Signs of the Times (3/17/15)

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the Great Decline of religion in America continues: Since 2012, the U.S. has about 7.5 million more Americans who are no longer active in religion.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.

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