Signs of the Times (9/23/14)

Persecution Watch

The Pacific Justice Institute told a charter school in Southern California they may be violating the First Amendment after the school removed books with Christian content from their library. The books removed were by Christian authors and Christian publishers, which included Corrie ten Boom’s acclaimed “The Hiding Place.” PJI President Brad Dacus said: “It is alarming that a school library would attempt to purge books from religious authors. Indeed, some of the greatest literature of Western Civilization comes from people of faith. Are they going to ban the sermons or speeches of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? What about the Declaration of Independence that invokes the laws of nature and nature’s God? We are calling on Springs Charter Schools to immediately reverse their ill-conceived and illegal book-banning policy.”

Christians in Pakistan are marking the one-year anniversary of the bombing of All Saints Church in Peshawar, an attack the killed 98 people and injured over 150. The bombing on September 22, 2013 was the worst attack on a church in Pakistan’s history reports Christian Today. The Pakistani government had promised the families of victims aid and financial compensation after the attack, but has been slow to make good on its pledge. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that some of the injured were “forcibly removed” from hospitals after the attack because their families could not pay hospital bills without the promised government assistance. Christians in Pakistan still face persecution from extremists that the government has been unable to control.

CDC: Ebola Toll Could Reach 550,000 by January

The number of Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone could rise to between 550,000 and 1.4 million by January if there are no “additional interventions or changes in community behavior,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report Tuesday. The estimate was derived from a new forecasting tool developed by the CDC. The range of estimated cases to come is wide because officials say they think the current case count is highly under-reported. The official death toll from Ebola in West Africa has climbed to more than 2,800 in six months, with 5,800 cases confirmed as of Monday, the World Health Organization said.

The CDC estimates that if 70% of people with Ebola are properly cared for in medical facilities, the epidemic could begin to decrease and eventually end. Given that several countries and organizations have pledged to provide more support for the Ebola-affected countries, the CDC report suggests the higher projections of cases in the coming months might be avoided. A separate nine-month assessment published by WHO experts in The New England Journal of Medicine on Tuesday says the fatality rate of this outbreak in West Africa is 71% and that the “current epidemiologic outlook is bleak.”

GAO Report Confirms that Obamacare Pays for Abortions

When he signed the Obamacare bill into law, President Barack Obama promised the American people that Obamacare would not pay for abortions — going as far as signing an executive order to that effect. A new Government Accountability Office report shows he misled Americans, reports LifeNews.com. The GAO report also found that nearly all of the insurance issuers sampled are not itemizing the required separate abortion surcharge on its bills – confirming that the Obama Administration is ignoring the law’s abortion accounting gimmick. GAO has found that in 2014, taxpayers are funding over a thousand Obamacare health plans that subsidize abortion on demand—even late-term abortion—in defiance of the Hyde Amendment that Obama publicly said he would honor.

U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms

A sprawling new plant here in a former soybean field makes the mechanical guts of America’s atomic warheads. Bigger than the Pentagon, full of futuristic gear and thousands of workers, the plant, dedicated last month, modernizes the aging weapons that the United States can fire from missiles, bombers and submarines, reports the New York Times. It is part of a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars. This expansion comes under a president who campaigned for “a nuclear-free world” and made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy. Instead, because of political deals and geopolitical crises, the Obama administration is engaging in extensive atomic rebuilding while getting only modest arms reductions in return. Supporters of arms control, as well as some of President Obama’s closest advisers, say their hopes for the president’s vision have turned to baffled disappointment.

  • Liberals are now realizing what conservatives knew years ago – Obama is a liar and a political opportunist beholden to special interests

Arab Bank Liable for Supporting Terrorist Efforts, Jury Finds

A federal jury on Monday found that Arab Bank was liable for knowingly supporting terrorist efforts that were connected to 24 attacks in the Middle East. The closely watched case, in New York City, was the first civil case brought against a bank under the Anti-Terrorism Act to go to trial, and the verdict was expected to have a broad impact on similar legal efforts to hold financial institutions responsible for wrongdoing by their clients, even if the institutions had followed banking rules. Arab Bank, a major Middle Eastern bank with $46 billion in assets, said that it followed compliance procedures, and that any transactions conducted on behalf of terrorists were executed in error.

Climate Crisis Protesters Target Wall Street

A day after over 100,000 people marched to warn that climate change is destroying the Earth, more than 1,000 activists blocked parts of Broadway in Manhattan’s financial district in a sit-in to protest what they see as corporate and economic institutions’ role in the climate crisis. Monday’s demonstration was planned as a more confrontational sequel to Sunday’s march, with many participants Monday deliberately risking arrest by obstructing traffic in the heart of the nation’s financial capital. Over 100 people were arrested Monday night after they refused to leave the intersection of Broad and Wall streets, police said. Most of the arrests were for disorderly conduct. People marched in cities around the world on Sunday, calling for action against climate change. The protest was the largest about climate change in history.

