Archive for May, 2014

Signs of the Times (5/30/14)

May 30, 2014

Okla. Governor Signs Pro-Life Bill that Closed Abortion Clinics in Texas

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday signed the bill that requires abortion clinics to have a physician with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital present when an abortion is done on an unborn baby. When the state of Texas clamped down on abortion clinics that could not follow basic health and safety standards and failed to ensure abortion practitioners had admitting privileges at local hospitals in cases where women are injured in botched abortions, as many as 20 Texas abortion clinics closed or stopped doing abortions because they couldn’t comply. Based on Americans United for Life model legislation found in the Women’s Protection Project, the bill is designed to protect women from “house of horrors” clinics such as the clinic in which convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell operated.

United Methodist Church May Split Over Homosexuality Differences

A divide may be imminent for the United Methodist Church, as the denomination cannot reconcile differences over homosexuality. Religion News Service reports 80 UMC pastors believe that the split cannot be avoided, even by agreeing to disagree on gay matters. “We can no longer talk about schism as something that might happen in the future. Schism has already taken place in our connection,” Rev. Maxie Dunnam, former president of Asbury Theological Seminary said. According to the current church laws, UMC pastors cannot officiate same-sex weddings, nor can gay pastors be ordained. The church is the second-largest Protestant denomination, with 11.8 million members.

California Bill ‘Modernizes’ Birth Certificates for Gay Parents

A California bill that allows gay parents to identify as “parent” instead of “mother” or “father” on birth certificates was passed by the state assembly. The bill seeks to adhere to the shifting definition of family in society. The bill also allows multiple people to be listed as parents on birth certificates, with no limit given. “The definition of a family needs to be more flexible, and same-sex parents should not be discriminated against when filling out a birth certificate,” said Democrat Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez. Brad Dacus, religious liberty attorney for Pacific Justice Institute said, “It creates greater confusion with regards to the identity of a mother and a father and the role that they play.” The bill will “prove, undoubtedly, to be a huge disservice to the healthy development of children,” he continued.

  • The ‘shifting definition of family’ is both unnatural and ungodly. Gay parents? Physically impossible without laboratory intervention. No mother and father? An abomination to both evolution and creation.

Obama Blames Founding Fathers for Limiting His Powers

President Obama recently accused the nation’s Founding Fathers of establishing a flawed system of government. He used it as an excuse to circumvent Congress and ignore the constitutional system of checks and balances to advance his leftist agenda, reports Liberty Counsel. As reported by the Washington Times, Obama was addressing a group of wealthy Democrat donors when he told them that the logjam in Congress is because of an unfair apportionment of power in our government.   “Obviously, the nature of the Senate means that California has the same number of Senate seats as Wyoming. That puts us [Democrats] at a disadvantage,” Mr. Obama said. “So there are some structural reasons why, despite the fact that Republican ideas are largely rejected by the public, it’s still hard for us to break through,” Mr. Obama said.

Obama Administration Ordered IRS to Target Tea Party

For over a year, the Obama Administration’s IRS has been obstructing the truth. Now we know what they were hiding, reports the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ). New bombshell emails reveal that within 24 hours of the IRS flagging the first conservative group in 2010, top IRS officials in Washington ordered the targeting. Officials in Washington, not Cincinnati, instructed field offices to send the first “Tea Party” cases to Washington and “hold the rest.” And that’s what they did. Then, for years, IRS officials in Washington, including the Chief Counsel’s office, developed unconstitutionally intrusive demands, targeting conservative and pro-life Americans. An ACLJ lawsuit on behalf of 41 targeted conservative groups from 22 states is leading the charge for justice.

VA CEO Plans Sweeping Changes

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apologized to all veterans and the nation for scandal involving the systemic delay of health care to veterans at VA hospitals across the country. He also vowed to fire leaders at a Phoenix VA hospital where a VA inspector general investigation showed that 1,700 veterans were removed from any official list and kept waiting for appointments, some for up to six months or longer. He said he took full responsibility for the scandal, but did not indicate he would step down as called up to do by dozens of lawmakers from both parties and the American Legion, the nation’s largest veteran service group. Shinseki said he was shocked by the widespread evidence, admitted that he failed to see this happening and said he would provide no bonuses to any medical directors in the 150-hospital system this year. Shinseki resigned as on Friday after meeting face-to-face with President Obama.

VA Flush with Medical-Care Funds

The Obama administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expects to have more money for medical care than it can spend for the fifth fiscal year in a row, The Daily Caller reports. Despite claims that VA needs more funding, the scandal-plagued department actually has a surplus in medical-care funding. VA expects to carry over $450 million in medical-care funding from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2015. The VA received its full requested medical care appropriation of $54.6 billion this fiscal year, which is more than $10 billion more than it received four years ago. The VA carried over $1.449 billion in medical-care funding from fiscal year 2010 to 2011, $1.163 billion from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012, $637 million from fiscal year 2012 to 2013, and $543 million from fiscal year 2013 to 2014.

  • The federal government’s ongoing mantra is that more funds will solve any problem, but evidence clearly shows this is not the case as it wastes a large proportion of the funds it receives

Scores of Undocumented Migrants dropped off in Arizona

Scores of undocumented immigrants from Central America have been released at Greyhound Lines Inc. bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix over the past several days after they were flown to Arizona from south Texas. a spokesman for the Border Patrol in Tucson, confirmed that over the weekend federal officials flew about 400 migrants apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to Tucson to be processed. He said the migrants were flown to Arizona because the Border Patrol does not have enough manpower to handle a surge in illegal immigrants in south Texas. Border enforcement groups are concerned that the migrants will now disappear into the U.S., spurring even more to come illegally. Humanitarian groups are concerned that immigration officials are dropping migrants off at bus stations to fend for themselves without food, water and basic necessities.

Many Employees Hit with Higher Health Care Premiums

More employees are getting hit with higher health insurance premiums and co-payments, and many don’t have the money to cover unexpected medical expenses, a new report finds. More than half of companies (56%) increased employees’ share of health care premiums or co-payments for doctors’ visits in 2013, and 59% of employers say they intend to do the same in 2014, according to the annual Aflac WorkForces Report. Many employees are in a “fragile financial situation” and couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket expenses of many medical situations, with many switching to high-deductible plans.

Custom-Drug Makers Come Under Increased Scrutiny

Complex, custom-made medications produced in factory-like pharmacies are distributed to hospitals across the country with almost no state or federal oversight — a loophole dramatized by a deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak linked to tainted steroids from one of those facilities in New England. The nation learned of these shadow drug-makers when an injection formulated at Massachusetts’ New England Compounding Center was linked to the meningitis outbreak that ultimately was associated with the deaths of 64 people and illness among 750 others. The outbreak underscored lax regulation of drug-compounding facilities, which manufacture unique combinations of medicines for specific conditions and illnesses. There is no accurate count of how many of these facilities exist in the U.S. because they are totally unregulated. A federal law enacted in November as a response to the meningitis outbreak created voluntary regulations for these facilities for the first time, but it remains unclear how many facilities will opt in. The FDA began cracking down on these facilities, inspecting 42 of the biggest operations in the country in 2013.

Almost Half of American Adults Hacked in last Year

Hackers have exposed the personal information of 110 million Americans — roughly half of the nation’s adults — in the last 12 months alone. That massive number, tallied for CNNMoney by Ponemon Institute researchers, is made even more mind-boggling by the amount of hacked accounts: up to 432 million. The exact number of exposed accounts is hard to pin down, because some companies — such as AO and eBay — aren’t fully transparent about the details of their cyber breaches. But that’s the best estimate available with the data tracked by the Identity Theft Resource Center and CNNMoney’s review of corporate disclosures. The damage is real. Each record typically includes personal information, such as your name, debit or credit card, email, phone number, birthday, password, security questions and physical address. Cyberattacks are becoming more and more numerous.

Tech Workers Mostly White Males

Silicon Valley. It’s where the women, and the minorities, aren’t. Hit any tech event from South of Market to Santa Clara, and you see the same cast of characters. Scores of young white men in T-shirts and hoodies. A fair number of Asians. A few Hispanics. Rarely blacks. And a smattering of women. Google released its diversity numbers Wednesday after it (and most other tech firms) have spent years without disclosing such figures. Just 1% of its tech staff are black. Two percent are Hispanic. The one well-represented minority group is Asians, who make up 34% of the company’s tech workers. Eighty-three percent of Google’s tech workers internationally are male. For non-tech jobs, the number is 52%.

  • The high-tech world was supposed to be egalitarian but has failed to live up to the much-hyped promise

Economic News

The U.S. economy shrank in the first quarter for the first time in three years as businesses increased inventories more slowly than initially believed and bad weather hampered activity. The nation’s gross domestic product in the first three months of 2014 fell at a 1% annual rate. The last time the economy contracted was in the first quarter of 2011. Non-residential construction plunged 7.5%. State and local government spending fell 1.8%. On the positive side, consumer spending rose 3.1%.

U.S. consumers cut back on spending in April for the first time in a year. The Commerce Department says consumer spending fell 0.1% in April, reflecting reductions in purchases of durable goods such as autos and in services such as heating bills. The drop was the first in 12 months, but it followed a 1% surge in spending in March, which had been the biggest increase in more than four years. Income rose 0.3% in April after a 0.5% March gain.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to a strengthening labor market. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 300,000 for the week ended May 24, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 17,000 to 2.63 million in the week ended May 17, the lowest level since November 2007.

U.S. home prices continued to rise in the first quarter of 2014, according to a housing report issued Tuesday. For the quarter, home prices across the country rose 10.3% on an annual basis, the S&P/Case-Shiller report said. That was, however, a slower gain than the previous two quarters, when prices rose more than 11% each.

Medicare paid out $6.7 billion in 2010 for health care visits that were improperly coded or lacked documentation, a report released Thursday found. That’s 21% of Medicare’s total budget for diagnostic and assessment visits, according to the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general. They found that 42% of diagnostic and assessment claims were improperly coded and 19% were improperly documented.

  • The inefficiency of the bloated federal government is enormous and out of control

Persecution Watch

Even after 21 years of independence, Christians in the small nation of Eritrea face tremendous suffering and persecution. According to Christian Today more than 1,000 Christians are imprisoned because of their faith. Most are behind bars because they are members of underground churches. Release Eritrea, a human rights organization launched in response to the gross religious rights abuse in the country that strategically borders the Red Sea, reports that some Christian leaders have been in prison ranging from three to ten years. A former Italian colony on the Horn of Africa, the militarized nation of Eritrea is split between Christian Tigrinyans and a number of Muslim tribes.

France

Police in northern France moved in Wednesday on makeshift migrant camps near the port of Calais, prompting a standoff with the defiant residents — many of whom have fled conflicts in Syria, Sudan and Eritrea. Hundreds of migrants are gathered in the ramshackle camps, some seeking to claim asylum in France and others hoping to find a way to reach British soil. Police asked the migrants to move to an undisclosed location, but that the migrants were refusing. In the meantime, authorities have asked the migrants to shower and decontaminate their clothes, amid concern over an outbreak of the contagious skin condition scabies. The migrants have also refused to do that because of concerns their tattered tents will be gone when they returned. Migrants were given scabies medication Tuesday night but didn’t understand what it was for.

Ukraine

A battle between pro-Russia separatists and government forces at Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine has claimed 40 lives, authorities said Tuesday, in what is the deadliest outbreak of violence yet in the flashpoint city. Armed men, believed to be pro-Russian rebels, stormed and set fire to a major ice hockey stadium in the eastern city of Donetsk Tuesday and border guards reported battles with insurgent trying to bring weapons into Ukraine from Russia. The Druzhba arena, home to the Donbass club, had been earmarked to host several games during the 2015 world championships. The attacks were the latest in an upsurge in fighting as Ukrainian anti-terrorist troops mount a major campaign against rebels in the wake of the weekend election of a new Ukrainian president, candy magnate Petro Poroshenko, who has vowed to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis.

A Ukrainian general and 13 servicemen were killed Thursday when pro-Russian rebels shot down a military helicopter near Slovyansk. However, U.S. defense officials say that Russia has pulled a large number of forces away from the Ukraine border, a withdrawal that the U.S. has been demanding for weeks and a move that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called “promising.” Hagel told The Washington Post that approximately seven Russian battalions remain of those that were deployed to the east and south of Ukraine, amounting to a couple of thousand troops.

Syria

A truck is loaded with munitions, then driven up a hillside in northern Syria. Moments later, there is a massive blast followed by cries of “Allahu Akbar,” or God is great in Arabic, as well as the rattling of gunfire. Suicide bombings like this are not new in war-torn Syria. But what could make this one different is the man who radical Islamists say played a part in pulling it off. An American. The Sunday attack was executed in coordination with the al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda-linked organization. One video was posted on YouTube, with the title “the American martyrdom from al-Nusra Front,” which identifies the suicide bomber as American Abu Hurayra Al-Amriki who grew up in Florida.

Afghanistan

President Obama announced on Tuesday that he planned to withdraw the last American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, declaring that it was “time to turn the page on a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Under a new timetable outlined by Obama, the 32,000 American troops now in Afghanistan would be reduced to 9,800 after this year. That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015, and by the end of 2016, there would be only a vestigial force to protect the embassy in Kabul and to help the Afghans with military purchases and other security matters. At the height of American involvement, in 2011, the United States had 101,000 troops in the country. Mr. Obama said the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan would free up resources to confront an emerging terrorist threat stretching from the Middle East to Africa.

Iran

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the era of negotiation of Tehran’s nuclear program has ended and that those who wanted to deal with America – which he said must be destroyed – are guilty of treason. ‘Those [Iranians] who want to promote negotiations and surrender to the oppressors and blame the Islamic Republic as a warmonger in reality commit treason,’ he said Sunday during a public address to members of parliament. “’Logic and reason command that Iran, in order to pass through a region full of pirates, needs to arm itself and must have the capability to defend itself. Battle and jihad are endless because evil and its front continue to exist. … This battle will only end when society can get rid of the oppressors’ front with America at the head of it.”

The Revolutionary Court in Tehran has sentenced eight Facebook users to a total of 123 years in prison on charges of ‘propaganda against the state’ and ‘insulting the Supreme Leader.’ In addition, the individuals were also charged with ‘assembly and collusion against national security,’ ‘blasphemy,’ ‘creating public anxiety,’ and ‘spreading falsehoods.’ The ruling by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh, which is harsher than what the law allows, is clearly intended to spread fear among Internet users in Iran, and dissuade Iranians from stepping outside strict state controls on cyberspace.

Egypt

Egypt’s presidential election is expected to end Wednesday night following three days of scrambling by authorities to boost voter turnout amid what appears to be little enthusiasm for the ballot box. An extension of the election to a third day was announced late Tuesday by the nation’s election commission. The decision seeks to encourage people to head to the polls and underscores authorities’ apparent concerns that weak voter participation could undermine the legitimacy of the election, which is expected to catapult former military chief Abdel al-Fattah al-Sisi to the presidency. “People are actually bored,” said Nadine Sika, an assistant professor of political science at the American University in Cairo. “Everyone knows the final result so there’s no use in just going and casting the vote.” Exit polls suggest el-Sisi won 95.3% of the vote, while opponent Hamdeen Sabahy garnered only 4.7%.

Libya

In the three years since the uprising that overthrew long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s central government has failed to secure its oil ports, pipelines and fields, disrupting its primary revenue source. The battle for oil wealth in the increasingly lawless land reflects the turmoil that wracks the country in these post-revolutionary times. In fact, the State Department recommended Tuesday that Americans leave Libya immediately, saying the security situation in Libya “remains unpredictable and unstable” with crime levels high in many parts of the country.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s military knows where the more than 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram are but has ruled out using force to rescue them. Most officials think any raid to rescue them would be fraught with danger and probably not worth the risk that the girls would be killed by their captors – an Islamist group that has shown extreme ruthlessness in killing civilians. Since the girls were captured, at least 470 civilians have been killed by Boko Haram, which says it is fighting to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria.

Wildfires

A massive wildfire in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula had grown rapidly to more than 181,000 acres, but there was finally some good news Tuesday – welcomed rain fell, instead of the dry, 30-mph wind gusts of past days. The wildfire’s growth was slowed and by Friday had only grown to 193,243 acres (about 300 square miles) and was 46% contained.

The Slide fire in Arizona has burned more than 32 square miles in northern Arizona between Flagstaff and Sedona. The fire was 75% contained as of Friday morning, having consumed over 21,217 acres. No structures have burned and no injuries have been reported. Authorities are now investigating who started the human-caused wildfire that shut down the popular tourist area over Memorial Day weekend. About 300 evacuees have been allowed to return home.

Another wildfire in the remote mountains of southeast Arizona has burned over 49,000 areas (about 77 square miles) with no reported containment as of yet. Of the eight large wildfires (over 100 acres) in the fifty states, five of them are burning in drought-stricken Arizona.

Weather

Up to half of the nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables are grown in California’s Central Valley, one of the planet’s most fertile growing regions, between Los Angeles and Sacramento. Now, for the first time this century, the entire state is in severe to exceptional drought. The San Joaquin River runs through the heart of this arid growing region and in a normal year would flow with fresh snow melt from the Sierra. But there’s little snow in the mountains, and little water in the river. Many farms are in uncharted territory and on the verge of catastrophe. The consequences are staggering near towns like Mendota. Dried-up fields blow dust into the sky. River beds and canals, once full of water, are now full of dead weeds and rattlesnakes. Fruit orchards along Interstate 5 look like burned piles of firewood. Workers who used to make a living picking fruit and working machinery now stand in government supported food lines to feed their families. No water means no jobs. Unemployment in the area is running around 40%.

Nine people were hurt and one sustained critical injuries when a tornado roared through a camp near Watford City, North Dakota, Monday night, destroying at least 15 trailers where oil workers had been living. The camp is about five miles south of Watford City, located in western North Dakota. Thirty miles to the northwest is the town of Williston, the epicenter of the state’s oil boom.

A slow-moving storm system drenched parts of the Plains states during the week of May 21-27, bringing relief from the extreme to exceptional drought that has gripped much of the region. Several cities saw at least as much rain during that one-week period than they had in the first 20 weeks of 2014, from Roswell, New Mexico to San Angelo, Texas Several rounds of strong storms triggered deadly flash flooding that washed caskets away from their graves in southern Louisiana, wiped out rainfall deficits in a single day for southeast Texas and even spawned a tornado Wednesday which damaged property around the Marathon Oil refinery in Garyville, Louisiana.

