Signs of the Times (7/14/14)

Pastors Banned from Comforting Unaccompanied Children in Border Detention Facilities

Churches and pastors have been banned from helping the thousands of unaccompanied children housed in border detention facilities run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Border Patrol told us pastors and churches are not allowed to visit,” Kyle Coffin, the pastor of CrossRoads Church in Tucson, Arizona told Starnes. “It’s pretty heartbreaking that they don’t let anybody in there — even credentialed pastors.” Baptist Child and Family Services of San Antonio, Texas were also denied access to the children. Congressman Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, planned to tour a detention center in Nogales but was turned away because his entourage included five clergy members.

Obama Rates Highest among U.S. Muslims, Lowest with Mormons

A new poll of religious groups shows that President Obama ranks highest with Muslims, and lowest among Mormons and Christian religions. The Gallup Poll reports Obama’s approval ratings among seven religious groups: Muslims (72%), other non-Christian religions (59%), Jewish (55%), atheists and other non-religious (54%), Catholics (44%), Protestants and other Christians (37%), and Mormons (18%). The report notes: “The United States remains a predominantly Christian nation, with roughly half of Americans identifying with a Protestant religion and another quarter identifying as Catholics. Thus, the opinions of these Christian groups are by far the most influential in determining Obama’s overall ratings.”

Flood Across Border Continues Unabated

Life jackets of all sizes and the occasional punctured raft are strewn along the banks of the Rio Grande, just south of Mission, Texas, where a relentless onslaught of illegal immigrants eagerly surrender to beleaguered Border Patrol agents around the clock, knowing that U.S. laws prevent their immediate return across the border. “You’re going to be out here a long time,” Fernando, an El Salvadoran child, told FoxNews.com shortly after surrendering to Border Patrol authorities after midnight Saturday. “There are thousands of us.” With most of the men and women charged with securing the Mexican border busy processing some of the 60,000 illegal immigrants who have made the harrowing journey to the American border in the past nine months, only a handful of Border Patrol agents patrol the porous border. Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have flocked to the U.S. in recent months, believing the Dream Act, as well as a 2008 law that grants an asylum hearing to any child not from a border nation, and the White House policy known as “prosecutorial discretion” means once they arrive, they’ll never have to go back.

  • The Obama administration has, wittingly or unwittingly, opened the floodgates and are doing virtually nothing to stem the tide.

Uninsured Rate Plummets under Obamacare

The number of Americans lacking health insurance has plummeted this year, two surveys released Thursday found. The reports — conducted by three major research organizations — aim to measure the early effect of Obamacare’s individual mandate. Urban Institute found that he uninsured rate fell to 13.9% in June, down from 17.4% at the end of last year. Some 8 million adults gained coverage. Gallup found that Americans lacking health coverage fell to 13.4% in the second quarter, down from 17.1% at the close of 2013. This is the lowest quarterly rate recorded since Gallup and Healthways began tracking the share of uninsured Americans in 2008. Some 8 million people signed up for coverage during Obamacare’s first open enrollment period, which ended March 31. It’s not known how many of these folks were previously uninsured. Another 6 million low-income Americans were added to the Medicaid rolls.

  • The problem with Obamacare is not that it failed to reach its objectives, but rather that it did indeed attain most of its objectives. It represents a major expansion of government intrusion into the private affairs of citizens and the market place, dramatically plunging the U.S. deeper into socialism.

C.D.C. Closes Anthrax and Flu Labs After Accidents

After potentially serious back-to-back laboratory accidents, federal health officials announced Friday that they had temporarily closed the flu and anthrax laboratories at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and halted shipments of all infectious agents from the agency’s highest-security labs, reports the New York Times. In one episode last month, at least 62 C.D.C. employees may have been exposed to live anthrax bacteria after potentially infectious samples were sent to laboratories unequipped to handle them. Employees not wearing protective gear worked with bacteria that were supposed to have been killed but may not have been. All were offered a vaccine and antibiotics, and the agency said it believed no one was in danger. In a second accident, disclosed Friday, a C.D.C. lab accidentally contaminated a relatively benign flu sample with a dangerous H5N1 bird flu strain that has killed 386 people since 2003. Fortunately, a United States Agriculture Department laboratory realized that the strain was more dangerous than expected and alerted the C.D.C.

  • If human beings are involved, accidents and corruption are sure to follow. Could our own labs be the source of end-time pestilence prophesied in Scripture?

