Signs of the Times (6/3/14)

Arizona Grads Open/Close Ceremony in Prayer

When an Arizona school district decided to stop allowing any formal prayer at commencement ceremonies, Pima High School students took matters into their own hands at their graduation last week. Senior student, Esperanza Gonzalez volunteered to open her school’s ceremony with a prayer, and Calleigh Summers ended the event with a benediction. Fellow students bowed their heads and prayed with the two, and afterward, broke into cheers. “The world keeps saying, ‘No to God, no to God,'” Esperanza told the Eastern Arizona Courier. “So, we said ‘Yes’ to God, because He has helped us throughout our entire high school career.” The superintendent of Pima Unified School District noted that the decision to disallow formal prayer was made at the advice of legal counsel, but he added, “The fact that the students here at Pima High School felt that they wanted to show their true colors, as it were, by saying a prayer at the beginning and end of their graduation ceremony makes me very proud,” reported the Center for Arizona Policy.

Over 40 Percent Of Americans Believe In Creationism

42% of Americans hold the creationist belief that God created humanity as it currently exists a mere 10,000 years ago, according to a Gallup poll from May 2014. The Gallup data shows that a distinct majority of Americans have held the belief that God played a role in human origins since they first started the survey in 1982. The percentage of Americans who believe that God created humans 10,000 years ago has only decreased by 2 percentage points in thirty-two years while the figures rose from 9% to 19% for people who don’t believe that God had anything to do with evolution at all. The religious and educational backgrounds of survey respondents correlated strongly with their answers as well as age. More religious people were dramatically more likely to indicate that they believed in creationism, as well as people over the age of sixty-five. Higher levels of education corresponded with a stronger belief that God was not involved with creation, but over 25% of college graduates do believe in creationism, according to the study.

  • Science has relentlessly been attacking the role of God in humanity’s development. However, it takes more faith to believe that life as we know it evolved on its own from chemical soup than it does to believe that there is an intelligence (God) behind it all.

Southern Baptists Report Dismal Numbers of Baptized Millennials

Southern Baptist baptisms have dropped for the seventh year in a row, according to reports. This year there were only about 310,300 baptisms, but findings also discovered that 80 percent of churches reported only one or zero baptisms among ages 18 to 29. “The problem is even greater than these numbers indicate,” a task force report from a group of pastors said. “Considering how the North American population has increased substantially between the 1950s’ baptism peak and today, these figures indicate how much ground we have lost and are losing.”

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

VA Audit: Staff Routinely Falsified Records to Collect Bonuses

Before offering his resignation Friday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki presented President Barack Obama with a damning audit that paints the VA health-care system as bound by unrealistic expectations and a culture that pressures appointment schedulers to falsify data tied to performance bonuses. “The misconduct has not been limited to a few VA facilities but many across the country,” Obama said as he announced his acceptance of the secretary’s resignation. The reviews and the resulting firestorm that has spread from Phoenix to Washington was sparked in April by a whistle-blower, Dr. Sam Foote, a former Phoenix VA physician. He disclosed improper scheduling schemes and secret lists that caused veterans to wait months for medical appointments. Foote said at least 40 patients may have died while waiting for care.

  • So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; It takes away the life of its owners. (Proverbs 1:19)
  • For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1Timothy 6:10)

Did the U.S. Just Release 5 Jihadists and Get a Jihad Convert in Trade?

President Obama ordered the release of five Gitmo detainees in trade for the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from his Taliban captors in Afghanistan. “But on second look – did we get one jihad convert for the release of five jihadists?” asks ConservativeByte.com. Here’s a mighty strange tweet from the father of Bowe Bergdahl (that has since been deleted): “I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, amen!” Bergdahl fellow soldiers say he wasn’t captured but simply walked off the base. Six American soldiers were subsequently killed searching for Bergdahl. Many are calling for a court martial hearing upon Bergdahl’s return to the U.S. The president is facing heavy criticism from Congress for negotiating the release of the “Taliban Dream Team” and for proceeding with the prisoner swap without telling lawmakers in advance. The leader of the Taliban released a statement on the exchange saying, “We shall thank almighty for this great victory. The sacrifice of our Mujahedin [fighters] have resulted in the release of our senior leaders from the hand of the enemy.”

