Archive for August, 2014

Signs of the Times (8/28/14)

August 28, 2014

Muslim Leaders Denounce ISIS as ‘Crazy Criminals’

Muslim leaders gathered Monday on the steps of Dearborn City Hall to strongly condemn ISIS, saying the militant group in Iraq and Syria doesn’t represent Islam or Muslims. ISIS members are “crazy criminals who are abusing our religion,” said Imam Mohammed Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights. “You’re a bunch of gangsters … you’re not Islamic.” Organized by imams with the Michigan Muslim Community Council, the speakers included both Shia and Sunni leaders of different ethnicities and races, all united in saying ISIS doesn’t speak for them.

  • Michigan has the largest Muslim communities in the U.S. While most Muslims are peaceful, Islam does promote violence against infidels which ISIS has taken to the extreme.

Authorities Ignored Abuse of 1,400 Children in U.K.

A Christian organization in Great Britain says it’s watching closely as officials in that country confront a child abuse scandal involving more than 1,400 children. In Rotherham, at least 1,400 children were sexually abused, beaten and trafficked between 1997 and 2013. Colin Hart, director of The Christian Institute in New Castle, says social workers warned authorities that something was wrong. “But they continually ignored the concerns that were raised,” says Hart, “and in one case a social worker was disciplined for raising concerns.” The Associated Press and BBC have reported the perpetrators were Pakistani, and political correctness trumped law enforcement action. Great Britain has seen an influx of Muslim immigrants in recent years, and those immigrants are demanding that they be allowed to live under Sharia law as well as the closing of all liquor stores and their own independent states within England, among other demands.

  • Tolerance and political correctness are severely hampering and undermining common sense as well as God’s law

Obama Bypassing Congress Again in Push for New UN Climate Change Rules

The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress. In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world’s largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution. But under the Constitution, a president may enter into a legally binding treaty only if it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. To sidestep that requirement, President Obama’s climate negotiators are devising what they call a “politically binding” deal that would “name and shame” countries into cutting their emissions. Lawmakers in both parties on Capitol Hill say there is no chance that the currently gridlocked Senate will ratify a climate change treaty in the near future, especially in a political environment where many Republican lawmakers remain skeptical of the established science of human-caused global warming.

  • Emperor Obama seldom allows the Constitution to get in his way

Obama & Special Interest Groups Plotting to Grant Amnesty to Millions

Even the liberal New York Times had to acknowledge it: “The process of drafting what will likely be the only significant immigration changes of [Obama’s] presidency… has been conducted almost entirely behind closed doors, where lobbyists and interest groups invited to the White House are making their case out of public view.” The Times adds that Obama has “emboldened activists and businesses to flock to the administration with their policy wish lists. [Obama] is presiding over opaque policy-making, with the potential to reward political backers… Administration officials have convened more than 20 so-called listening sessions this summer alone on executive options for revising immigration policy.” The Center for Individual Freedom notes, “It’s government of the elites, by the elites and for the elites.”

  • So goes the self-proclaimed most transparent administration in history – hypocrisy of the highest order

Feds to Track ‘Hate Speech’ & Make Data Available to other Government Agencies

The federal government is spending nearly $1 million to create an online database that will track “misinformation” and hate speech on Twitter. The National Science Foundation is financing the creation of a web service that will monitor “suspicious memes” and what it considers “false and misleading ideas,” with a major focus on political activity online, reports Fox News. “This service could mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate,” the agency said. In addition, The National Security Agency’s surveillance machinery is also in the spotlight after a media report claimed that it is secretly providing data to almost two dozen U.S. government agencies via a powerful “Google-like” search engine. Details of the search engine, known as ICREACH, are revealed in classified documents obtained by The Intercept website from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The engine can reportedly share more than 850 billion records about phone calls, emails, cellphone locations and Internet chats.

  • Big Brother is finding more and more ways to spy on the public despite the Constitution’s First Amendment guaranteeing free speech. The problem with ‘hate speech’ is how it’s defined and who defines it.

FBI Investigates Bank Hack Attacks

JPMorgan Chase and at least four other financial institutions were hacked recently in a series of coordinated attacks, a federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY. Investigators believe Russian hackers were the source of the attacks. What is less clear is whether the attacks were prompted by U.S. sanctions against the Russian government. The sophisticated cyberattack resulted in the loss of sensitive data. FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said the agency is “working with the United States Secret Service to determine the scope of recently reported cyber attacks against several American financial institutions.” Hackers broke into the networks of the banks, where they siphoned data, including account information.

Chinese Overwhelm Visa Program

The United States has exhausted its annual supply of EB-5 immigrant investor visas for the first time in the program’s history following a surge of applications from Chinese nationals. The State Department’s chief of visa control, Charles Oppenheimer, told lawyers at an industry conference earlier this week that no more spots will be available to Chinese for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Known as EB-5, the immigration program offers a green card to any foreigner willing to invest at least $500,000 and create 10 jobs in America. No more than 10,000 of the visas are allowed every year, and this will mark the first time the quota has been reached since the program’s inception in 1990.

Another U.S. Company Avoids U.S. Taxes by Merging with Foreign Company

Burger King announced that it agreed to merge with the Canada-based Tim Hortons donut chain. The deal, worth about $11 billion, will create the world’s third largest quick service restaurant company with about $23 billion in sales and more than 18,000 restaurants in 100 countries. The new global company will be headquartered in Canada, but each brand will be managed independently, with Burger King retaining its U.S. offices in Miami. The new base in Canada could allow Burger King (BKW) to reduce its U.S. tax bill — a recent report by KPMG found that total tax costs in Canada are about 46% lower than in the U.S. These so-called inversions allow companies to transfer money earned outside the U.S. to the parent company without paying additional U.S. taxes. As more companies have used inversions, President Obama and Congress have publicly criticized the moves because it cuts into U.S. tax revenue.

Many U.S. Companies Lower Taxes by Keeping Billions Offshore

Plenty of companies that do business abroad delay paying big bucks to Uncle Sam by leaving foreign profits abroad, indefinitely. As long as they don’t bring that money back home and reinvest it in the business, they don’t have to pay U.S. tax on it. Microsoft, for example, said that it lowered its tax bill by $29.6 billion last year by keeping $92.9 billion abroad, according to a regulatory filing by the company. Most experts say the problem is America’s corporate tax rate, which is 35% on most corporate income. That’s the highest rate among developed economies. Other major U.S. corporations that keep billions offshore include Apple ($111B), General Electric ($110B), Pfizer ($69B), Merck ($57B), IBM ($52B) and Johnson & Johnson ($51B).

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 298,000, a level that signals employers are cutting few jobs and hiring is likely to remain strong. The applications data is the latest sign that the job market is steadily healing. Average job gains since February have been the best in eight years.

Consumer confidence rose to a seven-year high in August for the second straight month. The Conference Board’s closely watched index of consumer confidence increased to 92.4 this month from 90.3 in July. Both the July and August confidence levels have been buoyed recently by a stock market rally, six straight months of 200,000-plus job gains and falling gasoline prices.

U.S. home prices in June showed their smallest annual gains since early 2013, extending a cooling trend in prices that began last fall. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, released Tuesday, increased 8.1% in June from 12 months earlier. That’s down from 9.3% in the previous month and annual gains of 10% to 12% each month since March 2013.

Orders for long-lasting goods soared in July on strong demand for commercial aircraft while a closely watched measure of business investment plans fell. Durable goods orders increased 22.6% to $300.1 billion, the highest on records dating back to 1992. Orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft – – a good barometer of plans for business investment – declined 0.5%. Demand for transportation equipment rose 74.2% on huge orders for commercial aircraft. Orders for computers and related products fell 6.9%.

Of the roughly 4 million non-farm workers laid off from jobs they held at least three years from 2011 to 2013, 62% were working again by January 2014, according to a survey of displaced workers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics released Tuesday. Slightly more than half of those re-employed had jobs in their former industries, up from 47% in January 2012 and 44% in January 2010.

Middle East

After more than seven weeks of heavy fighting, Israel and Hamas have agreed to an open-ended ceasefire. The truce announced Tuesday puts off dealing with core long-term issues on both sides of a bitter conflict that killed around 2,200 people. But Israel agreed to ease the blockade on Gaza, open border crossings for more aid to pass through and extend the fishing limit off the coast to 6 miles. Both sides agreed to return to Cairo for further Egyptian-mediated talks. Israel said that Hamas, which holds power inside Gaza, finally accepted an offer that it had repeatedly rejected earlier in the war. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar led a “victory” celebration in Gaza City which saw thousands of Palestinians pouring in the streets to declare their defeat of Israel in the 51 day conflict. Meanwhile, Israeli officials from across the political spectrum expressed dissatisfaction with the cease-fire.

Persecution Watch

A Chinese pastor could receive a 10-year prison sentence for protesting China’s cross removal campaign. Huang Yizi is accused of “gathering to assault a state organ.” Christian Today reports Huang arranged a protest against the removal of a cross from Salvation Church in Wenzhou. In the July 21 protest, 1,000 church members formed a human shield around the church to prevent a crane from coming in and removing the religious symbol. The cross was later taken down on August 14. The pastor said he is willing to go to prison in order to defend his faith. “I have decided to sacrifice for my beliefs. I am serious. I have been prepared for the worst since I posted many messages opposing the authorities’ campaign to remove churches and crosses.”

Islamic State militants have revealed that an American woman is in their captivity and have demanded $6.6 million for her release. The woman’s name has not been released, but it is known that she was kidnapped last year while on a humanitarian mission in Syria. Islamic State militants are also holding American journalist Steven Sotloff ransom.

  • When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8b)

Middle East

Israelis on the Golan Heights were instructed by the IDF to keep their distance from the border with Syria Thursday as fighting raged between forces loyal to the Assad regime and rebel factions over the Quneitra crossing region. Jets flown by regime pilots bombed rebel positions near the border on Thursday as rebels, including a contingent from the Al-Qaida linked Al Nusra Front, apparently took control of the crossing, including territory just 200 meters from the Israeli guard post. The crossing is under the ostensible control of the UN, but reports Thursday indicated that rebels had taken a number of UN personnel hostage. “Our aim isn’t Israel right now,” said a spokesman for Western-backed rebel factions. “The matter of Israel – it’s not for now.” However, Islamist groups fighting with the rebels are reported to have a much different agenda, with the ultimate annihilation of Israel foremost on their minds.

Meanwhile, Jordanian security forces reportedly arrested 50 Islamist activists in a sweep this week for their alleged support for the Islamic State terror militia. The sweep brings to total number of suspected IS supporters in Jordan to 70 just this month, while Jordanian intelligence estimates another 1,600 of its citizens are fighting with IS in Syria and Iraq. Elsewhere, the UN accused IS of war crimes in a recent report that also included an accusation that the Assad regime had used chlorine gas against its opponents in the three year conflict.

Ukraine

Only hours before the presidents of Ukraine and Russia met face-to-face for the first time since June, Ukraine said its forces had captured 10 Russian paratroopers on its territory while Russia said the soldiers must have mistakenly strayed across an unmarked border. The soldiers from a Russian paratrooper division were captured Monday in the area of Amvrosiivka, near the Russian border in the Donetsk region. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko held one-on-one talks Tuesday saying afterwards that in a statement afterward that a “road map” for a possible cease-fire in eastern Ukraine would be prepared as soon as possible.

A town in east Ukraine came under shellfire by pro-Russian rebels on Wednesday, amid fears that they are launching a counter-offensive on government-held parts of the region. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared Thursday that “Russian forces have entered Ukraine” and called an emergency meeting of the nation’s security council to respond to what he said was a “sharp aggravation” in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian armed forces are battling separatist rebels. A top Ukrainian army officer said a “full-scale invasion” of his country was under way Thursday, as a U.S. official said up to 1,000 Russian troops had crossed Ukraine’s southern border to fight alongside pro-Russian rebels.

Syria

U.S. surveillance drone flights over Syria have started with President Obama’s go ahead, a step that will provide potential targets if airstrikes against Islamic State militants are approved. The initiative to plan intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions over Syria was contained in the execution order that allowed for the airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq. The militants, who call themselves the Islamic State, are operating in both Iraq and Syria and U.S. officials have said it would be difficult to defeat the threat without addressing the militants on both sides of the porous border between the two countries. “Clearly the picture we have of ISIS on the Iraqi side is a more refined picture,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The existence and activities of ISIS on the Syrian side — we have some insights into that but we certainly want more insights into that as we craft a way forward.”

Libya

The United Arab Emirates and Egypt have carried out a series of airstrikes in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, U.S. officials said Monday, marking an escalation in the chaotic war among Libya’s rival militias that has driven American and other diplomats from the country. The Obama administration did not know ahead of time about the highly unusual military intervention, although the United States was aware that action by Arab states might come as the crisis in Libya worsened. The airstrikes appear tied to fear over the growing muscle of Islamist militias. The region’s monarchies and secular dictatorships are increasingly alarmed about Islamist gains from Libya to Syria and Iraq. And the airstrikes may signal a new willingness by some Arab states to take on a more direct military role in the region’s conflicts.

Nigeria

Boko Haram militants have taken over another Nigeria village in Yobe State; this time the Muslim extremist group has seized the Buni Yadi Town, storming the government headquarters and enforcing their own laws on residents. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Boko Haram executed two Buni Yadi residents for smoking in the town and killed another for dealing drugs. One man was punished with 80 lashes for cohabiting with a woman. Boko Haram is gaining influence in Nigeria as the group expands its reign across the nation. It is believed that the goal of the militants is converting Nigeria into an Islamic state.

Pestilence

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has taken an unprecedented toll on health care workers, infecting more than 240 and killing more than 120, the World Health Organization says. “In many cases, medical staff are at risk because no protective equipment is available – not even gloves and face masks,” the agency says in its latest update on the outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The compassionate instincts of those who sometimes rush to aid “visibly ill” people without pausing to protect themselves also put health workers at increased risk, the agency says. Staffs also are overworked, stretched thin and exhausted, which can contribute to mistakes in infection control. The Ebola outbreak “continues to accelerate” in West Africa and has killed 1,552 people so far, the World Health Organization said Thursday. The total number of cases stands at 3,069, with 40% occurring in the past three weeks.

Earthquakes

A 5.7-maginitude earthquake hit Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano early Tuesday morning. It was the largest tremor in the latest seismic activity that started 10 days ago, but there’s no sign of en eruption, Iceland’s meteorological office said. Strong earthquakes also rocked the volcano Sunday, but the country’s meteorological office downgraded the alert level from red to orange. Despite the tremors, Iceland’s Meteorological Office said Sunday that there were “no signs of volcanic activity” at Bardarbunga.

Weather

Cristobal strengthened into a hurricane in the Atlantic on Monday, but the storm is not expected to make landfall in the United States. Before strengthening into a hurricane, Cristobal had serious impacts on the Caribbean, killing at least five people and dumping heavy rain, which produced landslides and flooding over the weekend. On the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, two Dominican men and two Haitians died when they were caught up in waterways swollen by Cristobal’s driving rains. One storm fatality in the tiny archipelago of Turks and Caicos.

Hurricane Marie, located several hundred miles off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, is expected to maintain a west-northwest heading through mid-week, remaining safely offshore the Mexican Pacific coast. Marie is still a large hurricane but has weakened into a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale. While not directly affecting land, large swells from a south-southeast direction will begin to impact Southern California beaches Tuesday and continue through Friday. While surfers are hoping for 30-foot waves, workers rushed to place sandbags to fortify beaches and protect against potential flooding in low-lying areas.

Signs of the Times (8/25/14)

August 25, 2014

Ferguson: A Preview of America’s Burgeoning Police State

“Even America’s smallest towns can be instantly turned into occupied territories as local police agencies quickly transform themselves from peacekeepers into occupying military forces. The small town of Ferguson, Missouri, is living proof of that,” notes Pastor Chuck Baldwin. The London Guardian reported that, “Michael Brown was shot dead by an officer from a police force of 53, serving a population of just 21,000. But the police response to a series of protests over his death has been something more akin to the deployment of an army in a miniature warzone. Ferguson police have deployed stun grenades, rubber bullets and what appear to be 40mm wooden baton rounds to quell the protests in a show of force that is a stark illustration of the militarization of police forces in the U.S.”

Since 2006, state and local law enforcement have acquired at least 435 armored vehicles, 533 military aircraft and 93,763 machine guns, according to an investigation by the New York Times published in June. This was made possible under a department of defense program that allows the agency to transfer excess military property to US law enforcement agencies. More than $4.3 billion worth of gear has been transferred since the program was created in 1997, according to the Law Enforcement Support Office. The ACLU said there are “no meaningful constraints” to what a local police force could acquire, meaning that even a 10,000 person town with no history of major violence could request. The increasing militarization of US police is also attributed to the skyrocketing proliferation of Swat teams across the US. There has been a more than 1400% increase in the amount of Swat deployments between 1980 and 2000.

  • A socialistic government needs enforcement power and the U.S. is gearing up to suppress resistance

ISIS Strategizing To ‘Blow Up’ U.S. City

The ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee in the U.S. Senate is warning that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists, those who this week beheaded an American journalist, are attempting to develop a bomb capable of blowing up an entire American city. The comments from Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., came in an interview with the Fox affiliate in Oklahoma City. He said the U.S. now is in “the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in.” Responding to questions about terror and the threat facing Americans, he said: “They’re crazy out there. And they are rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city.”

Former CIA covert operations officer Mike Baker said that he believes there is “a lot of communication” between ISIS and Mexican drug cartels,” on Thursday’s Laura Ingraham show. “We’ve had good intel over the years about al Qaeda, about their efforts to coordinate with Mexican cartels…in an effort to try to exploit our southern border” he reported, adding that a terrorist group like ISIS “absolutely” knows about the lack of security on the border.” Baker stated he believes there is “a lot of communication” between ISIS and drug cartels. And “the cartels are a business … if there’s a revenue stream they can exploit, then they will, and the extremists understand that.”

  • Border security is about a lot more than keeping Mexican and Central American immigrants from illegally entering the U.S. Our southern border is the primary route taken by terrorists seeking to harm our country.

