Signs of the Times (3/27/15)

Indiana’s Law Allows Businesses to Reject Gay Customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FBI Lags in Counter-Terrorism Efforts

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

Undocumented Immigrants Getting More White-Collar Jobs

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

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

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

National Parks Need $11.5B in Maintenance

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

Co-Pilot Deliberately Crashed French Flight

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

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

Early Death Rates Dropping, but Not in Poor Areas

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

Women Dominate Nursing Field, yet Male Nurses Make More

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

Economic News

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

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

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

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

Persecution Watch

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

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

Middle East

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

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

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

Yemen

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

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

Iraq

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

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

Afghanistan

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

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

Nigeria

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

Somalia

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

Australia

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

Earthquakes

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

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

Weather

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

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

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

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

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

 

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