Archive for April, 2015

Signs of the Times (4/27/15)

April 27, 2015

Suicides Increase Dramatically on South Dakota Reservations

Cries such as, “Yahweh, help us!” are increasingly being heard on the Pine Ridge Reservation as suicide rates skyrocket. At 150 times the national average, the tragedy is beginning to gain national attention. Between December and March, more than 200 teenagers from the Oglala Sioux tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota either committed suicide, or tried to. “This is beyond anything we’ve ever seen; it’s almost like ‘serial suicides,'” states Ron Hutchcraft of RHM Ministries. “This is not just a psychological issue: this is a spiritual battle with spiritual forces.” Pine Ridge was the site of the Wounded Knee massacre. Following this dark moment in history came generations of oppression, substance abuse, extreme poverty, and domestic abuse. Infant mortality is 300 times the national average. Ninety-seven percent of the Pine Ridge population is living below the national poverty line. At least 60 percent of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation are infested with Black Mold.

  • While the darkness is deepest on the Pine Ridge Reservation, other Native American reservations are not far behind (as my Two Sons series of novels brings to light, especially books two and five). Much prayer and spiritual warfare is needed.

Major Earthquake in Nepal

At least 3,800 people are dead after a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal Saturday, which collapsed homes and brought down centuries-old temples while triggering avalanches in the Himalayas. Another 6,300 people were reported injured. Tens of thousands Nepalis weathered terrifying aftershocks, slept in the streets and hunkered down as teams worked to dig out survivors. It was the worst earthquake to strike the country in more than 80 years. The most intense effects were felt in the capital, Kathmandu, as well as the densely populated Kathmandu Valley. Several powerful aftershocks were felt in the hours following the main quake.

The earthquake also shook several cities across northern India, and was felt as far away as Lahore in Pakistan, Lhasa in Tibet, and in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Saturday’s catastrophic earthquake occurred because of two converging tectonic plates: the India plate and the overriding Eurasia plate to the north. Nepal was rocked by a 6.7 aftershock on Sunday as relief workers, doctors and supplies arrived to help with the devastation. The quake triggered an avalanche that killed 17 people with many more missing on Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. The United States is sending a disaster response team and $1 million in aid to Nepal.

Supreme Court to Hear Same Sex Marriage Arguments Tuesday

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in highly anticipated cases about the right of same-sex couples to marry. Just two years ago, the high court struck down part of the federal law that denied a range of government benefits to legally married same-sex couples. The 2013 United States v. Windsor decision did not address the validity of state marriage bans. But lower courts judges across the country, with few exceptions, said the ruling compelled them to invalidate state laws that prohibited gay and lesbian couples from marrying. The number of states allowing same-sex marriage has grown rapidly. As recently as October, just over one-third of the states permitted same-sex marriage. Now, same-sex couples can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The cases before the court come from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, all of which had their marriage bans upheld by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati in November. That appeals court is the only one that has ruled in favor of the states since the 2013 decision.

Hillary: “Religious Beliefs…Have to be Changed” to Accommodate Abortion

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took a feminist tone on Thursday. She told attendees at the sixth annual Women in The World Summit that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” for the sake of giving women access to “reproductive health care and safe childbirth.” She added, “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed. Far too many women are denied access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth, and laws don’t count for much if they’re not enforced.” Lastresistance.com notes, “What’s most important to politicians like Hillary Clinton is making sure women and girls have access to doctors who will willingly murder an unwanted, unborn or partially born child. At some point, they’ll just erase this arbitrary distinction between partially born and born.”

  • The so-called Gay Agenda is actually a subset of a larger Humanist agenda to stamp out religious (most especially Christian) influence on society by making core beliefs illegal and subject to prosecution.

Russian Hackers Obtained Obama’s Unclassified Emails

Russian hackers reportedly obtained some of President Obama’s emails when the White House’s unclassified computer system was hacked last year, indicating that the breach was significantly more intrusive than originally admitted. The New York Times reported Saturday that while the hackers did not appear to have breached more carefully guarded servers that contain Obama’s BlackBerry messages, they did manage to obtain access to email archives of people with whom Obama communicated. Officials did not tell The Times how many emails were obtained, but admitted that the unclassified system often contains highly sensitive information that includes schedules, email exchanges with ambassadors and diplomats, and debates about policy and legislation.

780,000 Chemical Weapons being Destroyed in Colorado

Workers have begun destroying a massive stockpile of American chemical weapons stored at a former Army munitions depot near Pueblo, Colorado’s ninth-largest city. The workers are blasting the artillery rounds open with explosives and neutralizing them with solvents. The work is being conducted under heavy security and strict safety precautions, which include constant monitoring for leaks, armed guards on random patrols and video monitoring by independent observers. About 780,000 shells and mortar rounds filled with mustard agent are stored at the military-run Pueblo Chemical Depot, and all of them must be destroyed under a 1997 international law. Chemical weapons were once stored across the USA, including in Oregon and Utah, but the United States has been destroying the stockpile for years. Most were incinerated, but community concerns in Pueblo delayed destruction until the military could develop new techniques to reduce the risk of mercury contamination from the smoke.

Baltimore Protest of Black’s Death turns Violent

Six hours into a remarkably peaceful protest of the death of a black man in police custody, a confrontation outside Camden Yards baseball park suddenly turned violent Saturday night as demonstrators clashed with fans who had turned out for a ballgame. Before the melee was over, six unoccupied police cars had been damaged by protesters and police in riot gear and on horseback moved methodically to push the demonstrators from a key downtown intersection. For hours, the police had kept their distance as nearly 1,000 people angered by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody marched from the downtrodden neighborhood where he lived and died to the more upscale Inner Harbor area and City Hall. A confrontation occurred at three bars with sidewalk cafes, where words were exchanged, items were tossed, and tables and trash cans were toppled. A bottle shattered a restaurant window. Several helicopters circled Camden Yards as some of the protesters threw cans and plastic bottles in the direction of police officers.

HIV Outbreak in Indiana

The number of new HIV infections in a rural Indiana county has grown, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The institute is working with state health leaders to control the “severe outbreak,” which has spread among users of a prescription opioid called Opana. The outbreak has been ongoing since mid-December. As of Friday, 142 people have tested positive for HIV, with 136 confirmed cases and six more with preliminary positive test results, all in rural Scott and Jackson counties. This is a huge number of cases for an area that has a population of only a few thousand people. Dr. Joan Duwve, the chief medical consultant with the Indiana State Department of Health, spoke at length about how communities all along the Ohio River in her state and in Kentucky and West Virginia have seen a huge problem with prescription drug abuse, particularly in areas where there “is not a lot to do.” Many family members, across generations, live in the same house and will use the drugs together as “a community activity,” Duwve said. And this has led to more needle sharing, which spreads infection.

Persecution Watch

Persecution of Christians in China reached its highest level in more than a decade last year as the government cracked down on church growth perceived as a threat to Communist Party power, reports the China Aid Association. CAA recorded 572 cases of religious – mainly Christian – persecution last year, a 300 percent increase over the previous year’s 143 cases. The number of people affected in those cases jumped from 7,424 to 17,884 people including more than 1,592 church leaders, compared with 800 the previous year, “The increase in government-sanctioned persecution against religious practitioners and human rights lawyers and advocates reflects the overall political transformation that is occurring within the Communist Party in China (CPC), namely an orchestrated effort to consolidate power and suppress dissent and any perceived threats to the Chinese government, including the growth of religion in China.”

The owners of an Oregon bakery learned Friday that there is a steep price to pay for following their Christian faith. A judge for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) recommended a lesbian couple should receive $135,000 in damages for their emotional suffering after Sweet Cakes by Melissa refused to make them a wedding cake. As a result – Aaron and Melissa Klein could lose everything they own — including their home. The Oregonian reports the recommended penalty is not final and could be raised or lowered by State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. Within hours of the ruling, the Family Research Council facilitated the establishment of a GoFundMe account to help the Kleins raise the money the need. In less than eight hours, more than $100,000 was raised.

Economic News

Lower fuel cost has been a windfall for the nation’s airlines. But their passengers got virtually none of the savings. The four major carriers saved a combined $3.4 billion on fuel in the first three months of the year according to their financial reports. That allowed all of them to post record first quarter profits. Fuel is the largest expense category for airlines. But the average fare paid to fly American (AAL), United (UAL) and Southwest (LUV) airlines in the quarter fell only 66 cents. The reason that fares have remained high in the face of lower fuel cost is that demand for travel is strong. The four airlines, which account for the overwhelming majority of U.S. air travel, filled about 81% of their seats.

Global military spending totaled $1.78 trillion in 2014, down slightly from the year before. Military expenditures in North America, Western and European countries continued to slowly decline, while spending rose in Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. The United States accounted for more than one-third of military spending worldwide. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States spent $610 billion on its military last year, several times the $216.4 billion budget of second place China. While U.S. military spending has declined from its 2010 peak, spending remains at historically high levels.

Middle East

Palestinians committed three terror attacks against Israeli security forces in the Jerusalem vicinity over the weekend, just a day after the country celebrated Independence Day. A Palestinian drove his car into a group of police officers on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, moderately wounding a policewoman and lightly wounding two others. Arabs began rioting in the area after the attack, and the unrest spread to other neighborhoods in the capital. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was on his way to the scene of the attack when Arabs pelted rocks at his car. In another incident, a Palestinian terrorist was shot at the A-Zaim checkpoint in northern Jerusalem on Friday night after he tried stabbing security forces manning the post.

The Israeli military conducted airstrikes Sunday night in the area between Israel and Syria, targeting a group of militants allegedly trying to plant a bomb on the Israeli border. The Israel Defense Forces said the airstrikes were carried out in the occupied Golan Heights against four militants who crossed into the area from Syria. “A group of armed terrorists approached the border with an explosive device, which was intended to be detonated against IDF forces,” the Israeli military said. The airstrikes prevented the bombing, and killed three of the attackers. It was not immediately known to what militant group the men belonged.

Eight months after last year’s Israeli-Palestinian war, about 100,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are still homeless, the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) said in a report this month. During the seven-week conflict, nearly 2,200 Palestinians died, roughly 70% of them civilians, according to the United Nations; 71 Israelis died, five of them civilians. The U.N. estimates that 178,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in Gaza’s tiny and teeming enclave of 1.8 million people. The war wrecked hundreds of factories and businesses. Unemployment in Gaza now stands at almost 45%. The plight of the homeless reflects a painfully slow post-war reconstruction effort hampered by ongoing economic embargoes of the territory by Israel and Egypt, promised aid from donor nations failing to arrive and political conflicts among the Palestinians. The war erupted after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June by two men with links to Hamas. That prompted an Israeli crackdown in Gaza, from where Hamas fired rockets at Israel. The United States and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Islamic State

France and Australia will strengthen their cooperation in fighting the Islamic State group and other terrorism. Monday’s announcement follows a meeting between French President Francois Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Paris, as France hosts an international conference of anti-terrorism experts. In a joint statement, the leaders said the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, “constitutes a great threat for the world’s safety and for our two countries,” the Associated Press reported. The leaders said they will step up dialogue and intelligence-sharing to fight extremists and people who become radicalized online.

