Signs of the Times (12/18/14)

Atheists Try to Prevent Oahu Churches from Renting at Public Schools

A trial court is being asked to dismiss the alleged charges filed by two atheists against two Oahu churches, which have been renting public schools for their services. Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley says these atheists are trying to recover millions of dollars from One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Oahu that they never owed because they’ve been paying the agreed-upon amount to the schools all along. He says it’s critical that this case be dismissed because it could set a dangerous precedent.

13 “Gay” Bakeries Deny Christian’s Request for Pro-Traditional Marriage Cake

Christian bakeries that refuse to make pro-homosexual marriage cakes are persecuted throughout America. They get sued, they get fined, they get death threats, and they lose their businesses. So Shoebat.com called some 13 prominent bakers who are either gay or pro-gay and requested that they make a pro-traditional marriage cake with the words “Gay marriage is wrong” placed on the cake. Each one denied them service, and even used deviant insults and obscenities against them. Shoebat.com recorded all of this in a video that shows how militant and intolerant the homosexual agenda is.

Federal judge: Obama Immigration Actions Unconstitutional

A federal judge has found parts of President Obama’s immigration executive actions unconstitutional, in an opinion delivered as part of a separate immigration case not directly tied to the policy changes. The opinion filed Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Schwab, in Pennsylvania, marks the first court opinion to tackle Obama’s immigration announcement. He said Obama’s immigration actions are invalid and effectively count as “legislation” from the Executive Branch. “President Obama’s unilateral legislative action violates the separation of powers provided for in the United States Constitution… and therefore, is unconstitutional,” the judge wrote. It is unclear what impact, if any, the opinion might have other than to rally critics and fuel momentum behind other lawsuits.

Supreme Court: Traffic Stop, Search OK

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that police officers may use evidence seized during a traffic stop even if the reason the officers pulled the car over was based on a misunderstanding of the state’s law. In the 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a North Carolina police officer who had stopped a car with a broken brake light – and then found cocaine in the car- even though driving with a faulty brake light isn’t against the law in the state. A state appeals court said the stop was impermissible because a quirky state law only requires a car to have one functioning brake light. But the state’s highest court reversed, finding that the officer’s mistaken reading of the law was reasonable. The Supreme Court agreed, finding that the Fourth Amendment requires police to act reasonably, but not perfectly.

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Arizona Abortion Case

The battle over abortion-inducing medications has divided federal Circuit Courts in recent years. But the U.S. Supreme Court showed Monday that it’s still not ready to weigh in on the matter, declining to hear arguments in a challenge to a controversial Arizona law. The decision keeps the 2012 Arizona law, which placed restrictions on some abortion-inducing drugs and was put on hold by a Circuit Court ruling from taking effect. Planned Parenthood Arizona and Tucson Women’s Center filed the federal lawsuit alleging that the law wasn’t intended to protect women’s health, as its supporters claimed, but rather to keep them from accessing legal abortions, particularly early in pregnancy. Nearly half of all abortions in Arizona are performed using medications.

Obama Issues ‘Executive Orders by Another Name’

President Obama has issued a form of executive action known as the presidential memorandum more often than any other president in history — using it to take unilateral action even as he has signed fewer executive orders. When these two forms of directives are taken together, Obama is on track to take more high-level executive actions than any president since Harry Truman battled the “Do Nothing Congress” almost seven decades ago, according to a USA TODAY review of presidential documents. He’s used presidential memoranda to make policy on gun control, immigration and labor regulations. Tuesday, he used a memorandum to declare Bristol Bay, Alaska, off-limits to oil and gas exploration. Like executive orders, presidential memoranda don’t require action by Congress. They have the same force of law as executive orders and often have consequences just as far-reaching. And some of the most significant actions of the Obama presidency have come not by executive order but by presidential memoranda.

Executions Continue to Decline in U.S.

Driven in part by continuing legal disputes related to lethal injection drugs and state moratoriums on the death penalty, the 35 people executed in the U.S. marks the fewest in two decades, according to a year-end report by the Death Penalty Information Center. The center, which opposes capital punishment, also found that the 72 death sentences issued in 2014 represents the fewest in 40 years. “What’s going on here is that we are seeing capital punishment slipping into irrelevance as a criminal justice tool,” said Richard Dieter, the center’s executive director. “The country is re-thinking this as an effective remedy.”

