Archive for February, 2015

Signs of the Times (2/27/15)

February 27, 2015

Life at Conception Act Re-Introduced in Congress

The Life at Conception Act — the bill that would Reverse Roe v. Wade and End abortion-on-demand — has been re-introduced in the U.S. House by Congressman Alex Mooney with the support of the National Pro-Life Alliance. The Life at Conception Act is a crucial bill that would use the Supreme Court’s own language to end the slaughter of the unborn in our nation. The National Pro-Life Alliance has brought the Life at Conception Act closer to passing than ever before with a new, more conservative Congress starting up this year. The staff at the National Pro-Life Alliance has prepared a hard-hitting 27-day Co-Sponsor Blitz and hopes to add as many as 40 additional co-sponsors to the bill to end abortion-on-demand.

New Study Confirms the Importance of Parents in Fostering Kids’ Adult Faith

For millennials who grew up attending church, having a strong Christian faith and practice today is linked to the quality of their relationship with their parents, reports Christianheadlines.com. That’s the conclusion from a new online survey of young adults between the ages of 18 and 38 who attended church as children or teenagers. The survey also found that frequent church attendance and homeschooling were linked to stronger Christian beliefs and behaviors as adults, including believing Jesus is divine and avoiding co-habitation. Young adults who said their fathers explained “biblical principles” to them on a daily or weekly basis growing up were significantly more likely to say they lived by typical Christian behavior as adults by praying, volunteering, reading the Bible, and attending church frequently and avoiding pornography, marijuana use, abortion, and co-habitation.

  • Taking children to church is not sufficient without parental follow-through that models and teaches Christian principles to their children. The lack of parental leadership is why the Barna Group reports that 59 percent of millennials who grew up in church have dropped out.

House Churches Growing, New Church Construction Hits All-Time Low

House churches are growing in the United States as new church construction reaches its lowest point since 1967, reports Christianheadlines.com. “The Bible says, ‘What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, a word of instruction, or an interpretation’ — all of this done for the strength of the church,” said Greg Stultz, who leads a house church in Maryland. In the house church anyone can suggest a song and instead of a sermon, the group discusses anything they’ve been dealing with lately. The house church is an idea that is biblical, said L. Michael White, a Christian origins professor in Texas. White says, “We do have references in the letters of Paul to meeting in someone’s home — or, basically, the church in your house.”

Persecution Watch

Anti-Semitism had been growing in Europe at such alarming rates that leading experts have predicted that Jews no longer have a future in Europe. But, the current lethal situation in France is due not only to the remains of classical anti-Semitism among native French, and youth violence amongst the growing Muslim immigrant communities, but to the return of battle hardened jihadists trained in Iraq and Syria. The situation is so bad that France was just ranked the most dangerous country for Jews. The Jewish community of France is the largest in Europe and third largest in the world, after Israel and then the United States.

Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington State florist who declined to provide flowers for a gay wedding has rejected a deal by the attorney general’s office that would’ve forced her to betray her religious beliefs – much like Judas. “You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver,” Stutzman wrote in a letter to state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “That is something I will not do.” Ferguson had offered to settle the case if she paid a $2,000 penalty for violating the Consumer Protection Act, a $1 payment for costs and fees, and agreed not to discriminate in the future. On Feb. 18 a judge ruled Stutzman had violated the law by refusing to provide flowers for the same-sex wedding of a longtime customer. The state had not only gone after the flower shop but also Stutzman personally.

  • Private companies have the right to conduct their business free from heavy-handed socialistic intolerance

Americans Joining Fight Against ISIS

American fighters, including former soldiers, are joining forces behind the scenes with the Kurdish Peshmerga in the battle against the Islamic State, saying they want to destroy ISIS and its caliphate before the militants’ threat spreads further. Three such fighters, who asked that their identities be kept private over worries that their families back home could become targeted, spoke to The Daily Beast in an interview at a Peshmerga base near the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. All three are veterans of the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. One of them told The Daily Beast that he fears that if ISIS isn’t defeated, he’ll end up fighting the threat on other battlefields later. He further said he is disappointed in how President Barack Obama has handled ISIS’ rise. Another said he felt obligated to use his military training against ISIS, and the third said he was convinced to join the Kurds because of the large numbers of foreigners joining up with ISIS. Matthew Vandyke, the head of the “militia for hire” group “The Sons of Liberty International,” recently tweeted that he wants to raise a “Christian Army” to fight ISIS.

Brooklyn Immigrants Arrested on Way to Fight for ISIS

Two young men living in Brooklyn were arrested on Wednesday and charged with plotting to travel thousands of miles to fight under the banner of the Islamic State. A third Brooklyn man was charged with helping organize and fund their activities, reports the New York Times. All three were immigrants from former Soviet republics. They all legally came to the United States, although one overstayed his visa. Even as the Islamic State has been waging a brutal war in the Middle East, it has been spearheading an aggressive campaign to recruit Muslims to its cause, using social media to target young people across the world. It has drawn thousands of fighters from nearby nations, tapping into a range of resentments, such as political oppression and personal disillusionment. More recently, the group has found scores of willing recruits in Europe, many inspired by the group’s gruesome videos of atrocities.

Obama Vetoes Keystone XL Pipeline Bill

For just the third time since taking office, President Barack Obama vetoed a bill that came across his desk, this time to prevent the Keystone XL oil pipeline from moving forward. “Because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety and environment — it has earned my veto.” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Republicans were “not even close” to giving up the fight and derided the veto as a “national embarrassment.” The 875-mile Keystone XL pipeline has been polarizing since TransCanada’s original 2008 proposal. The pipeline would transfer 830,000 barrels of oil every day (about half of what the U.S. currently imports from the Middle East) and would create some 42,000 jobs, according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Republican lawmakers say this likely won’t be the last time Obama employs the veto with the GOP-led Congress.

Net Neutrality Still Unsettled Despite FCC Vote

Despite the Federal Communications Commission’s historic vote Thursday in favor of net neutrality, the fate of the Internet is far from settled. The FCC’s action triggered jubilation among open Internet enthusiasts, but the powerful telecom industry is poised for a legal challenge to the new rules. And Republicans in Congress are pushing legislation that would supersede the FCC’s approach. In a 3-2 vote along party lines, the FCC acted to implement net neutrality rules designed to ensure that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all legal content equally, eliciting howls of protest from the ISPs (Internet Service Providers). Responding to the outcome with mockery and defiance, Verizon dismissed the new guidelines, which are based on a 1934 law, as a set of rules “written in the era of the steam locomotive and the telegraph.” In a clever PR gambit that was shared widely on social media, the company issued statements opposing the FCC action written with a typewriter in Morse code. Netflix hailed the vote as a “win for consumers.)

ATF Pushes Bullet Ban, Threatens Top-Selling AR-15 Rifle

As promised, President Obama is using executive actions to impose gun control on the nation, targeting the top-selling rifle in the country, the AR-15 style semi-automatic, with a ban on one of the most-used AR bullets by sportsmen and target shooters. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives this month revealed that it is proposing to put the ban on 5.56mm ammo on a fast track, immediately driving up the price of the bullets and prompting retailers, including the huge outdoors company Cabela’s, to urge sportsmen to urge Congress to stop the president. Wednesday night, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, stepped in with a critical letter to the bureau demanding it explain the surprise and abrupt bullet ban.

DHS Funding Due to Expire Friday

Approval of a homeland security spending bill looked likely Friday, the last day Congress can approve the legislation before funding expires at midnight. A handful of conservative senators who object to the bill said they do not intend to use procedural moves to delay the Senate vote past the funding deadline. House Republicans on Thursday presented a plan for a stopgap bill that would fund the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks, raising hopes of averting a looming shutdown of the agency. But its passage would only continue a standoff between the House and the Senate over longer-term DHS funding and Obama’s latest executive orders regarding immigration.

Crackdown on Drones goes Local

The federal government isn’t the only entity seeking to rein in drones as their popularity grows. Since 2012, 15 states have enacted laws restricting drones in some way, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which tracks state laws. And if New York City gets his way, drones will be banned in the Big Apple, except for police with a warrant, as soon as this year. Across the country, state and local governments are grappling with a confusing array of questions about how to deal with drones, which hold great potential to help society as well as untested privacy and security risks. Drone advocates say the rising plethora of restrictions threaten to leave the U.S. behind at a time when the drone industry is growing. Currently, the biggest driver of new drone laws by states has been privacy, especially unlawful government surveillance. So far, 14 of the 15 states have passed laws to curb government agencies from using drones to monitor its citizens, such as in traffic or at a public rally.

Five drones were reportedly seen flying over sensitive and well-known areas of Paris overnight — sightings that authorities are investigating, the city prosecutor’s office said Tuesday. The unmanned aerial vehicles were spotted over the Eiffel Tower, the Bastille, Place de la Concorde, Les Invalides and the U.S. Embassy between midnight and 6 a.m. The French aviation police are searching for the operators of the illegal drones. Drones were seen flying over landmarks in Paris for a second night running.

Marijuana Now Legal in Alaska, D.C.

Smoking, growing and possessing marijuana became legal in Alaska Tuesday, due to a voter initiative aimed at clearing away 40 years of conflicting laws and court rulings. Making Alaska the third state to legalize recreational marijuana was the goal of a coalition including libertarians, rugged individualists and small-government Republicans who prize the privacy rights enshrined in the state’s constitution. But when they voted 52% to 48% last November to legalize marijuana use by adults in private places, they left many of the details to lawmakers and regulators to sort out. A recent survey of Coloradans found that almost 1 in 5 adults in the state have used marijuana since legal recreational sales began on Jan. 1, 2014.

Despite warnings from congressional Republicans, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser allowed D.C.’s marijuana legalization law to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, told Bowser that if she continued with her plan to implement marijuana legalization she would face “very serious consequences,” The Washington Post reported. “You can go to prison for this,” The Post quoted Chaffetz as saying. “We’re not playing a little game here.” Congress provides oversight and funding for the District of Columbia.

  • Suicide victim in Prescott, Arizona: “Marijuana killed my soul.”

Deaths Soar from Prescription Painkillers

Deaths from prescription narcotic painkillers have soared as the opioid drugs became more popular and powerful, a new federal study found. Four out of five people (80%) who used a prescription narcotic painkiller in 2011 to 2012 took pills equal to or stronger than morphine, according to statistics made public Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics. Those drugs include fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone and oxycodone. That represents a huge increase from 17% in 1999. In 1999, 5% of adults 20 and older reported using a narcotic painkiller. Four years later, that number grew to 7%. The CDC has called prescription painkiller abuse an epidemic. In 2012, 16,007 people died from overdoses involving opioid painkillers, triple the number who died in 1999.

C.diff Bacteria has Killed over 15,000

The Centers for Disease Control is raising a red flag that the deadly bacteria C. difficile may be lurking in your doctor’s office. The C.diff bacteria, is typically found in hospitals, but a study out Wednesday reports a substantial number of people contracted the bug who hadn’t been in a hospital, but had recently visited the doctor or dentist. The bacteria can cause deadly diarrhea, according to the CDC, with infections on the rise. The new report shows nearly half a million Americans infected in various locations in one year, with 15,000 deaths directly attributed to C. diff. In a 2013 study, researchers found C. diff present in six out of seven outpatient clinics tested in Ohio, including on patients’ chairs and examining tables. Patients should wash their hands after visiting the doctor’s office — with soap and water, because alcohol-based gels don’t get rid of C.diff.

Economic News

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen provided Congress with an upbeat view of the labor market Tuesday and said policymakers will raise interest rates when they are “reasonably confident” inflation will pick up toward the Fed’s annual 2% goal. Her remarks set the stage for a possible mid-year rate increase while giving the Fed the flexibility to wait longer if the labor market falters and meager inflation shows no sign of ticking up.

Home prices rose last year, but the housing market recovery continued to lose steam. The S&P Case/Shiller index of home prices in 20 major U.S. cities released Tuesday showed prices rose 4.5% in 2014. That compares with a 13.4% increase in 2013. On a month-to-month basis, home prices in most big cities rose modestly from November to December. But an index of prices nationwide edged lower, extending a slowdown that’s been going on for months. “The housing recovery is faltering,” said David M. Blitzer, director of indexes at S&P Dow Jones. “While prices and sales of existing homes are close to normal, construction and new home sales remain weak.”

Cheap oil and rising production costs are killing the North Sea energy industry. Oil and gas drilling companies lost £5.3 billion on their North Sea operations in 2014, the worst losses in four decades, according to a new report. New investment in the region will fall by about one third in 2015 as companies are forced to slash costs. The slump could bring the industry to its knees, reports CNN Money.

Middle East

A jury in New York City issued a landmark ruling Monday, affirming the culpability of the Palestinian Authority in six terrorist attacks and the deaths of several American citizens during the Second Intifada and awarding the families of the victims a $655.5 million judgment in wrongful death damages. “The defendants have already been boasting that they will appeal the decision and we will never collect on the judgment – but we will go to the end of the Earth to collect it,” said Shurat Hadin’s Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, one of the plaintiffs’ lead lawyers. In comments echoed by other Israeli leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the verdict, saying “The US federal court’s decision confirms the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility for murderous terrorist attacks committed during the previous decade.”

Islamic State

Assyrians in eleven northeastern Syria villages awoke Tuesday to ISIS militants at their doors, with the Islamist extremists abducting scores from the Christian group and forcing hundreds more to run for their lives. The ISIS fighters fought past a few men guarding the village of Tal Shamiram around 4 a.m. local time and abducted children, women and the elderly, said Usama Edward, the founder of the Assyrian Human Rights Network. Around 220 people were kidnapped in that village and others in the same cluster near Tal Tamer in Al Hasakah province. About 700 Assyrian families managed to escape the onslaught, with 600 of them taking up refuge in St. Mary’s Cathedral in al-Hasakah, Syria.

Ukraine

Ukraine’s military says it will start pulling back its heavy weapons from the front line with Russian-backed separatists as required under a cease-fire agreement. The international monitors overseeing the cease-fire in Ukraine complained earlier in the day that the warring sides were dragging their feet in complying with requirements to pull back their weapons.

Nigeria

Suicide bombers targeting a bus station in Kano, Nigeria, killed 10 people and left several injured Tuesday, just hours after a similar attack in Yobe state killed 17 people. Two men detonated the explosives concealed under their clothes as soon as they got off the bus at Kano Line motor park Tuesday afternoon in the center of Kano. The Potiskum attack occurred at Tashar Dan-Borno motor park on the outskirts of town. A man pretending to be a passenger detonated the explosives as he boarded the bus, which was being loaded and prepared for departure, leaving 17 people dead, in addition to the bomber, and 27 people injured at the bus station. Although no one has claimed responsibility for either of the attacks, Boko Haram has been behind dozens of similar suicide attacks and other bombings‎ in northern Nigeria.

Cuba

The United States and Cuba on Friday will hold the second round of negotiations to re-establish diplomatic relations after a 50-year freeze. The day-long meeting will be held at the State Department in Washington and focus on challenges that remain before each country. Cuban diplomats will come with their own set of demands, chief among them their continued inclusion on the U.S. State Department’s State Sponsor of Terrorism list. This follows up talks that began last month.

Environment

Serious noise pollution documented over the course of ten years by the National Park Service is throwing long-set systems out of whack. Soon, even these animals might have trouble hearing what’s around them. To the human ear, an isolated forest may seem silent, but what’s noiseless to people is actually loud to the wildlife that inhabits those trees. Many animals — especially bats and owls — have hearing much more sensitive than we do, and as such, use the clicks and echoes we can’t hear to hunt and mate and generally stay alive. The NPS sorted through 1.5 million hours of summer night sounds, including precipitation and plane flyovers, at 600-plus locations across the country. Every place the NPS measured experienced some volume increase from human-made noise during the study decade. They report that noise pollution is growing faster than the U.S. population, and predict that it will more than double every 30 years.

Some big cities, particularly that are hot and humid, spawn more thunderstorms than rural areas. That’s the conclusion of a new study by Northern Illinois University researchers, published in Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. The study also found that thunderstorm births were significantly higher on weekdays compared with weekend days, suggesting that increased pollution levels related to industry and commuting may play a role. Rural areas showed no significant weekday-weekend differences. The increased thunderstorm risks illustrate human-induced climate change at the local scale. A landscape of concrete, asphalt and densely packed buildings retains heat and a cityscape modifies wind direction and speed, leading to enhanced convergence and thunderstorm formation.

