Signs of the Times (1/6/15)

Supreme Court to Tackle Gay Marriage this Week

Gay couples began marrying in Miami on Monday, kicking off a pivotal week when the Supreme Court will have a chance to consider whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry or whether states may limit marriage to a man and a woman. With the addition of Florida, 36 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriages. On Friday, Supreme Court justices will meet in private to consider whether to act on cases that could provide a nationwide answer on whether same-sex marriages must be allowed. The justices will be considering petitions from five states where lower-court judges, bucking a nationwide trend, upheld laws banning same-sex marriage and barring the recognition of such unions performed in states where they are legal. On the same day, a federal appeals court will consider bans in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

  • The growing acceptance of same-sex marriage is one of the key indicators that end-time morality is sinking just as prophesied in 2Timothy 3:1-5: But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

Diverse Freshman Class Joins Congress

After a Republican wave election that boosted the party’s House majority to historic levels and handed them control of the Senate, dozens of new lawmakers are arriving in Washington Tuesday for the 114th Congress — including several fresh political faces promising to make waves. A total of 71 new members, of both parties, arrive in Washington this week. Thirteen new senators, all but one of them Republican, were sworn in as the GOP takes a 54-seat majority in the chamber. As the new Congress prepares to tackle weighty issues ranging from immigration to the budget to the Keystone pipeline, these freshmen stand to have a big impact on the legislative debate and direction of their respective parties. The need to boost good-paying, full-time jobs has emerged again as a goal for congressional Democrats and Republicans, with leaders from both parties and chambers putting the economy at the top of their agendas.

  • It remains to be seen if Congress can change significantly from their inept ineffective ways. It all depends on whether the new blood puts substance over politics-as-usual.

Pew: Christians Make Up 92 Percent of New Congress

The Pew Research Center reports that 92 percent of the 114th Congress is made up of Christians, a figure dominated by Protestants at 57 percent. Thirty-one percent of those Christians are Catholic. Those numbers are higher than the American average; 49 percent of American adults are Protestant, according to Pew, while 22 percent are Catholic. Twenty percent of Americans say they are not affiliated with any religion, while that number falls to just 0.2 percent in Congress. Five percent of Congress is Jewish, higher than the nationwide figure of 2 percent. Seven members are ordained ministers.

  • These figures are deceptive. Many are ‘nominal’ Christians in name only not ‘born-again’ Christians. It is still politically expedient to claim to be a Christian, but that is rapidly changing. However, many of the new members of Congress are indeed strong Christians who will need a lot of prayer to help them turn the ship of state that is floundering in a sea of immorality and corruption.

ObamaCare’s Latest Gift: More Substitute Teachers

Schools and other businesses are required to offer health insurance to employees who work 30 hours or more per week. If they don’t offer health insurance, they could be fined $2,000 per employee. Therefore, Twila Brase of Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom says some schools are hiring substitute teachers because they can’t afford the cost of offering health insurance. “So their focus is being moved away from teaching to finding less expensive workers, substitute teachers,” says Brase, “and then tracking the hours so that they make sure that not one of those substitutes violates [the 30-hour restriction.] Essentially what ObamaCare is doing is it’s forcing schools to choose between offering health insurance to their employees or offering quality education to their children.”

Federal Judge Bars Arizona’s Workplace Raids

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Monday blocking Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery from enforcing two state laws that make it a felony for undocumented immigrants to use stolen identities to obtain work. The injunction essentially prevents Arpaio from continuing to conduct his controversial worksite raids to arrest undocumented workers and Montgomery from prosecuting them. Since 2008, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has conducted more than 80 worksite raids, which have resulted in the arrests of more than 700 undocumented workers. The workers typically agreed to plead guilty to felony charges after being held behind bars for weeks under another state law that made undocumented immigrants charged with serious crimes ineligible to be released on bond. That law also has been thrown out in federal court.

  • Not only is illegality being allowed it’s also becoming a protected class

Record Number of Meth Seizures at US-Mexico Border

Seizures of methamphetamine at the U.S.-Mexico border surged to a new high in fiscal year 2014, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection numbers published Sunday. The bureau’s San Diego field office seized 14,732 pounds of the drug, commonly known as meth, as of Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2014. That number accounted for nearly two-thirds of all the meth seized at all ports of entry nationwide during that same period. Almost all of the meth consumed in the U.S. was once manufactured domestically, with San Diego as a known production hub. But a crackdown in the U.S. on the precursor chemicals used to make the synthetic drug has pushed its manufacture south of the border, where drug cartels now find it cheaper and easier to produce and smuggle over the border than cocaine from South America.

Doctors Face Big Cuts in Medicaid Pay

Many states expanded the Medicaid insurance program for the poor under the Affordable Care Act with temporary raises for doctors. But the law’s two-year pay raise for primary care doctors who see Medicaid patients expired on January 1st, resulting in fee reductions of 43% on average across the country, according to the non-partisan Urban Institute. Experts are afraid that doctors will respond by not taking on new Medicaid patients, making it harder for millions of enrollees to find doctors. The pay raise was intended to entice more physicians to treat patients as the program expanded in many states. In 2014, Medicaid enrollment grew by almost 10 million and now covers more than 68 million people nationwide.

