Signs of the Times (9/12/14)

Missouri Overrides Veto of 3-Day Abortion Waiting Period

Missouri lawmakers forced an extension of the state’s abortion waiting period into law late Wednesday night after Republicans used a rare parliamentary tactic to kill a Democratic filibuster in the Senate. The House voted 117-44 to overturn Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of House Bill 1307. The Senate voted 23-7. The legislation extends the state’s current 24-hour waiting period. Missouri becomes only the third state in the nation with a three-day period, along with South Dakota and Utah. Opponents of the abortion waiting period legislation were concerned the 72-hour waiting period would make obtaining an abortion more difficult. Missouri has only one clinic that performs abortions, located in St. Louis.

Trail Life USA Draws 14,000 Members in Wake of Scout Boys Split over Gay Youth

Trail Life USA, the Christian alternative to Boy Scouts of America, launched in January; the organization has now attracted over 14,000 members in 47 states. The group formed after the Boy Scouts lifted its ban on openly homosexual youth in 2013. Mark Hancock, chief executive officer of Trail Life USA said, “… [W]e are adding a couple hundred members a week…We would have grown a lot faster if we weren’t so strict with our chartering requirements, but we’re building a strong foundation of troops that are aligned with the Christian principles we uphold. We are unapologetically Christian. Our values are drawn from the Bible.”

Survey Notes Changes in Nation’s Churches

The National Congregations Study’s latest look at the country’s churches, synagogues and mosques — the third wave of studies that began in 1998 — finds more congregations: Open their doors to gays and lesbians in active membership and in leadership; Show racial and ethnic diversity in the pews; Encourage hand-waving, amen-shouting, and dancing-in-the-aisles during worship; with more disconnecting from denominational ties doctrines and rules that might slow or block change. The study, released Thursday, draws on interviews with leaders at 1,331 nationally representative congregations and updates data from 1998 and 2006 studies. Non-Christian congregations were included in the study but there are too few for statistical analysis by topics. Meanwhile, Roman Catholic churches turned more sharply conservative during the years of the study focus. The percentage of Catholic churches permitting full-fledged membership for gays dropped to 53 percent, down from 74 percent of congregations. And those permitting gays in leadership roles fell to 26 percent from 39 percent.

  • Change is necessarily all good, with the liberalization of churches moving away from God’s Word.

President Obama Announces Strategy Against Islamic State

President Obama said Wednesday he is prepared to order airstrikes on Syrian territory as part of an expanded counter-terrorism plan to confront the Islamic State jihadist group that is operating in both Syria and Iraq. Obama, who began ordering airstrikes in Iraq last month, also told a national television audience he is urging Congress to approve money for training rebel forces in Syria. The president’s counter-terrorism strategy also includes: more airstrikes in Iraq; the deployment of 475 more U.S. military troops to assist the Iraq military, bringing the total number of American advisers to some 1,600; help from other countries; and an emphasis on having local ground forces battle the insurgent group that is also known as ISIL or ISIS. America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat,” Obama said.

U.S. Public Supports Air Strikes Against Islamic State

Americans overwhelmingly view Islamic State terrorists as a serious threat to vital U.S. interests and, in a significant shift, widely support airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The nation’s increasingly hawkish mood will form part of the backdrop for a speech by President Obama on Wednesday, when he will outline his thinking on how to confront the threat from the Islamic State. Obama’s remarks will come a day after he confers with congressional leaders at the White House about the administration’s planning. Obama’s speech also comes at a critical moment in his presidency. He will address the nation at a time of record or ­near-record lows in public assessments of his performance. Only 43 percent of Americans say he is a strong leader, the lowest reading since he entered the White House. Just over half the country says his presidency has been a failure.

Arabs Give Tepid Support to U.S. Fight Against ISIS

Many Arab governments grumbled quietly in 2011 as the United States left Iraq, fearful it might fall deeper into chaos or Iranian influence. Now, the United States is back and getting a less than enthusiastic welcome, with leading allies like Egypt, Jordan and Turkey all finding ways on Thursday to avoid specific commitments to President Obama’s expanded military campaign against Sunni extremists. As the prospect of the first American strikes inside Syria crackled through the region, the mixed reactions underscored the challenges of a new military intervention in the Middle East, where 13 years of chaos, from Sept. 11 through the Arab Spring revolts, have deepened political and sectarian divisions and increased mistrust of the United States on all sides, notes the New York Times. The tepid support could further complicate the already complex task Mr. Obama has laid out for himself in fighting the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria: He must try to confront the group without aiding Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, or appearing to side with Mr. Assad’s Shiite allies.

