Signs of the Times (10/6/14)

‘Pulpit Sunday’ Challenged Government Speech Restrictions

Nearly 1,500 pastors nationwide participated in an effort Sunday that sought to challenge government restrictions against political speech from the pulpit. The effort, called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, was organized by the Pulpit Initiative, a project of the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). As the seventh annual event of its kind, ADF is encouraging pastors to “speak truth into every area of life from the pulpit.” Pastors from all fifty states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands committed to preach Sunday about Biblical marriage as being solely between a man and a woman. ADF says that in doing so, “they will exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to engage in religious expression from the pulpit. Pastors should decide what they preach from the pulpit, not the IRS,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley.

Abortion Clinics Must Close Immediately after Fifth Circuit Allows Enforcement of Texas Law

Two years ago, there were over 40 abortion facilities operating in Texas with very little oversight. Last Thursday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that could result in the immediate closure of 13 abortion facilities, leaving only seven open. A spot-check conducted by Operation Rescue early Friday morning of several facilities that are in known non-compliance with the law shows that some have already shut down while others continue to operate. The ruling blocks a stay issued by a lower court on enforcement of Texas’ HB2 until the State’s appeal of the lower court’s decision can be heard.

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Gay Marriage Cases

The Supreme Court refused to get involved in the national debate over same-sex marriage Monday, leaving intact lower court rulings that will legalize the practice in 11 additional states. The unexpected decision by the justices, announced without further explanation, immediately affects five states in which federal appeals courts had struck down bans against gay marriage: Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Utah. It also will bring along six other states located in the judicial circuits overseen by those appellate courts: North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming. Lower court judges in those states must abide by their appeals court rulings.

The action eventually will bring to 30 the number of states where gays and lesbians can marry. Appeals courts in Cincinnati and San Francisco are considering cases that could expand that number further, presuming the Supreme Court remains outside the legal fray. Most court-watchers had predicted the justices would hear one or more cases this term and issue a verdict with nationwide implications by next June. But the justices, perhaps sensing that the country is headed toward legalizing gay marriage without their involvement, chose to deny states’ appeals.

  • Cowardly Supreme Court justices have shirked their responsibility to God and country

Atheist ‘Churches’ Expand

The Sunday Assembly Atheist organization, better known as the “Atheist Church,” has reportedly doubled in size. The group held “church planting” event on Sunday (Sept. 28) that led 35 towns around the world to form new Atheist Churches simultaneously. Before the event, there were 28 Atheist Churches worldwide. According to The BLAZE, 16 of the new Atheist congregations launched in the U.S. The Sunday Assembly was launched by British comedians Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones in January 2013. Jones says that 10 more congregations are expected to launch by the end of 2014, with 15 more set to open in early 2015. The Atheist Church’s website says, “The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that celebrate life. Our motto: live better, help often, wonder more. Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential. Our vision: a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one.”

  • Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. (Galatians 6:7)

Homeschooling an Act of Defiance that Frightens the State

“To government, homeschooling resembles a weed that spreads and resists control. To homeschooling parents, it is the flowering of knowledge and values within children who have been abandoned or betrayed by public schools. A great tension exists between the two perspectives. Homeschooling’s continued growth has only heightened it,” writes Wendy McElroy in FreedomsPhoenix.com. The federal government has reacted by attempting to increase its control over homeschooling by pushing for increased regulation of homeschool curricula. But education is generally the prerogative of individual states. Nevertheless, the federal government can often impose its will by threatening to withhold federal funds from states that do not comply with its measures. “But homeschooling parents cannot be threatened by a withdrawal of money they don’t receive. As it is, they are paying double. They pay taxes to support public schools from which they draw no benefit and they pay again in homeschooling money and in terms of lost opportunities such as the full-time employment of both parents.” The federal government is also hindered by not being able to play the “it’s for the children” card that justifies so many intrusive policies because “homeschooled children routinely display better development than public school students.”

University of California First to Establish Gender-Neutral Restrooms

The University of California will be designating restrooms for transgender students at its 10 campuses, the first known university to make such a move. University of California President Janet Napolitano has also established a policy that allows transgender students to have the names that they wish to be called put in campus records, even before students legally change their names to reflect upon their gender identities. The decision is part of an effort that school is making to become friendlier to the LGBT community. Charisma News reports that all of the single restrooms at the university will be converted to gender-neutral areas.

