Signs of the Times (10/27/14)

Churches Urged to Join Forces against Abortion-Coverage Mandate

The president of the American Family Association is urging religious groups in California to fight back against a state mandate forcing them to cover elective abortions in their insurance plans. California’s Department of Managed Health Care has established new regulations that require all insurance plans in the state – even those provided by churches for their employees – to provide coverage of elective surgical dismemberment abortion. Since August insurers have been notifying their policyholders about the new change in coverage requirements, and several churches in the Golden State have been receiving the notifications from their insurance companies. “If Hobby Lobby can win on religious freedom grounds, it seems to me the churches can win if it has to go to the Supreme Court.” Alliance Defending Freedom and Life Legal Defense Foundation are representing some of the Christian groups, their employees, and students of Christian schools.

Houston Mayor Accused of ‘Abuse of Power’ by Civil Rights Commissioner

An official with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission is warning the mayor of Houston, Texas that her city’s actions are violating the rights of local pastors. Mayor Annise Parker, an open lesbian, directed city attorneys to subpoena five pastors as part of a lawsuit to which the pastors are not even party. U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow describes the subpoenas as “a blatant attempt to punish these pastors for expressing their religiously-based political views” and “an abuse of government power.” The lawsuit was brought after the City of Houston rejected a citizen-led petition drive to reverse a “bathroom bill” passed by the Houston City Council that favors homosexuals, lesbians and the transgendered. The five pastors supported the petition drive, and now some observers view Mayor Parker’s actions as bully-like intimidation tactics that are taking advantage of the legal process.

The Violence within Islam

When the news flashed last week that a man had shot and killed a Canadian soldier in front of the National War Memorial in Canada, what most people were wondering — but not saying out loud — was, “Is it another radical Muslim?,” writes CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. None of them was born and brought up a religious Muslim. A profile Michael Zehaf-Bibeau in The New York Times reveals a troubled youth who converted to Islam, got radicalized, sought to go to Syria to fight in the jihad and finally ended up trying to wage his own version of it in Ottawa and died after killing a soldier. The man who ran over the soldiers in Canada last week reportedly converted to Islam only a year ago. The man who attacked NYC officers with a hatchet, also clearly disturbed, converted to Islam two years ago and posted an online video of jihadist rants. “These were unstable young men, prone toward radicalism and violence. They were searching for an ideology that would fit their disturbed worldview, and in the radical and jihadi interpretations of Islam, they found it,” Zakaria concludes. “This is just the beginning — there will be more attacks,” former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik told Newsmax.

  • While it is true that most Muslims are peaceful, that’s in spite of a religion whose holy book calls upon believers to wage war against infidels (i.e. non-believers). In contrast to Jesus’ advice to ‘turn the other cheek’ Mohamed calls for violence, a hallmark of satanic influence.

Ebola Update

An American nurse for Doctors without Borders, angry over her forced confinement to an isolation tent in a New Jersey hospital despite showing no signs of Ebola, is taking legal action against the state’s new regulations that require all aid workers from Ebola-stricken from West Africa to be quarantined for 21 days. Kaci Hickox, 33, was the first person pulled aside at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday under the new rules after her return from Sierra Leone, where she was working with Ebola patients. In a sudden reversal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday that the state will release Hickox who had been confined in a hospital isolation tent upon arrival from West Africa despite showing no signs of Ebola. Christie said Monday that Hickox will be taken by private transportation to her home in Maine, at her request.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended that all U.S. troops returning from West Africa undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine, senior Defense officials told Fox News — even as the White House fights those very policies in New York and New Jersey. The recommendation has fallen in the lap of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. He is deliberating, and no final decision has been made. He finds himself caught between Obama and the military chiefs.

An “extraordinary number” of frightened Bellevue Hospital workers have taken a “sick-out,” including one woman who even tried faking a stroke to get out of being exposed to Ebola, after Dr. Craig Spencer was quarantined there with the virus, according to The New York Post. “The nurses on the floor are miserable with a ‘why me?’ attitude, scared to death and overworked because all their co-workers called out sick,” an unidentified source told the Post.

The U.N. health agency said Saturday that the number of confirmed, probable and suspected cases has risen to 10,141. Of those, 4,922 people have died. Those figures show about 200 new cases since the last report, four days ago. Even those grisly tolls are likely an underestimate, WHO has warned, as many people in the hardest hit countries have been unable or too frightened to seek medical care. A shortage of labs capable of handling potentially infected blood samples has also made it difficult to track the outbreak.

