Signs of the Times (3/6/15)

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.

 

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