Signs of the Times (10/13/14)

Judge Overturns Alaska’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

In 1998, Alaska became the first of two states to pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. On Sunday, a federal judge overturned the 16-year ban, saying the Constitution guarantees equal protection to all. The judge’s ruling makes Alaska the latest state where gay and lesbian couples can legally marry. An appeal will take the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which last week ruled against Idaho and Nevada in similar cases. At least 27 states now allow same-sex marriage — an increase of at least 13 states since the beginning of the month.

Americans Want More Religion in Politics

A growing number of Americans who say that religion should play a greater role in politics, according to the findings of a recent study by the Pew Research Forum’s Religion & Public Life Project. The study found that almost three-quarters of the American public — 72% — believes that religion’s influence is waning in public life, the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past 10 years. And many Americans say that trend is a bad thing. Nearly a third of Americans say they want houses of worship to back particular candidates, despite IRS rules against it. That’s an increase of 8 percentage points since 2010. An even higher percentage – nearly half of all Americans – said churches and other religious institutions should openly express their views on social and political issues, an increase of 6% since 2010. The findings of the Pew study contradict what seemed to be a trend toward increased secularization in American social and political life, surprising political ‘experts.’

  • It no longer matters what citizen voters want. Government and courts now dictate moral issues.

Health Plans Shifting Rx Costs to Patients

Even with insurance, some patients are struggling to pay for prescription drugs for conditions such as cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis or HIV/AIDS, as insurers and employers shift more of the cost of high-priced pharmaceuticals to patients. Increasingly, health plans — even those offered to people with job-based coverage — require hefty payments by patients. In some plans, patients must pay 20% to 40% or more of the total cost of medications that insurers deem to be specialty drugs. The trend is controversial, prompting a civil rights complaint in Florida, legislative action in a few states and debate over how to slow the rapid rise of spending on prescription drugs without hurting consumers or stifling development of new treatments.

68,000 Unaccompanied Children Crossed Border in 2014; Terrorists Too?

A new report released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection indicates that 68,541 unaccompanied illegal immigrant children have been taken into custody so far in 2014. According to The Blaze, the agency claims this is a 77 percent increase from 2013. “Without a doubt, we had a setback this summer, with the unprecedented number of unaccompanied children and others who crossed a narrow area of our southern border in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. While there is concern about the growing number of unaccompanied children crossing the border, some call for greater border security to protect the nation from terrorists. On Fox News, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) claims roughly ten ISIS terrorists entered the country through the Mexican border, which DHS denies.

Asset Seizures Fueling Police Spending

Police agencies have used hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Americans under federal civil forfeiture law in recent years to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear. They have also spent money on luxury vehicles and travel. The details are contained in thousands of annual reports submitted by local and state agencies to the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, an initiative that allows local and state police to keep up to 80 percent of the assets they seize. The Washington Post obtained 43,000 of the reports dating from 2008 through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents offer a sweeping look at how police departments and drug task forces across the country are benefiting from laws that allow them to take cash and property without proving a crime has occurred. The law was meant to decimate drug organizations, but The Post found that it has been used as a routine source of funding for law enforcement at every level. Of the nearly $2.5 billion in spending reported in the forms, 81 percent came from cash and property seizures in which no indictment was filed, according to an analysis by The Post.

  • The looming police state is arming itself with government surplus tanks and weaponry as well

Power Outages Increasing in U.S.

In the past 20 years, major power outages caused by extreme weather quintupled from about five to 20 a year in the mid-90s to 50 and 100 today in the USA. Add the ever-increasing demand on our electrical system from the array of electronic devices we plug in, as well as the greater potential for extreme weather as a result of climate change, and blackouts could increase even more. Over the past month, a search online for power outages produced more than 27,000 results. From Alabama to Northern California to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, storms and disasters left thousands of people in the dark. Nearly one in four U.S. adults endured a power outage lasting 12 or more hours in the past two years, according to a recent Harris Poll survey.

