Archive for March, 2014

Signs of the Times (3/31/14)

March 31, 2014

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Tough Abortion Rules in Texas

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld Texas’ tough new abortion restrictions that shuttered many of the abortions clinics in the state. A panel of judges at the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court judge who said the rules violate the U.S. Constitution and served no medical purpose. In its opinion, the appeals court said the law “on its face does not impose an undue burden on the life and health of a woman.” Texas lawmakers last year passed some of the toughest restrictions in the U.S. on when, where and how women may obtain an abortion. The Republican-controlled Legislature required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and placed strict limits on doctors prescribing abortion-inducing pills.

County Commissioner Will Take Jail over Being Denied Her Religious Rights

A Carroll County [Maryland] commissioner said she was ‘willing to go to jail’ opening up a board meeting with a prayer despite a federal judge in Maryland ruling the board has to stop with opening meetings with prayers that reference Jesus Christ or any specific deity. “If we cease to believe that our rights come from God, we cease to be America,” Robin Bartlett Frazier said Thursday. “We’ve been told to be careful. But we’re going to be careful all the way to Communism if we don’t start standing up and saying no.”

  • The First Amendment is directed at Congress: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” Congress has made no such law, so the federal judge had no jurisdiction over what happens in a county meeting.

5 Year Old Told Not to Pray For School Lunch

PatriotUpdate.com reports that a five-year old child was told by school staff not to pray over her lunch. Her father, Marcos Perez, posted a video on YouTube in which he says, “My wife and I were shocked when our 5-year-old daughter began to tell us that someone on staff at her school saw her praying – told her to stop – and said “it is not good”. This is Kindergarten. She was praying to herself for her food, following the biblical values we are working hard to instill in our children. We are so proud of our little princess and as you can see – we continue to affirm [to] her that prayer IS GOOD and that NO ONE can tell her she can’t pray. No doubt we will homeschool going forward. We live in the United States of America – the land of the free, yet our traditional values and religious freedoms are under assault. This is just a small example.”

  • Government schools have become the primary secular humanism indoctrination centers and are toxic to our Christian children

Citing UN Treaty, Scotland Assigns Overseer to Every Child

Citing a radical United Nations treaty known as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), lawmakers in Scotland approved a deeply controversial new law assigning an individual government overseer to each and every child in the country charged with monitoring their development. However, the draconian measure, which has sparked criticism and outrage around the world as a brazen assault on parental rights and privacy, is already in the process of being challenged in court. Concerns have been especially widespread in the United States, where parental-rights advocates are warning about an accelerating worldwide attack on the rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their children. In fact, according to the Scottish legislation itself, the decision to appoint a government overseer to supervise the development of every child is meant to comply with what the Scottish government views as its “existing obligations” under the UN CRC treaty.

  • The one-world government is sneaking up on us until the cumulative weight suddenly becomes an unstoppable avalanche

World Court: Japanese Whaling not for Scientific Purposes

The International Court of Justice on Monday ordered a temporary halt to Japan’s Antarctic whaling program, ruling that it is not for scientific purposes as the Japanese had claimed. Australia had sued Japan at the U.N.’s highest court for resolving disputes between nations in hopes of ending whaling in the icy Southern Ocean. Reading a 12-4 decision by the court’s 16-judge panel, Presiding Judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia said Japan’s program failed to justify the large number of Minke whales it aims to catch under its current Antarctic program. The court ordered Japan to halt any issuing of whaling permits until the program has been revamped. The decision is a major victory for Australia and environmental groups that oppose whaling on ethical grounds, though it will not mean the end of whaling.

  • Of greater significance is the further establishment of the international court as the one-world government prophesied in Revelation 13 continues to form

Obamacare Tops 6 Million Signups

More than 6 million people have signed up for Obamacare, as a crush of people raced to get health insurance before the March 31 deadline. Reaching 6 million is a symbolic victory for the Obama administration following the botched launch in October. It is short of the initial goal of 7 million, which was based on a projection by the Congressional Budget Office and adopted by the administration. But it shows considerable gains from the first month when just 106,000 people had signed up. But just how many people fully enroll in the program this year remains to be seen. The latest figures reflect those picking plans, not paying their premiums. Only those who pay their first month’s premium are considered enrolled. Federal officials also do not know how many of those who selected plans were previously uninsured

The New York Times notes that, “disparities reveal a stark truth about the Affordable Care Act: With the first open enrollment period set to end Monday, six months after its troubled online exchanges opened for business, the program widely known as Obamacare looks less like a sweeping federal overhaul than a collection of individual ventures playing out unevenly, state to state, in the laboratories of democracy.” Some states have had a flowering of competition among insurers. But in other places, including parts of states like New Hampshire and West Virginia, consumers have hardly any insurance choices at all.

Health Care Spending Growth Hits 10-Year High

Health care spending rose at the fastest pace in 10 years last quarter, a development that could foreshadow higher costs for consumers this year. Expenses for health care rose at a 5.6% annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2013, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said last week. The jump triggered a sharp upward revision in the government’s estimate of consumer spending overall and accounted for nearly a quarter of the economy’s 2.6% annualized growth in the last three months of 2013. Driving the increase was an $8 billion rise in hospital revenue — more than the previous four quarters combined. The increase in hospitals’ income was puzzling because the number of inpatient days dipped 1% over the same period. The 2010 Affordable Care Act has prompted insurance companies to increasingly shift costs to patients through high-deductible plans and other measures, prompting Americans to limit visits to doctors and hospitals, says Dan Mendelson, CEO of consulting firm Avalere Health.

Albuquerque Police Square Off Against Hundreds of Protesters

A protest over deadly police shootings turned from peaceful into “mayhem,” Albuquerque’s mayor said late Sunday, as officers in riot gear clashed with demonstrators. People are angry over Albuquerque police’s involvement in 37 shootings, 23 of them fatal since 2010. Critics say that’s far too many for a department serving a city of about 555,000. The U.S. Justice Department has been investigating the department for more than a year, looking into complaints of civil rights violations and allegations of excessive use of force. An Associated Press reporter saw gas canisters being thrown and Albuquerque police and Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies charging at the crowds, which had mostly dispersed by late Sunday. Mayor Richard Berry said one police officer was injured, and at one point protesters trapped police in a vehicle and tried to break the windows.

CDC: 1 in 68 Children Diagnosed with Autism

The rates of autism continue to rise. According to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 68 children have been identified as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States. The new statistics represent a 30 percent increase from the 2012 estimates of 1 in 88 children with ASD. The report also found that rates varied widely between communities, ranging from 1 in 175 children in Alabama to 1 in 45 children in New Jersey. Additionally, the condition continues to affect more boys than girls: 1 in 42 versus 1 in 189 respectively. Given this sharp increase in ASD incidence, CDC officials are urging parents to have their children screened for developmental delays as soon as possible.

Scientists Create First ‘Designer Chromosome’

Researchers have chopped, spliced and manipulated DNA to craft the first extensively modified “designer chromosome,” a genetic structure carefully engineered to spur scientific discovery. The work is being hailed as a bioengineering feat and an important step toward producing a complex organism — in this case brewer’s yeast — with a custom-made synthetic genome, or genetic blueprint. The research paves the way for producing new medicines and even biofuels from life forms with artificial chromosomes. Previous artificial chromosomes were “copy-and-paste,” The new structure is “a serious redesign of a chromosome with lots of very clever ways of making it more engineerable and more understandable,” says Adam Arkin of the University of California-Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

  • In a world of good and evil, the prospects for engineering life have serious downsides in addition to possible benefits. And, as experience has shown over and over again, trying to regulate cutting-edge technology is tenuous at best. Frankenstein, here we come. Instead, come Lord Jesus, come.

Cellphone Use Causes over 1 in 4 Car Accidents

The National Safety Council’s annual injury and fatality report, “Injury Facts,” found that the use of cellphones causes 26% of the nation’s car accidents. Only 5% of cellphone-related crashes occur because the driver is texting. The majority of the accidents involve drivers distracted while talking on handheld or hands-free cellphones. The NSC report warns drivers that talking can be more dangerous than texting while operating a vehicle, and the use of talk-to-text applications is not a solution. Hands-free cellphone use has become a driving force in cellphone-related distractions of those behind the wheel.

Economic News

Thanks to fracking technology and horizontal drilling techniques, the United States has gone from a large-scale energy importer to the world’s top producer — a development with far-reaching consequences. America produced an average of about 12.1 million barrels of crude oil, natural gas liquids, and biofuels a day in 2013 — that’s 300,000 barrels a day more than Saudi Arabia and 1.6 million more than Russia, the two previous leaders. U.S. production of crude oil alone rose by a record 991,000 barrels a day last year, according to the International Energy Agency. And oil imports declined by 16 percent, from $310 billion to $268 billion.

Ukraine

Four hours of talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart failed to break a tense East-West deadlock over how to proceed on the Ukraine crisis, though the two men agreed the situation requires a diplomatic solution. The talks came hours after a leading Ukrainian military analyst told Fox News there are now about 50,000 Russian troops within several hours of the two nations’ border, but there has been a “general decrease in tensions” since Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Obama on Friday. “The Russian troop buildup is creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine,” Kerry told reporters.

Afghanistan

Taliban militants attacked the main Afghan election commission’s headquarters Saturday in Kabul, opening fire on the compound with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns from a house outside its perimeter wall. It’s the latest in a series of high-profile attacks that come as the Islamic militant movement steps up a campaign of violence to disrupt presidential elections, which are due to be held in a week. Security already had been increased around the compound because an attack had been widely expected, and no casualties have been reported.

Pakistan

A special Pakistani court has indicted former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in a high treason case for suspending the country’s constitution by imposing emergency rule in 2007. The development is a huge blow to Pakistan’s powerful military and the first time in the country that any acting or former army chief has been charged with treason. Musharraf took power in a 1999 coup but was forced to step down in 2008. He later left Pakistan but returned last year to take part in elections. Musharraf appeared in court on Monday and pleaded not guilty to five counts of treason. He insisted he had improved Pakistan’s economy while in office and put it on the path of progress.

A 5-year-old girl was killed and 16 people injured in a deadly blast in Pakistan’s volatile southwestern Balochistan province, police said on Saturday. Militants targeted a vehicle belonging to the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force, in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital. They had planted an improvised explosive device in a rickshaw parked on the side of the road. Nearby shops were damaged in the explosion. The incident came a day after militants torched a tanker carrying fuel for U.S. and NATO troops in the Dhadar area of Balochistan.

Earthquakes

Yellowstone National Park was shaken by its largest earthquake in 34 years Sunday, but scientists say there is no concern that the quake will lead to an eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera, a super-volcano located in the park. The magnitude-4.8 earthquake struck inside the park boundaries at 6:34 a.m. MDT Sunday. The epicenter was near the middle of the park, near the Norris Geyser Basin. The quake, the largest since another 4.8 tremor on February 22, 1980, was preceded by two foreshocks measuring 2.8 and 3.0 at 12:23 a.m. and 4:36 a.m. Sunday, respectively. The main shock was then followed by at least four aftershocks ranging in magnitude from 2.5 to 3.3 later Sunday morning.

A 5.1 earthquake centered at La Habra near Los Angeles rolled Southern California Friday evening. The strong earthquake was felt widely across the region shortly after 9 p.m. PT. The USGS said the epicenter was one mile from Brea, located about 20 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Southern California Edison reported power outages to nearly 2,000 customers following the quake. The quake triggered a rockslide that closed Carbon Canyon Road in northern Orange County near the center of the quake. Up to 50 people have been displaced due to housing damage. Seven water leaks, including a broken water main in Fullerton, not far from the center of the quake, were attributed to the temblor. The quake was felt as far south as San Diego and as far north as Ventura County. More than two dozen aftershocks rattled the region. A magnitude-4.1 shake rattled the area Saturday afternoon, centered about a mile and a quarter southeast of the Los Angeles County community of Rowland Heights

A swarm of earthquakes struck central Oklahoma Saturday and early Sunday, producing the state’s strongest quakes so far in 2014, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. In one cluster, the USGS recorded nine earthquakes ranging in magnitude from 2.6 to 4.3 between 10 p.m. CDT Saturday and 7 a.m. Sunday. The two earthquakes measuring 4.3 on the moment magnitude scale were the strongest earthquakes so far in 2014 in Oklahoma, eclipsing a 4.1 jolt centered near Langston on Feb. 8. A separate cluster of earthquakes occurred near Choctaw, an eastern suburb of Oklahoma City, on Saturday and Saturday night. Six earthquakes ranging in magnitude from 2.4 to 3.7 were reported between 1 a.m. CDT Saturday and 1 a.m. CDT Sunday. The strongest temblor occurred at 10:08 p.m. Saturday and was felt across much of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.

  • Earlier this month, a study confirmed that Oklahoma’s strongest recent earthquake, a damaging magnitude-5.7 quake in 2011 near Prague, was caused by wastewater injection related to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, a method of gas and oil extraction.

Weather

Nearly 100 percent of California remains in one of the four categories of drought, ranging in severity from moderate to exceptional, the Drought Monitor update released Thursday shows. Although much of the attention has been focused on the drought in the Golden State this winter, it isn’t alone. In Oregon, 95 percent of the state is in either moderate or severe drought. Drought conditions also extend well inland across the West into portions of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and southern Idaho. With the dry season quickly approaching, it’s unlikely there will be enough time to make up the large rain and snowfall deficits that have grown over the last several months.

Six big glaciers in West Antarctica are flowing much faster than 40 years ago, a new study finds. The brisk clip may mean this part of Antarctica, which could raise global sea level by 4 feet (1.2 meters) if it completely melts, is nearing full-scale collapse, said Jeremie Mouginot, lead study author and a glaciologist at University of California, Irvine. “We’re not seeing anything that could stop the retreat of the grounding line and the acceleration of these glaciers,” he told Live Science. (A grounding line is the location where the glacier leaves bedrock and meets the ocean.) Ice from the six glaciers accounts for almost 10 percent of the world’s sea-level rise per year. Researchers worry the “collapse” of West Antarctica’s glaciers would hasten sea-level rise.

Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control. The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct. The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.

  • Ent-time weather will continue to grow more extreme eventually resulting in 100-lb hailstones (Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:21)

Signs of the Times (3/27/14)

March 27, 2014

‘God’s Not Dead’ Makes Millions, Surprises Box Office

The low-budget Christian movie “God’s Not Dead” surprised the box office when the film brought in $2.8 million on Friday alone in a limited 780 theaters nationwide. In contrast, “Divergent” played in 3,936 theaters over the weekend. By the conclusion of opening weekend, the Indie film exceeded $8.5 million. “God’s Not Dead” placed third for per-screen average earnings with $3,613; only “Divergent” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” topped the fictional story of a college student who challenges an Atheist college professor with faith.

O’Reilly Book “Killing Jesus” Sparks Criticism

Renowned author and Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly recently released Killing Jesus, a history of the crucifixion of Christ, co-written by Martin Dugard. Since the release of the book, O’Reilly has faced criticism from members of the secular-progressive movement. “The problem with the secular-progressive movement is it simply cannot accept any people of faith and take them seriously,” O’Reilly told the Washington Post. “They’re so condescending and they’re so arrogant that, even though you might be a brilliant person, if you believe, you’re an idiot.” O’Reilly was raised Catholic and publicly states his faith in what is written in the Bible. He said, “I’m going to accept it, because there’s no reason not to.”