Yemen

Aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition battling Shiite rebels in Yemen struck targets in several cities on Sunday, including the capital, security officials said, as fighting raged across the country. Fierce street battles in the central city of Taiz killed some 20 civilians and wounded dozens. The continued airstrikes and combat between rival factions on the ground underline how a negotiated peace remains elusive in the Arab world’s poorest country. They also come despite a Saudi announcement last week saying coalition operations would scale down and shift to focus on diplomacy, humanitarian and counter-terrorism issues.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt entered the Persian Gulf Saturday to conduct what a U.S. defense official called routine maritime security operations, days after U.S. warships were deployed to the Yemeni coast to counter an Iranian convoy. The American ships had been deployed to the region to dissuade the Iranian convoy, which included armed ships, from docking in Yemen, where Iran has been supporting and arming the Houthi rebellion. The Iranian ships turned away from Yemen on Thursday, but were still in international waters off the coast of Yemen on Saturday. The U.S. has walked a fine line as it looks to quell the situation in Yemen. It has sought to reassure Gulf allies like Saudi Arabia that are engaged in a proxy war with Iran in Yemen, but it is also looking to keep tensions with Iran to a minimum as American diplomats work to secure a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program.

Italy

Italian authorities say they have rescued 274 migrants from a migrant vessel in the Mediterranean, while more than 300 rescued a day earlier arrived in a port in Sicily. Saturday’s rescue took place off the Libyan coast. Meanwhile, 334 migrants who were rescued on Friday were dropped off in the Sicilian port of Augusta, including 46 women and 42 children. The incidents show the flow of migrants trying to reach Europe in rickety boats has continued unabated following last Sunday’s deadly capsizing of a migrant ship that is believed to have left at least 800 dead.

Environment

Scientists may finally know what is wiping out the world’s population of bees: an addiction to plants containing a lethal insecticide. Bees prefer to forage plants containing neonicotinoids, or insecticides chemically related to nicotine, which is leading to their declining numbers, a new study out of the United Kingdom recently published in the journal Nature says. The neonicotinoid class of insecticide is widely used as a green alternative to other pesticides and was deemed to be a low threat to useful insects, Chemistry World reports. However, as time went on, researchers began to notice a ‘colony collapse disorder,’ or the interference with a bee’s ability to effectively communicate and navigate, Chemistry World says. These actions are imperative to a colony’s survival. With research like this coming to light, the bees are garnering the protection of the Environmental Protection Agency, which has resolved to stop issuing permits allowing the use of neonicotinoids. Lowe’s Home Improvement stores are working with its growers to eliminate the use of these harmful pesticides in bee-attractive products, NBC News reported.

From the Hudson River Park to the East Village to a neighborhood in Queens, New York City has been plagued with a string of coyote sightings in recent months. At least four coyotes have been spotted around Manhattan so far this year. Three of the animals were captured in Manhattan and released in Bronx parks with established coyote populations. There have been no reports of aggression so far, but in general coyotes have been known to go after people and pets. Two attacks also occurred in New Jersey’s Bergen County, where one of the animals tested positive for rabies.

Earthquakes

An extreme increase in seismic activity throughout the Central and Eastern United States can likely be contributed to human activities, the U.S. Geological Survey revealed Thursday.   Industrial operations and wastewater disposal deep underground are contributors to man-made earthquakes, the USGS said. Oklahoma has seen a particularly troubling rise in earthquakes in the same area where state geological survey researchers say wastewater disposal has spiked. In neighboring Texas, Southern Methodist University and federal researchers concluded the increase in earthquake activity was likely another result of wastewater disposal. States are already taking steps toward solving the problem, including Kansas, which recently called for reduced wastewater disposal in particular regions.

Weather

Storms left damage in multiple states Friday afternoon and evening, knocking out power to thousands of Texans while ripping roofs off some houses. Earlier in the afternoon, Louisiana State Police said at least two semi-trucks were toppled by strong gusts on Interstate 10. There were 11 reported tornadoes on Friday. Seven of those reports came in Kansas, while three were in Texas and one in Louisiana. Multiple tornadoes were reported late Sunday as a major storm system swept across north-central Texas.

Severe thunderstorms capable of producing large hail, damaging winds, tornadoes and flooding rainfall will persist into Monday from east Texas into the northern Gulf Coast states. A line of severe t-storms is moving through east Texas with the main threats being damaging straight-line winds, flooding rainfall, and brief tornadoes. This line will move into far western Louisiana this morning. Widespread trees were downed early Monday in northern Trinity County, Texas. Trees were also downed blocking roads in Huntsville, Texas. Almost 32,000 customers were without power in Texas due to Sunday and Sunday night’s storms.

Coast Guard rescue teams were racing the clock Monday in the search for at least five people missing in Alabama’s Mobile Bay since a storm late Saturday tore through a sailboat regatta. At least two people were killed. More than 40 people have been pulled from the bay by rescuers and “good Samaritans,” the Coast Guard said. Rescuers have searched thousands of square miles since a line of thunderstorms roared through the area with wind gusts of up to 70 mph

 

Signs of the Times (4/24- reposted to correct error)

April 24, 2015

Court Allows ‘Killing Jews is Worship’ Ad on NYC Buses

Ads that read “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah,” will be allowed on New York City buses, after a court ruling. The ads, which were called “offensive” by a judge were deemed acceptable due to First Amendment protection. The New York Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) argued that the ads were demeaning and “savage.” Ultimately, Judge John Koeltl said that the MTA officials, “underestimate the tolerant quality of New Yorkers and overestimate the potential impact of these fleeting advertisements. Moreover, there is no evidence that seeing one of these advertisements on the back of a bus would be sufficient to trigger a violent reaction. Therefore, these ads—offensive as they may be—are still entitled to First Amendment protection,” he continued. The same ads are running in Chicago and San Francisco, according to Christian Today.

  • Can you imagine the uproar if the Ad read: Killing Muslims is worship that draws us close to Jesus. The same tolerance courts show toward Muslims in not extended to Christians

Controversial California Sex-Ed Class Spurs Parental Rights Law

A controversial sex-education program at a California high school has provoked state lawmakers into proposing legislation that would increase parental rights over the content their students are exposed to. The controversy started with a ninth grade sex-education course taught at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, Ca. The Bay Area school contracted with Planned Parenthood for the classes, and parents were shocked to discover the course materials included a cartoon “Genderbread Person,” designed to prompt the young teens to question and explore gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation. The Acalanes Planned Parenthood instructors included a self-described “pleasure activist” and another who leads “pleasure workshops” for an adult toy store. Parents protested and legislators listened, submitting a bill that would require written parental consent for any sex education classes taught by an outside provider. Like most states, California already allows parents to opt-out their students from sex education, but the proposed legislation would set a higher standard for classes outsourced to third parties. In those cases, schools would be required to use an opt-in process instead.

  • Besides performing the most abortions in the U.S., Planned Parenthood also leads the way in promoting deviant sex among our youth, using taxpayer money no less.

ACLU Wants to Force Catholic Charities to Kill Unborn Babies

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU wants to force Catholic charities to provide contraception and abortions for illegal immigrants in their care. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been contracted by the federal government to help care for the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S. housing immigrant children and teens in its shelters. The ACLU claims that the USCCB has been denying reproductive care for immigrants based on its religious doctrines and that by doing so the organization is breaking the rules of its contract with the federal government to provide necessary healthcare for immigrants.

  • As Godfather Politics points out, “Being pregnant isn’t an illness. Killing unborn babies is not like removing a tumor or an infected appendix.”
  • Ironically, immigrants from south of the border come to the United States so that their children can be born here and automatically become citizens.

More Violence in Same-Sex Relationships

A 2014 survey by the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center found that 21.5 percent of men and 35.4 percent of women living with same-sex partners experienced intimate-partner physical violence in their lifetimes, numbers significantly higher than opposite-sex relationships – 7.1% for males and 20.4% for females. The media has under-reported stories of same-sex domestic violence which have come to light recently among WNBA female basketball professionals.

Persecution Watch

Homosexual activists trashed two North Carolina churches over the weekend and spray-painted pro-“gay” messages over the church properties, which sustained thousands of dollars’ worth of damages. The weekend attacks on religious freedom in the Tar Heel State will set both congregations back in time and money to repair the damages. Despite both pastors’ forgiving hearts, law enforcement agencies from both Jamestown and Greensboro have launched a criminal investigation to bring the homosexual vandals to justice.

Tanzania’s Minister of Home Affairs, Mathias Chikawe, has announced that churches and religious institutions that publicly oppose the country’s new constitution will be deregistered, beginning from April 20. Tanzanian Christians oppose a bill that would introduce Kadhi (Islamic) courts across the country’s mainland in the new constitution.

ISIS Recruits in U.S. Increasing

A year after ISIS became a household name in America, using brutality and savvy propaganda to challenge al Qaeda and its affiliates for jihadist adherents, U.S. prosecutions of would-be recruits have been rising. At least 25 people have been detained since January. ISIS has benefited from a media environment that amplifies its propaganda, law enforcement officials said. The group quickly reached early recruits through videos that showcased the fear its adherents instilled in nonbelievers. At first, most of the recruits were self-starters — people radicalized on their own from consuming ISIS propaganda from YouTube videos and other social media. Much of the propaganda comes in the form of slick movie trailer-style videos, some glorifying brutal practices such as the beheading of anyone who ISIS leaders decide doesn’t comport with their medieval brand of Islam. But once those initial Western recruits arrived, living in the self-declared ISIS caliphate spanning parts of Syria and Iraq, they started to directly entice friends and other contacts back home to join them.

Obama’s Drone Strike Strategy Questioned

President Obama’s announcement on Thursday that a January strike on Al Qaeda in Pakistan had killed two Western hostages, and that it took many weeks to confirm their deaths, bolstered the assessments of the program’s harshest outside critics. The dark picture was compounded by the additional disclosure that two American members of Al Qaeda were killed in strikes that same month, but neither had been identified in advance and deliberately targeted. In all, it was a devastating acknowledgment for Mr. Obama, who had hoped to pioneer a new, more discriminating kind of warfare, notes the New York Times. Whether the episode might bring a long-delayed public reckoning about targeted killings, long hidden by classification rules, remained uncertain. Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.

Obama Facing Democratic Revolt on Trade Push

President Obama is facing a Democratic revolt over ambitious trade initiatives that are dividing the party, leading to tensions with everyone from Senate party leader Harry Reid to liberal icon Elizabeth Warren. The disagreements erupted on Wednesday as leaders of the Senate Finance Committee tried to proceed with a vote on trade legislation, but liberal opposition quickly delayed the process. The fight over trade promotion authority (TPA), or fast-track, legislation is crucial to Obama’s efforts to enact sweeping new trade deals — one with Europe and the other a 12-nation behemoth with countries from Asia to Latin America — that rank among the top policy priorities of his second term.

Avian Flu Crisis Grows for Poultry Producers throughout USA

Poultry producers in several states are bracing for more losses as a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza forced producers to kill millions of chickens and turkeys in the USA in recent weeks. The fast-moving H5N2 virus was confirmed on Monday at a chicken laying facility in Osceola County, Iowa. Some 5.3 million chickens will be euthanized to try to prevent the spread of the disease. Meanwhile, mega turkey producer Hormel Food Corp. confirmed that avian flu is causing significant supply chain problems in its Jennie-O Turkey Store segment as 17 turkey flocks owned or processed by the company have been hit by avian flu. Since the beginning of the year, commercial as well as backyard poultry flocks in Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin have also confirmed cases of the H5N2 strain.

Mediterranean Migrant Deaths 30 Times Higher than 2014

The number of migrants who have died in the Mediterranean this year is more than 30 times higher than the number at the same time in 2014, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday. The IOM said it believes that 1,727 migrants have perished in the Mediterranean so far this year. Some 800 people died after the wooden fishing boat they were in capsized off Libya’s coast late Saturday, the United Nations refugee agency said, in what may be the deadliest migrant tragedy ever. Another 400 people are likely to have drowned when their boat capsized April 13. Following Saturday’s disaster, the Tunisian captain of the boat, Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, and a Syrian crew member were arrested, prosecutors in Sicily said Tuesday.

