Signs of the Times (1/29/15)

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Marriage Cases

The Supreme Court on Friday afternoon announced that it has agreed to decide whether all 50 states must issue licenses for same-sex marriages. It was only a matter of time before the court agreed to take up the issue, with circuit courts issuing contradictory rulings on state marriage laws. This past fall the high court allowed many lower court rulings striking marriage laws to stand, expanding gay marriage to 36 states. The court said it will consider two questions: One, whether the 14th Amendment requires states to license same-sex marriages; and two, whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The court’s 2013 ruling striking a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) raises serious concerns for traditional marriage supporters. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority ruling in the case and said DOMA created “second-tier marriages” and “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”

  • The decline in Biblical immorality is accelerating as the timeframe Jesus called ‘the beginning of sorrows’ (Matt. 24:8) inexorably marches toward the Great Tribulation.

Alabama Justice Roy Moore Says No to Supreme Court

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has released a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley saying that he intends to continue to recognize the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and urging the governor to do so. Moore’s office released the three-page letter that was delivered to the governor Wednesday morning in response to a federal judge’s ruling Friday striking down the ban. “As Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, I will continue to recognize the Alabama Constitution and the will of the people overwhelmingly expressed in the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment,” Moore wrote. This is the same Chief Justice Roy Moore who was removed from office because he defied a federal court on a Ten Commandment display. Moore was elected chief justice again in 2012.

A Tale of Two Bakers

Alliance Defending Freedom says it will be interesting if the state of Colorado decides to disregard the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens – or instead decides to play favorites when it comes to bakeries, wedding cakes, and same-sex “marriage.” Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission has already handed down its decision in a case involving a baker who favors biblical marriage – now it will hear one concerning a baker who favors same-sex “marriage.” A customer walked into Azucar Bakery in Denver and requested a cake in the shape of a Bible inscribed with what bakery owner Marjorie Silva describes as “a hateful message” and an “X” through the image of a same-sex couple. Silva agreed to bake the cake in the shape requested, but refused to add the inscription. The customer left and later filed a complaint before the Commission.

Alliance Defending Freedom represents Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips, who has already been found guilty of discrimination because, based on his Christian faith, he refused to do a special cake for a same-gender “wedding.” ADF attorney Jeremy Tedesco argues that Silva has every right to decline to promote a message with which she sincerely disagrees – the same stance ADF took in defending Phillips.

Obamacare 2.0 Sign Ups Hit 9.5 Million

About 9.5 million Americans have signed up for health insurance for 2015 on Obamacare exchanges, federal officials said Tuesday. The totals so far make it likely the administration will meet its reduced target of 9.1 million enrollments. Those who have signed up have to pay their first month’s premium to be fully enrolled. The data released Tuesday does not indicate how many people have paid. That target, however, is lower than the 13 million the Congressional Budget Office had originally projected. Americans seeking individual insurance have to pick a plan by Feb. 15, when open enrollment ends. Experts expect a crush of people to sign up just ahead of the deadline. In 2014, some 6.7 million people were enrolled in plans. Some 87% of those picking plans through healthcare.gov are receiving financial assistance.

Obamacare to Cost Government (i.e. Taxpayers) $50K Per Person

A bombshell report from the Congressional Budget Office reveals that it will cost the federal government $50,000 for every person who gets health insurance under Obamacare law. According to the Daily Mail.com, the astounding figure was “buried” in a 15-page section of the nonpartisan organization’s budget forecast for the next 10 years. The CBO said that in a best-case scenario, “‘between 24 million and 27 million” fewer Americans would be uninsured in 2025, compared to the year before the Affordable Care Act was implemented, the Mail noted. And the report estimated that the price tag for insuring that number of people would be about $1.35 trillion — or $50,000 per person. The amount would be offset by $643 billion in new taxes, penalties and fees related to the Obamacare law.

Millions to Owe Obamacare Tax Penalty

Some 3 million to 6 million Americans will have to pay an Obamacare tax penalty for not having health insurance last year, Treasury officials said Wednesday. It’s the first time they have given estimates for how many people will be subject to a fine. The penalty is $95, or 1% of income above a certain threshold (roughly $20,000 for a couple). For a married couple with $100,000 in income – their bill comes to $797, according to the Tax Policy Center ACA penalty calculator. The penalty for remaining uninsured rises to the larger of $325 or 2% of income in 2015. Some three-quarters of the nation’s 150 million taxpayers have health insurance through their jobs or government programs and will simply have to check a box on the Form 1040.

