rate for children aged 2 to 19 remains around 17 percent, or about 12.5 million obese kids.

Is Chase/JP Morgan Too Big to Jail?

Five years after the financial crisis, the debate over whether some of the biggest banks in America are “too big to jail” is causing tensions among prosecutors and regulators. As federal prosecutors in Manhattan finalized their investigation of JPMorgan Chase & Co. for failing to blow the whistle on Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff, the question arose: What happens if federal prosecutors file criminal charges against the bank? Prosecutors fear that if the bank is found guilty, regulators from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency will move to pull the bank’s license, leading to the destruction of the nation’s largest bank and potentially the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. OCC officials said they could not provide assurance to the prosecutors that they wouldn’t move against the bank. Meanwhile, the bank has agreed to pay $20 billion to settle cases filed by the government, an amount that doesn’t seem to have strained it much at all.

Economic News

Job growth slumped sharply in December, falling far short of expectations. The economy added only 74,000 jobs in December, according to the Department of Labor. This was the weakest month for job growth since January 2011 and came as a huge surprise to economists, who were expecting an addition of 193,000 jobs. For all of 2013, the economy added 2.2 million jobs — on par with 2012’s gains.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 6.7% in December, but the drop came mainly from workers leaving the labor force. Only 62.8% of the adult population is participating in the labor market — meaning they either have a job or are looking for one. That matches the lowest level since 1978.

Election-year legislation to revive expired federal unemployment benefits unexpectedly cleared an early hurdle on Tuesday, offering a hint of bipartisan compromise in Congress and a glimmer of hope to the long-term unemployed and their families, but a further strain on federal debt loads.

Federal Reserve officials want to move forward “cautiously” with their plan to reduce their stimulus program at their last meeting in December, according to minutes released Wednesday. Encouraged by a pickup in hiring since the Fed launched the bond-buying program in September 2012, officials said were ready to start slowing the stimulus program. In the meantime, the Fed is still keeping its key short-term interest rate near zero for an extended period of time — a tool that it hopes will keep rates on mortgages and other loans cheap for borrowers.

Persecution Watch

Four of seven children who were forcibly removed from their home in Texas have now been returned to their parents after the Christian couple spent two months battling the government in court over their right to homeschool. Trevor and Christina Tutt of Dallas have several years of experience helping at-risk children through both CPS foster care and the ministry Safe Families. In addition to five biological children (three of whom are now grown and living outside their home), the Tutts have three adopted children and are in the process of adopting another child. However, in September, a local police officer contacted CPS officials after finding that a child temporarily in the Tutts’ care—a four-year-old with autism—had wandered a short distance away from their home. Even though Mr. Tutt was nearby, searching for the child, the police officer’s report led to a CPS investigation. A CPS caseworker investigated the Tutt family’s home and concluded by saying, “There is no problem here.” However, the caseworker also remarked, “Nobody in their right mind would want to stay home all day with so many children!” and ordered Mrs. Tutt to enroll in parenting classes and take a psychological examination. Despite the fact that Mrs. Tutt showed CPS workers numerous parenting class certificates and paperwork certifying her mental health, a local judge ordered the Tutts’ seven children to be removed from the home. In November, armed constables seized the children and kept them under government custody for nearly two months.

  • Homeschooling is under attack largely because it is Christian-driven and removes children from the secular indoctrination centers our public schools have become.

For the 12th consecutive year the hermit communist country of North Korea remains the world’s most restrictive nation in which to practice Christianity, according to the Open Doors 2014 World Watch List (WWL). However, a major trend which the WWL tracked in 2013 was a marked increase in persecution for Christian communities in states that are commonly regarded as “failed.” A failed country is defined “as a weak state where social and political structures have collapsed to the point where government has little or no control.” The top 10 countries where Christians faced the most pressure and violence in the 2013 reporting period of the 2014 WWL are: North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen. For the complete list, go to www.worldwatchlist.us. Overwhelmingly, the main engine driving persecution of Christians in 36 of the top 50 countries is Islamic extremism.

Al-Qaeda Gaining in Strength

The death of leader Osama bin Laden did not end the spread of al-Qaeda, say analysts. It may have even helped it. The chaos of the Arab Spring revolutions, al-Qaeda’s shift to a more bottom-up structure and a pullback of U.S. influence in the Middle East are behind the spread of America’s No. 1 enemy in the world, say several analysts. The latest and most stark example came this week in Iraq, where al-Qaeda militants seized control of government buildings and districts of Fallujah and Ramadi, cities that were liberated from jihadist control by American troops during the Iraq War.

The Saudis fear the rise of Al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria, and they have not forgotten what happened when Saudi militants who had fought in Afghanistan returned home to wage a domestic insurgency a decade ago. They officially prohibit their citizens from going to Syria for jihad, but the ban is not enforced; at least a thousand have gone, according to Interior Ministry officials, including some from prominent families. But the Saudis are also bent on ousting Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and his patron, Iran, which they see as a mortal enemy. Their only real means of fighting them is through military and financial support to the Syrian rebels. And the most effective of those rebels are Islamists whose creed — rooted in the puritanical strain of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia — is often scarcely separable from Al Qaeda’s.

Middle East

Mortars fired by terrorists operating in the Gaza Strip landed in Israel Thursday, prompting IDF return fire which destroyed the cell. Although the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the attack, Israel re-iterated that it holds the Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Strip, ultimately responsible for all fire directed at Israel. However, some analysts openly questioned the ability of Hamas to prevent such attacks, given a recent string of setbacks which have severely eroded its capabilities. The biggest setback of all comes from the fact that the Moslem Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian franchise, has lost power and been outlawed in neighboring Egypt.