Risk of EMP Blast Increasing

Experts say that the risk of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) knocking out the U.S. power grid it’s a question of when not whether. EMPs can occur naturally due to solar flares or they can result from a nuclear weapon exploded in the atmosphere twenty miles above the U.S. NASA estimates that there is about a 12% chance of a catastrophic solar flare hitting the planet over the next decade. Elliott Management Corp. recently advised its investors that the risk of an EMP incident is “head and shoulders above all the rest in terms of the scope of potential damage adjusted for the likelihood of occurrence.” According to former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, recently declassified EMP studies is a “dire threat’ that would bring “civilization to a cold, dark halt.”

  • An EMP blast would go a long way to bring about the worldwide devastation symbolized in Revelation’s trumpet and bowl plagues

Obama Warns of Crippling Cyber Attack Potential

President Barack Obama believes cyber terrorism is one of the biggest threats to national security and says the White House is bracing for a possible doomsday scenario if hackers can successfully penetrate government and business computer systems, the Fox Business Network reported. The president shared his thoughts on cyber terrorism last week, during a fundraising tour in New York City and a stop in Greenwich Conn., according to people who attended the events. The president noted that hackers “could steal $100 million” in a relatively short time and might be able to someday “take down the banking system” if the nation’s cyber security doesn’t improve. The president is worried that cyber criminals could literally wipe out the identities of millions of people through some breach of government systems and that could lead to massive chaos. The president’s remarks come as JPMorgan, the nation’s largest bank by assets, disclosed a massive cyber-attack in which hackers obtained the names and addresses of 76 million households. The bank said the hackers didn’t obtain more sensitive information, and were not able to access the personal accounts of customers.

Leaked Snapchat Images a Wake-Up Call to Users

The vast haul of Snapchat images obtained by hackers in a breach discovered last week should serve as a massive wake-up call to consumers, warns an expert, noting that users may have been lulled into a false sense of security. “More clearly needs to be done to remind Snapchat’s millions of users – many of whom are teenagers – of the dangers of sending intimate images that may later leave them humiliated or embarrassed if shared with unauthorized parties,” wrote Oxford, U.K.-based computer security expert Graham Cluley. The leak, dubbed “the Snappening,” could involve up to 200,000 images, according to media reports, which say that the collection may contain images of child pornography. The files were reportedly posted online via fake website viralpop.com, which installed malware on computers trying to download the images.

Economic News

Stocks ended a bloody, turbulent week with a broad-based slump Friday, sending the tech-heavy Nasdaq to its worst weekly losses in 30 months and eviscerating what remained of the Dow Jones industrial average’s 2014 gains. The Dow, down 335 points Thursday in its worst single session performance of the year, fell another 115.15 points to 16,544.10, falling below January’s 16,576.66 open. Nasdaq stocks suffered far worse, tumbling 102.10 points, 2.3%, to end at 4276.24, a four-month low. With Thursday’s 2% rout, the Nasdaq ended with its worst weekly performance since May 2012 and first consecutive, two-day slide of at least 2% since 2011.

A recent study from the American Association of University Women that controlled for college major, occupation, age, geographical region, hours worked and more, showed there is still a 7% wage gap between male and female college grads a year after graduation. “We reviewed men and women who have made exactly the same education and career choices and still found a gap,” said Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations at the AAUW. The 22% wage gap generally reported in the media “is an aggregate of all men and women in the workplace,” said Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. It doesn’t take into account variables like education level, total hours worked, type of work and job tenure.

Persecution Watch

Under the guise of “zero tolerance”, gun hating private community Lakes of the Four Seasons (LOFS) has fired a seasonal landscaping employee of 21 years because he was a gun owner. And no, wasn’t carrying a gun while working, nor did he have a gun in his car on LOFS property. He innocently acknowledged that he believed in the 2nd Amendment and kept a gun at home.

  • Christians, conservatives and gun owners are the chief targets now in the U.S.

Ebola Update

Liberia’s United Nations peacekeeping mission has placed 41 staff members, including 20 military personnel, under “close medical observation” after an international member of its medical team was diagnosed with Ebola this week — the second mission member to test positive for the deadly disease. Three more people are under observation in a Madrid hospital, boosting the number currently being monitored for Ebola symptoms to 16. A nursing assistant infected with the virus remains stable.