VA Also Struggling with Benefits Paid to Veterans

The federal department responsible for caring for America’s veterans, already mired in scandal over delays in health care, continues struggling with another major responsibility: paying compensation to those wounded or injured or who grew ill from service in uniform. The written testimony provided by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in advance of a congressional hearing outlines several sloppy or improper steps taken by the Department of Veterans Affairs in processing compensation claims. They include potentially inflated success rate in reducing a controversial backlog and over-paying veterans by hundreds of millions of dollars. Compensation for injuries or wounds incurred during military service is one of the most costly programs within the VA, expected to be $73 billion paid out to veterans this year alone. The money accounts for about half the VA’s budget. Because of a new generation of veterans flowing out of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars along with greater access to compensation benefits provided to veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder or illnesses related to Agent Orange, the backlog of total compensation requests soared to more than 850,000 early last year. Processors completed nearly 1.2 million compensation requests last year and will complete a record 1.3 million this year.

Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Weakening Fast

Earth’s protective magnetic field has been weakening at a faster rate than expected, according to data from newly launched European Space Agency satellites. The finding may indicate that Earth’s poles will switch sooner than scientists thought. Because of the iron core at the Earth’s center, the planet produces a magnetic field that extends 370,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, according to LiveScience (the moon is 240,000 miles from earth). Studies on deep ocean cores have revealed that, on average, the poles reverse once every 200,000 to 300,000 years, according to NASA. It’s been about 780,000 years since the last flip. It was previously thought that the field was weakening by about 5 percent each century. But the new data shows a much more dramatic weakening, at a pace of 5 percent per decade. The observations confirm that magnetic north is moving southward, toward Siberia. Though a magnetic flip sounds dramatic, there is no evidence that it would cause any harm to life on Earth, according to scientists.

Economic News

New business formation is picking up in the U.S., early indicators show, as banks ease credit conditions and rising home and stock prices provide would-be entrepreneurs more investment assets. Business start-ups are vital to employment growth because they tend to add jobs at a much faster rate than other companies. . Approval rates of small business loans by big banks hit a post-recession high of 20% in June. About 4% of the approvals are for start-ups this year, up from 1% since the beginning of the recovery in 2009. New firms typically account for about half of total job gains during recoveries. Businesses with 19 or fewer employees have accounted for 27% of job gains since January 2013. The number of franchise locations launched by first-time franchisees is expected to rise to about 5,700 this year from 4,700 in 2013

A government watchdog agency said an estimated $106 billion in payments were made in error last year: meaning they were the wrong amount, went to the wrong person or lacked sufficient documentation. These payments include tax refunds, unemployment benefits, Social Security benefits, and Medicare and Medicaid coverage. The improper payments could be even higher since not all agencies reported to the Government Accountability Office. The White House acknowledged that “the loss to the Federal Government is significant,” but it pointed to a declining overall error rate: Just 3.5% from 5% in 2009.

Citigroup has agreed to pay $7 billion as part of a landmark settlement with the Justice Department for misdeeds associated with the sale of mortgage-backed securities tied to the 2008 financial crisis. The agreement includes a $4 billion penalty, which is the largest penalty of its kind. The company will pay $500 million to state attorneys general and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The remaining $2.5 billion will go to help consumers struggling with mortgages and other problems from the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Hispanics make up 16.3% of the U.S. population, but own only 2.2% of its wealth. Hispanic households amassed $109,000 in wealth, on average, compared to $495,000 for all households in 2010, according to a recent report by St. Louis Federal Reserve researchers. Hispanics also carry more debt than the average American family, putting them on shakier financial footing. Much of this stems from higher levels of mortgage debt.

Persecution Watch

As militants tear through Iraq, Christians are being forced out of their homes to escape the violence. Newsweek reports that the Christian population in Iraq has dropped dramatically from 1.5 million in 2003 to 400,000 today. Last month, Sunni militants overtook the city of Mosul, sending Christians running for their lives. Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako said, “The next days will be very bad. If the situation does not change, Christians will be left with just a symbolic presence in Iraq. If they leave, their history is finished.”

Iran has arrested three more Christians and sentenced them to prison for spreading the Gospel. “Iranian Christians Mohammad Roghangir, Suroush Saraie and Pastor Matthias Haghnejad were arrested by the security forces at the pastor’s home in Bandar-Anzali,” reports Independent Catholic News. Sources close to Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that security agents confiscated Bibles belonging to Pastor Matthias’ family during the raid, while Human Rights Activist News Agency reports that pamphlets and a personal computer owned by the pastor were also taken. “Pastor Matthias has been targeted regularly by the Iranian regime and has been imprisoned on three other occasions,” reported the Catholic news service.