A Global Surge in Refugees Leaves Europe Struggling to Cope

As Europe confronts a rapidly escalating migration crisis driven by war, persecution and poverty in an arc of strife from West Africa to Afghanistan, even high-level European officials say that the region’s refugee management system is broken. Globally, the world is witnessing a momentous period of instability and conflict that has produced what the United Nations now describes as the largest pool of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons since the ravages of World War II. In Western Europe, countries are dealing with the biggest wave of asylum-seekers and refugees since the 1990s, when war in the former Yugoslavia and the collapse of the Soviet Union sparked a massive migration west. As the new crisis develops, the nations of Europe appear overwhelmed, belatedly scrambling to plug the gaping holes in their asylum system and contain what has become a full-blown humanitarian emergency.

Economic News

The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits rose last week for a third straight week. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 295,000 for the week ended April 18, the Labor Department said. Despite the increase, claims remained for a seventh consecutive week below the 300,000 threshold, a level associated with a strengthening labor market.

Orders for long-lasting goods unexpectedly surged in March, but a measure of business investment fell for the seventh straight month. Orders for durable goods such as computers, metals and electrical equipment rose 4% on a healthy rebound in motor vehicles and transportation. But demand for items excluding aircraft and defense – a proxy for business investment — fell 0.5% and have declined seven straight months. A strong dollar is making U.S. exports more expensive for foreign buyers, hobbling manufacturers.

Today’s young adults are three times as likely to say they got a lot of financial help from their parents when they were starting out, compared to what their parents say they got at the same age – 36% vs. 12% – a USA TODAY/Bank of America Better Money Habits survey found.

Almost a third of workers (28%) say they have less than $1,000 in savings and investments that could be used for retirement. Often people want to continue working until later in life, but the survey found that 50% of retirees left the workforce earlier than planned, and of those, 60% left because of health or disability problems and 27% because changes in their company such as downsizing or closure.

Ethiopia

More than 100,000 Ethiopians on Wednesday protested the killing of Ethiopian Christians in Libya and their own government’s failure to raise living standards of the poor, with poverty fueling the flow of migrants through dangerous areas. The government-supported march at Addis Ababa’s Meskel Square turned violent as stone-throwing protesters clashed with the police, who arrested at least 100 people. The protesters said “We want revenge for our sons blood,” referring to Ethiopians seen being beheaded or shot in a video released on Sunday by the Islamic State. The Ethiopian victims are widely believed to have been captured in Libya while trying to reach Europe.

Yemen

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced the end of a month-long bombing campaign against the Houthis in Yemen, saying its coalition would now focus on a political solution and containing the rebels. The U.S.-backed bombing by the Gulf Arab allies, which began March 26, “achieved its goals” and was stopped at midnight (5 p.m. ET) at the request of exiled Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Saudi ground and naval forces would continue to guard the kingdom’s border with Yemen and seize all shipments to the rebels, which are backed by Iran. However, A Saudi-led coalition has launched airstrikes on Shiite rebels in Yemen’s third-largest city, less than a day after the end of a month-long bombing campaign was announced, according to media reports Wednesday.

Egypt

A court in Egypt on Tuesday sentenced ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to 20 years in prison over his role in the killing of protesters in 2012. The verdict is the first to be issued against the country’s former leader, who along with thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members is facing several other trials related to his time in power. The court said Morsi incited his supporters to attack opposition protesters, sparking clashes that killed at least 10 people. Morsi has consistently maintained his innocence and rejected the authority of the Cairo Criminal Court. He says that he was the victim of a military coup by Abdul Fattah al-Sisi — Egypt’s current president but chief of the army at the time of Morsi’s arrest.

France

French authorities on Wednesday said they foiled an “imminent” terrorist attack on at least one church after a man was arrested in Paris with an arsenal of weapons. The 24-year-old student was only detained on Sunday because he shot himself in the leg, prosecutors said. The man called for an ambulance, and was found bleeding on a pavement in the 13th arrondissement of the city, the Guardian reported. Police followed a trail of blood to his car, where they found the weapons. Several more weapons were found at the suspect’s home. “Documents were also found and they prove, without any ambiguity, that the individual was preparing an imminent attack, in all probability, against one or two churches,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

Italy

Italian police busted an al-Qaeda-linked terror ring that planned, but never carried out, an attack on the Vatican five years ago and is believed to have been involved in a bombing in Pakistan that killed more than 100 people, authorities said Friday. Raids were carried out simultaneously in seven different Italian provinces with arrest warrants for 18 suspected Islamic extremists following a lengthy investigation in Cagliari, capital of the Italian island Sardinia. Mario Carta, an official from the counter-terror police force that carried out the raids, called it “one of the most important operations ever carried out in Italy.” Police said the operation targeted an “extremely well-structured terror network” based in Sardinia since at least 2005 that was made up of Pakistani and Afghan nationals.

North Korea

Chinese nuclear experts reportedly warned the U.S. earlier this year that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is larger than previously estimated, creating a heightened security threat to the U.S. and its East Asian allies. The Wall Street Journal reported late Wednesday that by Beijing’s estimate, North Korea may already have manufactured 20 nuclear warheads and is capable of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to double that amount by next year. Washington has not had high-level talks with Pyongyang since 2012, when North Korea conducted a banned nuclear missile test. In the intervening time, the U.S. has relied on China to use its economic leverage to put pressure on the impoverished nation’s missile program while the Obama administration works toward a nuclear deal with Iran.

Wildfires

Parts of Miami-Dade County’s skyline was hidden from view Monday as smoke from a growing 1,850-acre wildfire loomed over portions of the county. By Monday night, the fire was 50% contained, the fire department said. High temperatures and gusty winds helped the fire spread. One school, Lincoln Marti, was evacuated as a precaution.

Earthquakes

Scientists using real-time monitors have linked a swarm of small earthquakes west of Fort Worth, Texas, to nearby natural gas wells and wastewater injection. In 84 days from November 2013 to January 2014, the area around Azle, Texas, shook with 27 magnitude 2 or greater earthquakes, while scientists at Southern Methodist University and the U.S. Geological Survey monitored the shaking. It’s an area that had no recorded quakes for 150 years on faults that have been inactive for hundreds of millions of years. The scientists concluded that removing saltwater from the wells in the gas production process and then injecting that wastewater back underground “represent the most likely cause” for the swarm of quakes

Volcanoes

A massive eruption occurred Wednesday evening at Chile’s Calbuco volcano, spewing ash and hot rocks as high as 40,000 feet into the air. The blast forced local officials to issue mandatory evacuations for a nearby town, pushing more than 1,000 people from their homes. Regional emergency directors told AP the eruption caught them by surprise. It was the first eruption at Calbuco in 42 years.

As tourists stroll between Yellowstone’s 300 active geysers, taking selfies in front of thousands of bubbling, boiling mud pots and hissing steam vents, they are treading on one of the planet’s greatest time bombs. The park is a supervolcano so enormous, it has puzzled geophysicists for decades, but now a research group, using seismic technology to scan its depths, have made a bombshell discovery. Yellowstone’s magma reserves are many magnitudes greater than previously thought. Underneath the national park’s attractions and walking paths is enough hot rock to fill the Grand Canyon nearly 14 times over. Most of it is in a newly discovered magma reservoir, which the scientists featured in a study published on Thursday in the journal Science.

Weather

Severe thunderstorms pounded the Gulf Coast Monday before moving up along the East Coast, leaving toppled trees in their wake. A funnel cloud was spotted in Miami Monday afternoon. Two building collapses were reported in Anderson County, South Carolina. A tree crashed into a home in Roswell, Georgia, and another tree collapsed onto the road in Sandy Springs, Georgia. Storms brought down trees and knocked out a few traffic signals in St. Petersburg, Florida. Throughout Tallahassee, Florida, there were several reports of trees blocking roadways and damaging homes. Severe thunderstorms producing large hail, damaging winds, and tornadoes will be more numerous again in two separate events on Friday and Saturday, then potentially again Sunday into Monday in parts of the Plains and South.

As of Wednesday night, up to 12 inches of snow was reported in Bessemer, Michigan. Some higher terrain locations in western Pennsylvania, western Maryland and northern West Virginia have also seen a few inches of snow. Meanwhile, parts of North Dakota woke up to temperatures in the teens Wednesday morning. Daily record lows were set Wednesday in Pierre, South Dakota (19), Aberdeen, South Dakota (15), and Sioux City, Iowa (24). Wednesday’s high in Marquette, Michigan (26) was the coldest ever so late in the season.

A slow-moving storm has hammered parts of eastern Australia’s New South Wales province with damaging winds and destructive flooding, and some Sydney residents have been urged to evacuate. The BBC reported that three people were found dead in the town of Dungog. All three deaths were elderly people trapped in their homes by quickly rising floodwaters. Homes were swept away as over 12 inches of rain in just 24 hours swamped the town of about 2,100 residents 135 miles north of Sydney. New South Wales Fire and Rescue ushered four people from a flooded home and local government urged residents of Dungog to evacuate to a local high school.

Signs of the Times (4/24/15)

April 24, 2015

Court Allows ‘Killing Jews is Worship’ Ad on NYC Buses

Ads that read “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah,” will be allowed on New York City buses, after a court ruling. The ads, which were called “offensive” by a judge were deemed acceptable due to First Amendment protection. The New York Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) argued that the ads were demeaning and “savage.” Ultimately, Judge John Koeltl said that the MTA officials, “underestimate the tolerant quality of New Yorkers and overestimate the potential impact of these fleeting advertisements. Moreover, there is no evidence that seeing one of these advertisements on the back of a bus would be sufficient to trigger a violent reaction. Therefore, these ads—offensive as they may be—are still entitled to First Amendment protection,” he continued. The same ads are running in Chicago and San Francisco, according to Christian Today.

  • Can you imagine the uproar if the Ad read: Killing Muslims is worship that draws us close to Jesus. The same tolerance courts show toward Muslims in not extended to Muslims

Controversial California Sex-Ed Class Spurs Parental Rights Law

A controversial sex-education program at a California high school has provoked state lawmakers into proposing legislation that would increase parental rights over the content their students are exposed to. The controversy started with a ninth grade sex-education course taught at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, Ca. The Bay Area school contracted with Planned Parenthood for the classes, and parents were shocked to discover the course materials included a cartoon “Genderbread Person,” designed to prompt the young teens to question and explore gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation. The Acalanes Planned Parenthood instructors included a self-described “pleasure activist” and another who leads “pleasure workshops” for an adult toy store. Parents protested and legislators listened, submitting a bill that would require written parental consent for any sex education classes taught by an outside provider. Like most states, California already allows parents to opt-out their students from sex education, but the proposed legislation would set a higher standard for classes outsourced to third parties. In those cases, schools would be required to use an opt-in process instead.

  • Besides performing the most abortions in the U.S., Planned Parenthood also leads the way in promoting deviant sex among our youth, using taxpayer money no less.

ACLU Wants to Force Catholic Charities to Kill Unborn Babies

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU wants to force Catholic charities to provide contraception and abortions for illegal immigrants in their care. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been contracted by the federal government to help care for the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S. housing immigrant children and teens in its shelters. The ACLU claims that the USCCB has been denying reproductive care for immigrants based on its religious doctrines and that by doing so the organization is breaking the rules of its contract with the federal government to provide necessary healthcare for immigrants.

  • As Godfather Politics points out, “Being pregnant isn’t an illness. Killing unborn babies is not like removing a tumor or an infected appendix.”
  • Ironically, immigrants from south of the border come to the United States so that their children can be born here and automatically become citizens.