UN Fears Ebola Could Go Airborne

The longer the Ebola epidemic continues infecting people unabated the higher the chances it will mutate and become airborne, the UN’s Ebola response chief has warned. Organizations battling the crisis in West Africa warned that the international community has just four weeks to stop it before it spirals “completely out of control.” The largest outbreak of Ebola virus has infected over 3,400 people and infected nearly 7,500 people in five countries in Africa since December. Another American Ebola patient arrived in the United States on Monday, reminding the nation that the virus killing thousands of people in West Africa, will likely continue crossing U.S. borders. Finding the right passengers to screen is not easy because travelers typically take flights that connect through other countries.

Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed in the United States with Ebola, remained in critical condition Monday and was “fighting for his life” at a Dallas hospital. The CDC also said that only 10 of the nearly 50 people thought to have had contact with Duncan carried even a moderate risk of contracting the disease and that none of them had shown any symptoms as of Sunday. Duncan was infected with the virus in Liberia last month after helping take a woman with Ebola to the hospital. After becoming ill, Duncan went to the hospital on Sept. 25, but was only given antibiotics and sent home. It was only after his condition worsened and he returned to the hospital three days later that doctors diagnosed him with Ebola and admitted him. Like all travelers leaving Liberia, Duncan was examined at the airport and showed no signs of the virus when he flew to Dallas last month to visit his fiancée, Louise Troh, and her family in her Dallas apartment.

ISIS Threatens to Attack U.S. with Ebola

ISIS threatened the United States and their allies with spreading the Ebola virus within those countries if they continue to wage war on the organization inside Syria and Iraq. “Followers and soldiers of the Islamic State are mostly suicide bombers and all of them are ready not only to carry Ebola, but to drink Ebola if they were asked to carry and spread it in the United States” ISIS claimed. “The process of spreading disease is not difficult, it is easily transported in a bottle in your bag and take them from Africa to America and open in a air-conditioning duct or put it in the public drinking water by elevator doors,” ISIS warned.

JPMorgan Chase Says More Than 83 Million Accounts Were Compromised in Cyberattack

A cyberattack this summer on JPMorgan Chase compromised more than 76 million household accounts and 7 million small-business accounts, making it among the largest corporate hacks ever discovered. The latest revelations, which were disclosed in a regulatory filing on Thursday, vastly dwarf earlier estimates that hackers had gained access to roughly 1 million customer accounts. The new details about the extent of the hack — which began in June but was not discovered until July — sent JPMorgan scrambling for the second time in just three months to contain the fallout.

  • Lack of timely notice is equivalent to aiding and abetting the hackers

Hackers’ Attack Cracked 9 Other Financial Firms in Major Assault

In addition to the JP Morgan breach, about nine other financial institutions — a number that has not been previously reported — were also infiltrated by the same group of overseas hackers, reports the New York Times. The hackers are thought to be operating from Russia and appear to have at least loose connections with officials of the Russian government. It is unclear whether the other intrusions, at banks and brokerage firms, were as deep as the one that JPMorgan disclosed on Thursday. The identities of the other institutions could not be immediately learned. The breadth of the attacks has left Washington intelligence officials and policy makers far more concerned than they have let on publicly. Some American officials speculate that the breach was intended to send a message to Wall Street and the United States about the vulnerability of the digital network of some of the world’s most important banking institutions.

Economic News

Much of the economy’s overall payroll growth has been in low-wage restaurant, retail and health care jobs. A large pool of unemployed workers let businesses fill many of them with college graduates in recent years, says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics. Around 66% of U.S. jobs created last year required a high school diploma or less. Lower-skill jobs are still expected to increase, rising 7.9% for those requiring only a high school diploma and 10.9% for those open to people lacking one.

Middle class income is back to where it was in 1995 — but people are paying more for many things, including college, homes and gasoline. In 1995, middle class household income was $51,719. In 2013, it was $51,939, showing no growth over eighteen years. With inflation, the middle class has fallen seriously behind. Over the same period, college tuition is up 61%, housing costs have risen 13% while gasoline is up 94%.

If you own a General Motors vehicle, it’s worth the few seconds it takes to go on the company’s website to check if your car has been recalled. GM announced additional recalls Saturday, bringing its 2014 count to about 30 million vehicles. GM is under fire after disclosing a fatal ignition switch flaw in February. CEO Mary Barra testified in front of Congress this spring to explain how the problem was overlooked for a decade. The company has been reviewing all of its older vehicles for issues. CEO Mary Barra said last month the company is mostly done with that process. More than 1 million General Motor cars with a defect tied to at least 23 deaths are still on the road today.

