Archive for April, 2014

Signs of the Times (4/27/14)

April 27, 2014

Many Christians Ignorant About Bible

The American Bible Society’s annual “State of the Bible” survey reveals “the people of the book are not people of this book,” said Geof Morin, chief communication officer for the society. People overestimate their knowledge,” Morin said. The ABS survey of 1,012 U.S. adults, conducted by Barna Research, found that 82 percent of U.S. adults consider themselves at least somewhat knowledgeable about the Bible. However, he said, “43 percent can’t even name the first five books of the Bible.” When it came to assessing what the Bible says on several critical social issues, many showed fuzzy knowledge of the attitudes and behaviors addressed in Scripture. There were distinct divides between “practicing Christians” — those who consider their faith important, attend church regularly and believe they are born again — and “notional” Christians who wear the label but disengage from practice. The “notionals” roughly aligned with people who said they had no religious identity on several questions, including what the Bible says about same-sex marriage or the repression of women.

While 91 percent of evangelicals say the Bible discourages “repression of women,” that figure drops to 61 percent for other practicing Christians, such as mainline Protestants. “Notional” Christians — nearly half of all participants in the survey — have a grimmer picture of the Bible’s view on women. Nearly three in 10 (27 percent) say the Bible either encourages repression or is silent on women’s status (28 percent). Among those who claim no religious identity (nones), 46 percent see the Bible advocating repression of women and 22 percent say it’s silent on the matter. Questions about same-sex relationships and about war show similar divisiveness. Strong majorities in every category say the Bible discourages homosexuality. But 24 percent of “notional” Christians, and 33 percent of nones, say the Bible is silent on this topic.

  • Christians cannot depend on others to tell them what’s in the Bible, including pastors and priests. You must read it – all of it – to fully understand Scripture

Most Voters Favor Prayer, Minus Jesus, at Public Meetings

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule on the constitutionality of prayer at public meetings. But a new survey finds U.S. voters clearly favor prayer – as long as the public prayer is generic and not specifically Christian. Most registered voters (73 percent) said “prayer at public meetings is fine as long as the public officials are not favoring some beliefs over others.” And 23 percent said “public meetings shouldn’t have any prayers at all because prayers by definition suggest one belief or another.” Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind survey asked about attitudes on high profile cases before the court, including Greece v. Galloway. That case addresses whether elected officials can open public meetings with religiously specific prayers, such as praying in Jesus’ name. A Jew and an atheist brought suit in Greece, N.Y., saying the Christian prayers excluded many citizens and violated the Constitution, which bans government establishment of religion.

  • The end-time anti-Christ spirit and the great ‘falling away’ are rising to unprecedented levels in the run-up to the Great Tribulation.
  • The ‘establishment clause’ was intended by the founding fathers to prevent one Christian denomination to hold sway over another, but the vast majority of them believed America was a Christian nation

Mississippi to Ban Abortions after 20 Weeks of Pregnancy

Mississippi is the most recent state to outlaw abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy reports Charisma News. The new law will go into effect in July. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said, “Today is an important day for protecting the unborn and the health and safety of women in Mississippi,” after signing the bill. Mississippi moved to ban late term pregnancy when research was released claiming that fetuses develop the ability to feel pain at 20 weeks. In the event that a woman’s life was at risk, there is a clause to permit later-pregnancy abortions. The same rule applies if a fetus has “abnormalities so great that life outside the womb is not viable.”

NYT Edits Out Bundy’s Pro-Black, Pro-Mexican Remarks

The controversy over embattled rancher Cliven Bundy’s “racist” remarks has taken a new turn after longer unedited footage emerged showing the Nevada cattle rancher making pro-black and pro-Mexican comments that were excised out of media reports. The full clip illustrates how the original New York Times report edited out statements made by Bundy both before and after his supposedly “racist” remarks, which when taken in their full context actually constitute a pro-minority position. Media Matters also cut out these crucial comments from their YouTube upload of Bundy’s remarks. Go to FreedomOutpost.com for the full remarks.

Florida and Alaska Officially Pass Convention of States Application

Florida and Alaska have both officially passed the Convention of States application to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government. The Alaska Senate passed the Convention of States application (HJR 22) on Saturday by a vote of 12-8, and the Florida House passed the Convention of States application (SM 476) yesterday by a voice vote. We’re now two steps closer to calling the first-ever Article V Convention of States (Article V allows us to call a Convention of States to restrict the power, jurisdiction, and reach of the federal government). If you want to stop the out of control federal government, this is the only way. Sign up here and add your name to those who care about freedom. Sign up here!

  • The federal government has been trampling all over states’ rights despite the Constitutional limitation on federal powers. It’s time to reign in the feds.

Georgia’s New ‘Guns Everywhere Bill’

Georgia residents can now legally carry guns in churches, bars, schools, government buildings and parts of airports reports CNN. Republican Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 60, the so-called ‘guns everywhere bill,’ into law on Wednesday, sparking both celebration and criticism. “People who follow the rules can protect themselves and their families from people who don’t follow the rules,” Deal said. “The Second Amendment should never be an afterthought. It should reside at the forefronts of our minds.” HB 60 was “watered down” from its original form. There is a clause that allows church leaders to ban guns in the church if they choose and only school officials may carry guns in school zones. Concealed carry permits are necessary for Georgia citizens to possess firearms. Citizens must be 21 years of age to obtain a gun license; the exception under HB 60 are soldiers that are at least 18 and have completed basic training.

Obama Suffers Setbacks in Japan and the Mideast

President Obama encountered setbacks to two of his most cherished foreign-policy projects on Thursday, as he failed to achieve a trade deal that undergirds his strategic pivot to Asia and the Middle East peace process suffered a potentially irreparable breakdown. Obama had hoped to use his visit here to announce an agreement under which Japan would open its markets in rice, beef, poultry and pork, a critical step toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed regional trade pact. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not able to overcome entrenched resistance from Japan’s farmers in time for the president’s visit. In Jerusalem, Israel’s announcement that it was suspending stalemated peace negotiations with the Palestinians, after a reconciliation between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the militant group Hamas, posed yet another obstacle to restarting a troubled peace process in which Secretary of State John Kerry has been greatly invested.

Al-Zawahiri: Followers Should ‘Capture Westerners

Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s leader, urged Muslims to capture Westerners as pawns that might be used to free prisoners aligned with his movement in a question-and-answer session with al Qaeda’s media arm, the audio of which was published on the radical Islamist website Hanein.. Asked what he’d tell “Muslims and the mujahedeen” — a term used for some Islamist militants — to do to “fulfill their duty” toward their allies in custody al-Zawahiri said, “I advise them to capture Westerners — and especially the Americans, as much as they can — to exchange them for our captives.”

Furor Erupts over Net Neutrality Rules

A battle has erupted over the Federal Communications Commission chairman’s new proposal for net neutrality rules that would allow content providers to pay for Internet express lanes. In the first formal step toward reinstating net neutrality, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler presented a draft of the revised rules to his fellow commissioners Thursday. The rules would prevent Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against lawful content. But the proposal allows fast lanes to consumers’ homes, the so-called “last mile,” that content providers such as Netflix can purchase as long as the same opportunities are available to others on “commercially reasonable” terms. The new rules give the FCC the authority to review such arrangements to ensure that they don’t harm consumers and competition. Critics of the new approach immediately asserted that fast lanes are a form of discrimination that could leave small businesses and entrepreneurs at a disadvantage.

Union Leader Lambasts Obama Administration over Keystone Delays

The head of a major labor union is lambasting President Obama over the latest delay on the Keystone XL pipeline, six years after it was initially proposed. Last week, the administration announced it is extending a key review period indefinitely – a move that may push off a determination on the final project until after the midterm elections. Terry O’Sullivan, leader of the Laborers’ International Union which represents a half-million construction workers, claimed the administration’s announcement on Good Friday that it was putting off a decision, possibly until after the midterms, had politics written all over it. O’Sullivan has turned to various media outlets including The Wall Street Journal to voice his frustration with the pace of the Keystone process, and saying the only thing holding Obama back is courage.

  • Obama is rapidly losing the support of the liberal left, up till now his primary foundation of support

Low-Priced Home Sales Down, High-Priced Homes Up

Tuesday’s report on existing home sales last month highlights how tough the market is for buyers of lower-priced homes, especially in parts of the high-priced West. March sales of previously owned homes fell to their slowest annual pace in 20 months, down 0.2% from February to 4.59 million. It was the third straight monthly decline. Sales of homes under $100,000 fell nearly 18% from March 2013 and those in the $100,000-$250,000 range fell about 10%. But sales of homes over $1 million rose almost 8%.The median existing-home price — half were below the median and half above — was $198,500. The West is seeing the sharpest plunges in sales of lower-priced homes and has been for some time. Compared with a year earlier, March sales of under-$100,000 homes fell 45% in the West, 18% in the Midwest, 16% in the South and only 3% in the Northeast.

Economic News

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits increased more than expected last week, but the rise probably does not suggest a shift in labor market conditions as the underlying trend continued to point to strength. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 329,000 for the week ended April 19, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market conditions as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose only 4,750 to 316,750. That is not too far from pre-recession levels.

In 2012, households still paid the largest single share of health costs, according to federal actuaries. Part was premiums paid through employers and directly to insurers. Part was out-of-pocket expense. The household portion of the health spending pie shrank from 37% in 1987 to 28% in 2012, larger than the federal government’s 26% share or business’s 21%.

  • It will be interesting to see how much of a shift occurs after Obamacare is fully underway. The government portion will see a big increase while the household portion will decline.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades. After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

Middle East

Al Jazeera reported Wednesday that Fatah, the dominant faction in the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, has agreed to form a unity government for the Palestinians in partnership with the Ismalist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. According to the report, the new government is scheduled to be launched within five weeks. Al Jazeera quoted Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh as telling a Fatah delegation that “the possibility for further separation between the two movements is no longer possible given the current circumstances.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the news by saying that PA President Mahmoud Abbas “must choose, does he want reconciliation with Hamas, or peace with Israel? Only one is attainable, not both. I hope he chooses peace, until now he has not done so.”

The Israel government decided on Thursday to suspend American-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians because of the reconciliation agreement the Palestinians announced on Wednesday between two rival factions, one of which refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. The Israelis said no talks would be held at least until the new unity government announced by the Palestinians takes shape, and that it would not it any circumstances negotiate with a government that was backed by Hamas, the militant Islamic faction it considers a terrorist group.

Ukraine

Ukrainian forces killed five militants during operations to take down pro-Russians’ roadblocks in Slavyansk on Thursday, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said, in what appeared to be a significant escalation of violence in the country. Meanwhile, a pro-Russian insurgency leader in eastern Ukraine said Saturday that foreign military observers detained as suspected NATO spies could be released in exchange for jailed pro-Russian activists. At the same time, Russia and the West continued their war of words over the handling of the crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that if the Kiev government “has started to use the army against the population inside the country” it would “have consequences” between the two governments. NATO and the United States have already voiced unease about an estimated 40,000 Russian troops gathered near the Ukrainian border. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk charged Friday that Moscow “wants to start World War III” by seeking to take over Ukraine militarily and politically.

U.S. Army paratroopers are arriving in Poland on Wednesday as part of a wave of U.S. troops heading to shore up America’s Eastern European allies in the face of Russian meddling in Ukraine. Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said an initial contingent of about 600 troops will head to four countries across Eastern Europe for military exercises over the next month. The United States and other nations in the Group of Seven say they have agreed to “move swiftly” to impose additional economic sanctions on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine. The White House says U.S. sanctions could be levied as early as Monday.

Russia

Russia’s central bank on Friday raised its benchmark interest rate half a percentage point to 7.5% to cope with rising inflation in another sign of widening economic fallout from the Ukraine crisis. The move came hours after Standard & Poor’s cut Russia’s credit rating to one notch above junk levels, citing the political tensions over Ukraine. “In our view, the tense geopolitical situation between Russia and Ukraine could see additional significant outflows of both foreign and domestic capital from the Russian economy and hence further undermine already weakening growth prospects,” S&P said.

Iran

Eight months after taking office, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has suffered his first major political defeat, with the public overwhelmingly brushing aside appeals to forgo direct government aid. The 455,000-rial ($14) monthly handout scheme, initiated in December 2010 by Rouhani’s predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is part of broader economic reforms aimed at overhauling the country’s massive subsidy system. The reform — which phases out parts of remaining subsidies on energy, utility bills and basic food costs — is forecast in this year’s budget to save the cash-starved government $18 billion. Encouraged by economists as a way of regulating Iran’s economy, which is stretched thin with debilitating sanctions and mismanagement, the second phase of the plan started Friday with gasoline prices being raised as much as 75 percent. The bid to curb expenditure under the separate handout scheme, however, appears to have failed. The Rouhani administration for weeks ran an aggressive media campaign seeking to persuade the most affluent of Iran’s 77-million population, and some of the middle class, to waive the cash payments… But on Wednesday it was announced that 73 million people — 95 percent — had asked to receive the money, amounting to a near $1-billion monthly bill.

Iraq

Bombers killed at least 31 people and wounded 56 more at a political rally in a stadium in eastern Baghdad on Friday, days ahead of parliamentary elections. The al Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility. Iraq has been beset with political and sectarian violence for months, often pitting Sunnis — a minority in Iraq — against Shiite Muslims, who came to dominate the government after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003. The United Nations said 2013 was the deadliest year in Iraq since 2008, with more than 8,800 people killed, most of them civilians.

Afghanistan

The Afghanistan presidential election — the first in 13 years — appears headed for runoff, after full preliminary results released Saturday show former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah receiving the most votes but failing to reach the 50 percent threshold. Abdullah garnered 44.9 percent of the vote, putting him ahead of ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who came in second with 31.5 percent. The preliminary results are to be finalized on May 14 after investigations into fraud complaints, and the runoff should be held within 15 days of the final results.

