Signs of the Times (12/4/14)

Atheists Use Children To Bash Christmas In Billboard Campaign

A national atheist organization has put up a billboard in Springdale, Arkansas depicting a little girl writing to Santa saying she wants to skip church on Christmas because she’s too old for fairy tales (but not too old to believe in Santa, apparently). The billboard is part of a “firebrand-style” campaign launched in multiple Bible Belt cities including Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis and Fort Smith, according to a post on the American Atheists website. The group also plans to put up a billboard in Milwaukee. Danielle Muscato, public relations director for American Atheists, told 5NEWS the billboards are aimed at in-the-closet atheists who are pressured to observe religious traditions during the holidays.

  • Why are atheists so intolerant of others’ beliefs? No one is forcing them to do anything. Why aren’t they protesting about Santa? Perhaps it’s because they fear God is real but know Santa is the fairy tale.

200 Babies Are Aborted for Every 1,000 Births in America

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that for every 1,000 births in the United States, 200 babies are aborted. The report was an analysis of information from 2011. According to the report 730,322 women had abortions in 2011, with 333,964 of the abortions performed by Planned Parenthood doctors. The abortion ratio was 43 abortions per 1,000 live births for married women and 373 abortions per 1,000 live births for unmarried women. The CDC also found that women in their 20s were most likely to obtain an abortion. Adolescents aged 15–19 years accounted for 13.5% of all abortions and had abortion rates of 10.5 abortions per 1,000 births. The abortion rate was down 4 percent from 2010, when there were 228 abortions performed for every 1,000 births.

Healthcare Cost Increases Slowing Down

U.S. health spending grew 3.6% in 2013, the lowest annual increase since 1960, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began tracking the statistic, officials said Wednesday. Consumer out-of-pocket spending — including co-payments and deductibles or payments for services not covered by a consumer’s health insurance — grew 3.2% in 2013, down from the 3.6% growth in both 2011 and 2012. Spending slowed for private health insurance, Medicare, hospitals, physicians and clinical services and out-of-pocket spending by consumers. However, it accelerated for Medicaid and for prescription drugs, according to the report, published online by the journal Health Affairs. Premiums for private health insurance grew 2.8% last year, compared to a 4% increase in 2012. Low overall enrollment growth, greater usage of high deductible plans and other benefit design changes and the health law’s medical loss ratio and rate review provisions contributed to the decline, the Centers found. Nearly 190 million people — or 60% of the population — were covered by private health insurance in 2013. Enrollment increased 0.7% last year, the third straight annual increase.

Gun Sales Boomed in November

Gun sales boomed in November, apparently fueled by Black Friday sales and stoked by Ferguson-related fears. FBI background checks, which are required for most gun purchases, jumped by about 12% compared to October. The bureau said it performed 1,803,397 checks in November. This includes Black Friday, which set a record for gun sales, with 175,000 background checks just on that one day, according to the FBI. Gun sales are often driven by fear and anxiety. December of 2012 remains the record month for background checks, at 2,783,765. Midway through that month, a gunman killed 26 people, mostly kids, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. The massacre led to calls to restrict the availability of firearms. A jump in sales, particularly of assault rifles, was attributed to fear of those tighter gun restrictions taking effect; they eventually stalled in Congress.

No Indictment in Chokehold Death Leads to Protests

After a New York grand jury failed to indict a police officer in the death of a Staten Island unarmed black man, protesters hit the streets of Manhattan and at least seven other U.S. cities. There were no reports of unrest, in contrast to the looting and arson that broke out Nov. 24 in Ferguson, Mo., after a grand jury there declined to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who fatally shot unarmed teen Michael Brown on Aug. 9. A wave of protests erupted from Manhattan to Oakland, Calif. Thousands in New York marched in support of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old asthmatic who died after being put in a chokehold by officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17. Protesters in NYC shut down the Lincoln Tunnel, the West Side Highway and the Brooklyn Bridge

Black Suspect Unarmed when Killed by Phoenix Officer

In Phoenix on Tuesday evening, a White police officer who was feeling threatened used lethal force on an unarmed Black man. The incident left the officer unharmed and Brisbon, 34, with two bullet wounds in his torso at a north Phoenix apartment complex. Phoenix police quickly released a detailed account of the killing for the media on Wednesday morning in what officials said was an effort to promote transparency, especially in light of the unrest that has played out in Ferguson and New York City following the deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of White officers. But portions of that account have already been challenged by some witnesses and community activists who say that the officer’s use of force was excessive and that Brisbon’s death was unwarranted.