World Vision Division

The Family Research Council reports, “In its 64 years, World Vision has been exactly that — a kingdom view on a globe in need. Yesterday, the organization walked away from one of the greatest legacies in Christian ministry, trading a vision to reach the world for the world’s vision of marriage. In an announcement that continues to shock and dismay its supporters, President Richard Stearns closed the chapter on six decades of an incredible witness, driving a deep and irreparable stake into the heart of Christian outreach. The billion-dollar organization, which has served more than 100 million people, will, in its words, “no longer require its 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.” But 48 hours later, World Vision admitted it had made a “mistake” and reversed itself, saying it was never the board’s intent to undermine the charity’s commitment to biblical authority due to the avalanche of protests and said it will go through a leadership shakeup

Ruling to Strike Down Michigan Same-Sex Marriage Ban Put on Hold

A U.S. appeals court on Saturday temporarily put on hold a federal judge’s ruling Friday to strike down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, a move that followed issuance of more than 300 marriage licenses to gays and lesbians by state officials. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted a temporary stay until Wednesday, directing those who challenged the state’s gay marriage ban to respond to Michigan attorney general’s plea to place the lower court’s decision on hold pending an appeal. State Attorney General Bill Schuette’s spokeswoman Joy Yearout said Saturday the stay was intended to preserve the state Constitution pending the appeal’s outcome. Michigan’s 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, which was approved by 59 percent of voters, was challenged by a Detroit suburb lesbian couple, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who wanted to jointly adopt each other’s children but could not.

Wisconsin Governor Refuses Atheist Demands to Remove Scripture from Social Media Pages

The governor of Wisconsin is refusing the demands of a prominent atheist activist organization to remove a Scripture citation from his Twitter and Facebook pages. The Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to Walker this past week after becoming aware that he had simply posted “Philippians 4:13″ as his status on his social media accounts last Sunday. The Scripture reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. “This braggadocio verse coming from a public official is rather disturbing,” FFRF wrote in the letter. “To say, ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,’ seems more like a threat, or the utterance of a theocratic dictator, than of a duly elected civil servant.”

  • Intolerant atheists seem to think they can impose their belief on others, specifically Christians

Gun Control Measures Met with Defiance from Law Enforcement Officers

The head of a nationwide sheriff’s coalition is calling on Vermont’s law enforcement officers to defy three controversial gun control measures passed by Burlington voters three weeks ago. On March 4, Burlington voters joined a push by elected officials throughout northeastern states to enact stiffer gun control measures. By a 2-to-1 margin, they banned the carry of firearms in bars and restaurants, authorized police to confiscate guns during domestic disputes and required gun owners to keep firearms locked up at home. The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association claims that 17 police associations and nearly 500 sheriffs nationwide have pledged to defy unconstitutional gun control measures. Sheriffs in Colorado are refusing to enforce that state’s new background checks and ban on high-capacity magazines. In Connecticut, tens of thousands of residents are refusing to comply with a new state law that requires registration of guns and high-capacity magazines.

Supreme Court Clashes over ObamaCare Contraceptive Mandate

One of the most controversial provisions of ObamaCare — the mandate requiring employers to cover contraception — was debated before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, as activists on both sides of the issue clashed outside the courtroom in Washington. The justices appeared divided in the case, which is the highest-profile challenge to the health care law since the Supreme Court narrowly upheld the Affordable Care Act in 2012. The case argued Tuesday involves family-owned companies, including Hobby Lobby, that provide health insurance to their employees, but object to covering certain methods of birth control that they say can work after conception, in violation of their religious beliefs. But the Obama administration and its supporters say a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the businesses could also undermine laws governing immunizations, Social Security taxes and minimum wages.

  • The essence of the battle is religious rights versus government mandates, which our increasingly socialistic, federal administration sees as a speed bump along the path to greater and greater government control over every aspect of our lives

Another Obamacare Deadline Extended

The Obama administration will give more time to people who try to apply for health insurance coverage through the federal marketplace by Monday but encounter difficulty, administration officials said Tuesday evening. Monday is the deadline for people to enroll in order to have coverage for this year or face penalties under the Affordable Care Act. Administration officials said this move, similar to the one in December for the large number of people who were trying to sign up by January 1, will accommodate people who face special circumstances or complex cases and need extra time to complete their enrollment.

Obama Unveils Plan to Change NSA Data Collection

The Obama administration laid out a new set of surveillance rules Thursday that would transfer the storage of millions of telephone records from the government to private phone companies. The plan, developed in response to protests about the reach of National Security Agency surveillance tactics, requires a sign-off from Congress. Obama said the new plan would end the government control of bulk data but preserve the ability of agencies to conduct counter-terrorism investigations. Government officials could still access the phone data with court approval, according to the plan. The idea of ending government storage of metadata appears to have bipartisan support.

Rich Chinese Overwhelm U.S. Visa Program

A dramatic surge in interest from wealthy Chinese is threatening to overwhelm a U.S. program offering investors green cards in exchange for cash. The number of applicants is now so great that the government might run out of permits. Any foreigner willing to commit at least $500,000 and create 10 jobs in America can apply for an investor immigrant visa — also known as an EB-5. The demand from mainland Chinese eager to move abroad has already led the U.S. government to warn the program could hit a wall as early as this summer. Chinese nationals account for more than 80% of visas issued, compared to just 13% a decade ago. That translates to nearly 6,900 visas for Chinese nationals last year, a massive bump up from 2004, when only 16 visas were granted to Chinese.

International Adoption Rates Plummet

Rates of international adoptions have decreased dramatically in recent years. According to the Associated Press, Americans adopted 7,094 children from other countries in the 2013 fiscal year, the lowest number of international adoptions since 1992. The year 2004 held a record of 22,884 adoptions, over three times higher than the current level. Executive director of programs at American World Adoption Ryan Hanlon told the Christian Post that part of the issue is Russia’s ban on international adoption. But there are other factors contributing to the problem as well. “I do think a big part of that is the failed role of the Department of State to work in cooperation with other nations,” Hanlon said. Hanlon explained that the State Department has focused too much on the prevention of fraudulent adoptions. “They have neglected to encourage and support potential adoptive families and adoptees,” he said.

Worldwide Executions Rise in 2013

Virtual “killing sprees” in Iran and Iraq led to a spike in the number of executions globally last year, according to Amnesty International, at odds with a steady decline in the use of the death penalty around the world over the last two decades. China executed more people than any other country last year. Although Chinese authorities treat official execution statistics as a state secret, Amnesty International estimates thousands are killed under the death penalty every year, more than the rest of the world combined. Iran came in second, with at least 369 put to death by the state, followed by Iraq (169), Saudi Arabia (79), and the United States (39).

UK Hospitals Burn Aborted, Miscarried Babies for Green Fuel

Hospitals in the United Kingdom are getting attention for their practice of burning the bodies of hundreds of aborted and miscarried babies, World Magazine reports. Though the UK Department of Health declared an immediate ban on fetal incineration Sunday, the practice has purportedly been going on for several years, across at least a dozen medical facilities and hospitals. Ten medical facilities operated under the National Health Service as well as two hospitals admitted to burning fetal remains along with trash. Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge incinerated 797 babies under 13 weeks of gestation at its waste-to-energy plant after telling mothers the bodies had been “cremated.” The Addenbrooke’s incinerator is part of the hospital’s “Think Green” program to reduce waste and cut carbon emissions.

  • The end-time ‘culture of death’ continues to exhibit a chilling disregard for the lives of throwaways who do not fit the notion of earth’s ‘sustainability’. Worldwide abortion and euthanasia are also on the rise.

Use of Supplements Declining

Every year, half of all Americans take some kind of pill as insurance against their diets. But recently, researchers have noticed a surprising trend: Use of some of the most popular supplements is waning, possibly because of recent reports questioning their benefits and raising awareness about risks. In a study by the independent research group ConsumerLab.com, calcium supplementation declined among women, from 58% in 2012 to 46% in 2013. Vitamin C purchases were off by 4.2%. Even sales of fish oil — once the hottest supplement on the market — dropped, according to the report. The one category where supplementation is actually growing? Probiotics, or live bacteria that work by “recolonizing the small intestine and crowding out disease-causing bacteria, thereby restoring balance to the intestinal flora,” according to ConsumerLab.com. From 2012 to 2013, use of probiotics rose from 31% to 37% among regular supplement users.

Economic News

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 311,000, the lowest since late November and a hopeful sign hiring could pick up. About 3.3 million people received benefits in the week ending March 8, the latest data available. That was about 43,000 fewer than the previous week.

Minimum-wage employees must work on average 2.6 full-time jobs to afford a decent two-bedroom apartment in the USA without paying more than 30% of their income, according to a report released Monday from the National Low Income Housing Coalition based on federal data. Perhaps more surprising is that the inability to afford rent is not limited to big cities with high housing costs. In California, for example, a minimum-wage employee must work 130 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental.

The Obama administration has backed efforts to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, but Congress has not passed any wage hike and is unlikely to do so. Last month’s Congressional Budget Office report found raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift 900,000 workers above the poverty line but cost 500,000 jobs.

Graduate school debt is playing a key and often overlooked role in the ballooning of overall student loan debt, new research suggests. Students who went to university for a graduate degree borrowed $57,600 in 2012, a 43% increase from $40,209 in 2004, according to new research released Tuesday by the New America Foundation. Overall student loan debt is a little more than $1 trillion, outpacing all other loans except mortgages.

Persecution Watch

The population of a Christian town in north-west Syria was forced to flee when it was besieged by Islamist rebels; 80 people were killed, at least 13 of whom were beheaded, churches desecrated and homes looted. Militants from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, Sham al-Islam and Ansar al-Sham attacked Kessab on the Turkish border early on Friday 21 March. Around 3,000 Armenian Christian residents fled for their lives, taking refuge in neighboring Latakia and Bassit. Some are staying with relatives and friends, but the rest are sheltering in over-crowded church buildings. A dozen or so families with members too elderly to leave remained in Kessab and were subsequently taken hostage.

Two gunmen stormed a packed church near the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa on Sunday and opened fire on worshippers, killing five people and wounding others, in what police called a terrorist attack. Blood-spattered Bibles and overturned plastic chairs lay strewn across the church’s floor after the attack. The attackers tried to raid a second church nearby but fled when armed police on patrol in the neighborhood appeared. The violence comes at a time of heightened warnings of Islamist attacks against the east African nation and days after prosecutors charged two Somalis with terrorism-related offenses after police seized a car packed with explosives.

Middle East

Security forces in Jerusalem were on high alert Thursday following a shooting attack against a police checkpoint in the area of Atarot, just north of the capital. 13 shots were fired at a border police guard post, causing damage to the post but no injuries. The attacks came two days after the Israeli Navy engaged two alleged smuggling boats off the Gaza coast as they were headed to Egypt. As the boats were being escorted back to the Gaza coast, gunmen on the beach opened fire at the Israeli vessels, causing no injuries. Four persons were reported wounded on the smuggling boats.

Yunis Al-Astal, a Muslim cleric and member of the Palestinian Parliament went on Palestinian television earlier this month and openly called for a campaign of mass murder against the Jewish People. He said, “We must massacre them, in order to break them down and prevent them from sowing corruption in the world. They are the ones who still spark the flame of war, but Allah has taken it upon Himself to extinguish it.” Mike Evans of the Jerusalem Prayer Team says, “This man is a member of the government the Obama Administration is pushing Israel to make a peace deal with—it is an outrage!”

  • Obama continues to be the most anti-Israel president in U.S. history

Russia

President Barack Obama and other world leaders have decided to end Russia’s role in the group of leading industrialized nations, the White House said Monday. The move to suspend Russia’s membership in the G8 is the latest direct response from major countries allied against Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “International law prohibits the acquisition of part or all of another state’s territory through coercion or force,” the statement said. “To do so violates the principles upon which the international system is built. We condemn the illegal referendum held in Crimea in violation of Ukraine’s constitution. We also strongly condemn Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea in contravention of international law and specific international obligations.”

Ukraine

Interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered the withdrawal of armed forces from Crimea Monday, citing Russian threats to the lives of military staff and their families. Russian troops have seized most of Ukraine’s bases in the peninsula, including a naval base at Feodosia on Monday. Russia annexed Crimea last week after a controversial referendum that Ukraine and the West say was illegal. The International Monetary Fund has stepped in to provide the troubled Ukrainian economy with a loan of up to $18 billion, payable over two years, the international organization said Thursday.

Egypt

A court in Egypt sentenced 529 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death Monday as part of a mass trial that highlights ongoing attempts to squash the Islamist movement. It’s the largest death sentence in history. More than 150 of 545 defendants stood trial on charges of killing a policeman and attacking police. The others were tried in absentia. Sixteen defendants were acquitted after hasty hearings lasted only two days, and defense lawyers complained they never had a chance to present their case. The verdict precedes another case set to open on Tuesday in which nearly 700 defendants are facing similar charges. Monday’s ruling comes nearly nine months after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was ousted from the presidency. Massive Brotherhood-led protests were violently dispersed in the coup’s wake and the Brotherhood was outlawed. Thousands of the group’s supporters, leaders and members have been thrown in jail while others fled the country.

Afghanistan

Four people were killed when militants stormed an election commission office in the Afghan capital Tuesday. After a five-hour gun battle with Afghan security services, the five militants who carried out the attack were also killed. Two of them had blown themselves up as they entered the compound in the Darul Aman area, he said, while the remaining three went into the election commission building. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes less than two weeks before Afghanistan holds presidential elections.

Environment

Crews are working to clean up 170,000 gallons of oil that spilled into Galveston Bay after two ships collided Saturday. The nearly 170,000 gallons of oil that has spilled into Texas’ Galveston Bay has put one of the nation’s most crucial bird habitats at risk, experts say. Biologists said they have found dozens of oiled birds on parts of the Bolivar Peninsula, and expect the situation to get much worse. Environmental groups said the spill occurred at an especially sensitive time and place. The channel in Texas City, about 45 miles southeast of Houston, has shorebird habitat on both sides, and tens of thousands of wintering birds are still in the area. traces of oil have still been detected as far out as 12 miles in the Gulf of Mexico.

Weather

A handful of people were miraculously pulled from the wreckage in Washington right after a mountain of mud rolled over two towns there Saturday. But no one has been found alive since, and the grim toll rises by the day. At least 24 have been confirmed dead. And on Wednesday, rescuers will work to salvage another eight bodies they believe they have located under rubble of the landslide that covers about a square mile. In some places, the debris is 30 to 40 feet thick. At least 176 people are unaccounted for. But officials have stressed that some names of those missing have been duplicated, so there is hope the actual number may be smaller. A scientist working for the government had warned 15 years ago about the potential for a catastrophic landslide in the fishing village where the weekend collapse of a rain-soaked hillside. The 1999 report raised questions about why residents were allowed to build homes on the hill and whether officials had taken proper precautions.

Several tornadoes touched down during storms in Northern California, including one twister near Sacramento that damaged a dozen homes and left a path of debris about 300 yards long. The National Weather Service says a funnel cloud touched down near Roseville shortly after 6:15 p.m. Wednesday. The weather service says a tornado also touched down in Ordbend, in Glenn County. KNTV says there are reports of at least four twisters, which are rare for California. The northern half of the state is experiencing wild weather including thunderstorms packing heavy winds.

California’s historic drought has been a nightmare for many. But it could be a dream come true for a few gold prospectors. Record-low water levels are leading prospectors young and old to areas that haven’t been touched by human hands in decades. One such area is Placer County, where prospectors first made their mark during the Gold Rush of 1849. Gold is trading at $1,300 a troy ounce, which is an incentive for families to spend their weekends digging in the dirt.

Signs of the Times (3/23/14)

March 23, 2014

Federal judge: Ariz., Kansas can Require Voters to Prove Citizenship

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Arizona can require residents to prove they are U.S. citizens in order to register to vote — a controversial change state officials said they’ll implement immediately. The ruling applies to prospective voters using the federal voter-registration form in both Arizona and Kansas. The states joined to challenge a decision by the Federal Elections Assistance Commission that blocked the states from requiring citizenship documents in order to register to vote. The case was filed in Kansas, and argued in February before U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren in Topeka. His ruling clears the way for the states to add their own requirements to the federal form. The ruling is a victory for state’s rights, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said, and eliminates the need for a “two-track” voting system for state and federal registration forms, which had different requirements related to proving citizenship.

