Archive for March, 2015

Signs of the Times (3/30/15)

March 30, 2015

34,000 Black Churches Break Ties with Presbyterian Church

The National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), a faith-based coalition of 34,000 churches comprised of 15 denominations and 15.7 million African-Americans, has broken its fellowship with Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) following its recent vote to approve same-sex marriage. This arbitrary change of Holy Scripture is a flagrantly pretentious and illegitimate maneuver by a body that has no authority whatsoever to alter holy text, Rev. Anthony Evans, NBCI President said. “NBCI and its membership base are simply standing on the Word of God within the mind of Christ. We urge our brother and sisters of the PCUSA to repent and be restored to fellowship.”

Daughter of Lesbians: I Needed a Dad

With the argument for homosexual adoption ramping up as 13 states fear same-sex “marriage” will soon be imposed upon them, the daughter of a lesbian couple is opposing its legalization, arguing that such unions are harmful to children. Heather Barwick was brought up in a home by two lesbian mothers. Barwick, now married to a man and raising four children, argues that growing up in a same-sex household is detrimental to a child’s development — a realization she didn’t come to until she was well into her 20s. After seeing how her own children flourished by having a father in their lives, Barwick became even more convinced that the fatherless life she had as a child hurt her in more ways than she previously recognized. “And it’s only now, as I watch my children loving and being loved by their father each day, that I can see the beauty and wisdom in traditional marriage and parenting,” Barwick added.

Backlash over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law Heats Up

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence stirred up controversy this week when he signed a “religious freedom” bill into law. The law has businesses and civil rights groups up in arms and threatening to boycott the state. The reaction has gotten so hot, that on Saturday, Pence told The Indianapolis Star that he is working with legislators to amend the law and “clarify” that it does not promote discrimination. Critics of the bill assert the law could be used by individuals and businesses to discriminate on the basis of religion — particularly against the LGBT community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

  • If a baker is discriminating by refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, then a demand for a Jewish business to print “Death to Israel” signs would also be found liable. Private business is just that, private. Public corporations are a different story.
  • Personal freedoms are rapidly diminishing under our forced conversion to the religion of secular humanism which reveres humanity more than God, and the creation, more than the Creator

$20 Billion, 20-year Air-Traffic Control Modernization Project Underway

Air traffic controllers across the country are in the middle of a $20 billion, 20-year modernization project to improve airline travel in a way most passengers will never even notice. The Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen project uses GPS technology and better flight computers to more precisely track where planes are in the sky, allowing them to fly shorter, more direct routes while saving fuel and providing smoother, quieter landings for passengers. The suite of NextGen technologies and procedural changes allow controllers to reduce the distances between planes as they take off, land and soar above America. Putting the planes closer together –still miles apart – frees up capacity in the congested skies, especially in cities with multiple airports like New York City and Washington, D.C. Not everyone likes the new system, however: Officials in Phoenix are threatening to sue the FAA over noise concerns because the new flight paths take more planes over a number of homes, instead of distributing them more widely and reducing the impact.

Ebola Update

Aid workers are rushing into Guinea to try to stanch a worrisome rise in cases of the deadly Ebola virus, which has been slowed in Sierra Leone and been all but eradicated in Liberia. The mission is urgent because the coming rainy season could hamper travel to remote villages where the disease continues to emerge. The 95 new cases reported during the week of March 15 was the highest weekly total for the nation so far this year. Nearly 25,000 people across West Africa have been infected with Ebola since the disease surfaced in the jungles of Guinea in December 2013. More than 10,000 have died in the worst outbreak of the disease in history.

401K Retirement Plans Dubbed a Failure

For millions of Americans, the 401(k) plan is a miserable failure — it simply is not shielding enough people from financial struggles in their retirements, according to a CNBC analysis. The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates the median amount in U.S. 401(k) accounts is a paltry $18,433 and almost 40 percent of workers have less than $10,000 in those instruments. The business network said millions of Americans approaching retirement are exiting the workforce with savings that “do not even approach what they will need” for even just healthcare. As 401(k) plans began to multiply starting in 1978, pension plans started disappearing, CNBC said. While pensions provided lifetime income, 401(k) plans offer no such certainty and are also optional.

Older Workers Forced into New Professions

More than half (53%) of older workers who got a job after being unemployed now work in a different field, according to an AARP survey of 2,492 people, ages 45 to 70, who had been unemployed at some time during the past five years.. Half of the respondents were working at the time of the survey; 38% were unemployed; and 12% had dropped out of the labor force. Of the overall sample, 55% had been unemployed for six months or more. The findings show that people who were unemployed for a longer period were more likely to take a job in a different occupation than those who were unemployed for a shorter time. The research reveals that “as people near retirement, they may be more willing to trade off wages and benefits for a job that is less stressful and more rewarding.”

Economic News

Consumer spending edged up a tiny 0.1 percent last month following declines of 0.2 percent in both January and December, the Commerce Department reported Monday. The result reflected a 0.4 percent increase in nondurable goods such as food and energy after three straight months of declines that stemmed from falling gasoline prices. Durable goods were down 0.1 percent as auto sales weakened.

Income grew a solid 0.4 percent in February, matching January’s rise. Economists are hopeful that continued strong income gains will lift consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. With income growing faster than spending, the saving rate jumped to 5.8 percent of after-tax income, up from 5.5 percent in January and the highest level since December 2012.

Home prices are rising 13 times faster than wage growth nationwide, according to a report from RealtyTrac. From 2012-2014, median home prices climbed 17% while median wages rose 1.3%. “The bounce back has taken home prices in some markets out of reach of the ever-important first-time homebuyer,” said RealtyTrac.

The U.S. is running out of places to stash its overflowing oil supplies, threatening to further drive down crude prices that rebounded in recent days. Supply — including oil produced in the U.S. and imported — has been outpacing U.S. refiners’ demand by about 1 million barrels a day on average since early January, according to the Energy Information Administration. Advanced drilling techniques that extract crude from shale rock have made the U.S. the world’s No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas liquids.

Middle East

The U.S. exerted new pressure against Israel by leaving open the possibility of letting the United Nations set a deadline for a Palestinian state, in what would be a departure from using American veto power to protect its close Mideast ally. The prospect of a U.N. Security Council resolution arose Friday when French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris would introduce a measure setting a deadline for a negotiated settlement of the conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, possibly within two years. On dozens of occasions in recent decades, the U.S. has lobbied against approval of such resolutions, using its veto authority as a permanent member of the Security Council as a last resort. But the White House took a markedly different tack on Friday when the absence of any dissuasion was indicative of tacit support. If the U.S. were to abstain from voting on the resolution it could still pass if it gained the required nine-vote majority, further isolating Israel.

  • Israel is the focal-point of the end-time conflagration that will trigger the rise of the anti-Christ and the one-world government preceding the seven-year Tribulation.

The Arab Spring was supposed to bring peace, democracy and stability to not only the nations where it took root, but also others around it in the Middle East and North Africa. It was supposed to usher in an end of violence and heavy-handed government tactics, just like it ushered out entrenched leaders. But what it actually brought about is more instability, more violence, and fewer freedoms. As a result, the leaders of countries in the 22-nation Arab League agreed to the principle of creating a joint Arab military force at a summit in Egypt on Sunday. The League said Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes in Yemen will continue until Shiite rebels “withdraw and surrender their weapons.” The Arab League statement calls for the establishment of a voluntary military force that can counter challenges that threaten the safety and security of any member, according to the Al Arabiya network. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said a high-level panel under the supervision of Arab chiefs of staff will work out the structure and mechanism of the force. Egyptian officials say it would be made up of around 40,000 elite troops and backed by jets, warships and light armor.

  • Shiite Iran remains isolated outside of this presumptive Sunni solidarity

Islamic State

The Islamic State group released a new video Sunday showing its fighters cutting off the heads of eight men described as Shiite Muslims, who were led to their execution by teenage boys. The eight men were beheaded in the central Syrian province of Hama. The video was posted on social media. It could not be independently verified but it appeared to be genuine, the Associated Press reported. An Islamic State fighter speaks in the video, calling the hostages “impure infidels” and saying the military campaign against the Islamic State will make the group stronger. Meanwhile, in Iraq, security forces continued to fight Islamic State militants in Tikrit on Sunday with air support from the U.S. and its allies. The bulk of the Iraqi force attacking into the city, about 20,000 fighters, is made up of Shiite militias who are supported by Iranian advisers and artillery and rocket support.

Syria

Islamic fighters led by Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria seized almost full control of the northwestern city of Idlib on Saturday, taking over major roundabouts and government buildings in a powerful blow to President Bashar Assad whose forces rapidly collapsed after four days of heavy fighting, opposition activists and the extremist group said. Idlib, a major urban center with a population of around 165,000 people, is the second provincial capital to fall into opposition hands after Raqqa, now a stronghold of the Islamic State group. Its capture by the Nusra Front underscores the growing power of extremist groups in Syria who now control about half the country. Opposition fighters including Nusra have controlled the countryside and towns across Idlib province since 2012, but Assad’s forces have managed to maintain their grip on Idlib city, near the border with Turkey, throughout the conflict.

Yemen

The U.S. is reportedly preparing to boost its aid to Saudi Arabia in its air assault against rebel forces in Yemen. The Wall Street Journal, citing military officials, reports the U.S. is going to provide the Saudis with more intelligence, bombs and aerial refueling missions for planes that are carrying out airstrikes in the embattled Arab nation. The development came after the Saudi Arabia-led coalition seized full control of Yemeni airspace after two days of airstrikes targeting Houthi rebels, who have taken control of Yemen’s capital and government. The first three days of airstrikes by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia have destroyed Yemen’s fleet of fighter aircraft and crippled military command centers, dealing a blow to Houthi insurgents, a senior defense official in Riyadh said Sunday. The campaign has raised fears that Yemen’s crisis could escalate into a regional battle putting Sunni Muslim countries against the Shiite Houthis and Iran, which is largely Shiite.

Iran

The international negotiations to strike a nuclear agreement with Iran intensified and took on a frantic tone Saturday, as France and Germany joined in the talks that have recently been limited to the United States and Tehran. The negotiators are trying to reach an outline of an agreement by Tuesday, toward a final agreement by June 30 that would end Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Emerging details of a possible nuclear deal with Iran have drawn sharp criticism from congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who say the U.S. and its international partners may be ceding too much as a key deadline nears. If reports are true, “then we are not inching closer to Iran’s negotiating position, but leaping toward it with both feet,” charged Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a vocal critic of the direction of the talks. Iranian officials on Sunday backed away from a critical element of a proposed nuclear agreement, saying they are no longer willing to ship their atomic fuel out of the country, a key principle agreed upon months ago.

  • Iran continues to buy more time and even win reduced oversight at the negotiating table, all the while moving steadily toward their goal of building a nuclear arsenal due to the soft stance of the Obama administration.

Egypt

A spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Heath says a bomb exploded in front of Egypt’s largest and most prominent university, injuring 8 people. Four of the people injured on Saturday are police officers who were guarding the entrances to Cairo University. The blast went off by a subway entrance near the campus. Egypt has faced regular militant attacks, mostly targeting security forces, since the military’s ouster of elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Militant groups say they are avenging a security crackdown on Islamists.

Somalia

The attack by Islamic extremists on a popular hotel in Mogadishu Friday killed at least 21, including six attackers. Officials declared they have full control of the Maka Al-Mukarramah Hotel Saturday, more than 12 hours after gunmen, believed to be six in number, from the Islamic rebel group al-Shabab took up positions in the hotel. Somalia’s ambassador to Switzerland and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Yusuf Bari-Bari was among those killed in the attack. Al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group that has carried out many attacks in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the assault on the hotel, which is popular with Somali government officials and foreigners. Al-Shabab controlled much of Mogadishu between 2007 and 2011, but was pushed out of Somalia’s capital and other major cities by African Union forces.

Nigeria

Millions of Nigerians turned out to cast their votes for president Saturday, in an election analysts consider too close to call. But hundreds have also been scared away from polling stations by Boko Haram extremists. Vowing to disrupt elections, gun-toting Boko Haram extremists forced voters to abandon polling stations in three villages of northeastern Gombe state. President Goodluck Jonathan is facing off in this tight race against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari in the first election in Nigerian history where an opposition candidate has a realistic chance of defeating an incumbent president. Nearly 60 million people have cards to vote. Polling has been marred by violence and technical problems in the tight presidential race. At least 41 people were killed Saturday amid an Islamic insurgency in Nigeria’s northeastern region. Boko Haram torched people’s homes early Saturday and shot them as they tried to flee.

Earthquakes

The largest earthquake on Earth in 2015 struck near the South Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea Monday. Hazardous tsunami waves could affect various coastlines in the Pacific, prompting officials to issue warnings. The magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck approximately 34 miles southeast of the town of Kokopo in northeastern Papua New Guinea at a depth of 40 miles. There had been no reports of damage or injuries within an hour of the quake rattling the country. Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea. The country lies on the “Ring of Fire” – an arc of earthquake and volcanic activity that stretches around the Pacific Rim.

Weather

Bitter cold and snow ushered in the final weekend of March in the Northeast with below-normal temperatures across the entire eastern half of the country. Temperatures some 10 to 25 degrees below average were seen from parts of the Mississippi Valley to the mid-Atlantic and lower Great Lakes regions. Across the Appalachians and upstate New York, lows were in the single digits and teens Saturday night. Several record lows were set in the East on Sunday morning, including Charleston, West Virginia (17 degrees), Wilmington, North Carolina (29 degrees), Macon, Georgia (27 degrees) and Saranac Lake, New York (minus 9 degrees).

Phoenix reached 97 degrees Sunday, setting an all-time record for March 29th. Temperatures in Phoenix and the Southwest are running about 15 degrees higher than usual, but will cool off somewhat by midweek. As this week progresses, the jet stream will lift northward in the central and eastern states, allowing a bout of milder air to warm parts of the Midwest and Northeast. Warmer-than-average temperatures will return to the Midwest through Wednesday. Thunderstorms, possibly severe, may also accompany the warmer temperatures by midweek. In the Northeast and parts of the Great Lakes, a minor additional jet stream dip will keep the region near or below average to start this week. Some locations may even see light snow or a rain/snow mix from weak disturbances in this jet stream dip. However, we will see a complete pattern change later in the week. As a result, temperatures will fluctuate between the 30s, 40s and 50s for the first half of the week before finally warming into the 50s and 60s late in the week.

At least 10 people were buried alive when flooding in India’s Kashmir region triggered mudslides just six months after the area saw its worst flooding in a century. As many as 13 more are feared dead in the slide. With parts of the region underwater and hundreds of families scattered due to evacuations, schools in the area were canceled Monday and Tuesday. March has been the wettest month in more than a century, wrecking millions of hectares of winter crops. Local meteorologists have warned residents that the heavy rains are likely to continue. Some 200 people died and nearly 1 million people were displaced for several weeks when the Kashmir valley saw its worst flooding in more than 100 years back in September.

Signs of the Times (3/27/15)

March 27, 2015

Indiana’s Law Allows Businesses to Reject Gay Customers

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law on Thursday a measure that allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers in the name of “religious freedom.” The bill has sparked an uproar among groups that hold their conventions in Indianapolis and businesses are threatening to pull out of the city. Even the NCAA — which is less than two weeks from hosting its men’s basketball Final Four in Indianapolis — was critical, saying the organization is “committed to an inclusive environment where all individuals enjoy equal access to events” as it hinted the bill could damage the city’s reputation as a host of major sporting events. In a statement explaining his decision, Pence pointed to President Barack Obama’s health care law — which triggered a lawsuit by Hobby Lobby to ensure the company wasn’t required to cover birth control through its employees’ health insurance plans. “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said.

  • It is truly ironic that in the name of inclusiveness and tolerance, private business owners are forced to violate their personal religious beliefs or face hateful attacks from the liberal, socialistic left.

Presbyterian Minister Doesn’t Believe in God but Defends His ‘Christianity’

Presbyterian minister John Shuck wrote on an atheist blog that “God is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being.” Still, Shuck said he is a “proud minister.” The blog was titled “I’m a Presbyterian Minister Who Doesn’t Believe in God.” “I believe one of the newer religious paths could be a ‘belief-less’ Christianity. In this ‘sect,’ one is not required to believe things. One learns and draws upon practices and products of our cultural tradition to create meaning in the present,” Shuck wrote on The Friendly Atheist’s blog. “Belief-less Christianity is thriving right now, even as other forms of the faith are falling away rapidly. Many liberal or progressive Christians have already let go or de-emphasized belief in heaven, that the Bible is literally true, that Jesus is supernatural, and that Christianity is the only way. Yet they still practice what they call Christianity,” he wrote.

  • Mainline denominations are in the forefront of the “falling away” (2Thess. 2:3) by moving away from Biblical inerrancy toward secular humanist notions of what’s right and wrong. Nominal Christians (in name only) who are not truly “born again” (John 3:3) are particular susceptible to such faithless allures.

Drone Crashes Exposing Secrets about Far-Flung U.S. War Operations

Crashing drones are spilling secrets about U.S. military operations. A surveillance mission was exposed last week when a Predator drone crashed in northwest Syria while spying on the home turf of President Bashar al-Assad. U.S. officials believe the drone was shot down, but they haven’t ruled out mechanical failure. Regardless, the wreckage offered the first hard evidence of a U.S. confrontation with Assad’s forces. The mishap in Syria follows a string of crashes in Yemen, another country where the U.S. military keeps virtually all details of its drone operations classified. Since January 2014, the Air Force has reported 14 crashes of Predator and Reaper drones that either destroyed the aircraft or inflicted more than $2 million in damage. Three of the accidents took place in Afghanistan, but six happened elsewhere in classified or undisclosed sites, a sharp increase from prior years. The far-flung nature of the accidents reinforces how U.S. drone operations have spread well beyond the established war zone in Afghanistan.

FBI Lags in Counter-Terrorism Efforts

The FBI has improved its ability to fight terrorism in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but a new report says the bureau still faces significant challenges as it continues to strengthen its intelligence capabilities to deal with nimble enemies. The finding was part of an exhaustive review requested by Congress to evaluate the FBI’s response to the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations in 2004 and determine if the domestic law enforcement agency was moving quickly enough to deal with fast-moving threats. The lengthy report, “The FBI: Protecting the Homeland in the 21st Century,” says the FBI has come a long way, improving the sharing of information and collaborating with intelligence partners. But the FBI has lagged behind in other key programs, such as analysis and the development of a deep roster of informants. The review looked at the FBI’s response to five high-profile terrorist plots since 2008 and said informants didn’t play any meaningful role. Members of the 9/11 Review Commission said that there were signs in each of those cases, including the 2010 botched Times Square bombing and a thwarted al-Qaeda attack on New York’s subways in 2009, that the FBI should perhaps have been aware of beforehand.

Undocumented Immigrants Getting More White-Collar Jobs

Undocumented immigrants are increasingly getting white-collar jobs as lower-skilled industries let more workers go, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Research Center. In the years since the global recession slammed the U.S. economy — from 2007 to 2012 — construction and production jobs for undocumented immigrants fell by 475,000. At the same time, undocumented immigrants gained 180,000 management and professional jobs, the study showed. While undocumented immigrants account for 5% of the overall workforce, they represent 26% of employees in the farming, fishing and forestry industries; 17% of the cleaning and maintenance industries; 14% of the construction and extraction industries; and 11% of the food preparation and serving industries. Although the overall size of the undocumented immigrant population fell from 12.2 million in 2007 to 11.2 million in 2012, the number of undocumented immigrants in the labor force rose from 8.1 million to 8.3 million. The states with the highest share of undocumented immigrants in the workforce are Nevada (10.2%), California (9.4%) and Texas (8.9%).