Israel

Israel on Friday announced plans to build 1,400 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territory the Palestinians claim for their future state. Israel’s housing ministry said 800 new houses will be built in the West Bank and 600 in east Jerusalem. The announcement is likely to anger Palestinians and could put the U.S.-led peace efforts in peril. While Israel is not obligated to halt construction under the peace talks, Secretary of State John Kerry has urged restraint and said the building raises questions about Israel’s commitment to peace.

Wednesday afternoon saw a protest outside the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, with at least 8,000 African migrants demonstrating against the government’s policy of enforcing laws concerning illegal immigration. Holding up signs proclaiming their demands for political asylum and other rights and privileges the government has denied they are entitled to, the protesters garnered mixed reactions from lawmakers. “I call on the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Interior and the Defense Minister to take advantage of the gathering in the Rose Garden in Jerusalem, as well as any gathering, to put them [the migrants] all on buses and send them to the detention facilities,” MK Eli Yishai (Shas) posted on his Facebook page.

  • The U.S. is not the only nation with immigration issues

Iran

ranian oil exports hit a high in December, just one month after Western nations inked a nuclear pact with Iran that guaranteed up to $7 billion in economic sanctions relief. Exports of Iranian crude oil rose from 789,292 barrels per day in November to 1,059,605 per day in December, according to new shipping data provided to the Washington Free Beacon by the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). This is among the highest number of oil exports Iran reached in all of 2013. Iran hit its peak oil sales in April of that year, when it was exporting some 1.39 million barrels per day… China, India, South Korea, Turkey, and Syria are currently the top five importers of Iranian oil, according to UANI’s shipping data. Taiwan also resumed its oil purchases from Iran in December after halting them completely during the previous months.

  • Iran got just what it wanted from negotiations – oil money and more time to push ahead with its nuclear weapon plans.

Iraq

A suicide bomber blew himself up at a military recruiting center in Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 12 people — an attack that was likely retaliation for the Iraqi government’s campaign to retake two cities overrun by al-Qaeda militants. The attacker detonated his explosives outside the recruiting center in the city’s central Allawi neighborhood as volunteers were waiting to register inside. Such suicide attacks are the hallmark of al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the country is going to release all but 16 of 88 prisoners considered a security threat by the United States. Karzai says that a review of the prisoners’ cases by Afghan intelligence and judicial officials turned up no evidence of wrongdoing for 45 of the detainees. Karzai says there was insufficient evidence on another 27 and that they must be released. The U.S. is strongly opposed to their release because it says the prisoners have been involved in the wounding or killing of U.S. and coalition troops.

Central African Republic

A top regional official has announced that the president and prime minister of Central African Republic are stepping down from power. Rebel leader Michel Djotodia seized power in a March 2013 coup when thousands of his fighters stormed the capital. He was later installed as president while longtime opposition leader Nicolas Tiangaye became prime minister. However, the country has tilted toward anarchy in the months that have followed and the violence has turned Muslim and Christian communities against each other. A Christian militia attempted a coup in early December, unleashing days of bloodshed on the streets of the capital that left more than 1,000 people dead. The United Nations’ refugee agency resumed aid deliveries to an estimated 100,000 people in the Central African Republic who’ve sought refuge at the capital’s international airport from the violence ravaging the country. Security concerns had temporarily halted relief efforts.

Environment

Schools and restaurants closed, grocery stores sold out of bottled water, and state legislators who had just started their session canceled the day’s business after a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston shut down much of the city and surrounding counties even as the cause and extent of the incident remained unclear. The chemical, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries and overran a containment area. Virginia American Water: Do not drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water. The federal government joined the state early Friday in declaring a disaster, and the West Virginia National Guard planned to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the nine affected counties. Shortly after the Thursday night spill from a Freedom Industries hit the river, a licorice-like smell enveloped parts of the city, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued an order to customer of West.

Weather

Dangerous polar temperatures finally eased up Wednesday, after days of record-breaking cold across the eastern half of the United States. At least 21 deaths are blamed on the frigid temperatures and winter weather since Sunday. More than 11,000 flights were canceled between Saturday and Tuesday. Most schools in the Deep South are back in session today, after being closed because of the dangerous temperatures earlier this week. As people struggled to stay warm in their homes, natural gas demand set a U.S. record Tuesday. Even cities that are used to dealing with frigid temperatures were brought to a standstill by this week’s cold spell. With the thawing out, pipes that froze and cracked are unfreezing, and plumbers and fire crews are rushing to stop the gushing water leaks that have caused some serious damage to homes and businesses and flooded streets.

At least 50 major cities broke record lows Tuesday morning from the Midwest to the East and Deep South. Both Atlanta and Washington, D.C., dropped to 6 degrees, the lowest since 1996. Minneapolis-St. Paul spent 62 consecutive hours below zero before climbing into positive territory Tuesday afternoon. Chicago spent 37 straight hours below zero – including 29 consecutive hours in the double digits below zero – before climbing to zero at 1 pm. Tuesday. Detroit was not so fortunate, as Tuesday’s high of 1 below zero was only the sixth subzero high temperature suffered in 140 years of records in the Motor City.

Portions of Palm Beach County in Florida were soaked by 12 to 18 inches of rain late Thursday into early Friday, resulting in significant flash flooding. Many roads were closed and water entered homes and businesses. The flooding forced the closure of Palm Beach County schools Friday. A section of I-95 in Palm Beach County was also closed Friday morning due to the flooding.

Signs of the Times (1/7/14)

January 7, 2014

Supreme Court Puts Gay Marriage on Hold in Utah

The Supreme Court on Monday put gay marriage on hold in Utah, giving the state time to appeal a federal judge’s ruling against Utah’s same-sex marriage ban. The court issued a brief order Monday blocking any new same-sex unions in the state. The ruling comes after a Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights. The decision, in one of the country’s most conservative states, touched off a flurry of court filings as some jurisdictions started issuing marriage licenses. More than 900 gay and lesbian couples have married since the Dec. 20 ruling. The high court order will remain in effect until the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether to uphold Shelby’s ruling.