  • Not only did the Obama team negotiate with terrorists, violating a foundational U.S. principle, but they released five hardcore terrorists to gain back a treasonous terrorist, a lose/lose outcome

EPA Carbon Rules Could Speed U.S. Shift from Coal

The Obama administration’s historic proposal to reduce carbon emissions from U.S. power plants, announced Monday, could accelerate the nation’s shift from coal to natural gas and renewable energy. Aimed at fighting climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency rules will require states to develop and implement plans to cut power plant emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. They will give states a range of options to comply, including the trading of pollution credits. Critics, however, say they could drive up electricity prices and shutter plants nationwide. Thwarted by Congress’ inability to pass a bill to lower U.S. carbon emissions, President Obama is pushing forward his own approach that could become one of the signature achievements of his administration. “This is a colossal proposal that should achieve the biggest carbon pollution reductions ever undertaken by the United States,” says Daniel J. Weiss of the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank with close ties to the White House. The EPA estimates that the new rules would cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030

Healthcare Costs to Skyrocket?

Some alarming statistics from the nation’s first economic quarter under Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) has left some economists predicting sharply higher health-insurance to come. Healthcare spending increased by 9.9% in the first quarter versus the 5.3% average increase over recent decades, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. In addition, only 28% of those enrolling in Obamacare were between 18 and 34 years of age, well below the 40% needed to keep premiums from skyrocketing. Once insurance companies adjust to these circumstances, some economists say costs will continue to rise at above average rates for some time.

Medicare Logjam Threatens Senior Healthcare

Fifty-one top medical organizations have written a letter to federal officials protesting a Medicare appeals backlog that now numbers more than 357,000 cases. Healthcare providers and patients whose claims have been rejected often have to wait more than two years before their appeals are heard by administrative law judges. Many of these payment denials are reversed on appeal. Some physician groups also blame the red tape for the accelerating flight of doctors out of the Medicare system altogether.

World on the Verge of a Sixth Great Extinction?

Earth is on a collision course with yet another great extinction if humans don’t their act together, according to a new study released by a team of nine international scientists. Previous mass extinctions, including the one that killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, didn’t involve humans, but this potential die-off seems entirely dependent upon the action, and resulting inaction, of humans to curtail environmentally destructive behavior, maintain the authors. The study found that Earth’s species are disappearing exponentially quicker than ever before thanks to a variety of human catalysts, including habitat loss, overfishing, climate change and the introduction of invasive species. According to researchers, species are disappearing at least 1,000 times faster than the pre-human or “natural rate.” Such a drastic increase in species extinction rates has largely been brought upon by human factors, in particular, habitat loss. As the human population grows, people continue to infringe upon, and destroy, habitat vital to the survival of many species.

  • The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died. (Revelation 8:7-9)

Common Core Costs Uncommonly High

The Common Core educational standards are proving to be uncommonly expensive for states to implement, costing up to $16 billion some educational experts contend. California is slated to spend up to $35 million per year just in testing, according to FoxNews.com. Accountability Works estimates that the cost to states will be $15.9 billion over the first seven years, comprised of: $6.9 billion for computers; $5.3 billion for teacher training; $2.5 billion for revised textbooks; and $1.24 billion for testing. Supports say Common Core will elevate the quality of U.S. education by eliminating state-by-state variations. Thedor Rebarber, founder of Accountability Works, says Common Core gives federal authorities too much power over how the states elect to teach children. “For the first time in this country, states are giving up the final say on what their children will learn. That’s never been true before.”

  • Converting the public school system into secular-humanist indoctrination centers is an expensive process funded by unwitting taxpayers.

