Signs of the Times (11/28/14)

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.

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