U.S. Sued over Central American Immigrants

Four civil-rights and immigrant-rights groups filed a federal lawsuit Friday charging that the Obama administration is denying fair asylum hearings to women and children from Central America being held at a remote detention center in Artesia, N.M. The suit charges that the government is short-cutting a legal process intended to ensure that families are not being sent back to a death sentence. It alleges that asylum officers and immigration judges are pre-judging cases, following clear political directives from senior officials who want a tough line on deportation to discourage more migration from Central America. As a result, the suit claims, the percentage of successful asylum claims at Artesia is less than half of the nationwide average. The Artesia facility is one of two detention centers opened this summer to deal with the surge of single parents, mostly women and their children caught crossing illegally into the U.S.

Oregon Sues Oracle over Failed Health Care Website

The state of Oregon filed a lawsuit Friday against Oracle Corp. and several of its executives over the technology company’s role in creating the troubled website for the state’s online health insurance exchange. The lawsuit, filed in Marion County Circuit Court in Salem, seeks more than $200 million in damages and alleges that Oracle officials made false statements and submitted false claims. Oracle was the largest technology contractor working on Oregon’s health insurance enrollment website, known as Cover Oregon. The public website was never launched and has become a political albatross for Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is running for re-election. “Over the course of our investigation, it became abundantly clear that Oracle repeatedly lied and defrauded the state,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.

Half of Christian Men View Pornography

A new study by the Barna Group shows that 54 percent of Christian men and 15 percent of Christian women admitted to viewing pornography at least once a month, compared to 65 percent of men and 30 percent of women who identified as non-Christian. Of the Christian men who did look at pornography, the majority did so several times per week. Joel Hesch, president and founder of Prove Men Ministries, which commissioned the study, said the results point to a frightening pattern of addiction. “It needs to be openly addressed in the church, a safe place within the church,” Mr. Hesch said. “[Pornography] is addicting. It is a problem not just affecting individuals, but families. The church needs to be the front-runner in this. Heaping guilt and shame on a person only leads them to escape into the things we’re trying to rescue them from.”

Black-White Wealth Gap Widens

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri, have laid bare America’s ongoing racial divide. One source of that tension is the large financial gap between black and white Americans. A typical black household has accumulated less than one-tenth of the wealth of a typical white one. And it’s only getting worse. Over the past 25 years, the wealth gap between blacks and whites has nearly tripled, according to research by Brandeis University. That’s in large part because home ownership among blacks is so much lower. Housing is often Americans’ greatest asset and a major component of their overall wealth. Blacks also typically have lower incomes than whites, which also makes it harder for them to save and build wealth. The median income for black households is less than 60% that of white ones. Unemployment is also a major problem. The jobless rate for blacks is twice that of whites. The gap has been at least that large for years. More than one in four blacks live in poverty, while fewer than one in 10 whites do.

Food Stamp Fraud Rampant

Americans receiving food stamps were caught selling and bartering their benefits online for art, housing and cash, according to a new federal report that investigates fraud in the nation’s largest nutrition support program. Complicating the situation is the fact states around the country are having trouble tracking and prosecuting the crimes because their enforcement budgets have been slashed despite the rapidly-rising number of food stamp recipients, according to the Government Accountability Office report. Under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, 47 million people have been awarded $76 billion in benefits. State agencies are responsible for addressing SNAP recipient fraud under the guidance and monitoring of the Food and Nutrition Service. The report found that most states “reported difficulties in conducting fraud investigations due to either reduced or maintained staff levels while SNAP recipient numbers greatly increased from fiscal year 2009 through 2013.”

Economic News

The world is graying at a break-neck pace and that’s bad news for the global economy. By 2020, 13 countries will be “super-aged” — with more than 20% of the population over 65 — according to a report by Moody’s Investor Service. That number will rise to 34 nations by 2030. Only three qualify now: Germany, Italy and Japan. Canada, Spain and the U.K. will be “super-aged” by 2025, and the U.S. will follow by 2030. “The unprecedented pace of aging will have a significant negative effect on economic growth over the next two decades across all regions,” the report states. Rapid aging will knock nearly one percentage point off global growth rates over the next decade. Aging populations create problems because there could be fewer working people to drive economic growth and support the retired population.

A new report from the Census Bureau is the latest evidence that the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer. The study divided the U.S. into five groups, from wealthiest to poorest. The median net worth of the richest households rose 11 percent between 2000 and 2011, to $630,754. The next-wealthiest group’s net worth also rose. But because wealth dropped for the majority of Americans, the median household net worth for the country overall declined about 7 percent to $68,828. A rebound in the stock market and rising home values after the housing bust helped richer Americans regain their wealth since the recession, which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. But the bottom 20 percent owed more than they had and were worse off in 2011 than they were in 2000. In 2011, the median net worth of the poorest Americans was negative $6,029, compared with negative $905 a decade before.

Persecution Watch

Christian business owners are under increasing gay activist legal attacks for refusing to participate in same-gender “weddings.” Last week the owners of Liberty Ridge Farm near Albany, New York, which is rented out for birthday parties and about a dozen weddings each year, have been levied a $10,00 fine and ordered to pay two women $1,500 a piece for not allowing the lesbian couple to have their 2012 wedding ceremony on the property And similar trouble is brewing in Pennsylvania, where The Cake Pros bakery in Schuylkill Haven and W. W. Bridal Boutique in Bloomsburg likewise declined to be part of same-gender weddings. Randall Wenger, chief counsel for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, tells OneNewsNow that the owners are Christians who recognize that the Bible expressly condemns homosexual conduct. “True tolerance should mean that we’re free to live according to our beliefs without being fined or forced out of business,” he said.

Reports have emerged that Iraqi Christians driven from their homes by Islamist militants are beginning to die in crowded camps and other temporary places of refuge. Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako released a statement on the plight of displaced Iraqi Christians, whom he said are sleeping in churches, schools, streets and public parks. “Death and sickness are taking hold of the children and elderly people among the thousands of refugee families spread over the Kurdistan region. The most vulnerable among the displaced Christians are dying because of shortages of water, food, medicines and shelter.” In addition, a United Nations report said that some 1,500 Yazidis and Christians may have been forced into sexual slavery by ISIS terrorists.

Middle East

Many Gazans had hoped nine days of calm here would turn into a lasting peace after six weeks of fighting that leveled neighborhoods, But those hopes were dashed this week as hostilities renewed and peace talks failed. Talks had been deadlocked, with neither side showing much willingness to compromise. Hamas demands an end to the Israeli-Egyptian Gaza blockade, which restricts movement of goods and people there, while Israel insists that Hamas disarm. The cease-fire dissolved when Hamas began firing rockets into Israel once again followed by Israeli air attacks against militant targets.

The recently renewed violence in the Mideast claimed more lives Sunday as Israeli strikes killed at least 16 people in Gaza and a Hamas attack on a border crossing wounded four Israeli civilians. At least 117 rockets were fired at Israel on Sunday, the IDF said via its Twitter account. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared Hamas to ISIS, the militant group that now calls itself the Islamic State. “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas. They simply work in the same way. They are branches of the same poisonous tree,” Netanyahu said. Al-Qidra told CNN that 92 people in Gaza have been killed since a ceasefire ended five days ago and more than 2,100 have died in this weeks-long conflict.

Syria

The Syrian regime says it’s ready to accept support from the United States and others working under the U.N. umbrella to fight “terrorists.” The comments, by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, were made Monday as ISIS fighters seized control of a strategically important air base in the country. The war-racked nation has been losing control of the northeastern region to ISIS militants. The Islamic extremist group, which has taken over large areas of Syria and Iraq, wrested the Al-Tabqa air base from the Syrian military on Sunday, ISIS, which refers to itself as the Islamic State, is part of the complex web of groups fighting in the long-running Syrian conflict — a war that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 191,000 people.

A freelance American writer held captive for nearly two years in Syria by al Qaeda-linked militants was freed just days after a rival group beheaded another U.S. reporter and threatened to continue killing others. Peter Theo Curtis, 45 years old, was released by the Nusra Front in Syria after the government of Qatar helped negotiate his freedom, according to his family and U.S. officials. While it remained unclear what led to Mr. Curtis’s release, his freedom may provide some hope to the families of other Americans being held hostage in Syria.

Iraq

Iraqi officials say a suicide bombing against an Interior Ministry building in central Baghdad has killed at least 11 people. A police officer says the suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden car into the gate of the intelligence headquarters in Karrada district Saturday afternoon, killing six civilians and five security personnel with 24 other people wounded. Since early this year, Iraq has been facing a growing Sunni insurgency with the Islamic State group and allied Sunni militants who have taken over areas in the country’s west and north. The crisis has worsened since June when the group declared an Islamic state, or caliphate, in territory under its control.

Ukraine

Many of the trucks in a disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine crossed back into Russia on Saturday, helping to ease tensions in the region. The developments come after a tense day Friday, when the aid convoy carrying “humanitarian cargoes” defied the Ukrainian government and International Committee of the Red Cross by crossing the border and arriving in Luhansk, the separatists’ stronghold in eastern Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen condemned Russia for sending the unauthorized humanitarian aid convoy into Ukraine on Friday without the involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Kiev government called the advance of the Russian trucks into Ukrainian territory a “direct invasion.”

A column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles has crossed into southeastern Ukraine, away from where most of the intense fighting has been taking place, a top Ukrainian official said Monday. He said that the column of 10 tanks, two armored vehicles and two trucks crossed the border near Shcherbak and that the nearby city of Novoazovsk which was also shelled during the night from inside Russia. He said they were Russian military vehicles bearing the flags of the separatist Donetsk rebels. The reported incursion and shelling could indicate an attempt to move on Mariupol, a major port on the Azov Sea, an arm of the Black Sea. Mariupol lies on the main road between Russia and Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia annexed in March. Capturing Mariupol could be the first step in building a slice of territory that links Russia with Crimea.

Russia

Name brand American and European conglomerates are feeling the impact from the turmoil in Russia. Many are reporting slower Russian sales and, in some cases, store closures as the Ukraine-Russia conflict drags on. Some have seen their share price get pummeled since the start of the year. Cold War-style tensions and escalating sanctions are slamming companies such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Carlsberg, Adidas, Volkwagon, Ford, Renault, BP, Societe Generale, and Danone.

France

French President Francois Hollande dissolved the government on Monday after an open feud in his Cabinet over the country’s stagnant economy. Prime Minister Manuel Valls offered up his Socialist government’s resignation after accusing the economy minister of crossing a line with his blunt criticism of the government’s policies. Hollande accepted the resignation and ordered Valls to form a new government by Tuesday. France has had effectively no economic growth this year and Hollande’s approval ratings are in the teens. The country is under pressure from the European Union to get its finances in order, but Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg has questioned whether the austerity pressed by the EU will kick start French growth.

Pestilence

Two alarming new cases of Ebola have emerged in Nigeria, widening the circle of people sickened beyond the immediate group of caregivers who treated a dying airline passenger in one of Africa’s largest cities. The outbreak also continues to spread elsewhere in West Africa, with 142 more cases recorded, bringing the new total to 2,615 with 1,427 deaths, the World Health Organization said Friday. Most of the new cases are in Liberia, where the government was delivering donated rice to a slum where 50,000 people have been sealed off from the rest of the capital in an attempt to contain the outbreak. New treatment centers in Liberia are being overwhelmed by patients that were not previously identified. The WHO’s website says the survival rate for people with Ebola in this outbreak has been 47%, which is a substantial improvement over the disease’s historical survival rate.

Ivory Coast announced Saturday that it’s closing its borders in response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Ivory Coast borders Guinea and Liberia. The announcement comes the same day the British government announced one of its citizens was infected with the deadly virus. The Brit, who lives in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, tested positive for the Ebola virus Saturday. The Democratic Republic of Congo is reporting new Ebola cases in a northern town, sparking fears that the deadly virus is expanding far beyond West Africa. Two people in Gera tested positive for Ebola, a government spokesman said Sunday. The central African nation said its test showed that the strain is different from the one that has killed nearly 1,500 people in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

Earthquakes

A 6.0-magnitude earthquake, the strongest in 25 years, rocked the San Francisco Bay area early Sunday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The earthquake struck 4 miles northwest of American Canyon, California in Napa County at around 3:20 a.m. local time. The quake was felt over a large portion of northern California, including San Francisco, with the strongest shaking experienced in Napa, Solano and Sonoma Counties. The earthquake knocked out power to more than 50,000 people early Sunday. The quake caused extensive damage, with reports of people being trapped in buildings as well as extreme structural damage. The quake damaged historic buildings and portions of major highways, ruptured gas lines and water mains, ignited fires, and knocked out power to thousands of residents in the region. Scores of people were injured by the quake, and at least two people remained in critical condition on Monday morning.

  • Despite living in a state known for its active fault lines, most Californians don’t buy earthquake insurance. Only about one in ten Californians have insurance to cover the damage to their homes and property, according to the California Earthquake Authority. It estimated the numbers are even lower in some of the areas that were affected Sunday, such as Napa, where as few as 6% have coverage.

Two earthquakes measuring over 5 in magnitude — the biggest yet — have shaken Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano after the country issued an aviation red alert warning that an ash-emitting eruption may be imminent. Iceland’s Meteorological Office recorded earthquakes of 5.3 and 5.1 in the early hours of Sunday. The volcano, underneath Iceland’s vast Vatnajokull glacier, has been rattled by thousands of small earthquakes over the past week. Authorities have declared a no-fly zone of 100 nautical miles by 140 nautical miles around the epicenter as a precaution. A 2010 eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano caused a week of international aviation chaos, with more than 100,000 flights cancelled.

A major 6.9-magnitude earthquake was recorded in central Peru on Sunday night, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Peruvian news outlet El Comercio reports that residents in Huamanga, the capital of the Ayacucho region, fled their homes and ran to a local parade ground for safety. In Cusco in southeastern Peru, cellphone and power outages were reported. Local media said that the quake was felt in parts of Lima and in many major cities of southeastern Peru, including Cuzco and Arequipa. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

A 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked the region around Valparaiso, Chile on Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. No injuries or serious damage from the strong quake, but electricity and telephone service was interrupted in some areas. The quake was centered about 11 miles west-northwest of a community called Hacienda La Calera, about 67 miles northwest of the capital of Santiago at a depth of about 19 miles. Each whole-number increase on the Richter scale represents a tenfold increase in an earthquake’s strength.

Wildfires

Firefighters battling a Hawaii wildfire caused by young boys playing with a lighter are using helicopters and clearing terrain to attack the 1¼-square mile blaze. The fire started in the Makakilo area of Oahu and has forced some 40 people in 20 homes to evacuate and damaged at least one residence, but no one has been hurt. The parents of twin 7-year-old boys told investigators their sons inadvertently ignited the blaze with the lighter. Since then, fire has chewed through about 800 acres of brush, grass and trees as strong winds pushed the flames uphill and into a rugged, inaccessible mountain area.

A fast-growing wildfire near the Northern California town of Weaverville forced the evacuation of about 150 homes and is threatening about 500 additional residences, authorities said Monday. The fire about 2 miles west of Weaverville was also threatening about 20 businesses and facilities, including the town airport and high school. The fire was sparked Sunday afternoon near Highway 299, the main road into town, and rapidly grew to a little more than 1 square miles, or 650 acres. Weaverville is at the base of the Trinity Alps Wilderness area in Trinity County in far northern California.

Weather

The third tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season formed on Sunday over the Turks and Caicos Islands after the system dumped heavy rain on Puerto Rico Saturday, sparking flooding and landslides and downing trees and power lines. On Saturday, Tropical Storm Cristobal (a tropical depression at the time) left more than 17,000 people without power and nearly 5,600 without water in Puerto Rico. A small bridge collapsed in the central town of Barranquitas, isolating some 25 families in the area. In the central mountainous municipality of Adjuntas, landslides were reported along the PR-123 highway. Cristobal continued to spin Monday morning about 100 miles east of the central Bahamas. Cristobal is not expected to hit the U.S. East Coast.

A serious flooding situation caused numerous problems in the Midwest, where roads were closed overnight Thursday and some cars have been caught under feet of water. Flood warnings were issued for most of Chicago, as well as areas in eastern Illinois, northern Indiana and western Ohio on Friday morning as heavy rain caused problems across the region. In Chicago, several inches of rain fell overnight, forcing officials to close stretches of Interstate 90. Indiana has also experienced severe flooding from the system. A two-mile stretch of Interstate 69 in Grant County was closed due to floodwaters, and Blackford County Schools were closed for the day.

Signs of the Times (8/22/14)

August 22, 2014

Judge Orders Abortion Clinic to Shut Down

A judge in Ohio ruled last week that a late-term abortion practitioner must shut down his abortion facility. Martin Haskell, who owns the facility, has sued the Ohio Department of Health after it initially ordered Haskell to close down the business. According to the department, the facility does not meet the minimum medical safety standards required by Ohio law. Haskell was issued a stay, but then last week, Judge Jerry Metz ruled to uphold the Ohio Department of Health’s order. “Shutting down Haskell’s facility is a long-sought victory for the pro-life movement,” said Stephanie Ranade Krider, executive director of Ohio Right to Life. “As the self-proclaimed ‘poster child’ of partial birth abortion, Martin Haskell has endangered southwest Ohio children for the last 30 years. We are hopeful that this will be the final order that puts Haskell out of business in Sharonville.”

Supreme Court Orders Stay on Virginia Gay Marriage

The Supreme Court granted opponents of Virginia gay marriage a stay on Wednesday (Aug. 20), preventing same-sex couples from legally marrying in the commonwealth while the court continues litigation. The Virginia 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled on July 28 to permit gay marriage, a decision that overturned the commonwealth’s gay marriage ban. The Supreme Court ordered the stay less than 24 hours before homosexual couples in Virginia were to have started applying for marriage licenses. The Supreme Court has made the same decision in January for the state of Utah.

Judge Strikes Florida’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Gay and lesbian rights advocates continued their undefeated run Thursday when a federal judge ruled Florida’s same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional — though he didn’t go so far to allow such marriages as to take place right away. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle noted in his ruling that his is now one of 19 federal courts that have struck down state laws that bar gay and lesbian couples from marrying. While most of the time those decisions were put on hold as appeals work their way through the system, they have all reached the conclusion. Like those other judges, Hinkle said the Florida ban — first put into law in 1977 and written into the state’s constitution after a 2008 referendum — violates the “due process” and “equal protection” provisions in the U.S. Constitution.