Signs of the Times

May 26, 2014

Pope Endorses Palestinian State and Will Host Peace Conference

Pope Francis took a dramatic plunge Sunday into Mideast politics while on his Holy Land pilgrimage, receiving an acceptance from the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to visit him at the Vatican next month to discuss embattled peace efforts. The summit was an important moral victory for the pope, who is named after the peace-loving Francis of Assisi. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down in late April, and there have been no public high-level meetings for a year. Francis landed in Bethlehem, the cradle of Christianity, in a symbolic nod to Palestinian aspirations for their own state. He called the stalemate in peace talks “unacceptable” and stopped briefly to pray at the Israeli separation barrier surrounding this biblical West Bank town. At the end of an open air Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, the pope invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to pray with him for peace and invited them to the Vatican. The offices of the Israeli and Palestinian presidents quickly confirmed that they had accepted the invitation. Francis also buoyed Palestinian hopes by openly endorsing “the State of Palestine.”

  • Saint Malachy’s ‘last Pope’ is living up to end-time prophesies by getting involved in Middle East political affairs. Expect continued pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel policies.

U.S. Catholics Face Shortage of Priests

Nationally, one in five Catholic parishes does not have a resident priest. America’s Catholic population is rising by 1 percent annually, but seminary enrollment is flat. An inadequate supply of priests already has forced hundreds of parishes to close or consolidate. Priests aren’t getting any younger, either. Their average age is 63. In 1975, there were 58,909 priests in the United States. Today, the number of priests has dwindled to 39,600, a 33 percent drop. Meanwhile, America’s Catholic population rose from 54.5 million to 78.2 million, a 43 percent increase, during the same period.

Feds Force Oklahoma to Overturn Anti-Sharia Law & Pay Islamists $303,333

The US government has forced the state of Oklahoma to overturn its anti-Sharia bill, after a Muslim man named Muneer Awad sued the state for supposed violations against “freedom of religion.” The state of Oklahoma must now pay $303,333 to Awad for legal fees, costs and nontaxable expenses. The money is going into the hands of Muslims because the lawsuit was done by CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), a Muslim jihadist organization of Islamic lawyers. Awad himself is a lawyer and the executive director for CAIR. According to Jordan Sekulow, head of the American Center for Law & Justice, the bill never infringed on the Islamic religion, but was placed to prevent international codes of law from entering the government: “At its core, the amendment has nothing to do with infringing on a Muslim’s right to practice Islam or religious freedom generally. This amendment is about judicial authority, and is not a demonization of Islam.”

Hundreds of VA Health-Related Positions Remain Unfilled

Despite rampant allegations of veterans stuck in limbo waiting for care, hundreds of jobs remain unfilled at the Department of Veterans Affairs. A search by FoxNews.com on Friday of the USA Jobs federal employment website showed more than 1,080 current vacancies in health-related fields at the VA and 167 job openings for physicians with top-range salaries of roughly $295,000 a year. In recent weeks, whistleblowers have come forward to criticize how the agency is handling its massive caseload. The allegations generally accuse local VA facilities of pushing off patients and then manipulating their own records to make it seem like they’re receiving care in a timely fashion. Officials, in explaining the overburdened system, have pointed to the influx of veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the long-term care of aging vets from Vietnam. Since these are not new conditions, why haven’t VA officials hired staff to fill budgeted positions?

An Obamacare Winner: Safety-Net Hospitals

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the health law’s expansion of coverage to more than 13 million people this year has been the nation’s safety-net hospitals, which treat a disproportionate share of poor and uninsured people and therefore face billions of dollars in unpaid bills. Such facilities, most of which are government-owned or non-profit, had expected to see a drop in uninsured patients seeking treatment, but the change has been faster and deeper than most anticipated — at least in the 25 states that expanded Medicaid in January, according to interviews with safety-net hospital officials across the country. At Seattle’s largest safety-net hospital, the proportion of uninsured patients fell from 12% last year to an unprecedented low of 2% this spring — a drop expected to boost Harborview Medical Center’s revenue by $20 million this year. The share of uninsured patients was cut roughly in half this year at two other major safety net hospitals — Denver Health in Colorado and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Hospital (UAMS) in Little Rock.

Mexican Drug Cartels Making Inroads in U.S.

Last week, residents of El Paso, TX witnessed a disturbing sight which would seem to be a direct threat to local police. Two billboards on I-10 have been defaced with a hanging effigy and the words “Plata o plomo” which means “silver or lead.” It is believed to be a message from Mexican Drug cartels to local law enforcement to “accept bribes or die.” Border Patrol agents are now warning that Mexican drug cartels are actively operating inside the United States and spending millions of dollars each year to expand their networks here. These agents pointed the finger at politicians and said they were protecting their illegal activities. In an open letter to the American people, several retired Border Patrol agents wrote on behalf of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers and issued their warning to the citizens of the U.S. last year: “Transnational criminal enterprises have annually invested millions of dollars to create and staff international drug and human smuggling networks inside the United States; thus it is no surprise that they continue to accelerate their efforts to get trusted representatives in place as a means to guarantee continued success,” the Border Patrol agents wrote. “We must never lose sight of the fact that the United States is the market place for the bulk of transnational criminal businesses engaged in human trafficking and the smuggling, distribution and sale of illegal drugs,” they continued.

Economic News

While the U.S. economy has improved since the Great Recession ended five years ago, part-time and “contract” workers are filling many of the new jobs. Contract workers made up less than half of one percent of all U.S. employment in the 1980s but now account for 2.3%. Economists predict contract workers will play a larger role in the years ahead. They are a diverse army of laborers, ranging from janitors, security officers, home-care and food service-workers to computer programmers, freelance photographers and illustrators. Many others are self-employed, working under contracts that lay out specific responsibilities and deadlines. Labor leaders and many economists worry. Contract workers have less job security and don’t contribute to the economy through spending as much as permanent, full-time workers. Nor do they have the same job protections.

Persecution Watch

An American citizen whose pregnant wife has been sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to renounce her Christian faith told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren Friday that his wife is staying strong in her convictions despite her ordeal. Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, whose Christian husband Daniel Wani holds American citizenship, has been held in a Sudanese prison along with her 20-month old son for more than three months. Last week, in a decision that drew international condemnation, a judge in Khartoum sentenced her to death by hanging once she gives birth and nurses her child for two years, because she would not renounce her Christianity. Wani said the conditions in the prison are “not good.” However he said despite her ordeal, Ibrahim is staying strong in her convictions. “She said she is not going to convert to Islam,” he said.

Eurozone

France’s far-right National Front has won a nationwide election for the first time, as far-right parties across Europe caused a political “earthquake,” with a string of victories in voting for the European Parliament. The National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, notched up 24.95% of the vote in France, according to official estimates, well ahead of mainstream parties UMP and the Socialist Party. Le Pen said the win showed that people want to see change in Europe. France’s Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the result was “more than a warning. It is a shock, an earthquake.” Right-wing parties also gained ground in the UK, Denmark and Austria. Provisional results indicate that left-center and right-center parties will still hold a majority of seats in the European Parliament, which plays a key role in shaping European laws and will weigh in on who the European Commission’s next President should be. But right-wing parties and other so-called Euroskeptic groups who oppose the European Union are gaining ground.

Egypt

Egyptians hit the polls Monday amid boosted security nationwide to cast their ballots in a two-day vote that is predicted to propel a former defense minister to the presidency. The election comes almost 11 months after former military chief and presidential front-runner Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi from power last July. Leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi is the only other candidate in the election. He seeks to draw support from the country’s youth and vows to fight for the rights of the poor. Monday’s vote, which will continue for a second day Tuesday, is taking place under an interim, military-backed government. The election comes amid a broad crackdown on opposition that has led to thousands of deaths and mass imprisonment. The crackdown on Islamists has fueled militant violence largely targeting police, government buildings and security installations. To secure voting stations this week, hundreds of thousands of police and army forces have been deployed nationwide.

Ukraine

Even as Ukraine’s new president-elect pledged to travel to eastern regions to seek peace with insurgents, Ukrainian fighter jets attacked armed insurgents who took over Donestk airport on Monday. The military had given an ultimatum to the armed men to lay down their arms. When the gunmen didn’t comply, the military launched an air strike. It was not clear whether the ongoing resistance by rebels was a demonstration of defiance or a last gasp effort following voting on Sunday that elected 48-year-old chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko as president. “Peace in the country and peace in the east is my main priority,” Poroshenko said Monday, signaling that he would bring to an end the Ukrainian army’s much-criticized campaign to drive out the armed pro-Russia separatists.

Russia

Two weeks ago Russian signed an historic and huge deal with China to supply them with natural gas. This past week, the two totalitarian nations conducted joint military exercises they called “Maritime Cooperation-2014.” Pointed taking place near Japan and Taiwan in the East China Sea, Chinese and Russian naval vessels conducted maneuvers in the exercise area covering such missions as joint escort, joint rescue the hijacked ship, a joint verification of identification and joint air, sea assault on joint exercises and other subjects.

  • The increasing cooperation of the two anti-American countries fulfills Biblical end-time prophecies of anti-Christ alliances along with Russia’s alignment with Persia (Iran).

China

China has launched a terrorism crackdown one day after a series of explosions in an open-air market killed dozens in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, the country’s state news agency, Xinhua said Friday. the report said authorities had undertaken a “one-year crackdown on violent terrorist activities” in the volatile region after blasts in the heavily policed city of Urumqi killed at least 39 people and wounded more than 90, according to state media. The number of dead does not include the attackers. The state news agency reported Friday that five attackers were responsible for the blasts; four were killed in the explosions, and a fifth was arrested Thursday. In Urumqi, authorities tightened security checks at entry ports in an attempt to curb weapons smuggling, including inspections of individuals, luggage, transport facilities and postal deliveries at land border crossings.

Thailand

The Thai military on Friday tightened its grip on the politically unstable Southeast Asian nation, banning more than 150 prominent figures from leaving the country and threatening to arrest politicians who disobey its orders. Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was among those who reported to the military junta, which seized power in a coup Thursday after months of turmoil that paralyzed much of the government and caused deadly clashes in the streets of Bangkok. The United States and other countries have criticized the military’s intervention, the latest in a long list of coups in Thailand, and called for the swift restoration of democracy. Bolstered by an endorsement from Thailand’s King, Monday to run the country after last week’s coup, Thailand’s junta leader warned citizens not to cause trouble, not to criticize, not to protest — or else face a return to the “old days” of street violence.

Nigeria

Suspected Islamist Boko Haram gunmen have attacked three villages in northern Nigeria, killing 28 people and burning houses to the ground in a pattern of violence that has become almost a daily occurrence. Separately, a suicide bombing that was meant to happen at the TV screening of a football match in the central Nigerian city of Jos on Saturday killed three people before the bomber reached the target. The bomber approached the Jos Viewing Centre while people were watching Real Madrid play Atletico Madrid, but he failed to get there before his car exploded.

Somalia

Militants in Mogadishu on Saturday carried out a multi-pronged, complex attack against the country’s parliament building involving a car bomb, suicide bomber and gunmen on foot. At least seven people were killed, including six attackers and one soldier who tried to stop a suicide bomber from entering the building, Many members of parliament were inside the building as the attack unfolded. Gunfire and two blasts rang out near the building long after the attack began and after police had confirmed six attackers’ deaths, suggesting other militants may have also been involved. Al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked group, has carried out several such complex attacks in Mogadishu, including on the city’s main court complex and attempts against the presidential palace. The group was booted out of the capital in 2011 but still controls wide areas of southern Somalia.

Earthquakes

A moderate earthquake struck southwest China, injuring about a dozen people and damaging thousands of houses. The quake happened early Saturday in quake-prone Yingjiang County in Yunnan province near China’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma. The U.S. Geological Survey said it had a magnitude of 5.6. More than 9,000 houses were damaged, with a dozen collapsing. It said 13 people suffered minor injuries.

Landslides

Three people are missing in rural Colorado after a massive mudslide struck near Colbran at around 6:15 p.m. local time Sunday. The slide is estimated to be 2 miles wide, 4 miles long and up to 250 feet deep in places. Authorities added that the site of the mudslide was extremely unstable and that the entire ridge was moving for much of the day Sunday. Search and rescue efforts began almost immediately after the mudslide was reported Sunday night, but were pulled back overnight once darkness fell. The sheriff’s department said crews were searching for three residents of the Collbran area after they were reported missing in the slide area, situated near Salt Creek road and Vega Reservoir.

Wildfires

Firefighters said that they were making slow, but steady progress on Arizona’s Slide Fire just north of Sedona, which had grown to around 21 square miles by late Sunday. Fire crews intentionally set fires to rob the blaze of its natural forest fuels on Saturday. The strategy appeared to be working Sunday, with containment up to 25 percent, 15 percent higher than early Saturday. The human-caused fire has been burning since Tuesday around Oak Creek Canyon, a scenic recreation area along the highway between Sedona and Flagstaff that would normally be filed with tourists as Memorial Day approaches. Slide Rock State Park, one of the most-visited tourist spots in Arizona, has been closed. The fire has consumed 14,100 acres (about 12 square miles) but no structures or injuries have been reported.

In southern Arizona, the Skunk Fired grew to over 43,000 acres (about 67 square miles) north of San Carlos. It is in a remote area and no structures have burned so far and there hasn’t been any reported injuries or deaths.

A massive wildfire in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula grew to more than 156,000 acres on Monday, leading to mandatory evacuations of 1,000 structures on Sunday and threatening hundreds of cabins, vacation homes and year-round residences. The wildfire, which was only 30 percent contained by Monday morning, covered more than 243 square miles by late Sunday. The fire was dubbed the “Funny River Fire” after a nearby road where all residents are being evacuated. Alaska State Troopers are going door to door, evacuating an area that’s mostly second homes and is home to many retirees.

Weather

At least 19 people have died and seven were reporting missing Sunday in widespread flooding that’s hit hundreds of thousands of people in a swath of southern China. Historic-level rains lashed the cities of Guangzhou, Zhaoqing and Qingyuan and triggered floods, mudslides and the collapse of 1,143 houses. About 21,000 people have been evacuated in the region, while in the city of Pingxiang, 5,000 remained trapped by floodwaters at noon Sunday. Heavy rains have battered the region since last week, with 25 inches accumulating in the city of Shanwei in Guangdong province since Wednesday.

Hurricane Amanda became the strongest eastern Pacific hurricane on record in the month of May after a period of rapid intensification Sunday. Amanda’s estimated maximum sustained winds reached 155 mph late Sunday morning, putting it at the top end of the Category 4 range on the five-category Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. It has now surpassed 2001’s Hurricane Adolph, which was previously the eastern Pacific’s strongest May hurricane on record. The strongest Atlantic May hurricane of record was Category 3 Hurricane Able with peak winds of 115 mph off North Carolina’s Outer Banks on May 21, 1951. Amanda, the first named storm and first hurricane of the eastern Pacific hurricane season, formed Thursday afternoon as a tropical depression about 635 miles south-southwest of Manzanillo, Mexico. Other than a few minor islands well offshore such as Socorro Island, it is no threat to land.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more ‘historic’

Signs of the Times (5/23/14)

May 23, 2014

Christians Disappearing from Cradle of Faith

Pope Francis is due to visit the Holy Land this weekend, but these days fewer and fewer Christians can be found there. Emigration of middle-eastern Christians to other parts of the world has been on the rise for decades, and with a low birth rate among those who stay, the numbers are steadily dwindling. Reverend Juan Solana, a Vatican envoy, laments the idea that Christians might disappear from the Holy Land, and encourages Christians “to stay here, to love this land, to be aware of their particular vocation to be the witnesses of Christianity in this land.” In November, Pope Francis said “we will not be resigned to think about the Middle East without Christians,” reports Fox News.

  • The end-time deep darkness of Isaiah 60:2 is darkening dramatically over the Holy Lands, requiring Christians to follow Isaiah’s exhortation to “Arise, shine” there more than ever before.

Louisiana Abortion Bill Passed, Could Cause Some Clinics to Close

A new abortion bill passed in Louisiana which requires doctors performing abortions to have practicing privileges at hospitals. This policy change may force three of the five abortion clinics in the state to shut down. The bill went through in an 88 to 5 vote reports The New York Times. The proposed bill was brought to the Louisiana State Legislature by pro-life activists, arguing that the law would protect women. Critics said the proposal was a hidden effort to shut down clinics and violate women’s right to abortion according to Roe v. Wade. Since Alabama, Mississippi and Texas have already passed such laws, the distance that women may have to travel to get an abortion was another concern of critics. But supporters said that women’s safety was more important than the convenience of a local clinic.

  • But the real gain is fewer babies butchered to death, conveniently left out of mainstream news reports.

Court Ruling: Police Can Break into Your House and Seize Your Guns without a Warrant or Charges

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals may have just dealt a serious blow to the U.S. Constitution. In a unanimous decision earlier this month the Court determined that law enforcement officers are not required to present a warrant or charges before forcibly entering a person’s home, searching it, and confiscating their firearms if they believe it is in the individual’s best interests. The landmark suit was brought before the court by Krysta Sutterfield of Milwaukee, who expressed a suicidal thought to her therapist who then called police. Despite repeated requests by Sutterfield for police to stand down, they eventually broke into her house, handcuffed Sutterfield and searched her house, confiscating a licensed handgun. Sutterfield sued.

In a 75-page opinion the court, while pointing out that the intrusion against Sutterfield was profound, sided with the city of Milwaukee: “At the core of the privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment is the right to be let alone in one’s home,” the court acknowledged. But the court also found, that on the other hand, “There is no suggestion that (police) acted for any reason other than to protect Sutterfield from harm. Even if the officers did exceed constitutional boundaries,” the court document states, “they are protected by qualified immunity.” As noted by Police State USA, the court may have just created a legal loophole for law enforcement officials around the country, giving them immunity from Constitutional violations if they merely suggest that exigent circumstances exist and that they are acting in the best interests of the health and safety of an alleged suspect, regardless of Constitutional requirements:

Colorado Hospital Clinic Promotes Sex to Kids

A federally funded children’s hospital in Colorado is providing underage children free birth control, the “morning-after” pill, and even intrauterine devices – and under the law, parents don’t have to know about it. Bob Enyart of Colorado Right to Life tells OneNewsNow the situation is really out of control. “Children’s Hospital Colorado, through a clinic in Colorado Springs, is giving medical treatment to children as young as 12 years of age – and that includes an abortifacient pill called Plan B, the morning-after pill,” he details. He adds the treatment includes providing the girls IUDs if they walk into the BC4U clinic. The clinic, which receives federal funds, also provides free birth-control for ages 12 to 24 but don’t bother to make contact with parents for the younger ones. “It’s all free and totally on your terms,” says the hospital website dedicated to these birth-control services. “Sex is fun. But it’s also not something to mess around with. If you’re having sex, or planning on it, we are here to help.”

