Archive for November, 2014

Signs of the Times (11/28/14)

November 28, 2014

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24:7-8)

Homeschooling on the Rise

Education activists contend there is an increase in the number of children who are home-schooled due to the new Common Core curriculum, according to Fox News. Common Core State Standards is a set of academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. Some education activists claim public education uses Common Core to push a particular political agenda. Heartlander Magazine reports homeschooling in North Carolina has grown by 14 percent in 2014“If you look at national, and even state polls, you can see that the more familiar people become with Common Core, the more they dislike it,” Bob Lubke, a senior policy analyst for the North Carolina-based Civitas Institute, told FoxNews.com. “They feel like they are losing control of what their kids are learning.” Education activists also report increased homeschooling in Virginia, California and New York.

Ferguson Protests Continue Across U.S.

In Ferguson, Missouri, fire, blocked highways, calls for boycotts and staged “die ins” in which people pretended to be dead on city sidewalks marked a second night of incendiary protests since the announcement that a grand jury would not indict a Missouri police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teen this past summer. Some of the worst violence appeared to be in Oakland, California, where hundreds of protesters vandalized police cars and smashed windows in numerous businesses. The crowd briefly shut down two major freeways, and set several trash bins on fire across a major street before police in riot helmets forced them to disperse. Dozens of protesters in Los Angeles and Oakland were arrested late Wednesday during a third night of demonstrations after vandalism broke out.In Minneapolis, a rally turned scary when a car struck a protester and then burst through a pack of others who surrounded it. As the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter trended on Twitter, anger, frustration and sadness colored demonstrations in Seattle, Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn., Asheville and Greenville, N.C., Cincinnati, Detroit, New York – altogether in 170 U.S. cities.

Obama’s Exec Orders make Illegal Immigrants Eligible for Benefits

Illegal immigrants who apply for work permits in the U.S. under President Obama’s new executive actions will be eligible for Social Security and Medicare, the White House says. Under the sweeping actions, immigrants who are spared deportation could obtain work permits and a Social Security number, which would allow them to pay into the Social Security system through payroll taxes. No such “lawfully present” immigrant, however, would be immediately entitled to the benefits because like all Social Security and Medicare recipients they would have to work 10 years to become eligible for retirement payments and health care. To remain qualified, either Congress or future administrations would have to extend Obama’s actions so that those immigrants would still be considered lawfully present in the country.

Businesses to Receive Incentive for Hiring Illegal Immigrants

Businesses will have a $3,000-per-employee incentive to hire illegal immigrants or native-born workers under President Obama’s sweeping action on illegal immigration. Because of a kink in ObamaCare, businesses will not face a penalty for not providing illegal immigrants health care, The Washington Times reports. Illegal immigrants are ineligible for public benefits such as buying insurance on ObamaCare’s health exchanges. “If it is true that the president’s actions give employers a $3,000 incentive to hire those who came here illegally, he has added insult to injury,” Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican told The Washington Times. “The president’s actions would have just moved those who came here illegally to the front of the line, ahead of unemployed and underemployed Americans.”

U.K. Calls for Cuts to Immigrant Benefits

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans Friday to reduce the “unacceptably high” level of immigration from European Union member states into the United Kingdom. Cameron said EU migrants must have a job offer before coming to the U.K. and once working, they cannot claim some welfare payments or social housing unless they have been in the country for at least four years. EU job seekers who have not found work within six months will be required to leave. The announcement came a day after official statistics showed net migration to the U.K. rose to an estimated 260,000 from June 2013 to June 2014. The rise was 78,000 higher than the previous year. Net migration is calculated by subtracting the number of people leaving the country from the number entering it.

White House Quietly Releases Plans for 3,415 Regulations Ahead of Thanksgiving

While Americans were focused on what delicious foods they’re going to eat for Thanksgiving, the White House was focused on releasing its massive regulatory agenda– marking the fifth time the Obama administration has released its regulatory road map on the eve of a major holiday, reports Fox News. The federal Unified Agenda is the Obama administration’s regulatory road map, and it lays out thousands of regulations being finalized in the coming months. The White House’s regulatory agenda for spring 2014 was released on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend.

  • Socialism is no longer creeping up on the U.S., it’s become a landslide of more and more regulations

Surge in Close Calls between Drones, Airliners

Pilots across the U.S. have reported a surge in near-collisions and other dangerous encounters with small drones in the past six months, at a time when the Federal Aviation Administration is gradually opening the nation’s skies to remotely controlled aircraft, according to FAA records. Since June 1, commercial airlines, private pilots and air-traffic controllers have alerted the FAA about at least 25 episodes in which small drones came within a few seconds or a few feet of crashing into much larger aircraft, the records show. Many of the close calls occurred during takeoffs and landings at the nation’s busiest airports, presenting a new threat to aviation safety after decades of steady improvement in air travel.

Ebola Update

While health officials say they are making headway against the Ebola epidemic in neighboring Liberia, the disease is still raging in Sierra Leone, despite the big international push. In November alone, the World Health Organization has reported more than 1,800 new cases in this country, about three times as many as in Liberia, which until recently had been the center of the outbreak.

The first human trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine has produced promising results, U.S. scientists said, raising hopes that protection from the deadly disease may be on the horizon. All 20 healthy adults who received the vaccine in a trial run by researchers from the National Institutes of Health in Maryland produced an immune response and developed anti-Ebola antibodies, the NIH said Wednesday. None suffered serious side effects, although two people developed a brief fever within a day of vaccination. The vaccine is being developed by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. The process has been fast-tracked in light of the current catastrophic Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives.

Economic News

Stocks ended higher Wednesday as the Dow and S&P 500 each hit new closing highs. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 0.1% to 17,827.75, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index ended up 0.3% to 2072.83. Crude oil prices plummeted over 2% to $72.15 a barrel. In June, prices were as high as $115 a barrel.

The U.S. economy grew at a 3.9% annual rate in the third quarter, more rapidly than the 3.5% first estimated, the Commerce Department said. The economy has notched its best six months of growth since 2003. Tumbling gasoline prices have left Americans more discretionary cash, boosting consumer spending by 2.2%, in the three months ended Sept. 30. A 7.1% rise in business investment was also stronger than initially believed as factories bought new machines to expand capacity stretched near its limits.

Consumer spending rose modestly in October as gasoline prices fell sharply in a positive sign for the holiday shopping season. Consumption increased 0.2% after being unchanged in September, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Personal income also increased 0.2%.The government said earlier this month that retail sales also rebounded in October after declining the previous month.

An index of consumer confidence fell this month, the Conference Board said, despite the falling gas prices and a roaring stock market. But several economists noted the measure is still near highs for the recovery and will likely rise further in coming months.

Investors are grappling with the fallout of Thursday’s decision by OPEC to not cut its daily crude production despite a glut of oil around the globe. Oil prices were already under pressure due to weaker demand, a sluggish global economy and ample new supply coming online in the U.S. Prices plunged even further after OPEC’s announcement. A barrel of Texas Intermediate crude fell as low as $67.82 in early trading Friday, down over 7%, more than a 50-month low. Airline shares are soaring and energy stocks are tanking in response to the plunging oil prices.

Persecution Watch

Two pastors in northwestern Bangladesh could face two years in prison if convicted for “hurting religious sentiments.” Police on Nov. 9 arrested the pastors and 41 people listening to proclamation of Christ at a rented house in Nabinagar village in Lalmonirhat District, after at least 100 Muslims disrupted the meeting and began “jabbing” at the church leaders’ faces, sources said. The 41 people who were detained along with their children were released that night; the pastors of Faith Bible Church of God were not released on bail until Nov. 17, charged with luring Muslims to convert by offering money. The church leaders deny both charges.

Middle East

Israel’s tense relations with Turkey took another hit on Thursday when the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and IDF revealed that a foiled plot by the Islamist terror militia Hamas to carry out multiple attacks in Israel was directed by a Hamas headquarters in Turkey. The Turkish authorities apparently knew about the Hamas activities on their soil and did nothing to stop them. One Israeli official asked, “Is this the sort of thing that one expects from a NATO state?”

Islamic State

At least 95 people have been killed and 120 injured in airstrikes by Syrian government forces on the northern city of Raqqa, a stronghold for the extremist group ISIS, a monitoring group said Wednesday. The death toll from Tuesday’s airstrikes is expected to rise because many people are critically injured, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Government warplanes carried out at least 10 airstrikes in Raqqa, targeting the city’s al-Hani Mosque and the public souk, or market. The U.S.-led coalition against ISIS has also carried out airstrikes in the area since the start of operations in September.

The Pentagon is sending thousands of chemical warfare suits to Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi troops in anticipation of an upcoming offense by the Islamic State terror group, which is believed to have captured old stores of weapons from Saddam Hussein’s regime. Concern that Islamic State could weaponize even old mustard, sarin and chlorine gas led the U.S. Department of Defense to provide the gear as part of a $1.6 billion request to Congress. The funding will go toward equipping three divisions each of the Iraqi Army and Kurdish brigades as well as a group of Anbari tribal fighters. The U.S. intends to equip Iraqi and Kurdish troops with a total of 60,000 m50 gas masks and sealed JLIST body suits and nearly 300 chemical detectors to test nerve, blood and blister agents.

St. George’s church, one of the oldest churches in Mosul has been destroyed by ISIS militants. The church was originally built in the late 1600s, then rebuilt in 1931. St. George’s is the latest of many churches in Mosul to be destroyed by the terrorist group. Tensions are high in Iraq and Syria; at least 33 ISIS members were killed in Mosul and the surrounding area Nov. 24th.

Afghanistan

Taliban fighters staged an attack Thursday evening in an upscale district in the Afghan capital Kabul. Witnesses described multiple explosions and bursts of gunfire in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, which contains numerous foreign embassies and compounds housing international agencies and companies — as well as the homes of some senior Afghan government officials. On Wednesday, Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry says a British national is among five people who were killed in a suicide attack on an embassy vehicle in the capital Kabul. An Afghan national who was driving the vehicle was among the five Afghans killed in the attack. He says another 33 civilians were wounded. Kabul has come under almost daily attack as insurgents intensify their war on local security forces and U.S. and NATO troops, who are set to officially conclude their combat role in the country at the end of next month.

Yemen

American Special Operations commandos led Yemeni troops in a predawn raid on an al-Qaeda hideout in Yemen on Tuesday, The New York Times reports. There were six Yemenis, a Saudi and an Ethiopian rescued in the operation, which left seven al-Qaeda militants dead after a shootout. About two dozen U.S. commandos led a small number of Yemeni troops on the mission, who had been trained by Americans in counterterrorism. They were secretly flown into eastern Yemen by helicopter and then hiked in the dark to the militants’ shelter in a mountainside cave.

Nigeria

Two teenage females reportedly blew themselves up at a Maiduguri marketplace in an apparent suicide mission. The young women wore full hijabs that covered their bombs and detonated the explosive when they entered the crowded area; at least 30 people died in the attack. The AP reports that the young women were believed to be affiliated with Boko Haram, as the terrorist organization has carried out similar bombings in the past. The bombing was the first to occur in Maiduguri since July 2 when a car bomb positioned at the same marketplace killed 56 people. Maiduguri is the capital and largest city in Borno state.

Cameroon

Over 130 schools have been closed in Cameroon due to Boko Haram concerns. The terrorist organization has recently targeted schools and colleges across Nigeria with bombings and kidnappings; officials closed the schools near the border as a preventative measure. School administrators are planning to relocate some schools farther away from the Nigerian border. The move is a risk because Boko Haram is strongly against Western-influenced education.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong authorities cleared more street barricades from a pro-democracy protest camp in a volatile district Wednesday, part of a two-day operation in which police arrested more than 100 people, including key student leaders. Police in helmets swiftly cleared obstructions from the 2-month-old protest site in Mong Kok, across Victoria Harbor from the main occupied area in the financial district. Some officers used shears to cut apart plastic ties holding together metal barricades while others tore down tents and canopies and carried away other objects, including a sofa. Police said 116 people have been arrested for offences including unlawful assembly and assaulting or obstructing police. Hong Kong police arrested 11 more people in a second night of scuffles with demonstrators angry at having their 2-month-old pro-democracy protest camp in a volatile neighborhood shut down. Police also said they arrested seven of their own officers for assault in connection with the Oct. 15 beating of a handcuffed protester during a violent nighttime clash. Joshua Wong, the most prominent of Hong Kong’s student protest leaders, alleged he was assaulted by police who used excessive force — including repeatedly grabbing his genitals — during his arrest at pro-democracy demonstrations.

China

As the skyline vanished once again under choking smog this week, city lawmakers approved new rules Friday to curb the Chinese capital’s even deadlier haze: indoor smoking. Smoking inside China’s restaurants, bars and other facilities makes such public places even more hazardous than facing smog outdoors, according to the World Health Organization, which says smoking kills more than 1 million Chinese citizens each year. The organization welcomed Beijing’s ban on smoking in indoor public places — passed Friday and set to take effect in June — as setting a strong standard for all Chinese cities. The new rules include increased fines, up to $33, for a single violation. The move follows the publication of draft regulations Monday for a tough nationwide ban on indoor smoking, limits on outdoor smoking and restrictions on tobacco advertising. If the larger ban passes, smokers could face fines up to $80.

Weather

Many Americans faced a cold, soggy start to the Thanksgiving weekend as snow fell on parade marchers in New York City, hundreds of thousands shivered without heat or electricity from West Virginia to Maine, and others struggled just to make it home in spite of hundreds of canceled flights. Utility crews worked to restore power in New England on Thanksgiving Day as residents dug out from under more than a foot of heavy snow. By midday, more than 76,000 people in Maine were still without electricity. Thousands were without lights in New Hampshire as well, mostly in the southern part of the state. As many as 22,000 power customers in Virginia and West Virginia were without electricity Wednesday. The snow canceled more than 700 flights Wednesday evening, mostly in the Northeast. The theme for the eastern U.S. the rest of the weekend will be colder, with temperatures 10 to 15 degrees below normal.

Israelis from the north to the south were struggling Wednesday with what many described as “too much of a good thing too quickly” as heavy rains and strong winds caused flooding, downed power lines and damaged trees, buildings and vehicles. Accidents and flooding closed roads and slowed traffic to a crawl in several cities as power was lost in some areas and Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) rose by 3.5 cm. to 212.83 meters below sea level, only 17 cm. below the Kinneret’s flood line. The wet and cold weather was expected to continue through the rest of the week.

Signs of the Times (11/25/14)

November 25, 2014

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24:7-8)

North Carolina District Court Lifts Ban against Praying in Jesus’ Name

A federal district court reversed its order against the prayer policy of Forsyth County, North Carolina after a Supreme Court decision affirmed prayer. The order in North Carolina required the county to censor people’s prayers at public meetings. Only generic prayers would be allowed. “All Americans should have the liberty to pray without being censored, just as the Supreme Court found only a few months ago, and we are delighted to see this freedom restored in Forsyth County,” said ADF Senior Counsel Brett Harvey. “The Supreme Court affirmed the freedom of Americans to pray according to their consciences before public meetings. For that reason, the district court was right to lift its previous order against Forsyth County’s prayer policy, which is clearly constitutional.”