Sony Hackers ‘Have Crossed the Line’

Events surrounding the hack attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment began to cascade late Tuesday after hackers posted a message threatening a “9/11” style attack on theaters that screened the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy The Interview. A note from the Guardians of Peace group posted online Tuesday morning warnedpotential movie-goers, “We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)” The New York premiere of the comedy, which depicts an assassination attempt against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was cancelled Tuesday night, a spokesman for LandmarkSunshine cinemas said. The West coast premiere, in Los Angeles, took place without incident on Dec. 11. One major movie theater chain has decided not to show Sony’s “The Interview,” and other theater owners may follow on Wednesday. Hours after an announcement Thursday that U.S. authorities determined North Korea was behind the recent cyber-attack on Sony Pictures, the entertainment company announced it was pulling the release of the film The Interview.

Breach insurance: Not Just for Large Companies

A ruling last week by a federal judge that Target is on the hook for financial losses sustained by banks when it was hacked earlier this year is making companies of all sizes look at breach insurance with a new eye. Cyberbreach insurance, which covers losses and costs due to hacker attacks on a company’s computer system, is a relatively new type of policy. It was first introduced in the 1990s, mostly to cover computer failures at banks and Fortune 500 companies. In the 2000s it began to be applied to companies whose information had been hacked. Today, as all types of companies move increasing amounts of their business online, it’s something small- to medium-sized companies are beginning to take seriously. About 33% of small- to mid-sized companies now have a cyberliability policy. In 2013 the number was just 16%. Among companies hit by a cyberbreach, 76% say it’s equal to or greater than a natural disaster or fire in terms of disruption.

New York to Ban Fracking

The Cuomo administration announced Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State, ending years of uncertainty by concluding that the controversial method of extracting oil from deep underground could contaminate the state’s air and water and pose inestimable public-health risks. “I cannot support high volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” said Howard Zucker, the acting commissioner of health. The decision came amid increased calls by environmentalists to ban fracking, which uses water and chemicals to release natural gas trapped in deeply buried shale deposits.

Economic News

Plunging prices at the gas pump pulled down U.S. consumer prices by the largest amount in six years last month, the Labor Department said Wednesday. The consumer price index fell 0.3% as gasoline prices fell lower for the fifth straight month. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, the core inflation rate rose 0.1% from October. Prices have increased 1.3% over the last 12 months. Labor’s energy price index is down 4.8% over the past 12 months and the gasoline and fuel oil prices are both down more than 10%.

The Federal Reserve signaled Wednesday that it could raise near-zero short-term interest rates within months amid an accelerating economy despite the low inflation. But it hedged its intentions, saying any decision on raising rates would depend on the economy’s future progress. Wall Street responded with a 288 point rise in the Dow Jones Industrial average.

One of the biggest losers from the roughly $50 a barrel drop in oil prices in the last six months is the U.S. Energy Department itself. The Energy Department owns nearly 700 million barrels of oil it has stored underground in locations around the country, making up what is known as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That huge supply of oil held by the government has lost about $35 billion in value since June. The government says it paid an average of about $30 a barrel for the oil it holds, so the oil is still worth more than it cost.

Oil rich nations in the Middle East are talking tough when it comes to plunging oil. They claim they can hold out even if crude oil falls as low as $40. But investors in their stock markets aren’t nearly as confident. The main stock indexes of Qatar, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia are taking a beating as investors fear that low oil prices are here to stay and they will spill over into other parts of the Gulf economies. The Dubai Financial Market Index has tanked 22% already in December. In the Gulf economies, it’s all about oil. As oil revenue sputters, investors are worried that government spending will slow and take other industries with it.

Russia’s economy is crashing and its currency appears to be in free fall. The ruble plunged by about 12% Monday, meaning it’s lost nearly 50% against the dollar this year. A double-whammy of collapsing oil prices and Western sanctions is driving up inflation. Cash is flooding out of the country and the risk that some Russian companies may default is increasing. Russia’s central bank has raised interest rates five times this year, and spent nearly $90 billion trying to defend the ruble and prevent prices spiraling out of control.

