Signs of the Times (6/30/14)

Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Decision Is a Victory for Christian Businesses Owners

Monday’s 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., is a victory for Christian business owners, who will now be protected from unconstitutional government mandates forcing them to compromise their religious convictions in their business practices and policies. The decision invalidates the birth control mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which directs businesses to provide birth control coverage to their employees. Faith-based businesses, religious schools and churches are exempt, but the mandate did not provide allowances for secular businesses that are owned by Christians whose religious beliefs may go against the mandate. The American Family Association notes, “With God’s help, Hobby Lobby took a bold step for all Christian-owned businesses in America and emerged victorious. From the start, this case was about whether the government could blatantly ignore the constitutionally-protected right to the free exercise of religion and force people of faith to violate their deeply held religious convictions.”

Boy Scouts to March in NYC Gay Pride Parade

This past Sunday, New York City held its 44th Annual NYC Pride March down Manhattan’s 5th Avenue. They were expecting around 14,000 people to march in the gay pride event. For the first time in history, a number of Boy Scouts from the New York area marched in the parade that some commentators refer to as the Sodom and Gomorrah Parade. According to the notice posted on GLAAD’s website (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation): “Three generations of Boy Scouts — gay and straight — will be on hand and in uniform at nation’s oldest and largest LGBT Pride event, where they will present the American flag during the national anthem and subsequently serve as Color Guard during the march.”

  • Such things shouldn’t be a surprise any more as we accelerate our end-time march to the Great Tribulation and the return of Jesus Christ to rule and reign on earth.

Pattern of Mistakes Overlooked at Military Hospitals

An examination by The New York Times of the sprawling United States military hospital system — entirely separate from the scandal-plagued veterans system — has found persistent lapses in patient care that have led to severe injuries and deaths. Internal documents obtained by The Times also depict a system in which such avoidable errors are chronic but scrutiny is at best sporadic. The country’s military hospitals care for 1.6 million active-duty service members and their families. More than 50,000 babies are born at military hospitals each year, and they are twice as likely to be injured during delivery as newborns nationwide. In surgery, half of the system’s 16 largest hospitals had higher than expected rates of complications.

Economic News

After accounting for inflation, consumer spending dipped 0.1% in May after falling 0.2% in April, the Commerce Department said. The feeble spending has prompted many analysts to cast doubt on the much-anticipated acceleration in growth this year.

The recent run-up in gasoline prices will make the Fourth of July weekend the costliest for motorists since 2008. Prices will average about $3.68 a gallon for regular grade gas, up 17 cents from last year but well below the all-time $4.11 record set just after July 4, 2008. Rising crude oil prices have been driving an unseasonably early summer run-up on retail gas prices, mostly on continued fears of political unrest in Iraq.

Since the late 1970s, we’ve seen an explosion in executive pay. CEO pay has risen 725% since 1978, whereas pay for the standard employee has only gone up around 10%.A new study shows that companies with the highest-paid CEOs tend to perform worse in the long run. The study found that companies that pay CEOs in the top 10% earned an average of negative 8% profit over the next few years.

Persecution Watch

Hitting “like” on Facebook has landed a Christian man in Egypt in jail for six years. Kerolos Shawky was sentenced Tuesday to six years in prison and fined the equivalent of $840 on charges of blasphemy and contempt of Islam for simply “liking” the Facebook page ‘Knights of the Cross’, according to International Christian Concern (ICC). Kerolos was convicted by the Egyptian court of violating Article 98(f) of the Egyptian Penal Code, which prohibits “ridiculing, or insulting heavenly religions or inciting sectarian strife.” Ironically, it was the public accusations against Kerolos which actually incited local violence as Christian shops and homes were vandalized and set afire.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported that up to 10,000 Christians have fled northern Iraq since ISIS began its takeover of the predominantly Christian region. Violence and gunfire in the area has prompted civilians to flee Qaraqosh as quickly as possible; most refugees bring few belongings. “They have no access to showers and there is no air conditioning. They are living in classrooms where daytime temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit),” said a UNHCR spokesperson. Some refugees need medical treatment and lack access to doctors.

Middle East

Communities bordering the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in southern Israel were under fire from a large barrage of at least 16 rockets Monday morning, following a weekend in which several Israelis were wounded and a factory in Sderote was destroyed by rocket fire. Retaliatory strikes by Israeli aircraft reportedly killed a Hamas operative on Sunday. “We know unequivocally that the terrorist killed in the strike was preparing to fire rockets,” an IDF source said. Although it is not clear if Hamas or smaller terrorist groups are firing most of the rockets, the source added that since Hamas is the de facto controlling element in the Strip, it is ultimately responsible for all rocket fire into the Jewish State. Meanwhile, IDF units have been ordered to assemble in the South as rumors swirl about an imminent ground incursion into the Strip.

Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will decide by 3 p.m. today whether to extend a shaky cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels in the country’s east, as European leaders press Russia to help de-escalate the simmering conflict. Poroshenko is pressing for the fulfillment of conditions to move forward with a peace plan to end the conflict that has killed more than 400 people. Those conditions include the return of control points on the border with Russia to Ukrainian control and the entrance of international monitors to verify the cease-fire. European leaders have pressed Russia to help de-escalate the situation or face the possibility of additional economic sanctions.

Iraq

Emboldened by a weakened Iraqi government that is struggling to stop their murderous advance, the extremists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria declared over the weekend that they have set up a caliphate spanning large areas of the two countries. The group said in the message Sunday that its flag now flies from Aleppo province in northwestern Syria to Diyala province in eastern Iraq. It announced that it was changing its name to just the “Islamic State.” The group called on Muslims to swear allegiance to the caliphate, which means Islamic state.

Iraq’s government touted its military offensive to recapture Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit from extremists, with some officials taking to state-run television over the weekend to declare the army had defeated ISIS. But residents in the city nestled along the Tigris River, about 87 miles northwest of Baghdad, gave a different account on Sunday. A large number of people have fled Tikrit for smaller villages to the north, according to witnesses, who say Iraqi forces are battling ISIS on the southern edge of the city.

Afghanistan

In one of the most significant coordinated assaults on the government in years, the Taliban have attacked police outposts and government facilities across several districts in northern Helmand Province, sending police and military officials scrambling to shore up defenses and heralding a troubling new chapter as coalition forces prepare to depart, reports the New York Times. The attacks have focused on the district of Sangin, historically an insurgent stronghold and one of the deadliest districts in the country for the American and British forces who fought for years to secure it. The Taliban have mounted simultaneous attempts to conquer territory in the neighboring districts of Now Zad, Musa Qala and Kajaki. In the past week, more than 100 members of the Afghan forces and 50 civilians have been killed or wounded in fierce fighting. With a deepening political crisis in Kabul already casting the presidential election and long-term political stability into doubt, the Taliban offensive presents a new worst-case situation for Western officials: an aggressive insurgent push that is seizing territory even before American troops have completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Earthquakes

A moderate earthquake struck in Arizona near the New Mexico line that was widely felt across the region, but no injuries or damages were immediately reported. County sheriffs’ offices on both sides of the state line reported receiving numerous phone calls after Saturday’s magnitude 5.2 quake shook the largely rural region. Arizona residents in Graham County, Safford, Tucson, Gilbert, Mesa, Chandler and other areas have reported feeling the tremor. It was felt as far away as Phoenix and El Paso, Texas, both about 175 miles from the epicenter.

Wildfires

Firefighters are beginning to make progress on a wildfire burning in eastern Arizona that forced evacuations and torched nearly 9 square miles of land. Fire officials say as many as 90 structures have been threatened by the wildfire. Even though the fire continues to grow, firefighters have been busy setting perimeter lines during burnout operations that will help contain the blaze. The blaze is now 5 percent contained and the other edges of the fire are “very secure.” While the heat and low humidity continue, winds will be less of a headache the next few days, generally on the order of 10 mph or so. The fire is about 135 miles northeast of Phoenix, near the New Mexico line. It’s wedged between areas heavily damaged by the Wallow and Rodeo fires, two of the largest fires in Arizona history.

The Oak Fire, currently burning about 10,700 acres southwest of Safford in the Galiuro Mountains, has reached five percent containment, but officials expect the fire to grow despite active fire prevention efforts. The fire is expected to grow southwest of its current location toward Tucson in the Rattlesnake Creek, Corral Canyon and Paddy’s River areas. The majority of the flames are of a low intensity and the fire is being managed until a monsoonal weather pattern settles into the area, which will greatly aid in the extinguishing of the fire.

Weather

A cluster of slow-moving thunderstorms triggered flash flooding in the Memphis metro area and parts of eastern Arkansas that forced some residents out of their homes Sunday. Two to three feet of water flooded underpasses along the I-240 to the I-40 corridor. Multiple cars were reported stranded in Shelby County, including areas of east Memphis, Germantown and Cordova. Flooding in parts of Shelby County has forced some residents to evacuate their homes. Firefighters rescued seven residents from a mobile home park after rising water got inside their trailers.

The sea ice coverage around Antarctica over the weekend marked a record high, with the ice surrounding the continent measuring at 2.07 million square kilometers, according to an environmentalist and author who says the ice there has actually been increasing since 1979 despite continued warnings of global warming. The new record was posted for the first time by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s online record, The Cryosphere Today. “The previous record anomaly for Southern Hemisphere sea ice area was 1.840 million square kilometers and occurred on December 20, 2007,” said Harold Ambler, a journalist and author of the book “Don’t Sell Your Coat: Surprising Truths About Climate Change.

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