America’s Growing Housing Affordability Gap

When it comes to buying a home, America’s affordability gap is growing ever wider. For the typical American household earning the median income, 65.5% of homes were affordable during the first quarter, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Wells Fargo Bank’s Housing Affordability Index. But in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Denver, where prices are soaring, it’s much more difficult for the average earner to afford a home. In San Francisco — the most expensive metro market in the nation with a median home price of $815,000 — only 13.3% of homes could be purchased comfortably by households earning the median income of $100,000 in that area. That was down from 28.9% in 2013. Meanwhile, the most affordable U.S. cities tend to be in the Midwest and Northeast, predominantly in old industrial towns where the economy is no longer expanding and there is plenty of land to build on. In Syracuse, N.Y, For example, nearly 94% of homes could be comfortably paid for by a family earning the median income.

NC Ends Long-Term Unemployment Benefits, Sees Unemployment Rate Drop

When North Carolina cut off extended unemployment benefits, so-called experts predicted an economic tailspin. However, in just eight months the unemployment rate dropped from 8.9% to 6.4%. NC Governor at McCrory told Newsmax that, “We’ve had the largest drop of unemployment in the country and the major variable is the decision we made on unemployment.” He says people stopped being so picky about their employment, and were willing to accept whatever job the marketplace offered them.

Economic News

It’s been five years since the Great Recession officially ended but most people aren’t celebrating the recovery. The majority of Americans still rate economic conditions as “poor” reports CNN. The jobs recovery is the slowest on record, wages are barely rising, home prices are still below their peak and more Americans are using food stamps than ever before.

Just 36% of Americans under the age of 35 own a home, according to the Census Bureau. That’s down from 42% in 2007. Student loan debt, tight lending standards and stiff competition have made it next to impossible for many of these younger Americans to make the leap. Many Millennials simply can’t come up with the hefty 20% down payments. Others don’t have good enough credit to qualify for loans.

A monthly gauge of U.S. consumer sentiment fell in May as a gloomy view on income growth clouded an otherwise positive economic outlook, a survey released on Friday showed. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s final May reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment came in at 81.9, down from 84.1 the month before.

Seattle City Council voted Monday to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, the highest in the nation. The plan, which includes a lower training wage aimed at teenagers, will phase in the higher, local minimum over three to seven years, depending on the size of the business and benefits they provide employees. Next April 1, when the plan takes effect, every worker will get at least a $1-an-hour raise. City officials estimate that about a quarter of workers earn less than $15 an hour. Full-time work at that rate translates to about $31,000 a year.

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture predicts that farm profits will fall 36% this year from the 2013 figure of $130.5 billion. Falling prices for corn and soybeans are the main reason. Overall, farmers have done well over the past few years with total net income increasing 90% from 2006 through 2011.

Propelled by a soaring stock market, the media pay package for CEOs rose above eight figures ($10 million) for the first time last year. The head of a S&P’s 500 company earned a record median of $10.5 million, up from $9.6 million in 2012.

Persecution Watch

In their annual report about Christian persecution, Open Doors found that Christian martyr deaths doubled worldwide in 2013 to 2123 killings compared with 1,201 in 2012. In Syria alone there were 1,213 such deaths last year, but Syria is ranked as just the third worst persecutor. Once again, the worst persecutor of Christians is North Korea where as many as 100,000 Christians are held captive in prison camps where prisoners are often abused and are sometimes executed.

A South Korean missionary has been sentenced to life in a North Korean prison for attempting to organize underground churches. Kim Jung-wook admitted to committing religious acts against North Korea during his trial on Friday. He will now serve a life sentence of hard labor in prison. Kim also assisted people illegally leaving North Korea for several years. In 2012, Chinese authorities caught 12 illegal immigrants that Kim was aiding in escape, and returned them to North Korea.

Middle East

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas established a unity government Monday in a major step toward ending a seven-year rift between rival factions Hamas and Fatah. The two sides negotiated until the last minute on Monday over the composition of the Cabinet. The move will increase friction with Israel, which has made clear it will reject the new government. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday warned against any international rush to recognize the newly instituted Palestinian government. Israel and the West classify Hamas as a terrorist organization and have no official dealings with the movement, which advocates the anniilation of the Jewish state.

