Signs of the Times (10/20/14)

Students across America Toted Bibles for “Bring Your Bible to School Day”

Students across the United States will bring their Bibles to school last Thursday as part of a national initiative to encourage young people to share their faith with peers. According to The Blaze, ring Your Bible to School Day was sponsored by Focus on the Family in an effort to promote religious freedom and to teach students their constitutional rights. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorney Jeremy Tedesco said, “Christian students don’t abandon their constitutionally protected freedoms at the schoolhouse gate. Their freedom to express their beliefs includes the right to bring their Bible to school, to read it during their free time, and to engage in other activities as part of ‘Bring Your Bible to School Day.’” The ADF also released a public memo, informing schools that students are permitted by law to carry a Bible and read it during non-instructional time. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has issued a memo advising county clerk employees of their constitutional rights of conscience to not be forced to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

Supreme Court rules Texas can Enforce Voter ID Law

The Supreme Court early Saturday allowed Texas to enforce its photo identification law at the polls in the upcoming elections, reaching the opposite conclusion it reached in a similar Wisconsin case a week earlier. The justices also upheld new restrictions on voting in North Carolina and Ohio that did not include photo ID requirements. The law is the strictest in the nation, permitting only certain types of photo ID at the polls. It was enacted to cut down on in-person voter fraud. In all four of the voting cases that came before them, the majority of justices attempted to leave existing procedures in place. The Texas law had been used in several minor elections during the past year.

Court Overturns Arizona Marriage Amendment

On Friday, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick overturned Arizona’s marriage amendment that defined marriage as only the union of one man and one woman. Cathi Herrod, President of the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) ways, “I pray that you will not lose heart. Just as the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion did not end the abortion debate, neither do the court decisions redefining marriage end our calling and obligation to promote and defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” Five federal circuit courts of appeals have not yet ruled on marriage. Two of those circuits may uphold the marriage amendments. If a split in the circuits occurs, then it is possible the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the marriage issue.

Same-Sex Marriage in Alaska, Wyoming to Proceed after Court Orders

Same-sex marriage in Alaska can move forward after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected the state’s request to delay enforcement. The one-sentence order from the justices denying a stay means gays and lesbians could soon legally wed. Less than an hour later, a federal judge in Wyoming did the same in that Western state. Barring any continued legal intervention, that would make Alaska and Wyoming the 30th and 31st states to allow same-sex marriage, up from 19 states at the beginning of the month.

Catholic Bishops Scrap Landmark Overture to Gays in Sign of Split

Catholic gay rights groups have reacted with disappointment to bishops scrapping their landmark welcome to gays this weekend, a move that showed deep divisions at the end of a two-week meeting sought by Pope Francis to chart a more merciful approach to ministering to Catholic families. The bishops failed to approve even a watered-down section on ministering to homosexuals that stripped away the welcoming tone of acceptance contained in a draft document earlier in the week. Two other paragraphs concerning the other hot-button issue at the synod of bishops — whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion — also failed to pass.

Government Lied/Failed about Ebola Outbreak

The Washington Post notes, “When Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola two weeks ago, authorities said not to worry — he had no symptoms during his flights from Liberia to Dallas. They said the disease could be spread only by someone who was showing signs such as fever and only through bodily fluids such as vomit. They told passengers who rode with Duncan they couldn’t catch it because it isn’t transmitted through the air. And, they said, if a passenger is sick or has a fever, the person won’t fly. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is busy tracking 132 passengers who traveled this week on a Frontier Airlines flight with Amber Vinson, the second health-care worker who tested positive for Ebola after caring for Duncan, who died earlier this month. On Monday, the nurse went from Cleveland back to Dallas with a low-grade fever. And the next day, the plane took five more trips before Frontier Airlines was notified late Tuesday about Vinson. Ever since Duncan set foot on American soil on Sept. 20, medical personnel seemed to take one misstep after the other.

Obama Appoints Ebola Czar without Health/Medical Experience

The appointment of longtime Democrat operative Ron Klain as Obama’s Ebola “czar” makes absolutely no sense. Klain doesn’t have a medical background or, really, any background in dealing with a public health crisis of Ebola’s magnitude. The last time we heard Klain’s name in the public sphere sas during the Solyndra solar debacle. Klain was Biden’s Chief of staff at the time, and when there was concern about Solyndra’s viability, Klain used his clout to help push the taxpayer-backed loan forward anyway. That was because the man behind Solyndra was billionaire Obama donor George Kaiser, who was the largest shareholder in the company. Kaiser was able to restructure Solyndra’s oan before it went bankrupt so that private investors like himself got paid first during bankruptcy proceedings with taxpayers footing the bill, according to dailysurge.com

Ebola Update

Texas health officials have ordered any person who entered the room of the first Ebola patient at a Dallas hospital not to travel by public transport, including planes ship, buses or trains, or visit groceries, restaurants or theaters for 21 days, until the danger of developing Ebola has passed. The instructions, issued by the Texas Department of State Health Service late Thursday, cover more than 70 health workers involved in providing care for Thomas Duncan, the Liberian national who became the first patient to test positive for Ebola in the United States. Dozens of Dallas residents who had contact with the only U.S.-diagnosed Ebola fatality were headed back to schools, work and their communities Monday after their 21-day monitoring period concluded without any signs of the virus. In a related case, a health care worker who may have handled a specimen from Duncan was reported to be in quarantine on a cruise ship in the Caribbean which returned to Galveston Saturday. After voluntarily isolating herself in her cabin, she remained symptom-free and her lab tests looked good.