  • If Obama hadn’t pulled completely out of Iraq and surrendered all the progress achieved there we would not have this ISIS crisis today.

Iranian Leaders Say Islamic State Created by U.S.

Iranian leaders have been saying for a long time, is made-in-the-U.S.A., a tool of terror intended by the world’s superpower to divide and conquer the energy-rich Middle East and to counter the growing influence of Iran in the region… Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has often said that he believes ISIS was created by the United States as a way to regain a foothold in Iraq and to fight President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, an ally of Iran. ‘We have evidence, we know,’ he told an audience of clerics last week, without elaborating. Ayatollah Khamenei reminded them that Al Qaeda – a creation of the Central Intelligence Agency, Iran has said – and the Taliban were, in the eyes of Iranian intelligence, devised by the West as a counterweight to Iran. ‘There is no doubt that these movements are created by Western powers and their regional agents,’ Mr. Khamenei has insisted.”

Foreign Fighters Swell ISIS Ranks

On Thursday, the CIA made a startling announcement: The number of people fighting for ISIS is more than three times the previous estimates. Analysts and U.S. officials initially estimated there were as many as 10,000 fighters, including those who were freed from prisons by ISIS, and Sunni loyalists who have joined the fight as the group advanced across Iraq. But now ISIS, which calls itself the “Islamic State,” can “muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria,” a CIA spokesman told CNN on Thursday. “This new total reflects an increase in members because of stronger recruitment since June following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate, greater battlefield activity and additional intelligence,” the spokesman said. Numerous foreign fighters believed to have swelled the Sunni extremist group’s ranks in recent months. A CIA source told CNN on Thursday that more than 15,000 foreign fighters, including 2,000 Westerners, have gone to Syria to join ISIS.

CO2 Levels in Atmosphere Rising at Dramatically Faster Rate

Levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose at a record-shattering pace last year, a new UN report shows, a surge that surprised scientists and spurred fears of an accelerated warming of the planet in decades to come. Concentrations of nearly all the major greenhouse gases reached historic highs in 2013, reflecting ever-rising emissions from automobiles and smokestacks but also, scientists believe, a diminishing ability of the world’s oceans and plant life to soak up the excess carbon put into the atmosphere by humans, according to data released Tuesday by the United Nations’ meteorological advisory body.

U.S. Threatened Massive Fine to Force Yahoo to Release Data

The U.S threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day in 2008 if it failed to comply with a broad demand to hand over user data that the company believed was unconstitutional, according to court documents unsealed Thursday that illuminate how federal officials forced American tech companies to participate in the NSA’s controversial Prism program. The documents, roughly 1,500 pages worth, outline a secret and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle by Yahoo to resist the government’s demands. The company’s loss prompted Yahoo to become one of the first companies to join Prism, a program that gave the National Security Agency extensive access to records of online communications by users of Yahoo and other U.S.-based technology firms

Economic News

Consumers stepped up their purchases in August as retail sales grew at the fastest pace since April, the Commerce Department said Friday. Retail sales increased 0.6% in August. Excluding booming auto purchases, a volatile category, sales rose 0.3%.In August, sales at furniture, electronics and clothing stores rose, while department store sales declined. Americans are splurging on cars and SUVs after deferring such purchases during the economic downturn. Auto sales reached an eight-year high of 17.5 million last month.

More people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, though the trend in benefit applications in the past month remained low. The Labor Department says that weekly applications for unemployment aid rose 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 315,000, the most since late June. Still, the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, rose just 750 to 304,000. The average is 7.1% lower than it was a year ago.

Outstanding consumer credit increased by a seasonally adjusted $26 billion in July, the most since November 2001, the Federal Reserve said Monday. Non-revolving debt, which includes student and auto loans, rose by $20.6 billion. Credit card debt increased $5.3 billion. Total credit increased at a 9.7% annual rate after rising 7.1% in June. In recent months, banks have eased their lending standards.

A series of recent economic indicators, including factory hiring, shows momentum building nationally in the manufacturing sector. New energy production through hydraulic fracturing has created ancillary opportunities for distressed regions of the country to renew themselves through affiliated manufacturing processes. Ohio’s unemployment rate in July was 5.7 percent, well below the national average of 6.1 percent. That’s a sharp reversal of the situation four years ago, when unemployment in Ohio hit 10.6 percent, significantly above the country’s overall jobless rate at the time.

