Signs of the Times (5/23/14)

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.

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