FOIA Documents: 165,900 Convicted Criminal Illegals Released Into US by Homeland Security

Judicial Watch has released documents which indicate that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released 165,900 illegal aliens as of April 26, 2014, all who were convicted criminals and many of whom had been convicted of violent crimes, back into the American population. Judicial Watch obtained the 76-page document via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit they filed on July 21, 2014. The lawsuit had to be filed because Homeland Security would not respond to the FOIA request by the organization. “This would be considered the worst prison break in American history, except it was sanctioned by the President and perpetrated by our own immigration officials,” said Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX).

National Parks Need $11.5B in Maintenance

Nationwide, the national parks have a $11.5 billion backlog, an increase of $190 million over last year’s estimate. Deferred maintenance includes needed repairs to roads and bridges, visitor centers, trails and campgrounds that have been put off for more than a year. Crumbling park roads and bridges account for about half the maintenance backlog. The greatest need is in Grand Canyon National Park, where $329.5 million in maintenance has been deferred. At Grand Canyon National Park, about $123 million of the maintenance backlog involves water and wastewater systems. Road work accounts for another $120 million, with backlogged work on trails at $44.7 million and buildings at $17.5 million. In releasing the maintenance report this week, National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis pointed out that President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget proposal includes additional funding to reduce the backlog as part of an effort to spruce up the parks to mark the National Park Service’s centennial next year. But it is insufficient to make more than just a dent in the backlog.

Co-Pilot Deliberately Crashed French Flight

The co-pilot of the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps deliberately worked to destroy the plane while passengers shrieked in terror and the pilot pounded on the cockpit door, a French prosecutor said at a news conference Thursday in Marseille. The information was obtained from the cockpit voice recorder of doomed Flight 9525, which suddenly began an eight-minute descent before smashing into the mountains Tuesday. German national Andreas Lubitz, 28, was not on a terror watch list and said nothing during the descent, but could be heard breathing until the crash. No distress signal or SOS was given. Prior to the crash, the voice recorder indicated dialogue between the pilot and co-pilot was normal. The co-pilot had concealed a psychological illness from his employers and tore up a doctor’s note that called for him to go on medical leave on the day of the tragedy, according to a statement from German prosecutors.

  • If not Islamic terror, it is end-time satanic terror. Satan is angry that his time is growing short and will be stirring up as much violence as possible in the interim, with his demonic hordes exploiting the emotionally unstable and vulnerable as his perpetrators

Early Death Rates Dropping, but Not in Poor Areas

The rate of early death — that is, before age 75 — is dropping in most parts of the country, according to county-by-county health rankings out Wednesday. However, people in many poverty-stricken areas still die young at a stubbornly high rate. Violence, crime, access to healthy foods and exercise facilities and walking paths all play a role. Income plays a major part in access to the best health care because it is often tied to education and affects people’s ability to adhere to their treatment plans. “Wealth equals health,” says Wayne Rawlins, national medical director for the insurer Aetna. The report notes that the percentage of children in poverty is up. One in four U.S. children lived in poverty in 2013, up from one in five in 2007, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says.

Women Dominate Nursing Field, yet Male Nurses Make More

Even in an occupation that women overwhelmingly dominate, they still earn less than men, a study of nurses found. The gender gap for registered nurses’ salaries amounts to a little over $5,000 yearly on average and it hasn’t budged in more than 20 years. Among the more than 2 million registered nurses nationwide, about 10 percent are men. The average 2013 salary for male nurses was about $70,000, versus about $60,000 for women. Taking into account factors that influence salary including geographic location, nursing specialty and years of experience trimmed that $10,000 pay gap by about half. That pay gap may not sound big — it’s smaller than in many other professions — but over a long career, it adds up to more than $150,000, said study author Ulrike Muench, a professor and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.

Economic News

Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell by 9,000 in the previous week, signaling an improving job market, the Labor Department said Thursday. Total seasonally adjusted initial claims were 282,000, well below the level indicating job growth. The four-week moving average, which smooths out weekly swings in the data, was 297,000, a decrease of 7,750.

In the last 5 years, about 48% of American families have saved no money, and a significant percentage are basically living paycheck to paycheck. This is not the profile of a healthy economy, notes economist Patrick Wood.

Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods fell in February for the third time in the past four months. Orders for durable goods dropped 1.4 percent in February following a 2 percent increase in January and declines of 3.7 percent in December and 2.2 percent in November, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The weakness in February was widespread, with weaker demand for commercial aircraft, autos and machinery.

The percentage of households considered middle class shrunk nationwide between 2000 and 2013, a state-by-state analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline news site found. Every state declined. A separate Pew Research Center study shows that the share of adults in middle-income households has fallen from 61% in 1970 to 51% in 2013. The share of upper-income households grew from 14% to 20% in that time period. Low-income households, meanwhile, narrowed from 29% to 25%. Wisconsin had the biggest loss, with the share of middle class households plummeting 5.6 percentage points to 48.9%. In Wyoming, meanwhile, the share of middle class families slipped only 0.3 percentage points to 51.2%.Stateline defines the middle class as those making between 67% and 200% of the state’s median income. Most states saw median incomes fall between 2000 and 2013, an ominous sign for the well-being of the middle class.

Persecution Watch

A local mob attacked a Christian couple after they were baptized in Gobindagonj in the Gaibandha district of northern Bangladesh. The incident was reported to the police, but the mob returned to attack “Paul”, the Christian cell group leader who had baptized “Samuel” and his wife. When the couple returned to their home after they were baptized, local residents beat them and one Muslim imam slapped Samuel’s wife on the face in front of their two young children. The mob also broke the fence of their home and said they would chase them out of the village for leaving Islam.

Over 100 Pakistani Christians have been arrested in connection with riots that followed Taliban suicide attacks on two churches. Two people that were suspected to be involved with the suicide bombing were beaten to death and burned by crowds in the riots. The Christian Post reports that crowds violently protested for better protection from the government after suicide bombers killed 17 people in Christ Church and Catholic Church of Youhanabad Christian Colony. Religious leaders have condemned the violence and urged the government to release the Christians not involved with the murders.

Middle East

In a clear indication of a desire to ease tensions with the Palestinians and Washington, Israel announced on Friday that it would resume the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, three months after suspending the payments in response to the Palestinian move to join the International Criminal Court. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel approved the recommendation of his defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, and of the Israeli military and Shin Bet internal security agency to transfer the withheld funds “based on humanitarian concerns and in overall consideration of Israel’s interests at this time,” according to a statement from Mr. Netanyahu’s office. Israel collects more than $100 million a month on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Israel’s impoundment of the money had deepened the resilient tensions that are part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

More than 2,000 Gazans were killed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge last year. The 51-day offensive flattened large swathes of the Gaza Strip and turned much of Shejaiya and other neighborhoods into ash-colored wastelands. More than 120,000 homes were damaged or destroyed during the summer offensive. Seven months later, 100,000 people are still homeless and Gaza still looks almost exactly as it did a week after the shelling ended. Only 5% of the $5.4 billion in aid pledged by international donors at a conference in Cairo last year has been disbursed — meaning aid agencies have had to cut services for destitute Gazans. It is a powder keg ready to erupt once again.

  • It is the Muslim nations who dumped their poor and troubled citizens into the region decades ago in the hopes of establishing the foundation of a Palestinian state. Then they used it for their terror operations against Israel. Why aren’t they providing aid to the Gazans? Because they want it to gain the world’s sympathies and turn public opinion against Israel.

Yemen

Sectarian fighting escalated dramatically in Yemen Thursday, as an unfolding civil war began to look more like a regional conflict between Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and Shiite power Iran. A Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries conducted airstrikes against Shiite rebels fighting the U.S.-backed regime of Yemen’s President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi. He fled to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, as the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels advanced on his stronghold in Aden. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the airstrikes in Yemen are a “dangerous step” after Saudi Arabia launched the strikes against Shiite rebel positions in the crisis-hit country. The Saudi offensive begun Wednesday, supported by nine regional allies. The airstrikes came as the Saudi Arabia pledged to protect its neighbor from Iran-backed Shiite rebels. The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya network reported that Saudi Arabia has deployed 150,000 troops and 100 fighter jets. Egyptian warships were also steaming toward the Yemeni coast as part of the Sunni-Arab offensive against Shiite rebels.

  • Once again, Ishmael’s descendants are fighting among themselves, their ultimate downfall.

Iraq

The United States began conducting airstrikes around Tikrit Wednesday, joining an offensive that is being largely carried out by Iranian-backed Shiite militia, the Pentagon announced. The airstrikes came at the request of the Iraqi government, the U.S. military said, because an offensive to root out Islamic State militants stalled after weeks of fighting. As many as 20 targets were hit in the initial wave of attacks. Pilots were also looking for Islamic State troop barracks. The offensive in Tikrit, a town about 80 miles north of Baghdad that was the hometown of Saddam Hussein, has put the United States in the awkward position of becoming an Iranian ally in the attacks against ISIS.

  • The U.S. is on the opposing side against Iran in Yemen, but allies with Iran against ISIS in Iraq.

Afghanistan

America’s longest war just got a little longer for thousands of U.S. troops. President Barack Obama’s decision Tuesday to keep 9,800 soldiers in Afghanistan through this year — double what was previously planned — represents an American bet that a new president, Ashraf Ghani, might finally be the reliable partner in Kabul who can solidify gains, such as they are, of the 14-year U.S. mission. In order to bolster Ghani, who emerged as the winner after a U.S.-brokered settlement to a disputed Afghan election last year, Obama has had little choice but to accept his appeals for more U.S. troops to stay longer in Afghanistan.

  • Obama’s legacy goal of shutting down U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan has now been significantly undermined, especially given the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It was a colossal blunder to pull out of Iraq so abruptly.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s military claims it has destroyed the headquarters of Boko Haram in Gwoza, a town in northeast Nigeria. It was not possible to verify Friday’s victory that comes the day before critical presidential elections. The official Twitter account of the Nigerian Defense Headquarters announced “FLASH: Troops this morning captured Gwoza destroying the Headquarters of the Terrorists self-styled Caliphate.” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau declared Gwoza the capital of a new Islamic caliphate after he seized the town in August.

Somalia

Islamic extremist fighters – possibly from the Al Shabab terror group– stormed a popular hotel in the Somali Capital Mogadishu Friday, trapping government officials inside the building, police said. Witnesses reported hearing a large explosion and gunfire at the Maka Al Mukaram Hotel, Reuters reported. Police say gunshots were heard inside the compound but it’s unclear whether there are casualties resulting from the attack. “Al Shabaab fighters are on the top of the building and inside the hotel,” Police Major Ismail Olow told Reuters. “Some government officials are inside the hotel.”

Australia

Counterterrorism squads have prevented 230 suspected jihadists from departing Australian airports for the Middle East this month, including at least three teenage boys, officials said Wednesday. Since counterterrorism units were attached to eight Australian airports in August, 86,000 travelers have been questioned and 230 people prevented from flying on suspicion that they were headed for the battlefields of Iraq and Syria to fight with groups including Islamic State, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament. Experts disagree about why Islamic State had been so effective recruiting in Australia, which is widely regarded as a multicultural success story, with an economy in an enviable 24th straight year of continuous growth. The London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence reports that between 100 and 250 Australians have joined Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria. The center also estimates that about 100 fighters came from the United States, which has more than 13 times as many people as Australia.

Earthquakes

Mexico’s Colima volcano gave quite a show this week, erupting two times in the same morning. The eruptions weren’t small; they created shock waves atop the mountain and sent hot ash cascading down its sides. Volcano Discovery says Colima is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America and has the potential for danger, due to its high level of activity. Although Colima has been erupting frequently this year, no lives or property were reported to be in danger yet.

Wild animals are able to sense disturbances weeks before major earthquakes strike, according to a new study by Cambridge University published in the journal Physics and Chemistry of the Earth. Rachel Grant of Anglia Ruskin University and lead author of the study told Reuters, “Animals have the potential to be reliable forecasters of earthquakes and could be used alongside other monitoring systems.” Scientists long relied on anecdotal evidence to support this claim, and according to Grant, this study is the first to provide concrete evidence. Researchers studied several creatures in Peru’s Yanachaga National Park and observed a change in their behavior, beginning 23 days before a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Contamana in 2011, Cambridge News reported. A build-up of stress on the earth’s surface days before for the quake may have led to elevated serotonin levels in the animals’ bloodstreams, the study revealed. It also contributed to additional side-effects, including hyperactivity, restlessness and agitation.

Weather

A ridge of high pressure will bring record warm temperatures to much of the West Friday and over the weekend, while a pronounced southward dip in the jet stream will allow below-average temperatures to return to the Northeast, as well as parts of the Midwest and South. The thermometer reached 101 degrees at Death Valley, Thursday, California. A few spots in the Desert Southwest could reach 100 degrees as well at some point over the next few days. Conversely, high temperatures will be up to 20 degrees below average from the Great Lakes into the Ohio Valley on Friday. In the Southeast, temperatures will be 5 to 15 degrees below average. Lows in the teens and single digits will dominate the Great Lakes, from western New York to northern Wisconsin over the weekend.

In recent weeks, emaciated young sea lions have been washing up on California beaches. Roughly 1,800 stranded pups have been found on California beaches through the first two-and-a-half months of 2015. That’s well above the 100 or so that usually turn up through the end of March. One of the main causes has been the record setting warm water off the West Coast of the U.S., stretching all the way to the Gulf of Alaska. The warm water is less rich in nutrients and the types of microscopic organisms and fish upon which sea lions usually feed.

Ice shelves in Antarctica are thinning faster than previously thought, so fast that if the current rate continues, several of these massive floating pieces of ice could disappear within a century, according to new research out of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. The scientists analyzed 18 years’ worth of satellite data — a longer, more continuous amount of time than any previous studies of this region — to get their results. West Antarctic losses increased by 70 percent in the last decade and some ice shelves have lost up to 18 percent of their thickness in less than two decades.

Golf-ball size hail fell across the Ozarks Tuesday night with the bulk of the activity in Missouri and Arkansas. Less than two years after an EF5 tornado wreaked havoc on the town of Moore, Oklahoma, the city is cleaning up from yet another damaging twister that hit Wednesday night. Multiple tornadoes were reported all over the Sooner State, as the Tulsa area was also under siege from severe weather Wednesday afternoon and evening. One person was killed when a mobile home collapsed. Several others were injured, and many of the park’s homes were destroyed. The tornado also destroyed a gymnastics building in Sand Springs. At least nine people were hospitalized across the state during the severe weather outbreak.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme (Daniel 9:26, Rev. 8:7, 11:19, 16:11)

 

Signs of the Times (3/24/15)

March 24, 2015

An ISIS Symbol Intended to Target Christians has Instead Sparked a Movement

Christ-followers worldwide have rallied behind Christians in Iraq and Syria following the rise of the Islamic State. ISIS painted the Arabic letter “ن,” or “N” to indicate “Nazarene,” or Christian, on the homes of believers in Mosul, Iraq. Residents were then given an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay a high tax, leave the area or be killed. The Voice of the Martyrs responded by creating the “i-am-n” T-shirt to demonstrate standing together for these persecuted Christians, It features the same “ن” symbol that marked Christians’ homes in Mosul. The Voice of the Martyrs is now serving Iraqi Christians who have fled the terrorists by providing them with daily necessities. Many of these believers fled with only the clothes on their backs.

  • You can help support your Iraqi brothers and sisters by designating a contribution, purchasing one of VOM’s new i-am-n shirts, or both at https://secure.persecution.com/i-am-n/. Half the purchase price of each T-shirt directly supports Christians facing Islamic extremism.

60 Minutes Covers ISIS Persecution of Christians

The plight of Iraqi and Syrian Christians is gaining widespread attention after ISIS persecution was addressed on the news TV show “60 Minutes.” ISIS has actively pursued power in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains since last summer. 60 Minutes reports over 125,000 Christians have been forced out of their homes as the terrorist organization sought to establish an Islamic caliphate. The report exposed the horrors that Christians face in a region that has practiced the faith for 2,000 years.

  • You know things are really, really bad for Christians when the liberal mainstream media has to pay attention to the horrific level of persecution

AFA Posts Message to Supreme Court in Full-Page Ads

“Remember whose idea it was in the first place,” proclaims a full-age message addressed to the Supreme Court from the American Family Association in Tuesday’s Washington Post. “Our nation is at its most critical crossroad in the history of America, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the case, and then deliver their opinion, on the biblical sanctity of marriage,” said the AFA in a press release. “God, in His great wisdom, profoundly established the institution of marriage as only between one man and one woman. We urge the Court to adjudicate rightly that which is God’s alone to decide.”

Supreme Court lets Wisconsin Voter ID Law Stand

The Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a major challenge to Wisconsin’s voter ID law, delivering a victory to Republicans who favor tougher election laws. The decision is a setback for civil rights groups that contend the law could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of residents who lack proper ID. It now turns both sides’ sights on Texas, where a similar statute is pending before a federal appeals court. Eventually, the justices are considered likely to resolve the festering issue. For now, however, it appears a majority of high court justices approve of photo-ID laws such as Wisconsin’s. None of the high court’s more liberal justices voiced dissent with the decision not to hear the case.

Obama Calls for Release of Americans Held in Iran

On the occasion of the Persian New Year, President Obama called on Iran to release three Americans held in the country, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. In a statement released by the White House, Obama urged the Iranian government to release Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for two-and-a-half years on charges related to religious beliefs; Amir Hekmati, who has been imprisoned on espionage charges for over three-and-a-half years; and Rezaian, who was initially detained with other journalists and has been held on unclear charges since July. Obama also mentioned Robert Levinson, who went missing on Iran’s Kish Island over eight years ago. The Iranian government has indicated that it would move forward on a trial for Rezaian after the holiday, his brother, Ali Rezaian, said earlier this month.

Congress Launching Hearings into Operation Choke Point

A controversial federal law enforcement program that critics say targeted businesses the Obama administration didn’t like is about to face a new wave of congressional scrutiny, with Capitol Hill hearings set to begin Tuesday. Under the program, called Operation Choke Point, banks and other financial institutions were reportedly pressured to cut off accounts for targeted businesses. This included gun stores, casinos, tobacco distributors, short-term lenders and other businesses. Critics claim the program — overseen by the Justice Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and other agencies — was used to squeeze legal companies that some politicians considered morally objectionable.

  • The Obama administration uses every avenue it can exploit to impose its socialistic control and its progressive liberal agenda on the USA

Obama Administration Unveils New Fracking Rules

The Obama administration said Friday it is tightening rules on fracking with regulations that it says will preserve the oil and gas extraction method while protecting water supplies and the environment. In announcing the new rules, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said current well-drilling regulations are more than 30 years old, “and they simply have not kept pace with the technical complexities of today’s hydraulic fracturing operations.” The new rules, which take effect in June, require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing and to build large barriers to shield nearby water sources. Environmental groups complimented the new rules on fracking, though some said the administration should simply ban the practice. Members and supporters of the oil and gas industries denounced the new regulations and said they will damage a booming energy industry. Some immediately filed suit against the administration.