  • Voter referendums don’t matter anymore. America has become a country ruled by liberal courts and executive orders to further Satan’s anti-God, anti-family agenda

Teen Birth Rate Varies by Region/Race

More teens are having babies in the South and Southwest while the fewest are in the Northeast, according to new state-by-state breakdowns of federal data out Wednesday. Births per 1,000 teenagers (ages 15–19) range from a low of 13.8 in New Hampshire to a high of 47.5 in New Mexico, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics based on 2012 data, the most recent available for the states. In addition to the wide state variations, the same can be said for racial and ethnic breakdowns. Asian or Pacific Islanders had the lowest 2012 rate at 9.7, compared with Hispanic teens who had the highest rate at 46.3. Rates for the other groups are 20.5 for white, 34.9 for American Indian or Alaska Native and 43.9 for black teens.

  • We’d need to see the abortion rates to fully interpret this data, which would likely be much higher in the liberal Northeast.

Homeland Security Predicts Rise of ‘Anti-Government’ Violence

A leaked document from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis predicts increased “anti-government violence.” The document says the inspiration for violence is rancher Cliven Bundy’s Bunkerville standoff with the Bureau of Land Management from earlier in the year. DHS’s seven-page report entitled Domestic Violent Extremists Pose a Threat to Government Officials and Law Enforcement points to the recent murders of two Las Vegas law enforcement officers as evidence that there is a “growing trend of anti-government violence compared to the previous four years and inspired by perceived government overreach and oppression” and the “perceived victory at Bunkervile” will “likely prompt more violence.” The report states, “After years of only sporadic violence from violent domestic extremists motivated by anti-government ideologies, I&A has seen a spike within the past year in violence committed by militia extremists and lone offenders who hold violent anti-government beliefs. These groups and individuals recognize government authority but facilitate or engage in acts of violence due to their perception that the United States Government is tyrannical and oppressive, coupled to their belief that the government needs to be violently resisted or overthrown.”

  • DHS is setting the foundation for heavy-handed militaristic response to domestic incidents as was demonstrated in the Ferguson, Missouri riots

U.S. Ebola Patients Released from Hospital

Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol have both been released from Emory University Hospital, after receiving an experimental Ebola treatments. Doctors said the release of the missionaries who contracted Ebola while serving in Liberia would pose no threat to the public, as they showed no more signs of the deadly virus. Bruce Ribner, director of the hospitals Infectious Disease Unit said, “After a rigorous course of treatment and testing, the Emory Healthcare team has determined that both patients have recovered from the Ebola virus and can return to their families and community without concern for spreading this infection to others.” Doctors remain uncertain if the experimental treatments that Brantly and Writebol received are to be credited for their recoveries.

Americans Received $2 Trillion in Federal Benefits in 2013

The federal government paid out $2,007,358,200,000 in benefits and entitlements in fiscal year 2013 — accounting for well over half of all federal spending, as reported in the Bureau of the Fiscal Service’s Treasury Statement for fiscal year 2013. Most of the benefits paid out, 69.7 percent, went to nonmeans-tested programs that provide benefits to recipients who qualify regardless of their income. These include Medicare, Social Security, railroad retirement, unemployment compensation, veterans’ compensation, and workers’ compensation. In fiscal 2013, Americans received $1.399 trillion in benefits from these programs. Contributing most to the total were Social Security and Medicare, which totaled $1.252 trillion combined. Means-tested programs that have income limits include subsidized rental housing, food stamps, Federal Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, free and reduced lunch programs, Pell grants, Medicaid, and more. These programs totaled $608 billion. Other outlays by the federal government, which include defense, highways, public education, and government worker salaries, totaled $3.454 trillion, according to the Treasury statement. So the amount paid out in benefits accounted for 58.1 percent of all spending.

46 Million Americans Rely on Food Programs

The United States has allegedly been in the midst of an economic recovery for five years. Yet, one in seven Americans can’t afford basic nutrition, a new report from the non-profit Feeding America reveals. More than 46 million people rely on food programs, such as food pantries, soup kitchens, school lunch programs, senior citizens’ Meals on Wheels deliveries, or other food initiatives to supplement their daily diet, according to the study. Aid recipients are a “complex and growing mosaic that cuts across demographic lines,” including 12 million children, 7 million seniors, plus millions of working poor, military families, the unemployed, and young college graduates, National Geographic reported. From 1995 to 2008, the number of Americans who were food insecure remained fairly steady in the range of 10 to 12 percent of the population. However, in 2008, during the midst of the recession, the number spiked to 14.6 percent and government statistics reveal the level of hunger hasn’t declined since.

  • The welfare state hasn’t happened by accident. This is a well-planned and orchestrated strategy by the New World Order folks to gain control over the general population

Economic News

The Labor Department says weekly claims for jobless aid fell 14,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 298,000. The less-volatile four-week average rose 4,750 to 300,750. It remains close to levels that predate the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Employers added 209,000 jobs in July, the sixth straight month job gains exceeded 200,000. The economy has generated 244,000 new jobs a month since February. The recent hiring has encouraged more people to look for work, causing July’s unemployment rate to rise to 6.2 percent from 6.1 percent in June.

Median household income has been on the rise for the past three years, climbing 3.8% to $53,891 in June, according to newly released data by Sentier Research. It’s another indication that the economic recovery is taking hold. However, median income still remains 3.1% below its June 2009 level of $55,589. Though many people are doing better nowadays, the gains are not spread evenly. After suffering deep declines early in the recovery, black households have seen their median income rise by 3.5% over the past three years. Hispanics, meanwhile, were not as fortunate recently — their income has remained essentially flat since 2011.

Bank of America Thursday agreed to pay $16.65 billion to resolve allegations it sold toxic mortgage-backed securities and other financial products in the lead-up to the financial crisis — the largest civil settlement ever between a single firm and the U.S. government. The deal requires the nation’s second-largest bank to pay $9.65 billion in cash, and also provide $7 billion for consumer relief, such as reducing mortgage payments for struggling homeowners.

Persecution Watch

Apparently it’s OK to sneeze in a Dyersburg, Tennessee high school classroom, but it’s not permissible to bless the sneezer. The sneeze happened in the classroom of business department teacher Eva Kindle, and 16-year-old student Kendra Turner responded by saying, “Bless you.” The teacher immediately called Turner to task, and Turner responded by citing the constitutional protections for free speech and religion. The teenager then found herself in in-school suspension. Allegedly, the teacher said there is no “Godly speaking” permitted by students. American Family Association issued an “Action Alert” on August 20 to support the student, urging the public to contact the high school and defend the student. AFA spokesman Randy Sharp says, “It certainly showed some animosity toward the Christian faith and then she directed that animosity at this student.”

Romanian Christians are familiar with persecution in their home country but they didn’t expect to encounter it in America. The Holy Resurrection Romanian Orthodox Church struggled to find a place to worship in California. After finding a place in the Rio Linda area of Sacramento, church members discovered their biggest stumbling block is city government. Brad Dacus, founder of Pacific Justice Institute, says one reason Sacramento gave for refusing permission was that they said there were too many churches already,” says Dacus, whose law firm is representing the church. “You know, it’s not the business of government to dictate how many churches we need.” Church members were shocked at the city’s attitude and observed that it reminded them of the hostilities they experienced in Romania, which had been ruled under Communism for almost 30 years during the Cold War.

Middle East

An Israeli delegation has been ordered home from talks in Cairo aimed at ending the conflict in Gaza, a senior Israeli official said Tuesday, shortly after the Israeli military blamed militants in Gaza for breaking a truce. By late Tuesday, the armed wing of Hamas — the Qassam Brigades — said on its website that it had fired 29 rockets into Israel in 20 minutes. The Israel Defense Forces, in response, launched airstrikes and ordered bomb shelters open within a 40- to 80-kilometer range of Gaza. At least three people, including one infant, have been killed, and 52 people have been injured since the breakdown of the ceasefire, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

Hamas confirmed Thursday that three of its military commanders were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza, but said the chief of the militant group’s military wing, Mohammed Deif, escaped an assassination attempt that killed his wife and son. Israel struck some 110 targets in Gaza in response to Hamas firing more than 175 rockets and mortar shells toward Israel on Tuesday and Wednesday. Palestinian officials reported that more than 22 people have been killed since midnight on Thursday. The month-long Gaza war has so far killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Israel has lost 67 people, all but three of them soldiers. Hamas carried out a deadly purge of suspected informants in Gaza, killing as many as 18 people suspected of providing information to the Israel Defense Forces. Two of those killed were women, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which called for an immediate halt to what it said were “extra-judicial executions.”

Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

U.S. intelligence officials were analyzing Wednesday a video released by Islamic militants showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley, focusing on identifying the surrounding landscape and the British accent of his executioner. The video — originally posted by ISIS to YouTube, which later took the video down — also shows an ISIS militant standing over a second man dressed similarly to Foley in an orange jumpsuit. The video identifies the second man as American journalist Steven Sotloff, and warns that he, too, could be killed. Sotloff was kidnapped near the Syrian-Turkish border in August 2013, and freelanced for Time, the National Interest and MediaLine.

America’s top defense officials left open the possibility of targeting fighters with the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, saying during a news briefing Thursday that it was not enough to just hit the extremist group in Iraq. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stopped short of calling for U.S. military action in eastern Syria, an ISIS stronghold. “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no,” Dempsey said during the briefing at the Pentagon.

Islamic State militants have taken to social media to threaten the United States with the group’s power. A chilling photo has circulated Twitter since Aug. 9; the photo features an Islamic State flag held in front of the White House with the caption, “We are in your state. We are in your cities. We are in your streets.” Connected to that photo is an image of a handwritten note written in Arabic that translates to, “Soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria will pass from here soon.” The note is dated June 20, 2014. The Secret Service is taking the potential security breach seriously.

Islamic State in Nigeria

Officials now fear that militant group Boko Haram is on track to create an Islamic state in Nigeria reports Christian Today. The group’s acts of terrorism throughout Nigeria has gleaned worldwide attention; however, Boko Haram continues to wreak havoc across the country. The predominantly Christian Borno and Yobe states face particular danger of becoming Islamic caliphates. “The possible dangers for Nigeria and the region if this insurgency is not contained may have been underestimated, as has Boko Haram’s military capacity,” said Dr. Khataza Gondwe of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. Boko Haram’s attack tactics are becoming more advanced as the group gains influence. 10,000 Gwoza residents have been forced out of their homes to escape the violence of the militants.

Syria

The death toll from three years of Syria’s civil war has risen to more than 191,000 people, the United Nations reported Friday. The high death toll is a reflection of the brutality of Syria’s conflict, which has transformed into a complex, multi-layered war where various factions are fighting against each other. It also reflects the recent surge in deadly attacks by the al-Qaida-breakaway Islamic State group targeting rival militant groups, mainstream Western-backed Syrian rebels and Kurdish militiamen in northern Syria as it seeks to eliminate opponents and consolidate its hold on territory and resources.

Ukraine

Five troops were killed and two civilians died in the past 24 hours in rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine as government troops pressed to recapture more territory from pro-Russian separatists. Ukrainian troops have made significant advances into rebel-held territory this week in a conflict that has already claimed more than 2,000 lives and forced over 340,000 people to flee their homes. Ukraine has accused Russia of arming and supporting the separatists since fighting began in mid-April, a charge Russia has always denied. AP journalists have seen a significant number of Russian fighters among the rebels, but Moscow says they are individuals who chose to go fight on their own. After more than a week of border delays, Russia sent a humanitarian aid convoy unauthorized into Ukraine on Friday in what the Kiev government called a “direct invasion” by military vehicles under the guise of delivering relief aid to the besieged eastern regions.

Russia

Russian officials have shut four McDonald’s restaurants in Moscow, including the first to open in the city nearly 25 years ago in a possible retaliation against the U.S. for the economic sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukrainian crisis. McDonald’s said the restaurants were closed Wednesday following a claim by Russia’s federal consumer agency of ‘sanitary violations.’ The fast food chain is one of the highest profile Western businesses in Russia, where it operates 400 restaurants across the vast country. The pressure on McDonald’s comes as tension between Russia and the West rises over Ukraine. The U.S. and Europe have applied sanctions against Russian banks, companies and officials, and Moscow has responded with a ban on imports of food from the West.

Somalia

The United Nations Development Program, the U.N.’s flagship anti-poverty agency, spent tens of millions to make terrorism-battered Somalia safer, but never verified that the work was done, or even that its government partners had the capacity to do their jobs, according to a scathing internal auditors’ report. What the auditors found in examining the office’s operations were financial records in disarray, a tangled skein of bureaucratic lines of authority , special boards intended to oversee the accomplishment of projects meeting sporadically or never, and project reports that were “either poorly written or not prepared at all.”

Pestilence

A group of men broke into an Ebola treatment facility in Liberia, looting infected items and allowing quarantined patients to escape. Christian Today reports that over a dozen patients being treated for Ebola left the facility, prompting medical personnel to fear that the deadly virus will be able to spread throughout Liberia unhindered. The exact number of escaped patients is unknown; reports ranged from 17 to 20 people. Mattresses, sheets, medical equipment and various other objects were taken from the clinic; all of the items had been exposed to infected patients. According to health officials, the looters announced that “There’s no Ebola” while they stole the goods.

Liberia’s halting efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak spreading across parts of West Africa quickly turned violent on Wednesday when angry young men hurled rocks and stormed barbed-wire barricades, trying to break out of a quarantined neighborhood that had been cordoned off by the government. Soldiers repelled the surging crowd with live rounds, driving hundreds of young men back into the neighborhood, a slum of tens of thousands in Monrovia known as West Point.

Weather

Heavy rain in the Greater Phoenix area on Tuesday flooded streets and closed at least two major freeways. Dramatic scenes were playing out as motorists were pulled from partially submerged vehicles and a helicopter crew rescued stranded residents from a home surrounded by swift-moving waters. A small trailer park was evacuated in a town about 40 miles north of the metro area, and a north Phoenix high school temporarily relocated 12 classrooms of students because of flooding in portions of the building. Some residents in Black Canyon City, along Interstate 17 north of Phoenix, were evacuated. Earlier, Interstate 17 was flooded north of New River, stranding vehicles. At least one rockslide was reported about eight miles north of New River. A 13-mile stretch of I-17 northbound was closed from Loop 303 to Table Mesa due to flooding and mudslides. Parts of southern California and western Arizona were plagued by at least one damaging dust storm – also known as a haboob – that rolled through the area Thursday evening. Strong winds brought down trees and power lines while the dust snarled traffic and overturned a semi-truck near Imperial, California.

Severe weather left damage scattered all over Tennessee on Wednesday afternoon, but in the town of Philadelphia, Tennessee a possible tornado created a mess that will take a while to clean up. Homes were blown apart and trees were brought down by a supercell that hit towns in eastern Tennessee. Trees fell all over the streets and all over the railroad tracks. Twenty-two miles southwest of Philadelphia, the volunteer fire department building in Clearwater also sustained major damage to its roof during Wednesday’s storms.

Rain-sodden slopes collapsed in torrents of mud, rock and debris Wednesday in the outskirts of Hiroshima, killing at least 39 people and leaving seven missing. Hillsides caved in or were swept down into residential areas in at least five valleys in the suburbs of the western Japanese city after heavy rains left slopes unstable. Hiroshima prefectural police said 36 people were confirmed dead and at least seven others were missing as of Wednesday night. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 15 people were injured, two seriously. Authorities issued warnings that additional rain could trigger more landslides and flooding. Landslides are a constant risk in mountainous, crowded Japan, where many homes are built on or near steep slopes. In the past decade there have been nearly 1,200 landslides a year, according to the land ministry, up from an average of about 770 a year in the previous decade.

Parts of Europe and the U.K. are being plagued by one of the coolest August spells in decades. Forecast high temperatures the next few days were expected to hold in the about 62-72 degree range (Fahrenheit) over a broad swath from England and Ireland to northern France, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria. A few parts of the Scottish Highlands may struggle to see highs reach 46 degrees, nearing monthly cold high temperature records.

Signs of the Times (8/19/14)

August 19, 2014

Pope Honors Korean Martyrs as Models for Church

Pope Francis beatified 124 Korean martyrs on Saturday, telling hundreds of thousands of people who turned out for his open-air Mass that their ancestors’ willingness to die rather than renounce their faith two centuries ago was a model for Asian missionaries Saturday. Korea’s church is unique in that it was founded not by foreign missionary priests — as occurred in most of the world — but by members of Korea’s own noble classes who learned of Christianity by reading books about it. These early Catholics were killed in the 18th and 19th centuries by the Joseon Dynasty, which tried to shut the Korean Peninsula off from Western influence. Police in Seoul declined to give an estimate of the crowd size, but the Vatican said about 800,000 people had turned out.

Navy Returns Bibles to Hotel Rooms

Scores of activists with PIJN and AFA called Congressman Buck McKeon the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and the Navy reversed its decision to remove all Gideon-placed Bibles from its lodging hotels. “Gideons Bibles are going back into Navy lodges,” reports Stars and Stripes. Atheists had cheered a victory after a complaint prompted the exchange to begin moving the Bibles to its lost-and-found bins this summer, but the Navy said the decision was made without consulting senior leadership.

Hundreds of Bioterror Lab Mishaps Cloaked in Secrecy

More than 1,100 laboratory incidents involving bacteria, viruses and toxins that pose significant or bioterror risks to people and agriculture were reported to federal regulators during 2008 through 2012, government reports obtained by USA TODAY show. But details of exactly what happened are cloaked in secrecy. More than half these incidents were serious enough that lab workers received medical evaluations or treatment, according to the reports. In five incidents, investigations confirmed that laboratory workers had been infected or sickened; all recovered. In two other incidents, animals were inadvertently infected with contagious diseases that would have posed significant threats to livestock industries if they had spread. But the names of the labs that had mishaps or made mistakes, as well as most information about all of the incidents, must be kept secret because of federal bioterrorism laws, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the labs.

  • No matter how many fail-safe policies and procedures are put in place, flawed human beings will cause accidents. It’s only a matter of time before one of these bioterror incidents causes more widespread damage.

New Solar Power Plants are Incinerating Birds

Thousands of birds are flying into a new solar “mega-trap” in the middle of California’s Mojave Desert, killing the avian lot at a rate of up to one bird every two minutes, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The state-of-the-art Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which opened in February, is the world’s largest solar plant to utilize “power towers,” skyscraping structures that receive beams of focused solar rays to generate electricity. At Ivanpah, the sun’s ray’s are redirected from a sea of more than 300,000 mirrors on the desert surface below to hit water filled boilers atop three 459-foot “power towers.” Temperatures near the towers can climb to 800 degrees, which causes the water to produce steam that turns turbines which generate energy. All told, the facility at Ivanpah generates enough electricity to power 140,000 homes and eliminates carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 72,000 vehicles a year. However, up to 28,000 birds per year may be meeting an early death after burning up in the focused beams of sunlight.

