Signs of the Times (3/30/15)

34,000 Black Churches Break Ties with Presbyterian Church

The National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), a faith-based coalition of 34,000 churches comprised of 15 denominations and 15.7 million African-Americans, has broken its fellowship with Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) following its recent vote to approve same-sex marriage. This arbitrary change of Holy Scripture is a flagrantly pretentious and illegitimate maneuver by a body that has no authority whatsoever to alter holy text, Rev. Anthony Evans, NBCI President said. “NBCI and its membership base are simply standing on the Word of God within the mind of Christ. We urge our brother and sisters of the PCUSA to repent and be restored to fellowship.”

Daughter of Lesbians: I Needed a Dad

With the argument for homosexual adoption ramping up as 13 states fear same-sex “marriage” will soon be imposed upon them, the daughter of a lesbian couple is opposing its legalization, arguing that such unions are harmful to children. Heather Barwick was brought up in a home by two lesbian mothers. Barwick, now married to a man and raising four children, argues that growing up in a same-sex household is detrimental to a child’s development — a realization she didn’t come to until she was well into her 20s. After seeing how her own children flourished by having a father in their lives, Barwick became even more convinced that the fatherless life she had as a child hurt her in more ways than she previously recognized. “And it’s only now, as I watch my children loving and being loved by their father each day, that I can see the beauty and wisdom in traditional marriage and parenting,” Barwick added.

Backlash over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law Heats Up

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence stirred up controversy this week when he signed a “religious freedom” bill into law. The law has businesses and civil rights groups up in arms and threatening to boycott the state. The reaction has gotten so hot, that on Saturday, Pence told The Indianapolis Star that he is working with legislators to amend the law and “clarify” that it does not promote discrimination. Critics of the bill assert the law could be used by individuals and businesses to discriminate on the basis of religion — particularly against the LGBT community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

  • If a baker is discriminating by refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, then a demand for a Jewish business to print “Death to Israel” signs would also be found liable. Private business is just that, private. Public corporations are a different story.
  • Personal freedoms are rapidly diminishing under our forced conversion to the religion of secular humanism which reveres humanity more than God, and the creation, more than the Creator

$20 Billion, 20-year Air-Traffic Control Modernization Project Underway

Air traffic controllers across the country are in the middle of a $20 billion, 20-year modernization project to improve airline travel in a way most passengers will never even notice. The Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen project uses GPS technology and better flight computers to more precisely track where planes are in the sky, allowing them to fly shorter, more direct routes while saving fuel and providing smoother, quieter landings for passengers. The suite of NextGen technologies and procedural changes allow controllers to reduce the distances between planes as they take off, land and soar above America. Putting the planes closer together –still miles apart – frees up capacity in the congested skies, especially in cities with multiple airports like New York City and Washington, D.C. Not everyone likes the new system, however: Officials in Phoenix are threatening to sue the FAA over noise concerns because the new flight paths take more planes over a number of homes, instead of distributing them more widely and reducing the impact.

Ebola Update

Aid workers are rushing into Guinea to try to stanch a worrisome rise in cases of the deadly Ebola virus, which has been slowed in Sierra Leone and been all but eradicated in Liberia. The mission is urgent because the coming rainy season could hamper travel to remote villages where the disease continues to emerge. The 95 new cases reported during the week of March 15 was the highest weekly total for the nation so far this year. Nearly 25,000 people across West Africa have been infected with Ebola since the disease surfaced in the jungles of Guinea in December 2013. More than 10,000 have died in the worst outbreak of the disease in history.

401K Retirement Plans Dubbed a Failure

For millions of Americans, the 401(k) plan is a miserable failure — it simply is not shielding enough people from financial struggles in their retirements, according to a CNBC analysis. The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates the median amount in U.S. 401(k) accounts is a paltry $18,433 and almost 40 percent of workers have less than $10,000 in those instruments. The business network said millions of Americans approaching retirement are exiting the workforce with savings that “do not even approach what they will need” for even just healthcare. As 401(k) plans began to multiply starting in 1978, pension plans started disappearing, CNBC said. While pensions provided lifetime income, 401(k) plans offer no such certainty and are also optional.

Older Workers Forced into New Professions

More than half (53%) of older workers who got a job after being unemployed now work in a different field, according to an AARP survey of 2,492 people, ages 45 to 70, who had been unemployed at some time during the past five years.. Half of the respondents were working at the time of the survey; 38% were unemployed; and 12% had dropped out of the labor force. Of the overall sample, 55% had been unemployed for six months or more. The findings show that people who were unemployed for a longer period were more likely to take a job in a different occupation than those who were unemployed for a shorter time. The research reveals that “as people near retirement, they may be more willing to trade off wages and benefits for a job that is less stressful and more rewarding.”

Economic News

Consumer spending edged up a tiny 0.1 percent last month following declines of 0.2 percent in both January and December, the Commerce Department reported Monday. The result reflected a 0.4 percent increase in nondurable goods such as food and energy after three straight months of declines that stemmed from falling gasoline prices. Durable goods were down 0.1 percent as auto sales weakened.