There were 4.7 million total openings in July, a slight increase over June’s figures, but almost 800,000 more openings compared to January, according to the Labor Department’s Jobs Opening and Labor Turnover Survey. In even better news for job seekers, employers increased their hiring in July, signaling 13 straight months of 4.5 million or more hires, the longest such stretch since the recession ended. The quits rate, a measure of people who voluntarily left jobs but did not retire, stayed at 1.8% for the sixth month in a row.

In its Study of Consumer Finances, released every three years, the Federal Reserve found that the wealthiest 3% of American households controlled 54.4% of the nation’s wealth in 2013, a slight increase from its last survey in 2010. It’s substantially higher than the 44.8% they held in 1989, showing how quickly the income divide has been growing. At the same time, the share of wealth held by the bottom 90% fell to 24.7% in 2013. That’s compared to 33.2% in 1989.

Persecution Watch

A bible college in Nigeria and other churches have temporarily closed after Boko Haram attacks in the area have killed more than 300 Christians in one week. Nigeria’s Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN) President Samuel Dali sent an emergency prayer message out to supporters, saying that the church is threatened. Islamic extremists insurgents are trying to impose Islamic law throughout Nigeria. “Boko Haram violence has been getting worse every day, and our members are fleeing the area by the thousands,” Dali said. “Recent attacks in Borno and Adamawa states where are our churches are located have seen Boko Haram take over the Army base. As a result, about 350 Christians have been killed.”

Dozens of Christians arrested at a prayer meeting in Saudi Arabia need America’s help, according to a key lawmaker who is pressing the State Department on their behalf. Some 28 people were rounded up Friday by hard-line Islamists from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in the home of an Indian national in the eastern Saudi city of Khafji, and their current situation is unknown, according to human rights advocates. “Saudi Arabia is continuing the religious cleansing that has always been its official policy,” Nina Shea, director of the Washington-based Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, told “It is the only nation state in the world with the official policy of banning all churches. This is enforced even though there are over 2 million Christian foreign workers in that country. Those victimized are typically poor, from Asian and African countries with weak governments.” Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va, told he will press the U.S. ambassador in Riyadh and the State Department to assist the arrested Christians.


Ukraine’s president promised Wednesday to introduce a bill to parliament as early as next week that would offer greater autonomy to rebellious regions in the pro-Russia east, where separatists have been battling government troops for almost five months. But Petro Poroshenko said the regions would remain part of Ukraine and rejected the idea of federalization, something both Russia and pro-Moscow separatists have continued to push for even after a cease-fire agreement took effect Friday. Poroshenko said that 70 percent of Russian troops on Ukrainian territory had been withdrawn since the cease-fire began. He also said that 700 Ukrainian prisoners had been freed from rebel captivity, and expressed hope that another 500 would be freed by the end of the week. Russia still has about 1,000 troops inside eastern Ukraine, a NATO military officer said Thursday. NATO also says 20,000 more Russian troops are aligned along the border


Inspectors have determined “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine gas was used in attacks this year in northern Syria. A fact-finding mission from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found “compelling confirmation” that a toxic chemical was used “systematically and repeatedly,” the group said in a statement Wednesday. The mission’s task did not include determining who was responsible for using chemical weapons. It was investigating claims that the Syrian regime used chlorine gas in the villages of Talmanes, Al Tamanah and Kafr Zita.


Afghanistan has been thrown into political turmoil after a months-long dispute between two presidential candidates prevented a successor to outgoing President Hamid Karzai being named. The country’s presidential election was held on April 5, and was followed by a runoff vote in June after the first result was inconclusive. The two contenders, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have accused each other of fraud and manipulation. Despite pleas from Karzai and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to come to a resolution, the two opponents remain at an impasse, sparking concerns of bloodshed and instability in the fragile, war-torn country. It has significantly delayed what was to be Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power. This comes at a time as the Taliban have carried out deadly attacks on high-profile targets and fought heavily for control of the Helmand province. As the U.S.-led war effort against the Taliban winds down, most NATO troops are due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year.


Iraqi officials say twin car bombs near pet and vegetable markets in Baghdad have killed 10 people. Two car bombs exploded simultaneously in the southeastern neighborhood of New Baghdad on Wednesday. The attack came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was visiting Baghdad to press Iraq’s newly sworn Shiite prime minister to deliver more power to wary Sunnis in order to confront the Islamic State extremist group.