A Chicago pediatrician who “felt called” to move to Afghanistan to treat children and train physicians was among three Americans killed at a Kabul hospital Thursday by an Afghan guard. The police guard opened fire on the pediatrician and four others with him at the CURE Hospital’s gates, Kabul police said. The police guard shot himself but survived. The motive for the attack was not immediately clear.

Egypt

An Egyptian military official died Wednesday when a bomb attached to his car exploded. Last week, two Egyptian police officers were injured during an attack near Cairo, when an improvised explosive device detonated at a traffic security checkpoint. Ealier, authorities killed two Muslim Brotherhood members during a gunfight in the Nile Delta, north of Cairo. Police clashed in several cities with protesters supporting former President Mohamed Morsy as unrest continues to plague the nation.

Wildfires

High winds pushed a New Jersey forest fire out of control Thursday, forcing a school to close and 620 homes to evacuate. The fire started just before noon in Beachwood, according to the Asbury Park Press, and then quickly spread into Berkeley Township. Authorities said there were no injuries in the blaze. The fire burned more than half a square mile of land, but was completely contained by late Thursday. Although some homes were damaged, firefighters say none were destroyed.

Weather

California’s epic drought continues to worsen. The Drought Monitor reported Thursday that 100% of the state is officially in drought, with 96% in severe to exceptional drought. The entire southwest is experiencing serious drought conditions, with 84% of Nevada in severe to exceptional drought, 80% of New Mexico and 68% of Arizona in severe to exceptional drought.

It’s hard to image a city of 105,000 running out of water, but that’s the reality in Wichita Falls, Texas. A crippling four-year drought has taken this community to a place they’ve never been before. “It’s been awful here. We’re entering our worst drought on record,” said Russell Schreiber, the city’s public works director, and the force behind one of the most controversial plans in Texas: The use of treated wastewater for public consumption. It’s a bold move — and a tough sell. But many residents don’t like the idea of drinking treated wastewater. Wichita Falls’ new state-of-the-art treatment facility is capable of treating 5 million gallons of water a day, and has the full support of Mayor Glenn Barham. Drought restrictions are also in place, prohibiting all outdoor water usage. City officials will begin issuing fines up to $2,000 for people who turn on the hose, wash their cars or fill their pools.

Even as we push deeper into the heart of spring tornado season, 2014 has so far completely spared Americans the agony and grief of tornado-related deaths. The year’s long early safe streak has put 2014 in rare territory, historically. This year has now gone on longer than any other calendar year in without a tornado fatality since such records began recording in 1950.

Signs of the Times (4/22/14)

April 22, 2014

Nearly 1,000 Abortion Patients Hospitalized Annually in Texas

A decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allowing the State of Texas to enforce a controversial abortion law passed last year reveals that abortion complications that require emergency hospitalization are higher than thought, and raise the concerns that the true number of serious abortion-related injuries and maternal deaths are being kept from the public. “Information in this decision has forced us to crunch the numbers,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue. “Our calculations based on conservative estimates indicates that nearly 1,000 women might very well be hospitalized each year in Texas alone. That number is completely unacceptable.” The appeals decision issued on March 27, 2014, reveals troubling information that was submitted in the form of sworn testimony during a challenge to the constitutionality of HB 2, a sweeping abortion law that requires abortionists to maintain hospital privileges within 30 miles of their abortion clinics and follow protocols set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for administering the abortion pill, mifepristone, also known as RU-486.

  • Beyond ending a baby’s life, the impact of abortion on women not only exposes them to physical complications, but also causes severe emotional trauma and spiritual oppression

China on Course to Become ‘World’s Most Christian Nation’

Officially, the People’s Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied. Christian congregations have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 signaled the end of the Cultural Revolution. Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world’s number one economy but also its most numerous Christian nation. “By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule. China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life. By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, Prof. Yang predicted.

Professor Punished for Faith in Jesus, but Wins Court Case

“A jury found that the University of North Carolina-Wilmington retaliated unconstitutionally against one of its conservative, outspoken, Christian professors,” reports OneNewsNow. Dr. Mike Adams was hired by UNC-Wilmington as an assistant professor in 1993. 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 anti-Christian persecution led to a lawsuit by Christian lawyers on Adam’s behalf. ADF calls yesterday’s verdict “a powerful message for academic freedom and free speech at America’s public universities.”

Family Sues N.J. School District over ‘Under God’ in Pledge

A family is suing the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District and its superintendent, seeking to have the phrase “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance that students recite every day. A lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Monmouth County on behalf of the family, who wish to remain unidentified, and the American Humanist Association claims that the practice of acknowledging God in the pledge of allegiance discriminates against atheists, in violation of New Jersey’s constitution. But the school district’s attorney says the district is simply following a state law that requires pupils to recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily. “If the group who’s brought this lawsuit questions the wisdom of that policy or the legality of it, we believe their arguments are much better directed to the state Legislature who’s imposed this requirement on us, rather than suing an individual school district on this matter,” Attorney Rubin said.

Western States Hold Summit on Controlling Federal Land

Lawmakers from Western states said Friday that the time has come for them to take control of federal lands within their borders and suggested the standoff this month between a Nevada rancher and the federal government was a problem waiting to happen. The lawmakers — more than 50 of them from nine Western states – attended the Legislative Summit on the Transfer for Public Lands, in Utah, which was scheduled before this month’s standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management. The agency rounded up hundreds of Bundy’s cattle, saying he hasn’t paid more than $1 million in grazing fees he owes for trespassing on federal lands since the 1990s. But Bundy does not recognize federal authority on the land, which his family has used since the 1870s. The agency released the cattle after a showdown last weekend with angry armed protesters whom Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid referred to as “domestic terrorists.” On Friday, political leaders from the nine states convened for the first time to talk about their joint goal of wresting control of oil-, timber -and mineral-rich lands away from the U.S. government. They argue that states and local governments west of the Mississippi River often can best manage the land and that doing so would allow them to use it to improve their economies.

  • The history of the USA is one of the federal government continually usurping state’s rights in violation of the Constitution

U.S. Population Growth Slowing

The U.S. population rose by just 0.72% in 2013, the lowest growth rate in more than 70 years. Not only has the country become less-attractive to immigrants than in years past, with net immigration down from nearly 1.2 million as of 2001 to 843,145 last year, but the U.S.’s domestic birth rate has also dropped to a multi-decade low. The U.S. fertility rate fell to another record low in 2012, with 63.0 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s down slightly from the previous low of 63.2 in 2011. It marked the fifth year in a row the U.S. birth rate has declined, and the lowest rate on record since the government started tracking the fertility rate in 1909. In 2007, the rate was 69.3. It takes 2.1 children per woman for a given generation to replace itself, and U.S. births have been below replacement level since 2007. As of last year, a separate CDC analysis shows an American woman will give birth to an average of 1.88 children over her lifetime, also a record low.

Economic News

In the budget proposal he presented to Congress last month, President Barack Obama called for what would be the highest level of sustained taxation ever imposed on the American people, according to the analysis published last week by the Congressional Budget Office. Under Obama’s proposal, taxes would rise from 17.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2014 to 19.2 percent in 2024. During the ten years from 2015 to 2024, federal taxation would average 18.7 percent GDP. America has never been subjected to a ten-year stretch of taxation at that level.

Wage inflation could soon surge in the United States because short-term unemployment is almost back at normal levels, and that could present the Federal Reserve with a fresh dilemma, according to the Financial Times. That’s because if wage hikes do gain momentum, it could undercut the Fed’s key hope of keeping interest rates low at least until 2015. “If such wage pressures start to show up this year, they could force the Fed to consider earlier interest rates rises even while the unemployment rate remains relatively high,” the Times concluded. While Fed Chair Janet Yellen clings to the notion that long-term unemployment will work to keep a lid on wage inflation, the Times noted that some important economists, including Alan Krueger, former chairman of President Barack Obama’s council of economic advisers, disagree.

Persecution Watch

An Islamist mob beat, stabbed, and shot Mary Sameh George to death in Cairo on March 28, reportedly because of the cross hanging in her car. George, a Coptic Christian in her mid-20s, parked near Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church to deliver medicine and food to the elderly after work that day. After clashing with security officers, witness Wahid said the protesters headed toward the church firing shots, and attacked George when they identified her as a Christian by a cross hanging from her rear view mirror. He described the mob jumping on the car until the roof collapsed, dragging her from the car, beating and stabbing her repeatedly. “They were chanting ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar’ and cursing her while stabbing her,” Wahid said.

A 22-year-old Christian man was murdered in Pakistan April 16 for not converting to Islam. Only known as Haroon, the United Kingdom-based Center for Legal Aid and Settlement claims he recently started work at an Islamic center in Lahore as a sweeper, where he was mocked for his Christian faith by a Muslim co-worker. Umer Farooq, a security guard at the center, promised Haroon a life of luxury and marriage to a rich Muslim woman if he would embrace Islam. Witnesses claim Haroon did not care about such things and refused to convert to Islam stating he was a follower of Jesus Christ. Allegedly Farooq became angered and opened fire on Haroon, killing him instantly with a single gunshot to the head.

Middle East

Palestinian terrorist factions in the Gaza Strip marked the end of Passover Monday evening with a barrage of rockets, one of which landed near a hall filled with worshipers in the border community of Sderot. An IDF ground patrol near the border was also targeted by an Improvised Explosive Device over the weekend. No casualties were reported from the strikes, but the IAF responded with air strikes targeting terrorist infrastructure in the Strip. “Today the IDF hit in the Gaza Strip those who wanted to harm Israeli citizens and violate the peace of the holiday,” said PM Benjamin Netanyahu in a Facebook posting. “We will continue to act aggressively against the enemies of Israel to ensure security for our citizens. We will hit anyone who seeks to harm us. That’s what we have done, and that’s what we’ll do.”

Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk dug in for another day Saturday in defiance of an international deal aimed at helping resolve a crisis that has threatened to devolve into civil war. So far, the separatists have rejected calls for them to leave the public buildings they occupied in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine and lay down their arms. The demand to surrender, accompanied by a promise of amnesty for the protesters, is a key plank of an agreement signed Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland, by officials from Ukraine, the United States, the European Union and Russia. But separatists in eastern Ukraine have not signed on nor indicated they intend to, unless the pro-Western government in Kiev steps down.

An Easter truce was shattered early Sunday after a shootout at a militia checkpoint in eastern Ukraine left at least one dead. A holiday truce had been declared by Kiev’s interim government, which pledged not to use force to dislodge the separatists who have called for secession of this predominately Russian-speaking region. Russia echoed separatist claims that the attack was the work of right-wing extremists allied with Ukraine’s interim government. Ukraine’s interim government says it has proof that Russian military and intelligence forces are fomenting the unrest that has destabilized the eastern part of that country since Russia’s annexation of Crimea last month.

Syria

Elections are usually an effective way to throw out unfavorable presidents or regimes. That is, unless you live in Syria. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria against holding presidential elections on June 3, a date the government announced Monday. Having elections during the current crisis “will damage the political process and hamper the prospects for political solution,” said Ban. He added that such elections are incompatible with the Geneva Communique — the international plan adopted two years ago that calls for a transitional government to lead to free and fair elections. If history repeats itself, the upcoming elections will yield no major change in a country now devastated by civil war. President Bashar al-Assad’s family has had a tight grip on power in Syria for the past 43 years. Al-Assad succeeded his father in 2000 and won a second term in 2007, unopposed.

Iraq

Suicide bombings and other attacks across Iraq killed at least 19 people and wounded 36 on Monday, officials said, the latest in an uptick in violence as the country counts down to crucial parliament elections later this month. In one suicide attack, the bomber drove his explosives-laden car into a police checkpoint in the town of Suwayrah, killing 12 people — five policemen and seven civilians — and wounding 19 people. In the nearby town of Madain, about 14 miles southeast of Baghdad, another suicide car bomber struck an army checkpoint, killing three soldiers and two civilians. Twelve other people were wounded in that attack.

A wave of suicide bombings carried out by foreign volunteers entering Iraq from Syria is killing some 1,000 civilians a month, bringing the country back to the brink of civil war. The foreign jihadists are brought to Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), which in recent weeks has started to publicize on its Twitter feed the national origins of the bombers. According to a study by Bill Roggio, of the Long War Journal website, of 26 Isis bombers in one much-fought over Iraqi province, Diyala, north-east of Baghdad, no less than 24 were foreigners whose noms de guerre indicate that the majority came from North Africa, with 10 from Tunisia, five from Saudi Arabia, two each from Libya and Egypt, and one each from Denmark, Chechnya, Iran and Tajikistan.

Yemen

An operation targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is under way in Abyan and Shabwa, Yemen. A high-level Yemeni government official said that the scale of the strikes against AQAP is “massive and unprecedented” and that at least 30 militants have been killed. The operation involved Yemeni commandos who are now “going after high-level AQAP targets,” the official said. A day earlier, suspected U.S. drone strikes targeted al Qaeda fighters in Yemen for the second time in two days, killing “at least a dozen.”

South Sudan

South Sudanese rebels seized a strategic oil town last week, separating terrified residents by ethnicity before killing hundreds, the United Nations said. At one mosque, more than 200 civilians were reportedly killed and 400 others wounded, according to the United Nations. The residents had sought shelter in churches, mosques and hospitals when the rebels raided Bentiu town. Before the attacks, some rebel commanders broadcast messages on local radio warning certain groups to leave town. The Nuer community backs rebel leader Riek Machar while his rival, President Salva Kiir, is a Dinka. Militias loyal to both have battled each others’ forces. Violence has quickly spread, with reports of mass killings emerging nationwide. South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. But numerous armed groups have remained active in the oil-rich country.

Earthquakes

The magnitude-7.2 earthquake that struck Friday in southern Mexico’s Guerrero state didn’t land the kind of punch that it might have. It struck at 9:27 a.m. and was centered 22 miles north-northwest of Tecpan. Tecpan is 54 miles (87 kilometers) northwest of Acapulco. The quake’s depth at the epicenter was a shallow 15 miles. A few walls from older buildings had collapsed, but nothing worse. Any quake magnitude 7.0 to 7.9 is considered “major.” Its impact was also felt in Mexico City, 170 miles northeast of the epicenter. At least one building in the capital was damaged, but there were no reports of major damage.