Income grew a solid 0.4 percent in February, matching January’s rise. Economists are hopeful that continued strong income gains will lift consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. With income growing faster than spending, the saving rate jumped to 5.8 percent of after-tax income, up from 5.5 percent in January and the highest level since December 2012.

Home prices are rising 13 times faster than wage growth nationwide, according to a report from RealtyTrac. From 2012-2014, median home prices climbed 17% while median wages rose 1.3%. “The bounce back has taken home prices in some markets out of reach of the ever-important first-time homebuyer,” said RealtyTrac.

The U.S. is running out of places to stash its overflowing oil supplies, threatening to further drive down crude prices that rebounded in recent days. Supply — including oil produced in the U.S. and imported — has been outpacing U.S. refiners’ demand by about 1 million barrels a day on average since early January, according to the Energy Information Administration. Advanced drilling techniques that extract crude from shale rock have made the U.S. the world’s No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas liquids.

Middle East

The U.S. exerted new pressure against Israel by leaving open the possibility of letting the United Nations set a deadline for a Palestinian state, in what would be a departure from using American veto power to protect its close Mideast ally. The prospect of a U.N. Security Council resolution arose Friday when French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris would introduce a measure setting a deadline for a negotiated settlement of the conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, possibly within two years. On dozens of occasions in recent decades, the U.S. has lobbied against approval of such resolutions, using its veto authority as a permanent member of the Security Council as a last resort. But the White House took a markedly different tack on Friday when the absence of any dissuasion was indicative of tacit support. If the U.S. were to abstain from voting on the resolution it could still pass if it gained the required nine-vote majority, further isolating Israel.

  • Israel is the focal-point of the end-time conflagration that will trigger the rise of the anti-Christ and the one-world government preceding the seven-year Tribulation.

The Arab Spring was supposed to bring peace, democracy and stability to not only the nations where it took root, but also others around it in the Middle East and North Africa. It was supposed to usher in an end of violence and heavy-handed government tactics, just like it ushered out entrenched leaders. But what it actually brought about is more instability, more violence, and fewer freedoms. As a result, the leaders of countries in the 22-nation Arab League agreed to the principle of creating a joint Arab military force at a summit in Egypt on Sunday. The League said Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes in Yemen will continue until Shiite rebels “withdraw and surrender their weapons.” The Arab League statement calls for the establishment of a voluntary military force that can counter challenges that threaten the safety and security of any member, according to the Al Arabiya network. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said a high-level panel under the supervision of Arab chiefs of staff will work out the structure and mechanism of the force. Egyptian officials say it would be made up of around 40,000 elite troops and backed by jets, warships and light armor.

  • Shiite Iran remains isolated outside of this presumptive Sunni solidarity

Islamic State

The Islamic State group released a new video Sunday showing its fighters cutting off the heads of eight men described as Shiite Muslims, who were led to their execution by teenage boys. The eight men were beheaded in the central Syrian province of Hama. The video was posted on social media. It could not be independently verified but it appeared to be genuine, the Associated Press reported. An Islamic State fighter speaks in the video, calling the hostages “impure infidels” and saying the military campaign against the Islamic State will make the group stronger. Meanwhile, in Iraq, security forces continued to fight Islamic State militants in Tikrit on Sunday with air support from the U.S. and its allies. The bulk of the Iraqi force attacking into the city, about 20,000 fighters, is made up of Shiite militias who are supported by Iranian advisers and artillery and rocket support.

Syria

Islamic fighters led by Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria seized almost full control of the northwestern city of Idlib on Saturday, taking over major roundabouts and government buildings in a powerful blow to President Bashar Assad whose forces rapidly collapsed after four days of heavy fighting, opposition activists and the extremist group said. Idlib, a major urban center with a population of around 165,000 people, is the second provincial capital to fall into opposition hands after Raqqa, now a stronghold of the Islamic State group. Its capture by the Nusra Front underscores the growing power of extremist groups in Syria who now control about half the country. Opposition fighters including Nusra have controlled the countryside and towns across Idlib province since 2012, but Assad’s forces have managed to maintain their grip on Idlib city, near the border with Turkey, throughout the conflict.

Yemen

The U.S. is reportedly preparing to boost its aid to Saudi Arabia in its air assault against rebel forces in Yemen. The Wall Street Journal, citing military officials, reports the U.S. is going to provide the Saudis with more intelligence, bombs and aerial refueling missions for planes that are carrying out airstrikes in the embattled Arab nation. The development came after the Saudi Arabia-led coalition seized full control of Yemeni airspace after two days of airstrikes targeting Houthi rebels, who have taken control of Yemen’s capital and government. The first three days of airstrikes by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia have destroyed Yemen’s fleet of fighter aircraft and crippled military command centers, dealing a blow to Houthi insurgents, a senior defense official in Riyadh said Sunday. The campaign has raised fears that Yemen’s crisis could escalate into a regional battle putting Sunni Muslim countries against the Shiite Houthis and Iran, which is largely Shiite.

