Signs of the Times (7/28/14)

Fifty Shades of Gray Promotes Domestic and Sexual Violence

The newly released trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey deceives the public with a visually appealing melodramatic love story that romanticizes and normalizes sexual violence, says a press release from moralityinmedia.org. The main character is a childlike, mousey, young woman, lacking confidence and capability, who becomes the target of a powerful, intimidating, older man who puts her under contract to serve in sexual “submission.” The implications of such a relationship—abuse of power, female inequality, coercion, and sexual violence—glamorizes and legitimatizes violence against women. The popular series promotes torture as sexually gratifying and normalizes domestic violence.

  • Another indication of the end-time decline in morality: But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (2Timothy 3:1-4)

Pro-Life Leaders Skeptical of Proposed Obamacare Compromise

Skepticism has greeted the White House’s announcement that it is changing Obamacare rules requiring religious groups to give employees free birth control. Under the compromise, the government would work directly with employees wanting contraception included in their health care. “The change, announced by administration officials late Tuesday night, would allow nonprofit groups to opt out of the mandate simply by writing a letter to the federal government,” reports Ben Wolfgang at the Washington Times. “Until now, nonprofit religious groups such as charities and universities had to file paperwork with health insurance companies allowing those companies to offer birth control directly to employees.” That paperwork was objectionable to Christian organizations who called it a form of “permission giving” that they viewed as complicity with evil.

Washington DC’s Ban on Handguns in Public Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled that Washington DC’s ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional. In a ruling made public Saturday, Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. said that “there is no longer any basis on which this court can conclude that the District of Columbia’s total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns is constitutional under any level of scrutiny.” The defendants cited in the judge’s opinion were the District of Columbia and its police chief, Cathy Lanier. The plaintiffs were four individuals and the Second Amendment Foundation, a group that advocates the right to firearms.

Officials Cite Marijuana as Reason for Rise in Denver Homelessness

Officials at Denver homeless shelters say the legalization of marijuana has contributed to an increase in the number of younger people living on the city’s streets. The deputy director of Urban Peak, which specifically helps homeless youth, tells The Denver Post that the majority of new young people it is seeing say they’re in Colorado because of marijuana. At the St. Francis Center, a daytime homeless shelter, pot is the second most frequently volunteered reason for being homeless in Colorado, after looking for work in the marijuana industry.

Tax Inversion Loophole Causing U.S. Companies to Relocate Abroad

A loophole is known as tax inversion, is a controversial tactic that allows a company that does most of its business in the USA to cut its federal tax bill by merging or buying an overseas company in a lower-tax country and then nominally relocating its headquarters there. Despite years of on-and-off efforts by lawmakers in Washington and the IRS to close the loophole, dozens of American companies have used it — several in recent months. This year alone, eight major U.S. companies — including AbbVie, Medtronic and Mylan — have announced plans to shift their headquarters overseas in an effort to trim their corporate tax rate, which hovers around 35% in the U.S. and is among the highest in the world. The Walgreens drugstore chain, with more than 8,500 stores, is considering taking advantage of the loophole as it considers acquiring controlling interest in Alliance Boots, a Swiss-based company that operates drugstores in Britain. It could save the company roughly $4 billion over the next five years. By relocating its headquarters from Dixon, Illinois, to Europe, the company could save roughly $4 billion over the next five years.

Economic News

Sales of new single-family homes fell 8.1% in June. Paired with May’s slippage, the disappointing results show the industry’s spring performance was weaker than previously estimated. June sales hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 406,000, the second-weakest pace of the year. May’s level was revised to 442,000 from the 504,000 annual pace reported a month ago. Sales fell from May in every region, led by a 20% decline in the Northeast. The falloffs elsewhere were 1.9% in the West, 8.2% in the Midwest and 9.5% in the South.

Chinese buyers are now the biggest international players in the U.S. housing market and some states are seeing billions of dollars in real estate deals as a result. The hottest markets: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York and Seattle, according to Juwai.com, a Hong Kong-based website that connects Chinese buyers with U.S. properties. California is particularly attractive because it’s so close to the homeland, and its major cities have large Chinese-American populations and attractive climates and lifestyles, said Andrew Taylor, Juwai’s co-CEO.

Persecution Watch

An Iowa newspaper is being called to task for firing an employee who expressed his Christian beliefs in a personal blog. Bob Eschliman was editor-in-chief for the Newton Daily News in Newton, Iowa, and is now taking his complaint against his former employer to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint [PDF], charging the newspaper’s owners with “religious discrimination and retaliation,” was filed last Wednesday. Eschliman’s attorney is Liberty Institute-allied lawyer and former federal prosecutor Mat Whitaker, who tells OneNewsNow the journalist was an “exemplary” employee. “He had won many awards as a journalist and by all accounts he had outstanding performance as an employee,” says the attorney.