A powerful 7.5-magnitude earthquake was recorded off the coast of Papua New Guinea Saturday, and a tsunami warning was issued for a short time for both Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was located 47 miles southwest of the town of Panguna on Bougainville Island. It struck at a depth of 19 miles. A small tsunami of less than a half foot was observed. Saturday’s tremor marks the third major earthquake in the region in the past week. On April 13, two separate earthquakes hit the Solomon Islands with magnitudes 7.6 and 7.4. An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 was also recorded off Papua New Guinea’s remote Bougainville Island on April 11, but there were no damage reports.

Wildfires

Massive wildfires (over 1000 acres) are on the increase in the Western USA due to rising temperatures and worsening drought, and the trend could continue in the decades to come, new research suggests. Overall, the number of large wildfires increased by a rate of seven fires a year from 1984 to 2011, while the total area damaged by fire increased at a rate of nearly 90,000 acres per year. The study comes against the backdrop of what could be a disastrous year for fires in the West, especially drought-plagued California, which even saw fires in the normally quiet month of January. “Continuing changes in climate, invasive species and consequences of past fire suppression, added to the impacts of larger, more frequent fires, will drive further disruptions to fire regimes of the Western U.S.,” according to the study, published last week in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Weather

A combination of melting snow, ice jams and recent heavy rain sent rivers swelling this week in parts of northern New England, Lower Michigan and eastern Canada. A hydroelectric dam in St. Regis Falls was damaged by large chunks of ice and the force of the high water. A state of emergency was declared in nearby St. Lawrence County. Several roads remained closed due to high water, as of Thursday morning. An electric substation was flooded in the county Tuesday. Lake Champlain at Burlington inched above flood stage Wednesday night and is likely to creep higher in the coming days, as more runoff from swollen rivers and melt-water from snow drains into the lake. The Kennebec River crested at just under 5.5 feet above flood stage Wednesday in Augusta, flooding parks, parking lots and some basements, but not leading to any major damage. The combination of rain and warmer temperatures melted 28 inches of snow in 11 days in Caribou, Maine. The Muskegon River in Michigan crested almost a foot above the previous record level from March 1989 at Evart. Numerous roads remained flooded and closed in Osceola County.

Despite recent tornadoes in Missouri, Texas, Mississippi and North Carolina, among other states, we have set a new record for a lack of stronger tornadoes-to-date in 2014. Through April 19, not one tornado of EF3 intensity or stronger has been observed anywhere in the U.S., the latest wait for the first such tornado in any year on record dating to 1950. The period from January through March averaged between eight and nine tornadoes of F/EF3+ intensity in the period 1950-2012. The last U.S. tornado of EF3 intensity or stronger was during the Nov. 17, 2013 outbreak in the Midwest, an almost five-month stretch.

Signs of the Times (4/18/14)

April 18, 2014

‘Heaven Is For Real’ Move Opens Wednesday

Based on a bestselling book, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL tells the true story of a 4-year-old boy who visits Heaven while on an operating table and comes back to talk about his experience. “HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is a beautifully made, absolutely enthralling movie that extols Christian faith and God’s love,” reports MovieGuide.com, the “Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment. “HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is an extremely well done faith-based movie. Though it’s not absolutely perfect, it’s one of the most captivating, inspiring movies of this or any other year. The dialogue is wonderful. Greg Kinnear does a superlative job as Todd Burpo. Also, little Connor Colum is absolutely amazing as Colton, the boy who went to Heaven.”

Judge Orders Ohio to Recognize Out-of-State Gay Marriages

U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black ruled that Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages performed outside of state limits, despite a 2004 citizen vote defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The judge was appointed by President Barack Obama. The ruling, which was decided Monday, means that gay couples married outside Ohio will be considered legally married, though the state has not legalized gay marriage reports Christian News. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is planning an appeal to the ruling on account of the public’s 2004 vote against expanding the definition of marriage in the state. Governor John Kasich is in support of the appeal.

  • Once upon a time, America was ruled “by the people, for the people,” but not any longer. Now elitists who think they know what’s best run our former democratic Republic.

Pro-Lifers Stop Pro-Abortion Bill in Colorado

Thanks to the efforts of pro-life citizens, a dangerous pro-abortion bill was killed in the Colorado Legislature. SB 175 would have enshrined abortion into state law making it impossible to pass commonsense pro-life measures. Passage would have also threatened existing state law that protects women and preborn babies. “It would have left it open for absolutely no regulation” said Carrie Gordon Earll, senior director of issue analysis at Focus on the Family. “We’re talking late-term abortions, informed consent and regulation of the abortion industry. This would have shut down any policy debate and prevented the passage of any pro-life legislation in the state.” Leaders of the Democrat-controlled Legislature claimed they had enough votes to pass the bill, but a flood of emails and calls from constituents and a prayer rally by approximately 1,000 people on the Capitol steps proved to be effective. Leadership dropped the bill without a vote.

Judge Overturns North Dakota ‘Heartbeat’ Abortion Law

A U.S. District judge rejected North Dakota’s ‘heartbeat’ abortion law Wednesday. The rule would have outlawed abortions performed after the fetus develops a heartbeat, as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Judge Daniel L. Hovland ruled that the nation’s abortion law of its kind was “invalid and unconstitutional.” The law faced scrutiny from pro-choice supporters, saying it would not allow some women time to find out they were pregnant. Pro-choice advocates also argued that the law would go against the Supreme Court’s decision that women should have access to abortion procedures before the fetus becomes viable; this usually occurs at 22 weeks of pregnancy. The state of North Dakota had already outlawed abortions performed after 20 weeks under the defense that fetuses have developed pain receptors by that point in gestation. If passed, the ‘heartbeat’ law would have affected only one abortion clinic, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota.

NY School Relents, Allows After-Hours Bible Study

A high school student-led Bible study in Amsterdam, N.Y., will be allowed to keep meeting in their school building just like any other student-led club. When the Bible study started, the school superintendent told club members they would need to buy an insurance policy to use the school’s facilities after hours. The request was not something required of other student-led programs, so the parent of a senior in the club reached out to the American Center for Law and Justice for help. The ACLJ defended the students by proving the Bible study must be given the same privileges as any other student-led club. The school dropped the insurance demand, allowing the students to meet there now.

Hobby Lobby President Launches Bible Curriculum in OK Public School

Hobby Lobby President Steve Green is making headlines again, but this time the news does not involve the birth control debate. Green is set to launch a new high school curriculum centered around the Bible, emphasizing the historical elements and impact the book has had in society. The first high school to offer the class as an elective is Mustang High School in Mustang, Oklahoma, a stone’s throw away from Hobby Lobby’s headquarters in Oklahoma City. The 2014-2015 school year will serve as a testing period for the new curriculum. Jerry Pattengale, head of Green Scholars Initiative, said that they hope to grow the program to 100 high schools by September 2016, and continue to expand from there. Pattengale reports that the project will cost millions of dollars to implement, but the Bible class is not intended to make a profit. Religion News reports that teaching Bible classes does not goes against the separation of church and state. The Supreme Court ruled against school-sanctioned prayer in 1963, but provided a loophole for studying the Bible

From Shunned Sportscaster to Religious Freedom Fighter

Craig James, a football analyst fired by Fox Sports for saying homosexuality is immoral, has taken a job at the Family Research Council (FRC), a conservative Christian advocacy group. The former National Football League Offensive Player of the Year will serve as a spokesman for the organization as assistant to the FRC president, Tony Perkins. Fox Sports Southwest ousted James in September one week into his contract, citing comments he made against same-sex civil unions during a 2012 run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Ted Cruz. James protested the firing, and the Liberty Institute filed a complaint on his behalf. The Texas Workforce Commission on March 6issued a charge of discrimination against Fox Sports for firing James, signaling an official investigation. “Craig has experienced the very workplace disqualification that cultural elites are seeking to impose throughout the country: Expressing a politically incorrect opinion on a cultural issue, totally unconnected to employment, is enough to get you fired,” Perkins said in a statement.

8 Million Sign Up for Obamacare

Some 8 million people have signed up for health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges, President Obama said Thursday, putting sign-ups above the initial goal of 7 million. But the final enrollment figure remains to be seen: The White House has not released how many people have fully enrolled, which requires paying their first premium. The White House also said that 28% of those signing up on the federal exchange are between ages 18 and 34. The enrollment of young adults is being closely watched since they are presumed to be healthier and less costly, which will help offset the higher expenses generated by older enrollees. The White House used the occasion to again tout the fact that Obamacare has helped slow the rise of health care costs to record low levels. In the decade before Obamacare, employer-based insurance costs rose almost 8% a year. Last year, it increased at half that rate.

USA Ranks Far Above Western Nations in Medical Costs

A new report shows that American medical procedures and medications continue to far out-cost those of other Western nations, even when comparing only private care. For example, an MRI costs $138 in Switzerland, $350 in Australia and $1,145 in the U.S. A hospital stay costs $481 a day in Spain, $1,308 a day in Australia and $4,293 a day in the U.S. And giving birth with no complications costs $2,251 in Spain, $6,623 in Australia and $10,002 in the U.S. The study found the United States at the top end of the scale for almost every measure.

American doctors receive much higher salaries. For example, in England, a cardiac surgeon earns an average of £97,547 a year, or $163,859. An American cardiac surgeon earns an average of $762,846. Most medications and medical devices come in through a single payer — the government — in the other countries. “The private sector follows those prices,” Sackville said. “In the case of drugs, those are precisely the same medicines. Somehow, because of the lack of central purchasing or lack of any mechanism to control prices, the pharmaceutical industry has managed to pick up higher prices in the States.”

Casual Marijuana Use Causes Brain Abnormalities

For the first time, researchers at Northwestern University have analyzed the relationship between casual use of marijuana and brain changes – and found that young adults who used cannabis just once or twice a week showed significant abnormalities in two important brain structures. The study’s findings, published Wednesday in the Journal of Neuroscience, are similar to those of past research linking chronic, long-term marijuana use with mental illness and changes in brain development. Utilizing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers analyzed the participants’ brains, focusing on the nucleus accumbens (NAC) and the amygdala – two key brain regions responsible for processing emotions, making decisions and motivation. They looked at these brain structures in three different ways, measuring their density, volume and shape. All three were abnormal in the casual marijuana users.

1 in 5 Web Users Report Personal Info Theft

Nearly 1 in 5 Internet users say they’ve had their personal information stolen as a result of online activities, according to a Pew Research Center study. The research, released Monday, comes as Internet users reel from last week’s Heartbleed attack, which affected some of the largest websites in the world, including Facebook, Google and Yahoo. The Pew survey of 1,002 adults showed 18% of Internet users had their personal information stolen — a jump of 7 percentage points within just six months. Last week, a security firm discovered the Heartbleed bug, one of the largest security flaws ever. It exposed user names and passwords of some of the Internet’s most reputable websites to potential thieves. Experts say the future should improve as security features increase on Internet-connected devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Economic News

U.S. home building picked up in March by 2.8% overall, led by 6% gain in single-family home construction. Builders started new homes at an annual rate of 946,000 last month. That was up from February’s rate of 920,000. Builders say housing starts have been restrained in recent months by bad weather and a shortage of available lots and labor. In addition, buyers face tight credit conditions and mortgage rates that are about a percentage point higher than last spring, though still near all-time lows.

After two months of sharp increases in food prices, grocers are starting to pass along their higher wholesale costs to consumers. Beef, pork, poultry, eggs and milk have had the most dramatic price hikes as drought, a virus outbreak and rising exports have thinned U.S. supplies. The higher food bills are squeezing households still struggling with meager wage gains and could crimp spending just as the recovery is expected to accelerate.

Persecution Watch

Young Christian women in Egypt are facing a greater risk of being kidnapped by extremists, tortured, and even forced to convert to Islam since the Arab Spring ended in 2011. This year already has seen a spike in the incidents, according to a report by the non-profit advocacy group International Christian Concern. It has been estimated by the ICC and other watchdog groups in the region that there have been 500 reported cases of young women being attacked by Muslim men since 2011, but unreported cases could send the figure much higher. Making matter worse, nothing is being done by local authorities to prevent it in provinces across Egypt, according to the ICC. “Not only are they turning a blind eye, they are often compliant,” Issac Six, a spokesman for the ICC told FoxNews.com, citing one incident in which a father was assaulted by an officer for asking too many questions about efforts to have his abducted daughter returned.

An estimated 1,000 girls and young women – mostly Christians – are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men every year in Pakistan, according to a new report. Up to 700 of those affected are Christian and around 300 Hindu. But the authors of the study said: “The true scale of the problem is likely to be much greater, as a number of cases are never reported or do not progress through the law-enforcement and legal systems.” The Christian victims are mainly aged between 12 and 25. They may be subjected to sexual assault, rape, domestic abuse, forced prostitution and human trafficking.

Jewish people in eastern Ukraine are being told they need to “register” with the separatist forces USA Today reports. Jews coming from a synagogue in Donetsk said that pro-Russian militants gave them pamphlets informing of the required registration. Each Jew is allegedly to provide the pro-Russian forces with a list of property they own and pay a fee. The leaflets say the penalty for not cooperating is losing all possessions, citizenship, and deportation. Jews in eastern Ukraine feel a connection between these demands and the Nazi occupation of Ukraine in World War II. Jewish Donetsk resident Olga Reznikova said, “The text reminds of the fascists in 1941.”

Middle East

Israelis celebrating the Biblical feast of Passover this week were treated to a rude shock Monday evening as a family on its way to a traditional seder meal was ambushed on Route 35 near the Tarkumia checkpoint west of Hebron. The 40 year old father, Baruch Mizrahi, was killed in the attack and two other members of the family were wounded. The gunman, who at press time had not been apprehended by police, also fired on two other vehicles in the area before fleeing the scene. Authorities said there was no warning of an increased danger of terrorism and speculated that the shooter was carrying out a lone wolf attack, unrelated to any known terrorist group. However, the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad group based in the Gaza Strip issued a statement congratulating the shooter and calling his actions “a natural response to Israel’s crimes.”