More Police Uniforms Include Body Cameras

Several makers of police body cameras say their orders have grown in recent months, particularly since a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., shot 18-year-old Michael Brown. Taser, best known for the line of stun guns bearing its name, said sales of its body cameras were up 30% in the third quarter. Last week, the company said the San Francisco police department had ordered 160 cameras. The Los Angeles police department recently decided it would arm officers with Taser-brand cameras as well. In all, over 1,200 police agencies are now using Taser cameras, said Sydney Siegmeth, and the company has sold over 100,000 of them. The body cameras record interactions with the public and would help resolve what actually happened in incidents like the Ferguson shooting and the two incidents above.

Designer Drugs from China Flood U.S.

Following the deaths of two North Dakota teens from a mysterious white powder, authorities say the U.S. is being bombarded with constantly changing designer drugs, much of which comes from China. Some of these synthetic designer drugs are so potent that a dose the size of a few grains of salt can be enough to get high – and a few grains more can kill. In the past four years, more than 300 synthetic designer drugs with names such as Spice, N-bombe and K2, have flooded into the United States. “These drugs are being marketed and sold as legal alternatives to marijuana, cocaine, meth and heroin,” said John Scherbenske of the DEA. As states and the federal government race to “schedule” or ban chemical compounds, the manufacturers are staying one step ahead of the law by constantly changing the drugs’ chemical composition. According to the DEA, the majority of the chemical companies manufacturing synthetic drugs are in China.

World’s Most Corrupt Industries

Drilling for oil and digging for minerals can be dirty, in more ways than one. Known as the extractive sector, oil and mining tops a new list of the world’s most corrupt industries. Construction and transportation make up the top three, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD analyzed 427 cases of bribery in international business. Two-thirds of the cases occurred in just four industries: oil and mineral extraction (19%); construction (15%); transportation and storage (15%); and information and communication (10%).Senior executives were involved in more than half the cases, with chief executives playing an active role in 12%. They either paid the bribes themselves, or authorized them, the OECD found.

Hackers Devastate Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures’ computer network was taken down a week ago Monday by hackers believed to come from North Korea. As of this Wednesday, some staffers were still having to use cellphones and texting to communicate as e-mail was not available.      Five Sony movies, four of which have not yet been released, were posted online and are being widely distributed on pirating sites. In addition, a huge, 27-gigabyte stash of files was stolen from the company’s network and put online. The stash contained sensitive company files, ranging from HR documents with employee info, to legal paperwork, to confidential company meeting notes and documents.

Tumbling Oil Prices Causing Historic Shift of Wealth

Tumbling oil prices are draining hundreds of billions of dollars from the coffers of oil-rich exporters and oil companies and injecting a much-needed boost for ailing economies in Europe and Japan — and for American consumers at the start of the peak shopping season. The result could be one of the biggest transfers of wealth in history, potentially reshaping everything from talks over Iran’s nuclear program to the Federal Reserve’s policies to further rejuvenate the U.S. economy. The price of oil has declined about 40 percent since its peak in mid-June and plunged last week after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries voted to continue to pump at the same rate. That continued a trend driven by a weak global economy and expanding U.S. domestic energy supplies. At current prices, the annual revenue of OPEC members would shrink by $590 billion, money that will instead stay within the borders of the world’s biggest oil importers, led by the United States, China and Japan. Every day, American motorists are saving $630 million on gasoline compared with what they paid at June prices, and they would get a $230 billion windfall if prices were to stay this low for a year.

Economic News

Online spending on Cyber Monday climbed 17% over last year to just over $2 billion nationwide, online analytics firm comScore said. Shoppers spent $6.5 billion online over the five-day period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, according to comScore. That’s an increase of nearly a quarter from last year. Overall this season — since Nov. 1 — online spending is up 16%.

Chicago became the latest city to raise its minimum wage Tuesday. The wage hike will be phased in gradually. Chicago’s minimum wage workers will get their first raise on July 1, 2015, when the rate goes from $8.25 to $10 an hour. After it hits $13 in 2019, it will be pegged to inflation. Many states and cities have approved local increases this year, while federal-level discussions about raising the minimum wage for all Americans have stalled.