  • As of Friday, eight confirmed cases of Ebola have been or are being treated in the United States, and one U.S. citizen died abroad, having never returned to the States.

Though the Obama administration has insisted travel bans are not necessary, even countries outside of Africa are beginning to start such travel bans, with Colombia and the Caribbean island of St. Lucia on Wednesday adding their names to a growing list of nearly 30 countries that block travelers from virus-stricken Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The West African nation of Senegal is free of Ebola, the World Health Organization declared Friday, congratulating the country on the diligence that enabled it to repel the threat. Senegal had only one case, a man who had entered the country by road from Guinea. Nigeria is also officially free of Ebola, the World Health Organization said Monday. WHO Country Director Rui Gama Vaz hailed the country’s containment of the disease as a “spectacular success story.” The last case in Nigeria tested negative for Ebola 42 days ago, twice the disease’s maximum incubation period. The disease continues to spread rapidly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

An alarmed United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in late September asked nations around the world to quickly help raise $1 billion to fight the deadly virus Ebola. As of last Friday, only $100,000 has come in — from Colombia. Other countries have pledged a total of $20 million for the special fund that Ban set up. Corporate donors have been slow to respond as well. As of last week, companies have pledged nearly $19 million in cash and “in kind” contributions to support Ebola relief. The World Health Organization estimates the virus has killed 4,493 people in seven countries.

Obama says US is “One of the Biggest Muslim Nations”

President Barack Hussein Obama gave an interview a few days ago with the French television channel Canal+. In that interview, Obama echoed the words of his former DHS advisor Mohamed Elibiary when he said that Americans should be better educated about Islam, noting that the US could and should be regarded as a Muslim county. Obama called the US “one of the biggest Muslim nations.” Though Obama’s claims are completely false (the US has only 4.5 million professing Muslims or 1.5% of the population), it is nonetheless a purposeful tactic to make Muslim numbers appear bigger than they really are. Jerusalem Online reports: “Since there are approximately 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, the number of Muslims in the US is approximately 0.3% of the world Muslim population. By comparison there are between approximately 6 million Jews in the US, who account for approximately a third of the world’s Jewish population.”

Economic News

Home building’s off-and-on recovery switched back on last month as construction starts rebounded from a late summer slump. Housing starts rose 6.3% from August as builders began construction of single-family homes and apartment buildings at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.02 million. That tops August’s revised rate of 957,000 but trails July’s updated rate of nearly 1.1 million — the highest for any month this year. Home builders’ average annual rate was nearly 1.8 million homes a month during the national building boom from 2000 through 2006.

Over 48 million Americans live in poverty, according to a special report by the Census Bureau last Thursday. Government programs such as food stamps do help some people, especially children, but even so 16% of American children are living in poverty, according to the supplemental report. The official poverty line was $23,283 last year for a family of four. Food stamps and tax credits helped keep more than 13 million people out of poverty. Social Security put almost 27 million Americans out of poverty. Conversely, out-of-pocket medical expenses are putting about 11 million people into poverty, according to the Census Bureau.

  • The real issue for the poor is employment. Although government benefits are lifting millions of people out of poverty, they are not putting people in the workforce.

A casual glance at the job market makes it appear that things are a lot better. The unemployment rate was 7.2% a year ago. Now it’s 5.9%.But there’s a dark side to this recovery: Millions of people are still unemployed or underemployed. Part-time jobs remain a big problem. Over seven million Americans want full-time work, but can only find part-time hours. There are 54% more part-time workers now than when the recession began in December 2007. Some job seekers want work, but see such dim chances of employment, they stopped looking for a job four weeks ago or more. The current number of such ‘discouraged’ workers is about 700,000, almost double what it was when the recession began. At the start of the recession, 17% of all unemployed people were out of work for six months or longer. In September, almost a third of the unemployed population was jobless for half a year or more.

Persecution Watch

Charges against 55 Pakistani Christians who were falsely accused of blasphemy have been dropped after a written compromise was agreed between the Muslim accuser and the believers involved. The accusation of blasphemy was made against a group of Christians in a small village in Tehsil Samandri district, Faisalabad, on 3 September following a dispute with a gang of Muslims over the use of land for a graveyard. Thirteen Christians, including a twelve-year old boy, were arrested; they have now been released. The Christians were originally charged under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which refers to defiling the name of Muhammad and carries the death penalty. Remarkably, following the intervention of Barnabas-funded Christian lawyers, this charge was later overturned in a rare move by police. The accused Christians were instead charged with violating a place of worship or cemetery (section 297 of the Pakistan Penal Code), which does not carry the death penalty. On 30 September, Barnabas Aid received confirmation that this charge has now also been dropped.