  • With crude oil prices under $50 a barrel, new fracking drilling is in steep decline for the time being regardless of the new rules

FAA Approving More Drone Applications

The Federal Aviation Administration approved Amazon Logistics Inc. on Thursday to fly drones experimentally to test a drone package delivery service. While Amazon is the highest-profile company to get FAA approval to fly drones commercially, the agency has granted 48 petitions through Friday for purposes such as movie-making, smokestack inspection, agriculture and aerial photography. In Houston, drones are being employed to track the stray dog population. Hundreds more applications are pending, as the industry urges faster regulatory action. In 2012, Congress ordered the FAA to integrate drones into the skies with passenger planes by September 2015. Watchdogs have said the agency is unlikely to meet that deadline. The FAA proposal for small drones, which is open for public comment now, is expected to take 18 months to two years to complete.

National Parks have a Youth Problem

In 2014, America’s national parks attracted a record-setting 292.8 million visits, but the typical visitor to the country’s biggest parks is edging closer to retirement age. The average age of visitors to Denali is 57 years. In Yellowstone it is 54. But in the past decade, the number of visitors under the age of 15 has fallen by half. It’s not just the visitors who are getting grayer. According to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), half of the employees in park service leadership positions are scheduled to retire by 2016, which could lead to even more understaffing for the national parks. Seventy-five percent of National Park Service employees are at least 40 years old and only 7% are 29 or younger. Some attribute the decline to a younger generation that is too “plugged-in” to be drawn to the “unpluggedness” of the great outdoors.

Ebola Update

The medical organization that sounded the first alarm about the deadly outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa last year has blasted the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) for refusing to recognize the epidemic’s magnitude, downplaying its rapid spread, and failing to take the lead in the battle against the disease even after it was well under way. Moreover, “the flexibility and agility for a fast, hands-on emergency response still does not sufficiently exist in the global health and aid systems,” warns Joanne Liu, president of Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). A WHO spokesman declared that the U.N. agency’s response to the initial Ebola crisis was “robust,” but admitted that “the world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us.” According to a March 20 U.N. update, there were six new cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone the previous day. Overall, the update says, there have been 24, 743 Ebola cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — the three worst-affected countries — since the outbreak began, and 10,206 reported deaths.

Economic News

New home sales soared 7.8% in February as a hard winter month failed to keep many buyers at bay as expected. Sales rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 539,000, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. The last time new home sales had back-to-back months with rates at or topping 500,000 was in 2008. Builders are modestly optimistic about their industry’s prospects this year, citing shortages of lots and labor and tight loan underwriting standards as factors that continue to strain supply.

Consumer prices in February posted their first increase in four months as gasoline costs edged up after a series of declines. The consumer price index increased 0.2%, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Core prices, excluding food and energy, were up 0.2%. Last month, gasoline prices increased 2.4%, while food was up 0.2%. Also rising were apparel prices by 0.3%; new car prices, up 0.2%; airline fares, by 0.2%; and apartment rentals by 0.3%.

The Euro currency used by 19 countries has swooned 22.6% to $1.078 from its 12-month high of $1.393. The falling euro makes it harder for U.S. companies to sell their goods abroad because they are now relatively more expensive. A report by currency risk management consulting firm FiREapps says U.S. companies lost $18.66 billion in the fourth quarter because of currency conversion.

Hundreds of drilling rigs across America are being shut down by oil companies facing low petroleum prices, putting tens of thousands of roustabouts, drillers, mudders and truckers out of work and idling the equipment used to prepare the ground. The fall has been fast: The price of a barrel of the benchmark U.S. crude known as West Texas Intermediate closed at $43.96 on the New York Mercantile Exchange Friday, down more than 50% from a year ago.

Millennials are getting more college degrees, but they aren’t getting as many jobs as their Gen X counterparts. More Millennial women, in particular, are securing their diplomas than their older sisters, mothers and grandmothers. But those degrees aren’t helping them get jobs. Thanks to the Great Recession, Millennials are less likely to be employed than Gen Xers.

Middle East

Disheartened but not surprised by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election victory this week, Palestinian leaders are hoping his strident stance on their statehood will turn President Obama into a more active ally for their cause. It’s “about time” the U.S. reassess its relationship with Israel, Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official and lawmaker said, adding she hopes the White House will find the “political will and courage to stand up to Israel.” Netanyahu demands Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recognize a Jewish state and demilitarize Hamas, which formed a unity government with the Palestinians and has called for the destruction of Israel. The United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

One of the most important reasons why the U.S. is trying to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran is to prevent an Iranian bomb from triggering a nuclear race in the Middle East. Yet even as talks continue now in Switzerland, Tehran’s regional rivals have already begun quietly acting on their own atomic ambitions, reports United Against Nuclear Iran. Nuclear power may be on the wane almost everywhere else in the world, but it’s on the upswing in the Middle East. Egypt’s announcement last month that it was hiring Russia to build a reactor near Alexandria made it only the latest entrant in an emerging atomic derby. Every other major Sunni power in the region has announced similar plans. And though none appear either as ambitious nor as ambiguous as what’s taken place in Iran, each announcement lays down a marker in a region that, until recently, was notable as the one place on the planet where governments had made little progress on nuclear power.

The horrific attacks on Shiite mosques in Yemen on Friday that killed more than 130 people highlight a growing and more lethal sectarian struggle in the Middle East that is pitting Iran and its Shiite allies against rival Sunni regimes and militant organizations. A group claiming to be a Yemeni branch of the Islamic State, composed of Sunni extremists, claimed responsibility for Friday’s bombings. Sunni extremists, such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, are increasingly emerging as champions of beleaguered Sunnis in the Shiite-dominated countries, analysts say. They were carried out by as many as four suicide bombers at two mosques controlled by Shiite rebels in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. Al-Masirah TV, a network owned by the rebels, said 137 worshipers were killed and 345 wounded in the multiple attacks. The conflict in Yemen, as in Syria and Iraq, is rooted in the centuries-long animosity between the two branches of Islam. The Houthi rebels are Shiites from northern Yemen. They now control the capital and large swaths of the country, which has a Sunni majority.

  • Just as the Bible prophesied, the descendants of Ishmael will war against everyone, even each other: “He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him, and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” (Genesis 16:12)

Terror Groups Unite for Training

The world’s three most infamous terrorist organizations, ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda, are working together at Al-Qaeda-run training camps in the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, where at least eighty recruits from the U.S., Canada and Europe are being indoctrinated into violent jihad and training for attacks that could expand the so-called caliphate across North and West Africa, according to intelligence analysts. The sparsely populated Islamic Republic of Mauritania weathered Arab Spring demonstrations to remain stable, but shares a border with troubled Mali and is not far from Nigeria, where Boko Haram is based. Most of Mauritania’s population of roughly 3 million is concentrated on the coast, around the capital of Nouakchott, while the rest of the country, which is the size of Texas and New Mexico, is arid desert and sparsely inhabited. The camps are far from the population centers.

Islamic State

On Friday, ISIS claimed responsibility for Yemen’s deadliest terror attack. A day earlier it claimed responsibility for the worst terror attack in Tunisia. Last week it welcomed into the fold Boko Haram, a Nigerian terrorist group with thousands of fanatical fighters that dominates territory the size of New Jersey. All this came in the wake of the group’s rapid expansion across Libya, its assimilation of a powerful Egyptian terrorist group, and the founding of small chapters in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Algeria, where its new affiliate last year beheaded a French hiker. The group’s momentum may have stalled in Syria and Iraq, but its supporters from the Atlantic to the Hindu Kush appear to be heeding its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s call to “erupt volcanoes of jihad.” The Islamic State has also recruited at least 400 children in Syria in the past three months and given these so-called “Cubs of the Caliphate” military training and hardline indoctrination, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.

The Islamic State group has posted the names, photos and home addresses of 100 American troops, urging sympathizers inside the U.S. to carry out attacks against them. A group calling itself the Islamic State Hacking Division posted the threat on a website Friday night, stating that the troops identified carried out bombings on Islamic State targets in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan, the New York Daily News reported Saturday. The group called on the troops to be killed “in their own lands” as they “walk their own streets thinking they are safe,” according to the Daily News. The Defense Department has not yet confirmed the validity of the threat but is “looking into it.”

Iran

The United States and Iran reported significant progress Saturday toward a nuclear agreement, with the Iranian president declaring a deal within reach. America’s top diplomat was more reserved, leaving open whether world powers and Tehran would meet a March 31 deadline. Speaking after a week of nuclear negotiations in Switzerland, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry challenged Iran to make “fundamental decisions” that prove to the world it has no interest in atomic weapons. Amid conflicting statement by officials about how close the sides were, Kerry said, “We have an opportunity to try to get this right.”

  • If Iran approves a deal it means it’s a bad one for the West. More likely is that they will continue to hem and haw, always stalling until they’ve achieved their nuclear bomb objectives

Yemen

Once hailed by President Barack Obama as a model for fighting extremism, the U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Yemen has all but collapsed as the country descends into chaos. The violence that drove U.S. advisers from Yemen, once a key U.S. counterterrorism partner, is the latest in a string of regional victories for Iran. The U.N. special envoy for Yemen warned an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Sunday that events appear to be leading the country “to the edge of civil war.” Security and military officials in Yemen say Shiite rebels known as Houthis backed by supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have seized the country’s third largest city of Taiz and its airport, the AP reported Sunday. Thousands of people took to the streets of Taiz to protest against the Houthis and Saleh loyalists, prompting the rebels to disperse them by firing into the air and beating them back with batons. On Saturday, about 100 U.S. troops evacuated a southern air base after al-Qaeda seized a nearby town amid growing violence in the war-torn nation.

Afghanistan

Gunmen in eastern Afghanistan attacked passing vehicles on a darkened highway during a midnight assault Tuesday, killing at least 13 people, authorities said. The attack happened in Wardak province’s Sayad Abad district, where Taliban fighters hold much territory and launch frequent attacks on security forces. The gunmen opened fire on three separate vehicles in the attack, including a bus traveling from Kabul and heading to Ghazni province. Last month, gunmen in southern Afghanistan kidnapped 30 members of the Hazara ethnic community traveling on a highway in Zabul province. Security forces have been trying to secure their release ever since the attack, the latest to target Shiites in the predominantly Sunni country

Ukraine

Ethnic Russian residents in the eastern provinces of the Ukraine who cheered on a rebel drive a year ago to separate from Ukraine are now suffering buyers’ remorse. The Ukrainian government in the capital of Kiev cut off the banking system there and instituted travel restrictions between separatist-held areas and the rest of the country. As a result, pensions, salaries and many jobs have dried up, and residents in separatist-held areas have difficulty leaving. Residents who once had comfortable lives now live in poverty and geographic seclusion, prompting some to change their minds about separating from Ukraine.

Russia

What does a world leader who’s been shunned by the international community and strained relations with every major global power do to show that he still has some friends? Invite 26 leaders of nations, not all of them famous for democracy or transparency, to a grandiose celebration for the 70th anniversary of World War II. And include a leader ostracized by almost the entire world — North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. That, at least, appears to be the motivation behind Russian President Vladimir Putin’s WWII celebration next month. Last year, Russia moved to bolster ties with North Korea after Western nations, led by the United States, increased their military presence in Putin’s neighborhood in response to the Russian leader’s move to annex Crimea from the Ukraine.

Weather

The first week of spring is bringing a taste of winter to parts of the northern Plains, Upper Midwest, northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest from two separate snowmakers. The first system, an Alberta clipper, moved through the Midwest, southern Great Lakes and Ohio Valley Sunday and Monday, spreading a swath of snow from Minnesota and Wisconsin through northern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania before fizzling over the Appalachians. Some locations picked up a foot or more of snow. The next system moved into the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies on Monday. As it continues to move east through the northern Plains the system will strengthen and most areas will see a mix of rain and snow because there is a lack of deep cold air in the northern Plains. This system will then move into the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region by Wednesday. Meanwhile, a fresh blast of cold air engulfed the Northeast and Great Lakes to start the week. This cold air mass will lose its grip on these regions into midweek with temperatures climbing above average.

Within 15 years, the world water supply will fall short by at least 40 percent, a United Nations report cautioned Friday. Released on World Water Day, the World Water Development Report and discusses trends in water use and predicts a dwindling supply in areas like sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. The report says a handful of factors are working in concert to constrict the already-contested water supply in developing countries: unchecked population growth, urbanization and industrialization. “Unless the balance between demand and finite supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit,” the report says.

A day before the U.N. released its report, California Gov. Jerry Brown rolled out a $1 billion plan to fight the historic drought plaguing the state. Four years into the drought, Californians face tightened water restrictions that limit when and where they can utilize scarce water supplies. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast predicts drought will persist or worsen in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and western Colorado through June.

The Dead Sea has been losing water for years, but it’s a side effect that has experts especially worried. Over the last three decades, more than 3,000 sinkholes have opened up in dry parts of the ever-shrinking Dead Sea. They’re developing at all times of the day and night, experts say, and they’re starting to affect roadways that run alongside the water. Experts say the only way to reverse this trend is to stop the practices that are draining the sea. Currently, companies are pumping out large amounts of Dead Sea water to help power their processes of extracting minerals like potash and magnesium,

 

Signs of the Times (3/20/15)

March 20, 2015

House Speaker Boehner Committed to Passing Bill to Ban Abortions after 20 Weeks

In exclusive comments to LifeNews.com, Speaker John Boehner says House Republicans are committed to bringing the pro-life bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks back to the House floor for a vote. Republican leaders in the House had planned to hold a monumental vote on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in January on the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, legislation that bans abortions after 20 weeks based in part on the compelling scientific evidence showing unborn babies feel intense pain at that point, if not earlier. However, several Republicans who have pro-life voting records and voted for the bill the last time around, publicly led by Rep. Renee Ellmers, sabotaged the bill by objecting to the provision allowing abortions in cases of rape or incest. Knowing they may not have the votes to pass the bill, and seeking to avoid a massive onslaught from the media over the issue of rape, GOP leaders pulled the bill to rework the language. According to multiple pro-life sources LifeNews has spoken with, new language is still in the works and those responsible for crafting a second version of the bill are taking their time to ensure it’s done right.

Presbyterian Group Changes Marriage Definition to Include Same-Sex Couples

The country’s largest Presbyterian denomination has changed its definition of marriage to include gay couples — though not explicitly. Presbyterian Church (USA) approved an amendment to its constitution after most of its 171 presbyteries — or governing bodies — voted for it, PC (USA) said Tuesday. Before, the definition said marriage was between “a man and a woman.” The new definition says, in part, that “marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.” Not all members supported the decision. But the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, which says it supports “a fully inclusive church,” welcomed the news Tuesday night.

  • ‘Inclusive’ and ‘tolerance’ are the buzzwords under which God’s Word is being supplanted. However, Christians are painfully learning that there is no tolerance or inclusiveness for those who adhere to Biblical principles. Romans 1:26-27 clearly classifies same-sex unions as sinful.

‘I Am a Christian’ Ad Blocked on Facebook for Offensive Content

An advertisement for the movie “I Am a Christian” about Meriam Ibrahim’s life was reportedly blocked on Facebook this week. The Washington Times reports that film marketers received a notice from Facebook that the ad could not be shown due to its offensive content. The ad said, “Are you a Christian? We challenge you to change your profile picture to this ‘I Am A Christian’ photo for one week! Change your picture now, and challenge your friends to do the same. Stand up and declare Yes, I Am A Christian!!!” Facebook refused the ad and responded that it went against the company’s policies. “Text must present realistic and accurate information in a neutral or positive way and should not have any direct attribution to people,” Facebook said.

FEMA says No Emergency Funds for States that Don’t Plan for Climate Change

Federal funds from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) that help communities brace for emergencies will stop being provided to states if they ignore threats posed by climate change in their disaster planning, FEMA announced Wednesday. States publish reports every five years or so detailing their vulnerability to natural disasters, such as floods, storms and wildfires, and how they plan to protect themselves and recover after them. Such plans are needed in order to qualify for a share of nearly $1 billion in Hazard Mitigation Assistance grants provided every year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But those plans rarely consider climate change impacts in detail — an omission that could see states become ineligible for the grants after new guidelines take effect early next year.

  • Heavy-handed federal policy will continue to strip states of their independence in support of globalist goals

Broad Alliance Forms to Fight Obama’s Tech Policies

Some conservatives and liberals are becoming unlikely allies on what they see as the worst of the Obama administration’s technology policies. Those include the expansion of U.S. government spying on electronic communication and President Obama’s recent push to either weaken or ban encryption. This new, ad-hoc alliance is part of an emerging consensus among lawmakers, privacy advocates and tech companies worried that federal law enforcement practices are a growing threat to both privacy and economic growth. Over 200 bipartisan members of the House have signed onto a bill designed to overhaul the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. That law, among other things, weakened privacy protections for electronic communications more than 180 days old. Other, similar laws that have made it easier for the government to obtain private electronic data. As various federal courts have interpreted these laws differently over the years, federal law enforcement agencies — especially in the wake of the 9/11 attacks –have stepped in to assert broad authority to spy on U.S. citizens. Foes say the broad surveillance violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which was written by America’s founders to prevent the “unreasonable search and seizure” of private property.

Federal Judge Accuses Obama Administration of Misleading Him

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen sharply scolded a Justice Department attorney at a hearing on President Obama’s immigration executive actions, suggesting that the administration misled him on a key part of the program. The judge suggested he could order sanctions against the administration if he finds they indeed misrepresented the facts. At issue is whether the DOJ misled the judge into believing that a plank of the Obama program — giving deportation reprieves to thousands of young illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — would not go forward before he made a ruling on a request to halt it. In fact, federal officials had given more than 108,000 people three-year reprieves before that date and granted them work permits under the program. Obama’s executive actions would spare from deportation as many as 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally. Many Republicans oppose the actions, saying only Congress has the right to take such sweeping action. Twenty-six states led by Texas joined together to challenge them as unconstitutional. Hanen on Feb. 16 sided with the states, issuing a preliminary injunction blocking Obama’s actions.

The Not-So-Transparent Obama Administration

The Obama Administration has once again set the record for throwing roadblocks against releasing information under the U.S Freedom of Information Act according to a recently released analysis by the Associated Press. The federal government took longer than ever to turn over requested files in the relatively few instances it actually provided them; more times than ever said it couldn’t find the documents; and refused a record number of times to turn over files to the media and individuals who legitimately requested them.

Premera Health Insurance Hack Affects 11 Million People

A large American insurer said Tuesday that hackers broke into its computer systems last year, exposing the data of 11 million people. Premera Blue Cross, based in the Pacific Northwest, said hackers “may have” accessed millions of health profiles that included Social Security numbers, birthdays, emails, physical addresses, bank account information, clinical information and detailed insurance claims. The data breach affects so many people, because criminals accessed computers housing data about current and past customers, dating back to 2002. The company also has lots of affiliates and related firms. Premera Blue Cross operates in Washington State and Alaska. Its affiliate Vivacity provides workforce wellness services. Connexion Insurance Solutions caters to individuals and small businesses. All were affected by the hack. Premera said it was initially infiltrated on May 5, 2014 — but it didn’t discover what happened until January 29 this year.

2,000 Migrating Snow Geese Fall Dead from Idaho Sky

Avian cholera is suspected of causing 2,000 migrating snow geese to fall dead from the sky in Idaho, wildlife experts say. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game says staff and volunteers collected the dead birds over the past several days at wildlife management areas near the towns of Terreton and Roberts. Avian cholera, which can cause convulsions and erratic flight, spreads so quickly in infected birds that some with no previous signs of illness can die while in flight and fall out of the sky. Health experts say humans are not at a high risk of infection from the bacteria that causes avian cholera. Authorities said the geese, known for their distinctive white bodies and black wingtips, were migrating from the Southwest and Mexico to breeding grounds on Alaska’s north coast.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve indicated Wednesday that it is clearing the road for a rate hike this year, but probably not until the fall. The Fed’s goal is to protect against inflation while maintaining full employment. The employment part of the equation has moved closer to the neighborhood the Fed hoped. The unemployment rate in February was 5.5%, down from a high of 10% in October 2009. The number of total unemployed, however, still remains high. There seems to be little sign of inflation, which had fallen 0.1% the 12 months ended February if you include food and energy. Excluding food and energy, consumer prices rose 1.6%. Markets surged after the news since analysts feared a rate hike as early as June.