More Violence in Same-Sex Relationships

A 2014 survey by the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center found that 21.5 percent of men and 35.4 percent of women living with same-sex partners experienced intimate-partner physical violence in their lifetimes, numbers significantly higher than opposite-sex relationships – 7.1% for males and 20.4% for females. The media has under-reported stories of same-sex domestic violence which have come to light recently among WNBA female basketball professionals.

Persecution Watch

Homosexual activists trashed two North Carolina churches over the weekend and spray-painted pro-“gay” messages over the church properties, which sustained thousands of dollars’ worth of damages. The weekend attacks on religious freedom in the Tar Heel State will set both congregations back in time and money to repair the damages. Despite both pastors’ forgiving hearts, law enforcement agencies from both Jamestown and Greensboro have launched a criminal investigation to bring the homosexual vandals to justice.

Tanzania’s Minister of Home Affairs, Mathias Chikawe, has announced that churches and religious institutions that publicly oppose the country’s new constitution will be deregistered, beginning from April 20. Tanzanian Christians oppose a bill that would introduce Kadhi (Islamic) courts across the country’s mainland in the new constitution.

ISIS Recruits in U.S. Increasing

A year after ISIS became a household name in America, using brutality and savvy propaganda to challenge al Qaeda and its affiliates for jihadist adherents, U.S. prosecutions of would-be recruits have been rising. At least 25 people have been detained since January. ISIS has benefited from a media environment that amplifies its propaganda, law enforcement officials said. The group quickly reached early recruits through videos that showcased the fear its adherents instilled in nonbelievers. At first, most of the recruits were self-starters — people radicalized on their own from consuming ISIS propaganda from YouTube videos and other social media. Much of the propaganda comes in the form of slick movie trailer-style videos, some glorifying brutal practices such as the beheading of anyone who ISIS leaders decide doesn’t comport with their medieval brand of Islam. But once those initial Western recruits arrived, living in the self-declared ISIS caliphate spanning parts of Syria and Iraq, they started to directly entice friends and other contacts back home to join them.

Obama’s Drone Strike Strategy Questioned

President Obama’s announcement on Thursday that a January strike on Al Qaeda in Pakistan had killed two Western hostages, and that it took many weeks to confirm their deaths, bolstered the assessments of the program’s harshest outside critics. The dark picture was compounded by the additional disclosure that two American members of Al Qaeda were killed in strikes that same month, but neither had been identified in advance and deliberately targeted. In all, it was a devastating acknowledgment for Mr. Obama, who had hoped to pioneer a new, more discriminating kind of warfare, notes the New York Times. Whether the episode might bring a long-delayed public reckoning about targeted killings, long hidden by classification rules, remained uncertain. Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.

Obama Facing Democratic Revolt on Trade Push

President Obama is facing a Democratic revolt over ambitious trade initiatives that are dividing the party, leading to tensions with everyone from Senate party leader Harry Reid to liberal icon Elizabeth Warren. The disagreements erupted on Wednesday as leaders of the Senate Finance Committee tried to proceed with a vote on trade legislation, but liberal opposition quickly delayed the process. The fight over trade promotion authority (TPA), or fast-track, legislation is crucial to Obama’s efforts to enact sweeping new trade deals — one with Europe and the other a 12-nation behemoth with countries from Asia to Latin America — that rank among the top policy priorities of his second term.

Avian Flu Crisis Grows for Poultry Producers throughout USA

Poultry producers in several states are bracing for more losses as a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza forced producers to kill millions of chickens and turkeys in the USA in recent weeks. The fast-moving H5N2 virus was confirmed on Monday at a chicken laying facility in Osceola County, Iowa. Some 5.3 million chickens will be euthanized to try to prevent the spread of the disease. Meanwhile, mega turkey producer Hormel Food Corp. confirmed that avian flu is causing significant supply chain problems in its Jennie-O Turkey Store segment as 17 turkey flocks owned or processed by the company have been hit by avian flu. Since the beginning of the year, commercial as well as backyard poultry flocks in Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin have also confirmed cases of the H5N2 strain.

Mediterranean Migrant Deaths 30 Times Higher than 2014

The number of migrants who have died in the Mediterranean this year is more than 30 times higher than the number at the same time in 2014, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday. The IOM said it believes that 1,727 migrants have perished in the Mediterranean so far this year. Some 800 people died after the wooden fishing boat they were in capsized off Libya’s coast late Saturday, the United Nations refugee agency said, in what may be the deadliest migrant tragedy ever. Another 400 people are likely to have drowned when their boat capsized April 13. Following Saturday’s disaster, the Tunisian captain of the boat, Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, and a Syrian crew member were arrested, prosecutors in Sicily said Tuesday.

A Global Surge in Refugees Leaves Europe Struggling to Cope

As Europe confronts a rapidly escalating migration crisis driven by war, persecution and poverty in an arc of strife from West Africa to Afghanistan, even high-level European officials say that the region’s refugee management system is broken. Globally, the world is witnessing a momentous period of instability and conflict that has produced what the United Nations now describes as the largest pool of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons since the ravages of World War II. In Western Europe, countries are dealing with the biggest wave of asylum-seekers and refugees since the 1990s, when war in the former Yugoslavia and the collapse of the Soviet Union sparked a massive migration west. As the new crisis develops, the nations of Europe appear overwhelmed, belatedly scrambling to plug the gaping holes in their asylum system and contain what has become a full-blown humanitarian emergency.

Economic News

The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits rose last week for a third straight week. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 295,000 for the week ended April 18, the Labor Department said. Despite the increase, claims remained for a seventh consecutive week below the 300,000 threshold, a level associated with a strengthening labor market.

Orders for long-lasting goods unexpectedly surged in March, but a measure of business investment fell for the seventh straight month. Orders for durable goods such as computers, metals and electrical equipment rose 4% on a healthy rebound in motor vehicles and transportation. But demand for items excluding aircraft and defense – a proxy for business investment — fell 0.5% and have declined seven straight months. A strong dollar is making U.S. exports more expensive for foreign buyers, hobbling manufacturers.

Today’s young adults are three times as likely to say they got a lot of financial help from their parents when they were starting out, compared to what their parents say they got at the same age – 36% vs. 12% – a USA TODAY/Bank of America Better Money Habits survey found.

Almost a third of workers (28%) say they have less than $1,000 in savings and investments that could be used for retirement. Often people want to continue working until later in life, but the survey found that 50% of retirees left the workforce earlier than planned, and of those, 60% left because of health or disability problems and 27% because changes in their company such as downsizing or closure.

Ethiopia

More than 100,000 Ethiopians on Wednesday protested the killing of Ethiopian Christians in Libya and their own government’s failure to raise living standards of the poor, with poverty fueling the flow of migrants through dangerous areas. The government-supported march at Addis Ababa’s Meskel Square turned violent as stone-throwing protesters clashed with the police, who arrested at least 100 people. The protesters said “We want revenge for our sons blood,” referring to Ethiopians seen being beheaded or shot in a video released on Sunday by the Islamic State. The Ethiopian victims are widely believed to have been captured in Libya while trying to reach Europe.

Yemen

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced the end of a month-long bombing campaign against the Houthis in Yemen, saying its coalition would now focus on a political solution and containing the rebels. The U.S.-backed bombing by the Gulf Arab allies, which began March 26, “achieved its goals” and was stopped at midnight (5 p.m. ET) at the request of exiled Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Saudi ground and naval forces would continue to guard the kingdom’s border with Yemen and seize all shipments to the rebels, which are backed by Iran. However, A Saudi-led coalition has launched airstrikes on Shiite rebels in Yemen’s third-largest city, less than a day after the end of a month-long bombing campaign was announced, according to media reports Wednesday.

Egypt

A court in Egypt on Tuesday sentenced ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to 20 years in prison over his role in the killing of protesters in 2012. The verdict is the first to be issued against the country’s former leader, who along with thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members is facing several other trials related to his time in power. The court said Morsi incited his supporters to attack opposition protesters, sparking clashes that killed at least 10 people. Morsi has consistently maintained his innocence and rejected the authority of the Cairo Criminal Court. He says that he was the victim of a military coup by Abdul Fattah al-Sisi — Egypt’s current president but chief of the army at the time of Morsi’s arrest.

France

French authorities on Wednesday said they foiled an “imminent” terrorist attack on at least one church after a man was arrested in Paris with an arsenal of weapons. The 24-year-old student was only detained on Sunday because he shot himself in the leg, prosecutors said. The man called for an ambulance, and was found bleeding on a pavement in the 13th arrondissement of the city, the Guardian reported. Police followed a trail of blood to his car, where they found the weapons. Several more weapons were found at the suspect’s home. “Documents were also found and they prove, without any ambiguity, that the individual was preparing an imminent attack, in all probability, against one or two churches,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

Italy

Italian police busted an al-Qaeda-linked terror ring that planned, but never carried out, an attack on the Vatican five years ago and is believed to have been involved in a bombing in Pakistan that killed more than 100 people, authorities said Friday. Raids were carried out simultaneously in seven different Italian provinces with arrest warrants for 18 suspected Islamic extremists following a lengthy investigation in Cagliari, capital of the Italian island Sardinia. Mario Carta, an official from the counter-terror police force that carried out the raids, called it “one of the most important operations ever carried out in Italy.” Police said the operation targeted an “extremely well-structured terror network” based in Sardinia since at least 2005 that was made up of Pakistani and Afghan nationals.

North Korea

Chinese nuclear experts reportedly warned the U.S. earlier this year that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is larger than previously estimated, creating a heightened security threat to the U.S. and its East Asian allies. The Wall Street Journal reported late Wednesday that by Beijing’s estimate, North Korea may already have manufactured 20 nuclear warheads and is capable of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to double that amount by next year. Washington has not had high-level talks with Pyongyang since 2012, when North Korea conducted a banned nuclear missile test. In the intervening time, the U.S. has relied on China to use its economic leverage to put pressure on the impoverished nation’s missile program while the Obama administration works toward a nuclear deal with Iran.

Wildfires

Parts of Miami-Dade County’s skyline was hidden from view Monday as smoke from a growing 1,850-acre wildfire loomed over portions of the county. By Monday night, the fire was 50% contained, the fire department said. High temperatures and gusty winds helped the fire spread. One school, Lincoln Marti, was evacuated as a precaution.

Earthquakes

Scientists using real-time monitors have linked a swarm of small earthquakes west of Fort Worth, Texas, to nearby natural gas wells and wastewater injection. In 84 days from November 2013 to January 2014, the area around Azle, Texas, shook with 27 magnitude 2 or greater earthquakes, while scientists at Southern Methodist University and the U.S. Geological Survey monitored the shaking. It’s an area that had no recorded quakes for 150 years on faults that have been inactive for hundreds of millions of years. The scientists concluded that removing saltwater from the wells in the gas production process and then injecting that wastewater back underground “represent the most likely cause” for the swarm of quakes

Volcanoes

A massive eruption occurred Wednesday evening at Chile’s Calbuco volcano, spewing ash and hot rocks as high as 40,000 feet into the air. The blast forced local officials to issue mandatory evacuations for a nearby town, pushing more than 1,000 people from their homes. Regional emergency directors told AP the eruption caught them by surprise. It was the first eruption at Calbuco in 42 years.

As tourists stroll between Yellowstone’s 300 active geysers, taking selfies in front of thousands of bubbling, boiling mud pots and hissing steam vents, they are treading on one of the planet’s greatest time bombs. The park is a supervolcano so enormous, it has puzzled geophysicists for decades, but now a research group, using seismic technology to scan its depths, have made a bombshell discovery. Yellowstone’s magma reserves are many magnitudes greater than previously thought. Underneath the national park’s attractions and walking paths is enough hot rock to fill the Grand Canyon nearly 14 times over. Most of it is in a newly discovered magma reservoir, which the scientists featured in a study published on Thursday in the journal Science.