Ferguson Protests Degrade into Violence

Violence erupted in Ferguson, Mo., once more overnight, even as National Guard troops arrived, the latest in a series of attempts to quell the chaos after a police officer fatally shot an unarmed man. Armored vehicles rolled down the streets. Stun grenades and tear gas canisters arced through the night sky and into crowds of protesters overnight in Ferguson, Missouri, after police said they had been targeted with rocks, Molotov cocktails and gunfire amid continuing demonstrations over the death of Michael Brown. Two people were shot — not by police, authorities said. Four officers were injured. Police arrested at least 31 people. Police and protesters blamed outside agitators for the gunplay and violence. The protests are the latest spasm of violence over the shooting of Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, by white police Officer Darren Wilson on August 9.

  • Some liberal media have labeled agitators coming from out-of-state as being from the “extreme right,” never missing an opportunity to politicize and capitalize on human tragedy

Economic News

Housing starts surged last month, topping a seasonally adjusted annual pace above 1 million for the second time this year. Construction of new homes rose 15.7% from June to an annual rate of 1.1 million, the Census Bureau said Tuesday. While housing starts are running ahead of last year, much of the growth has been in construction of apartment buildings, rather than single-family homes. Home builders say that market has been held back by a still-tight lending climate for residential mortgage borrowers and shortages of finished lots and labor.

Home ownership has been a critical component of the American Dream for decades. However, affordability issues and the recent housing-bubble collapse are keeping many buyers on the sidelines. Last month, the Census Bureau reported that the nation’s homeownership rate during the second quarter dipped 0.3 percentage points to 64.7%, compared to 65% a year earlier and the lowest level in nineteen years. At the same time, national vacancy rates in the second quarter fell to 7.5% for rental housing, representing the lowest level since 1997. Rent prices are not rising as fast as home prices, but Trulia reports that rent prices rose 6.1% on a year-over-year basis in July — a sizable increase to those already struggling with their finances.

Inflation moderated in July as gasoline prices fell after surging in previous months. The consumer price index edged up 0.1% after rising 0.3% in June, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Core inflation, which excludes the volatile food and energy categories, was up 0.1% and 1.9% over the past year. Despite the overall moderation in price increases, food prices surged 0.4%, resuming a spring acceleration that had eased in June. Prices for meat, poultry, dairy and fruits and vegetables all increased sharply. Housing costs, and prices for new cars, medical care and apparel all jumped 0.3%.

A third of people (36%) in the U.S. have nothing saved for retirement, a new survey shows. In fact, 14% of people ages 65 and older have no retirement savings; 26% of those 50 to 64; 33%, 30 to 49; and 69%,18 to 29, according to the survey of 1,003 adults, conducted for Bankrate.com, a personal finance website. About 36% of workers have less than $1,000 in savings and investments that could be used for retirement, not counting their primary residence or defined benefits plans such as traditional pensions, and 60% of workers have less than $25,000, according to a survey of 1,000 workers from the non-profit Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald and Associates.

New parents be warned: It could cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise your child — and that’s not even including the cost of college. To raise a child born in 2013 to the age of 18, it will cost a middle-income couple just over $245,000, according to newly released government estimates. That’s up $4,260, or almost 2%, from the year before. High-income families who live in the urban Northeast, for example, are projected to spend nearly $455,000 to raise their child to the age of 18, while low-income rural families will spend much less, an estimated $145,500.

Persecution Watch

Christians in Pakistan are facing more religiously-motivated violence and persecution than previous years. In a new report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said that 128 Pakistani Christians have died in the last year from targeted acts of violence, up from 7 the previous year.

Coffee chain Starbucks has thousands of stores across the world, and hundreds in Muslim nations. But one country where they proudly will not operate is in the nation of Israel. Starbucks closed all their stores over 11 years ago in the Holy Land, and in a recent announcement effectively reveals they are boycotting Israel.

Middle East

A cease-fire in the Gaza Strip has been broken after at least three rockets were fired from Gaza City at Israel Tuesday. Israel has not yet responded to the latest round of rocket fire. Meanwhile, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in Cairo resumed indirect talks on Tuesday, trying to hammer out a roadmap for the war-torn Gaza Strip after Egypt had announced a 24-hour extension of the cease-fire to allow more time for negotiations. The extension of the truce fanned hopes of an emerging deal, however vague, though wide gaps remain on key issues, including Israel’s blockade of Gaza, its demands for disarmament of the Islamic militant group Hamas and Palestinian demands for a Gaza seaport and an airport. In an apparent attempt to pressure Hamas, Egypt said early Monday it would co-host an international fundraising conference for Gaza — but only if a deal is reached first.

That appears to play into the hands of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which is seeking to regain a Gaza foothold, seven years after Hamas ousted it from power in the densely populated coastal strip. Hamas, whose officials are part of the Palestinian delegation in the Cairo talks, has emerged weaker from the month-long Gaza war. The militant group finds itself pressured by both Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to accept a less than perfect deal with Israel, but needs to show the people of Gaza that the enormous sacrifices they endured in the fighting were not in vain.

Iraq

Iraq’s government claimed Monday to have recaptured the Mosul dam from Islamic militants following two days of U.S. airstrikes that targeted militants in the area and supported the ground attack. The claim, which could not be independently verified, would amount to a significant victory for Iraq’s government, which has struggled to blunt the momentum of the militants. The U.S. military had launched more than 20 air strikes around the area over the last several days. Militants seeded the area around the dam with roadside bombs and booby traps, making progress slow. About 150 improvised explosives were found by ground forces, according to Iraq’s military.

Ukraine

A Ukrainian attack on a suspected convoy of Russian military vehicles sent Moscow a tough new message: Ukraine’s military is more confident about protecting its territory, and a full-scale Russian invasion could be prolonged and bloody. If the convoy is confirmed to be Russian military vehicles, the attack Thursday night would mark the first time in the five-month war in the country’s east that Ukrainian and Russian forces clashed directly. The aid convoy consisted of 262 military trucks, most of them painted white and each manned by three former Russian military personnel, according to a report by National Public Radio. When Ukrainian officials began inspecting the trucks Friday, many of them turned out to be mostly empty, according to the BBC. Ukraine claims its artillery then destroyed much of a military convoy that crossed from Russia into Ukraine this week as witnessed by two British reporters.

Separatists shot down a Ukrainian fighter plane after army troops entered deep inside a rebel-controlled city. Ukraine’s national Security Council said government forces captured a district police station in Luhansk after bitter clashes in the Velika Vergunka neighborhood. Weeks of fighting have taken their toll on Luhansk, which city authorities say has reached the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe. The siege mounted by government forces has ground delivery of basic provisions to a halt and cut off power and running water links.

The Ukrainian government has recognized the contents of 262 Russian vehicles as humanitarian aid for war-weary civilians in the eastern part of the country, according to a statement from the Ukrainian Cabinet office. The aid will be transported to Ukraine through the Donetsk checkpoint. However, it may be awhile before the food, water and medicine reaches those who need it. Ukraine, meanwhile, says it is distributing its own aid through the Red Cross.

Pakistan

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied Saturday in Pakistan’s capital, defying the pouring rain to demand the prime minister step down in the biggest challenge yet to the country’s government. Imran Khan, a famous cricketer who now leads the country’s third-biggest political bloc, and a fiery anti-government cleric called for the rallies in Islamabad, focused on making Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif leave office and holding new elections. Sharif, who took office just a year ago in the first democratic transfer of power in a country long plagued by military coups, has said he’ll stay in power, raising fears of possible political instability. Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country of 180 million people, has largely been ruled by military dictators since it was carved out of India in 1947. The army still wields great influence in Pakistan, which is battling several militant groups, but has not taken sides in the protests. There are fears, however, that political unrest could prompt the military to intervene.

Nigeria

The Islamist terror group Boko Haram kidnapped at least 97 men and boys and killed 28 people last week in a raid on villages in Borno State in northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram gunmen also injured 25 others during the raid in which scores of homes were burned. The gunmen raided the farming and fishing village of Doron Baga and surrounding villages on the shores of Lake Chad, about 110 miles north of the state capital, Maiduguri. In better news, Nigerian authorities say most of the 100 people kidnapped by Boko Harm on Aug 10th were freed by security forces from neighboring Chad. The abductions took place near the border with Chad. Chadian security forces intercepted the group, killed many of the fighters and freed most of those abducted.

South Sudan

Renewed fighting broke out in South Sudan on Friday (Aug. 15) after weeks of quiet in the civil-war torn country. The latest conflict is a result of rebel leader Riek Machar blaming the South Sudanese government of spending the country’s oil profits on weapons instead of aid for millions that are facing food insecurity in the nation. Aid workers station in South Sudan were forced to take cover as the fighting erupted in the city of Bentiu. South Sudan’s civil war has caused 1.5 million residents to flee their homes; farmers have abandoned crops contributing to the serious food crisis and potential famine in the region. Most recently, the nation missed its deadline to reach a peace settlement, adding further concern for the physical well-being of civilians.

Pestilence

The number of deaths from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has climbed to 1,229, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. The death toll increased between August 14 and 16, as 113 new cases were reported, raising the total number of cases this year to 2,240, the world health body said. The information came from Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone — the four West African countries hit by the deadly virus. The WHO on Monday called on the affected countries to carry out exit screenings of travelers at international airports, seaports and major land crossings.

Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake struck early Monday in western Iran, injuring at least 250 people in a region near the border with Iraq. Local authorities said they fear the quake may have caused widespread destruction in rural areas. The 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit at a depth of around 6 miles in an area about 22 miles southeast of the Iranian city of Abdanan, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was followed by a series of aftershocks. The quake injured at least 250 people in the province of Ilam.

A 4.2 magnitude earthquake struck near Guthrie, Oklahoma, Tuesday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey says. No details were as yet available.

Wildfires

Yet again, a wildfire is burning near California’s Yosemite National Park, and residents are being told to leave. Evacuation orders were sent to about 13,000 phone numbers in central California as Sheriff John Anderson declared a state of emergency in Madera County Monday night. Four hotels in the community of Oakhurst about 16 miles away from an entrance to Yosemite were evacuated and Tuesday classes have been canceled for most of the Yosemite Unified School District. The 1,200-acre blaze, called the Junction fire, closed down State Route 41 toward Yosemite. The fire was burning near a propane business with 30,000 gallon tanks on the site. Firefighters were trying to save the facility but were wary of the danger of explosions.

Meanwhile, another blaze that began Monday some 50 miles northeast of Bakersfield has surged to 3,000 acres, or nearly five square miles. The fire burning near Lake Isabella in Kern County caused officials to issue recommended evacuation orders for several neighborhoods. Some structures had burned, but it wasn’t immediately clear how many. Northeast of Los Angeles, crews were making quick work of a 275-acre wildfire that forced the evacuation of 200 people from a campground and recreational areas. The blaze that broke out Sunday afternoon above the foothill community of Glendora was 60 percent as of Tuesday morning.

Campers and hikers in California’s Angeles National Forest were forced to evacuate Sunday due to a brush fire that swept through San Gabriel Canyon and has torched at least 400 acres of land so far. Crews say the blaze is moving away from homes, and as of Sunday night, no residences are threatened. The fire is 5 percent contained. While afternoon and evening wind gusts from 20 to 40 mph will make containing the blaze difficult, general onshore winds in southern California means the fire is not being blown toward populated areas. Highway 39 was closed by firefighters in an area north of the East Fork Road as a result of the inferno.

Weather

At least 180 people have been killed and more than 100 others are missing after three days of monsoon rains in western Nepal and northern India set off landslides that swept away houses, At least 54 other people have suffered injuries. It has been raining in the region since last Thursday, displacing thousands in the Himalayas, making roads impassable and stranding people in their flooded homes. Highways and roads were either flooded or blocked by landslides in the western part of Nepal, stopping rescuers from reaching remote villages where over a thousand people were thought to be stranded. Trucks loaded with emergency supplies, food, tents and plastic sheets were being sent to the flooded area, but their reach was limited by the blocked roads.

Scientists have known for a while that Arctic snow cover and sea ice are retreating, but the magnitude of problem wasn’t so clear. New long-term measurements have solved that problem, and the news isn’t good. In the last 50 years, snow cover over Arctic sea ice has thinned rapidly, according to a study by NASA and the University of Washington. The report shows that snow cover has thinned by half in some parts of the Arctic Circle, which can cause problems for the ice below. Researchers are uncertain what effects melting snow cover will have on the environment, but they predict that less snow cover could cause the ice to melt quicker in spring.

Signs of the Times (8/15/14)

August 15, 2014

More Unmarried New Moms Cohabiting

Nearly three in five births to unmarried women across the United States were to women living with their partner — marking the first time a majority of these births were to women in cohabiting relationships, according to a new analysis of federal data released Wednesday. The increase was sharp; the percentage of non-marital births within cohabiting relationships rose to 58 percent from 41 percent in just a few years, says the report. While the births in cohabiting relationships increased, the number, rate and percentage of births to unmarried women overall declined during the same period. In 2013, the total of 1,605,643 births to unmarried women was the lowest since 2005. The birthrate for unmarried women has steadily declined. The peak was 2007–08, with 51.8 births per 1,000 women, compared with 44.8 per 1,000 last year. That 14 percent decline was the steepest ever, the report says.

California School District Puts Pornographic Sex-Ed Book on Hold

The Fremont Unified School District quickly removed the book Your Health Today after angry parents went on the warpath. According to board meeting minutes, “after listening to feedback” from parents and other community members, use of the text was put on hold “pending further vetting of concerns expressed with some of its content and its use.” Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute, who took up the parents’ cause, says the book – which had been approved by the school board in late June – is totally inappropriate for 14-year-old ninth-graders. “What it promoted was so perverse, so outrageous, so objectionable that hundreds of parents who normally wouldn’t be involved signed petitions and have been just majorly communicating to the school district their outrage,” he told OneNewsNow. Dacus says the book deals with such subjects as bondage, sex toys, and other salacious subjects he preferred not to describe during the interview.

Another School Accommodates Gender-Neutral Restrooms

An Illinois public university is joining a growing list of more than 150 schools across the country that now offer gender-neutral bathrooms. Northwestern University says they’re responding to students with gender identity issues. But Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute says this is simply more of the liberal agenda that claims gender-confused students should not have to share bathrooms with those whose gender identity they don’t claim to share. Higgins says the reality is that significantly less than one percent of the population is dealing with gender-identity issues.

  • Liberal ‘progressives’ seek to indoctrinate our children with whatever goes against God’s moral code. Promoting gender confusion to impressionable youth is beyond reprehensible.

China Plans to Introduce Nationalized Christian Theology

China has announced its plans to nationalize Christian theology, a move that is has many Christians concerned for the future. Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs said, “The construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture.” An article published in China’s state-run news website said that the national theology “will encourage more believers to make contributions to the country’s harmonious social progress, cultural prosperity and economic development.” Christian leaders believe that a nationalized theology would focus more on politics than religion.

Lawmakers Seek to Curb Military Surplus Program for Police

The startling scenes this week of heavily armed police clashing with protesters in a St. Louis suburb have galvanized a bipartisan push in Washington to challenge a controversial Pentagon program that gives away free military gear to local law enforcement. Concerns about the so-called “militarization” of local police have been simmering for some time. But the clashes in Ferguson, Mo., over the death of an unarmed black teenager illustrated precisely what lawmakers have been worried about – police using a “military response” to subdue civilian riots and protests, and potentially escalating the situation in the process. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., warned that the scenes from Ferguson resembled “war more than traditional police action.” The concerns over heavily armed police have brought together a complex cross-section of libertarian Republicans and liberal Democrats in the same way as recent controversies over drones and National Security Agency snooping.

ICE Faulted for Freeing Detainees in 2013

An investigation into the release of more than 2,220 immigration detainees in 2013 that drew outrage from Gov. Jan Brewer and other Arizona officials faults top Immigration and Customs Enforcement executives for poor planning and a lack of communication. But the investigation by the Office of Inspector General did not find evidence that the release of the detainees, among them more than 600 convicted criminals, was politically motivated, as Brewer and other critics have charged. Instead, the inspector general’s 42-page report made public Tuesday supports claims by ICE officials that they decided to release immigration detainees — including the convicted criminals — in late February and early March 2013 for budgetary reasons, as mandatory across-the-board cuts known as the sequester were about to kick in.

  • Not politically motivated? President Obama had passed along the word to all agencies to make sure the sequester cuts caused real pain. ICE did so to the detriment of our country.

U.N. Endorses Use of Untested Ebola Medicines

The use of unproven drugs to combat the deadly Ebola virus won support Tuesday from the World Health Organization, which cited deep concerns over “the largest, most severe and most complex outbreak of Ebola virus disease in history.” The endorsement from the U.N.’s health care agency came after two American health care workers were treated with with an experimental Ebola drug. Officials warned, however, that the improvement they showed may not have been directly related to the drugs. On Monday, WHO convened a teleconference with a panel of experts to examine the role of experimental drugs in eradicating the virus. The panel determined that, if stringent ethical criteria are met, the drugs should be used. “These (criteria) include transparency about all aspects of care, informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community,”

WHO says 1,060 people have died since March in the outbreak, the vast majority of them in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. However, beds in Ebola treatment centers are filling up faster than they can be provided, evidence that an outbreak in West Africa is far more severe than the numbers show, an official with the World Health Organization said Friday. Officials estimate that Ebola kills about half of those afflicted with the disease.

Economic News

Consumers remained cautious in their spending last month, generating no growth in retail sales. The Commerce Department said Wednesday retail sales were virtually unchanged from June, ending a five month string of increases that have been getting smaller since April. Motor vehicles and parts sales fell 0.2%, pulling down the overall results. Sales fell at department stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, electronics and appliance stores, and Internet retailers. Among the retail categories posting better sales were building materials, food and beverage stores, health and personal care, clothing and restaurants.

U.S. home prices continued rising more slowly in the second quarter, staging their smallest annual gains in two years, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday. The median price for existing single-family homes increased 4.4% from a year earlier to $212,400. That’s close to half the annual appreciation in the first quarter. Prices rose in about 70% of the 173 metro areas in the NAR’s quarterly report, a small decrease from the first quarter. Forty-seven markets, or 27%, showed lower median prices from a year earlier. Four of the five most expensive housing markets in the second quarter were in California. San Jose’s median single-family home price was $899,500. The next four were San Francisco, $769,600; Anaheim-Santa Ana, Calif., $691,900; Honolulu, $678,500; and San Diego, $504,200.