A Christian college in Massachusetts is in trouble for its public opposition to hiring homosexuals and lesbians. Gordon College, located near Boston, is seemingly being attacked on all sides. The college president signed a letter sent to President Obama asking for the religious school to be exempted when the President signed an executive order banning federal contractors from refusing to hire homosexuals. Prompted by the letter, Gordon College is now coming under review by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges’ Commission on Institutions. Gordon College has also been targeted by Kim Driscoll, mayor of Salem. She tore up a city contract that allows Gordon College to maintain and operate Old Town Hall, a tourist attraction, on behalf of the city. In a commentary about the mayor’s action, OneNewsNow columnist Kevin McCullough suggested that Gordon College and other Christian schools are the newest target for pro-homosexual activists.

  • Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

Middle East

Fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants roared on Monday despite a strong statement from the United Nations Security Council calling for an “immediate and unconditional” cease-fire. The air strikes and rocket attacks took place even as the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, celebrating the completion of month-long dawn-to-dusk fasting for Ramadan, began Monday. Hamas had agreed Sunday to hold fire ahead of the holiday. The Israel Defense Forces said its jets hit two rocket launchers and a rocket manufacturing facility in central and northern Gaza in three airstrikes ordered in response to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. The military said eight rockets had been fired at Israel since midnight Sunday. Hamas has fired more than 2,500 rockets into Israel since the Israeli military operation began.

About 1,000 displaced Muslim Palestinians have packed inside a Christian church in Gaza, in hopes that it will not be targeted with Israeli rocket fire. Saint Porphyrios Church of Gaza City is providing food and shelter for the refugees while fighting between Gaza and Israel rages on. The Daily Beast reports that 50 mosques have been bombed since the start of the conflict; Israelis reportedly believe that Hamas’ weapons are stored inside the mosques.

Ukraine

The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine that left 298 people dead may amount to a war crime, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Monday. Data downloaded from a black box retrieved from the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 are consistent with a missile attack, officials say. A thorough investigation of the site, however, remains elusive 10 days after the jetliner crashed in an area of eastern Ukraine held by ethnic-Russian separatists. On Sunday, a team of international police officers cleared by separatist leader Alexander Borodai to visit the site canceled the trip when fighting broke out in the area. Ukrainian officials said their forces advanced to the outskirts of a key town north of Donetsk on Saturday as they try to retake the stronghold held for months by pro-Russia rebels. Russia also appears to becoming more involved in the fighting, with the U.S. and Ukraine accusing Moscow of moving heavily artillery across the border to the rebels.

Russia

The European Union on Friday extended its Ukraine-related sanctions to target top Russian intelligence officials and leaders of the pro-Russia revolt in eastern Ukraine. Among the 15 new people subjected to an EU-wide asset freeze and travel ban were Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Russian Federal Security Service, and Sergei Beseda, head of the FSB department that oversees international operations and intelligence activity. Four members of Russia’s Security Council were also included on the EU list. Eighteen organizations or businesses, including rebel formations in Ukraine’s east, were added to the trade bloc’s sanctions list at the same time.

Afghanistan

Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, reports the New York Times. The Taliban have found success beyond their traditional strongholds in the rural south and are now dominating territory near crucial highways and cities that surround Kabul, the capital, as well as in strategic provinces like Kapisa and Nangarhar. Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it. The Afghan ministries have not released casualty statistics since an alarming rise in army and police deaths last year.

Libya

The U.S. embassy in strife-torn Libya was evacuated early Saturday, under cover of American warplanes and spy aircraft, according to the State Department and Pentagon. Personnel from the embassy were evacuated as security deteriorated in the capital of Tripoli. “Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya,” the State Department said. Embassy personnel were taken to temporary offices in neighboring Tunisia with security provided by U.S. forces. The embassy is not closed permanently, but operations have been temporarily suspended. The Libyan government on Monday appealed for international help after a huge oil depot caught fire amid clashes over the country’s international airport in the capital, Tripoli.

Central African Republic

A yearlong battle between Muslims and Christians has ended with a ceasefire agreement in Central African Republic (CAR). Muslim rebels sought to seize power in March 2013. Since that time, Muslim Seleka rebels have fought against “anti-balaka” Christian militia for the nation to be divided into a Muslim north and a Christian south. “We have signed this ceasefire agreement today in front of everyone. Our commitment is firm and irreversible” said Mohamed Moussa Dhaffane, who headed the Seleka delegation. “Patrick Edouard Ngaissona, who led the anti-balaka delegation, echoed the pledges of peace, saying anyone caught breaking the ceasefire would be arrested.” Two-thousand French peacekeeping troops continue to patrol the streets Bambari where the mostly Muslim residents call the ceasefire “worthless” and claim the French have a bias towards Christians.

