Signs of the Times (9/16/14)

Stay Extended on Indiana Same-Sex Marriage

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday continued the stay on same-sex marriage in Indiana until it is addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The state of Indiana requested a stay last week on a federal appeals court decision upholding a lower court ruling that Indiana’s ban is unconstitutional. Same-sex marriages in Indiana have been on hold since June 27, when the 7th Circuit Court first issued an emergency order stopping weddings pending appeal. Days earlier, on June 25, same-sex marriages in Indiana briefly became legal after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Young threw out the state’s ban, leading to more than 800 marriages in courthouses across the state. The legal status of those marriages is still uncertain.

Same-Sex Marriage Heats Up this Election among Evangelicals

As more states affirm same-sex marriage, U.S. evangelicals continue to wrestle with homosexuality, setting boundaries for what’s acceptable and what’s not, and setting the stage for a heated fall election season. This week, things got hotter. A new group called Evangelicals for Marriage Equality launched last weekand is collecting signatures from evangelicals who support same-sex marriage. Its advisory board includes author and speaker Brian McLaren, former National Association of Evangelicals vice president Richard Cizik, and former USAID faith adviser Chris LaTondresse. Cizik resigned from his NAE position over his support for same-sex civil unions.

“Our organization is not taking a theological position on the issue of the sacrament of marriage,” said spokesman Brandan Robertson. “We just want evangelicals to see that it is possible to hold a plethora of beliefs about sexuality and marriage while affirming the rights of LGBTQ men and women to be civilly married under the law.” Testing evangelical boundaries didn’t work well for World Vision earlier this year when it decided and then reversed its position on same-sex employees. The new marriage equality group is already facing challenges from evangelical institutions. An ad it placed with Christianity Today, World and Relevant magazines was rejected by all three evangelical mainstays.

  • Biblical principles continue to erode as Christians and Churches compromise God’s Word. Romans 1:26-27 is quite clear that homosexuality is sinful and vile.

President Obama to Assign 3,000 U.S. Troops to Right Ebola

President Obama on Tuesday announced an expansion of a $763 million U.S. plan to help West Africa nations fight the spread of the Ebola virus. About 3,000 U.S. military personnel will be assigned to lead the project. Working through the Defense Department, the United States will plan and construct treatment centers that could house up to 1,700 beds and supply the centers with medical equipment.. Washington has committed more than $100 million to combat Ebola, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. Obama plans to call on Congress to approve an additional $88 million as part of a bill to fund the federal government.

U.S. ‘At War’ with Islamic State

The White House and Pentagon acknowledged Friday that the U.S. “is at war” with the Islamic State — contradicting Secretary of State John Kerry and others who a day earlier refused to use that term, prompting criticism from lawmakers that the administration was downplaying the conflict. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby used almost identical language when pressed by reporters Friday whether or not the expanded military operation against the terrorist group is in fact a war. “In the same way that the United States is at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates … the United States is at war with ISIL,” Earnest said. Kirby said “this is not the Iraq War” from a decade ago, “but make no mistake — we know we are at war with ISIL. The United States launched airstrikes in Iraq on Monday in what defense officials said is the start of an expanded action against Islamic State extremists.

French jets made their first reconnaissance sorties over Iraq Monday as part of a growing international push against the Islamic State. Administration officials say that ‘several’ Arab countries have offered to join the US in airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria amid a buildup of training and aid to Iraqi and Kurdish forces. However, Iran has rejected a U.S. appeal to join a global fight against Islamic State militants, the country’s top religious and political figure said Monday.

Muslims Are Already Killing Christians in America

In one of the recent murders almost totally ignored by mainstream media, a 19 year old Roman Catholic named Brendan Tevlin was shot to death by an African American Muslim named Ali Muhammad Brown in New Jersey. Brendan was a Eucharistic minister in the Catholic Church. The slaughter of this innocent Catholic was considered by Brown, a “just kill,” and that he was seeking vengeance for what is happening to Muslims in “Iraq, Syria, (and) Afghanistan.” Brown was driving his jeep, and he just had texted his mother that he was coming home, when he stopped at a red light, Ali shot Brendan 8 times in his jeep. As part of his jihad, Ali murdered 3 other Americans earlier this year, reports freedomoutpost.com.

ISIS wants to cross into the United States through the US-Mexican border, warns the Texas Department of Public Safety. “A review of ISIS social media messaging during the week ending August 26 shows that militants are expressing an increased interest in the notion that they could clandestinely infiltrate the southwest border of US, for terror attacks.” A man, reportedly in Houston TX, was arrested and he was wearing an ISIS logo, Freedom Outpost also reports.

