Signs of the Times (3/24/15)

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,

 

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