Americans filed slightly more initial claims for unemployment benefits last week the Labor Department said Thursday. First-time claims totaled 291,000 on a seasonally-adjusted basis for the week ending March 14, up 1,000 from the previous week’s figure. The four-week moving average is 304,750, up about 2,000 from the previous week’s revised average. Claims averaged more than 417,000 a week in 2008 but only 308,500 a week last year. Economic growth is indicated when claims are below 375,000 economists say.

Over the last 22 weeks, U.S. drillers have taken over 46% of their drilling rigs out of service, which is the largest and quickest decline in U.S. history. Meanwhile, the U.S. is awash with oil and traditional storage is chock full. The fracking boom is suddenly going bust which is just what OPEC wanted.

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party swept to victory in the country’s election Wednesday, with nearly all the votes counted. Likud appeared to have earned 30 out of the 120 seats in the country’s Knesset, or parliament, leading the center-left opposition Zionist Union, which appeared to have won 24 seats, giving Likud a strong position to try to form a coalition government. Netanyahu lagged in pre-election polls, and exit polls showed the parties deadlocked. During the campaign, Netanyahu sharply veered to the political right in a bid to woo far-right voters. His hardline policies on issues such as Iran’s nuclear program, settlement construction on contested lands and Palestinian statehood led to clashes with President Obama and the international community.

However, Netanyahu backtracked Thursday from a clear campaign statement that as long as he was the leader of Israel there would be no independent Palestinian state. “I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution. But for that, circumstances have to change,” Netanyahu told MSNBC in an interview. The White House described its commitment to Israeli and Palestinian states existing side by side in peace as a “bedrock” principle of U.S. policy in the region. President Obama told Netanyahu in a phone call on Thursday that his Administration “will need to reassess our options following the prime minister’s new positions and comments regarding the two-state solution.”

Netanyahu has been a strident critic of U.S. talks with Iran on curbing that country’s nuclear program. Back in power, he may work with fellow critics in the Republican-controlled Congress to undermine any agreement the U.S. reaches with Iran on the grounds that Iran can’t be trusted to halt a program that could produce nuclear weapons. In addition, Peace talks have stalled under Netanyahu, who declared on the eve of the election that he would oppose the creation of a Palestinian state during a new term. If he keeps his word, that hardline stance will be a roadblock to U.S. efforts to revive peace talks aimed at creating an independent state for Palestinians. Over U.S. objections, Netanyahu has allowed construction within existing settlements on land claimed by Palestinians as part of a future state. Because of their many policy differences, Obama and Netanyahu have as bad a personal relationship as any U.S. and Israeli leader ever.

  • President Obama’s ploy to secretly fund Netanyahu’s opponents in the election failed miserably under the weight of heavy Judeo-Christian prayers

Islamic State

ISIS militants kidnapped 20 foreigners working at a Libyan hospital, then released them — under the condition, if they want to live, that they stay put so they can treat members of the Islamist extremist group, a hospital official said. About 30 ISIS gunmen stormed Ibn Sina Hospital in Sirte on Monday while a bus was waiting to take the workers to Tripoli, Libya’s capital. The kidnappings came days after people of Filipino, Austrian, Czech, Ghanaian and Bangladeshi descent were taken from Libya’s Al-Ghani oil field, an operation that Libya’s internationally recognized government blamed on “ISIS militias.”

Tunisia

Four people were arrested Thursday in connection with a shooting attack on a museum in Tunisia that left 23 people dead. At least eighteen foreigners and five Tunisian nationals were killed in a shooting attack at the country’s leading museum Wednesday, the country’s Interior ministry said. Almost 50 people were wounded. The attack happened at the Bardo Museum which is adjacent to the country’s parliament in the capital Tunis. The three attackers dressed in military-style clothing may have taken hostages inside the museum, according to the AP. Tunisia has struggled with violence by Islamic extremists since mass protests ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

Yemen

At least 48 people were killed in Yemen’s capital Sanaa on Friday as suicide bombers targeted two mosques crowded with worshippers. As many as two hundred people may have been injured in the attacks. The suicide bombers targeted mosques frequented by Shiite rebels, who have controlled the capital since September. The attacks took place during midday prayers, when the mosques would have been filled with the observant. On Thursday, the international airport in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden was forced to close as forces loyal to Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, waged gunbattles with security forces loyal to the current president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. That incident left 13 people dead. The Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, now control at least nine of Yemen’s 21 provinces. Diplomats from the United States and several European nations fled Yemen in February amid embassy closures resulting from deteriorating security conditions.

Nigeria

At least 45 people, mostly women, children and elderly people, were killed by gunmen in central Nigeria on Sunday, police have confirmed. The perpetrators are suspected to be from the Fulani community, a group of nomadic cattle herders made up of mostly Muslims who are involved in an ongoing land dispute with local Christian farmers in the region. A resident of Egba village who was able to flee said that the attackers also burnt down almost all the houses in the area. The long-running conflict has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in recent years. A fresh outbreak of violence last year forced an estimated 50,000 people to flee in Benue state, contributing to the significant displacement in northern Nigeria already caused by Boko Haram.

Iran

Suspected for years of plotting to dismantle the U.S. electric grid, American officials have confirmed that Iranian military brass have endorsed a nuclear electromagnetic pulse explosion that would attack the country’s power system. American defense experts made the discovery while translating a secret Iranian military handbook, raising new concerns about Tehran’s recent nuclear talks with the administration.

Ukraine

Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine threatened Wednesday to abandon a cease-fire following changes to a law granting their regions self-rule. Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky said in a statement that legislation giving areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions special status has been weakened by the amendments. “We agreed to a special status for the Donbass within a renewed Ukraine, although our people wanted total independence. We agreed to this to avoid the spilling of fraternal blood,” the statement said. A law on granting autonomy to eastern territories was approved by parliament Tuesday, but with a number of changes that have drawn sharp criticism from Moscow-backed rebels and Russia alike.

Many people in Crimea and Russia this week are celebrating the anniversary of Moscow’s fast-track annexation last year of the contested Black Sea peninsula. One year after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to secure what Ukrainian and Western observers say was a sham referendum — which was followed by a March 18 decree formally absorbing the region — most locals apparently still approve (publicly, at least) of their new master. The day-to-day reality, though, is not so rosy: In Crimea, a sense of international isolation is deepening. The local economy is suffering. A political crackdown continues. That’s on top of concerns over rising inflation — which in January was said to have represented the world’s second-highest rate — for even the most basic goods, like food. Western nations have refused to recognize the annexation and have pulled out of the region. Only a handful of countries — among them Syria, North Korea and Afghanistan — believe Crimea belongs to Russia.

Italy

Italy needs more help from Europe to deal with the African refugees who have flooded Italy’s shores in an attempt to flee violence and poverty at home. The African migrants board flimsy smugglers’ boats in Libyan port cities in an attempt to reach Europe via Italy’s Mediterranean islands, particularly the island of Lampedusa, which is less than 200 miles from Tripoli. More than 3,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean enroute to Europe in 2014. After several tragic incidents in which the overcrowded boats capsized and migrants drowned, Italian authorities stepped up patrols and rescues. Since January, Italian officials say more than 8,000 migrants have reached Italy’s shores and have included refugees from Syria, Palestinian territories, Mauritania, Libya, Tunisia and sub-Saharan Africa. Italy’s navy and coast guard over the last 16 months have “saved more than 140,000 of these desperate people from death at sea,” Ambassador Claudio Bisogeniero said.

Vanuatu

Thousands of people left homeless by a fierce cyclone remained stuck in shelters across Vanuatu on Friday, waiting for relief. Australian and French troops arrived on the South Pacific nation’s hard-hit island of Tanna, where shaken residents were still waiting for help after their villages were flattened by Cyclone Pam’s 168 miles-per-hour winds last Saturday. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, citing figures from Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office, upgraded the number of confirmed deaths to 13 from 11. Still, given the immense power of the storm, the relatively low death toll is a testament to the residents’ experience in dealing with cyclones. In many villages, people found shelter in special structures built with sturdy walls that can withstand heavy winds. Some relief supplies have been starting to get there, but the more organized and the larger relief efforts will start Saturday.

Weather

The Northeast will usher in the first day of spring much the same way they’ll remember Winter 2014-15: watching the snowflakes fly. Winter Storm Ultima will bring another shot of snow to the region, leading to travel advisories and some early school dismissals. Travel is expected to be slowed by the snowfall, but roads shouldn’t see much accumulation, if any at all, in most areas. The first weekend of spring will be a soggy one for many in the Southern Plains and the South.

While balmy hints of spring melt piles of snow in the eastern U.S., the impending end of winter marks the peak season for Arctic sea ice. But this year, that winter maximum area is currently on track to hit a record low since satellite records began in 1979. Sea ice extent is crucial to the Arctic’s ecology and economy, affecting wildlife habitats, weather patterns and shipping lanes. Sea ice is a key part of the habitats of animals like polar bears and walruses, as well as fish and other creatures that live below it. When it is missing, it can make it difficult for some of the animals to find food.

The winter of 2014-15 was the warmest on record worldwide, according to the state of the climate report released by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Wednesday. NOAA says that December through February was 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average for all land and ocean areas. This tops the previous warmest winter of 2007 by 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Of course, they fail to mention that record keeping only goes back to 1880, a mere blip on history’s timeline

Signs of the Times (3/17/15)

March 17, 2015

Oklahoma Bill would Abolish State’s Role in Granting Marriage Licenses

In an effort to block the state’s involvement with gay marriage, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill to abolish marriage licenses in the state. The legislation amends language in the state law that governs the responsibilities of court clerks. All references to marriage licenses were removed. Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell said the federal government is attempting to change the traditional definition of marriage, so his legislation would place the responsibility for officiating marriages in the hands of clergy. “Marriage was historically a religious covenant first and a government-recognized contract second,” Russ told The Oklahoman.

  • Marriage should be a private affair with no government involvement whatsoever

7.5 Million Americans Lost Their Religion since 2012

A new survey shows in stark relief that what some are calling the Great Decline of religion in America continues: Since 2012, the U.S. has about 7.5 million more Americans who are no longer active in religion. Last week, the 2014 General Social Survey was released. The GSS is the gold standard for sociological surveys. Funded by the National Science Foundation, this multimillion-dollar study presumably gives us the most accurate data on American society — including religion. When asked their religious preference, nearly 1 in 4 Americans now says “none.” Up until the 1990s, the percentage who were in this group known as “nones” hovered in the single digits. The number of Americans who never darken a church door is also at a new high. Over a third of Americans (35 percent) never attend a worship service (other than weddings and other ceremonies). This is a 5-point increase from just a few years earlier.

  • Just as the Bible prophesied for the end-times, the great ‘falling away’ is well underway; Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition. (2Thessalonians 2:3)

Franklin Graham: Muslims Who Kill Christians are Emulating Muhammed

Franklin Graham has once again spoken out against Islam, arguing that Muslims who kill Christians are following Muhammed’s example. In an interview with Fox News, the president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said, “Muhammed was a man of war and he killed many people. Jesus Christ came as a man of peace and as a follower of Christ. I follow him and I want to emulate Him. But the followers of Islam are emulating the prophet Muhammed, and that’s what you’re seeing carried out.” Graham also said, “I want to say something to all the Muslims that may be watching this that are confused and are afraid themselves,” Graham said in the message. “I want them to know that God loves them and that Jesus Christ died for their sins — and Christ will forgive them and heal their hearts.”

  • Franklin Graham has become the Christian spokesman for such a time as this

Evolutionists Kill Academic Freedom Bills

Public school science teachers want to teach without fear of discipline, demotion, or termination when the curriculum touches topics that are controversial outside the classroom. Lawmakers in four states tried this year to introduce academic freedom bills to protect teachers for questioning theories like Darwinism, shielding them from retaliation. But evolutionist opponents killed the bills before they could get a fair hearing, raising concerns among educators who might not fully embrace the theory of evolution. “There are a number of incidents around the country where teachers have been threatened or fired,” said Casey Luskin, research coordinator for the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. “They simply cited some of the problems with Darwinism.” Most, if not all, of the bills were modeled after an academic freedom statute drafted by the Discovery Institute, which advocates for intelligent design as a better scientific explanation for driving the mechanism of life. As the first to pass an Academic Freedom bill into law in 2008, Louisiana has had enough time for any unintended consequences to surface. None have. In 2012, Tennessee became the second state to protect teachers who challenge students to think critically by discussing opposing sides of controversial topics.

  1. Military Puts on a Show for Russia

As the U.S. and several Eastern European NATO countries conduct a series of military exercises near Russia’s border, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his Northern Fleet “to full alert in a snap combat readiness exercise” in the Arctic, state-run media reported Monday. Operation Atlantic Resolve began in response to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea last year, the U.S. Defense Department said. Also as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the U.S. Army will soon send armored Stryker vehicles on a 1,100-mile convoy through six European countries to show solidarity with its allies. The “highly visible” convoy will travel through Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia and the Czech Republic en route to Vilseck, Germany. In addition the U.S. Air Force moved a dozen A-10 Thunderbolt “tankbuster” attack jets to an air base in Germany and the U.S. military placed hundreds of tanks and military vehicles in Latvia, where they’ll be matched up with 3,000 troops from Fort Stewart, Georgia. About 100 U.S. soldiers will conduct an exercise this month using a Patriot missile battery and a Polish air defense brigade “at a location on Polish territory,” the Pentagon said.

White House Transparency Grows More Opaque

The office in the White House that handles office technology, human resources and other operational tasks will no longer be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, the White House will announce Tuesday. The timing is interesting: This week is Sunshine Week, an effort by news organizations and watchdog groups to highlight issues of government transparency. In 2009, a court ruling said the office was not subject to FOIA. The White House is just now making that official in their policy books.

  • The promised transparency of the Obama administration never materialized and has actually diminished.

VA Scandal Far from Over

Thousands of veterans who are patients at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System have been waiting months just for an appointment. What’s more, administrators in charge of the massive VA facility in greater Los Angeles may have been hiding wait times, and may have misled Congress on the delays and exactly how long veterans are being forced to wait for care, according to new information obtained by CNN. This revelation means that the scandal over delays in care and wait times for veterans, which embroiled the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs last year and even led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, is apparently not over. And the changes promised by the VA and the Obama administration do not appear to be working. The report is particularly significant because the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Medical Center is the nation’s largest VA health care system, caring for hundreds of thousands of U.S. veterans.

House Republicans seek ObamaCare Repeal & More Defense $$ in New Budget Plan

House Republicans, unveiling their first budget blueprint since the party took control of Congress, issued a sweeping spending plan Tuesday that calls for complete repeal of ObamaCare, major changes to Medicare and controversial moves to boost defense spending despite tight budget limits. GOP leaders say their budget would balance in less than 10 years, and in that time cut spending by $5.5 trillion compared with current projections. The spending plan stands little chance of ever being signed by President Obama, but makes clear that the party is not dialing back its ambitions despite a rocky start to the latest congressional session. The budget would repeal ObamaCare “in its entirety,” and calls for “starting over with a patient-centered approach to health care reform.” It also includes a plan that would transform Medicare into a voucher-like “premium support” program for seniors joining Medicare in 2024 or later. They would receive a subsidy to purchase health insurance on the private market.

Ferguson Cop Shooter Captured

Jeffrey Williams admitted he fired the shots that struck two officers in Ferguson, police said, but claimed he wasn’t aiming for them during last week’s protests in Ferguson, Missouri, a prosecutor said Sunday. Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch described Williams as a frequent protester in the city — which some took issue with. At the time of his arrest, Williams was on probation for receiving stolen property. The prosecutor thanked the public for the information that led to the arrest. For more than 200 days, protests have taken place in Ferguson since the August shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted.

Airplane Communications Systems Vulnerable to Hacking

Commercial and even military planes have an Achilles heel that could leave them vulnerable to hackers who could conceivably commandeer cockpits and create chaos in the skies. For now, terrorist groups are believed to lack the sophistication to bring down a plane remotely, but it is their limitations, and not aviation safeguards, that are keeping the flying public safe, according to security analysts. The flaw lies in the entertainment and satellite communications systems. While commercial planes are potential targets, business, private and military aircraft also are at risk, according to another aviation security analyst who shared his findings with FoxNews.com. There are “multiple high risk vulnerabilities” such as weak encryption algorithms or insecure protocols in SATCOM technologies.

Ebola Update

Ten clinicians with a Boston-based nonprofit organization responding to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone are to be transported to the United States after one of their colleagues was infected with the deadly disease. Partners in Health said in a statement Saturday that the medical workers would be evacuated on non-commercial aircraft and isolated in Ebola treatment facilities. “They will remain in isolation near designated U.S. Ebola treatment facilities to ensure access to rapid testing and treatment in the unlikely instance that any become symptomatic,” the group’s statement said.

Economic News

Builders broke ground on fewer new homes last month as starts plunged 17% from January, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Amid harsh winter weather, the seasonally adjusted annual rate of new home construction fell to 897,000 from 1.08 million the month before. February was the first month since August when home building fell below an annual rate of 1 million units or better. Tuesday’s report shows single-family homes were started at an annual rate of 593,000, down 14.9% from January. Permits, a gauge of future building activity, rose 3% to a rate of 1.09 million.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has told Congress that he’ll once again have to take measures to keep the federal government under the legal debt limit after a suspension of the limit expired Sunday. Beginning Monday, Lew said the Treasury Department will take “extraordinary measures” to keep the government from defaulting on its debt. Those include a halt to new investments in federal employee pension funds, a moratorium on deposits from state and local governments, and drawing down a $23 billion currency stabilization fund.

Gasoline prices — which nearly dropped below $2 a gallon nationally in January before spiking almost 25% higher — could soon test multiyear lows again. U.S. benchmark West Texas crude sank to $42.85 early Monday before settling off 2.1% to $43.88 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, a six-year low in the wake of a burgeoning global supply glut. Currently, retail prices, down nine straight days, average $2.42 a gallon, up from $2.25 a month ago, after falling to $2.02 in late January.

Middle East

Israelis voted Tuesday in parliamentary elections that would decide if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be returned for a third consecutive term as premier after he made a dramatic last-minute pledge to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Netahyahu said withdrawing from occupied areas to make way for a Palestinian state would only ensure that territory will be taken over by Islamic extremists. When asked if that means a Palestinian state will not be established if he is elected, Netanyahu said “indeed.” The statements marked a reversal for Netanyahu, who laid out his support for Palestinian independence in a landmark 2009 speech, shortly after his return to the premiership after a decade away. In the intervening period, two rounds of peace talks have failed and Netanyahu has continued to expand Jewish settlements while portraying Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the main obstacle to a peace deal.

Islamic State

CIA Director John Brennan said Friday that the Islamic State had “snowballed” beyond Iraq and Syria, expanding its presence in more than 90 countries. Brennan’s statement marks a change from the narrative the Obama administration has been pushing on the success of the fight against ISIS. “Left unchecked, the group would pose a serious danger not only to Syria and Iraq, but to the wider region and beyond, including the threat of attacks in the homelands of the United States and our partners,” Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He added that ISIS takes advantage of new technology to “coordinate operations, attract new recruits, disseminate propaganda and inspire sympathizers across the globe to act in their name.” The CIA director said that the terror group has ballooned in size to about 20,000 members, and points to the recent pledge of allegiance to ISIS by Nigeria-based Boko Haram. “This will be a long-term struggle,” he said. “If there is one thing we have learned over the years, it is that success against terrorism requires patience and determination.”