Middle East

Israeli forces dropped leaflets in Gaza to warn residents to move away from Hamas sites immediately to avoid airstrikes. Thousands of residents fled northern Gaza on Sunday at the urging of the Israeli military as its ground troops briefly crossed the border on a mission to destroy a launching site. The tumult came as the death toll from Israel’s six-day Operation Protective Edge offensive rose to more than 172, with more than 1,250 injured as of Monday morning. Israeli airstrikes hit more than 200 homes and buildings across Gaza on Sunday. Despite calls from the United Nations and world leaders, there were no signs the two sides will agree to a cease-fire anytime soon.

The weekend also saw the continued bombardment of cities in southern and central Israel by rockets fired from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, with the Iron Dome air defense system intercepting three rockets over Tel Aviv shortly after a rocket hit a gas station in the southern city of Ashdod, starting a fire which wounded several people. Palestinians have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel which prompted the retaliation. Israeli gunboats also shelled Gaza’s harbor, destroying most of the boats and ships. Israeli said the military was doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, calling inhabitants ahead of time to warn of imminent attacks. He said Israeli forces also fire “non-explosive munitions” at roofs as a warning and look for people to leave before destroying a structure.

In separate developments Friday, Lebanon’s state-run news agency said two rockets were fired from Lebanon toward Israel. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the strikes, which prompted Israel to retaliate with artillery fire toward the source of the firing. Recent fire from Lebanon has been blamed on radical Palestinian factions in the area. Hamas officials said Saturday that overnight raids by Israeli forces targeted their homes and installations — and for the first time a pair of mosques. The Israeli military released an aerial photo of the mosque it hit, saying it concealed rockets right next to another religious site and civilian homes.

Iraq

Iraqi police say gunmen have killed at least 33 people, including 29 women, in a raid on two buildings in a housing complex in Baghdad. Police officials say the gunmen showed up in four-wheel drive vehicles before storming the buildings in the Zayounah neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. They say at least 18 others were wounded. The buildings were apparently being used as brothels, anathema to the Islamic extremists.

Iraqi authorities say some 4,000 volunteers are being dispatched to an embattled city west of Baghdad to help bolster government forces fighting Sunni militants there. The vast majority of volunteers are Shiite who answered a call from the country’s top Shiite cleric to defend the country from the militants have seized control of much of northern and western Iraq. Ramadi is the capital of Anbar, a predominantly Sunni province and one of the most active fronts in Iraq. Militants overran parts of Ramadi early this year before the government reasserted its control.

Syria

After more than three years of civil war in Syria, government troops are advancing to retake Aleppo, the country’s largest city, and possibly deliver a crushing blow to the rebellion against the regime of President Bashar Assad. Defeating the rebels would give Assad a major victory as he prepares to be sworn in for a third term this week. Assad’s gain would also be a loss for President Obama, who has called for the Syrian president to step down, citing mass atrocities against his own people, so new elections can be held. Obama recently proposed $500 million to aid more moderate rebels in southern Syria, a move that follows complaints by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other critics that the president has been too timid in supporting the rebellion.

Ukraine

A Ukrainian Interior Ministry official said at least 30 servicemen were killed Friday after pro-Russia rebels fired on them with missiles. Defense Ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said the attack was on a forward base in a village near the Russian border and confirmed there had been heavy casualties. Ukrainian government troops have been fighting for more than three months against separatists in eastern Ukraine. In the last two weeks, however, they have cut the amount of territory held by the rebels in half and forced them out of their stronghold in the city of Slovyansk. The rebels have since regrouped in the eastern city of Donetsk and Ukraine has vowed to cordon the area.

A Christian university in Ukraine has been taken over by pro-Russian insurgents reports Christianity Today. Donetsk Christian University is now being used to house militants; several other public buildings in the city have been overtaken as well. Former university board member Sergey Rakhuba said, “They want to accommodate more soldiers, so that place becomes the number one target for the insurgency. If the Ukrainian army attacks, this Christian university would be destroyed.”

