Signs of the Times (2/6/15)

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 “Obama’s historical references have absolutely no relevance to today’s fight against radical Islam — except that the Islamists are still fighting the Crusades!”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.

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