Archive for February, 2014

Signs of the Times (2/28/14)

February 28, 2014

Arizona Governor Vetoes Controversial Religious Rights Bill

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have allowed businesses that asserted their religious beliefs the right to deny service to gay and lesbian customers. The controversial measure faced a surge of opposition in recent days from large corporations and athletic organizations, including Delta Air Lines, the Super Bowl host committee and Major League Baseball. Doug Napier, an attorney representing the Alliance Defending Freedom, which helped craft the bill, criticized the governor’s decision. “Freedom loses when fear overwhelms facts and a good bill is vetoed,” he said in a statement. “Today’s veto enables the foes of faith to more easily suppress the freedom of the people of Arizona.” The Family Research Council notes that, “All SB 1062 did was ensure the government couldn’t force business owners to violate their religious beliefs. If that’s controversial, then so is the First Amendment.”

  • Religious freedom is now a misnomer in the U.S. Instead, religion has become the enemy and have no rights

Federal Judge Strikes Down Texas Ban on Gay Marriage

A federal judge declared a same-sex marriage ban in deeply conservative Texas unconstitutional on Wednesday, but will allow the nation’s second-most populous state to enforce the law pending an appeal that will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Orlando Garcia issued the preliminary injunction after two gay couples challenged a state constitutional amendment and a longstanding law. His ruling is the latest in a tangled web of lawsuits across the country expected to end up in the Supreme Court next year. Garcia, appointed by President Bill Clinton, is the first judge in the conservative 5th Circuit to reach such a decision. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who also is the leading Republican candidate to succeed Gov. Rick Perry, promised to appeal the decision.

Girl Scouts Hire Lesbian as Chief ‘Girl Experience Officer’

As millions of moms consider digging into pocketbooks for Girl Scout cookies this year, they may be interested to know about the hiring of Krista Kokjohn-Poehler in the Girl Scouts executive office in New York City. Kokjohn-Poehler is an out-in-the-open lesbian married to a woman named Ashley Kokjohn. And, given her sexual preference, it may strike some as unsettling that her job title is “Girl Experience Officer.” Her hiring five months ago was largely missed by the mainstream media and even conservative outlets.

  • The undermining of God’s ordained family structure continues to accelerate unabated with both the boy and girl scouts submitting to the gay agenda

U.S. One of Few Nations Allowing Abortions after 20 Weeks

The United States and Canada are among only a handful of nations that allow abortions on babies after 20 weeks. Two of those nations are the biggest human rights abusers in the world. Every other nation on the planet either bans abortions after that time, which is just before viability, or limits them. A new report co-released Wednesday by Charlotte Lozier Institute and Life Canada finds that the United States and Canada join China, North Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, and Netherlands in allowing abortion beyond 20 weeks, more than halfway through pregnancy and the point at which research shows the unborn child feels pain. “Our fresh review of international statutes and case law was undertaken with the knowledge that U.S. policies, set by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton in 1973, are among the world’s most permissive,” said Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

AG Holder: State AG’s Don’t Have to Enforce Laws They Disagree With

Attorney General Eric Holder is taking the lawless attitude of the Obama administration and passing it down to state attorneys general. Wednesday, during an interview with The New York Times, Holder said state attorneys- general do not have to enforce laws they disagree with, specifically when it comes to the issue of gay marriage. Mr. Holder said when laws touch on core constitutional issues like equal protection, an attorney general should apply the highest level of scrutiny before reaching a decision on whether to defend it.

  • Picking and choosing which laws to enforce is not constitutional. Attorney Generals are not policy-makers. When county sheriffs refuse to enforce new gun-control laws and Christian pharmacists refuse to fill abortion-pill prescriptions, there is a great hue and cry by the imperial Obama administration who believe they can have it both ways – any way they want.

NIH Director on Legalizing Pot: Not so Fast

One of the nation’s top scientists raised concerns about the nationwide move to legalize marijuana, saying regular use of the drug by adolescents had been tied to a drop in IQ and that a possible link to lung cancer hasn’t been seriously studied. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said Thursday that the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which he oversees, was interested in pursuing such studies now that legalization has made them more feasible to do. But the process will take time, he cautioned. Collins, 63, is a geneticist who led the project to map the human genome. Since 2009, he has headed the NIH, the nation’s leading agency for biomedical research.

Surge in Concealed Weapon Permits in California

Gun owners are flooding the sheriff’s offices in two California counties with applications for concealed weapon permits following a bombshell ruling two weeks ago by a federal appeals court that citizens need not justify their requests. Orange and Ventura counties have dropped the “good cause” standard for issuing conceal carry permits after the requirement was struck down Feb. 13 by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal. A three-judge panel of the court ruled 2 to 1 that the Second Amendment bars California counties from requiring law-abiding gun owners who want to carry concealed firearms to demonstrate special, individualized needs for protection.

Chemicals in Western Diet Linked to Alzheimer’s

Common compounds in the “Western” diet seem to promote Alzheimer’s-linked brain deposits and memory problems in mice, researchers say. Scientists found that when they added the compounds — called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) — to the lifelong diets of laboratory mice, the animals developed greater amounts of beta-amyloid in the brain. Beta-amyloid is the protein that makes up the brain “plaques” seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease. These compounds are ingested through food — particularly animal products prepared at a high heat. That includes fried, grilled or broiled meats, and dairy products that are pasteurized or sterilized. Accumulating AGEs can promote chronic inflammation in the body. And that type of persistent, low-level inflammation is implicated in many disease processes, including Alzheimer’s.

Obesity Declines in Young Children

Obesity in young children shrank sharply in the past decade, a new study suggests. The finding comes from a government study considered a gold-standard gauge of trends in the public’s health. The researchers found that obesity among children ages 2 to 5 decreased — to 8 percent from 14 percent a decade ago. That represents a 43 percent drop. But the only decline was seen in preschoolers, not in older children. And some experts note that even the improvement in young children wasn’t a steady decline and say that it’s hard to know yet whether preschooler weight figures are permanently curving down or merely jumping around statistically.

Offshore Wind Farms Can Tame Hurricanes

Billions of dollars in U.S. damage from mega-storms Katrina and Sandy might have been avoided with a perhaps surprising device — wind turbines. That’s the finding of a ground-breaking study that says mammoth offshore wind farms can tame hurricanes rather than be destroyed by them. It says a phalanx of tens of thousands of turbines can lower a hurricane’s wind speed up to 92 mph and reduce its storm surge up to 79%. The study, published online in Nature Climate Change, is the first to look at how offshore turbines interact with hurricanes. The impact may seem surprising but it makes sense: Turbines produce power by taking energy from wind and thus slowing it down. No offshore wind farms currently operate in the United States, although 11 are under development — mostly off the East and Texas coasts. Most of the world’s offshore turbines are in northwestern Europe, but China is ramping up its capacity.

Economic News

The economy grew at a slower pace in the fourth quarter of 2013 than first thought, weighed down by disappointing retail sales, inventory adjustments and a less robust trade balance. The Commerce Department said Friday it now estimates the economy grew by 2.4 percent in October, November and December, down from an initial estimate of 3.2 percent released on Jan. 30.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Last week’s increase pushed them to the upper end of their range so far this year. An unusually cold winter has clouded the labor market picture, with job growth braking sharply in December and recovering only marginally in January.

New home sales rose sharply in January, defying expectations for a drop-off due to harsh winter weather in much of the country. Sales jumped to their highest level in more than five years, and were up 9.6% from December, to hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 468,000 last month. The latest reports on existing home sales, pending home sales, housing starts and home builder confidence were all weaker. Economists reacted cautiously to Wednesday’s report because new home sales figures can be volatile.

The collapse on Monday of Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, the world’s largest online exchange site for the cyber-currency Bitcoin, triggered seismic waves of anguish and anger across the Twitterverse and other online sites. An estimated 744,000 Bitcoins have been lost by Mt.Gox, valued at nearly $400 million. Federal prosecutors in New York issued a subpoena to Mt. Gox. Japanese officials said at a Wednesday news conference that they are looking into the matter. Mt. Gox has filed for bankruptcy protection, the Tokyo-based firm announced Friday. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told senators Thursday that the central bank can’t regulate troubled digital currency Bitcoin because it operates outside the banking system.

Americans used smartphones and tablets more than PCs to access the Internet last month — the first time that has ever happened. Mobile devices accounted for 55% of Internet usage in the United States in January. Apps made up 47% of Internet traffic and 8% of traffic came from mobile browsers. As of January, 55% of American adults had smartphones, while 42% owned tablets.

Persecution Watch

Suspected Islamic extremists killed at least 29 students at a school dormitory in a pre-dawn attack early Tuesday, the spokesman for the governor of Nigeria’s Yobe state told The Associated Press. Soldiers guarding a checkpoint near the government school were mysteriously withdrawn hours before the attack, said the spokesman Abdullahi Bego. The militants locked the door of a dormitory where male students were sleeping and then set it ablaze, slitting the throats of those who tried to clamber out of windows and gunning down those who ran away. Female students were spared in the attack. Repeated Boko Haram attacks targeting Christians in northeastern Nigeria have created a humanitarian aid crisis in neighboring cities where tens of thousands have fled for safety. In the latest violence, Boko Haram gunman are blamed for three separate attacks Wednesday (Feb. 26) that killed at least 37 people in northeast Nigeria

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) announced on Wednesday that they have provided a list of 12 rules to Christians in the northern city of Raqa which they must follow in order to continue living in their homes and receive “protection.” The rules include guidelines for how Christians are allowed to dress, the payment of extra “jiziyeh” taxes and a requirement that religious services and rituals must be conducted behind closed doors. Another rule says Christians must not “put on display a cross or anything from their book, anywhere on Moslems’ path or markets.” Rebuilding or repairing churches destroyed by Moslems is also forbidden, as is the possession of any kind of weapons. The statement concluded that any Christian caught violating these rules will suffer “the fate that the people of war and rebellion faced.

A church was demolished and its land confiscated by the Sudanese authorities as part of an ongoing campaign to rid the strict Islamic country of its Christian presence. The Church of Christ building in the Ombada area of Omdurman was bulldozed without prior notice. Police and officials from the National Intelligence and Security Services, who oversaw the demolition work, said that the 300-member church was not wanted in a “Muslim area”. Since the secession of the majority-Christian South Sudan in July 2011, the Sudanese authorities have destroyed numerous church buildings, clamped down on Christian activity and targeted individual Christians in various ways. Believers have been subjected to harassment, arrests and death threats; foreign Christians have been deported.

Ukraine

Unidentified armed men who may belong to the Russian military are blockading an airport near Sevastopol Friday in an escalation of tensions between the neighboring states that Ukraine’s interior minister is calling an “armed invasion.” Dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings have also apparently taken over the main airport in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, although it has not been confirmed that the men at either airport belong to Russian military units. While no violence has so far been reported, any Russian military incursion in Crimea would dramatically raise the stakes in Ukraine’s conflict, which saw the pro-Russian president flee last weekend after three months of anti-government protests. Moscow has vowed to protect Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Crimea, where it has a major naval base. Ukraine and the West have warned Russia to stay away.

Syria

According to The Daily Mail, over 120,000 people are without food, water, medicine and essential services in Syria’s capital city of Damascus. Many are starving to death. Humanitarian aid has been slow to come amid complications with Syrian leadership, continued fighting in the country and the sheer size of the population requiring assistance. Friday the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) called on rebel forces and Al-Assad’s troops alike to allow ‘safe and unhindered humanitarian access’ to thousands of civilians in Yarmouk, a Palestinian district in the Syrian capital. Yarmouk has seen some of the worst fighting in the capital, leading to severe food shortages and widespread hunger.

Iran

Wednesday, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) announced the first in a series of periodic updates on the Geneva Interim Agreement. One month into the implementation of the agreement, Iran is enjoying substantial economic benefits from sanctions relief, while still developing its nuclear program. There has been a 73% increase in Iran’s oil exports from October 2013, before the Geneva interim agreement, to January 2014. Iran’s oil exports have risen further in February for a fourth consecutive month. Meanwhile, on February 10, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran is developing “a new type of centrifuge ’15 times more powerful’ than those currently being used to enrich uranium.”

Weather

The number of days with subzero temperatures has reached record or near-record levels for many Midwest cities this winter. Friday will mark day number 70 for International Falls, Minn., tying the all-time record for the period of Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 set in 1977-1978. Tuesday morning’s temperature was -29F. For Grand Forks, ND, Subzero day number 70 will be this Friday. This will tie as the fourth most number of subzero days on record for the period from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28. The all-time record for this period of time is 74 days. The Detroit area will experience wind chills between 10 and 25 degrees below zero Friday. Detroit public schools will be closed Friday because of extreme cold, the school system said for the beleaguered city that has received over 78 inches of snow this winter.

After months of dangerous drought dried out the land and led to a massive wildfire near Glendora, Calif., even when the rains finally came, more danger was stirred up by the wet, unstable ground. Emergency flood alert levels were raised Wednesday and mandatory evacuations are in place for areas affected by the mid-January Colby fire, which raged in the hills near the eastern Los Angeles suburbs. The first storm brought nearly a half-inch of rain to downtown Los Angeles as of early Thursday. A much wetter storm will arrive late Thursday night and will continue to bring rain through Saturday, from 3 to 6 inches. Because this will be the biggest rainfall the area has received since the massive fire killed the vegetation along the hillside, residents worry the hills won’t hold together.

