Signs of the Times (1/27/14)

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.

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