GOP Questions Legality of Executive Orders, Initiates Lawsuits

Democrats and Republicans sparred Sunday over whether President Obama violated the Constitution by using his executive power to change U.S. immigration law, with Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz calling the president’s actions “stunning and sad.” Obama on Thursday announced that he would suspend deportation for roughly 5 million illegal immigrants, garnering support from much of his base and outrage from critics — including two elected officials who are mounting separate legal challenges to the president’s executive actions. Cruz told “Fox News Sunday” that Obama refuses to accept that only Congress has the authority to establish federal immigration laws and that members should block the president’s nominees and some funding until he rescinds his executive actions. Greg Abbott, the governor-elect of Texas, which borders Mexico and deals with many illegal immigration issues, intends to sue, arguing the executive actions create financial hardships for Texas. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Arizona’s Maricopa County, has already filed a similar suit and called Obama’s moves “unconstitutional.”

Ferguson Burning after Grand Jury Announcement

The streets were quiet but fires continued to burn Tuesday following a night of violence triggered by a grand jury’s decision not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson for the August shooting death of unarmed, black teen Michael Brown. Demonstrators taunted police, shattered windows and set fire to two St. Louis County police cars at the protest’s furious peek. Scattered, intermittent gunfire was also reported. At least 14 people have been injured. Scores of police officers, armed with riot gear, dispersed a crowd of about 300 with volley after volley of tear gas, pepper spray and bean bags. But not before looters plundered a Walgreen store, Family Dollar store and an Autozone outlet. Other protesters torched a Little Casears pizza restaurant and local beauty shop — among several buildings set ablaze that were continuing to light up the sky early Tuesday morning. Two police cars were burned. Much of the crowd had been dispersed by about midnight.

Protesters across the nation marched and chanted their discontent with the decision by a Missouri grand jury not to indict a white police officer. But the demonstrations lacked the ugly violence that marred the outrage in Ferguson. In New York, hundreds marched through Union Square holding signs saying “Jail Killing Cops” and “Resistance Is Justified.” In downtown Tempe, AZ., about 60 people showed up at Tempe Town Lake. Protesters in Oakland, Calif., lay in the middle of an intersection in silent protest, then marched down Broadway. In Philadelphia, several hundred protesters marched through downtown yelling “No justice, no peace, no racist police!” About 15 people gathered in front of the Theodore Levin United States Federal Courthouse in Detroit Monday night.

Obama Gives another $3B to ‘Climate Change’ … $120B and Counting

After offering some $6 billion for West Africa’s Ebola relief and offering amnesty to 5 million illegal aliens that can end up costing untold billions, President Barack Obama pulled out America’s checkbook once again to the tune of $3 billion to allegedly help impoverished nations deal with so-called “climate change” via clean — or green — energy. Obama had the deepest pockets in the world at Australia’s G20 Summit in Brisbane, writing a $3-billion check that accounted for more than half of the total amount ($5.4 billion) collected by the United Nations by all 20 attending nations combined. The United States provided about one-third of the U.N.’s total goal of $10 billion. The U.N. claims this money is going toward its “Green Climate Fund,” which will help developing nations adjust to so-called “rising seas,” “warmer temperatures” and “extreme weather.” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) says this is just the latest episode of “frivolous spending” on climate change, which he says now tips the scales to more than $120 billion, dating back to Obama’s first year in the White House back in 2009.

FDA Sets Menu Rules for Food Chains

On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will announce that it is making final two rules that require calorie information be listed on menus and menu boards at chain restaurants, grocery store take-out counters, convenience stores, theaters, amusement parks and vending machines. These rules do not apply to independent restaurants. The restaurant rules take effect in one year and the vending machine rules in two years. “Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home, and people today expect clear information about products they consume,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. The rules have been more than four years in the making.

Arizona Mulch Fire to Burn for Days

A massive mulch fire near El Mirage that is expected to burn for days settled and blanketed the West Phoenix area with smoke Sunday. The fire, which started at about 9 p.m. Saturday, has burned 20 acres of a mulch pile estimated to be about 25 acres and 250 feet deep. “It’s going to burn for days and it’s going to create a ton of smoke, authorities say. The farm north of Luke Air Force Base, had been in a three-year process of collecting organic branches and materials to grind up for composting. Their intention was to use the compost on their field, instead of liquid fertilizer. Due to the enormous size and heat of the fire, water won’t be effective in putting out the flames. “It would be like putting out a campfire with a squirt gun. It wouldn’t work,” said Colin Williams, a spokesman for the lead fire agency on the blaze.

Economic News

There are as many as 7 million underemployed workers in America. Most are locked into part-time jobs that they cannot escape from because full-time work does not exist for them. There are still millions of people who have left the workforce after giving up trying to find a job. Obama’s amnesty ploy will greatly exacerbate this problem since it will allow millions more into the ‘official’ workforce.

In a month when the national jobless rate fell to 5.8%, 34 states plus the District of Columbia posted lower unemployment rates than in September, five had increases and 11 had no change. North Dakota, one of the states enjoying the fruits of the nation’s shale-oil boom, continued to lead the nation with the lowest unemployment rate — 2.8% in October. South Dakota was next at 3.3% and Nebraska third at 3.4%.Georgia’s 7.7% was at the other end of the spectrum, the country’s highest rate of joblessness. Mississippi and the District of Columbia were next at 7.6% followed by Rhode Island at 7.4%.

Chinese authorities launched a much-anticipated cross-border trading scheme that opened Shanghai’s stock market to foreign investors via Hong Kong. The world’s second-largest economy is renowned for capital controls aimed at limiting the flow of money into and out of the country, so the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect pilot program, launched Monday, was hailed as marking a new era of access and allowed Chinese citizens a rare route to international markets.

Persecution Watch

A California couple who run a photography business is closing their doors rather than shooting same-sex wedding ceremonies. Nang and Chris Mai say they want to honor God and will no longer be offering photography services at their Novato, California business. The announcement comes after a San Francisco man posted a comment on the company’s Facebook page saying that the company refused to photograph him and his partner. Instead, Mai referred them to another photographer. The company was then flooded with threats and hate calls.

Middle East

The violence that has plagued residents of Jerusalem in recent weeks flared again on Monday evening when two Jewish men were attacked near the Jaffa Gate to the Old City, with one man suffering serious stab wounds while the other was slightly injured. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said authorities “strongly believe the stabbing was a terrorist attack. Meanwhile, IDF forces rounded up several individuals overnight between Sunday and Monday who they suspect of taking part in terrorism or incitement. Elsewhere, the UN marked “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” on Monday, with Israel’s ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor giving a lonely speech of rebuttal against an avalanche of anti-Israel remarks by delegates from dozens of countries.

Islamic State

A fierce battle between ISIS militants and Iraqi military and tribal forces is raging close to the main government complex of Anbar province in the center of Ramadi, the capital city. The battle is happening about 1,000 feet from the complex that houses the regional government and security headquarters. The fighting started Friday after ISIS militants launched a coordinated assault from different directions around the city. At least 37 people have died in the fighting, authorities said. ISIS already controls most of Anbar, so Ramadi is highly strategic. If it falls, ISIS will tighten its grip on a large swath from the western outskirts of Baghdad north through Syria and to the Turkish border. While losing ground in Anbar, Iraqi forces say they’ve made progress in the past week in Diyala province with the help of coalition airstrikes.

Afghanistan

At least 45 people were killed and 60 others wounded Sunday when a suicide bomber attacked a crowd watching a volleyball match in the Yahyakhil district of Afghanistan’s southeastern Paktika province. The Taliban said it was behind the carnage. Afghan officials say the capital Kabul has been hit by two explosions, one of which wounded six Afghan army soldiers. A roadside bomb targeted an Afghan National Army minibus early Tuesday morning, causing the casualties.

President Obama has approved the expansion of the U.S. military’s role in Afghanistan next year, according to media reports. Under a classified order signed recently by the president, U.S. forces will be able to carry out missions against militant groups, such as the Taliban, that are threatening troops or the Afghan government, according to the New York Times. Further, U.S. jets, drones and bombers can support Afghan troops on combat missions, the Times reported. This latest order reveals another foreign policy shift for the Obama administration. The move comes months after Obama pledged that troops would remain in the country with two missions: to train Afghan forces and to support counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda.

Afghanistan’s parliament approved agreements Sunday with the U.S. and NATO allowing international troops to remain in the country past the end of this year amid a renewed offensive by Taliban militants. The international combat mission in Afghanistan, begun after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, was to conclude at the end of this year. The new agreements ratified by parliament allow the U.S. and NATO to keep a total of 12,000 troops in Afghanistan next year to support local forces.

  • Obama pulled troops out of both Iraq and Afghanistan too hastily allowing Islamist terrorist groups to regain their strength

Iran

An agreement to extend talks on Iran’s nuclear program to continue another seven months was reached Monday. The second extension of negotiations shows that Iran and world powers remain far apart on the key issues. The Iranians, who received partial relief from Western sanctions a year ago for curbing some nuclear activity, will gain an additional $700 million a month in released frozen assets while the talks continue. The delay also gives Iran hope of further weakening sanctions that have punished its economy. German exports to Iran have increased in 2014, Iran’s economy is in a modest recovery, and the nation is working on large trade deals with Russia and China. The West hopes Iran will eventually agree to nuclear curbs and cooperate in the U.S.-led war against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

  • Stall, stall, stall. Iran’s tactics are working well for them.

Kenya

Al-Shabab militants from Somalia hijacked a bus in Kenya’s north and killed 28 non-Muslims on board after they had been singled out from the rest of the passengers. The bus traveling to the capital Nairobi with 60 passengers was hijacked 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the town Mandera near Kenya’s border with Somalia. Some of the dead were public servants who were heading to the capital Nairobi for the Christmas vacation. Kenya has been hit by a series of gun and bomb attacks blamed on Somalia’s al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants since it sent troops into Somalia in October 2011. Kenyan security forces have killed 100 militants, an official said Sunday, one day after the deadly attack on a bus. Forces crossed into Somalia to launch two “successful operations on the hideouts of the perpetrators.

Pestilence

A plague outbreak has killed 40 people on the island nation of Madagascar, with 119 people diagnosed with the bacterial disease since August. The World Health Organization fears the plague outbreak may spread rapidly through Madagascar’s largest and densely populated city, worsened by the country’s poor health care system. WHO said a national task force has been set up to manage the outbrreak. The plague is a disease carried by rodents and spread by fleas. Humans are most often infected when they are bitten by fleas, causing swelling of the lymph nodes and sometimes pneumonia.

Europeans are worried about a possible continent-wide bird flu epidemic after a wild duck tested positive for the H5N8 virus in northeast Germany. The virus was first discovered earlier this month in domesticated birds at a turkey farm in Germany with subsequent outbreaks on poultry farms in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Authorities suspect that for the first time the source of the European outbreak lies in the wild bird population. This month over 200,000 ducks, turkeys and chickens were killed in Europe to control the outbreak.

Earthquakes

A 3.3 magnitude earthquake shook the Dallas-Fort Worth area Saturday night. The epicenter of the quake, which was felt at about 9:15 p.m., was about 3.1 miles east-northeast of the Dallas suburb of Irving, according to the United States Geological Survey. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

A strong earthquake hit central Japan Saturday, but no tsunami warning was issued. Dozens were injured, more than 35 homes collapsed. The Japan Meteorological Agency says the magnitude-6.8 earthquake hit parts of Nagano city and surrounding areas the hardest. The earthquake struck at 10:08 p.m. Japan time on Saturday at a depth of 6 miles. Japanese media reported that the Shinkansen bullet train service in the area was suspended after the earthquake.

A strong earthquake has struck a lightly populated, mountainous area of western China Saturday, killing at least five people and injuring 54 others, including schoolchildren in a stampede. Thirty homes collapsed and 2,630 others suffered serious damage. According to the USGS, the magnitude-5.9 tremblor’s epicenter was located roughly 20 miles to the northwest of Kangding, Sichuan Province, China.

Weather

Residents are still digging out from under more than seven feet of snow in Buffalo, New York’s days after a major lake-effect snow event. So far, at least 13 people are dead and dozens of roofs and other structures have collapsed and failed under the weight of the snow. Now a new threat has entered the picture: flooding. Areas that saw up to 7 feet of lake-effect snow in recent days were basking in temperatures well above freezing Sunday. Buffalo could see 60 degrees on Monday. The warmer temperatures and half-an-inch of rain by late Monday could mean intense flooding for the beleaguered region. The Big Melt will pass into history by Tuesday when a wave of arctic air will sweep across the region bringing more snow, up to another foot forecasters say. The governor said dealing with flooding is worse than the snow. “It’s not just water,” Cuomo said. “It’s a toxic brew. It has sewage in it; it has runoff in it.”

At least three people have been injured, hundreds of thousands of people have lost power, and thousands of flights were delayed or cancelled as strong winds buffet a large swath of the U.S. and eastern Canada Monday. At one point Monday over 280,000 customers in the U.S. were without power. Outages continued to mount in Canada Monday night, with some 140,000 customers lacking electricity. FlightAware.com reported more than 2,600 flight delays and nearly 300 cancellations nationwide. Wind-related delays affected travelers at New York’s LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports, and Philadelphia International Airport. Wind-whipped snow in Chicago further

Morocco’s government says heavy flooding in the south of the country has killed at least 17 people with a further 18 missing after heavy rains over the weekend. In the southern city of Guelmim alone, 13 people were killed by a flash flood that roared through a dry river bed. There has also been flooding around the resort city of Marrakech, highly popular with European tourists, with roads being rendered impassable and tour buses briefly stranded. Dozens of homes have been swept away and bridges destroyed by the flooding.

Signs of the Times (11/17/14)

November 17, 2014

Washington National Cathedral Allows Islamic Worship

The most famous cathedral in America, the Washington National Cathedral, in Washington, D.C. hosted Muslim worship services on Friday November14th. The cathedral, which is an Episcopal church that was established under a charter granted by Congress over a century ago, has long been home to the most important Christian worship events involving our nation’s political leaders. The intent was to make a statement about religious tolerance that would resound around the world. However. in an effort to appeal to the modern secular culture, the Cathedral chose to abandon the very God they pretend to worship, the God of the Bible, who calls Himself “a Jealous God.” (Exodus 20:5, Exodus 34:14, Numbers 25:13, Deut. 4:23-25, Deut. 5:8-10, Deut. 6:14-15, and many others).

  • Allowing the worship of the Muslim god in a Christian sanctuary is akin to ‘sacrificing’ to another god: They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons, not to God. (Deuteronomy 32:16-17)

Obamacare Endangers Rural Hospitals

The Affordable Care Act was designed to improve access to health care for all Americans and will give them another chance at getting health insurance during open enrollment starting this Saturday. But critics say the ACA is also accelerating the demise of rural outposts that cater to many of society’s most vulnerable. These hospitals treat some of the sickest and poorest patients — those least aware of how to stay healthy. Hospital officials contend that the law’s penalties for having to re-admit patients soon after they’re released are impossible to avoid and create a crushing burden.