Weather

Severe thunderstorms pounded the Gulf Coast Monday before moving up along the East Coast, leaving toppled trees in their wake. A funnel cloud was spotted in Miami Monday afternoon. Two building collapses were reported in Anderson County, South Carolina. A tree crashed into a home in Roswell, Georgia, and another tree collapsed onto the road in Sandy Springs, Georgia. Storms brought down trees and knocked out a few traffic signals in St. Petersburg, Florida. Throughout Tallahassee, Florida, there were several reports of trees blocking roadways and damaging homes. Severe thunderstorms producing large hail, damaging winds, and tornadoes will be more numerous again in two separate events on Friday and Saturday, then potentially again Sunday into Monday in parts of the Plains and South.

As of Wednesday night, up to 12 inches of snow was reported in Bessemer, Michigan. Some higher terrain locations in western Pennsylvania, western Maryland and northern West Virginia have also seen a few inches of snow. Meanwhile, parts of North Dakota woke up to temperatures in the teens Wednesday morning. Daily record lows were set Wednesday in Pierre, South Dakota (19), Aberdeen, South Dakota (15), and Sioux City, Iowa (24). Wednesday’s high in Marquette, Michigan (26) was the coldest ever so late in the season.

A slow-moving storm has hammered parts of eastern Australia’s New South Wales province with damaging winds and destructive flooding, and some Sydney residents have been urged to evacuate. The BBC reported that three people were found dead in the town of Dungog. All three deaths were elderly people trapped in their homes by quickly rising floodwaters. Homes were swept away as over 12 inches of rain in just 24 hours swamped the town of about 2,100 residents 135 miles north of Sydney. New South Wales Fire and Rescue ushered four people from a flooded home and local government urged residents of Dungog to evacuate to a local high school.

Signs of the Times (4/20/15)

April 20, 2015

Pray for America, Tuesday, April 28

On Tuesday April 28, 2015, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the Constitution allows homosexual couples the right to marry regardless of what individual states decide. Over 100,000 pastors and churches are standing together in prayer on Tuesday, April 28 from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM, to ask the Lord to intervene with mercy on our nation, reports the International House of Prayer. The influential Christian political operative David Lane is also calling on these pastors to preach on the topic of biblical marriage on the Sunday before the big Supreme Court case.

  • IHOP is urging pastors and prayer warriors to get the word out to more churches and intercessors in order to have as many people as possible praying on April 28th

Dramatic 41% Abortion Drop in Kansas

The recent release of Kansas Abortion Statistics for 2014 show that the number of abortions continue to decline in the state formerly known as the Late-Term Abortion Capital of America. “Since Operation Rescue began working in Kansas in 2001, abortions have decreased an extraordinary 41 percent. “The tactics we developed over the years have been incredibly successful,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue, who relocated his organization to Kansas in 2002. “The Kansas abortion statistics prove beyond doubt that when abortion clinics close, lives are saved.”

Vatican Aligns with U.N. on World Governance

The U.N. general secretary’s is scheduled to appear at an upcoming Vatican event promoting a worldwide movement to combat climate change. Coupled with a pontifical paper calling for the establishment of a global political, economic and financial authority cultivated by the U.N. shows how the Vatican is working with the U.N. to create the one-world government prophesied in Revelation 13. The Vatican’s “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity” conference April 28, which will feature U.N. General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon, aims “to elevate the debate on the moral dimensions of protecting the environment” and build “a global movement across all religions for sustainable development and climate change.” Thomas Horn, co-author with Cris Putnam of “Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope is Here,” notes that an encyclical on global warming and the environment by Pope Francis is currently scheduled for June or July publication Horn sees the Vatican’s attempt to join forces with the United Nations on the issues of global warming and climate change as additional evidence the Vatican is following a blueprint “for structuring the world’s political and economic authorities into a centralized world government.”

  • Malachy’s ‘last Pope’ is fulfilling his prophesied role in bringing about the one-world government that heralds the ascension of the Anti-Christ to world domination

New York Times Columnist Suggests Rewriting Bible to Embrace LGBT Community

In a column for the New York Times, Frank Bruni writes that the view of “gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision” based on “ancient texts.” Bruni argues in the opinion column that the Bible keeps Christians stuck in ancient beliefs and suggests rewriting the Bible to be more accepting of the LGBT community. “It’s a choice,” Bruni says. “It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing. It disregards the degree to which all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures and eras.”

  • Bruni fails to realize that the Bible is God’s Holy Word, ever true, never changing, spoken to (not written by) human authors.

More Migrant Misery in the Mediterranean

Hundreds of migrants were feared dead Sunday after a boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. The Italian Coast Guard said the vessel was carrying 500 to 700 people when the incident happened around midnight local time. The coast guard said at least 24 people were confirmed dead, but the death toll is expected to rise into the hundreds. A Portuguese-registered merchant ship approached and recovered 28 people before the 66-foot vessel overturned. A survivor of Sunday’s capsizing of a migrant ship bound for Italy from North Africa gave a chilling account of how smugglers locked hundreds of people in the hold of the ship as officials said the true death toll may never be known. Italian and Maltese ships are responding to two other migrant emergencies near the Libyan coast. Ships from the two countries were responding Monday to distress calls from an inflatable life-raft near the Libyan coast with 100 to 150 aboard and to another boat with 300 people on board.

U.S. Arms Fuel the Wars of Arab States

To wage war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is using F-15 fighter jets bought from Boeing. Pilots from the United Arab Emirates are flying Lockheed Martin’s F-16 to bomb both Yemen and Syria. Soon, the Emirates are expected to complete a deal with General Atomics for a fleet of Predator drones to run spying missions in their neighborhood, reports the New York Times. As the Middle East descends into sectarian conflicts and battles against terrorist networks, countries in the region that have stockpiled American military hardware are now actually using them and wanting more. The result is a boom for American defense contractors looking for foreign business in an era of shrinking Pentagon budgets. But that also increases the likelihood of a dangerous new arms race in a region where the map of alliances has been sharply redrawn.

New VA Scandals Reveal Ongoing Mismanagement

Nearly a year after a scandal rocked the Department of Veterans Affairs, revealing that the agency’s centers nationwide were manipulating records to hide dangerously long patient wait times, the bad news just keeps on coming, calling into question the agency’s promise to clean house. Ignored claims, manipulated records, cost overruns and even one facility infested with insects and rodents are among the latest issues uncovered by a blistering VA Inspector General’s report. The auditor’s probe found that more than 31,000 inquiries placed by veterans to the Philadelphia Regional VA office call center went ignored for more than 312 days, even though they were supposed to be answered in five. Perhaps even worse, claim dates were manipulated to hide delays, $2.2 million in improper payments were made because of duplicate records, 22,000 pieces of returned mail went ignored and some 16,600 documents involving patient records and dating back to 2011 were never scanned into the system. “This report is as bleak as it gets, full of systemic malfeasance and deliberate data manipulation,” charged Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

  • A government agency clean house? Just a pipedream.

Republicans in Disarray over Attorney General Nominee

Senate Republicans do not want to be held responsible for rejecting the historic nomination of Loretta E. Lynch, the first African-American woman picked to be attorney general. But they also are in no hurry to see her confirmed because of her defense of President Obama’s immigration policies, reports the New York Times. Ms. Lynch is nearing six months in a state of suspended Senate animation, her nomination moving neither forward nor backward but instead becoming a bargaining chip in an unrelated battle. The inert situation shows just how Republican anger and resentment over the president’s immigration actions color issues ranging from Ms. Lynch’s status to trade negotiations to the nuclear talks with Iran. Republicans’ central rationale remains that they cannot trust the president.

  • Politics as usual yields the usual results – inertia. Partisanship on both sides of the aisle enflames issues unnecessarily resulting in a stumbling, bumbling government that can’t get out of its own way.

TVs, Refrigerators could be Portal to More Sensitive Info

Forget doors and windows, the easiest way for a crook to break into your home may be through the stainless steel refrigerator in your kitchen, or the big screen TV in the living room. Modern appliances are increasingly connected to the Internet, and each presents a potential path for savvy hackers to enter your home virtually and steal your identity, bank and credit card information and any other personal information they can use to line their pockets and leave you in the lurch, experts warn. The problem, they say, is that the technology that makes your house smarter – allowing communication between appliances, and even remote operation of everyday devices linked to home networks – has increased faster than the security measures needed to make it safe. Many of these devices are poorly protected at best and consumers have virtually no way to detect or fix infections when they do occur, say security experts.

Economic News

The U.S. has created 12 million jobs since the recession’s low point, but many are not permanent positions, an emerging new reality in employment. Some of these part-time employees have given up looking for permanent positions while others say they enjoy the independence and variety such jobs offer, An average of 46,400 Arizonans per week worked for temporary-help agencies in 2014, and about 213,000 worked for temp agencies at some point last year, according to the American Staffing Association. Temp jobs in Arizona on average paid more than $33,500 annualized last year, according to the association, though the typical worker wasn’t employed year-round.

Arizona’s cities, towns face a public safety pension crisis. Cities and towns all over Arizona are shuddering at the thought of paying down the unfunded liabilities of the Public Service Personnel Retirement system. The state pension system for police officers and firefighters has less than half of the money it needs to fund current and future retirement payments, an amount equal to $7.78 billion. Cottonwood, for one, has a $9 million of pension debt that has coming due. The average lifetime annual pension for a public-safety retiree is $53,236.

The wealth gap between the nation’s 40 richest colleges and universities and the rest is getting wider, thanks to strong investment returns and a tremendous fundraising advantage, according to credit rating agency Moodys. The top 40 include seven of eight Ivy League schools along with prestigious institutions such as Stanford, MIT and Duke. But half of the wealthiest schools were state schools, led by the universities of Texas, California and Michigan. The 40 richest schools have median cash and investments of $6.3 billion, versus only $273 million for the 500 other schools tracked by Moody’s. Harvard is the richest school with $42.8 billion assets, followed by the University of Texas at $36.7 billion.

The Chinese central bank lowered the amount of money banks need to keep in reserve by 1 percentage point, a move designed to spur economic growth there by freeing up more cash that could be used by banks to lend to small and mid-sized businesses.

European Union

It was perhaps inevitable that the Greek crisis would hijack the spring meeting of International Monetary Fund this week, but the damage to the international lending agency could grow much worse as the situation in Europe becomes increasingly acute. The standoff between a recently elected leftist Greek government seeking debt relief and authorities at the IMF and European Union dominated discussions at the meeting that brings economic policymakers from around the world. The IMF was unbending in their determination to follow through on further austerity measures before Greece would be given more bailout money, despite five years of grinding recession in Greece. The head of the European Central Bank said Saturday he won’t “even contemplate” the possibility of a Greek default on its debt repayments next month and that such an event would throw the eurozone into “uncharted waters.”

Persecution Watch

Fifteen African Muslims have been arrested after reportedly throwing Christians overboard from a boat that was taking 105 migrants from Libya to Italy. Fox News reports 12 Christians were thrown to sea; none of them survived. Witnesses said the Christian migrants from Nigeria and Ghana were threatened with being abandoned at sea by Muslim immigrants from the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali and Guinea Bissau. Italian police said the motive for the assault was that the victims “professed Christian faith while the aggressors were Muslim.”