Phoenix VA Ignores Mandate to Prioritize Iraq, Afghanistan Vets

Some veterans injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are being made to wait for months in the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System despite a national mandate they be given priority access to medical care, a VA doctor told CNN. Wait lists in Phoenix for veterans injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan can be “six months, nine months or longer,” Dr. Katherine Mitchell said. Mitchell’s claims are the latest in a rapidly unfolding scandal amid allegations of scheduling tricks and secret lists to hide months-long waits for care. The most disturbing problems emerged at the Phoenix VA, with sources revealing details of a secret waiting list. According to the sources, at least 40 American veterans died while waiting for care at the VA there. The allegations have been followed by news of investigations at more than two dozen facilities across the nation. A VA officer says administrators at the hospital in Miami where he works are covering up crimes at the facility, including evidence of physical abuse of patients and drug dealing.

  • Are the growing charges of Veterans Administration abuse, bureaucratic incompetence, theft, and cover-ups – not to mention a death toll of at least 40 – a preview of what awaits America when Obamacare kicks in?

IRS Backs Off Proposal Critics Say Would Silence Conservative Groups

The IRS has agreed to overhaul a controversial proposal that Republican lawmakers warned would revive the agency’s “harassment and intimidation” of conservative groups, after receiving a record number of comments on the proposed regulation. The new rules have been in the works ever since the IRS came under fire for its targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups. Republicans, as well as some on the left, warned that the new rules would only exacerbate the kind of targeting that stonewalled Tea Party groups in the first place. For months, they’ve urged the IRS to scrap the proposal entirely, saying it would stifle free speech. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said: “The IRS is right to abandon its previously proposed rules governing 501c4 organizations that threatened free speech and the rights of all American citizens to participate in the democratic process.”

Tea-Party Comeback Snuffed

Voters sided with business-oriented, mainstream Republicans in key primaries Tuesday night, picking nominees who have a better chance of winning in November than some Tea Party insurgents of the past. By doing so, the GOP is fielding a team that they hope will help the party reclaim the power that eluded them in the 2010 and 2012 elections. The key is for the GOP to avoid the missteps of 2010 and 2012, when Tea Party candidates such as Sharron Angle in Nevada and Todd Akin in Missouri lost winnable races with weak campaigns and glaring missteps.

Half of States Haven’t Recovered from Recession

Tax revenue in more than half of U.S. states still hasn’t fully recovered from the recession that ended five years ago, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Collections in 26 states remained below their 2008 highs as of the end of 2013, with five states more than 15 percent short, according to Pew. Alaska was furthest off, 60 percent. Wyoming was down 28 percent; Florida, 20 percent; New Mexico, 18 percent; and Louisiana, 15 percent. Nationally, states collected 2.2 percent more in the final quarter of 2013 than at their peak in 2008, when adjusted for inflation. North Dakota, for example, had returns 119 percent greater than in 2008, fed by sales taxes and oil production. Illinois had the second-highest gain, 23 percent, partly because of temporarily higher personal and corporate taxes.

Companies Slash Jobs to Woo Wall Street

Companies looking for a way to please Wall Street and get their stock prices up have a solution: fire employees. There are 14 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500, including office equipment maker Pitney Bowes, defense contractor Lockheed Martin and grocer Safeway, that have methodically eliminated jobs each and every year for the past five fiscal years. And these stocks are outperforming the market both in the short term and long term. Now computer/printer-maker HP has joined their ranks, announcing plans to slash 16,000 jobs. Wall Street says it’s looking for companies that are growing and investing, yet it’s rewarding companies that are doing the opposite when it comes to the size of their workforce. Shares of these chronic job cutters, on average, are up 18.8% over the past 12 months. That tops the 15.5% gain by the Standard & Poor’s 500 during the same time period. And over the past five years, the job cutters are beating the market by an even wider margin, gaining an average 269% while the S&P 500 is up 103%. Some of the job reductions may be due to restructuring and divestitures, but a more powerful force are productivity gains caused by companies replacing people with technology, analysts say.

Economic News

Existing home sales rose in April for the first time in 2014, an encouraging sign amid growing worries about the housing recovery’s sagging momentum in recent months. Sales crept up 1.3% from March to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.65 million. But the pace is still almost 7% below April 2013 and the four-month average for this year trails last year’s by about the same percentage. On the positive side, the supply of homes in April increased from March while price gains eased — two trends that could help pull more buyers into the market and boost sales further if they continue.

The number of people filing initial claims for unemployment benefits rose by 28,000 last week, the largest weekly gain this year. Claims reached a seasonally adjusted level of 326,000 for the week ended May 17. Claims are a proxy for layoffs and are one indicator of the labor market’s vitality. They’ve been trending down for some time — last week’s average was near a seven-year low — but claims have been hovering in a narrow range in recent weeks.

With the economy and job market picking up, the Federal Reserve is beginning to study how it will raise interest rates even while the financial system is flush with money, according to Fed meeting minutes released Wednesday. The minutes of the April 29-30 meeting show the central bank is shifting its attention from a bond-buying stimulus program that is expected to be phased out this year to the challenge of raising interest rates as the economy and inflation accelerate.

The United States of America has the fourth most uneven income distribution in the developed world. Chile has the most unequal distribution of income, while Iceland tops the list as the most egalitarian. Mexico is second with Turkey third.

From Kenya to the U.K., entrepreneurs are innovating. Every government in the world is hoping the next Facebook emanates from its shores. There are now at least 400 million entrepreneurs in 54 countries and those numbers are growing. Stats show 20 of the mature economies in the world experienced a nearly 22% “total early-stage activity” increase in recent years. Brazil, Chile and China are among the fastest growing.

Russia

China and Russia signed off on a huge gas deal worth as much as $400 billion Wednesday that heralds a pivot east for Russian business amid ongoing tensions with the West over Ukraine, though few details of the deal were made public. The 30-year gas-export contract, seen as a move by Russian President Vladimir Putin to aggressively shift the country’s commercial interests east amid mounting sanctions from the United States and Europe, was signed as the Russian leader has enjoyed a warm welcome in China, where the two countries have inked a raft of agreements during his ongoing, two-day visit. Talks for the deal had been going on for more than a decade and will see Russia export up to 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year, for 30 years, starting in 2018. The export agreement is significant because it will permit Russia to diversify the market for its gas away from Europe, which has threatened sanctions over Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called for an immediate emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council following the reported violence, which comes as the interim government in Kiev prepares to hold presidential elections Sunday.

Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Friday of a “dangerous civil war” in Ukraine as fresh violence erupted ahead of this weekend’s presidential election. Putin, addressing an international economic forum in St. Petersburg, said the chaos was the result of a “state coup” in Ukraine “with support of the West, the United States.” AP journalists have seen 11 dead bodies at a Ukrainian military checkpoint. Witnesses said that pro-Russian insurgents attacked the checkpoint in the village of Blahodatne in the eastern Donetsk region on Thursday. Three charred Ukrainian armored personnel carriers and several other burned military vehicles stood at the site of the combat. Witnesses said about 30 Ukrainian troops were wounded when the insurgents attacked the checkpoint. Pro-Russian insurgents in the east, who have seized government buildings and engaged in clashes with government troops that have left scores dead since April, on Thursday continued battling the Ukrainian forces around Slovyansk, the eastern city that has been the epicenter of fighting.

Syria

A mortar shell struck a large tent in southern Syria where supporters of President Bashar Assad had gathered for election campaigning, killing at least 21 people and wounding scores. Assad, rarely seen in public since the start of Syria’s 3-year-old conflict, has not been seen campaigning since he declared his candidacy last month and he was not at the gathering in the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising against his rule began in March 2011. More than 160,000 people have been killed in the fighting as the revolt morphed into a civil war that has also sent millions fleeing for their lives and turned once-prosperous cities into rubble-strewn warzones. The overnight attack underscored concerns that rebels will step up attacks against government strongholds in the run-up to the June 3 election to disrupt the voting. Western leaders and opposition groups have described the vote being held amid the civil war as a total sham.

Egypt

Egypt’s ousted president Hosni Mubarak was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for corruption. His sons, Alaa and Gamal, received four-year sentences. The three were convicted on charges of embezzling millions of dollars in public funds. They were fined the equivalent of nearly $3 million and ordered to repay the state $17.6 million — 125 million Egyptian pounds — in money they had stolen. But the sentences garnered little interest from the public. Mubarak, 86, became president of Egypt in 1981 and governed the country for 30 years until he stepped down in 2011 following swells of protests against him. His ouster sparked an ongoing wave of political unrest in a nation that has since seen the toppling of its first freely elected leader and whose citizens are now craving stability.

Libya

It’s a common headline: A ship overloaded with refugees from Libya or elsewhere in the Arab world or Africa sinks in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe. Almost 20,000 people have died over the past 14 years trying to do so, with the latest 17 casualties coming this week after a boat carrying Libyans trying to reach the Italian Island of Lampedusa sank. The numbers of people trying to illegally cross European borders increased 48% to 107,365 last year over 2012, according to new numbers released this month by the European border agency Frontex.

Thailand

Thailand’s army chief declared a coup Thursday, detaining key party leaders and suspending the constitution in what he said was a bid to restore order after six months of political chaos and violence. The full-blown coup — the 12th since 1932 — came three days after the military had invoked martial law over the political stalemate that followed the resignation of of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra over corruption charges on May 7. The ousted prime minister’s billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in exile, was also removed from power, in a military coup in 2006. The army chief also imposed a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. coup and ordered an immediate halt to all non-military broadcasts on radio and TV.

China

At least 31 people died and over 90 were injured Thursday when attackers drove two cars into shoppers, and threw explosives, at an open-air market in the northwest Chinese city of Urumqi. China’s Ministry of Public Security called it a “violent terrorist incident.” The attack marks the latest and deadliest of several recent attacks in the restive region of Xinjiang, of which Urumqi is the capital. Attacks have also taken place elsewhere in China. Authorities have blamed these attacks on Muslim terrorists and separatists seeking independence from China for Xinjiang. Some of its native Uighur people oppose Beijing’s rule and chafe at government policies they complain repress their culture and religion.

Korea

North and South Korean warships exchanged artillery fire Thursday in disputed waters off the western coast, South Korean military officials said, in the latest sign of rising animosity between the bitter rivals in recent weeks. Officials from the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Ministry said a South Korean navy ship was engaged in a routine patrol near the countries’ disputed maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea when a North Korean navy ship fired two artillery shells. The shells did not hit the South Korean ship and fell in waters near it. The South Korean ship then fired several artillery rounds in waters near the North Korean ship. Officials said that residents on the frontline Yeonpyeong Island were evacuated to shelters, and fishing ships in the area were ordered to return to ports. In 2010, North Korea fired artillery at the island, killing two civilians and two marines. Both Koreas regularly conduct artillery drills in the disputed waters. The sea boundary is not clearly marked, and the area has been the scene of three bloody naval skirmishes between the rival Koreas since 1999.

Nigeria

At least 118 people were killed Tuesday in twin blasts at a market in the central Nigerian city of Jos, an official said, warning the toll could climb. The explosions, which targeted Terminus market, went off some 20 to 30 minutes apart, setting fire to the entire venue. The first blast was a suicide car bomb, while the second was caused by an improvised explosive device in a separate car. The Boko Haram Islamist terrorist group is suspected to be the perpetrator.

Thirty people were killed in separate Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria’s Borno state this week, local residents told CNN. On Monday, Boko Haram attackers on motorcycles killed 10 in the village of Shawa, residents said. On Tuesday, gunmen from the terrorist group stormed the village of Alagarno, killing 20, they said. Both villages are close to where more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the same group.

South Sudan

Aid agencies are asking for prayer as the South Sudan faces a famine that could be worse than the one that hit the area in the 1980s. The people of the South Sudan rely mostly on livestock and crops for food. This year, however, the war in the South Sudan has wiped out the livestock. About one million people have fled from their homes because of the war. They have not been able to plant crops. It is estimated that about six or seven million people are at serious risk of famine. South Sudan’s ongoing civil war has caused the Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp to be flooded with people trying to escape the violence. About 36,450 people have crossed the border to Kenya, many of those children without parents

Wildfires

The wildfire burning in a canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff has dramatically increased in size, but officials are optimistic some progress will be made against the large blaze. The human-caused Slide fire, now 5 percent contained, has now burned about 7,500 acres (about 12 square miles) of terrain between Tuesday and Thursday, and with an important holiday weekend for local businesses approaching, the scenic recreation zone may remain empty because of the smoky scene. The fire still was 3 to 3 1/2 miles away from the residential areas of Forest Highlands and Katina Village, where 3,200 residents remained under pre-evacuation warnings. Giant flames were shooting up the walls of the canyon and the fire was burning extremely hot in the tinder-dry drought conditions. “The fuels are just so dry, entire trees are turning to ash,” said Dick Fleishman, a spokesman for fire managers.

Of the ten large wildfires burning in the contiguous 48 states, six are in Arizona. The Skunk fire in southeast Arizona has consumed over 38,000 acres (about 60 square miles) with no reported containment as of Friday morning. Meanwhile, the Funny River fire in Alaska has burned over 67,000 acres (about 105 square miles) but no structures as yet. It is 5% contained.

Nevada’s first significant wildfire of the 2014 season burned near Reno as crews are attempted to conquer the blaze in very unforgiving terrain. The fire has burned about 760 acres. Crews are getting the upper hand on the wildfire, pushing it back into the rugged wilderness along the Sierra’s eastern front, just in time for weather conditions that may help extinguish the blaze. Cooler temperatures and precipitation have arrived in the region, which had gone more than four weeks without any significant rainfall. The fire is estimated to be at nearly 95 percent containment and officials project full containment by Friday. No homes are in danger and no major injuries have been reported, although one firefighter suffered a minor eye injury.

Weather

Another round of severe storms and heavy rain swept through several states Thursday, from New York to southern California, damaging homes, covering roads in hail and leaving other streets under water. Trees and power lines were knocked down, several homes were damaged and a barn collapsed as strong storms moved through rural Schenectady and Albany counties between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. Hail up to grapefruit size (four inches in diameter) was reported with a supercell in Amsterdam, New York while three-inch diameter hail was observed in Duanesburg. Meanwhile, winds of more than 50 mph and hail up to the size of half dollars lashed parts of central and southeast Virginia Thursday afternoon and evening. Dominion Virginia Power reported nearly 20,000 power outages in the metropolitan Richmond area. Torrential rain flooded several lanes of Interstate 95 in Richmond. Damage was also reported in Camden, Delaware, possibly from a tornado. Large hail was also reported in parts of New Mexico and Pennsylvania Thursday. A jetliner that flew through the hailstorm on its descent into Philadelphia landed with a cracked windshield.

In southwestern New Mexico, several vehicles were involved in a crash on an interstate highway during a dust storm, killing at least six people. The crash occurred about 5:30 p.m. MDT Thursday in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 10 in Hidalgo County, several miles from the Arizona border. Six people have been confirmed dead. A hailstorm near Las Vegas, New Mexico, snarled traffic along Interstate 25 and forced authorities to temporarily close part of the highway.

Tuesday brought large hail to both Aurora, Colorado and Aurora, Illinois (suburbs of Denver and Chicago, respectively). Wednesday marked the second day in a row a hail storm hit the Denver metro area. Near Denver, storms sent kids to safe rooms and temporarily halted activity at Denver International Airport Wednesday afternoon. Delays of about an hour and a half were reported, while some flights were diverted to Colorado Springs and Grand Junction. Hail the size of ping pong balls sent pedestrians running for cover in Colorado Springs, and cars slid on the hail along Interstate 70 in Aurora. The hail piled up several inches deep, dented cars and broke windows out of some homes. Officials used snow plows to clear the hail from the main airport access road. Frontier Airlines says 13 of its flights were canceled due to its aircraft being damaged by hail. Strong thunderstorms rumbled across areas of the Midwest and the Plains Wednesday evening, delaying travel and sparking at least three fires. The day’s most damaging hailstorm in the U.S. struck Tuscola, a city of 4,500 in east-central Illinois. Hail up to 4 inches in diameter punched out large holes in the windows of cars and buildings.

Signs of the Times (5/20/14)

May 20, 2014

Judge Strikes All Arkansas Bans on Gay Marriage, Then Overturned

A day after being overruled by the Arkansas Supreme Court, the county judge who struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage issued a broader decision Thursday that clears the way — at least temporarily — for such unions to resume. In Arkansas, the attorney general said he would appeal Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s ruling, which voids a constitutional ban on clerks issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Wednesday, the state’s top court said his decision Friday striking down constitutional and statutory bans on same-sex marriage did not affect the licensing law. Arkansas’ whirlwind week of granting of marriage licenses to same-sex couples ended Friday when the state Supreme Court ordered a temporary stop just as a final pair completed their paperwork at a Little Rock courthouse. More than 540 gay couples received marriage licenses during the last week after a Pulaski County circuit judge declared the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. The one-paragraph order by the justices put on hold Piazza’s decision voiding a 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Appeals Court Upholds Idaho’s Ban on Gay Marriage

In Idaho, a federal appeals court stepped in to halt same-sex marriage, which was to begin Friday. Tuesday, a U.S. judge declared the state’s ban unconstitutional. The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals suspended a federal judge’s order declaring Idaho’s 2006 voter-approved ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. “I appreciate the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stepping in to ensure Idaho will not have to endure the same kind of chaos and confusion that Utah faced after a similar lower-court decision,” Gov. Butch Otter said in a statement. “Today’s ruling stays the federal magistrate’s order and maintains the status of marriage as defined by the Idaho Constitution – between one man and one woman.”

Same-Sex Couples Marry after Federal Judge Strikes Down Oregon Ban

Dozens of same-sex couples were officially married Monday after a federal judge ruled that Oregon’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said the ban discriminates against gay couples and ordered Oregon not to enforce it. Oregon officials earlier refused to defend the ban in court. Jubilant couples began applying for marriage licenses immediately after McShane issued his ruling.

  • The genetic pool has continuously been corrupted by Satan and sin with homosexuality a key indicator as the run-up to the end-time Tribulation escalates

Americans Less Happy than a Decade Ago

Americans are a lot less happy today compared to more than a decade ago, a Fox News poll finds. The poll, released Monday, finds 53 percent of American voters are “very happy” or “happy.” That’s down slightly from 56 percent who said the same five years ago (May 2009). And down significantly from the 68 percent who reported feeling happy back in April 2001. People over age 65 (56 percent) are a bit more content than those under age 30 (50 percent). And while money can’t buy happiness, it seems to help — people living in higher-income households (58 percent) are more likely to say they are happy than those in lower-income households (47 percent). The biggest decline — a substantial 34-point drop — comes among Republicans. In 2001 — back at the beginning of George W. Bush’s first term — 82 percent were happy, while only 48 percent are today. Independents are less content too: It was 69 percent in the Bush era vs. 50 percent now. Democrats are happier, though: 61 percent feel happy today, up seven points from 54 percent in 2001.