A further bloody attack by militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram has targeted two villages in northern Cameroon, killing 17 Christians. Meanwhile, the true extent of the intense suffering of those displaced by the group’s violence in the region has been revealed in a recent report. The villages of Tourou and Ladamang, in the Mayo Tsanaga area, were attacked. Among more than 40 civilians who lost their lives were a Christian worker, the son of a pastor and 15 other Christians. Many believers saw their belongings looted. Meanwhile, a Christian leader reported about the misery of the thousands of people made homeless in northern Cameroon because of Boko Haram’s violence.

Islamic State

The U.S. Air Force dropped 27 bundles of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies around the besieged Syrian town of Kobani overnight Sunday in an effort to resupply Kurdish forces battling Islamic State militants there. The increased number of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in the Syrian city of Kobani reflects more targets of opportunity, not a change in the campaign against the vicious Islamist group, a Pentagon spokesman said. The strikes are helping Kurdish fighters on the ground push back ISIS militants in the Syrian town, according to sources there. Airstrikes in Syria shifted Saturday from the besieged city of Kobani toward the oil facilities that fund Islamic State fighters.

Also on Monday, Turkey’s foreign minister announced his country would let Kurdish Peshmerga from Iraq use Turkish territory to enter Syria and reinforce fighters in Kobani. The help is desperately needed, Kobani officials say. Even though defenders control some 70% of the city, Kobani is cut off and ISIS forces continue to shell it with mortars from the east and south. The Turkish decision to allow Iraqi Peshmerga to enter Syria through its territory could provide an influx of much-needed ground forces to help.

Nigeria

Nigeria has reached a ceasefire agreement with the Islamist terror group Boko Haram that includes the release of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls, Nigerian officials said Friday. The deal came Thursday night after a month of negotiations with representatives of the group, said Hassan Tukur, principal secretary to President Goodluck Jonathan. “We have agreed on the release of the Chibok schoolgirls, and we expect to conclude on that at our next meeting with the group’s representative next week in Chad,” Tukur said. Officials provided few details about the release.

Hong Kong

Pro-democracy demonstrators seized back part of Hong Kong’s bustling Mong Kok district Saturday after a night of scuffles. Spurred on by police attempts to reopen part of the district to traffic, the protesters’ numbers increased overnight, swelling to around 9,000, according to Hong Kong police. Amid the tussling, Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, the government negotiator, announced Saturday that talks with pro-democracy protesters will take place Tuesday, with Lingnan University President Leonard Cheng as moderator. On the streets, meanwhile, the situation remains highly volatile, with the protests continuing through the weekend. Hong Kong’s embattled chief executive has said the city’s pro-democracy movement is “out of hand” and being influenced by “external forces” from outside the city.

Mexico

The recent disappearance of 43 students and the discovery of mass graves containing the remains of 28 charred human bodies offer an alarming reminder that violent crime persists in Mexico. That’s despite the federal government’s insistence that the security situation is improving as it attempts to bolster the country’s international image. DNA tests show the bodies in the graves found near Iguala are not a match for the missing students. The discovery increases the death toll in a nation where thousands go missing each year and dozens of clandestine graves are routinely uncovered. . The National Geography and Statistics Institute estimated 41,563 crimes per 100,000 residents were committed in 2013, up from about 35,139 in 2012. Among the most frequent offenses: street crimes, robbery while riding public transportation and extortion. In the USA, violent and property crimes were estimated at 3,246 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012.

Weather

Hurricane Gonzalo hit Bermuda late Friday as a powerful Category 2 storm, with winds estimated at 110 mph, the National Hurricane Center reported. The wind was measured at 83 mph on one spot on Bermuda; the airport measured 74 mph, with gusts of 96 mph. Bermuda’s power company, confirmed in a tweet that approximately 30,600 customers — 85% of its customers — were without power due to Gonzalo. Over 6,000 remained without power by Monday morning. Early Saturday morning, the Gazette reported that “barely a road” on the island was passable because of downed trees and other debris. Bermuda closed its schools and international airport and suspended all public transportation, including ferries. Authorities evacuated two hotels along Bermuda’s southern coast Thursday. Guests either flew out or were placed in another hotel. The remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo are set for a collision course with the United Kingdom on Tuesday.

At least six people were killed in mudslides after the remnants of Tropical Storm Trudy dumped heavy rain on southern Mexico over the weekend. The town of Ometepec picked up 15.91 inches of rain in 24 hours. This region is home to some very steep mountain ranges so this kind of rain inevitably leads to landslides and debris flows, which can be deadly. At least one pedestrian bridge over the Solteco River in Guerrero was destroyed. Several other rivers in the region overflowed, causing damage to structures, roads and crops. Houses in Santo Domingo and Santa Maria Armenta were flooded. Many state highways and streets were impassible because of mudslides.

After menacing Hawaii for days, the closest Hurricane Ana got to Hawaii was about 70 miles southwest of the island Niihau, leaving the state soaked but largely unscathed. The islands rode out the storm with no reports of any serious problems. There have been no reports of injuries, deaths or significant damage from the storm. Preparations for the storm began last week, with residents stocking up on bottled water, shelters opening and various events being canceled.

 

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