Japan’s economy suffered its worst contraction since 2011 in the second quarter as consumer spending on big items slumped in the wake of a sales tax rise. Japan’s GDP dropped by 1.7% as business and housing investment declined. Japan’s economy last suffered a hit of this magnitude after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster. Japan’s consumption tax was increased to 8% in April in a bid to improve the country’s fiscal position. If needed, the government has the option to implement an additional increase to 10% by 2015.

Britain’s economy is growing faster than any other developed nation, but citizens wouldn’t know it by looking at their pay stubs. Latest official figures show total pay, including bonuses, shrank by 0.2% in the three months ended in June, even as unemployment continued to fall sharply. Thanks to a housing boom and consumer spending, the economy is motoring along: the Bank of England on Wednesday upped its growth forecast for 2014 to 3.5%. But that could be hampered if pay continues to falter and consumers tighten their pocketbooks.

Eurozone

The shaky economic recovery in the 18-country Eurozone ground to a halt in the second quarter, as the continent’s central pillars — Germany and France — were held back by weaker investment by business and by fears over the crisis in Ukraine. The German economy, the biggest among the countries that use the euro, shrank by a quarterly rate of 0.2% while no. 2 France showed zero growth for the second straight quarter. Italy, the No. 3 economy, shrank. The figures bring an end to the Eurozone’s paltry recovery from its longest-ever recession. Growth, which has been patchy across the region and dependent on Germany, lasted just four quarters. Economists say fears the Ukraine crisis may escalate are making companies in Europe hesitate to invest and consumers to postpone spending.

Middle East

A five-day extension of the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas got off to a very shaky start, as talks for a longer-term solution to the conflict in Gaza continue in Cairo. Even as Egyptian and Palestinian officials announced that all sides had agreed to the five-day extension, violence flared up early Thursday morning as the Israeli military announced eight rockets were launched at Israel and that it had retaliated with airstrikes on Gaza. Gaza police told the Associated Press it recorded 17 Israeli strikes but that no casualties were reported.

The Islamist terror militia Hamas announced on Monday that it was ready to allow security forces from the Palestinian Authority to control the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, an apparent concession in negotiations taking place in Cairo to try and end the month-long conflict with Israel. The idea to allow 1,000 PA police officers to be deployed along the Egypt-Gaza border has been approved by Egypt, even as a Hamas official said his organization was also willing to allow the PA to oversee the reconstruction of the Strip, which would make it more likely that Israel would be able to approve the plan since the PA is more likely to accept Israeli security conditions. However, Israel is continuing to insist on the full demilitarization of the Gaza Strip as a condition for a more permanent cease-fire and officials warned that much discussion is still needed before an agreement can be reached.

The man chosen to head up the United Nations Human Rights Commission “investigation” into the casualties of the Israel-Hamas war is a Canadian professor named William Schabas. Professor Schabas is well known in Israel—because of his public calls for Prime Minister Netanyahu and former President Peres to be tried as war criminals. David Evans of the Jerusalem Prayer Team notes, “This is the man that the UN thinks should head up an impartial investigation! What a disgusting, yet revealing, choice.” While the world paints Israel as the villain it promises billions to the terrorists who will only use the money for the next round of attacks on the Jewish people.

Iraq

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki on Thursday night said he agreed to relinquish his position, a move that came after days of crisis in which Mr. Maliki’s deployment of extra security forces around the capital raised worries of a military coup. While the country is not at peace, Mr. Maliki’s decision, nonetheless, appeared to pave the way for the first truly peaceful transition of power, based on democratic elections and without the guiding hand of American military forces, in modern Iraq’s history. In stepping aside Mr. Maliki agreed to end his legal challenge to the nomination of his replacement, which was made on Monday when Iraq’s president nominated Haider al-Abadi, a member of Mr. Maliki’s own Shiite Islamist Dawa Party. Mr. Maliki’s decision came after days of negotiations with his former Shiite allies, who urged Mr. Maliki to give up in the face of growing international opposition to his rule, including from the United States and Iran, and the sense among most Iraqi leaders that his removal was necessary to bring the country together in the face of an onslaught by Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The military has sent 130 additional military advisers to northern Iraq to plan for the evacuation of refugees under siege by Islamic militants, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday. The Marines and special operations forces have been sent to the city of Irbil in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to assess the humanitarian crisis in the Sinjar Mountains and to determine ways to end it. There were about 300 U.S. military advisers already in Iraq, as well as other troops there to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The plight of the refugees prompted President Obama to order both airstrikes against the Islamic State militants and humanitarian airdrops there last week. U.S. special operations forces concluded Thursday that a rescue of refugees trapped there was probably unnecessary because of the success of U.S. humanitarian airdrops and strikes on Islamic State militants. The U.N. on Wednesday declared the situation in Iraq a “Level 3 Emergency” — a development that will trigger additional goods, funds and assets to respond to the needs of the displaced.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military’s effort there could take months but will be limited. He added that the effect of the airstrikes had blunted the momentum of the militant group, and shipping heavier arms to Kurdish allies will help solidify the gains. The survival of the refugees, including members of the Yazidi sect, has been assured for now, Dempsey said, but their fate and rolling back the gains the Islamic State has made — such as seizing the city of Mosul — will require the new Iraqi government to reach out to Sunnis and Kurds.

Syria

Syrian rebels could suffer their biggest setback of the war as government troops and Islamic militants are encircling the key northwestern city of Aleppo. Rebel commanders in Aleppo told the Journal that they are stocking up on food and other supplies to prevent the type of starvation-inducing siege that forced them to surrender the city of Homs earlier this year, and warn that losing Aleppo could be the death blow to the revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that began in 2011. “We’re about to lose Aleppo and no one cares,” Hussam Almarie, a FSA spokesman, told The Wall Street Journal. “We won’t be able to recover the revolution if this happens.” The FSA rebels are encircled in Aleppo province by Syrian government forces on one side and the Islamic State group on the other side. On Wednesday, Syrian opposition activists told the Associated Press that Islamic State fighters captured the towns of Akhtarin and Turkmanbareh in the Aleppo countryside near the border with Turkey, dislodging other rebels in the process.

Ukraine

At least 94 people were killed and 116 others were injured during clashes between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine over the past three days, officials in Ukraine said Thursday. Shelling hit nearly all districts of the eastern Ukrainian rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Thursday, city leaders said, signaling the latest developments in a city targeted for days by a Ukrainian military bent on retaking it. The shelling comes as 50,000 Ukrainian troops press forward with an offensive meant to rout pro-Russian rebel fighters from Donetsk. Ukrainian officials have said they expect to be able to fully recapture the city by Ukraine’s Independence Day on August 24.

Under the watchful eyes of foreign observers and the International Red Cross, Ukrainian customs officers were set to begin inspecting a 262-truck Russian humanitarian aid convoy Friday under a complicated deal that allowed the trucks to cross the border at a site controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Ukraine had insisted that the goods — food, generators and medical supplies — be inspected and reloaded before being allowed to proceed to hard-hit areas of eastern Ukraine, particularly the besieged city of Luhansk. For several days, as the trucks wound their way from Moscow, Ukrainian officials expressed concern that the trucks might contain military equipment as a cover for a military invasion.

Earthquakes

At least two people were killed and eight injured in Ecuador after a magnitude 5.1 earthquake in the capital city of Quito set off mudslides and sent people rushing out into the streets on Tuesday. A cloud of dust engulfed portions of the city and cars were crushed by rocks and mud from collapsed hillsides. The government said two people were confirmed dead and eight injured in the Catequilla area, seven miles north of the capital near the country’s monument marking the Equator. There were no reports of widespread damage, but some roads were blocked by small landslides.

Weather

Detroit and its suburbs were inundated with record-shattering rainfall during the afternoon rush Monday, leaving hundreds of motorists trapped on flooded freeways and arterial roads. More than 1,000 cars were abandoned across the metro area overnight after dozens of high water rescues and evacuations for higher ground. Others opted to spend the night in their vehicles, trapped by floodwaters that submerged a countless number of roads across the area. Portions of the Ford Freeway (Interstate 94), the Chrysler Freeway (Interstate 75), Interstate 696, the Southfield Freeway, and the Lodge Freeway remained closed as of early Tuesday morning, hours after the last of the rain had moved out of the area.

Parts of Long Island was deluged by torrential rain early Wednesday morning, flooding major expressways just before the morning commute. Numerous roads were shut down, including parts of the Long Island Expressway, the Southern State Parkway, the Northern State Parkway, the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway, the Sunrise Highway, Route 110, the Sagtikos Parkway and the Jericho Turnpike. Many cars were stranded in the flooding. At least two feet of water flooded the Bay Shore train station’s parking lot, and a parking lot at Long Island MacArthur Airport. Islip picked up a whopping 9.71 inches of rain in just two hours ending at 6:56 a.m. ET, including an incredible one-hour total of 5.34 inches between 4:56 and 5:56 a.m. ET. As of 8 a.m. ET, 13.08 inches of rain had fallen in Islip.

The heavy rain also spread into southern Connecticut, where cars were submerged off I-95 near Branford. The National Weather Service issued a rare “flash flood emergency” for areas near Baltimore Tuesday as rainfall lashed the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas. More than 8 inches of rain fall in some areas, causing serious flash flooding and closing at least three major highways. The Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, which carries Interstate 895 underneath the Patapsco River, was closed due to flooding Tuesday afternoon. A portion of Route 295 between the Baltimore Beltway and Westport, Maryland, was also closed. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport has recorded 6.30 inches of rain Tuesday through 10 p.m., making it the second-wettest calendar day on record in the Baltimore area. The airport’s official observations reported 4.19 inches of rain in just two hours.

Brazil’s largest city could run dry in less than 100 days if the city’s government doesn’t act, Brazil’s Public Ministry said. Sao Paulo, a city of more than 9 million people, is facing one of its worst water shortages in years, brought on by the worst drought to hit Sao Paulo state in 84 years. The Cantareira watershed, which supplies 45 percent of the Sao Paulo metro’s population with water, is less than 100 days from running dry. According to weather.com senior meteorologist Jonathan Erdman, rainfall substantial enough to help replenish the ailing reservoirs is unlikely to come until the southern hemisphere summer, which peaks December through February. But so far, the city’s water utility Sabep, which is owned and operated by Sao Paulo state, hasn’t drafted or enacted any water rationing plan, despite the demands and deadlines of federal prosecutors.

Signs of the Times (8/11/14)

August 11, 2014

Anti-Semitism Flares in Europe Amid Gaza War

Four weeks of fighting between Hamas militants and Israel fueled a rise in anti-Semitism outbursts across Europe, ranging from violent attacks to chants of “Deaths to the Jews” at anti-Israel demonstrations. In Germany and other European countries — especially France, which has a large Jewish and Muslim population — Jews have been attacked on the street, synagogues have been bombed, Jewish groups have received hate mail and anti-Semitic slogans have been spray-painted on buildings. Three consecutive weekends of pro-Palestinian demonstrations turned into anti-Semitic attacks across France. Eight synagogues have been attacked, as well as several Jewish protesters. In Turkey — a mostly Muslim nation — Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, who is running for president, has accused Israel of aggression similar to that of Adolf Hitler.

Ebola-Infected American Doctor Getting Stronger

Dr. Kent Brantly, the American doctor infected with Ebola released a statement Friday afternoon— his first since being brought back to the U.S. Brantly was working for humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse in West Africa, treating Ebola patients at a Liberia hospital when he contracted the deadly virus. On Saturday, August 2, he was flown to Emory University Hospital, where he has been in isolation while receiving care. He released the following statement through Samaritan’s Purse: “I am writing this update from my isolation room at Emory University Hospital, where the doctors and nurses are providing the very best care possible. I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for His mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease. I also want to extend my deep and sincere thanks to all of you who have been praying for my recovery. My wife Amber and I, along with our two children, did not move to Liberia for the specific purpose of fighting Ebola. We went to Liberia because we believe God called us to serve Him at ELWA Hospital. One thing I have learned is that following God often leads us to unexpected places. When Ebola spread into Liberia, my usual hospital work turned more and more toward treating the increasing number of Ebola patients.”

  1. S. to Quarantine Ebola-Exposed Missionaries

Missionaries returning to the United States after working with patients infected with Ebola will be put in quarantine and monitored, health officials said Sunday. The quarantine will last at least three weeks since the missionaries were last exposed to people infected with the Ebola virus. The missionaries are with Charlotte-based SIM USA. None of them are sick or have shown any signs of having Ebola, but they agree with health officials that everyone should be as cautious as possible, SIM USA president Bruce Johnson said in a statement. The aid group isn’t releasing how many missionaries were in Liberia or when they will return to protect the privacy of their families. The returning missionaries will arrive in an area of the Charlotte airport away from the public.

  • Ebola’s spread to the United States is “inevitable” due to the nature of global airline travel, but any outbreak is not likely to be large, US health authorities said Thursday.

Ingress of Children from Central America Slowed in July

The number of children and families apprehended by the Border Patrol in July crossing the U.S.-Mexican border illegally fell by more than half in July from June, according to Customs and Border Protection. The significant drop reverses the recent surge in unaccompanied children and families fleeing north from Central America. “I think it’s a combination of factors: stepped up anti-smuggling efforts, the fact that Mexico is returning substantially larger numbers of people crossing their territory … and the fact that the countries themselves have been making a huge effort to tell people that what the smugglers are saying is not true and that the journey is really dangerous,” said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute who served as a commissioner in the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

White Students No Longer the Majority

For the first time, U.S. public schools are projected this fall to have more minority students than non-Hispanic whites, a shift largely fueled by growth in the number of Hispanic children. Non-Hispanic whites are still expected to be the largest racial group in the public schools this year at 49.9%. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, minority students when added together will now make up the majority. About one-quarter of the minority students are Hispanic, 15% are black and 5% are Asian and Pacific Islanders.

Native Americans Lack Internet Access

The broadband penetration rate across the 566 federally recognized tribes is less than 10%, according to a Native Public Media and New America Foundation analysis. The lack of broadband access even includes key community institutions on reservations, such as libraries. “Students will drive to neighboring cities and sit in the McDonald’s (MCD) parking lot to get connectivity,” said Traci Morris of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. The country’s major broadband providers tend to pass over rural tribal lands, in favor of wiring more densely populated urban areas. Wiring homes for broadband is expensive, and they can get a bigger bang for their buck in cities and towns, explained Morris. Regulatory hurdles also have dissuaded Internet companies from wiring reservations. Doing business in a reservation begins with a lengthy, multi-tiered bureaucratic process that starts with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and includes navigating each sovereign tribal nation’s unique system of governance.

Economic News

U.S. workers were more productive in the April-June quarter and labor costs rose slightly, a sharp turnaround from grim first-quarter figures. The Labor Department says that productivity increased 2.5 percent at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, after plummeting 4.5 percent in the first quarter. That was the steepest drop in 31 years, and reflected a sharp 2.1 percent contraction in the economy. Labor costs rose just 0.6 percent, after surging 11.8 percent in the first quarter.

It’s no secret that many Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement, but a big chunk of households have saved nothing at all. Nearly a third, or 31% of U.S. adults said they had no savings or pension to help them afford retirement, according to the Federal Reserve Board. Even more alarming: 19% of those very close to retirement age, between the ages of 55 and 64, said they had no savings. As a result, more than half of these respondents said they planned to either work full-time or part-time during their retirement years.

The U.S. Postal Service boosted its revenue through price increases and a continued focus on package-shipping, but still ended the third quarter with a $1.96 billion loss. The agency boosted revenue by 2% to $16.5 billion in the period ending June 30. The improvement was due mainly to growth in its package-delivery business, which saw revenue rise 6.6% to $3.19 billion as postal customers increased their online spending.

Persecution Watch

Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria have reached a new level of terrorism as the Muslim extremists have began systematically killing Christians in a mass genocide. According to respected Chaldean-American businessman Mark Arabo, the militants hang men, rape and kill women and behead children. “This is a genocide in every sense. They are killing every Christian they see.” Arabo compared the tragedy to a “Christian Holocaust.” Thousands of Christians have fled the region in search of refuge. The few who remain in areas controlled by IS are either forced to convert to Islam or die.

The U.S. Navy has instructed housekeepers to remove Gideon-placed Bibles from every hotel room on its military bases after it received a letter from the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). NEXCOM (Navy Exchange Service Command) issued the directive to bases offering hotel accommodations, ordering them to impound Bibles from 34 Navy Lodge locations and 24,000 Navy Gateway Inns & Suites guest rooms on Navy bases worldwide. The Air Force tried unsuccessfully to remove Bibles from its lodgings in 2012, but after public outcry, the Air Force reversed itself.

Middle East

Palestinian negotiators on Sunday said they had accepted an Egyptian proposal for a new 72-hour truce with Israel, clearing the way for a possible resumption of talks on a long-term cease-fire arrangement in the Gaza Strip. Israel had walked away from cease-fire talks over the weekend, after militants resumed their rocket fire on southern Israel with the expiration of an earlier three-day truce. Sunday’s decision was aimed at bringing the Israelis back to the negotiations. Israeli later on Sunday accepted Egypt’s call for a new 72-hour cease-fire in the Gaza fighting to start at one minute after midnight Monday and for a resumption of Egyptian-mediated negotiations toward a more durable solution for Gaza.

Hopes that a 72-hour cease-fire might lead to a formal cessation of hostilities were dashed Friday when Gaza militants fired rockets into Israel, which responded with strikes on targets inside the Palestinian enclave. The breakdown was not entirely unexpected, as Hamas had warned it would not extend the cease-fire because Israel had not responded to any of the Palestinian demands. Chief among them is Hamas’ insistence that Israel end its 7-year blockade of Gaza and allow normal trade and traffic into the Mediterranean seaside territory that is home to 1.8 million people. Israel maintains it is willing to consider easing border restrictions but wants Hamas to disarm. Hamas officials said they were willing to continue negotiations, but Israel said it would not conduct negotiations under fire and would protect its citizens by all means.

