Signs of the Times (3/13/15)

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)

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