Persecution Watch

A pastor and group of church members were attacked by Hindu extremists Saturday evening (Dec. 13) for singing Christmas carols in the Indian City of Hyderabad. The Christian Post reports that the Hindu extremists accused the pastor and 15 church members of trying to convert others to Christianity and violently attacked the group. Pastor Bhim Nayak and four others were injured in the attack; Nayak remains in critical condition after being beaten unconscious. John Dayal of the Indian government’s National Integration Council said that Hindu extremists are becoming increasingly influential in India, which threatens safety of Christians. “There has been a sharp rise in hate campaigns against Christians by political organizations. This threat of purging Christians from villages extends from Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to now Uttar Pradesh, and to the borders of the national capital of New Delhi,” Dayal said.

Three Iranian Christian leaders have had their convictions overturned after an appeals hearing for the men. Pastor Matthias Haghnejad and Deacon Silas Rabbani have been declared free from their six-year sentences. Pastor Benhram Irani must still serve two more years for previous convictions. Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “While we welcome this news, we remain concerned at the continued detention of Amin Khaki and long-term prisoners like Behnam Irani and Farshi Fathi – all of whom who have been unjustly detained.” Jason DeMars, president of Present Truth Ministries, said: “We are very thankful for the prayers and the action the Christians have taken to speak out on their behalf and to intercede for them before the Lord.”

Islamic State

Iraq’s Ministry of Human Rights has reported that 150 women were killed by ISIS militants after refusing to marry terrorists. “At least 150 females, including pregnant women, were executed in Fallujah by a militant named Abu Anas Al-Libi after they refused to accept jihad marriage. Many families were also forced to migrate from the province’s northern town of Al-Wafa after hundreds of residents received death threats.” According to the group, the women were buried in mass graves.

Four men have reportedly been beheaded by ISIS’ “Islamic Police” after allegedly committing blasphemy or “insulting almighty Allah.” The men were killed near the city of Homs in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the beheadings. The human rights group also reported the murder of a man who was beheaded by the terrorist group and the stoning of a man and women for alleged adultery. Both incidents reportedly occurred in northern Syria. According to the Observatory, ISIS has killed 1,432 Syrians not in combat since the end of June.

Pakistan

Taliban gunmen stormed a school in Pakistan on Tuesday, killing at least 145 people, mostly children. Another 122 people were wounded. Hospital officials earlier said at least one of the fatalities was a teacher, and one security official was also among the dead. The attack began in the early morning, with the gunmen entering the school — a military-run facility in the northwestern city of Peshawar with students in grades 1-10 and shooting at random. Army commandos quickly arrived at the scene and exchanged fire with the gunmen. Taliban spokesman Mohammed Khurasani claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to media, saying that six suicide bombers carried out the attack in revenge for the killings of Taliban members at the hands of Pakistani authorities. The army said all six militants were killed. As Pakistan started three days of national mourning Wednesday, the Taliban said they targeted a school that mostly admits soldiers’ children because the students aspired to follow in their fathers’ footsteps and target militants. In an email, the terror group warned Muslims to avoid places with military ties.

  • Islam, the ‘peaceful’ religion that enslaves women and murders children.

Yemen

Two car bombs killed at least 31 people, including 20 children, in central Yemen’s Radaa city when suspected al Qaeda fighters targeted Houthi militants Tuesday. One car bomb struck a Houthi gathering point, but the other did not make it to the target and instead blew up next to a bus that was carrying children home from school. All the murdered children were under the age of 12. Eleven Houthi fighters were also killed. At least a dozen others were injured, among them six in critical condition. Radaa was an al Qaeda stronghold that fell to Houthi fighters after clashes in October that killed hundreds from both sides. Houthis follow the Zaidi sect of Islam and are considered Shiite Muslims by al Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim terrorist network.

  • Sunnis killing Shiites is akin to Methodists murdering Baptists, absolutely insane

Nigeria

Boko Haram Islamic insurgents kidnapped at least 185 women and children, and killed 32 people in a raid in northeastern Nigeria this week Gunmen in pickup trucks attacked the village of Gumsuri, just north of Chibok, on Sunday, shooting down men before herding women and children together. They gathered the women and children and took them away in trucks after burning most of the village with petrol bombs. News of the attack took four days to emerge because of a lack of communication. Telecommunications towers in the region had been disabled in previous attacks. Boko Haram has terrorized northern Nigeria regularly since 2009, attacking police, schools, churches and civilians, and bombing government buildings. The extremist group has targeted mainstream Islam, saying that it does not represent the interests of Nigeria’s 80 million Muslims and that it perverts Islam.