Weather

Winter Storm Quantum glazed over roadways throughout the South early Tuesday morning, making for a treacherous commute for travelers as far east as North Carolina. On Monday, at least 29 vehicles collided on I-40 near the New Mexico/Texas state line and shut down eastbound travel on the highway. More than 1,645 flights had been canceled and another 3,978 delayed as of Monday night. Tuesday, a mix of snow and sleet accumulated in the far north Atlanta suburbs, resulting in many school cancellations. Parts of western North Carolina measured up to 8 inches of snow. Icing was reported along the coast of the Carolinas.

Winter Storm Remus dumped a messy mix of snow, rain, sleet and freezing rain across a long swath from Texas to the Mid-Atlantic states, including Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. Due to the weight of this heavy, wet snow, about 216,000 customers were without power from Alabama to Virginia early Thursday morning. For the second time in a week, drivers spent the night in their vehicles in northern Alabama stuck on snowy Interstate 65 north of Birmingham. Tupelo, Mississippi, measured 7.3 inches of snowfall Wednesday, making it the second-heaviest daily snowfall on record there. Several locations in northern Alabama and North Carolina topped 10 inches of total snowfall. Across the south on Wednesday, schools, day care centers and offices closed ahead of the storm and governors once again declared states of emergency.

This is now the second snowiest season on record for Boston, 101.8 inches vs. 107.6 inches in 1995-1996. But there’s more snow on the way. Boston broke its record for the most snow in a 30-day period with 94.4 inches. Another snowstorm could bring snow all the way from the Southwest to East Coast through the weekend. Snow will also blanket the mountains of Southern California as snow levels drop this weekend.

At least 200 people have died in avalanches caused by a heavy winter snow in northeastern Afghanistan. The death toll from the avalanches is expected to rise as rescue efforts continue. The avalanches buried homes across four northeast provinces, killing those beneath.

Signs of the Times (2/23/15)

February 23, 2015

Signs of the Times (2/23/15)

Study Shows Places with Pro-Life Laws have Better Maternal Mortality Rates

When lawmakers press for pro-life laws, abortion advocates derisively label the protection of unborn children a “war on women.” But a new study indicates locations that have pro-life laws protecting unborn children have better maternal mortality rates than places where abortion is legal. These kinds of studies are not new — as previous reports from Ireland and Chile, for example, have shown that those pro-life nations have better maternal mortality rates than nations with legalized abortion. The new study, conducted in 32 Mexican states and published in the open access version of the British Medical Journal (BMJ Open) challenges the notion that abortion is better for women’s health. It confirmed that Mexican states with less permissive abortion laws exhibited 23% lower overall maternal mortality and up to 47% lower mortality from complications of abortion.

Failing Grade for Church in America

The church in America has been given a failing report card. In the book, Churchless, researcher George Barna and David Kinnaman take a look at the rising population of adults who do not attend church. Based on two decades of Barna Group interviews with thousands of churchless men and women, the book outlines a profile of the unchurched and the cultural context that has led to the trend away from church. According to the data, “in the 1990s, 30% of the American population was unchurched. Today, two decades later, that percentage has risen to more than four in 10 Americans (43%).”

Al-Shabaab Threatens Malls in Canada, UK, and U.S.

Terror group Al-Shabaab has released a video calling for attacks on shopping malls in Canada, the UK and the United States. In the propaganda video released Saturday, the al Qaeda-linked terror group talks about its September 2013 attack on a mall in Kenya. The brazen siege, which went on for days, left more than 60 people dead at an upscale mall in Nairobi. In its new video, it calls for similar attacks on malls in the three Western countries. Al-Shabaab identified specific malls. Mall of America said it’s aware of the video listing it as a potential target. U.S. officials said they’re aware of the threats and urged mall shoppers to be vigilant. After the siege at a Kenyan mall two years ago, the FBI started staging mock attacks in U.S. shopping centers during off hours to test their readiness, an official said.

Fatal Flaw in 911 System

In an era when your mobile phone can tell Facebook, Uber or even video games where you’re located – with amazing accuracy – 911 operators are often left in the dark. Your chance of 911 getting a quick fix on location ranges from as low as 10% to as high as 95%, according to hundreds of pages of local, state and federal documents obtained and reviewed by USA TODAY. In California, more than half of cellphone calls didn’t transmit location to 911 from 2011 to 2013, and it’s getting worse. Last year, about 12.4 million, or 63%, of California’s cellphone calls to 911 were unable to pinpoint location automatically. In Texas, two-thirds of cellphone calls in a sample of calls from major cities – including Austin and Houston – reached 911 without an instant fix on location from 2010 through 2013. In their reports and letters to the FCC, police and fire chiefs, 911 operators, emergency room doctors and others raised concerns about the problem worsening as more calls shift to the cellphone network, which now accounts for at least 70% of all 911 calls.

Deal Reached in West Coast Dockworkers Dispute

Negotiators reached a tentative contract covering West Coast dockworkers on Friday evening, likely ending a protracted labor dispute that snarled international trade at seaports handling about $1 trillion worth of cargo annually. The breakthrough came after nine months of negotiations that turned contentious in the fall, when dockworkers and their employers began blaming each other for problems getting imports to consumers and exports overseas. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who heralded the tentative deal in a conference call with reporters, says that normal operations were slated to resume on the docks starting Saturday night. But he’s not sure how long it will take to clear a cargo backlog that has left produce rotting because it couldn’t be loaded on ships and retailers frustrated at not receiving needed shipments.

Oil Refinery Workers on Strike

Workers at the nation’s largest oil refinery have joined a strike that now includes more than 6,500 workers. The United Steelworkers union says the nation’s oil producers aren’t taking seriously the safety concerns of its 30,000 members. The two sides have been engaged in negotiations for a nationwide contract that covers more than 200 production facilities, including 65 refineries. Those talks fell apart on Friday, and no further negotiations have yet been scheduled. All told, workers at 15 refineries and other production facilities are now on strike.

Economic News

Americans’ total household debt, including mortgages, credit cards, and auto and student loans, rose $117 billion in the last quarter of 2014 to reach $11.8 trillion. Two types of loans are increasingly delinquent. The percentage of auto loans that were more than 90 days overdue rose to 3.5 percent from 3.1 percent the previous quarter. Lenders have been taking on riskier borrowers over the past year. Delinquency on student loans also rose during the last quarter, to 11.3 percent from 11.1 percent the previous quarter.

The number of immigrants who arrived in the United States since 2000, both legally and illegally, is nearly twice the number of new jobs created over that period. A report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), based on Census Bureau data, discloses that 18 million immigrants arrived in the U.S. since 2000 but just 9.8 million jobs were added over those 14 years. As a result the labor force participation rate of native-born Americans aged 16 to 65 has been in decline. The rate was 77 percent in December 2000 and 72 percent in December 2014.

Home care workers are joining a nationwide movement to raise the wages of low-paid Americans with meetings and rallies in more than 20 cities the next two weeks. The campaign, which kicks off Monday in Carson City, Nev., was inspired by protests by fast-food and retail workers during the past two years that helped spark minimum-wage hikes in many states and prompted Walmart to boost its pay floor last week. Home care aides joined some of those rallies, but this is their first independent push.

Greece will propose modified reform measures today, after the country and its European creditors agreed Friday to a four-month extension on the country’s bailout. The deal, hammered out in talks in Brussels, hinges on Greece proposing reform measures by today and the country’s creditors accepting the plan. Until then, Greece, beset by 25% unemployment and a shrinking economy, won’t receive the next installment of its 240 billion euro ($273 billion) rescue package that has kept the country afloat since it nearly went bankrupt in 2010.

Venezuela might be the world’s worst economy. With 68% inflation, the highest across the globe, Venezuela comes in just ahead of war-torn Sudan and heavily-sanctioned Iran. U.S. companies like Ford and Pepsi are quickly losing profits there due to inflation. U.S. airlines have drastically reduced their flights to the capital, Caracas. Some European airlines have already stopped flying there altogether. Venezuela is getting crushed by low oil prices. There are severe food shortages at grocery stores across the country because the government can’t pay to import food. Venezuela’s currency is losing value faster than any other in the world. The country owes $11 billion in debt payment this year. Some experts see Venezuela defaulting in October, when the country must pay $5 billion.

Middle East

Arab governments are privately expressing their concern to Washington about the emerging terms of a potential deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program, according to Arab and U.S. officials involved in the deliberations. The direction of U.S. diplomacy with Tehran has added fuel to fears in some Arab states of a nuclear-arms race in the region, as well as reviving talk about possibly extending a U.S. nuclear umbrella to Middle East allies to counter any Iranian threat. The major Sunni states, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, have said that a final agreement could allow Shiite-dominated Iran, their regional rival, to keep the technologies needed to produce nuclear weapons, according to these officials, while removing many of the sanctions that have crippled its economy in recent years.

  • The weak Iranian negotiations by the Obama administration are fueling fears of a nuclear buildup throughout the Middle East

Islamic State

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has crude, stomach-turning tactics when it comes to dealing with its enemy, but experts say that its moneymaking methods are highly sophisticated, especially for such a new terror group. ISIS makes between $1 million and $2 million each day from oil sales, numerous sources tell CNN. The oil comes mostly from refineries and wells that ISIS controls in northern Iraq and northern Syria. A 2014 New York Times investigation found that since 2008, al Qaeda and its affiliates had received $125 million from ransoms, including $66 million in 2013. Some of that has gone to ISIS which is now reaping rewards on its own from several countries who deny paying ransoms. ISIS is also making money through looting and selling stolen artifacts and antiquities. ISIS is also profiting from organ sales on the black market, perhaps taken from some of the people they’ve slaughtered. The latest Islamic State video posted online shows captured Kurdish soldiers paraded in cages through crowded Iraqi streets to wild applause.

As ominous music plays, the ISIS flag flutters, child fighters wield weapons and graphic images of beheadings flash across the screen. At first, it seems like one of the notorious, slick jihadist recruitment videos flooding the Internet. But the tone quickly shifts. There are images of Syrian children crying, dead bodies lying on the floor and dire warnings: “You will discover hell on Earth” and “You will die alone far from home.” The video campaign, which started this month, is the latest volley in a fierce battle being fought online between the French government and jihadist groups. What’s at stake is nothing less than the lives of the country’s youth, CNN reports.

Ukraine

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Saturday that his country is not on the verge of collapse and that Russian-backed separatists continue to attack Ukrainian soldiers despite a recent cease fire agreement. Yatsenyuk also told Fox News there is ‘no doubt’ Russian President Putin wants to take over the country, as fighting continues in the country despite a cease-fire, Yatsenyuk’s comments come about one week after European leaders brokered a cease fire in the roughly 10-month conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the eastern region of the country. A top European Union official said Thursday that the 28-member bloc will provide armored cars and satellite imagery to monitor the cease fire but is undecided on whether to commit troops to a proposed United Nations-mandated peacekeeping mission. Meanwhile, Ukrainian military and separatist representatives on Saturday night exchanged dozens of prisoners. Roughly 140 Ukrainian troops and 52 rebels were exchanged. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Russia’s “land-grabbing” in the Ukraine, despite a cease-fire deal, might push the U.S. and its European allies to impose new sanctions to punish Moscow.

Afghanistan

President Barack Obama may change the United States’ plan to withdraw virtually all its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, his new defense secretary said Saturday during a visit to the central Asian nation — an indication that the White House is considering extending the U.S. troop presence there beyond that year. U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made the comment in a news conference in Kabul with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has previously called on Obama to “re-examine” the withdrawal plan to ensure his country has the support it needs to maintain security gains. Carter arrived in Afghanistan’s capital on Saturday during his first foreign trip since being sworn in as defense secretary four days ago.

Iran

With only weeks left to the deadline to reach a first-stage nuclear deal with Iran, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that ‘significant gaps’ remained and warned that America was ready to walk away from the talks if Tehran doesn’t agree to terms demonstrating that it doesn’t want atomic arms. Kerry spoke after the Iranian Atomic Energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz added their muscle to the talks for the first time to help resolve technical disputes standing in the way of an agreement meant to curb Iran’s nuclear programs in exchange for sanctions relief for the Islamic Republic. But Kerry warned against undue optimism. Salehi’s and Moniz’s presence is no ‘indication whatsoever that something is about to be decided,’ he said. The talks have missed two previous deadlines, and President Barack Obama has said a further extension would make little sense without a basis for continuing discussions.

South Sudan

At least 89 boys, some as young as 13 years old, were abducted by an armed group in South Sudan, the U.N. children’s agency said Saturday. The abductions took place near Malakal in the northern part of the country, UNICEF said. Armed soldiers surrounded the area and searched house to house in the community of Wau Shilluk in Upper Nile State, taking boys older than 12 by force. In the past year, 12,000 children — mostly boys — have been recruited and used as soldiers by armed forces and groups in South Sudan. “Despite renewed promises by both government and opposition forces that they will stop using child soldiers, both sides continue to recruit and use children in combat,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Nigeria

Nigerian troops retook the strategic northeastern town of Baga — where hundreds were viciously killed in a Boko Haram attack last month — on Saturday, the West African nation’s top military spokesman said. Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade said that “a large number of terrorists … drowned” in Lake Chad and others were killed in the fighting to take the fishing town. Lake Chad touches four countries — Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon — all of which have been targeted in recent weeks by Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group blamed for ongoing horrific attacks, abductions and other abuses.

Yemen

Yemen’s former president left the capital after Shiite rebels who surrounded his house let him go under international and local pressure, aides close to him said Saturday. The aides said former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi left Sanaa and later arrived in Aden. They say Hadi later plans to leave the country to receive medical treatment. Hadi has been under house arrest for several weeks following a coup by Shiite Houthi rebels. The rebels earlier captured the capital, Sanaa, in September. The aides say the rebels let Hadi go after pressure from the United Nations, the U.S., Russia and local political parties.

Environment

An alarming number of emaciated sea lion pups are washing up on Southern California shores, leaving scientists baffled. California rehabilitation centers have taken in almost 500 of the marine mammals since Jan. 1, National Geographic reported. Shawn Johnson, a veterinarian at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, told NatGeo, “They’re extremely emaciated, basically starving to death.” It is unclear why the pups are in such dire shape, Yahoo News said, but the National Marine Fisheries Service (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries) believes the declining availability of sea lion prey may be a key component. “The prey source is just too far away for the mothers to go out, get food and come back and wean the pups.” California sea lions play a vital role in nature since they act as indicators of ocean health, Nat Geo says. Experts say the unusual warmth of ocean waters may be what is driving sea lion prey further out to sea. California sea lions feed on fish and squid.

Weather

A widespread winter storm impacted parts of the South, Midwest and Northeast with snow and ice Friday and Saturday. The final bout of light freezing rain and snow from Pandora will push off of the Northeast coast during the morning hours on Sunday, from parts of New Jersey to the New York City area and Southern New England. Freezing rain and sleet were reported from Pandora Friday, which created slippery conditions from Missouri to Alabama. Ice accumulations up to 0.25 inch were reported Friday night and early Saturday in parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia, including Charleston. Even heavier ice accumulations of up to one inch were reported in eastern Tennessee, which combined with gusty winds caused significant damage. Snow totals of over 20 inches have been reported in West Virginia. A few other states have seen a foot or more of snow from Pandora, including southern Illinois, Maryland and Virginia.

Winter Storm Quantum will spread snow and ice from the Rockies to parts of the South Sunday through Monday. Heavy snow up to three inches an hour fell across parts of Colorado’s Front Range on Saturday as people faced another blast of winter weather that could bring two feet or more to some areas by the beginning of next week. Quantum was glazing over roadways in the South and the Rockies Monday morning, spawning accidents as drivers leave for the morning commute and leaving one dead.

At least 20 people have died from hypothermia in the latest blast of arctic air known as The Siberian Express, The Weather Channel says. The toll includes nine people in Tennessee, six in Pennsylvania, two in Illinois and one each in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. Ice coverage on the Great Lakes reached 85.4 percent on Feb. 18, marking the second winter in a row that ice coverage has exceeded 80 percent, the most since 1973.

The warmth that led 2014 to become the hottest year on record has continued into 2015, with last month ranking as the second-hottest January on record globally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday. Three agencies ranked 2014 as the warmest year on record by a slim margin. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century, with the exception of the blockbuster El Niño year of 1998. There hasn’t been a record cold year set since 1911 while, during the same period, there have been 19 record-warm years, according to a Climate Central analysis.

  • You have to wonder home much the globalists (Sustainability, Agenda 21, New World Order folks) are cooking the books in order to use global warming as the mechanism to attain their goals

Signs of the Times (2/20/15)

February 20, 2015

Signs of the Times

More Churches Caving to Gay Agenda

There’s been a mass exodus of Bible-believing congregations from the Presbyterian Church USA since the denomination voted to allow its ministers to perform gay weddings in states where it’s legal last summer. Apparently, the Methodists aren’t getting the hint. The United Methodist Church could have openly gay pastors and pastors could officiate at same-sex marriages if a proposal affirmed by denomination leadership prevails, according to Charisma News. A United Methodist body of clergy and lay people that acts as a church counsel for the denomination is working to draft legislation that could serve as a “Third Way” in the church’s debate about homosexuality. The group has already voted to remove language that makes it a “chargeable offense” under church law for pastors to be “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” or to officiate at same-sex weddings, according to the report.