Iraq

With American strikes beginning to show clear effects on the battlefield, Kurdish forces counterattacked Sunni militants in northern Iraq on Sunday, regaining control of two strategic towns with aid from the air. U.S. military aircraft conducted a strike Friday on ISIS artillery that had been used near Irbil, Iraq. After months of resisting sending Americans to fight ISIS, President Barack Obama on Thursday gave authorization to launch “targeted airstrikes” if needed to protect U.S. interests from fighters with the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS. The U.S. military could also use airstrikes to intervene in a humanitarian crisis that the Islamic State is inflicting on religious minorities. The Islamic State moved closer to U.S. interests in Iraq’s Kurdish region in the north this week, taking towns from the Kurdish fighting force, known as the Peshmerga. Before the Islamic State’s onslaught, the region had been the most stable in Iraq and a cooperative ally of the United States. U.S. military advisers and consular personnel are stationed in the Kurdish capital, Irbil.

Obama stressed that the U.S. wouldn’t be dragged into another war but would protect its people and interests in Iraq and prevent genocide of religious minorities. President Obama sought to prepare Americans for an extended presence in the skies over Iraq, saying the airstrikes he ordered last week, could last months. Iraqi officials said U.S. airstrikes Saturday killed 16 fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the extremist militia that calls itself the Islamic State. The U.S. also conducted a second airdrop of food and water for thousands of refugees trapped in Iraq’s Sinjar mountains early Saturday. Three planes dropped 72 bundles of supplies for the refugees. Included in the aid were more than 28,000 meals and more than 1,500 gallons of water. According to the U.N., between 35,000 and 50,000 fled to nearby Mount Sinjar and other areas, and for the last several days they have been without adequate food and water. The United States is sending weapons to Kurdish forces in Iraq who have begun to roll back gains made by Sunni militants.

Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is taking his struggle to keep his job to the courts after announcing he will file a legal complaint on Monday against the country’s newly elected president. The deadlock over a new government has plunged Iraq into a political crisis. Al-Maliki has resisted calls for his resignation and the political infighting could hamper efforts to stem advances by the Sunni militants. Meanwhile, Iraqi President Fuad Masum on Monday appointed Haider al-Abadi as Iraq’s new Prime Minister, in an event shown live on state television. Al-Abadi now has 30 days to form the Cabinet of the new government.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s feuding presidential candidates have agreed to resolve their election dispute and say they will set the inauguration before the end of August. The breakthrough comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry opened a second day of talks in Afghanistan on Friday aimed at preventing the fragile country from collapsing into political chaos after disputed elections. Kerry paid a courtesy call on Afghan President Hamid Karzai and met later with the two men, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. They’ve been locked in a bitter dispute over who will succeed Karzai.

Ukraine

Ukrainian forces have seized a key town, leaving the rebel region’s largest city of Donetsk surrounded. “The Donetsk-Horlivka group of the fighters of Novorossiya is completely surrounded,” said Igor Girkin, a top commander of the pro-Russia insurgency. The statement was posted on a rebel social media page. Novosrossiya, or New Russia, is a term widely used for the rebel region. As fighting raged Sunday in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, a Ukrainian military spokesman denied separatists’ calls for a cease-fire, saying a truce would only be possible if they surrender.

Liberia

Liberians packed churches in the capital Monrovia on Sunday to seek solace from an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, defying official warnings to avoid public gatherings to try to contain an epidemic that has killed nearly 1,000 people in West Africa. With its creaking healthcare system completely overrun, Liberia declared a state of emergency last week to tackle the highly contagious and incurable disease, which has also stricken neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.

Riot police in Monrovia, Liberia quelled a demonstration that blocked one of the nation’s busiest highways Saturday as an angry crowd protested the government’s delays in collecting the bodies of Ebola victims. Several bodies had been lying by the roadside for two days in the central town of Weala, 50 miles from the capital of Monrovia. Nearly 300 Liberians have died from the virus, which is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of its victims, including touching or handling corpses. The Liberian government has ordered that all Ebola victims be cremated.

Wildfires

At least nine wildfires are currently burning in California, and there might not be much help on the way from the weather with thunderstorms and more lightning expected. The blazes are all located in the northeastern corner of the state and were all sparked by lightning. Over the weekend, new wildfires burned in Lassen, Modoc and Shasta counties. In Mendocino County, crews continued to fight a fire that has burned 8,700 acres of land. The Lodge fire was started by lightning on July 30, and firefighters have contained 35 percent of the blaze. An evacuation order remains in effect as the fire about 160 miles north of San Francisco threatens nearly 60 structures across six communities. The fire is smaller than the fire that has charred 50 square miles in Shasta County, but CalFire officials said remote and rugged terrain in Mendocino County makes it tougher to fight. CalFire officials said that eight firefighters sustained “minor” burns while battling the Lodge Fire.

An evacuation order was lifted for 740 homes threatened by the Columbia Gorge wildfire in Oregon. Firefighters there made good progress on the blaze, upping containment figures to 55 percent. And in Washington, a dozen wildfires in the central and eastern portions of the state put more than a thousand homes and structures in some danger, though firefighters started to get control of about half the blazes. Unfortunately, more bad news could be on the way for the thousands of firefighters in California, Washington and Oregon, with fire weather watches and red flag warnings in effect with an increased risk of thunderstorms through Tuesday

Weather

The one-two hurricane punch that was supposed to hit Hawaii is looking more like a jab and a missed left hook. After Hawaii cleared Tropical Storm Iselle largely without deterring sunbathers and surfers, the state looked toward Hurricane Julio, which was expected to pass roughly 160 miles northeast of the islands at its closest point early Sunday and linger near the state into Monday. While prospects for Julio could quickly change, the storms appear to have been more a scare for Hawaii than a significant threat. The Big Island took the brunt of a weakening Iselle on Thursday night and early Friday. Iselle knocked down power lines, phones and trees, but it not did not cause major damage or injuries. While it lacked power, Iselle was the first tropical storm to hit Hawaii in 22 years.

Halong made landfall near Aki, Kōchi prefecture, Japan as a tropical storm Sunday, forcing the evacuations of more than 1 million people, killing one person, injuring 52 others and dumping record-breaking rainfall on parts of western Japan as it moved through the island nation out to sea. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) issued a rare emergency weather warning for Mie prefecture due to “unprecedented” rainfall that could spark landslides and flooding of extremely swollen rivers. At least 17 inches of rain was recorded during a 24 hour period in the town of Hakusan with a total of 34-42 inches reported in some area over a two-day period.

Signs of the Times (8/7/14)

August 7, 2014

Millions of Muslims Converting to Christ

Extraordinary stories about the massive number of Muslims converting to Christ are appearing around the world. Recently at World Magazine, writer Warren Cole Smith interviewed 25-year missionary David Garrison who has documented his findings about the Muslim phenomenon. “There is a revival in the Muslim world,” Garrison says. He believes between 2 and 7 million former Muslims have converted to Christianity in the past two decades. His book, A Wind in the House of Islam, contains impressive research to back up his claim. Why is this happening? Nabeel Qureshi, a popular speaker and author, explains in his book and online testimony that the gospel is being proclaimed with greater effectiveness. Qureshi affirms that the Holy Spirit works primarily by and through Scripture. And in his own experience, he says that subjective visions about Christ were also steps in his conversion from Islam to faith in Christ.

Pastors Not Speaking about Current Issues

Ninety-percent of America’s pastors are not addressing any of the salient issues affecting Christian people’s political or societal lives On Thursday, George Barna–research expert and founder of The Barna Group–shared with American Family Radio’s ‘Today’s Issues’ about new information he’s compiling at American Culture and Faith Institute over the last two years, gauging where theologically conservative pastors are at politically. “What we’re finding is that when we ask them about all the key issues of the day, [90 percent of them are] telling us, Yes, the Bible speaks to every one of these issues. Then we ask them: Well, are you teaching your people what the Bible says about those issues?–and the numbers drop…to less than 10 percent of pastors who say they will speak to it. So the thing that struck me has been that when we talk about the separation of church and state, it’s that churches have separated themselves from the activities of the state–and that’s to the detriment of the state and its people,’ stated the researcher.”

  • The end-times “lukewarm” Laodicean church (Revelation 3:14-22) is largely to blame for the decline of America’s Christian roots and principles

Judge Overturns Alabama Law Requiring Abortionists to Have Hospital Privileges

The Alabama law that required doctors performing abortions to have privileges at local hospitals was ruled unconstitutional. Judge Myron Thompson declared that the law forced an “undue burden” on women who were planning to undergo the procedure. Life News reports that the law would have closed the doors of three out of five abortion clinics in the state if it had not been overturned. Operation Rescue President Troy Newman was outraged by the decision. “Following Thompson’s flawed logic, he would rather keep open an abortion facility open – even if it was the likes of Kermit Gosnell and his filthy ‘House of Horrors’ – than close an abortion facility, no matter how dangerous it is for women. This puts the fabricated ‘right’ of an abortionist to operate whatever kind of shoddy, dangerous back-alley business he wants above the lives and health of women. This ruling must be appealed by the state in the interest of protecting women from substandard practices that endanger their lives every day,” he said.

Obama (and Congress) Hit New Poll Lows

President Obama has hit another low in another poll, but so have many of his critics in Congress. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll gives the president an approval rating of 40%, a record low; Congress has a rating of only 14%, also a record low. NBC News reports that six in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy, more than 70% believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, and nearly 80% are negative about the country’s political system.

Millions of Uninsured Americans Exempt from ObamaCare Penalties

A new congressional report has estimated that more than 25 million Americans without health insurance will not be made to pay a penalty in 2016 due to an exploding number of ObamaCare exemptions. The Wall Street Journal, citing an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, reported that the number of people expected to pay the fine in 2016 has dwindled to four million people from the report’s previous projection of six million. Under the Affordable Care Act, the fine for not purchasing health insurance is either $95 per adult or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater. That amount is set to increase to $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of family income in 2016, with a total family penalty capped at $2,085.

Approximately 30 million Americans are believed to be without health insurance. The latest report is likely to spark fresh concerns among insurers, who have maintained that the number of exemptions to the law’s individual mandate are resulting in fewer young, healthy people signing up for health insurance. An insurance pool skewed toward older, comparatively unhealthy people is likely to result in rising premiums.

Schools Brace for 50,000 Migrant Children

Schools across the USA are bracing for as many as 50,000 immigrant children who would start school this fall, most of them unaccompanied by their families. Under federal law, all children are entitled to a free public education, regardless of their immigration status. It’s nothing new for public schools to serve immigrant students. But Francisco Negron, general counsel for the National School Board Association, says, “One of the challenges here, though, is the large number of unaccompanied minors.” “This is a whole new wave of immigrant students that are coming without any guardians whatsoever,” Negron says. Public school officials in Florida, Texas and Georgia know the unaccompanied minors are already in their states, mainly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. But they don’t know how many will end up enrolling and where.

97 Bodies of Deceased Immigrants Found In Arizona Desert

The U.S. Border Patrol has found the bodies of 97 undocumented immigrants in the Arizona desert over the past 10 months, the latest being that of a 19-year-old youth who was struck by lightning. Despite the decline in the number of undocumented immigrants crossing the border and the number of arrests in Arizona, people are still dying in the desert. Besides having to endure the high summer temperatures they also have to weather the monsoon storms, which can strike at any time and very quickly move on. Most of the deaths occur in remote, hard-to reach areas. If people fall and hurt themselves, they are left behind by the other immigrants to die. Immigrants like to come over the mountains to avoid detection by the Border Patrol, but that’s the most dangerous way to go and it’s hard to rescue them. To date in the current fiscal year, 83,115 undocumented immigrants have been detained, while in fiscal year 2013 there were 111,570.

CDC Issues Highest-Level Alert for Ebola

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued its highest-level alert for a response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Level 1 means that increased staff and resources will be devoted to the outbreak, officials said. It is the first time the agency has invoked its highest level alert since 2009, over a flu outbreak. The World Health Organization, which convened a two-day emergency meeting of global health workers to discuss the crisis in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, said Wednesday that the death toll had jumped to 932, an increase of 45 fatalities in just four days. Next week, the WHO will convene a panel of medical ethicists to explore the use of experimental treatments.

Russian Crime Ring Hacks IDs & Passwords on 1.2 Billion Internet Accounts

A Russian crime ring has amassed the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials, including 1.2 billion username and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses. The records, discovered by Hold Security, a firm in Milwaukee, include confidential material gathered from 420,000 websites, ranging from household names to small Internet sites. Hold Security has a history of uncovering significant hacks, including the theft last year of tens of millions of records from Adobe Systems. Hold Security would not name the victims, citing nondisclosure agreements and a reluctance to name companies whose sites remained vulnerable. At the request of The New York Times, a security expert not affiliated with Hold Security analyzed the database of stolen credentials and confirmed it was authentic.

Russia Enacts Import Ban as Retaliation for U.S./Europe Sanctions

Moscow formally moved Thursday to impose a ban on imports of meat, fish, milk and fruit from the United States, European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway. The ban, effective immediately, is expected to last for one year. The diplomatic move, following a decree signed Wednesday by Russian President Vladimir Putin to “protect Russia’s security,” follows the latest round of sanctions by the U.S. and EU that targeted entire sectors of the Russian economy. The U.S. and the EU have accused Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March, of fomenting tensions in eastern Ukraine.

Economic News

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000. The four-week moving average, which smooths out volatility, also fell to 293,500. That’s the lowest since February 2006. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When employers keep their workers, it suggests potential income gains, active hiring and confidence that the economy is growing.

The U.S. trade deficit in goods and services fell to a five-month low in June as imports fell sharply and exports crept up. June’s trade deficit narrowed by $3.2 billion to $41.5 billion. June imports were $2.9 billion less than in May while exports rose by $300 million.

Walgreens says it will base its corporate offices in the Chicago area when it completes its acquisition of European drug store operator Alliance Boots. The move dispels expectations that the combined company would be located in Europe to reduce its tax bill.

Persecution Watch

Boko Haram militants have attacked five more churches in northern Nigeria. The Islamic extremist group attacked churches in the Hawal Local Government Area with bombs on July 30. While the churches were destroyed, there were no knowns deaths in the incident. Boko Haram continues to defy the laws of the government and resist Nigerian law enforcement. Nigerian President has faced criticism from Nigerians as well as world leaders for failing to curb Boko Haram’s violence. Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “Boko Haram continues to commit war crimes by wilfully destroying churches…Moreover, the sect has illustrated once again its disregard for every religion and for the sanctity of human life, not only by targeting the innocent as they pray, but also by indoctrinating vulnerable girls for use as disposable commodities to fulfil its murderous purposes.”

Attacks in Cameroon are causing many to worry that Boko Haram militants may be expanding their reach of violence outside of Nigeria. Militants that are suspected to be Boko Haram members brutally attacked the towns of Kolofata and Baragaram at the end of July, killing at least 25 people. In the first attack, Jean Marcel Kevere, a Lutheran Brethren Church pastor was also kidnapped; he was later found dead. In the next attack, the wife of the Kolofata Deputy Prime Minister was kidnapped, along with her maid.

Three months after Chinese officials ripped down the gigantic Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou, the number of churches facing persecution—whether that means demolition, cross removal, or threatening notices—in Zhejiang province has reached into the hundreds, according to Texas-based Christian human rights group ChinaAid. Every few days, news of cross removals and confrontations between church members and police streams out of the region. The government claims the demolitions are part of a three-year campaign to deal with “illegal structures” in Zhejiang, but authorities have only focused their attention on churches. Many fear this is a beginning of a nationwide campaign to slow the rapid growth of Christianity in the country.

Middle East

The longest cease-fire in a war between Israel and Hamas that has left nearly 2,000 dead on both sides appeared to be holding Wednesday as indirect talks on a broader deal began in Cairo. Israel’s military said Tuesday it has withdrawn all of its troops from Gaza, effectively wrapping up its ground operation, although the situation is still volatile and the four-week-old conflict has not ended. Israeli officials announced on Wednesday that the Jewish State has agreed to extend the 72 hour cease-fire which began at 8 AM on Tuesday morning for an undefined period of time, even as a senior Hamas official posted a flat denial of the Islamists terror group’s agreement to an extension. Previous cease-fires have been short-lived and ended with both sides blaming each other for undermining peace efforts. The truce — if it holds — will be followed by indirect talks between Israel and Hamas in Cairo aimed at creating a deal that would prevent future conflict between the two sides. Hamas wants Israel and Egypt to lift their seven-year border blockade on Gaza and has called for international funds to rebuild the shattered coastal territory. Israel is reluctant to open Gaza’s borders until Hamas is disarmed.

Even as the war appears to draw to a close, the battle over casualty statistics rages on. No other number is as contentious as the ratio of civilians to combatants killed, widely viewed, including in Israel, as a measure of whether the commanders in the field acted proportionately to the threat posed by militants — or, in the eyes of Israel’s critics, committed war crimes. Palestinians and their supporters contend Israel massacred innocents with indiscriminate assaults with heavy weapons, citing numerous strikes that killed multiple family members in their homes and several that hit schools sheltering those who had sought refuge. Israel, in turn, says that Hamas, the militant group that dominates Gaza, purposely sacrifices its own citizens by fighting in their midst, in order to raise the world’s ire against Israel. It says that the ratio of combatants killed in a densely populated urban environment supports its assertion that it conducted the attacks as humanely as possible. Some 40,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed during the month-long conflict with Israel that has displaced nearly half a million Palestinians.

Ukraine

A new buildup of Russian troops along the Ukraine border raised concerns Tuesday that Moscow might be contemplating another intervention like the one that annexed Crimea earlier this year. According to a NATO official, Russia now has about 20,000 troops stationed “in an area along the entire border with eastern Ukraine.” The buildup nearly doubled the troop deployment in the last week by adding 8,000 more forces to 12,000 already there, the official said. It comes a week after the United States and the European Union increased economic sanctions on Russia for supporting pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukraine government forces in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, along the border with Russia. Meanwhile, Ukraine government security officials said Monday they were preparing for a “massive assault” on Donetsk city, state media reported. Inside the city, a rebel stronghold for months, shelling has already pushed some residents underground into cellars and half-built basements.

Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Afghanistan late Thursday on an unannounced visit to press the country’s two feuding presidential candidates on the urgency of ending a bitter dispute over June elections and forming a new government by early September. Kerry’s arrival in Kabul follows Tuesday’s killing of a U.S. general by an Afghan soldier at the national defense university, an incident that underscored the tensions that persist as the U.S. combat role winds down. Three officers from the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan were killed by an attacker in an Afghan uniform at a military training academy in Kabul.

