Signs of the Times (4/18/14)

‘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)

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