Signs of the Times (2/25/14)

February 25, 2014

Nation Fights over Gay Rights vs. Religious Liberty

Gay rights are colliding with religious rights in states like Arizona and Kansas as the national debate over gay marriage morphs into a fight over the dividing line between religious liberty and anti-gay discrimination. More broadly, the fight mirrors the national debate on whether the religious rights of business owners also extend to their for-profit companies. Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether companies like Hobby Lobby must provide contraceptive services that their owners consider immoral. The Arizona bill, which is headed to Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk for her signature, would allow people who object to same-sex marriage to use their religious beliefs as a defense in a discrimination lawsuit. Similar legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, according to The Associated Press, while other efforts are stalled in Idaho, Ohio and Kansas.

Proponents cite the case of a New Mexico photographer who was sued after she declined to take photos of a gay commitment ceremony. In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review her case, photographer Elaine Huguenin said she could take a portrait of a gay couple but not participate in their same-sex ceremony because it would violate her religious beliefs. In ruling against Huguenin’s case, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Bosson wrote that while Huguenin and her husband are “free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish,” the public accommodation of differing beliefs is “the price of citizenship.”

  • The price of citizenship has grown far too steep for Christians whose personal beliefs and rights are being trampled by secular socialism under the influence of the anti-Christ spirit

Court Rules Against Notre Dame over Birth Control

A federal appeals court on Friday ruled against the University of Notre Dame in a case over parts of the federal health care law that forces it to provide health insurance for students and employees that covers contraceptives. The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld a federal judge’s earlier ruling that denied the Roman Catholic school’s request for a preliminary injunction that would prevent it from having to comply with the birth control requirement as the university’s lawsuit moves forward. Notre Dame, located in South Bend, Ind., contends the law violates its freedom to practice religion without government interference.

  • Regardless of how we might feel about birth control, government infringement on religious liberty is unconstitutional as well as an unconscionable intrusion into private affairs

Bolivia Resists United Nations Pressure, Keeps Its Abortion Ban

The Constitutional Court of Bolivia has upheld the country’s laws protecting unborn children despite international pressure from the United Nations. Bolivia’s highest court handed down a surprise ruling in a challenge to its prohibition on abortion from advocacy group IPAS. The court held that unborn life must be protected, though it expanded a rape exception, and opened the door to embryo destructive research and the morning after pill. The case has been highly publicized in Bolivia, and was pending in the courts for two years. President Evo Morales reportedly weighed into the debate last year saying that “any abortion is a crime.”

  • The UN’s primary mission is to enforce secular humanism beliefs on the world at large

Almost 50% of 2012 Abortions in NYC were Black

According to the recently released Summary of Vital Statistics from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, ethnic cleansing is apparently occurring in the Big Apple. In New York City, there were 56,000 black pregnancies in 2012. Of that total, 31,000 were aborted. That figure represents almost 50 percent of all abortions in New York City, despite the fact blacks represent less than 15 percent of the population.

  • Liberal elitists publicly promote equality even as they support policies like abortion that afflict the lower class disproportionately in support of population control (i.e. reduction of the downtrodden)

2 Million U.S. Scientists Identify As Evangelical

At the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held this year on February 16th, Sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund reported that 17% of scientists polled in a recent survey describe themselves as evangelical. Another interesting facet the survey unearthed is that, according to the sampled demographic, evangelical scientists are more likely to attend church, read religious texts, and consider themselves “very religious” than their non-scientist evangelical counterparts. These findings give hope for many who wish to see more productive dialogued fostered between scientists and evangelicals.

  • Science is merely trying to figure out how God created the world. There doesn’t need to be a disconnect between science and faith

Obama Administration to Monitor Newsrooms to Control Content

An FCC commissioner Ajit Pai wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, warning about a plan that his agency is rolling out that would put monitors in the nation’s newsrooms. News managers and staffers would be interviewed by agency officials about the content that they choose to report on and how they choose certain stories. The alleged purpose of the proposed Federal Communications Commission study is to “identify and understand the critical information needs of the American public, with special emphasis on vulnerable-disadvantaged populations,” according to the agency. However, one agency commissioner, Ajit Pai, said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece Wednesday that the May 2013 proposal would allow researchers to “grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run.” He also said he feared the study might stifle the freedom of the press.

  • Media control is one of the lynchpins of the one-world government elitists who think they know what’s best for the rest of us

Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to shrink the United States Army to its smallest force since before the World War II buildup and eliminate an entire class of Air Force attack jets in a new spending proposal that officials describe as the first Pentagon budget to aggressively push the military off the war footing adopted after the terror attacks of 2001. The proposal takes into account the fiscal reality of government austerity and the political reality of a president who pledged to end two costly and exhausting land wars. A result, the officials argue, will be a military capable of defeating any adversary, but too small for protracted foreign occupations. Defense department officials acknowledge that budget cuts will impose greater risk on the armed forces if they are again ordered to carry out two large-scale military actions at the same time, reports the New York Times. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that the drastic cuts to the U.S. Army are “absolutely dangerous” and would cause long-term damage to the military.

ObamaCare May Increase Premiums for 11 Million Workers

A new report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services concludes that 11 million small business employees may see their premiums rise under Obamacare. The report says the higher rates are partly due to the health law’s requirement that premiums can no longer be based on a person’s age. That has sent premiums higher for younger workers, and lower for older ones. The report found that 65 percent of small businesses would see a spike in insurance premiums. House Small Business Committee Chairman Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., said “The fact that two-thirds of Americans who work at small businesses will see premium increases because of the health law is devastating news. This is one more in a long line of broken promises from President Obama.”

Mexico Becomes Top Auto Exporter to U.S.

Mexico is on track to become the United States’ No. 1 source of imported cars by the end of next year, overtaking Japan and Canada in a manufacturing boom that’s turning the auto industry into a bigger source of dollars than money sent home by migrants. The boom is raising hopes that Mexico can create enough new jobs to pull millions out of poverty as northbound migration slows sharply. An $800 million Honda plant that opened Friday in the central state of Guanajuato will produce more than 200,000 Fit hatchbacks and compact sport-utility vehicles a year, helping push total Mexican car exports to the U.S. to an estimated 1.7 million in 2014, roughly 200,000 more than Japan.

Economic News

Finance chiefs from the 20 largest economies agreed Sunday to implement policies that they say will boost world GDP by more than $2 trillion over the coming five years. The world economy has sputtered since the 2008 financial crisis and global recession that followed. Progress in returning economic growth to pre-crisis levels has been hampered by austerity policies in Europe, high unemployment in the U.S. and a cooling of China’s torrid expansion. The G-20 said it would “significantly raise global growth” without overtaxing national finance through measures to promote competition and increase investment, employment and trade.

Federal labor unions are crying foul over President Obama’s proposal to raise federal employee pay by 1 percent next year, arguing the increase is inadequate. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the nation’s largest federal employee union, said Monday that the 1 percent increase is “pitiful” and fails to compensate for sacrifice by government workers. Federal employees have endured years of pay freezes and cuts in retirement benefits,” Cox said.

Persecution Watch

Kerolas Adel Abdel-Malak, a 25-year-old Christian from Egypt, was on his way home from Minya City last week when he was kidnapped at gunpoint and later held for ransom. Malak’s attack is the most recent in a long list of Christian kidnappings in Minya province in Upper Egypt, 125 miles south of Cairo. At least eight similar cases were reported in the last two weeks alone. Minya has probably the highest percentage of Christians in the country. While Christians make up an estimated 50 percent of Minya’s residents, they only amount to about 10 percent of Egypt’s overall population. Christians have been targeted largely because they view Christians as wealthy.

Middle East

Lebanese media reports Monday evening said that Israeli aircraft had struck military assets belonging to the Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah near the border with Syria. Foreign media have reported several Israeli strikes to enforce its policy of not allowing Hezbollah to import strategic weapons from the arsenal of Syria’s Assad regime. In related news, a senior Israeli security official told reporters this week that the military and intelligence apparatus of the Jewish State is deeply involved in monitoring the situation in Syria and Lebanon and is prepared for any attack Hezbollah or its allies might launch at Israel.

Mortar shells exploded in the Golan Heights following the Israeli PM’s visit to an Israeli Defense Forces field hospital treating Syrian civilians. The violence in the region shows the “true face of Iran,” Netanyahu said. The Israeli dignitaries were visiting a field hospital where IDF medics and soldiers risk their lives to treat wounded Syrians caught in the brutal fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels. “Iran is arming those who are carrying out the slaughter. This is the true face of Iran.”

Ukraine

Central Kiev was calm Sunday morning as protesters milled about, cleaning, congratulating and shaking their heads in wonderment over the dizzying events of the past day, when Ukraine’s president was forced to flee, his rival freed and a revolution was won. The opposition took control of the presidential palace Saturday on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital as the president flew to his base in the east and scores of his top party leaders resigned Saturday a day after a deal intending to stop the violence was reached. The protesters took over key sections of Kiev, including the entire government district of the capital. Protesters say they believe the ruling party intends to initiate a split of Ukraine. On Monday, the parliament in Kiev set new elections for May, well ahead of the December ones that Yanukovych had agreed to, and it reached out to Europe and the West for financial assistance for its ailing economy.

With questions lingering over the direction of the Ukraine even as it starts rebuilding its government, the nation’s acting interior minister on Monday issued an arrest warrant mass murder by former President Viktor Yanukovych, last seen in the pro-Russian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. Meanwhile, Russian military ships have arrived on Ukraine’s Crimean coast in what some are claiming could be the early signs of a Russian coup in the hotly disputed autonomous region of the Crimea. The White House warned Russia to keep its troops out of Ukraine, amid fears that Moscow may step in with military force following the overthrow of the President, its ally.

Egypt

Egypt’s military-backed government has resigned. Hazem el-Beblawi’s military-backed government was sworn in on July 16, less than two weeks after Field Marsh Abdel-Fettah el-Sissi, the defense minister, ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi after a year in office. The government’s resignation came amid a host of strikes, including one by public transport workers and garbage collectors. An acute shortage of cooking gas has also been making front-page news the past few days. It was not immediately clear whether el-Beblawi will stay at the helm of a new government or will step aside for a new prime minister.

Iran

At least 80 people and perhaps as many as 95 have been executed in Iran already this year, a surge in the use of the death penalty that has dampened hopes for human rights reforms under President Hassan Rouhani, the United Nations said on Friday… ‘There were some encouraging signs last year where political prisoners were released … But it appears at least in the past seven weeks that in fact executions have been scaled up,’ U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing. ‘We regret that the new government has not changed its approach to the death penalty and continues to impose capital punishment for a wide range of offences. We urge the government to immediately halt executions and to institute a moratorium.’ Last year Iran executed between 500 and 625 people, including at least 28 women and two juveniles,

Pakistan

A bomb planted at a busy bus terminal near a police station in northwest Pakistan killed 14 people and wounding 15 near the country’s lawless tribal region. The explosion Sunday targeted passengers in a motorized rickshaw and those on a minibus in Kohat, some 100 miles west of the capital, Islamabad. Kohat has seen past attacks by local Taliban fighters and allied sectarian groups against its minority Shiite population. Local Taliban militants have killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis in a bloody war against the state in a bid to overthrow the government and enforce their own harsh brand of Islamic Shariah law.

Central African Republic

Churches in Central African Republic are caring for thousands of Muslims who have been trapped in a cycle of revenge attacks, perpetrated by a pro-Christian militia. Since December, Anti-Balaka militias have been emptying Muslim quarters and avenging earlier attacks by the Seleka, an Islamist militia. The Seleka rampaged through the country in early 2013, terrorizing Christians and ransacking churches, hospitals and shops. Now that the Muslim president Michel Djotodia has stepped down, Seleka is being forced to withdraw from its strongholds, as the center of power shifts, amid a mass exodus and displacement of Muslims. One reason Muslims are able to take shelter in churches is because the country’s religious leaders believe this is a nonreligious conflict, said the Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbango, president of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches in the Central African Republic.

Mexico

The head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel who was the world’s most powerful drug lord was captured overnight by U.S. and Mexican authorities at a condominium in Mazatlan, Mexico, ending a bloody decades-long career that terrorized swaths of the country. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was taken alive overnight by Mexican marines in the beach resort town. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Marshals Service were “heavily involved” in the capture. Guzman faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. and is on the DEA’s most-wanted list. An innovator in the underworld, Guzmán went about building illegal businesses that stretched across borders, growing in size, scale and reach to the point they threatened the state itself and made many parts of Mexico ungovernable. His drug empire stretches throughout North America and reaches as far away as Europe and Australia. His arrest Saturday leaves questions about what comes next, especially since the takedown of cartel kingpins in recent years has led to violence as underlings fight over the spoils.