Syrian Refugees Coming to U.S.

Twenty-one Syrian refugees will arrive in Louisville, Kentucky over the next two weeks, a figure expected to increase as the U.S. begins to take in an expanded number of refugees fleeing Syria’s bloody civil war. They are part of a larger U.S. resettlement effort expected to bring as many as 10,000 Syrians to cities across the USA through fiscal year 2016 alone, according to the U.S. State Department. Since the war began, 3.8 million people have been forced to flee to neighboring countries amid the fight among the regime of Bashar al-Assad, rebels seeking to overthrow him and extremists with the Islamic State. The war has sparked one of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Refugees have strained resources in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, leaving many without adequate housing, food or medicine, according to aid groups. Some have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in smugglers’ cargo ships. The United States has accepted few Syrian refugees in recent years, sparking criticism that it was slow to respond.

Ebola Update

The World Health Organization said Thursday that the number of new Ebola cases in the three most affected countries rose at its slowest weekly pace since June. A total of 99 new, confirmed incidents of the virus were reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the week to Jan. 25, the WHO said. That is the first time since last year that new cases on a weekly basis fell below 100. The three West African countries have a total of 22,000 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola and at least 8,795 have died from the virus there. Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States have also had confirmed cases of Ebola, but the vast majority of the 22, 092 cases and 8,810 deaths have occurred in West Africa.

The relatively positive development nonetheless comes as scientists tracking Ebola warned this week that the virus has mutated. Several cases of Ebola have now been seen where the infected person does not appear to have any symptoms. “These people may be the ones who could spread the virus better, we do not know yet,” said Anavaj Sakuntabhai, a geneticist at the Institut Pasteur in France. “A virus can change from more deadly into less deadly but more contagious and that is something we are afraid of.”

Economic News

The federal budget deficit will fall to a six-year “low” of $468 billion in 2015, before resuming an upward climb that will take the federal debt to record heights. Rising health care costs, the implementation of Obamacare and an aging population are expected to drive a massive surge in spending over the next 25 years that will cause the deficit and debt to rise, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits tumbled last week to its lowest level in nearly 15 years, adding to bullish signals on the labor market. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 43,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 for the week ended Jan. 24, the lowest since April 2000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 8,250 last week to 298,500.

Consumer confidence surged to a more than seven-year high in January as gasoline prices continued to tumble and job growth remained strong. A closely watched index of consumers’ perceptions rose to 102.9 from 93.1 in December, according to The Conference Board, a business membership and research organization. That’s the highest level since August 2007. Average regular unleaded gasoline prices have fallen to $2.03 a gallon nationally from $3.70 earlier this year, leaving Americans more cash for discretionary purchases. And employers added 252,000 jobs last month to cap the best year for payroll room since 1999.

Businesses, however, are wary. Orders for manufactured durable goods such as computers, metals and electrical equipment declined 3.4%, and November’s drop was revised to 2.1% from 0.7%. Orders for durable goods (those that last over 3 months) have now have fallen in four of the past five months. Companies, which increasingly depend on U.S. exports for a portion of sales, are worried about economic weakness in Europe and a strengthening dollar that makes their products more expensive overseas. Meanwhile, the energy industry is curtailing investment amid the sharp drop in oil prices.

The Federal Reserve said it will remain “patient” and not rush to boost interest rates. But the writing is on the wall. Rate hikes are coming sooner rather than later, notes CNN Money. The Fed dropped the term “considerable time” it has been using to describe when it will start to hike rates. It even hinted that if the economy improves faster than expect, the market should be prepared for a rate hike “sooner than currently anticipated.”

Greece is in big trouble again. Since the new leftist government has been elected this week, bank stocks cratered 44% and bond yields have skyrocketed. 5-year yields are now at 13.5%. This points to impending bankruptcies and systemic collapse, notes economist Patrick Wood. It also adds another lead weight onto Europe’s back and could be the kickoff to a wider collapse of debt which bankrupt companies are unable to repay.