Author and former lead pastor of Michigan’s Mars Hill Bible Church Rob Bell reportedly said he believes the church is “moments away” from embracing same-sex marriage in an interview with Oprah. Bell was being interviewed alongside his wife Kristen to talk about their new book “The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage.” Bell also said that he thought churches would “continue to be even more irrelevant” if it continues to reject homosexuality. He stated his position saying, “I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed.”

  • The gay agenda is a key end-time marker of the “falling away” (2Thessalonians 2:3) and the decline in morality (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Islamic Indoctrination Taking Place in American Schools

America’s schools, students, and faculty are being indoctrinated with so-called “diversity training” materials put out by Islamists at an alarming rate. In some cases, revisionist history is being used to assert that there have been positive Muslim influences on all societies for hundreds of years, reports Liberty Counsel. Citizens for National Security released a scathing report revealing that at least 30 public school textbooks just in the state of Florida contain instances of bias, inaccuracies, and “purposeful omissions”—all favoring Islam over Christianity and Judaism. One father of a Florida high school student recently revealed that a chapter entitled, “The Rise of Islam” makes this reference, “There is no god, but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God”Parents are reporting many incidents of Islamic indoctrination in our schools, including a Colorado high school compelling its students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic in February 2013. In this shocking incident, students replaced “one nation under God” with “one nation under Allah.” A high school in Maryland has now made concessions to allow Muslim students to pray on campus during specified times. Ironically, this same school system is among those which are hostile toward school prayer by Christians.

School Recants and says ‘God Bless America’ Not Unconstitutional

The Florida high school that told a student not to say “God bless America” during morning announcements said this week that the student did not violate the U.S. Constitution. “Upon consultation with legal counsel and review of legal advisories, the Nassau County School District has taken the position that a student’s use of the phrase “God Bless America” during the morning announcements at Yulee High School does not violate the Constitution of the United States,” the school district said in a statement. However, the student will still have to remain on-script during announcements. The unidentified student has not been named, and according to school officials, he was not punished.

  • And the script, of course, will not contain the phrase “God bless America” as our secular indoctrination centers continue to remove any trace of the Judeo-Christian God from the public school system

Obama Defends Soft Approach to Extremism

President Obama defended his administration’s approach to the terror threat at a White House summit Wednesday, standing by claims that groups like the Islamic State do not represent Islam — as well as assertions that job creation could help combat extremism. Obama, addressing the Washington audience on the second day of the summit, said the international community needs to address “grievances” that terrorists exploit, including economic and political issues. He also said no single religion was responsible for violence and terrorism, adding he wants to lift up the voice of tolerance in the United States and beyond. Obama’s statement came as Republican lawmakers and others criticized the administration for declining to describe the threat as Islamic terrorism. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf has also come under fire for suggesting several times this past week that more jobs could help address the terrorism crisis.

  • The failure to identify Islam as the basis for extremist terrorism several years ago has helped pave the way for the creation of the Islamic State

Judge Orders Halt to Obama Immigration Plan

A federal judge in Texas has ordered a halt, at least temporarily, to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, siding with Texas and 25 other states that filed a lawsuit opposing the initiatives. In an order filed on Monday, the judge, Andrew S. Hanen of Federal District Court in Brownsville, prohibited the Obama administration from carrying out programs the president announced in November that would offer protection from deportation and work permits to as many as five million undocumented immigrants. The immediate impact of the ruling is that up to 270,000 undocumented immigrants nationwide who came to the United States as children will not be able to apply for deportation protection under an expansion of an existing executive program. A larger new program is scheduled to begin in May.

Super-Sneaky Malware Found in Company Computers Worldwide

A shadowy hacking group has infected computers at companies, universities and governments worldwide with the sneakiest malware ever. That’s according to a report Monday by Internet security company, Kaspersky, which described a hacking campaign “that exceeds anything we have ever seen before.” The mysterious group, which researchers nicknamed “the Equation group,” uses malware that’s unusually quiet, complex and powerful. It planted spyware on computers’ firmware, the programming that lives permanently on hardware. It’s an unheard-of move that means the malware can avoid detection by antivirus software. Reinstalling a computer’s operating system or reformatting the hard disk won’t even fix the problem. The Equation group uses a hacking tool called “GROK.” That’s a tool used exclusively by the NSA’s elite cyber-warfare unit. The Kaspersky report is the latest to depict a world engaged in constant cyber espionage.

Whites have 12 Times the Wealth of Blacks

The typical white family had accumulated more than $134,200 in wealth in 2013, while black families scraped together a little more than $11,000 and Hispanic families $13,700, according to a new Urban Institute report. Whites now have 12 times the wealth of blacks and nearly 10 times more than Hispanics. In 1995, the spread was only 7 times for blacks and 6 times for Hispanics. Blacks and Hispanics are less likely to be homeowners or participate in retirement accounts, which build wealth. And the earnings gap between the races makes it harder for blacks and Hispanics to save.

California’s Oranges are Rotting on the Docks

California’s famous navel oranges and Washington’s apples are rotting in the hot L.A. sun on port docks. Meanwhile, Japanese electronics and Chinese clothing items are bobbing in the ocean within view of the shore. The Pacific Maritime Association has accused the International Longshore Workers union of creating a work slowdown that has turned harbors into parking lots and shipping containers into putrid garbage bins. Negotiations between the management of twenty-nine West Coast ports and the longshore union began when the contract for around 20,000 port workers expired in July. Honda said on Monday it would stop or reduce production at six facilities over the next week because of parts shortages. Toyota and Subaru also said they would modify their operations. Among the largest exports from these ports are meat and dairy products, followed by other foods like produce and canned foods. The North American Meat Institute said its industry is losing $85 million every week.

Economic News

The U.S. government reported a big drop in unemployment claims last week. The total was 283,000, a drop of 21,000 from the previous week’s total of 304,000. The government said the four-week moving average was 283,250, a decrease of 6,500.

U.S. homebuilders slowed the pace of construction in January, breaking ground on fewer single-family houses ahead of the spring buying season. Housing starts slipped 2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.07 million last month, down from 1.09 million in December, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Leading that decline was a sharp 6.7% monthly drop in starts for single-family houses. Single-family starts had climbed 18.7 percent over the past 12 months. However, apartment construction surged 12.1% in January and 24.5% over the past 12 months with Millennials leaving the nest once again. Employers are adding workers at an annual clip of 2.3%, the fastest rate in the more than five-year recovery from the Great Recession. The improving labor market is expected to trigger greater demand to buy homes, boosting prices and then causing builders to ramp up construction.

Investors often see gold as a safe haven when inflation looms or when the value of the dollar tumbles on international currency markets. But inflation clocked in at 0.8% in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s including the volatile food and energy components. Without food and energy, the CPI rose 1.6% in December. More troubling for gold, however, is the relentless march upward by the U.S. dollar. A euro now costs $1.14, according to FactSet, down from $1.21 at the start of 2015 and $1.38 a year earlier. Worries about a Greek default and war in the Ukraine have only pushed the dollar higher — and gold lower. The 10-year U.S. Treasury bond currently yields 2.09%, vs. 0.34% in Germany and 0.39% in Japan. Higher rates draw money to the U.S., which props up the dollar and drives down gold.

Debt-strapped Greece still doesn’t have a deal with its creditors after talks broke down Monday. An abrupt end to talks Monday between Greek’s new government and eurozone finance ministers hasn’t sparked a catastrophic reaction in global financial markets. It appears that investors around the world still are hopeful that both sides will eventually seal a deal and avoid negative outcomes such as a Greece default and an exit from the eurozone. Both sides are expected to continue talking in hopes of ending the impasse. Debt-strapped Greece and its European creditors on Friday sought to bridge major differences over Athens’ request for a six-month loan extension that might keep it from falling out of the euro.

Persecution Watch

A Washington woman who refused to make flower arrangements for a gay wedding in 2013 has been found guilty of discrimination. Christian Today reports that Barronelle Stutzman, who operated Arlene’s Flowers, refused to provide the floral arrangements for Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed’s wedding because her Christian beliefs prevented her from doing so in good conscience. After two years of legal proceedings, Stutzman was found guilty of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Stutzman will be likely fined, though the damages sought by the couple will be determined at a later date. Legal group Alliance Defending Freedom represented Stutzman in the suit; a statement from the group said that the attorneys intend to appeal the court’s decision. Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kristen Waggoner said in a statement, “You put your home, your family business, and your life savings at risk by daring to defy a government mandate that forces you to promote views you believe are wrong.”

A truck driver claims he was fired for writing Jesus was his co-driver. Ramiro Olivarez wrote “Jesus” as his co-driver in all his log books because the books only require, “driver’s full signature and then just a co-driver name. It says nothing about a signature, just a name,” he told KRGV. Olivarez filled it in with the name of man he knew was always with him, and his trucking company is now saying he was falsifying his records. Olivarez’s termination letter says he was told to stop “submitting incomplete documentation and falsifying legal documents,” and that writing in Jesus’ name as co-driver violates both Texas and federal trucking regulations.

Islamic State

ISIS is under pressure in parts of Iraq and battling a variety of adversaries in Syria, but it’s metastasizing at warp speed elsewhere, most dangerously in Egypt and Libya. Since exploding onto the world stage as a conquering force in Iraq a year ago, the Islamic State has expanded its reach across the Middle East despite a U.S.-led bombing campaign that has killed thousands of militants and destroyed tons of their equipment. Signs of the influence of the Islamic State have emerged throughout the Middle East. Some extremists in the Sinai, where militants battle the Egyptian government, have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. Groups affiliated with the militant organization have popped up in Algeria and Tunisia. It also has support in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The perception is that the Islamic State is the closest thing jihadists have to actual success. The group’s model for expansion is simple. It makes no effort to impose central control over far-flung affiliates. That allows the Islamic State to take credit for expansion and gives affiliates the clout that comes with their ties to a jihadist group on the rise.

Anbar provincial council chairman Sabah Karkhout said he was advised by his field commanders near the al-Baghdadi front line that ISIS militants killed at least 45 Iraqi police officers and tribesman, and that most of the victims were burned alive. ISIS seized control of most of the town last week. It’s located just nine miles north of the Ayn al-Asad airbase, where some 400 U.S. military personnel are stationed to train Iraqi pilots in the fight against ISIS. The teachings and beliefs of radical Islam have always been severe, but the Islamic State militant group shocked the world again with reports that they poured acid on the faces of 15 women for not properly wearing the niqab, a hijab which covers the entire face except for the eyes.

Libya

New images released online Wednesday show large numbers of Islamic State militants patrolling streets in the Libyan city of Sirte. Kalashnikov-wielding fighters in beige fatigues, their faces covered in black balaclavas, ride in a convoy of pick-ups trucks waving the group’s black flags. The images are clearly aimed as a show of force — an announcement that the Islamic State is now a power in Libya. The release comes one day after a similar attention-grabbing move: a mass beheading of 20 Egyptians near Sirte. Islamic State operatives are believed to have arrived in Libya as early as last summer — around the same time the group’s fighters overran a large part of northern Iraq in a sweeping offensive, a security official told The Wall Street Journal.

Ukraine

Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed separatists failed to start pulling back heavy weaponry from the front line in eastern Ukraine as the deadline to do so passed. Under a cease-fire agreement deal brokered Thursday in Minsk, Belarus, among the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany, the warring sides were to begin withdrawing heavy weapons from the front line on Tuesday. The strategic railway hub of Debaltseve in eastern Ukraine fell to Russia-backed separatists Wednesday after weeks of fighting. The strategic railway hub of Debaltseve in eastern Ukraine fell to Russia-backed separatists Wednesday after weeks of fighting. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on his official Twitter account earlier that the Ukrainian army withdrew 80% of its troops and two more columns were yet to leave. Separatist rebels fired on Ukrainian positions nearly 50 times in the past 24 hours and Russia is sending more tanks into Ukraine despite a cease-fire that was supposed to take effect five days ago, a Ukrainian military spokesman said Friday.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber trying to enter a police complex in eastern Pakistan killed five people Tuesday, officials said, in a rare attack on the relatively peaceful city of Lahore. Initial reports suggested a man on foot ran toward the gate of one of the main police buildings in Lahore and blew himself up. The city is the power base of Pakistan’s prime minister. The bombing claimed by a Pakistani Taliban splinter group further destabilizes a country already struggling to deal with its militancy problems following the assault on a school in December that killed 150 people and horrified the country.

Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani underlined that the country doesn’t take permission from anyone to make progress in different scientific and technological fields, and said Tehran has accelerated its peaceful nuclear activities. ‘We have made highly important progress in the nuclear field, but the negotiations receive so much attraction and hue and cry that they overshadow these activities, otherwise, we are running at a higher speed,’ Rouhani said, addressing a ceremony to commemorate the space technology day in Iran on Tuesday. He underscored the country’s progress in different aerospace, genetics, medical and other scientific fields, and said, ‘We don’t and will not take permission from anyone to make progress in science and knowledge.’ He referred to the enemies’ attempts to seek excuses to pressure Iran and block the country’s scientific development, and said his government is and will continue efforts to defuse the enemies’ plots and show that their excuses and allegations are baseless.”

Syria

Rebels in Syria have captured 32 soldiers and pro-government gunmen near the northern city of Aleppo, where fighting is raging as the two sides try to grab new territory ahead of a possible truce. More than 170 fighters have been killed from both sides in the clashes, according to the Observatory. The fighting comes as U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura is trying to broker a truce for war-ravaged Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. On Tuesday he said in New York that Syrian President Bashar Assad has expressed willingness to suspend bombing of Aleppo for six weeks.

Somalia

One suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into the gate of a hotel in Somalia’s capital, and another went through the gates and blew himself up, killing at least four people on Friday, including the mayor and a legislator, officials said. The country’s deputy prime minister was also among those wounded by the bombings at the Central Hotel near the presidential palace. Al-Shabab, an Islamic insurgent group, claimed the responsibility for the attack.

Pestilence

UCLA reported Wednesday that nearly 180 patients were exposed to a potentially deadly “superbug” on contaminated medical instruments that infected seven patients and may have contributed to two deaths. A total of 179 patients at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center were exposed to antibiotic-resistant carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, during endoscopic procedures between October and January, the university said in a statement. Similar outbreaks of CRE have been reported around the nation. They are difficult to treat because some varieties are resistant to most known antibiotics. By one estimate, CRE can contribute to death in up to half of seriously infected patients.

Earthquakes

Japan has issued a tsunami advisory after a magnitude-6.9 earthquake struck off its northeastern coast. The quake struck shortly after 8 a.m. Japan time Tuesday at a depth of about 6 miles. The Japan Meteorological Agency issued an advisory for a possible 3-foot tsunami. Japanese broadcaster NHK warned people to stay away from the shore. The earthquake struck in the same region hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Weather

Winter Storm Octavia dealt a hard blow to the South Monday, leaving hundreds of thousands without power and killing four people due to its icy blast. Tuesday, as residents cleaned up from the mess left behind, they had to deal with brutally cold temperatures invading some of the hardest-hit areas. From widespread snow in Kentucky to icing in Tennessee, north Georgia, northern South Carolina and North Carolina, travel conditions across the south were treacherous Tuesday morning. In Middle Tennessee, temperatures didn’t rise above freezing on Tuesday. Several Alabama schools announced Friday closures or delayed starts due to the bitter cold weather

Wednesday highs were up to 30 degrees below average in the Midwest, with highs mainly in the single digits and teens. In fact, Minneapolis topped out at just 2 degrees Wednesday. Daily record lows were set in several cities on Thursday morning. Lows in the single digits were recorded as far south as northern Georgia and northern Alabama. Widespread subzero lows were reported as far south as Kentucky and Tennessee. Georgia cities shattered record cold temperatures for the state Thursday, including Atlanta, Athens, Columbus and Macon. Hypothermia killed at least seven people as the arctic blast pushed through the Central and Eastern parts of the nation.

Winter Storm Octavia hit states along the Eastern seaboard starting through the night Monday and into Tuesday. A snow emergency went into effect in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday at 7 a.m. and federal offices were closed for all non-essential workers. D.C. public schools were closed as well. A state of emergency was declared in Tennessee, where emergency officials have asked the National Guard to deploy a 10-person crew with Humvees to check on stranded motorists. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says motorists were backed up on Interstate 40 and part of I-24 was closed due to an earlier backup. The agency said that 55,000 people were without power late Monday.