Federal Judge Strikes Down Michigan’s Gay Marriage Ban

A federal judge on Friday ruled that Michigan’s prohibition on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution, ordering the state to stop enforcing the ban. Michigan is the latest state in which federal judges have struck down state constitutional bans on gay marriage. Similar rulings recently have been issued in Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Utah, though in those cases judges have put off enforcement of the decisions until higher courts can weigh in. Friday’s decision is different in that it opens the door for same-sex couples to get marriage licenses in Michigan right away.

  • Gay marriage will become more and more prevalent as end-time morality continues to decline just as the Bible prophesizes (2Timothy 3:1-5)

Legal Victory for Conservative Christian Professor

A jury Thursday found that the University of North Carolina-Wilmington retaliated unconstitutionally against one of its conservative, outspoken, Christian professors. The criminology professor, who was an avowed atheist when hired, became a Christian in 2000. His conversion impacted his view on political and social issues, topics which he addressed frequently in opinion columns. Consequently, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, Adams was subjected to “intrusive investigations, baseless accusations, and a denial of promotion to full professor” because the university often disagreed with his views – despite an award-winning record of teaching, research, and service, and scholarly output surpassing that of almost all of his colleagues. The school’s actions led to a lawsuit on Adam’s behalf.

Obama to Hispanics: ‘Immigration People’ Won’t Deport Relatives If You Enroll in Obamacare

President Barack Obama is putting on a full-court press during March Madness to push Obamacare before the March 31 deadline for 2014, and on Tuesday he went on a Spanish-language sports talk radio show to tell Hispanics that the “immigration people” will not deport their family members who may be illegal immigrants if legal Hispanics sign up for Obamacare. The White House has been emphasizing this point in recent weeks because it believes some Hispanics are not signing up for Obamacare because they are afraid that family members who are in the United States illegally will then get deported if they reveal that information in the application forms. Obama went on Univision Deportes, a Spanish-language sports radio show, and said that people “should not hold back just because they’re in a mixed-family status,” saying, “You know, you will qualify, you know, regardless of what your family’s status is.”

Another Glitch Discovered on HealthCare.gov

A newly discovered glitch in the main ObamaCare website reportedly is giving thousands of people the wrong information about whether they qualify for premium subsidies. The Philadelphia Inquirer discovered the glitch while entering hypothetical incomes into the calculator on HealthCare.gov. The newspaper found that the calculator is using the wrong year’s poverty guidelines — a simple mistake that, for months, has resulted in would-be enrollees getting inaccurate guidance. It’s unclear how many people have been affected, but the mistake raises the possibility that thousands are giving up the hunt for insurance after being told, inaccurately, that they don’t qualify for government aid.

Nation’s Top Cancer Hospitals Not Covered under Obamacare

Cancer is already enough of a killer without an assist from the government. Yet, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, some of the nation’s premier cancer hospitals are off-limits to patients. An Associated Press survey found examples coast to coast. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is excluded by five out of eight insurers in Washington State’s insurance exchange. MD Anderson Cancer Center says it’s in less than half of the plans in the Houston area. Memorial Sloan-Kettering is included by just two of nine insurers in New York City. In all, only four of 19 nationally recognized comprehensive cancer centers that responded to AP’s survey said patients have access through all the insurance companies in their state exchange.

Growing Use of Drones Poised to Transform Agriculture

Drones are quickly moving from the battlefield to the farmer’s field — on the verge of helping growers oversee millions of acres throughout rural America and saving them big money in the process. That’s because agriculture operations span large distances and are mostly free of privacy and safety concerns that have dogged the use of these aerial high-fliers in more heavily populated areas. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the trade group that represents producers and users of drones and other robotic equipment, predicts that 80% of the commercial market for drones will eventually be for agricultural uses. Farmers are going to be able to see things and monitor their crops in ways they never have before. In the next 10 years almost every farm will be using it, the trade group predicts.

Facing Drought, California Farmers Protest

Thousands of farmers in drought-stricken California are rallying this week in opposition to regulations that have frozen water supplies across the state. At issue is a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last week that upheld federal guidelines limiting water deliveries from the northern part of the state to the southern part of the state — to protect an endangered fish called the Delta smelt. The ruling went against a lower-court ruling that overturned the 2008 guidelines from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Environmentalists fought to preserve those guidelines, but farmers say they’re preventing vital water supplies from reaching the areas that need it most. “I’m looking at tens of thousands of people being out of work,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said. “We’re probably going to have upwards of five, six, seven hundred thousand acres of farm ground that’s going to be out of production.” As a result of the drought and water restrictions, experts believe retail food prices could jump as much as 3.5 percent this year.

State Pensions in Dire Straits

Three years after a wave of pension overhauls swept across America, many states find themselves still hemmed-in by ballooning retiree costs and budget-sucking liabilities, setting the table for more battles between states and public workers. More than 40 states have enacted some sort of pension changes since 2011, yet for all states in aggregate, the net pension liability increased 24%, from $998 million in 2011 to $1.2 trillion in 2012, the latest data available. A 2013 Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government report said some economists estimate both state and local pension liabilities to be as much as $4 trillion. These mounting bills expose many states’ history of counting on higher returns and not making required payments to pension funds, but also show that the overhauls to this point have not been enough.

Not making payments to the pension funds, or only paying a portion of what an actuary has recommended, is largely what got these debt-burdened states to where they are today. For some states it is, and has been, a painful reckoning. In Illinois, which has the lowest credit rating in the U.S, its $187 billion pension liability represents 318% of its revenues despite a range of overhauls. Connecticut’s $57 billion liability is at 243%, and Kentucky’s $41 billion liability is 211% relative to revenues. New Jersey’s pension system is still short by $52 billion, and Governor Christie, who successfully pushed through pension overhauls in 2011, is looking for another round of concessions from unions and public employees to rein in the soaring cost of retiree benefits.

Economic News

Thirty-eight percent of America’s private employers say they will lay off workers if Congress agrees to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, according to a new survey by the nation’s largest privately held staffing firm. Fifty-four percent of employers who are paying their workers the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour say they would reduce hiring, while 65 percent say they would raise prices on their goods and services to offset the bumps in pay.

A new study documents the bleak plight of Americans who have been unemployed for more than six months: Just 11 percent of them, on average, will ever regain steady full-time work. The findings by three Princeton University economists show the extent to which the long-term unemployed have been shunted to the sidelines of the U.S. economy since the Great Recession. The long-term unemployed are more than twice as likely” to stop looking for a job than to find one. They number 3.8 million, or 37 percent of all unemployed Americans.

Gasoline prices have risen steadily the past six weeks through March 18. There was an uptick in gas prices all but one of the past 38 days, and gas is now more expensive than at any point the past six months. In a number of states, the price of gas is now more than $3.75 per gallon, vs. $3.52 nationwide. In Hawaii, the price of gas is $4.17 per gallon.

Persecution Watch

The election last year of self-professed moderate President Hassan Rouhani has not brought Iran’s Christians any relief, according to a new United Nations report which finds the Islamic Republic’s Bible believers more persecuted than ever. The detailed report finds Iran has continued to imprison Christians for their faith and designated house churches and evangelical Christians as “threats to national security.” At least 49 Christians were among 307 religious minorities being held in Iranian jails as of January 2014, noted the UN, which also blasted the regime for its hostility to Jews.

At least 119 people were killed in attacks on three Christian villages in Kaduna state, Northern Nigeria; the villages were razed to the ground as hundreds of homes and some churches were set ablaze. The onslaught was staged by scores of ethnic Fulani Muslim herdsmen armed with guns and machetes. The official death toll stood at 119 on Sunday, but local sources suggested it could be as high as 200.  Only a handful of properties in Ugwar Sankwai and the other two targeted villages, Ungwar Gata and Chenshyi, were left standing.

Middle East

What some analysts are describing as the beginning of a historic sea change in the orientation of the Middle East away from the West and towards Russia picked up steam this week amidst reports that Egyptian army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, widely expected to be Egypt’s next President, is working to speed up completion of a massive deal to purchase Russian weapons and military equipment. The deal, which has been in negotiations for several months, reportedly includes some of Russia’s most advanced platforms, following moves by the Obama Administration to restrict the export of US equipment to Egypt. In related news, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov hinted to reporters on Wednesday that the Kremlin is considering moves to block US efforts to deal with Iran’s renegade nuclear program, in retaliation for sanctions Washington has put on some Russian officials after the Russian invasion of the Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Turkey shot down a Syrian fighter jet Sunday after the warplane strayed into its airspace, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. There was no immediate response to the claim from Syria, where a civil war periodically spills over across its neighbors’ borders.

Ukraine

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk signed the political elements of a trade pact with the European Union on Friday, even as Russian lawmakers finalized the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. The signature of the deal in Brussels, Belgium, signals Europe’s solidarity with Ukraine — and has additional symbolic force because it was the decision of ousted Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych in November to ditch it in favor of closer ties with Russia that triggered the protests that spiraled into the current crisis. In another sign of defiance, Russian President Vladimir Putin, flanked by the speakers of both houses of Parliament, signed a treaty Friday that finalized the accession of the Crimea region and its port city of Sevastopol to Russia.

Russia’s moves to annex Crimea, following a contested weekend referendum in the Black Sea peninsula, have turned a confrontation with Europe and the United States into the biggest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War. American and European sanctions rattled Russia’s economy on Friday, with Moscow’s stock indexes opening sharply lower, rating agencies threatening to reduce the country’s creditworthiness, and hints of trepidation coming from Russia’s tycoons as they concluded an annual conference here. Russian forces moved Saturday to consolidate control over Crimea. Six Russian Special Forces’ armored personnel carriers broke through the gates of Belbek Airbase and took completely control. One journalist was injured in the attack.

Egypt

Egyptian militants have intensified violence ahead of a presidential election to pick a replacement for jailed president Mohamed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood party has called the ouster “a murderous military coup d’etat.” Militants who seek an Egypt under strict Islamic law are saying the ouster of Morsi and arrests of his leading party members prove that only violence will achieve their aim, analysts say. The attacks are increasing in frequency, in intensity and in geographic spread. Outside the capital, terrorists have been concentrating most major attacks in the northern Sinai, an arid and mountainous land in eastern Egypt on the border with Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Tunisia

Islamist militants across North Africa have been fighting governments in Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Mali for not imposing harsh sharia law, launching terror attacks and even full blown military offensives against them. Tunisia is pushing back. The first to cast off a dictator and herald the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere, Tunisia has been dealing with political unrest and terrorism from those who hoped to take advantage of the uncertain times to establish a Muslim theocracy. But Tunisia seems intent on not letting go of the fledgling democracy that came out of its Jasmine Revolution, to date perhaps the most successful of the Arab Spring. The country has developed significant counterterrorism forces that have been given the means to fight back. And the government is infiltrating the once-sacrosanct haven of the mosque to root out imams accused of inciting violence.

Iraq

At least 51 people were killed and 78 more were wounded in attacks and clashes across Iraq Monday. Once again, the greater Baghdad area was the scene of multiple bombings, while Anbar province continued to suffer clashes between militants and security forces. Another wave of violence swept across Iraq on Friday, resulting in at least 38 deaths, police said. Most of the casualties occurred in Sunni towns and cities. The attacks came a day after the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad noted that hundreds of Iraqis, including women and children, have been killed or wounded in recent weeks “by terrorists who pursue their goals through the senseless slaughter of the innocent.”

  • Most of the violence is between the Shiite and Sunni sects as they vie for power, along with Islamic terrorists who want to impose stricter Sharia law

Afghanistan

Nine civilians died in a Taliban attack on a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital. The dead were a mix of Afghans and foreigners, children and adults. The incident began when four teenagers entered the Serena Hotel in central Kabul on Thursday and started shooting randomly. Afghan security forces killed the four gunmen, who police said were all under 18 and were “government opponents.” This is latest attack to claim the lives of foreigners in the Afghan capital. Earlier this month, gunmen shot and killed a Swedish journalist in broad daylight. In January, a bomb and gun attack by the Taliban on a restaurant in Kabul killed 21 people, most of them foreigners.

Turkey

Turkey blocked access to Twitter on Friday after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to “rip out the roots” of the social media network where links have proliferated to recordings that appear to incriminate the Turkish leader and other top officials in high-level corruption. Turkey in the past blocked access to YouTube, but it is the first ban on Twitter, which is hugely popular in the country and was instrumental in organizing flash protests against the government last year. Uproar over the recordings has damaged the government’s reputation ahead of local elections this month. A similar ban backfired in the Ukraine and actually resulted in increased usage and overthrow of the government. The same appears to be happening in Turkey after Twitter posted instructions on how users could change the Domain Name Settings, or DNS, on their PCs and mobile devices to disguise the fact that they were located in Turkey.

Guinea

An Ebola outbreak has killed at least 59 people in Guinea, UNICEF said, as the deadly hemorrhagic fever has quickly spread from southern communities in the West African nation. Health Minister Remy Lamah said Saturday initial test results confirm the presence of a viral hemorrhagic fever, which according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refers to a group of viruses that affect multiple organ systems in the body. “In Guinea, a country with a weak medical infrastructure, an outbreak like this can be devastating,” the UNICEF representative in Guinea, Dr. Mohamed Ag Ayoya, said in the statement. UNICEF has prepositioned supplies and stepped up communication on the ground to sensitize medical staff and local populations on how to avoid contracting the illness, Agoya added.

Venezuela

At least 31 people have died in Venezuela and 461 have been injured in violent clashes between opposition demonstrators and government forces that began last month, and are continuing on a daily basis. Another 1,854 people have been detained during the unrest. The weeks of protests across Venezuela mark the biggest threat President Nicolas Maduro has faced since his election last year. Demonstrators say they have taken to the streets to protest shortages of goods, high inflation and high crime.

Weather

Spring has officially arrived. However, sometimes the atmosphere doesn’t play along and provide instant relief from winter’s icy grip. Another chunk of cold air is charging south and east, spreading a widespread area of chilly temperatures through all states east of the Rockies this weekend except Florida. This will be reinforced by a second surge of cold air early in the upcoming week, which will succeed at invading Florida. Some locations are or will be 10 to 20 degrees below late-March averages. A powerful winter storm to develop just off the East Coast, bringing the potential for a nasty winter storm for parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

Rescue crews are searching for survivors after a huge mudslide came down on homes in Snohomish County in northwest Washington, killing at least three. At least eight people, including a six-month-old baby boy, were taken to a local hospital. Six homes were destroyed. The slide cut off the city of Darrington and dammed up the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, causing the water to pool behind the dam. The landslide completely covered State Route 530 near the town of Oso, about 55 miles north of Seattle. It was at least 135 feet wide and 180 feet deep. The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for Snohomish County through Sunday afternoon.

The central and eastern USA shivered through a colder-than-average winter, but most of the rest of the globe did not share in the chill, registering the eighth warmest overall winter on record. The winter was 1.03 degrees F warmer than average, the NCDC reported. Europe was very warm. Countries such as Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands each had one of their five warmest winters. In Austria, where weather data go back 247 years, the nation had its second-warmest winter on record. The USA was 1 degree cooler than average this winter and had its 34th-coldest winter on record. But while the West was warmer than average, the central and eastern US were much cooler than average.

Signs of the Times (3/19/14)

March 19, 2014

Alabama Pro-Lifers Celebrate Closing of ‘New Woman’ Clinic

An infamous Alabama abortion clinic appears to be closed for good.  The New Woman All Women abortion clinic gained fame when the state launched an investigation, after three women were transported to an emergency room in one day after abortions.  The state ordered it closed but several court hearings took place because it continued to operate. Dana Cody, who heads Life Legal Defense Foundation, tells OneNewsNow the abortuary is closed and there is a sign posted that reads, “Property Available.” The owner, Diane Derzis, has clinics in other states, including the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi.