Venezuela

Venezuelans on both sides of the nation’s political divide took to the streets on Saturday after nearly two weeks of mass protests that have President Nicolas Maduro scrambling to reassert his leadership of this economically stricken country. In Caracas, tens of thousands of opponents of President Nicolas Maduro filled several city blocks in their biggest rally to date against Maduro’s 10-month-old government. Across town, a crowd of government backers gathered in T-shirts and baseball caps, forming a sea of red — the color of Maduro’s Socialist party. The dueling protests capped a violent week in which a government crackdown jailed hard-line opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and dozens of other activists. The violence also left at least nine people dead on both sides and injured at least 100 others. Residents awoke Monday morning to find barricades of pipes, trash and branches burning in the streets and the sound of banging of pots and pans in support of the protest movement against Maduro.

China

China banned outdoor school sports and cookouts as it grappled with a fourth straight day of thick, choking smog, a pollution problem that a recent report says makes Beijing “barely suitable” for living. The city has been spraying streets with water to reduce dust in a severe smog attack that has made the Chinese capital’s pollution 10 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization. Other areas in north and central China have been blighted by smog for days. The reliance on cheap high-sulfur coal as China’s chief energy source and a lack of clean-coal technology are blamed for the extraordinary pollution plaguing China cities.

Weather

After a brief tease of spring, the polar vortex returns this week with a punishing blast of frigid air for much of the central and eastern USA. Record cold temperatures are possible for the High Plains, Upper Midwest and Great Lakes later this week. These areas will endure several days of high temperatures only in the teens and single digits. Some locations will see temperatures that are as much as 40 degrees below average by midweek. Tuesday morning, temperatures had dropped to -16F in northern Minnesota and is forecast to hit -3F in Chicago by Wednesday morning.

Winter Storm Seneca wound down over the Midwest Friday, casting a final round of heavy snow and vicious winds across the area. At least two deaths have occurred – one on icy roads in Minnesota and one in Minnestoa. More than 1,000 flights were canceled Friday. The storm dumped more than a foot of snow in some places in Michigan. Schools closed Friday in the state’s three largest districts: Anoka-Hennepin, Minneapolis and St. Paul. The 55.5 inches total accumulation so far this year in the Twin Cities is 16.2 inches above normal. Blowing snow caused whiteout conditions Friday in western Michigan, leading to numerous crashes on the roads, while strong winds caused scattered power outages and contributed to shutting down the Mackinac Bridge. In Muskegon County, whiteout conditions forced motorists to abandon their vehicles.

Nearly 90 percent of the Great Lakes has been covered in ice thanks to this year’s bitterly cold winter, a number that’s up dramatically from last year’s ice cover maximum of 38.4 percent and way up from 2012’s cover, which reached a maximum of just 12.9 percent. But in the Arctic, ice amounts have followed the opposite trajectory as this winter has brought record low amounts of sea ice, down slightly from last year. Much warmer-than-normal Arctic temperatures are believed to be the main cause, as temperatures during the first half of February ranged from 7.2 to 14.4°F above average across the polar region.

Signs of the Times (2/21/14)

February 21, 2014

Groups Rent Theaters for Premiere of ‘Son of God’

Christian leaders, including megachurch pastor Rick Warren, plan to rent every screen in numerous multiplex theaters across 10 cities for the premiere of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s upcoming Jesus film, “Son of God,” on Feb. 27. The unusual move reflects the confidence Christian leaders have in Burnett and Downey’s work in the wake of “The Bible,” a hit miniseries on the History channel. The “Son of God,” an adaption from “The Bible” series, opens in theaters nationwide Feb. 28. The couple behind the show, producer Burnett and former “Touched by an Angel” star Downey, have enlisted interdenominational support from religious leaders such as Texas megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes and Roman Catholic Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. The couple has also tapped Compassion International, a large evangelical relief organization, to distribute tickets to churches. The couple are close with Houston megachurch leaders Joel and Victoria Osteen, who flew to Morocco to see the filming and have bought 8,000 tickets to distribute.

Arizona Legislature OKs Controversial Religious Rights Bill

The Arizona Legislature has passed a controversial religion bill that is again thrusting Arizona into the national spotlight in a debate over discrimination. House Bill 2153, written by the conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy and the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, would allow individuals to use religious beliefs as a defense against a lawsuit. The bill has been described by opponents as discriminatory against gays and lesbians. Opponents have dubbed it the “right to discriminate” bill and say it could prompt an economic backlash against the state. Proponents, however, argue that the bill is simply a tweak to existing state religious-freedom laws to ensure individuals and businesses are not forced to do something that goes against their beliefs. Governor Brewer is expected to sign the bill in the next few days.

  • The rights of private individuals and organizations have been trampled by the gay rights agenda. It’s time to level the playing field.

Most Pastors say Religious Liberty Declining

American pastors are more than a bit uneasy about religious liberty these days, according to a survey by LifeWay Research. The survey found that seven out of 10 senior pastors at Protestant churches said religious liberty is on the decline in America. About seven in 10 also said Christians have lost or are losing the culture war. Seventy percent agree with the statement, “Religious liberty is on the decline in America.” Twenty-seven percent disagree. Self-identified evangelical pastors (81 percent) are more likely to agree than mainline pastors (47 percent). Evangelical pastors (79 percent) are more likely than mainline pastors (60 percent) to say Christians are losing or have lost the culture war.

  • Mainline denominations are part of the problem, surrendering Biblical principles for political correctness

IRS Decision Looms: Silence the Christians

Time is running out for Christians to file their objection to IRS plans to restrict Christian and other conservative non-profit groups from distributing voter guides and legislative scorecards, holding get-out-the-vote campaigns and even voter registration activities. The IRS is proposing regulations that will give them the authority to invent rules that could ultimately shut down conservative organizations like AFA, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and the Tea Party, according to the American Family Association. AFA General Counsel Patrick Vaughn says, “The proposed regulations are consistent with the IRS’ scandalous suppression of Tea Party applications for tax exemption. The IRS seems to have decided that it may have to process Tea Party applications, but it can render the organizations impotent.”

United States’ Press Freedom Ranking Drops Sharply

An increased focus on cracking down on whistleblowers has significantly dropped the United States’ press freedom ranking in the world, a new report says. Reporters Without Borders’ annual Freedom Index report ranked the United States 46th in the world regarding freedom of information, a drop of 13 spots from 2012. The report cited the trial and conviction of Private Bradley Manning, the pursuit of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and the Justice Department’s seizure of Associated Press phone records in an effort to find the source of a CIA leak, among other cases. A federal “shield law” to help journalists protect sources is an “urgent” need in the United States, said the report, which also blasted the United Kingdom for its detention of the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first broke Snowden’s bombshell NSA revelations. David Cuillier, the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, told FoxNews.com on Monday he agreed with the report’s findings and believes the journalism climate in the United States continues to get worse.

  • Freedom of the press was a foundational principle in the USA, but has slipped badly as government becomes more intrusive and socialistic

Iranian Hacking of Navy Computers More Extensive than First Thought

An Iranian hack of the Navy’s largest unclassified computer network reportedly took more than four months to resolve, raising concern among some lawmakers about security gaps exposed by the attack. The Wall Street Journal, citing current and former U.S. officials, reported late Monday that the cyberattack targeted the Navy Marine Corps Internet, which is used by the Navy Department to host websites, store nonsensitive information, and handle voice, video, and data communications. The paper reported that the hackers were able to remain in the network until this past November. That contradicts what officials told the Journal when the attack was first publicly reported this past September. At the time, officials told the paper that the intruders had been removed. “It was a real big deal,” a senior U.S. official told the Journal. “It was a significant penetration that showed a weakness in the system.”

Fourth Georgia Hospital Closes due to Obamacare Payment Cuts

The fourth Georgia hospital in two years is closing its doors due to severe financial difficulties caused by Obamacare’s payment cuts for emergency services. Many hospitals in the 25 states that rejected the Medicaid expansion are facing similar financial problems. The federal government has historically made payments to hospitals to cover the cost of uninsured patients seeking free medical care in emergency rooms, as federal law mandates that hospitals must care for all patients regardless of their ability to pay. Because the Affordable Care Act’s authors believed they would force all states to implement the Medicaid expansion, Obamacare vastly cut hospital payments, the Associated Press reports. However, the Supreme Court ruled that states could reject the Medicaid expansion in 2012, as part of the decision that upheld Obamacare generally.

Judge Strikes Down Nebraska Law Facilitating Keystone Pipeline

A Nebraska judge on Wednesday struck down a law that allowed the Keystone XL pipeline to proceed through the state, a setback for the project that would carry oil from Canada to Texas refineries. Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy issued a ruling that invalidated Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman’s approval of the route. Stacy agreed with opponents’ arguments that a law passed in 2011 improperly allowed Heineman to give TransCanada eminent domain powers within the state. The ruling could cause more delays in finishing the pipeline. State officials who defended the law are likely to appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court. Nebraska lawmakers may have to pass a new pipeline-permitting law.

Economic News

Existing home sales in January fell to the lowest level in 18 months as extreme winter weather continued to pummel the housing market. Sales of existing homes declined 5.1% from December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million, the National Association of Realtors said Friday. Analysts also cited other obstacles, including tight credit, higher prices, higher mortgage rates and limited inventory.

A plan by President Obama and fellow Democrats to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would cost roughly 500,000 jobs but increase wages for roughly 16.5 million Americans, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday. Increasing the minimum wage has emerged as a key part of Obama’s second-term agenda.

The value of U.S. crops fell 9.8% last year as prices declined for major crops, including corn and soybeans, from 2012’s record high levels. Corn and soybean harvests declined during the drought of 2012, driving prices to record highs and increasing the value of field crops. But in 2013, an abundance of grain — owing to the record 13.9 billion bushels of corn and third-largest soybean crop — sent prices downward.

Investment funds dumped nearly $40 billion worth of gold in 2013 as the brighter world economic outlook encouraged a switch into riskier assets. Global demand for gold fell 15% to its lowest level since 2009, due to the sell-off by gold-backed ETFs and declining purchases by central banks. That was reflected in the price of the precious metal — it slumped by nearly 30% over the course of 2013. But the rout would have been much worse without soaring demand from bargain-hunting consumers, particularly in China. Last year, China overtook India as the world’s biggest market for gold.

U.S. taxpayers have recouped all of the $187 billion they gave mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in one of the most expensive bailouts of the financial crisis. The milestone was reached after Fannie Mae reported Friday it will pay Treasury an additional $7 billion in profit from the end of last year.

Persecution Watch

A disturbing study guide entitled “Zionism Unsettled” has been published by an arm of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) The publication is filled with distorted facts and a historical narrative so extreme that some Jewish groups are calling it “hate speech.” It vilifies Israel and Zionism while ignoring Palestinian terrorism, calls for the annihilation of the Jewish State, and absconds Arab leaders of their culpability in the plight of the Palestinian people. The study guide proves that the PCUSA has aligned itself with the most radical of positions by equating Zionism with racism, comparing it to centuries of Christian anti-Semitism, and calling for a rethinking of the Holocaust to include the plight of the Palestinians.

Islamist militants have killed over 100 civilians in the Christian village of Izge, near the border of Cameroon in north-eastern Nigeria. Armed men attacked the remote village on Saturday, slaughtering dozens of innocent people and forcing many others to flee. They also detonated bombs and set fire to homes, terrifying the local community in another string of recent attacks. Izge, the population of which is largely Christian, has been under emergency rule since May last year when President Goodluck Jonathon authorized increased military powers to tackle ongoing violence in the north-eastern regions of Nigeria. However, there were no military forces present in the village on Saturday.

A bus full of South Korean Christians who saved money for years in order to visit biblical sites in Egypt and Israel were attacked Sunday by a suicide bomber. Four people were killed in the bombing, including the Egyptian driver, a church member, and two South Korean guides. At least 14 others were injured. Thirty-one churchgoers on the bus came from a Presbyterian church south of Seoul. On Sunday, the church group was about to enter Israel from the Egyptian border town of Taba after visiting an ancient monastery in Sinai when the bomber struck.

Middle East

Iran’s army chief of staff pounded the war drums again this past week, claiming that the Islamic Republic is “ready for decisive battle” with either Israel or America. General Hassan Firouzabadi repeated warnings that have been issued by other members of the government and military of Iran regarding their ability to strike back in retaliation for any attack. The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes that, “There is a tendency to dismiss these kind of statements as the ravings of madmen. But I can tell from having met many of Iran’s leaders in person that while their ideas are radical, they are deadly serious about their intentions. The destruction of Israel and God’s Chosen People is the chief goal they seek…and there are powerful spiritual forces of darkness standing behind them, encouraging their evil efforts.”

  • The Bible exhorts us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6)

Iran

Iranian and U.S. negotiators began meeting Tuesday for a new round of talks over a nuclear program that Iranian leaders are vowing to keep despite a threat from the U.S. Senate of harsh sanctions should the talks fail. Though Iran agreed to limit some of its technology in an initial agreement in November it has since said it will not roll back centrifuges that can enrich uranium into bomb material, nor will it abandon a plutonium plant project in Arak or open up for full inspection a secret plant in Fordow. Iran is in violation of U.N. sanctions that call on it to immediately halt uranium enrichment, and the U.S. and European powers have sought a permanent end to Iran’s enrichment. But U.S. negotiators have indicated President Obama may accept a low-level enrichment program. The US and do agree on one thing ahead of Tuesday’s negotiations: a long-term nuclear agreement will be very difficult, if not impossible to attain.