Higher Deductibles for Health Insurance

More employers are offering consumer-directed health plans, which usually come with high deductibles. In 2015, 81% of large employers will offer at least one of these plans, up from 63% five years earlier. Consumer-directed plans typically carry deductibles of $1,500 for individual coverage, more than three times higher than traditional policies, according to the National Business Group on Health. And these plans will be the only choice for a growing number of workers. The share of larger employers offering only consumer-directed policies is jumping to 32% for 2015, up from 22% this year. Deductibles are soaring for traditional insurance policies, too. Deductibles for individual coverage at all firms have jumped to $1,217, on average, up 47% over the past five years, according to the 2014 Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust report.

Hillary Clinton: Businesses Don’t Create Jobs

Speaking at a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised her husband’s increase to the minimum wage and slammed trickle-down economics as a “spectacularly” failed system. She said millions of jobs were created after her husband raised the wage in the 1990s and after she herself voted to increase it when she was a U.S. Senator. In what seemed to be a preparation for a 2016 presidential run Clinton also told the crowd “don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.”

  • This is the heart of the socialist mantra – government is the key player in all aspects of life. This stands in stark contrast to the historic U.S. free market economic system.

Student Loans Deemed the Biggest Threat to U.S. Economy

What is the most dangerous threat to our economy, the answer is very simple: student loans. Suze Orman, financial analyst for CNBC, says “we have more than $1.2 trillion of student loan debt. About 10 million federal student loans are taken out annually, and then there are the insanely dangerous private student loans on top of that staggering number.” And while 6.7 million borrowers in repayment mode are delinquent, the sad fact is that many lenders aren’t exactly incentivized to work with borrowers. Unlike all other forms of debt, student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Moreover, lenders can garnish wages and even Social Security benefits to get repaid. Also, from 2007 to 2012, the government made $66 billion in profit on federal student loans? “We can all debate how our government should generate revenue to support federal spending programs, but doing it on the backs of young adults who need an education to compete in the increasingly competitive global workforce is just appalling.”

Economic News

The U.S. has the largest emergency stockpile of oil in the world. And now that the country’s oil production is booming, there’s questions if America needs to hold so much crude in reserve. Congress created the reserve in response to the 1973 oil embargo, which caused a supply shock and a recession. Currently, there’s enough oil in storage to meet the nation’s needs for 106 days. In contrast, most oil consuming nations have 90 days of oil supply in storage. The United States is now on track to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest energy producer next year. The talk of shrinking the oil reserve is a major shift from the political debates of the past years, when Americans were being squeezed by high gas prices.

Oil prices in the United States have tumbled to the lowest levels since 2012, and gas prices have fallen below $3 a gallon in many parts of the country. Gas now averages $3.07 a gallon nationwide, down from $3.60 in June and $3.30 a year ago. That’s billions of dollars of savings for U.S. households.

The Federal Reserve is expected to close a chapter in history this week and announce the conclusion of its massive stimulus program. Known as quantitative easing, the program is widely credited with driving investors back into stocks in the aftermath of the financial crisis. While there has been some chatter on Wall Street that the Fed would delay the expiration of stimulus due to concerns about weak growth and dangerously low inflation abroad, most analysts envision the central bank halting its bond purchases next month as previously signaled by Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen.

European regulators revealed the results Sunday of an extensive health check of the region’s top 130 banks. All told, 25 banks failed the test, although 12 have already taken steps to shore up their finances. Italy suffered the worst count: 9 of the country’s 21 banks examined failed the test. Italy is Europe’s fourth-largest economy. Greece and Cyprus, southern European countries that required international bailouts, were next. In each country, three of four banks examined did not pass muster.

Persecution Watch

Iran’s regime conducted a raid on an Easter service and arrested Christians, subjected Christian converts to death threats and psychological abuse and shut down licensed churches, according to a UN report that will be submitted to world leaders on Tuesday. While persecution of religious minorities is nothing new in the Islamic Republic, the 28-page catalog of horrors compiled by Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Right in the Islamic Republic of Iran, undermines the claim that President Hassan Rouhani has ushered in a new era of tolerance. “At least 49 Protestant Christians are currently detained, many for involvement in informal house churches,” the report states. Tehran has also cracked down on Christian community websites, blocking their reception. In addition, Christian converts have been expelled from Iranian universities.

Islamic State

Among those fighters are thousands of women fighting against ISIS, an unusual phenomenon in the Muslim world in which warfare is often associated with manhood. In April, Kurdish fighters created all-female combat units that have grown to include more than 10,000 women. These female fighters have played a major role in battles against ISIS, said Nasser Haj Mansour, a defense official in Syria’s Kurdish region.