Flu Update

The flu continues to expand its reach across the nation officially reaching epidemic levels. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 43 states are having widespread flu activity. That’s up from 36 states last week. This week, six more children have died after having the flu, the CDC said. That brings the total number of pediatric deaths to 21 so far for this flu season. Experts had anticipated a severe flu season this year because of a mismatch of strains in the flu vaccine. That’s because one of the flu viruses mutated, and it was the H3N2 strain that has accounted for 95% of flu cases so far this year. H3N2 seasons are more severe, the CDC said.

Ebola Update

A nurse who is being treated for Ebola in a London hospital after contracting the disease while volunteering in Sierra Leone is now in critical condition, the hospital said Saturday. Pauline Cafferkey, 39, of Glasgow is the first person to have been diagnosed with the virus on UK soil. Cafferkey is a public health nurse who was part of a 30-strong team of medical volunteers deployed to Sierra Leone by the UK government last month in a joint endeavor with the charity Save the Children.

An American health care provider working in Sierra Leone who had a “high-risk exposure” to Ebola will arrive at Nebraska Medicine on Sunday. “This patient has been exposed to the virus but is not ill and is not contagious,” said Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the biocontainment unit at the Omaha medical center. “However, we will be taking all appropriate precautions.”

Economic News

Crude oil prices plunged again Monday, sending the Dow Jones Industrial average falling 331 points.. Benchmark West Texas Intermediate plunged 5.3% to $49.88 a barrel in intraday trading — the first drop below $50 since April 2009, before settling at $50.04. But crude’s sell-off is expected to extend a record-breaking decline in daily gasoline prices and push 2015 pump prices to their lowest yearly average since 2009. Price tracker GasBuddy.com forecasts 2015 gas prices to average $2.64 a gallon. That’s 70 cents below 2014’s $3.34 average and nearly $1 a gallon below 2012’s all-time record of $3.60. Plummeting prices will save U.S. motorists about $97 billion overall this year, or about $750 per household.

Mobile devices contributed to a surge in shopping in November and December. Mobile traffic accounted for 45% of all online traffic from Nov. 1-Dec. 31, up more than 25% from a year ago, according to IBM’s digital analytics benchmark. While far more people completed purchases on desktops – accounting for 77.3% of all online sales – mobile accounted for 22.6% of online sales, a 27% increase from last year, IBM data show.

In Europe, the New Year is starting where the old year left off — the euro is on the skids. The currency briefly hit its lowest level against the U.S. dollar in nine years Monday, before steadying to trade around $1.19. That leaves the euro down 20 cents, or about 14%, since May 2014. Much of the recent decline in the euro has been about the strength of the greenback. During the second half of 2014, the U.S. dollar made significant gains against all other major global currencies, such as the British pound, Swiss franc and Japanese yen due to its improving economy and a simultaneous slowdown across the globe.

Persecution Watch

As if life wasn’t hard enough being a Dalit in India — the lowest rung in the nation’s caste system — the government just made it tougher by forcing believers to convert back to Hinduism if they want to receive government benefits. Often referred to as the “Untouchables,” Dalits in India are the most severely oppressed group of Indians, living in extreme poverty. Life is even more unbearable for the 15 million in this class who profess to be Christians, as now they are now also the target of religious discrimination and persecution.

Middle East

After losing a bid last week at the UN Security Council to force Israel to retreat from the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority followed through on a threat to join the International Criminal Court and pursue charges of war crimes against Israeli officials. Within days, a graphic appeared on the home page of the PA showing a picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a hanging noose with the word “soon” in Hebrew and Arabic and an emblem from the ICC. However, the Israeli NGO Shurat Hadin announced on Sunday that it is preparing several lawsuits against PA and Hamas officials for their involvement in terrorist attacks against Israelis and are prepared to present their claims at the ICC in the near future, now that the PA, which is in a unity government with Hamas, is a signatory.

International recognition by 135 countries and counting is what Palestinians are betting could eventually force changes on the ground. “Those states that have recognized the State of Palestine, that’s not an insignificant number, they’ve reached a kind of critical mark,” said Mark Ellis, director of the London-based International Bar Association. Israel has promised painful retaliation, saying harsher measures would follow their freezing the transfer of Palestinian tax revenue, which will prevent thousands from collecting government paychecks this week. The Palestinians’ strategy has also upset Washington, which is expected to cut $400 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority if the International Criminal Court bid is not reversed.

  • The world is turning against Israel just as prophesied in the Bible as a key end-time indicator

Islamic State

A suicide blast targeting Iraqi security forces and subsequent clashes with Islamic State extremists on Tuesday killed at least 23 troops and pro-government Sunni fighters and wounded another 28 in the country’s embattled western province of Anbar, officials said. The day’s heavy toll for the Iraqi forces came as they struggle in battles against the Islamic State group and try to claw back territory lost to the extremists during the militants’ blitz last year. A suicide bomber first struck a gathering of pro-government Sunni fighters near the town of al-Baghdadi, about 110 miles northwest of Baghdad. Soon after, IS militants attacked nearby army and police positions, setting off hours-long clashes.