Since the beginning of 2010, 43 rural hospitals — with a total of more than 1,500 beds — have closed, reports the USA Today. The pace of closures has quickened: from 3 in 2010 to 13 in 2013, and 12 already this year. Georgia alone has lost five rural hospitals since 2012, and at least six more are teetering on the brink of collapse. Each of the state’s closed hospitals served about 10,000 people — a lot for remaining area hospitals to absorb. The closings threaten to decimate a network of rural hospitals the federal government first established beginning in the late 1940s to ensure that no one would be without health care. But federal regulations are now starving the hospitals they created with policies and reimbursement rates that make it nearly impossible for them to stay afloat.

Health Insurance Costs Rising, Benefits Declining

The Obama administration on Friday unveiled data showing that many Americans with health insurance bought under the Affordable Care Act could face substantial price increases next year — in some cases as much as 20 percent. The data became available just hours before the health insurance marketplace was to open to buyers seeking insurance for 2015. An analysis of the data by The New York Times suggests that although consumers will often be able to find new health plans with prices comparable to those they now pay, the situation varies greatly from state to state and even among counties in the same state. The new data means that many of the seven million people who have bought insurance through federal and state exchanges will have to change to different health plans if they want to avoid paying more — an inconvenience for consumers just becoming accustomed to their coverage.

Many workers will soon find that their corporate health insurance costs more and covers less next year. Experts say the impact of a health care overhaul tax that doesn’t start until 2018 is already being felt. Millions of employees are learning this month about changes in their employer-sponsored health coverage for 2015. Some of the adjustments are likely to stem from the looming tax, which will hit plans valued at more than $10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for families. Nearly half of employers with 5,000 or more workers will trigger this tax in 2018, according to the benefits firm Towers Watson. Employers have been adjusting coverage for years to contain rising health care costs, and the looming tax is speeding up this process.

Being asked to pay a sum upfront for surgery, has become increasingly common as doctors’ practices and hospitals navigate the world of employer-provided high-deductible health plans and the launch of the federal Affordable Care Act. Hospital executives say they’re struggling to keep their mountains of bad debt in check when patients frequently can’t pay the share required under insurance plans for non-emergency tests, procedures and services. “The bad debts are just going through the roof. That’s been a trend,” said Nancy Galvagni, senior vice president of the Kentucky Hospital Association.

Child Homelessness Rising in U.S.

The number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged in recent years to an all-time high, amounting to one child in every 30, according to a comprehensive state-by-state report that blames the nation’s high poverty rate, the lack of affordable housing and the impacts of pervasive domestic violence. The report issued Monday by the National Center on Family Homelessness shows that the problem is particularly severe in California, which has one-eighth of the U.S. population but accounts for more than one-fifth of the homeless children with a tally of nearly 527,000. Conversely, the federal government has made progress in reducing homelessness among veterans and chronically homeless adults. Carmela DeCandia, director of the Cational center, says “The same level of attention and resources has not been targeted to help families and children. As a society, we’re going to pay a high price, in human and economic terms.”

Ebola Update

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the involuntary mobilization of 2,100 Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers for duty in Ebola-ravaged West Africa, the Pentagon announced Friday. The forces will replace troops on duty in Liberia and Senegal. Currently, more than 2,200 troops are serving in the region as part of United Assistance, the operation led by the U.S. Agency for International Development but manned mostly by troops. The Pentagon chose to mobilize reservists and guardsmen for the Ebola mission in part because of their specialties such as civil affairs. Reserve forces often follow active-duty soldiers after the first stage of a longer-term mission.

A surgeon infected with Ebola while treating patients in Sierra Leone has died in Nebraska, the second death in the U.S, Nebraska Medical Center announced Monday. Dr. Martin Salia arrived in Omaha on Saturday morning for treatment at the Nebraska Medicine biocontainment unit. At first, Salia thought he had malaria or typhoid. His wife says he had two negative tests for Ebola before the third came back positive. The disease has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa, mostly in Sierra Leona, Guinea and Liberia.

G-20 Nations OK $2 Trillion Growth Boost

Leaders of G-20 nations meeting in Australia on Sunday finalized a plan to boost global GDP by more than $2 trillion over five years by investing in infrastructure and increasing trade. A G-20 communique said that if the $2 trillion initiative is fully implemented, it would lift global GDP by 2.1% above expected levels by 2018 and create millions of jobs. A key part of the plan involves the creation of what the G-20 called a “global infrastructure hub” that will help match potential investors with infrastructure projects around the world. The next G-20 summit is in Turkey in 2015 and then China the year after that.

Economic News

Affording a home is getting more difficult these days. According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI), nearly 62% of all homes sold nationwide last quarter could be afforded by a family earning the national median income. Two years ago — when affordability peaked — 78% of people could afford homes. While mortgage rates are near record lows, home prices are on the rise — and incomes aren’t keeping up.

Young low- and middle-wage workers are seeing their earnings rise more rapidly than their older, higher-paid counterparts, reversing the trend that prevailed early in the economic recovery. In the third quarter, average hourly pay for workers earning less than $20,000 a year jumped 5.4% vs. the year-ago period, according to top payroll processor ADP. Those earning $20,000 to $50,000 got wage hikes of 4.9%.Meanwhile, Americans making more than $50,000 a year received average raises of 4.3%.

Backers of the Keystone XL pipeline became emboldened recently by the prospect of a Republican-led Congress finally pushing the project through. But dropping crude oil prices may put a halt to the controversial project. The cost of benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil dropped to $74.42 a barrel last week, a 25% drop from the triple-digit highs it reached this summer. This may render the pipeline project economically unfeasible.

Japan reported Monday that its economy contracted at a real annual rate of 1.6 percent in July-September, in a second straight quarterly decline that returned the country into recession. A steep drop in residential investment failed to offset a modest recovery in exports, the government reported. The economy contracted 7.1 percent in April-June after the national sales tax was raised to 8 percent from 5 percent.

Persecution Watch

Four Christians in Maharashtra state, one 70 years old, were released on bail today after more than two weeks in jail, accused of “rioting” when Hindu extremists attacked them and damaged two of their homes. The assailants hurled stones at the house of Govind Janu Galat and stole items and 10,000 rupees ($163) from his home. The long-time Christian says he came to Christ 30 years ago after visiting a church service in which his sight was restored after a pastor prayed for him.

Middle East

As winter approaches there is a growing concern for refugees displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The UN refugee agency UNHCR said Tuesday that roughly 13.6 people are without food and shelter, according to Christian Today. “Now when we talk about a million people displaced over two months, or 500,000 overnight, the world is just not responding,” said Amin Awad, UNHCR’s director for the Middle East and North Africa. While the problem is critical in Iraq and Syria, UNHCR maintains there are also needs in other parts of the region. For many Syrian refugees, this will be the fourth winter away from their homes and the first for the 1.9 million Iraqis who have become displaced this year. To compound the problem UNHCR warned that the agency faces a $58.45 million funding shortfall. “Although we have already invested $154 million on winter aid for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and internally displaced, the UNHCR is having to make some very tough choices over who to prioritize,” chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming said in Geneva.

Islamic State

The Islamic State militant group released a video Sunday that shows American aid worker Peter Kassig was beheaded, along with a dozen Syrian soldiers, in the latest killings the group has posted on the Internet. The White House later said a review of the video confirms Kassig’s death. Kassig, 26, a former U.S. Army Ranger from Indianapolis, worked for charity groups in Lebanon and Syria and was captured in Syria by militants in October last year. During his captivity, his family said Kassig converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdul-Rahman, which means “servant of the most merciful.”

A small number of ISIS kidnapping victims who managed to escape were among several thousand girls and young women from the minority Yazidi religion who were seized by the Islamic State in northern Iraq in early August. They tell of girls and young women separated from their families, divvied up or traded among the Islamic State’s men, ordered to convert to Islam, subjected to forced marriages and repeatedly raped as reported by the New York Times. The five victims consented to speak publicly only on the condition that their names not be revealed for fear that the Islamic State would punish their relatives. The Islamic State itself has openly acknowledged its slavery industry. In an article last month in Dabiq, the group’s online English-language magazine, the Islamic State said it was reviving a custom justified under Shariah law.

Kenya

Two United Nations humanitarian aid organizations have been charged with working to covertly sterilize 2.3 million women and girls through administering a Kenyan government-sponsored tetanus vaccine. The anti-fertility agent was reportedly uncovered by the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association (KCDA). The Kenyan association facilitated an examination of the injections for the “anti-tetanus inoculation program” that was administered to a million of Kenyan females by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). They are planning on to inoculate 1.3 million more. Catholic bishops in Kenya are accusing the U.N. aid groups of surreptitiously injecting women and girls with vaccines laced with an antigen that causes miscarriages. In an attempt to avoid further mass sterilizations, priests across Kenya have been warning their congregations about the anti-fertility agent in the vaccinations and informed women and girls that they should not receive the harmful shots.

  • A primary strategy of the Agenda 21 sustainability movement is population reduction by any means they can get away with under the auspices of the New World Order folks

Hong Kong

Three Hong Kong students who have led protests for greater democracy in the former British colony were denied in their attempt Saturday to go to Beijing to meet with top Chinese officials. They arrived at the Hong Kong airport greeted by dozens of well-wishers. But they were denied boarding passes for a Cathay Pacific flight when they were told their documents that would allow them to travel to Beijing were invalid. The students had their return-home cards cancelled by the mainland authority, so they could not get the required certificates to get onto the plane, said Yvonne Leung, general secretary of Hong Kong Federation of Students. “This symbolizes that Hong Kong people’s right to determine their destiny will be taken away in the future,” the students said.

Colombia

Authorities in Colombia have mounted a massive search and rescue operation for an army general who was apparently taken captive by leftist rebels. Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate and two civilians were intercepted Sunday afternoon while traveling by motor boat along a remote river in western Colombia to survey an energy project. A fourth soldier managed to flee and reported that the captors were members of the 34th front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The kidnappings come as frustration with two-year-old peace talks between the rebels and the government is building due to an apparent refusal by the guerrillas to wind down attacks in areas where they remain dominant.

Earthquakes

A strong undersea earthquake hit eastern Indonesia on Saturday, triggering a small tsunami and some panic but no casualties or major damage. The 7.1 quake occurred west of Halmahera island, which is about four hours’ flight from the capital, Jakarta. Indonesia’s meteorological agency said a tsunami wave of 9 centimeters (3.54 inches) washed onto the small island of Jailolo but caused no damage. The quake was strongly felt in several cities in eastern Indonesia, sending many people to run from homes and other buildings.

Weather

Arctic air is now firmly entrenched over much of the nation’s mid-section, as well as in the northwest and the northeast, sending temperatures crashing to lows indicative of mid-winter. Burlington, Colorado, on the eastern Plains near the Kansas border, dipped to -10 Thursday, setting a new record low for the month of November. Casper, Wyoming, dipped to -27 at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday night, shattering their all-time November record low of -21 on Nov. 23, 1985. Casper’s high of 6 on Nov. 11 was the record earliest single-digit high temperature there. Denver’s high of 6 on Nov. 12 was the coldest daily high so early in the season. In the Southern Plains, Amarillo (21), Lubbock (27) and Goodland (14) all set their coldest daily high temperatures on record for so early in the season.

A second push of bitterly cold air will blast its way south and east over the next couple of days, bringing an extremely cold start to the workweek for millions of Americans who have already endured nearly a week of January-like chill. Spotty subzero lows are possible in parts of the Rockies and Upper Midwest on Monday and Tuesday mornings. After a brief reprieve Wednesday morning, we expect more subzero morning lows Thursday and Friday with a third shot of bitter cold in the Dakotas and Minnesota.

A winter storm is currently bringing a swath of snow from Texas and Oklahoma northeast to Ohio. Driving conditions are hazardous and slick within much of this region. Several school districts are closing schools and canceling classes on Monday. Multiple vehicles slid off the road Sunday, prompting New Mexico State Police to close U.S. 70 from mile marker 244-258. The northern Wisconsin town of Gile picked up over 50 inches of snow last week, four feet of snow in just four days’ time. According to the National Weather Service office in Duluth, the previous state record for a single snowstorm was a 39-inch snowstorm in Hurley from Nov. 1-3, 1989.

Signs of the Times (11/14/14)

November 14, 2014

Catholic Church Losing Ground in Latin America

In just one generation, Latin America has seen the number of people who identify themselves as Catholic plummet, with more people becoming Protestant or dropping religion altogether, a new report shows. With more than 425 million Catholics, Latin America accounts for nearly 40% of the global Catholic population. Through the 1960s, at least 90% of Latin Americans were Catholic. But the report released Thursday found that only 69% of Latin Americans still consider themselves Catholic, with people switching to more conservative Protestant churches (19%) or describing themselves as agnostic or religiously unaffiliated (8%), according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. Even last year’s election of an Argentine as pope to head the Catholic Church has led to conflicting feelings in Latin America. “While it is too soon to know whether (Pope) Francis can stop or reverse the church’s losses in the region, the new survey finds that people who are currently Catholic overwhelmingly view Francis favorably and consider his papacy a major change for the church,” the report said.

UK High Court Gives Consent to Euthanize Severely Disabled Girl

Critics are worried that a high court decision to allow a British mother to euthanize her 12-year-old disabled daughter may set a dangerous precedent. In August, Charlotte Fitzmaurice Wise was given legal authority to euthanize her daughter, Nancy, who was born blind and suffers from hydrocephalus, meningitis and septicaemia. Nancy needed round-the-clock care. Charlotte told judges that pain killers were not helping Nancy. It is the first time the British courts have allowed for a child who was not suffering a fatal disease or on life support to be euthanized. Disability activist Joni Eareckson Tada, who is a quadriplegic, author and founder of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, said that the decision will “open the door” for other guardians to euthanize their loved ones based on something as subjective as “quality of life.”

  • The culture of death continues its pernicious spread across the globe

ObamaCare Architect Admits Purposeful Lack of Transparency

ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber said that lack of transparency was a major part of getting ObamaCare passed, and that it was written in such a way as to take advantage of “the stupidity of the American voter,” reports Fox News. Gruber, the MIT professor who served as a technical consultant to the Obama administration during Obamacare’s design, also made clear during a panel meeting secretly captured on video that the individual mandate, which was only upheld by the Supreme Court because it was a tax, was not actually a tax. “This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO (Congressional Budget Office) did not score the mandate as taxes.” Health and Human Services officials said that 9 million to 9.9 million Americans — as much as 30 percent below other predictions — will have insurance by the end of 2015 through federal and state insurance exchanges intended for people who cannot get affordable coverage through a job.

Cracks Showing Up in Obamacare

Cathy Johnson didn’t just slip through cracks in the Affordable Care Act system. She and her husband suffered deep financial consequences. A glitch in the healthcare.gov sign-up page last year left the 62-year-old Avondale resident without health insurance a month before she was hospitalized and racked up more than $12,000 in emergency medical bills. As she tried to enroll, the computer screening system determined that Johnson didn’t meet the income criteria for purchasing private insurance through the online marketplace. It directed her instead to apply for low-income coverage through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s version of Medicaid. But AHCCCS officials rejected Johnson’s application because she made too much money. And she found herself in a predicament Americans were promised was impossible under the new health-care rules: without insurance and without any way to get it.

