Signs of the Times (11/1/14)

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The mayor of Houston, TX, has withdrawn subpoenas she issued to a group of local pastors demanding copies of their sermons and other communication in which they may have expressed their political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.

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