Syria

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians have fled rebel-held parts of the city of Aleppo in recent weeks under heavy aerial bombardment by the Syrian government, emptying whole neighborhoods and creating what aid workers say is one of the largest refugee flows of the entire civil war. The displaced, as many as 500,000, have flooded the countryside, swelling populations in war-battered communities that are already short on space and food. Most of the refugees have fled into Turkey, where many have described a harrowing journey that left them in desperate condition, broke, hungry and, in many cases, sick or wounded. Much of the human tide flowing out of northern Syria has landed in Kilis, a once-quiet border town, where Syrians now nearly outnumber the original 90,000 Turkish inhabitants.

As Syria’s war nears the start of its fourth year, Iran has stepped up support on the ground for President Bashar al-Assad, providing elite teams to gather intelligence and train troops, sources with knowledge of military movements say. This further backing from Tehran, along with deliveries of munitions and equipment from Moscow, is helping to keep Assad in power at a time when neither his own forces nor opposition fighters have a decisive edge on the battlefield. Assad’s forces have failed to capitalize fully on advances they made last summer with the help of Iran, his major backer in the region, and the Hezbollah fighters that Tehran backs and which have provided important battlefield support for Assad.

Lebanon

Two suicide bombers blew up their cars Wednesday trying to hit an Iranian cultural center in a Shiite district in southern Beirut, killing at least four people and wounding more than a hundred. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades said it had carried out the simultaneous bombings as retaliation for the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces. It was the latest in a string of deadly bombings targeting Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon.

North Korea

A stunning catalog of torture and the widespread abuse of even the weakest of North Koreans reveal a portrait of a brutal state “that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” a United Nations panel reported Monday. North Korean leaders employ murder, torture, slavery, sexual violence, mass starvation and other abuses as tools to prop up the state and terrorize “the population into submission,” the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights (COI) in North Korea said in its report. The commission said it would refer its findings to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible prosecution. It also said other options include establishing of an ad hoc tribunal by the United Nations.

Thailand

Clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators in Bangkok left two people dead and 57 others injured Tuesday as riot police attempted to clear out protest camps around the Thai capital. The violence erupted after police moved into several locations around the city to detain and remove protesters who have been camped out for weeks to press for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s resignation. They have blocked access to government offices since late last year and occupied key intersections around Bangkok for about a month. Until now, the police had refrained from dispersing them for fear of unleashing violence.

Ukraine

The standoff between Ukrainians who want European-style democracy and a government that is aligned with Russia erupted Tuesday in an explosion of violence that left 25 dead. The Ukrainian Health Ministry reports that another 241 people have been hospitalized. Thousands of police armed with stun grenades and water cannons rushed at protesters in a camp in Ukraine’s capital after weeks of calm in which the two sides appeared to be on the verge of a compromise. Fierce clashes between police and protesters in Ukraine’s capital erupted again Thursday with at least 22 people reported killed after a truce between the government and the opposition dissolved. The two sides are locked in a battle over the identity of this nation of 46 million, whose loyalties are divided between Russia and the West. A tentative deal that promises early elections was reached Friday in a fresh bid to resolve Ukraine’s political crisis following all-night talks with leaders

Somalia

More than 850,000 people in Somalia are in desperate need of food and “in crisis and emergency conditions,” the director of U.N. humanitarian operations said Tuesday. Another 2 million Somalis are considered to be “food insecure.” Somalia has long been a rudderless nation plagued by cyclical drought and famine and decades of armed conflict. Its population is estimated to be about 10 million.

Militants wearing suicide vests and carrying guns and grenades attacked the presidential palace on Friday, the latest attack in the violence-prone Somali capital of Mogadishu. The country’s president was reported to be unharmed, though others were killed.

Venezuela

Security forces raided the headquarters of a major Venezuelan opposition party accused of fomenting recent violence after last week issuing an arrest warrant for the party’s leader Leopoldo López on charges of murder and terrorism. López is a hardline member of the country’s opposition and has backed recent student protests. However, he has been in hiding since the arrest warrant was issued. Critics of the government suspect that it is doing it utmost to capture him before a major march planned for Tuesday in which the 42-year-old, once touted as the country’s next president, has said he will surrender to authorities.

Weather

Weather across the United States has been pretty manic the past few days. There were blizzard warnings across the upper Midwest. Thunderstorms, tornadoes and flooding rains pummeled the eastern third of the country. A bout of severe storms began on Thursday with more than 225 reports of wind damage or high wind gusts from portions of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio to the Tennessee Valley and Gulf Coast. A few tornadoes were also reported, particularly in Illinois where at least a dozen were reported. The storms will move to the east coast Friday.

After dumping heavy snow on the Midwest Monday, Winter Storm Rex moved swiftly through the Northeast and New England Tuesday, bringing another shot of snow to New York City and Boston. Parts of New England racked up the heaviest snow totals Tuesday. In New Hampshire, 12 inches of snow were reported Tuesday night in New Boston. In Maine, nearly 10 inches of snow fell in Kennebunk. The storm snarled travel across the region. More than 4,500 flights had been canceled within, into or out of the United States.

“The worst drought that California has ever seen” has become even worse. It has been a month since Gov. Jerry Brown said the state was facing perhaps “the worst drought that California has ever seen since records (began) about 100 years ago.” New numbers released Thursday are painting an even dimmer picture with the historic drought worsening, particularly in the southern half of the state. Brown has already called for a voluntary 20% conservation effort statewide.

The United Kingdom turned to the hefty task of clean-up after a powerful succession of winter storms left widespread flooding and damage behind. An estimated 5,800 properties had been flooded and thousands of homes have been evacuated. More than 30,000 people England and Wales were still without power Sunday after high winds lashed the region. In Hertfordshire, a 20-foot-deep, 35-foot-wide sinkhole opened up Sunday morning and nearby homes were forced to evacuate. Conservationists warn that the flooding could wreak tremendous damage on wildlife and ecosystems, and that Britain could have an “absolutely devastating environment incident” on its hands.

The U.S. was odd man out in January. While the country shivered through a bitterly cold month, much of the rest of the world was warmer than average. Globally, Earth had its fourth warmest January since record keeping began in 1880, according to a climate report released Thursday by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Signs of the Times (2/17/14)

February 17, 2014

Virginia’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, making it the first state in the South to have its voter-approved prohibition overturned. U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen issued a stay of her order while it is appealed, meaning that gay couples in Virginia will still not be able to marry until the case is ultimately resolved. Both sides believe the case won’t be settled until the Supreme Court decides to hear it or one like it. A judge in Kentucky ruled Wednesday that the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. It did not rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriages inside the state, however. The Virginia judge’s ruling also follows similar decisions in Utah and Oklahoma federal courts.

U.S. Loses Nearly Half of Deportation Cases

A growing percentage of immigrants facing deportation in Arizona are now winning their cases, part of a national trend that has reached the highest success rate in more than 20 years, according to a new analysis of court data published Thursday. In Phoenix Immigration Court, more than 78 percent of immigrants facing deportation have won their cases this fiscal year, up from 35.4 percent in fiscal 2010. Nationally, nearly half of immigrants facing deportation are now winning their cases before immigration judges. Nearly 2 million immigrants have been removed by ICE under President Obama. In recent years, the Obama administration has issued policy orders directing immigration authorities to exercise discretion when deciding which immigrants living in the country illegally should be deported. Then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said discretion should be used for immigrants who didn’t pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Obamacare’s Numbers Inflated

The Obama administration’s latest rosy scenario says about 3.3 million consumers have signed up for health care plans. However, top insurance industry officials estimate that somewhere in the range of 10 to 25 percent of those “enrollees” actually have not yet paid their premiums and are not fully enrolled. Industry officials said that some insurance companies have privately reported up to 30 percent of enrollees have not paid up. According to Investor’s Business Daily’s website Investors.com, roughly 50 about of consumers who had supposedly enrolled for President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform have missed their payment deadline for Jan. 1,

Patients with Pre-Existing Conditions Could Pay More under Obamacare

People with serious pre-existing diseases, precisely those the president aimed to help with ObamaCare, could find themselves paying for expensive drug treatments with no help from the health care exchanges. Those with expensive diseases such as lupus or multiple sclerosis face something called a “closed drug formulary.” Dr. Scott Gottlieb of the American Enterprise Institute explains: “If the medicine that you need isn’t on that list, it’s not covered at all. You have to pay completely out of pocket to get that medicine, and the money you spend doesn’t count against your deductible, and it doesn’t count against your out of pocket limits, so you’re basically on your own.” One conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, is running an ad on exactly this subject, featuring a woman with lupus, an auto-immune disease. She got a letter saying her insurance was canceled because of ObamaCare, pushing her premiums from $52 to $373 a month.

Genetically Engineered Crops in 12% of Fields

Even as some U.S. consumers reject foods containing ingredients from genetically modified plants, farmers continue to embrace the technology. In 2013, crops grown from seed engineered to withstand weed killers, kill pests or resist diseases made up 11.7% of fields planted worldwide, a report released Thursday says. Last year, farmers planted 12 million more acres of plants genetically engineered to be herbicide tolerant, pest resistant or able to stand up to diseases than in 2012, said the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. The United States leads the world in genetically modified (GM) plantings. In 2013, genetically modified crops included 93% of all soybeans, 90% of all feed corn and 90% of all cotton, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Other biotech crops, grown in much smaller amounts, include alfalfa, canola, papaya, sweet corn and summer squash, USDA figures show.

Chemicals Causing Neurological Disorders in Children

The number of industrial chemicals with known links to neurodevelopmental disabilities like autism has more than doubled in the past seven years, according to new research published in The Lancet Neurology. As rates of autism and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) increase worldwide, researchers believe widespread exposure to these chemicals among children may be contributing to a “silent epidemic” of people with neurodevelopmental disabilities. Based on an analysis of previous studies, researchers added six new toxins to a list of chemicals believed to pose a threat to the brains of fetuses and young children: manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers. These six chemicals have been added to a list of five other neurointoxicants – lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene.

Chlorpyrifos is an organic pesticide that was banned 10 years ago but it is still extensively used in agriculture and can be found in lots of fruits and vegetables. While the pesticide DDT is now banned in the U.S. due to human health risks, it’s still found in imported fruits and vegetables, as well as in soil and water throughout the country. Tetrachloroethylene, which has been linked to deficient neurological function and increased risk of psychiatric diagnosis, is a common solvent used in dry cleaning. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, is a type of flame retardant frequently found in couches.

Medicines Made in India Set Off Safety Worries

India, the second-largest exporter of over-the-counter and prescription drugs to the United States, is coming under increased scrutiny by American regulators for safety lapses, falsified drug test results and selling fake medicines. Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration, arrived in India this week to express her growing unease with the safety of Indian medicines because of “recent lapses in quality at a handful of pharmaceutical firms.” India’s pharmaceutical industry supplies 40 percent of over-the-counter and generic prescription drugs consumed in the United States, so the increased scrutiny could have profound implications for American consumers. The increased scrutiny has led to a flood of new penalties, including half of the warning letters the agency issued last year to drug makers.

Economic News

The House voted Tuesday to raise the government’s borrowing limit, as GOP leaders backed down from a potential confrontation with Democrats by declining to seek any concessions in exchange for the increase. The debt-ceiling bill passed on a 221-201 vote. The measure approved by the House does not raise the debt limit by a set amount but does suspend it through March 15, 2015. That buys the Treasury Department the leeway it needs to borrow money to pay for Social Security checks, payments on government debt and paychecks for federal workers. The Senate on Wednesday approved the increase in the nation’s debt limit as party leaders opted to avert another standoff over the government’s deficit spending. Obama signed the legislation Saturday.

Already this year, 31 companies have sold their shares to the public for the first time, a 72% increase from this point in 2013, says Kathleen Smith of Renaissance Capital. That’s the best start for initial public offerings since at least 2006. If the trends stay in place, 2014 could be the best start to a year since the dot-com boom of 2000.

The earnings gap between young U.S. adults with and without bachelor’s degrees has stretched to its widest level in nearly half a century. Young adults with just a high-school diploma earned 62 percent of the typical salary of college graduates. That’s down from 81 percent in 1965.

The revived online black market Silk Road says hackers took advantage of an ongoing Bitcoin network glitch to steal $2.7 million from its customers. Attackers made off with all of the funds it held in escrow. At the time of the attack, here were about 4,440 bitcoins in Silk Road’s escrow account. The news has shaken confidence in Bitcoin. Prices dropped sharply overnight. The FBI shut down Silk Road and arrested its alleged founder in October, but shortly thereafter, tech-savvy outlaws started Silk Road 2.0 in its place. It is primarily used to buy and sell illegal drugs.

Sales of guns and ammo are losing steam after a frenzied run-up sparked by fears of greater restrictions in the wake of the Newtown shooting and other massacres. Background checks by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, considered to be the most accurate means of tracking gun sales, plunged by a third in January compared to the year before. There were about 1.66 million background checks last month, and nearly 2.5 million in January the year before.