U.S., China Reach Unprecedented Climate Change Agreement

The United States and China, the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, announced new targets Wednesday to cut such emissions in a bid to halt climate change and persuade other nations to take equally ambitious measures ahead of a major climate treaty to be finalized next year. The two nations have achieved “an historic agreement”, President Obama said in a joint news conference here with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the final day of his three-day China visit. The deal represents “a major milestone in the US-China relationship,” said Obama in the Great Hall of the People. “It shows what’s possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge.” The United States will double the pace of carbon emission reduction, he said, to 26% to 28% of its 2005 level. China intends to peak carbon dioxide emissions around 2030, and increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20% by 2030, said Obama, in what the White House called the first ever Chinese agreement to set a ceiling on its CO2 limits.

  • Such targets have been set in the past by many nations, but none (including the U.S.) have ever come close to achieving them

Weather Satellites & Post Office Breach: The New Cold War?

The computer breach of the U.S. Postal Service, revealed Monday, could be part of the undeclared cold war in cyberspace, some experts say. “The next true conflict that’s going to be fought is going to be launched not with an artillery barrage but a cyber-barrage,” said Edward Ferrara, an analyst with Forrester, a technology research company. Those behind the breach penetrated the post office’s employee database, compromising information about more than 80,000 workers. They also got into the service’s customer care call-in and email service. Anonymous sources told the Washington Post that U.S. officials believe the Chinese government was behind the attack. “These guys are learning. When they hack the post office, not only is it the hack, it’s the chance to learn about how our computer systems work,” Ferrara said. Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command said that many nation states, as well as groups and individuals, are able to engage in acts of cyber assault and “most of them have come to the conclusion that there is little risk of having to pay a price for this is in real terms.”

Hackers attacked the U.S. weather system in October, causing a disruption in satellite feeds for several pivotal websites. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, said that four of its websites were hacked in recent weeks. To block the attackers, government officials were forced to shut down some of its services. This explains why satellite data was mysteriously cut off in October, as well as why the National Ice Center website and others were down for more than a week. During that time, federal officials merely stated a need for “unscheduled maintenance.” Little more is publicly known about the attack, which was first revealed by The Washington Post. It’s unclear what damage, if any, was caused by the hack.

  • These probing hack attacks are a learning experience to set the foundation for crippling attacks to come

Ebola Update

Clinical trials of experimental Ebola treatment will start next month in West Africa as the regional death toll from the deadly virus surpasses 5,000. Doctors Without Borders will conduct trials at three treatment centers in Guinea and Liberia, the medical aid agency announced Thursday. One trial will treat infected patients with the antiviral drug brincidofovir at a medical center in the Liberian capital of Monrovia. In a second trial, patients will get the antiviral drug Favipiravir in the southern town of Gueckedou in Guinea. A third trial in the Guinean capital of Conakry will focus on giving patients blood transfusions from Ebola survivors, a method recommended by the World Health Organization. Ebola has killed at least 5,160 people and infected nearly 14,098, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — the three nations most affected. The tests come amid fears that Mali has not contained the deadly virus. Four people have died of Ebola in Mali.

A third Ebola patient is headed to the special Biocontainment Unit at the Nebraska Medical Center this weekend, according to news reports. The Associated Press identified the patient as Martin Salia, a surgeon who was infected with the virus while treating victims in Sierra Leone, one of the hardest-hit areas of West Africa. The patient is a Sierra Leonean national who is a permanent resident of the United States and lives in Maryland. He reportedly was working at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, when he came down with Ebola symptoms on Nov. 6. He tested negative for the virus at that time, AP reported. When he was tested again on Monday, the results came back positive.

Veterans Sue 6 Banks for Helping Iran Fund Terrorism

More than 200 veterans and their families have filed a lawsuit against six international banks, accusing them of helping Iran transfer millions of dollars to militant groups that targeted and killed U.S. soldiers during the Iraq war. The suit, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, alleges that the banks helped Iran move billions of dollars through the U.S. financial system, with some of the money ending up with Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies like Hezbollah, which orchestrated attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq. Five of the banks accused in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Brooklyn Monday, are HSBC, Barclays, Standard Chartered, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Credit Suisse. A sixth bank named in the suit is the Britain-based subsidiary of Bank Saderat Iran. The complaint alleges that as a result of the funding, Iran and affiliated terror groups planned and executed hundreds of terrorist attacks in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, killing hundreds of U.S. service members and civilians, and wounding many others.

Banks Fined $3.2B in Foreign Exchange Probe

Regulators in the U.K., U.S. and Switzerland imposed civil penalties of $3.2 billion Wednesday on five banks they said attempted to manipulate the $5.3-trillion-a-day foreign exchange currency-trading market. The regulators said foreign exchange traders used private Internet chat rooms to share information about the trading activities of their firms’ clients and to collude on strategies to try to manipulate exchange rates for pairs of leading world currencies such as the euro and U.S. dollar and the U.S. dollar and the Japanese yen. The U.K’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced it fined JPMorgan Chase $352 million, Citibank $358 million, HSBC $343 million, the Royal Bank of Scotland $344 million and UBS $371 million. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said it imposed more than $1.4 billion in penalties — $310 million each for Citibank and JPMorgan, $290 million each for RBS and UBS, and $275 million for HSBC. And Swiss regulator FINMA ordered UBS to pay $139 million.

Economic News

People younger than 35 are not saving money, according to a study by Moody’s Analytics. In fact, their savings rate has dipped to negative 2%, meaning that they’re spending more than they have. They’re the only age group that has a negative savings rate. In contrast, workers between the ages of 35 and 44 have a positive savings rate of about 3%. Millennials are struggling in spite of an improving job market. Wages have remained stagnant, barely budging since the 1990s. A middle class family is actually bringing home the same income (inflation adjusted) as it did in 1995, and millions of people want full-time jobs but are stuck in part-time positions.

President Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. and China have reached an “understanding” on a deal that would eliminate tariffs on certain high-tech goods. Obama said that the breakthrough would help bring talks on expansion of the global Information Technology Agreement to a “rapid conclusion.” Obama made the announcement during a meeting with leaders attending an Asia-Pacific economic summit in Beijing. The White House did not put a specific timeline on finalizing a broader agreement through the World Trade Organization.

A surprisingly solid performance by France and confirmation that Greece has come out of one of the developed world’s deepest recessions in living memory helped the 18-country Eurozone grow by more than anticipated in the third quarter of the year, official figures showed Friday. Eurostat found that the Eurozone grew by 0.2 percent in the July to September period from the previous quarter. Though that’s still a relatively weak rate, it’s higher than the 0.1 percent tick recorded in the second quarter. Much of the growth was due to France expanding 0.3 percent during the quarter.

Middle East

Israeli troops killed a Palestinian man during clashes Tuesday in a West Bank refugee camp, the latest example of violence and tensions between the two sides. An Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman said that “a Palestinian man aimed an improvised weapon” at troops during a violent riot by about 200 Palestinians. Tensions between Israeli authorities and Palestinians have been simmering for weeks, including violent incidents in Jerusalem as well as the Palestinian areas of Gaza and the West Bank. Three Israelis were stabbed — one fatally — Monday at a hitchhiking post at the Alon Shvut junction in the West Bank, the same place where three Israeli teens were kidnapped and later found dead earlier this year. Those kidnappings spurred an Israeli military campaign targeting Hamas.

A new statement by Iran’s supreme leader calling for the elimination of Israel shows that world powers must not rush into a deal on the country’s nuclear program despite an upcoming deadline, Israel’s Prime Minister said Monday. The Iranian leader made his call for Israel to be “annihilated” on Twitter over the weekend. “There is no moderation in Iran. It is unrepentant, unreformed, it calls for Israel’s eradication, it promotes international terrorism,” Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “This terrorist regime in Iran must not be allowed to become a nuclear threshold power. And I call on the P5+1 countries — don’t rush into a deal that would let Iran rush to the bomb.” (The P5+1 refers to the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany.)

Islamic State

Is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) finally beginning to feel the pressure?  The first signs are emerging that a combination of coalition airstrikes and more assertive Iraqi and Kurdish forces are forcing ISIS to change its behavior, and inflicting serious losses of both territory and fighters. There are several signs ISIS is under stress, especially in Iraq, with its lines of communication and resupply disrupted in some areas, key figures targeted in airstrikes, and sources of revenue under threat.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, has reportedly been injured from a U.S. airstrike attack. His aide, Auf Abdulrahman Elefery who was “a very close companion” of al-Baghdadi was killed. There were more 20 other people were killed in the US air strike but they are not senior in the organization. Baghdadi was formerly an Islamic religious leader. He later became a terrorist, receiving training from al-Qaeda and eventually becoming the leader of ISIS. The U.S. government currently has a $10 million bounty on Baghdadi.

Russia

Russia plans to send long-range bombers to patrol the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, the nation’s defense minister said, in what may be Moscow’s latest provocative maneuver. The patrols would bring the flights close to the United States’ territorial waters. Russia has been on a roll with a series of international provocations, ranging from brazen kidnappings to increased aerial operations. In September, the United States intercepted six Russian planes, including fighter jets and tankers, in airspace near Alaska. The same month, an Estonian official was abducted from a border post, taken to Moscow and accused of espionage, sparking dueling war of words between the two nations. In March, a covert Russian military plane nearly collided with a Swedish passenger aircraft carrying 132 people.

Russia has announced plans to build new nuclear reactors in Iran — a move with international repercussions as a deadline looms in talks to prevent Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. Russia will construct up to eight new reactors for the “peaceful use of atomic energy” in Iran, Russian state news agency Ria-Novosti reported Tuesday. The announcement comes less than two weeks before Iran’s negotiations with Western powers over its nuclear activities are set to expire. Russia said its agreement with Iran includes a plan for the spent nuclear fuel to be “returned to Russia for reprocessing and storage.” Both Iran and Russia are under sanctions by the West. The announcement suggests Moscow is demonstrating that it has no plans to slow down its nuclear cooperation.

  • The end-time alliance between Russia (Rosh) and Iran (Persia) is prophesied in Ezekiel 38

Ukraine

Gunfire crackled and flames scarred battlefields in eastern Ukraine Tuesday — signs, of a crumbling ceasefire in the volatile region. There’s heightened fear that the long simmering battle may be about to explode to a deadly new level. Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said he’s concerned about the escalating violence and accused Moscow of violating the norms of Western civilization. “The ceasefire is in name only at this point,” he told reporters Tuesday. “The violence continues to increase day by day.” Ukraine’s government and separatist leaders signed a ceasefire deal in September, raising hope that the months-long conflict in eastern Ukraine was nearing an end. But now, fighting between pro-Russian rebel forces and the Ukrainian military has returned to levels that preceded the ceasefire.

Afghanistan

Nearly $420 million in weapons and other “sensitive items” have gone missing from U.S. Army bases in Afghanistan and are not likely to be recovered due to mismanagement and improper accounting, according to an internal report by the Pentagon’s inspector general obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Some 15,600 pieces of equipment went missing in the past year from Army facilities in Bagram and Kandahar. The extent of these losses was only discovered following an internal audit by the Pentagon’s inspector general, who recommended that military leaders institute a series of reforms aimed at increasing transparency and strengthening mechanisms meant to detect such losses.

China

China’s military upstaged the Asian economic summit in Beijing this week by conducting flights tests of a new stealth jet prototype, as the White House called on Beijing to halt its cyber-attacks. Demonstration flights by the new J-31 fighter jet — China’s second new radar-evading warplane — were a key feature at a major arms show in Zhuhai, located near Macau, on Monday. China obtained secrets from America’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter through cyber-attacks against a subcontractor for Lockheed Martin. The technology has shown up in China’s first stealth jet, the J-20, and in the J-31. The Chinese warplanes are part of a major buildup of air power by China that includes the two new stealth fighters, development of a new strategic bomber, purchase of Russian Su-35 jets, and development of advanced air defense missile systems. China also is building up its conventional and nuclear missile forces.

India

Eight women died and scores of others were critically ill Tuesday after they were sterilized as part of a government-run program in India. The Associated Press reported that 83 women, all villagers under age 32, had the operations Saturday in a hospital outside Bilaspur city in the central state of Chhattisgarh. The women, who were each paid $10 to undergo the operation, were sent home Saturday evening. More than 60 were later taken to private hospitals after they suffered complications. The dead women had apparently died from either blood poisoning or hemorrhagic shock. Doctors performed minimally invasive laparoscopic — keyhole — surgeries, which each take less than five minutes. The state suspended four government doctors, including the surgeon who performed the operations and the district’s chief medical officer.

More than 25 million people live in India’s capital city, a place where industrial smokestacks, car exhaust and smoke from animal dung fires regularly foul the air. But recent years have seen a big uptick in the amount of pollution in New Delhi’s air, to a level at which it is now often dangerous to breathe. Levels of fine particulate matter that’s considered one of the most damaging to human health reached 580 in New Delhi’s Anand Vihar district earlier this week, which meant that its air was the dirtiest in the world that day. Air Quality Index levels over 151 “unhealthy,” and over 201 is classified as “very unhealthy.” Anything over 301 is considered “hazardous,” More than half of Indian cities today are classified as critically polluted cities.

Nigeria

A female suicide bomber on Wednesday blew herself up at a teacher training college in central Nigerian town of Potiskum, killing one and injuring seven. The explosion at Federal College of Education Kontagoro, 118 miles from Niger state capital Minna, occurred about 12:30 p.m. as students were writing their end of semester examination. “She tried to enter the class but before she could reach the door the bomb concealed in her dress exploded,” said student Abashe Ado.         The attack comes two days after at least 49 students were killed and 86 injured in a suicide attack on a government secondary school in the northeast Nigerian town of Potiskum which the police blamed on Boko Haram.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake centered in southern Kansas rattled the nerves of thousands across the Midwest Wednesday afternoon. The tremor was recorded at 3:40 p.m. CT near Conway Springs, Kansas, which is about 30 miles north of the Kansas-Oklahoma border. People in larger cities like Wichita, Kansas, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Oklahoma City also felt the earthquake. No major reports of damage beyond cracked walls inside some homes.

Volcanoes

A stream of lava from the Kilauea lava flow claimed its first home in Pahoa, the Big Island’s largest town in the Puna District. The stream of molten rock set the home on fire just before noon on Monday. The renters left the residence earlier. The home’s nearest neighbor is about a half-mile away. The lava from Kilauea volcano emerged from a vent in June and entered Pahoa Oct. 26, when it crossed a country road at the edge of town. Since then, it has smothered part of a cemetery and burned down a garden shed. It also burned tires, some metal materials and mostly vegetation in its path.

Weather

Two-thirds of the USA is enduring a freakish cold snap. The leading edge of a major cold blast plunged through the Plains on Monday. In many places, temperatures fell 20 to 30 degrees in less than one hour, and strong winds kicked up a dust storm across the southeast quarter of Colorado. Casper, Wyoming dipped to -21 during the early morning hours Tuesday, tying the all-time November record low. Denver’s high of 16 on Veterans Day was the coldest daily high so early in the season. The upper Midwest and Great Lakes were buried in snow, shivering under the icy blanket. From the Rockies to the heartland, ferocious winds ripped across the Plains, bringing freezing temperatures as far south as Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle.