While it’s been a rough winter so far for people in the north-central and northeastern U.S., both December and January were actually warmer than average across the country overall. The U.S. is having its sixth-warmest winter on record, according to data from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), which has records back to 1895.

Signs of the Times (2/16/15)

February 16, 2015

Signs of the Times

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24:6-8)

Federal Court Rules Christian Ministries Can Hire or Fire Employees According to Beliefs

Christian ministries can hire or fire people based on their religious beliefs, a federal court has ruled. The decision comes after Alyce Conlon filed suit against InterVarsity Christian Fellowship after she was fired for not reconciling her marriage. Previously, she had worked as a spiritual director for the fellowship. Conlon was placed on paid leave so she could reconcile with her husband. Then in December 2011 she was fired because the organization had “not seen enough progress.” Later, her husband filed for divorce. Conlon then filed suit against IVF in 2012, claiming discrimination under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. Her case was initially dismissed but Conlon appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Christian News Network reports the court upheld the ruling this week.

  • This one small case could have enormous judicial implications regarding the freedom to hire/fire according to religious beliefs and principles

Liberty Counsel Defending Alabama & North Carolina Magistrates

Liberty Counsel is deeply engaged in a fight to defend the rule of law in Alabama, and have filed a lawsuit to protect the rights of conscience of magistrates in North Carolina. The same-sex “marriage” agenda threatens their religious liberty and freedom of conscience. Magistrates in North Carolina are being pressured to officiate same-sex “weddings” or face suspension, termination, fines, or prosecution. The magistrates “have been forced to choose between deprivation of constitutional rights and continued employment, or freedom,” Liberty Counsel told the court in the lawsuit. “This case is typical of the conflicts erupting across the United States as intolerant activists impose their will on the majority of Americans who refuse to endorse or participate in same-sex unions. Although pro-homosexual activists favor rhetoric about tolerance and equal rights, their agenda is anything but tolerant,” Liberty Counsel asserts. “Christians and people of faith have been silenced through “hate speech” laws.”

America’s Largest Christian Bookstore Chain Files for Bankruptcy

Family Christian Stores (FCS) has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Yet the ministry assured customers yesterday that it “does not expect” to close any of its 267 stores or lay off any of its approximately 4,000 employees. “We strive to serve God in all that we do and trust His guidance in all our decisions, especially this very important one,” stated FCS president and CEO Chuck Bengochea. “We have carefully and prayerfully considered every option. This action allows us to stay in business and continue to serve our customers, our associates, our vendors and charities around the world. We believe our only two options are to liquidate and shut down our stores or go through the Section 363 sale process and preserve Family Christian Stores. When faced with these two options, we strongly felt that there was only one viable path to take.” Through a newly formed subsidiary, Family Christian Ministries will serve as the lead bidder for the Section 363 sale process, putting forward a plan that acquires the streamlined organization’s assets and maintains operation of the chain’s 267 stores in 36 states, as well as its e-commerce site www.familychristian.com FCS bought itself back from private equity owners in 2012 and pledged to donate 100 percent of its profits to widows and orphans.

IRS Botches Obamacare Deadline

The Saturday outage of an Internal Revenue Service function for Obamacare enrollment could have prevented about 500,000 people from enrolling, but nearly all should have the chance to sign up thanks to widespread deadline extensions and now-smoothly running sites. The glitch prevented some people from getting their income verified so they could enroll on HealthCare.gov’ Uninsured Americans faced a Sunday night deadline to join the more than 10 million who have already enrolled in private health coverage this year through the Affordable Care Act. Those who don’t finish their applications by the deadline because they can’t get through on the website or are on hold with call centers can get an extension. The uninsured face tax penalties of up to $975 for 2015 and $2,085 for 2016.

Anonymous Hacks Hundreds of ISIS Accounts, Shuts Them Down

A group of hackers that call themselves “Anonymous” reportedly broke into hundreds of ISIS social media and email accounts and shut them down. According to CNN Money, Anonymous managed to shut down nearly 800 Twitter accounts, 12 Facebook pages and over 50 email addresses. They posted, “”ISIS; We will hunt you, Take down your sites, Accounts, Emails… From now on, no safe place for you online. … You will be treated like a virus, And we are the cure. … We Own The Internet. … We are Anonymous, We are Legion, We do not forgive, We do not forget, Expect us.” The Christian Post reports that Anonymous said they were “Muslims, Christians, Jews.” They also “come from all races, countries, religions, and ethnicity.”

Hackers Stole $1 Billion from 100 Banks

Hackers have stolen approximately $1 billion in what could be one of the largest bank heists ever, according to a new report from the Internet security firm Kaspersky Lab. Kaspersky said Sunday it has uncovered how hackers surreptitiously installed spying software on bank computers, eventually learned how to mimic bank employee workflows and used the knowledge to make transfers into bank accounts they had created for this theft. More than 100 banks were hit, Kaspersky said, and based on the hackers’ practice of stealing between $2.5 million and $10 million from each bank, it estimated “total financial losses could be as a high as $1 billion, making this by far the most successful criminal cyber campaign we have ever seen.” Kaspersky did not name the banks but said they are institutions located in 25 countries, including the United States. The thieves were Russian, Ukranian, Chinese and European, Kaspersky said.

Ebola Update

An official says Sierra Leone has imposed a quarantine in a fishing district in the capital city, Freetown, in response to new Ebola cases. OB Sisay, director of the Situation Room at the National Ebola Response Center, said the quarantine went into effect Friday after five Ebola cases were confirmed in laboratory tests. He said a control center had been opened in the district and that contact tracing and surveillance officers had been deployed. The World Health Organization says Sierra Leone has seen nearly 11,000 confirmed, probable and suspected Ebola cases during the worst Ebola outbreak in history, the most of any country. Despite a drop in cases, WHO said Wednesday that transmission in Sierra Leone remains widespread, with 76 new confirmed cases in the previous week.

Economic News

For the first time ever, federal tax revenues have topped $1 trillion for the first four months of a fiscal year. But the government still managed to run a deficit of $194.2 billion in the first four months of fiscal 2015. The federal department with the largest outlays during the four months was Health and Human Services, whose $355 billion in spending included $113 billion in grants to states for Medicaid. The department’s total outlays for the full fiscal year are projected to top $1 trillion. The second highest outlay was by the Social Security Administration, $312 billion, followed by the Department of Defense, $195 billion. Interest on Treasury debt securities amounted to $133 billion over the four months.

  • The acceleration toward our socialistic welfare state continues unabated

Automobile shortages are looming as the labor dispute continues to interrupt work at West Coast ports, where some key parts for Asian-brand automakers arrive. The situation underlines the fact that the car business is global, despite major efforts to localize production. And it exposes how vulnerable automakers’ cost-saving, just-in-time inventory delivery systems are to interruption. Dock workers at seaports along the West Coast are negotiating with the port owners for a new contract to replace the one that expired last June 30. Ill will between the sides has resulted in delays in cargo ships being unloaded. A total shutdown strike could cost the U.S. economy $2 billion a day.

German consumers are spending again, sparking Europe’s economic engine back into life. Fourth quarter Eurozone GDP rose by 0.3%, compared with the previous quarter, thanks to a big boost to growth in Germany, the region’s biggest economy. German growth accelerated to 0.7% in the fourth quarter as households recovered from a loss of confidence triggered by the Ukraine crisis in the middle of last year.

Japan’s recession is officially over but that’s where the good news ends for Asia’s second-largest economy, which remains stuck in neutral despite the best efforts of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to deliver a revival. The economy grew by 0.6% compared to the previous quarter, but was held back by weaker than expected private consumption. The lackluster expansion follows two consecutive quarters of negative growth for Japan — the definition of a recession — precipitated by a sales tax hike that took a huge bite out of consumer spending.

Persecution Watch

With hundreds of church buildings burned and hundreds of Christians killed following Christian President Goodluck Jonathan’s electoral win in 2011, analysts are concerned about the potential for more anti-Christian brutality as Nigerians once again choose their president. In a country where the ratio of Christians to Muslims is almost equal, the voting is predicted to follow religious divisions.

A Marquette University professor has been suspended from his teaching position after writing a blog that criticized another professor who prohibited a student from expressing views supporting traditional marriage. Christian Today reports that John McAdams, a professor of 37 years, received a letter of suspension from Dean Richard Holtz that said he will be banned from campus and suspended with pay until the establishment concludes an investigation. In his blog, McAdams wrote, “Abbate, of course, was just using a tactic typical among liberals now. Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.”

A school district in Florida has asked a high school student to stop ending the morning announcements with “God bless America.” But he did so anyway and was reprimanded. The decision comes after a complaint from two students, who are atheists. They filed a complaint with the American Humanist Association. The AHA then contacted the school principal and superintendent through a six-page letter. The letter said the phrase during the announcement was “inappropriate and unlawful” and the “daily validation of the religious views of God-believers resigns atheists to second class citizens.” The group also threatened to sue. “Students at Yulee High are free to express their beliefs all day long, but not during the school announcement,” the principal said.

  • The more we remove God from our institutions the more that God’s providential hand is removed from blessing America

Islamic State

Islamic State militants launched a suicide attack against a base in western Iraq where U.S. forces are stationed, but were defeated by Iraqi soldiers defending the facility, the Pentagon said Friday. The attack came as the militants over the past several days have seized the nearby town of al-Baghdadi, placing them within miles of al-Asad, a sprawling military compound in western Iraq. Early Friday, militants used a small force of suicide bombers in an effort to breach the base’s perimeter. Another team of about 15 fighters was prepared to get through the opening and into the base, the U.S. military said. The base in the Euphrates River Valley west of Baghdad is a major training facility where teams of Americans are training about 800 Iraqi soldiers.

An Iraqi tribal leader said Saturday that ISIS militants are gaining ground in Anbar province, and he predicted a “collapse within hours” of that province’s cities and towns if Iraqi forces withdraw. While U.S. officials have said that ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State, is on the defensive in Iraq and Syria, Sheikh Naim al-Gaoud, the Sunni leader of the Albu Mimr tribe says that’s definitely not the case where he is. “In Anbar, we are losing ground, not gaining,” he said.

Egypt launched airstrikes against Islamic State targets in neighboring Libya on Monday, hours after militants there released a video purporting to show the mass beheading of Egyptian Christian hostages. The warplanes targeted weapons caches and training camps before returning safely. “Let those far and near know that Egyptians have a shield that protects them,” an official statement said. It marks the first time Cairo has publicly acknowledged taking military action in Libya, where extremist groups seen as a threat to both countries have taken root in recent years. Many civilians, including three children and two women, were killed in the strikes.

Middle East

AFP reported on Wednesday that the Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah has taken the lead in the fight against armed factions rebelling against the Assad regime in Syria, especially along the region bordering Israel. “Regime troops and their Hezbollah-led allies are advancing in the area linking Daraa, Quneitra and Damascus provinces,” a report by an opposition group said. “The operation launched by the Syrian army is being fought in cooperation with… Hezbollah and Iran,” a Syrian army officer added in a report by the Assad regime’s official television station. The reports track with recent statements by officials in neighboring Lebanon and the UN. Meanwhile, fighting in the area might have been delayed by the recent winter weather which has dumped several centimeters of snow on all sides of the borders running through Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights in recent days. Severe winter weather is expected to continue in northern Israel through the weekend.

In almost every way, the Gaza Strip is much worse off now than before last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas. Scenes of misery are one of the few things in abundance in the battered coastal enclave. Reconstruction of the tens of thousands homes damaged and destroyed in the hostilities has barely begun, almost six months after the cease-fire. At current rates, it will take decades to rebuild what was destroyed. The economy is in deep recession; pledges of billions in aid have not been honored; and the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the enclave, refuses to loosen its grip and is preparing again for war. Diplomats, aid workers and residents warn of a looming humanitarian crisis and escalation of violence, reports the Washington Post.

Ukraine

A cease-fire that came into effect in eastern Ukraine on Sunday appeared largely to be holding, officials said, with the exception of the area around the strategic railway hub of Debaltseve. Fierce fighting surged in east Ukraine Friday as Russian-backed separatists mounted a major and sustained new push to capture a strategic railway hub ahead of a weekend cease-fire deadline. Clashes appeared only to have increased in the day since a peace agreement was sealed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel cautiously described the agreement negotiated Thursday as “a glimmer of hope.” The government-held railway town of Debaltseve was on the receiving end of dozens of artillery and rocket salvos in the 24-hour period following the Minsk talks, Ukrainian military officials said.

Afghanistan

U.S. Special Forces soldiers and their Afghan allies have undertaken an increasing number of night raids targeting Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, despite Washington formally declaring an end to combat operations late last year. The New York Times reports that the increased raids are partially the result of intelligence seized in October of last year, when U.S. and Afghan commandos came upon a laptop computer with files detailing terror operations in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. Military officials tell the paper that the information in the files could be as significant as what was found on a computer in Usama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound after the terror leader was killed by Navy SEALs in 2011. The officials also said that another factor playing the role in the increased raids were loosened restrictions on nighttime operations put in place by the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani. Ghani has previously called for a slower withdrawal of U.S. troops from his country. Current plans call for the U.S. to go from about 10,800 troops there now to 5,500 by the end of this year.

Pakistan

The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for a Friday attack on a Shiite Muslim mosque in Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan — a suicide bombing and gunfire assault that a hospital representative said killed 19 people. Sixty-seven people were injured. The Islamist militant group said the attack was orchestrated by a commander who was behind December’s massacre of 145 people, including 132 children, at a Peshawar school. The Pakistan Taliban attacked the mosque as revenge for the government’s December 19 execution of a militant who was allied with the group.

Yemen

The White House’s top counterterrorism official admitted Thursday that the overthrow of Yemen’s government by Shiite rebels last month caught U.S. intelligence off guard. Nick Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Yemeni army’s response to the advancing Houthi rebels resembled the Iraqi military’s response to an onslaught by the Islamic State terror group (ISIS) that ended in the capture of Iraq’s second-largest city this past summer. “As the Houthi advances toward Sanaa [Yemen’s capital] took place,” Rasmussen said, “they weren’t opposed in many places. … The situation deteriorated far more rapidly than we expected.”

Al Qaeda militants freed six of their fighters from a southern Yemeni prison during an attack on the facility Friday, just one day after the group took over a military camp in the same province, security officials said. Also Friday, at least three more nations announced they were temporarily closing their embassies in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa because of deteriorating security conditions, including neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Denmark

Denmark continued to reel Sunday over its first double terrorist attack, trying to make sense of killings in a country that rarely sees deadly violence and where the queen and officials walk around with light security. Danish police shot and killed a man Sunday who they believe was behind shootings at a free speech event and a synagogue in Copenhagen that stirred fears that another spree of terror attacks was underway in Europe. Police have not identified the gunman, who was killed in a firefight in the Noerrebro district of the Danish capital, after two people were shot dead and five police officers injured in the attacks over the weekend. They said it was possible the attacker was imitating the Paris attacks, which saw 17 people killed during three days of terror last month.

Weather

Snow and dangerously high winds roared into New England for the fourth time in less than a month Sunday. A ferocious blizzard — as powerful as a Category 2 hurricane —hammered parts of the Northeast and New England with heavy snow, howling winds and pounding waves late Saturday into Sunday. In the past three weeks, Boston has seen snow almost every day, and more than a foot 3 times. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority suspended all service Sunday. February has already obliterated the previous snowiest month on record in Boston with 58.5 inches in just two weeks. Boston also set their 30-day record snowfall total with 74.8 inches since January 15th. The temperature drifted down to -3 degrees Fahrenheit Monday morning.

A winter storm is coating roads in the Midwest and Ohio Valley with a layer of snow that is complicating the Monday commute in several states. The southern half of Missouri to near or south of the Ohio River are among the places seeing some of the highest accumulations from the storm. Much of the area impacted in the Midwest is well under their average snowfall amounts for the season, with this storm bringing their first heavy snowfall before sweeping through the south Tuesday.

Grizzly Bears in Yellowstone are emerging from hibernation earlier than usual this year. In the past five years, the bears have awakened from their winter slumbers in the first half of March, says Wyoming Public Media. However, above-average temperatures coaxed the creatures out two to four weeks earlier than usual, as the first sighting on Monday, Feb. 9, confirmed. The bears are ravenous and aggressive when they emerge from hibernation. Winter tourists, including snowshoers and skiers, have been advised to carry bear spray, make noise along trails and stay in groups of three or more, National Parks Traveler says.

