Signs of the Times (1/26/15)

Alabama Judge Strikes Down Ban on Gay Marriage

A U.S. district judge struck down Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage Friday after two Mobile women sued the state for failing to recognize the couple’s union. Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand were married legally in California and have been together for 15 years. But the issue of their rights as a couple came about after Searcy’s petition to adopt McKeand’s 9-year-old son was denied. Alabama’s adoption code gives a person a right to adopt a spouse’s child. But because Alabama doesn’t recognize their marriage, Searcy could not qualify for adoption. The state filed a motion Friday seeking to put a hold on the judge’s decision pending a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, effectively trying to keep couples from applying for marriage licenses in the meantime. If the ruling is upheld, Alabama would be the 37th state to authorize same-sex marriage.

Davos Elites: We Are Not the Bad Guys

The rich have a message for the 99%: Don’t hate us, we are good for you. The World Economic Forum, attended by business and political leaders, has the ambitious goal of “improving the state of the world.” Posters with the slogan hang all over the conference venue in Davos, Switzerland. And some of the rich gathered in the exclusive Swiss ski resort are convinced they are doing their bit already — just by being wealthy. The audience at a celebrity-loaded debate Friday on jobs and income inequality were asked whether the rich take more from the world than they contribute. Perhaps not surprisingly, about 90% of the audience saw themselves as net contributors.

Inequality is high up on the agenda in Davos. A new report by Oxfam showed the richest 1% of the world will own more than the other 99% combined by 2016. The report was released to coincide with the forum to remind the rich and powerful just how different their world is. “I am here to tell the big companies uncomfortable things,” said Oxfam head Winnie Byanyima. Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations working in approximately 94 countries worldwide to find solutions to poverty and what it considers injustice around the world.

  • The elites form the substance of the New World Order and truly believe they know what is best for the rest of us – however, they are largely deluded, living within the bubble of a sheltered, privileged world

Northeast Braces for Monster Snow Storm

The Northeast is bracing for a monstrous winter storm on Monday that could trigger massive power outages and slam the brakes on air traffic and rush hours from Philadelphia deep into New England. About 29 million people were under a blizzard warning and another 11 million in a winter storm warning, according to the National Weather Service. New York City could see up to 20 inches of snow Monday into Tuesday, the weather service predicted. Parts of New England could see 2 feet or more. High winds could cause whiteout conditions, bring down power lines and otherwise aggravate the weather disaster. As of Monday morning, nearly 1,800 flights on Monday and 1,600 flights on Tuesday had already been canceled, with the three major airports in the New York area most affected.

America’s First Offshore Wind Project Dealt Major Setback

An ambitious and controversial push to erect America’s first offshore wind farm has been dealt what some call a potentially “fatal” blow after two utility companies pulled out of commitments to buy energy from the lagging operation. The $2.6 billion Cape Wind project, a private operation benefiting from millions in federal subsidies, is attempting to pioneer offshore wind energy in pursuit of an eco-friendly, sustainable energy supply. Wind turbines would be installed off the coast of Massachusetts’ Cape Cod in Nantucket Sound. But Cape Wind is now in limbo after utility companies terminated huge purchase agreements. They pulled out after the project failed to meet two requirements by Dec. 31: to secure financing and begin construction. Cape Wind argues the deadline to secure funding should be extended, saying the project was overwhelmed by lawsuits, wasting time needed to meet the requirements.

Middle Class Continues to Shrink

The middle class that President Obama identified in his State of the Union speech last week as the foundation of the American economy has been shrinking for almost half a century. In the late 1960s, more than half of the households in the United States were squarely in the middle, earning, in today’s dollars, $35,000 to $100,000 a year. Few people noticed or cared as the size of that group began to fall, because the shift was primarily caused by more Americans climbing the economic ladder into upper-income brackets, reports the New York Times. But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow, the main reason being that more people have fallen to the bottom.

The middle class has shrunk from 53% of all Americans in 1967 to 43% in 2013. Conversely the upper class has expanded from 7% to 22% while the lower class declined from 40% to 35% according to the NY Times. The effect of the recent recession increased the lower class by 4 percentage points from 31% in 2000, while the upper class declined 3 percentage points from 25% in 2000. The Times’ definition of middle class is family income of $35,000 to $99,999.

Greece Votes Against Austerity Measures

Fresh concerns about the future of the Eurozone resurfaced to unsettle markets Monday after Greece’s far-left Syriza party swept to power supported by voters opposed to the terms of the nation’s international bailout. Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras agreed to form a coalition government with the Independent Greeks party, a right-wing group that is similarly opposed to the budget cuts and other austerity measures demanded by the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund in return for a massive $270 billion bailout. That rescue package has allowed Greece to avoid bankruptcy but has come at the cost of severe cuts to government spending. Syriza failed to win in Sunday’s election the requisite 151 out of 300 parliamentary seats that would have allowed it to form a government on its own based on an absolute majority, but the Independent Greeks party’s 13 seats means it can push ahead with its agenda all the same.