Prayer Rally will Precede ObamaCare SCOTUS Arguments

A prayer rally will be held in Washington next week in the lead-up to arguments in two high-profile Supreme Court cases dealing with the Affordable Care Act. Next Tuesday, the high court will hear lawsuits against the ObamaCare mandate that employers provide free insurance coverage for abortion-causing drugs. Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League comments on the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga cases, saying what he finds frightening is that the government is deciding what counts as public exercise of religion – and is telling business owners they aren’t allowed to provide the kind of health plans to their employees that reflect their faith. Scheidler adds it’s alarming to think what right will be lost next if the cases go against people of faith.

These 4 Nations to be in New ‘Russian Empire’?

The lack of any significant deterrent to Russia’s annexation of Crimea makes more territorial grabs far more likely and is made possible by repeated demonstrations of U.S. weakness throughout the Obama administration, notes WorldNetDaily.com.  Meanwhile at least four countries remain vulnerable to Russian aggression and annexation. Center for Security Policy President Frank Gaffney, who served as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy in the Reagan administration says that eastern Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia and Lithuania are all extremely vulnerable to Russian annexation. WND is now reporting that Putin may now be looking to take the rest of Ukraine because of its geo-strategic importance.

  • Russia, allied with Persia (Iran) is one of the key elements leading up to the end-time war against Israel (Ezekiel 38-39)

Al Qaeda Calls for Car Bombs in U.S. Cities

Al Qaeda is calling on terrorist affiliates to detonate car bombs in major U.S. cities, including New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, in the latest edition of its Inspire magazine. The issue comes nearly a year after the Boston Marathon bombing, and as the city readies new security measures for this year’s race, being held next month. Inspire is the same magazine that included instructions for how to make pressure cooker bombs, which were used in last year’s Boston attack. The magazine’s Spring 2014 issue urges jihadists to target heavily populated events such as political rallies and sporting events, both in the United States and abroad — including in Great Britain, France and other “Crusader” countries. The issue also contains extremely detailed, “absolutely simple” instructions on how to build a car bomb.

Obamacare Sticker Shock: Premiums Set to Skyrocket

Health industry officials say Obamacare premiums will likely double, and in some cases triple, in certain parts of the country next year, and announcements of rate hikes could come within months, potentially adding to the pressure on Democrats going into the midterm elections. The botched rollout of the federal healthcare program, including its numerous delays and changes, is one of the chief reasons for impending hikes. But the most significant cause of rate increases, officials say, is related to the administration’s erroneous projections about the number of young, healthy consumers who would enroll. “Young healthy people, and a lot of them, are needed to keep the market stable and premiums low. As we head into the final few weeks, we have a pretty good idea of how many young healthy people there will be, and the answer is: a whole lot fewer than the healthcare wonks were expecting, Megan McArdle writes in her column for Bloomberg View.

Colon Cancer Rates Drop Sharply Due to Screenings

Colon cancer rates have fallen by 30% over the past decade in people over age 50, and colonoscopies are getting much of the credit, according to a report released Monday. Screening rates have climbed in recent years. The number of Americans ages 50 to 64 who have had a colonoscopy — which allow doctors to detect and remove polyps before they turn malignant — has nearly tripled, growing from 19% in 2000 to 55% in 2010. Use of colonoscopy also rose among those age 65 and over, growing from 55% in 2000 to 64% in 2010, according to the new report. To further reduce colon cancer cases and deaths, the American Cancer Society has set a goal of screening 80% of eligible people by 2018. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the USA. The cancer society estimates that 136,830 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year and that 50,310 will die from it.

Toyota to Pay $1.2 B to Settle Criminal Probe

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Toyota will pay $1.2 billion to settle a criminal probe of its handling of reports of unintended acceleration in its vehicles. It is the largest criminal penalty imposed on a car company in U. S. history. “Today we can say for certain that Toyota intentionally concealed information and misled the public about the safety issues behind these recalls,” Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday. The investigation was spearheaded by the U.S. Attorney’s office and FBI in New York.

Looking for a Job? North Dakota Wants You

In a new recruiting campaign to be rolled out in May, the North Dakota Economic Development Foundation is aiming to fill more than 20,000 jobs — ranging from truck drivers and oilfield workers to receptionists and food servers. North Dakota’s huge oil boom has spurred thousands of job seekers to flock to the state for years now. In some cities, the population has quadrupled. Yet, the growth continues and companies are still so desperate for workers that the state is teaming up with oil giant Hess Corp. to launch an $800,000 campaign to attract new talent. Over the past few years, the flood of workers moving to the state — specifically to the Northwest corner where oil activity is greatest — has caused a severe housing shortage. In Williston, a town at the center of the boom, home prices have more than tripled and rent there is currently the highest in the nation. Even though many employees are now raking in six-figure salaries, they are essentially homeless, living in their cars in parking lots, in other peoples’ basements, in RVs or even in churches.

Economic News

Prices are rising for a range of food staples, from meat and pork to fruits and vegetables, squeezing consumers still struggling with modest wage gains. Food prices rose 0.4% in February, the most since September 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Tuesday. Beef and veal shoppers were socked with some of the biggest increases, as prices jumped 4% from January. Overall inflation remained tame, as falling gasoline and other energy costs offset the food price increases. The consumer price index ticked up just 0.1% from January and 1.1% in the past year.

Housing starts fell slightly last month but building permits rebounded to levels last seen in the fall, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Builders started construction of new homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 907,000. That’s down 0.2% from January’s revised estimate of 909,000. Permits, an indicator of future construction, were just over 1 million, a 7.7% increase over January’s revised rate of 945,000 and the highest level since October.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo index of builder sentiment this month rose to 47 from 46 in February, the NAHB reported Monday. Readings below 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as poor rather than good.

Persecution Watch

Officials say Fulani Muslim herders attacked three Christian villages and killed more than 100 civilians. Hundreds of thatched-roof huts were set ablaze. Thousands have been killed in recent years in competition for land and water between mainly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christian farmers across Nigeria’s Middle Belt. More than 100 people were killed in similar attacks in neighboring Katsina state last week. Chenshyi village chief Nuhu Moses said Sunday that gunmen killed more than 50 people including the pastor’s wife and children. He said the entire village in the southern part of Kaduna state was destroyed.

Middle East

Israeli airstrikes against Syrian military posts in the Golan Heights killed one soldier and wounded seven on Wednesday in the most serious escalation between the two neighboring countries since Syria’s civil war broke out three years ago. The airstrikes came in retaliation for a roadside bombing in the strategic plateau that wounded four Israeli soldiers the previous day. The Syrian army said a repetition of the strikes would endanger stability in the entire Middle East while Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that if he pursues a path harmful to Israel, he would “regret his actions.” The Israeli military said its warplanes unleashed airstrikes on Syrian army targets, hitting a Syrian army training facility, an army headquarters and artillery batteries early on Wednesday. Earlier, Israel also carried out artillery strikes against Syrian military targets shortly after Tuesday’s bombing.

Ukraine

Crimea’s parliament Monday moved to declare independence after residents in the semi-autonomous region there overwhelmingly backed a referendum to break away from Ukraine and rejoin Russia. Crimea’s election committee said that 97% of voters backed a union between the largely ethnic-Russian peninsula and Russia. Sunday’s referendum is not recognized by the West, and the United States and the European Union are preparing sanctions against Russia, whose troops have been occupying Crimea for several weeks. But in the Ukrainian capital, anti-government protesters are warning that the ballot may trigger chaos on the southern peninsula.

Crimea’s self-defense forces on Wednesday stormed the Ukrainian navy base in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol a day took down the gate and make their way onto the headquarters’ premises. They then raised the Russian flag on the square by the headquarters. On Tuesday, Ukraine authorities authorized soldiers to shoot in self-defense after an officer was killed when gunmen attacked a besieged military base near the capital of Crimea. The shooting came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Crimean leaders signed a treaty that makes the Black Sea peninsula part of the Russian Federation, a move the White House and European leaders called an illegal annexation. Ukraine’s acting defense minister says Ukrainian forces will not withdraw from Crimea despite being largely outnumbered and coming under increased pressure since the region was nominally incorporated into Russia.

Syria

The Obama administration ordered the Syrian government on Tuesday to suspend its diplomatic and consular missions in the United States, requiring all personnel who are not legal U.S residents to leave the country. The order, three years after the start of Syria’s bloody civil war, essentially shutters the Syrian embassy in Washington and its honorary consulates in Troy, Mich., and Houston, Texas. It comes in response to a decision by President Bashar Assad’s government to suspend consular services for Syrians living in the U.S. However, U.S. special envoy to Syria Daniel Rubenstein said the U.S. wants to continue diplomatic relations with Damascus, “as an expression of our longstanding ties with the Syrian people, an interest that will endure long after Bashar Assad leaves power.”

Afghanistan

In his final address to Afghanistan’s parliament Saturday, President Hamid Karzai told the United States its soldiers can leave at the end of the year because his military, which already protects 93 percent of the country, was ready to take over entirely. He reiterated his stance that he would not sign a pact with the United States that would provide for a residual force of U.S. troops to remain behind after the final withdrawal. The Afghan president has come under heavy pressure to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, with a council of notables that he himself convened recommend that he sign the pact. The residual force would train and mentor Afghan troops, and some U.S. Special Forces would also be left behind to hunt down Al Qaeda.

Iran

Executions of Iranian political figures and citizens in 2013 skyrocketed to unsettling numbers according to the recent annual report of death penalties in the nation by the group Iran Human Rights (IHR). The number of Iranians executed in 2013 was 687, some of which were women and children reported IHR. Already this year, almost 200 people have come to the same fate. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani assured citizens that he would moderate the killing, but no such relief has yet occurred. IHR spokesman Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said the alarming rates of Iranian death penalty should be placed “at the top of the agenda in the dialogue between the international community and the Iranian authorities.”

Libya

U.S. Navy SEALs have taken control of a hijacked commercial tanker that was being held by armed Libyans, the Pentagon said Monday. No one was hurt tonight when U.S. forces, at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments, boarded and took control of the commercial tanker Morning Glory, a stateless vessel seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans. The tanker, said to be flying a North Korea flag, is loaded with oil and thought to be owned by the Libyan government’s National Oil Company. North Korea says it has nothing to do with the ship. The ship is at the center of a dispute between Libya’s weak central government and rebel groups. Libya’s government has struggled to establish security in the wake of the overthrow of Moammar Ghadafi in 2011. Militias outside government control continue to exert control in parts of the country.

Republic of Congo

The province of Katanga in southern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is degenerating into a humanitarian crisis, Christian Aid has warned. UN officials say more than 400,000 people have been displaced as a result of fighting between government troops and Mai Mai and Bakata Katanga rebels. Christian Aid said violence had intensifed since January and that its partners on the ground have recorded a doubling in the number of internally displaced people in Pweto territory, from 59,000 to just under 128,000. Pweto forms together with Mitwaba and Manono territories what has been dubbed the ‘triangle of death’ due to the level of violence. While clashes between rebel groups have surged in recent weeks, the government forces were too small to keep the rebels in check, jeopardizing the delivery of aid.

Earthquakes

According to the USGS, a 4.4-magnitude earthquake struck just to the northwest of downtown Los Angeles at around 6:30 a.m. PDT Monday. The predawn quake rattled nerves and shook buildings along a 150-mile swath of Southern California from Santa Barbara to Orange County in the greater Los Angeles area but caused no major damage. The quake’s epicenter was located six miles to the north-northwest of Westwood, Calif. and around 15 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, at a depth of 5.3 miles. A 2.7-magnitude earthquake followed the initial rumble just under an hour later. Though southern California is no stranger to earthquakes, the quake’s location in the Santa Monica Mountains is unusual because it was the only magnitude-4.4 temblor within the range since recording of earthquakes began.

A 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck off Chile’s Pacific coast Sunday, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The quake’s epicenter was 37 miles west-northwest of Iquique, Chile, and its depth was 12.4 miles, the USGS said. There were no immediate reports of damages or injuries. Sea level readings in the area indicated a tsunami was generated, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said, but there was no widespread destructive tsunami threat.

A shallow 6.3 magnitude earthquake has rattled northern Peru near the coastal city of Piura on Saturday with no immediate reports of damage or injuries. It was the second quake to shake seismically active Peru on Saturday. A 6.1 magnitude temblor centered near the city of Pisco struck at 3:59 a.m. with no damage reported. The city suffered a devastating 2007 quake of 8.0 magnitude that claimed more than 500 lives.

Weather

Yet another winter storm roared into the Middle Atlantic region overnight Sunday, dropping more than a foot of snow in parts of Virginia, closing schools and shutting down the federal government in Washington, D.C., the fifth time this season winter weather has closed the federal government.  Heavy snow closed runways at Reagan National Airport. More than 360 flights had been canceled by 7 a.m. Monday at D.C.-area airports. During the weekend, the system spawned downburst winds that led the collapse of a shopping center in Atmore, Ala. Saturday. It was the snowiest St. Patrick’s Day dating back to 1884 across the region.

Sometimes it doesn’t take a whopper of a storm to deal a big blow to drivers. That was the case in eastern and central North Carolina Monday night into Tuesday morning, as light freezing rain and drizzle left roads a mess from Asheville to Greensboro and into Raleigh causing numerous accidents. North Carolina Department of Transportation has asked people to stay off the roads until at least midday Tuesday. Schools have been canceled or delayed across the region.

A large dust storm brought a blanket of dust across West Texas and New Mexico Tuesday. The wall of dust rose as a high as 1,000 feet and traveled 200 miles, stretching from Amarillo west into New Mexico and east as far as Post, Texas. High wind gusts spanned the entire Plains Tuesday, hitting 58 mph in Lubbock and 49 mph in Amarillo. The High Plains are also in an exceptional to severe drought, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor. Those two elements are the ingredients for large dust storms.

Signs of the Times (3/15/14)

March 15, 2014

Oregonians Seek Religious Freedom Referendum

Christians in Oregon are struggling to get appropriate ballot language for a proposed constitutional amendment that would protect them from homosexual activists. Friends of Religious Freedom is going through the process of getting the proposal on the ballot to let voters decide. Friends is part of the Oregon Family Council.  But the group is having trouble getting appropriate ballot language from the state Attorney General’s Office. The state office gave the group a “not very good ballot title. Friends of Religious Freedom opposes any reference to discrimination in the wording. So for now they’re in the public comment process.

  • The failure to enact a similar law in Arizona due to LGBT attacks suggests that a ballot initiative is the best way to protect business owners from being forced to violate their personal, religious beliefs

Anti-Christ Air Force Facing Recriminations

The Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition, a group of two dozen like-minded religious liberty organizations, announced Thursday that they are ready to offer assistance to any Air Force Academy cadet who faces repercussions for writing Bible verses on their hallway whiteboards. The Air Force Academy admitted Wednesday that a cadet leader had to remove a Bible verse he had displayed outside his dorm room because it offended non-Christians and could “cause subordinates to doubt the leader’s religious impartiality.” The controversy started when a cadet leader posted a passage of scripture on his whiteboard with a quote from the New Testament book of Galatians. “I have been crucified with Christ therefore I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” the verse from Galatians 2:20 read. But 29 cadets and four faculty and staff members contacted his organization to complain about the Christian passage.

Sisters Fight Back after Professor Steals Pro-Life Sign

Two California sisters told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly Thursday they are fighting back against a college professor who they say assaulted them and stole their pro-life signs because “no one has the right to take someone else’s property.” Thrin Short, 16, and her sister Joan, 21, were part of an anti-abortion protest at the University of California, Santa Barbara when they were approached by Associate Professor Mireille Miller-Young. They say Miller-Young, who teaches feminist studies, grabbed the sign from them, and when they attempted to get it back, kicked and pushed them. Thrin Short said on “The Kelly File” she feels Miller Young’s claim she had a “moral right” to take the signs are untrue, claiming that Miller-Young has herself shown graphic porn content in class. Joan Short says she believes if people are offended by the images they should take a closer look at the issue of abortion.