Persecution Watch

Yesterday, the Thomas More Society filed a federal lawsuit in the Middle District of Tennessee on behalf of Pharmacist Dr. Philip Hall against the Walgreen Company. The complaint alleges that, in August 2013, Walgreens wrongfully fired Hall, who had been employed for six years as a pharmacist at Walgreens’ store in Jamestown, Tennessee, in violation of his constitutionally and statutorily protected rights to freedom of religion. Hall, a practicing Baptist, entertains profound religious and moral objections to dispensing abortifacients, or abortion-inducing drugs, such as Plan B. For six years, Walgreens respected Hall’s religious beliefs and gave him only favorable reviews for his work performance. But in August 2013, Walgreens did an “about-face” and tried to force Hall to dispense Plan B in violation of his beliefs. When Hall indicated his intent to continue following the internal procedures that accommodated his beliefs, Walgreens fired him.

Eleven worshippers and a family of seven have been killed in separate acts of anti-Christian violence in Northern Nigeria. A church in Sabon Garin Yamdula village, Adamawa state, came under attack by Islamist Boko Haram gunmen. The militants stormed the church and fired into the congregation, killing eleven people, including the pastor. They tried to burn down the church building and other parts of the village but were driven away by local youths. It was the second attack on a church in the Madagali Local Government Area in less than a week. Around 53 people are reported to have died in a suspected Boko Haram attack on a church in Wada Chakawa on 26 January.

Christian persecution continues to rise in China, according to the China Aid’s 2013 Persecution Report. Looking specifically at government persecution of Christians, persecution cases in China rose by 38.82% between 2012 and 2013. The most dramatic jump is in the number of people persecuted, which rose from 4,919 in 2012 to 7,424 in 2013, an increase of 50.9%.The China Aid report also cited evidence of government plans to continue “regulating” house churches.

Attempts to purge Muslims from parts of the war-torn Central African Republic have prompted “a Muslim exodus of historic proportions,” rights group Amnesty International warned Wednesday. International peacekeepers have “failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians in the western part of the Central African Republic,” the group said. The Central African Republic, a former French colony, was plunged into chaos last year after a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels dubbed Seleka ousted President Francois Bozize. They have since been forced out of power, but Christian militias, known as the anti-balaka, which translates as “anti-machete,” have been allowed to fill the power vacuum, Amnesty International said, with dire consequences for Muslim civilians. “Anti-Balaka militias are carrying out violent attacks in an effort to ethnically cleanse Muslims in the Central African Republic,” said Joanne Mariner, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International.

  • More of a hue and cry about Muslim persecution in the mainstream media than about similar and more prevalent persecution of Christians in many other nations.

Middle East

Israel will not lift the blockade on Gaza despite Turkish demands, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem say. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Tuesday at a press conference in Istanbul that there can be no reconciliation with Jerusalem “as long as the siege on Gaza is not lifted.” Israel maintains that the blockade is a fundamental national security issue. Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the takeover of the area by the Hamas terror group, southern Israel has been continuously bombarded with rockets and missiles launched from Gaza.

Syria

Syria has shipped out 11% of its chemical weapons stockpile — falling far short of the February 5 deadline to have all such arms removed from the country, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told CNN Wednesday. The slow pace of removal prompted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to warn last month that all options remain available to force compliance. Meanwhile, groups of civilians were evacuating a besieged city Wednesday as opposition leaders unveiled a diplomatic road map they hope will lead their country out of a brutal civil war. Efforts to end Syria’s roughly 3-year-long civil war are on the brink of failure and the crisis is worsening, following a second round of stalled talks. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Moscow  Sunday to push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table by cutting shipments of weapons and aid to the Damascus regime after peace talks ended over the weekend with little progress.

Iraq

A series of daring but little noticed breakouts from Iraqi prisons has freed hundreds of hardened militants who are now among the leaders and foot soldiers of the radical Sunni groups operating in neighboring Syria and, increasingly, in Iraq itself, reports the New York Times. The role of the former inmates in fueling a new wave of Sunni jihad across the region is an unfortunate reminder of the breakdown of authority in Iraq since the United States departed in 2011. The prison breaks also reflect the surging demand for experienced fighters, which led to a concerted effort by militant groups, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, to seek them in the one place where they were held en masse — Iraq’s prison cells.

Afghanistan

The Afghan government has freed 65 prisoners — many linked to attacks that have killed American troops. The U.S. has called the men “dangerous” fighters who will likely kill coalition and Afghan forces. Some of those who were freed have been linked to the deaths of 32 U.S. and allied troops, have ties to the most violent terror groups in Afghanistan and were caught with weapons and materials for making improvised explosive devices (IEDs). U.S. officials have repeatedly objected to the prisoners’ release, sharing forensic and other evidence that implicates the men in attacks on American and Afghan troops and civilians. The U.S. military wants the men tried in Afghan courts.

Egypt

Russia’s proposed arms deal with Egypt and its endorsement of Egypt’s military ruler’s run for president are a signal to Arab rulers that, unlike the United States, Russia will back anti-terrorist strongmen who trample human rights, analysts say. Egypt’s army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was in Moscow to negotiate a $2 billion arms deal Thursday. The United States, Egypt’s primary supplier of military goods since a 1979 peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, scaled back some of its aid last year in response to al-Sisi’s ousting of Egypt’s first democratically elected president. Egypt’s military says it sided with millions of Egyptians who accused the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi of trying to implement a theocratic dictatorship.

Ukraine

Anti-government demonstrators in Ukraine’s capital ended their nearly three-month occupation of Kiev City Hall on Sunday as promised in exchange for the release of all jailed protesters. But tensions remained high as hundreds stayed outside the building, vowing to retake it if the government fails to drop all criminal charges against the protesters. Prospects for an easing of the standoff between the opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych dimmed further when a top opposition leader, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, again turned down an offer to become prime minister in a coalition government. Yatsenyuk said he would not agree to take the post unless the president makes further concessions, including a constitutional reform that reduces presidential powers.

Mexico

Nogales has been the epicenter for cross-border drug tunnels for years. U.S. authorities have found 100 drug tunnels in that city since 1990, more than any other location along the 2,000-mile United States-Mexico border. But the tunnel found this week tops them all. At 481 feet, longer than 11/2 football fields, it is the longest ever discovered in Nogales. The tunnel extended from a house in Nogales, Sonora, to a house in Nogales, Ariz., and was being used to smuggle marijuana and other drugs into the U.S. Federal authorities found a half pound of heroin and 46 pounds of marijuana inside.

Venezuela

Shots rang out and tear gas clouded the air of a wealthy Caracas district on Saturday night as protests against the government entered into a fourth consecutive day. Rioters burned trash and threw stones at police in the city’s Plaza Altamira. In return, authorities used water cannons and tear gs to disperse the crowds numbering over 1,000. There is growing anger here at soaring inflation — which has grown to 56.3% over the past 12 months — and a murder rate that, is one of the world’s highest. The protests are the largest faced by President Nicolás Maduro since he came to power last year after the death of Hugo Chávez. Maduro said Sunday he was expelling three U.S. consular officials, accusing them of conspiring with the opposition forces to foment unrest as violent protests ran into a fifth straight night.

Earthquakes

In the wake a devastating ice storm, some in the Deep South got an unexpected jolt from a 4.1 magnitude earthquake Friday night. The tremor was centered about seven miles west-northwest from Edgefield, S.C. There haven’t been any reports of injuries or damage. Numerous social media reports suggest the shaking was felt in places such as Atlanta, and Roanoke, Va.

A powerful earthquake struck a sparsely populated area of China’s far western region of Xinjiang on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear if it caused casualties or significant damage. The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.8 quake was centered168 miles east-southeast of Hotan, a mountainous area, at a depth of 7.7 miles. It was followed by at least seven smaller quakes within the following half hour.

Volcanoes

A major volcanic eruption in Indonesia shrouded a large swath of the country’s most heavily populated island in ash on Friday, triggering the evacuation of more than 100,000 people and the closure of three international airports after killing two people. The ash cloud reached 18 miles into the atmosphere and fell to earth in towns and cities across the region, including Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, and even farther afield in Yogyakarta, where motorists switched on headlights in daylight. Kediri, a normally bustling town about 19 miles from the mountain, was largely deserted as residents stayed indoors to avoid the choking ash.

Weather

A major winter storm left hundreds of thousands in the southern USA without power Wednesday. At least 26 deaths across the South were blamed on the weather. More than 6,900 commercial flights were canceled Thursday, adding to the more than 4,000 that were scrubbed Wednesday. Around 1.2 million homes and business across the South saw their electricity knocked out as the storm advanced up the Interstate 95 corridor to the winter-weary Mid-Atlantic states, and more than a hundred million Americans were under some form of a winter storm warning, watch, or advisory. The National Weather Service reported up to 11 inches in the Bronx, 14 inches in Fairfield, Connecticut. The damage in some parts of the south was so devastating that  South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley compared it to the aftermath of a hurricane.

Another round of snow made its way through the Northeast and into New England on Saturday, dumping another heaping of snow on a region that continues to dig out from a previous storm. From 10 to 14 inches of snow fell in eastern Massachusetts and parts of Rhode Island. Eight to 10 inches was recorded in Connecticut along its Rhode Island border. Local and state governments still struggling to recover from the Great Recession are facing new financial pressures this exceptionally stormy winter, with officials reporting increased spending on overtime, contractors and supplies.

The Great Lakes are on the cusp of a record for ice cover. The ice cover on the lakes increased from 79.7% to 88.4% just in the past week, putting the region close to the record of almost 95% set in February 1979. That’s bad news for the shipping industry, whose vessels can’t go anywhere when the ports are frozen solid. The winter of 2013-14 also is shaping up to be one of the five coldest in Michigan’s recorded history,

Signs of the Times (2/11/14)

February 11, 2014

SOAR Brings Gospel to Sochi

SOAR International Ministries, an Alaska-based organization dedicated to missions and outreach in Russia, has partnered with local Russian churches during the Sochi Winter Olympic Games to spread the Gospel to tourists and communities converging on the event. The ministry sent 40 volunteers to Russia to establish a number of “fun zone” hospitality centers in local church buildings. They will also go out into parks and other public venues to invite others to partake in their activities. “The team will assist the local church in introducing the community to Christ,” said Greg Mangione of SOAR, according to Mission News Network. “They’ll do that through Gospel magic shows, somebody making balloon animals and face paintings, and just a variety of activities and entertainment. The primary goal is to reach out to the people. We pray it’ll be a beginning of a long-term relationship with the local churches.”

Florida Officials Reject Proposal to Place Atheist Monument near Ten Commandments Display

Officials in a Florida county have denied an application to erect an atheist monument near a Ten Commandments display at the county courthouse. The group Williston Atheists had submitted an application last month to Levy County officials to place the 1,500 pound granite bench on the grounds. However, in considering the matter this week, the county said that the proposed monument contained quotes that were considered incomplete. “None of the texts on the proposed monument appear to be a reproduction of the entire text of any document or person, as required in the guidelines,” the county’s report explained. The monument was to feature quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams and American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

  • Quotes of the Founding Fathers taken out of context is a favorite tactic of atheists and secularists

Planned Parenthood: 1 Adoption Referral per 149 Abortions

Planned Parenthood performed 327,166 abortion procedures in fiscal year 2012 and made only 2,197 adoption referrals, according to its latest annual report — about 149 abortions for each referral. The 2,197 adoption referrals the organization did in that period were down from 2,300 in the previous year. It also disclosed that 2.13 million women received birth control information and services from Planned Parenthood health centers during the one-year period. The report stated: “We are the most effective advocate in the country for policies that protect access to legal abortion.”

  • Planned Parenthood is the single largest killer in the United States by far, no matter how they try to spin it

Feds to Expand Legal Rights for Same-Sex Marriages

In a major milestone for gay rights, the United States government plans to expand recognition of same-sex marriages in federal legal matters, including bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will issue a memo Monday that recognizes same-sex marriages “to the greatest extent possible under the law.” The federal expansion will include 34 states where same-sex marriage isn’t legal, but the new federal benefits being extended to those states will apply only where the U.S. government has jurisdiction, Holder said.

ObamaCare Patients Encounter Fewer Doctors, Longer Wait Times

Those who signed up for ObamaCare or were forced into it now are learning they’re going to face some nasty surprises when they seek care. “Many consumers ended up purchasing a plan through the exchange, thinking it would cover their normal set of physicians, and hospitals,” says Jim Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “Now as they are using services, they are figuring out that they don’t.” One study shows that while a commercial plan would have about 40 cardiologists per 100,000 people, a typical ObamaCare plan would have an average of only 15. The root of the problem is that extra benefits offered on healthcare.gov were so expensive the only thing insurers could do to hold down costs was clamp down on providers.

  • Welcome to the future of socialized medicine

Further Delays for Employers in ObamaCare

The Obama administration announced on Monday that it would postpone enforcement of a federal requirement for medium-size employers to provide health insurance to employees and allow larger employers more flexibility in how they provide coverage. The delay is the latest in a series of policy changes, extensions and clarifications by the administration, and it drew a new round of criticism from congressional Republicans, whose scorching attacks on the law have become a central theme in many of this year’s midterm election campaigns.