Republican officials to join pro-lifers at March for Life

The annual March for Life later this month on the National Mall will have some unprecedented participants: the chairman and members of the Republican National Committee. The Washington Times is reporting that RNC chairman Reince Priebus – in an extraordinary move – is delaying the four-day winter meeting of the Committee so that he and members who wish to join him can hop aboard a chartered bus and join thousands of pro-lifers in the annual right-to-life march, scheduled for January 22 in the nation’s capital. The 2014 March for Life rally will begin at noon on the National Mall, followed immediately by the march up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court building. This year’s observance will be the 40th March for Life. Jeanie Monahan, a spokesperson for March for Life, told OneNewsNow, “Of course we’re nonpartisan, but we’re absolutely delighted by the development.”

Planned Parenthood Board Member Says Abortion is a ‘Sacred Gift’

In recent opinion columns, Planned Parenthood board member Valerie Tarico wrote that abortion is a “sacred gift” and celebrated her belief that Christianity is “in decline,” Christian News reports. In one such Huffington Post article last January, Tarico encouraged readers to “honor women who decide to terminate pregnancies.” They are “doing God’s work,” she wrote. “An abortion when needed is a blessing. It is a gift, a grace, a mercy, a cause for gratitude, a new lease on life. Being able to choose when and whether to bring a child into the world enables us and our children to flourish.” Tarico believes reason and science will propel our society away from Biblical views.

  • Yet another example of how secular humanists rationalize away God’s laws and then attribute Satan’s agenda to the Almighty

Chicago Gun Sale Ban Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

A federal judge on Monday overturned Chicago’s ban on the sale and transfer of firearms, ruling that the city’s ordinances aimed at reducing gun violence are unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang said in his ruling that while the government has a duty to protect its citizens, it’s also obligated to protect constitutional rights, including the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. However, Chang said he would temporarily stay the effects of his ruling, meaning the ordinances can stand while the city decides whether to appeal. The decision is just the latest to attack what were some of the toughest gun-control laws in the nation. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s long-standing gun ban. And last year, Illinois legislators were forced by a federal appeals court to adopt a law allowing residents to carry concealed weapons in Illinois, the only state that still banned the practice.

Congress is Back — and Divided as Ever

Congress resumes work Monday as divided as ever on the nation’s priorities and focused on themes lawmakers hope will resonate with voters ahead of November’s midterm elections. Democrats, who have seized on income inequality as a major theme of the 2014 campaign, are pushing to increase the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage. A preliminary Senate vote to extend unemployment benefits was postponed Monday night after the extreme cold across much of the country prevented some senators from traveling back to Washington. The bill seeks to extend long-term unemployment insurance for people out of work for 26 weeks or longer. Meanwhile, Republicans are focusing once again on the Obamacare debacle and reining in government snooping.

Senate Confirms Yellen as Federal Reserve Chair

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Janet Yellen to serve as the next chair of the Federal Reserve, after Ben Bernanke finishes his second term at the end of the month. Senators voted 56 to 26 in her favor, with many missing the vote because of inclement weather. Eleven Republicans broke party ranks, voting to support Yellen. She will be the first woman to head the Federal Reserve in its 100-year history. Yellen brings a robust résumé to the job, including more than a decade in various Fed positions. In her recent role as Fed vice chair, she voiced deep concerns about high unemployment and spoke in favor of the Fed’s bond-buying program as a way to stimulate the economy. Those views closely align with current Chairman Bernanke. In his two terms as chairman, Bernanke led the Fed through a turbulent eight years that included the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Under his leadership, the Fed has taken unprecedented measures to stimulate the economy, cutting its key interest rate to near zero and buying trillions in bonds.

Faulty Websites Confront Needy in Search of Aid

Three months after the disastrous rollout of a new $63 million website for unemployment claims, Florida is hiring hundreds of employees to deal with technical problems that left tens of thousands of people without their checks while penalties mount against the vendor who set up the site. Efforts at modernizing the systems for unemployment compensation in California, Massachusetts and Nevada have also largely backfired in recent months, causing enormous cost overruns and delays. While the nation’s attention was focused on the troubled rollout of the federal health care site under the Affordable Care Act, the problems with the unemployment sites have pointed to something much broader: how a lack of funding in many states and a shortage of information technology specialists in public service jobs routinely lead to higher costs, botched systems and infuriating technical problems that fall hardest on the poor, the jobless and the neediest, reports the New York Times.

  • Reliance on government to manage complex systems, computer or otherwise, has proven over and over again to be fraught with problems, mismanagement and corruption.

Pollution Confirmed from Fracking

In at least four states that have nurtured the nation’s energy boom, hundreds of complaints have been made about well-water contamination from oil or gas drilling, and pollution was confirmed in a number of them, according to a review that casts doubt on industry suggestions that such problems rarely happen. The AP found that Pennsylvania received 398 complaints in 2013 alleging that oil or natural gas drilling polluted or otherwise affected private water wells on top of 499 complaints in 2012. The Pennsylvania complaints can include allegations of short-term diminished water flow, as well as pollution from stray gas or other substances. More than 100 cases of pollution were confirmed over the past five years. Over the past 10 years, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has led to a boom in oil and natural gas production around the nation.