Islamic State fighters killed the prominent leader of a Shiite militia in the battle of Tikrit on Saturday, but Iraqi officers said the dwindling band of extremists were in “total collapse.” Iraqi government leaders predicted ISIL fighters in the city will be defeated in two or three days. Al Mosawi died as around 20,000 militia members and 3,000 professional Iraqi troops laid siege to Tikrit and slowly advanced from the north and south on around 70 Islamic State militants holed up in the city center. Operations by Iraqi forces to capture the city of Tikrit from Islamic State militants have been temporarily halted to allow civilians to leave, the country’s interior minister said. Monday.

ISIS kidnapped about 20 medical workers with the Ibn Sina Hospital in Sirte, Libya, on Monday during an attack on the facility, according to a hospital official. A group of more than 30 gunmen from the Islamic State attacked the hospital while a bus was waiting to take the workers, who are not Libyan, to the capital of Tripoli. Most of the abductees are from the Philippines. Others are from Ukraine, India and Serbia. The official believes the ISIS gunmen didn’t want the staff to leave the city because they are the only medical team there if they needed them for the group’s wounded and injured.

Pakistan

Pakistani Taliban suicide bombers exploded themselves near two churches in the eastern city of Lahore on Sunday as worshippers were gathered inside, killing 14 people, officials said, in the latest attack against religious minorities in the increasingly fractured country. In the tense aftermath, angry mobs lashed out at people they suspected of involvement in the attacks — including one person who was burned to death — and Christian crowds set fire to cars in a show of defiance in the country’s second-largest city. Life in Pakistan is increasingly fraught with danger for religious minorities, especially Christians. They have been targeted by extremist Sunni Muslim militants who object to their faith. They are also discriminated against in the wider society where they can often only get menial jobs like garbage collection, and are frequently targets of blasphemy accusations.

  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-11)

Afghanistan

The Obama administration is reversing its plans to cut the amount of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 5,500 by the end of the year, appeasing military leaders who want to keep more troops into 2016, U.S. officials say. Officials have said the administration is poised to slow the withdrawal of forces and probably will allow most of the 9,800 American troops to remain in the embattled country, although no final decision on numbers has been made yet. There are about 2,000 U.S. troops conducting counterterrorism missions and military leaders have argued that they will need to continue their efforts to pursue remnants of Al Qeada and to monitor the Islamic State.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense says a military operation in the country’s south has killed a militant commander who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. Hafiz Wahidi and nine of his men were killed in the operation in Sangin district on Monday. Sangin is in the southern Helmand province, a Taliban heartland. The statement said Wahidi was the nephew and a successor to Abdul Rauf Khadim, a former Taliban commander who switched allegiance and aligned his followers with the Islamic State group. Khadim, who had set up an IS recruiting network across southern Afghanistan, was killed in drone strike last month.

Syria

Syrian activists and opposition members claimed on Tuesday that government helicopters carried out a chlorine gas attack on a northern town overnight, killing six people, an accusation that was promptly dismissed by a military official. Two activist groups — the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees — said the attack late on Monday night targeted the town of Sarmin in northwestern Idlib province. Dozens of people suffered from breathing difficulties in the gas attack. The two groups collect their data from a network of activists on the ground.

Nigeria

Nigerian troops discovered a Boko Haram bomb factory this week after they seized a northern town from the extremists. The factory was tucked inside a fertilizer company in Buni Yadi town in Yobe state. Islamist fighters took over the town in August, one of many seized in the troubled northeast. Troops have battled the militants for months to regain control, and recaptured it last week. Militants planted explosive devices along the highway on their way out, which delayed the soldiers’ advance. Four soldiers were killed during the operation.

Brazil

Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians marched peacefully Sunday in more than 50 cities around the country to demand President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and to criticize government corruption amid a sprawling graft inquiry at state-run oil firm Petrobras. The biggest of the protests, held on the 30th anniversary of Brazil’s return to democracy after a long military regime, took place in Sao Paulo, an opposition stronghold where some 210,000 gathered on a main avenue. Large rallies were also seen in the capital Brasilia, the southern city of Porto Alegre and in Rio de Janeiro. In contrast to the widespread violence seen during Brazil’s 2013 protests, on Sunday the only conflict reported was police using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a small group of protesters in Brasilia who authorities said were trying to enter the Congress. In Sao Paulo, police arrested about 20 young men who were carrying powerful fireworks and brass knuckles.

Weather

A tropical cyclone killed at least eleven people in Vanuatu, UNICEF said Saturday, confirming the first casualties from one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall. Hardly a tree stood straight after Tropical Cyclone Pam tore across the Pacific island nation. Pam had churned through the South Pacific with the might of a Category 5 hurricane before notching down to Category 4 after landfall at 11:23 p.m. CNN’s Weather Center said 155 mph winds blasted the island nation with gusts up to 200 mph. “Unbelievable destruction,” the Australian Red Cross called it, particularly in terms of human suffering. “Humanitarian needs will be enormous. Many people have lost their homes. Shelter, food and water (are) urgent priorities,” the aid agency said. Vanuatu’s population of 267,000 is spread over 65 islands located about a quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii., with about 47,000 living in the capital, Port Vila. At least 90% of housing in Port Vila has been badly damaged and at least 3,300 people in Vanuatu were left homeless.

Monday continued a weeklong streak of record warmth with unprecedented early-season heat in the Plains states, stoking wildfire concerns as a dry, windy weather pattern accompanies the warmth. Temperatures reached the 90s Monday across a large swath from western Iowa through much of Nebraska and western Kansas. After heavy rains and ice melts last week, the Ohio River crested Sunday at its highest level in nearly two decades. Water levels rose as high as 57.7 feet, well above the 52-foot flood stage. At least five homes in New Richmond, Ohio, were flooded by the rising water, and many roads in the town of 2,500 were under water. Clay County, Kentucky, sustained damage from several floods, including washed out roads. An elderly man attempting to cross a road in Louisville was swept away by floodwaters late Saturday afternoon. Flooding also became an issue in northeastern Ohio, near Cleveland, in the town of Willoughby Hills. Mudslides continued to cause problems in soggy West Virginia with more evacuations ordered as a hill began to give way in Kanawha County.

More snow fell on Boston on Sunday, enough to make this the snowiest season ever on record there. The National Weather Service said 2.9 inches fell by 7 p.m., pushing total snowfall for the winter of 2014-2015 to 108.6 inches. That is a full inch over the previous record set during the winter of 1995-1996, the service’s Boston office tweeted, and the most since record keeping started in 1872.

Year No. 4 of California’s severe, long-term drought will be a turning point, because the state might not have enough water in the reservoirs to make it to next year, according to one NASA’s senior water expert, Jay Famiglietti. The Golden State has depleted its water resources so much that it’ll all be gone in about one year, he says. He came to this conclusion by using NASA satellites to study maps of the San Joaquin and Sacramento river basins. The groundwork for a complete failure of the water system began early in the 20th century, when the state began drawing water from underground basins in hopes that it would offset the shortage. That’s really bad news for a state that relies on groundwater for 60 percent of its entire supply.

Signs of the Times (3/13/15)

March 13, 2015

Franklin Graham Loves LGBT People, but They must Repent

Outspoken Christian leader Franklin Graham wrote a Facebook post this week that referenced homosexual persecution and said the LGBT community needs to repent. The President of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association wrote, “I do not support the gay and lesbian lifestyle–I believe homosexuality is a sin as the Bible teaches. I love gay and lesbian people and I want them to know that God loves them too, and He is willing and eager to forgive sin—all sin—however we must repent and turn from our sin and believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

  • Graham embodies the Biblical exhortation of “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15)

Couples Who Marry before Having Children are More Likely to Stay Together

Couples who get married before having children are more likely to stay together, new research shows. The study, conducted by Marriage Foundation, showed that 76 per cent of mothers who were married before giving birth stayed with the child’s father, compared to 44 per cent of those who married later, and 31 per cent of those who never married. The analysis also showed that the mothers who were married before having their child were on average four years older. Research director at Marriage Foundation, Harry Benson, said: “It barely seems to matter if women are younger or older, degree educated or not; so long as they make a plan for their future and marry before starting a family… The myths and misperceptions, such as that cohabitation is as stable as marriage should be eradicated by clear public statements and education.”

  • Biblical principles always hold up under scrutiny

Two Police Officers Shot During Night of Protests in Ferguson

Two police officers were shot outside the Ferguson Police Department early Thursday as the Missouri town saw fresh demonstrations following last week’s release of a damning Justice Department report alleging bias in the police department and court. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar called it an “ambush” said one officer was shot in the shoulder and one was shot in the face. Both officers are conscious, but in serious condition. The gunman is still at large. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sharply condemned the shootings of police Wednesday night as a “disgusting and cowardly attack.” The shootings came hours after Ferguson officials announced Police Chief Thomas Jackson, whose department received scathing criticism from the Justice Department for racially biased policing, will resign March 19. Jackson, 57, became the third top city official to leave following the release of the Justice Department report. Judge Ronald Brockmeyer and City Manager John Shaw resigned earlier this week.

  • #BlueLivesMatter is trending following the Ferguson shootings, mimicking the #BlackLivesMatter that followed the shootings of several unarmed black men. The truth is, all lives matter.

Mental Health Coverage Unequal in Many Obamacare Plans

Insurance coverage for mental and physical illness remains unequal despite promises that Obamacare would help level the playing field, mental health advocates and researchers say. A new study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that consumer information on a quarter of the Obamacare plans that researchers examined appeared to go against a federal “parity” law designed to stop discrimination in coverage for people with mental health or addiction problems. The study found two big problems: financial disparities such as different co-pays or deductibles for mental and physical health services; and more stringent requirements for “prior authorizations” from insurers before patients can get mental health services.

Army Substance-Abuse Program in Disarray

Twenty thousand soldiers who seek help each year at Army substance-abuse clinics encounter a program in such disarray that thousands who need treatment are turned away and more than two dozen others linked to poor care have spiraled into suicide. The Army’s transfer of substance-abuse outpatient treatment from medical to non-medical leadership in 2010 has led to substandard care, the mass exodus of veteran personnel and the hiring of unqualified clinic directors and counselors, according to senior Army clinical staff members and records obtained by USA TODAY. “This is the crux of the whole thing,” said Wanda Kuehr, a psychologist who agreed to speak out about the problems after retiring Feb. 2 as the program’s director of clinical services. Non-medical managers want to “get the reports in on time and fill the slots. They think that makes a good program. Our goal is to give treatment to soldiers. And (the bosses) see that as inconsequential.”

$6 Billion Missing at State Department

In a special “management alert” made public Thursday, the State Department’s Inspector General Steve Linick warned “significant financial risk and a lack of internal control at the department has led to billions of unaccounted dollars over the last six years. The alert was just the latest example of the federal government’s continued struggle with oversight over its outside contractors. The lack of oversight “exposes the department to significant financial risk,” the auditor said. “It creates conditions conducive to fraud, as corrupt individuals may attempt to conceal evidence of illicit behavior by omitting key documents from the contract file. It impairs the ability of the Department to take effective and timely action to protect its interests, and, in tum, those of taxpayers.”

Hillary Clinton: I Used Private Email for ‘Convenience’

Former Secretary of State and likely 2016 White House candidate Hillary Clinton sought to tamp down concerns about her use of private email while leading the State Department during a press conference at the United Nations on Tuesday. While she maintained she had not broken any rules, she also said she would not be turning over the private server housing her correspondence, despite calls for her to release it for an independent review. Clinton said she used a private domain for her official work during her time at the State Department out of “convenience,” but admitted in retrospect “it would have been better” to use multiple emails. The former secretary of state defended her process in choosing which emails to turn over to the State Department, telling reporters that she and her staff “erred on the side of providing anything that could be possibly viewed as work-related.” Republican leaders sharply questioned Hillary Clinton’s explanation calling her remarks “not plausible.”

Ebola Update

An American health care worker who came down with Ebola while volunteering in West Africa arrived Friday at a National Institutes of Health hospital in Maryland for treatment. A chartered aircraft flew the patient to the United States from Sierra Leone, where the person tested positive for the deadly hemorrhagic fever while volunteering at an Ebola treatment center. The patient is the second with Ebola admitted to the NIH hospital. NIH is one of only four hospitals in the United States that have biocontainment units. More than 10,000 people have died in a West Africa epidemic of Ebola that dates back to December 2013.

Study: Parents Fooled into Thinking Sugary Drinks are Healthy

Bamboozled by misleading product marketing and labeling, parents have failed to get the message that sugary drinks — beyond soda — are not healthy for kids, a new study finds. Many parents believe that drinks with high amounts of added sugar — particularly fruit drinks, sports drinks and flavored water — are “healthy” options for kids, according to the report. Parents said they were particularly influenced by nutritional claims appearing on the packages — such as claims that the items are “real” or “natural” or contained vitamin C or antioxidants, or were low in sodium or calories.

More Evidence NOAA Adjust Climate Data to Show Warming

When Dr. Roy Spencer looked up summer temperature data for the U.S. Corn Belt, it showed no warming trend for over a century. But that was before temperatures were “adjusted” by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate scientists. Now the same data shows a significant warming trend, the Daily Caller reports. Spencer, a climate scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said that the National Climatic Data Center made large adjustments to past summer temperatures for the U.S. Corn Belt, lowering past temperatures to make them cooler. Adjusting past temperatures downward creates a significant warming trend in the data that didn’t exist before. NCDC temperature data downloaded by Spencer in March 2014 looked quite different from data he downloaded this month. That’s because NCDC constantly adjusts its data to correct for errors, but critics have said these adjustments seem to always increase the warming trend for the U.S. or globally.

Greenhouse Gas Generation Slows Down

The world economy sped up last year but the volume of dirty gases pumped into the air didn’t increase. Global emissions of carbon dioxide stalled in 2014, according to the International Energy Association, marking the first time in four decades that economic growth has not resulted in more greenhouse gases. The preliminary data released Friday indicate that efforts to address climate change around the world may be having a greater impact than previously thought. Carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil for energy. Increased levels of those gases are said to contribute to global warming.

Vietnam Loves Capitalism More than the USA Does

While an authoritarian communist party controls Vietnam, it has now become one of the most pro-capitalist countries on Earth. Almost all Vietnamese people — 95% of them — now support capitalism, according to the Pew Research Center, which polled nearly 45 nations late last year on economic issues. No other country in the poll cracked 90%. Even in the United States only 70% agreed that a free market economy is the best kind of economy. The polls specifically asked citizens if “most people are better off in a free-market economy even though some people are rich and some are poor.” And yet, according to the poll, one in four Americans disagrees with that statement. In Vietnam, where the ruling party once forced millions onto collective work farms, practically everyone agrees. While a global median of roughly 65% feels the same way, Vietnam’s support for capitalism is particularly striking, given its modern history. The nation is synonymous with America’s struggle to vanquish communism and install pro-Western capitalism in Vietnam. The poll also measured hope for the future, a key ingredient in the so-called “American dream.” But here too the United States is eclipsed by Vietnam, where 94% believe children today will be better off than their parents. America — where only 30% believe today’s kids will be better off — looks positively gloomy in comparison.

  • Socialism is on the rise in the U.S. which has dampened our hope for the future

Economic News

The dollar is on a tear, rising nearly 25% in the past year. The greenback is trading at a 12-year high against the euro and 8-year high versus the Japanese yen. Its meteoric rise prompted one Wall Street firm to dub it “Dollar.com,” as its uptrend is akin to an Internet stock boom/burst back in 2000. The dollar’s rise is partly to blame for the Dow’s 245-point, or 1.4%, plunge Tuesday as a strong dollar hurts the earnings power and sales of U.S. companies that do a lot of business in Europe. More than 46% of total sales of S&P 500 companies come from abroad

Retail sales fell sharply in February as harsh winter weather kept many consumers at home. Sales declined 0.6%, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Motor vehicle sales fell 2.5% after a steady string of strong showings. However, gasoline sales increased 1.5% as prices rose. Sales slipped 1.4% at department stores, 1.2% at electronics and appliance outlets and 0.1% at furniture stores. February’s report marked the third straight monthly decline in sales, which also fell 0.8% in January and 0.9% in December, according to Commerce data

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell sharply last week. Weekly applications for unemployment aid dropped 36,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 3,750 to 302,250. The average has dropped nearly 9 percent in the past year.

Wholesale prices fell for a fourth straight month in February as a decline in food prices offset an increase in gasoline prices. The Labor Department said Friday its producer price index, which measures inflation pressures before they reach consumers, dropped 0.5% in February. The figure follows a 0.8% fall in January. Core producer prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs, also fell 0.5% during the month.

The number of airline passengers traveling this spring is expected to be the highest in seven years – just below the record set in 2007, according to the trade group Airlines for America. Bolstered by rising employment and personal income, 10 publicly traded airlines expect to carry 134.8 million travelers, or about 2.2 million per day, during March and April. That’s up 2%, or about 43,000 passengers per day, from the same period last year.

Target laid off 1,700 employees at its headquarters in Minneapolis Tuesday and is getting rid of another 1,400 open positions as it undergoes a strategic shift to streamline its business operations. Employees will get 15 weeks of pay plus severance based on years with the company. The company also plans to invest up to $2.2 billion in the next year strengthening key brand initiatives, including its digital experiences, supply chain management, style and wellness categories and opening more smaller format stores.

Islamic State

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in an exclusive interview with Fox News, appealed to the U.S. to play a greater role in helping his country fight terrorism — as he urged the creation of an “Arab ready force” to confront the Islamic State and similar groups. He addressed the need for what he called a religious “revolution,” urging moderate Muslims around the world to “stand up” against terrorists twisting their religion. He said the suspension of U.S. equipment and arms to his country has sent a “negative indication to the public opinion that the United States is not standing by the Egyptians.”

More than 40 Iraqi soldiers were killed when ISIS blew up the Iraqi army headquarters near Ramadi in Iraq’s western Anbar province, as the battle continues for control of key cities in Iraq. ISIS fighters in Ramadi dug a tunnel underneath the army headquarters and detonated hundreds of homemade bombs. Ramadi has been the focus of a fierce ISIS assault since Wednesday, launched at the same time as Iraqi forces made gains against the Sunni extremist group in an offensive in Tikrit, about 100 miles to the north.

Libya

Nine foreign workers are believed to be in the hands of ISIS-affiliated militants after an attack on a Libyan oil field, according to officials. Libya’s internationally recognized government has blamed “ISIS militias” for the attack Friday in which the Al-Ghani oil field was set on fire. The kidnapped foreigners were working for VAOS, an Austrian-owned oil services company whose headquarters are in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. They include four Filipinos, an Austrian, a Czech and a Ghanaian. The abductions come amid Libya’s deteriorating security situation in which Islamic militias, some of them pledging allegiance to the extremist group ISIS, have thrived. Egypt carried out airstrikes against ISIS militants in Libya last month after the beheadings of Egyptian Christians who had been kidnapped while working in a Libyan city.

Nigeria

Children who have been rescued by Boko Haram captivity are so traumatized they cannot remember their own names, Christian Today reports. Eighty children were rescued from a Boko Haram camp in November. Most of them who had been brainwashed with Islamic extremist ideology can no longer remember their identities or where they came from. According to Christian Today, the children are now recovering from their time spent in captivity in an orphanage.