  • It’s almost always Muslims as the aggressors. So much for the supposed peaceful religion

Middle East

Israel has agreed to release hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues and customs duties that it had withheld from the Palestinians for months, officials on both sides said Saturday. The agreement could ease a quarrel that began at the start of January, when Israel — reacting to the Palestinian Authority’s announcement that it would apply to join the International Criminal Court — said it would freeze the tax revenues that it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf. That revenue amounts to about $125 million per month, and the Palestinian Authority relies on that money to fund about two-thirds of its budget — including the salaries of civil servants — so the freeze had a significant impact on the Palestinians’ economy.

Islamic State

ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack Friday at the U.S. Consulate in the Kurdish Iraqi city of Irbil, according to several Twitter accounts linked to the terror group. At least four people were killed and 18 injured. All U.S. Consulate personnel were safe and accounted for following the explosion, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. The blast killed two Turkish citizens and wounded five. Irbil is the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government near the Turkish border.

A video purporting to show the killing of Ethiopian Christians by Islamic State-affiliated militants in Libya has been released online. The 29-minute video appears to show militants holding two groups of captives, one by an affiliate in eastern Libya known as Barka Province and the other by the Fazzan Province, an affiliate in the south. A masked fighter wielding a pistol says Christians must convert to Islam or pay a special tax prescribed by the Quran, before the captives in the south are shown being shot dead and the captives in the east are beheaded on a beach.

Senior Republican Sen. John McCain blasted Pentagon officials on Friday for dramatically downplaying the role of Ramadi as the key Iraqi city stood on the brink of being taken over by ISIS. “Disregarding the strategic importance of Ramadi is a denial of reality and an insult to the families of hundreds of brave young Americans who were killed and wounded during the Surge fighting to free Ramadi from the grip of Al-Qaeda,” McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a written statement. While not home to critical infrastructure like the massive oil refinery in Baiji, also under ISIS assault, Ramadi is just 70 miles to the west of Baghdad and in the middle of Iraq’s Sunni heartland. Despite its location, Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey characterized the city Thursday as “not symbolic in any way.” He also said the city was not “central to the future of Iraq.”

  • The Obama Administration is desperately trying to spin the ISIS story so as to avoid the embarrassing truth that the U.S. pulled out of Iraq way too soon. ISIS owes a debt of gratitude to Obama for his inept leadership.

Boko Haram

The Islamic militant group Boko Haram is adopting ISIS’ bloody strategy of stamping out Christianity with a frightening fervor, putting Nigeria’s 70 million followers of Jesus in danger for their lives, fearful human rights advocates say. The militant group has launched murderous rampages across northeastern Nigeria, and into neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger. “Boko Haram is probably the most lethal Islamic extremist group in the world,” said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. Experts worry the attacks are part of a rising trend by the group to target Christians and other non-Muslims as it works to gain control of territories in West Africa.

Somalia

At least 10 people were killed Monday after a bomb exploded on a van carrying United Nations employees in a semi-autonomous region of northern Somalia. Most of the victims are foreigners working with the U.N. who were traveling early Monday in a bus that belonged to the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF. The Al Qaeda-linked terror group al-Shabaab issued a claim of responsibility, according to its Andalus radio station.

Afghanistan

A motorcycle-riding suicide bomber attacked a bank branch Saturday in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 33 people and wounded more than 100 in a deadly attack the country’s president said was claimed by the Islamic State group. The attack marks a major escalation in the country’s fight against an affiliate of the extremist group that now holds a third of Iraq and Syria in its self-declared caliphate. It also comes as Afghan security forces fight against the Taliban after U.S. and NATO forces ended their combat mission in the country at the start of the year, yet another challenge for the war-ravaged nation. The attack in Jalalabad, capital of eastern Nagarhar province, targeted a crowd of soldiers and civilians gathered outside the bank to receive their monthly salaries.

Iran

Two weeks after world powers and Iran announced a framework agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, widening gaps between the two sides are emerging. As negotiators prepare to start working on a final agreement in Vienna next Wednesday, the United States and Iran are at odds on key issues that form the basis of the deal unveiled April 2 in Switzerland. They include when economic sanctions on Iran will be lifted, the number of machines Iran can keep to process uranium and length of the final agreement. The six world powers — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — and Iran have set a deadline of June 30 for a comprehensive deal that would curb Iran’s nuclear program and ensure it is for peaceful uses. In return, sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy would be lifted.

Australia

Five Australian teenagers were arrested Saturday on suspicion of plotting an Islamic State group-inspired terrorist attack at a Veterans’ Day ceremony that included targeting police officers, officials said. The suspects included two 18-year-olds who are alleged to have been preparing an attack at the ANZAC Day ceremony in Melbourne later this month. Another 18-year-old was arrested on weapons charges, and two other men, aged 18 and 19, were in custody and assisting police. ANZAC Day is the annual April 25 commemoration of the 1915 Gallipoli landings — the first major military action fought by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during World War I.

Mexico

Gunfights and blockades of burning vehicles broke out Friday in the border city of Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas, leaving at least three dead, Mexican authorities said. The government of the border state of Tamaulipas said federal police and soldiers had “detained members of a criminal gang that operates in Reynosa,” an apparent reference to Gulf cartel members. “Members of the same criminal group reacted (to the arrests) by attacking federal forces and carrying out blockades in the city,” the statement said. Officials said roads in the city were blocked with vehicles set on fire by gunmen. The state government said three armed civilians, presumably cartel gunmen, had been killed in the confrontations. Authorities said the situation was brought under control by late afternoon.

Earthquakes

A strong undersea earthquake that struck between Taiwan and southern Japan on Monday sparked a house fire that killed a person outside of Taiwan’s capital. The quake caused buildings in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei to sway, and people there rushed into the streets. A person was killed in a house fire in the Taipei suburb of Xinzhuang that was sparked by the explosion of an electricity transformer box due to the earthquake. The Japan Meteorological Agency said the magnitude-6.8 quake’s epicenter was at a shallow point in seas east of Taiwan and south of Okinawa, near the Yonaguni islands. It said no tsunami was detected.

Wildfires

An out-of-control wildfire that broke out in a forested basin near a Southern California dam triggered the evacuation of about 300 homes late Saturday. The fire, which was reported shortly after 6 p.m. in the Prado Dam Flood Control Basin, quickly spread to at least 175 acres. Firefighters on the ground were hampered by difficult access to the raging blaze. The fire is fueled by thick brush in a riverbed that hasn’t burnt in years. The flames were about a half-mile north of a residential area along the border of the cities of Norco and Corona.

Weather

Days of heavy rain have overwhelmed communities across the South and flooded homes in Houston, Texas. At least 65 homes in Houston were flooded over the weekend, and a power outage caused nearly five hundred thousand gallons of sewage to spill onto the city streets. As much as 14 inches of rain rushed into the Sam Houston State University recreational center, smashing a glass wall and damaging equipment. Flooding was also reported near the airport in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where 1 inch of rain fell in 23 minutes. Several roads were closed and drivers were stranded on several roads and interstate ramps. New Orleans set an April record 10 straight days with measurable rain through April 18, tallying 8.54 inches of rain in that time. This ranks as the eighth wettest April on record. No less soaked, Mobile, Alabama has picked up 11.27 inches of rain over the past nine straight days of rain through Saturday.

Severe thunderstorms moved into the South over the weekend, bringing down trees and killing at least two people in Georgia and Ohio. Sunday was one of the most active severe weather days of 2015 so far with over 200 reports of severe weather. The severe storms that swept across the south on Sunday damaged trees and took out power lines. At least one death was reported. In Alabama, there were reports of tornadoes in several counties, as well as wind gusts up to 56 mph in some places. Golf ball-sized hail fell in Arkasas and Texas.

Signs of the Times (4/17/15)

April 17, 2015

U.S. Military Increasingly ‘Hostile’ to Christians

There is an exodus of Christians from the military because of a “hostile work environment” that does not allow them to express their beliefs openly while others are discouraged from joining in the first place, say religious freedom advocates. They point to a number of recent high-profile cases of military chaplains facing punishment for private religious counseling sessions. A group representing chaplains says that it is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain members of the cloth to serve in the military due to growing hostility to those of faith. In addition, many youth are turning away from enlistment due to the anti-Christian hostility.

Gay Supportive Bakery Refuses Christian Order then Takes Legal Action against Christian Customer

The news is full of reports of Christian business owners who have refused to take orders that would have them participating in homosexual ceremonies. Even though the First Amendment guarantees all Americans the right to freely practice their religion, they are being charged with crimes, heavily fined and in some cases forced to close their business and lost their livelihood for practicing their religion. Joshua Feuerstein, a former pastor and social media personality from Arizona, called Cut the Cake bakery in Longwood, Florida which states that they support same-sex weddings and asked them to bake a sheet cake for him that said ‘We do not support gay marriage’. The bakery refused. However, there doesn’t seem to be any legal action being taken against Haller for refusing the order. In fact, the opposite is true. She is looking into taking legal action against Feuerstein for recording the phone without her knowledge and then posting it on social media. According to reports, police are taking her complaint seriously.

  • The double-standard of tolerance applies to everything except Christianity

ISIS at U.S. Doorstep

High-level sources in Mexico have confirmed to Judicial Watch that ISIS is operating a camp about eight miles from El Paso, Texas, which sits on the U.S.-Mexico border. The camp is located in an area (known as “Anapra”) dominated by a drug cartel, making it an extremely dangerous and hostile operating environment for the Mexican Army and Federal Police operations. Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, says “”We’re very much concerned obviously about what’s going on,” he shares. “Our understanding also is the ‘coyotes’ – those engaged in human smuggling – have helped move ISIS terrorists through the desert and across the border in New Mexico.” The White House, says the Judicial Watch leader, has done a good job of keeping this story under wraps. “A national security threat on the border is something that the Washington media doesn’t like to talk about because it makes many of the politicians that they try to cater to uncomfortable,” he laments.

  • Obama’s soft approach to Islamic terrorism and border security has left us wide open to homeland attacks

Obama Yields, Congress Now Has a Say in Iran Nuclear Deal

The White House relented on Tuesday and said President Obama would sign a compromise bill giving Congress a voice on the proposed nuclear accord with Iran as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in rare unanimous agreement, moved the legislation to the full Senate for a vote. An unusual alliance of Republican opponents of the nuclear deal and some of Mr. Obama’s strongest Democratic supporters demanded a congressional role as international negotiators work to turn this month’s nuclear framework into a final deal by June 30. White House officials insisted they extracted crucial last-minute concessions. Republicans – and many Democrats – said the president simply got overrun.

  • Emperor Obama was forced to give in when leaders in his own party deserted him

Obamacare in Appalachia: One Year Later, Mixed Reviews

Obamacare flooded into these remote Appalachian hills last year like the War on Poverty had a half-century earlier — another government program promising to save some of America’s most vulnerable citizens. Since then, it has given many of the poor and sick a key to long-neglected health care. It’s also brought skepticism and fear, and some business owners argue it’s stunting their growth in a region that can’t afford another economic blow. One year after USA TODAY and The Courier-Journal in Louisville examined the Affordable Care Act’s arrival in Floyd County, Ky., the health plan has taken root in ways both surprising and expected, good and bad.

Amid predictions that bad health habits would be hard to break, scores of newly insured residents, mostly covered by Medicaid, have sought care in hospitals, mental health centers and drug treatment facilities. Providers have proved plentiful. Unreimbursed care costs are down. The county’s under-65 uninsured rate is half what it was — dropping from 19% before the ACA to 10% at the close of 2014. However, many residents don’t like certain parts of the law, such as the tax penalty people must pay if they don’t have insurance and the upcoming requirement that businesses with more than 50 full-time employees provide affordable insurance or face a penalty. Hospitals report being squeezed financially. One insurance agent says the system remains difficult to navigate. Many who don’t qualify for Medicaid or a sizable subsidy say their insurance has gotten more difficult to afford.