The highest snowfall total from the storm came near the Michigan town of Ishpeming, where 42.5 inches of snow were recorded. St. Cloud, Minnesota, saw at least 13 inches, making Monday the snowiest day there in 49 years. St. Augusta, Minnesota, about 70 miles northwest of Minneapolis, reported 16.5 inches of snow Monday. Snowfall of 10 inches and above was common across the state’s northern tier and it created widespread havoc. Four people died in car accidents on slick roads in Minnesota.

Another winter storm Bozeman is delivering a swath of snow from parts of Oregon and Washington to parts of Idaho, northern Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado eastward into the Plains and Midwest Friday through late Saturday. Over a foot of snow has fell in the mountains of Idaho, western Montana, and Colorado. Some areas are also seeing ice accumulation from freezing rain, especially in the Pacific Northwest.

Signs of the Times (11/10/14)

November 10, 2014

Public Support Dropping for Same-Sex Marriage?

Americans may be tiring of homosexual activists, a new poll on same-sex “marriage” suggests. A Fox news poll shows more Americans now oppose same-sex “marriage” than support it, though the numbers are still close. The poll found that 47 percent oppose legalizing same-sex marriage while 44 percent support legally redefining it, with nine percent unsure, LifeSiteNews.com reported. LifeSiteNews pointed out that is the second poll in recent months that showed declining support. A poll conducted by Pew Research shows a five-point drop in support since 2010. Matt Barber, a constitutional attorney, says the public is getting tired of unelected judges overturning state constitutional marriage amendments that people had voted for. More than that, he adds, Americans are recognizing that sanctioning “sexual immorality” means pitting the government against the free exercise of religion. Just a few examples are businesses – photographers, bakers, and bed and breakfast owners – who have been punished by government for refusing to accommodate same-gender “marriage.”

  • Activist judges and the globalist elites will continue to push their agenda regardless of what the people want

Obama Orders ‘Mental-Health’ Testing for School Children

Using “gun violence” as its cover, the Obama administration has quietly unleashed a cache of federal dollars that will be used for testing students for signs of mental health issues in K-12 schools, reports WorldNetDaily.com. Critics say personal information scooped up in the screenings will be logged into databases that will follow the child throughout his or her academic career and beyond. Public schools, which have increasingly taken on aspects of psychiatric clinics in recent years, will get infused with more than $150 million in federal grants to further this agenda under the auspices of Obama’s 2013 executive action titled “Now is the Time to Do Something About Gun Violence.” The problem is even more concerning in light of recent attempts to create state databases of student information, which will eventually be linked together as part of the DOE’s plans for a nationwide database. Also concerning to privacy rights advocates is that the state of Rhode Island is taking DNA collections from babies without parental consent and linking its education databases to track children from birth to college graduation and beyond.

  • The problem isn’t so much the collecting of data as it is how the data will be used, furthering New World Order goals of identifying and marginalizing dissenters. While mental health is a serious issue, it is best handled at the local level without federal or global intervention.

Obama Threatens Amnesty Executive Action before New Congress Sworn In

President Barack Obama defended his plan to use executive powers to implement some immigration reforms, saying in an interview broadcast on Sunday he had waited long enough for Congress to act. Obama told congressional leaders on Friday he would try to ease some restrictions on undocumented immigrants, despite warnings from Republican leaders that such actions would “poison the well” or would be “a red flag in front of a bull”. In an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Obama said he had watched while the U.S. Senate produced a bipartisan immigration reform bill, only to have it not taken up by House Republican Speaker John Boehner. Obama said he had told Boehner if he could not get it done by year’s end, the White House was going to have to take steps to improve the system.

  • King Obama may be more dangerous as a lame-duck president than he has been over the prior six years, as he inflicts retribution upon those who have rejected him and his policies.

Congress Returns for Brief, Post-Election Session

After an extended election-season break, Congress returns to Washington this week with a list of unresolved issues, including passage of a temporary spending bill and whether to approve President Obama’s request for more money to fight the Islamic State group. House and Senate appropriations committees will try to agree on an omnibus spending bill that would keep the federal government running beyond Dec. 11, with little chance either party will fail to negotiate and force a another hugely unpopular, partial-government shutdown. Congress in September granted Obama temporary authorization to arm and train Syrian forces in the U.S.-led coalition fight against ruthless militants of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, who have taken over parts of Syria and Iraq. The authorization, however, expires in early December. The larger issue is how lawmakers will play out the final days of the lame duck session, in which Democrats have control of the Senate only until year’s end. Last week Republicans seized control of the Senate for the first time in eight years while increasing their majority in the House.

HealthCare.gov Opens for Insurance Plan Shoppers

The federal health insurance exchange went live Sunday night for window shopping — a couple days later than some expected — as government officials worked to refine both their technology and their message to one encouraging people to re-enroll to save money when they start buying plans Nov. 15. The Department of Health and Human Services is trying to prevent a repeat of last year’s disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov, an experience that many newly insured consumers may want to avoid going through again. The launch comes two days after the Supreme Court announced it would reconsider a lower court ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act’s system of subsidizing the insurance coverage it requires.

U.S., Europe Strike Internet’s Black Markets

U.S. and European law enforcement agencies Friday announced the largest strike ever against the Internet’s thriving black markets, shutting down more than 400 sites and arresting 17 people for allegedly selling drugs, weapons and illegal services to anonymous buyers worldwide. The sweep of the crackdown marked a new level of aggressiveness and coordination by Western governments determined to police shadowy corners of the Internet. Government evidence showed the shuttered sites were offering a remarkable variety of illicit goods, including cocaine, counterfeit money and explosives.

Breakthrough Prize Awards $3 Million to 14 Scientists

The Nobel Prize is prestigious, but in terms of sheer dollars, the Breakthrough Prize is bigger. Begun in 2012 by Silicon Valley’s crème de la crème, the awards bestow $3 million each on researchers who have made fundamental breakthroughs in the life sciences, physics, and mathematics. The Nobel Prize, founded in 1898 by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, awards $1.1 million. The awards began in 2012 when Silicon Valley venture capitalist Yuri Milner launched the Fundamental Physics Prize. The nine inaugural winners received a total of $27 million. The goal is to reward exemplary work and also bring science more to the fore, said Milner. His aim was to bring more attention to the importance of fundamental science. After the first year, Milner mobilized a few friends in tech—Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sergy Brin, 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki and Alibab’s Jack Ma, to donate.

Economic News

Falling gas prices are boosting consumer spending, economists say, heralding a pickup in holiday sales and economic growth. Average regular unleaded prices have plunged to $2.99 a gallon from $3.70 in late June, dipping below $3 for the first time since 2010 last week as a weak overseas economy and U.S. energy boom lower oil prices. A drop in pump prices effectively serves as a tax cut, with consumers using much of the savings on other purchases that cycle back into the economy. The International Council of Shopping Centers said chain-store sales jumped 0.6% last month, reversing September’s decline. And average daily consumer purchases rose by $2 to $89 in October, Gallup says.

Currently, there’s no country in the entire world where a woman earns as much as a man for doing the same job. The gap is narrowing, but very slowly. The U.S., for instance, narrowed its wage gap by one percentage point to 66% in one year “meaning that women earn about two-thirds of what men earn for similar work according to the perception of business leaders,” WEF’s economist Saadia Zahidi said. The U.S. ranks 65th in wage equality among 142 countries in the report. A woman earned only 48% of a man’s salary in Italy and 47% in Israel. Some of the world’s poorest countries lead the equality ranking. Burundi, where four out of five people live below the poverty line, is the top country in women’s pay. Women in the tiny African country earn 83% of salaries of the men in the same jobs.

Oxfam reports that the 85 richest billionaires on the planet, including the likes of Carlos Slim, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, have as much money as the 3.5 billion poorest people. Oxfam estimates that between March 2013 and March 2014, those same 85 billionaires saw their wealth grow by $668 million every day. “There’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won.” Billionaire investor Warren Buffett made that remark more than three years ago and it still holds true today — only the gap between the richest and the poorest has gotten even wider.

  • The economic clout of the elite rich is funding the shift toward globalism and the coming one-world government prophesied in Revelation 13

Middle East

An IDF soldier was stabbed by a Palestinian youth at the Hahagana train station in Tel Aviv on Monday, extending a string of violent incidents which many analysts said is beginning to look like another Intifada. The soldier was in serious condition at a nearby hospital and his assailant was quickly captured by police. The attack follows a weekend which saw riots in the Galilee village of Kfar Kana, site of the church commemorating a miracle Jesus performed of turning water into wine. The riots there came after police shot and killed an Arab man who had attacked them with a knife. Video of the incident led many Arab activists to declare that the police had acted improperly, leading to a nationwide general strike in the Arab sector and violent protests in several cities and villages

Islamic State

President Barack Obama is sending up to 1,500 more soldiers to Iraq to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces to fight ISIS, in a deployment that would almost double the total number of American troops there to 2,900. The White House said in a statement that it will also ask Congress for another $5.6 billion to fund the fight against ISIS. The troops will not have a combat role, and will operate from bases outside Baghdad and Erbil. “The President took these decisions at the request of the Iraqi Government and upon the recommendation of Secretary Hagel and his military commanders based upon the assessed needs of the Iraqi Security Forces,” the statement said.

U.S. warplanes attacked a convoy near Mosul in Iraq this weekend in an attempt to kill ISIS leaders, said a spokesman for U.S. Central Command. Col. Patrick Ryder, in a statement Saturday, said he could not confirm that top ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was in the convoy in response to news reports indicating the ISIS leader may have died or been injured.

Ukraine

Amid rising tensions and fresh violence, Ukrainian authorities on Friday accused Russia of sending dozens of its military vehicles into its territory — though the Kremlin have knocked down such reports as unfounded and “provocative.” At a briefing Friday, Ukrainian defense spokesman Andriy Lysenko said that 32 tanks, 16 D-30 howitzers and 30 KamAZ heavy trucks crossed past a border checkpoint and headed toward the volatile Luhansk region on Thursday. Another Ukrainian official, Dmytro Tymchuk, alleged the “armored column” consisted of “a battalion tactical group of the Russian Armed Forces.” Associated Press reporters saw more than 80 unmarked military vehicles on the move Saturday in rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, indicating that intensified hostilities may lie ahead.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin could be facing a full-blown currency crisis. The ruble has fallen by about 30% since the start of the year to a record low against the dollar. It plunged by about 10% last week alone, after the Russian central bank said it would reduce its support for the currency, allowing the ruble to trade more freely. Pressure on Putin is mounting as tumbling oil prices, a sanctions stand-off with the West and continued tensions with Ukraine weigh heavily on the currency. The central bank said Friday that the rapid plunge in recent days could threaten Russia’s financial stability, and it was ready to sell dollars again “at any moment” to steady the ruble. It burned through $30 billion alone last month, buying rubles to brake the fall.

Iran

An Iranian opposition group claimed to have information showing the country is still working toward nuclear weapons. The National Council of Resistance of Iran released information in a Washington press conference saying there were two explosive chambers build by AzarAb industries as part of a highly classified project that only two senior Iranian officials knew about. The two chambers were reportedly used for high explosive tests as part of the program.

Nigeria

Several dozen people were killed Monday when a suicide bomber detonated an explosion at a school in northeast Nigeria. The Associated Press reported the bomber was disguised in a school uniform. The incident occurred at the Government Technical Science College in the city of Potiskum, the capital of Yobe state. Some 47 people are reported to have died in the explosion with another 79 injured. National police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwusaid the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram was believed to be responsible.

North Korea

U.S. citizens Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller are back on American soil after being detained in North Korea. The pair arrived at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Seattle on Saturday night. They were accompanied by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Bae was held captive in North Korea for two years and Miller was detained for seven months. Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary, called the time he spent in captivity “amazing,” noting that he “learned a lot, grew a lot, lost a lot of weight.” Bae noted that health-wise, he is “recovering.” He was moved to a hospital last summer because of poor health. Miller, of Bakersfield, Calif., was detained when he tried to enter the country in April. The big question now is why did North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agree to their release?

China

Authorities here are taking drastic measures to limit smog, traffic and dissent ahead of an annual economic summit that includes President Obama and 20 other world leaders. For a 10-day period, only half the city’s cars can hit the roads each day, polluting factories in neighboring provinces have shut down or scaled back operations, schools are closed, some hospitals work only half-days, no new marriages can be registered, government workers received a six-day holiday and students shiver in college dorms after central heating was suspended. Hefty security measures are also in place. About 800,000 civilians have been mobilized to patrol neighborhoods in red armbands, and 1,000 high-definition surveillance cameras with facial recognition were installed in Huairou District, where world leaders will gather Tuesday.

Romania

Thousands of people have protested against the government saying it was making it difficult for Romanians abroad to vote, a week before a presidential runoff. Romanians in Paris, London, Vienna and elsewhere have said they were unable to vote in the Nov. 2 first round of the presidential race because of long lines. In response, the government said Friday it would open more polling booths, and other measures to speed up the process, but protesters said it wasn’t enough. Prime Minister Victor Ponta faces Sibiu Mayor Klaus Iohannis in the Nov. 16 runoff, which Ponta is favored to win. Around 2 million Romanians live abroad.

Spain

Euphoria reigned in many parts of Barcelona and the surrounding region of Catalonia on Monday, a day after 1.6 million people there cast symbolic votes to secede from Spain. But the sentiment for Catalan independence was not shared in Madrid, where there was skepticism, as Spain’s Justice Minister called the straw vote a “farce” without any democratic validity. Even after more than 2 million Catalans voted on Sunday, defying two decisions by Spain’s highest court that it was illegal to cast a ballot on independence, the two entrenched sides seemed no closer to solving the thorny issue. Catalan secessionists have staged massive street demonstrations in recent years, and they picked up more steam in September around Scotland’s referendum on independence. Although Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom, many Catalans insisted Madrid should let them vote, too, as London had done for Scotland. But the Spanish government insists that the constitution does not permit just one of Spain’s 17 regions, such as Catalonia, to unilaterally secede.

Mexico

The 43 students missing for more than six weeks are believed dead after charred human remains were fished from a river and its banks, Mexico’s attorney general said Friday. The announcement came after confessions by members of the Guerreros Unidos cartel accused of burning the victims’ bodies using gasoline, kindling and tires to keep the fire going, Murillo Karam said. Municipal police handed over the students — some dead, some unconscious — to the gang after a Sept. 26 attack in Iguala, in the southern state of Guerrero, he said. Officials said Wednesday that the drug gang implicated in the disappearance of 43 students in a southern city essentially ran the town, paying the mayor hundreds of thousands of dollars a month out of its profits from making opium paste to fuel the U.S. heroin market. The Guerreros Unidos cartel’s deep connections with local officials in the city of Iguala came to a head Sept. 26 when the mayor ordered municipal police to detain protesting students, who were then turned over to the drug gang.

Earthquakes

Hundreds of small earthquakes have rumbled under northwestern Nevada like a seismic drumroll since midsummer, and in recent days, they have built to a crescendo. Though this does not necessarily mean a big one will come, state seismologists said that it’s good to be prepared, just in case. Seismologists refer to such quake groupings as swarms, and the U.S. Geological Survey has detected them regularly. They can produce thousands of small tremors. But the Nevada swarm buzzing in and around the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge has gone on since July 12. In recent days — since October 30 — they have grown stronger, with three over magnitude 4.0. The strongest one weighed in Tuesday at magnitude 4.6 — approaching the threshold of a lightly damaging quake.