Nigeria

Nigerian health authorities raced to stop the spread of Ebola on Saturday after a man sick with one of the world’s deadliest diseases brought it by plane to Lagos, Africa’s largest city with 21 million people. The fact that the traveler from Liberia could board an international flight also raised new fears that other passengers could take the disease beyond Africa due to weak inspection of passengers and the fact Ebola’s symptoms are similar to other diseases. Officials in the country of Togo, where the sick man’s flight had a stopover, also went on high alert after learning that Ebola could possibly have spread to a fifth country. An American doctor trying to quell the Ebola outbreak in Liberia is now infected with the virus and a Liberian doctor died of it Saturday. A second American aid worker in Liberia has also tested positive for Ebola. The World Health Organization says the outbreak, the largest ever recorded, has also killed 319 people in Guinea and 224 in Sierra Leone.

Philippines

Abu Sayyaf gunmen killed at least 18 villagers, including women and children, in a road attack Monday as the civilians traveled in two vans to visit relatives and celebrate the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in the southern Philippines. About 40 to 50 Abu Sayyaf militants, armed with assault rifles, staged the attack in a coastal village in Talipao town in predominantly Muslim Sulu province, where the militants have survived in jungle encampments despite years of U.S.-backed Philippine military offensives. The Abu Sayyaf was organized in the early 1990s in the south, but it has been crippled by government operations and endures largely due to huge ransoms from kidnappings. Abu Sayyaf now holds about 10 hostages, including two German tourists seized in April and two birdwatchers, one Dutch and the other Swiss, who were kidnapped two years ago. The Abu Sayyaf is one of about four smaller Muslim insurgent groups outside of a peace deal signed by the Philippine government in March with the main rebel group, the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front that calls for the creation of a more powerful and potentially larger autonomous region for minority Muslims in the south of the largely Roman Catholic country.

Environment

A pair of large craters have formed in Siberia just days apart, and scientists are trying to figure out why it’s happening. According to the Moscow Times, the two holes were found about 18 miles apart. The first one was more than 160 feet wide and about 230 feet deep. The report adds that the second, most recent, hole was smaller. About 10,000 years ago, the area was a sea, and a mixture of salt, sand, gas and water froze into ice underground, Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Center scientist Anna Kurchatova told the Siberian Times. As the globe has warmed, she said, the ice is melting and the gas is being released, causing an effect like a champagne cork popping off a bottle. The holes may foreshadow bigger problems for our planet in the near future, scientists worry. Permafrost around the Arctic contains methane and carbon dioxide, and both could be dangerous to our environment if released. As long as the permafrost remains frozen, the report adds, this isn’t a concern, but climate models have painted a grim future for rising temperatures in the Arctic.

Wildfires

Fire crews were battling two fast-moving wildfires in California that threatened many homes and forced hundreds of evacuations, officials said. The Sand Fire, sparked July 25 by a vehicle that drove over dry brush, has already claimed 56 structures, including 13 homes, in Armador and El Dorado counties to the east of Sacramento, California. The fire, fueled by hot, dry, windy conditions ballooned to around 4,000 acres over the weekend, but was 50 percent contained by Sunday evening. More than 1,200 people have been evacuated during the course of the fire, including more than 500 homes that remain under evacuation orders.

Meanwhile, hundreds of other people were evacuated to the south in Yosemite National Park after a fire there grew to 2,600-plus acres, threatening the communities of Foresta and Old El Portal. 125 homes, were completely evacuated over the weekend as the fire moved northeast toward the two communities. So far, at least one home has been destroyed in Foresta, and the fire is still 0 percent contained. With California’s record-setting drought only worsening, more disastrous fires seem inevitable for the state.

The Associated Press reported 300 homes have burned in the Carlton fire complex in Washington by the largest wildfire in state history, having consumed 390 square miles. Residents in Okanogan County directly in the fire’s path are wondering why they never received any warnings or alerts about the wildfire. Officials say it was because electric power and cell phone service were compromised by the fire.

Weather

Thousands of utility customers in the Phoenix area were without power for up to several hours Friday evening following a massive dust storm, but a temporary “ground stop” for all incoming flights at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was lifted two hours later. Up to 12,000 were originally without power. Visibility on the roads in the affected area was very low. Reports ranged from no visibility to 1/2 mile just south of the Valley.

One man was killed and 13 people were injured after being struck by lightning on Venice Beach in Los Angeles during a bout of freak July thunderstorms on Sunday. About hour earlier, a 57-year-old man was struck by lightning on a golf course on Catalina Island. In Redondo Beach, lightning struck a home and caught a car on fire, damaging several homes. Authorities say the thunderstorms also set at least two small brush fires on Catalina that were quickly doused.

At least four tornadoes were reported in northeast Tennessee Sunday afternoon, damaging a number of homes. Hail as large as softballs was reported Sunday afternoon in southeast Kentucky as supercell thunderstorms tracked from Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region across the Cumberland Plateau and Coalfields areas and into the Appalachians of east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and western North Carolina. Other severe storms with damaging winds have struck Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and several New England states. A confirmed but weak tornado touched down in Wolcott, Connecticut shortly after noon.

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