A new report from The New York Times states that American James Foley and other ISIS captives were threatened with execution, tortured and starved ahead of their beheadings. After Foley, the militant group beheaded three other Western hostages — Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who wrote for Time magazine; David Haines, a British aid worker; and Alan Henning, a British taxi driver who traveled to Syria to deliver food and water to those affected by the country’s Civil War. A report from the Times in July alleged that by paying ransoms, European countries have influenced terror groups, including ISIS, to target people for kidnapping.

Syria

Building an opposition force in Syria capable of mounting offensive operations against Islamic State militants will take at least a year and require sustained U.S. support once the force is deployed, U.S. defense officials say. Developing offensive capabilities, which would allow fighters to retake land occupied by the Islamic State, requires longer training that could take up to 18 months.

Egypt

At least 27 Egyptian security personnel were killed in a car bombing in the country’s Sinai region. At least 28 other people were injured in the attack, which took place at a checkpoint in Karam al Qawadees in North Sinai’s Sheikh Zuwaid district on Friday. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called for an urgent meeting with the National Defense Council to discuss the security situation in North Sinai. In a televised statement Saturday, el-Sisi said new measures would be enforced in the border area between Sinai and Gaza to root out the problem, keeping it from becoming “a mass of terrorism and extremism that no one can get rid of.”

Iraq

A suicide car bomber driving a military Humvee struck a checkpoint manned by Iraqi troops and pro-government Shiite militiamen south of Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 24 people. The bombing bore all the hallmarks of the Islamic State group. The IS militants lost control of the town only the previous day, when Iraqi soldiers and the Shiite militia retook Jurf al-Sakhar from the Sunni extremist group. The Islamic State group had seized the town in July, as part of its blitz earlier this year that captures large swaths of northern and western Iraq.

Iran

An Iranian woman convicted of murder — in a killing that human rights groups called self-defense against a rapist — was hanged Saturday, state news agency IRNA reported. Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, was sentenced to death for the 2007 killing of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former employee of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The United Nations has said she never received a fair trial. Jabbari was convicted of murder after “a flawed investigation and unfair trial,” according to Amnesty International. Jabbari was held in solitary confinement without access to her lawyer and family for two months, Amnesty International said in a statement. She was tortured during that time, the group said.

  • Not only does Islam promote violence against non-adherents, it also enslaves women and endorses abuse

Afghanistan

A 10-year-old girl, brutally raped, confronts her attacker in court. The culprit — a cleric — tries to pass it off as “consensual sex.” A judge sentences him to 20 years and some $30,000 in fines. What’s extraordinary is that these scenes played out Saturday in a courtroom in Kabul, Afghanistan. The case is being hailed by women’s rights groups and activists as a watershed moment, in a country where women are still the targets of violence, despite reforms since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. “This case shows the level of cruelty that children in Afghanistan face,” said Horia Mosadiq, an Afghanistan researcher with Amnesty International. “This is not an isolated case.”

Nigeria

Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped at least 30 boys and girls from a village in northeast Nigeria during the weekend. The abductions appear to be the latest in a string of recent kidnappings by Boko Haram that dims hope for the anticipated release of 219 school girls ‎held by the group since April following a controversial ceasefire declared by Nigerian authorities. Heavily armed Boko Haram gunmen invaded the town of Mafa in Borno state Friday and Saturday and seized 30 boys and girls, local leaders said. The kidnappers also stole 300 cows from the farming community in the raid. Last Thursday, Boko Haram killed 17 people in the nearby village of Ndongo, which they looted and set ablaze.

Volcanoes

Residents living in the flow path of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano may soon have to evacuate. Hawaiian authorities urged residents to prepare for possible evacuations within three to five days. Lava flow from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has picked up speed and is quickly advancing on the remote town of Pahoa in the Puna district of the Big Island. By Saturday morning, the lava flow had continues to flow northeast at 10 yards per hour. The lava flow is 160-230 feet wide and is six-tenths of a mile from the town’s main road.

Weather

A strong storm system moved into the Northwest this past weekend, delivering damaging winds and heavy rains. Oregon suffered the brunt of the storm’s fury Saturday as wind gusts of up to 91 mph whipped areas of the state, downing trees, power lines and causing multiple power outages. As of Saturday evening, over 68,200 customers were without power in Oregon and Washington.

Authorities are assessing damage in Greece after heavy rain caused flash floods in Athens last Friday, uprooting trees. Significant flash flooding in the Greek capital resulted partly from the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo, which passed over Bermuda and plowed over Europe earlier this week. Greek Authorities say that the flooding led to damage in several places including Peristeri, Ilion and Parama and swept away at least 250 cars. Emergency crews were called to pump water out of at least 800 homes and businesses.

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