Germany

Germany’s government has asked America’s top spy chief stationed in the country to leave. It’s a punitive gesture usually reserved for adversarial nations in times of crisis and only very rarely for an ally, particularly a very close one. But allegations of American spying have seriously injured German trust. Germany let loose the diplomatic slap reminiscent of a Cold War rebuke, after news of two new possible U.S. espionage cases broke back to back in a week’s time. Two Germans, one working at a German intelligence agency, the other in the ministry of defense, are suspected of spying for the United States.

Earthquakes

At least seven small earthquakes shook central Oklahoma this weekend over the course of 14 hours, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quakes ranged from magnitude 2.6 to 2.9 and were centered in the Guthrie, Jones and Langston areas, 15 miles to 30 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. No injuries or damage were reported. Those followed four other quakes, including a 4.3-magnitude temblor near Langston recorded shortly after noon Saturday. The Oklahoma Geological Survey has said the state is experiencing unprecedented earthquake activity.

A 6.8-magnitude earthquake triggered a small tsunami Saturday after it hit Japan’s northern coast, not far from the site of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. At least one person was injured. Japan’s Meteorological Agency says the quake struck 6 miles below the sea surface off the coast of Fukushima, northeast of Tokyo. An 8-inch tsunami reached the coast of Ishinomaki Ayukawa about 50 minutes after the quake. Eight towns devastated by the tsunami three years ago, including Rikuzentakata, Higashi Matsushima and Otsuchi, issued evacuation advisories to thousands of households along the northern coast, along with schools and community centers. All tsunami and evacuation advisories were lifted about two hours after the quake.

Wildfires

A fast-moving wildfire in southern Oregon expanded Monday, swallowing an unknown number of structures and forcing the evacuation of more than 100 residents. The fire started at around 2 p.m. local time Sunday in a residential area about an hour’s drive to the northeast of Klamath Falls, Oregon. Initially, the fire was just around 75 acres, but swelled Sunday thanks to an abundance of dry timber and brush. As of 1 a.m. local time Monday the fire had grown to more than 4 1/2 square miles. Some of those flames consumed structures in the area, but because of the intense flames fire crews couldn’t reach the affected areas to determine just how many buildings had been compromised. Unfortunately, weather conditions conducive to helping fight the blaze don’t appear to be on the way anytime soon, with no rain in sight.

A California man, Freddie Alexander Smoke III, has been accused by police of starting a massive wildfire at an illegal marijuana plot in northern California, according to the Associated Press. 37-year-old Smoke allegedly sparked the fire while delivering soil conditioner to the illegal grow site when the exhaust from his truck ignited dry grass. The so-called Bully fire has since grown to 4,000 acres and burned about 6 square miles of forest and six structures in Shasta County. Smoke was arrested Saturday and accused of recklessly causing a fire and with marijuana cultivation, both felonies. More than 1,000 firefighters, aided by aircraft, are battling the blaze in hot, dry conditions and on steep terrain. By Monday morning, the blaze was only 15 percent contained. The wildfire had prompted evacuations and road closures, but CalFire said all residents have been allowed to return home and all roads have been open to them.

Firefighters made progress Sunday battling a large wildfire that has burned thousands of acres of mountain wilderness in Washington state. The wildfire — the largest of numerous ones burning in the West — started July 8 in Mills Canyon in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, which encompasses more than 4 million acres along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range. The fire has burned 34 square miles and is 25% contained. Residents of 37 homes were ordered to evacuate, and people in 48 others were told to be ready to leave. The fire, which is southwest of the central Washington town of Entiat, is being battled by 781 firefighters, and its cause has not been determined.

Weather

Just a day after a lightning strike killed one woman and injured seven others at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, a second lightning strike has apparently injured people in almost the same area on Friday. Eight hikers suffered a variety of injuries, including one woman who died at the scene,

Coastal flooding has increased dramatically along the East Coast in recent decades, a new study by Reuters has found, and it’s posing major challenges for local governments in many of the nation’s most densely populated cities. From Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Charleston, South Carolina, the number of days in which tidal waters met or exceeded NOAA flooding thresholds has more than tripled in many cities over the past four decades. The trend in coastal flooding roughly tracks the trend in rising sea levels over the past several decades. While the global oceans have risen about 8 inches over the past century, according to the recently-released U.S. National Climate Assessment, some areas along the nation’s coastline have seen sea level rise about twice that, thanks to subsidence. Subsidence occurs when the land sinks either naturally or due to natural resource extraction like water, oil or gas.

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