Canadian Christian Schools Ordered to Teach Wicca & Pagan Religions as Equals

Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture program that has been mandated by the government since its enactment in 2008 requires that all public and private schools in Quebec present all religions from Christianity to Wicca to Buddhism to other pagan religions.  In the lessons, they are required to teach that all of these religions are equally valid.  Additionally, teachers, including those in private Christian schools, are forbidden from expressing their own personal religious views.  In other words, private Christian schools are not allowed to teach Christianity as the only way to salvation as Jesus clearly taught.

  • Satan’s strategy is to lump all religions together in order to discount Christianity specifically, indirectly implying that if they’re all the same then none of them can be true.

God’s Not Dead – In Theaters Nationwide March 21st

Alliance Defending Freedom is releasing its culture-changing film God’s Not Dead nationwide in theaters Friday, March 21. The movie was inspired by some of ADF’s actual legal cases. It follows college freshman and devout Christian Josh Wheaton on his mission to disprove his dogmatic professor’s belief that there is no God. ADF says, “We believe this movie has a powerful message that our culture needs to hear and deserves our full support. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, you can watch it here. How a film performs opening weekend is critical to the life of the film—and in the case of GOD’S NOT DEAD, critical to the impact this truth-bearing message will have on our culture.”

  • ADF not only invites Christians to go see the movie but also to invite friends and family, and pray that this film impacts lives for Christ and encourages people to deepen their faith.

Another Obamacare Band-Aid

The Obama administration is throwing another Band-Aid at the millions of people wounded by the Affordable Care Act when they were booted from their existing health coverage. The latest change, quietly announced last week, allows many of them to skirt the law’s “individual mandate” through 2016. The change was included in last week’s announcement that the government would let people keep otherwise out-of-compliance health plans for another two years. Buried in the official memo was a line giving people whose policies were canceled a “hardship exemption” through October 2016. What that means is many of those who were dropped from their plans last year will not be required to pay a fine for failing to buy new insurance. For many, though, the damage of being kicked off their health insurance is already significant.

Obamacare Driving Up Premiums

According to the National Center for Public Policy Research, the health care law is reducing choice and increasing premiums for millions of Americans. Ehealthinsurance reports that consumers are paying an average of 39% more than they did before the law was implemented. The President’s response? Drop phone and cable. The President recently participated in a health care town hall with Spanish-language media. He responded to a question received via email, from a consumer who makes $36,000 per year and cannot find insurance for a family of three for less than $315 per month. The President responded that “if you looked at their cable bill, their telephone, their cell phone bill… it may turn out that, it’s just they haven’t prioritized health care.”

Businesses Chafe at Proposed Overtime Rules

Business groups and corporate lawyers assailed a White House plan to expand overtime eligibility to millions more workers, saying the move could hurt job growth, worker productivity and the economy. “We understand the administration is looking for ways to put more money in people’s pockets, but the only way to do this is to grow the economy and create more jobs,” says Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy for the Chamber of Commerce. “Adding more burdens to employers will not accomplish that goal.” President Obama on Thursday ordered the Labor Department to revamp rules that allow businesses to avoid paying overtime to fast-food and retail managers, among others, administration officials said. Currently, such salaried workers are exempt from the time-and-a-half overtime pay mandate if they earn more than $455 a week and are classified as executive, administrative or professional employees.

Governments Aiming to Tap Private Retirement Savings

Last fall, Poland announced plans to transfer to the state many of the assets held by private pension funds in order to reduce public debt. For now, private pensions in Poland will be allowed to keep equity investments that in the Polish state-guaranteed pension system are approximately half of all private pension investments. Quietly, other nations, including the U.S., are looking toward private retirement accounts to slash indebtedness. The proposed plan calls for the government to nationalize retirement accounts like IRAs, 401Ks, pensions, 403Bs, etc. so that you would be forced to use a portion of your retirement wealth to purchase U.S. government debt which is, at best, a low-grade investment with a distinct possibility of default.

  • As globalist-driven socialism advances, private wealth will come under heavy attack

U.S. Could Be Plunged Into Blackout by Small-Scale Attacks

A major federal study on the vulnerability of the U.S. electric grid reportedly finds that taking out just nine of the country’s 55,000 electric-transmission substations—on a hot day when they’re stressed—could provoke a national blackout, reports Time magazine. A coordinated attack on just nine of the United States’ 55,000 electric-transmission substations on the right day could cause a blackout from Los Angeles to New York City, according to the study conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The study’s results have been known for months to select people in federal agencies, Congress and the White House, but were reported publicly for the first time Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal which did not publish a list of the 30 most critical substations identified by the FERC study. Electric substations play a vital role in keeping the electric grid humming by boosting voltage for long-distance travel and then transforming it to usable levels upon arrival.

Major Retailers Closing Stores

Brick-and-mortar retailers have been suffering from slow economic activity for years, as well as from increased competition from online retailers. The rise in store closings is a prominent sign of their struggles. Weakened companies cannot afford the real estate and personnel costs that go along with supporting hundreds of unprofitable locations. The rise of Amazon.com, America’s largest e-commerce operation, has turned the entire retail industry on its head. Bookseller Barnes & Noble was one of the first companies to be threatened by Amazon.com, which originally began its operations as an online bookstore. Amazon.com accounted for 44% of all book sales in 2012. Now Amazon is threatening virtually all retail categories.

The clearest proof of the problem was RadioShack’s recent decision to close more than 1,000 stores. RadioShack is hardly alone. During that last several years Gap has closed 20% of its locations. Abercrombie & Fitch announced its plans to close 180 stores by 2015. Barnes & Noble plans to shut a third of its stores over the next 10 years. Office Depot merged with rival OfficeMax in November and has closed 15 of its Office Depot stores and seven OfficeMax locations. Since 2010, Sears has closed roughly 300 stores. Staples recently announced plans to close 225 stores, or roughly 12% of its total count. Toys “R” Us will soon close some 100 stores. J.C. Penney announced the closing of 33 out of more than 1,000 stores.

Economic News

The University of Michigan said its consumer sentiment index fell this month to its lowest level since last November. The index reading was 79.9, down from 81.6 in February and 82.5 in December. Its most recent high was 85.1 last July. Consumer sentiment “faces headwinds from economic disruptions related to harsh winter weather, Obamacare, and lingering concerns after last year’s mortgage rate spike and government shutdown,” says Michael Englund, of Action Economics.

Stocks ended slightly lower Friday following Wall Street’s big sell-off in the prior session amid ongoing angst over tensions in Ukraine and economic weakness in China. The Dow Jones industrial average finished lower every day this week, its first five-day weekly decline since May 2012.

Retail sales rose in February, signaling strength in consumer spending despite extreme weather around the country last month. Sales rose a seasonally adjusted 0.3% in February, the Commerce Department said Thursday. However, January sales fell more than previously estimated — by 0.6% instead of 0.4%, according to the government’s revised estimate.

Weekly applications for U.S. unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 315,000, a sign the job market is picking up again after a winter slump. Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs. The decline in unemployment applications indicate companies are confident enough about the economy to keep their staffs.

The producer price index, which measures price changes before they reach the consumer, dropped 0.1 percent in February, the Labor Department said Friday. Wholesale food and energy prices increased, as did the cost of pharmaceuticals. Excluding the volatile categories of food, energy and retailer and wholesaler profit margins, core prices ticked up 0.1 percent, the latest sign that inflation is tame.

More new-car buyers are opting for long loans stretching out past six years or for leases to try to keep monthly payments in check as car prices rise. Loans with terms longer than six years — 73 to 84 or more monthly payments — jumped 19% in the fourth quarter compared with the period a year earlier to 20.1% of all new vehicle loans, according to Experian. That came as the average amount financed for a new car was the highest since 2008, averaging $27,430 in the quarter, Experian says, with an average monthly payment of $471. Long-term loans make costlier cars seem more affordable, but leave buyers with higher overall costs for the car and more time owing more than it is worth.

Despite a boom in U.S. energy production, average costs for heating a home with propane will likely be 54% higher for this winter (October 2013 through March 2014) than a year ago, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday. In the Midwest, the average projected tab for heating homes with propane is $2,212 this winter, compared with $1,333 for the 2012-2013 season. In the Northwest, it’s even higher, $2,412. The average U.S. tab for heating homes with natural gas is projected to jump 10% while the cost for using oil will rise 7% and electricity, 5%.

Persecution Watch

An American pastor being held in one of Iran’s most brutal prisons is in serious danger, after initially being refused medical treatment following a beating at the hands of his jailers, supporters of Saeed Abedini said. The 33-year-old Abedini, whose wife, son and daughter are at their home in Boise, Idaho, was taken to a hospital after the attack at Iran’s Rajai Shahr prison, but once there was shackled to a hospital bed and ultimately refused surgery for internal bleeding, according to his wife. On Thursday, a relative of Abedini complained to prison officials and was told a “mistake” had been made and that surgery would be performed. Although the relative was allowed to see Abedini, no procedure has taken place as yet.

Islamic extremists from the rebel Al Shabaab militia last week publicly beheaded a mother of two girls and her cousin in southeastern Somalia after discovering they were Christians, Morning Star News reported from sources inside the country. In the port town of Barawa, the extremists March 4 called residents to the town center to witness the executions of the 41-year-old mother, Sadia Ali Omar, and her 35-year-old cousin, Osman Mohamoud Moge, the sources said. Before killing them, an Al Shabaab militant announced, “We know these two people are Christians who recently came back from Kenya. We want to wipe out any underground Christian living inside of mujahidin [jihadists’] area.”

A campaign of violence and intimidation is being waged by Buddhists against Christians in Sri Lanka, Release International has warned. The organization says religious intolerance has been increasing for a decade and that in the past year, churches have been forced to close down and Christians prevented from holding prayer meetings or Bible studies in their homes. There has been a wave of anti-Christian violence, with murder and arson among the 450-plus documented acts of violence against believers in recent years. Release warns of a marked increase in the number of churches being demolished or set on fire, as well as attacks on individuals, death threats and forced displacement since 2012.

Middle East

Israel responded with heavy fire after five rockets from Gaza landed Wednesday in populated areas of southern Israel, marking “the most substantial attack” in two years against the country, the Israeli military said. “In today’s attack, 41 rockets struck in Israel, five hit populated areas and three were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system,” the military said in another statement. The military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, called the Al-Quds Brigade, claimed responsibility for firing dozens of missiles on what it called “Israeli settlements.” In response, Israel launched airstrikes on three areas in Gaza — Rafah, Khan Younis and Jabalia — that are believed to belong to Islamic Jihad, according to security sources in Gaza. In all, the Israeli military targeted “29 terror sites” in Gaza, the military said on its Twitter page.

Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to mass forces along east Ukraine’s border is another effort to keep Ukraine’s new pro-Western government weak and on the defensive, analysts say. But a Russian incursion into the region would be substantially more difficult than the Russian experience so far in Crimea. Russians would likely face resistance from Ukraine’s military and a population less supportive than they are in Crimea, which is majority ethnic Russian. The Russian military would ultimately defeat the much smaller and lightly equipped Ukrainian military, but it would raise the worldwide stakes dramatically.

If Crimeans vote yes in a referendum Sunday to break from Ukraine, the question is: What happens next? Such a referendum has no precedent, analysts say, and no one appears certain how opponents, Russia and the world will react, or what difference the vote may make. Top diplomats for Russia and the U.S. voiced pessimism Friday about negotiating an end to the crisis. Leaders of the United States and Europe have denounced repeatedly the referendum as illegal and warned it may spur civil war.

Afghanistan

The top American commander in Afghanistan warned Wednesday the country would deteriorate quickly if the U.S. withdraws completely by the end of this year. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in a nearly empty hearing room, Gen. Joseph Dunford said the Taliban would view the withdrawal as a victory, Al Qaeda would be inspired to return, women would suffer, and the Afghan security forces would not be able to complete necessary training. “A withdrawal in my mind means abandoning the people of Afghanistan, abandoning the endeavor that we’ve been on for the last decade, and then providing Al Qaeda the space to begin again to plan and conduct operations against the West,” Dunford said. He said Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is currently “fighting for survival,” but that without continued pressure over the next few years, it would “physically reconstitute.”

Venezuela

It’s been a month since violent clashes between opposition demonstrators and government forces in Venezuela first grabbed global attention. Protests rage on, and demonstrators show no sign of backing down. A government tally released Tuesday said at least 23 people had been killed nationwide and more than 200 others have been injured since protests started. The tally did not specify whether the casualties occurred among demonstrators or government forces, or both. Student protesters on both sides packed streets in Caracas Wednesday. The weeks of protests across Venezuela mark the biggest threat President Nicolas Maduro has faced since his election last year. Demonstrators say they have taken to the streets to protest shortages of goods, high inflation and high crime rates.

Nigeria

Lawmakers in Nigeria are seething, following the most recent attacks by Boko Haram. Those attacks killed 29 innocent school children, reports MNN. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, told reporters, “We have run out of excuses. We no longer have any excuse for our inability to protect our innocent, defenseless children from gratuitous violence.” “Whatever grievances the terrorists harbour against the government of Nigeria, Nigeria’s innocent children have nothing to do with it,” Tambuwal said. Boko Haram attacks have devastated villages, leaving many homeless. Since 2009, thousands have been killed. It’s created a humanitarian crisis in Nigeria that few news outlets are talking about. Executive Director of World Mission Greg Kelley says, “People have literally lost everything. Their homes have been burnt. Many of them have lost family members who have been killed or kidnapped. They’ve lost all of their worldly possessions. There are over 100,000 people in just one [refugee] camp in northeast Nigeria.”

Weather

The official start of spring is less than a week away, but don’t put away those snow boots and shovels just yet. Another winter storm will bring more snow and some ice from parts of the Midwest to the Middle Atlantic and Northeast Sunday through St. Patrick’s Day. Just days after enjoying a brief dose of milder temperatures, record cold pushed into parts of the Great Lakes and Northeast to finish the week. Thursday morning, the shivering air mass set a few daily record lows in the Great Lakes, including Toledo, Ohio (-2 degrees), Fort Wayne, Ind. (-1 degrees) and Detroit. (3 degrees). During the afternoon Thursday, temperatures in the Northeast were frigid. In fact, Burlington, Vt. (16 degrees), Syracuse, N.Y. (17 degrees) and Binghamton, N.Y. (15 degrees) recorded their coldest high temperatures on record for March 13. Friday morning, lows in the Northeast region ranged from the single digits above and below zero in northern New England.

Winter Storm Vulcan left roads incredibly dangerous across northern Ohio on Thursday morning, a day after several major pileups left at least three dead. 40-mph wind gusts were driving heavy snow across the area, leading to visibility around a quarter-mile. The Ohio State Highway Patrol closed the Ohio Turnpike between Fremont and Sandusky Wednesday after what OSHP described as a two-mile long stretch of crashes involving at least 50 vehicles. At least a dozen tractor-trailers smashed together near an overpass. Another series of pileups about 10 miles to the east shut down the turnpike’s westbound lanes.

Vulcan propelled Chicago to its third snowiest season on record, with snow totals ranging from just a dusting in the northwest suburbs to just over six inches in the south suburbs. Another 6-7 inches in Detroit pushed them to the brink of their record snowiest season, 93.6 inches, set in 1880-1881. In Toledo, Ohio, Vulcan’s snow only added to its record snowiest season. Through March 12, the northwest Ohio city had picked up an incredible 84.8 inches of snow in the season, which was over 51 inches snowier than their average season-to-date. Snow fell at the rate of two inches per hour Wednesday morning at both Chicago Midway and in Ft. Wayne, Ind. Lightning accompanied these intense snowfall rates in parts of northern Indiana, northwest Ohio, Lower Michigan and northeast Illinois.