Despite a series of arctic air masses blasting the central and eastern U.S. during the first half of the month, January 2015 was warmer than average for the nation as a whole, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Temperatures skyrocketed over the western half of the country. Widespread above average temperatures prevailed from the West Coast to the Intermountain areas to the Northern Plains. Overall, January’s average temperature for the continental United States was 33 degrees, which NOAA reports is 2.9 degrees above average. January 2015 ranked as the 24th warmest January in the 1895-2015 period of record.

The western U.S. will likely experience ‘megadroughts’ the magnitude of which haven’t been experienced in a millennium, due in large part to man-made climate change, a new study conducted by NASA, Columbia University and Cornell University scientists said. They say that the chance of the West and Southwest experiencing a megadrought — a severe drought lasting decades — by the year 2100 is more than 80 percent, National Geographic reports. A rise in temperatures due to man-made climate change is creating ‘unprecedented’ drying across the region.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme with record warmth, floods and gigantic hail (Daniel 9:26b, Rev. 8:7, 11:19, 16:11)

Signs of the Times (2/12/15)

February 12, 2015

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24:6-8)

Islamic State

On Tuesday, the family of American Kayla Mueller being held hostage by ISIS, revealed devastating news. They received it, officials said, in a message from her captors. “We are heartbroken to share that we’ve received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller has lost her life,” the family said in a statement. ISIS sent the family a private message over the weekend, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said. “Once this information was authenticated by the intelligence community, they concluded that Kayla was deceased,” Meehan said. She apparently died in a Jordanian, airstrike. Kayla might have been an ISIS ‘bride’ during her captivity, U.S. intelligence and government officials said Wednesday.

In its short, bloody existence, ISIS has taken dozens of international hostages. Often it has sought ransoms for them to swell its coffers, and some governments have reportedly handed over hefty sums of cash. In other cases, where money isn’t forthcoming, the Islamic militant group has publicized its barbaric killings of the hostages, in an effort to score propaganda points with its extremist followers. However, the number of foreign captives killed by ISIS is dwarfed by the masses of Iraqis and Syrians slaughtered under the militants’ murderous rule over parts of the region.

Judicial Defiance in Alabama: Same-Sex Marriages Begin, but Most Counties Refuse

On the day that same-sex unions became legal in Alabama, local officials in dozens of counties on Monday defied a federal judge’s decision and refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, casting the state into judicial chaos. Gay couples were able to get licenses in about a dozen places, including Birmingham, Huntsville and a few other counties where probate judges complied with the judge’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled early Monday that it would deny Alabama’s request to put the marriages on hold. But in the majority of counties, officials said they would refuse to license same-sex marriages or stop providing licenses altogether, confronting couples — gay and heterosexual — with locked doors and shuttered windows.

Hundreds of Churches Observe ‘Evolution Sunday’ as Others Celebrate ‘Creation Sunday’

Some 500 churches in the U.S. will celebrate “Evolution Sunday” this coming week to recognize Charles Darwin’s birthday. In response, other churches will celebrate “Creation Sunday” instead. Darwin’s birthday, which is Feb. 12, is called International Darwin Day by the atheists that celebrate the occasion. Congregations who have pledged to celebrate “Evolution Sunday” have the most participants in California, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. Tony Breeden, the founder and organizer for Creation Sunday, says “If I can’t trust the plain meaning of the Bible in Genesis because of the all-natural presuppositions of science, why should I trust it when it speaks of a Virgin birth, water turning into wine, the resurrection of Christ, or any other supernatural claim in the Bible?” Breeden told Christian News Network. “It’s a slippery slope and it undermines the foundational basis of the Gospel itself.”

New Jersey Teen Wins Court Case against Atheists

A New Jersey teenager who stood up against atheists seeking to legally remove the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, declared victory in court last Friday after a state judge dismissed the case. The teenager, Samantha Jones, a senior at Highland Regional High School celebrated what she describes as the right of her fellow students to keep reciting the pledge of allegiance in its entirety according to a release from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented her. A state judge dismissed the case brought by the American Humanist Association seeking to gut “one nation under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance after hearing Jones and her family’s testimony against it. This is the second time a state court has stopped the American Humanist Association from outlawing the federal pledge. Their first state-level suit, raising identical claims, was unanimously rejected by Massachusetts’ highest court last year, according to the Becket Fund.

University of Vermont adds ‘Neutral’ as Third Gender

The University of Vermont now officially recognizes “neutral” as a “third gender” option for its students who’ll also be allowed to be referred to with “gender neutral” pronouns, The New York Times reports. The university, a public institution of some 12,700 students, allows students to select their own identity, which includes a new first name even if they have not legally changed it, as well as a chosen pronoun. The school records such details concerning students’ preferences in its information system to enable professors to use the “right” terminology. Just as the transgender community has increasingly been using the pronoun “They” instead of “he” or “she,” the school wants to use the same. School officials say the university is the first school in the United States to allow students to choose their own pronouns.

  • Absurd just got absurder.

President Obama has Asked Congress to Approve Military Force against ISIS

President Barack Obama asked Congress on Wednesday to formally authorize the use of military force in the war against ISIS. Lawmakers on Wednesday morning received a draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force a resolution that would formally authorize a six month U.S. military effort against the militant group. There is broad support in Congress for a formal AUMF, though lawmakers disagree on the scope of the military powers that should be handed to the President.

Avowed Atheist Kills Three Muslims

A man who portrayed himself as an avowed atheist on social media was in custody early Wednesday after allegedly gunning down three Muslim students in a condominium complex near the University of North Carolina hours earlier. Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder after turning himself in to police in Chapel Hill overnight. a Facebook page in Hicks’ name described him as a supporter of “Atheists for Equality” and in a recent post he asked “why radical Christians and radical Muslims are so opposed to each others’ influence when they agree about so many ideological issues.” The victims’ religion and Hicks’ outspoken beliefs fueled broad online speculation that the murders were a hate crime.

  • Atheists typically blame religious zealots for the world’s violence, but now it seems that their own brand of blind faith produces the same result.

300 Migrants Dead or Missing in Mediterranean Crossing

Around 300 migrants are thought to have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, the United Nations refugee agency said Wednesday. The incident happened off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. Survivors coming ashore Wednesday reported that four rubber boats attempted to make the journey from Libya to Europe in frigid temperatures. Another 29 people died from hypothermia Monday off Lampedusa — which is about 70 miles from Tunisia — in what the UNHCR said was the first major maritime loss of life this year. They, too, were traveling from North Africa to Italy. A significantly higher number of migrants have tried to cross the sea on smugglers’ boats in the first few weeks of 2015, compared with the same period last year. More than 218,000 people crossed the Mediterranean through irregular routes last year and about 3,500 people died trying, the UNHCR said.

Two Australian Men Arrested before ‘Imminent’ Terror Attack

Two Sydney men were charged on Wednesday with planning to launch an imminent terrorist attack, after police seized a homemade flag associated with the Islamic State group, a machete and a hunting knife in a counterterrorism raid. The men, aged 24 and 25, would have carried out the attack on Tuesday if they had not been arrested that day in the raid in the Sydney suburb of Fairfield, New South Wales state Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn told reporters. A video that was seized in the raid showed one of the men making threats while kneeling in front of the Islamic State flag.

  • Such ‘lone wolf’ attacks are on the rise worldwide at the urging of the Islamic State

Congress Approves Keystone XL Pipeline Bill, Setting up Veto Showdown

The House gave final congressional approval Wednesday to legislation to complete the Keystone XL oil pipeline — setting up the first veto showdown between President Obama and the new, Republican-controlled Congress. The 270-to-152 vote showed broad bipartisan support for the legislation, but not enough to reach the two-thirds majority, or 281 votes, needed to override a presidential veto. Obama is vowing to veto the bill if delivered to him before all of the pending studies and court cases are completed. “As we have made clear, the president will veto this bill,” a White House official told Fox News Wednesday night.

World’s Largest Solar Plant Opens in California Desert

The Southern California desert is now home to the world’s largest solar power plant. U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell joined state officials on Monday to open the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight solar project in the town of Desert Center, Calif., near Joshua Tree National Park. Built by First Solar, the project generates enough electricity to power 160,000 average California homes. Desert Sunlight received a federal loan of nearly $1.5 billion, and Jewell called its completion an example of the loan guarantee program’s importance. “When you are stepping out with new technology, when you are trying something that has been untested before, a loan guarantee program from an organization like the Department of Energy is what provides you, as a lender, that certainty that you can step up and support the project,” Jewell told The Desert Sun.

Apple to Build $848 Million Solar Plant

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Tuesday announced Apple’s “biggest and boldest project ever,” a partnership with First Solar to build an $848 million, 1,300-acre solar plant in Monterey County. The plant will power Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., its data center in Newark, Calif., and all Apple offices and 52 Apple stores in California, resulting in significant energy cost savings for Apple. The solar project is part of the California Flats project on Hearst’s 73,000-acre Jack Ranch in Monterey County and may be one of the largest ever built for a commercial user.

Nearly One Billion Monarch Butterflies Have Vanished

Threatened animals like elephants, porpoises and lions grab all the headlines, but what’s happening to monarch butterflies is nothing short of a massacre. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service summed it up in just one grim statistic on Monday: Since 1990, about 970 million have vanished. The cause: farmers and homeowners sprayed herbicides on milkweed plants, which serve as the butterflies’ nursery, food source and home. In an attempt to counter two decades of destruction, the Fish and Wildlife Service launched a partnership with two private conservation groups, the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, to basically grow milkweed like crazy in the hopes of saving the monarchs. Fish and Wildlife is reviewing a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity to list monarch butterflies as an endangered species that requires special protection to survive. The agency is providing $2 million for on the ground conservation projects.

One-Third of Americans Use Alternative Medicine

About a third of Americans seek help for their health in a place that is outside their doctor’s office, according to two new studies from the National Institutes of Health. Fish oil, probiotics, melatonin, deep breathing, chiropractors and yoga were among some of the alternatives Americans use to feel better. Most Americans who use these nontraditional approaches do so as a complement to conventional care. Only about 5% of Americans use alternative medicine exclusively. People seek this extra help to relieve pain from chronic conditions, to improve their health overall, and to relieve stress, according to the report.

Economic News

Manufacturers will significantly accelerate their use of robots in U.S. factories over the next decade as they become cheaper and perform more tasks, constraining payroll growth, according to a study out Tuesday. The development is expected to dramatically boost productivity and slow the long-standing migration of factories across the globe to take advantage of low-cost labor, says the Boston Consulting Group report. A handful of nations, including the U.S. and China, are poised to reap the biggest benefits of the automation wave. About 1.2 million additional advanced robots are expected to be deployed in the U.S. by 2025, BCG says.

China fined chipmaker Qualcomm 6 billion yuan ($975 million) in the biggest of a wave of anti-monopoly penalties that have rattled foreign companies. Qualcomm Inc. abused its dominance in wireless technology to charge manufacturers “unfairly high” licensing fees, a Cabinet agency announced Tuesday. Qualcomm, one of the biggest makers of chips used in mobile phones, said Monday it also agreed to change some of its practices for licensing technology to Chinese companies. China is the world’s biggest producer of mobile phones and other wireless devices, and Beijing has complained about the high cost of technology licenses. China has launched a series of anti-monopoly investigations over the past two years against foreign automakers, technology suppliers and other companies in an apparent effort to force down prices.

The U.S. oil boom is slowing down as drillers cut back in response to lower crude prices, according to new data set to be released on Wednesday. Companies drilled 28% fewer oil wells in January across the continental U.S. that they did last June before crude oil prices dropped precipitously from over $100 per barrel to under $50. Oil service giant Halliburton (HAL) said Tuesday that it is laying off as many as 6,400 workers, becoming the latest such company to slash staff amid tumbling crude prices.

The former Federal Reserve Chairman told the BBC that Greece’s best course of action is to leave the Eurozone. But Greenspan didn’t stop there. He predicts Greece’s exit is the beginning of the end for the euro. “Short of a political union, I find it very difficult to foresee the euro holding together in its current form,” Greenspan said. He says the currency union is too complex unless Europe decides to have one unified governing body to call all the shots.

  • Which would constitute the prophesied end-time emergence of the revived Roman Empire (Daniel 7:7-8,23-24; Revelation 17:12-13)

Ukraine

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany on Thursday announced a comprehensive peace deal for eastern Ukraine following marathon talks in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said the agreement envisages a cease-fire starting Sunday, a special status for rebel regions, provisions on border controls and humanitarian issues. But Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the talks did not include any agreement on autonomy or federalization for eastern Ukraine, a longtime demand of Russia. The deal requires the Ukrainian parliament to give wide powers to the eastern regions as a condition for restoring Ukraine’s full control over the border — a provision certain to trigger heated political debate in Ukraine.

War-torn Ukraine has secured a new $40 billion international bailout package, a deal which should help stabilize the country’s reeling economy. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, announced the deal at a press conference in Brussels. The agreement covers four years and includes $17.5 billion from the IMF, complemented by other organizations and countries.

Iran

US President Barack Obama told a news conference at the White House on Monday that he will not approve of more extensions in nuclear talks with Iran. He said that Iran must make a decision about its renegade nuclear program, adding that he had “very real differences” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the best approach to the problem. Obama added that the only question remaining is, “Does Iran have the political will and desire to get a deal done?” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif spoke at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, signaling his government’s readiness to accept a deal. However, Israeli officials and the Republican opposition in the US Congress have strongly disagreed with Obama’s optimistic appraisal of the situation, saying the threat posed by Iran has not diminished and the agreement currently nearing final approval leaves many key issues unresolved.

Lake Urmia in northwest Iran, once supported farmers and thousands of tourists. The extreme salinity of what used to be the largest lake in the Middle East allowed people to swim and relax without sinking. Over the last 20 years, however, the salt lake has almost completely dried up along with the area’s agriculture and economy. According to the United Nations Development Program, the lake has shrunk by two-thirds since 1997 due to Iran’s water crisis and detrimental agricultural policies.

Yemen

The United States and Britain abruptly closed their embassies in Yemen on Wednesday, while France announced it would close its embassy on Friday, amid deteriorating security conditions after the takeover of the country by Shiite rebels. In a separate travel warning, the State Dept. said it currently had no plans for a government-sponsored evacuation of American citizens but urged extreme caution amid an ongoing risk of kidnapping. In a statement Wednesday on its website, the French embassy said the offices would close as of Friday, and told French citizens to leave the country “as soon as possible.” Yemen is the Arab world’s poorest country and it has been in crisis for months as fighters led by Iran-linked Abdel-Malek al-Houthi last week dissolved parliament and claimed formal control of the government.

China

A majority of American companies operating in China are having trouble recruiting senior executives from abroad due to rising concerns over intense air pollution. Fifty-three percent of firms are having trouble filling executive roles, according to a survey released Wednesday by Bain & Company and the American Chamber of Commerce in China. Some of the world’s most polluted cities are located in China, and residents are speaking out in greater numbers about choking air pollution, contaminated food, and water that is unsafe to drink. American businesses also complained of receiving a chilly welcome in the world’s second-largest economy. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they felt less welcome in China than before, and only 10% said they felt more at home.

Earthquakes

According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, Oklahoma had three times as many earthquakes as California and remains well ahead in 2015. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside, is believed to be the major factor in increasing seismic activity in the Midwest. Though earthquakes have proven more deadly on the West Coast, none in the Midwest have resulted in deaths. The largest Midwest quake in recent years – a magnitude 5.7 – was centered near Prague, Oklahoma, on Nov. 5, 2011, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Weather

After nearly 6 feet of snow in 17 days, transportation infrastructure in parts of New England reached a breaking point Tuesday, particularly in Massachusetts, where the governor declared a state of emergency. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) suspended all rail service through Tuesday, saying the snow was making it “virtually impossible” to keep its trolleys, commuter trains or subway lines safely running. More than 2,000 domestic flights were canceled Monday. As of Tuesday morning, Boston has received 77.3 inches of snow this season. More than 72 inches of snow have fallen in the last 17 days at Boston Logan International Airport, shattering the old 30-day record of 58.8 inches. A Valentine’s weekend snowstorm is increasingly possible in New England, with the potential to dump a foot or more of additional snowfall on snow-weary locations such as Bangor, Maine and Boston.

While parts of the East will see some of the coldest temperatures in years in some cases, the West will experience record warm temperatures. A ridge of high pressure will keep temperatures warm from the Rockies to the West Coast through this weekend. Much of the West and even parts of the Plains have seen warm conditions so far this month with many record warm temperatures broken and more record-breaking warmth is on the way. High temperatures will be 10 to 20 degrees above average in many locations west of the Rockies through Sunday. High temperatures will climb into the 60s as far north as Seattle and in parts of Montana. Parts of the western United States are struggling with only paltry amounts of snow this winter. The snowpack is extremely low at many locations in the Cascade Range and California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Underwater volcanoes could have a long-term effect on Earth’s climate cycles. A new study out of Columbia University shows that these hidden giants are not only tied to the Earth’s orbit and tidal cycles, but also trigger climate swings. The study, published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, analyzed 25 years of seismic data from submarine volcanoes. The study found that underwater volcanism affects the climate by emitting varying levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, then, could trigger a cycle of global warming. While the link between marine volcanism and global climate cycles is not definite, the study opens the way for other scientists to explore the relationship between the Earth’s crust and the ozone layer.