Deal Reached on Fast-Track Authority for Obama on Pacific Trade Pact

The leaders of Congress’s tax-writing committees reached agreement Thursday on legislation to give President Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate an ambitious trade accord with 11 other Pacific nations, beginning what is sure to be one of the toughest legislative battles of his last 19 months in office. The “trade promotion authority” bill would give Congress the power to vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership once it is completed, but would deny lawmakers the chance to amend what would be the largest trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement. Senator Orrin G. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, had to agree to stringent requirements for the trade deal to win over Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the finance panel. Those requirements included a human-rights negotiating objective that has never existed in trade agreements, according to lawmakers involved in the talks.

Army Morale Low despite 6-year, $287M Optimism Program

More than half of some 770,000 soldiers are pessimistic about their future in the military and nearly as many are unhappy in their jobs, despite a six-year, $287 million campaign to make troops more optimistic and resilient, according to a study by the USA TODAY. Twelve months of data through early 2015 show that 403,564 soldiers, or 52%, scored badly in the area of optimism, agreeing with statements such as “I rarely count on good things happening to me.” Forty-eight percent have little satisfaction in or commitment to their jobs. The results stem from resiliency assessments that soldiers are required to take every year. In addition to low optimism and job satisfaction, more than half reported poor nutrition and sleep, and only 14% said they are eating right and getting enough rest. The results demonstrate that the positive psychology program has not had much (if any) impact in terms of overall troop health.

  • There is no optimism without faithful hope in Jesus Christ

E-cigarette Use Triples Among Youth

In just one year, e-cigarette use tripled among U.S. middle and high school students, according to a report today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP). E-cigarettes have become the most commonly used tobacco product among this age group. According to the CDC and FDA report, 3.9 percent of middle school students and 13.4 percent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2014. Currently there is about 4.6 million students who report using any form of tobacco. About 2.5 million of those are e-cigarette users. Although e-cigarettes are “smokeless,” the devices use an aerosol mist to deliver nicotine, which is addictive. CDC officials blame part of the increase on aggressive marketing by large tobacco companies, which are buying smaller e-cigarette manufacturers.

Economic News

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the federal government’s net interest payments on the federal government’s debt will total $229 billion in the 2015 fiscal year. And the CBO expects that this challenge will accelerate over the next decade. Current interest rates are low by historical standards and higher interest rates means higher interest payments. It’s projected that net interest costs will more than triple over the next decade, reaching $808 billion in 2025. The CBO has issued warnings about the serious negative consequences that such high and rising debt and interest payments on the debt could have on both the economy and the federal budget.

Consumer spending finally rebounded in March after three straight months of declining retail sales. But the increase was not as strong as many economists had hoped for … another sign that many average Americans may still not be convinced the economic recovery is for real. The U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday that overall retail sales were up 0.9% from February. Excluding the 2.7% jump in sales for motor vehicle and auto parts dealers from the overall number, retail sales were up just 0.4%.

China’s once rampaging economic growth slowed to 7% in the first quarter of 2015, its slowest rate of expansion since 2009. Chinese authorities have in recent months promoted a “new normal” of slower growth than in the past three decades of mostly double-digit expansion. And the official focus now emphasizes quality over quantity in the search for more sustainable development. Beijing has promised to restructure the economy by boosting domestic consumption, and reducing its reliance on both government investment and state-owned heavy industry.

In a society where tens of millions rely on a credit card to shop or pay bills, a new survey out Wednesday reveals that more than a third of Millennials have never had one. According to CreditCards.com, 36% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have never had a credit card. That may be due in part to a 2009 law that whittled away the near-ubiquitous offers of credit to college students. Those reforms stated that those under age 21 had to prove their income or get parental permission in order to obtain a credit card. The Great Recession also may have left some younger consumers reluctant to rack up charges.

Persecution Watch

In the city of Lahore, Pakistan, as Muslims were on their way to Friday prayers on April 10, 14-year-old Nauman Masih was brutally attacked and burned by two Muslim radicals after he told them he was a Christian. Sustaining burns on 55% of his body, he died in hospital on the night of April 14.

Islamic extremists in the village of Gidan Maso in Nigeria’s northern Kano state set fire to a church on April 1 after they could not find a young man who had renounced Islam and decided to return to Christianity, whom they were looking to kill. Enraged by the Christians’ refusal to react violently to their attack, they proceeded to torch the home of church Pastor Habila Garba, whose daughter died as a result.

A group of around 30 Hindu radicals stormed a church prayer meeting in Maharajhanj, in India’s Uttar Pradesh state, on March 25, where around 100 believers were gathered. Falsely accusing the pastor of converting people to Christianity by force, they proceeded to beat, kick and push the believers who had met to pray together.

Iranian Christians in Urumiyeh were told they were not allowed to hold Easter celebrations after state security forces sent threatening letters to state-recognized churches in the north-western city on April 4.

Middle East

Jerusalemites were a little on edge Friday following yet another vehicular terrorist attack the previous day by a Palestinian resident of the eastern part of the city which killed a Jewish man and severely wounded a Jewish woman as they waited for a bus in the French Hill neighborhood of the capital. Shalom Yohai Cherki, 25, was killed in the attack while Shira Klein remained hospatilized in serious condition Friday afternoon. Their attacker was named as Khaled Koutineh, 37, from Anata, who was arrested following questioning by security forces who believe he carried out the attack for nationalistic reasons.

Israelis watched in alarm this week as signs emerged of growing anti-Semitism around the world, particularly among their Moslem neighbors. In Turkey, a “documentary” film called Mastermind, purporting to give evidence of Jewish domination of world events going back 3,500 years has been broadcast several times in recent weeks. With assistance from media associated with the Islamist AKP party of President Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutaglo, the film has also been spread on the internet. In related news, a conference was held at Bar-Ilan University this week to discuss the growing phenomenon of Holocaust denial in the Muslim world. “The Arab world is filled with Holocaust denial which comes from the highest ranks,” said Dr. Nesia Shemer of Bar Ilan’s Department of Middle East Studies.

Islamic State

Clashes between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants pressing their offensive for Ramadi, the capital of western Anbar province, has forced more than 2,000 families to flee from their homes in the area, an Iraqi official said Thursday. The Sunni militants’ push on Ramadi, launched Wednesday when the Islamic State group captured three villages on the city’s eastern outskirts, has become the most significant threat so far to the provincial capital of Anbar. t is seen as an attempt by IS to stage a counteroffensive after suffering a major blow earlier this month when Iraqi troops routed the group from Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.

Iraqi forces said Friday they secured villages near Bayji, the nation’s largest oil refinery, as part of an ongoing offensive to push back Islamic State militants and set the stage for liberating Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Protecting the refinery is considered critical, since the Islamic State raises much of its money by selling oil on the black market. The fighting was conducted by a combination of militias and Iraq’s military with the backing of airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition.

ISIS militants have abducted 120 children from schools in Mosul, Iraq, according to reports. The kidnapping spree took place only two days before the one-year anniversary of Boko Haram’s abduction of 276 schoolgirls from a school in Nigeria. The Christian Post reports the children were hauled away in military trucks. Officials believe the children will be taken to ISIS training camps known as “Cubs of the Caliphate,” where they will learn to serve in the terrorist group. ISIS militants will likely hold some of the abducted children of the wealthiest families for ransom, expecting parents to pay high amounts in order to raise funds for the terrorist organization.

Syria

Syria is a Hell on Earth that is expanding in plain sight, and it’s getting worse reports CNN. Since civil war broke out there, 310,000 people have been killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday. A year earlier, SOHR’s tally stood at 162,402. And the year before, the United Nations put the death toll at 70,000. Violence has plunged well over half of all Syrians into such destitution that they are in dire need of survival aid, the United Nations says, but food rations are being cut for lack of donations. Over twelve million Syrians are in need of immediate life-saving aid, according to the U.N. Over seven million have been driven from their homes, with nearly four million fleeing to neighboring countries.

A World Food Program initiative that handed out hundreds of millions of dollars of food vouchers has been confronted with “persistent” diversion and sale of the vouchers to middlemen for cash by the growing flood of Syrian refugees in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, according to its internal auditors. One reason for the diversion: the agency did not have systems in place to identify valid recipients, and its procedures were “not detailed enough to provide assurance that voucher transfers reached the correct beneficiaries in the correct amount,” the auditors have said.

Italy

A destination for the destitute, Sicily is the “promised land” for thousands of migrants and refugees making the desperate journey from North Africa to Europe’s Mediterranean coast. More than 10,000 people have arrived from Libya since last weekend alone, according to the Italian Coast Guard. The International Organization for Migration in Rome told CNN that more than 140,000 migrants arrived from the North Africa coast in 2011. In November of 2013, the Italian Navy launched a €9M-a-month search-and-rescue program called Mare Nostrum, in which Italian naval ships patrolled the seas to search for survivors. In just one year, the program rescued more than 160,000 migrants. So far this year as many as 900 have lost their lives. Last year at least 3,200 died making the journey. Since 2000, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), almost 22,000 people have died fleeing across the Mediterranean. Italian police arrested 15 Muslim migrants who survivors said tossed 12 Christians from a boat during a recent Mediterranean crossing attempt.

Australia

Long protected from homegrown terror threats by geographical isolation, Australia is now confronting terrorism inspired by the Islamic State that has washed up on its shores. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said this week that 150 Australians are fighting with Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria. The Australian Federal Police also announced that it has prevented 200 suspected Islamic fighters from departing Australian airports for the Middle East. The fear is that Aussies radicalized on the battlefields in the Mideast will return home to wreak havoc. In December, two people were killed in a siege of a cafe in central Sydney, along with a hostage-taker claiming loyalty to the Islamic State. Then in February, police announced they foiled a terrorist plot by two men associated with the Islamic State to launch attacks on Sydney. And last month, Australian teenager Jake Bilardi blew himself up in a suicide attack for the Islamic State.

South Africa

South African police fired rubber bullets Friday to disperse crowds setting immigrant businesses ablaze as attacks against foreigners spread to Johannesburg. Chanting and singing, machete-armed residents burned down shops owned by foreigners, including a Nigerian dealership in the nation’s largest city. Immigrants accused police of not doing enough to protect them as businesses smoldered. Violence targeting immigrant shops started in the port city of Durban, where two foreigners and three South Africans were killed. Residents have accused African immigrants of taking their jobs and committing crimes. The unemployment rate in South Africa is 25%, according to government figures. As the violence spread to other cities, terrified immigrants sought refuge at police stations in major cities. Thousands of other immigrants fled to temporary shelters.

Cuba

The White House announced on Tuesday that President Obama intends to remove Cuba from the American government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism, eliminating a major obstacle to the restoration of diplomatic relations after decades of hostilities. For more than 30 years, Cuba has been on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation shared only by Iran, Sudan and Syria. Cuba’s place on the list has long snarled its access to financial markets and, more recently, emerged as a sticking point in negotiations to reopen embassies that have officially been closed for five decades. Cuba will not come off the list until after a 45-day review period, during which a joint resolution to block its removal could be considered in the House and the Senate. A number of Republicans on Tuesday denounced the move, including Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican and Castro opponent, who said the move “will only undermine U.S. national security and send a signal to the Cuban people that instead of disapproving of the Castro regime’s methods, the U.S. is rushing to embrace two decrepit tyrants in their twilight.”