South Sudan

An ongoing civil war in South Sudan has caused a severe famine in the region reports Christian News Journal. The shortage of food is affecting 3.9 million people; the U.N. Security Council is calling the famine the “worst in the world.” The combination of political unrest, farmers forced to abandon crops and drought has brought about a “perfect storm” of circumstances for famine said Baptist Global Response (BGR) director Mark Hatfield. “Hunger due to cyclical drought is a growing problem all across Africa, especially in the Sahel. When there is political unrest, the situation is exacerbated due to the lack of ability to get into the fields to cultivate crops and manage herds.” UNICEF and World Food Program (WFP) fear that one million children will need medical treatment for malnutrition by the end of 2014. 50,000 children are at risk of death.

Environment

The Gulf of Mexico has a “dead zone” the size of the state of Connecticut. Scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found an area of 5,052 square miles of “low oxygen water” or hypoxia in their annual survey. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is caused by nutrients that wash into the Gulf’s waters, which in turn boost the growth of algae blooms that suck up the oxygen. These nutrients come from “human activities, such as agriculture and wastewater” according to NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey. The nutrients end up in the Mississippi River which deposits them into the Gulf. Scientists first discovered a dead zone in these waters in 1972. The patch varies in size from year to year. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is the world’s second largest. The number of Dead Zones throughout the world has been increasing in the last several decades and currently totals over 550.

It took a slug of toxins and the loss of drinking water for a half-million residents in Toledo, Ohio, to bring home what scientists and government officials in this part of the country have been saying for years: Lake Erie is in trouble, and getting worse by the year. Flooded by tides of phosphorus washed from fertilized farms, cattle feedlots and leaky septic systems, the most intensely developed of the Great Lakes is increasingly being choked each summer by thick mats of algae, much of it poisonous. What plagues Toledo and, experts say, potentially all 11 million lakeside residents, is increasingly a serious problem across the United States. Poisonous algae are found in polluted inland lakes from Minnesota to Nebraska to California. Five years ago this month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state water authorities issued a joint report on pollution of the nation’s waterways by phosphorus and other nutrients titled “An Urgent Call to Action.” “Unfortunately, very little action has come from that,” said Jon Devine, the senior lawyer for the water program at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.

Earthquakes

An earthquake shook buildings in Johannesburg and surrounding areas in South Africa’s most populous province on Tuesday. At least one person was killed and three were injured. The magnitude-5.3 quake was centered in Orkney, 105 miles southwest of Johannesburg. One man died when a wall of a disused mining building fell on him. Mine managers ordered the evacuation of workers from shafts and there were no immediate reports of casualties underground. Three people were hurt when the quake damaged a training center at another mine.

The death toll in southern China’s earthquake rose to 589 on Wednesday as search and rescue teams worked to clear debris from isolated mountain communities struck by the disaster. The Yunnan provincial government said more than 2,400 people have been injured in Sunday’s 6.1 -magnitude quake in the mountainous Yunnan farming region of Ludian county — the country’s deadliest in four years.

Wildfires

As the West continues to deal with a relentless summer fire season, three states in particular are fighting life-threatening blazes. California, Oregon and Washington are currently dealing with dozens of wildfires that are torching drought-ridden land, making the battle even tougher for firefighters. In the coming days, temperatures are expected to rise yet again, while rainfall will be rare for much of the region, complicating firefighting efforts. In Oregon, families in at least 70 homes in Rowena, a community in the Columbia River Gorge, were told to evacuate Wednesday afternoon. Another 100 homes were put on standby if the conditions worsened. The homes are threatened by a fire that started in brush and timber overnight about six miles west of Dalles, a city of more than 14,000 people.

In Washington, officials fighting a new wildfire complex on a northeast Washington Indian reservation issued an urgent evacuation notice Tuesday for about 20 homes. The Devil’s Elbow Complex of three wildfires was detected Sunday on the Colville Reservation. Officials say it was likely ignited Saturday by lightning. It has burned across about 2,000 acres. Elsewhere, fire managers prepared for extreme fire conditions as hot, dry weather kept several wildfires burning in Washington. Weather conditions allowed two fires in central Washington to grow, including one blaze that was pushing closer to Highway 97 between Blewett Pass and Leavenworth. Residents of about 15 homes near Highway 97 have been told to evacuate, and dozens more have been advised to be ready to leave.

In California, fire crews increased their control over the nearly 45-square-mile Eiler Fire that has destroyed eight homes and threatened a little more than 700 others, some of which were evacuated. Meanwhile, officials lifted evacuation orders Tuesday for residents who live in about a dozen homes near the larger of the Lassen National Forest blazes, which has burned through 62 square miles. Officials had been warning of dangerous conditions because of the drought. But the speed and fury of the Eiler Fire was disconcerting and terrifying. “Trees were just exploding,” said Dennis Hoffman, who left the community of Cassel last week as flames roared through forests on either side of his home. “It was like a big monster — just unbelievable how bad it was.”

Weather

Flash flooding hit Naples, Florida, Monday as more than 6.5 inches of rain fell in about 5 hours. It was the city’s wettest day in over 29 years. Flooding turned Interstate 75 and the heavily-traveled U.S. 41 into a nightmare. Hunter Boulevard was under 15 inches of water at one point.

This week two tropical storms, Iselle and Julio, are threatening the Hawaiian Islands. Tropical cyclones impacting the Hawaiian Islands are not a typical occurrence. In data dating to 1949, there is only one case where tropical cyclones were even 10 days apart. A pair of tropical cyclones affecting Hawaii in just two to three days’ time “is unprecedented in the satellite era.” By mid June, the eastern Pacific season had gotten off to a record start with two Category 4 hurricanes. Hurricane Iselle became the third major hurricane of 2014 in the Eastern Pacific basin Sunday. As it churns west toward the Central Pacific, it could hit Hawaii Friday with Julio expected to strike 2-3 days later. Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed an emergency proclamation which allows the state legislature easier access to emergency funding and personnel. Residents emptied shelves of water and supplies while tourists fled home

Signs of the Times (8/4/14)

August 4, 2014

Study Says 1 in 200 Churchgoers in Homosexual Relationships

A new poll claims that one in 200 churchgoers are involved in a homosexual relationship. The survey was conducted by Christian Research for Christian Today. 1,401 practicing Christians over the age of 16 were polled online. According to the study, 0.6 percent of respondents indicated that they were involved in a relationship with a person of the same sex. Other findings from the study include the following: 60% of respondents indicated that they were married; 5.8% said they were divorced; 6.5% said they were remarried following a divorce; two-thirds of respondents said that Christians should not cohabitate before marriage.

  • With less than 1% homosexual, this study refutes gay agenda claims of much higher percentages within the Christian community

Canadians Protest Persecution of Christians by ISIS in Iraq

Hundreds of Iraqi Canadian Christians gathered in Toronto Sunday calling for the government to stand up against the persecution Christians in Mosul have faced since terrorist group ISIS began its occupation on June 10th. Many said they had fled Iraq years ago in fear and are now worried about their loved ones back home. Protesters said that news from friends in Iraq is devastating, with tales of people being forced to leave with nothing but the clothes on their back and some young women being kidnapped by ISIS. Since conquering the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit in Iraq, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has become one of the most feared jihadist organizations, seeking to create an Islamic state in eastern Syria and northern Iraq based on Sharia law. After taking Mosul, the group gave Christians three options: convert, pay a hefty tax or be killed.

House Passes Immigration Bill, But Senate Recesses

The House late Friday revived and approved a Republican-authored border crisis bill after GOP leaders hurriedly resolved an internal battle that scuttled the vote a day earlier – but with the Senate on recess and the House soon to follow, there’s little chance of any bill reaching President Obama’s desk until the fall. The House legislation was approved on a 223-189 vote. The new version of the bill adds additional funding for the National Guard and includes policy changes meant to speed deportations of illegal immigrant children surging across the southern border. In the absence of any legislation that all sides can agree on, the president threatened to act on his own to address immigration challenges during the five-week recess.

Immigrants from 75 Countries Illegally Crossed into U.S.

A leaked intelligence analysis from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reveals the exact numbers of illegal immigrants entering and attempting to enter the U.S. from more than 75 different countries, reports Breitbart.com. Among the significant revelations are that individuals from nations currently suffering from the world’s largest Ebola outbreak have been caught attempting to sneak across the porous U.S. border into the interior of the United States. At least 71 individuals from the three nations affected by the current Ebola outbreak have either turned themselves in or been caught attempting to illegally enter the U.S. by U.S. authorities between January 2014 and July 2014. As of July 20, 2014, 1,443 individuals from China were caught sneaking across the porous U.S. border this year alone, with another 1,803 individuals either turning themselves in to U.S. authorities at official ports of entry, or being caught attempting to illegally enter at the ports of entry. This comes amid a massive crackdown by Chinese authorities of Islamic terrorists in the Communist nation.

Toxins in Toledo Water Supply

The mayor of Toledo, Ohio, lifted the ban on drinking city tap water Monday, saying tests showed the water is once again clear of toxins. About 400,000 people were without drinkable tap water for a second day Sunday. City officials had issued an urgent notice to residents to not drink or use the city’s tap water after harmful levels of algae-related toxins were discovered at one of the city’s water treatment plants. Some Toledo suburbs along with areas of southwestern Michigan were also affected by the water ban. Chemists had two sample readings for microcystin in excess of the recommended “Do Not Drink” 1 micro-gram per liter standard. The water could lead to a series of health complications, including “abnormal liver function, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea numbness or dizziness. Attempting to boil and drink the water would only worsen those health effects because it would “increase the concentration of the toxins. Officials said the toxin was likely from Lake Erie algae.

Economic News

After years of bitter court battles with creditors, Argentina defaulted on its debt last week. Argentina is not the only country that has struggled, or even failed, to pay its debt in recent years. Based on ratings from Moody’s Investors Service, there arean other 10 countries at risk of default. They span the globe, ranging from Greece and Ukraine in Europe, to Pakistan in Asia, to Ecuador, Venezuela, and Belize in the Americas. Other countries listed are Egypt, Cuba, Cypress, and Jamaica.

The U.S. coal industry, already struggling against low natural gas prices and federal regulations, is now facing cheap foreign competition that’s boosting the nation’s imports and cutting its exports. After plunging from their peak in 2007, U.S. coal imports have reversed course. They’ve jumped 57% in the first five months of this year compared with the same period in 2013. Of the 2.4 million tons imported in this year’s first quarter, two-thirds came from Colombia and nearly one-fourth from Indonesia. Despite the long distances involved, it often costs less to ship coal from a foreign port to a U.S. port than to move it by rail within the U.S.

After years of sending call center jobs to India, the Philippines, Mexico and other countries, companies are bringing them back to the U.S. An estimated 5 million Americans are now employed in call centers. About 180,000 call center jobs were created nationally in 2012 and 2013.The trend, industry watchers said, is driven by changes in technology, rising overseas labor costs — and customers demanding better service. Companies began sending call center jobs overseas years ago because they sought to reduce labor costs. Many companies found that customers were unhappy with the service from overseas call centers.

Less than a month after consumers forked out the highest prices for gasoline for a July 4 weekend since 2008, they’ll fill up today at the lowest average Aug. 1 price since 2010 and should pay even less this fall. Price tracker gasbuddy.com says the average cost of regular-graded, unleaded gasoline begins the month at $3.51 a gallon – a 15-cent drop from the $3.66 average on Independence Day. Pump prices are expected to continue sliding into fall, given strong refining output and robust North American crude oil production.

Middle East

A seven-hour “humanitarian” truce between Hamas and Israel appeared to be holding Monday although several similar cease-fire attempts have failed. The partial pause in fighting comes as Israel appears to be winding down its ground operations in Gaza. The “humanitarian window” was agreed upon to allow aid through to Gaza but Israel’s military said the cease-fire would not apply to areas where troops were still operating. The military also said it would respond to any attacks. A cease-fire announced Friday morning unraveled after a few hours following heavy fire in the town of Rafah in southern Gaza. Meanwhile, Israeli media are reporting Monday that there has been an attempted alleged terrorist attack in Jerusalem after a tractor apparently rammed into a city bus. At least one person was killed and several were wounded.

Since the weekend, Israel has been winding down its ground operation that started July 17 to destroy tunnels it says are used by Hamas to carry out attacks. The bulk of Israel’s troops in Gaza have now been pulled out as its mission to destroy Hamas tunnels nears completion, the military said. However, it has kept up its heavy aerial bombardments of Gaza. Early Monday, an Israeli airstrike killed Daniel Mansour, a commander of the Islamic Jihad group, a close ally of Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers. Gaza’s Health Ministry says that since the conflict started on July 8 more than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians. The Israeli military says that at least 60 of its soldiers have been killed in fighting.

Hamas is finding that it has fewer friends in the Arab world these days. The terror group can still count Qatar and Turkey among its allies, but that’s about it. After nearly four weeks of violence in the Gaza Strip, a surprising number of Arab nations have refused to publicly condemn Israel or support Hamas. Policy experts see that silence as an apparent attempt by those countries to distance themselves from radical Islam. Their patience for radical Islam has become so thin that they view Hamas as a bigger evil than even Israel. One CNN commentator calls the silence “unprecedented.” In a recent New York Times article, Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator under several presidents, said Egypt’ Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have so much “loathing and fear” of Hamas that it “outweighs” their disdain for Israel.

Iraq

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took control of Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam on Iraq’s Tigris River, which provides power to the city of Mosul. ISIS — known for killing dozens of people at a time, while carrying out public executions, crucifixions and other acts — has taken over several cities as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate that encompasses parts of Iraq and Syria. Militants with the Islamic State extremist group on Sunday seized two small towns in northern Iraq after driving out Kurdish security forces, further expanding the territories under their control. The fresh gains by the Sunni extremist militants have forced thousands of residents to flee from the religiously mixed towns of Zumar and Sinjar, toward the northern self-ruled Kurdish region. Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees were also fleeing in packed cars and pickup trucks on Monday from an eastern border town that was overrun by ISIS militants from neighboring Syria.

Police cars have been repainted to say “Islamic police.” Women are forbidden from wearing bright colors and prints. The homes of Shiites and others have signs stating they are property of the Islamic State. And everyone walks in fear amid a new reign of terror. That’s what life is like in Mosul, Tikrit and other cities in northern and western Iraq under the control of Islamic extremists after their lightning-fast military campaign that overwhelmed the Iraqi army in June. The new normal for these residents means daily decrees about attire and raids to root out religious minorities in a campaign to impose strict Islamic rule in cities that tolerated multiple religions for centuries. As many Christians in Mosul have discovered, their only choice is fleeing. The militants are an al-Qaeda splinter group so radical that it was rejected even by al-Qaeda.

Libya

A day of militia fighting over control of the international airport in Libya’s capital killed 22 people, the country’s interim government said Sunday, part of the worsening chaos gripping the country. Libya is seeing its worst violence since the 2011 civil war that toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi, as militias made up of the rebels who overthrew him largely run wild in the country, armed with heavy weaponry that outguns its poorly organized security forces. Saturday’s deaths bring the death toll after weeks of fighting for control of Tripoli’s international airport, as well as Libya’s second-largest city of Benghazi, to 236 people.

Syria

With newer crises to focus on, the media has lately ignored the ongoing strife in Syria. However, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 1,600 deaths in just 10 days in July and counts more than 115,000 people killed since the beginning of the uprising against al-Assad’s regime in March 2011. There are reports of militants crucifying people in public and images smuggled out of Syria that appear to show them raising their victims’ severed heads on poles. How did so many in the international community let the nearly 3½-year struggle in Syria slip from the front of their minds? Al Tompkins from The Poynter Institute journalism school says it could be because there’s a lot going on in the world right now. It’s also difficult for journalists to get into Syria.

Pestilence

An Atlanta hospital received two U.S. aid workers infected with Ebola Saturday. Officials are confident the patients — who represent the first time anyone infected with Ebola has been brought into the country — can be treated without putting the public in danger. Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who were serving in Liberia as medical missionaries when they became ill from the virus, will be treated at a special isolation unit at Emory University Hospital. The hospital is located just down the hill from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is one of only four sites in the USA capable of handling high-risk patients infected with serious, infectious diseases.

Dr. Kent Brantly, the American stricken with the deadly Ebola virus while in Liberia and brought to the United States for treatment in a special isolation ward was treated with an experimental drug before he returned home, the relief organization for which he works said Sunday evening. ”We praise God for the news that Kent’s condition is improving,” a statement from Samaritan’s Purse said. “We can confirm that Kent was able to receive a dose of the experimental serum prior to leaving Liberia.”

Earthquakes

A “strong” earthquake hit southwest China’s Yunnan Province Sunday afternoon, killing at least 400 many more missing and 1,800 people injured. The China Earthquake Networks Center said the magnitude was 6.5. Electricity was lost. Telecommunication services were affected, making it was hard to reach people in the area. CCTV said the quake was the strongest to hit Yunnan in 14 years. Chinese authorities on Monday dispatched thousands of soldiers to assist local firefighters and other emergency workers in relief efforts in Ludian County, where 12,000 homes were toppled.

Wildfires

As the West continues to deal with a relentless summer fire season, two particular blazes in northern California have firefighters especially worried. The two wildfires started burning within a day of each other in Lassen National Forest, and have combined to char about 102 square miles of land by Sunday night – 63 additional square miles of burned land in just one day. They’re moving into areas of Shasta County that are populated, forcing authorities to put residents in Burney on an evacuation watch after three small nearby communities were forced to evacuate Sunday night. There are at least 14 wildfires currently burning in California. The number of fires led California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency Saturday. His proclamation said the circumstances and magnitude of the wildfires are beyond the control of any single local government and will require the combined forces of regions to combat.

Siskiyou County, which borders Oregon, also was contending with two major fires, both started by lightning last week. One of them, which began in Oregon, threatened hundreds of structures and charred nearly 58 square miles in both states as of late Sunday, including 14 square miles on the California side. It burned three homes and other structures, and evacuations remained in place for several neighborhoods in both states. In Washington state, a wildfire that started during a lightning storm Saturday night burned several structures. The Snag Canyon fire near Ellensburg had burned nearly 2,000 acres and was prompting evacuation notices. They said residents of about 180 homes in the area had either been urged to evacuate or alerted that they might have to leave quickly if conditions worsen. North of that blaze, firefighters contained another wildfire that started Friday and burned six to eight homes.

Landslides

At least 8 people are dead and unknown number of others trapped after a landslide struck multiple villages in Nepal Sunday. The death toll could skyrocket as the situation progresses. One survivor told the Associated Press that “dozens” of homes in at least two villages were buried beneath the landslide. Worse yet, the mass of earth blocked a river in the area, causing a 2-mile-long lake to form behind the wall of debris. Water levels are slowly rising behind the wall. If the temporary dam were to burst, the water could inundate and destroy other villages in the area causing more loss of life.