2013 a Quieter Year for Disasters in USA; Not So in Europe

For the first time in two decades, the world’s costliest natural disasters in 2013 were not in the USA, according to a report released today by Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance firm. Last year, the most expensive weather disasters were in Europe, which included floods in central Europe and hailstorms in Germany. The USA’s relatively quiet year was due primarily to the lack of land-falling hurricanes, which typically contribute a large portion of the natural catastrophe losses, said Hoppe. The North Atlantic had the fewest number of hurricanes since 1982. The USA had $12.8 billion in insured losses in 2013, far below the recent average of $30 billion per year. The costliest disaster was the tornado outbreak in the central U.S. in May.

Worldwide, the direct overall losses of about $125 billion and insured losses of about $31 billion remained below the average figures of the past 10 years ($184 billion and $56 billion). Overall, 20,000 people died in natural catastrophes in 2013, significantly below the 10-year average of 106,000. The world’s deadliest disaster in 2013 was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines and killed more than 6,000 people. The storm did $10 billion in damage, of which only about $700 million was insured. The 2013 typhoon season in the Pacific was above average in terms of activity, with 31 named storms.

E-cigarettes’ Growing Popularity Poses Danger to Kids

Billed as a safer, cleaner way to get a nicotine fix, electronic cigarettes are surging in popularity. But some doctors and researchers say these smoking substitutes are far from harmless — especially to children. More teens are trying these products, even as scientists increasingly raise concerns about the effects of e-cigarettes’ “secondhand vapor” on children. The liquid nicotine used in the devices, which comes in flavors such as bubblegum and cola, is being blamed for a growing number of poisonings across the nation. Nationally, there were 427 E-cigarette poisonings in 2012, according to the latest annual report from the National Poison Data System.

Economic News

U.S. service companies expanded at a steady but slightly slower pace in December as sales dipped and new orders plunged to a four-year low. The report suggests economic growth may remain modest in the coming months. The Institute for Supply Management said Monday that its service-sector index fell to 53 last month, down from 53.9 in November. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion. A measure of new orders plummeted 7 points to 49.4, the first time it has dropped below 50 since July 2009. A gauge of business stockpiles also fell sharply. But a gauge of hiring increased 3.3 points to 55.8, evidence that services firms are adding more jobs.

U.S. factories orders climbed in November, led by a surge in aircraft demand. And businesses stepped up spending on machinery, computers and other long-lasting goods that signal investment. The Commerce Department says factory orders rose 1.8% in November. That follows a 0.5% decrease in October. The index now stands at its highest level since 1992.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 and Nasdaq composite indexes have yet to post a gain over 2014’s three trading days so far. The last time the S&P 500 fell on the first three trading days of a year was 2005.

Millennials are starting to get restless for economic change. Stuck in low-wage or part-time jobs with mountains of student loans to pay off, the generation that came of age in the new millennium finds itself in a hopeless situation. Despite being better educated than previous generations, many young people are shut out of the middle class with no road map of how to get there. So many of them are joining protests, showing up at rallies, or forming unions to improve their situation. In the past year, Millennials turned up the heat against low wages at Victoria’s Secret, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC and others. Some fast food workers wrangled wage increases or better hours. But union-organized rallies are calling for broad-based change and minimum wages of $15. Wal-Mart workers nationwide have also protested, calling for higher pay and more hours.

Persecution Watch

A Christian library in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli was intentionally burned down on Friday night after its owner, a Greek Orthodox priest, was falsely accused of writing an article insulting Islam and the prophet Mohammed. Assailants set fire to the Saeh Library, destroying two-thirds of the collection of 80,000 books and manuscripts. It became clear afterwards that the priest had nothing to do with the pamphlet.

Libya’s recent edict that its coming constitution will be based on Shariah law has sent a chill through the North African nation’s small Christian community. Libya’s Coptic Christians, who number about 300,000, or 5 percent of the population, were allowed to practice their faith under dictator Muammar Qaddafi. But since the strongman was ousted from power, and ultimately killed, Muslim fundamentalists have increasingly filled the power void. Last month, the national assembly voted in favor of making Koranic law, or Shariah, the basis of all legislative decisions, meaning Islam will shape all future banking, criminal and financial cases. The emerging political and legal system’s orientation, combined with the rise of militants in the oil-rich nation, has left Christians feeling uneasy about their future security.

Middle East

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left Jerusalem for Jordan and Saudi Arabia Sunday to discuss his effort to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He’s had three days of lengthy meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Kerry said some progress was made in what he described as “very serious, very intensive conversations,” but key hurdles are yet to be overcome. In an interview on Lebanese television on Saturday, Father Surouj said he forgives those responsible and prays for peace in Tripoli.

Syria’s bloody civil war has spread to the streets of Beirut, where it threatens to destroy the hard-fought progress Lebanon’s capital has made in coming back from its own civil war that lasted from 1975-1990. The country that has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of a war that killed more than 120,000 is being dragged into Syria’s vicious struggle because of Lebanese-based terror group Hezbollah backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. That has Al Qaeda, which backs the Syrian rebels, mounting attacks against Hezbollah on the streets of Beirut, once viewed as the Paris of the Middle East. A series of car bombs, assassinations and over-the-border missile attacks have occurred in recent weeks.

Syria

Clashes between Syrian rebels and their rivals from an al-Qaeda-linked faction spread on Monday from the country’s opposition-held areas in the north to a key eastern city. The rebel-on-rebel fighting in the eastern city of Raqqa — a long-time bastion of an al-Qaeda-linked group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant — reflects a widening war within a war in Syria, this one against radical extremists. It also suggests emboldened rebels are trying to completely overrun their al-Qaeda rivals. The infighting has been the most serious since armed groups initially rose to try overthrow the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad who has stubbornly and violently clung to power.