Weather

A Bering Sea Superstorm has developed from the remnants of Super Typhoon Nuri and is now weakening, but not after breaking a minimum pressure record held in the 1970s. As a result, the Bering Sea storm whipped up hurricane-force winds in parts of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands as well as giant waves in the Bering Sea over the weekend. On Saturday morning, U.S. time, the low was analyzed to have a pressure of 924 millibars, which makes it the strongest low-pressure system ever observed in or near Alaska since October 25, 1977, when a 925 millibar pressure reading was recorded. For reference, the lowest central pressure of Hurricane Andrew (1992) was 922 millibars.. On Saturday morning, sustained winds of more than 50 mph were reported in the far western Aleutians, with gusts over 65 mph.

A monstrous storm system will roll south and east in the next few days, bringing a big chill to more than 200 million people. The system ripped across parts of Alaska with hurricane-force winds and drove bitter cold temperatures and snow toward the contiguous United States yesterday — bringing back not-so-fond memories of last winter’s iconic polar vortex. The remnants of Typhoon Nuri were in part to blame for the frigid air sweeping into Montana and the Dakotas. The coldest readings Monday morning were in northern Montana, where a temperature of -1 degree was recorded in tiny Harlem. Only the Southwest, and South Florida will escape the grip of the upcoming arctic blast.

Winter Storm Astro has begun, and by the time it winds down early Wednesday, it will have put down a swath of heavy snow from Montana to Michigan. Up to 7 inches of snow blanketed parts of southern and eastern Montana. Winter Storm Astro dumped the season’s first snow in Bismarck, North Dakota Sunday, with 1.4 inches measured through midnight Sunday night. This first snow in North Dakota’s capital city arrived about two weeks later than average. Snow-covered roads were reported as far east as northwest Wisconsin Monday morning, including the Twin Cities metro area Monday morning.

Signs of the Times (11/7/14)

November 7, 2014

Gay Marriage Bans Upheld in Four States

A federal appeals court allowed four states to prohibit same-sex unions — a decision that could force the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue. In a 2-1 ruling Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed lower court rulings in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky that struck down same-sex marriage bans. Sutton, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, said that it’s not the responsibility of the judicial branch of government to make “such a fundamental change to such a fundamental social institution… When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers,” Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote in the ruling.

Missouri Judge Overturns State’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

A Missouri judge has overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriages and ordered registrars to start issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples. But the state’s top prosecutor said he has appealed the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court. “The constitutional challenge to Missouri’s historically recognized right to define marriage must be presented to and resolved by the state’s highest court,” state Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement. Koster has said that while a lot of state residents have changed their minds and support marriage equality, the constitution has not changed. More than 30 states and the District of Columbia now allow marriage for same-sex couples.

Republicans Seize Senate, Gain Full Control of Congress

A Republican tide ripped the Senate away from Democrats Tuesday, giving the GOP full control of Congress and the power to pin down President Barack Obama during his last two years in office. The thumping win upends the balance of power between the White House and Capitol Hill only six years after Obama’s Democrats swept to power and marginalized Republicans in a rush to reform health care, Wall Street and pass a huge stimulus package. Now, it’s Democrats who will take the back seat on Capitol Hill, relying mostly on the power of the filibuster to stymie Republicans. Republicans retained every one of the GOP-held seats up for grabs and picked up one more than the six seats needed to take control of the Senate. In the House, CNN projected the GOP will have at least 246 seats, its largest majority since World War II.

Republicans Increase Governorships

President Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois elected a Republican governor on Tuesday night. Massachusetts will have its first Republican governor since Mitt Romney. Republicans also continued their dominance of governors’ mansions when a number of GOP leaders fought off stiff challenges from Democrats. Republican Rick Scott defeated Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist in Florida’s very tight and hotly contested race. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Georgia’s Nathan Deal both narrowly won re-election in the face of well-financed Democratic challenges. Ohio’s John Kasich, Iowa’s Terry Branstad and New Mexico’s Susana Martinez also dispatched weaker Democratic challengers. And bombastic Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage survived a stiff challenge from Rep. Michael Michaud to win a second term.

Voters Pass Wage Hikes, Divide on Abortion

Voters on ballot initiatives in 41 states gave a resounding thumbs-up to higher minimum wages while dividing on abortion-related measures and GMO labeling. Scores of measures that thickened ballot booklets from Alaska to Florida included a ban on bear baiting (overturned), immigrants IDs (rejected) and gun background checks (approved). In Arkansas, Alaska, South Dakota and Nebraska, voters approved hiking the minimum wage. Voters in Illinois approved a non-binding ballot question on raising the minimum wage. In Oregon, voters rejected a measure permitting four-year driver’s cards to those who cannot prove their legal status in the United States. Supporters said the bill would keep the streets safer by forcing people to learn the rules of the road and get insurance. The measure was aimed mainly at Oregon’s tens of thousands of immigrants who are in the country illegally. The Pew Hispanic Center says about 160,000 immigrants living in Oregon entered the country illegally.

In Colorado, voters rejected a proposal to add “unborn human beings” to the state’s criminal code, a measure. And in North Dakota, voters rejected a “right-to-life” state constitutional amendment that abortion rights advocates feared would have ended legal abortions there. But Tennessee approved an amendment that will give more power to state lawmakers to regulate and restrict abortion, adding language to the Tennessee constitution that reads, in part: “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”

Marijuana Wins 3-1

While Florida voters narrowly rejected a plan to legalize medical marijuana, voters in Washington, D.C., Oregon, and Alaska approved recreational pot possession and use by adults. And in Guam, voters also legalized medical marijuana use. Supporters say the legalization wins indicate voters think America’s pot prohibition is a failure, especially since non-presidential elections tend to draw an older, more conservative electorate. Twenty-three states and the nation’s capital already permit medical marijuana. Tuesday’s vote means Washington, D.C., Alaska and Oregon join Colorado and Washington in allowing adults to possess and consume marijuana just for fun. Florida’s medical marijuana initiative, Amendment 2, received more than 50% of the vote, but failed to reach the 60% needed to pass.

Women in Congress Up Incrementally

Next year, more than 100 women will serve in Congress for the first time in history. But women in both parties say the growth is incremental and the numbers are disappointing. Of 15 women running for the Senate, just four won. There are now 20 female senators. Next year, there will still be 20, unless Senator Mary L. Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat, survives a difficult runoff, which would bring the number to 21. Democratic women had an especially difficult night, with the defeat of Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina, as well as two of the party’s brightest Senate prospects, Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky and Michelle Nunn of Georgia. In the House, there were 79 female voting members prior to the elections. Depending on the outcome of several races that were still too close to call, that number will range from 81 to 85 next year, according to a tally by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. As for female governors, there are currently five. The election Tuesday did not change that.

USA’s Friends, Foes Expect Policy Shifts

Friends and foes of the USA see policy shifts from the big Republican gains Tuesday, from closer ties with Israel to greater strains with Russia. Republicans’ “harsh stance toward Russia” could lead to another Cold War, said Sergey Rogov, director of the Institute of U.S. and Canada Studies, according to Russian state-run TASS news agency. “While the Democrats were in the majority in the Senate, none of those anti-Russian bills received support,” Rogov said. “Now they may be put to the vote again and most probably given a go-ahead.” Israeli leaders hailed the vote, expressing hope it will lead to better relationships between the two nations.

“It is my hope that the American Administration will now change gears and focus on the truly important issues in our region threatening western civilization,” Danny Danon, a right-wing Israeli parliamentarian, said in a statement. “Now is the time to halt the spread of ISIL and stop the Ayatollahs in Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities, instead of criticizing Israel for every housing development in Jerusalem that benefits the Jewish and Arab residents of our capital.” However, Iranian leaders seem fairly confident the election won’t have a negative impact on their policies.

China’s state-run media used the Republican sweep to criticize Obama as a “lame duck” and “abandoned baby.” Obama’s magic has lost its charm, argued one story from the state news agency Xinhua. “A weak Obama must cooperate with China even more,” ran another piece on the popular Sina news portal.

Trojan Horse Malware Lurking in Vital US Computers Since 2011

A destructive “Trojan Horse” malware program has penetrated the software that runs much of the nation’s critical infrastructure and is poised to cause an economic catastrophe, according to the Department of Homeland Security. National Security sources told ABC News there is evidence that the malware was inserted by hackers believed to be sponsored by the Russian government, and is a very serious threat. The hacked software is used to control complex industrial operations like oil and gas pipelines, power transmission grids, water distribution and filtration systems, wind turbines and even some nuclear plants. Shutting down or damaging any of these vital public utilities could severely impact hundreds of thousands of Americans. DHS said in a bulletin that the hacking campaign has been ongoing since 2011, but no attempt has been made to activate the malware to “damage, modify, or otherwise disrupt” the industrial control process. So while U.S. officials recently became aware the penetration, they don’t know where or when it may be unleashed.

Ebola Update

The last person being monitored in connection with the three diagnosed Ebola cases in Texas will be cleared from monitoring Friday after reaching the end of the 21-day maximum incubation period for the disease. Around 177 health care workers and community members had contact with at least one of the patients, their specimens or medical waste, but are symptom free.

Economic News

The resurgent labor market kept chugging in October as employers added 214,000 jobs, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate fell from 5.9% to 5.8%, lowest since July 2008.. Businesses added 209,000 jobs. Federal, state and local governments added 5,000. Monthly job growth has averaged well over 200,000 this year, up from 194,000 in 2013.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits for the week ending Nov. 1 fell by 10,000 to 278,000 from the previous week’s revised level. Claims for the past four weeks are at their lowest level in more than 14 years, the Labor Department said Thursday. The closely-followed four-week moving average of claims was 279,000, a drop of 2,250 from the previous week’s slightly revised average. That’s the lowest level for this average since April 29, 2000 when it was 273,000.

U.S. workers’ productivity increased more rapidly than expected in the third quarter as a solid jump in output offset a rise in hours worked. Labor productivity, or output per hours worked, rose at a 2% annual rate. Over the past year, productivity grew 0.9%, in line with modest increases since 2012. Productivity surged early in the recovery as employers hesitant to add staff squeezed more from existing workers, but it has increased more slowly the past couple of years as hiring picked up. Monthly job growth has averaged well over 200,000 this year.

With rents rising faster than most American’s paychecks, finding a roommate with whom to split the rent is a rising trend. The percentage of adults living with someone other than a spouse or partner hit 32% nationwide in 2012, up from 26% in 2000, according to Zillow’s analysis of the latest Census Bureau data. And, judging by the ongoing decline in homeownership rates and tightened supply of rental vacancies, the trend appears to be gaining momentum and isn’t just for kids straight out of college anymore.

Persecution Watch

Pakistani police say they have arrested up to 40 people in connection with the killing of a Christian couple in Punjab province who were beaten, then pushed into a burning kiln after being accused of desecrating the Quran. Local police officials said a mob from neighboring villages formed Tuesday after a local mullah declared the couple were guilty of blasphemy. The mob allegedly marched to the couple’s home, broke down their door, dragged them outside, beat them and threw them into the brick kiln where they both worked. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), which dispatched a team to the scene, said in a statement that the couple had three young children — two sons and a daughter, and indicated the slain woman was pregnant.

Middle East

A Palestinian man rammed a minivan into a crowded train platform in east Jerusalem on Wednesday and then attacked people with an iron bar after leaving the vehicle, killing one person and injuring 13 before he was shot dead by police. The militant Hamas group took responsibility for the attack — the second such assault in east Jerusalem in the past two weeks — which escalated already heightened tensions between Arabs and Jews in the city. Earlier Wednesday, Israeli police had dispersed dozens of masked Palestinians who threw rocks and firecrackers near a contested holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City. Security was stepped up in the city amid concern that rising tensions could flare as Muslims gather for Friday prayers. Neighboring Jordan called back the kingdom’s ambassador to Israel for consultations in a gesture of protest over the violence in east Jerusalem.

Islamic State

A watchdog group, Open Doors, is asking for prayer as Christians in Iraq and Syria continue to flee ISIS. Mike Gore, of Open Doors Australia, said that the exodus of the Christians had reached “biblical proportions” this year. “Christians, not just in their hundreds, Christians in their tens of thousands [are] fleeing Iraq and Syria with little more than the clothes on their backs, because of increased pressure from the Islamic State,” Gore said during Sunday’s International Day of Prayer webcast.

Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS targeted the Islamist rebel group Ahrar al Sham for the first time overnight in Syria, a monitoring group said Thursday. One airstrike hit the headquarters for Ahrar al Sham in Babsaqa, Idlib province, near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Ahrar al Sham is a Sunni Muslim group that is not on the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations and so far had not been hit by coalition airstrikes. They are not linked to al Qaeda, have not pledged allegiance to al Qaeda. There are mixed opinions on how radical the group is, mostly because its entire leadership was killed in a September blast and the new leadership’s intentions are not yet clear, although some observers anticipate a more radical direction.

The United States appears to have just scored a big win in Syria in taking out a key al Qaeda bomb-maker plotting to blow up American passenger jets, but it could come at significant cost because the same strikes appear to have also killed fighters belonging to two powerful jihadist rebel groups who were fighting ISIS and not previously focused on targeting the United States. A U.S. defense official told CNN that the strike likely killed David Drugeon, a skilled French bomb-maker. Drugeon, 24, was one of the most active bomb-makers within the Khorasan group, a U.S. intelligence official said.

Afghanistan

Afghan security forces are winning the fight against the Taliban, but they’re suffering casualties at an unsustainable rate, the No. 2 coalition commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday. Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson said more than 8,900 Afghan security forces were killed in action during the past two years as Afghan forces have taken the lead in combat operations. He said Afghan security forces, which include soldiers and police, are working on improving their tactics and protective measures, such as equipment to counter roadside bombs that could help lower the casualties. Afghan officers are also trying to limit soldiers going AWOL and boost recruitment to maintain sufficient strength.

At the same time, the number of American casualties decreased sharply as more U.S. troops leave the country and those still there have taken on more of a support role. Afghan forces lead combat operations. During the past two years, 176 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan, according to icasualties.org, which tracks coalition casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the start of the war in 2001, 2,350 U.S. servicemembers have died in Afghanistan, according to the organization.

China

Chinese health officials say only 700,000 newly-qualified couples have applied for having a second child this year, far below earlier estimates that an easing in the country’s birth policy would add 1 million to 2 million extra births per year in the first few years. Last year, China eased its one-child policy to allow couples where one partner has no siblings to have two children. Couples where both partners have no siblings have been allowed to have two children for some time.

Pollen/Pollution

The warming planet will likely make your pollen and grass allergies a lot worse. Scientists examined the effect of CO2 and ozone levels on grass and pollen production and found that by the end of the century, levels could increase more than 200 percent. “Because carbon dioxide is used as food for plants, in atmospheres with more CO2 plants have more resources,” author Jennifer Albertine, of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told weather.com. “This allows them to grow larger and produce more pollen.” Although ozone actually hurts a plant’s pollen production, the CO2 rise is expected to be so great it will override ozone’s negative effect.