A radio ministry in Nigeria has reportedly convinced a former jihadist to convert to Christianity. Breaking Christian News reports a Muslim extremist tuned into The Tide radio station and accepted the ministry’s message. The former jihadist called the number at the conclusion of the radio program and accepted Christ. The radio station continues to spread a message of hope and peace amidst Boko Haram’s continued brutally as well as political turmoil in the nation.

Iran

With the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China, and Germany) approaching a March 24 deadline for a “political framework agreement,” Israel’s objections to the parameters of the emerging deal have been highly publicized. But lesser known is the growing unease about the negotiations among many leading Arab states. “Like Israel, the Gulf Arab states are deeply skeptical about the current negotiations,” said Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council think tank. “They see them as a vehicle that will grant Iran both nuclear status and allow it to dominate the region. That’s why, more and more, the Gulf states have drifted into strategic alignment with Israel on the issue.”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said Thursday that a letter signed by 47 GOP senators warning that the next U.S. president could scrap any nuclear deal with Tehran is a sign of “disintegration” in Washington. The open letter, drafted by freshman Arkansas senator Tom Cotton and addressed to “leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” declared that any deal reached by multinational negotiators without congressional approval could be undone by the next president “with the stroke of a pen. Every time we reach a stage where the end of the negotiations is in sight, the tone of the other side, specifically the Americans, becomes harsher, coarser and tougher. This is the nature of their tricks and deceptions.” Major world powers have begun talks about a United Nations Security Council resolution to lift U.N. sanctions on Iran if a nuclear agreement is struck with Tehran, a step that could make it harder for the U.S. Congress to undo a deal, Western officials said.

  • The Obama administration has taken a too soft stance in the negotiations which the Ayatollah is loath to give up, fearing the next administration might take a stronger stance against Iran’s nuclear program.

Afghanistan

A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb near a police vehicle in the capital of southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province on Tuesday, killing seven people and injuring 23 others. The attack happened at about 6 p.m. in the Bolan area of Lashkar Gah city. Several children were among the wounded, and the majority of casualties were civilians. The Taliban is suspected since the bombing mirrors recent similar incidents.

Myanmar

Hundreds of riot police charged at students protesting Myanmar’s new education law on Tuesday, pummeling them with batons and then dragging them into trucks, bringing a quick, harsh end to a weeklong standoff. Some students and monks were chased into a Buddhist monastery. Myanmar only recently began moving from a half-century of brutal military rule toward democracy. But the nominally civilian government installed four years ago has been grappling with the consequences of newfound freedoms of expression. It has been especially sensitive about public protests, arresting hundreds of people since taking office for peacefully expressing their views.

Russia

Russia’s central bank cut interest rates by 1% to 14% on Friday, highlighting the dire state of the country’s economy. The bank also slashed its growth forecast. It now expects the Russian economy to contract by between 3.5% and 4% in 2015. Low oil prices and Western sanctions have crushed the economy. The ruble plunged 40% against the dollar in just six months. Inflation is soaring — it hit 16.7% in February, with food prices jumping by 23% compared to last year. Cutting rates could push prices even higher, but leaving them at elevated levels may mean an even deeper and longer recession. Industrial activity and consumer demand is slowing, according to the World Bank.

The ability of the U.S. and Canadian military to defend North America could be jeopardized by stepped up Russian military activity, according to the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Adm. William Gortney told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that Russia is continuing to work on its program to deploy “long-range conventionally armed cruise missiles,” that can be launched from its bomber aircraft, submarines and warships. This is giving the Kremlin “deterrent” options “short of the nuclear threshold,” Gortney said. “This past year has marked a notable increase in Russian military assertiveness,” on the world stage, he said. Russian heavy bomber aircraft flew more patrols outside Russian airspace “than in any year since the Cold War.” There have also been increased Russian air patrols across the coastlines of Europe.

  • Russia is prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39 (Rosh in NKJV & YLT) to play a major end-time role against Israel in conjunction with Persia (Iran, with whom Russia has forged a close alliance). As U.S. led sanctions against Russia (over its Ukrainian annexation) continue to inflict economic pain, a desperate President Putin might consider limited military action.

Weather

The spring thaw is underway across much of the nation’s mid-section, bringing the warmest weather since October for some areas. And even the winter-suffering Northeast is joining in. On Tuesday, daily record high temperatures were set in parts of the Upper Midwest, Florida, as well as the Pacific Northwest including Duluth, Minnesota (58), Minneapolis/St. Paul (66), Negaunee, Michigan (58), Daytona Beach (85), South Lake Tahoe, California (64) and Spokane, Washington (67). Paradoxically, the National Weather Service office in Negaunee Township, Michigan (just outside Marquette) still had 31 inches of snow on the ground Tuesday. Despite that, temperatures still topped out in the upper 50s. Record highs have been confirmed as tied or broken Wednesday in the Southeast, including 83 in Charlotte and 87 in Savannah, Georgia. Thursday record highs included 90 at Naples, Florida; 79 in Norfolk, Nebraska; and 67 in Jamestown, North Dakota.

The warmth, combined with a lack of mountain snow in the West, will have dire implications on a region already suffering from drought. Snowpack levels across the West are at record low levels, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service said Wednesday.

This winter has produced automobile-sized chunks of ice washing ashore on Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts. Eric Fisher, chief meteorologist for CBS Boston, said he’s never seen ice like this off Massachusetts. “It’s been an amazing winter with some unforgettable scenes. By most accounts, this is likely the most ice we’ve seen develop since the 1977-78 winter, and perhaps farther back than that.”

A series of snowstorms left an impressive view of snow-covered volcanic peaks on the Big Island of Hawaii. While snow isn’t unheard of on Mauna Kea, it is uncommon. Earlier this week, the National Weather Service had placed both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa under a blizzard warning with 8 inches of snow and gusts up to 85 mph.

The Italian village of Capracotta got 100.8 inches of snow on Thursday, setting the all-time world record for most snow in 24 hours. Pescocostanzo, about 21 miles away, only got 94.5 inches. That’s more than Boston got in January and February combined.

Cyclone Pam is making a direct hit in the Republic of Vanuatu in the South Pacific Ocean, including the capital city of Port Vila packing Category 5 winds up to 168 mph. This will likely be one of the worst natural disasters in the island chain’s history.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme as prophesied in the Bible with floods (Daniel 9:26b), searing sun (Revelation 16:8) and giant hail (Revelation 11:19. 16:21)

Signs of the Times (3/9/15)

March 9, 2015

University Kills Free Speech to Protect Inclusiveness – Bans American Flags, But then Overturned

The University of California at Irvine, recently voted to ban flags from hanging in their main lobby. The reason that the student government chose to ban the flags? Apparently, flags are “offensive.” Here’s the language from the bill banning flags: “Flags construct paradigms of conformity and sets homogenized standards for others to obtain which in this country typically are idolized as freedom, equality, and democracy,” the bill reads. The legislation argues that flags may be interpreted differently; the American flag, for example, can represent “American exceptionalism and superiority,” as well as oppression. “The American flag has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism,” the bill continues, arguing that “symbolism has negative and positive aspects that are interpreted differently by individuals.” “Freedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible, can be interpreted as hate speech,” the bill reads. However, members of the executive cabinet of the Associated Students of UC Irvine met Saturday in an emergency session to reverse the flag ban.

  • Political correctness and ‘tolerance’ taken to their extreme absurdity. Shows how the younger generation has been indoctrinated with anti-American fervor

Army Eases Ban on Transgender Soldiers

The Army issued a directive Friday that protects transgender soldiers from being dismissed by mid-level officers by requiring the decision for discharge to be made by the service’s top civilian for personnel matters. The Army’s new policy is the latest indication that the military’s ban on transgender troops may be eased or even lifted. Last month, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told troops he was “very open-minded” about transgender troops, adding that nothing but a person’s ability to serve should keep them from serving. Troops with gender dysphoria, a recognized medical condition, are currently barred from serving in the military for medical reasons.

Black Teen killed by Wisconsin Police Officer Prompts Protests

The shooting death of a 19-year-old unarmed black male by a white Wisconsin police officer prompted protests Saturday chanting now familiar refrain, “Black Lives Matter.” Authorities said that Tony Robinson assaulted Officer Matt Kenny before he was shot in his apartment Friday night. Kenny forced his way inside the apartment after hearing a disturbance, while responding to a call, police said. Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said that Kenny was injured during the incident, but did not go into detail. It was unclear whether Robinson was alone at the time. “He was unarmed. That’s going to make this all the more complicated for the investigators, for the public to accept,” Koval said of Robinson. The department said Kenny was not wearing a body camera. The series of protests and vigils continued peacefully on Sunday as the stunned city processed another shooting of an unarmed black teen by a police officer Friday night.

Selma Marchers Close Down Bridge

On the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, an unexpectedly large crowd made a series of at least three unplanned marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, transforming the four lanes of the bridge into a mass of barely moving humanity. Overwhelmed early by a crowd that swelled to more than 70,000, according to Alabama state troopers’ estimates, police essentially tossed in the towel after several attempts to remove people from the bridge were unsuccessful. On Monday, an anniversary march from Selma to Montgomery is set to begin in the morning and culminate with a rally at the Alabama Capitol Friday afternoon.

U.N. Finds ‘Alarmingly High’ Levels of Violence against Women

The evidence of worldwide violence against is ubiquitous, notes The New York Times. The gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi sets off an unusual burst of national outrage in India where rape has been rampant. In South Sudan, women are assaulted by both sides in the civil war. In Iraq, jihadists enslave women for sex. And American colleges face mounting scrutiny about campus rape. Despite the many gains women have made in education, health and even political power in the course of a generation, violence against women and girls worldwide “persists at alarmingly high levels,” according to a United Nations analysis that the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to present to the General Assembly on Monday. About 35 percent of women worldwide — more than one in three — said they had experienced violence in their lifetime, whether physical, sexual, or both, the report finds. One in 10 girls under the age of 18 was forced to have sex, it says.

Top Senate Democrat urges Clinton to Address Private Email Controversy

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee urged former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to give a full explanation of why she used a private e-mail account for official correspondence during her four years as America’s top diplomat. Clinton, thought to be the near-unanimous frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, has kept mostly silent on the private e-mail story, which was first reported by the New York Times last Monday. Her use of the account may violate federal rules requiring officials to keep all their communications on official accounts for record-keeping purposes. Fox News is reporting that Hillary Clinton secretly used multiple private email accounts in an attempt to avoid scrutiny from public agencies that might have otherwise sought to review her email

CIA Reorganization Focuses on Cyber-Espionage

The Central Intelligence Agency has announced a sweeping reorganization, introducing a new Directorate dedicated to cyber-espionage and establishing ten new cross-directorate ‘mission centers’. The CIA’s new cyber-division will be called the Directorate of Digital Innovation. It joins the four existing Directorates: Support, Science and Technology, and Operations and Analysis, under the new organization plan. Analysis is reverting to its traditional name, having been renamed “Directorate of Intelligence” previously, while Operations used to be known as the “National Clandestine Service.” Additionally, agency director John Brennan announced the establishment of ten new “mission centers,” gathering CIA officers from across different Directorates to concentrate on specific subjects, regions or targets. The 9/11 Commission criticized the CIA for not sharing intelligence that might have helped stop the 2001 attacks, and recommended a number of intelligence reforms. The new “mission centers” will put together operatives from the five Directorates to follow urgent threats and “fill information gaps”, Brennan explained.

Flu Season Winding Down

Flu season is beginning to tail off, but thousands of Americans still are grappling with the illness blamed for killing nearly 100 children. Six states — including Connecticut, New Jersey and Oklahoma — still are reporting high flu-like illnesses, down from 11 states the week before. New York City and 30 states now are seeing only minimal activity, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Flu activity across the country has been at elevated” levels for 15 consecutive weeks, the CDC reported Friday. A typical flu season lasts 13 weeks. A flu virus that hits the elderly and young particularly hard and a vaccine that wasn’t a good match for the dominant strain this year, known as H3N2, has been driving the deadly flu season. The vaccine was only 19% effective. Overall flu hospitalization rates are at 53.5 per 100,000 people, but for those who are age 65 and older, the rate was 266.1 per 100,000, the highest on record.

Economic News

While most of America welcomed the news Friday that U.S. unemployment is at a 7-year low, Wall Street freaked out. The Dow tumbled 279 points Friday and the S&P 500 shed 1.4%. It’s not that investors don’t like good news. More people back at work means more Americans are likely to shop and spend more. That’s a positive for the economy…and stocks. But there’s just one problem for Wall Street: All this strong news about the economy means the Federal Reserve will likely raise interest rates sooner rather than later.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday that the Republican-controlled Congress won’t allow the government to default as the Treasury Department quickly approaches its so-called “debt ceiling.” McConnell’s promise came two days after Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Capitol Hill that the government loses its authority after March 15 to borrow money to cover approved congressional spending and that his agency would have to resort to “extraordinary measures” as a short-term solution. The nation’s debt currently stands at $18.1 trillion, up from $11.9 trillion in 2009, when the recession ended

Facing stubbornly stagnant wages, President Barack Obama has obtained commitments from more than 300 employers as well as local governments in 20 regions of the country to train and hire high technology workers in an effort to drive up higher-income employment. T According to the White House, the average salary for workers with high-tech skills is 50 percent higher than the average private-sector American job. The White House said Obama is to announce the program, called TechHire, during a speech Monday to the National League of Cities.

Europe is just now instituting the massive monetary stimulus launched years ago by the United States, Britain and Japan. The European Central Bank started buying bonds issued by governments in the eurozone Monday, marking the beginning of a one trillion euro ($1.2 trillion) program aimed at countering deflation by boosting inflation and reviving the economy. The ECB, and national central banks in the eurozone, are creating new money to buy bonds at a monthly rate of 60 billion euros. Bonds have surged in anticipation of the ECB’s arrival in the market. The Euro currency, however, has slumped 10% against the dollar in 2015 to trade at an 11-year low of $1.09.

Cyber crooks apparently are now eyeing the loyalty cards dangling on key fobs. We’re seeing more warnings that cyber crooks will go after whatever moves — or has a password that you might use somewhere else. Late last year, American Airlines and United Airlines began notifying customers through e-mails that hackers stole usernames and passwords from a third-party source. Some customers lost miles as a result. Hilton Honors loyalty program warned last year that hackers managed to access some accounts and cash out some rewards points.

Persecution Watch

At a conference addressing Christian persecution, particularly in the Islamic State by Muslim terrorists, Father Gabriel Nadaf reported, “Across the Middle East, in the last 10 years, 100,000 Christians have been murdered each year. That means every five minutes a Christian is killed because of his faith.” It is now reported that 2014 was the worst year in modern history for global persecution of Christians. In its book, “Dabiq,” ISIS identifies its No. 1 enemy as Christianity. The cover photo depicts a black ISIS flag flying over the Vatican and declares that the terrorist army will “break the cross.”

  • Islamist militants are under the influence of Satan’s anti-Christ spirt, which is rapidly increasing its impact as the run-up to the Tribulation accelerates, just as the Bible prophesies in 1John 2:18.

Middle East

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel will not cede any territory due to the current climate in the Middle East. Netanyahu’s comments, which came as he sought to appeal to hard-liners ahead of national elections next week, rejected a key goal of the international community and bode poorly for reviving peace efforts if he is re-elected. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that any evacuated territory would fall into the hands of Islamic extremism and terror organizations supported by Iran. Therefore, there will be no concessions and no withdrawals. It is simply irrelevant,” read a statement released by his Likud party. The international community has long pushed for the creation of a Palestinian state on lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

Islamic State

The Islamic State ­appears to be starting to fray from within, as dissent, defections and setbacks on the battlefield sap the group’s strength and erode its aura of invincibility among those living under its despotic rule, reports the Washington Post. Rising tensions between foreign and local fighters, aggressive and increasingly unsuccessful attempts to recruit local citizens for the front lines, and a growing incidence of guerrilla attacks against Islamic State targets suggest the militants are struggling to sustain their carefully cultivated image as a fearsome fighting force drawing Muslims together under the umbrella of a utopian Islamic state.

Iraqi security forces backed by coalition airstrikes have pushed the Islamic State out of a town near a large base where U.S. military advisers are located, officials announced Friday. A combination of Iraqi armed forces and tribal militias retook a police station and three bridges over the Euphrates River in the town of al-Baghdadi. The bridges have been held by militants since last September. The statement said Iraqi security forces also pushed militants from seven villages northwest of al-Baghdadi in the largely Sunni Anbar province. The coalition has launched 26 airstrikes since Feb. 22 to support the offensive against the militants in the area. It also provided surveillance and intelligence support.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram’s leader has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a new audio message Saturday. In the recording, a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigerian terrorist group that has killed thousands, vowed to follow Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to SITE Intel Group, a U.S.-based organization. Lesser-known terrorist groups in more than a dozen countries have also pledged support.

Nigeria

Two blasts killed more than 10 people on Saturday in a busy marketplace in Maiduguri, the biggest city in northeastern Nigeria. The first explosion came from a suicide bomber in a tricycle taxi who blew himself up outside a fish market and killed at least 10 people. About an hour later a second explosion rocked the area. The second blast happened at the Post Office shopping area, close to the fish market. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosions but they have all the hallmarks of the Boko Haram Islamic extremist group. It has increased suicide bombings and village attacks recently as forces from Nigeria and Chad have driven the insurgents from a score of towns along Nigeria’s border with Cameroon. Hundreds of troops from Chad and Niger launched a ground and aerial offensive against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria on Sunday.

Ukraine

The United States will deploy personnel by the end of this week to train the Ukrainian National Guard, U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade Commander Colonel Michael Foster said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “What we’ve got laid out is six United States companies that will be training six Ukrainian companies throughout the summer,” he said. The current plan is for US forces to stay six months, he said, and noted there have been discussions about how to increase the duration and the scope of the training mission.

Closer economic ties with Europe, not conflict, is the best way to counter pro-Russian separatist movements in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, Moldova’s foreign minister said. “What’s important is for Ukraine to move forward with European integration and to continue to reform itself according to international norms,” Natalia Gherman said in an interview with USA TODAY. An opinion poll being presented at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington Monday says a clear majority of Ukrainians would accept neutrality between the European Union and Russia. The poll found wide differences on some questions between Ukrainians in different regions of the country, reflecting a split between the mostly Ukrainian-speaking north and west, which lean toward Europe, and the mostly Russian-speaking east and south, which lean more toward Russia.

Russia

After a year in which furious rhetoric has been pumped across Russian airwaves, anger toward the United States is at its worst since opinion polls began tracking it. From ordinary street vendors all the way up to the Kremlin, a wave of anti-U.S. bile has swept the country, surpassing any time since the Stalin era, the Washington Post reports. The indignation peaked after the assassination of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, as conspiracy theories started to swirl — just a few hours after he was killed — that his death was a CIA plot to discredit Russia. More than 80 percent of Russians now hold negative views of the United States, according to the independent Levada Center, a number that has more than doubled over the past year and that is by far the highest negative rating since the center started tracking those views in 1988.

Russian law enforcement officers have detained four suspects from the North Caucasus in the killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Russian officials said Saturday. Two of them — identified as Anzor Kubashev and Zaur Dadayev — were arrested on suspicion of involvement in planning and carrying out the attack. They were from the southern region of Russia’s restive North Caucasus area. According to state news agency RIA Novosti, two more men were arrested later on Saturday. Both men were arrested in the southern republic of Ingushetia. Some of Nemtsov’s opposition colleagues expressed skepticism over the announcement and urged a thorough investigation to determine who ordered the killing, suspecting President Vladimir Putin was behind the elimination of his primary opponent.