Iraq

Al-Qaeda militants have seized Fallujah, a key city in western Iraq, engaging Iraqi army forces in pitched battles there in a brazen challenge to Iraq’s central government. Militants have occupied police stations and government buildings throughout Fallujah and are also controlling limited parts of Ramadi. Al-Qaeda militants, emboldened by their powerful role in attempting to topple the government in neighboring Syria, have been exploiting the sense of alienation among Sunnis. The fighting in Anbar province comes amid growing sectarian tensions between the minority Sunnis and the Shiite-dominated government. The Iraqi army is letting local police and tribes lead the fight against al-Qaeda in Fallujah and Ramadi, a strategy that reflects concerns that a large influx of government forces could provoke a backlash from the mainly Sunni cities.

A new wave of bombings hit Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, killing at least 20 people Sunday, officials said, the latest assault by militants who have been fighting Iraqi security forces and allied tribes in country’s west. The deadliest attack took place in Baghdad’s Shiite northern Shaab neighborhood, when two parked car bombs exploded simultaneously near a restaurant and a tea house. Officials say those blasts killed 10 people and wounded 26. Another bombing killed three civilians and wounded six in a commercial area in the central Bab al-Muadham neighborhood. Two other bombings killed two civilians and wounded 13, police said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that America would support Iraq in its fight against al-Qaeda-linked militants who have overrun two cities in the country’s west, but said the U.S. wouldn’t send troops, calling the battle “their fight.” Kerry told reporters the U.S. was very concerned by the al-Qaeda linked gunmen who have largely taken over Fallujah and Ramadi in an uprising that has been a blow to the Shiite-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Iran

The international isolation of Iran over its gross human rights violations and renegade nuclear program appears to be crumbling as several governments have used November’s nuclear arrangement announced in Geneva to re-establish diplomatic and economic ties with the Islamic Republic. Prominent among these governments is Turkey, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan planning a visit to Teheran later this month. Diplomatic delegations from Italy, the UK and other Western powers are also planning visits soon, even as dozens of corporations from around the world race each other to get back into business in Iran.

  • Deceived nations once again value business more than principles, a short-term view that will have horrific long-term consequences

Central African Republic

As the violence in the Central African Republic reaches unprecedented levels, aid organizations say the number of internally displaced people edges toward a million, further hampering humanitarian relief efforts. The nearly 935,000 displaced people are hiding in bushes and seeking refuge with host families. Churches and schools have been turned in to makeshift shelters. More than half the population of the capital city of Bangui has been displaced, and nearly 60% of them are children, according to the latest report from UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency. After the predominantly Muslim-backed Seleka militia and other rebel groups from the marginalized northeast seized Bangui, one of the Seleka leaders, Michel Djotodia, overthrew President Francois Bozize, who fled to Cameroon, creating a political power struggle.

South Sudan

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived in neighboring South Sudan on Monday for talks on unrest in the latter nation that has left hundreds dead. Al-Bashir’s visit comes as rival parties in the South Sudan power struggle work to find a solution to the ongoing violence. Meanwhile, talks between South Sudan’s government and rebels began Monday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The negotiations “come not a moment too soon,” African Union Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said. “Stopping the fighting in South Sudan is not only a humanitarian imperative but also a strategic necessity, in order to halt the rapid descent of Africa’s newest nation into collapse.”

Volcanoes

Authorities have extended a danger zone around a rumbling volcano in western Indonesia after it spewed blistering gas farther than expected. More than 50 eruptions on Saturday sent lava and searing gas tumbling out of Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra province down the southeastern slopes up to 3 miles away. It was still spitting clouds of gas and lava as high as 13,000 feet on Sunday, but no casualties were reported. More than 20,000 people have been evacuated from villages around the crater into several temporary shelters.

Weather

A blast of swirling, bitterly cold dense air known as a “polar vortex” settled Monday across large parts of the USA as the nation braced for what could be record low temperatures, perhaps the lowest in decades. Monday morning yielded -27 degrees in northern Minnesota while the southern part of the state was a balmy -23 degrees. The mercury also dropped into negative territory in Milwaukee, St. Louis and Chicago, which set a record for the date at minus 16. Wind chills across the region were 40 below and colder. Records also fell in Oklahoma and Texas. Hardy Midwesterners well accustomed to frigid weather found Monday’s blast of arctic cold to be far beyond anything in recent memory. Brutal subzero temperatures forced school closings, kept people home from work, stymied air travel and posed real danger to anyone lingering outdoors. Single digit lows are expected Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama. Below-zero wind chills were forecast up and down the east coast, including minus 10 in Atlanta and minus 12 in Baltimore.

The extremely cold temperatures and gusty winds are cranking out heavy lake-effect snow in some of the classic snowbelts. Blizzard warnings have been posted for Genesee, Erie and Wyoming Counties in western New York, including the Buffalo metro area. Snow will fall at the rate of at least 1-2 inches per hour. Over a foot of snow is likely within the 10-20 mile wide snowband. Local amounts over three feet are possible, particularly over the “Southtowns” of Buffalo.

2013’s tornado count fell a dramatic 35 percent below average, according to preliminary numbers. Only 878 tornadoes were recorded in 2013. That’s a dramatic difference compared to the average annual tornado statistics of 1,342 over the past ten years. That’s not to say, however, that many areas weren’t devastated by tornados. During a tornado outbreak on Nov. 17, two EF4 tornadoes devastated towns in the Midwest, including Washington, Ill., where homes and businesses were leveled. Earlier in the year, Oklahoma took some heavy tornado hits.

Signs of the Tims (1/4/13)

January 4, 2014

Justice Sotomayor Delays Health Law’s Birth Control Mandate

Just before leading the New Year’s Eve countdown in New York City’s Times Square, and only hours before the law was to take effect, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor blocked implementation of portions of President Obama’s health care law that would have forced some religion-affiliated organizations to provide health insurance for employees that includes birth control. Sotomayor acted on a request from an order of Catholic nuns in Colorado, whose request for a stay had been denied by the lower courts.