Economic News

More Americans purchased homes in December, yet total sales slipped in 2014 as first-time buyers struggled to find houses. The National Association of Realtors says sales of existing homes rose 2.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million. But over the course of the entire year, sales fell 3.1 percent to a total of 4.93 million. Only 29 percent of sales went to first-time buyers last month, compared to a historic average of 40 percent. Prospective buyers were priced out of the market due to rising home values and relatively stagnant incomes. Median home prices increased 6 percent over the past 12 months to $209,500.

About 40.3% of new car loans ranged from 61 months to 72 months in October and November, according to Melinda Zabritski, senior director of auto finance for Experian. And 25.7% of new car loans ranged from 73 months to 84 months based on preliminary fourth-quarter data. Much of the growth has been in the 73- to 84-month range, which had been just under 10% during the recession. The average new-car loan was for 66 months, according to Experian. However, the lower monthly payments come at a cost: Adding up all interest payments and the overall cost of a $28,000 car skyrockets with a longer-term loan. The total interest payments would be around $4,000 on a six-year car loan with a rate of 4.5% — compared with just $2,000 on a three-year loan.

  • Consumers apparently learned nothing from the recent recession which was largely caused by bad home loans. Now it’s the auto sector gearing up for future repossessions.

Persecution Watch

Christians in Niger are joyfully meeting now in homes under police protection as they plan to rebuild church buildings and houses after attacks last weekend (Jan. 16-18) that were unprecedented in scale. In spite of the violence, many present at the church meeting were eager to share testimonies of God’s faithfulness during the attacks, claiming their faith was strengthened, not dampened. “Nothing of this magnitude has ever happened in this nation,” wrote one missionary couple in the capital, Niamey. “Nearly every church in the capital city of Niamey was burned or looted, along with some schools and orphanages and several other churches and Christian homes throughout the nation.” Muslims protesting the depiction of the prophet of Islam in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo destroyed 72 church buildings and killed at least 10 people in attacks that began in Zinder on Jan. 16 and hit Niamey the next day, according to Christian support organization Open Doors. A church leader today put the total of ruined church structures at 68.

Middle East

The U.N. Security Council voted 8-2 to seize Jerusalem from Israel for the Palestinians, but the vote fell just short of the 9-1 vote count required to actually seize Jerusalem. “The United Nations Security Council rejected a Palestinian resolution demanding Israel withdraw from disputed territories within three years,” Fox News reported. The resolution failed to get the minimum nine ‘yes’ votes in the Security Council, receiving eight ‘yes’ votes, two ‘no’ votes — including one from the United States — and five abstentions. The defeated resolution would have set a Dec. 31, 2017 deadline for Israel’s so-called “occupation” of Jerusalem to end.

  • Anti-Israel and anti-Christ attitudes are ramping up rapidly in the runup to the Great Tribulation

Europe

European leaders are adopting a distinctly American tone as they ramp up their war on terror two weeks after 17 people were killed in attacks by extremists in France. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls unveiled a sweeping anti-terror plan that includes beefed-up police weapons and the hiring of about 3,000 counterterrorism agents and electronic eavesdropping experts. The European Union is likely to require airlines to share information about passengers with security officials, a measure that languished for four years because of data privacy concerns after the United States adopted similar measures following the 9/11 attacks. Germany is considering controversial proposals to store more electronic data to help catch terrorists and confiscate passports of citizens it suspects of planning to travel to the Middle East to fight alongside the Islamic State. The shift comes despite widespread European criticism over the USA Patriot Act, the National Security Agency’s dragnet of electronic communication and other American measures to combat terrorism. The change is sparking outrage in some and resignation in others.

Islamic State

Kurdish fighters are claiming progress in their fight against ISIS and now control at least 90% of the embattled Syrian city of Kobani, a monitoring group said Monday. ISIS, the Sunni Muslim extremist militant group, has been fighting for Kobani for months, hoping to add it to the territory it has already controls in parts of Syria and Iraq for what it calls its new independent Islamic nation. Syria has been embroiled in a more than three-year civil war, with government troops battling ISIS and other rebels elsewhere, leaving Kobani’s ethnic Kurds to defend the city on their own. Kobani is strategically important with its location on the border with Turkey.

Yemen

The Obama administration has been forced to suspend certain counterterrorism operations with Yemen in the aftermath of the collapse of its government, according to U.S. officials, a move that eases pressure on al-Qaeda’s most dangerous franchise. Armed drones operated by the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command remain deployed for now over southern Yemen, where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is based. But some U.S. officials said that the Yemeni security services that provided much of the intelligence that sustained that U.S. air campaign are now controlled by Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, who have seized control of much of the capital.