Ukraine

A column of armored vehicles flying Russian flags drove into a Ukrainian city controlled by pro-Russia demonstrators Wednesday, dampening the central government’s hopes to re-establish control over restive eastern Ukraine. The six vehicles with troops in camouflage sitting atop entered the city of Slovyansk, a hotbed of unrest against Ukraine’s acting government. Insurgents in Slovyansk have seized the local police headquarters and administration building, demand. Ukrainian, Russian and Western diplomats held emergency talks in Switzerland on Thursday, in the hope of resolving a deepening crisis that has seen armed pro-Russian protesters seize swaths of Ukraine. In the southeastern city of Mariupol, a gang of 300 attacked a Ukrainian military base Thursday, leading to three deaths. Leaders of a high-level diplomatic effort to defuse the spiraling tensions over Ukraine reached an agreement on Thursday over ways to start de-escalating the crisis. The agreement, which grants amnesty to members of armed groups who agree to leave the public buildings they have ben occupying, was reached by Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union after more than five hours of talks. “The Geneva meeting on the situation in Ukraine agreed on initial concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and restore security for all citizens,” they said in a joint statement. Pro-Russian separatists who have occupied administrative building in the east of the Ukraine for the past two weeks showed no sign of relenting Friday despite amnesty being offered by the Ukrainian government.

 

Iran

A federal judge has approved plans to sell a 36-story Manhattan office building and other properties owned by Iran nationwide in what will be the largest terrorism-related forfeiture ever, a prosecutor said Thursday. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Judge Katherine Forrest approved the deal between the U.S. government and 19 holders of more than $5 billion in terrorism-related judgments against the government of Iran, including claims brought by the estates of victims killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The deal calls for the Manhattan building and other forfeited assets to be sold by the U.S. Marshals Service, with the U.S. government receiving reimbursement for litigation expenses and any costs of the sales before the rest is distributed to victims of terrorist attacks. The agreement stems from a 2008 lawsuit by the government against the building’s owners.

Iraq

Suspected Sunni Muslim militants killed at least 30 people around Iraq on Thursday including 12 soldiers in an assault on a remote army base in the north, deepening insecurity with a national election just two weeks away. Sectarian bloodshed has increased since the Shi’ite Muslim-led Baghdad government began an offensive against insurgents, some of them affiliated with al Qaeda, dug in around Falluja and Ramadi in the western province of Anbar. Early on Thursday morning, gunmen disguised in Iraqi military uniforms drove armored vehicles, including Iraqi army Humvees, up to a small military base outside Mosul and opened fire, killing 12 soldiers and wounding about a dozen. An army officer said the armored cars as well as rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and some other light weapons used by the militants had been seized during ambushes of Iraqi forces during fighting in Anbar. The region around Mosul has been a stronghold of the al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group. As in Falluja and Ramadi, Iraqi forces face daily skirmishes around Mosul with ISIL and other armed Sunni groups.

Nigeria

Various news outlets report Muslim terrorists abducted at least 100 Nigerian schoolgirls on Monday at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok. Nigerian police claim they can’t confirm who is behind the kidnapping, but named the Islamist group known as Boko Haram as the possible perpetrator. “Many girls were abducted by the rampaging gunmen who stormed the school in a convoy of vehicles,” Emmanuel Sam, an education official in Chibok, told CNN. Boko Haram, which means, “Western education is a sin,” seeks to rid Christianity and establish a caliphate in northern Nigeria through a anti-government rebellion.

Algeria

Algerian voters went to the polls Thursday in an election marked by questions over the incumbent president’s health and anger over his reelection bid even as he appeared poised to sail to victory. On the eve of the election, opposition protests broke out Algiers but police violently dispersed demonstrators. More protests were expected Thursday. The protests – unusual here – have been growing in strength and frequency since February when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 77, put a bid in for a fourth consecutive term. That set off anger in the North African country that has been the notable exception to the violent revolutionary fervor of the Arab Spring that swept most of the region three years ago. Now the opposition has called for a boycott of the elections with a slogan: “April 17: Day of national mourning.” “We are here today to march against the election of shame, the election of the mafia, a presidential election that has no legitimacy and that is already rigged,” said Rifat Zireb, a member of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), a secular opposition party.

Avalanches

At least a dozen Nepalese guides died when an avalanche rushed down a Mount Everest climbing route early Friday, the deadliest disaster to ever occur on the world’s tallest mountain. The guides were fixing ropes for other climbers when the avalanche hit at approximately 6:30 a.m. Three guides are still missing in the mass of ice and snow. Two Sherpas who were injured were taken by helicopter to hospitals in Nepal’s capital, Katmandu. Hundreds of climbers, their guides and support crews have gathered at the base camp to prepare for attempts to scale the 29,035-foot mountain early next month when weather conditions become favorable. They have been setting up camps at higher altitudes and guides have been fixing routes and ropes on the slopes above.

Weather

A combination of melting snow, ice jams and recent heavy rain sent rivers swelling this week in parts of northern New England, Lower Michigan and eastern Canada. Hardest hit were parts of eastern Canada, where record flood levels on the Saint-Francois River left the city of Sherbrooke, Quebec split in half. Over 600 residents there were urged to evacuate. Another 300 people were forced from their homes in Saint-Raymond near Quebec City, where the swelling Saint-Anne River flooded the city’s downtown. In most of northern New England and Lower Michigan, rivers were cresting near flood levels.

The Southwest is experiencing the worst drought in 100 years. Without rain soon, the mega drought conditions will have a devastating effect on our region and the nation. Little to no precipitation and warm weather this winter exacerbated the deteriorating drought conditions in the Southwest, edging the region into the Severe and Extreme drought categories. Since early October, precipitation has been less than half of normal in Arizona and much of New Mexico. Lake Powell, a critical water reservoir for the Southwest, reached its the lowest point ever.       Parts of the Little Colorado River are dry. The Salt River and Verde Valley reservoirs are only half full. California Department of Water Resources announced Tuesday that snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains measures 32 percent of average for this time of year. Scant winter rainfall across the state made 2013 the driest year on record for California and promises a tense, stressful summer for farms and communities.

This is the third year of severe drought in the far west making the current drought the worst in 100 years. Farmland in the U.S. breadbasket-California San Joaquin and Central Valleys- lies fallow and cities are rationing water supplies.   The forecast is bleak: much of the Southwest will be dry. Temperatures should average above-normal readings in the Southwest. Scientists studying prolonged, mega-drought conditions say that extensive damage done to trees in the Southwest portend massive devastation. Shortages of water and water rationing already loom for many more California cities and communities in Arizona. A number of fires already are blazing in several places across Arizona. Severe dust storms have caused fatal automobile accidents on freeways.

  • If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2Chronicles 7:14)

Signs of the Times (4/15/14)

April 15, 2014

Millennials ‘Talk to God’ but Do Not Identify as ‘Religious’

A new study says that more than half of 18 to 34-year-olds “look to religion,” and about 60 percent say they “talk to God.” The study comes from the Integrated Innovation Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. The study asked 2,000 Millennials about their attitudes toward faith and their daily lives. According to the study, only 49 percent of white Millennials said faith is a guide in their daily lives. Fifty one percent of Asian Millennials said faith is a guide compared to 54 percent of Hispanics. Sixty seven percent of African-American Millennials “look to religion” while 78 percent say they “talk to God.” The survey said there was no correlation between the amount of education people have and how they view religion. In February a study from Pew Research said that only 36 percent of Millennials consider themselves “religious.” Of people aged 34 to 49, about 50 percent said they were religious. Fifty five percent of 50 to 68-year-olds and 61 percent of those ages 69 to 86 said they were religious.

  • The end-time ‘falling away’ is well underway (Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first. 2Thessalonians 2:3)

Hitler-Loving Gunman Attacks Jewish Center, Kills Christians

Shouting “Heil Hitler” when arrested, a gunman shot three individuals outside a Jewish community center in Kansas City on Sunday. In what would appear to have been an attack motivated by anti-Semitism on the eve of Passover, a lone gunman opened fire outside a Jewish community center and a nearby retirement community, indiscriminately killing three individuals who were merely visiting the center. Reports indicate that none of the victims were in fact Jewish, but rather Christians who became the unlikely targets of one man’s misdirected, white-supremacist hatred. The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) noted that it has been warning for years that acts of anti-Semitism are on the rise around the globe with little being done, especially from a public awareness standpoint, to address the issue through the media. “It’s high time that the mainstream news networks start calling attention to this growing concern before more people are hurt or killed.” The ICEJ also calls upon governments and local authorities to do a better job of condemning and taking action against all acts and expressions of anti-Semitism to curb this worrying trend.

  • End-time persecution and violence against Judeo-Christian targets will continue to increase during this time Jesus calls “the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:8) as Satan whips anti-God fervor into a frenzy

Pope Francis Asks Forgiveness for Sex Abuse Scandal

In his strongest personal remarks yet on the clergy sex abuse scandal, Pope Francis on Friday (April 11) asked forgiveness “for the damage” that abusive priests have inflicted on children and pledged that the Catholic Church “will not take one step backward” in efforts to address the crisis. “I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests — quite a few in number, though not compared to the total number — and to ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done by sexually abusing children,” Francis said. “The church is aware of this damage,” he said. “It is personal and moral damage, but carried out by men of the church. And we do not want to take one step backward in dealing with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, I believe that we have to be very firm. Because you cannot take chances with children!”

IRS to Revise Regulations Limiting Activities of Tax-Exempt Groups

The Internal Revenue Service plans to rewrite proposed regulations limiting the political activities of the same type of tax-exempt groups the agency was accused of targeting after backlash from GOP lawmakers and politically active nonprofit groups. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told USA Today on Monday that the agency will likely “re-propose a redefined rule and ask for more public comment.” He expects the process will take “until the end of the year and beyond” to complete. Koskinen said the revised rule will take into account criticism from conservative groups concerned the regulations will put free speech rights at risk. Under current rules, social welfare organizations may conduct some political work as long as it is not their main activity. The proposed new rules would block such things as running ads that “expressly advocate for a clearly identified political candidate or candidates of a political party.” The rules proposed in November also would limit voter drives and voter registration efforts and distribution of literature. Republicans accused the Obama administration of trying to legalize the targeting of conservative groups.

Economic News

Retail sales rose 1.1% last month, showing consumers were more eager to spend as a harsh winter faded to spring. March’s retail sales growth was the largest since September 2012. February’s retail sales were revised up to a gain of 0.7% from a previously reported 0.3%.Auto sales rose 3.1%. Sales at general merchandise stores rose 1.9%, the highest single-month gain since March 2007.

Lower U.S. gasoline prices kept consumer inflation in check last month, helping offset higher costs for food and clothing. The Labor Department says the consumer price index rose 0.2 percent in March, after scant 0.1 percent increases the previous two months. Prices have risen just 1.5 percent year over year. That remains well below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target for inflation. Prices at the gas pump tumbled 1.7 percent in March. But food prices jumped 0.4 percent.

The highest beef prices in almost three decades have arrived just before the start of grilling season, causing sticker shock for both consumers and restaurant owners — and relief isn’t likely anytime soon. A dwindling number of cattle and growing export demand from countries such as China and Japan have caused the average retail cost of fresh beef to climb to $5.28 a pound in February, up almost a quarter from January and the highest price since 1987.

Tens of thousands of Minnesota workers have big raises coming their way, courtesy of a new minimum wage law that Gov. Mark Dayton signed Monday, which will take the state from one of the nation’s lowest rates to among the highest, increasing the guaranteed wage from $6.15 per hour now in three steps to $9.50 by 2016 and then tie it to inflation. With federal wage legislation stuck in Congress, states are rushing to fill the void. California, Connecticut and Maryland have passed laws pushing their respective wages to $10 or more in coming years, and other states are going well above the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.

Persecution Watch

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said Christianity is now the most persecuted religion around the world, and that Britain should be “unashamed” in standing up against persecution of Christians and other religious groups. “I hope we can do more to raise the profile of the persecution of Christians around the world,” Cameron said in an opening speech at his Easter reception at Downing Street. “It is the case today that our religion is now the most persecuted religion around the world. I think Britain can play a leading role in this.” Foreign Secretary William Hague and Foreign Office Minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi agreed with the prime minister on the need to raise a voice against religious persecution, Cameron said.

Two pastors in southern Bhutan have spent more than a month in jail without being formally charged. Police arrested M.B. Thapa (aka Lobzang) and Tandin Wangyal in Khapdani village in Samtse District on March 5. Minister of Home and Cultural Affairs Damcho Dorji said at a recent press conference that the two pastors were trying to coercively “proselytize” and had not obtained permission to hold a public gathering. The two pastors, who are still awaiting formal charges from the Office of the Attorney General, spoke at a March 4 ground-breaking ceremony for construction of a new house at the invitation of another Christian. Bhutan, a Bhuddist-majority nation of over 700,000 people, transitioned to a constitutional democratic monarchy after a century of absolute monarchy in 2008. Its constitution provides for religious freedom, with Section 4, Article 7 stating that citizens shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It adds that no person “shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.”

Ukraine

Men in the uniforms of Ukraine’s now-defunct riot police occupied police headquarters on Saturday in Donetsk, the eastern city that is one of the flashpoints of a wave of pro-Russia protests, hours after armed men seized local police headquarters and a local branch of the Security Service in a nearby city. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov described the unrest as “Russian aggression.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “expressed strong concern” that the attacks “were orchestrated and synchronized, similar to previous attacks in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.” Kerry made it clear that if Russia did not take steps to de-escalate in eastern Ukraine and move its troops back from Ukraine’s border, there would be additional consequences.” Ukraine’s president pleaded with the United Nations on Monday to send peacekeeping troops to eastern Ukraine to expel separatist militants from government buildings — a takeover he said is being directed by Russian special operations troops. An “anti-terrorist operation” is under way to drive out pro-Russian forces, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told the country’s Parliament on Tuesday.