Ukraine

Five militants were killed in the volatile eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk on Monday after they took part in a large coordinated assault Monday on a border guard base. The attacks began early Monday morning when least 100 militants tried to storm the border unit on the southern edge of the city. The guards repulsed the first few attacks, but then the militants changed positions and began to shoot from inside nearby buildings where local people live, Border guards were refraining from returning fire because they didn’t want to cause civilian casualties. The separatist unrest that has gripped Ukraine in recent weeks has been centered in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Syria

In the midst of a bloody and protracted civil war, the Syrian government is set to hold a presidential election Tuesday. The outcome is hardly in doubt: President Bashar al-Assad is almost guaranteed to emerge victorious in a vote that opposition groups and many Western countries say will be rigged from the start. Some analysts say the purpose of this week’s vote, which U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the Syrian government not to hold, is to send a message to al-Assad’s opponents, both in Syria and abroad. The election is being held against the backdrop of a grinding three-year conflict that has killed around 150,000 people, displaced about 6.5 million people within Syria and prompted almost 3 million people to flee outside its borders. Voting will only take place in areas controlled by the regime. Rebels hold significant areas of the north and east of the country.

Spain

Spain’s King Juan Carlos unexpectedly stepped down Monday in favor of his son Crown Prince Felipe, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced in a nationwide television broadcast. The abdication 39 years after Juan Carlos ascended to the throne, a period when the king oversaw Spain’s transition to democracy in the wake of the nation’s notorious dictator Francisco Franco, comes as corruption scandals have dogged the royal family and the monarchy has seen renewed calls for its disbandment. Juan Carlos has enjoyed high popularity for decades but in the past few years his approval ratings fell sharply after a series of personal blunders.

Nigeria

The radical Islamist terror group Boko Haram claimed the lives of 40 this weekend in a bombing near a soccer stadium in northeast Nigeria, though not without losing some of its own in an attack by Cameroon forces. The attack, which appears to have targeted fans leaving a soccer game, killed dozens, including women and children who attended the game. It also appears that militants may have been targeting a military base in the area, home to Nigeria’s Special Operations Battalion. The Tribune adds that Boko Haram seems to have been especially active this past weekend in northeast Borno state, its home base, attacking remote villages.

While the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria has been compromised, both by the violent nature of the organization and reports that Boko Haram militants have infiltrated high enough levels of Nigerian law enforcement to make targeting the group difficult, Cameroon’s forces successfully attacked a group of Boko Haram militants this weekend. Boko Haram militants clashed with security forces in a lethal interaction that Reuters reports killed 40 militants. That attack, according to Cameroon state radio, followed “the release of two Italian priests and a Canadian nun suspected to have been held by the Islamist group.”

Earthquakes

A moderately strong earthquake in southwestern China has injured 45 people and forced thousands to seek shelter in an area near the border with Myanmar. Residents fled buildings during last Friday’s quake and students evacuated schools that had already been damaged by another quake in the same area of Yunnan province the prior week. Eight people were seriously injured, and 184, 678 were moved to more than four dozen temporary shelters. The quake in Dehong’s Yingjiang County was registered at magnitude 6.1 by China’s earthquake monitoring agency. The number of injured was much reduced because authorities had ordered the evacuation of buildings damaged following the previous week’s 5.6 magnitude quake.

Weather

At least nine people were killed in and around New Delhi, India, Friday when a rush hour dust storm and thunderstorm brought down trees and cut off power in the National Capital Region, throwing the commute into turmoil. Traffic jams were reported across the city. The dust was so thick, it blocked out the sun. Reported winds hit 90 mph, knocking out power and temporarily suspending metro service, stranding people in train stations and diverting flights.

At least five people were reported killed and 30 injured Monday evening when a freak dust storm rolled through Iran’s capital, Tehran. The storm brought winds that nearly reached 75 mph, according to Iran’s Press TV. It reported the storm plunged the city into darkness. Some flights were delayed at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport, but operations returned to normal when the storm passed.

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