Iran

The international negotiations to strike a nuclear agreement with Iran intensified and took on a frantic tone Saturday, as France and Germany joined in the talks that have recently been limited to the United States and Tehran. The negotiators are trying to reach an outline of an agreement by Tuesday, toward a final agreement by June 30 that would end Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Emerging details of a possible nuclear deal with Iran have drawn sharp criticism from congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who say the U.S. and its international partners may be ceding too much as a key deadline nears. If reports are true, “then we are not inching closer to Iran’s negotiating position, but leaping toward it with both feet,” charged Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a vocal critic of the direction of the talks. Iranian officials on Sunday backed away from a critical element of a proposed nuclear agreement, saying they are no longer willing to ship their atomic fuel out of the country, a key principle agreed upon months ago.

  • Iran continues to buy more time and even win reduced oversight at the negotiating table, all the while moving steadily toward their goal of building a nuclear arsenal due to the soft stance of the Obama administration.

Egypt

A spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Heath says a bomb exploded in front of Egypt’s largest and most prominent university, injuring 8 people. Four of the people injured on Saturday are police officers who were guarding the entrances to Cairo University. The blast went off by a subway entrance near the campus. Egypt has faced regular militant attacks, mostly targeting security forces, since the military’s ouster of elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Militant groups say they are avenging a security crackdown on Islamists.

Somalia

The attack by Islamic extremists on a popular hotel in Mogadishu Friday killed at least 21, including six attackers. Officials declared they have full control of the Maka Al-Mukarramah Hotel Saturday, more than 12 hours after gunmen, believed to be six in number, from the Islamic rebel group al-Shabab took up positions in the hotel. Somalia’s ambassador to Switzerland and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Yusuf Bari-Bari was among those killed in the attack. Al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group that has carried out many attacks in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the assault on the hotel, which is popular with Somali government officials and foreigners. Al-Shabab controlled much of Mogadishu between 2007 and 2011, but was pushed out of Somalia’s capital and other major cities by African Union forces.

Nigeria

Millions of Nigerians turned out to cast their votes for president Saturday, in an election analysts consider too close to call. But hundreds have also been scared away from polling stations by Boko Haram extremists. Vowing to disrupt elections, gun-toting Boko Haram extremists forced voters to abandon polling stations in three villages of northeastern Gombe state. President Goodluck Jonathan is facing off in this tight race against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari in the first election in Nigerian history where an opposition candidate has a realistic chance of defeating an incumbent president. Nearly 60 million people have cards to vote. Polling has been marred by violence and technical problems in the tight presidential race. At least 41 people were killed Saturday amid an Islamic insurgency in Nigeria’s northeastern region. Boko Haram torched people’s homes early Saturday and shot them as they tried to flee.

Earthquakes

The largest earthquake on Earth in 2015 struck near the South Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea Monday. Hazardous tsunami waves could affect various coastlines in the Pacific, prompting officials to issue warnings. The magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck approximately 34 miles southeast of the town of Kokopo in northeastern Papua New Guinea at a depth of 40 miles. There had been no reports of damage or injuries within an hour of the quake rattling the country. Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea. The country lies on the “Ring of Fire” – an arc of earthquake and volcanic activity that stretches around the Pacific Rim.

Weather

Bitter cold and snow ushered in the final weekend of March in the Northeast with below-normal temperatures across the entire eastern half of the country. Temperatures some 10 to 25 degrees below average were seen from parts of the Mississippi Valley to the mid-Atlantic and lower Great Lakes regions. Across the Appalachians and upstate New York, lows were in the single digits and teens Saturday night. Several record lows were set in the East on Sunday morning, including Charleston, West Virginia (17 degrees), Wilmington, North Carolina (29 degrees), Macon, Georgia (27 degrees) and Saranac Lake, New York (minus 9 degrees).

Phoenix reached 97 degrees Sunday, setting an all-time record for March 29th. Temperatures in Phoenix and the Southwest are running about 15 degrees higher than usual, but will cool off somewhat by midweek. As this week progresses, the jet stream will lift northward in the central and eastern states, allowing a bout of milder air to warm parts of the Midwest and Northeast. Warmer-than-average temperatures will return to the Midwest through Wednesday. Thunderstorms, possibly severe, may also accompany the warmer temperatures by midweek. In the Northeast and parts of the Great Lakes, a minor additional jet stream dip will keep the region near or below average to start this week. Some locations may even see light snow or a rain/snow mix from weak disturbances in this jet stream dip. However, we will see a complete pattern change later in the week. As a result, temperatures will fluctuate between the 30s, 40s and 50s for the first half of the week before finally warming into the 50s and 60s late in the week.

At least 10 people were buried alive when flooding in India’s Kashmir region triggered mudslides just six months after the area saw its worst flooding in a century. As many as 13 more are feared dead in the slide. With parts of the region underwater and hundreds of families scattered due to evacuations, schools in the area were canceled Monday and Tuesday. March has been the wettest month in more than a century, wrecking millions of hectares of winter crops. Local meteorologists have warned residents that the heavy rains are likely to continue. Some 200 people died and nearly 1 million people were displaced for several weeks when the Kashmir valley saw its worst flooding in more than 100 years back in September.

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