Libya

Greek authorities say an unidentified warplane has bombed a Greek-owned tanker ship in the eastern Libyan port of Darna, killing two crew members and injuring two more. Darna is a base for Islamic extremists, who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. Widespread militia violence has plunged Libya into chaos less than four years after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Pakistan

Pakistani airstrikes killed 31 militants and a suspected U.S. drone strike killed another seven, officials said Sunday, as local troops pressed a six-month offensive in tribal regions along the Afghan border that have long been insurgent havens. The airstrikes late Saturday in the Tirrah valley of the Khyber region destroyed four militant hideouts and a suicide bomber training center. Several would-be suicide bombers were among the dead, officials claimed.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s president has suggested that the U.S. “re-examine” its plan to withdraw all of the American-led coalition troops from the country by the end of 2016. The U.S. and its NATO allies marked the formal end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan last week. On Thursday, 13,500 soldiers of the International Security Assistance Force, almost 11,000 of them American, transitioned to a supporting role for Afghanistan’s military. The handover of primary responsibility for battling the Taliban represents the ultimate test for the 350,000 strong Afghan army. Critics have long questioned the local troops’ morale, discipline, and competence in the face of Taliban attacks. According to a United Nations report, 2014 was the deadliest year on record for non-combatants in Afghanistan, with at least 3,188 civilians killed in the intensifying war. By comparison, at least 4,600 members of the Afghan security forces were killed by fighting last year.

Nigeria

The Islamist militant group Boko Haram kidnapped 40 boys and young men — ages 10 to 23 — from a village in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno on Saturday. The terrorists arrived in the village of Malari carrying assault rifles and then preached to them about the group’s extremist ideology before forcibly taking 40 hostages. Boko Haram has been blamed for numerous attacks, from assassinations of officials to bombings of crowded markets, in recent years as part of its quest to impose a strict version of Sharia law across Nigeria.

Hundreds of Islamist militants have seized a multinational military base in northeastern Nigeria. “Boko Haram overwhelmed the Multinational Joint Task Force and dislodged them from their base outside Baga after hours-long fighting,” said to a government official. “They came in huge numbers heavily armed and subdued the multinational troops consisting (of) soldiers from Nigeria, Niger and Chad,” The Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) was formed in 1998 to combat light arms proliferation and human trafficking. More recently, it has been involved in the fight against Boko Haram.

Earthquakes

A 4.9 magnitude earthquake in a remote Idaho county triggered rock slides that blocked some road lanes Saturday but did not cause any major damage or injuries. Hours later around midnight, quakes of magnitude 4.0 and 3.6 struck in the same area, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The quakes followed a 3.7-magnitude temblor that also occurred near the Custer County area on Dec. 22 and numerous smaller recent quakes, according to the USGS website.

A pair of earthquakes hit about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles Saturday. The first, a weak 3.0-magnitude quake was followed by a stronger 4.2-magnitude quake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The tremors hit 16 miles northwest of Santa Clarita, Calif. The first struck just before 7 p.m. PT with a depth of 1.2 miles, according to the USGS. The second hit at 7:18 PT, with a depth of 5.5 miles. The earthquakes were felt across Los Angeles and Ventura counties. No damage or injuries have been reported.

Wildfires

Hundreds of firefighters received a helping hand by cooler conditions as they battled to contain a massive wildfire in southern Australia. The wildfire forced thousands from their homes. The wildfire destroyed a dozen homes in the Adelaide Hills, and another 20 were feared lost. 22 people sustained non-serious injuries. A large number of cats and dogs were killed when a kennel was destroyed in the blaze.

Weather

The first weekend of 2015 brought tornadoes in the South with frigid temperatures and snow up north. Central Mississippi was cleaning up Sunday after severe weather raked the state Saturday. The storm system also dropped massive amounts of rain across the Southeast. Flash flood warnings are in place for five counties in northwest Georgia. While the South is soggy, brutal cold is settling across the nation’s northern areas and sinking deep into its midsection.

Sunday’s highs were 2 degrees Fahrenheit in Omaha, Nebraska, -1 in Minneapolis and -7 in Fargo, North Dakota. Wind chills are in the negative double digits across the northern Plains. In Chicago, the high temperature Wednesday will be 1 degree Fahrenheit. And the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa will endure wind chills as low as 40 degrees below zero over the next two days. And the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa will endure wind chills as low as 40 degrees below zero over the next two days.

The Alberta clipper-like system that has already dumped snow in parts of the upper Plains and Midwest was expected to leave as much as 5 to 7 inches in the Chicago area early Tuesday. As the storm moves east across the Ohio Valley and Northeast, most areas will see accumulation of between 2 to 5 inches. The system is likely to weaken as it nears the East Coast, but a couple inches are possible Tuesday in Mid-Atlantic States, according to the Weather Service.

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