Single Americans Now the Majority

Roughly 125 million Americans, or 50.2 percent ages 16 years or older, are single, up from 37.4 percent in 1976, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Edward Yardeni, a Wall Street economist and market strategist said the “remarkable” trend has “implications for our economy, society, and politics.” For example, he noted that singles are more likely to rent than buy. Less marriage also means fewer children, which shifts spending habits. He also said more single-person households exaggerate income inequality. “While they have less household earnings than married people, they also have fewer expenses, especially if there are no children in their households,” Yardeni wrote. Although the number of divorced, separated, or widowed singles has increased since the 1970s, the larger increase, from 22.1 percent to more than 30 percent, came from a growing number of singles who never marry, Yardeni found.

Student Homelessness Hits Another Record High

Approximately 1.3 million students enrolled in U.S. public preschools, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools were homeless during the 2012-13 school year. That’s up 8% from the prior year, and the highest number on record, according to the National Center for Homeless Education, funded by the Department of Education. A lack of affordable housing is a big reason, forcing many families to live in the streets, shelters, motels or to double up with other families, said Jeremy Rosen, director of advocacy at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “This problem continues to get worse because in terms of government programs and support for homelessness, budgets have been cut in recent years, and there’s less affordable housing available,” said Rosen.

Treasury Cracks Down on Corporate Tax ‘Inversions’

The Treasury Department will crack down on so-called tax “inversions,” targeting companies that try to avoid taxes by moving their headquarters overseas. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the new rules would help close what he called a “glaring loophole in the U.S. tax code” in which U.S. companies acquire foreign businesses and then switch their citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes. The Treasury Department is still fleshing out the details on the new guidance, but it is putting companies on notice that deals that close on or after Monday’s announcement will be subject to the new tax rules.

Economic News

More than 20% of Americans laid off the past five years are still unemployed and one in four who found work is in a temporary job, according to a survey out Monday. The report underscores that despite a sharp drop in long-term unemployment recently, many people out of work at least six months are still struggling to recoup their former wages and lifestyles. Those idled for years face an even tougher road back to employment. Three million American workers remain jobless years after they were laid off during the recession.

A national survey says the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline has dropped another 9 cents over the last two weeks, to $3.37, bringing the decline to 34 cents over the last 13 weeks. Falling crude oil prices drove the declines, but the drop was also heavily impacted by a crash in prices of ethanol and the fact that winter-grade gasoline costs less to produce.

The auto industry sales recovery in recent years means millions of used cars, many coming off lease, are starting to flood the market. The result is a decline in used-car prices that zoomed sky-high after the recession. And the decline is leading to talk that new-car auto sales growth may be peaking. In recent years, used-car prices were so high that car shoppers found they could buy a new one for not much more. Now the pendulum is swinging back again.

Middle East

In a pre-dawn raid Tuesday, Israeli special forces stormed a basement hideout in the West Bank town of Hebron, killing two Palestinians suspected of the kidnapping and slaying of three Israeli teenagers in June. “We said we wouldn’t rest until we brought these killers to justice,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This morning we completed our mission.” The gruesome killings of the three Israeli teenagers triggered a crackdown on Hamas that escalated to the seven-week war in Gaza. In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that the militant group “praises the role martyrs Abu Aysha and Kawasme played in chasing down Israeli settlers and we stress that their assassination will not weaken the resistance.”

Israel’s military said Tuesday it shot down a Syrian warplane over the Golan Heights amid what it described as growing tensions in the border area. Israel used a Patriot anti-aircraft missile to bring it down, the Israel Defense Forces said. The plane penetrated roughly a kilometer (more than half a mile) into Israeli airspace. The aircraft shot down was a Russian-made Sukhoi-24. Both the pilot and co-pilot ejected into Syria.

Islamic State

In a speech titled “Indeed Your Lord Is Ever Watchful” and released widely over social media Sunday, ISIL spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani urges members of the Muslim faith to take violent action against “disbelievers” by any means necessary. “O America, O allies of America, and O crusaders, know that the matter is more dangerous than you have imagined and greater than you have envisioned. We have warned you that today we are in a new era,” Adnani said. “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, kill him in any manner or way however it may be,” Adnani exhorted.

The sudden, massive flood of refugees fleeing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is unlike any other displacement in the 3½-year Syrian conflict. As many as 200,000 people have left the area surrounding the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, in just four days as ISIS advances into the area. Most have gone into Turkey. But the unprecedented surge that broke loose Friday has slowed, as Turkey reduced the number of open crossings from eight or nine to just two. Processing the refugees is also taking time.