The Spanish region of Catalonia may briefly steal the referendum limelight from Scotland on Thursday, with demonstrations in Barcelona aimed at sparking momentum for those opposed to Spanish rule. The organizers of Catalan Way 2014, as Thursday’s mass demonstrations have been dubbed, have said they are targeting more than 450,000 people for the event and hope to “fill the streets to fill the ballot boxes.” About 55% of Catalans support independence from Spain, according to the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia.


A blast ripped through a fast-food restaurant next to a busy subway station in Chile’s capital on Monday, injuring at least 14 people in the most damaging of nearly 30 bombings or attempted bombings in Santiago this year. While no group claimed responsibility for the blast, many past bombings have been claimed by anarchist groups. Santiago is one of the safest capitals in Latin America, but Chileans have been shocked by at least 29 bombs that have been found across the city so far this year. Some have not gone off and none of the other bombs before this one caused any injuries.


The number of new Ebola cases is growing faster than the ability of health officials to handle them, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday. At least 2,400 people have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the outbreak has been concentrated. Cases have also been reported in nearby Nigeria and Senegal. WHO said it had recorded 4,293 cases in five West African countries as of Sept. 6th. But it still did not have new figures for Liberia, the worst-affected country, suggesting the true toll is already much higher. The WHO has said it expects thousands of new cases in Liberia in the next three weeks. The primary reason WHO is unable to contain the spread of Ebola is that they are able to successfully trace only 20-30% of contacts.


A strong earthquake hit off the coast of Sulawesi Island in eastern Indonesia on Wednesday, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, and authorities said there was no threat of a tsunami. The magnitude-6.5 quake struck at a depth of 13 miles and was centered about 76 miles southeast of Mondayang, a town in northern Sulawesi. Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.


Record-setting rains slammed the southwestern United States on Monday, turning roadways into rivers as flash floods washed away cars. Up to 200 children were briefly trapped in an elementary school in Moapa, Nevada, due to the waters. Flash flooding also washed a portion of Interstate 15 away near the community of Glendale, Arizona, taking many vehicles with it. No one has been injured but it has damaged so much of the highway that it may not be fixed until Wednesday. In Arizona, the governor declared an emergency Monday as flooding from the historic rains closed roads and schools in her state. A woman was killed after her car was submerged in floodwaters in Tucson. In Phoenix, the flooding left morning commuters stranded on Interstate 10. In just 24 hours, some areas around Phoenix saw more than 6 inches of rain. A typical year sees only about 8-9 inches of rain total. Tourists and truckers were told to prepare for another day of disruptive detours Wednesday around a closed stretch of busy Interstate 15 in southern Nevada that crumbled in chunks during intense flash flooding.

Heavy rains drenched Omaha on Tuesday, leaving high water on roads just in time for rush hour. To make matters worse, the city’s 911 call system went down. Tuesday afternoon, firefighters in Omaha had to rescue a woman and two infants from a car that was swamped by floodwaters in an underpass. Omaha recorded 0.96 inch of rain in a 10-minute span. In northwestern Missouri, tree and power line damage was reported in Fairfax. Law enforcement reported a tornado on the ground shortly after 7 p.m. near Maitland, Missouri. In Atchison County, Missouri, the city of Tarkio lost power just before 6 p.m. as winds with sustained speeds of 70 mph blew through. Reports of more than six inches of rainfall Tuesday afternoon and evening were relayed from Union County, Iowa, and more rain was expected to fall.

Flash flooding in the Memphis, Tennessee, metro area prompted dozens of water rescues, including the evacuation of an entire neighborhood to the north of downtown. Dozens of roads were flooded, stranding cars throughout the metro area. The county said more than 30 people were rescued from their vehicles near Mountain Terrace. Numerous roads were closed due to high water. Some of the worst flooding came when a creek burst its banks and flooded all lanes on Germantown Road at U.S. 70. Just south of the state border, DeSoto County, Mississippi, also suffered from flooding, and Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency Thursday night for the area.

September snow blanketed parts of Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, northern Colorado and western Nebraska, downing trees and set early snow records in some locations, 11 days before summer officially ends. Thursday morning brought the earliest measurable snow on record to Rapid City, South Dakota, where 1.6 inches was officially measured at the National Weather Service office. Rapid City has now had two of its three all-time heaviest snowstorms and its record earliest snow all in a 19-month span since early April 2013. Snow piled up to 8 inches deep in the Black Hills near Custer, South Dakota. Farther west, the snow was even heavier in parts of northern Wyoming, where up to 18 inches was measured. Broken branches, downed trees and power outages littered streets in the city of Buffalo, Wyoming, where 7-8 inches of snow fell.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme during the run-up to the Great Tribulation

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