Middle East

Israeli soldiers guarding the northern border were on high alert Monday following an attempted infiltration from Lebanese territory Sunday afternoon. The infiltrators were turned back by the IDF, with Lebanese media reporting that a Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) soldier was wounded in the incident. Meanwhile, the Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah engaged fighters from the Al-Nusra Front Sunni terror militia in eastern Lebanon Sunday, with unconfirmed reports of dozens of casualties on both sides. The large-scale offensive by Al-Nusra into Lebanon’s historic Bekaa Valley was ongoing Monday, closely monitored by Israel and other regional powers.

Sweden’s new prime minister said Friday that his government will recognize a Palestinian state, a move that drew praise from Palestinian officials. In a declaration listing his government’s priorities, Social Democratic leader Stefan Lofven told lawmakers that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be resolved through a two-state solution requiring “mutual recognition” and a will from both sides to co-exist peacefully. “Therefore Sweden will recognize the state of Palestine,” Lofven said.

  • Secularists cannot understand the Middle East dynamic because they factor God out of the equation. Ultimately, it is a conflict between God and man, Jesus and Satan. The only real issue is which side we choose to support in a battle whose end result is a foregone conclusion.

Islamic State

At least seven Christian villages in northern Iraq have been liberated following a push by Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim captured territories captured by ISIS (the Islamist militant group now calling itself Islamic State). The villages, located west of Erbil in the Nineveh plain, were liberated earlier this month after clashes between Kurdish Peshmerga troops and ISIS fighters. The Kurdish military has said that many of the houses were booby-trapped by the jihadists before they retreated. The freed villages are near to the cities of Bartallah and Qaraqosh. The Iraqi and Kurdish militaries in the region are being supported by US-led airstrikes against ISIS targets. The Islamist militants now control around one third of Iraq’s territory and are continuing to advance on Baghdad and to take ground in central and eastern Iraq.

However, ISIS fighters pounded the Syrian city of Kobani with tanks and heavy artillery Monday as the extremist group came closer to capturing the key city on the border with Turkey. The fall of the city would carry huge symbolic and strategic weight, giving ISIS sway over an uninterrupted swatch of land between the Turkish border and its self-declared capital in Raqqa, Syria, 62 miles away. ISIS managed to close in on Kobani despite airstrikes by the United States and allied forces over the weekend and on Monday. The Turkish military, which has bulked up its defenses along the border in recent days as the fighting has flared, blocked people fleeing the fighting from crossing the border.

In their most recent display of terrorism, ISIS militants have beheaded seven men and three women. The beheadings were reportedly intended to scare civilians away from resisting the terrorists’ advances. The U.S. is continuing its campaign of airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but BBC News reports the terrorists are adapting to the raids. The group appears to be taking itself off the grid by avoiding the use of cellphones that serve as targets for strikes. The terrorists have also reportedly ditched the use of heavily armored trucks in favor of small motorcycles.

Iran

A large majority of US House of Representatives members wrote Secretary of State John Kerry expressing their concern Thursday over Iran’s ‘refusal’ to work with the United Nations nuclear watchdog. With a November deadline fast approaching for Tehran and world powers to reach a deal on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program, 354 of the House’s 435 members warned that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been frustrated in its efforts to glean more information about the ‘potential military dimensions’ of Iran’s atomic efforts. ‘We believe that Iran’s willingness to fully reveal all aspects of its nuclear program is a fundamental test of Iran’s intention to uphold a comprehensive agreement,’ wrote the lawmakers including House Speaker John Boehner and several Democrats. ‘We remain deeply concerned with Iran’s refusal to fully cooperate with the (IAEA),’ they added. ‘The only reasonable conclusion for its stonewalling of international investigators is that Tehran does indeed have much to hide.

On Friday, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) released its updated analysis of the the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA). The Iranian government reported a 4.6% spike in GDP for the first quarter of the current Iranian calendar year (March 21-June 21), compared to the same period last year. According to the Central Bank of Iran, this is the first time the Iranian economy has experienced positive growth in more than two years. These new statistics directly controvert assertions made by U.S. officials in the aftermath of the signing of the JPA that despite the sanctions relief provided under the agreement Iran would be even deeper in the economic hole after six months. “Clearly the scope of sanctions relief provided to the Iranian regime far exceeds initial estimates. Unfortunately in light of these gains, the regime has not been compelled to soften its hardline stance in nuclear negotiations,” reports UANI.

