Signs of the Times (11/17/14)

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.

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