Air pollution might be linked to increasing cases of ADHD in children, a study of New York City women and children found. Exposure to pollution before birth might be the key, researchers from Columbia University’s School of Public Health found, after a look at prenatal levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), a component of air pollution, and ADHD symptoms in children later in life. Mothers exposed to high levels of PAH during pregnancy had five times the odds of symptoms that characterize inattentive ADHD in their kids at age 9.

Weather

An explosive storm surpassing the intensity of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy is expected to reach Alaska’s western Aleutian Islands over the weekend and bring unseasonably frigid temperatures to much of the U.S. next week, weather forecasters said Thursday. What remains of Typhoon Nuri is moving northeast from off the Japanese coast and is mixing with cold air and the jet stream, which will give it the power to produce hurricane-force winds and waves 50 feet high. It could arrive late Friday or Saturday before weakening in the Bering Sea.

Signs of the Times (11/4/14)

November 4, 2014

Pastors Endorsing Candidates, in Defiance of IRS Rules

Christian pastors reportedly are defying IRS rules and endorsing political candidates at an unprecedented rate, CNN reports. Under IRS rules, nonprofits — such as churches — are allowed to discuss politically sensitive subjects in their sermons, but historically have been barred from actively campaigning and endorsing particular candidates. But a growing number of pastors are challenging that standard – and the IRS appears to be looking the other way. Politico reports that, according to the group Alliance Defending Freedom, more than 1,600 pastors are endorsing candidates this year as part of so-called Pulpit Freedom Sunday. That’s up from a mere 33 pastors in 2008. Alliance Defending Freedom is urging pastors across the country to endorse candidates on any Sunday leading up to Election Day. The argument against pastors making endorsements is that they are using tax-exempt money for political purposes.

Majority of Teens Who Date Experience Abuse

Teen dating violence is on the rise, according to a nationwide study published in October. Experts say the latest numbers reveal a startling culture of relational abuse, especially emotional abuse, with much of it happening online. The National Survey on Teen Relationships and Intimate Violence found nearly 20 percent of dating teens, both boys and girls, reported they had been victims of physical or sexual abuse, and more than 60 percent reported being both victims and perpetrators of psychological abuse, meaning that dating abuse is often mutual and cyclical. The study, conducted by the University of Chicago and sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, surveyed more than 650 teenagers who had dated in the past year. The study considered everything from threats and humiliation to shoving and sexual pressure as abuse. It also included online abuse—cyber stalking, incessant texting, or shaming social media posts. The results revealed “the startlingly widespread nature of this problem,” said Bruce Taylor, one of the study’s two lead researchers.

  • A generation brought up with violent video games and media promotion of of sex has yielded its dark fruit

World Trade Center Reopens for Business

Thirteen years after the 9/11 terrorist attack, the resurrected World Trade Center is again opening for business — marking an emotional milestone for both New Yorkers and the United States as a whole. Publishing giant Conde Nast will start moving Monday into One World Trade Center, a 104-story, $3.9 billion skyscraper that dominates the Manhattan skyline. It is America’s tallest building. It’s the centerpiece of the 16-acre site where the decimated twin towers once stood and where more than 2,700 people died on Sept. 11, 2001, buried under smoking mounds of fiery debris. “The New York City skyline is whole again, as One World Trade Center takes its place in Lower Manhattan,” said Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that owns both the building and the World Trade Center site.

ObamaCare Patients Turning to Community Care Centers

When ObamaCare patients learn their deductible is so high they’re unlikely to get any reimbursement, they often wind up in community care centers. “There are quite a few, and I saw another one today, where their deductibles are so elevated that they can’t afford them,” said Dr. Flippo Masciarelli, chief physician at the Denton, Texas Community Care Center, which was designed to treat indigent patients. The administration pushed insurance companies to keep premiums low, but that also created high deductibles, about $5,000 per person for the least expensive plan, as well as narrow networks of providers. But most people buy based only on premiums. “They don’t even look at what their deductible is going to be,” said Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalere Health. “They don’t look at the cost of the medications that they’re on. And they don’t look at the…network that they have.”

U.S. Arms al Qaeda Again

Two of the main rebel groups receiving weapons from the United States to fight both the regime and jihadist groups in Syria have surrendered to al-Qaeda, reports London’s Daily Telegraph. The US and its allies were relying on Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front to become part of a ground force that would attack the Islamic State. For the last six months the Hazm movement, and the SRF through them, had been receiving heavy weapons from the US-led coalition, including GRAD rockets and TOW anti-tank missiles. But on Saturday night Harakat Hazm surrendered military bases and weapons supplies to Jabhat al-Nusra, when the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria stormed villages the Hazm controlled in northern Idlib province. The development came a day after Jabhat al-Nusra dealt a final blow to the SRF, storming and capturing Deir Sinbal, home town of the group’s leader Jamal Marouf.

Ebola Update

Ebola fears are slowing in the United States, but in embattled West African countries like Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the disease still conjures up fear and isolation— even when it comes to its smallest survivors. While reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest new infections are slowing in Liberia, the country hardest hit by the disease, the number of children orphaned by Ebola continues to rise along with the death toll— nearly 5,000 people as of Friday. “Our orphanages are full right now, so we are not able to take in more children,” Kay Knapp, a U.S. liaison at Lifesong for Orphans Liberia, a Christian nonprofit that runs orphanages in several developing nations, told FoxNews.com in an email. “The estimates from our directors are that there are 2,000+ children newly orphaned as a result of Ebola in Liberia alone.” Nearly 4,000 children in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have lost one or both parents to Ebola, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and many are being rejected by their surviving relatives.

Economic News

Despite increasing tensions in the Middle East, the nationwide average for a gallon of gas stands below $3 for the first time in four years — a roughly 20% drop from June levels. And OPEC, the oil-producing group that controls an estimated 40% of world supply seems to be just fine with that. So, why would a cartel that aims to defend $100 a barrel oil and depends on high prices for the success of its economies, allow oil to slip into the $80s? Simple. America’s energy alternatives are becoming far too good. In recent years, the energy renaissance in the U.S. has emerged as a growing threat to Middle East oil production. The biggest problem with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is its high cost; oil prices need to stay above $85 a barrel in order for new fracking investment to be worthwhile. As of Tuesday morning, the price of light crude oil stood at $75.84.

The percentage of homes that were sold to first-time homebuyers dropped to 33% this year, the lowest percentage in almost three decades, according to the National Association of Realtors. Typically, first-time homebuyers comprise about 40% of all purchases. This is despite the fact that mortgage rates are hovering near record lows and home prices are still off about 15% compared to the housing boom peak. It’s not that young adults, who make up the lion’s share of first timer buyers, don’t want to own; many do. According to a Zillow survey released in October, respondents ages 23 to 34 were, in fact, very bullish on home buying, with 83% of young renters expecting to buy a home someday. Experts blame the decline on heavy student debt loads and incomes that aren’t keeping up with rising home prices — especially in the urban areas where young Millennials would want to buy, the NAR said.

Ukraine

Rebel-held areas of war-torn eastern Ukraine went ahead with controversial elections Sunday amid encouragement from Moscow and fierce criticism from Kiev and Washington. The voting takes place against a violent backdrop. Despite a truce on paper between pro-Russian separatist groups and Ukrainian government forces, sporadic fighting on the ground continues. Ukrainian authorities said Sunday that they are launching a criminal investigation into the separatist elections, calling it “a power grab.” Last weekend, the bulk of Ukraine under government control held its own parliamentary elections which keep pro-Western parties in power. But citizens in Russian-annexed Crimea and the eastern areas controlled by separatists didn’t participate in those elections because of the ongoing violence. The leader of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine was officially sworn in Tuesday after the election that was roundly condemned by the West as illegal and destabilizing. Russia has backed the contentious elections, setting the stage for renewed diplomatic tensions with the West.

Iran

A massive naval drill kicked off this week in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, with ships and personnel from 44 navies demonstrating their commitment to securing the strategic waterway in the face of Iranian aggression and regional piracy threats. ” The tremendous number of nations participating in this exercise sends a clear signal that threats to global commerce will not be tolerated,” US 5th Feet Commander Vice. Adm. John Miller said. The drill is taking place against the backdrop of a looming 24 November deadline for a deal on the Islamic Republic’s renegade nuclear program. Washington’s allies in the region, including Israel and the Sunni Arab oil sheikdoms in the Gulf, are openly expressing nervousness over the Obama Administration’s apparent eagerness for a deal which will leave Iran in possession of most of what it needs to quickly deploy atomic weapons.

Iran’s government continues to stonewall United Nations weapons inspectors, complicating the Obama administration’s effort to forge a nuclear agreement with Tehran by a late-November deadline, according to U.S. and U.N. officials. The U.S. and the European Union have said Iran’s cooperation with the U.N. in addressing evidence that Tehran conducted studies in the past on the development of atomic weapons is crucial to reaching a broader accord on the future of the Iranian nuclear program. But Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, said Friday there has been almost no progress in resolving the outstanding allegations of weapons development, despite a year of negotiations with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani ‘s government.

  • Stalling for time to complete their nuclear program has been Iran’s strategy all along with the gullible West

Pakistan

A suicide bomber detonated explosives near a Pakistani paramilitary checkpoint near the country’s eastern border with India on Sunday, killing at least 54 people in the deadliest attack to hit the country in several months. The death toll was likely to rise because over 100 people were wounded, with several in critical condition. The explosion hit near the checkpoint at the Wagah border crossing as hundreds of people were returning from a military parade on the outskirts of Lahore. Both the Pakistani and the Indian military conduct daily parades and flag-flying ceremonies on their respective sides of the border. The events draw crowds of hundreds, a number that would rise into the thousands on a weekend like Sunday.

Bangladesh

A huge power cut in Bangladesh left tens of millions of people nationwide without electricity for hours on Saturday. The blackout hit the entire South Asian country after a failure on a line that imports power from neighboring India. Shops were forced to close, hospitals resorted to backup generators to keep providing emergency services and people had to watch food spoil in their powerless refrigerators. The blackout lasted into the night, plunging streets in the capital of Dhaka into darkness as people used candles and flashlights to find their way. Power started to come back around 11 p.m. Saturday. And government officials said at a news conference Sunday morning that the electricity supply had been fully restored. An eight-member team has been set up to investigate exactly what caused the massive outage.

Zambia

Demonstrators fought police in the southern African nation of Zambia in protests against the acting president, a white Zambian who fired the ruling party chief following the death last week of President Michael Sata. The riots occurred late Monday in several places in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, including the University of Zambia and a government building designated as a place for Sata mourners to gather. Protesters had descended on the building, Belvedere Lodge, with stones, machetes and other weapons, and police fired tear gas into the venue to clear demonstrators from the area. The protesters were angry over the decision by acting president, Guy Scott, to dismiss Edgar Lungu, the ruling party’s general secretary. Lungu, who remains defense and justice minister, said his dismissal is illegal and accused Scott, a white Zambian of Scottish descent, of “insulting our culture.”

Yemen

U.S. drone strikes killed at least nine suspected members of al Qaeda in Yemen, where clashes intensified Tuesday between the terrorist group and Shia Houthi rebels, local security officials said. The three airstrikes in Yemen’s Al Baitha province, near Radaa district, targeted the local al Qaeda vehicles on their way to fight Houthis, the three security officials said. The strikes came amid fighting on the ground in the province that killed at least 36 fighters from both sides. Over the years, the Yemeni military, aided by American drone strikes, has failed to beat back AQAP. Yet the Houthis, a militant group that follows the Zaidi sect of Islam, have managed to defeat al Qaeda on numerous fronts, last week sweeping its militants from a stronghold in Al Baitha province.

Venezuela

For the first time in its 100-year history of oil production, Venezuela is importing crude — a new embarrassment for the country with the world’s largest oil reserves. The nation’s late president Hugo Chávez often boasted the South American country regained control of its oil industry after he seized joint ventures controlled by such companies as ExxonMobil and Conoco. But 19 months after Chávez’s death, the country can’t pump enough commercially viable oil out of the ground to meet domestic needs — a result of the former leader’s policies. The dilemma — which comes as prices at U.S. pumps fall below $3 per gallon — is the latest facing the government, which has been forced to explain away shortages of basic goods such as toilet paper, food and medicine in the past year.

Volcanoes

The front edge of a lava flow that’s been creeping its way toward Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii since June, stalled just a few hundred feet from a major thoroughfare on October 30 and hasn’t moved since, the U.S. Geological Survey announced Sunday. But that doesn’t mean that the lava flow isn’t moving at all. The lava is breaking out of the main flow and spreading horizontally just a few yards behind the stalled tip of the flow, threatening to merge with the stalled front and push the lava toward homes once again.

Weather

More than 100,000 Maine homes and businesses remained without power Monday after a powerful fall dumped up to 21 inches of snow on parts of the state, and officials said the restoration effort could take several days. The storm was so severe that utility crews were having trouble getting around to assess damage and to make downed lines safe. The storm packed gusts of 50 mph across much of Maine. Bangor (12 inches) and Caribou (10.1 inches), Maine both set their record earliest double-digit snowfall days.

An early season snow combined with gusty winds caused power outages, road closures and other adverse impacts across the South Saturday. At the peak of the snow, tens of thousands of people were without power in South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia. Road closures were also reported across the region. The North Carolina Department of Transportation reported that all lanes on I-40 were closed for roughly 15 miles in Haywood County due to multiple vehicle accidents and inclement weather. It was a record earliest snow for South Carolina.

Warning of “irreversible and dangerous impacts,” some of the world’s top scientists Sunday released the most comprehensive assessment of climate change ever done. Hundreds of scientists from 80 countries gathered in Copenhagen to take part in the assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group. Newest in the report is the level of certainty — 95% — that humans and greenhouse gas emissions are largely to blame for the change. “The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen,” the report states. The assessment comes as the Earth is headed toward its hottest year ever recorded, along with its highest level of atmospheric carbon dioxide in at least 800,000 years. “If left unchecked, climate change will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report said.

  • Whether human caused or not, extreme changes in the weather is an end-time sign

Signs of the Times (11/1/14)

November 1, 2014

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church this Sunday

The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is this Sunday Nov. 2. This year, the persecution watchdog group Open Doors is urging Christians around the world to participate in the event since persecution of believers is so prevalent in our news today, specifically with the acts of Muslim extremist groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram. Open Doors president and CEO David Curry said that persecution of Christians has been occurring continuously for many years. “People need to understand that persecution of Christians is not episodic, it’s ongoing, and the pressure is building. So while we may hear it on episodes — when someone is beheaded, when one town or another is overrun by jihadists rebels — we hear about that, but it’s happening every day,” Curry said. Open Doors will be hosting live webcasts on Saturday and Sunday where Christians can tune in to listen to experts speak about the persecution crisis, as well as pray for persecuted believers at onewiththem.com

Houston Mayor Withdraws Subpoenas to Pastors

The mayor of Houston, TX, has withdrawn subpoenas she issued to a group of local pastors demanding copies of their sermons and other communication in which they may have expressed their political views. Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the five pastors, says the subpoenas should never have been served in the first place. “The entire nation – voices from every point of the spectrum left to right – recognize the city’s actions as a gross abuse of power,” says ADF senior legal counsel Erik Stanley. “We are gratified that the First Amendment rights of the pastors have triumphed over government overreach and intimidation.”