Doctor Shortage Worsening

America already doesn’t have enough doctors, with a shortage of 45,000 forecast by 2020. Exacerbating the shortage: Millions of people have new access to health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, also known as ‘Obamacare.’ Expanded roles for nurse practitioners and physician assistants – also in short supply – could ease the manpower void, experts say. But that would require changing regulations as well as the mindsets of some physicians and consumers. A Cincinnati Enquirer analysis of U.S. Labor Department workforce data shows there are far fewer nurse practitioners and physician assistants than doctors locally, calling into question just how soon the gap of health care providers can be plugged. The pipeline of students in these fields has been growing, but officials say it will also take major changes in the way health care is delivered, paid for and received to address the shortage. Increased reliance on nurse practitioners and physician assistants was one way that Massachusetts cut wait times once more people got insurance coverage through ‘Romneycare.’

U.S. Inching Toward Oil Independence

U.S. oil imports fell sharply again in 2013 while petroleum exports rose, leading some analysts to proclaim that a new era of energy independence is just a few years away. Experts largely credit new drilling techniques that have unearthed vast troves of previously inaccessible oil embedded in shale deposits in states such as North Dakota and Texas. Crude oil imports declined 9% last year to 2.8 billion barrels and are down 17% since 2010. Meanwhile, exports, mostly of refined gasoline and diesel, rose about 11%, narrowing the country’s petroleum deficit by about $59 billion, (20%) to $233 billion. The shrinking petroleum gap was almost entirely responsible for a $63 billion decline in the nation’s overall trade deficit last year to $471.5 billion, the lowest since 2009.

TSA’s Behavior Detection Program a Costly Bust

The Transportation Security Administration has spent $900 million for behavior detection officers to identify airline passengers suspected of being a high risk for terrorism: $900 million. And the results? The number of passengers flagged by the program and charged with terrorism: zero. The TSA fully deployed the Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) program in 2007, and by fiscal year 2012, about 3,000 behavior detection officers were stationed at 176 of the more than 450 TSA-regulated airports in the country. The General Accountability Office found that 61,000 passengers were red-flagged for displaying behavioral indicators for “mal-intent.” Of those, 8,700 or 13.6 percent were referred to a law enforcement officer, and of the 8,700, only 365 were arrested — just 0.59%. And none of them were arrested for “terrorism.” Rather, they were charged with offenses such as possessing fraudulent documents, having an outstanding warrant, or drug possession.

  • Terrorists are trained to avoid attention-getting behavior

Economic News

President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law an agriculture spending bill that will spread benefits to farmers in every region of the country, while trimming the food stamp program that inspired a two-year battle over the legislation. The bill expands federal crop insurance and ends direct government payments that go to farmers whether they produce anything or not. But the bulk of its nearly $100 billion per year cost is for the food stamp program that aids 1 in 7 Americans. About 1.7 million people spread across 15 states will lose monthly benefits because of the cuts in the food stamp program.

Employers added just 113,000 jobs in January, the Labor Department said Friday, far below the 185,000 expected by some economists. The disappointing payroll additions followed even weaker gains of 75,000 in December. After staging a strong comeback in 2013, auto sales suddenly fell 3.1% in January.

The unemployment rate isn’t always the best measure of the job market, because it only includes people who have actively searched for work within the last four weeks. About 91 million adult Americans don’t work, and aren’t looking for jobs. They make up 37% of the population — the highest level on record since 1978. Some of them are workers who’ve been out of a job for so long that they’ve given up entirely. This group also includes people who are retired, enrolled in high school or college, and staying at home to take care of young children or elderly relatives. About 48% of working-age Americans have full-time jobs, and another 11% work part-time.

Persecution Watch

Christians are being targeted by militants in war-torn Syria, say church leaders in the country. More than 1,200 Christians were martyred in Syria in 2013 alone and over 600,000 have fled the country. Many still remain in Syria where they are at risk of abduction and acts of violence while struggling with the same hardships as the rest of the population. Barnabas Fund estimates that between 30 and 40 per cent of churches in Syria have been seriously damaged or completely destroyed.

Scores of female church workers were massacred last month as they sought refuge at a church in the central South Sudanese town of Bor. The women, several of whom were elderly, had fled rebel attacks to hide in the St Andrew’s Episcopal Church compound, when rebels descended on them, raping several of them before shooting them at close range. Five of the women – Dorcas Abuol Bouny and Akut Mayem Yar, both 72, Tabitha Akuang, 60, and Mary Alek Akech and Martha Agok Mabior, both 70 – worked as pastors in the church. South Sudan has been in turmoil since December 15, when a dispute within the army sparked fierce fighting in the capital city, Juba. Fighting spread quickly across the country, largely along Muslim-Christian lines.

French Jews have grown so disgusted with anti-Semitism that more than one quarter of them are considering emigrating. That’s according to a new survey of the 500,000-member French Jewish community, the second largest in the diaspora. Some 82 percent of respondents say anti-Semitism is a serious problem in France and 78 percent say it has worsened in the past few years. Moreover, 38 percent of respondents say they personally have been the targets of anti-Semitic incidents, and 58 percent say they know friends or relatives who have been singled out.

  • Christians and Jews are the primary targets for end-time persecution

Syria

Syria’s warring sides began a new round of peace talks Monday, days after a first session managed little beyond a pledge to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Homs. The first round of talks ended with no firm agreements and bitter statements from both sides. The opposition delegation reiterated its call for the formation of a transitional government body and asked for a discussion of an end to the government shelling of cities such as Aleppo, which has been subject to punishing air raids. The new round of talks comes after hundreds of people were evacuated from Homs. More than 600 people — women, children, the sick and the elderly — were convoyed out of the restive city on Sunday after gunfire interrupted a U.N.-brokered humanitarian mission.

Afghanistan

Uncertainty about whether any U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan next year jeopardizes the American drone program over Pakistan, forcing the Pentagon to explore other options to keep it alive. Without U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the U.S. would have to close its bases, including the ones responsible for launching drones. Already there has been a drop in confirmed U.S. drone strikes over Pakistan from 122 in 2010 to just 26 last year. Top Al Qaeda leaders such as Ayman Al Zawahiri remain in Pakistan.

Iran

Iranian and International Atomic Energy Agency officials jointly said Sunday that Iran has agreed to take seven more steps by May to ease international concern over Tehran’s nuclear program. The move, described on the website of the United Nations watchdog group, could be a sign that there has been genuine progress toward achieving a permanent nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the United States. The parties will start negotiating February 18 in Vienna.

Iran is lauding the successful test-firing of new missiles, including one designed to destroy “all types of enemy military equipment,” state media said. U.S. officials say they’re paying close attention. The Iranian Defense Ministry said the new missiles include a laser-guided surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missile as well as a new long-range ballistic missile that can carry multiple warheads. Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan said the long-range ballistic missile can evade enemies’ anti-missile defense systems and has “the capability of destroying massive targets and destroying multiple targets.”

Bosnia

Bosnians swept up the rubble Saturday after protesters set fire to the presidency and other government buildings in the country’s worst social unrest since its devastating war. But the next steps in attempts to clean up are far from clear. A few hundred people continued to protest peacefully in the capital, Sarajevo, and other cities, anger about the nation’s almost 40 percent unemployment rate and rampant corruption. Local governments in four cities, including Sarajevo, resigned amid the unrest, one mayor fled the country and politicians appeared on TV acknowledging mistakes and promising to change before general elections in October. The privatization that followed the 1992-95 war decimated the middle class and sent the working class into poverty as a few tycoons flourished. Corruption is widespread and high taxes for the country’s bloated public sector eat away at residents’ paychecks. Bickering among politicians along ethnic lines means very little functions smoothly and has hampered the country’s ambitions of one day joining the European Union.

Central African Republic

Since last year’s coup, fighting has left more than 900,000 people internally displaced while an estimated 86,000 have fled the country. Last month, rebel-installed president Michel Djotodia resigned in a bid to bring peace. His position was filled by another interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza. If they hoped these moves would still the brutality, those hopes were stillborn. Roughly 6,500 French and African peacekeepers are struggling to stem the viciousness. In the 10 months since the Muslim Seleka militants occupied cities and towns across the country, their presence has been marked by rampant looting, torture, and murder. Another militia band, deeply resentful of the treatment, formed to stop the Seleka advance. This band was comprised of the Christian majority tribe.

China/Taiwan

Taiwan and China are holding their highest level talks in more than six decades Tuesday, marking the first government-to-government contact since the pair’s acrimonious split in 1949. Previous contact between the two sides has been conducted through semi-official foundations or through political parties, not by government ministers acting in their official capacities. The meeting will take place in Nanjing, which was the seat of government under the Kuomintang or Nationalist party before a civil war with the Chinese Communists forced Nationalist forces to flee to Taiwan in 1949. Ever since, the island and mainland China have been governed separately, both claiming to be the true government of China.

Weather

Another winter storm will bring a swath of ice and snow across the South through midweek, and the ice may accumulate enough in some areas to knock out power for thousands of people and litter roads with fallen tree limbs and downed wires. Travel will become difficult, if not impossible, in the hardest-hit areas. More than 1,000 flights were canceled and hundreds more delayed as a winter storm approached the South on Tuesday. The storm will also impact the Middle Atlantic and Northeast with snow and ice later in the week. Just two weeks after a few inches of snow paralyzed Atlanta and embarrassed the state, both residents and government officials say they aren’t taking any chances this time.

The second day of a fierce winter storm blanketed parts of the Northwest with another half foot of snow Friday as icy conditions made highways treacherous and claimed another life. Corvallis, home to Oregon State University, has gotten 18 inches of snow in two days. Californians accustomed to complaining about the slightest change in the weather welcomed a robust weekend storm that soaked the northern half of the drought-stricken state Saturday even as rain and snow brought the threat of avalanches, flooding and rock slides. The storm that moved in Friday, powered by a warm, moisture-packed system from the Pacific Ocean known as a Pineapple Express, had dropped more than 7 inches of rain on Marin County’s Mt. Tamalpais, an average of 4 inches in Sonoma County and one to three inches in San Francisco, San Jose and other urban areas.

Federal snow-monitoring stations in Arizona’s high country recorded not a single flake in January, a striking rarity even in this drought-stricken region. The lack of moisture threatens to stoke a monster wildfire season and ratchet up tensions among states already wary of a declining Colorado River. Northern Arizona’s lack of January snowfall was the worst in decades. Since the turn of the 21st century, the Southwest has been in its most intense dry spell in 400 years, according to tree-ring analysis.

Another intense Atlantic storm impacted Europe this weekend, bringing with it winds up to 80 mph and torrential rain for areas already reeling from months of exceptionally extreme weather. Bouts of rain, high tides and strong winds have pounded Western Europe — including England, Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal — since December, marking a period of terrible winter weather the region hasn’t experienced in ages. According to the U.K. Met Office, the south of England is experiencing one of the most exceptional periods of winter rainfall since at least 1766. Rising river levels have already contributed to a number of infrastructure nightmares. Soldiers were called in to prevent creeping waters from flooding a power substation in Berkshire, England Sunday, reports the BBC. Meanwhile, major public rail disruptions brought on by landslips and flooding have shutdown transport across the Southeast of England.

At least 50 people have been killed in flooding and landslides in Burundi, the central African country’s government has said, as a storm swept away homes and cut off roads and power. The rains, which started Sunday night and caused flooding in northern areas around the capital of Bujumbura, also injured scores of people. Houses in the poorer parts of town are often made of mud bricks, which offer no resistance to torrents of water and mud.

Signs of the Times (2/7/14)

February 7, 2014

The Origins Debate: Creationism vs. Science

The central question in the first-ever debate between Christian apologist Ken Ham and self-avowed agnostic Bill Nye was “Is creationism a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?” It was a sold-out crowd Tuesday night at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, where the debate took place. Ham, a former science instructor from Australia, explained that one of his biggest concerns is that secularists have hijacked the word “science” to force the teaching of evolution on generations of students. “Secular evolutionists teach that all life developed by natural processes from some primordial form, that man is just an evolved animal, which has great bearing on how we view life and death,” Ham stated. Nye argued that science must be embraced and creationism abandoned if the United States is to succeed. CNN correspondent Tom Foreman moderated the debate, which was live-streamed by Answers in Genesis and watched by an estimated three million people.

  • The winner of the debate? God, who was revealed to millions of unbelievers.
  • The almost three-hour debate is available via download or DVD at http://debatelive.org/

FBI Super Bowl Sex-Trafficking Sting Rescues 16 Youth

Forty-five people were arrested and 16 juveniles rescued in a two-week crackdown on prostitution in the New York-New Jersey area leading up to last Sunday’s Super Bowl, Federal Bureau of Investigation officials said on Tuesday. The minors rescued ranged in age from 13 to 17 and included high school students and children reported missing by their families, the FBI said. Arrests were made and victims recovered in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Some trafficked women reported seeing up to 50 clients a day during the Super Bowl, more than double the usual traffic.