  • So far, the ‘consequences’ have been puny and Russia is feeling emboldened by the weak response of the Obama administration

Iraq

A car bomb went off in the restive northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday, killing nine people, while 10 others were killed in clashes there, security officials said Monday. The explosives-laden car targeted a joint security patrol of the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces, police officials told CNN. Five Iraqi soldiers and four members of the Kurdish forces were killed, while another 12 people were injured. Separately, four Iraqi soldiers and six gunmen were killed in clashes between the army and insurgents in two neighborhoods in eastern Mosul. Seven Iraqi soldiers were wounded. The Iraqi army had launched a military operation in eastern Mosul against armed groups ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of April.

Nigeria

A massive explosion ripped through a bus station during the morning rush hour in Nigeria’s capital, killing at least 71 people and wounding 124 in a bombing that marked the bloodiest terrorist attack ever in Abuja. President Goodluck Jonathan, who visited the scene, blamed Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group which operates in the northeast of Nigeria. The group had threatened to attack Nigeria’s capital. The blast destroyed 16 luxury buses and 24 minibuses and cars. The blast left a hole 4 feet deep in the ground of Nyanya Motor Park about 10 miles from the city center. It happened at 6:45 a.m. as people were traveling to work.

Wildfires

A large forest fire raging in the Chilean port city of Valparaiso has killed at least fifteen people and destroyed 2500 homes, officials said Sunday. Thousands of people have been evacuated, including more than 200 female inmates at a prison. Firefighters were having difficulty combating the blaze because of the topography of the city, which is surrounded by dozens of steep hills where most people live. “This is the worst disaster I have seen,” regional governor Ricardo Bravo said. “Now we fear that the fire will spread to the center of the city, which would increase the severity of the emergency.” President Michelle Bachelet has declared the city of 250,000 people a catastrophe zone, which puts the armed forces in charge of maintaining order and evacuating thousands of residents affected by the smoke and flames. Wind hampered firefighters’ ability to create firebreaks, and the blaze had spread to more than 2,000 acres as of Sunday.

Earthquakes

A reported 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the Solomon Islands on Sunday morning around 7:14 a.m. local time, according to the United States Geological Survey. Authorities were trying to determine if there was any serious damage or injuries. Government spokesman George Herming said people throughout the Pacific island chain awoke to the strong quake at 7:14 a.m. He said that people on Makira and nearby islands southeast of the capital, Honiara, reported seeing three large waves after the quake. The earthquake’s epicenter was 200 miles southeast of Honiara, the Solomons capital. At least three strong aftershocks were reported after the initial earthquake measuring at 4.9 and above. This follows after heavy rains and severe flooding days earlier left 23 dead and dozens still missing after a slow moving tropical cyclone caused rivers to burst their banks and send a torrent of water rushing downstream into low-lying, highly populated areas.

Weather

Wet snow falling late Monday night into Tuesday shattered Detroit’s long-standing seasonal snowfall record. As of early Tuesday morning, a total of 94.8 inches of snow had been measured in the 2013-14 season at Detroit’s Metro Airport, topping the previous record snowiest season, 93.6 inches set in 1880-81. This is more than double their average seasonal snowfall of 44.1 inches. Earlier this season, several other cities in the Midwest, and one location in the High Plains, also set seasonal snowfall records: Toledo, Ohio: Old record from 1977-78 was 73.1 inches; Peoria, Ill.: Old record from 2010-11 was 52.5 inches; Billings, Mont.: First greater than 100-inch snow season on record dating to 1934.

A storm barreled through Mississippi Gulf Coast communities, damaging or destroying about a dozen RV trailers at one campground, downing trees and power lines and cutting electricity in some areas. The storm blew through the Santa Maria RV Park in Gautier at around 8 p.m. Monday, knocking some trailers off their blocks and overturning or destroying others. Despite the destruction in the park, only two people were injured, neither seriously. The National Weather Service doesn’t think it was a tornado. A severe thunderstorm warning had been in effect in advance of a strong cold front moving into the region.

A rapid shift to less-polluting energy will be needed to avoid catastrophic global warming because global emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases have accelerated to unprecedented levels, the United Nations reported Friday. These emissions — largely from the burning of oil, gas and coal — grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in any of the three previous decades and will need to be slashed 40% to 70% by mid-century and almost entirely by century’s end to keep global temperatures from spiraling out of control, according to a landmark report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC report, striking a particularly urgent one, says countries might even need to enlist controversial technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

  • While extreme weather will worsen during the run-up to the Great Tribulation, this is an end-time phenomena, not human-induced. However, the New World Order folks are using it as an excuse to gain more and more control in order to institute their elitist one-world government

 

Signs of the Times (4/12/14)

April 12, 2014

Bible Clubs Growing in Public Schools

In the small town of New Bethlehem, PA, over half the student body of Redbank Valley High School meet once a week for Bible club. The club is overseen by Joe Harmon, who recently traveled to Boston, where churches, parents and students asked if the two men could share suggestions on how to create and sustain such wildly successful Bible clubs throughout the Boston area. Some 500 Bostonians gathered at a largely Hispanic church in the Chelsea area to take in what the Pennsylvanians had to share. Harmon said some resistant school administrations may just need a bit of gentle ‘schooling’ about what the law says they must allow. “These students here in Boston and students across America have the right to have Bible clubs,” he stated.

Obama Attorneys: Cross atop Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial ‘Appropriate’

The United States will defend against efforts to remove a giant cross atop a war memorial in Southern California over claims it violates the constitutional separation of church and state, according to a petition filed this week with the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s the latest legal salvo in the decades-long battle over the cross on the memorial at Mount Soledad in San Diego. The legal battle has pitted veterans and caretakers of the memorial against the city and those who say it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. “The United States remains fully committed to preserving the Mount Soledad cross as an appropriate memorial to our nation’s veterans,” the Justice Department petition said.

  • A surprising move by the Obama administration. Oh yeah, mid-term elections coming up and the Democrats are worried about the negative impact of Obamacare

Muslim Arrested in Connecticut in Drone Bomb Plot

A Muslim was arrested Monday for a bomb plot using a drone-like plane to crash into a Connecticut school (Yale, perhaps?) and a Federal building. For reasons that only the Obama administration can understand, El Mehdi Semlali Fahti does not face federal terrorism charges at this time. Freedom Outpost asks, “If bombing a school and a government building isn’t terror, then what is?” Fahti was still in this country seven years after his student visa expired, and he flunked out of Virginia International University. He lied about being a “refugee.” “Christians are being slaughtered en masse in Muslim countries, and they can’t get refugee status. Apostates are being slaughtered under the sharia, but they can’t get refugee status. It’s outrageous. Our immigration policies aid and abet our enemies. America is without the very thing that made her the exceptional nation that she was: her moral compass,” Freedom Outpost concludes.

International Panel of Scientists Say Climate Change Not Due to Humans

A new report from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), written by an international collection of scientists and published by the conservative Heartland Institute, claims a recent U.N. report on climate change is just “smoke and mirrors,” declaring that humanity’s impact on climate is not causing substantial harm to the Earth. The Heartland Institute says more than 30 scientists served as authors and reviewers for the new report, which it claims cites more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies supporting the belief that climate change is not detrimental to the biosphere. The panel of scientists says human impact on the global climate is small, changing temperatures are within a historic scope of temperature. Heartland Institute says the scientific community is under tremendous financial and peer pressure to reach the conclusion that global industry is damaging the environment. “Ethical standards have been lowered, peer review has been corrupted, and we can’t trust peers in our most prestigious journals anymore,” Joe Bast, President and CEO of Heartland Institute, told Fox News.

Obamacare Surprise: No Insurance Available Now Anywhere

There is yet another ObamaCare surprise waiting for consumers: from now until the next open enrollment at the end of this year, most people will simply not be able to buy any health insurance at all, even outside the exchanges. That means that with few exceptions, tens of millions of people will be locked out of the health insurance market for the rest of this year. Only about one in four subsidy-eligible people signed up for health insurance,” says Robert Laszewski of Health Policy Associates. “That means about 13 million subsidy-eligible people have not yet signed up for health insurance.” “In all likelihood,” says Laszewski, “we’ve only signed up somewhere between one in five and one in seven people who were uninsured prior to the start of ObamaCare.” The reason sales of health insurance were crammed into short enrollment periods was so insurance companies would have some certainty about who would be in the risk pool, allowing them to set their rates accordingly. Although those who failed to buy insurance during the enrollment period could face a government penalty, most will not have to pay that penalty until they do their taxes next year.

Study Finds Sicklier Enrollees in Obamacare

People who signed up early for insurance through the new marketplaces were more likely to be prescribed drugs to treat pain, depression and H.I.V., according to a new study that provides a much-anticipated look at the population that signed up for coverage under the new health care law. The health of those who enrolled in new coverage is being closely watched because many observers have questioned whether the new marketplaces would attract a large share of sick people, which could lead to higher premiums and ultimately doom the new law. The study, released Wednesday by the major pharmacy-benefits manager Express Scripts, suggests that early enrollees face more serious health problems and are older than those covered by their employers. The study also showed a higher use of specialty drugs, which are often used to treat diseases like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis; the use of such drugs could hint at more costly medical problems.

Some Doctors Make Millions off of Medicare

Some doctors are making millions of dollars off of Medicare, with a handful collecting multi-million payments annually. One ophthalmologist from West Palm Beach, Fla., collected nearly $21 million, while a cardiologist from Ocala, Fla., received $18 million in 2012. Seven doctors pulled in more than $10 million in payments, while nearly 4,000 are Medicare millionaires. The doctors’ payments were part of an unprecedented data release, which covers 880,000 physicians, therapists, labs and other medical facilities. Medicare paid providers a total of $77 billion in 2012 to care for more than 50 million of the nation’s elderly and disabled, according to federal statistics released Wednesday. A small share of doctors account for a large percentage of payments. The top 2% of physicians collected nearly 25% of Medicare payments. Ophthalmologists, cardiologists and blood cancer doctors were the most represented among this group, both in terms of numbers and payments from Medicare. About 16% of the highest-compensated doctors were in Florida, with 12% in California and 9% in Texas.

EPA Coal Rules Leaving U.S. Vulnerable to Blackouts

Facing the Obama administration’s so-called “war on coal,” some utility officials are warning that fewer coal-fired power plants could leave the U.S. power system vulnerable to blackouts in the near future. The officials warn that intense summer heat or extreme winter cold could soon be too much for the system to handle. Pro-coal advocates say the administration’s focus on its environmental agenda challenges the reliability of the nation’s power grid. In response, the EPA says government studies indicate there will be more than enough electricity-generating capacity to meet the nation’s needs.

40% of IRS Callers Can’t Get Through

Got a question for the Internal Revenue Service? Keep calling, and be prepared to wait. With the April 15 tax filing deadline around the corner, an estimated 18 million callers seeking help from the IRS won’t be able to reach a real person this year. That’s about 40% of all tax season callers, according to IRS data. Those that manage to get a person, might have had to wait as long as 25 minutes. And lines at walk-in taxpayer assistance centers are also long; some have reported 90-minute waits. The IRS claims the problem is due to budget cuts. The IRS budget is $850 million slimmer than it was in 2010. And there are 6 million to 8 million additional taxpayers since then.

17 of 19 Paid Tax Preparers Make Mistakes

Tax preparers got the results of an audit from the Government Accountability Office on Tuesday. The GAO’s report cited a small undercover study of 19 paid preparers in February, chosen randomly in states that do not regulate tax preparers. The findings: Seventeen of 19 preparers made mistakes; Errors ranged from giving the taxpayer refunds $52 less than due to a refund of $3,718 more than due. Unfortunately, the report didn’t come as a surprise. The GAO surveyed taxpayer errors from 2006 through 2009 and found that tax returns prepared by preparers had a higher estimated percent of errors — 60% — than self-prepared returns —50%.

Economic News

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to its lowest level in seven years, beating economists’ estimates and reflecting an improved outlook for the job market. For the week ending April 5, the seasonally adjusted initial claims fell 32,000 from the previous week to 300,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The last time the number dipped below 300,000 was in May 12, 2007.

Stocks closed sharply lower for a second straight day Friday as once high-flying biotech and Internet shares tumbled again, sending the Nasdaq composite index back below 4000 for the first time since Feb. 3. Investors remain jittery following Thursday’s big sell-off that saw the Nasdaq drop 3.1%, its worst plunge since November 2011 The Nasdaq is now down 8.2% from its 2014 high of 4,357.97 set on March 5 and is 4.2% lower for the year. The S&P 500 has fallen 4% from its record high close of April 2 and is 1.8% lower for the year. The Dow has retreated 3.3% from its Dec. 31 record close of 16,576.66. Global markets also skidded Friday, with a key Japan index tumbling 2.4% and major European indexes sliding 1% or more. The steep and sudden market drop has dented optimism in Wall Street and prompted nervous investors to lighten up on stocks and shift their money into less volatile assets, such as U.S. government bonds.

Persecution Watch

A couple from Pakistan’s Christian minority was sentenced to death April 4 for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages, bringing the number of Christians on death row to four, reports Baptist Press. The sentence for Shafqat Emmanuel and Shugufta Emmanuel in Pakistan’s Punjab province came eight days after a court in Lahore sentenced Sawan Masih to death for allegedly insulting Islam’s prophet Muhammad. The case against Masih, a street sweeper, stemmed from an alleged drunken conversation with a Muslim friend that sparked an outbreak of violence in Lahore’s Joseph Colony. The March 2013 flare-up left 180 Christian-owned homes and shops destroyed; an anti-terrorism court subsequently freed 133 Muslim suspects in spite of video evidence against them. Also on death row: Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five. Imprisoned since 2009, Bibi was convicted after a dispute with local Muslim women who accused her of insulting Muhammad. Pakistan’s small Christian community makes up less than 3 percent of the country’s 180 million people, with less than 1 percent considered evangelical/followers of Christ.