  • Iran has little motivation to retreat from their nuclear program and will continue to develop it in secret as it pulls the wool over Western eyes

Syria

A suicide bomber has killed at least 41 children and 48 people total in Syria; the attack occurred near a school in the Ekrima neighborhood of Homs. Officials say that the death toll will likely increase, as numerous people were critically injured in the attack. The Christian Post reports that a car bomb and a suicide bomber caused the explosions. It is believed that the school children were targets of the attack for belonging to the same religious organization as President Bashar al-Assad. The attack against the children was one of the most severe since the war began three years ago. The U.N. high commissioner reports that the war has caused over 191,000 deaths and over three million people have been forced out of their homes. Nine million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid.

Somalia

Somalia’s militant Islamist group al-Shabaab has abandoned its last major stronghold of Barawe, after an assault by Somali and African Union forces, residents and military commanders said. The militants pulled out of the city late Saturday under the cover of darkness after the opposing forces camped for three days on the outskirts of the port city located 130 miles south of Mogadishu. Abdikadir Mohamed Nur, the governor of Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, said that their troops, with the support of AMISOM forces, are in full control of Barawe. Al-Shabaab put up no resistance during the siege, he said.

Hong Kong

Bolstered by a massive rally overnight, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists were defiant on the eighth day of protests Sunday in the face of attacks by opponents and government warnings to clear the business district streets they have occupied to press their demand for reforms. “Democracy now! Democracy in Hong Kong!” thousands chanted as speakers from the movement seeking wider political reforms for this former British colony urged them to persist in their campaign. “We are not seeking revolution. We just want democracy!” said Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old student leader. “We hope there will be no violence.” The night passed peacefully despite fears that police would act to clear out the protesters. Hong Kong went back to work on Monday after nine days of pro-democracy protests that paralyzed parts of the South China financial hub. A few hundred demonstrators still occupied parts of the city, but the number of protesters fell sharply Monday. The civil disobedience movement nevertheless looked set to continue as authorities have made no concessions and talks floundered.

Korea

With Kim Jong Un out of sight for a month, three North Korean officials popped down to South Korea for a last-minute visit Saturday. The three officials told South Korea that Pyongyang is willing to hold a new round of high-level meetings between late October and early November, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a statement Saturday. “Within my memory … there was never ever such a high-level visit. Never,” said North Korean analyst Andrei Kankov, from Seoul’s Kookmin University. Kankov said two of the three visitors “are essentially number two and number three in North Korean official hierarchy.” It was a sudden “charm offensive,” Kankov said.

Meanwhile, the North Korean dictator has been conspicuously absent even from important state events, and Pyongyang officials have said Kim is “suffering from discomfort.” The last times he was seen publicly, he had gained weight and developed a limp. North Korea’s Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), the country’s most powerful group of officials, has stopped taking orders from Kim Jong-un. amid unsubstantiated reports that the dictator has been overthrown.

Wildfires

As the wildfire season winds down with cooler fall weather, 2014 is shaping up as the weakest wildfire season in over ten years. The 41,348 wildfires that consumed 2,915,948 acres is substantially less than the ten-year average of 61,971 fires and 6,757,095 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Weather

Typhoon Phanfone moved away from Tokyo, Japan, and out to sea Monday, but not before killing at least one person, forcing the evacuations of thousands, sparking landslides and disrupting travel for thousands of others across the island nation. Six U.S. servicemen at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan, were taking photos of 12 to 15 foot waves on the northwest coast of the island Sunday when three were overtaken by the waves. At least one of the airmen died in the incident. Search efforts were ongoing Monday by air and sea for the two U.S. airmen who were still missing. A 21-year-old surfer, who was a college student, was also reported missing just south of Tokyo off the coast of Kanagawa Prefecture. Elsewhere, in the city of Yokohama, in Kanagawa Prefecture, two men went missing after heavy rain triggered mudslides in the area.

Typhoon Vongfong barreled into Guam and the Mariana Islands early Monday local time, threatening to do “devastating” damage to the area, but so far, only reports of power outages and flooding have trickled out of the area. The eye of the typhoon passed over or near Rota between 3 and 4 a.m. local time Monday. Rota, home to around 2,500 people, lies 45 miles northeast of Guam and is part of the northern Mariana Islands. Rota island officials stated there were no injuries or deaths. Up to 70 percent of Rota lost power during the storm. Utility crews were still working to restore power across the island Monday.

Tropical Storm Simon is weakening rapidly after earlier becoming the eighth major hurricane and sixth Category 4 hurricane of the 2014 Eastern Pacific hurricane season. Simon continues to churn northward several hundred miles off the Baja California coast and will continue to weaken early this week. Simon has begun its expected right turn, now moving toward the north. That curvature will eventually take Simon into Baja California by about Wednesday, but only after weakening markedly over colder water.

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