The U.S. military, along with Arab allies, launched the first airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria late Monday, as the war ordered by President Obama against the militant organization took on an urgent new phase. Fourteen airstrikes were carried out against ISIL targets. “The strikes destroyed or damaged multiple ISIL targets in the vicinity of Ar Raqqah, Dayr az Zawr, Al Hasakah, and Abu Kamal and included ISIL fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks and armed vehicles,” the Defense Department said. The attack started with 47 Tomahawk missiles launched from the sea, a senior U.S. military official told CNN.

American airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) have done little to roll back the militant group’s territorial gains in part because many Sunni tribes have chosen not to engage, The New York Times reported Monday. The United States air offensive has been successful in halting advances of the terrorist group but ISIS continues to hammer Iraqi government forces, with hundreds of soldiers having been killed in battle or mass executions. “Behind the government’s struggles on the battlefield is the absence or resistance of many of the Sunni Muslim tribes that all sides say will play the decisive role in the course of the fight — presenting a slow start for the centerpiece of President Obama’s plan to drive out the militants,” the Times said.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s two presidential contenders signed an unprecedented power-sharing agreement Sunday, ending a drawn-out political standoff and setting the stage for a U.S. troop commitment past this year. The agreement names Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who is believed to have received the most votes in a June runoff election, as president. His challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, will become chief executive. The deal ends political wrangling that began after a June runoff vote between two candidates. An independent election commission was assigned to audit the results after allegations of widespread fraud. The United States had urged the candidates to reach a power-sharing agreement in order to bring political stability to the country, which is battling a powerful insurgency and will need international assistance for years to come.

Wildfires

Warmer weather and strong, erratic winds could fan the flames of a massive blaze in Northern California that is already threatening thousands of homes. Firefighters are concerned that the sudden shift in weather could cause the blaze to grow rapidly, as it did last week when similarly strong winds caused the fire to double. The inferno, known as the King fire, is now 18 percent contained, according to Capt. Tom Piranio, a state fire spokesman. But the fire has burned some 87,000 acres – an area roughly the size of Atlanta – and has forced the evacuation of about 2,000 people. Information about the damaged homes has been limited because crews have not been able to get into those areas to survey the devastation, but it’s believed that about three dozen structures have been destroyed by the blaze.

The King fire in northern California is just one of at least nine sizeable wildfires CalFire is monitoring, as hot, dry conditions, and the historic drought, make potent conditions for fire starters. Earlier last week, the Bolles fire burned about 150 homes and buildings in Weed, California, while the Courtney fire in Madera County destroyed about 50 more.

Weather

With California locked in its third year of severe drought and with groundwater levels dropping, residents and farmers have been forced to drill deeper and deeper to find water. Porta-potties are popping up outside homes. Drinking water is being trucked in from faraway places. Girl Scouts are setting up collection points for residents to donate bottled water. This is the reality of life in East Porterville – a central California town where the wells are beginning to run dry. Gripped by a severe drought, water sources for residents aren’t replenishing, and that spells big problems for the future. In the Central Valley town of roughly 7,000 residents, some 290 families say their wells are already out of water. The town mostly consists of poor, Hispanic residents – people who simply can’t afford another setback. Elsewhere in Tulare County, many other homes are suffering dry wells, too, and the problem is spreading all over the Central Valley.

Surging floodwaters prompted authorities in Carlsbad, New Mexico, to urge residents to evacuate their homes early Monday morning. The Dark Canyon Draw in Carlsbad crested at 21.62 feet early Monday morning, just shy of its record crest of 22 feet set on August 23, 1966. The Pecos River, just east of the city crested just over 4.5 feet above flood stage, its highest stage since April 2004. Days of locally heavy rain wrung out from the remnant of Hurricane Odile have swamped parts of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. As of Sunday afternoon, one location near Carlsbad had measured 4.32 inches of rain since Sept. 18, roughly one-third of their average annual precipitation (13.41 inches).

Flash flood warnings were reissued Monday afternoon as a new round of heavy thunderstorms developed over the El Paso, Texas, metropolitan area, where flash floods earlier in the day turned deadly. By Monday night, numerous roads were flooded in the Las Cruces area. A National Weather Service employee measured 5.37 inches of rain in just over four hours over a part of the northeast El Paso metro northwest of Biggs Army Airfield. Incredibly, just about five miles away, El Paso International Airport only picked up around one-quarter inch of rain Monday morning.

The 2014 Atlantic hurricane season has fallen into a slumber heading into the final days of the season’s peak month. Through Sept. 22, only five named storms have formed so far this season. This is almost three named storms behind the average pace. The last Atlantic hurricane season with so few named storms through the first 22 days of September was 1997, a season which ultimately produced eight storms, three hurricanes, one of which was Category 3 intensity.

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