A new sharia penal code that includes archaic Islamic penalties such as flogging and stoning to death – some of which will be applied to non-Muslims – is being rolled out in Brunei this month. The laws, which will be introduced in three phases over the next two years, have been criticized both in and outside of Brunei. In a letter to the Sultan of Brunei, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said that the new penal code violates international human rights standards. It raised concerns about the imposition of the death penalty and other penalties that constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; discrimination against women; and violation of the rights to religious freedom, freedom of opinion and freedom of expression.

Middle East

US Secretary of State John Kerry set off a firestorm of media attention on Tuesday when, during testimony before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, he appeared to place the primary blame for the breakdown in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Israeli building in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki gave a statement to the press almost immediately following the testimony, declaring that “as has been the case throughout this impasse, today Secretary Kerry was again crystal clear that both sides have taken unhelpful steps and at no point has he engaged in a blame game. However, the majority of the world’s media outlets ignored this and emphasized the apparent assignment of blame to Israel by Kerry, prompting a fierce reaction by Israeli leaders who vowed not to be intimidated into making unreasonable concessions.

Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists refused Thursday to surrender control of government offices in eastern Ukraine cities despite a deadline to do so as Russia maintained high levels of military on the border and threatened to shut gas deliveries to Europe. NATO made public to reporters satellite photographs that showed Russia has not removed any of the 40,000 troops near the Ukrainian frontier it said it would reduce, and that those forces are now sharing space with lines of tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and aircraft. “It has the resources to be able to move quickly into Ukraine if it was ordered to do so,” NATO Brigadier Gary Deakin said of the Russian forces stationed at more than 100 sites near the Ukraine border. Several dozen armed men seized a police station in a city in eastern Ukraine and hoisted the Russian flag above the building Saturday as tensions in the country’s Russian-speaking regions intensify.

NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove continued to play up the idea of an imminent Russian invasion of eastern Europe, saying the alliance is preparing “countermoves” in the region that may include US ground troops deploying. Gen. Breedlove said the plan right now is for a buildup of land, air, and naval assets in the region to “build assurance for our easternmost allies,” and that it would mean troops from several nations, including potentially the US, heading to “front-line states.”

Russia

President Vladimir Putin has written to European leaders, warning that their gas supplies could take a hit unless Ukraine starts making regular payments for gas and forks over $2.2 billion in overdue bills. Russia supplies roughly 30% of Europe’s gas needs, and half of that comes through Ukrainian pipelines. Any disruption in supplies to Ukraine could create problems for several European countries. Ukraine’s unpaid gas bills are strengthening Russia’s hand before talks next week with the U.S. and Europe on resolving the crisis. Next week’s talks are expected to revolve around Russia’s political and military moves against Ukraine — including its annexation of Crimea — but Ukraine’s growing gas debts give Putin a valuable bargaining chip.

Iraq

Car bombs hit several mostly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad and a town south of the Iraqi capital on Wednesday, killing at least 24 people and wounding dozens, officials said, the latest bout of violence ahead of the country’s first parliament elections since the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal. The bombings bore the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda-inspired group and other Sunni insurgents, who frequently use suicide and car bombs to target public areas and government buildings in their bid to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government.

Iran

The Obama administration’s assurances to the American people that, “Iran’s oil exports will remain steady at their current level of around 1 million barrels per day,” and “We will not allow Iran’s exports to increase,” are being wholly contradicted by reality, and should be retracted and revised, according to United Against Nuclear Iran. In actuality, Iran’s oil exports have more than doubled, up 117% since October. While Iran is enjoying this economic windfall, it has not dismantled a single centrifuge. In fact, the administration acknowledged this week that the nuclear “concessions” Iran has made under the interim agreement have extended its nuclear breakout time by only two weeks.

At a time when the West would like to think its negotiating partner is adopting a new, softer tone, Iran’s executions have only increased over the past year, according to a report by the Human Rights and Democracy Report. The report, put out by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK, suggests the number of executions and the country’s horrific human rights record speak to an unchanging and even emboldened Iranian regime. Since Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who ran for office as a moderate, took office last August, the number of executions has actually increased. More than 537 executions have taken place since his election, with nearly 200 coming this year.

Italy

The Italian navy said it rescued more than 1,000 migrants from several overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean between Tuesday and Wednesday morning. The migrants, who included women and children, had set off from the North African coast and were not equipped with life jackets, the navy said. Italy is a major gateway into Europe for migrants who come by sea from North Africa in hope of reaching EU soil. Some of the migrants are from African nations, particularly Eritrea and Somalia, while others have fled war-torn Syria, officials say. Shipwrecks off the shores of Sicily and the tiny island of Lampedusa are common, thanks to the frequent use of overcrowded and barely seaworthy vessels.

Central African Republic

The U.N. Security Council on Thursday unanimously approved the creation of a United Nations peacekeeping force for the Central African Republic, where competing militias have been fighting for months. The council approved the deployment of 11,800 peacekeepers to the country, where 6,500 African-led peacekeeping forces and about 2,000 French troops already have been operating. Additionally, the European Union is planning to deploy up to 1,000 troops. The Central African Republic, a former French colony, was plunged into chaos last year after a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, ousted President Francois Bozize. They have since been forced out of power, but Christian and Muslim militias continue to fight for control.

Earthquakes

A 6.1-magnitude earthquake rattled Nicaragua near the Pacific coast on Thursday, damaging more than 100 homes and knocking out power as frightened locals fled into the streets. At least 23 people were injured by falling ceilings, beams and walls in the town of Nagarote, 31 miles northwest of the capital of Managua. Landslides blocked two highways south of the capital. Less than 24 hours after the 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit Nicaragua, a second earthquake shook the country Friday. The 6.6-magnitude quake struck near the city of Granada at 3:29 p.m. local time.

The new tremor, centered 34 miles south of the capital city of Managua, surprised people at restaurants and supermarkets, where the shelves swayed strongly, throwing many products to the ground. It also disrupted the water service in many towns around the capital, where people continued to feel aftershocks as the government deployed soldiers and police officers to oversee emergency response. Firefighters paid visits to villages south of Managua and reported seeing cracking in the walls of houses and other buildings.

A powerful earthquake has struck off the South Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-7.3 earthquake was located 38 miles southwest of the town of Panguna on Bougainville Island. It struck at a depth of 31 miles. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no threat of a destructive widespread tsunami. Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea. The country lies on the “Ring of Fire” — an arc of earthquake and volcanic activity that stretches around the Pacific Rim.

Weather

The threat of severe weather is ramping up this weekend as a new storm system takes shape in the nation’s midsection. On the cold side of this same system, snow is expected in the Rockies and the adjacent Plains. Isolated severe storms are possible Saturday from parts of southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois southwestward through Iowa to southeast Nebraska, northwest Missouri and Kansas. Large hail and localized damaging wind gusts will be the primary concerns. On Sunday, a more widespread area of severe storms is expected from the mid-Mississippi Valley to the southern Plains. Within this larger swath, the threat of severe weather will be enhanced from north-central and northeast Texas to the eastern half of Oklahoma, western Arkansas, southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas. Very large hail, damaging wind gusts and some tornadoes are possible.

Powerful Tropical Cyclone Ita (pronounced “EYE-tuh”) made landfall in northeast Australia near Cape Flattery in the Queensland state late Friday night, local time. Ita made landfall with 10-minute average sustained winds around 105 mph. Roof damage was reported to the James Cook Museum in Cooktown, as well as to several homes in the town. Tropical cyclones are not uncommon in Australia. The Australia Bureau of Meteorology says that the season typically runs from November through April.

Signs of the Times (4/8/14)

April 8, 2014

‘God’s Not Dead’ Continues Impress Run at Box Office

Ending its third weekend on the big screen, God’s Not Dead continues to pack theaters across the country. The independent film produced by Freestyle Releasing earned $7.7 million over the weekend bringing its total to $33 million. According to Entertainment Weekly, the film about one Christian college student’s mission to defend his faith broke box office records by surpassing $11,000 per theater. The movie is about an atheist professor who attempts to convince students in a philosophy class that God does not exist. God’s Not Dead is on a long list of faith-based movies coming out of Hollywood this year.

Supreme Court Declines Appeal of Christian Photographers

The Supreme Court has turned down an appeal from a commercial photography business in New Mexico that objects to taking pictures of same-sex wedding ceremonies. The justices on Monday left in place a state Supreme Court ruling that said Elane Photography violated a state anti-discrimination law when it refused to work for a same-sex couple who wanted pictures of their commitment ceremony. In August 2013, NM Supreme Court Justice Richard Bosson wrote it was the “price of citizenship” for one to “compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting views of others” in what he called a “multicultural, pluralistic society. Elane Photography co-owner Elaine Huguenin said taking the photos would violate her religious beliefs. She said she also has a right of artistic expression under the First Amendment that allows her to choose what pictures to take, or refrain from taking.

  • This ‘little’ compromise and ‘price of citizenship’ is far more significant than supposed, declaring that private businesses have no rights whether owned by Christians or unbelievers

Virginia Governor Vetoes Student Religious Freedom Bill

The Democratic governor of Virginia vetoed a bill on Friday that aimed to reinforce the religious rights of students, stating that it infringes on other student’s desires to be free from “coercive prayer and religious messaging” at school events. The text of the bill outlines that it codifies “the right of students to (i) voluntarily pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during, and after the school day in the same manner and to the same extent that students may engage in nonreligious activities or expression; (ii) organize prayer groups, religious clubs, ‘see you at the pole’ gatherings, or other religious gatherings before, during, and after school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other activities and groups; and (iii) wear clothing, accessories, or jewelry that display religious messages or religious symbols in the same manner and to the same extent that other types of clothing, accessories, and jewelry are permitted.”

  • This is the clearest message yet that Christians are not allowed the same freedoms as everyone else

Abortion Activists Celebrate April as “Abortion Wellbeing Month”

The unintentional irony—tragedy, really—of the graphic that accompanied the celebration of April as “Abortion Wellbeing Month” is hard to miss: two hands grasping each another with “You are” written on one and “Not alone,” on the other. There is, however, a “you” who is actually alone: the unborn child. It’s the fourth annual celebration of “Abortion Wellbeing Month,” whose goalis for “those with personal abortion experiences and their allies can come together to honor and acknowledge the importance of wellbeing.”

  • In disregarding and stilling the voice of the smallest, most vulnerable member of the human race, abortion is the very opposite of ‘well-being’

Gallup Survey Suggests Obamacare Sign-Ups Not as high as White House Says

A major new Gallup survey suggests the ObamaCare sign-up numbers are not as soaring as the White House claims. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index measured the share of adults without health insurance. That shrank from 17.1 percent at the end of last year to 15.6 percent for the first three months of 2014. The decline of 1.5 percentage points would translate roughly to more than 3.5 million people gaining coverage. The administration says 7.1 million have signed up for subsidized private plans through new insurance markets. The administration’s numbers include people who switched their previous coverage, as well as people who have not paid their first month’s premium, and who would therefore still be uninsured.

The head of the Maryland Health Insurance Exchange testified Thursday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that only 60,000 people have signed up for Obamacare through the state’s exchange – 13,000 less than the number of individuals reported to lose their insurance due to Obamacare. According to AP press accounts, 73,000 individuals in Maryland are going to lose their insurance because of the Affordable Care Act.

Obama Administration Exceeds 2 Million in Deportations

President Barack Obama has repeatedly declared himself a champion of immigration reform, including a legalization program for millions of immigrants in the country illegally. But among some immigration-reform supporters — historically Obama’s political allies — the president has been branded the opposite: “deporter in chief.” That reputation has been further cemented by a milestone being protested today by immigrant advocates in Arizona and around the country: Under Obama’s administration, the U.S. has exceeded 2 million deportations. The milestone is significant because it means Obama’s administration has deported more people than any other prior administrations.

What’s more, it took Obama’s administration just over five years to exceed the 2 million deportations that took place under all eight years of President George W. Bush’s administration, which set the previous record after ramping up deportations following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a Washington, D.C., group that advocates for immigration reform, said: “The fact (is) that you have a president who spoke movingly about the pain of family separation and the priority he would put on passing immigration reform as a candidate, and yet to date his legacy is 2 million deportations and no immigration reform legislation.”

Medicaid Enrollment Jumps by 3 Million

Three million people have enrolled in Medicaid since October, mainly in states expanding eligibility under Obamacare, according to federal data released Friday. A total of 61 million Americans were enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, in February. That’s up 5.2% since the third quarter of 2013, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The number of new enrollees, however, is only a small fraction of the 11.7 million who are eligible for the program. What’s the holdup? The federal exchange, healthcare.gov, has had technical problems transferring the files of those deemed eligible to the state Medicaid agencies for enrollment.

$6 Billion Goes Missing at State Department

In a special “management alert” made public Thursday, the State Department’s Inspector General Steve Linick warned “significant financial risk and a lack of internal control at the department has led to billions of unaccounted dollars over the last six years. The alert was just the latest example of the federal government’s continued struggle with oversight over its outside contractors. The lack of oversight “exposes the department to significant financial risk,” the auditor said. “It creates conditions conducive to fraud, as corrupt individuals may attempt to conceal evidence of illicit behavior by omitting key documents from the contract file. It impairs the ability of the Department to take effective and timely action to protect its interests, and, in tum, those of taxpayers.” In the memo, the IG detailed “repeated examples of poor contract file administration.” For instance, a recent investigation of the closeout process for contracts supporting the mission in Iraq, showed that auditors couldn’t find 33 of the 115 contract files totaling about $2.1 billion. Of the remaining 82 files, auditors said 48 contained insufficient documents required by federal law.

  • Why do people keep wanting to cede more control of their lives to the government when it is historically inept, inefficient and often fraudulent?