Signs of the Times (3/12/14)

March 12, 2014

Support for Israel Fading in Evangelical Circles

Support for Israel today isn’t as unquestioned as it once was in evangelical circles. Today evangelical leaders on both sides say that the millennial generation sees the conflict differently – viewing it with a perspective of neutrality and empathy for both sides. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey among evangelical leaders which showed lower support for Israel than many expected. In fact, when asked if they sympathize more with Israelis or with Palestinians, a majority of American evangelical leaders (49%) expressed neutrality. Of the leaders polled, thirty percent stated support for Israelis, and 13% for the Palestinians. “What is happening is that the hard line of Christian Zionists was not successfully passed forward to the next generation, because it was based on theological themes that are now being questioned by younger evangelicals,” says David Gushee is professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Atlanta.

  • Modern Israel is a secular state focused on Judaism as a nationality not a faith. They need our prayers (Psalm 122:6) more than ever as end-time pressures are threatening their ongoing existence with numerous Muslim nations calling for their extinction while Israel seeks only to protect itself.

Texas Pro-Life Law Shuts Down 13 Abortion Clinics

Two more Texas abortion providers said they will shut down this week, saying their doctors were unable to get admitting privileges to nearby hospitals as required under new restrictions enacted by the state last year. Proponents of new regulations say they were designed to protect women’s health. Women’s rights groups have complained that they were designed to put abortion clinics out of business and have already succeeded in eliminating a third of them. Women in parts of Texas now must drive for hours to reach a clinic. The reduction will cut the number of abortion providers in the state to 19 from 32 before the restrictions went in place, according to the group and state data.

Atheists Want Iconic 17-foot Cross Removed from 9/11 Museum

Atheists are trying to oust the “Miracle Cross” from the 9/11 museum, arguing that its inclusion would violate the Constitution’s separation of church and state. But Eric Baxster of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty told MyFoxNY that the cross is part of the story of 9/11 and that museums don’t censor history. The 17-foot cross-shaped beam was discovered in the devastation at Ground Zero and became a symbol of comfort and hope after the horrific terrorist attack. But the group American Atheists says the cross is a part of religious history and is challenging its inclusion in the new National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum which opens in May. The group said the cross should not be in a museum that is on Port Authority property and financed by taxpayers.

Obama Decrees Broad Expansion of Overtime Pay

President Obama this week will seek to force American businesses to pay more overtime to millions of workers, the latest move by his administration to confront corporations that have had soaring profits even as wages have stagnated. On Thursday, the president will direct the Labor Department to revamp its regulations to require overtime pay for several million additional fast-food managers, loan officers, computer technicians and others whom many businesses currently classify as “executive or professional” employees to avoid paying them overtime. Obama’s decision to use his executive authority to change the nation’s overtime rules is seen as a challenge to Republicans in Congress, who have already blocked most of the president’s economic agenda and have said they intend to fight his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein Publicly Accuses CIA of Criminal Activity

The head of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee accused the CIA Tuesday of criminal activity in improperly searching a computer network set up for lawmakers investigating allegations that the agency used torture in terror investigations during the Bush administration. Democrat Dianne Feinstein, in an extraordinary speech on the Senate floor, publicly aired an intense but formerly quiet dispute between Congress and the spy agency. She said the matter has been referred to the Justice Department for further investigation. Feinstein’s accusation is the latest storm to hit the U.S. intelligence community, which has been reeling from former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden’s revelations about its mass surveillance programs. While the monitoring outlined by Feinstein appears far more limited than in the NSA scandal, the backlash could be significant because it involved the panel that oversees the CIA’s programs and funding. The criticism by Feinstein is particularly biting because she has been one of the main defenders of intelligence agencies at a time that they have been sharply criticized at home and abroad.

Expert: U.S. Near ‘Crisis’ of Secrecy

U.S. government agencies are coming up with more sophisticated ways to deny, delay and derail requests for information from journalists and the public, a University of Arizona professor told a Senate panel Tuesday. The government is using the Freedom of Information Act as “a tool of secrecy, not openness,” said David Cuillier, an associate professor and director of the University of the Arizona School of Journalism. Cuillier is also president of the Society of Professional Journalists. “I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say we are approaching a crisis when it comes to access to information,” Cuillier testified at the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It becomes too much of a temptation — if you screw up in government, just mark it top secret,” Leahy said. A 2013 report by openthegovernment.org found federal agencies invoked “exemption 5” to the Freedom of Information Act to withhold information from the public 79,000 times in 2012. That was a 41 percent increase from the previous year.

Concealed-Gun Ruling Widens Debate in California

California has the most gun-restrictive laws in the country, but last month the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the “good cause” component to carry a concealed weapon in a San Diego County case. In the ruling, a three-member panel found that “a responsible, law-abiding citizen has a right under the Second Amendment to carry a firearm in public for self-defense.” On Wednesday, the appellate court also found Yolo County’s good cause requirement unconstitutional. Ventura County has also dropped the “good cause” requirement and has seen an increase in permit applicants. California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence moved to appeal, asking that the ruling be reviewed by a full 11-judge panel.

States Take the Lead on Immigration Reform

State legislators are fed up with Congressional inaction on immigration and they’re taking action, reports Newsmax. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 437 immigration-related laws and resolutions were enacted in 2013 up from 267 in 2012. The surge began in 2006 when the number of bills introduced in state legislatures doubled and then tripled in 2007. Some of the new laws relax restrictions on undocumented workers, including eligibility for driver’s licenses and in-state tuition rates. But other initiatives are requiring employers to use E-verify to establish workers’ citizenship status. Thirty-five of the new laws center on forms of identification. Thirteen states have passed laws that enable illegals to take driver tests and acquire licenses. Fifteen states have passed legislation for in-state tuition rates to undocumented residents.

4.2 Million Have Signed Up for Obamacare

More than 4.2 million have signed up for insurance on the Obamacare exchanges through February, leaving the administration with one more month to hit its enrollment target of 7 million. It remains to be seen whether enrollment will hit the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s projections that 6 million people would enroll in the exchanges for 2014, though many insurers have said sign-ups were running close to expectations. Sign-ups slowed last month, with fewer than 950,000 picking plans, according to federal data released Tuesday. Officials said they don’t have a tally of how many people have paid yet, but insurers interviewed have indicated the figure is running in the 80% range. Those who don’t pay will have their policies voided. Also, 83% of people signing up for policies were eligible for federal subsidies to defray the cost of premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

It’s also unclear how many of those who’ve signed up were previously uninsured — a key target group of health reform. Officials said they don’t have figures yet, but pointed to outside studies that showed some uninsured are gaining coverage. Gallup reported Monday that the percentage of Americans without health insurance fell to 15.9% in 2014, compared with 17.1% in the fourth quarter last year. The number of young people picking policies surpassed 1 million in February, but their share of sign-ups remained steady at 25%, lower than projected. Younger enrollees are crucial to Obamacare’s success because they are thought to be healthier and less expensive, and insurers are hoping to attract those ages 18 to 34 to offset costs incurred by older, sicker enrollees. If not enough enroll, it could cause next year’s premiums to jump.

Record Number of Americans Riding Public Transit

Americans are boarding public buses, trains and subways in greater numbers than any time since the suburbs began booming. Nearly 10.7 billion trips were taken in 2013, the highest total since 1956, according to ridership data reported by transit systems nationally and released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association. Transit ridership has now fully recovered from a dip caused by the Great Recession. With services restored following economy-driven cutbacks, ridership numbers appear set to continue what had been a steady increase. “People are making a fundamental shift to having options” aside from a car in how they get around, said Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the public transportation association. “This is a long-term trend. This isn’t just a blip.”

Economic News

Bitcoin exchange MtGox faced a massive hacker offensives last month, coming under 150,000 Denial of SErvice attacks a second for several days ahead of its spectacular failure. The Tokyo-based exchange, which filed for bankruptcy protection in February and admitted losing half a billion dollars in the digital currency, has come under serious cyber-attacks in particular since about February 7, the Yomiuri Shimbun reports. While MtGox faced hacker attempts to steal Bitcoins, the exchange also confronted massive distributed denial-of-service attacks. Under DDoS attacks, hackers hijack multiple computers to send a flood of data to the target, crippling its computer system.

Market angst has been fueled by jitters that China’s economy is beginning to slow. Stocks have been down this week after China reported lower exports in February which has fueled worries of a further slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy. Recent falls in Chinese copper and iron prices have added to the poor sentiment. The price of oil dropped below $99 a barrel Wednesday as fears of a China slowdown would create weaker demand.

Four Central European nations are urging the United States to boost natural gas exports to Europe as a hedge against the possibility that Russia could cut off its supply of gas to Ukraine. Ambassadors from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic made their appeal Friday. The letter from the four nations asks Congress to support speedier approval of natural gas exports, noting that the “presence of U.S. natural gas would be much welcome in Central and Eastern Europe.” Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas, and previous disputes between Ukraine and Russia have led to gas supply cuts.

Middle East

Israel expressed regret Tuesday over the killing of a Palestinian judge from Jordan, who was shot by Israeli soldiers at a border crossing, and promised Amman that it would carry out a joint investigation into his death. The Israeli military had denounced Judge Raed Zeiter as a “terrorist,” saying he was shot dead Monday after he attacked soldiers at the Allenby Bridge crossing, also known as the King Hussein Bridge, while making his way to the West Bank. The Israeli military said Zeiter had tried to seize a soldier’s weapon. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank city of Ramallah condemned what it called the shooting “at close range” by Israeli troops. In a separate incident Monday, Israeli soldiers shot dead a 20-year-old Palestinian in the West Bank. The military said Palestinians had hurled rocks at an Israeli vehicle and bus near Beit Eil, and soldiers at the scene responded with gunfire.

Ukraine

Russian forces tightened their grip on Crimea on Sunday despite a U.S. warning to Moscow that annexing the southern Ukrainian region would close the door to diplomacy in a tense East-West standoff. Moscow mounted pressure on Ukraine Saturday, with Russia’s foreign minister denouncing the new Ukrainian authorities as puppets of armed radicals and pro-Russia forces in Crimea trying to flush Ukrainian soldiers out of the few military bases still under their control. The regional parliament in Crimea has set a March 16 referendum on leaving Ukraine to join Russia, and senior lawmakers in Moscow said they would support the move, ignoring sanctions threats and warnings from U.S. President Barack Obama that the vote would violate international law.

Dozens of Ukrainian computer networks, including those run by the Kiev government, have been infected by an aggressive virus known as “Snake” or “Ouroboros,” and experts say that there’s every chance that Russia is behind it. The Financial Times reported that the virus has been deployed aggressively since the start of 2013. Of 22 recorded infections, 14 have occurred since the start of 2014, while protests raged against President Viktor Yanukovych’s government. The virus not only allows its employer access to computer networks for surveillance purposes, but can also act as a “digital beachhead” for software that can disrupt vital computer networks, such as those that control power supplies for banking operations.

Syria

Rebels in Syria freed more than a dozen Greek Orthodox nuns on Monday, ending their four-month captivity in exchange for Syrian authorities releasing dozens of female prisoners. The release of the nuns and their helpers, 16 women in all, is a rare successful prisoner exchange deal between Syrian government authorities and the rebels seeking to overthrow the rule of President Bashar Assad. But it is unlikely to soothe the fears of many Syrian Christians that their ancient minority is in danger should rebels come to power.

Libya

Western countries voiced concern that tensions in Libya could slip out of control in the absence of a functioning political system, and they urged the government and rival factions to start talking. Two-and-a-half years after the fall of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, the oil-rich North African state is struggling to contain violence between rival forces, with Islamist militants gaining an ever-stronger grip on the south of the country. With violent disputes between rival tribal factions disrupting exports of Libyan oil, the lack of a stable political foundation is causing growing concern for energy-hungry western countries, several of which were involved in overthrowing the Gaddafi government. The weak government in Tripoli is struggling to control well-armed former anti-Gaddafi rebels and Islamist militias, while parliament was stormed by protestors over the weekend who blamed the politicians for the growing chaos.

Central African Republic

Entire Muslim communities are being wiped out in attacks by anti-Balaka militias in the Central African Republic. The CAR has been beset by violence since March last year, when a coalition of rebel groups, led by Michel Djotodia under the Séléka banner, drove out President Bozizé in a coup. The rebels had previously been fighting to gain power across the north of the country where the Muslim minority, around 14 per cent of the total population, is largely based. The violence has since spread throughout the country, resulting in hundreds of thousands of people being internally displaced, while at least 20,000 have fled the country. Thousands have lost their lives.

Although CAR leaders contend that the conflict is political, not religious, Séléka soldiers are labelled as a Muslim force intent on establishing an Islamic state, while the anti-Balaka is widely known as ‘Christian militia’. Despite the presence of French and African Union peacekeepers in the northwest of the country, local Muslims are being repeatedly targeted by anti-Balaka forces. Thousands of mosques, community buildings and homes have also been torched and burned down across the north-west, and in other places, Muslims are starving to death as anti-Balaka forces have forbidden people to sell them food.

India

At least 20 police officers were feared killed Tuesday in a Maoist raid in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. The morning attack targeted a police security team of about 40 personnel in Sukma district in the assault believed to involve 200 rebel fighters. The Maoists ambushed the police team, which included state and armed federal personnel, as it provided security to construction workers. India’s home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde described the rebels as a “major threat” to national security. At least 97 security personnel and as many guerrillas were killed in Maoist assaults last year. The rebels, officials say, aim to seize power through an armed liberation struggle. Since the 1960s, the militants have said they are fighting for the dispossessed. In addition to targeting police, the insurgents also attack infrastructure such as roads, bridges, railways, and power and telecommunication networks.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake rattled the Northern California coast and was widely felt across the region, but authorities said early Monday that there were no reports of any injuries or damage. The magnitude 6.9 quake struck at 10:18 p.m. PDT Sunday and was centered 50 miles west of Eureka and about four miles beneath the Pacific seabed, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was followed by about a half dozen aftershocks, including one of magnitude 4.6. This was the strongest quake off of the northern California coast since 1992.

A minor earthquake shook western areas of Los Angeles. The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude-3.2 tremor occurred at 8:16 p.m. Friday. The quake was centered 1 mile southeast of Marina del Rey at a depth of 6 miles. Residents reporting on the USGS community response Internet page characterize the intensity as weak to light.

Weather

Winter Storm Vulcan is intensifying into a powerhouse storm, and may become a full-fledged blizzard in spots, as it pushes across the Midwest and into the Northeast now through Thursday. It will also dump heavy snow just across the border in the most heavily populated region of Canada. Up to 18 inches of snow fell in parts of central and southwest Montana on Monday and Monday night. The Northern Black Hills of South Dakota saw up to 8 inches of snowfall by the time snow ended there Tuesday. After skipping over the Central Plains with a meager mixture of snow and rain, Vulcan has become a force to contend with east of the Mississippi River. Winter storm warnings have been issued for parts of nine northeaster U.S. states and five Canadian provinces in anticipation of heavy snow and high winds. The potent snowstorm is forecast to blast portions of the Midwest and Northeast Wednesday and Thursday with as much as 2 feet of snow. If enough snow falls, the storm could break Detroit’s seasonal snowfall record and give Chicago its second snowiest winter. It also could bring the heaviest snowfall of the year to Burlington, Vt., where 12-16 inches are forecast.