Former British Imam Convicted in Terror Trial in New York

The fiery British cleric who prosecutors said had “devoted his life to violent jihad” and had dispatched young men around the world to train and fight was convicted of 11 terrorism-related charges on Monday in Manhattan. Prosecutors had charged that the cleric, Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, a former imam at the Finsbury Park mosque in North London, helped to orchestrate the violent 1998 kidnappings of 16 American, British and Australian tourists in Yemen; had tried to create a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore.; and had supported terrorism by sending one of his followers to train with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In the tourist abductions, four hostages were killed after their captors, a militant group allied with Mr. Mostafa, were used as human shields during a Yemeni rescue operation. “He jumped at opportunities across the globe to support this violent jihad,” a prosecutor, Ian McGinley, told the jury in a closing argument on Wednesday. Mr. Mostafa was tried and convicted in Britain in 2006 on separate charges, of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred. He served a prison sentence, and after fighting extradition unsuccessfully, he was sent in 2012 to the United States to face terrorism charges in New York.

ObamaCare Subsidies May be Wrong for Over 1 Million

Hundreds of thousands of Americans signed up for coverage under ObamaCare may be receiving incorrect subsidy payments — some bigger than they actually deserve — from the federal government, The Washington Post reported. The government has identified the errors, which are the result of discrepancies in income listings on insurance applications and those on file with the Internal Revenue Service, but has been unable to fix the problem, according to the report. Only a fraction of consumers notified about the discrepancies have responded to federal health officials’ requests to submit pay stubs or other proof of their income. Officials told The Washington Post they do not yet know the percentages of overpayments or underpayments.

Obama Administration Warned of VA Problems in 2008

The Washington Times reports that The Obama administration received clear notice more than five years ago that VA medical facilities were reporting inaccurate waiting times and experiencing scheduling failures that threatened to deny veterans timely health care — problems that have turned into a growing scandal. Veterans Affairs officials warned the Obama-Biden transition team in the weeks after the 2008 presidential election that the department shouldn’t trust the wait times that its facilities were reporting. ‘This is not only a data integrity issue in which [Veterans Health Administration] reports unreliable performance data; it affects quality of care by delaying — and potentially denying — deserving veterans timely care,’ the officials wrote.

Trust in Government Drops

A Fox News poll also finds that less than four in 10 voters trust the federal government. The new poll, released Thursday, finds 37 percent of voters answer “yes” when asked: “would you say you generally trust the federal government?” Six in 10 say they don’t trust the government. 78 percent of voters consider the Obama administration’s handling of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi a serious matter, including 52 percent who say “very serious.” Just over half (53 percent) see government surveillance of everyday Americans as “very serious” and 44 percent feel that way about the IRS targeting conservative groups. Only about a quarter of voters think the Obama administration has lived up to the promise of being the most transparent White House in history.

Tea Party comeback?

The Tea Party movement would like to make clear that reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Victories this week by Tea Party-backed candidates in Nebraska and West Virginia Republican primaries are helping to reinvigorate the movement. Tea Party-aligned lawmakers in Congress continue to play a strong role in the direction of the party. Polls of conservatives consistently show figures like Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as political favorites in a hypothetical 2016 race. Still, it is becoming clear this year that the Tea Party will struggle to repeat its past record of ousting high-profile Republican incumbents in the primaries. Hopes in the movement are fading that Kentucky businessman Matt Bevin will knock off Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell next Tuesday.

U.S. Indicts China for Illegal Hacking

The U.S. accused Chinese military officials of hacking into several U.S. enterprises to steal trade secrets and intellectual property in an indictment made Monday. It is the first time the U.S. has charged a state actor in a criminal cyber espionage case. Federal law enforcement sources said the Chinese hackers, using military and intelligence resources, downloaded massive amounts of industrial information, including strategic plans, from U.S. businesses. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the indictment Monday and called it a national security case. The charges are false and should be withdrawn, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news briefing in Beijing, while China’s Ministry of Defense warned that the U.S. was damaging military-to-military relations. Chinese officials summoned the U.S. ambassador to its foreign ministry and suspended a joint working group on cyber-security with the U.S.

More than 100 Nabbed in Global Hacker Crackdown

The FBI and police in several countries have arrested more than 100 people and conducted hundreds of searches in recent days in a global crackdown on hackers linked to the malicious software called Blackshades. The years-long investigation is targeting one of the most popular tools used by cybercriminals to hijack computers around the world. The malware sells for as little as $40. It can be used to hijack computers remotely and turn on webcams, access hard drives and capture keystrokes to steal passwords without the victim’s knowledge. The FBI recently promised to make arrests and indictments to combat what it says are increasing criminal intrusions.

AT&T Buys DirecTV for $48.5 Billion

AT&T agreed Sunday to buy DirecTV for about $48.5 billion in yet another mammoth deal in the pay-TV space this year that would immediately boost the telecom giant’s customer base at a time of confounding industry challenges. The merger, which both boards approved Sunday, is the latest evidence of TV-industry consolidation, one born of telecommunications companies’ desire to amass customers and control content and delivery. With streaming and wireless technology upending the industry, cable and satellite service providers are rushing to add product options while boosting revenue per customer to please shareholders.

Economic News

Home building surged in April as warmer weather helped builders break ground on new homes at the fastest pace this year. Housing starts rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.07 million, up from 947,000 in March. Single-family starts were up 0.8% to a rate of 649,000.

Sales of new and existing homes have slowed in recent months and prices are rising more slowly than last year in many big markets. Buyers have been constrained by a low supply of homes for sale, higher prices and mortgage rates that are higher than last spring.

General Motors will pay $35 million in a civil settlement with the federal government over its failure to report in a timely manner a defective ignition switch in 2.6 million smaller cars, the Department of Transportation announced on Friday. In addition, the automaker agreed to make changes to its internal safety practices, the department said in a statement. G.M., which was first alerted to the problem more than a decade ago, has linked the defect to 13 deaths.

Persecution Watch

Refusing an Islamic judge’s offer of clemency if she would publicly deny her faith Jesus Christ, a pregnant Sudanese mother of a toddler has been sentenced to death. “Sudanese doctor Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, 27, a graduate of the University Of Khartoum Medical School, is the beautiful wife of an American,” reports Faith J. H. McDonnell, writing for the Counter-Jihad Report.” After she refused to renounce Christianity, Sudan’s Public Order Court sentenced her to receive a public flogging of 100 lashes, then to be put to death by hanging. The heavily pregnant Ibrahim “faces the death penalty for allegedly converting from Islam to Christianity,” reports the Catholic Herald.

Syria

As Syria’s civil war continues, the death toll has reached more than 160,000, including 8,600 children, and left millions homeless. Christian Aid Ministries reports nine million Syrians have fled their homes, driven either by fear or the destruction of their houses. Over 2 million have escaped to neighboring countries leaving 6.6 million displaced inside Syria. A result of the “Arab Spring,” the war pits the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his international supporters against the different factions that make up the domestic and anti-regime opposition groups from outside the region.

Libya

Libya’s army chief has ordered the deployment of Islamist-led militias to the capital, a day after the storming of the parliament building in Tripoli by a renegade general’s troops. Monday’s development paves the way for a possible showdown between the militias — which hail from Libya’s western and central regions — and the anti-Islamist troops allied with Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who staged the parliament attack Sunday. Gen. Hifter suspended the Islamist-dominated house, blaming it for empowering Islamic extremists. Sunday’s move against parliament appeared to be directly challenging the legitimacy of the country’s weak central government three years after the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Libya’s leadership condemned the attack and vowed to carry on. The U.S. military has doubled the number of aircraft standing by in Italy if needed to evacuate Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya.

Nigeria

Two explosions have struck the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Friday, killing four people. The blasts came just hours after Britain’s Foreign Office urged tourists to leave the country following what it said was a “high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping.” The U.S. State Department also issued a travel alert for Kenya this week over possible terrorist attacks. On Twitter, Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Center said Friday one blast targeted a mini-van that Kenyans use for public transportation. It says that a second blast went off in a market.

Vietnam

Vietnam smothered anti-China protests on Sunday with a massive security clampdown after deadly riots triggered by a territorial dispute with Beijing spooked foreign investors and the country’s authoritarian leadership alike. As patrol ships from both countries remained locked in a standoff close to a Chinese oil rig in a disputed patch of the South China Sea, Beijing said it had evacuated 3,000 nationals from Vietnam and was sending the first of five ships to pull out others wanting to leave. China also said that it would suspend some of its bilateral exchange plans with Vietnam and that it was advising Chinese not to visit the country. China’s decision to deploy the massive oil rig on May 1 has been widely seen as it one of its most provocative steps in a campaign to assert its sovereignty in the waters. It triggered fury in Vietnam and the worst breakdown in ties between Hanoi and Beijing in years. Two Chinese ships arrived at the coast of Vietnam on Monday to begin efforts to collect thousands of Chinese citizens who are fleeing the country after deadly attacks last week.

Thailand

Thailand’s powerful army declared martial law before dawn Tuesday, deploying troops into the heart of Bangkok in a dramatic move it said was aimed at stabilizing the Southeast Asian country after six months of turbulent political unrest. The military, however, insisted a coup d’etat was not underway. The surprise operation, which places the army in charge of public security nationwide, came amid deepening uncertainty over the nation’s fate and one day after the caretaker prime minister refused to step down in the face of long-running anti-government protests. Although soldiers entered multiple television stations to broadcast the army message, life in the vast skyscraper-strewn metropolis of 10 million people remained largely unaffected, with schools, businesses and tourist sites open and traffic flowing as usual.

Turkey

Turkish authorities have detained 16 people in connection with last week’s coal mine fire in Soma that killed 301 miners. The search for victims of Tuesday’s fire ended Saturday. As the recovery effort came to an end, controversy over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s response to the tragedy refuses to blow over. On Friday, police in Soma used tear gas, plastic pellets and a water cannon on protesters angered by the government’s response. Amid a rising tide of discontent, local authorities have banned protests in Soma and apparently clamped down on those taking part.

India

Narendra Modi, the leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, claimed victory as India’s next prime minister Friday, bringing to power a man whose controversial past at one point led the United States to deny him a visa. Viewed as pro-business, Modi, 63, has pledged reforms to revive the nation’s flagging economy. Analysts predict his arrival in India’s top office will bring a marked change in direction for the world’s most populous democracy. Modi’s victory had long been anticipated, as polls indicated a slump in support for the ruling Indian National Congress Party, which has been dogged by high-profile corruption scandals amid stubborn inflation and a slowed economy.

Earthquakes

A strong and shallow undersea earthquake hit parts of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island on Sunday, causing panic but there were no immediate reports of casualties. The U.S. Geological Survey said the 6.2-magnitude quake hit at a depth of 5.5 miles beneath the sea. It was centered 197 miles southwest of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province. The quake was felt across many parts of the province, causing panic among some residents. The earthquake did not cause major damage.

Wildfires

The good news: Temperatures and winds across scorched parts of southern California are starting to subside. The bad news: Unruly wildfires keep barreling across the region, destroying homes and spawning “firenadoes” — funnels of flames that look like tornadoes. With 10,000 acres of land already devoured, thousands of homes are still in jeopardy as at least six fires rage in the San Diego area as of Thursday. In just a few hours, fires in San Marcos went from minor blazes to raging infernos, filling the sky with bright orange flames and solid black smoke. Unusually fierce winds mixed with the flames to spawn firenadoes. And grass parched by California’s severe drought meant any stray spark could start another blaze. On and around the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton, six large wildfires remain active, having burned over 25,000 acres total. Since January 1, Cal Fire has responded to over 1,500 wildfires — well above the average yearly number of approximately 800.

Weather

The entire state of California is in a severe drought — or worse. The three worst levels of drought are severe, extreme and exceptional: 100% of the state is now in one of those three categories: (23.31% severe, 51.92.% extreme and 24.77% exceptional.

After a day of heavy rain in the Washington, D.C. area, The National Park Service warns that some parks in and around the city may be closed this weekend due to flooding. Storms were also blamed for flight delays at Philadelphia International Airport, as well as a messy rush hour,

At least 25 people have been killed and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes in the Balkans during the worst flooding in a century for the region. Three months’ worth of rain has fallen on the region in three days this week, creating the worst floods since records began 120 years ago. Bosnia has been particularly hard hit. Almost a third of the entire country, home to nearly a million people, was submerged Sunday. At least 17 people have died in Bosnia alone, a number that’s only expected to grow as the flood waters recede and bodies continue to be recovered. Others have been killed by some of the 300 landslides that have occurred over the past four days, triggered by the tremendous amount of water that has destabilized and shifted the earth. A landslide in the Bosnian village of Horozovina split the town in two, swallowing at least eight houses. As if the deadly flooding inundating much of the Balkans wasn’t alarming enough, rescuers must now grapple with another concern: the risk of landmines from the Bosnian war resurfacing.

Signs of the Times (5/15/14)

May 15, 2014

Christian Legal Alliance Gains Ground

The Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has been gaining attention recently for defending the views of conservative Christians, including the recent case involving Christian prayer at government meetings. Alliance Defending Freedom has a $40 million yearly endowment with more than 40 lawyers on its payroll. The group represents hundreds of cases annually, pro bono. The group won the New York case to permit prayer at government meetings; they now look to another landmark case as Conestoga Wood Specialties (that ADF’s client) and Hobby Lobby challenge the Affordable Care Act’s demand for employers to supply abortion-inducing birth control, such as the morning after pill, to employees. Another case that the ADF is backing is the defense of marriage restrictions in Virginia. The fight is currently underway in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Court Circuit in Richmond, Va. ADF lawyers are beginning to gain ground in what was previously a largely secular-dominated court system by using the Constitution to defend religious ideals.

Pro-Life Priests Take Obamacare Fight to Court

Pro-life priests should not be forced to cooperate with a government scheme to expand contraceptive coverage, Priests for Life attorneys argued Thursday before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. “This is a battle of biblical proportions,” Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said after the arguments. “We will obey God rather than man.” Priests for Life, a nonprofit with about 50 employees, sued the government last year over the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers to over health insurance coverage for contraceptive and abortifacient drugs. Priests for Life and other faith-based nonprofits have received preliminary injunctions against the mandate, but Thursday’s proceeding marked the first time an appeals court has heard the merits of one of those cases. Pavone and Robert Muise, an American Freedom Law Center attorney who argued the case, both said they were pleased with the hearing. The judges likely will not issue a decision until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the cases of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, two for-profit business that appeared before the high court in March to argue they shouldn’t be forced to comply with the mandate.

Google, Yahoo Ban Pro-Life Ads

Search engine giants Google and Yahoo have removed pro-life ads promoting the services of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPC) across the nation. According to World Magazine NARAL Pro-Choice America and UltraViolet, NARAL and UltraViolet argue the CPC ads are “deceptive” and violate the truth in advertising policies of both Google and Yahoo as the target women seeking an abortion. Susan Michelle Tyrell, a pro-life advocate who was rescued by Catholic nuns who took her to an orphanage in Bethlehem, asserts that the tactics of the abortion industry often lure women to make decisions that go against their conscience and the will of God. “The problem that Google, Yahoo, and others that acquiesce to such pressure, they show their biases to one side of the issue,” said Tyrell. “The fact remains that abortion clinics lure unsuspecting, frightened women through their doors daily with the promise of help in time of crisis.”

Missouri Lawmakers Approve Three-Day Abortion Waiting Period

Missouri lawmakers gave final approval to a measure that requires a woman to wait 72 hours from her initial doctor’s visit before she gets an abortion. The Republican-controlled House voted 111-39 in favor of the legislation late Wednesday. Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has not said whether he’ll sign it. If the governor signs the bill into law, it will triple the time a woman has to wait to have an abortion in the state.

36,000 Immigrant Felons Released Last Year

While the Obama Administration has been peddling the story that its immigration policy is focused on getting the worst criminal immigrants deported, ICE actually released more than 36,000 convicted criminal aliens last year, including murderers, rapists and drunk drivers, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security document obtained by the Center for Immigration Studies. Last year, it was widely reported that ICE, part of the DHS, had released 622 immigrants with multiple felony convictions. The president blamed that release on the sequester cuts. The reality is almost 50 times that many criminals, who had been involved in deportation hearings, were released. Between them, the 36,007 immigrants had nearly 88,000 convictions. According to the document, included among the immigrants’ 87,818 crimes were 15,635 cases of drunken driving, 9,187 drug infractions, 426 sexual assaults, 303 kidnappings, 193 homicides, 1,317 domestic violence convictions and 1,075 aggravated assaults.

Millions of Mentally Ill Untreated by Healthcare System

More than half a million Americans with serious mental illness are falling through the cracks of a system in tatters, a USA TODAY special report shows. Nearly 40% of adults with “severe” mental illness — such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder — received no treatment in the previous year, according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Among adults with any mental illness, 60% were untreated. The mentally ill who have nowhere to go and find little sympathy from those around them often land hard in emergency rooms, county jails and city streets. The lucky ones find homes with family. The unlucky ones show up in the morgue. States looking to save money have pared away both the community mental health services designed to keep people healthy, as well as the hospital care needed to help them heal after a crisis. Tight budgets during the recession forced some of the most devastating cuts in recent memory, says Robert Glover, executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. States cut $5 billion in mental health services from 2009 to 2012. In the same period, the country eliminated at least 4,500 public psychiatric hospital beds — nearly 10% of the total supply, he says.

Measles Vaccine Kills Cancer in Landmark Study

Mayo Clinic researchers announced a landmark study where a massive dose of the measles vaccine, enough to inoculate ten million people, wiped out a Minnesota woman’s incurable blood cancer. The Mayo Clinic conducted the clinical trial last year using virotherapy. The method discovered the measles virus wiped out multiple myeloma cancer calls. Researchers engineered the measles virus (MV-NIS) in a single intravenous dose, making it selectively toxic to cancer cells. Stacy Erholtz, 49, of Pequot Lakes, was one of two patients in the study who received the dose last year, and after ten years with multiple myeloma has been clear of the disease for over six months. Mayo researchers are also testing the measles virus’s effectiveness at fighting ovarian, brain, head and neck cancers and mesothelioma. They are also developing other viruses that seem to have potential to kill cancer cells.

Measles Cases at 18-Year High

An outbreak of measles in Ohio has infected 68 people, adding to what is already an 18-year high of measles cases in the United States. The outbreak in Ohio began with unvaccinated travelers to the Philippines, the state’s Department of Health said Monday. Philippines is experiencing a very large measles outbreak; at least 20,000 confirmed and suspected cases have been reported in the Asian nation. California, another state also reporting a high number of measles cases this year, said its outbreak also resulted from people visiting the Philippines. Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on April 24 found 129 cases of measles in the United States between January 1 and April 18. That’s the highest number of cases recorded for the period since 1996. The contagious infectious disease was considered eliminated in the United States in 2000.