  • More importantly is coverage for the Plan B abortion pill which then opens the door for wider abortion coverage.

First Abortion Clinic of 2014 Closes Following Record Closures in 2013

The Ft. Wayne Women’s Health Center in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, is the first surgical abortion clinic to officially shut down in 2014 following a record-breaking year where 87 surgical abortion clinics permanently closed.  Abortionist Ulrich G. Klopfer has told the press that the closure is a “hiatus” after he lost his hospital back-up physician and could not legally operate after January 1. However, there is reason to believe the closure could eventually become permanent. A closure notice appears on his web site and the phone number to his clinic has been disconnected, actions that usually indicate there is no intention of reopening.

Mennonite Church USA Ordains First Openly Homosexual Pastor

Mennonite Church USA has ordained its first openly homosexual pastor. According to Mennonite World Review, the Mountain States Conference, a division of the Mennonite Church USA, has approved the ministerial license of a Colorado woman who identifies as a lesbian. Theda Good, who is in a relationship with another woman, began serving with First Mennonite Church of Denver in 2012, and has a master’s degree from Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. Her church submitted a letter requesting her licensure last year, and the Conference had been reviewing the matter over a period of many months. “Much of the work centered around the consideration of a person whose gifts and call to ministry are clearly affirmed, yet is in a committed same-sex relationship, which varies from denominational statements,” the Conference outlined in a press release.

  • If it goes against denominational statements, why violate them? A watered-down Gospel is an affront to Jesus who warns “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18)

Movies with Strong Christian, Redemptive Content Make the Most Money

Two new long-term studies by Movieguide:  The Family Guide to Movies & Entertainment show that moviegoers prefer to see movies with strong Christian, redemptive worldviews and content. According to the 10-year study of all the major movies released by Hollywood and the major independent studios, movies with very strong Christian worldviews averaged $73.27 million at the box office, but movies with very strong Non-Christian worldviews averaged only $21.01 million. “Media pundits don’t realize that the public prefers to see movies with positive Christian content and values,” said Dr. Ted Baehr, founder and publisher of Movieguide.

Obamacare Debuts with More Canceled Plans than Enrollments

At the end of 2013, more than 4.7 million Americans had their health insurance canceled as a result of the thousand-plus-page Affordable Care Act’s many new rules, the Associated Press reported. But the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed Tuesday that between federal and state exchanges, just 2 million Americans have signed up for Obamacare coverage. The health-care law requires that all insurance plans cover 10 “essential benefits,” eliminating millions of plans that don’t fit the bill and boosting costs for consumers that have to purchase coverage for services they may not want or need.

White House Denies Goal of 7 Million Healthcare Enrollees

A White House adviser backpedaled Tuesday on the target for ObamaCare enrollment, saying the widely cited goal of enrolling 7 million people by the end of March was “never our target number” — though Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius repeatedly has cited the figure. The Congressional Budget Office estimated earlier this year that 7 million people would likely sign up for health insurance under the new law by the end of open enrollment, and Sebelius has stated the administration’s goal was 7 million enrollees more than once. “That was never our target number,” Schiliro said. However, Sebelius told a group of reporters in June the 7 million number was a “realistic target” for sign-ups, and she reiterated that goal in a September interview with NBC News.

  • If the facts are discomforting, change them

ObamaCare Foul-ups Lead to Chaos at Hospitals

As expected, it’s chaos in the hospitals, as the disastrous system Barack Obama inflicted on America leaves medical staff uncertain whether patients have valid insurance after the first three days of the new coverage going into effect. Hospital staff in Northern Virginia turned away sick people on a frigid Thursday morning because they couldn’t determine whether their Obamacare insurance plans were valid. Patients in a close-in DC suburb who think they’ve signed up for new insurance plans are struggling to show their December enrollments are in force, and health care administrators aren’t taking their word for it. ‘The people in there told me that since I didn’t have an insurance card, I would be billed for the whole cost of the x-ray,’ Maria Galvez said, her young daughter in tow. ‘It’s not fair – you know, I signed up last week like I was supposed to.’

  • So now we move from website glitches to more significant coverage issues as the federal government proves once again that it knows how to make laws but not how to manage complex businesses

Harvard Study: Obamacare Drives up ER Visits

The number of costly emergency room visits is set to soar under Obamacare, according to a  “gold standard” Harvard study, which directly contradicts claims by President Barack Obama that his healthcare law would cut ER trips. The millions of people who have just been enrolled in Medicaid will go to ERs on a regular basis instead of their local doctors, according to the research. Obama had said that his signature healthcare reform law would help cut back on government spending by reducing trips to the ER. The study, published in the journal Science and released on Thursday, shows that the nearly 4 million new patients subsidized by government under the expansion of Medicaid are more likely to end up seeking treatment in emergency rooms for non-emergency health problems than before they entered the program.

Sen. Rand Paul Launches Class-Action Lawsuit against NSA Spying

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is suing the Obama administration over the National Security Agency’s spying practices in an effort to “protect the Fourth Amendment,” he announced Friday. Paul said he began collecting signatures about six months ago, and says it’s “kind of an unusual class-action suit” because everyone in America who has a cell phone is eligible to join in the legal action, he said. He added that Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of Virginia who ran for governor last year, is part of the initiative’s legal team. “We’re hoping, with his help, that we can get a hearing in court, and ultimately get [it] all the way to the Supreme Court.”