Yet another winter storm brought a round of snow and ice to parts of the Southeast and mid-Atlantic last Friday and Saturday, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands and leaving road conditions messy. Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for North Carolina, where at least 245,000 utility customers were still without power Saturday afternoon. On Friday, train service between Charlotte and Raleigh was disrupted. Power lines came down across the tracks, leaving a train stuck for several hours before it returned to Salisbury, where passengers could catch buses. Another trainwas delayed in High Point because of fallen trees. Tens of thousands remain without power in North Carolina Monday morning, and utility companies say it could be days before power is restored.

Ice jams and melting snow have caused flooding in several locations around Wyoming and Montana, forcing several evacuations and prompting flood warnings. In Montana, four major rivers were under flood warnings. The National Weather Service in Billings says warnings are along the Gallatin River near Bozeman, Musselshell River from Harlowton to Roundup, Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River near Billings, and the Tongue River near Miles City. The flooding is from ice jams in the Yellowstone River. The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings and advisories for much of the central and southwestern parts of Montana. Warm temperatures are causing the heavy snowfall from February to melt causing avalanches and flooded roadways.

Signs of the Times (3/7/14)

March 7, 2014

Entire Families Coming to Christ in Saudi Arabia

Charisma News reports that “We’re hearing of women and whole families coming to Christ, which is significant. Normally we would know of individual men but, as the culture places such importance on the family unit, this is a major step forward.” The report cites several examples of the many different ways Saudi Arabians are coming to Christ, from Internet chat rooms to blogging sites to visions and dreams. See the report at: http://www.charismanews.com/world/43000-report-entire-families-coming-to-christ-in-saudi-arabia

Ukrainians Also Turning to Christ Midst Turmoil

As the situation in the Ukraine shifts from one moment to the next, Christians in the country continue to pray and work for peace. Prominent church leaders and missionaries report that even amid the tensions, many people are turning to Christ. Viktor Hamm, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s vice president of Crusades who was born inside a Soviet labor camp, is in Ukraine to encourage churches and meet with Ukraine’s temporary president, who is a Baptist pastor. “[President] Turchynov is a member of an evangelical church in Kiev, a solid evangelical believer, a Brother in Christ and a great political leader,” Hamm said. “With all that he has on his plate right now, he needs our prayers for great wisdom, stamina and peace.” The Mission Network reports that many people are looking to Christ for stability: “From Crimea, we have reports that former Muslims or Muslims are coming to our churches and saying, ‘Can we pray together to God?’” says Radchuk. “They don’t want to die without hope.”

German Homeschool Family Allowed to Stay in United States

The Romeike family, who left Germany in 2008 seeking a safe asylum to homeschool their children, has just been granted indefinite deferred status to remain in the United States (as long as they remain law-abiding). Just this weekend the Supreme Court declined to hear their case, headed up by HSLDA and Mike Farris. This afternoon on the HSLDA Facebook page, Farris announced that the Department of Homeland Security contacted HSLDA with the good news. He writes, “This is an incredible victory that can only be credited to our Almighty God. We also want to thank those of who spoke up on this issue–including that long ago White House petition. We believe that the public outcry made this possible while God delivered the victory.”

Missionaries Hit Bourbon Street for Annual Mardi Gras Outreach

Thousands braved the cold and rain Tuesday for the annual Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The day, known as “Fat Tuesday,” refers to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Known for debauchery, drunkenness and sexual promiscuity, hundreds of missionaries have been in the Crescent City this past week sharing the Gospel on Bourbon Street and the neighboring French Quarter. Since 1996 Raven Ministries International has hosted teams in New Orleans for its annual Mardi Gras outreach. Answering the Cries is another ministry hosting young adults from across the nation for outreach activities during Mardi Gras. “Mardi Gras Outreach is an opportunity to see people saved for the first time,” said Pastor Lloyd Zeigler of Relevant Church in Addison, Texas.

Downward Trend in Number of Abortion Clinics Continues

The ever-decreasing number of abortion clinics continues its decline with the announcement of the closing of abortion clinics in Texas, Florida, and California. This continues the trend of abortion clinic closures documented by Operation Rescue, which maintains the most accurate list of abortion clinics in the U.S. In 2013, a record 87 surgical abortion clinics and 6 abortion pill-only clinics closed. The closures are attributed to new laws that are weeding out abortion clinics that cannot meet minimum standards. Also, an increase in pro-life sentiment and greater reporting of abortion abuses by pro-life groups have also contributed to the closures, according to Operation Rescue.

Planned Parenthood Puts Profits before People

“Arizona’s largest abortion provider has once again put profits before the health and safety of women by challenging common sense medical standards in Court.” states the Center for Arizona Policy. “Planned Parenthood is suing the state because our elected officials believe that the dangerous and deadly abortion pill should be dispensed pursuant to Federal Food and Drug Administration rules,” says Cathi Herrod, CAP President. The abortion pill has been responsible for at least 21 deaths, yet Planned Parenthood is taking the state to court in order to dispense this dangerous medication outside FDA protocol (FDA protocol says the abortion pill should only be dispensed through 7 weeks of a pregnancy. Planned Parenthood is suing to dispense the pill through 9 weeks).

  • Calling it the “morning after” pill is deceptive because many women are using it to induce abortions many weeks after the morning after.

Pope Francis Leaves Door Open for Same-Sex Unions

Marriage can only be between a man and a woman, but the Roman Catholic Church could tolerate some types of same-sex civil unions, Pope Francis said in a wide-ranging interview published Wednesday in an Italian newspaper. The interview with Corriere della Sera suggested that Francis viewed the unions as a practical way to protect property rights and access to health care. The news service notes that a year ago the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family said some legal arrangements are justifiable to protect the inheritance rights of non-married couples.

  • Perhaps Pope Francis is the end-times ‘last pope’ as prophesied by Saint Malachy

FBI Data Shows Crime Down while Gun Sales Are Up

The FBI’s semi-annual uniform crime data for the first half of 2013 confirms once again what the firearms community already knew, that violent crime has continued to decline while gun sales have continued to climb. The report says murders declined 6.9 percent from the first half of 2012, while aggravated assaults dropped by 6.6 percent nationwide and robberies were down 1.8 percent. Forcible rapes declined 10.6 percent from the same period in 2012 and overall, violent crime fell by 10.6 percent in non-metropolitan counties and 3.6 percent in metropolitan counties. This new information reinforces the notion that not only do guns save lives, their presence in the hands and homes of law-abiding citizens just might be a deterrent to crime. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has been reporting a steady increase in firearm sales for the past few years.

  • The tired argument from the anti-gun lobby that more firearms in the hands of private citizens would result in sharp increases in violence has run out of traction.

More Obamacare Delays

Insurers can keep their customers on policies that don’t comply with Obamacare for another two years, the Obama administration announced Wednesday. The change could prevent Americans from receiving a new round of termination letters just before the November midterm elections. The cancellations last fall created a public relations nightmare for Obama officials, leading them in November to allow insurers to extend these plans into 2014. These plans, which often carry high deductibles and offer skimpy coverage, were originally supposed to end and be replaced with Obamacare-compliant policies. Obamacare plans set an annual limit on out-of-pocket expenses and cover many more benefits, including drugs and maternity care.

ObamaCare Signing Up Few Uninsured

ObamaCare appears to be making little progress in signing up uninsured Americans, one of the law’s primary goals, according to two new surveys. Only one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private plans through the new health insurance marketplaces enrolled as of last month, according to a survey by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., The Washington Post reported on Thursday. The McKinsey survey found that only 27 percent of people who have selected a plan on the exchanges described themselves as having previously been without insurance. A second survey by researchers at the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, found that Americans with lower incomes and those who are uninsured are less likely to know about the ObamaCare marketplaces than others, the Post reported. Gary Cohen, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services official who oversaw the insurance marketplaces through their troubled rollout, told an insurance industry conference on Thursday that the administration doesn’t know how many uninsured Americans are signing up.

  • That’s the government for you – set a goal and then don’t measure it. That way they can’t be held accountable, or so they believe.

ICE Silent on Release of 2,228 Immigration Detainees

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are still refusing to disclose the names, criminal histories and whereabouts of more than 2,200 detainees the agency suddenly released a year ago. Citing public-safety concerns, an array of public officials have demanded that ICE turn over details about the detainees. ICE officials have trickled out only limited information, including some documents obtained by The Arizona Republic that show that several detainees who were released had more serious criminal histories than ICE officials originally disclosed. Other documents obtained by The Republic show that dozens of the detainees were later taken back into custody, including four of 10 detainees deemed Level 1, the highest risk. At the time of their release, all were facing deportation.

Alzheimer’s Deadlier than Believed

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for many more deaths than health officials realized, a new study concludes, making it nearly as lethal as the Nation’s two biggest killers, heart disease and cancer. Death certificates record immediate cause of death, but often miss the underlying cause, which is why Alzheimer’s has been undercounted. The new study, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, found that annual death rates from Alzheimer’s should be closer to 500,000 than the 85,000 currently counted by the government. Alzheimer’s is always lethal, but because most people think of it as a memory disease, they do not always connect the disease with death. Dementia cuts five to 10 years off the lifespan and is not a normal part of aging. Dementia can lead to lethal falls that would not have happened otherwise. Pneumonia is also common among with people with Alzheimer’s, whose bodies have literally forgotten how to shift the throat muscles to keep food from the lungs.

Obama’s Budget Proposal Ominous

President Obama’s latest budget proposal paints a bleak picture of America’s fiscal future. Here’s a troubling snapshot: by 2024, the total national debt would rise from $17.4 trillion to nearly $25 trillion; by 2020, U.S. taxpayers would be paying more in interest on the debt than they would on the entire Defense budget; by 2017, those interest payments would be bigger than the budget for Medicaid, Under the budget blueprint, the 2015 deficit would shrink to $564 billion from $649 billion this year. That’s a sharp fall from year after year of $1 trillion-plus deficits during Obama’s first term. But even when the deficit shrinks, the national debt will continue to grow. A lot. And every year the debt grows, the interest on that debt also grows, crowding out needed funding for everything from the military to education to infrastructure to entitlements.

Economic News

The job market rebounded from a two-month slump in February as employers added 175,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate rose to 6.7% from 6.6%, the Labor Department said Friday. Businesses added 162,000 jobs. Federal, state and local governments added 13,000. December’s job gains were revised to 84,000 from 75,000 and January’s to 129,000 from 113,000. Monthly job gains averaged 200,000-plus last fall.

A booming stock market and recovering home values boosted Americans’ household wealth by nearly $10 trillion last year, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday. The net worth of households and non-profits was $80.7 trillion at the end of 2013, a 14% increase from 2012. More than half of the increase — $5.6 trillion — came from stocks. Real estate holdings rose $2.3 trillion in value. Household wealth reflects the value of homes, stocks, bank accounts and other assets minus mortgages, credit cards and other debts.

Home prices rose in January, breaking a string of three straight monthly declines, despite a weather-related slowdown in sales. Prices increased 0.9% vs. December and were up 12% from a year-ago. Despite the advances, home prices remained about 17% off their April 2006 peak. The states with the largest year-over-year increases in home prices were Nevada, at 22.2%; California, 20.3%; Oregon, 14.3%; Michigan; 13.7%, and Georgia, 13.4%.Despite Nevada’s increase, the state is still 40.1% below its peak price, the most in the nation.

One week after the popular Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox mysteriously shut down, another exchange is also closing following an attack by hackers. In a statement posted to their website Tuesday, Flexcoin says it was “robbed” of all 896 of its Bitcoins. Based on Tuesday’s price, the stolen Bitcoins are valued at more than $600,000. Flexcoin’s demise follows last Friday’s announcement from Mt. Gox that it was filing for bankruptcy following a similar theft of Bitcoin. The number of Bitcoins stolen from Gox is valued at $425 million.

Persecution Watch

Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of North Korea, has called for the execution of 33 people for reportedly working as accomplices to South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook and planning to help him create 500 underground churches. Last October, Kim Jung-wook was arrested and placed in jail for his plan to set up underground churches. Part of his plan was to distribute bibles, Christian instructional materials, and movies. In a press conference held last week, he apologized for committing “anti-state” crimes with the hope of being released from the North Korean prison cell where he is being held.

Seven Egyptian Christians were rounded up by suspected Islamist militants in Libya, taken away at gunpoint and shot dead. Their bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs on a beach on the outskirts of Benghazi on 24 February. A group of masked men had raided the building in which the Egyptians lived the night before. They went door-to-door asking if the residents were Christian or Muslim before abducting the seven Christians, who were aged 17-25, at gunpoint. The militants spray-painted a message on the apartment building and on other buildings in the area offering a reward of 10,000 Libyan Dinars (£5,000; US$8,000) for anyone who turns a Christian over to them.

Middle East

The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday it intercepted an Iranian shipment of “advanced” weapons bound for “terrorist organizations” operating in Gaza. The Israeli navy stopped a Panamanian-flagged civilian cargo ship and boarded the vessel, the IDF said. The weapons found were identified as Syrian-manufactured surface-to-surface rockets. The boarding took place about 1,000 miles off the coast of Eilat, Israel, between Sudan and Eritrea in the Red Sea in international waters. The IDF spokesman said Tehran was doing everything possible to cover up its role in the shipment of weapons. Iran has already provided the anti-Israel terrorist group Hezbollah tens of thousands of missiles in southern Lebanon despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers there, say Israeli military analysts. The IDF says the Syrian missiles would have been a “game-changer” with longer reach and bigger warheads.

The Palestinian president says there’s “no way” he’ll recognize Israel as a Jewish state and accept just a portion of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. Mahmoud Abbas said in comments published Friday by the official WAFA news agency that he withstood U.S. pressure when he sought U.N. recognition for a state of Palestine and suggested he would do so again. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is to present ideas Friday for the contours of a deal to Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Gaps between the sides remain wide after seven months of Kerry’s mediation, and a framework by an April 29 deadline appears elusive.

Egypt

A Cairo court has banned all activities by Hamas in Egypt, calling the Palestinian movement that runs Gaza a terrorist organization. Hamas member Izzat Rashq denounced Tuesday’s ruling by the Cairo circuit court as a “political decision aimed to undermine the Palestinian people and their valiant resistance.” Egypt’s relations with the militant group have been on the decline since the military ousted former President Mohamed Morsy. The nation’s military government has been cracking down on Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ukraine

Western powers increased pressure on Russia Wednesday to talk to the new government in Kiev, in a bid to de-escalate tensions over Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimea region. The European Union announced Wednesday it will offer Ukraine an aid package worth at least $15 billion (€11 billion) as the country struggles with dwindling cash and a military standoff with Russia. The diplomatic maneuvers come as world leaders met in Paris for talks that were intended to focus on Lebanon. Instead, Ukraine dominated the agenda. Russian forces remain in effective control of Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula where Russia has a huge naval base, in a tense standoff with Ukrainian forces loyal to the new interim government in Kiev.

Russia has been warned that economic sanctions may be employed if no progress is made in ending the high-stakes showdown. In return, Russian lawmakers are drafting a law that will allow Russia to confiscate assets belonging to U.S. and European companies if it faces sanctions. Crimea’s pro-Russia administration in Simferopol has announced a March 16 referendum on whether Crimea should become part of Russia. Critics fear the move is a pretext toward secession and the eventual annexation by the Russian Federation. The parliament in Crimea enjoys a degree of autonomy under current Ukrainian law. Referendum voters will choose between joining Russia or remaining part of Ukraine, but with enhanced local powers. Russia’s parliament gave its full support to Crimean lawmakers who want to see their region split from Ukraine and join Russia.

Weather

A parade of powerful storms this winter has lashed Europe and the United Kingdom, leaving in its wake record rainfall, flooding and widespread damage. But beaches across the U.K. are feeling the effects of the country’s devastating winter storms, too. According to The Guardian, strong winds from the storms have pushed litter and debris onto many beaches in the U.K. The most recent run of bad weather has changed beaches drastically,” Claire Wallerstein, the chairman of a UK environmental group, told the Cornish Guardian.  “(It’s) giving us a scary glimpse of how much trash is really out there, which sea life has to contend with.” But it’s not just trash washing ashore. The Marine Conservation Society, which is undertaking next month’s beach clean-up, tells The Guardian that hundreds of thousands of dead and dying seabirds being washed ashore onto the English, French and Spanish coasts. The birds have become entangled with a large amount of trash, including plastic materials.