870 Million of World’s Poor get No Assistance

Most of the world’s poorest people still have no protection against economic shocks or other crises despite a rapid expansion of welfare programs in recent years. The World Bank said Tuesday that more than 70% of people living on less than $1.25 a day are still not covered by social safety nets such as free school meals, state pensions or public works programs. That means 870 million people living in extreme poverty in the developing world have nothing to fall back on if disaster strikes. Over one billion people in the developing world now receive some form of social assistance, and that includes 345 million — or about 30% — of those living in extreme poverty. Low- and middle-income countries spent only 1.6% of their gross domestic product on social safety nets last year, or just $337 billion.

More Insured, but the Choices Are Narrowing

In the midst of all the turmoil in health care these days, one thing is becoming clear: No matter what kind of health plan consumers choose, they will find fewer doctors and hospitals in their network — or pay much more for the privilege of going to any provider they want, notes the New York Times. These so-called narrow networks, featuring limited groups of providers, have made a big entrance on the newly created state insurance exchanges, where they are a common feature in many of the plans. While the sizes of the networks vary considerably, many plans now exclude at least some large hospitals or doctors’ groups. Smaller networks are also becoming more common in health care coverage offered by employers and in private Medicare Advantage plans. Insurers, ranging from national behemoths like WellPoint, UnitedHealth and Aetna to much smaller local carriers, are fully embracing the idea, saying narrower networks are essential to controlling costs and managing care. But while there is evidence that consumers are willing to sacrifice some choice in favor of lower prices, many critics are concerned that insurers will limit access to specialists or certain hospitals

Internet Neutrality — What’s at Stake?

The future of the Internet gets hotly debated Thursday at the Federal Communication Commission. In what is the agency’s most anticipated meeting in recent memory, the commission takes up the issue of network neutrality. Protests against so-called “fast lanes” are planned, as is a rally in favor of strong net neutrality rules. Also called open Internet, net neutrality is the principle that all legal content on the Internet is treated equally. The focus on net neutrality comes after a federal court in January threw out the FCC’s existing rules. And the draft of new rules that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler gave to commissioners three weeks ago has divided the body — and caused a furor. His initial proposal allowed 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. After an outcry — and 35,000 public comments on the issue — Wheeler revised the rules to ban certain types of fast lanes and to give the agency the power to review any deals that gave priority to some entities.

Economic News

The number of people filing for jobless claims last week fell to the lowest level in seven years as the labor market continues to show signs of improvement. The Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 297,000 for the week ended May 10. That was the lowest level since May 12, 2007. Jobless claims are back to pre-recession levels after the financial crisis of 2008-2009 sent unemployment soaring and forced many Americans to seek unemployment benefits.

Retail sales grew just 0.1% in April, disappointing forecasters who expected more of an early spring pick-up. Clothing stores’ sales rose 1.8% and health and personal care stores were up 0.6%. Gasoline stations’ sales increased 0.8%.Electronics and appliance stores saw a 2.3% decline from March and food and drinking establishments registered a drop of 0.9%.

Consumer prices in April crept up by the largest percentage since last summer, driven by higher costs for gasoline, shelter and food. The consumer price index increased 0.3% after rising 0.2% in March, the Labor Department said Thursday. April’s increase was the largest one-month jump since last June, when the CPI also rose 0.3%. Prices are up 2% over the past 12 months as inflation remains relatively mild.

Hundreds of fast food workers walked off their jobs in dozens of U.S. cities on Thursday as sympathetic protesters in several dozen countries joined in a united call for wages of $15 an hour and the right to form a union. No violence was reported early Thursday. Restaurants such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC are being targeted. The strike of the $200 billion fast-food industry comes at a time of intense competition and is aimed at directing consumer attention to the low wages of most fast-food workers. The one-day campaign continues protests launched 18 months ago.

Women are almost twice as likely as men to live below the poverty line during retirement, with single and minority women struggling the most. On average, women 65 years and older rely on a median income of around $16,000 a year — roughly $11,000 less than men of the same age, according to a Congressional analysis of Census data. And many elderly women rely exclusively on Social Security benefits. Women earn — and save — less over their lifetimes than men, leaving them with a smaller nest egg. And because they tend to live longer, that savings has to last longer, too.

Eurozone/Foreign Economies

European economic growth was weaker than expected in the first three months of 2014, but still managed to outpace the U.S. for the first time in three years. Gross domestic product across the 18 countries in the Eurozone grew at an annual pace of 0.9% in the first quarter, the European Union’s statistical office said Thursday. That compares with growth of 0.1% in the U.S. in the first quarter, when harsh winter weather was blamed for depressing exports, housing and business investment.

Russia’s economy slowed sharply in the first three months of 2014 as the Ukraine crisis slammed business confidence and investment. Official Russian statistics showed gross domestic product grew by an annual rate of 0.9% in the first quarter. That compares with growth of 2% in the final quarter last year. Investors have pulled billions of dollars out of the country, hitting the ruble and pushing up inflation. The central bank has responded by raising interest rates twice, squeezing businesses and households.

Japan’s economy grew at a breakneck pace in the first three months of the year as consumers went on a massive shopping spree to avoid a planned sales tax increase. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annual rate of 5.9% in the first quarter, Japan’s Cabinet Office said Thursday. The expansion was much quicker than the 4% figure expected by economists, and a major rebound from disappointing growth in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Persecution Watch

One in four adults worldwide are “deeply infected with anti-Semitic attitudes,” the Anti-Defamation League announced, in releasing results of an unprecedented global survey. Nearly half have never heard of the Holocaust, and only a third believe historical descriptions are accurate, the survey found. Carried out by First International Resources and commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League, the survey included 102 countries representing 88% of the world’s adult population. In native languages, it asked people whether certain traditionally anti-Semtic statements are probably true or false, including that Jews have too much power over international markets, global media, and the U.S. government; that they “don’t care about what happens to anyone but their own kind,” and that “Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars.” The survey then calculated how many believed that at least six of the 11 stereotypes were probably true. In the Middle East and North Africa, 74% did. In Eastern Europe, one in three did, and in Western Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, nearly one in four believed most of the stereotypes. Overall, 26% believed at least six of the stereotypes — a figure representing an estimated 1.1 billion people.

A Sudanese court has sentenced a Christian woman to death for renouncing Islam, her lawyer said Thursday. Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, was convicted by a Khartoum court this week of apostasy, or the renunciation of faith. The court considers her to be Muslim. She also was convicted of adultery because her marriage to a Christian man was considered void under Sharia law. She was sentenced to 100 lashes for the second crime.

Ukraine

European analysts say there is no need for Russia to invade eastern Ukraine now that it has gained ultimate authority over much of the country by its takeover of Crimea and declarations of independence in the pro-Russian east. About 90% of voters allegedly backed sovereignty and two regions declared independence Monday, though the vote was impossible to confirm since it was run by the people seeking to secede.

Turkey

Rescue teams have recovered eight more victims from a coal mine in western Turkey, raising the death toll in Turkey’s worst mining disaster to 282. Hopes for some 150 other miners trapped underground faded even as the government were focusing rescue efforts in two areas inside the mind. The operation was hampered by a fire still blazing inside the mine. The government has said 787 people were inside the coal mine at the time of Tuesday’s explosion and 363 were rescued, including scores who were injured.

Iran

he biggest hurdle Iran and world powers must overcome to clinch a lasting deal on Tehran’s nuclear program by a July deadline is agreeing on the future scope of uranium enrichment in the Islamic Republic, officials and diplomats said on Thursday. An Iranian official said it will be ‘very difficult though not impossible’ to bridge the divide. Western officials said Iran and the six powers must agree not only on the number and type of centrifuge machines Iran will operate but also the level of enrichment and size of uranium stocks Tehran can accumulate. As a result, diplomats said that enrichment has emerged as the principal sticking point in negotiations.

Nigeria

Villagers in an area of Nigeria where Boko Haram operates have killed and detained scores of the extremist Islamic militants who were suspected of planning a fresh attack, the residents and a security official said. Locals in Nigeria’s northern states have been forming vigilante groups in various areas to resist the militant group which hold more than 270 schoolgirls captive. In Kalabalge, a village about 155 miles from the Borno state capital of Maiduguri, residents said they were taking matters into their own hands because the Nigerian military is not doing enough to stem Boko Haram attacks. On Tuesday morning, after learning about an impending attack by militants, locals ambushed two trucks with gunmen At least 10 militants were detained, and scores were killed.

Venezuela

Shoppers in Venezuela know that shortages of staples like cornmeal, milk and chicken are a harsh reality of life, but now — amid violent protests and strikes — shortages have spread to that most basic of basics: bread. Lines are forming, and fights have broken out outside bakeries as politicians and business leaders point fingers. In recent days, people have had to wait in line for hours under the scorching sun. The problem stems from labor, social unrest and currency regulation that ties to difficulties importing raw ingredients. The problem started last year when a strike stopped production at a flour mill in Monagas state that supplies 35% of all the flour in Venezuela.

Wildfires

San Diego County remained under a state of emergency Thursday morning, as nine fires burned in a 14-square-mile area, fanned by hot, dry air and unusual springtime Santa Ana winds. Thousands of people have been evacuated and many schools across the city and the county have canceled classes until at least next week. New evacuations were ordered Thursday morning in San Marcos. Overall, about 21,000 people are out of their homes, including students who were in the middle of finals at a campus of California State University. In Carlsbad, about 30 miles north of San Diego, flames were shooting up along canyon ridges as thick black smoke darkened blue skies. A power outage closed the Legoland California amusement park. Carlsbad’s city government said eight homes, an eight-unit apartment complex and two businesses had been damaged. No serious injuries were reported.

A pair of wildfires flared and thousands of residents fled amid drought conditions and spiking heat in California. The two fires about 250 miles apart — the Bernardo fire in San Diego and the Miguelito fire in Santa Barbara County — burned hundreds of acres each Tuesday. The Bernardo fire charred at least 850 acres and was only about 5 percent contained, but it was no longer an imminent threat to homes. Evacuation orders were lifted for all of the more than 20,000 residents in and around San Diego on Tuesday night just a few hours after they were called, and all but a handful of the 1,200 homes and businesses told to evacuate in Santa Barbara County had been allowed to return. However, hot, dry, windy conditions that fed a host of fires in California this week are forecast to continue through the week.

Weather

A plodding system that has left flooding in multiple Midwestern and Southern states pushed east again on Thursday, bringing the threat of flash floods to urban areas by Friday. The biggest area of concern for local flash flooding stretches from the Appalachians into western and central New York with ‘nuisance’ street flooding in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and possibly Philadelphia and New York City. Dozens of vehicles were stranded and schools were closed in the Chicago suburb of Lake Bluff, which experienced some of the worst flooding from thunderstorms that socked northeast Illinois. Authorities shut down a section of U.S. highway 41 in the Lake County village. Flooding from heavy rainfall over the past couple of days also is bringing flooding worries to some parts of Michigan. A state of emergency has been declared in parts of a county in the Finger Lakes region after flash flooding caused by heavy rains forced evacuations and closed roads.

The vast glaciers of western Antarctica are rapidly melting and losing ice to the sea and almost certainly have “passed the point of no return,” according to new work by two separate teams of scientists. The likely result: a rise in global sea levels of 4 feet or more in the coming centuries. The researchers say the fate of the glaciers is almost certainly beyond hope. Total collapse is almost inevitable, the study shows. The data show the glaciers are stretching out, thinning and shrinking in volume. They’re also flowing faster from the continent’s interior to the sea, dumping larger quantities of ice into the ocean.

Signs of the Times (5/12/14)

May 12, 2014

Atheists’ New Strategy to Try and Ban ‘Under God’ Fails

After adopting a new tactical strategy in an attempt to strike “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, atheist activists were dealt a stunning blow Friday when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected a family’s lawsuit claiming that the recitation violates secular students’ rights. “Today the court affirmed what should have been obvious — ‘God’ is not a dirty word,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative legal firm. “And it isn’t discriminatory either. The words ‘under God’ are a reminder to our children that government doesn’t give us our rights and it can’t take them away either.” The state’s highest court rejected the notion that atheist children are discriminated against when the words “under God” are uttered in public school classrooms, noting that the recitation is optional. The American Humanist Association, the secular advocacy group that filed the lawsuit, dismissed the ruling as a failure to protect atheist students’ rights.

Atheists Conspire to Undermine Court Prayer Ruling

This week’s Supreme Court ruling allowing sectarian prayers at public meetings dealt a body blow to atheist organizations. That was the assessment of David Silverman, president of American Atheists, speaking Tuesday (May 6) to a group of nonbelievers at Stanford University. He then described a scenario that may raise eyebrows among some atheists: working with religious groups to fight against the ruling. “That’s what we have to do, not only organize the atheists, but the Satanists, the Scientologists,” he said. In a conversation before his talk, he added Muslims, Jews and Hindus. “We as atheists have the responsibility to urge them and push them and get them in there to get their prayers” said at public meetings. That’s a change for a man who has famously described religion as a “poison.” And it is emblematic, observers say, of the change that may result from the majority opinion in Greece v. Galloway, which found that prayers citing “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross” are permissible before government business.

  • The end-times will see more cooperation between seemingly disparate groups in order to come against the One True God and the One and Only Savior of the world, inspired by Satan himself

Pope Demands ‘Legitimate Redistribution’ of Wealth

Pope Francis called Friday for governments to redistribute wealth to the poor in a new spirit of generosity to help curb the “economy of exclusion” that is taking hold today. Francis made the appeal during a speech to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of major U.N. agencies who met in Rome this week. Latin America’s first pope has frequently lashed out at the injustices of capitalism and the global economic system that excludes so much of humanity. On Friday, Francis called for the United Nations to promote a “worldwide ethical mobilization” of solidarity with the poor in a new spirit of generosity.

  • Saint Malachy’s prophesied ‘last Pope’ has shown close agreement with the positions taken by the New World Order folks in their goals of establishing a totalitarian one-world government

Lawmakers Raise Alarm at Growing Gov’t Power to Seize Property

Motel owner Russell Caswell wasn’t expecting to find himself at the center of a national controversy when FBI agents came knocking on his door. They said they wanted his Tewksbury, Mass., business – and the land it was on – because they suspected it was a hotbed for drug-dealing and prostitution. The agents, who were working with state and local authorities, told a disbelieving Caswell they had the right to take the property, valued at as much as $1.5 million, through a legal process known as civil forfeiture. Caswell fought back and the case turned into one of the nation’s most contentious civil forfeiture fights ever – and one that legal experts say sheds light on a little-known practice that, when abused, is tantamount to policing for profit. Civil forfeiture is when police and prosecutors seize property, cars or cash from someone they suspect of wrongdoing. It differs from criminal forfeiture cases, where prosecutors typically must prove a person is guilty or reach a settlement before freezing funds or selling property. In civil forfeiture, authorities don’t have to prove guilt, file charges or obtain a conviction before seizing private property. Critics say it is a process ripe for abuse, and one which leaves citizens little means of fighting back.

  • Between civil forfeiture and eminent domain, government has vastly expanded its takeover of private property to satisfy its own needs

Millions More Health Plans to be Canceled Due to Obamacare

According to some experts, up to 20 million private healthcare policies will be cancelled for failing to meet the Obamacare guidelines. Obamacare established minimum requirements for all healthcare plans offered by the insurance companies and it is estimated that up to 20 million existing polices still fail to meet those minimum requirements. A number of insurance company executives were summoned before the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week to be grilled on the 6 million previous cancellations. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) asked them whose fault was it for the cancellation notices that were sent out last year. Gardner’s website posted the following response: “The witnesses confirmed that these [previous] cancellation notices were sent out due to the president’s healthcare law. It was also disclosed that millions more Americans will see their plans canceled when the president’s healthcare law is fully enforced.”

Primary Care System Handling Obamacare Surge So Far

Despite dire predictions, the nation’s primary care system is handling the increased number of insured patients without major problems so far, according to interviews with community health centers, large physician practices and insurers nationwide. Five months into the biggest expansion of health coverage in 50 years — with about 13 million people enrolled in private insurance and Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — there are few reports of patients facing major delays getting care, say officials from more than two-dozen health centers and multi-group practices, as well as insurers and physician groups in nine big states. Some exceptions have surfaced, particularly in parts of Colorado, Kentucky and Washington state, which had some of the biggest gains in coverage. HealthPoint, a network of nine community health centers and six dental clinics southeast of Seattle, is turning away about 150 people a week although it had added two new facilities and expanded a third in anticipation of the surge. The centers have seen nearly 7,000 new patients this year — a 10% increase — most of them newly covered by Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor that expanded in Washington and 25 other states.

More Solar Energy Powering Corporate America

As solar costs plummet, U.S. corporate giants including Apple, Google and Wal-Mart are turning to the sun to power stores, data centers and other facilities. At a Wal-Mart store in Mountain View, Calif., on Friday, President Obama cited Wal-Mart’s commitment to double the number of solar energy projects at its stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers nationwide by 2020. Obama announced 300-plus other private and public efforts, including new solar panels on the White House, to boost energy efficiency and renewable power. Apple, for example, pledged to power all its facilities with green energy. The California-based company said its energy-intensive data centers already use 100% renewable power and so will the 2.8 million square-foot headquarters it’s building in Cupertino, which will feature a mammoth rooftop solar array. Google, which has made huge investments in solar projects, announced a $1 million prize to develop the next generation of power inverters to bring solar to more U.S. homes. Other companies such as Kohl’s, Staples and Whole Foods, have already committed to acquiring 100% of their power from renewable power either through on-site generation or energy credits.

Unpopular Bailouts Yield $52 Billion in Profit

Current accounting records show that taxpayers made a $51.8 billion profit on the $700 billion worth of unpopular federal bailouts in 2008 and 2009. About half of that profit came from the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two mortgage finance companies that the government took over in September 2008. The two firms’ payments back to Treasury has reached $213 billion, exceeding the combined $187.5 billion in government support by about $25 billion. The government also made a $22.7 billion profit on the bailout of AIG. The bailout of the nation’s banks cost the government $250.5 billion. But the sale of the stock the government got as part of the bailouts brought in a $22.3 billion profit. The government didn’t do as well with the rescue of automakers General Motors and Chrysler Group, or with the auto loan company GMAC, now known as Ally Financial (ALLY). Taxpayers came up $11.2 billion short when all those bailouts are added together.

Economic News

All of the major indices — the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq — closed firmly in positive territory Friday. The Dow’s close of 16,583 narrowly topped a prior record set on April 30 of 16,581. While the Dow eked out a win for the week, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq lost ground.

All-cash deals hit a record 43% of home sales during the first three months of 2014, according to RealtyTrac. That’s up from 19% a year earlier and is the highest rate recorded. The jump is due to two main factors: strict lending standards that make it difficult to get a mortgage and intense buyer competition. Even buyers who would ordinarily finance their purchases are making all-cash offers to appear more attractive to sellers.