Overall it was a great month for auto sellers in October. It was the best monthly sales November since 2001, up nearly 5% from year-earlier sales. Declining gasoline prices helped boost demand for SUVs and crossovers. October sales were about 16.4 million on an annualized basis.

The Russian government has for the first time acknowledged that the country will fall into recession next year, battered by the combination of Western sanctions and a plunge in the price of its oil exports. The economic development ministry on Tuesday revised its GDP forecast for 2015 from growth of 1.2 percent to a drop of 0.8 percent. Disposable income is expected to decline by 2.8 percent against the previously expected 0.4 percent growth.

Persecution Watch

The parents of three young children are petitioning child protective services, saying the state of Washington unlawfully removed the children from their home after the mother gave birth to the two youngest in an unassisted home delivery. Parents Erica May Carey and Cleave Rengo decided to give birth at home without assistance or prenatal medical care, a decision influenced by their Christian beliefs. The couple, which does not have a Washington state marriage license but says they took their vows in the eyes of God, had a 10-month old son when Carey gave birth to twins. Soon after, however, paramedics showed up when someone reported the birth. According to Carey and Rengo, the paramedics suggested taking the newborns to the hospital for a checkup, but they refused, worrying about the twins’ health with fragile immune systems among patients fighting disease. The next day, CPS showed up for the first of several visits. Officers noticed the 10-month-old’s eczema, the couple says, which they treated with natural remedies like probiotics and coconut oil. They say CPS pushed them to switch to steroid creams, which the couple refused as well. Soon after, CPS took all three children.

Todd Starnes reported on CNN.com that the Disney Channel is blocking messages that contain the word God. A North Carolina ten-year-old responded to an online Disney request for messages of thankfulness on Thanksgiving. She entered that she was thankful for “God, my family, my church and my friends.” Her entry was blocked and Disney responded, “Please be nice!” When she removed the word God, it was posted. The family contacted Starnes whose entry with the word God was also blocked. He contacted Disney and was told they would look into the problem.

  • Intolerance of God and Christianity has become pervasive in our increasingly secular socialistic society

Middle East

Another suspected “lone wolf” terror attack occurred in the West Bank on Wednesday evening, as a 16 year old Palestinian teenager walked into a grocery store in the community of Mishor Adumim, near Jerusalem, and stabbed two Israelis before being shot in the leg by an off-duty security guard from the Prime Minister’s Office. The two victims were treated for moderate wounds while the attacker was taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in the capital in stable condition.

Islamic State

ISIS has reportedly been converting churches into prisons in Mosul, an Iraqi city that was once largely a Christian community. According to reports, detainees have been sent to the ancient Chaldean church of the Immaculate Conception. ISIS took control of Mosul in June, forcing Christians in the city to convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed for their faith. About 60,000 Christians lived in the city before 2003.

Four young Christians were recently killed by ISIS after the militants demanded that they convert to Islam. Canon Andrew White, the so-called Vicar of Baghdad said, “Islamic State turned up and said to the children, you say the words that you will follow Mohammed. The children, all under 15, four of them, said no, we love Yesua (Jesus), we have always loved Yesua, we have always followed Yesua, Yesua has always been with us. They said, ‘Say the words.’ They said, ‘No, we can’t.’ They chopped all their heads off.”

The Pentagon says that Iran has launched airstrikes against Islamic State militants in eastern Iraq. Rear Adm. John Kirby says the U.S. believes this may be the first time Tehran has launched manned aircraft from inside Iran to strike targets in Iraq. Iranian military leaders have acknowledged that dozens of their forces have been in Iraq fighting alongside Kurdish troops battling extremists.

Iran

For at least two years, Iranian hackers have penetrated the computer networks of government agencies and major energy, transportation and infrastructure companies in the United States and 15 other countries, a security-services firm reports. The intruders have stolen “highly sensitive materials” from at least 50 firms worldwide, including 10 U.S. companies, according to Cylance. Targets have included “military, oil and gas, energy and utilities, transportation, hospitals, telecommunications, technology, education, aerospace, defense contractors, chemical, companies, and governments. The security firm warns that “the probability of an attack that could impact the physical world at a national or global level is rapidly increasing.”