Signs of the Times (3/4/14)

March 4, 2014

‘Son of God’ Blows Away Expectations with $26M Box Office Weekend

“Son of God,” the first major cinematic retelling of the story of Jesus in more than a decade, confounded Hollywood elites, mainstream critics, and industry experts Sunday with a staggering $26.5 million box office take. The Fox release nearly toppled reigning box office heavyweight Liam Neeson, coming in a close second to his adventure film “Non-Stop.” That film was No. 1 with a $30 million weekend box office. “Son of God” brings to the big screen an epic from the team that created “The Bible” for cable TV’s History Channel. The film covers Jesus’ birth, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection. It marks the first motion picture about Jesus’ life since “The Passion of the Christ” 10 years ago. The film’s success also revealed the huge divide between the Christian fan base and mainstream movie critics. The film attracted favorable ratings of 22 percent from critics at Rottentomatoes.com, while 83 percent of fans like it.

More Biblical Noah Movie to Also be Released

On the same day Hollywood plans to release their highly anticipate (and highly controversial) Noah movie, Christian evangelist Ray Comfort plans to release his own film entitled Noah –And the Last Days. According to The Christian New Network, Comfort was disappointed with the portrayal of Noah in the upcoming film, believing producers had depicted him inaccurately. As a result, Comfort will be revealing his own 30-minute movie which he believes conveys a “very important biblical message.” “Noah and the Last Days’ will draw biblical correlations between the rampant sinfulness of the world in the time of Noah and the state of today’s culture. “They have no qualms about sensationalizing the story of Noah in order to make it more profitable,” he says. “That’s their bottom line. But the movie strays so far from the biblical account that it omits its essential message – God’s judgment for man’s sin and evil,” Comfort says.

Judge Rules Veterans Monument Unconstitutional Endorsement of Christianity

A federal judge in California has ruled that a veterans’ monument that includes the symbol of the cross is an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity. The city council of Lake Elsinore unanimously approved the creation of the monument in November 2012, which was to be erected in Diamond Stadium. The 5-0 vote followed a public hearing where over 100 residents attended to voice their opinion, mainly in support of the display. However, the 6-foot granite monument was met with disapproval by atheist groups and others who asserted that one aspect of its design went too far. The monument, which declares, “In honor of our brave men and women who by their service give life to our most precious gift — freedom,” also depicts a soldier kneeling before a row of cemetery markers in the shape of a cross. A Star of David is also featured on the display, as well as an American flag and a soaring eagle.

  • Satan wants to stamp out every Christian and Jewish symbol on earth as part of his end-time one-world government that the Bible says is coming (Revelation 13:7-8,12)

Christian Home-Schooling Family Deported

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike came to the United States in 2008 seeking political asylum. They fled their German homeland in the face of religious persecution for homeschooling their children. They wanted to live in a country where they could raise their children in accordance with their Christian beliefs. The Romeikes were initially given asylum, but the Obama administration objected – claiming that German laws that outlaw homeschooling do not constitute persecution. On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear the Romeike’s appeal – paving the way for the Christian family of eight to be deported, reports Todd Starnes at Foxnews.com. “I think this is a part of the Obama administration’s overall campaign to crush religious freedom in this country,” said Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association which is representing the family.

  • There are many forms of persecution, just ask the blacks. However, Christians are now the primary target for intolerant religious bigots.

FCC Blinks, Drops Newsroom Monitor Plan

The Federal Communications Commission, under intense fire last week for proposing to install government agents in radio, television and even newspaper newsrooms to look at how editorial decisions are made, abruptly backed away from the plan Monday. Shannon Gilson, a spokeswoman for the federal agency, said “in the course of FCC review and public comment, concerns were raised that some of the questions may not have been appropriate. Chairman Wheeler agreed that survey questions in the study directed toward media outlet managers, news directors, and reporters overstepped the bounds of what is required.”

  • Nevertheless, the failed attempt reveals the direction our increasingly socialistic government wants to go

1 in 3 Personally Hurt by Obamacare

One-third of Americans say the Affordable Care Act has had a negative impact on them personally, while 14 percent say the law has helped them, according to a new Rasmussen survey. The poll finds that public dissatisfaction with Obamcare remains nearly as high as it was during the height of the website’s problems last year. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they view the law unfavorably, just shy of a high of 58 percent in November of last year. The one-third of Americans who say they have been hurt by the law is a slight increase from the 29 percent who said the same in January, while those saying they had been helped by the law dropped 2 percent over the same period.

2 out of 3 Americans Reject Obama-Boehner’s Immigration Plan

According to a new poll by Pulse Opinion Research, 2 out of every 3 Americans oppose the Obama-Boehner immigration plan that would give work permits to illegal aliens before enforcement measures are fully put in place: 59% of respondents said to grant work permits only after Congress certifies full implementation of all border, interior and workplace enforcement; only 25% said work permits during the first year before new enforcement; 16% were unsure. Eliminating the unsure means that 70% oppose premature work permits.

Giant Virus Resurrected from Permafrost

A mysterious giant virus buried for 30,000 years in Siberian permafrost has been resurrected. The virus only infects single-celled organisms and doesn’t closely resemble any known pathogens that harm humans. Even so, the new discovery raises the possibility that as the climate warms and exploration expands in long-untouched regions of Siberia, humans could release ancient or eradicated viruses. These could include Neanderthal viruses or even smallpox that have lain dormant in the ice for thousands of years. “If they have been extinct for a long time, then our immune system is no longer prepared to respond to them,” says study co-author Jean-Michel Claverie, a bioinformatics researcher at Aix-Marseille University in France

Rates of Mental Disorders much Higher in Soldiers than Civilians

The largest study of mental-health risk ever conducted among the U.S. military has found that many soldiers suffer from some form of mental illness, and rates of many of these disorders are much higher in soldiers than in civilians. The rate of major depression is five times as high among soldiers as civilians, intermittent explosive disorder six times as high, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) nearly 15 times as high. When it came to suicidal thoughts, one study found about 14% of soldiers had thought about taking their lives, while 5.3% had planned a suicide and 2.4% had actually made one or more attempts.

Lawyers, Doctors, Pharmacists top Civilian Suicide Rates

One by one, state by state, bar associations say the tally is rising: Lawyers are killing themselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided CNN with the latest available data on suicide deaths by profession. Lawyers ranked fourth when the proportion of suicides in that profession is compared to suicides in all other occupations in the study population (adjusted for age).They come right behind dentists, pharmacists and physicians. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers, mostly trial attorneys.

U.S. Kids’ Tooth Decay Hits ‘Epidemic’ Proportions

Tooth decay is largely preventable, but it remains one of the most common diseases of childhood — five times as common as asthma, and seven times as common as hay fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC says 42% of children ages 2 to 11 have had cavities in baby teeth; 21% of those ages 6 to 11 have had cavities in permanent teeth. A new education campaign by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry highlights the seriousness of dental decay in children and urges parents and caregivers to start early to prevent it. “We’re reaching epidemic proportions of a rapid form of tooth decay especially in younger children, often from disadvantaged backgrounds. We’re seeing increases in the rate of what we call early childhood caries (ECC),” says Warren Brill, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. “It develops most commonly with infants and toddlers when they are put to sleep with a bottle in their mouth, put to sleep nursing, or walk around with a sippy cup. That, combined with the fact that their teeth aren’t being cleaned as carefully as they should, leads to this situation.”

Economic News

Stocks mostly managed to close with gains Friday, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 closed at an all-time high for the second straight day, powered by strong earnings from a number of U.S. companies. But large swaths of the market are completely missing out and are nowhere near their highs, a potentially troubling sign about the health of the rally. Corners of the stock market still far from their highs include entire sectors like financials and technology, not to mention household name stocks like Apple, Starbucks and Alcoa.

Nationally, the price of regular grade gasoline has climbed 17 cents the past 21 days. With the 5% jump, consumers paid an average $3.45 a gallon this past weekend, vs. $3.28 a month ago. However, consumers are spending about 33 cents a gallon less than year ago levels. Prices will likely peak at about $3.75 a gallon.

Banks everywhere are in a race against time to upgrade their ATMs before they become hot targets for hackers. An estimated 95% of American bank ATMs run on Windows XP, and Microsoft is killing off tech support for that operating system on April 8. That means Microsoft will no longer issue security updates to patch holes in Windows XP, leaving those ATMs exposed to new kinds of cyberattacks. If hackers discover new flaws in Windows XP, those bugs will go unaddressed, leaving attackers free to exploit them.

RadioShack revealed another quarter of red ink and a 19% tumble in same-store sales on Tuesday, prompting the embattled electronics retailer to shutter up to 1,100 stores. The company noted it will still have more than 4,000 locations in the U.S. even after the closures.

Persecution Watch

Islamist militants have told Christians in a northern Syrian city that they will guarantee their safety. But there’s a catch. Make that a lot of catches. Christian residents of Raqqa, once one of the nation’s most liberal cities, will have to pay as much as 17 grams of gold per adult male in an annual payment, the extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) said in a statement posted online this week. The group is also forbidding the city’s Christians from repairing or refurbishing their churches and monasteries. The list of constraints imposed by the militants also limits Christian worship, business activities and alcohol consumption.

Middle East

President Barack Obama continues to push Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to agree to a peace deal over land disputes in Palestine, the Blaze reports. Jeffery Goldberg of the Bloomberg View writes that President Obama is prepared to warn Netanyahu that Israel could have a “bleak future” characterized by “international isolation and demographic disaster” if Israel cannot compromise. Although Obama claims that America’s ties to Israel are solid and unwavering, he is troubled by Israel’s “aggressive settlement construction” that continues to happen in the controversial West Bank. Yuval Steinitz, Strategic Affairs Minister, addressed Obama’s warning by insisting that Israel does want to promote a political settlement. The members of the Israeli government, he continues, “are justifiably concerned about our national security. There is no reason to pressure Israel. We are only caring for Israel’s most fundamental needs.”

  • Obama is the most anti-Israel president we’ve ever had with a pro-Muslim inclination

Ukraine

The standoff between Ukraine and Russia is the “biggest crisis in Europe of the 21st Century,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday as Russia’s foreign minister insisted that his nation’s troops were needed in Crimea to protect Russian citizens. A senior U.S. administration official told CNN Russia has “complete operational control of the Crimean Peninsula” and the U.S. estimates there are 6,000 Russian forces in the region. Russian President Vladimir Putin said there is not yet a need to send Russian troops into Ukraine as he separately ordered troops taking part in military exercises in western Russia near the border with Ukraine to return to their bases. But Putin also said that Russia reserves the right to use “all means” necessary to protect its citizens in Ukraine. However, Russia is not considering trying to make Crimea a part of Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday. In a demonstration of support for Ukraine’s fledgling government, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived here on Tuesday with an offer of $1 billion in American loan guarantees and pledges of technical assistance. The purpose of the loan guarantee is to support Ukraine’s efforts to integrate with the West and help offset the reduction of energy subsidies from Russia.

Iran

Iran is moving ahead with a nuclear program that U.S. officials said would be frozen. Iran has continued research and development on new, far more efficient machines for producing uranium fuel that could power reactors or bombs, and its stockpile of low enriched uranium has actually grown, according to a report by Institute for Science and International Security. The Iranian regime has also trumpeted recent tests of new ballistic missiles that could be used to deliver a future warhead while its pariah economy has begun a modest recovery.

  • Surprise, surprise, Iran didn’t keep its word. How many times must this occur before the Obama administration realizes that this is the way it is and not the way they keep blindly hoping.

Syria

Syria has submitted a revised proposal “that aims to complete the removal of all chemicals” from the country before the end of April, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Tuesday. Nearly one third of Syria’s chemical weapons material has already been removed or destroyed, Syria claims. The slow pace of removal, prompting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to warn that all options remain available to force compliance. Syria didn’t meet the initial removal levels in a prior agreement. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been working with senior Syrian officials to discuss a new schedule going forward.

Afghanistan

Outgoing Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai angrily criticized the U.S. government for its conduct of the war in that country, which he described as being “for the U.S. security and for the Western interests.” Karzai told The Washington Post that he feels “betrayed” by what he says are insufficient efforts by the U.S. to target Taliban strongholds in Pakistan. He also criticized the U.S. for inflicting civilian casualties in various military operation, saying “Afghans died in a war that’s not ours.” Karzai’s comments have caused bitterness in Washington, where U.S. officials point to the number of lives lost — approximately 2,300 — and the amount of money spent — over $600 billion — on operations in Afghanistan. Karzai has refused to sign a long-term security pact that would keep some American troops in Afghanistan past the end of this year.

Pakistan

At least 11 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a suicide attack Monday on a court building in the Pakistani capital. Two militants threw hand grenades, fired guns and then blew themselves up at the district court building. Other armed attackers opened fire and then left the scene. Attacks of this nature are rare in Pakistan’s heavily policed capital.

Nigeria

The fight against militant Islamists in Nigeria led to dozens of deaths, mostly of civilians, in three villages this weekend. A military plane trying to bomb camps of the Boko Haram extremist group in the Sambisa Forest on Friday night “mistook the village (Daglun) for a Boko Haram camp,” said Ali Ndume, a senator representing the region. The inaccurate air raid was part of “an ongoing offensive” against the insurgents, Ndume said. Less than 24 hours after that incident, a flurry of violence in northeastern Nigeria, blamed on Boko Haram, left more than three dozen people dead and may have taken many more lives. Dozens of attackers in military uniforms stormed the village of Mainok on Saturday evening, riding four-wheelers and motorcycles, as residents were preparing for evening prayers. Boko Haram is an Islamist militant group that has waged a campaign of violence in northeastern Nigeria, trying to impose its strict version of Sharia, or Islamic law.

China

Twenty-nine people were killed and 130 were injured Saturday night when eight men armed with long knives stormed the station in the southwest Chinese city of Kunming, the state news agency Xinhua reported. Members of a separatist group from Xinjiang, in northwest China, are believed to have carried out the assault, authorities said. The report referred to them as “terrorists.” Police said they killed at least four attackers and shot and wounded a female suspect. Police have arrested three more suspects in Saturday’s knife attack. Authorities now believe all eight alleged attackers have been arrested or killed.

Weather

A winter storm over the southern Plains and lower Mississippi Valley moved northeastward to the mid-Atlantic by Sunday evening, eventually dumping 6-12 inches of snow across a swath that includes Washington, D.C., according to the National Weather Service. The federal government closed its offices in the Washington area Monday due to the storm. An area including Philadelphia, southern New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Northern Virginia, West Virginia, eastern Ohio and northeastern Kentucky bore the brunt of the snow. The storm wound down Monday night, but not before killing at least 12 people, causing hundreds of accidents on icy roads, cancelling thousands of flights and leaving tens of thousands without power.

Bitter cold temperatures continued to affect the nation’s northern tier over the first few days of March. International Falls, Minn. set a daily record low temperature of -36 degrees. Friday morning, daily record lows were set in Gaylord, Mich. (-29 degrees), Green Bay, Wis. (-21 degrees), Flint, Mich. (-16 degrees), Grand Rapids, Mich. (-12 degrees) and Toledo, Ohio (-7 degrees), to name just a few locations. Saturday, Grand Forks, N.D. and Fargo, N.D. recorded their coldest high temperatures on record for the month of March, peaking at -11 degrees. Sunday morning, Billings, Mont. set an all-time record low temperature for the month of March at -21 degrees. Over 90% of the Great Lakes are frozen solid, the highest level in 20 years.