Tribal leaders and security officials in Yemen say the U.S. has carried out its first drone strike in the country since its president resigned. They say the strike Monday on a vehicle in an area called Hareib, located between the provinces of Marib and Shabwa, killed three suspected al-Qaeda militants.

Nigeria

Nigerian forces fought off Boko Haram militants in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, military officials said Monday, but the extremists seized another town in the same state. Hundreds of Boko Haram gunmen launched a predawn attack Sunday on Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. Soldiers repelled the attacks, but a simultaneous attack on nearby Monguno town was a different story. The Islamist militants captured the town, together with its military barracks. Both cities are near the Chad and Cameroon borders, which would give the militants an entry point into those countries.

Philippines

Forty-three people were killed in intense fighting between police commandos and Muslim insurgents in the southern Philippines Sunday, placing strains on a peace process designed to end decades of conflict in the restive region. The majority of the losses were on the government side, with 37 members of the elite Special Action Force unit of the Philippine National Police killed. Six militants were killed and 11 wounded in the clashes, which raged for 12 hours in Mamasapano. Members of both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with whom the government has signed a peace agreement, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), with whom it has not, were involved in the firefight.

Japan

The Japanese government is grappling with an unpredictable hostage crisis whose terms are being dictated by the Islamic extremist group ISIS. The militants appear to have killed one of the two Japanese hostages they have been holding. And they’re apparently demanding the release of a convicted terrorist in Jordan to spare the life of the other. ISIS’ had originally demanded that Japan pay $200 million by last Friday to save the lives of the two hostages. A video file posted online Saturday by a known ISIS supporter shows an image of one hostage holding a photo of what appears to be the corpse of his fellow captive.

Ukraine

Unexpectedly, at the height of the Ukrainian winter, war has exploded anew on a half-dozen battered fronts across eastern Ukraine, accompanied by increasing evidence that Russian troops and Russian equipment have been pouring into the region again, reports the New York Times. A shaky cease-fire has all but vanished, with rebel leaders vowing fresh attacks. The renewed fighting has dashed any hopes of reinvigorating a cease-fire signed in September and honored more in name than in fact since then. It has also put to rest the notion that Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, would be so staggered by the twin blows of Western sanctions and a collapse in oil prices that he would forsake the separatists in order to foster better relations with the West.

Civilians are being hit by deadly mortars at bus stops. Tanks are rumbling down snowy roads in rebel-held areas. A crowded open-air market in Ukraine’s strategically important coastal city of Mariupol came under rocket fire Saturday morning, killing at least 30 people, regional police said. Mariupol lies on the Azov Sea and is the major city between mainland Russia and the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula. Heavy fighting in the region in the autumn raised fears that Russian-backed separatist forces would try to establish a land link between Russia and Crimea. Rebel forces have positions within six miles from Mariupol’s eastern outskirts. The Interior Ministry said rockets struck homes, setting them alight, as well as the market and shops.

China

China has begun cracking down on one of the few avenues its citizens and foreigners have to accessing the full Internet, the People’s Daily newspaper in Beijing reported. China announced it is “upgrading” its Internet censorship to disrupt VPN services inside the nation of 1.3 billion people, the paper said. The Great Firewall of China has long blocked those within the country from reaching popular international sites such as Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. To get around it, people must purchase access to a virtual private network, or VPN. These services allow a user to create a private pipeline to the Internet, bypassing China’s online censors.

India

President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi say they have achieved a breakthrough understanding to free up U.S. investment in nuclear energy development in India, as Obama began a three-day visit to the country on Sunday. The U.S. and India had been at an impasse over U.S. insistence on tracking fissile material it supplies to India and over Indian liability provisions that have discouraged U.S. firms from capitalizing on a 2008 civil nuclear agreement between the two countries. The White House said the understanding on the India’s civil nuclear program resolves the U.S. concerns on both tracking and liability.

Weather

Residents in portions of New Mexico and Texas were dealing Thursday with a rare winter storm. More than a foot of snow had fallen just south of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. The National Weather Service says Amarillo recorded its 11th snowiest day on record, dating back to 1892. El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, New Mexico, accustomed to only a wintry dusting, were seeing more than their usual share of the white stuff. Interstate 10 westbound was closed in Las Cruces, where up to 5 inches of snow was recorded by midday. Up to a foot of snow fell east of Raton, New Mexico.

Powerful Santa Ana winds battered the Los Angeles area Friday night and well into Saturday, toppling power lines and trees across the area. There have been numerous wind gusts over 55 mph Saturday, including 79 mph and 89 mph gusts near Julian and San Fernando, California. Those gusts brought down a quarter-mile-long stretch of power lines in Fontana, California, Saturday morning. High wind warnings and wind advisories remained in effect through Sunday morning for portions of southern California.

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