Signs of the Times (2/9/15)

February 9, 2015

Alabama Chief Justice Orders Ban on Same-Sex Marriages to No Avail

Alabama began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday despite an 11th-hour attempt from the state’s chief justice — an outspoken opponent — to block the weddings. The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday morning that it wouldn’t stop the marriages, and shortly after, probate judges began granting the licenses to couples, some of whom had been lined up for hours and exited courthouses to applause from supporters. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore on Sunday ordered the state’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The outspoken social conservative told judges in a six-page letter that a federal judge’s decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was not binding on state courts, and that it had caused “confusion” in the state. Issued hours before same-sex marriage was expected to become legal in Alabama, the letter says “no probate judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent with Article 1, Section 36.03, of the Alabama Constitution or § 30-1-19, Ala. Code 1975.” The named sections refer, respectively, to the state’s 2006 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and the 1998 law doing so. U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade struck down both the law and the constitutional amendment in two decisions on Jan. 23 and Jan. 26, saying they violated same-sex couples’ equal protection and due process rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Moore’s order comes as a stay of Granade’s decision was set to expire; as of Sunday evening.

US to Appoint Gay Rights Envoy

The United States will appoint an openly gay official as a special envoy to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people overseas, the US State Department said last Friday. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said US Secretary of State John Kerry would “soon” make the appointment. “It will be an openly gay foreign service officer. We don’t have a finalized name yet. But we will announce soon,” Harf said. Harf said the appointment reflected Kerry’s “commitment and the administration’s commitment to advancing the human rights of LGBT persons globally.” President Barack Obama’s administration has repeatedly pressed foreign governments on the human rights of gays and lesbians, systematically drawing attention to rights abuses or repression in several African countries. The US Supreme Court announced last month it will hear a case on same-sex marriage later this year that is expected to finally settle once and for all the debate in America surrounding the long-running civil rights issue.

  • The gay rights agenda is a key end-time indicator of the decline in morality prophesied in 2Timothy 3:1-4

Boehner Disappointing Traditional Marriage Advocates

An Ohio-based pro-family activist is disappointed that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is refusing to take a stand for traditional marriage. Boehner was recently asked about the Supreme Court taking up the marriage issue and said, “I don’t expect that we’re going to weigh in on this. The court will make its decision, and that’s why they’re there — to be the highest court in the land.” Phil Burress, who lives in Boehner’s congressional district and serves as chairman of Citizens for Community Values, finds it “very disappointing and … typical of politicians to hide behind judges.” But Burress adds that traditional marriage proponents are not going to give up the institution of marriage, and he warns that lawmakers will have to pay a price in upcoming elections if indeed they turn the wrong way on marriage.

Obama’s Crusade-Islam Parallel ‘Borderline Treasonous’

During his address in Washington, Obama told those in attendance to “remember that during the crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” Dr. Alex McFarland, a Christian apologist and co-host of American Family Radio’s “Exploring the Word” program, says the president’s words are unthinkable and “borderline treasonous.” “To compare Christianity to the crimes of Islam is absolutely unacceptable,” Dr. McFarland asserts. “Islam in its sacred writings prescribes violence against non-believers; the Bible does not. Mohammad ordered the killings of his enemies; Jesus Christ never did that… The Crusades were self-defense against Muslim barbarism and murder,” McFarland explains. “So to in some way attribute Christianity as being the evil equivalent of Islamic terrorism is absolutely ludicrous.”

Hackers Can Get Into Most ‘Connected Cars’ in U.S.

Virtually all “connected cars” on the road are vulnerable to hackers who could steal data or gain control of the vehicle, a report from a US senator said Monday. The report prepared by the staff of Senator Ed Markey said the wireless connectivity and Internet access available on the vehicles opens up security gaps that could be exploited for malicious purposes. The study found these security weaknesses in “nearly 100 percent of cars on the market” and noted that most automobile manufacturers were unaware of or unable to report on past hacking incidents. The report also noted that many of these connected cars collect data on driving that could be kept in violation of privacy.

FCC Favors Consumers in Net Neutrality Debate

Net Neutrality — the hot-button Washington issue that’s pitted big wireless carriers and cable companies vs. consumers, was in the news this week when FCC chairman Tom Wheeler announced that he was clearly on the side of consumers. The Internet is a utility, he said, and companies shouldn’t be able to charge firms like Netflix and Amazon extra when throngs of people flock to their sites in the evening to watch entertainment. The wireless and cable companies want to charge higher prices for higher volume usage which is opposite to the usual free-market practice of giving discounts to high volume customers.

Solar and Wind Power Costs Rapidly Declining

A decline in costs for renewable solar and wind power generation is picking up speed according to a new study released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Since the end of 2009, solar photovoltaic (PV) module costs have fallen 75 percent. Electricity generation costs from utility-scale solar PV have also dropped, falling 50 percent since 2010. Onshore wind is now the most competitive form of electricity generation among renewable energy sources. As of 2014, their total global installed capacity is still comparatively tiny, but their costs are falling and should continue falling as the industry matures.

Economic News

Total outstanding non-mortgage credit increased by $14.7 billion to $3.3 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Friday. Revolving debt, which includes credit cards, increased by $5.8 billion to $887.9 billion, the largest increase since April. Non-revolving credit, which is mostly auto and student loans, rose by $8.9 billion to $2.42 trillion. Auto sales have reached near-record levels as Americans replace aging vehicles and lending standards ease.

Things looked bleak for the Dow Jones industrial average at the end of January. But a four-day ‘flash’ rally has erased early-year losses and put the blue chip gauge back in the black for 2015. A 720-point rally in the span of four days erased the January losses and put the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 0.35% for the year and within 169 points of its all-time closing high of 18,053.71. The gains have been powered by stabilization of oil prices (stabilization is code word for oil prices finally going up) and solid fourth-quarter earnings reports.

RadioShack, the once invaluable seller of cords, eight-track players and VCRs, filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday. The ubiquitous retailer becomes one of the most storied brands to file for bankruptcy protection amid pressure from online retailers and big-box stores. The firm, made famous by its former CEO Charles Tandy in Fort Worth, Texas, traces its roots back 94 years. Plans for the company’s future will keep the RadioShack brand alive, albeit with roughly 50% fewer stores and in a co-branded fashion with wireless telecom Sprint.

RadioShack’s bankruptcy will put thousands of workers out of work, but Staples’ plan to buy rival Office Depot could cost even more jobs. The two office supply companies have about 4,000 stores and nearly 150,000 employees between them. About half of those stores within five miles one another. Some industry analysts estimate that at least 1,000 locations will be shuttered, about 25% of the total.

Greece has set the stage for a mighty battle with its lenders this week, and that’s making investors very nervous. Stocks in Athens fell sharply Monday after Prime Minister Alex Tsipras outlined plans to reverse a string of economic reforms in defiance of Greece’s bailout terms. He is due to meet fellow European leaders this week. Tsipras’ party was elected last month on a promise to scale back severe spending cuts that Greece imposed in exchange for about $271.5 billion in international rescue loans. Setting out his policies in parliament Sunday, Tsipras vowed to raise the minimum wage, rehire some public sector workers and provide free food and electricity for the poorest households.

Russia is skating on thin ice: Cheap oil, Western sanctions and years of mismanagement have sent its economy into a deep freeze. As things stand, Russian GDP is expected to shrink by 5% (or more) this year, inflation has soared to 15%, the ruble is trading near record lows, and its companies are shut out of financial markets in the U.S. and Europe. Escalating violence in Ukraine could lead to new international sanctions. So just how long can Russia avoid complete economic meltdown? Much will depend on how fast it burns through its remaining stash of foreign currency. Last year it spent $134 billion trying to prop up the ruble, bail out struggling companies and contain the crisis.

Middle East

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin hosted diplomats from the US and Canada at his official residence on Sunday, telling them “We don’t always agree with our friends on possible solutions to our problems, but such disagreements should not be allowed to hamper the friendship.” He cited ongoing negotiations with the Palestinians and differing approaches to Iran’s renegade nuclear program as examples of how its sometimes more difficult for Israel to deal with friends than with enemies. The meeting came as the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “determined to go” to Washington early next month to address a joint session of the US Congress about the dangers posed by Iran, even as a rising chorus of opposition to the speech has arisen among his political opponents in Israel and the US, reports ICEJ.

Islamic State

Jordan’s military carried out dozens of air strikes against the Islamic State (IS) terror militia over the weekend, with a senior air force general telling reporters Sunday it estimated it had destroyed a substantial portion of the groups military capability and assets. Elsewhere, the US reportedly delivered $25 million worth of artillery guns, ammunition and other supplies to the Lebanese Armed Forces on Sunday to aid it in fighting IS. “We are fighting the same enemy, so our support for (Lebanon) has been swift and continuous,” said US ambassador to Beirut, David Hale. Meanwhile, General John Allen, the US official coordinating the international anti-IS coalition, told reporters on Sunday that coordination was improving between Washington’s Arab allies in the fight against IS and that the Iraqi military is preparing for a ground offensive within weeks to re-take areas that have fallen under IS control.

The battle against the Islamic State dominated the political talk shows Sunday as guests on the programs spoke about Kayla Mueller, the U.S. hostage from Prescott, Arizona whom ISIL claimed Friday was killed by a Jordanian air strike. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that his department is monitoring developments surrounding Mueller, but he did not shed any new light on her fate. U.S. officials have not confirmed the claim that Mueller was killed in the air strike. Discussion also touched on the U.S. government’s policy to not pay ransoms, its attempts at rescue operations and whether escalating military action is needed or merely a trap set by the terrorists.

Johnson said the U.S. had shown, with the attempted rescue of the journalist James Foley, it is willing to try to rescue hostages in similar situations. Former U.S. Rep Mike Rogers, now a CNN commentator, said paying ransoms would put other Americans overseas at risk. Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Tex., the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, blamed the Obama administration for not doing enough to attack ISIL. He said he hopes the United States can galvanize Arab nations to take a greater military role, including ground troops.

Mullah Abdul Rauf was a Taliban commander captured by the United States and held at Guantanamo Bay. But he was let go and returned to Afghanistan. Rauf went on to become a recruiter for ISIS in Afghanistan. He was killed in a drone strike Monday, two officials told CNN. Rauf and five others were killed, four of them Pakistani militants. The Washington Post, in a headline last month, called him “the shadowy figure recruiting for the Islamic State in Afghanistan.”

Iraq

Bombs exploded Sunday in and around Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, killing at least 40 people in a stark warning of the dangers still ahead in this country under attack by the Islamic State group. The deadliest of Saturday’s bombings happened in the capital’s New Baghdad neighborhood, where a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a street filled with hardware stores and a restaurant, killing 22 people. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the bomber targeted Shiites. The Sunni extremists now hold a third of both Iraq and neighboring Syria in their self-declared caliphate. A second attack happened in central Baghdad’s popular Shorja market, where two bombs some 25 meters apart exploded, killing at least 11 people. Another bombing at the Abu Cheer outdoor market in southwestern Baghdad killed at least four people.

Niger

Boko Haram staged an overnight assault on a border town in Niger, residents said Sunday, the second time the West African nation has come under attack by the Nigeria-based extremists since Friday. The attack on the town of Diffa began Saturday night, and fighting between Boko Haram and Niger’s army lasted until 5 a.m. toward the town’s southern entrance before the extremists were forced to flee and calm was restored. Officials could not immediately be reached to confirm residents’ accounts or give casualty figures. The fight against Nigeria’s Boko Haram has taken on an increasingly regional dimension in recent months, with the extremists staging attacks in both Cameroon and Niger last week alone.

Ukraine

Amid renewed violence in eastern Ukraine, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France planned a face-to-face meeting in Belarus on Wednesday. The gathering of the four presidents, who have been talking for days on the phone or through diplomatic channels, is a significant development, as the heads of state would not want to walk away from such a gathering empty-handed. The big challenge facing Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande is whether they can reach a peace agreement that will stick. A peace agreement was signed in September — also in Minsk, Belarus — that envisaged a ceasefire and the creation of a buffer zone between the warring sides, as well as constitutional changes. However, it quickly crumbled amid continued fighting.

Western leaders and the Ukrainian government accuse Russia of providing weapons and training to the pro-Russian separatists battling Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. They have also accused Russia of sending troops to the border to fight. Russia has denied the allegations. On Sunday, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Putin was acting like a “mid-20th century tyrant.” Meanwhile, the conflict has killed more than 5,000 people. On Sunday, shelling killed eight civilians in Ukraine’s Donetsk region. At least 17 other civilians were injured in the shelling. Civilians increasingly are falling victim to the violence in Ukraine, with at least 224 killed and more than 540 injured in just the final three weeks of January. President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet at the White House Monday amid growing calls from US lawmakers to provide lethal aid to Ukrainian troops, left, and insistence by European officials that a diplomatic solution to the conflict should be pursued.

Volcanoes

The Fire Volcano in southern Guatemala exploded incandescent rock and ash over surrounding towns Saturday. Authorities put area on alert, but no evacuations have been made so far. Ash mixed with a drizzle to reduce visibility as the volcano continued to rumble. The National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction agency issued instructions urging people to take shelter, wear masks, cover water tanks and be aware of evacuation routes. Firefighters were standing by. The volcano sits on the border of the Guatemalan states of Escuintla, Sacatepequez and Chimaltenango.

Weather

Weeks of heavy snow have shattered records, and yet another snowstorm is cranking over the region closing schools and businesses and worrying exhausted officials that the already-stretched infrastructure might reach its breaking point this week. “There’s just no place to put this snow,” said Jim Cantore, storm tracker for The Weather Channel. More than 1,500 domestic flights were canceled by Monday morning. Just after midnight Sunday, Bangor, Maine, tied its all-time record snow depth, with 53 inches on the ground. More than 61 inches of snow have fallen in the last 17 days at Boston Logan International Airport, shattering the old 30-day record of 58.8 inches. The National Weather Service confirmed 19.8 inches of snow had fallen from this latest snowstorm in North Weymouth by 7 a.m. Monday morning.

Residents of Northern California hunkered down after preparing their homes and businesses for the massive storm that is packing a punch with heavy rains over the weekend. The storm systems impacting areas from central California to the Pacific Northwest over the last few days have been tapping into a so-called atmospheric river. Additional rainfall is expected from Northern California to the Pacific Northwest on Monday. Given that the ground is already saturated from heavy rain the last few days, landslides, debris flows, and urban flooding are expected. Downed trees and power lines were reported on Friday morning in the South Lake Tahoe area, and a wind gust of 134 mph was recorded at the top of Slide Mountain. Even in the lower elevations gusts of 60 mph have been reported. Some impressive rainfall totals have already accumulated as of 7 p.m. PST Sunday: 11.44 inches near Honeydew, California; 8.03 inches.in Santa Clara County; up to 7 inches in western Washington; 5.13 inches in Kerby, Oregon.

The calendar may say February, but for many in the West and Plains it will feel like spring into the new week ahead, with record early February warmth continuing in some locations. On Sunday, Wichita, Kansas (74 degrees), El Paso, Texas (79 degrees), and Boise, Idaho (65 degrees), were among the cities that set daily record highs. Spokane, Washington reached the 50s for the fourth day in a row on Sunday, which is a record warm stretch for so early in the season. Salt Lake City also experienced their fourth consecutive day of record high temperatures on Sunday when the thermometer hit 64 degrees. Monday, the potential for record highs will mainly be confined to the Southwest, including Phoenix and Albuquerque. Yuma, Arizona could reach 90 degrees, which would also be a daily record high.