Middle East

The Israeli military said Wednesday that four of its soldiers were injured in an attack near the border with Lebanon. Hezbollah later said it was behind the incident that saw an anti-tank missile strike an Israeli military vehicle. Hezbollah, a militant Islamist group headquartered in Lebanon, said the attack was carried out by the “heroic martyrs of Quneitra” — apparently a reference, and retaliation, to an Israeli airstrike on the Golan Heights on Jan. 18 that killed six-Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general. Mortar fire was also aimed at several locations in Mount Hermon and Har Dov, and mortars hit a military position on Mount Hermon, the Israeli military said. Tuesday night, the military launched airstrikes against several Syrian targets in response to Hezbollah rocket fire from Syrian bases.

Hezbollah fired five anti-tank missiles at Israeli military vehicles in the disputed Shebaa Farms area, killing an officer and a soldier on Wednesday, Seven Israeli soldiers were injured. The attack took place near Shebaa Farms, also known as Har Dov, a disputed strip of land between Lebanon and Syria adjoining the Golan Heights, under Israeli control. Separately, in Gaza, the United Nations said it was “outraged” when Palestinian protesters climbed the perimeter of a U.N. compound and damaged it. U.N. officials took Hamas to task for not preventing the incident.

France

French security forces detained five people Tuesday and broke up a jihadi recruiting network in a small southern town that has sent several French youths to fight in Syria and Iraq, the interior minister said. At least six young people from Lunel, a town of about 27,000, have died in Iraq and Syria in recent months. The French government says a total of 3,000 citizens have links to extremist fighters in Syria and Iraq. There are 161 investigations under way involving 547 people implicated in terrorist networks. Of those, 154 have been detained, and 90 have been handed preliminary charges.

Islamic State

Islamic State militants controlling Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, face increasing opposition from residents chafing under the harsh laws being imposed there, Iraqi officials say. The resentment against the Islamic State hasn’t reached the level of a popular revolt yet, but the shift in public opinion will help the U.S. military and Iraq’s security forces prepare for a major offensive to take back the city. The developments come as U.S.-backed Kurdish forces drove Islamic State militants from the Syrian border town of Kobani on Monday and now control about 90% of the city.

Iraq

Three airlines from the United Arab Emirates are canceling flights to Baghdad after a flight from the Mideast’s busiest airport in Dubai came under fire as it landed in the Iraqi capital Monday night. Dubai government-backed discount carrier FlyDubai said small-arms fire damaged the plane’s fuselage. No passengers needed medical attention at the airport. It canceled its only flight to Baghdad on Tuesday. Dubai-based Emirates and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways separately said they are suspending flights to Iraq until further notice.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has announced that it is construction a 600-mile “great wall” at its Iraq border to protect itself from ISIS and other extremist groups. Plans for a wall to keep out drug traffickers and militants began in 2003 but funding was available at the time. After securing the necessary funding, construction for the wall began in September. The wall is technologically advanced and will include five layers of fencing, parts of which will be 125 feet high. The wall will serve to keep ISIS terrorists at bay, as well as Iranian Shiite militants.

Libya

Gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Libya’s capital Tuesday, killing at least five foreigners and three guards, authorities said. The attack, which included a car bombing, struck the Corinthia Hotel, which sits along the Mediterranean Sea. The attack began when five masked gunmen wearing bulletproof vests stormed the hotel after security guards at the hotel’s gate tried to stop them. They entered the hotel and fired randomly at the staff in the lobby. A car bomb exploded in the parking lot, only a hundred meters (yards) away. A Libyan affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group claimed responsibility Wednesday for the attack.

South Sudan

Nearly 300 child soldiers in South Sudan were released from the militia this week, as the nation plans to release a total of 3,000 children from forced military service. Christian Today reports the children, aged 11 to 17, had been part of the South Sudan Democratic Army Cobra Faction. The children surrendered their weapons during a ceremony at the village of Gumuruk on Tuesday. “These children have been forced to do and see things no child should ever experience,” UNICEF South Sudan Representative Jonathan Veitch said in a press release. In 2011, the South Sudan seceded from the north and violence has since escalated. It is estimated that 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting and another 1.9 million have been displaced. About 12,000 children are said to have been recruited to fight.