Iran

Over the course of a dozen years, ever since atomic sleuths from the United Nations began scrutinizing Iran’s nuclear program, hundreds of inspections have uncovered a hidden world of labs and sprawling factories, some ringed by barbed wire and antiaircraft guns, others camouflaged or buried deep underground. Yet despite that progress, Iran has so far managed to evade a central question – whether it knows how to build an atom bomb. The United States and its allies are also discussing whether a final deal should compel Tehran to reveal the depth of its atomic knowledge. That inner debate, as one European official put it, turns on ‘whether to force Iran to explain its past’ – especially before 2003, when American intelligence officials believe Iran operated a full-scale equivalent of the Manhattan Project.

Forty-seven Republican senators warned Iran’s leaders on Monday that any nuclear deal needs congressional approval in order to last beyond President Obama’s term, in a stark letter aimed at re-asserting lawmakers’ role as talks near a key deadline. In an open letter to Iranian leaders, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and 46 other Republicans said they wanted to educate Iran about the U.S. Constitution. Namely, they pointed out that without congressional approval on a deal, all Tehran would be left with is a “mere executive agreement” between President Obama and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen,” they wrote, “and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Mali

Three people were killed and 12 wounded in a rocket attack early Sunday on a U.N. base in Mali’s northeastern city of Kidal, said the United Nations mission in Mali. More than 30 rockets and shells hit the U.N. base in Kidal at about 5:40 a.m. Sunday, said the U.N. mission. The attack killed a U.N. soldier and two civilians and an additional 12 people were wounded. The rocket attack was launched from a spot about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the camp.

Japan

Four years after a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown at the nearby Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, nearly a quarter-million Japanese still live in temporary or interim housing. Hundreds of square miles of forests, farmland and townships remain uninhabitable because of radiation. Endless rows of thick vinyl bags filled with contaminated soil litter the countryside — but represent just a fraction of the land that must be scraped up and hauled away before residents can return. Radiation levels remain as much as 10 times above normal in areas surrounding the plant, and scores of towns and villages remain off-limits despite a massive cleanup effort. As Japan marks the anniversary of the March 11, 2011, disaster, officials concede that recovery throughout the region is lagging.

Weather

An over one-month snow siege has parts of New England threatening or already blowing past all-time records. This is now the second snowiest season on record. In the last 21 years with 105.7 inches. The annual average is 43.5 inches. Providence has now tallied its second snowiest season with 73.5 inches. Even the awful 1977-1978 season was less snowy (70.2 inches) in the Rhode Island capital than this season. Wintry weather will be limited to a few light snow showers over parts of the Great Lakes and interior Northeast through Monday. Accumulations, if any, should be minimal.

The last of the bitter cold air over the Great Lakes and Northeast areas was felt on Saturday morning as more record lows were broken. Warmer temperatures, however, are well underway. Kansas City reached 70 degrees, while 50s and 60s moved as far north as South Dakota and Montana. Daily record highs were set Sunday in Williston, North Dakota (54), Grand Forks, North Dakota (48) and Idaho Falls, Idaho (57).

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme as prophesied in the Bible (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 11:9, 16:11)

 

Signs of the Times (3/6/15)

March 6, 2015

Alabama Supreme Court Tells Judges to Stop Issuing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

The Alabama Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered probate judges in the state to stop issuing licenses for same-sex marriages. In February, a federal court decision in Mobile County had cleared the path for same-sex marriages to begin in the state. Marriage is between one man and one woman under Alabama law, the order states and was supported by six justices. One dissented and another concurred to most of the opinion and in total to the result. “Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law. Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty,” it says. Liberty Counsel, which filed an emergency petition to the state’s Supreme Court said on its website that “the ruling of the Alabama Supreme Court offers the most forceful and clearly articulated rebuttal to date of the imaginative arguments for same-sex “marriage” employed by federal courts.”

Court Puts Nebraska Same-Sex Marriages on Hold

Nebraska’s ban on same-sex marriage will remain in place while the state appeals a federal judge’s decision to strike it down. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday issued a stay of U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon’s decision this week to end the ban. Nebraska was set to begin offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Monday. The ACLU of Nebraska filed the lawsuit challenging the state’s ban. Same-sex marriage licenses are offered in 37 other states. The number of states offering same-sex marriages has surged since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2013 that invalidated part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Cases involving Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee are expected to be decided in June by the U.S. Supreme Court, which may settle the issue nationally once and for all.

  • Gay marriage is a key marker in the end-time decline in morality prophesied in 2Timothy 3:1-5 and condemned in Romans 1:26-32

Franklin Graham says Muslims have Infiltrated D.C.

Evangelical leader Franklin Graham said that he believes that the U.S. is unwilling to fight ISIS because Muslims have “infiltrated” the White House. “One of the problems we have in the West is our governments, especially in Washington, have been infiltrated by Muslims who are advising the White House,” Graham said on the Fox O’Reilly Factor show. On Facebook, Graham wrote, “I do know that the president defends Islam and chastises Christians, rebukes our allies and befriends our enemies, and fully supports gay marriages and abortion but denies the religious freedoms of those who don’t agree. Our nation is ridiculed abroad and morally crumbling within. We are in trouble. We have turned our back on God.”

Netanyahu Warns Congress: Deal Will Lead to Iranian Nuclear Bomb

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tuesday that a proposed agreement between world powers and Iran was “a bad deal” that would not stop Tehran from getting nuclear weapons — but would rather pave its way to getting lots of them and leave the Jewish State in grave peril. In a dramatic address to the U.S. Congress at what he said was a “fateful” crossroads of history, Netanyahu openly sided with President Barack Obama’s Republican critics and sparked an immediate and furious reaction from the White House, as relations between Washington and Israel spun into their deepest chasm for many years. He called the deal that the Obama administration is proposing “a very bad deal. We are better off without it.” Netanyahu said that Iran was not just intent on developing nuclear weapons but was determined to “gobble” up defenseless countries in a wider play for dominance in the Middle East… We are being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That is just not true,” Netanyahu said to deafening cheers in the House of Representatives chamber, while issuing a firm warning that Israel would stand alone if necessary to defend the existence of the Jewish people.

Obamacare on the Line at Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justices heard arguments Wednesday on whether most Obamacare enrollees can keep their subsidies. A ruling against the Obama administration could send Obamacare into a death spiral, notes CNN. It’s likely that millions of enrollees would drop coverage after losing their assistance, experts said. Insurers would stop offering coverage or be forced to hike rates – by more than 250% by one estimate. “The market would likely melt down very quickly,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Some 7.5 million people have signed up for 2015 coverage on the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, and qualified for subsidies, as of mid-February, according to Kaiser Family Foundation calculations. The subsidies average $268 a month, covering 72% of the premium. Enrollees shell out $105 a month, on average. The Supreme Court appeared divided Wednesday along ideological lines after hearing the challenge to the ObamaCare tax subsidies.

GOP-Led Senate Fails to Override Obama’s Keystone Pipeline Veto

The GOP-controlled Senate failed Wednesday to override President Obama’s veto of Keystone XL pipeline legislation but vowed to continue to fight to complete the project. The vote was 62-37, five votes short of the 67-vote super-majority needed to override a presidential veto. The completion of the Canada-to-Texas pipeline has been a contentious Washington issue for the past six years. Some lawmakers are now looking at other ways to muscle the legislation through. North Dakota GOP Sen. John Hoeven, a major sponsor of the bill, is considering attaching the Keystone measure to a highway infrastructure bill. Republicans and other supporters argue the project would create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs and help the United States become less dependent on foreign oil.

Government Operation Pressures Banks on Guns & Gold

As first exposed by the Wall Street Journal, the Department of Justice and bank regulators are unconstitutionally pressuring banks to refuse banking services to perfectly legal industries, under the guise that they pose a “reputation risk” to the bank. Not surprisingly, two of the main industries targeted by this illegal program just happen to be two of the biggest threats to the federal government: guns and gold. The federal government is actively trying to choke sellers of guns and precious metals out of the financial industry in order to eliminate individuals from possessing the two primary means of resistance to federal socialistic control.

DOJ Report says Ferguson PD Routinely Violated Rights of African-Americans

The Ferguson Police Department routinely violated the constitutional rights of the local African-American population in the Missouri city for years, the Department of Justice has found in a searing report. The investigation, launched after the August shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, found that the department violated the Fourth Amendment in instances such as making traffic stops without reasonable suspicion and making arrests without probable cause. The report provides direct evidence of racial bias among police officers and court workers, and details a criminal justice system that through the issuance of petty citations for infractions such as walking in the middle of the street, prioritizes generating revenue from fines over public safety, reports Fox News. The practice hits poor people especially hard, sometimes leading to jail time when they can’t pay, the report says, and has contributed to a cynicism about the police on the part of citizens.

House Funds DHS after Ending Immigration Standoff

The House voted Tuesday to fund the Homeland Security Department through the end of the budget year, ending a protracted standoff that centered on objections to President Obama’s controversial immigration actions. The House voted 257-167 for the legislation, which includes no immigration provisions, and was carried over the finish line with mostly Democratic votes. In a statement late Tuesday, President Obama said he would sign the legislation as soon as it reached his desk. The result is a victory for the Obama administration. Republicans had tried to use the DHS funding bill as the vehicle to reverse Obama’s immigration executive actions. But Democrats repeatedly blocked the move, insisting they pass the spending bill with no riders attached. House Speaker John Boehner, faced with diminishing options, earlier in the day told fellow Republican lawmakers he would drop the immigration demands. Boehner’s move could lead to a backlash in the GOP.

Feds Bust ‘Maternity Hotels’

Federal agents on Tuesday raided more than three dozen “maternity hotels” in Southern California where foreign women give birth, allegedly for the sole purpose of having a U.S.-citizen baby. The “maternity tourism” sites included apartment complexes in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties where authorities believe the businesses housed foreign nationals about to give birth. Those targeted residences are believed to have catered largely to women from China, who paid $15,000 to $50,000 for lodging, transportation and food. Those fees don’t necessarily include medical care. “As part of the package, clients were promised they would receive Social Security numbers and U.S. passports for their infants, which the mothers would take with them when they left the U.S,” authorities said.

New York City Public Schools to Close for 2 Muslim Holidays

Under the new policy, which was hailed Wednesday by Islamic leaders in New York City, the 1.1 million-pupil public school system will close Sept. 24 for Eid al-Adha and the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which will be observed during the summer school session next year. “Hundreds of thousands of Muslim families will no longer have to choose between honoring the most sacred days on their calendar or attending school,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in his announcement. Other public school systems that have moved recently to observe Muslim holidays include those in Waterbury, Connecticut and Frederick County, Maryland.

U.N. Climate Chief Admits Goal Is Worldwide Redistribution of Wealth

A high UN official has admitted the real reason for the climate hysteria: to transform the world economy, redistributing income from rich nations to poorer ones. Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), warned that “This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model… This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the industrial revolution. That will not happen overnight and it will not happen at a single conference on climate change… It just does not occur like that. It is a process, because of the depth of the transformation.”

Sea Ice Shrinking, Sea Levels Rising

Sea levels across the Northeast coast of the United States rose nearly 3.9 inches between 2009 and 2010, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Arizona and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The waters near Portland, Maine, saw an even greater rise — 5 inches — over the two-year period. While scientists have been observing higher sea levels across the globe in recent decades, the study found a much more extreme rise than previous averages. Such an event is “unprecedented” in the history of the tide gauge record, according to the researchers. A 2012 study determined that sea levels between North Carolina and Boston are rising at a rate three to four times faster than the global average. Yet this only represents a rise of 2 to 3.7 millimeters per year since 1980, far less than the 100 millimeters observed in the Northeast between 2009 and 2010.

Recent research shows that Arctic ice it is not only covering less of the planet, but it’s also getting significantly thinner. That makes it more susceptible to melting, potentially altering local ecosystems, shipping routes and ocean and atmospheric patterns. New data compiled from a range of sources — from Navy submarines to satellites — suggests that thinning is happening much faster than models have estimated. The report from the University of Washington shows that sea ice in the central part of the Arctic Ocean basin has thinned by 65 percent since 1975. During September, when the ice reaches its annual minimum, ice thickness is down by a stunning 85 percent.

Colorado Marijuana Legalization Challenged in Court

Sheriffs from Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska say Colorado’s marijuana law violates the Constitution and want a federal court to strike it down. A lawsuit, filed Thursday against Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper, seeks to close the state’s more than 330 licensed marijuana stores. The out-of-state sheriffs say the flow of Colorado’s legal marijuana across the border has increasing drug arrests, overburdened police and courts and cost them money in overtime.

Eleven Large Corporations Paid No Tax in 2014

There are 11 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500, including tire maker Goodyear Tire & Rubber (GT), electronic component maker Eaton (ETN) and restaurant chain operator Darden Restaurants (DRI) that paid no income tax in calendar 2014 despite reporting a profit during the year, according to a USA TODAY review of data from S&P Capital IQ. A number of giant companies continue to keep cash parked overseas to avoid triggering a potential tax hit. Goodyear Tire received a massive tax credit of $1.8 billion during 2014, despite reporting earnings before taxes of $687 million. The tax credit resulted from the company unlocking its accounting allowance on U.S. deferred tax assets.

  • Arcane tax breaks and cryptic tax loopholes make it almost impossible to set overall tax policy. The labyrinthian tax code needs to be rewritten and simplified before intelligent debate about tax rates is possible.

Economic News

The economy added 295,000 new jobs in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, vs. 257,000 in January. It’s the 12th straight month that the economy has gained over 200,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate fell to 5.5%. The unemployment rate peaked at 10% in October 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis. A year ago the unemployment rate was 6.7%.

There were 320,000 claims for unemployment insurance last week, 7,000 more than the week before, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The four-week moving average increased by 10,250 over the previous week’s average of 294,500.

Average weekly wages only rose 2.0% in February compared to a year ago. In a healthy economy, wages gains typically are between 3.5% and 4%. The small wage gains are why many people still aren’t feeling better off during this economic recovery.

Up-and-coming millionaires look a little bit different than their predecessors, says a new study by Bellomy Research for Fidelity Investments released Thursday. The millionaires-in-the-making include more women and minorities than today’s millionaires. Around 68% of the emerging affluent investors are women, 25% are non-white – a 16% increase from current millionaires – and the average age has shrunk from 62 to 40.​

JP Morgan Chase has agreed to fork over $50 million for fraudulent dealings in tens of thousands of mortgages in the aftermath of the mortgage crisis. In a deal cut with the Department of Justice’s Trustee Program, JPMorgan said it will pay more than $50 million to over 25,000 homeowners in the form of cash payments, mortgage loan credits and loan forgiveness, to settle the DOJ’s “robo-signing” allegations.

Latin America is China’s latest business buddy. Chinese banks increased investments in Latin America by 71% last year, and the country plans to double its trade volume with the Central and South American region over the next decade. This comes as U.S. power in the Americas is starting to erode. U.S. cash is actually fleeing the region as investors see better deals at home or elsewhere. It’s an economic play that also has political and strategic undertones,” says Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington. China now exceeds the U.S. in trade with Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Venezuela, according to M.I.T. data.

Persecution Watch

A Christian in Iran who received 80 lashes for drinking communion wine has been asked to leave the country, human right activists said. Agents from the Iranian intelligence service, known as VEVAK, on Feb. 16 raided the home of Mehdi Reza Omidi and two other members of house churches in Rasht, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. After those raids, authorities ordered the three Christians to report the next day for questioning, where officials asked them to leave Iran. The agents also confiscated their Bibles, laptops, Christian CDs and religious literature. Kiri Kankhwende, press officer for CSW, said authorities asking Christians to leave the country is just one of the many ways the government suppresses Christian growth. Other ways include harassment, confiscation of property, arrests and imprisonment on false charges.

A Christian children’s worker says she was unfairly dismissed from her job after she was allegedly fired for telling a lesbian co-worker that God does not approve of homosexuality. According to Christian Today, Sarah Mbuyi was working for the Newpark Childcare in Shepherd’s Bush in London. She reportedly told a coworker in January 2014 that God doesn’t approve of homosexuality. “When I said ‘No, God does not condone the practice of homosexuality, but does love you and says you should come to Him as you are’, she became emotional and went off to report me to my manager,” Mbuyi said. Mbuyi was then dismissed for gross misconduct for breaching the equality policy of the workplace. The Christian Legal Centre is arguing for Mbuyi and claiming that the Council of Europe recently passed a resolution to help protect intolerance against Christians.

Middle East

A Palestinian motorist rammed his car into a group of people waiting for a train in east Jerusalem Friday morning injuring seven people, including six Israeli soldiers, before being shot and wounded by guards in what police called a terrorist attack. Police identified the attacker as a Palestinian man from east Jerusalem believed to be in his twenties. Police said certain attacks like these are difficult to prevent because they appear to be carried out by “lone wolf” assailants. The attack comes at the same time as Israelis celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim. Police are booting security throughout the city and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat said celebrations will continue as planned.

  • ISIS and al-Qaeda have been calling upon Islamists worldwide to carry out such lone-wolf attacks

Islamic State

At a time when President Obama is under political pressure from congressional Republicans over negotiations to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, a startling paradox has emerged: Mr. Obama is becoming increasingly dependent on Iranian fighters as he tries to contain the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria without committing American ground troops. Iranian troops recently joined 30,000 Iraqi forces to try to wrest Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit back from Islamic State control. It was Iran that organized Iraq’s Shiite militias last August to break a weeklong Islamic State siege of Amerli, a cluster of farming villages whose Shiite residents faced possible slaughter. American bombs provided support from warplanes. Many national security experts say, Iran’s involvement is helping the Iraqis hold the line against Islamic State advances until American military advisers are finished training Iraq’s underperforming armed forces.

ISIS has again destroyed cultural treasures, this time bulldozing the site of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in northern Iraq, the nation’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said. Nimrud was a city in the Assyrian kingdom, which flourished between 900 B.C. and 612 B.C. The razing of Nimrud comes a week after a video showed ISIS militants using sledgehammers to obliterate stone sculptures and other centuries-old artifacts in the Mosul Museum. ISIS has also destroyed other ancient and deeply meaningful sites in Iraq. Officials have said ISIS has blown up shrines such as the tomb of Jonah.

Twitter is no longer allowing its network to serve as a mouthpiece for ISIS. In the past few days, the social media site suspended at least 2,000 accounts associated with the brutal radical Islamic group, including the ISIS members that serve as the group’s official media voices. Experts say the moves by Twitter could seriously hamper propaganda campaigns and efforts to recruit new members. Ironically, Twitter’s crackdown was not only independent of any request from the U.S. government, according to a source interviewed by ABC News, the “U.S. intelligence community would prefer the accounts stay open for intelligence gathering purposes.” In response, a message from ISIS was posted online directly threatening Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and Twitter employees.

Nigeria

Terrorist group Boko Haram is reportedly following the example of ISIS, as a Boko Haram member beheaded two men in a recent propaganda video. Officials are now concerned that Boko Haram is not merely copying ISIS’ acts of brutality, but connecting itself with the other terror group through the beheading demonstration. Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium editorial director Veryan Khan told Fox News that the beheading video “shows Boko Haram is not a mere copycat of ISIS; rather, it is incorporating itself into the Islamic State.”

A skirmish between Chadian soldiers and Boko Haram militants left 207 militants dead, according to reports. The Chadian Army also reportedly seized weapons and ammunition from the militants, in addition to two pickup trucks. Chad had previously been involved with the fight against Boko Haram, along with Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. Most recently, Chadian soldiers had assisted pushing back militants that had entered the Chadian town of Ngouboua.