  • The Obama administration has not only been lax on illegal border entry, they have left it wide open to terrorists of all stripes to invade our soil and attack our country from within.

AG Holder Announces Plan to Combat American Militants

Attorney General Eric Holder announced a strategy Monday aimed at attempting to disrupt American extremists from joining terrorist groups, including those drawn to conflicts in Syria and Iraq. “We have established processes for detecting American extremists who attempt to join terror groups abroad,” Holder said in a video message on the Justice Department’s website. “And we have engaged in extensive outreach to communities here in the U.S. – so we can work with them to identify threats before they emerge, to disrupt homegrown terrorists, and to apprehend would-be violent extremists.’ ‘Holder said Justice was joining the White House, Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center to help local community leaders — public safety and religious leaders — identify those who may be seeking to join jihadist movements abroad.

  • Such detection schemes run the danger of sweeping up those dissidents the government seeks to silence

Obamacare Reduces Uninsured by 4 Million

The ranks of the uninsured declined as 4 million gained health insurance coverage through Obamacare, new government data released Tuesday found. There were 41 million Americans lacking coverage in early 2014, down from 44.8 million last year, according to the National Health Interview Survey, the first official government look at the uninsured after Obamacare policies kicked in on January 1. The uninsured rate fell to 13.1%, from 14.4%.The report found young adults had the largest drop in uninsured levels. The share decreased from to 20.9%, from 26.5%. Many of them gained coverage through public programs, such as Medicaid.

  • It remains to be seen whether the 1.3% drop in the uninsured rate is worth the cost and added government bureaucracy. A cost-benefit analysis is required, but don’t expect to see one anytime soon.

Wind Turbines Kill Fewer Birds than do Cats & Cell Towers

As wind power expands in the United States, critics often blame giant turbine blades for bird deaths. What’s billed as the most comprehensive analysis ever of these fatalities says birds face far greater threats. Wind turbines kill between 214,000 and 368,000 birds annually — a small fraction compared with the estimated 6.8 million fatalities from collisions with cell and radio towers and the 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion deaths from cats, according to the peer-reviewed study released Monday by two federal scientists and the environmental consulting firm West Inc. “We estimate that on an annual basis, less than 0.1% … of songbird and other small passerine species populations in North America perish from collisions with turbines,” says lead author Wallace Erickson.

Economic News

Inflation at the wholesale level stayed low in August as the producer price index was unchanged, the Labor Department said Tuesday. The unchanged reading in August follows a 0.1% advance in July and a 0.4% jump in June. Wholesale prices have risen 1.8% in the 12 months ending in August.

A record 92.26 million Americans ages 16 and over did not have a job last month and the labor force participation rate stood at 62.8 percent, matching a 36-year low. The rate stood as high as 66.4 percent in December 2006 and January 2007, but began decreasing as the recession struck in 2007. Since the recession began, 6.9 million fewer Americans are now working or searching for work. Those who did not have a job and did not actively seek one in August are not considered to be in the labor force, along with retirees, students, and Americans collecting disability benefits (6 percent of U.S. adults are now collecting disability benefits).

Russia’s currency dropped to an all-time low against the dollar on Tuesday as investors fret about the fallout of economic sanctions. The United States and the European Union last week imposed a new round of sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine that consisted, among other things, in blocking off Western financial markets to key Russian companies and limiting imports of some technologies. The ruble has lost over 2.7% in just two days.

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Persecution Watch

A Christian “husband and wife who were fined $13,000 and told they could not discriminate against same-sex couples after refusing to allow a gay wedding [in their own house] on their New York farm have announced that they will ‘no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their property. “‘Going forward, [Cynthia and Robert Gifford] have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their property,” wrote Alliance Defending Freedom allied attorney James Trainor. “A judge ruled earlier this month that the Giffords’ farm is a public accommodation because they rent their space out, and they therefore must abide by New York anti-discrimination law. Since the order essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions, even though it will likely hurt their business,”

Three elderly Italian nuns murdered in Burundi were laid to rest Thursday (Sept. 11) in a Xaverian cemetery in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid heightened calls for action about their death. Sister Lucia Pulici, 75, Sister Olga Raschietti, 82, and Sister Bernadetta Boggian, 79, of the Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary were gruesomely murdered the prior Sunday in their convent in the Kamenge area of Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura. The triple murders shocked Christians across the globe and ignited calls for the protection of sisters worldwide. The nuns were reportedly beaten and killed with a knife. At least one nun was decapitated.