Philippines

The Philippine Star reports that 49 members of an elite police unit were killed early Sunday while attempting to enter an Islamic zone to arrest suspected terrorists. The most disturbing aspect of this report is that the police are being blamed for the killings because they did not contact Moro Islamic Liberation Front officials and let them know of their intentions to make arrests. The guerrillas Claim that this area is clearly under Islamic Law (Sharia) and under no jurisdiction of national or local police forces. Five MILF rebels were killed and a dozen others were reportedly injured in the encounter.

Cuba

A $6 billion sticking point could create headaches for the U.S.-Cuba talks. Though concerns over human rights, press freedoms and U.S. fugitives living free on the island have dominated debate over the Obama administration’s negotiations on restoring diplomatic ties, the Castro regime also still owes Americans that eye-popping sum. The $6 billion figure represents the value of all the assets seized from thousands of U.S. citizens and businesses after the Cuban revolution in 1959. With the United States pressing forward on normalizing relations with the communist country, some say the talks must resolve these claims.

President Obama’s opening to Cuba has accelerated a surge in Cuban migration to the United States, the latest U.S. statistics show, as many on the island grow worried that America’s long-standing immigration benefits for Cubans are now in jeopardy. Last month the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted 481 Cubans in rickety boats and rafts, a 117 percent increase from December 2013. But the boaters account for only a fraction of those attempting to reach the United States. At the Miami airport and ports of entry along the Mexican border, the number of Cubans who arrived seeking refuge jumped to 8,624 during the last three months of 2014, a 65 percent increase from the previous year.

Environment

Air pollution kills around 7 million people every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), accounting for one in eight deaths worldwide in 2012. The main causes of death were stroke and heart disease, followed by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and respiratory infections among children. It is especially bad in the Asia-Pacific region, which has a population of over 4.2 billion and high population density. China and India, with a combined population of around 2.7 billion, are both enormous sources and victims of air pollution.

In 2010, 40% of the world’s premature deaths caused by air pollution were in China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, according to a survey published in the Lancet. Similar health concerns are building in India, where air pollution is now the fifth-leading cause of death. Between 2000 and 2010, the annual number of premature deaths linked to air pollution across India rose six-fold to 620,000, according to the Center for Science and Environment, a public-interest research and advocacy group in New Delhi.

Earthquakes

An earthquake with several aftershocks in Northern California startled people across the region Wednesday afternoon. The 5.7-magnitude tremor hit at 1:08 p.m. PT and was centered in the water outside of Ferndale, California, which is about 260 miles north of San Francisco. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office said no damage was reported, but people from Eureka east into Chico felt weak to moderate shaking. Ferndale City Manager Jay Parrish told NBC News the quake was “slow rolling” and “went on for a long time.”

Weather

The “crippling and potentially historic” northeastern blizzard turned out to be neither. Some people in the Northeast are concerned and angry about the government crying wolf, forcing schools, transportation and businesses to shut down unnecessarily. “Better safe than sorry,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had warned Monday that the storm could be one of the largest “in the history of this city.” Many people had stocked up on days’ worth of necessities and prepared to hunker down for what the National Weather Service said could be a “raging blizzard.” Some are now calling it all “snowperbole.” Many area meteorologists publicly apologized and are now reexamining the computer models they rely upon.

However, the snow storm did batter areas further east and north of the New York metropolitan area. Boston saw its biggest snow for any January with more than 24 inches. Worchester, Massachusetts, broke its all-time record with 33.5 inches. Many areas in Maine saw two feet or more. Below-freezing temperatures for most of the week could cause snowy streets to ice up. The weather service predicts lows from the teens down to minus numbers across the Northeast. Boston schools remain closed on Thursday while the cleanup continues.

Record-breaking warmth spread over the West this week. Death Valley, California, reached 87 degrees on Sunday, tying its all-time record high for the month of January. Also on Monday, Rapid City, South Dakota topped its daily record high surging into the upper 60s by mid-afternoon. Oklahoma City soared to 78 degrees, shattering its daily record of 71 and marking its warmest day since 1997. Several dozen daily record highs were set across the West and Plains Sunday. Monterey, California, reached 84 to tie its second-highest temperature on record in the month of January.

 

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