Iraq

In a far-reaching deal with the potential to unite Iraq in the face of a Sunni insurgency, the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi agreed on Tuesday to a long-term pact with the autonomous Kurdish region over how to divide the country’s oil wealth and cooperate on fighting the extremists of the Islamic State. The deal unites Baghdad and Erbil, the Kurdish capital in the north, over the issue of oil revenues and budget payments, and is likely to halt a drive — at least in the short term — by the Kurds for an independent state. Iraq’s central government and its Kurdish minority had long been at an impasse over how to share oil revenue, an issue that had threatened to tear the country apart. “Now the priority really is to confront ISIS,” Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s finance minister, said in an interview on Tuesday

Syria

More than 1.7 million Syrian refugees will face a food shortage due to a “funding crisis,” the United Nations World Food Program said Monday. The WFP had to suspend its program providing food vouchers, which refugees use in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt, the agency said. The program needs $64 million “immediately,” it said, adding that the repercussions of suspending the vouchers “will be disastrous.”

United Arab Emirate

An American school teacher was fatally stabbed in a public restroom at a shopping mall in Abu Dhabi by a suspect wearing a black robe and full-face veil, police said. The stabbing happened on Reem Island in the United Arab emirate on Monday afternoon. The woman’s attacker was reported to be wearing the traditional cloak and face cover worn by many women throughout the Arab Gulf region, and black gloves.

Kenya

Al-Shabaab militants raided a quarry in Kenya, separating non-Muslim workers from their Muslim counterparts and executing them. At least 36 bodies were found Tuesday dumped in the quarry in the village of Kormey, near the Somali border, the Kenyan Red Cross said. Al-Shabaab said the attack was retaliation for mosque raids that Kenyan security forces carried out last month to weed out extremists. Kormey is about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the border city of Mandera, in an area where the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militants are known to operate. Last month, the Islamist militants ambushed a bus in Kenya and sprayed bullets on those who failed to recite Quran verses, killing at least 28 people.

Ukraine

International monitors in eastern Ukraine say government troops and Russian-backed separatist forces in the Luhansk region have agreed on a new cease-fire. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement late Monday that hostilities will cease Friday along the line of contact between the warring sides. The OSCE said it was agreed at negotiations that took place Saturday that heavy weapons will start being withdrawn from the front at the weekend. An earlier cease-fire had been signed in September, but hundreds have been killed since then amid daily violations of that truce.

Hong Kong

Three co-founders of a civil disobedience campaign were turned away by police in Hong Kong on Wednesday after they tried to surrender in an effort to end increasingly violent street demonstrations. The SCMP said the three leaders arrived with a signed letter saying they had taken part in a rally from Sept. 28 and might have broken laws under the Public Order Ordinance. In a post on the movement’s Twitter page Wednesday, Tai said: “We’ve been allowed to leave with no restrictions, not arrested… We may still be arrested later and charged with more serious offences,” Tai added.

Weather

The drought-parched state of California definitely needed a soaking rain event, but all this precipitation has also had negative consequences. Mudslides, rockslides and sinkholes have all been reported following days of rainfall across the state, leaving some streets flooded and residents in wildfire-scarred areas reaching for sandbags. Rain caused problems along the Pacific Coast Highway as early as Sunday, where rockslides were reported, but the Bay Area began seeing the heaviest precipitation on Tuesday. Street flooding was reported Tuesday morning in Mill Valley as vehicles tried to drive through the floodwaters. Nearly six inches of rain had fallen in parts of Monterey County by midday Wednesday. Flooded streets were also observed in parts of San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Clara counties Tuesday morning.

Rain is making an absolute mess in San Francisco. Street flooding has been reported. Public works says manhole covers are floating off sewers. Now a gaping sinkhole has formed in the city’s Richmond district. The large hole opened Wednesday morning at 6th and Lake, closing the intersection and causing an old water main to give way. The Associated Press reports the hole is at least 10-feet-wide and 8-feet-deep. Through Wednesday afternoon, San Francisco International Airport had reported 3.71 inches of rain since Sunday, which was more than the hub recorded in all of 2013. The airport received just 3.38 inches of rain last year

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