Economic News

The labor market reached a milestone last month. Private-sector employment crept past its all-time high in January 2008 when the Great Recession was a month old. But economists weren’t celebrating. “I think the fact that it took five years (since the recovery began in June 2009) to get back to where we started really speaks to how drawn-out this recovery has been,” says economist Paul Edelstein of IHS Global Insight. Total employment remains 437,000 jobs short of its peak because federal, state and local governments employ in excess of half a million fewer workers than in January 2008.

America’s retirement system has entered a danger zone and is breaking down, according to CBS News, which notes that roughly half of U.S. families don’t have a single dime set aside for retirement. While millions of Americans put part of their income into an employer-sponsored 401(k), IRA or other retirement account, millions more find it hard or impossible to save because of their precarious situations — unemployment, stagnant income, impossible health costs or other factors.

In big cities across the country, home buyers are growing increasingly frustrated as rising home prices and stiff competition shut them out of the market. In cities like Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Diego, prices have climbed by as much as 20% or more in the past year, well above the national average of 13%, according to Case Shiller. Plus mortgage rates are up by nearly a point to 4.3%, so borrowers today are paying 25% more than they would have a year ago.

Gasoline prices are making their annual spring climb. Nationally, gasoline averages $3.55 a gallon, up from a 2013 low of about $3.18. But in California – now averaging $4.01 a gallon after a 35-cent jump in wholesale prices since mid-March – prices could hit up to $4.25 within days. Nationally, 2014 gas prices will likely top at about $3.65 a gallon within the next few weeks. Ethanol, blended into gasoline, is also up nearly 60% year-to-date on higher corn and rail shipping costs.

Persecution Watch

A Three-Self Patriotic Movement church in China’s coastal Zhejiang province is facing demolition after refusing to remove the cross that tops the seven-story building. When the Party secretary Xia Baolong visited the local areas, he found the cross on top of the church very conspicuous. So he ordered that it be demolished. China Aid previously reported that other churches in Zhejiang had crosses forcibly removed from their buildings. The church is home to “several” thousand believers. The church cost believers approximately 30 million yuan (U.S. $4.8 million) to build. As 5,000 Christians from the Wenzhou area, including the many members of Sanjiang Church, arrived to help protect the church on Thursday. In response, authorities reportedly dispatched around 1,000 officers to the church. At this time, there was been no report of any substantial incidents occurring after officers arrived at the church.

Middle East

The crumbling negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority showed few signs of flickering back to life over the weekend, as PA Deputy Minister for Prisoner Affairs Ziad Abu Ein threatened protests and hunger strikes by Palestinian inmates in Israeli jails. Protests outside Ofer Prison near Ramallah included violent clashes on Friday and riots broke out in several Palestinian cities. Marathon talks held through Sunday between Israeli and PA officials failed to arrive at a compromise which would extend the talks beyond their 30 April deadline.

Ukraine

Several hundred pro-Russian demonstrators who have seized government buildings in the city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, urged President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday to send troops to the region as a peacekeeping force, and they demanded a referendum on seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia. The renewed unrest in eastern Ukraine, which flared on Sunday with coordinated demonstrations by thousands of pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, reignited fears in Kiev and the West about Russian military action a little more than a month after Russian forces occupied Crimea. Russia warned Tuesday that any use of force in Ukraine’s eastern region could lead to civil war, as Kiev seeks to regain control after pro-Moscow uprisings in three cities. Ukrainian troops expelled pro-Russian demonstrators from an administration building on Tuesday, as the interim government in Kiev sought to tamp down unrest that some fear might lead to a Russian military invasion.

Russia

Russians are facing a new wave of repressive measures in a Kremlin bid to bolster domestic control after its annexation of Ukraine’s breakaway Crimea, say human rights activists. Several bills proposed by lawmakers here this week seek to prevent the kind of street demonstrations that gripped Ukraine’s Kiev earlier this winter, leading to the ouster of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych. Under current laws, Russians need permission from city authorities to hold a public demonstration and are forbidden from holding unauthorized rallies. If passed, the new bill would introduce fines of more than $28,500 for repeat offenders and jail terms of up to five years. In another proposal in the Duma, police would be allowed to use lethal force against civilian protesters.

India

On Monday the first wave of the country’s 814 million eligible voters cast their ballots as the largest election in world history gets underway. Any time the world’s most populous democracy goes to the polls, it’s a momentous undertaking. But with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepping aside after a decade in charge, analysts say voting will take on an even greater significance this time around, with the country potentially poised on the cusp of a new political era. Amid widespread public concern over corruption, rising inflation and slowing economic growth, voters will be faced with a choice between the young scion of India’s most powerful political dynasty, and a populist, business-minded Hindu nationalist who is described as at once India’s most popular and most divisive politician. The outcome of the election, which will be held in stages over five weeks — employing 11 million polling and security personnel and absorbing an estimated $5 billion in campaigning costs — may have stark ramifications for India’s identity at home and abroad.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s presidential election closed on Saturday amid relief that attacks by Taliban fighters were fewer than feared for a vote that will bring the first-ever democratic transfer of power in a country plagued by conflict for decades. Turnout was seven million out of 12 million eligible voters, or about 58 percent, according to preliminary estimates. It will take six weeks for results to come in from across Afghanistan’s rugged terrain and a final result to be declared in the race to succeed President Hamid Karzai. This could be the beginning of a potentially dangerous period for Afghanistan at a time when the war-ravaged country desperately needs a leader to stem rising violence as foreign troops prepare to leave. One of the eight candidates will have to score over 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off with his nearest rival.

Central African Republic

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned on Saturday that French and African soldiers in Central African Republic were “overwhelmed” by a “state of anarchy,” a day after Chadian troops began withdrawing from the peacekeeping mission. The U.N. Security Council is due to approve next week a 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force for the former French colony, which will take over authority from African Union troops in an attempt to restore order to the impoverished country. But that force is not expected to arrive until September, stoking fears of a security vacuum, as the interim government struggles to control intercommunal violence that has killed more than 2,000 people since December. Ban appealed for more help and said the international community was at risk of repeating the mistakes of the 1994 Rwanda genocide where some 800,000 died.

Nigeria

Islamist militants attacked a remote town in northeast Nigeria’s Yobe state on Saturday, killing 17 people including five who were worshipping at a mosque. Dozens of gunmen surrounded the village of Buni Gari, shooting residents and setting shops and houses ablaze. Boko Haram militants, fighting for an Islamic state in Nigeria, have in the past year broadened the range of their targets beyond security forces, government officials and Christians to include schoolchildren and other civilians, sometimes massacring whole villages and abducting girls. They regard all who do not subscribe to their austere, al-Qaeda inspired brand of Islam, whether Christian or Muslim.

Volcanoes

Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano has spewed a 6-mile column of ash after a powerful, five-minute explosion that shot pyroclastic material onto its northern and northwestern flanks. Ecuador’s geophysics institute said Friday’s blast occurred at 6:10 p.m. local time and was followed by a second, four-minute explosion and five lesser tremors. The 16,480-foot volcano, nearly 90 miles south of Quito, revived on Feb. 1, with eruptions that affected a third of Ecuador’s provinces and temporarily closed a regional airport. Tungurahua has been erupting sporadically since 1999.

Weather

A severe storm system that pounded the central U.S. Thursday, spawning as many as 11 tornadoes, slowly moved to the East Coast on Friday. The storms left tens of thousands without power Friday morning, and heavy rain caused widespread flooding. In under four hours, 11 tornadoes had spawned on Thursday — five in Texas, four in Missouri and two in Illinois. Heavy rain triggered major flash flooding in parts of the South Sunday night into Monday. Hardest hit was parts of northern Alabama, including the Birmingham metro area, where evacuations and high-water rescues were prompted. Early Monday morning, a tornado appears to have touched down in Covington County, Miss. Damage was confirmed to numerous homes and mobile homes northeast of Collins, Miss. with eight confirmed injuries. A church south of Taylorsville, Miss. sustained heavy damage and roads were blocked by trees and debris.

Severe thunderstorms dumped heavy rains across the Southeast on Monday and caused flash flooding in central Alabama, where crews in small boats and military trucks had to rescue dozens of people from their homes and cars. In Mississippi, a 9-year-old girl was swept away and killed after the storms dropped nearly seven inches of rain over the last two days. About two dozen residents of a mobile home park in Pelham had to be rescued from floodwaters that were nearly chest-high. Rescue workers also helped several people and pets from an apartment complex in Homewood, where water was up to the windows of some cars. Nearly 4.4 inches of rain fell at the Birmingham airport in 24 hours.

At least 14 people are dead in the Solomon Islands after torrential rain from a slow moving tropical cyclone caused rivers to burst their banks and send a torrent of water rushing downstream into low-lying, highly populated areas. Water from the Matanikau River destroyed bridges, homes and other infrastructure as it inundated the downtown area of the Solomon Islands’ capital of Honiara. Homes and bodies could be seen floating amongst the debris carried away by the floods. The river burst its banks rather unexpectedly, despite days of heavy rain, catching people off guard in the city of some 70,000 people. Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office head Loti Yates told the New Zealand Herald that the floods were unprecedented. “This is by far the worst flooding I have witnessed since heading this organization—the scale and magnitude is overwhelming,” Yates told the Herald.

Signs of the Times (4/4/14)

April 4, 2014

The Jesus Film to Re-Release After 35 Years

According to JesusFilm.org, “Every eight seconds, somewhere in the world, another person indicates a decision to follow Christ after watching the ‘JESUS’ film.” Hailed by some at the most biblically accurate portrayal of Christ’s life and ministry, the Jesus film has been viewed billions of times and translated into more than 1,000 languages. Now the Jesus film has been re-mastered, re-scored, and re-released on Blu-Ray and in certain theatres. To find a showing near you, or to order the 35th anniversary edition on Blu-ray, visit JesusFilmHD.com.

Religious Freedom Bill Passed in Mississippi

Mississippi lawmakers passed the final version of the state’s religious freedom bill on Tuesday. Under the new law, state and local governments are prohibited from placing “substantial” burden on religious practices. The bill, which has been praised by religious freedom advocates, was passed despite opposition from LGBT activists, who have argued that the law could result in discrimination against the LGBT community. Supporters of Mississippi’s new bill, Senate Bill 2681, say the final version bears little resemblance to Arizona’s failed measure. An earlier version of the bill that was considered a few weeks ago was similar to the one that Arizona’s Republican governor Jan Brewer vetoed. In that case business groups feared the law would injure the state’s economy, and that ultimately led to the bill being disregarded.

Federal Appeals Court Upholds NYC’s Ban on Worship Services at Public Schools

An appeals court in New York City on Thursday ruled that the Board of Education was abiding by the law in prohibiting the Bronx Household of Faith from using public school facilities for worship services during off-hours. The 2-1 vote, a reversal of a 2012 injunction against the city, comes amid a decades-long battle between church leaders and city officials. The plaintiff’s attorneys say they are considering appealing, once more, to the Supreme Court. Robert Hall, pastor of the Bronx Household of Faith, said “This is about our rights. There seems to be an increasing attempt to marginalize Christianity in civilization.” The Court of Appeals’ decision potentially affects numerous other faith communities across New York City’s five boroughs.

In its decision to reverse the 2012 permanent injunction ruling of Manhattan Federal Judge Loretta Preska, the three-judge panel concluded that “the Board’s prohibition was consistent with its constitutional duties.” The judge who dissented in Thursday’s ruling, John M. Walker, Jr., wrote, “In my view, the Board of Education’s policy that disallows ‘religious worship services’ after hours in public schools — limited public fora that are otherwise open to all — violates the Free Exercise Clause because it plainly discriminates against religious belief and cannot be justified by a compelling government interest.”

  • Christians are not only being marginalized and discriminated against but are under relentless attack, increasingly goaded by the anti-Christ spirit (1John 2:18)

In NYC Most Black Babies are Aborted Rather than Born

In 2012, there were more black babies killed by abortion (31,328) in New York City than were born there (24,758), and the black children killed comprised 42.4% of the total number of abortions in the Big Apple, according to a report by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

  • The ‘tolerant, inclusive’ secular humanist pro-choice crowd isn’t bothered by the disproportionate effect of abortion on minorities because they also support the sustainability mantra of population control which globalists purposely employ against the lower-class, entitlement-dependent minorities.

Obamacare Hits Enrollment Goal with 7.1 Million Sign-Ups

A last-minute enrollment surge enabled the White House to meet its original sign-up target for the Affordable Care Act, a surprising victory for the Obama administration after a rocky rollout of the program that has become a political hot potato for Democrats and a rallying cry for Republicans. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that 7.1 million people had signed up on federal or state exchanges for coverage under the health care law now often known as Obamacare. The enrollment period began anemically in October with a faltering federal website and ended with a crush of people trying to beat Monday’s deadline to get coverage. Not everyone who has selected a health plan has paid for it yet, officials said.

ObamaCare Makes it More Difficult to Buy Insurance Year-Round

Until now, customers could walk into an insurance office or go online to buy standard health care coverage any time of year. Not anymore. Many people who didn’t sign up during the government’s open enrollment period that ended Monday will soon find it difficult or impossible to get insured this year, even if they go directly to a private company and money is no object. Insurers are refusing to sell to individuals after the enrollment period for HealthCare.gov and the state marketplaces ended at the end of March. The federal law doesn’t prevent companies from selling policies to everyone all year. But insurers consider it too risky now that the law prohibits them from rejecting people in poor health.