More than a quarter of the 121 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 that reported research and development spending in the first quarter, including Merck, International Business Machines and Texas Instruments, spent less on Research and Development (R&D) than they did in the same year-ago period. These 33 companies cut their R&D budgets by 9% on average. It’s a continuation of a disturbing trend that showed up last year, when nearly 25% of companies cut their R&D budgets. Seeing so many large companies cutting their research spending at this point of the economic cycle is worrisome because it means innovation is lagging which will affect future sales.

Persecution Watch

The Benham brothers, whose HGTV reality show was canceled before it was ever broadcast, believe that LGBT activists are using bullying tactics to silence Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin. “There’s an agenda that wants to silence the beliefs that we have,” Jason Benham said during a Friday interview with CNN. His brother, David, agreed, adding, “They (HGTV) got bullied. There’s an agenda that’s out in America right now that demands silence, especially from men and women who profess Jesus Christ and hold to His standards.”

Ukraine

Locals in Ukraine’s predominantly Russian-speaking east went to the polls Sunday to vote in regional referendums on independence that have been called illegal and look set to further pit Russia against the West. Independent observers reported a number of irregularities at polling stations Sunday, with some people seen voting twice. Law and order at the polling stations in Donetsk was being provided by pro-independence “self-defense” militia due to lack of enthusiasm from local police. Ukrainian law does not stipulate for regional elections. Separatists insisted the poll was legal, citing a U.N. charter on local self-determination.

Pro-Russia insurgents claimed that voters in Donetsk and overwhelmingly supported secession on Sunday but Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called the voting a “criminal farce.” About 90% of voters in Ukraine’s sprawling industrial heartland backed their regions’ independence in the controversial referendums on Sunday. Moscow said the results of the vote should now be implemented without resorting to violence, and that it should be done in a “civilized way.” The European Union warned of new economic sanctions depending on how Moscow responds to the elections.

  • Sanctions have had little or no effect on Russia’s determination to annex portions of the Ukraine

Afghanistan

The Taliban unleashed a wave of attacks Monday across Afghanistan to mark the start of their spring offensive, storming a government building in the east, a police checkpoint in the south, the NATO base at Bagram and the international airport in Kabul. The attack on the government killed two police guards and five civilians. Attackers at the police checkpoint killed nine policemen. Rockets that hit the airport caused no damage. NATO officials said the rockets that hit the base caused minor damage. This year’s Taliban spring offensive comes at a sensitive time, against the backdrop of a key presidential election. Final results of the first round of voting, held April 5, are scheduled to be announced on Wednesday.

Iraq

Militants in Iraq launched an audacious attack on a military barracks in a remote area in the country’s north and killed 20 troops overnight, including some who had been bound and shot at close range, authorities said Sunday. The killings at the barracks in the village of Ayn al-Jahish outside the northern city of Mosul represent the latest blow to the government’s efforts to achieve stability in restive Sunni-dominated areas. The slain troops are in charge of protecting an oil pipeline that sends Iraqi crude oil to international markets and guarding a nearby highway. Attacks on this pipeline are common in that area near Mosul, a former insurgent stronghold located about 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Iraq has launched a large-scale military operation to regain control of the city of Falluja, held by anti-government fighters since December, the Defense Ministry said Friday. Soldiers and police officers have killed many fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and confiscated a large amount of weapons and several vehicles. On Friday, military shelling left 13 dead and 27 others wounded, health officials said. Mosques and houses were damaged. About 700,000 people live in Falluja, a Sunni city in Anbar province west of Baghdad. More than 300 people, most of whom are civilians, have been killed in Falluja since the beginning of the year.

Yemen

A suspected U.S. drone strike in southern Yemen killed six Al Qaeda militants on Monday, military and security officials said. The drone hit a car with Al Qaeda fighters in Marib province, in the Husoun al-Jalal area in Abieda Valley. Authorities were checking for the identities of the slain militants. Drone strikes have killed more than 12 suspected Al Qaeda militants in the same area of Marib province. The U.S. considers Yemen’s branch of Al Qaeda, also known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to be the most dangerous in the world. The group overran large swaths of territory in southern Yemen in 2011 but the military has pushed back and over the past few weeks. The army and security forces have stepped up an offensive to rout militants from their strongholds.

Nigeria

The Nigerian government was warned hours in advance that Boko Haram was preparing a raid on Chibok, but failed to prevent the kidnapping of more than 300 school girls last month, according to a report released Friday by Amnesty International. Audu Ogbeh, founder and chieftain of the opposition party All Progressives Congress, said “This is what everybody in Borno says, that it has been going on like this for the last year and a half,” Ogbeh said. “That intelligence is provided but the military doesn’t show up or just walks away.” Military reinforcements didn’t arrive until after the raid.

South Sudan

South Sudan’s President has reached a cease-fire deal with a rebel leader following five months of violence in the world’s youngest nation. The deal signed Friday in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa comes a week after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with President Salva Kiir. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.3 million displaced since clashes erupted in December between forces loyal to the two rivals. The parties signed an initial peace deal in January, but it fell apart days later. The violence started late last year after Kiir accused Machar of trying to oust him through a coup, a charge he denied. Since the attempted coup, violence spread rapidly, with reports of their forces conducting mass killings nationwide. The violence ran down ethnic lines — the Nuer tribe backs the rebel leader while the President hails from the Dinka tribe.

Vietnam

Vietnamese anger toward China is running at its highest level in years after Beijing deployed an oil rig in disputed waters as naval ships from both countries engage in a tense standoff near the rig off the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. The Wall Street Journal reported that even prior to the standoff, Vietnam has been beefing up its military by investing in advanced military capabilities, with a special focus on its navy. “Vietnam has ordered these [new capabilities] as a deterrent to China and to show, if push comes to shove, that they’d be able to give China a bloody nose,” said a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Venezuela

The Venezuelan government detained 243 protesters in a swift, predawn operation targeting four campsites set up at public squares around Caracas, the capital. Officials say the operation involved more than 900 members of the Venezuelan National Guard and police. But anti-government demonstrators who witnessed the operation complained about the way it was carried out. The protesters complained that the National Guard showed up and destroyed the campsite and came against the demonstrators in a” totally violent way.” Venezuelan Peace and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez said he had no option but to deploy security forces to ensure public safety. Clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces have left more than 40 people dead and around 800 injured since February. The protesters cites increased crime, shortages of essential goods, power blackouts and a dire economic situation.

Brazil

Brazil has surpassed the United States as the world’s No.1 consumer of crack cocaine, according to the Federal University of Sao Paulo. It shares borders with the world’s biggest cocaine-producing countries — Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Strong economic growth has meant more disposable income for everything from microwave ovens to drugs. Brazil is in the middle of a drug epidemic as it prepares to host the World Cup soccer tournament in 12 cities beginning in June. Officials have launched a string of initiatives to address the addiction with mixed results. Critics say the focus has been on cleaning up the streets rather than specifically addressing the causes of addiction or providing solutions for users.

Wildfires

A grass fire swept through Hutchinson County on Sunday, destroying at least 100 homes and forcing the evacuations of about 700 residents. Hutchinson County Emergency Management officials said no injuries have been reported. The Texas Department of Public Safety said the fire burned Monday near Fritch, a town of about 2,100 located 30 miles northeast of Amarillo. As of Monday morning, the fire was 75 percent contained. Highway 136 through Fritch was closed overnight due to blowing dust, smoke and soot.

Weather

More severe thunderstorms are forecast to rattle the central U.S. on Monday following a wild weather Sunday that included heavy snow in the Rockies and tornadoes in the Midwest. Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas and San Antonio are just a few of the cities in the path of severe thunderstorms on Monday and Monday night. Damaging wind gusts, large hail and tornadoes will all be possible with the storms that develop, especially during the afternoon and evening hours. Sunday, there were about 30 reports of tornadoes in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Indiana. Some of the worst damage was in Iowa and Nebraska.

It may be mid-May but that doesn’t mean that snow can’t be in the forecast. Winter Storm Zephyr is sweeping across the Western and Central U.S., dumping heavy snow on mountainous regions like the Rockies, Cascades and Tetons. Heavy snow from Winter Storm Zephyr led the Wyoming Department of Transportation to shut down a roughly 150-mile stretch of I-80 from Rawlings, Wyoming to Cheyenne, Wyoming Sunday. Additionally, the Wyoming DOT shutdown stretches of U.S. 30, U.S. 280 and Highway 210 across the state. As of early Monday morning, here are some notable snow totals from Winter Storm Zephyr: 43 inches estimated west-southwest of Encampment, Wyoming; 22 inches in Leadville, Colorado; 9 inches in Cedar City, Utah; Sunday was the heaviest calendar-day snow so late in the season in Cheyenne. The weight of this heavy, wet snow damaged many trees in Cedar City, Utah on Sunday.

Severe thunderstorms swept through the eastern third of the country on Friday and Saturday, producing a few isolated tornadoes, flash flooding and large hail. A confirmed tornado that was part of a supercell storm hit the Ray County town of Orrick, Missouri, on Saturday evening. The town of about 900 residents northeast of Kansas City suffered quite a bit of structural damage to 200 to 300 homes, including roofs blown off homes and power lines blown down. On Friday, strong wind gusts blew roofs off of houses and knocked out power in Indiana.

Signs of the Times (5/9/14)

May 9, 2014

Praying in Jesus’ Name Upheld by Courts

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that it’s OK for pastors to pray “in Jesus’ name” at city council meetings. Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt of PrayInJesusName.org says, “When the Supreme Court ruled this week allowing prayers “in Jesus’ name” before city council meetings, it had several ramifications: 1) Atheist complainers must think twice before filing frivolous lawsuits to silence Christians, or they risk paying our attorneys’ fees on top of their own when they lose; 2) The 2nd Circuit and 4th Circuit Courts must restore religious freedom of speech in states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, and Vermont; 3) Persecuted pastors like Hashmel Turner in Virginia and pastors in Forsyth County North Carolina, not to mention County Commissioners like Robin Bartlett Frazier in Maryland are now free again to pray “in Jesus’ name” despite bad judges who said otherwise.”

Number of LGBT’s Not as High as Perceived

Pastor and Evangelist Greg Laurie reports, “There is a movement afoot in our country to redefine marriage and family. Media and modern culture are pushing for same-sex marriage. The normalization of homosexuality is also gaining momentum, illustrated by television programs such as Modern Family and The New Normal. With the emphasis on gay marriage and homosexuality in general, you would think a huge percentage of today’s population must be gay. Some advocates say it is as high as 25 percent. Many accept the premise that it is at least 10 percent. But an extensive survey, the largest of its kind, was recently completed by the Gallup polling agency. The survey, which interviewed 120,000 Americans, revealed that 3.4 percent of the U.S. population is gay. That includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans. Even though it represents a small percentage of the population.”

  • When things are not as they seem, you can usually find Satan manipulating things behind the black curtain. He is adept at deception and has bamboozled the world to adopt his anti-family agenda under the guise of tolerance and inclusivity.

Scientists Create First Living Organism Containing Artificial DNA

Researchers for the first time created microbes containing artificial DNA, expanding the universal genetic code that guides life. The advance one day could lead to new antibiotics, vaccines and other medical products not possible with today’s bioscience. In a report published Wednesday in Nature, the scientists said they created two additions to the normal genetic code, and then prompted bacteria to incorporate these pieces of man-made DNA with few ill effects. The experiment demonstrates the feasibility of life-forms based on a different DNA code, independent experts said. Eventually, scientists could use an expanded genetic code to design living cells that could make new medical compounds. Many scientists had assumed that a normal cell would ignore any imitation DNA.

  • Humanity as gods? Very scary prospect.

Edible Marijuana Causing Illness & Death

Two deaths connected with edible marijuana products have Colorado lawmakers scrambling to toughen regulations and experts warning of bizarre behavior as consumers eat powerful pot-infused foods. Experts say the amount of marijuana in edibles can vary widely, and in some cases, the levels are so high people report extreme paranoia and anxiety bordering on psychotic behavior. On Jan. 1, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational use of marijuana — Washington state expects to begin legal retail sales this summer — and commercially made edible products have become a popular alternative to smoking pot. Edibles give users a different kind of high than the one they get from smoking marijuana, largely because the pot is absorbed through the stomach instead of the lungs. The effects are slower to arrive, generally last longer and can be more intense because people unwittingly eat more than they intend to.

House Votes to Establish Select Committee on Benghazi

The House of Representatives voted Thursday to establish a select committee on Benghazi, formally launching a comprehensive and contentious investigation aimed at answering lingering questions about what happened before, during and after the terror attack that killed four Americans at our embassy in Libya. The House voted 232-186 to approve the panel. The vote breakdown was 225 Republicans and 7 Democrats in favor, with 186 Democrats voting against the measure. The probe ensures that Benghazi will remain front and center during the midterm election season, something Democrats say is by design. They have slammed the select committee as a partisan, and unnecessary, exercise. But Republicans argue that individual congressional committee and other investigations have been insufficient in getting at the full truth, pointing in part to emails released last week that had been kept under wraps since 2012. One email from a White House adviser stressing the role of an anti-Islam web video adds fuel to the belief that a cover-up was instituted to keep blame from falling on President Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Most People Paying Obamacare Premiums

Most people signing up for Obamacare are paying their premiums, insurers told a Congressional subcommittee Wednesday. Though it may take weeks or months for the final payment figures to be calculated, rates are running in the 80% to 90% range, several major insurers said. Some 8.1 million people selected insurance plans on the Obamacare exchanges during the first open enrollment period, which ended March 31. But these folks will not be fully enrolled until they pay their premiums. The Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee last week issued a report saying that only 67% of those signing up for Obamacare had paid their first month’s premium. But the insurers appearing before the subcommittee said the figures in the panel report were incomplete.

Report Finds Only 1 Layoff from Sequester Cuts

Despite doomsday warnings from the White House and lawmakers on both sides that hundreds of thousands would lose their jobs as a result of the so-called sequester, it turns out the budget cuts have only led to one job being lost among 23 federal agencies. The findings were revealed in a government watchdog report. Now Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is demanding answers as to why the Obama administration repeatedly warned taxpayers that the $85.3 billion in spending cuts, which went into effect in March 2013, would threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs. The March report by the Government Accountability Office describes how 23 agencies and departments — which appear to span most of the federal government — complied with the cuts. Only one, the Department of Justice, decided to lay off a single employee in fiscal year 2013.

Economic News

The U.S. Treasury Department booked a $114 billion surplus in April, the largest for that month since 2008, according to the latest estimates from the Congressional Budget Office released Wednesday. April typically brings an influx of receipts as Americans file their tax returns. For the first seven months of this fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, the CBO estimates the country has racked up a $301 billion deficit, which is $187 billion lower than it was for the same period last year.

U.S. retailers posted a 6 percent comparable-stores sales gain in April, the biggest increase since September 2011, as better weather and the late Easter as well as aggressive promotions attracted shoppers. Combined March and April sales rose 4.8 percent from a year earlier.

Consumers increased their borrowing in March by the largest amount in more than a year, using their credit cards and taking out more auto and student loans. Consumer borrowing increased $17.5 billion in March, up from a gain of $13 billion in February, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday. It was the biggest monthly increase since a $19.3 billion advance in February 2013. The category that includes auto and student loans rose $16.4 billion while the category that covers credit card borrowing increased $1.1 billion. The overall increase in consumer debt pushed total borrowing to a record $3.14 trillion.

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in March as exports rebounded to the second highest level on record, led by strong gains in sales of aircraft, autos and farm goods. The Commerce Department says the deficit declined to $40.4 billion, down 3.6% from a revised February imbalance of $41.9 billion, which had been the biggest trade gap in five months. U.S. exports rose 2.1% to $193.9 billion with exports to Canada and South Korea hitting all-time highs. Imports also rose but by a slower 1.1% to $234.3 billion, reflecting increased shipments of cellphones, clothing and other consumer goods and increased demand for heavy machinery and other capital goods.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, told Congress Wednesday that the recent housing slowdown “could prove more protracted” than expected. More than half of 40 top economists surveyed by USA TODAY May 2-6 are more pessimistic about the housing recovery than they were in December. Neither Yellen nor the surveyed economists expect a housing rebound that began in 2011 to reverse course. Rather, economists say the turnaround will likely be more gradual, crimping economic gains in 2014. Both home sales and housing starts have weakened in recent months.

There are two economic trends that Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen told Congress this week she finds “very disturbing.” Unfortunately, the Fed has very little power to fix either of them: 1) About 3.5 million Americans have been out of a job for at least six months. This group accounts for 35% of all the unemployed; 2) “We have seen a trend toward rising inequality in income and also in wealth.”

Persecution Watch

Christians are under siege in the Middle East, and the Obama administration is not doing enough to stop religious persecution by its allies, according to a new report from a bipartisan federal commission. The report, from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, faulted usual suspects Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, as well as North Korea. The number of Christians in the Middle East has plunged to just 10 percent of the overall population from more than 25 percent in 2011. “While the Obama administration should continue to shine a spotlight on abuses through public statements, it also should impose targeted sanctions to demonstrate that there are consequences, too,” Dwight Bashir, the commission’s deputy director of policy and research, told FoxNews.com. “As of February 2014, at least 40 Christians were either in prison, detained or awaiting trial because of their religious beliefs and activities,” noted the report.

The cable network HGTV has pulled reality series Flip It Forward allegedly because the hosts of the show, brothers David and Jason Benham, hold a biblical worldview on the issues of life and marriage. Apparently the decision came following an article by Right Wing Watch that detailed the family’s activist history in the pro-life movement. The twin brother’s father, Flip Benham, is director of Operation Save America. Faith Driven Consumer, the group which played a key role in Phil Robertson’s return to Duck Dynasty, has launched the #FlipThisDecision campaign calling on HGTV to reinstate “Flip it Forward.” “This is pure intolerance, discrimination, and bullying toward those who hold to widely held and legitimate views. HGTV’s rash actions hold no place in America’s rainbow of diversity. Whether people agree or disagree with the Beham’s faith-driven perspective is beside the point; the Benhams have a right to have those views and to be treated equally with those who hold to other viewpoints.”

Ukraine

A council of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk voted unanimously on Thursday to hold a referendum on secession from Ukraine on Sunday despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call for a postponement. Pro-Russian militia took a number of cities in East Ukraine in April, refusing to recognize Ukraine’s new interim government that came into power after pro-European demonstrations, held mainly in Kiev’s Maidan Square and toppled the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych in February. Ukraine has launched what it called a counter-terrorist operation against the separatists, and insists the referendum is illegal because it’s being foisted on the local population by an armed militia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first visit to Crime Friday since Russia annexed the region in March and hailed the incorporation of the disputed Ukrainian territory into the Russian Federation. Earlier, Putin joined thousands in Moscow’s Red Square Friday for a similar celebration that featured an unusually large display of military might. Meanwhile, major fighting erupted in the Ukrainian city of Mairupol as Ukrainian troops crackdown on pro-Russian separates. The clashes at the police headquarters and at the local interior ministry building in the port town left at least eight people dead.