Middle East

Some half million Gaza children made a delayed return to school Sunday after a devastating 50-day war with Israel that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and damaged hundreds of school buildings. The opening was delayed for two weeks because of damage to schools and the diversion of U.N. school buildings for use as temporary centers to house tens of thousands of displaced people. Some 50,000 people are still being housed in the U.N. schools, the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency said. 26 Gaza schools were destroyed during the war, and another 232 sustained damage. Unlike in previous years the first week of instruction in government schools will be given over to providing psychological counseling and recreational activities to help the war-weary children transition to learning.

Ukraine

Ukraine and the European Union ratified a political and economic agreement Tuesday in a step leaders hailed as a “historic moment.” The EU Association Agreement includes free-trade provisions, although they will not come into force until January 1, 2016. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the Ukrainian people had “reversed the express train going East” toward Russia and thanked the EU for its support. Ukraine’s parliament also voted Tuesday in favor of legislation that would give “special status” to rebel-held parts of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions and grant amnesty to the separatists.

Ukraine fended off an attack by pro-Russian rebels at a major airport Saturday as Moscow sent another convoy of aid into the country, underscoring the fragility of the cease-fire between the two countries. Ukrainian military leaders repelled separatists at Donetsk airport as another round of fighting erupted in the eastern part of the country Saturday, about a week after the cease-fire agreement was reached. A volley of rockets struck residential buildings near the airport but no casualties were reported. Heightening tensions further was Moscow’s decision to send a second convoy of trucks into Ukraine without its consent. Pro-Russian rebels released dozens of captive Ukrainian troops Sunday as part of a ceasefire deal. But despite the ceasefire, violence continued to flare Sunday in the volatile region.

Afghanistan

Three members of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force were killed in an attack in Kabul on Tuesday, the coalition said. Two were U.S. military personnel, and the third was Polish. At least 13 Afghan civilians were also wounded in the attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing targeting a convoy of foreign forces in the Afghan capital. The explosion took place on Kabul International Airport Road, near the Supreme Court compound. The explosion in Kabul came a day after a man wearing an Afghan National Army uniform turned his weapon against ISAF members in western Afghanistan on Monday. The latest violence comes as Afghanistan grapples with the messy fallout from its presidential election this year. Most NATO troops are due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year as the U.S.-led war effort against the Taliban winds down.

North Korea

North Korea’s Supreme Court on Sunday sentenced a 24-year-old American man to six years of hard labor for entering the country illegally and trying to commit espionage. At a trial that lasted about 90 minutes, the court said Matthew Miller, of Bakersfield, California, tore up his tourist visa at Pyongyang’s airport upon arrival on April 10 and admitted to having the “wild ambition” of experiencing prison life so that he could secretly investigate North Korea’s human rights situation. Miller, who waived the right to a lawyer, was handcuffed and led from the courtroom after his sentencing. The court ruled that it would not hear any appeals to its decision. Miller also falsely claimed to have secret information about the U.S. military in South Korea on his iPad and iPod. Miller is one of three Americans now being held in North Korea. During a brief interview with The Associated Press in Pyongyang last week, Miller said he had written a letter to President Barack Obama but had not received a reply. The U.S. has repeatedly offered to send an envoy to seek the freedom of the detainees, but without success.

United Kingdom

The three main UK party leaders gave a joint promise Tuesday that Scotland will get extra powers if it opts to stay part of the United Kingdom in a landmark vote later this week. Opinion polls have put the pro-independence and pro-union camps neck-and-neck in the run-up to Thursday’s referendum. UK Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservatives, coalition partner Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats and Labour leader Ed Miliband have joined forces to beg Scotland to stay. In a pledge published on the front page of Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper, the three leaders say that if Scotland’s voters reject independence, work to devolve “extensive new powers” from the central government in Westminster will start Friday. The issue of spending on social welfare and health care, through the National Health Service, has been central to the pro-independence campaign. Questions over the economy and taxation have also been key.

Pestilence

The president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has implored President Obama for help in managing her country’s rapidly expanding Ebola crisis and has warned that without American assistance the disease could send Liberia into the civil chaos that enveloped the country for two decades. In a letter on Tuesday to Mr. Obama, Ms. Johnson Sirleaf wrote that “I am being honest with you when I say that at this rate, we will never break the transmission chain and the virus will overwhelm us.” She urgently requested 1,500 additional beds in new hospitals across the country and urged that the United States military set up and run a 100-bed Ebola hospital in the besieged capital, Monrovia. Infectious disease experts have sharply criticized as inadequate the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola crisis, particularly in Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves. Global agencies like the World Health Organization and the United Nations have also come under criticism for responding too slowly to the Ebola outbreak.