Snowfall and heavy rain hammered Europe and brought deadly floods to the Balkans. The Associated Press reports that the persistent flooding in the Balkans forced the evacuation of at least 600 families and killed thousands of livestock. In Croatia and Slovenia, heavy snowfall snarled traffic over the weekend and caused authorities to place travel bans on major roadways. Hundreds of families have been evacuated from their homes in Albania. Snow continues to blanket parts of Italy and Spain, where hundreds of motorists were trapped on roadways. Eastern Macedonia was placed under a state of emergency along with portions of Greece, Euronews reported Saturday. The BBC reports that travelers in Spain were caught off guard by a dump of snow that totaled over a foot. Spanish emergency services rescued over 200 drivers trapped on roads, but many others remained stuck in their cars.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme with record warmth, floods and gigantic hail (Daniel 9:26b, Rev. 8:7, 11:19, 16:11)

Signs of the Times (2/6/15)

February 6, 2015

U.K. Parliament Okays Three-Parent Babies

The United Kingdom Parliament has voted in favor of permitting a form of intravenous fertilization in which babies will receive DNA from two women and one man. According to the BBC, the technique will allow parents to stop genetic diseases from being passed to the child. Proponents of the method have called it “progressive medicine,” but critics say that there are too many safety risks of the procedure, as well as ethical concerns. Prime Minister David Cameron said, “We’re not playing god here, we’re just making sure that two parents who want a healthy baby can have one.” BBC reports that the procedure would be used by women such as Sharon Bernardi who lost seven babies to mitochondrial disease. Through the use of the controversial IVF method, the mother and father would use their DNA but add the healthy mitochondria of a donor woman. The result would mean that the baby shares 0.1 percent of his or her DNA with the donor.

  • The more we violate God’s ordained natural order the greater the risk of falling victim to unintended consequences

Judge Finds Christian Bakers Guilty of Discrimination

Bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein have been found guilty of discrimination. The Christian couple who operate Sweet Cakes by Melissa denied an order to make a cake for a lesbian couple in 2013. After two years of legal proceedings, a judge ruled in favor of the homosexual couple; the Kleins discriminated against the couple on account of their sexual orientation. The Kleins could be forced to pay up to $200,000 for refusing the service. The couple now awaits a hearing March 10 to determine the exact amount they must pay. Christian News Network reports that the couple said last October that a high fine would “definitely” cause the family to declare bankruptcy.

  • Private companies and individuals should have the right to do business with whomever they choose

Obama Defends Modern Day Islam / Attacks Christian History

President Barack Obama used the occasion of the National Prayer Breakfast to once again defend Islam. He did it using a tactic he has used before, but never so boldly. Speaking before an event sponsored by an organization which professes “that Jesus transcends all forms of government and belief,” Obama lectured his audience, saying “. . . people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” citing “the Crusades and the Inquisition . . . slavery and Jim Crow.” “Obama’s historical references have absolutely no relevance to today’s fight against radical Islam — except that the Islamists are still fighting the Crusades!” notes Gary Bauer of the American Family Association. “As usual the president used a few truths to create a distorted narrative. For example, it is true that some Christians claimed to find a biblical basis for the institution of slavery. The president also failed to mention that some of the most efficient slave traders over the centuries have been Muslims, a slave trade that continues to this very day. Wherever Christianity spread over the centuries, it tended to bring with it better treatment for women, respect for minorities, religious liberty… The reason for this is that the central figure of Christianity, Jesus Christ, said nothing in his ministry that could in any way justify bigotry or the mass murder of those who did not accept him.”

  • Obama continues to exalt Islam and denigrate Christianity leading America toward self-inflicted destruction

GOP-led House Votes to Repeal ObamaCare

The House voted Tuesday to repeal the Affordable Care Act, getting Republicans on record in favor of overturning the law for the first time since the party took control of Congress. The bill passed on a 239-186 vote. President Obama already has threatened to veto the legislation — and like past bills to repeal ObamaCare, it is unlikely to go far under the current administration, despite Republicans now controlling the Senate and having a bigger majority in the House. But the vote serves as an opening shot in the 114th Congress’ efforts to chip away at the law. Several lawmakers have introduced bills to change or undo parts of the Affordable Care Act, and some could garner bipartisan support.

U.S. to Destroy Largest-Remaining Chemical Weapons Stockpile

The United States is set to begin destroying its largest remaining stockpile of chemical-laden artillery shells, marking a milestone in the campaign to eradicate the debilitating weapon from war. The Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado plans to start neutralizing 2,600 tons of aging mustard agent starting in March. Ridding of the chemical weapon complies with a 1997 treaty banning all chemical weapons. After nightmarish gas attacks in World War I, a 1925 treaty barred the use of chemical weapons, and the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention set a 2012 deadline to eradicate them. Four nations that acknowledged having chemical weapons have missed the deadline: the U.S., Russia, Libya and Iraq. The work to neutralize the mustard agent starts less than a year after it was determined that chlorine gas killed 13 people in Syria in April 2014. Before the chlorine gas attack, a 2013 nerve gas attack killed 1,400 in Syria.

Insurance Giant Anthem Hit by Massive Data Breach

Hackers have stolen information on tens of millions of Anthem Inc. customers, in a massive data breach that ranks among the largest in corporate history. The information stolen from the insurance giant includes names, birthdays, medical IDs, social security numbers, street addresses, e-mail addresses and employment information, including income data. While damage is still being assessed, the compromised database contained up to 80 million customer records. Anthem is the second-largest health insurer in the United States. The company operates plans including Anthem Blue Cross, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Amerigroup and Healthlink.

Only 9% of Poor Graduate from College

The massive gap in college graduation rates between rich and poor is growing even wider. Some 77% of students from wealthy families earned bachelor’s degrees by age 24 in 2013, compared to only 9% of those from poor families, a new report has found. That divide has grown significantly from 1970, when 40% of rich students and 6% of poor ones graduated college. The study defines the wealthy as having family incomes above $108,650, while the poor earned less than $34,160. Middle class students also lag behind their better-off peers. Those in the middle saw their graduation rates rise to only 26% in 2013, up from 13% in 1970.

CEO of Gallup calls Jobless Rate a ‘Big Lie’ Spawned by White House, Wall Street

The chairman of the venerable Gallup research and polling firm says the official U.S. unemployment rate is really an underestimation and a “big lie” perpetuated by the White House, Wall Street and the media. CEO and Chairman Jim Clifton revealed in his blog Tuesday that Americans who have quit looking for work after four weeks are not included in the survey. Clifton says Americans out of work for at least four weeks are “as unemployed as one can possibly be” and argues that as many as 30 million of them are now either out of work or severely underemployed. In addition, those working part time but wanting full-time work — the so-called “severely underemployed” — also are not counted. “There’s no other way to say this,” Clifton says. “The official unemployment rate … amounts to a big lie.”

Economic News

Employers added a better-than-expected 257,000 jobs in January as the resurgent labor market began 2015 on a positive note. The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a separate survey of households, rose to 5.7% from 5.6%, the Labor Department said Friday. Job gains for November and December were revised up by a total 147,000. November’s count was revised to 423,000 from 353,000 and December’s to 329,000 from 252,000. The economy has added more than 1 million jobs just in the past three months — the best such stretch since 1997. Businesses added 267,000 jobs on broad-based gains. Federal, state and local governments cut 10,000.

Wage growth, which has been sluggish throughout the recovery despite strong payroll advances last year, picked up last month after falling in December. Average hourly earnings increased 8 cents to $24.75 an hour and are up 2.2% over the past year. The average work week was unchanged at 34.6 hours.

Crude oil priced increased this week, up from below $45 per barrel to $52.22 as of Friday morning. This brought the big slide in gasoline prices to an abrupt end. After declining 123 straight days, gas prices bottomed out at a national average of about $2.03 last week — a six-year low. The national average rose this week to $2.06 a gallon. Moreover, prices could rise 30 to 60 cents a gallon heading into peak spring and summer driving season.

Sales of new cars and trucks roared off to a fast start in January, fueled by Americans’ renewed love affair with trucks and SUVs as low fuel prices mean the gas-thirsty models aren’t so expensive to fill up. rucks — a category that consists of pickups, vans and SUVs — were 54% of January sales. Automakers sold 1.51 million new vehicles last month, up 13.7% from sales the year before.

Another batch of energy companies will slash spending this year as low oil prices force the industry to scale back growth ambitions. BP said Tuesday it will cut capital expenditure by about 20% this year, and delay some investments as falling prices slam earnings. Chinese energy major CNOOC (CEO) said Tuesday it will cut spending by as much as 35% this year. And Russian oil firm Gazprom (GZPFY) will slash spending by $8 billion this year, according to a Reuters report. Last week, Royal Dutch Shell said it was scaling back its planned capital investment by $15 billion over the next three years. Chevron (CVX) said it would trim spending by 13%.

Standard & Poor’s has agreed to pay $1.4 billion to settle charges that it issued inaccurate credit ratings on investments tied to subprime mortgages before the financial crisis, according to Justice Department officials. The settlement, announced later Tuesday, comes nearly two years after the Department of Justice first accused S&P of giving top ratings to poor quality mortgage-backed securities between 2004 and 2007. According to the lawsuit, S&P gave the deceptive ratings so it could collect fees from the financial firms that sold the securities.

Greek markets are tumbling after the European Central Bank raised the pressure on the country’s new anti-austerity government to stick to the terms of its massive international bailout programThe ECB said late Wednesday that it would no longer accept junk-rated Greek government bonds as collateral for cheap central bank cash because it could not assume “a successful conclusion of the [bailout] program review.”

Persecution Watch

In one of at least three instances of persecution of Christians in southern Mexico’s Chiapas state last month, village leaders reneged on their agreement to allow 47 evangelicals who were expelled for their faith to return to their homes and land. In accordance with the agreement arranged by state officials, Protestants from Buenavista Bahuitz village on Jan. 20 tried to return to their community after syncretistic Catholics expelled them in 2012 for their faith. When the Protestants and Chiapas officials accompanying them reached Buenavista Bahuitz, community leaders again refused entry until the Protestants convert to Catholicism, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). “Traditionalist” Catholics of the village who practice a blend of Roman Catholicism and indigenous customs (syncretism) involving drunken festivals have been at odds with the Protestant minority for years. Local authorities who are such syncretistic Catholics told them they could come back to their property only if they became Catholic and took part in their religious activities, including paying for the costly celebrations that involve large amounts of alcohol.

Recent years have witnessed growing tension in the Muslim-majority coastal area of Tanzania. A young woman from a Muslim background who had become a Christian, was beaten and badly burned by her parents after choosing to marry a Christian man. In a separate incident, on Mafia island, which forms part of the Muslim-majority Pwani (Coast) Region, a pastor who had converted from a Muslim background was summoned by the local area leader and ordered to stop church worship gatherings. According to research by Tanzanian Christians, this is one of at least 14 similar incidents on Mafia since 2009.

Islamic State

The Islamic State propaganda video showing a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive will likely prove counterproductive by strengthening the resolve of Arab members of a U.S.-led coalition fighting the extremist group, current and former U.S. officials predict. It is the first time the Islamic State has burned a captive alive. Others shown in videos released by the group have been decapitated or shot. The Islamic State apparently is seeking to drive a wedge between the United States and its Arab allies in the region, including Jordan, by turning public opinion in the Arab world against the coalition. The Jordanian pilot was flying his F-16 as part of the campaign of airstrikes against the militants when it crashed over Syria in December. Jordan swiftly responded to the brutal killing of one of its fighter pilots by executing of two jihadist prisoners early Wednesday. Jordan also launched airstrikes against ISIS in Syria “to go after (ISIS) targets in order to degrade them and defeat them,” spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said. “We want to make sure that they will pay for the crime they did and the atrocity they did to our pilot.”

ISIS has stepped up the use of children in its bloody campaign of terror, the United Nations says — subjecting them to horrors that include putting price tags on them to sell as slaves. The U.N. report found that the terrorist group is resorting more and more to brutal acts such as enslaving, raping, beheading, crucifying and burying people alive. Some of those affected are children. “We have had reports of children, especially children that are mentally challenged, who have been used as suicide bombers, most probably without them even understanding what has happened or what they have to expect,” said Renate Winter, an expert with the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child. Some as young as age 8 are getting training to become soldiers, she said. “Children of minorities have been captured in places where the so-called ISIL has its strength… have been sold as slaves,” Winter said.

  • ISIS is the personification of evil at its utmost

France

French counter terrorism police arrested eight people with alleged links to jihadist cells in Lyon and the Paris suburbs Tuesday morning. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said161 legal investigations into terrorism are currently ongoing, with 547 people implicated in the inquiries. Of those 547 people, 167 people have been arrested, 95 are under investigation and 80 are in jail. France last month suffered its worst terror attacks in decades when 17 people were killed in shooting incidents in Paris. Since then, it has been cracking down on those with suspected jihadist links.

Two soldiers were stabbed Tuesday on the streets of Nice in southern France, officials said, the latest instance of French authorities coming under attack on their native soil. The suspect — Moussa Coulibaly, according to a representative in the Nice mayor’s office — shares the same last name as one of the three terrorists behind last month’s deadly attacks in and around Paris.

Long before the terror assault on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and the deadly hostage stand-off at the Hyper Cache kosher supermarket in Paris left 17 people dead, one could visit Jewish communities anywhere in Europe and find a people under siege. Jewish synagogues, museums and community centers all have metal detectors and armed guards posted outside. Jewish schools and seminaries have become like fortresses. “If anything, the terror attacks in Paris have shattered any remaining sense of security for much of European Jewry. The hope that their governments could somehow protect them is vanishing,” notes ICEJ (International Christian Embassy Jerusalem).

Iran

European diplomats revealed to The Associated Press this week that negotiations between the US and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s renegade nuclear program are nearing an end-game which will leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure largely intact. The deal reportedly being discussed will allow Iran to retain the use of its nearly 10,000 uranium centrifuges, while calling for them to be technically reconfigured to reduce the amount of enriched uranium they produce. However, experts familiar with the plan warn that the process is easily reversible, while the sanctions regime designed to persuade Iran to reverse course on its quest for atomic weapons will be difficult to rebuild once dismantled. Talks are set to resume in Germany on Friday. A senior Iranian official has warned that Tehran will increase the number of its uranium enrichment centrifuges should the United States introduce further sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its civilian nuclear activities.

Ukraine

Civilians are increasingly falling victim to fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, with at least 224 killed and more than 540 others hurt in the final three weeks of January, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights said Tuesday. Forces indiscriminately shelled residential areas in government-controlled territories such as Debaltseve and Avdiivka and rebel-held cities such as Donetsk and Horlivka as fighting escalated last month. “Bus stops and public transport, marketplaces, schools and kindergartens, hospitals and residential areas have become battlegrounds in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine — in clear breach of international humanitarian law which governs the conduct of armed conflicts,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said. Eastern Ukraine is in a “dire” security situation, and Russia is failing “miserably” in its seriousness to negotiate an end to the crisis, a senior U.S. State Department official said Thursday.

Obama told a Fareed Zakaria, a member of both the CFR and Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission, that the United States “brokered” the coup in Ukraine last February. Obama’s candid admission should not come as a surprise following the release of a surreptitiously recorded conversation between Victoria Nuland, the US-Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Geoffrey R. Pyatt, the US Ambassador to Ukraine. The conversation centered on ousting Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and replacing him with one of several hand-picked State Department choices. The U.S. orchestrated “transition,” as Obama characterized it.

Nigeria

Boko Haram fighters have shot or burned to death over one hundred civilians in a border town near Nigeria, Cameroon’s government spokesman said Thursday. Some 800 Islamic Islamist extremists attacking the town of Fotokol have “burned churches, mosques and villages and slaughtered youth who resisted joining them to fight Cameroonian forces,” said Information Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakari. The insurgents also looted livestock and food in the fighting that began Wednesday and continued into Thursday. Boko Haram is using civilians as shields, making it difficult to confront them although reinforcements have arrived in Fotokol, according to military spokesman Col. Didier Badjeck.

Environment

Air pollution is well-known to be nasty — it can cause cancer, and make heart disease, asthma, COPD, ADHD and a variety of other ailments worse. Now, a new study signals more issues with this human-caused environmental ill. Air pollution can alter your DNA, even after just a short exposure, researchers from the University of British Columbia found in a small study of people with asthma. Sixteen people with asthma were exposed to filtered air and diesel exhaust for two hours, at a level similar to that of say, “Beijing on a bad day,” Grist reported. Based on blood samples taken before and after exposure, exposure-related DNA changes were observed, researchers said. And this was with just diesel exhaust at play — none of the particles that come from power plants, aerosols and other toxic sources of particulate pollution were tested. “If that were to occur chronically over years, that could have some serious accumulated biological effects,” study author Chris Carlsten said.

A gradual slowdown in chain-sawing and bulldozing, particularly in Brazil, helped reduce deforestation’s annual toll on the climate by nearly a quarter between the 1990s and 2010. A new study describes how this trend has seen agriculture overtake deforestation as the leading source of deforestation during the past decade. While United Nations climate negotiations focus heavily on forest protections, the researchers note that delegates to the talks ignore similar opportunities to reform farming. The research shows that the recent climate-protecting gains in forests are being nearly canceled out by efforts to satisfy the world’s growing appetite — particularly its appetite for meat.