Syria

A rebel-claimed bombing Thursday in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo leveled a once luxurious hotel near the ancient Citadel that government troops used as a military base, causing multiple casualties. Syrian state television said the explosion struck the Carlton Hotel in a government-held area on the edge of a contested neighborhood in the old part of Aleppo. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which maintains a network of activists on the ground, said at least 14 soldiers were killed in the blast. The Islamic Front, Syria’s biggest rebel alliance which claimed the attack, claimed to have killed 50 soldiers.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s president vowed Thursday to find 276 schoolgirls abducted by Islamic terrorists and counter threats from militant group Boko Haram, as U.S. officials and agents arrived in Nigeria to assist in rescue efforts. The kidnapping of more than 300 schoolgirls on April 15 in the town of Chibok has sparked accusations that the Nigerian government is not doing enough to stop the militants. The U.S. State Department, under Hillary Clinton’s leadership, repeatedly resisted and blocked efforts to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist group. Those who pushed for the designation as early as 2011 are now saying the department missed a major opportunity to track and target the deadly organization as it grew. The State Department did label Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization in November 2013, under Secretary John Kerry, years after a string of high-profile terrorist attacks including the mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya on September, 2013.

Thailand

For the third time in less than a decade a court in Thailand on Wednesday ordered the nation’s prime minister to step aside from office. Yingluck Shinawatra was told to leave office after a constitutional court in Bangkok found her guilty in an abuse of power case. A caretaker cabinet appointed Deputy Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan as Thailand’s acting prime minister, and the move brings uncertainty to elections planned for July 20. Yingluck had been charged with abusing her authority by transferring a senior civil servant, Thawil Pliensri, to another position in 2011. The judge in the case said that move allowed Yingluck to give her brother-in-law, Priewpan Damapong, the post of national police chief.

South Africa

South Africans headed to the polls Wednesday in the country’s first general elections since the death of Nelson Mandela last year, and the first in which voters born after the fall of apartheid are old enough to take part. Many of these young voters say they won’t participate in the ballot because they “don’t believe in our government leaders and their empty promises,” said Asanda Mkhwane. Mkhwane is part of the “born-free” generation, those born on or after April 27, 1994, when the country overwhelmingly voted for Nelson Mandela as president. Only one-third of 18- and 19-year-old South Africans are registered to vote.

Landslides

More than two dozen homes were evacuated in Fort Washington, Maryland, a community that borders Washington, D.C., Monday afternoon after what has been described as a “slope failure.” The failure happened during the weekend, collapsing part of Piscataway Drive. When conditions deteriorated Monday, causing a water main break and a sewer failure, officials decided to evacuate homes. At least five of the houses were “directly affected.” Significant rainfall last week may have caused the ground to shift, they said.

Wildfires

As firefighters continue to battle a persistent wind- and heat-fueled wildfire in Oklahoma, residents were allowed back into their homes, with some returning to only charred remains. The deadly wildfire began burning out of control on Sunday afternoon, torching parts of Guthrie and chasing more than 1,000 people from their houses. Wind gusts above 30 mph helped to fan the flames, and dry conditions in a state plagued by drought provided plenty of fuel. Early Tuesday morning, Guthrie Fire Chief Eric Harlow said the blaze is 90 percent contained, having burned 3,000 to 3,500 acres of land so far. At least 30 structures were destroyed by the fire, and 104 firefighters were treated for heat-related illnesses.

Officials also are assessing damage from numerous other wildfires in the state, including one in Pawnee County that claimed 1,500 acres and was threatening about 25 homes. Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency Monday for counties throughout Oklahoma and a burn ban for 36 counties mostly in western and south-central Oklahoma.

Earthquakes

A large earthquake near the west coast of Mexico shook much of the country on Thursday afternoon, including Mexico City. It was measured at a 6.4-magnitude by the United States Geological Survey, with an epicenter 8 miles west-southwest of Tecpan de Galeana. Residents in Mexico City also reported feeling the quake, about 188 miles from the epicenter. There were no reports of injuries. Among the damage was the collapse of a 30-yard section of highway bridge that was already under repair from last fall’s flooding and a magnitude-7.2 quake in the same area in April. Flooding of the detour route from heavy rain Thursday left the federal highway between the resort cities of Acapulco and Zihuatanejo closed. Three homes collapsed in Zijuatanejo and 17 more were unstable after the temblor. Dozens of simple adobe homes collapsed near the epicenter, though no one was injured. Aguirre also reported mudslides on other major highways, including the one connecting Acapulco with Mexico City.

Mile for mile, there are almost as many earthquakes rattling Oklahoma as California this year. This major increase in seismic shaking led to a rare earthquake warning today (May 5) from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Survey. In a joint statement, the agencies said the risk of a damaging earthquake — one larger than magnitude 5.0 — has significantly increased in central Oklahoma. Geologists don’t know when or where the state’s next big earthquake will strike, nor will they put a number on the increased risk. “We haven’t seen this before in Oklahoma, so we had some concerns about putting a specific number on the chances of it,” Robert Williams, a research geophysicist with the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program in Golden, Colorado, told Live Science. “But we know from other cases around the world that if you have an increasing number of small earthquakes, the chances of a larger one will go up.”

Weather

Severe storms rolled through the Plains Thursday, damaging homes, flooding roads and leaving at least two people injured. Seventy-three reports of severe weather were received by the Storm Prediction Center Thursday. A tornado warning was posted for the northeast side of Dallas at 3:34 p.m. CDT, but it was unclear whether an actual tornado had formed. In parts of Dallas, winds reached up to 70 mph Thursday afternoon, which tore holes in warehouse roofs and peeled away the front wall of a church. The storms were the second round of dangerous weather to pulse through the Metroplex Thursday. In the morning, rescue crews pulled five teenagers out of creek in Dallas. Heavy rain, as much as 5 inches in some areas, sent streams and creeks rising, and the teenagers were trapped.

In Minnesota, severe storms may have spawned several tornadoes Thursday evening, but no major damage or injuries were reported. Nicollet in south-central Minnesota received 2.2 inches of rain Thursday evening. Some street flooding was reported in Burnsville south of Minneapolis. Mena received 5.68 inches of rain in a four-hour period Thursday with a daily total of more than 7 inches. The weather service says the relentless downpour caused creeks and streams to overflow and flooding over roads. In South Dakota, the National Weather Service says golf ball-sized hail was reported near Sinai, while hail as big as baseballs fell near Urbandale.

Global warming is affecting where and how Americans live and work, and evidence is mounting that burning fossil fuels has made extreme weather such as heat waves and heavy precipitation much more likely in the USA, according to a massive federal report released Tuesday. While scientists continue to refine projections of the future climate, they maintain that ongoing measurements unequivocally show that the climate is changing and that the warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. These emissions come mainly from the burning of coal, oil, and gas, the report states.

  • It doesn’t matter what scientists measure or believe, end-time weather will continue to grow more extreme regardless of what we do or don’t do, eventually resulting in the 100-pound hailstones prophesied in Revelation.

Signs of the Times (5/5/14)

May 5, 2014

Filipino Village Awakened to Gospel by Ongoing Relief Efforts

A small-scale spiritual awakening continues in Agojo, a Filipino fishing village devastated by Typhoon Haiyan last November. Nearly 80 Filipinos have made decisions for Christ followed by dozens of ocean baptisms and the start of multiple Simbalays, or Filipino home churches. The new Filipino believers face challenges and need prayer, volunteers said. “Some will be ostracized from their families, friends and communities,” Garry McDugle said. “Here, it is not well-received for one to be baptized outside the Catholic faith.” Filipino pastor Ronald Calina conducts the beach services. At one evening service in March, 30 adults and 15 children prayed to receive Jesus. While the Gospel is at work, the physical work of recovery and rebuilding continues. Much progress can be seen at the local elementary school, painted by volunteers from the Georgia Baptist Convention. The Georgia contingent completed work on 80 sites.

Supreme Court Allows Prayers at Town Meetings

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a town in upstate New York may begin its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month.” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 5-to-4 decision, said “ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define.” In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the town’s practices could not be reconciled “with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share of her government.” Town officials said that members of all faiths, and atheists, were welcome to give the opening prayer.

More School Districts Removing ‘Under God’ from Pledge

School districts in New Jersey and Wisconsin have removed the ‘under God’ phrase from the Pledge of Allegiance students say each morning. Some schools replaced it with ‘peace.’ A lawsuit filed against a New Jersey school district March 28, contends that reciting the phrase “under God” in the pledge sends a message that nonbelievers are bad citizens and creates a hostile environment for atheist students. However, in a survey of Americans conducted by Nashville-based Lifeway Research 85 percent of the respondents said they prefer to keep “under God” in the pledge. Researchers did find 1 in 4 Americans (25 percent) believe forcing students to say “under God” violates their rights. But less than one in 10 (eight percent) Americans want to remove “under God” from the pledge.

  • America was founded ‘under God’ but now is falling victim to the end-time anti-Christ spirit, which will continue to increase in influence as we stumble toward the Great Tribulation to come

Research Indicates Islam Growing Faster than Christianity

New research claims that the global numbers of Christians has remained stagnant, while Islam has skyrocketed as a worldwide religion reports Christianity Today. According to the report, Christianity has remained about the same, but Islam has almost doubled in members. Christians made up 34.5 percent of the world’s population in 1900, but fell to 32.9 percent in 2010. Muslims made up 12.3 percent of the world’s population in 1900, but rose to 22.5 percent in 2010. Dick Slikker of Christian mission consultancy group Project Care who assembled the report says the declining numbers of Christian is due to “increased materialism, secularism, rationalism, rejection of the notion of spiritual authority outside of oneself.”

Good News? Obamacare’s Enrollment Numbers Only 33% Bogus

The Administration refuses to release the total of paid and valid ObamaCare policies sold, or their demographic breakdown. If it was good news, they would of course release it immediately. Thanks to work by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, we have a better idea of why the “Most Transparent Administration in History” is guarding those figures closely. Previous estimates from the insurance industry held that 20 to 25 percent of the reported ObamaCare signups were unpaid and invalid, but the actual numbers from the federal exchange system turn out to be considerably worse. Data provided to the committee by every insurance provider in the health care law’s Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) shows that, as of April 15, 2014, only 67 percent of individuals and families that had selected a health plan in the federally facilitated marketplace had paid their first month’s premium and therefore completed the enrollment process.

Latinos Not Signing Up for Obamacare

Minorities are more likely to be uninsured than whites, but Latinos have largely shied away from signing up for Obamacare. Only 10.7% of people who picked plans on the federal exchange and reported their race were Latino, according to federal data released Thursday. Whites made up nearly 63% of signups, while blacks accounted for 16.7% and Asians for 7.9%.This relatively scant participation comes despite a heavy push by the Obama administration and its supporters into the Latino community. The federal exchange had a Spanish-language site, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, as well as a call center with representatives fluent in Spanish. The administration also funded application counselors to help people in low-income and minority neighborhoods enroll. “Enrollment among Latinos is lagging behind other groups when you look at the share they represent of the target market and the uninsured. This will be one of the big challenges, particularly in border states, as attention turns to increasing sign ups next year,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

BLM’s Battles go Beyond Rancher Dispute

The Bureau of Land Management, the nation’s biggest landlord, found itself in the spotlight after a high-profile brawl with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and another dispute with state officials over the Texas-Oklahoma borderlands. But the seemingly obscure agency, which is in charge of millions of acres of public land, is no stranger to controversy. History shows the power struggle over property rights and land use is one that’s been fought — fiercely — ever since the bureau was created. In the nearly seven decades of its existence, the BLM has struggled to find its footing and exert its power, pitted against a vocal states’ rights movement. “The federal government already owns too much land,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry, one of the champions of that modern-day movement, recently told Fox News. He called for the federal government, and by extension the BLM, to “divest itself of a huge amount of this landholdings that it has across the country.” Currently, the agency, which falls under the purview of the U.S. Department of Interior, oversees 247.3 million acres — or about one-eighth of the land in the country.

  • BLM is just another way the federal government has trampled on the Constitution which strongly limits federal powers and advocates states’ rights.
  • The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Article I, Section 8 enumerates the limited powers of the federal government.

Report Confirms Chinese Drywall Health Complaints

Chinese-made drywall used in more than 20,000 homes in the United States could have caused nosebleeds, headaches, difficulty breathing and asthma attacks in tens of thousands of Americans exposed to it, the federal government said in a long-awaited report released Friday. The drywall was installed in mostly Southern homes since 2005, and it has been the subject of multiple lawsuits. In addition to health-related complaints, homeowners have also alleged sulfur dioxide and other chemicals found in the drywall caused foul odors and corroded pipes and wiring. There have been five settlements totaling more than $1 billion, but it’s not clear how much of the drywall has been replaced. “The bottom line is that this modeling data suggests that levels of sulfur dioxide and other sulfur compounds found in the Chinese manufactured drywall were sufficiently high to result in the health effects people have been reporting,” said Vikas Kapil, chief medical officer with the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Economic News

The labor market roared ahead in April as milder weather helped employers add 288,000 jobs — the most in more than two years. The unemployment rate fell to 6.3% from 6.7% — the lowest since September 2008, the Labor Department said Friday. Businesses added 273,000 jobs, led by strong gains in professional and business services, retail and restaurants, and construction. Federal, state and local governments added 15,000. A broader measure of job-market distress — that includes part-time employees who prefer full-time jobs and those who’ve given up looking for work, as well as the unemployed — fell to 12.3% from 12.7%.

U.S. income taxes plus social security averaged 24.6% for the average worker in 2012. This compares to 42.6% in Belgium, 39.6% in Germany, 38.6% in Denmark and 28.4% in France. Countries with lower taxes were the United Kingdom at 24.1%, Australia at 23.1%, Canada at 22.8% and Japan at 21.6%.

Persecution Watch

A shock attack on a Christian village in Syria has driven up to 350 families from their homes; 49 men were kidnapped as properties were torched and looted. Kharaba in Sweida province was stormed by armed opposition militants on 23 April following the disappearance of a young Christian man. They torched eight houses, including the home of the missing man’s father, who had stood up to the attackers, and looted others. The fighters kidnapped 49 Christian men, most of whom are elderly. The families fled to nearby villages and the town of Sweida. The Syrian army drove the insurgents out of Kharaba on 27 April, and a few families have now started to return. The local bishop helped to negotiate the release of all but around half a dozen of the kidnapped men. It is not yet known what has happened to those still missing.

Middle East

A group of Moslem and Christian leaders in the Middle East has issued a joint statement denouncing recent efforts by Israel to encourage Arab Christian youths to enlist in the IDF as a “Zionist conspiracy aiming not only to divide and weaken the Arab ranks, but also to push Christians to leave their original land.” The Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Atallah Hanna, told The Jordan Times last week that “we reject a policy that forces our children to hold weapons and oppress and kill their own people.”

Ukraine

Ukraine launched Friday what appeared to be a major assault against pro-Russian forces in the country’s east. Three deaths were reported in early fighting, including a Ukrainian pilot and a serviceman who were killed when two helicopters were shot down near the city of Slovyansk. The intensification of clashes led Moscow to warn that any hope of implementing the Geneva agreements was now all but over. Ukraine resumed a military offensive against pro-Russian forces in the country’s east on Saturday, as military observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who were held for more than a week were released.

Ukraine’s prime minister on Sunday visited the city where a horrific blaze killed dozens of pro-Russian demonstrators during political riots — seeking to defuse mounting tensions by calling the deaths a “tragedy for all Ukraine.” Arseniy Yatsenyuk said police were being investigated for their failure to maintain order in Friday’s violence, while hinting strongly that he sees Moscow’s hand in the events. More than 40 people died in the unrest — some from gunshot wounds, but most in a fire that tore through a trade union building. Outrage over the deaths of pro-Russian activists in riots in Odessa triggered new violence Sunday in the Black Sea port, where a mob of protesters stormed police headquarters and reportedly freed 67 of their jailed allies.

Syria

Fierce fighting around Syria’s contested northern province of Aleppo killed at least 21 rebels on Monday as rockets slammed into a government-held district in the provincial capital, killing nine people. Meanwhile, a Syrian court said on Sunday it had accepted requests from President Bashar al-Assad and two other candidates to be nominated to run in a presidential election next month. Assad’s challengers are unlikely to pose a serious threat to the president in the June 3 vote, which his international opponents and the rebels fighting to overthrow him have dismissed as a farce. Authorities have not yet said how they will conduct the vote in a country where six million people have been displaced and large swathes of territory remain outside government control.

Nigeria

International pressure on Nigeria is mounting with protesters taking to the streets around the world to demand the rescue of hundreds of schoolgirls abducted by the terror group Boko Haram. From Los Angeles to London, demonstrators carried posters reading #BringBackOurGirls — a campaign that began on Twitter following the mass abduction of the girls in April. In Washington, protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to denounce what they described as a poor response by the Nigerian government to rescue the girls. The protests on Saturday came the same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to step up efforts to find the girls who were abducted April 16 from a school in Chibok, in the country’s rural northeast. A man claiming to be Boko Haram’s leader has said he’ll sell the more than 200 girls that the Islamist militant group abducted from a rural Nigerian school last month.

Kenya

Deadly explosions ripped through two passenger buses in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, on Sunday, killing at least three people and injuring a sixty-two others, twenty critically. Police are treating the incident as a terrorist attack. The buses were on Thika Highway, one near the Safari Park Hotel, the other near the Homeland Inn, when the explosions occurred.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake jolted Tokyo early Monday, rattling windows and nerves though there were no initial reports of major damage. Seventeen people were reported injured, some of them from falls as the quake struck. The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake at 5:18 a.m. local time. The quake was felt across a wide area of Japan, with the strongest shaking registered in central Tokyo. It was the strongest quake felt in the Japanese capital since the aftershocks of a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

A magnitude-6.0 earthquake rattled northern Thailand on Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The quake struck 17 miles southwest of the town of Chiang Rai, the USGS said. Tall buildings swayed in the Thai capital of Bangkok, 500 miles to the south. The quake also was felt in Yangon, the capital of neighboring Myanmar. There has been minor damage to buildings in Chiang Rai, while some shops have goods scattered about.

Wildfires

National Guard helicopters were being called out Monday to help battle a wildfire that has consumed 3,000 acres in central Oklahoma, destroyed at least 6 homes and killed at least one person. The unidentified victim did not want to leave his home in Guthrie during the evacuations. Fire officials says that the blaze, which started from a controlled burn that got out of hand, is 75 per cent contained, on the south, west and east but still threatens at least 150 homes to the north of the burn area.

