Signs of the Times (2/11/14)

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.

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