Signs of the Times (2/27/15)

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.

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