Signs of the Times (11/14/14)

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.

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