Somalia

A Somali-American on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list has been captured, Somali intelligence officials said Tuesday. Liban Haji Mohamed was arrested as he traveled from an area controlled by terror group Al-Shabaab in southern Somalia. The one-time cabdriver in northern Virginia is being held and interrogated by Somali officials. Mohamed was born in Somalia but is a naturalized U.S. citizen. The 29-year-old left the United States in July 2012 to join al Qaeda in Somalia. Mohamed is wanted by the FBI for allegedly providing material support to terrorists, but his extradition is not assured, as the United States and Somalia do not have an extradition treaty in place.

Pakistan

Police have arrested more than 500 parents in and around the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar for not allowing their children to get the polio vaccine, an official said Tuesday. Those arrested will be released on bail if they sign an affidavit stating that they will let their children get vaccinated. Pakistan’s vaccination rate is inordinately low for a number of reasons, including attacks on medical workers, the displacement of people due to ongoing military operations and a lack of trust by some families. Such vaccines are credited with wiping out polio in most parts of the world. But Pakistan is an exception. The South Asian nation leads all others in new polio cases in recent years, and has nine of this year’s 10 reported cases.

South Korea

The U.S. ambassador to South Korea was slashed in the face early Thursday while speaking at a breakfast forum in Seoul, but his injuries were not considered life-threatening, U.S. and Korean officials said. Ambassador Mark Lippert, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, was cut on the right cheek by a man wielding a blade, according to witnesses. He was in stable condition after surgery at a hospital in Seoul. YTN TV reported that the assailant, identified by police as Kim Ki-jong, 55, screamed, “South and North Korea should be reunified” as he launched the attack. The two Koreas have been divided for decades along the world’s most heavily armed border.

China

China says its military budget will increase by 10.1% in 2015, the latest in a series of double-digit increases that will narrow the still-significant gap with the United States on defense spending. The increase underscores China’s intention to prioritize military spending even as economic growth slows. It also comes amid unease among China’s neighbors about the pursuit of its territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea. China’s defense budget of $144 billion is still dwarfed by what the U.S. spends on its military — $598 billion in to 2014. But, while China’s budget has increased by double digits every year since 2010, U.S. spending has declined since then. Paul Burton, Asia Pacific director at IHS Aerospace, Defense & Security, estimates that China’s actual spending is 35% higher than the publicly announced budget.

A slick, highly critical documentary on China’s choking smog has garnered widespread interest throughout the nation despite government censor efforts. The 104-minute film Under the Dome — released this weekend by well-known former news anchor Chai Jing — examines in-depth the impact of the nation’s toxic skies that are the downside of decades of breakneck economic growth. Since Saturday, it has been viewed more than 200 million times online. While the video remains online, major news outlets have removed stories about it. Environmental activists praised the film for boosting public awareness and pushing authorities to provide breathable air. Even Environment Minister Chen Jining joined that chorus, likening Under the Dome to Silent Spring, a 1962 exposé on chemical pollution in the USA.

Volcanoes

One of South America’s most active volcanos erupted early Tuesday in southern Chile, spewing heavy smoke into the air as lava surged down its slopes, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands of people. The Villarica volcano erupted around 3 a.m. local time, according to the National Emergency Office, which issued a red alert and ordered evacuations. About 3,500 people have been evacuated so far, including tourists. Chile has more than 2,000 volcanoes in the Andes cordillera and about 90 of them remain active.

A volcano near Japan’s Nishinoshima Island has been creating new land, and the two have finally merged into one. The new island measures one square mile in size, according to the Daily Mail. It’s roughly 620 miles south of Tokyo and began forming from a volcanic eruption on Nov. 20, 2013. The volcano is erupting as much as six times per minute, shooting out rock that continues to expand the island.

Weather

The record-breaking cold in February continued into the first week of March for a number of cities in the Midwest, South and Northeast. All-time March record lows have been broken as another shot of bitterly cold air plunged south out of Canada. Thursday morning, subzero temperatures were reported in parts of the Dakotas, northeast Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, northern Illinois, Wisconsin and northern Michigan. Cotton, Minnesota dipped to minus 40 degrees, while lows of 33 below zero were recorded in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Other record lows were set in Cincinnati, Ohio (0 degrees), Toledo, Ohio (5 below zero), Buffalo, New York (1 below zero), Memphis, Tennessee (17 degrees), Little Rock, Arkansas (18 degrees), Pittsburgh (1 degrees), Baton Rouge, Louisiana (26 degrees) and Huntsville, Alabama (16 degrees).

Winter’s latest big storm of the season is shaping up as a monster, with freezing rain or snow stretching from North Texas to New Jersey, forcing thousands of canceled flights. More than 94 million people were under some sort of winter weather warning, watch or advisory Thursday, stretching over 2,000 miles. More than a foot of snow fell in parts of Kentucky. Radcliff, Ky., received 16 inches of snow from the storm. Dozens of vehicles were stranded for hours on Interstate 65 in Kentucky due to Winter Storm Thor. The heavy snow has piled up around cars, trapping drivers inside. The shutdown occurred on a stretch of the freeway between Elizabethtown and Louisville. Some trapped drivers tweeted that they’d been stuck on I-65 for as long as 12 hours. Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania received 11 inches of snow, Missouri up to 15 inches, Ohio 17 inches, Maryland 15 inches, Massachusetts 12 inches, and New York City 6 inches.

 

Signs of the Times (3/2/15)

March 2, 2015

Can Christianity Survive in the Middle East?

Christianity was born in Bethlehem, in what’s now the West Bank. It took root among people like the Assyrians, who flourished in ancient Mesopotamia. It soon found a home in places like modern-day Turkey. Christianity traces its past squarely to the Middle East. But do Christians have a future there? It’s hard to ignore the depravity of ISIS beheading 21 Egyptian Christians on a beach in Libya, CNN notes. Nor can one shake off stories of women and children among the 262 Christians captured by ISIS in Syria, one of several horrors faced by Christians in that nation and neighboring Iraq. All this chaos has shrunk the percentage of the Middle East’s once-sizable population of openly practicing Christians. The percentage of Christians relative to the Mideast’s overall population has gone from 13.6% in 1910 to 4.2% in 2010, and it’s expected to drop even further.

This isn’t to say Christianity itself is dying out. It is growing in places like Africa, Asia, South America and — surprisingly — some of the most dogmatic, restrictive nations in the Middle East. According to the World Religion Database, places like Qatar and Bahrain have seen their Christian ranks surge from basically nothing a century ago to 10% and 13% of their respective populations. The World Religion Database projects Saudi Arabia will have more than 1.5 million Christians by 2025.

  • When CNN highlights Christian persecution in the Middle East you know that it’s reached epidemic proportions. ISIS and Satan hate Christianity even more than they hate Israel.

Wesleyan University Offers Housing for 15 Alternate ‘Sexualities’

Wesleyan University, once a Christian school, is now offering campus housing for 15 different alternative sexualities, also known as LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM, reports OneNewsNow.com It has a specific place for sadomasochists, but straight males looking to join a men-only fraternity are out of luck. Named after the renowned 18th-century evangelical theologian John Wesley, Wesleyan University has abandoned its Christian values on its Connecticut campus and is currently known as a secular academic institution. But even as a post-Christian university, Wesleyan is now setting new standards for secular humanist campus culture. For Wesleyan undergrads not looking to live in men-only frat houses, housing options abound. Students without degrees are required to live on campus and can choose from: the Womanist House, the Malcolm X House, the Lighthouse (welcoming “open-minded Christians”), the Women of Color House and houses designated for Asians and Latinos, just to name a few. Under another housing option, Wesleyan’s Office of Residential Life invites gender-confused students who identify themselves under the umbrella of one or more of the 15 alternative sexualities to join a house embracing everyone but heterosexuals.

  • By following humanist doctrine to its ultimate conclusion, the absurdity becomes abundantly apparent

Poll Finds Majority Support for Religious Freedom and Voter-Approved Definition of Marriage

A new poll finds that more than 53% of Americans agree with Arizona’s voter-approved definition of marriage as only the union of one man and one woman. The poll also found that more than 8 in 10 Americans believe people who hold to this voter-approved definition of marriage should be free to follow these beliefs in their daily lives or in the way they run a business. The poll comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments over whether voters have the freedom to set marriage law in their state. WPA Opinion Research, who conducted the poll of 800 registered voters, also surveyed whether the Supreme Court should uphold the right of voters to define marriage. The poll found that 61% agree that “states and citizens should remain free to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Cathi Herrod, President of Center for Arizona Policy, said: “The Supreme Court should not silence the will of the voters. What’s more, the government should not penalize people for believing that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Norway Deports Muslims, Crime Drops

In October, Norway made the controversial decision to deport 824 Muslims with ties to radical groups. Despite all the liberals in Norway deeming this “racist”, the government went ahead with it and the results were staggering. Violent crime decreased by 30%.

  • While most Americans and Europeans would call this unfair to target a certain race or religion, these results more than justify the deportation. The U.S. is rife with Islamist sleeper cells many of which are known to authorities. A mass deportation would be the most significant Homeland Security measure we could take to reduce future violence.

Persecution Watch

Customers ordering flowers online from the Marks & Spencer website can use words such as “jihad”, Buddha and Allah in accompanying messages. But other words such as “Christ” and “Jesus Christ” are banned, along with profanities, and the word “gay”. Customers who try to add a free message when they buy flowers cannot complete their order if they attempt to use one of the banned words. A pop-up message tells them: “Sorry, there’s something in your message we can’t write.” The restrictions were exposed by The Sunday Times after a customer was prevented from buying a bouquet for a funeral. Clergy wife Geraldine Stockford tried to attach a message to the flowers stating that they were from a family in “Christ Church Teddington”. She was prevented from doing so.

More than 14 homes and churches have been torched and missionary centers vandalized in the area around Kaga-Bandoro, in the north-central part of the Central African Republic. Local Christians told Barnabas Fund that many pastors fled to the town of Kaga-Bandoro, where another church was burned. In the attack, Fulani Muslims destroyed everything in an area of around five to thirty kilometers between Kaga-Bandoro and Wandago. Fields and property belonging to the people living in rural areas were either seized or destroyed by Fulanis. Prior to the attack, seven people, most of them Christians, were killed in the village of Bolom.

Congress Averts Homeland Security Shutdown

Congress narrowly averted a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security late Friday. Both the House and Senate passed a seven-day extension of funding for the agency, with the House acting just two hours before funding was set to expire at midnight. The successful last-ditch effort came after House Republican leaders failed to muster enough votes earlier in the day to continue funding the agency for three weeks. A shutdown would have resulted in the furlough of more than 30,000 of the agency’s 240,000 employees. Most employees are considered too essential to the nation’s security to be furloughed, so they would have had to work without pay. The department includes Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Rift Widens over Netanyahu Visit

American Jewish leaders and activists are worried about widening political divisions between Israel and the White House sparked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial address to Congress on Tuesday despite strident objections by President Obama. Many are concerned about the threat to Israel from Iran’s nuclear program and the prospect of a weak deal with the United States to curb it, an issue on which Netanyahu has been an outspoken Obama critic. Even so, they believe Netanyahu’s unrestrained attacks on the White House and in-your-face visit jeopardizes the close ties Israel has long enjoyed with the United States. More than two dozen Democrats are boycotting his speech, as Republicans have accused President Obama of not being supportive enough of Israel.

  • It is President Obama’s fault for turning his back on Israel in favor of Muslim interests.

Student Aid to Illegal Immigrants Stirs Debate

Several U.S. colleges are giving financial aid directly to students who are young illegal immigrants, extending the debate about helping people in the United States illegally at the expense of Americans who are in need of similar opportunities. Such opportunities have opened up since President Obama’s 2012 executive action that deferred deportation to millions of young people brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. However, they still are largely ineligible for state or federal student aid. For example, New York University — which receives federal, state and city money — says the aid given to illegal immigrants is not at the expense of American students. However, critics note that the financial aid purse is not unlimited and aiding one group is always at the expense of another. Other colleges reportedly acknowledge that the financial aid for illegal immigrant students comes from the same coffers that help American students but argue that diversity is always an admissions’ challenge and that illegal immigrant students bring a unique perspective to the campus community.

Deadly bacteria released at high-security lab

The release of deadly bacteria from a high-security laboratory in Louisiana has raised concerns that it has spread to soil and water outside the facility. Federal and state officials have spent weeks trying to determine how the potential bioterror agent — which can live and grow in soil and water — was released from the Tulane National Primate Research Center north of New Orleans. Yet the cause of the release and extent of the contamination remain unknown. While limited tests haven’t detected the bacteria outdoors, some officials are pressing behind the scenes for more action because monkeys kept in outdoor pens away from the lab have been sickened, an examination by USA TODAY reveals.

Economic News

The S&P 500 had its best month in February since October 2011 — gaining nearly 5.5%. Not to be outdone, the Nasdaq soared just over 7%, and the Dow rose 5.6%.Markets in Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden hit all-time highs. Japan, the poster child of deflation, saw its stock index reach its highest point in 15 years. Even Greece saw its stock market tick up despite its austerity and bailout woes.

  • Have we created yet another bubble about to burst?

Islamic State

Nineteen Assyrian Christian captives were released by Sunday by ISIS, with ten others expected to also be released soon. All but one of the Christians released were part of a group of 220 Assyrians captured last week during offensives on northern Syrian villages, said the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. In the shadow of its brutal killings, the sudden reversal leaves many asking: Why? The group has not explained its decision. Osama Edward, who heads the Assyrian Human Rights Network, said “They were treated well, nobody was tortured.” Christian activist Edward thinks the ISIS Sharia court decision was, in part, a nod to Syrian Sunni Muslim tribal leaders who negotiated for the Christians’ release.

A video released last week from ISIS showed the terrorist organization training children as young as 5 years old. Christian News Network reports the video was filmed at the Al Farouq Institue for Cubs in Raqqa. Ryan Mauro of the Clarion Project said. “For ISIS supporters, this is like signing your kid up for the best private school. ISIS is emphasizing its child recruits because it obviously makes for good footage but also to emphasize this is a generational struggle,” he added. “You can kill off the current leaders and fighters, but their kids will fight on. It makes it harder to celebrate ISIS’ losses if you know their manpower will be replenished with brainwashed children.”

The Islamic State has declared a new target in its war on the West — a co-founder of Twitter. Twitter has routinely shut down Islamic State social media accounts, particularly those that threaten or link to beheadings and other atrocities. The militant group ISIS posted an online threat Sunday warning Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey that “your virtual war on the Internet will cause a real war on you.” “You started this failed war,” the ISIS post says. “We told you from the beginning it’s not your war, but you didn’t get it and kept closing our accounts on Twitter, but we always come back. But when our lions [brave men] come and take your breath, you will never come back to life.”

Iraq

Iraqi government troops backed by allied Shiite and Sunni fighters on Monday began a military operation to recapture Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit from Islamic State extremists. The city, which lies about 80 miles north of Baghdad, was taken over by ISIS militants last summer. Some 30,000 Iraqi troops began to attack ISIL positions in Tikrit from the northern, western and southern fronts early Monday, backed by airstrikes and artillery, Al Jazeera reported. Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, and other parts of the Sunni heartland were also taken over by ISIL after the collapse of national security forces. Soldiers backed by airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition recaptured the nearby oil refinery town of Beiji in November.

Ukraine

The estimated number of people killed in eastern Ukraine since April 2014 now exceeds 6,000 “in spite of successive ceasefires,” the UN Human Rights Office announced in a statement on Monday. The escalation in fighting in recent weeks, particularly near Donetsk airport and in the Debaltseve area, resulted in hundreds of deaths, both civilian and military. The report paints a picture of “merciless devastation of civilian lives and infrastructure,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. He called for all sides to adhere to the Minsk agreement, which calls for a ceasefire in many of the conflict’s hotspots.

Russia

Moscow was reeling Saturday after the shooting death of prominent opposition leader Boris Nemtsov just steps away from the Kremlin. Nemtsov, 55, a former first deputy prime minister, was shot and killed shortly before midnight Friday by an unknown gunman who jumped from a white car, fired around seven shots then sped off. Nemtsov, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was set to appear at an opposition march scheduled Sunday against Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, where a separatist conflict between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces has left more than 5,000 dead since last April. Moscow, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in March, has denied allegations that it is arming separatist rebels and sending troops to Ukraine’s east. Nemtsov had been working on a report proving Russia’s involvement in the conflict. Putin’s popularity has skyrocketed following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, despite the toll on the country’s economy. “It’s a move towards a new level of repression,” an opposition member said. “The regime has turned to political killings.”

Kenya

In this country of widespread poverty, one of the most lucrative businesses is also one of the most heartbreaking: baby trafficking. It is common in Kayole, a slum in the capital Nairobi, for gangs to steal infants or buy them from mothers who can’t afford to have more children. Fueling the trade are couples seeking to adopt children, kidnappers extracting ransoms from families desperate to reclaim their little ones and the economic value of children forced into labor. Children in Kenya can fetch between $2,000 and $3,000, depending on their gender, race and tribe — far more than the $1,246 annual income the average Kenyan earns.

Cuba

American officials concluded a meeting with Cuban diplomats on Friday hopeful that the two sides could re-establish full diplomatic relations in the next two months. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who led the second round of negotiations with her Cuban counterparts, said there was a “cooperative spirit” in the day-long meeting. She said the two sides discussed a range of issues, including human rights, banking and expanded freedom for each country’s diplomats. The progress made leaves her hopeful that both countries can establish full embassies in their respective capitals in time for the Summit of the Americas in early April in Panama. The talks come after the historic December announcement by President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro that they would begin the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations following a 50-year freeze.

Weather

After a weekend of dumping heavy snow, Winter Storm Thor is lashing the Southwest with rain and coating mountain ranges across the area with even more snow. In California, a mudslide shut down a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway in both directions early Sunday morning. Winter Storm Warnings and advisories covered Colorado’s High Country Sunday ahead of what could be several feet of snow in the southwestern mountains. Thor’s new layer of snow will be on top of piles of snow left by previous storms across the state in the last few weeks. Hazardous roads became a problem in New Mexico over the weekend as Thor dumped a year’s worth of snow in just three days. Albuquerque police responded to nearly 400 crashes during the weekend as drivers spun out on roads like Interstate 40. A car lost control and was struck by a freight train crossing tracks at Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona, leaving one person injured.

Winter Storm Sparta continued Saturday to cause a travel nightmare in several states, killing four and causing multiple closures after laying down a sheet of ice on roads. A large pileup involving several semis, cars and a Greyhound Bus closed Interstate 44 in both directions Saturday afternoon near Rolla, Missouri. Hundreds of flights were canceled at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport because of poor weather. Icy roads and bridges were making travel difficult in North Carolina Sunday.

Ice coverage on the Great Lakes reached 86.8 percent on Feb. 27, marking the second winter in a row that ice coverage has exceeded 80 percent. The ice coverage may continue to grow through the end of the month with bitter cold temperatures currently in place. The last time ice coverage was over 80 percent in back-to-back years was in the 1970s.

The winter of 2014-15 has been so warm across a wide swath of the West that more than 20 cities set records for the warmest meteorological winter, which runs from Dec. 1 to the end of February while the East shivered through record lows, the Weather Channel reported Monday. San Francisco, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas were among cities blessed with record-balmy winters. But a couple thousand miles away, February brought a snow record for Boston’s and record cold for Cleveland, Buffalo, Syracuse, N.Y.; Harrisburg, Pa., and several other cities.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme no matter what the globalists attempt to do to combat climate change