Weather

At least one person was killed and thousands were stranded as unusually rich monsoon moisture fueled powerful thunderstorms that slammed the Southwest with torrential rainfall Sunday, leading to flash flooding in several California and Arizona counties. The storms also brought damaging winds in the Phoenix area. A thunderstorm unleashed 3.89 inches of rain in a short period of time on Mount Baldy in the Angeles National Forest Sunday afternoon, unleashing dangerous flash floods and debris flows that trapped many residents. About 1,500 residents of Oak Glen, and another 1,000 residents of Forest Falls in the San Bernardino Mountains were unable to get out because the roads were covered with mud, rock and debris.

Western Arizona was also hard-hit, particularly in the Lake Havasu City area. The National Weather Service said trees were snapped by powerful thunderstorm winds there. Dry washes in the area turned into torrents of floodwater. Strong storms also hit the Phoenix area. In Tempe, the Price Freeway (State Route 101) was closed for a time when a cable fell onto the road. Large trees were knocked over in Tempe. Powerful storms also struck Wickenburg, northwest of Phoenix, causing roof damage in the downtown area. The National Weather Service relayed reports of flash flooding around Kingman, in northwest Arizona, late Sunday evening.

Tropical Storm Bertha emerged from the eastern Dominican Republic early Sunday after whipping Puerto Rico with heavy rains and strong winds that knocked out power in parts of the region. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was likely to curve to the northeast and move parallel to the U.S. eastern seaboard without hitting the mainland.

July 2014 went down as the record coolest July in many locations from the Great Lakes to the Deep South. Among the cities setting a new record coolest July were: Indianapolis; Decatur, Illinois; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Tupelo, Mississippi; and Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Signs of the Times (8/1/14)

August 1, 2014

Court Says Ground Zero Cross Can Stay

A memorial cross at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York can remain at the newly-opened facility, an appeals court ruled Monday. A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit found that the cross, located at ground zero, was “a symbol of hope” and historical in nature. It did not intentionally discriminate against a group of atheists who sued to have it removed, they ruled. The court also rejected arguments the traditional Christian cross was an impermissible mingling of church and state. The 17-foot cross in the museum was erected by rescue and recovery workers, and built from intersecting steel beams that had been part of the World Trade Center’s North Tower, after it collapsed during the al Qaeda terror attacks in 2001.

Scientist Fired for Research that Supports Creationism

A scientist at California State University has reportedly been terminated for his research which supports creationism. The scientist has now filed suit against the university, arguing that he was fired for his religious beliefs. Mark Armitage, a published scientist of over 30 years, found evidence that dinosaurs may have inhabited earth 4,000 years ago. While on the Hell Creek Formation excavation site in Montana, Armitage unearthed the the largest triceratops horn ever discovered. The scientist examined the soft tissue of the horn, believing it to be 4,000 years old at most. Previous research suggested that dinosaurs became extinct 60 million years ago. According to Armitage’s study, however, dinosaurs could have been a part of God’s creation. Armitage’s lawsuit claims that a CSU official shouted, “We are not going to tolerate your religion in this department!” in regard to the creationist research.

Al Qaeda Coffers Swell as Europe Pays Millions in Quiet Ransoms

Kidnapping Europeans for ransom has become a global business for Al Qaeda, bankrolling its operations across the globe. While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have earned at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just in the past year. These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funnel the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid, according to interviews conducted for this article with former hostages, negotiators, diplomats and government officials in 10 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Congress Fails to Act for Humanitarian Border Crisis

Congress failed to meet its Aug. 1 goal to address the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border, as weeks of work on emergency legislation was swamped by the politics of immigration. The past few days have seen Capitol Hill debate how to manage the tens of thousands of Central American children who have recently crossed the border. The talks were expanded to include President Barack Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the possibility of broader comprehensive immigration reform. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives ground to a halt Thursday afternoon after it became clear that passage of a $659 million bill backed by the House leadership was in jeopardy. House lawmakers postponed their five-week August recess to try again Friday, but the Democrat-controlled Senate is proceeding with its break after failing to advance its own $3.6 billion border-crisis bill.

House Approves Lawsuit against Obama over Abuse of Executive Power

The House on Wednesday approved a highly contentious lawsuit against President Obama over his alleged abuse of executive power, teeing up an election-year legal battle sure to spill onto the midterm campaign trail. The House backed the lawsuit resolution on a vote of 225-201, with all Democrats opposed. Republicans say the lawsuit is necessary to keep the president in constitutional check, after he allegedly exceeded his authority with unilateral changes to the Affordable Care Act. Democrats branded the effort a political charade aimed at stirring up GOP voters for this fall’s congressional elections. They also said it’s an effort by top Republicans to mollify conservatives who want Obama to be impeached — something House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he has no plans to do.

House, Senate Negotiators Reach Deal on VA-Reform Bill

House and Senate negotiators announced Monday they reached a compromise on a $17 billion emergency package to begin reforming the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, capping weeks of negotiations that appeared headed to impasse before the weekend. The deal was widely lauded, though some observers said it might not go far enough in restructuring the troubled agency. The bill would provide $10 billion for veterans to seek government-subsidized care from private health-care providers if they cannot get help from a VA clinic in a timely manner, or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA center.

Prices Increase Due to California Drought

Just how bad is the drought in California? It’s so bad, that in some extreme cases, thieves are stealing water. A father and daughter living off a water tank in the Central Valley report being ripped off eight times — 2,500 gallons disappeared. The lack of rain has pushed most of California into extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst levels, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. In most of California’s major reservoirs, the water supplies that sustain many communities are less than half full. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts some meat and produce prices will rise as much as 6% as farmers pay more money to water crops and feed livestock. Earlier this year, beef prices hit a record high, and milk, butter, eggs, fruit and vegetables were also on the rise as the drought continued to ravage farms. Avocados could increase as much as 35 cents each, lettuce could increase up to 62 cents per head, and tomatoes could jump by 45 cents, up to $2.84 per pound. The fast-food chains Chipotle and In-N-Out Burger have already raised prices, partly blaming the drought.

Economic News

The U.S. economy added 209,000 jobs last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. The number was a bit disappointing after 298,000 jobs were added in June, but still the broader trend remains “respectable”, economists said. Over the past six months, the economy has added 1.5 million jobs, marking the strongest six months for hiring since 2006. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate ticked up to 6.2% in July, from 6.1% in June as more workers joined the labor force. About 8.7 million American jobs were wiped out in just two years following the 2008 financial crisis. The economy finally gained them all back earlier this year.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment aid rose 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 302,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 3,500 to 297,250. That’s the lowest average since April 2006, more than a year before the Great Recession began at the end of 2007.

The nation’s gross domestic product expanded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4% in the three months ended June 30, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, as consumer spending, and business investment and inventory stockpiling all rebounded strongly. The government said the economy shrank 2.1% in the first quarter, not as bad as the 2.9% contraction it previously reported. Extreme winter weather dampened consumer and business spending then. The government said Wednesday that consumer spending, which makes up more than two-thirds of the economy, increased 2.5% in the second quarter, more than double the 1.2% rise in first-quarter. Meanwhile, business investment in equipment surged 7%, vs. a 1% drop in the first quarter.

More than a third of the country is in trouble when it comes to paying debts on time; 35% of Americans have debt in collections, according to a study out Tuesday from the Urban Institute, which analyzed the credit files of 7 million Americans. That means the debt is so far past due that the account has been closed and placed in collections. This typically happens after the bill hasn’t been paid for 180 days. It also means the debt has been reported to credit bureaus and can affect credit scores.

U.S. home prices rose 9.3% in May from a year earlier, S&P reported. That’s down from a 10.8% annual increase for April and the 12%-13% gains shown over many of the past 12 months. The last time the index showed an annual gain this small was in February 2013 — also 9.3%. Analysts say that after last year’s rapid gains, slower-rising home prices is actually good for the market, helping keep homes affordable as more sellers put homes on the market and an improving economy pulls in more buyers.

The median American household saw its wealth decline by more than one-third in the past decade, according to a new estimate published by the Russell Sage Foundation. Researchers found that median net worth declined from $87,992 in 2003 to $56,335 in 2013. Median household wealth peaked at just under $100,000 in 2007, right before the housing bubble burst and the financial crisis began. While the researchers for the Russell Sage Foundation found that households in the top 10 percent have recovered the wealth levels of 2003, lower-wealth households have not.

Toyota remains No. 1 in global vehicles sales after the first six months of this year, followed by Volkswagen which bumped General Motors out of second place as the U.S. automaker grapples with a recall scandal. GM had been the top-selling automaker for more than seven decades before losing the title to Toyota in 2008.

Persecution Watch

Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Monday that Turkmenistan has joined the State Department’s list of worst religious freedom offenders. The State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” list had remained static since 2006, when eight countries — Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan — were designated as CPCs. Justifying the addition of Turkmenistan, Kerry cited reports of people detained, beaten and tortured for their beliefs, prohibited from wearing religious attire and fined for distributing religious materials. Turkmenistan, a mostly Sunni Muslim country in Central Asia, once part of the Soviet Union, forbids private worship and greatly restricts foreign travel for pilgrimages and religious education.

In the latest effort to curb the rapid expansion Christianity in China, police officers removed crosses from two churches in the coastal province of Zhejiang. According to The New York Times, officials arrived Monday at Longgang Township Gratitude Church with a crane and blowtorch to remove the ten-foot red cross. Members of the Salvation Army Christian Church also clashed with officers on Monday who attempted to remove the church’s cross. On Friday, parishioners of Wenling Church in the city of Taizhou unsuccessfully held off some 4,000 police officers that removed two crosses. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) claims these recent incidents are part of a government effort to either demolish church buildings or remove religious symbols. The estimates for the number of churches wholly or partly demolished range from 130 to over 200.

Middle East

A cease-fire in Gaza unraveled Friday less than two hours after it took effect, with both sides accusing each other of violating the fledgling truce and the Israeli military saying one of its soldiers was captured. Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said an Israeli attack on Rafah in southern Gaza killed at least 27 people and wounded more than 100. The humanitarian truce had been announced Thursday by the United Nations and United States, after weeks of fighting and more than 1,500 deaths in Gaza, most of them civilians. Around a quarter of a million people in the small, impoverished territory have been displaced by the conflict, according to the United Nations. That’s about 14% of Gaza’s population of 1.8 million.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his country to prepare for “a protracted campaign.” Netanyahu said he won’t accept any truce that will not allow Israel to achieve its goal of destroying the tunnel network it says is used to carry out attacks inside Israel. Hamas said it will only lay down arms once Israel and Egypt give guarantees that a seven-year Gaza border blockade will be lifted. The IDF received authorization on Thursday to mobilize an additional 16,000 reserve soldiers to continue the operation in the Gaza Strip as rockets continued to be fired at Israeli communities

Militants have launched more than 2,600 rockets into Israel and has an arsenal of over 10,000, according to the Israel Defense Forces, most hidden in tunnels. Israel has uncovered 32 tunnels in Gaza. Israel does not know how many more it may find. More than 1,200 Palestinians have been killed, as have 53 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel, as of Wednesday.

Ukraine

International investigators’ quest to carry out their duties at the crash site of the downed Malaysian airliner hit another roadblock Wednesday: land mines, according to Ukrainian officials. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council claims that “terrorists” — the term it uses to describe rebels — have set up firing positions and laid mines on the access road to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. This makes the work of international experts “impossible,” the agency said.

Pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine reportedly have suffered their biggest battlefield setbacks in months as the U.S. and European countries prepare to ramp up pressure on Russian leader Vladimir Putin by imposing more sanctions against Moscow later this week. The Wall Street Journal reported that Ukraine army forces had made rapid gains near the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed July 17 and were apparently trying to split the territory held by the rebels into two parts between the major cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Officials also told the Journal that the Ukraine army was attempting to cut off supply lines from Russia to the rebels.

Russia

European leaders are trying to hit Russia where it hurts. They’re issuing new, tougher sanctions targeting eight of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “cronies” and taking a swipe at Russia’s finance, energy and weapons industries. The new sanctions will restrict Russian state-owned banks from accessing European capital markets, and throw up more red tape to stop or slow the export of oil-related equipment and technology to Russia. All new contracts for arms imports and exports between the EU and Russia will stop. There will even be a prohibition on exporting goods and technology that can be used for both military and civilian purposes. President Obama on Tuesday announced expanded U.S. sanctions on Russia, joining the European Union in a coordinated effort to use Russia’s economy as leverage to compel Moscow to stop fueling the deadly conflict in Ukraine.

Afghanistan

John Sopko, the inspector general charged with monitoring aid sent by the U.S. to Afghanistan, has identified potentially billions of dollars wasted in Afghanistan, including donation of planes the local government doesn’t need or can’t use, weapons that disappear as soon as they’re handed over and and construction of brand new buildings that are basically firetraps. In a steady stream of audit reports, Sopko’s office of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, has spotlighted seemingly endless waste in the war-torn nation. In addition to the recent flurry of reports, SIGAR has criticized the spending of $34 million to build Camp Leatherneck in the Washir District of Afghanistan, a 64,000-square-foot facility that was never used and sits empty to this day. Another $34 million of U.S. taxpayer money was wasted on a disastrous soybean program that Afghan farmers have rejected.

Libya

A strong explosion ripped through the main police building in Benghazi early Friday, nearly flattening it, days after Islamic militias overran army barracks and claimed control of the eastern Libyan city. The police headquarters has been empty for several days after militias pounded it with shelling. The blast, which was heard across Benghazi and shook houses in surrounding area, appeared to be from explosives planted in the building. A coalition of Islamic militias over the past week captured a number of army bases in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, driving out troops and police and seizing large weapons stores.

Argentina

A breakdown in talks between Argentina and U.S. creditors late Wednesday has sent the country tumbling into its second default in 13 years and shifted focus to what effect that default could have on global financial markets. Investors had already been bracing for bad news. And any remaining hopes for a last-minute deal were crushed when Argentina and the hedge funds holding its debt couldn’t strike a deal with a court-appointed mediator in talks in New York. Argentine Economy Minister Axel Kicillof said the country wouldn’t swallow the demands of investors led by U.S. hedge funds. The Argentine government has a confrontational stance toward the investors who have been hoping for a payout, with Kicillof calling them “vulture funds.”

Pestilence

The deadliest Ebola outbreak in history continues to plague West Africa as leaders scramble to stop the virus from spreading. Over the weekend, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf closed most of the country’s borders. The few points of entry that are still open will have Ebola testing centers and will implement preventive measures, she said. The president also placed restrictions on public gatherings and ordered hotels, restaurants and other entertainment venues to play a five-minute video on Ebola safety. As of July 20, the World Health Organization had confirmed 224 cases of Ebola in Liberia, including 127 deaths. Overall, Ebola has killed at least 660 people in West Africa. Fears that the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa that has killed more than 670 people could go global have led to health officials in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong quarantining airline passengers who have shown symptoms of the deadly disease. The U.S. Peace Corps plans to evacuate hundreds of volunteers from the three affected West African countries. Two volunteers were under isolation after having contact with a person who later died of the virus.

There’s a serious danger lurking in the water off the Florida coast – vibrio vulnificus, a flesh-eating bacteria that thrives in warm saltwater. In all, 32 people have been sickened and 10 people have died from the flesh-eating bacteria during the past few years. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, skin lesions, fever, chills and a decline in blood pressure. Officials issued a new warning about the bacteria Monday, telling anyone with an open cut to stay out of the water and reminding all swimmers to wash off before going homeThe Florida Department of Health also warned that consuming raw oysters or shellfish could put people in danger for contracting the disease, so always be sure to cook seafood before consumption.

Wildfires

Less than a year after the Rim fire left hundreds of thousands of acres charred in and around Yosemite National Park, firefighters have returned to battle another blaze that’s growing quickly. California firefighters are making progress on a pair of fast-moving California wildfires that have already claimed nearly two dozen homes. About half of the homes in the path of the El Portal fire have been dropped from evacuation orders as the inferno burns in Yosemite National Park. The wildfire has burned more than 3,500 acres of land and is 34 percent contained. With the exception of some smoke in Yosemite valley, the park itself was largely unaffected by the fire and remained open. The fire has destroyed a home and a duplex and burned through more than 5 square miles since it began on Saturday.

Fire crews also were battling a blaze in Sierra National Forest about 60 miles northeast of Fresno that grew substantially late Tuesday and had spread across nearly 9 square miles. It was threatening about 20 homes, though they were not under mandatory evacuation orders. Several campgrounds and cabins were evacuated and closed. The fire was 95 percent contained after charring more than 6 1/2 square miles and destroying 19 homes and 47 outbuildings. Mop-up operations were expected to last several days.

Weather

An EF2 tornado packing winds up to 120 mph tore the Boston suburbs of Revere and Chelsea on Monday morning, carving a three-square-mile wide swatch of damage through a residential area. Although the twister started in Chelsea, the overwhelming majority of damage was in nearby Revere where 65 homes and businesses were damaged and 13 are uninhabitable. About 2,800 residences were without power. The Fire Department received dozens of calls reporting partial building and roof collapses, and downed trees and power lines. Windows on several buildings were blown out falling trees crushed several cars. Two tornadoes also hit the Denver area Monday afternoon, temporarily shutting down Denver International Airport.

At least thirty people have been killed in a major landslide that hit a remote village in western India Wednesday and swept away at least 40 houses. More than 100 people are presumed to have been buried alive. Rescue efforts were being hampered by continued heavy rains. The Pune district about is 94 miles southeast of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital. The nearest medical center is about 9 miles from the village.

Heavy rain brought flooding this week to many European countries. The flooding turned deadly in Romania, where at least two people have died. About 300 people were stranded by floods in a village near the Gilort River in southern Romania, which burst its banks. Earlier in the week, flash flooding was reported in southern England, France, Belgium and Germany. The severe weather, associated with a strong upper-air disturbance, moved farther east into eastern and southern Europe midweek. Heavy rain was reported from Poland to Italy, with a few tornadoes reported in the Balkans as well.

Winter cold kills more than twice as many Americans as does summer heat, according to a report released today by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Based on death certificate data from 2006-10, the report’s authors found that “about 2,000 U.S. residents died each year from weather-related causes of death.” The CDC report found that 63% of these deaths were attributed to exposure to excessive natural cold, hypothermia or both, while about 31% of these deaths were attributed to excessive natural heat, heat stroke, sun stroke or all three.