Obama Administration Letting Criminal Immigrants Go Free

Last year alone, the Obama Administration let 35 percent of aliens with records of criminal conviction — around 68,000 — go free, according to a new report by the Center for Immigration Studies. The report cites internal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement data to conclude that the Administration is misusing “prosecutorial discretion” and jeopardizing public safety by letting too many deportable aliens go free. Out of nearly 722,000 encounters with illegal or criminal immigrants last year, ICE officials only filed immigration charges against 195,000 of them. The Obama Administration’s policies of “prosecutorial discretion” first went into effect in June 2011, and since that time alone, arrests by ICE have dropped by 40 percent, according to the report. This comes at a time when the Administration is claiming “record numbers” of aliens being deported. But according to the report, that claim is only made possible because ICE is counting the Border Patrol’s arrests as its own, something that has not been done in previous administrations.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Limits on Federal Campaign Contributions

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a major campaign finance decision, striking down limits on federal campaign contributions for the first time. The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will change and probably increase the role money plays in American politics. The decision, by a 5-to-4 vote along ideological lines, with the Court’s more conservative justices in the majority. The ruling does not affect familiar base limits on contributions from individuals to candidates, currently $2,600 per candidate in primary and general elections. But it said that overall limits of $48,600 by individuals every two years for contributions to all federal candidates violated the First Amendment, as did separate aggregate limits on contributions to political party committees, currently $74,600. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for four justices in the controlling opinion, said the First Amendment required striking down the limits. “There is no right in our democracy more basic,” he wrote, “than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”

$1 Billion Settlement to Aid Navajo Mine Cleanup

A $1 billion cleanup of abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Reservation could soon begin under a record U.S. Department of Justice settlement announced Thursday. The $5.15 billion settlement, described as the largest ever recovered for environmental enforcement, includes cleanup projects at several locations nationwide. It stems from a bankruptcy case involving Kerr-McGee, an oil-exploration and energy company that mined uranium and left behind 85 years’ worth of pollution across the country. Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which acquired Kerr-McGee in 2006, will pay the settlement. In Arizona, uranium contamination — both to one-time Navajo miners and to people who live and draw water near the mines — has wrought untold health consequences. Victims frequently report kidney maladies or cancers, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has advised against using some wells that previously served rural communities.

NASA Suspends Most Ties with Russia

NASA is halting most communication with the Russian government except for the International Space Station, citing Russia’s violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty, according to a internal memo from the U.S. space agency. NASA confirmed the suspension in an online statement: “Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, NASA is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation.” NASA also stated it is “laser focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space.”

Ebola Toll Rises in ‘Unprecedented’ Outbreak

An outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in West Africa has spread to Guinea’s capital and beyond its borders in an “unprecedented epidemic,” a leading aid agency reported Monday. A total of 125 patients are suspected of contracting Ebola and 80 have died, Doctors Without Borders said. Most victims have been in Guinea, but the World Health Organization reported Sunday that two deaths in Sierra Leone and one in Liberia are suspected to have been caused by the Ebola virus. “This geographical spread is worrisome, because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organizations working to control the epidemic,” said Mariano Lugli, the Doctors Without Borders coordinator. The rising death toll in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak has sparked fear across the region with at least 80 already having died from the nearly always fatal virus.

China Buying Up American Real Estate

The Chinese are on a real estate buying spree all over America. In fact, in some cases large chunks of land are actually being given to them. Small communities such as Thomasville, Alabama, are so starved for jobs that they are willing to give land away for free to Chinese companies in order to entice them to build factories. But in most cases, the Chinese actually have to spend money to acquire our real estate. And they are starting to make some really high profile acquisitions in some of our most expensive cities. In other cases, the Chinese are gaining control over vast tracts of U.S. territory by buying up our large corporations. For example, when the Chinese purchased Smithfield Foods, they suddenly owned 460 large farms and became the top employer in dozens of communities all over the United States. Dozens of companies from China are putting down roots in Detroit, part of the country’s steady push into the American auto industry.

IRS Chief says Tax Code Too Complex

The nation’s chief tax collector made a rare plea for overhauling the nation’s tax laws Wednesday, saying the Internal Revenue Service is eager “to do whatever we can” to help Congress simplify the tax code. John Koskinen told reporters he’s worried that the country could miss out on the best opportunity to reform the tax code since the last major overhaul in 1986. The two issues most in need of an overhaul, he said, are the taxation of American companies doing business abroad, and the alternative minimum tax, which Koskinen finds “impenetrable.” Koskinen said it’s a mistake to try to deal with tax expenditures — as the multitudes of credits, deductions and exemptions are sometimes called — one by one. He likened that approach to fighting a “guerrilla war” with special interests. “The advantage of doing it all at once is that the lobbyists can’t all get in the door at the same time,” he said.

Economic News

Employers added 192,000 jobs in March as milder weather helped propel the labor market out of its winter doldrums. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7%, despite a surge in job growth, because there were more people looking for jobs, including previously discouraged workers, the Labor Department said Friday. Businesses added 192,000 jobs, fueled by strong gains in professional and business services and health and education. Private-sector payrolls have now exceeded their level in December 2007, when the Great Recession began. Employment for federal, state and local governments was unchanged.

Also encouraging is that job gains for January and February were revised up by a total 37,000, meaning a winter of weak job growth was not as feeble as first estimated. January’s was revised to 144,000 from 129,000 and February’s to 197,000 from 175,000. The average workweek rose to 34.5 hours from 34.3 hours amid the better weather. And the number of Americans out of work at least six months fell by 110,000 to 3.7 million, though they still comprise 36% of the unemployed. A broader measure of joblessness that includes part-time employees who prefer full-time jobs and those who’ve given up looking for work, as well as the unemployed — ticked up to 12.7% from 12.6%.

USA TODAY’s analysis of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies headed by the same CEO the past two fiscal years shows 2013 median pay — including salary, bonus, incentive awards, perks and gains from vested shares and exercised stock options — jumped 13% to $10.5 million buoyed by soaring stock prices.

Everyone talks about the 1% — but who are they exactly? It takes at least $389,000 to make the club: That was the minimum threshold of adjusted gross income in 2011, the most recent year for which the IRS has final data. The 1% as a group pay a bigger share of income taxes than their share of adjusted gross income: As a group, the top 1% earned nearly 19% of all adjusted gross income reported in 2011 and paid 35% of all federal income taxes. The effective tax rate of the top 1% was 23.5%, well above the average tax rate paid by others. For instance, the top 50% of filers — who had an AGI of at least $34,823 — paid an average tax rate of just under 14%.

Persecution Watch

Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich will step down following uproar over his apparent opposition to gay marriage. In a statement released Thursday, Mozilla — which makes the Firefox Web browser — apologized for not reacting more quickly to the controversy surrounding Eich, who made a 2008 donation supporting California’s ban on gay marriage, The Guardian reports. The online dating site OKCupid urged a boycott, calling on users of Mozilla’s Firefox browser to switch to a different browser in protest.

  • The religious rights of Christians continue to be trampled under the intolerant gay agenda

Four people died Friday in a suburb of Cairo after Muslim brotherhood supporters opened fire on two churches in the area. The Islamist militants also set fire to parked cars during the attack. One woman was mauled and molested because she had a cross in her car. Eyewitnesses said that the Egyptian State Security did not intervene in the attacks. According to the Christian Post, the majority of attacks on Egypt’s Christians happen on Friday, the same day that Muslims gather for prayers in the mosques.

A new report from the United Nations has shed new light on the extent of persecution faced by non-Muslims in Iran. “In general, Christian religious practice is monitored and heavily regulated,” the U.N. report said. “For example, Muslim converts to Christianity cannot enter Armenian or Assyrian Churches, as all churchgoers must register with the Government. Authorities often place cameras in churches. Christians, especially converts, are careful to use certain euphemistic language in communications,” the report further stated. “When ministers or other visible Christian figures are arrested, they are most often pressed to reveal foreign contacts or financial connections/benefactors.” Of the 42 Christians arrested last year, most were convicted of participating in informal “home church” prayer services, associating with Christians outside Iran, or engaging in evangelical activity. The maximum sentence was 10 years in prison.

Middle East

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were on life support this week as the PA threatened to abandon talks and seek action against Israel at the United Nations and other international forums. US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Jerusalem and Ramallah this week for emergency consultations with both sides in order to try and salvage the talks and extend the negotiations past their current deadline of April 30th. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority defied the United States and Israel by taking concrete steps to join 15 international agencies — a move to gain the benefits of statehood outside the negotiations process. Mr. Abbas, who had vowed not to seek membership in international bodies until the April 29 expiration of the talks that Mr. Kerry started last summer, said he was taking this course because Israel had failed to release a fourth batch of long-serving Palestinian prisoners by the end of March.

As relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank hung by a diplomatic thread on Thursday, Israel continues to battle terrorists based in the Gaza Strip, with attacks into Israel from the Strip prompting retaliatory airstrikes overnight Thursday. The IDF confirmed that its aircraft had hit five terrorist-related targets, including two facilities belonging to the Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Strip. The four rockets fired into Israel by Gaza-based terrorists Thursday evening were added to the hundreds already fired into the Jewish State since the beginning of 2014.

Syria

Syrian leader Bashar Assad is increasingly relying on a network of local militias and foreign fighters to defend his regime as his regular army has been eroded by defections and heavy casualties after three years of war. The local militias have grown to about 60,000 fighters. Assad’s regime has built the local militias with the assistance of Iranian advisers. U.S. officials say neither side is capable of outright victory.

The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has passed 1 million, the United Nations’ refugee agency said Thursday, making up almost a quarter of the country’s resident population, making Lebanon the country with the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world. The total number of registered Syrian refugees in all countries is 2.58 million, according to the United Nations. Other nations with large populations of Syrian refugees include Jordan and Turkey.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber wearing a military uniform killed six police officers Wednesday inside the heavily fortified Interior Ministry compound in the heart of Kabul, authorities said, the latest in a wave of violence as the Taliban threatens to disrupt this weekend’s presidential election. The bomber walked through several checkpoints to reach the ministry gate before detonating his explosives. An Interior Ministry statement said the bomber was among other men in uniform entering the compound.

Two journalists working for The Associated Press have been shot in Afghanistan, one of them fatally, the news agency said Friday. The Associated Press said the slain journalist was Anja Niedringhaus, 48, an internationally acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize-winning German photographer. The second journalist targeted by the gunman was Kathy Gannon, a Canadian reporter based in Islamabad, the AP said. She is said to be in a stable condition and is receiving medical care. The two women were traveling in their own car in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots in Khost province, protected by the Afghan National Army and Afghan police, the news agency said. A unit commander walked up to their car as it waited to move, yelled “Allahu akbar” — “God is great” — and opened fire on them in the back seat, the AP said. He then surrendered to the other police present.

Iraq

Iraqi security forces on Thursday thwarted an attack by an al Qaeda splinter group on a military base in central Iraq, killing 40 gunmen, Iraq’s Interior Ministry said. One Iraqi army officer was killed in the attack by members of the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, according to the ministry. Also Thursday, a car bomb exploded outside a restaurant in northern Iraq, killing at least four people and injuring 13 others. Iraq has been beset with political and sectarian violence for months, often pitting Sunnis — a minority in Iraq — against Shiite Muslims, who came to dominate the government after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003. The United Nations said 2013 was the deadliest year in Iraq since 2008, with almost 8,000 people killed.

Egypt

Three bombs exploded Wednesday outside Cairo University’s main campus, hitting riot police deployed against near daily protests by Islamist students and killing at least two people — a civilian and a police general — and wounding seven others, including several top police officers. The bombings were the latest in a campaign of attacks targeting Egypt’s police and military that began with the ouster last summer of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The attacks are taking place amid a fierce crackdown by security forces against pro-Morsi protesters and members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

South Sudan

According to a UN report, the conflict in South Sudan has left over 800,000 displaced and over 250,000 fleeing to find refuge in surrounding nations, such as Ethiopia. Although warring sides signed a ceasefire in January, Worthy News reports that some intermittent hostilities have continued (including killings along ethnic lines) and as the violence continues, things may continue to worsen for the South Sundanese people. The conflict has led to “a serious deterioration in the food security situation,” according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, leaving over 4 million people in need of humanitarian aid. The two warring factions are led by forces backing President Silva Kiir and former vice-president Riek Machar, respectively.

Earthquakes

An 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern Chile Tuesday night, triggering small landslides, setting off a tsunami and killing at least five people. But geologists say an even larger quake in the region is lurking. “This magnitude 8.2 is not the large earthquake that we were expecting in this area,” said Mark Simons, a geophysicist at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “We’re expecting a potentially even larger earthquake.” It could be tomorrow. Or it could be 50 years. Chile sits on an arc of volcanos and fault lines circling the Pacific Ocean known as the “Ring of Fire.” Since 1973, Chile has had more than a dozen quakes of magnitude-7.0 and above. In 2010, about 500 people died when an 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit. That quake was so violent, it moved one whole city about 10 feet west. Coastal residents of Chile’s far-north spent a second sleepless night outside their homes early Thursday after a major 7.2-magnitude aftershock rattled the area.

Weather

Winter Storm Yona brought nearly a foot of snow to some places in and around the Twin Cities of Minnesota, making it one of the top three biggest April snowstorms the region has seen since 1891. Snow, sleet and ice also hit parts of Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. Snow will continue Friday from far northern Iowa into eastern Minnesota, northwest Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Severe thunderstorms dumped golf-ball size hail in the city of St. Louis around midday Wednesday; there were many reports of hail at least one inch in diameter in the metropolitan area, in some cases enough to completely cover yards in hail. Flash flooding caused motorists to become stranded in parts of the city. Hail up to baseball size was reported in parts of eastern Kansas Wednesday evening. Windshields were busted out at the Kansas Star Casino near Mulvane.

A powerful storm system brought drenching rains, hail and — in a few cases — tornadoes to a wide swath of the central United States on Thursday, causing damage but no known fatalities. The National Weather Service reported a number of twisters across several states, including reported tornadoes and monster hail, left damage across north Texas injuring at least four. Homes were damaged near Highway 69 in Hunt County, including damaged roofs and downed utility poles. The extent of damage from a reported tornado near Farmersville, Texas was not immediately known, but at least four people were injured when a farmhouse and a mobile home were destroyed northeast of the area near the town of Merit.

Drought-weary California got more bad news Tuesday. Though late-season storms slightly boosted the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, it’s still far below normal as the spring melt fast approaches. Coupled with this winter’s scant rainfall, the meager snowpack — containing only 32% of average water content for the date — promises a gloomy summer for California farms and many communities. The Sierra snowpack is vital because it stores water that melts in the spring as runoff. Communities and farmers depend on it during California’s hot, dry summers.