A health care worker at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who provided care for Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, who died last week, has tested positive for Ebola in a preliminary test, authorities said Sunday. The health care worker reported having a fever Friday night and was hospitalized, isolated and referred for testing. The nurse was involved in Duncan’s second visit to the Dallas hospital when he was admitted for treatment, and she was wearing full protective gear, officials say. The CDC confirmed Sunday that the Dallas nurse tested positive for Ebola. The CDC is blaming a “breach” in protocol for the first transmission of the Ebola virus in the USA between a health worker and Duncan. However, it’s unclear how that breach happened.

The Dallas hospital where the first Ebola patient in the United States spent his final days could be investigated by the state’s health department after records show that his temperature reached 103 degrees when he first arrived at the hospital, only to be sent home with a prescription for antibiotics and Tylenol. The documents show that a nurse recorded early in Duncan’s first hospital visit that he recently came to the U.S. from Africa, though he denied having been in contact with anyone sick. There was no indication in the paperwork that he was asked any follow-up questions about his travels. However, he had lied about having no contact with Ebola victims.

Middle East

The United States is promising $212 million in immediate assistance to the Palestinians as part of an international effort to rebuild the Gaza Strip after this summer’s 50-day war. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says people in Gaza “need our help desperately — not tomorrow, not next week, but they need it now.” He announced the new money at a donor conference for the Palestinians in Cairo. The Palestinians are seeking $4 billion in international aid.

Islamic State

More than 24,000 Iraqi civilians have been injured or killed by ISIS so far this year, according to a United Nations report on the human rights violations of the ISIS. The report said that ISIS militants have killed about 8,493 Iraqi civilians. Another 15,782 have been injured. The actual numbers could be much higher,” the report states. “Additionally, the number of civilians who have died from the secondary effects of violence, such as lack of access to basic food, water or medicine, after fleeing their homes or who remained trapped in areas under ISIL control or in areas of conflict are unknown.”

Despite airstrikes and international outrage against ISIS militants, the terror group is overrunning Iraqi forces and slowly marching on toward a province on Baghdad’s doorstep. And as alarming developments piled up over the weekend, Iraqi forces threatened to flee if the U.S. military does not intervene. Leaders in Iraq’s western Anbar province appealed Saturday for help from U.S. forces on the ground to halt the relentless advance of ISIS fighters. Sabah Al-Karhout, the president of Anbar Provincial Council, said the council has intelligence that ISIS has dispatched as many as 10,000 fighters to Anbar from Syria and Mosul in northern Iraq. The council’s deputy head, Falleh al-Issawi, told CNN that it had asked the central government to intervene immediately to save the province from imminent collapse — and to request the deployment of U.S. ground forces there. That would be a significant shift, since the Iraqi government has until now been adamant that it does not want U.S. forces on the ground. President Barack Obama has also previously ruled out the use of U.S. ground troops.

In a new publication, ISIS justifies its kidnapping of women as sex slaves citing Islamic theology, an interpretation that is rejected by the Muslim world at large as a perversion of Islam. “One should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffar — the infidels — and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah, or Islamic law,” the group says in an online magazine published Sunday. The title of the article sums up the ISIS point of view: “The revival (of) slavery before the Hour,” referring to Judgment Day.

Iraq

A series of car bomb attacks in Iraq’s capital killed 38 people in Shiite areas Saturday, authorities said, after Islamic militants killed a journalist working for a local television network in a Sunni province. The attacks come as Iraq faces its greatest challenge since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops, as militants from the Islamic State group now hold vast swaths of the country and neighboring Syria. Nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks, yet Sunni insurgents frequently target Shiite population they deem as being heretics. That includes the Islamic State group, which now holds a third of the country in its control.

Russia/Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered 17,600 troops near the Ukrainian border to return to their bases, state-run media reported. The troop buildup near the Ukrainian border has been widely interpreted as a threat to invade eastern Ukraine. If the troops do indeed leave the border area, the withdrawal could mark a removal of that threat. So far, NATO has not confirmed whether the troops have actually began to withdraw. The conflict between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian military has cost more than 2,500 lives.