New York Gun Law Is Largely Upheld by a Federal Judge

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that New York’s expanded ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines was constitutional, but struck down a provision forbidding gun owners from loading their firearms with more than seven rounds. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers passed the new legislation, among the most restrictive in the country, in January in response to the mass shooting last December at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The judge, William M. Skretny of Federal District Court in Buffalo, called the seven-round limit “an arbitrary restriction” that violated the Second Amendment.

Murder Totals Down Sharply in Some U.S. Big Cities

Homicide in America last year was a tale of two cities: those where it plummeted and those where it soared. Murder declined in some places with which it was once synonymous, such as Chicago (down 17% from 2012), Philadelphia (down 25%), Los Angeles (16%) and New York (20%). Chicago’s total was the lowest since 1965, Philadelphia’s the lowest since 1967, L.A.’s the lowest since 1966. New York logged the lowest total at least since 1963. Homicides declined in some of the nation’s most troubled cities, including bankrupt Detroit (from 386 to 333) and Camden, N.J. (from 67 to 57). However, homicides increased in other cities, including Washington D.C., Baltimore, which saw the most murders in a decade; and Newark.

Obama Calls for Restoring Unemployment Benefits

President Barack Obama is urging Congress to reinstate jobless benefits for more than a million Americans. In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama says the unemployment insurance is a “vital economic lifeline” for many people. And he says failure to reinstate the benefits will cause the economy to slow for all Americans. A bipartisan proposal in the Senate would restore the benefits for three months. Obama says if lawmakers pass the measure, he will sign it. The measure passed the House in December.

  • Obama fails to mention that these are the extended benefits enacted during the last recession. Regular unemployment benefits are still in place. These benefits have masked the underlying weakness of the economy which Obama is loath to see surface during his term in office.

Bernanke: Recovery ‘Remains Incomplete’

“The recovery clearly remains incomplete,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said, in what sounded like a swan song speech at the American Economic Association’s annual meeting in Philadelphia, Friday. Bernanke’s term officially ends on January 31, at which point Fed Vice-Chair Janet Yellen is expected to take the helm. (The Senate is scheduled to vote on her confirmation Monday evening). Among the unfinished business that concerns Bernanke: the unemployment rate at 7% “still is elevated,” he said. Meanwhile, participation in the labor market has continued to decline, partly because workers remain discouraged about their job prospects. As of December, only 63% of Americans over age 16 participated in the job market — meaning they either had a job or looked for one. Before the recession, it was around 66%.

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dipped 2,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, evidence that layoffs are low and hiring will likely remain steady. The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average rose 8,500 to 357,250. The average was driven up in recent weeks by spikes that reflected seasonal volatility around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The job market has picked up in recent months. Employers have added an average of 200,000 jobs a month from August through November. That’s helped lower the unemployment rate to a five-year low of 7%.

Home prices in most U.S. cities are increasing more slowly than earlier in the year, and consumer confidence is rising, in dual signs that expectations of a stronger economy in 2014 are taking root. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index rose 6.1 points in December, to 78,1, recouping almost all of the drop it sustained during the October government shutdown. Separately, the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 0.2% from September to October. Monthly price gains slowed in 18 of the 20 cities tracked by the index, Prices have risen 13.6% over the past 12 months, the fastest since Feb. 2006.

After three decades of steady gains, bonds had a bad year. Prices for Treasuries and other kinds of bonds slumped as the U.S. economy improved, investors’ nerves steadied and the Federal Reserve prepared to pull back on its huge bond-buying program. Gold was another investment that went from haven to headache. The price of gold gained steadily for more than a decade, driven by concerns about the health of the U.S. economy and rising inflation. The metal plunged in 2013 as the U.S. maintained its recovery and inflation was nowhere in sight. However, stocks did well with the Dow spiking 26.5%, the S&P 500 soaring 29.6% and the Nasdaq surging by 38.3% for the year.

Oil prices finished the year up 7% with much of the gain coming this month on signs that an improving U.S. economy is leading to greater demand for gasoline and diesel fuel. As of Jan 1, U.S. drivers are paying an average of $3.32 for a gallon of gasoline, about the same as at the end of 2012, when gas was $3.29 per gallon. But gas was less volatile this year, peaking at $3.79 in February, compared with a high of $3.94 in April of last year. Drivers fueled up for the lowest price in three years during 2013, according to AAA, and even lower prices are expected in 2014. The motorist group reports that the national average price for a gallon of regular gas was $3.49 in 2013. That’s down about 12 cents from the record price set in 2012 and is a couple of cents cheaper than 2011.

The auto industry topped 15 million vehicles in a year for the first time since 2007. Sales were strong across the industry in 2013, with every major automaker reporting improved sales. U.S. sales reached 15.6 million for the year, up 7.6% from 2012. The results cap a five-year turn around for the industry, lifting sales a full 50% above the dark days of 2009, when GM and Chrysler tumbled into bankruptcy and required federal bailouts.

Persecution Watch

Iran, a country notorious for its persecution of religious minorities, has recently taken another step in its campaign against Christians. According to CNS News, the Iranian government is attempting to curb religious freedom by cracking down on minority groups. Iranian Christians, already a minority in the Muslim dominated country, is composed mostly of Armenians and Assyrians who attend a mixture of Catholic and Protestant denominations. Most of the churches attended by these ethnic groups have been closed, while others have announced they are being forced to close. “Since 2011, pressure and restrictions on Iranian churches have increased dramatically,” it said. “Many Christians, especially newly converted Christians, have faced imprisonment, pressure and harassment in the past few years. Iranian intelligence and security forces have recently focused their efforts to close down more churches around the country.”