Landslides

Rescuers and hundreds of residents from nearby areas are trying to help people in a small village in northeastern Afghanistan hit by a massive landslide. The United Nations on Friday said at least 350 people were killed while the provincial governor said as many as 2,000 people were feared missing. A second landslide buried hundreds of rescuers. Officials declared on Saturday that the site a mass grave holding thousands of people after they found that digging for bodies in 50 meters of mud and rock was impossible.

Families evacuated from their Charles Village homes in Baltimore after a street collapse could be looking at a long nightmare ahead. About 20 people have been out of their homes since Wednesday, when a retaining wall buckled on 26th Street, sending cars and mud tumbling 75 feet onto CSX railroad tracks. The city said the people could be out of their homes as long as 40 days, as inspectors try to figure out what went wrong. Crews will begin stabilizing the area in a process that will take 8 to 10 days.

Weather

The first triple-digit temperatures of the year were recorded in parts of the Plains states, and more heat is on the way over the next few days in the Plains and Deep South. The sudden change of seasons is a particularly cruel turn for Wichita, Kansas, where three-tenths of an inch of snow fell on April 14, its second-latest measurable snow on record (behind April 23 just last year). Now, just 20 days later, the city has recorded its earliest 100-degree day in history. Sunday marked the first time Wichita had ever gone above 100 before the start of June. Other record highs are possible across much of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, as well as parts of the Southeast through Tuesday.

Signs of the Times (5/1/14)

May 1, 2014

May 1st is National Day of Prayer

Today, May 1st, is the National Day of Prayer.  To find an event in your city, click here. Thankfully, the Department of Defense is allowing uniformed soldiers to attend the National Day of Prayer events in Washington DC, ignoring ridiculous complaints by anti-Christian groups that soldiers are not allowed to express their Christian faith while in uniform. “The U.S. military has no plans to back out of a National Day of Prayer event after being urged by a prominent activist group to withdraw,” reports ChristianNews.net. According to Stars & Stripes, the military has “no plans to withdraw from the gathering, which has been observed annually via the National Day of Prayer Task Force for over the past two decades.”

Obama’s Muslim Appointees Hold High Security Positions

According to FreedomOutpost.com, President Obama has placed individuals who represent, or are a part of, the Muslim Brotherhood into high security positions. These include:

  • Arif AlikhanAssistant Secretary for Policy Development for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Alikhan was responsible for derailing the LAPD’s efforts to monitor activities within the city’s Muslim community, where numerous radical mosques and madrassas were known to exist, and where some of the 9/11 hijackers had received support from local residents.
  • Mohammed Elibiary Homeland Security Adviser.  Elibiary is an Islamic Cleric, Elibiary was a guest speaker at a December 2004 conference in Dallas, titled “A Tribute to the Great Islamic Visionary,” which was held in honor of the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Elibiary defended the profoundly anti-American early Muslim Brotherhood leader and theorist Sayyid Qutb.
  • Imam Mohamed Magid Obama’s Sharia Czar from the Islamic Society of North America. Magid accused the Bush administration of waging a “war against Islam and Muslims.” He was named to President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2011. Magid persuaded DHS to erase from its “Countering Violent Extremism” curriculum any suggestion that Muslim terrorism draws its inspiration from the laws and doctrines of Islam.

o   America is being undermined from within. For further appointees, go to: http://freedomoutpost.com/2014/04/sharia-advisers-barack-obamas-muslim-appointees/

Pro-Lifers Celebrate Victory in Historic Case

After 28 years of court battles — including three trips to the U.S. Supreme Court — a federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a Chicago-based pro-life group. On Tuesday, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals awarded $63,391 to the Pro-Life Action League. In his seven-page opinion, Judge Frank Easterbrook called the arguments presented by the abortion lawyers “preposterous.” The story began in 1986 when Joseph— president of Pro-Life Action League — urged pro-lifers to “shut down” the abortion industry via a national crusade. Abortion activist groups then filed a federal anti-trust “class action” claim on behalf of abortion sellers and women seeking abortions in the entire United States. They later amended their complaint to include claims against another pro-life group, Operation Rescue. They also added claims under the federal extortion and racketeering (RICO) laws. In these claims, they said that each pro-life “sit in” or “rescue” was a federal felony crime of extortion.

Maryland Lawmakers Push to Overturn Transgender ‘Bathroom Bill’

Two Maryland lawmakers are trying to overturn a recently passed transgender rights bill which they claim would allow men to walk freely into ladies’ restrooms. The lawmakers started a petition drive Tuesday to get the issue put on the November ballot and let voters decide. Legislator Kathy Szeliga said Wednesday she fully supports protecting the rights of transgender people, but the so-called “bathroom bill” could have been written in a better way to protect young girls and women. If signed, Maryland would join California in becoming the second state to have adopted such a law. It applies to accommodations in public and private places such as “hotels, restaurants, gas stations, movie theaters and sports arenas,” according to the bill, and would allow transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding with the gender they identify with. Critics argue this is written so loosely as to allow a man to waltz into a women’s bathroom simply by claiming he’s a woman — or vice versa.

U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Hear NDAA Legal Challenge

In refusing to hear a legal challenge to the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), the United States Supreme Court has affirmed that the President and the U.S. military can arrest and indefinitely detain individuals, including American citizens. By denying without comment a petition for review in Hedges v. Obama, the high court not only passed up an opportunity to overturn its 1944 Korematsu v. United States ruling allowing for the internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, but also let stand a lower court ruling empowering the President to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to indefinitely detain persons associated with or “suspected” of aiding terrorist organizations. “Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court has shown itself to be an advocate for the government, no matter how illegal its action, rather than a champion of the Constitution and, by extension, the American people,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.

  • Detention centers have already been built and now await a manufactured crisis to begin rounding up ‘dissidents” according to however the government chooses to define grounds for interment

Firearm Applications Increase 380% – Overwhelm ATF Registration System

Much to the chagrin of gun control advocates everywhere, a surge of firearm applications has overwhelmed the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Between 2005 and 2013, firearms act-related applications skyrocketed by more than 380 percent to 200,000. According to the USA Today, the ATF said it was temporarily suspending parts of its computerized system to shore up capacity in part to process the required registrations. In an April 16 memo from ATF Deputy Assistant Director Marvin Richardson, the surge was said to contribute to a 70,000-application backlog, requiring the ATF to hire 15 additional people and to reassign 15 existing employees to combat the backlog.

WHO Sounds Alarm on Widespread ‘Superbug’ Infections

Disease-causing bacteria that resist antibiotic treatment are now widespread in every part of the world and have reached “alarming levels” in many areas, says the first global report on the issue from the World Health Organization. “The problem is so serious that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine,” says the report released Wednesday. “A post-antibiotic era – in which common infections and minor injuries can kill – is a very real possibility for the 21st century.” Thanks in part to antibiotic overuse and the dearth of new drugs, some bugs that were once easily curable now resist even the latest, most powerful antibiotics, the report says. For example, cases of gonorrhea that are untreatable with the latest cephalosporins have been found in Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Urinary tract infections with E. coli bacteria that resist treatment with fluoroquinolone antibiotics make up more than half of cases in many countries, the report says.

  • Pestilence will become widespread during the end-times: And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences. (Luke 21:11)

Good News/Bad News for U.S. Air Quality

The 2014 State of the Air report out Wednesday from the American Lung Association presents a good news/bad news mix showing improvements in America’s air quality compared with previous decades, but more recently an increase in ozone readings since its 2013 report. Bottom line, the association says, is that 147.6 million people live in areas where air quality remains unhealthy, almost 16 million more than the 2013 report. Particle and ozone pollution increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the 25 cities with the worst levels of year-round particle pollution, 18 had lower levels, while five recorded higher levels, and two cities stayed the same. Though some improved, all of the most polluted cities have year-round particle levels that violate health standards, according to the report. Ozone pollution was also worse as 22 of the 25 most polluted cities experienced more high-ozone days in 2010-2012 compared with 2009-2011.

Economic News

Initial claims for unemployment benefits rose for the third straight week to their highest level since late February, the Labor Department said Thursday. First-time claims last week reached a seasonally adjusted level of 344,000, up 14,000 from a week earlier. Claims have been climbing since early April when they reached a seven-year low of 301,000, but they remain well below their peak levels that were well over 600,000 a week in 2009. Jobless claims are a proxy for layoffs, so higher numbers could suggest a weakening labor market.

U.S. consumers ramped up spending in March at the fastest pace in 4½ years, a sign the economy is gaining momentum after its winter slowdown. The Commerce Department says consumer spending rose 0.9 percent, the largest gain since April 2009. Consumer activity accounts for 70% of the economy .Income rose 0.5% after rising 0.4% in February.

The nation’s gross domestic product in the first three months of 2014 increased at just a 0.1% annual pace, down from 2.6% in the fourth quarter, the government said Wednesday. That’s the weakest pace since late 2012. Consumer spending held up well despite the adverse weather, growing at a 3% annual rate, down from 3.3% in the fourth quarter. But business investment fell 2.1%, and spending on equipment tumbled 5.5%. Federal government spending ticked up 0.7%. Exports declined 7.6% as growth slowed in Europe and China.

Federal Reserve policymakers agreed Wednesday to continue winding down their stimulus program despite anemic first-quarter growth, noting that the slowdown was partly weather-related. In a statement after a two-day meeting, the Fed said it will reduce its monthly government bond purchases to $45 billion from $55 billion. The purchases are intended to hold down long-term interest rates and stimulate the economy.

After bouncing back smartly in 2012 and most of 2013 following the 2006-09 real estate crash, the housing market began slowing last fall. Although an unusually cold and snowy winter hindered activity early this year, home sales and starts were disappointing again in March, even in the West and South. Sharp increases in home prices in much of the USA, along with higher mortgage rates, have discouraged many house-hunters. Home inventories are at historically low levels. First-time home buyers, who traditionally drive home sales, remain saddled with student debt and face still-stringent lending standards.

Persecution Watch

A massive church was razed to the ground this week in Wenzhou, a coastal Chinese city nicknamed the “Jerusalem of the East” for its large Christian population. Local officials responsible for the demolition say the church was an illegal structure that was four times the permitted structure size. But Christian groups are concerned that the demolition signals an official campaign against religious organizations. The Sanjiang Church took 12 years and 30 million yuan ($4.7 million) to build, reports Chinese media. Its soaring spires were a symbol of worship in a city that is fifteen percent Christian. The church’s demolition on Monday was preceded by a month-long standoff between supporters of the church and local authorities, with supporters occupying the church to protest its destruction.

A study from Tel Aviv University released this week revealed a stunning increase in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe—up to 550 last year. The findings led Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, to sound the alarm. He stated, “The Jews in Europe have no future.” Dr. Mike Evans, head of the Jerusalem Prayer Team says, “Hatred of the Jewish people is not because there is a nation called Israel, and it is not confined to those living in Israel. This is an ancient evil we are confronting…and we must be strong and diligent as we stand in support of God’s Chosen People.”

A Palestinian Christian woman says she fled her hometown of Bethlehem and was granted political asylum in Britain due to threats on her life after she criticized Palestinian terrorism and expressed support for Israel’s right to exist. After traveling to Sweden in recent weeks where she gave a candid speech to students at Uppsala University, Christy said that her uncle threatened to kill her for endangering their family which still resides in Bethlehem. The women, who has identified herself as “Christy,” posted a 25-minute video on YouTube in which she detailed the extent of the persecution of Palestinian Christians as well as the incitement to violence, institutional corruption, and the second class status of women under Palestinian Authority rule.

Middle East

In a ruling which could have wide-ranging consequences for tourism and other sectors in Israel’s capital city, a fatwa (Moslem religious edict) was issued in Amman Jordan on Wednesday allowing Moslems around the world to visit the Al-Aksa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, despite the fact that Israel is in physical and political control of the area. Moslem religious authorities have long forbade visits to the Mosque by Moslems because they said it would amount to a sign of “normalization” with the Jewish State. But the new fatwa, issued by a conference entitled “The Way to Jerusalem” and attended by senior officials from the Moslem Brotherhood franchises in Israel and around the Middle East, was presented as part of a wider plan to end “the attack on Al-Aksa” by the Israelis.

Ukraine

President Obama announced on Monday that the United States is levying a new round of sanctions against Russia in response to their actions in Ukraine, striking against individuals and companies close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Seven Russian government officials, including two members of Putin’s inner circle, will be subject to an asset freeze and a U.S. visa ban, and 17 companies linked to Putin’s inner circle will be subject to an asset freeze. The European Union named another 15 people Tuesday who will face sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine, including a number of high-ranking Russian officials. The sanctions, which go into immediate effect, include asset freezes and travel bans.

In the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, makeshift barricades, concertina wire and masked men in camouflage greeted visitors to the regional administration building Wednesday. Seized by armed men Tuesday, the building in Ukraine’s restive Donetsk region is just the latest to fall under the control of pro-Russian militants. Ukraine’s police and security forces are “helpless” to quell unrest in two eastern regions bordering Russia and the goal now was to prevent the agitation from spreading to other territories, the country’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov said Wednesday. Russia has placed tens of thousands of troops near the border with Ukraine and Turchynov said the threat of a Russian invasion was real. He called on creating regional self-defense units throughout the country.

Syria

Dozens of children are among the latest victims of the Syrian civil war after barrel bombs fell on an elementary school Wednesday, dissidents said. Syrian forces dropped the bombs on an opposition-held area of Aleppo, the country’s largest city. More than 50 people were killed Tuesday in “terrorist” mortar and car bomb attacks in the Syrian cities of Damascus and Homs, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported. A car bombing in Homs’ al-Zahra neighborhood killed 36, SANA reported, citing an unnamed source in the area. Scores were injured in the attacks in the two cities, SANA said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group, also reported many casualties, including women and children, in the car bomb attack. The violence comes amid Syria’s three-year civil war pitting government forces against rebels trying to end the rule of al-Assad. The government refers to rebels as armed terrorists bent on destabilizing the country. More than 100,000 people, including many civilians, have been killed in the war.

Egypt

An Egyptian judge has sentenced to death more than 680 alleged supporters of the country’s ousted Islamist president over acts of violence and the murder of policemen in the latest mass trial in Egypt that included the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader. The case is linked to deadly riots that erupted in Minya and elsewhere in Egypt after security forces violently disbanded sit-ins held by Brotherhood supporters in Cairo last August. Hundreds were killed as part of a sweeping campaign against ousted President Mohammed Morsi’s supporters.

Iraq

Sunni militants in Iraq unleashed attacks against polling stations as soldiers and security forces cast ballots two days ahead of parliamentary selections, killing at least 32 people on Monday. The wave of attacks was an apparent attempt to derail the balloting process and to discourage the rest of the country’s 22 million registered voters from going to polls on Wednesday in the first nationwide elections since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces. The early balloting for police and soldiers is meant to free up the 1 million-strong military and security forces for Wednesday, so they can protect polling stations and voters. More than 9,000 candidates are vying for 328 seats in parliament, which is widely expected to be won by an alliance led by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Brunei

Brunei has become the first East Asian country to adopt sharia law, despite widespread condemnation from international human rights groups. The Islamic criminal law is set to include punishments such as flogging, dismemberment and death by stoning for crimes such as rape, adultery and sodomy. The religious laws will operate alongside the existing civil penal code. The oil-rich kingdom, located on the island of Borneo, has a population of just 412,000 people. The country already follows a more conservative Islamic rule than neighboring Muslim-dominated countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, and has implemented strict religiously-motivated laws, such as the banning of the sale of alcohol.

Kenya

A new law that went into effect in Kenya this week makes it legal for a man to marry as many women as he wants. And a leading women’s group is applauding it. President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the polygamy measure into law Tuesday, formally recognizing what has long been a cultural practice in the nation. Parliament passed the bill in March despite protests from female lawmakers who angrily stormed out of the late-night session at the time. The Federation of Women Lawyers, a powerful women’s rights group, applauded aspects of the bill and criticized others. The bill, the group said, is long overdue because polygamous unions were previously not regarded as equal to regular marriages. “We are happy with the law because finally all marriages are being treated equally,” said Christine Ochieng, executive director of the federation.

Central African Republic

At least 22 people, including 15 local chiefs and three members of staff of the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières, were killed in an attack on a town in the Central African Republic. Four people were killed as the assailants approached the town but most died when Seleka rebels went to an MSF-run health clinic in search of money. The attack took place while local chiefs were holding a meeting there and the gunmen opened fire when some of the chiefs tried to run away. The attack on Saturday was in Nanga Boguila, about 450 km (280 miles) north of the capital Bangui. Some 2,000 French and over 5,000 African peacekeepers are struggling to halt waves of violence that have gripped the country over the last 18 months.

Wildfires

Mandatory evacuations were lifted Wednesday for nearly 1,700 homes in the path of a wildfire near Rancho Cucamonga, California, but fire officials urged some residents to keep on an eye on the wind-whipped blaze. Four schools — a high school, intermediate school and two elementary schools — were evacuated, and a temporary evacuation center has been established in Rancho Cucamonga. While mandatory evacuations were lifted, a voluntary evacuation remained in effect for neighborhoods within possible range of the fire.

Weather

The heaviest rain has ended in the Northeast, but investigators and cleanup crews continue to deal with landslides in two separate states. The larger of the two happened in Baltimore’s busy Charles Village neighborhood Wednesday, when a retaining wall buckled on 26th Street, sending cars and mud tumbling 75 feet onto CSX railroad tracks. No one was injured but homes were evacuated so investigators could assess the area’s stability. The wet weather is also blamed for a mudslide on Metro-North train tracks in Yonkers, New York. A retaining wall collapsed Wednesday evening, sending debris onto the tracks. Metro-North told commuters on the Hudson Line to expect delays Thursday morning.

Torrential rain from a pair of thunderstorm clusters triggered major flash flooding along parts of the Alabama Gulf Coast and the Florida Panhandle late Tuesday and early Wednesday. Authorities blamed the flooding for one death in Pensacola, Florida. Residents were reportedly stranded in cars and homes, waiting for rescuers to find a way around impassable roads while others abandoned vehicles to walk to safety. A 10-mile stretch of Interstate 10 was flooded and closed from the Alabama state line into western Florida on Wednesday morning. Several roads were also closed throughout Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Many homes were flooded and fire rescue crews weren’t able to respond to some calls for help because of road flooding in and around Pensacola. Emergency officials described it was the worst flooding they had seen in 30 years with more than 20 inches of rain reported in some areas.

At least 11 people were killed after tornadoes touched down in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, bringing the overall death toll from three days of severe weather to at least 35. At least five tornadoes were reported to have touched down in North Carolina Tuesday evening. As of 7:45 a.m. CDT Wednesday, the Storm Prediction Center had received 613 reports of severe weather since 7 a.m. Sunday, including 116 reports of tornadoes.