Volcanoes

Thousands of people are being evacuated from the area around an active volcano in the Philippines after the country’s seismology agency issued an alert saying a hazardous eruption could happen “within weeks.” Mount Mayon, which towers over the city of Legazpi in the central Philippines, has shown “a noticeable escalation of unrest,” the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said. Authorities in the region of Albay responded Tuesday by launching efforts to relocate more than 10,000 people from a 6–kilometer (3.6 mile) radius around the volcano. The seismology agency said 39 rock falls, caused by breaches of a bulging lava dome at the volcano’s summit, had been detected Monday.

Wildfires

Nearly 1,500 firefighters Monday evening battled a rapidly spreading fire in the steep forests east of Sacramento, one of 11 major wildfires burning in California. Hot, dry weather has exacerbated conditions caused by a record drought. In addition to destroying homes and forests, the wildfires have been spewing unhealthy smoke into the air, prompting air-quality alerts in portions of the state sweltering under high temperatures and low humidity.

The King Fire in El Dorado County swept through an estimated 8,600 acres, a jump from the 3,900 acres reported earlier in the day, and containment dropped to 5% from 10% as the fire spread in the high heat. The fire is located in a canyon of the south fork of the American River, northeast of the community of Pollock Pines. The King Fire caused 160 mandatory evacuations. A wildfire near Mt. Shasta quickly damaged or destroyed 100 structures Monday. Fanned by high winds, the fire burned a Catholic church and damaged a lumber mill. Sheriff’s deputies went door-to-door to evacuate the town and nearby Carrick and Lake Shastina.

Hundreds of people have been issued mandatory evacuation orders after a fire was sparked Sunday afternoon near Bass Lake in Central California. In total, about 1,000 residents were pushed out of some 400 homes. Flames damaged or destroyed 21 structures. The fire started off a road outside of Oakhurst, a foothill community south of the entrance to Yosemite National Park, and made a run to Bass Lake. Stoked by winds, it quickly charred at least 320 acres. The fire was 20 percent contained as of Monday morning.

Further north, a wildfire about 60 miles east of Sacramento forced the evacuation of 133 homes. Residents of another 406 homes were being told to prepare to flee. The blaze started in a remote area Saturday, but exploded on Sunday when it reached a canyon full of thick, dry brush. It has blackened 4.7 square miles, and was just 10 percent contained.

A brushfire in Southern California’s Cleveland National Forest in Orange County exploded in size on Friday, growing from 300 to 1,300 acres in just a few hours on Friday. The Silverado Fire started in the backyard of a home in rural Silverado Canyon around 11 a.m. on Friday and quickly tore through the area’s drought-parched vegetation. Temperatures in the mid-90s were fueling the flames as they swept over the scenic, mountainous terrain. Evacuation orders for 200 homes in Orange County’s Silverado Canyon were lifted late Sunday as firefighters contained 50 percent of a wildfire after charring 1.5 square miles. Six firefighters have suffered minor injuries, many of them from heat exhaustion as the region baked under triple-digit temperatures.

Weather

Hurricane Odile roared into Baja California on Sunday night, packing fierce winds that shook buildings, blew out windows and knocked out power in the picturesque resort town of Cabo San Lucas. Wind gusts of up to 116 mph were measured in Los Cabos as the storm made landfall just before 11 p.m. local time. With maximum sustained winds of 125 mph, Odile is the strongest hurricane to make landfall anywhere in Baja California since modern records began in the mid-20th century. Hundreds of tourists hunkered down in hotels to ride out the storm. Earlier Sunday, the storm prompted Mexican authorities to evacuate residents in coastal areas and open shelters for up to 30,000 people. Despite the ferocity of the storm, so far, no deaths have been reported. Emergency officials reported that 135 people were treated for minor injuries from things like flying glass or falling objects, but there were no serious injuries. But Odile brought a different kind of tragedy – hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed in towns far inland.

The season’s first frost and freeze was seen for parts of the Rockies, Plains, Northwest, and Upper Midwest this week. Numerous record lows and record cold daytime highs were set as well. In addition to this frost and freeze threat, snow blanketed parts of the Rockies and High Plains, setting records in some locations. Roughly three dozen locations set daily record cool highs Thursday from the northern Rockies to the Great Lakes. It’s about two to three weeks early for temperatures to drop to 32 degrees or below in Billings, Montana (average date is Oct. 3) and Rapid City, South Dakota (average date is Sept. 27).

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