North Carolina Judges Resign to Avoid Officiating Gay Weddings

North Carolina magistrates are resigning from their roles after gay marriage was legalized in the state. So far, at least six judges have decided to step down. The officials have said they do not believe in marrying same-sex couples and that is a violation of their faith. Magistrate Gayle Myrick said, “For me to do what the state said I had to do, under penalty of law, I would have to go against my convictions, and I was not willing to do that. I want to honor what the word says.”

Report Reveals Wider Tracking of Mail in U.S.

In a rare public accounting of its mass surveillance program, the United States Postal Service reported that it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations, the New York Times reported Tuesday. The number of requests, contained in a little-noticed 2014 audit of the surveillance program by the Postal Service’s inspector general, shows that the surveillance program is more extensive than previously disclosed and that oversight protecting Americans from potential abuses is lax. The audit found that in many cases the Postal Service approved requests to monitor an individual’s mail without adequately describing the reason or having proper written authorization. At the request of state or federal law enforcement agencies or the Postal Inspection Service, postal workers record names, return addresses and any other information from the outside of letters and packages before they are delivered to a person’s home.

Russian Hackers Breach White House Computers

Hackers thought to be working for the Russian government breached the unclassified White House computer networks in recent weeks, sources said, resulting in temporary disruptions to some services while cybersecurity teams worked to contain the intrusion. The intruders did not damage any of the systems and that, to date, there is no evidence the classified network was hacked. The FBI, Secret Service and National Security Agency are all involved in the investigation.

Illegal Voting By Non-Citizens May Give Democrats Wins in Close Races

A new study shows that non-American citizens who illegally voted in close races in recent years may have garnered the Democratic Party victories. Using data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, The Washington Post reported last Friday (10/24) that the number of non-citizens voting for Democrats in past elections was “large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in a few close elections.” The paper estimates that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent voted in 2010. In each case those voters overwhelmingly favored President Obama and democrats in general.

Ebola Update

This week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (like the World Health Organization) admitted that Ebola can be spread through sneezing or coughing. But the CDC claims that the droplets can never go more than 3 feet. But the CDC itself admits that flu droplets can travel 6 feet and Mythbusters demonstrated that sneezes can nail people some 17 feet away. However, engineers at MIT showed that sneezes can actually travel up to 200 times farther than previously thought … up to 20 feet.

  • Presumably to prevent panic, authorities have downplayed, obfuscated and even lied about how Ebola can spread.

West Africa needs an additional 5,000 health care workers from outside of the region to help fight the Ebola outbreak, said World Bank president Jim Yong Kim on Tuesday. “With the fear factor going out of control in so many places, I hope health care professionals will understand that when they took their oath to become a health care worker it was precisely for moments like this,” Jim said. African Union states have pledged to send more than 2,000 health care workers into West Africa, said African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Health experts have told USA TODAY that stricter quarantine rules for people returning from West Africa could deter health care workers from volunteering in the impacted areas. The World Health Organization estimates that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 4,900 people.

Less than a day after confining a nurse who treated Ebola victims to her house, a judge in Maine lifted the quarantine Friday, rejecting arguments by the State of Maine that the measure was necessary to protect the public. Within an hour of the decision, state troopers who had been parked outside the nurse’s house for days had left. The order, signed on Friday by Judge Charles C. LaVerdiere, the chief judge for the Maine District Courts who serves in Kennebec and Somerset counties, said the nurse, Kaci Hickox, “currently does not show symptoms of Ebola and is therefore not infectious.”

Americans Pay More for Slower Internet

When it comes to Internet speeds, the U.S. lags behind much of the developed world. That’s one of the conclusions from a new report by the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, which looked at the cost and speed of Internet access in two dozen cities around the world. Clocking in at the top of the list was Seoul, South Korea, where Internet users can get ultra-fast connections of roughly 1000 megabits per second for just $30 a month. The same speeds can be found in Hong Kong and Tokyo for $37 and $39 per month, respectively. The average U.S. connection speed stood at 9.8 megabits per second as of late last year. Residents of New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. can get 500-megabit connections thanks to Verizon (VZ, Tech30), though they come at a cost of $300 a month.

Economic News

The U.S. economy grew more rapidly than expected in the third quarter, helping produce its best six-month performance since 2003. Gross domestic product expanded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.5% in the three months ended Sept. 30, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Business investment, exports and federal government spending drove growth. The showing marks a slowdown from the second quarter’s 4.6% growth pace, but that was a period aided by a strong rebound in activity after harsh winter weather caused the economy to shrink 2.1% in the first quarter.

Despite stock market volatility and global economic troubles, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday agreed to end bond purchases that have supported U.S. economic growth since the 2008 financial crisis, marking a milestone in the five-year-old recovery. At the same time, the Fed pledged to keep its benchmark short-term interest rate near zero for a “considerable time” after the bond buying ends.

Home prices continued to rise more slowly in August, turning in their smallest year-over-year gains in nearly two years. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city index of home prices rose 5.6% from August 2013. That’s down from a 6.7% gain in July and well below the double-digit annual increases seen in most of 2013 and earlier this year.

Rents have risen 7% in the past year, while incomes have inched just 1.8% higher — making it that much harder for people to afford their housing payments. In fact, the average renter now spends 30% of their income on rent, up from a longtime average of about 25%, according to Zillow. The Neighborhood Law Clinic at the University of Wisconsin Law School estimates that several million families a year face evictions nationwide. In Milwaukee County alone, eviction notices were up by about 10% in 2013. Statewide, they’ve risen 10 years straight to about 28,000 a year.

U.S. stocks jumped at the opening bell Friday after Japan’s Nikkei 225 took a super-sized, 4.8% leap on news that the country’s central bank will boost asset purchases to about $725 billion annually. The Dow Jones average finished Friday at a record. 17,390. In what amounts to a massive easing in monetary policy by Japan in its fight to stave off deflation, the Japanese central bank upped the amount of money it is pumping into the system. The announcement, which caught investors by surprise, also included new and more aggressive asset purchases.

Persecution Watch

Twelve Christians were injured in an assault by a group of Hindu extremists in the Bastar district of India’s Chhattisgarh state on 25 October. The believers were attacked by around 50 assailants armed with knives, sticks and axes; eleven of the victims are still in hospital. The Christians were among around 40 believers who had gathered together in Madota village for what was intended to be a mediation meeting to resolve rising tensions with the local Hindu community. When the Christians arrived for the meeting, there was no-one from the district administration to greet them, and instead they were attacked.

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has decided to review a First Amendment complaint brought by Christians who were assaulted by a rock-throwing Muslim mob at an Arab festival in Dearborn, Michigan. The case arose from the annual Arab International Festival in June 2012 when Wayne County sheriff’s deputies stood by while a Muslim mob threw rocks at Christians, bloodying them. The officers then threatened the Christians with arrest if they didn’t leave the event. The Christians brought a lawsuit against Wayne County over its officers’ actions, and a three-judge panel dismissed it. But a majority of 6th Circuit judges has agreed to re-hear the case.

Middle East

Israel reopened a contested Jerusalem holy site on Friday and deployed more than 1,000 security personnel following clashes the previous day between Palestinians and Israeli riot police that had ratcheted up already heightened tensions in the city. Small groups of Palestinian worshippers made their way through a welter of Israeli checkpoints to the site — known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — under leaden gray skies and pouring rain. A wave of rioting and civil unrest rocked the capital following last Wednesday’s terror attack by a known operative of the Islamist terror militia Hamas. “Police are focusing on containing the situation and have made 20 arrests in different areas since Thursday, where security measures have been emphasized,” said Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet meeting Sunday morning that Islamic extremist organizations were trying to fan tensions in Jerusalem. The official Palestinian news service declared that Israel’s act was a “declaration of war on the Palestinian people, Palestinian religious sites and a declaration of war on both the Arab and Islamic states.”

The US State Department led a chorus of international condemnation of Israel’s announcement Monday that it has approved plans to build 1,060 new housing units in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem. “If Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps that will reduce tensions,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki proclaimed. “Moving forward with this sort of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace.” Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat demanded that the international community take “decisive action in order to save the two-state solution from the colonial expansionism of the State of Israel.” Other PA officials warned that if the plans proceed there will be increased levels of rioting in Jerusalem.

  • The so-called ‘two-state solution’ is being presented as a given, whereas God gave Jerusalem to the Jews and calls it the “Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem. No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts.” (Jeremiah 3:17)

Islamic State

More than 1,000 foreign fighters are streaming into Syria each month, a rate that has so far been unchanged by airstrikes against the Islamic State. The magnitude of the ongoing migration suggests that the U.S.-led air campaign has neither deterred significant numbers of militants from traveling to the region nor triggered such outrage that even more are flocking to the fight because of American intervention, notes the Washington Post. “The flow of fighters making their way to Syria remains constant, so the overall number continues to rise,” a U.S. intelligence official said. U.S. officials have attributed the flows to a range of factors, including the sophisticated recruiting campaigns orchestrated by groups in Syria such as the Islamic State and the relative ease with which militants from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe can make their way to that country.

ISIS terrorists are reportedly attracting a growing number of Americans to join their ranks; the terrorist organization seems to have gained influence in the Midwest as two American citizens recently killed fighting for ISIS in Syria hailed from Minnesota. According to Charisma News, young Muslims from Minneapolis and St. Paul are being recruited to join ISIS; at least a dozen have left their homes to fight overseas so far. Some have come from the al-Farooq Mosque in a suburb of Minneapolis. An Egyptian-American named Amir Meshal has allegedly been persuading young people there to answer the call of the jihad or “holy war.” A far greater concern is that people in the U.S. who have been radicalized might strike out against America, with two attacks last week in Canada and New York City.

A group of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga troops arrived in Turkey early Wednesday on their way to Syria to help their Syrian Kurdish brethren fight Islamic State extremists in the embattled border town of Kobani. The unprecedented mission by the 150 fighters came after Ankara agreed to allow the peshmerga troops to cross into Syria via Turkey — although the Turkish prime minister reiterated that his country would not be sending any ground forces of its own to Kobani, along the Syrian-Turkish border.

As many as 20 to 30 former Guantanamo Bay detainees released within the last two to three years are suspected by intelligence and Defense officials of having joined forces with the Islamic State and other militant groups inside Syria, Fox News has learned. The development has cemented fears that the U.S. military would once again encounter militants taken off the battlefield.

Iraq

According to a new report, at least 220 Iraqi men between the ages of 18 and 55 were executed after attempting to stop ISIS from taking over their village. The men were members of the Sunni Muslim Albu Nimr tribe. Christian Today reports that the bodies of the men were discovered in two mass graves in Anbar province. A grave near the city of Ramadi held 150 bodies and another near the town of 150 contained 70 bodies.

An Iraqi official says Islamic State militants lined up 30 Sunni men in a town west of Baghdad and shot them dead. The slayings took place on a main street in the town of Hit on Wednesday. The IS militants have seized large swaths of land in western and northern Iraq in the country’s worst crisis since the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal. The Sunnis killed were tribal fighters allied with the government and members of the security forces captured when the ISIS group overran the town, located about 85 miles west of the Iraqi capital.

Nigeria

The leader of Nigeria’s Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has denied agreeing to any cease-fire with the government and said more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls all have converted to Islam and been married off. In a new video released late Friday night, Abubakar Shekau dashed hopes for a prisoner exchange to get the girls released. “The issue of the girls is long forgotten because I have long ago married them off,” he said, laughing. “In this war, there is no going back,” he said. Attacks and abductions have continued this week seizing Mubi, a town of more than 200,000 people.

China

All couples in China will be allowed to have a second child in two years, the latest easing of the 1979 one-child policy, according to Bloomberg. Last year, President Xi Jinping allowed couples to have two children if one of the parents is an only child. Ethnic minorities, rural villagers, or parents whose first child is disabled, are also allowed more than one child. While the modification is a step forward, critics believe the country’s issues of gender imbalance, a shrinking labor force, and forced abortions won’t be solved until the family planning policy is abolished and Chinese society begins to value life.

Hong Kong

Even as protesters remain locked in a weeks-long stalemate with city officials over demands for electoral reforms, political analysts say this 7.2 million-person financial capital could be seeing the birth of a newly awakened generation that will continue demanding democracy and take to the streets to push for it. Known to some as the Umbrella Movement, after the umbrellas demonstrators used to ward off tear gas, the protests have already become the largest and most protracted ever seen since the city’s founding more than 170 years ago. For most of its history, Hong Kongers have focused more on business than politics as they lived first under colonial British, and then Communist Chinese rule. The agreement in which China took control of Hong Kong in 1997 calls for elections in Hong Kong beginning in 2017. China says an exclusive committee will screen candidates for the city’s top leader, but the protesters are demanding open nominations to give voters a chance to elect a chief executive who is not necessarily pro-Beijing.

Volcanoes

With a lava flow still snaking its way toward a Hawaii town, the National Guard has moved in to provide help. More than 80 troops were deployed to Pahoa Thursday to help with security as the unsettled town makes final preparations for the flow of molten lava. While the lava flow has slowed yet again, it has remained on course to hit the town since it began slowly moving away from Kilauea volcano in June. The town of about 950 residents has been on alert for weeks, and as of Thursday afternoon, the lava flow was less than 500 feet from the main road that runs through the middle of town.

Weather

An arctic blast has arrived this weekend with the first freeze of the season for many, and record low temperatures are possible as well. The warmth of earlier this week is coming to an end, and the areas that saw record highs on Monday and Tuesday have seen temperatures nosedive. This cold front has now pushed deep into Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Record lows were set Saturday morning in Springfield, Missouri (22) and tied in St. Joseph, Missouri (20). Twenties were felt as far south as northeast Oklahoma and northern Arkansas, while lows in the 30s were seen as far south as Mobile, Alabama, Slidell, Louisiana, and parts of the western Florida Panhandle.

Nearly a dozen homes in Ventura County, California, just north of Los Angeles, were evacuated Friday night into Saturday morning after rains sparked a mudslide from a nearby hill that hit at least two homes and partially buried a man. The area is at an increased risk for mudslide due to the Springs Fire, which charred through more than 24,000 acres of Ventura County in May of 2013. The burn scar left behind by the fire could take years to heal, and makes the area particularly prone to flash flooding. Rainfall totals through Saturday morning were generally less than one inch in Ventura County but it doesn’t take much rain to trigger a debris flow, particularly over land scorched by a previous wildfire. Sometimes just a quarter to half inch in a short period of time is enough, said weather.com senior meteorologist Jonathan Erdman.

A mudslide triggered by monsoon rains buried scores of workers’ houses at a tea plantation in central Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and leaving more than 250 missing. The mudslide struck at around 7:30 a.m. and wiped out 120 workers’ homes at the Meeriabedda tea plantation in Badulla district, 135 miles east of the capital, Colombo. Huge mounds of earth covered the homes, with only parts of the roofs visible on some of the houses. More muddy water gushing from the hilltops indicated that there could be further slides.