Obamacare May Prompt People to Work Less

Many workers may opt to work less to retain their eligibility for Medicaid or federal subsidies under Obamacare, a new report has found. The Affordable Care Act could reduce the labor force by the equivalent of 2.5 million workers in 2024, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s annual outlook. The report says more people will likely opt to reduce their hours, or leave the workforce entirely, so that they stay under the income caps for Medicaid and federal subsidies. “The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses’ demand for labor,” the report says.

  • Government interference in free markets always leads to unintended consequences

Obama Ending Restrictions on Islamic Asylum Seekers with “Loose” Terrorist Ties

Obama’s open invitation to terrorists is official. The Obama Administration is “quietly” ending restrictions on asylum seekers with incidental terrorist ties from Islamic countries. This means it will be much easier for those with outright Islamic terrorist connections to seek “asylum” in the United States. How is Obama doing this? Unilaterally, of course. He is the imperial President with a pen and his phone. Not only is this opening up the possibility of a massive influx of Syrian asylum seekers, it is also making it possible for Islamists from other countries to infiltrate the United States. This is more than dangerous, it’s deadly. Obama, is doing his best to see that the USA burns, notes FreedomOutpost.com.

Fracking Raising Water Supply Worries

The USA’s domestic energy boom is increasing demands on water supplies already under pressure from drought and growing populations, a new report says. The water-intensive process used to extract oil and gas from shale underground — known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking — has required almost 100 billion gallons of water to drill more than 39,000 oil and shale gas wells in the U.S. since 2011. More than half of those wells — 55% — were in drought-stricken areas, and nearly half were in regions under high or extremely high water stress, such as Texas, says Ceres, a green investment group.

  • There’s never a perfect solution in this fallen world of good and evil

Europe’s Widespread Corruption Revealed

A new European Union report says corruption on the continent is widespread and “breathtaking.” Germany was singled out in the EU’s first Anti-Corruption report for its “revolving door” from government work to corporate jobs. The EU report blasted countries for behavior it said cost the European economy around $162 billion per year. “The extent of the problem in Europe is breathtaking,” stated EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstoem, who presented the report. “The political commitment to really root out corruption seems to be missing.” The report also revealed that 76% of Europeans think corruption is widespread, with another 56% saying they thought the level of corruption in their country had increased over the past three years.

  • It is corruption that makes expanded socialistic government to be feared

Cancer to Skyrocket Worldwide, WHO Study Says

The incidence of cancer worldwide is growing at an alarming pace, and there is an urgent need to implement strategies to prevent and curb the disease, according to a report from the World Health Organization. New cancer cases will skyrocket globally from an estimated 14 million in 2012 to 22 million new cases a year within the next two decades, the report says. During that same period, cancer deaths are predicted to rise from an estimated 8.2 million annually to 13 million a year. More than 60 percent of the world’s total cases occur in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, and these regions account for about 70 percent of the world’s cancer deaths, a situation that is made worse by the lack of early detection and access to treatment. The number of cancer deaths in the U.S. rose from 300,000 in 1990 to about 550,000 in 2013. Tobacco accounts for 33 percent of all cancers in the U.S. And bad diet, obesity and physical inactivity account for 28 percent.

Excess Sugar Consumption Leads to Higher Rates of Cardiovascular Death

A new study — the biggest of its kind — is warning that America’s love affair with sugary food and drink is also doubling our risk of a heart-related premature death. While previous research has indicated that consumption of added sugars can negatively affect health, the new study — published in JAMA Internal Medicine — is the first nationally-representative study examining how added sugars affect rates of death from cardiovascular disease. The study found that risk of cardiovascular death increases by 56% for the top fifth in sugar consumption compared to the bottom fifth. Though previous studies had indicated that consumption of added sugars was harmful to health, the researchers hadn’t expected to see such a large increase in risk of death between the highest- and lowest-consuming groups.

CVS to Stop Selling Tobacco Products

Drug store giant CVS Caremark announced Wednesday it will no longer sell tobacco products at its 7,600 pharmacies by Oct. 1. CVS sells $1.5 billion in tobacco a year, but CVS officials said selling cigarettes while promoting wellness doesn’t make sense. CVS sees its future as an alternative to the doctor’s office, with 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners counseling customers about how to control their high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure. “Any form of tobacco use makes those chronic conditions more difficult to deal with,” said Helena Foulkes, CVS’s president.

  • However, the drug chain will continue selling the Plan B drug, which can cause an early abortion

Treasury Secretary Warns that U.S. Default could Happen Quickly

The Obama administration warned on Monday it could start defaulting on the government’s obligations “very soon” after it runs out of room to borrow under a legal cap on public debt. Washington is due to reinstate a limit on its borrowing at the end of this week and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the administration can use accounting measures to stay under the new cap until the end of February. After that time, “very soon it would not be possible to meet all of the obligations of the federal government,” Lew said. Washington has danced perilously close to the edge of default several times since 2011, and this year some Republicans pledge to extract policy concessions from Democrats before they allow the debt limit to rise.

Economic News

The American economy added 113,000 jobs in January, a disappointing showing that is likely to spur fears that the labor market is poised for yet another slowdown. Before the report from the Labor Department on Friday morning, economists had been looking for the economy to gain 180,000 positions last month. The unemployment rate in January was 6.6 percent, compared with 6.7 percent in December.

For the next few years, deficits are looking better. But the interest owed on the country’s cumulative debt is set to nearly quadruple over the next decade. The Congressional Budget Office projects that interest will be $233 billion this year, or 1.3% as a share of the economy. By 2024, it will reach $880 billion, or 3.3% of GDP. That means interest will account for the lion’s share of the $1.1 trillion deficit projected for that year and will come close to what will be spent on Medicare. Historically low interest rates are expected to rise to more typical levels even as total indebtedness continues to grow.

Corporate profits are coming in much better than expected and growing faster than they have in a year, a huge relief to investors who were prepared for a letdown. More than half the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index have reported fourth quarter results that are well ahead of expectations with 7.4% growth.

The Senate failed to move forward on a three-month extension of assistance for the long-term unemployed on Thursday, leaving it unlikely that Congress would approve the measure soon and dealing a setback to President Obama’s economic agenda. The cloture vote was 58-to-40, falling short of the 60-vote threshold to break a Republican filibuster effort.

Persecution Watch

Christians at a church service in Northern Nigeria were targeted in a day of horrendous violence by suspected Boko Haram militants that left at least 138 people dead. The attackers descended on the church, in Wada Chakawa village in Adamawa state, as the service was coming to an end. The attackers, armed with AK47 rifles, killed two police officers who were guarding the building and locked the congregation inside. They detonated bombs, shooting and cutting the throats of those who tried to escape. The militants then went on a four-hour rampage in the village from around 10am to 2pm. They then burnt down homes and seized residents, including women, children and the elderly, as hostages; some of them were later killed. Later the same day, Kawuri village in neighbouring Borno state came under attack. The militants blew up a busy market and shot people, including children. In a siege that lasted from 5pm until 1am the next morning, the entire village, including 300 homes and seven mosques, was burned down.

Middle East

Israel approved construction permits for more than 550 settlement units in East Jerusalem, officials said, escalating tensions with Palestinians amid negotiations. The city council committee Wednesday evening approved issuing the construction permits, which is considered the last stage before building of settlements can start. The areas targeted for construction in East Jerusalem are being disputed by the Palestinians, with new settlements considered illegal under international law. Palestinian officials said it will sabotage ongoing talks between the two sides.

  • The Palestinians had already sabotaged the peace talks, as they always do, with their unreasonable, ungodly demands.

Syria

At least 15 boys were killed when Syrian forces dropped a barrel bomb on a mosque operating as a makeshift school in Aleppo. Tuesday’s attack is the second barrel bomb raid in two days in the northern Syrian city, which has become a flashpoint of Syria’s civil war. “Each and every day that the barrel-bombing of Aleppo continues, the Assad regime reminds the world of its true colors,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a blistering statement after the attack. A suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of a Syrian prison Thursday and rebels stormed in behind him, freeing hundreds of inmates as part of an offensive aimed at capturing key government symbols around the northern city of Aleppo.

Syria has missed another deadline for destroying its chemical weapons Wednesday amid a British report that Bashar Assad’s regime is stockpiling the weaponry for use in case the country is partitioned. Syria agreed last year to turn over its chemical weapons to the United Nations as Western powers were threatening to attack the country for using the weapons on neighborhoods where rebels against his regime were hiding out. Hundreds of women and children died in the attacks in what President Obama had called a “red line” that would force him to consider military action. But Obama backed down after Russia offered to broker a deal with its ally Assad and get him to agree to relinquish his chemical weapons stockpiles.

  • Just like Iran, Syria/Assad cannot be trusted to adhere to agreements

Iran

The Obama administration conceded Tuesday that foreign firms are jockeying to be ‘first in line’ to do business with Iran once sanctions are loosened, despite U.S. warnings that even preliminary trade deals risk weakening the West’s economic leverage. Two senior administration officials were on the defensive before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to explain the parade of trade delegations visiting Iran long before a hoped-for deal to permanently curb Iran’s disputed nuclear program is complete.

Egypt

In just the last two weeks, Islamist militants have detonated a car bomb at the gates of the capital’s security headquarters, gunned down a senior Interior Ministry official in broad daylight and shot down a military helicopter over Sinai with a portable surface-to-air missile. But perhaps most alarming to officials in Cairo and Washington are the signs that the swift increase in the scale and effectiveness of the attacks may come from a new influx of fighters: Egyptians returning from jihad abroad to join a campaign of terrorism against the military-backed government.

Weather

For the second time in three days, the Northeast got socked with a pile of heavy, wet snow Tuesday — a foot or more of it in many places. The winter storm forced the cancellations of thousands of flights Wednesday, while commuters encountered messy conditions heading into work. More than 495,000 customers were still without power in Pennsylvania Thursday morning. The number is down from the height of the storm, when nearly 850,000 customers were in the dark. In New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Wednesday as some areas of the state were getting hit with more a foot of snow.

A third powerful snowstorm moved out of the Midwest on Wednesday and into the Northeast a day later. It whacked a string of states along the way, dumping 13 inches of snow in Kansas, more than 10 inches in parts of Massachusetts and 4 inches in New York. Utility companies scrambled to restore power to the Northeast early Friday as hundreds of thousands shivered in the dark. In Philadelphia alone, electric provider PECO said about 319,000 homes and businesses were without power early Friday.

The first in a series of disturbances moved into the Northwest Thursday. Up to 10 inches of snow was reported in Corvallis. A total of 3.8 inches of snow was measured in Portland, making it the fifth greatest single-day snowfall total in the city dating back to 1940. Another disturbance will approach and move across western Oregon Friday into early Saturday. Persistent moisture aloft will focus significant amounts of precipitation on drought-stricken northern California in the coming days.

The amount of the ice on the Great Lakes so far this season exceeds the long-term average for maximum coverage. About 70.7% of the lakes were covered in ice this week, up from 60.1% last week and a maximum ice of 38.4% in the same period of 2013 and 12.9% in 2012. The extensive amount of ice could mean a slow start to the 2014 shipping season in March.

  • Gotta love that global warming. End-time weather won’t necessarily be warmer, but it will be more extreme

While the remnants of Winter Storm Leon brought flooding to the United Kingdom and other areas in northern Europe over the weekend, a winter storm from a separate system slammed the southern portion of the continent with heavy snowfall and power outages. Now, with a third storm system on the way, Europe won’t see improving conditions any time soon. France has seen huge waves along the coast, as well as widespread flooding on land. High tides and large waves along the southern coast of England could create more problems for an already-soaked area. During this storm, hundreds of flood alerts have been issued across England and Wales. Ten people had to be rescued in Wales when their bus was hit by a large wave crashing ashore. The Arno River in Pisa, Italy threatened to spill over its banks. Parts of Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia have seen widespread power outages and downed trees. Forty percent of Slovenian schools were closed by the storm and at least 120,000 households were left powerless.

Signs of the Times

February 4, 2014

Abortion rate at lowest level since 1973

The abortion rate in the USA has dropped to its lowest level since the procedure became legal in 1973, according to a new data analysis that reflects a 13% decline in both the abortion rate and the number of abortions from 2008 to 2011. The report issued today by the Guttmacher Institute in New York finds the 2011 rate declined to 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44, second only to 1973, when the rate was 16.3 per 1,000. “A 13% percent drop over a three-year time period is a pretty steep decline. It’s unusual,” says Rachel Jones, the lead author of the study.

  • Pro-life voices have been making themselves heard more and more – keep up the good work!

Retraction of Joni’s Oscar Nomination Deemed Prejudicial

Christian media analyst Ted Baehr believes a double standard is at work in the recent rescission of an Academy Award nomination for a song performed by Christian author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada. The decision by Academy Awards officials to rescind the “Original Song” nomination for Alone Yet Not Alone, a film with Christian themes and music by Bruce Broughton, has drawn a lot of media attention because the song was sung by Tada, a quadriplegic who is a prolific author, hosts the radio program “Joni and Friends,” and is a member of the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, claims the unprecedented decision to withdraw the nomination was prompted by the discovery that Broughton, a former member of the Academy’s Board of Governors and current Music Branch executive committee member, had emailed members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period. But Dr. Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission, explains there was nothing unusual about Broughton’s promotional efforts. “The fact of the matter is that every year I see articles in the LA Times and elsewhere that people like the Weinsteins [owners of an independent film studio] are spending lots of money to manipulate the votes – throwing dinners, throwing parties,” he told OneNewsNow.