Weather

The calendar may say February but for many in the West and Plains it felt like spring later week, with record warmth possible in some locations. Above-average temperatures will stretch across the Southwest and Inter-Mountain West by Thursday. Highs will be 10 to 25 degrees above-average for most locations. Much of the West has seen relatively mild conditions this winter, while the East has seen frequent rounds of below-average temperatures. The jet stream will be delivering a succession of storm systems that will bring soaking rain to northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

However, another blast of very cold air is sweeping in behind an arctic cold front to close the week, and it could bring the coldest conditions yet this season for several cities in the Midwest and Northeast. Thursday morning, subzero low temperatures spread across parts of Minnesota, eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and northern Michigan. Yet another potent disturbance will start to dive south of the Canadian border and into the Great Lakes on Saturday. A swath of light to moderate snow is expected to blanket the northern tier from northern Minnesota into the snow-fatigued northeast on Sunday.

Winter Storm Linus brought a swath of heavy snow across much of the Northeast Monday, disrupting the start of the workweek for millions of people. Boston set a new record for snowiest seven-day period in the city’s history with 40.2 inches, the National Weather Service reported. Boston’s average annual snowfall is 47 inches. The storm also laid down a narrow zone of freezing rain across a heavily populated area near New York City into parts of southern New England. A flash freeze took its toll on Tuesday’s commute, freezing any standing water and slush on untreated roads, parking lots and sidewalks. Subzero temperatures were recorded during the morning as far south as northern Kansas and northern Missouri. Omaha, Nebraska equaled its coldest temperature so far this winter with a low of 4 degrees below zero. The coldest spot in the Lower 48 was Embarrass, Minnesota, which dipped to 31 degrees below zero.

Parts of Iceland are rising, and the culprit may be climate change. GPS measurements show that land in the central and southern parts of Iceland have been rising at a faster pace every year, beginning at about the same time as the onset of increasing melt of the island’s ice due to rising temperatures, a new study finds. The uplift in Iceland is primarily due to ice loss as the weight pushing down on the land decreases. That uplift could in turn affect Iceland’s notorious volcanoes and hasten eruptions.

Signs of the Times (2/2/15)

February 2, 2015

U.S. Funding of Planned Parenthood Costs Taxpayers $2 Million/Day

The U.S. government spends on the average almost $2,000,000.00 every day giving money to Planned Parenthood – the number one killer of unborn children in the world. Joseph Parker, Director of Outreach & Intercession, says, “Now, even if our national budget was balanced, this would be a major travesty and tragedy. Yet our Government is deep – extremely deep in debt. And it still manages to give almost two million dollars a day to Planned Parenthood as they continue to destroy the lives of innocent children in incredible numbers. This action is clearly in disobedience to the Word of God that states very clearly “Thou Shall not Kill” Exodus 20:13. The correct translation of these words says “You shall not take innocent life.” You don’t hardly get any more innocent than an unborn baby. Yet, sadly our government ‘finds’ money, and gives it to people who are slaughtering our innocent children.”

Marines Remove ‘God’ after Atheist Complaint

“An Army recruiting station in Phoenix, Arizona, has been ordered by higher ups to remove a sign on display outside of its entrance that read, ‘On a mission for both God and country.'” reports The Blaze. The removal of the signboard came on Friday just hours after it was brought to the attention of a commanding officer after an atheist’s complaint, though it had reportedly been on display since at least October. A spokesperson for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command told the Army Times that the text was placed on the signboard by local personnel and that headquarters would have never permitted it.

  • The more America removes God from its institutions, the more God’s hand of protection is removed from our country’s wellbeing

Senate Approves Keystone Pipeline Bill

The Senate passed legislation Thursday approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, setting up a looming veto showdown with the White House. The legislation passed on a 62-36 vote, after lawmakers spent weeks considering amendments. The House passed a similar bill earlier this month, though there are slight differences that have to be ironed out before the bill can go to President Obama’s desk. The vote nevertheless marked the first time the Senate has voted to approve the controversial Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline. Nine Democrats joined with 53 Republicans to back the measure. The bill authorizes construction of the 1,179-mile pipeline, which would carry oil primarily from Canada’s tar sands to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipeline to Gulf Coast refineries.

Obama Seeks to End Sequester Cuts, Raise Spending Caps

President Obama called for an end to “mindless austerity” on Thursday as he announced his desire to end “sequester” spending cuts in his budget for 2015. The across-the-board cuts, agreed to by both parties, have been in effect since 2013, after lawmakers were unable to produce a more strategic deficit-cutting plan. Members of both parties have problems with the cuts, which indiscriminately affect both domestic and defense programs. Obama’s proposed $74 billion in added spending — about 7 percent — would be split about evenly between defense programs and the domestic side of the budget. Although he’s sought before to reverse the sequester spending cuts, Obama’s pitch in this year’s budget comes with the added oomph of an improving economy and big recent declines in federal deficits. Republicans promise to produce a balanced budget blueprint this spring.

Most Americans Support Government Action on Climate Change

An overwhelming majority of the American public, including nearly half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future. The poll found that 83 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of independents, say that if nothing is done to reduce emissions, global warming will be a very or somewhat serious problem in the future. In a finding that could have implications for the 2016 presidential campaign, the poll also found that two-thirds of Americans say they are more likely to vote for political candidates who campaign on fighting climate change. They are less likely to vote for candidates who question or deny the science of human-caused global warming.

  • Climate change is an end-time phenomena that no amount of politics or policies will circumvent, producing floods (Daniel 9:26b) and super-sized hailstones (Rev. 8:7, 11:19, 16:11)

Obama Proposes a $3.99 Trillion Budget

President Obama unveiled a $3.99 trillion budget Monday that is “designed to bring middle class economics into the 21st Century”. The proposed budget “invests in helping working families make their paychecks go further, preparing hardworking Americans to earn higher wages, and creating the infrastructure that allows businesses to thrive and create good, high-paying jobs,” the White House said in a statement. To pay for new tax credits and other programs involving education, child care, paid leave, and new road and bridge construction, the budget calls for tax hikes on wealthier Americans by closing certain loopholes. Congressional Republicans said the president’s proposals — many of which leaked out in advance of Monday’s announcement — involve too many tax hikes and high-spending programs. Recent presidential budget proposals are as much political documents as accounting ones, often declared “dead on arrival” in Congress by opposing political parties. The bipartisanship has yielded a series of budget bills funding the government temporarily.

Measles Cases in California Soar

There are 91 cases of measles in California as of last Friday, up from 59 the week before. While the total is still small, the jump was a startling 54 percent in just more than a week. Most cases — 58 — are linked to an outbreak at Disneyland in mid-December. Health officials said 40 of the cases were employees or parkgoers, while 18 of the cases were secondary infections. One parent of a 6-year-old has asked school officials to bar any children who have not been vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). “Fortunately, there is no need to exclude any students from a Marin County school at this time as there is no evidence for school-based exposure,” the county public health office said in a statement.

In a development that could dramatically widen the scope of a measles outbreak that began last month at Disney parks in California, Arizona health officials said Wednesday that up to 1,000 people in that state may have been exposed to the highly infectious disease. Arizona is now second to California in the number of cases. Measles has also been confirmed in five other states — Utah, Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Nebraska — as well as Mexico. So far, most of the people infected hadn’t gotten the measles-mumps-rubella — or MMR — vaccine, officials said. As officials in 14 states grapple with a measles outbreak, the parents at the heart of America’s anti-vaccine movement are being blamed for the public-health crisis.

Economic News

The U.S. economy gained steam last year, but it closed out the year with a big disappointment, raising more questions about 2015. America’s economy grew only 2.6% in the final three months of the year, down from 5% in the previous quarter and much lower than economists’ estimate of 3.3%. Overall for 2014, U.S. gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic activity rose 2.4%. That’s the highest mark in four years, according to the Commerce Department, but economists and policymakers want to see growth this year of a lot closer to 3%.

North Dakota lawmakers are now expecting billions less in tax revenue during the next two and a half years due to falling oil prices. A report from Legislative Council downgrading revenue projections by $5.5 billion points mostly to the impact of oil tax exemptions the Legislature previously failed to reform. During the 2013 legislative session multiple bills to eliminate the exemptions in exchange for lower top rates were rejected. Now plunging oil prices are expected to invoke those triggers causing a multi-billion swing in the state’s expected revenues.

Russia’s central bank reversed course Friday and slashed interest rates to 15% from 17% as the nation grapples with a weak economic outlook caused in part by sanctions from the West over its actions in Ukraine and plunging oil prices. Late last year, the Bank of Russia dramatically raised rates 6.5% in attempt to stop a slide in its ruble currency. The ruble has shed about half of its value in recent months as oil prices have plummeted below $45 a barrel.

Islamic State

ISIS militants have launched an attack on the oil-producing northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. The extremist group has previously held areas on the outskirts of Kirkuk but not the central city. There had been recent speculation that ISIS might attack Kirkuk to force Kurdish troops to divert their efforts away from Mosul, ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq, about 100 miles to the northwest. Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have moved in around the outskirts of Mosul recently, backed by airstrikes by the U.S.-led international coalition against ISIS, forcing the Sunni extremist group onto the defensive. Two purported ISIS fighters interviewed for a news agency working in ISIS-held territory have given the same reason for the militants’ retreat from the Syrian city of Kobani: the constant pummeling by coalition airstrikes.

For ISIS it is a new dynamic, experts say: demanding high value prisoners in exchange for hostages. Three of the prisoners ISIS apparently wants back are women — a failed suicide bomber, an alleged bomb maker and a woman tied to the head of ISIS. The fourth is a child. Each of the prisoners is symbolically and strategically important for the terror group. Many countries have a strategy of not negotiating with terrorists. But this new approach by ISIS is putting governments to the test. Duncan Bullivant, a UK-based risk consultant, says swapping prisoners for hostages is still better than paying for release of prisoners, as some European countries do. “The payment of cash ransom can been seen as the direct funding of terrorist organizations.” As Japan mourns following the apparent beheading of its journalist by ISIS, thousands of miles away, an anxious Jordan still awaits the fate of its captured pilot.

Egypt

At least 26 people were killed and dozens more wounded, including civilians, during a series of militant attacks on army and police positions in Egypt’s volatile Sinai Peninsula. At least 36 additional people were wounded in the assaults, which involved car bombs and mortar rounds in the town of Al-Arish, in North Sinai. Suspected militants carried out consecutive attacks on the headquarters of the North Sinai security directorate in Al-Arish, a nearby army base, a hotel and several security checkpoints. The country’s most active Jihadist group, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, said via Twitter that it was behind the assaults. In November, the Sinai-based group pledged allegiance to ISIS, which has seized swaths of Syria and Iraq.

Afghanistan

A gunman killed three U.S. contractors and wounded a fourth Thursday evening at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials said. A local Afghan was also killed in the attack at about 6:40 p.m. on the military side of the airport. An Afghan air force official told Reuters the shooter was an Afghan soldier. The Taliban subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack, Reuters reported. In the past several years, more than 142 members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Taliban insurgents have been killed in so-called green-on-blue insider attacks by Afghan security forces. The shooting was the first of its kind since U.S. and NATO forces ceased their combat mission a month ago.

Pakistan

A bomb blast ripped through a mosque in Pakistan belonging to members of the Shiite minority sect of Islam just as worshippers were gathering for Friday prayers, killing 35 people and wounding dozens more, officials said. Another 50 people were severely wounded. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Sunni Muslim extremists have often targeted religious institutions of Shiites, whom they do not consider to be true Muslims. While Karachi has been the site of repeated bombings blamed on militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, the northern part of Sindh province has generally been much more peaceful. But recent years have seen a trend of extremist organizations increasingly active in the central and northern part of the province, according to a new report by the United States Institute of Peace. But recent years have seen a trend of extremist organizations increasingly active in the central and northern part of the province.

Nearly 300 Muslim students have reportedly attacked a Christian boys’ school in Pakistan in response to the Charlie Hebdo caricatures that mocked the prophet Muhammad. The students were armed with iron bars and sticks and four people were injured in the attack; there were no fatalities. The Christian Post reports that the attack occurred at Panel High School in Bannu. Muslim students scaled the walls and attacked the Christians inside the school.

Iran

Six months ago Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post correspondent in Tehran, was detained by the Iranian government, along with his wife and two others on July 22, 2014. The 38-year old Californian, now held in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, has been in an Iranian jail longer than any other Western journalist. His Iranian wife and journalist, Yeganeh Salehi, and the others detained with him have been released. Jason Rezaian was formally charged in late December, though his family is still unclear precisely what he has been charged with. “Because they haven’t given us any information, haven’t told us what the charges were or what the evidence against him was, we don’t know why he was detained,” his wife Ali Rezaian says.

Syria

A bomb exploded on a bus near Damascus’ medieval city center on Sunday, killing at least seven people, including Lebanese Shiite pilgrims. Another 20 people were wounded in the blast, which occurred near the Damascus citadel and the centuries-old Hamidiyeh bazaar. Rocket fire from nearby rebel-held towns routinely strikes Damascus, but bombings are rare in the heavily policed city center.

Saudi Arabia

A U.S. defense contractor confirmed Sunday that two of its American employees were shot at in Saudi Arabia, marking the second time in less than four months that the company’s staff has been targeted. Both employees were injured but are in stable condition at a local hospital. Friday’s shooting is likely to deepen the sense of unease among the Western expatriates working in the kingdom, which is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants.

Nigeria

Nigerian troops Sunday repelled Islamic extremists who attacked from four fronts on Maiduguri, the biggest city in northeast Nigeria, with several civilians killed by aerial bombs and grenades and mortar shells on the ground. Terrified residents fled homes shaking from five hours of heavy artillery fire and streamed in from the outskirts of the besieged city of 2 million, already crowded with another 200,000 refugees from the fighting. For weeks Boko Haram has been closing in on Maiduguri, the group’s spiritual birthplace, and if it were able to plant its Islamic State-style flag there, even briefly, it would give them a major boost as the group loses ground in remoter areas. Its third attack in a week on Maiduguri came as Chadian forces launched a winning offensive to regain control of border areas, acting on behalf of an African Union directive to help fight the spreading Islamic uprising by Nigeria’s home-grown Boko Haram extremists.

Ukraine

Artillery fire killed at least 13 civilians in the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Friday amid fierce fighting between pro-Russia separatists and government troops as hopes for a break in hostilities were dashed when an attempt to call a new round of peace talks failed. Full-blown fighting between the Russian-backed separatists and government forces erupted anew earlier this month following a period of relative tranquility. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations says his country soon will ask the world body’s member states to formally recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism. Ukraine’s parliament also declared the Russia-backed separatist republics in the east to be terrorist organizations.

Madagascar

An outbreak of the plague has killed dozens in Madagascar, and experts fear those numbers could go up. At least 119 cases were confirmed since late last year, including 40 deaths, the World Health Organization said. Cases were confirmed in at least 20 districts and the capital. And the disease is taking an alarming turn. “The fleas that transmit this ancient disease from rats to humans have developed resistance to the first-line insecticide,” the WHO said.

Hong Kong

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters returned to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, in the first major rally since mass protests last year. Holding yellow umbrellas, the symbol of last year’s Occupy protests, the demonstrators chanted, “No fake universal suffrage. I want genuine universal suffrage.” The protesters oppose the Chinese government’s decision that candidates in the 2017 election for Hong Kong chief executive will be vetted by a largely Beijing-controlled nominating committee. The final election plan must be approved by a two-thirds majority in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council before submitting to authorities in Beijing. But pro-democracy legislators, who hold 40% of the seats, have said they would veto the screening proposal.

Weather

As yet another winter storm moves from the Midwest into the Northeast, some areas could see more than a foot of snow. Early Monday morning, about 69 million Americans were under winter advisory or warning. More than 4,500 flights have been canceled nationwide Monday. The storm dumped 18 inches of snow across the Chicago area, making it the sixth snowiest storm on record there. Daily snowfall records have been broken in several locations, including Milwaukee (10.4 inches), South Bend, Indiana (14.7 inches), Grand Rapids, Michigan (8 inches). Snow overspread much of the rest of New York state and New England, and over 6 inches of snow had already piled up in a few areas as of Monday morning. Some parts of the hard-hit northeast could receive another foot or more atop the remains of two other recent snowfalls.

A year ago, California experienced its third-driest January in records dating to 1895. Fast forward a year later and we are seeing a repeat of record or near-record dry conditions in parts of the state. In San Francisco, no rain has fallen at the downtown observation station or the airport this January. With no rain in the forecast to close the month, it appears that San Francisco will see its first January without rainfall since records began downtown in 1850. This comes on the heels of last January, which went down as the driest on record for the city. Sacramento is also on track to see its driest January on record with one-hundredth of an inch of rain so far.