Iran

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned U.S. businesses to be on the alert for a sophisticated Iranian hacking operation whose targets include defense contractors, energy firms and educational institutions, according to a confidential agency document. The operation is the same as one flagged last week by cyber security firm Cylance Inc as targeting critical infrastructure organizations worldwide, cyber security experts said. Cylance has said it uncovered more than 50 victims from what it dubbed Operation Cleaver, in 16 countries, including the United States. ‘It underscores Iran’s determination and fixation on large-scale compromise of critical infrastructure,’ Cylance Chief Executive Stuart McClure said. The FBI’s technical document said the hackers typically launch their attacks from two IP addresses that are in Iran. Cyber security professionals who investigate cyber-attacks said that they are seeing evidence that Iran’s investment in cyber terrorism is paying off. ‘They are good and have a lot of talent in the country,’ said Dave Kennedy, CEO of TrustedSEC LLC. ‘They are definitely a serious threat, no question.'”

Cuba

President Obama announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy with Cuba on Wednesday, moving to normalize relations with the island nation and tear down the last remaining pillar of the Cold War. Under the new measures, the United States plans to reopen its embassy in Havana and significantly ease restrictions on travel and commerce within the next several weeks and months, Obama said. Speaking from the White House, he declared that a half-century of isolation of the Communist country “has not worked.” The history-shaping overtures come after more than 18 months of secret negotiations with the Cuban government of President Raul Castro. The final touches appeared to be arrangements for a series of simultaneous prisoner releases. However, the historic changes were met with heavy bipartisan resistance on Capitol Hill, raising questions of whether Congress will consider easing a more than 50-year trade embargo against the communist state.

American Alan Gross has been released from Cuba after five years in prison and is on his way back to the United States. “Mr. Gross was released on humanitarian grounds by the Cuban government at the request of the United States,” a U.S. official said. The release follows years of desperate appeals by Gross and his family. Gross was arrested in 2009 while working to set up Internet networks for the island’s Jewish community on a contract with the U.S. government’s Agency for International Development. Washington argues that his activities were humanitarian, and posed no threat to Cuba. However, some aspects of his work allegedly violated Cuban law, and Gross’ documents show he tried to avoid detection. Havana considers such USAID programs an affront to its sovereignty, and Gross was convicted under a statute governing crimes against the state.

Weather

The ongoing December warm neared its peak Monday after days of record-shattering high temperatures in the Northwest and Midwest. Meanwhile, in an ironic twist, parts of Florida were under frost advisories for the fifth morning in a row Monday. This December thaw kicked into high gear last week as Seattle turned warmer than Orlando and set its all-time December record high last Wednesday. Countless records have been set in the days since, and the unusually warm December weather continued over a sizable swath of the U.S. into Tuesday.

As drought-plagued California saw needed rainfall Tuesday night, some problems accompanied the wet weather yet again. The issues started in the Bay Area, where rain created a chaotic evening commute Tuesday. Before long, rain was also falling in southern California, and parts of Los Angeles experienced flooding and the ever-present fear that too much rain could cause one of the many burn scars to give way, resulting in a mudslide. South of L.A., the town of Torrance reported major flooding on some roadways, forcing police to urge drivers to stay away from the area. A torrent of mud and rocks from a recently burned hillside covered part of state Route 91 in Orange County before dawn Thursday. Cars and trucks were stuck for about 90 minutes, and the eastbound lanes were shut for several hours.

NASA scientists say it will take 11 trillion gallons of water to replenish two of California’s drought-starved river basins and help reverse the state’s drought. Combined, the two basins account for about 51 percent of California’s water supply. Additionally, the satellite analysis found that the two basins lost four trillion gallons of water a year since 2011, most of which came from groundwater sources. The measurements mark the first time scientists have ever been able to determine exactly how much water is needed to replenish an area stricken by drought. Unfortunately, while a series of storms have dumped substantial rain and snow on California, the state still needs a substantial amount of precipitation over a long period of time to reverse a drought three years in the making.

A massive storm system dropped several feet of snow on parts of Japan this week, leading to travel problems and at least five deaths. As of late Thursday night, local time, Tsunan, Japan reported a snow depth of 81.5 inches. Seven other locations in western Honshu reported at least 59 inches of snow depth. The storm also trapped three men on Mount Shiraga on the island of Shikoku in western Japan. Some 550 flights have been canceled Wednesday and Thursday. The current sea-effect snow event should wind down Friday.

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