  • Just another example of the anti-Christ spirit at work as the end-times ramp up and intolerance escalates

Obama Uses Executive Orders for Two New Gun Control Laws

Just a few weeks ago Obama quietly issued executive orders mandating that healthcare professionals disregard their oaths and state law and submit patient’s medical data to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The government will then sort through and determine those not fit to own a weapon (i.e. those who were “involuntarily committed to inpatient or outpatient facilities”). Basically the government is starting out slowly and testing the water to see how the public will react not only to gun confiscation but to a governmental invasion of legally protected privacy. Obama has unconstitutionally used executive actions to pass the laws he wasn’t able to through legal means, according to Vision to American News

Keystone Pipeline Passes Review, but Obama Delays Approval

A new environmental assessment from the State Department that raised no major environmental concerns on long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline isn’t the last step in deciding whether the pipeline can be built, the White House said late Friday. The long-delayed pipeline got a major boost as it cleared a major hurdle toward approval, a serious blow to environmentalists’ hopes that President Obama will block the controversial project running more than 1,000 miles from Canada through the heart of the U.S. The White House released a statement pushing back on the notion that the pipeline is now headed for speedy approval, saying Sec. of State John Kerry and other agency heads will “closely evaluate” the report in the coming weeks.

ObamaCare Site Errors Unfixed

Thousands of people who tried to sign up for a health plan via the federal healthcare exchange website, Healthcare.gov, have seen their appeals to fix site issues go unanswered. The Washington Post, citing internal government data, reports that approximately 22,000 Americans have filed appeals to try and get site errors corrected. The complaints range from being denied coverage altogether to being overcharged for coverage to being steered into the wrong program. So far, months after the site launched October 1, the appeals have been untouched. What’s more, the Post reports, people who have tried to call the marketplace directly for assistance, have been told that the Healthcare.gov computer system is not yet allowing workers to correct enrollment records.

Parents Don’t See their Kids as Obese

Parents may be in denial when it comes to their kids’ weight. About half of parents with overweight or obese children don’t think their kids are too heavy, a new study shows. This is true in the U.S. and around the world, the researchers found. “Parents who underestimate their kids’ weight may not take action to encourage healthy behaviors that would improve their child’s weight and reduce their risk of future health conditions,” says the report’s lead author. These findings come after a study out last week showed that kids who are overweight in kindergarten are four times more likely to be obese by eighth grade compared with their normal-weight peers. About a third of the nation’s young people are overweight or obese, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Extra pounds put kids at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver disease, sleep apnea, musculoskeletal problems and other health problems.

  • We’ve become a nation of gluttony, one of the seven deadly (cardinal) sins

Battles Loom in Many States over Budget Surpluses

In a year when three dozen governors are up for election, unexpectedly robust revenues from taxes and other sources are filling most state coffers, creating surpluses not seen in years and prompting statehouse battles over what to do with the money. After so many years of sluggish revenues, layoffs and draconian service cuts, governors and legislators are eager to use the newfound money to cut taxes, restore spending or, in some cases, pay down debts or replenish rainy-day funds for future recessions. Republicans are tending to advocate more tax cuts and Democrats are more often pushing to restore spending on education and other programs.

Economic News

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 326.05 points Monday, a 2.1% decline, bringing its 2014 loss to 7.3%. Among the worries: world markets are plunging; the Federal Reserve dialing back its bond-buying program; the U.S. will hit its debt limit by the end of February; and the factory manufacturing index fell to 51.3, lower than most forecasts.

Consumer confidence dipped in January, but remains strong compared to a year ago. The index of consumer sentiment dropped 1.3 points to 81.2., but marks a significant increase from a year ago, when the index was at 73.8. Home prices were up 11% in December year over year as 2013 marked the strongest year for home price gains since 2005. Home price gains this year are not expected to be as robust. New home sales dropped 7 percent to a 414,000 annualized rate in December amid rising interest rates and extremely cold weather in much of the country.

In New Jersey, Florida and the District of Columbia, nearly half of the unemployed have been out of work for longer than 26 weeks, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among all 50 states and D.C., the average is 33%.Before the Great Recession, the highest the long-term joblessness share ever reached was 26% in mid-1983. Today, 41 states and D.C. have shares of long-term unemployment above that level.

Americans increased their spending at a solid pace for the second straight month in December even though their income was flat. Consumer spending rose 0.4% in December, compared with November when spending had increased an even stronger 0.6%.Income, however, showed no gain at all in December after a 0.2% rise in November. Wages and salaries were basically flat last month, reflecting a sharp slowing in employment growth.

Middle East

Israel’s economics minister lashed out at U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday for warning against a growing boycott movement against the Jewish state should peace talks with the Palestinians fail. Naftali Bennett has been a fierce critic of the Kerry-led talks and a persistent gadfly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is negotiating against a backdrop of increasing international pressure to reach a deal coupled with a growing call for boycotting Israel. A small but growing number of European businesses and pension funds have begun to drop investments or limit trade with Israeli firms involved in West Bank settlements. At a security conference in Germany this weekend, Kerry warned that a breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian talks would accelerate this trend.

Syria

After more than a week of negotiations aimed at ending its civil war, Syria’s government refused Friday to commit to a date for the next round of peace talks and roundly dismissed the opposition’s demand to transfer power away from President Bashar Assad. The two sides continue to blame each other for the violence in Syria — where a three-year civil war has killed more than 130,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes. They also remain deeply divided over how to end the war and if Syria’s future government should include Assad. A tally by activists estimated Friday that 1,900 people — including at least 430 civilians — were killed in Syria during the peace talks alone.

No longer facing the imminent threat of a U.S. military strike, the Assad regime is dragging its feet on relinquishing its chemical weapons — leaving U.S. officials scrambling to pressure the Syrian government to honor the terms of last year’s deal. The Obama administration acknowledged on Thursday that the regime has shipped out less than 5 percent of its chemical arms. The country is weeks behind schedule and falling behind more every day. This, despite President Obama declaring in his State of the Union address that Syria’s chemical weapons “are being eliminated” thanks to American diplomacy.

Ninety people were killed in a day of punishing air assaults on Aleppo as so-called barrel bombs rained down on the city. Women and children were among the victims in Saturday’s raids in various neighborhoods in the rebel stronghold, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday. It added that 10 fighters from the radical Nusra Front were killed when their headquarters were targeted. Barrel bombs — drums packed with explosives and shrapnel — can level entire buildings with one hit. In four hours, the area of Ansari was targeted with about 17 air strikes by President Assad’s government forces.

Libya

Even as the international effort to destroy Syria’s vast chemical weapons stockpile lags behind schedule, a similar American-backed campaign carried out under a cloak of secrecy ended successfully last week in another strife-torn country, Libya. The United States and Libya in the past three months have discreetly destroyed what both sides say were the last remnants of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s lethal arsenal of chemical arms. They used a transportable oven technology to destroy hundreds of bombs and artillery rounds filled with deadly mustard agent, which American officials had feared could fall into the hands of terrorists. The effort also helped inspire the use of the technology in the much bigger disposal plan in Syria.

Iran

Iran and six world powers will hold talks about Iran’s nuclear program on February 18 in Vienna, Austria. The seven-nation talks will come four weeks after Iran started suspending high levels of uranium enrichment as part of an interim deal. As part of the agreement, Iran 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.

Iraq

A new series of car bombings in and around Baghdad on Monday killed at least 16 people, officials said, as Iraq’s Shiite-led government grapples with a stubborn Sunni extremist-led insurgency in the western Anbar province. In the town of Mahmoudiya, a parked car bomb went off near the local council building, followed by another car bomb at an outdoor market nearby. The blasts in the town, located about 20 miles south of Baghdad, killed nine people and wounded 28. In Baghdad, an explosives-laden car ripped through a commercial area in the northern Hurriyah neighborhood, killing four people and wounding 11. Three bystanders were killed and nine were wounded in another car bomb explosion in the city’s eastern Baladiyat neighborhood. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks but coordinated bombings bear the hallmarks of al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq.

Afghanistan

Campaigning is officially underway for Afghanistan’s presidential election, with 11 candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. The April 5 presidential vote will be a crucial test of whether Afghanistan can ensure a stable political transition as NATO combat forces ready their withdrawal after nearly 13 years of war. The election faces many hurdles: allegations of vote-rigging marred the 2009 election and security is a major concern. The specter of violence hangs over the campaign, with the Taliban vowing to disrupt the poll. On the eve of the campaign launch, two political workers were killed in western Afghanistan.

Egypt

Egypt’s military launched airstrikes in the country’s Sinai Peninsula, killing 13 people who the military called “extremists” loyal to the Islamist group Muslim Brotherhood. The Thursday night strikes hit four homes in the northern Sinai. The strikes follow at least two recent deadly incidents on the peninsula. Egypt’s interim military-backed government has blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for many bomb attacks and shootings that have taken place in recent months.

Lebanon

A shadowy Lebanese extremist group has claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in a Shiite town that killed at least three people. The Nusra Front in Lebanon said on Twitter that the bombing in the northeast town of Hermel on Saturday was to punish the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, which fights alongside forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It is the third bombing that the Nusra Front in Lebanon claimed responsibility for in the country.

Thailand

After disrupting a national election, anti-government demonstrators in Thailand have vowed to keep up their campaign against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The troubled election Sunday, which was boycotted by the main opposition party, appears unlikely to resolve Thailand’s protracted political crisis, which has fueled bouts of deadly unrest in the Southeast Asian country. During the tense election process, anti-government protesters stopped candidates from registering, blocked delivery of ballot boxes and prevented people from casting their votes. As a result, voting was disrupted in 69 out of the country’s 375 electoral districts. The demonstrators have been protesting since November, saying they want to rid Thailand of the influence of Yingluck and her older brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in exile.

Central African Republic

Clashes between Muslim and Christian residents have left at least 75 people dead in a single town, a local priest said Monday, while heavy fighting broke out between rebels and peacekeepers in the capital. In Bangui, Muslim militias engaged Burundian troops who returned fire in some of the heaviest fighting since France sent peacekeepers to its former colony in early December. Some 1,600 French and 5,000 African peacekeepers are struggling to keep a lid on the violence. An untold number of people have been slain across the country since March 2013 when heavily armed rebels overthrew the president of a decade, setting off sectarian violence.

Earthquakes

A 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck off western Greece, rattling the western Greek island of Kefalonia a little over a week after a similar quake damaged dozens of buildings across the island and forced residents to flee the area. Thousands of residents have been spending nights with relatives or in ships sent to accommodate displaced locals after a magnitude-5.9 temblor on Jan. 26 damaged thousands of buildings and slightly injured seven people on the island. Schools on the island of Kefalonia have been closed for the past week as a result of the first quake. Greek authorities set up tents Tuesday for those left homeless by the series of earthquakes and were sending in dozens of prefabricated classrooms so children can go back to school safely.

Volcanoes

On Saturday, Ecuador’s Geophysics Institute reported at least three significant explosive eruptions from a volcano in Tunguraha with an ash column reaching up to 32,000 feet. The volcanic eruptions and prompted evacuations in surrounding towns. Two moderate explosions on Saturday were followed by a third of greater size. The blasts created a 5-mile column of ash above the volcano, which is located 84 miles southeast of the capital, Quito. Authorities said the lava reached the lower part of a ravine called Achupashal, blocking a route to a tourist site Banos. Tungurahua has been active since 1999. An outburst in 2006 left four dead and two missing.

These latest eruptions in Ecuador come on the heels of a massive eruption at Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung, which killed 15 people on Saturday. One of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes, Mount Sinabung, erupted again Saturday, spewing searing toxic gas down the slopes of the mountain that killed at least 14 people and injured three more, The deaths came after villagers who fled previous eruptions returned to the area under the illusion that it was safe. Mount Sinabung’s morning eruption was followed by a more powerful blast that sent lava and pyroclastic flows down southern slopes up to 2.8 miles away. Villages, farms and trees around the 8,530-foot volcano covered in thick gray ash.

Weather

In an unprecedented move that is disturbing evidence of California’s growing drought crisis, officials announced Friday that beginning this spring, the state reservoir will effectively be closed for business starting this spring. In the first time in its 54-year history, the State Water Project, which is the backbone of the California water-delivery system, won’t allot any water to the 25 million people and 1 million acres of farmland that it usually services. Officials said Friday that in the spring, they will stop water releases from the State Water Project’s 34 storage facilities, reservoirs and lakes and also from large reservoirs in North California to preserve supplies in what has become one of the worst droughts in modern California history.

A winter Storm brought heavy snow and travel delays to the Northeast Monday, dropping eight inches of snow in New York City’s Central Park, which set a new daily snowfall record. More than 1,900 U.S. flights were canceled Monday in the Northeast due to snow and ice. Another storm will create many travel problems from the Plains to the Midwest and Northeast Tuesday into Wednesday. Winter storm warnings and advisories are posted from the Rockies to southern Maine in advance of the second storm’s impacts.