Afghanistan

Taliban insurgents have killed 14 Afghan National Security forces, including two policemen, in northern Afghanistan. About 180 Afghan security forces were traveling in a convoy Sunday when more than 200 Taliban fighters attacked them in a very remote part of Sar-e-Pul province. The Taliban captured six soldiers, 17 others were injured, and 23 Taliban insurgents were killed in the fighting. Also on Sunday, a suicide attack in Wardak province killed 14 people, including nine civilians. A car full of explosives blew up near an Afghan National Army vehicle. Two other vehicles with civilians were also destroyed in the blast, and six people were injured.

Hong Kong

Rowdy scenes erupted at the main Occupy Central protest site in Hong Kong on Monday after hundreds of people opposing the pro-democracy occupation tried to tear down protest barricades. Police formed a human chain to separate the protesters and people intent on breaking up their three-week long occupation of the Admiralty district, near the city’s financial center. Dozens of men, some wearing surgical masks, were seen jostling with protesters and demanding that police remove the barricades and clear the roads. They were heard screaming at protesters, accusing them of damaging their livelihoods. Among them were taxi drivers and other transportation industry workers.

Weather

Severe storms ripped through the South overnight Sunday, killing at least one person in Arkansas and damaging homes and property in Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri. More severe weather is forecast for Monday. A tornado watch — meaning conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop — is in place for much of Arkansas and parts of Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi. In Texas, thousands of homes and businesses lost electricity as thunderstorms soaked northern parts of the state. Most of the outages are concentrated in the Dallas-Fort Worth area,

A day after the deadly Cyclone Hudhud ravaged parts of India’s eastern coast, residents are furiously scrambling to find supplies to stay alive. Basic necessities are being sold at twice or thrice the normal price as local store owners attempt to cash in on desperate citizens in a country where as many as 50,000 mud hut residences were destroyed by the storm. At least eight people have been killed. Hudhud brought winds as high as 127 mph as it passed near Visakhapatnam, uprooting hundreds of trees and bringing down power lines. Authorities say it is too early to know the full extent of damage, partly because communications are out for many areas.

Just days after Typhoon Phanfone left three American servicemen dead on Japan’s Okinawa Island, Typhoon Vongfong battered its shores once again with ferocious winds and drenching rain before weakening overnight on Sunday local time. At least 35 people were injured in the storm. Authorities told 150,000 people to evacuate on the island of Kyushu as Vongfong approaches. 53,000 households in Okinawa and more than 50,000 in Kagoshima experienced blackouts as of Sunday morning. Authorities also advised the evacuation of 90,000 households in Okinawa and 2,700 in Kagoshima Prefecture due to the possibility of flooding and mudslides.

Typhoon Vongfong battered Kyushu and Shikoku, Japan, on Monday with ferocious winds and drenching rain. Dozens have been injured and at least one fisherman is missing. One American is among the injured, according to some Japanese media reports. Heavy rain was falling in Tokyo on Monday, leaving thousands without power and causing extensive travel delays at the end of a three-day national holiday. Conditions are expected to deteriorate there overnight. Authorities issued landslide warnings and told at least 820,000 residents across the country to evacuate. At least 68 people have been injured nationwide.

After spending six hours as a hurricane, the tropical cyclone called Fay was downgraded back to a tropical storm Sunday evening. Fay, briefly the fifth hurricane of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season, is quickly moving away from Bermuda after striking it directly as a strong tropical storm. Tropical Storm Fay passed over Bermuda early Sunday morning with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, just shy of hurricane status. Bermuda’s L.F. Wade International Airport clocked a wind gust to 82 mph at 6:34 a.m. EDT Sunday. Major flooding was reported in the airport’s terminal building and flights were delayed Sunday, though airport runways were open. Hundreds of trees were uprooted and power poles were downed.

A landslide in northwestern China buried a dormitory for highway construction workers as they slept inside, killing 19 and injuring two others, officials said Saturday. Landslides are common in China’s mountainous regions, where road construction and deforestation have stripped the soil of vegetation. The risk of mudslides increases without tree roots holding the soil in place when heavy rains fall.

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One Response to “Signs of the Times (10/13/14)”

  1. STLloyd Says:

    Reblogged this on Serve Him in the Waiting and commented:
    I appreciate these succinct summaries of the pertinent news put out by the Lion of Judah
    Blog each week!

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