International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that twelve Christians were brutally murdered by suspected Boko Haram militants in northern Nigeria last weekend. According to reports, these Christians were killed in two attacks on separate Christian villages in Nigeria’s Muslim majority state of Borno. The first attack took place on Saturday, December 28, in the Christian village of Tashan-Alede where eight people attending a wedding celebration were killed when militants connected with Boko Haram opened fire on the Christians gathered. On December 29, the day after the attack on Tashan-Alede, suspected militants killed four more Christians when they attacked the neighboring village of Kwajffa. The attacks on minority Christian villages in the predominantly Muslim region came hours after the leader of the Boko Haram terrorist network, Abubakar Shekau, clearly stated that his war is against Christians.

Clashes between Muslims and Christians in Central African Republic’s capital killed at least three on Wednesday as angry residents threw grenades and torched homes. French and African troops deployed in the country have struggled to stop the tit-for-tat violence between Muslim Seleka rebels, who seized power in March, and Christian self-defense militia, clashes that killed more than 1,000 people in December. Residents of Bangui said that Seleka forces wearing civilian clothes threw grenades at Christian houses in a northern district of the city, setting them alight. Christian youths then launched reprisal attacks, burning nearby Muslim homes.

  • Christians should avoid reprisal attacks for two reasons; 1) “Vengeance is mine” says the Lord God in three Scriptures (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19, Hebrews 10:30); 2) The reprisals enable the initial perpetrators to get in a ‘you started it’ war of words that makes both look culpable to the world at large, the basic problem Israel faces.

Egypt

About 200 demonstrators in Egypt clashed with security forces and local residents Wednesday, leaving two dead in Alexandria, the country’s second-largest city. A crackdown by authorities on Muslim Brotherhood rallies in the coastal city left two demonstrators dead and two policemen wounded. During the demonstrations, protestors cut off roads, threw Molotov cocktails, set fires, damaged private cars, and fired birdshot pellets, and clashed with local residents. The Muslim Brotherhood, which was recently designated a terrorist organization by Egypt’s military-backed government, claimed security forces had opened fire on demonstrators.

Lebanon

At least four people were killed and 77 injured when a car bomb exploded in a residential neighborhood in southern Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday. The district, Haret Hreik, is known as a Hezbollah stronghold. The car bomb exploded near Al-Jawad restaurant, about 55 yards from a building used by Hezbollah. There has not yet been any claim of responsibility for the blast. The explosion comes less than a week after a car bomb exploded in downtown Beirut, killing half a dozen people and injuring dozens.

South Sudan

Anti-government rebels in South Sudan took control of nearly all of a strategic city on Tuesday. Around 1,000 people have died so far in hostilities that erupted on Dec. 15 between the government of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel forces led by the country’s former vice president, Riek Machar. Over 100,000 South Sudanese refugees who have crossed the border to Uganda and Kenya to escape the hostilities, according to the United Nations. Another 80,000 are displaced inside South Sudan, including in UN bases. Most are women and children. The UN has warned of a major humanitarian crisis in East Africa unless the international community provides at least $166 million in aid for the refugees.

Somalia

A double car bomb attack outside of a hotel in Somalia’s capital Wednesday night killed at least one person and injured up to a dozen others. The first suicide car bomb exploded outside the main gate of the Jazeera Palace Hotel, with the second blast from a parked car following as first responders began gathering to evacuate the injured. Three of the wounded were security personnel stationed outside the gate. At the time of the Mogadishu blasts, there were several senior members of the Somali government inside the Jazeera hotel. It is believed the injured guards were part of the security detail of government officials.

Environment

A southeastern North Dakota town narrowly escaped tragedy when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded nearby, the mayor said Tuesday, calling for changes in how the fuel is transported across the U.S. No one was hurt in Monday’s derailment of the mile-long train that sent a great fireball and plumes of black smoke skyward about a mile from the small town of Casselton. Most residents heeded a recommendation to evacuate their homes as strong winds blew potentially hazardous, acrid smoke toward the town overnight. The fire had been so intense as darkness fell that investigators couldn’t get close enough to count the number of burning cars. The National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation.

Earthquakes

Iran State TV says a magnitude 5.5 earthquake has killed one person and injured 30 in a small town in southern Iran. It says the quake struck early Thursday morning in the town of Bastak, about 750 miles south of the capital, Tehran. It says many of the town buildings were damaged and that rescue workers were on the scene. Sixteen of the injured remain in hospital while fourteen have been released after assistance. It also reported several aftershocks in the region of about 50,000 residents.

Weather

A massive winter storm pounded the Northeast early Friday with heavy winds and driving snow, shutting down Boston’s airport, and prompting cancellations of thousands of flights as well as state emergency declarations in New York and New Jersey. The onslaught was forecast to continue Friday with more heavy snow, howling winds and bitterly cold temperatures. The National Weather Service said 21 inches of snow had fallen in Boxford, just north of Boston. Parts of Upstate New York had 18 inches. Six inches of snow had fallen on Central Park by 7 a.m. and it was 10 degrees in New York City. At least 15 deaths were blamed on the storm as it swept across the nation’s eastern half.

Nationwide the arctic air was affecting 22 states and on Thursday more than 3,000 flights were cancelled because of the weather and over 10,000 flights were delayed. The worst weather is expected along coastal New England and on Long Island, where blizzard warnings are in effect until late Friday. Looking ahead, one of coldest Arctic outbreaks in the past two decades is ready to plunge into the nation’s Midwest, while also sweeping its shivering air into the East and South.

Areas of Britain on Friday were bracing for severe flooding and what Environment Secretary Owen Paterson called “exceptional weather” that may last through the weekend. The Environment Agency issued nearly two dozen severe flood warnings as strong winds and heavy rain combined with higher than normal tides to present what the government agency says is a “danger to life” in parts of the southwest and Wales. Hundreds of lower-level warnings are also in place across the United Kingdom, with the Devon and Cornwall coasts thought to be particularly at risk of severe flooding.