Volcanoes

Heavy snowfall, ash from the Ubinas volcano and warming temperatures triggered a massive mudslide earlier this week in Peru. According to Peru This Week, towns in the Ubinas Valley are on alert for more volcanic activitiy, and residents have been advised to wear masks. Authorities in Peru have not yet ordered evacuations. The Ubinas volcano had been dormant for about 40 years until 2006 when it became more active. Since then small eruptions have been a common occurrence.

Environment

The United States currently holds the top spot in the world when it comes to cumulative greenhouse gas emissions dating back to 1990. However, a recent report from Reuters says that experts are projecting that China will take over this undesired top spot in 2015 or 2016. China has seen near double-digit economic growth for decades until a slowdown the last couple of years. That economic growth has fueled the increasing cumulative greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. India, which is another rapidly-developing nation, is expected to jump up to fourth place ahead of Russia in the 2020s with the European Union third. The U.S. has pledged to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent, compared to 2005’s levels, by 2025.

Billions of Velella Velella jellyfish are washing on shore along the West Coast. Strong winds and above average sea surface temperatures are killing them off in record numbers. The indigo-colored jellyfish (known as ‘purple sailors) are famous for their small dorsal sails, which normally keep them out to sea eating plankton. After the winter, as sea surface temperatures rise, the jellyfish migrate closer to the shore in droves. Poised next to the beach, velella velella are powerless to avoid being carried onto shore by strong winds and turbulent thunderstorms. Luckily for beach goers, velella velella aren’t poisonous to the touch and won’t sting, but scientists at Oregon State University say to avoid the jellyfish because they carry a mild neurotoxin.

Weather

Blinding, blowing snow hit southern Wyoming Thursday, creating impossible driving conditions. A stretch of Interstate 80 between Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming, remained closed Friday morning, more than 15 hours after major wrecks involving dozens of semi-trucks forced police to close it down. More than 30 commercial vehicles and 12 passenger cars were involved. No one was killed, but about a dozen people were hospitalized. The system brought winter-like weather into the Rockies and High Plains Thursday into Friday, dusting the Denver foothills with a few inches of snow, and dumping at least 45 inches at Snowbird ski resort in Utah.

Heavy rain continued to affect the South and the Gulf Coast this past week, bringing fatal flash flooding to Louisiana and stranding drivers on impassable roads across multiple states. Water rescues have been ongoing in parts of Kentucky and West Virginia as more unwanted heavy rain swamps the soggy region. Louisiana has been particularly hard hit by the flooding and at least three people died Tuesday. A Kentucky man was found dead in a creek after search and rescue teams located his submerged vehicle. Two people were killed by separate lightning strikes in North Carolina Thursday.

Heavy rain pounded the Gulf Coast Thursday night. Up to 14 inches of rain was recorded in Huntsville, Texas. Flooding was reported near the airport in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where 1 inch of rain fell in 23 minutes. Several roads were closed and drivers were stranded on several roads and interstate ramps. In Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, flooding led rescue crews to retrieve 7 people stranded at a mobile home park on Thursday.

Portions of southern California and the southern Sierra Nevada have missed out on more than two year’s worth of precipitation (rain/melted snow combined) since October 2011. A much larger area of southern, central and northern California has precipitation deficits of one to two years during this period. In Los Angeles, 28.07 inches of rain has fallen over the two-year period compared to the average of 58.17 inches. This is a deficit of 30.10 inches, which is roughly double the annual average rainfall of 14.93 inches, during this period of time,

Signs of the Times (4/14/15)

April 14, 2015

Abortionist that Killed Patient Given Award and Promoted

Lakisha Wilson was the 22-year old mother of a young son when she when was tragically killed during a botched second trimester abortion done by Lisa Perriera at Preterm abortion clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, last year, reports Operation Rescue. Now, the Physicians for Reproductive Choice have announced that Perriera will receive the George Tiller, MD, Abortion Provider Award for 2015, which “recognizes a physician early in their career who provides abortions while demonstrating leadership and courage, even in the face of adversity.” She is set to be honored at an awards ceremony to be held on New York City on June 1. That “adversity” included repeated calls for disciplinary action and even criminal charges related to Wilson’s avoidable death by local and national pro-life groups, including Operation Rescue.

  • “Clearly, the Physicians for Reproductive Choice are engaged in a public relations campaign to make Perriera appear to be the victim when the truth is that she is the victimizer. The true victims are her dead patient, a dead viable baby that Ohio laws should have protected, Wilson’s motherless son, and her grieving family,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue.

The Rise of Gay Totalitarism

In John Zmirak’s hard-hitting op-ed entitled, Gay Totalitarism and the Coming Persecution of Christians, he states that, “Hatred of the Gospel is boiling over into the vilification of Christians. State violence won’t be far behind, history teaches. It’s stunning how quickly the demands of gay activists went from libertarian (‘Don’t arrest us for sodomy’) to totalitarian (‘Take part in our weddings or we’ll destroy your livelihoods.’). If these zealots succeed, they will tear up the civil peace in this country, forcing millions of Americans to choose between church and state.” New laws and government policies threaten to bankrupt Christian businesses, close Christian colleges and schools and force faithful Christians into third-class citizenship.

Hacking Increased in 2014

Organized criminal gangs of hackers got smarter, faster and more ubiquitous last year, pulling off 312 major breaches against companies. That’s up 23% from the year before, Symantec’s 2014 Internet threat report found. Health care companies were a major focus of hackers, with 37% of breaches in that sector, compared with 11% in retail and 10% in education. More than 317 million new pieces of malware — computer viruses or other malicious software — were created last year. That means nearly one million new threats were released each day. Ransomware also continues to grow. These digital extortion rings involve cyber thieves hijacking victim’s systems and locking up their data, then demanding a ransom to unlock it. These attacks more than doubled, with 8.8 million attacks in 2014, up from 4.1 million in 2013, Symantec found.

Symantec found that fully 60% of all e-mail is spam, though most e-mail systems filter out most of it. That’s down from 66% in 2013, Symantec said. But the numbers are still enormous. An estimated 28 billion spam e-mails were sent per day in 2014, down from 29 billion a day in 2013. While slightly down, they were more dangerous than ever. One out of every 965 e-mails was a phishing attack, meaning an e-mail that includes an attachment or link which, when opened, infects the victim’s computer, Symantec found.

Russia’s Hacking of U.S. Growing more Brazen

Russia has ramped up cyberattacks against the United States to an unprecedented level since President Obama imposed sanctions last year on President Putin’s government over its intervention in Ukraine. The emboldened attacks are hitting the highest levels of the U.S. government, according to The Hill, in what former officials call a “dramatic” shift in strategy. The efforts are also targeting a wide array of U.S. businesses, pilfering intellectual property in an attempt to level the playing field for Russian industries hurt by sanctions. Crowdstrike has recorded over 10,000 Russian intrusions at companies worldwide in 2015 alone. That’s a meteoric rise from the “dozens per month” that Alperovitch said the firm noted this time last year, just as the U.S. was imposing its sanctions. Recent reports that Moscow infiltrated the State Department and White House networks — giving them access to President Obama’s full schedule — mark a turning point in Russian government hacking.

  • Cyber-warfare is the new and future paradigm. Even the Islamic State has conducted sophisticated cyberattacks against Western nations

Pro-Deportation Sentiment at All-Time High

While President Barack Obama continues to promote his plan to make up to 5 million illegal immigrants safe from deportation, more voters than ever feel the U.S. should be more aggressive in deporting those in the country illegally, a new poll reveals. In the survey of likely voters by Rasmussen Reports, respondents were asked if the U.S. government is too aggressive or not aggressive enough to deporting illegal aliens. By far, respondents say the government is not aggressive enough — 62 percent feel that way, up from 52 percent a year ago, while just 16 percent think the government is too aggressive. An overwhelming 83 percent of likely voters believe people must prove that they are in the country legally before they can receive local, state or federal government services, Rasmussen found.

States Impose Sanctions on Iran

While the United States and Iran edge closer to a final nuclear deal, nearly two dozen U.S. states are imposing their own sanctions against Tehran – a move some say could derail fragile talks between the two countries. The states, though, say they aren’t budging. In fact, Kansas and Mississippi are even considering adding more sanctions. Several states across the country have put their own measures in place to punish Iran-linked companies operating in certain sectors of its economy, directing public pension funds with billions of dollars in assets to divest from the firms and bar them from public contracts.

Social-Media Abuse Rampant in Middle/High Schools

DETROIT — Armed with cell phones and a dizzying array of social media choices, half of this area’s middle- and high-schoolers in a recent study admitted to social media abuse — from bullying schoolmates to spreading rumors to pressuring others to send sexual texts or pictures. Some also admitted to stalking their partners in a survey of, 1,236 Detroit area students. Just 37% of the students said their parents monitored their online behavior. Social media misuse was higher in wealthier districts — very likely the result of more kids owning cellphones and other technology. About 54% of youth in low risk-schools — relatively wealthy schools in low-crime areas — had perpetrated electronic abuse, while 46% of youth in high risk schools had done so. “It gets pretty nasty out there,” one student said. “Everyone feels invincible behind a computer screen.”

Doctors to Map Newborn Genes to Predict Future Disease

If you could find out your baby’s future health problems right after he or she was born, would you want to know? Some new parents will get to make that decision soon. This month, doctors in Boston will begin the BabySeq project, in which they will sequence the genomes of newborns to look for signs of diseases that begin in childhood. It’s routine for doctors to test newborns for up to 30 treatable diseases, and pregnant women can have blood tests to assess their risk of passing on diseases. But for this project, the team will look at 1,700 protein-coding genes that are strongly tied to diseases that begin during early childhood. Doctors will offer to sequence the genomes of 240 babies in intensive care at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as 240 healthy babies born at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

IRS Customer Service Abysmal

With the April 15 deadline for filing looming, the head of the Internal Revenue Service and leaders of the union representing IRS workers say more than 60 percent of calls to the tax agency are not being answered. And people going to tax service centers for help are being forced to wait in line for hours. Agency officials and workers blame the reduction in service on severe budget cuts in recent years. The agency’s budget this year is $1.2 billion, 10 percent less than what it was in fiscal 2011. That has caused the agency to reduce its full- and part-time workforce by more than 18,000, or about 17 percent, since 2011. The number of IRS employees assigned to answer taxpayer telephone calls has been cut by more than one-fourth, from about 9,400 in 2010 to 6,900 last year.

Economic News

Low oil prices are spurring faster growth in the U.S. and other advanced economies, the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday, projecting that the global economy will expand by 3.5% this year. That’s up from 3.4% growth in 2014. Global growth is expected to accelerate to 3.8% next year. The IMF forecasts the U.S. economy to grow 3.1% in 2015, faster than last year’s 2.4% pace

Middle East

A 27-year-old Palestinian man was shot and killed Friday, allegedly by Israeli forces, during a riot that grew out of a West Bank funeral procession for his cousin, with whom he is now expected to share a cemetery. The death of Ziad Awad, who was shot in the head, was reported by Palestinian officials. Israeli officials said the soldiers fired at the legs of the instigators of the violence, but that they had received reports of a death and would investigate. The Palestinian Red Crescent said three other people were injured by live bullets and 10 people were hurt by rubber-coated bullets. The clashes erupted in Beit Ummar, a Palestinian town with high unemployment and a large youth population about 7 miles northwest of Hebron, in the southern part of the West Bank.

Islamic State

Iraqi forces have pushed the Islamic State out of about 25% of the territory seized during the militants’ lightning advance last year, according to a Pentagon assessment released Monday. The area represents over 5,000 square miles in northern and central Iraq. The United States has been backing Iraqi forces with daily airstrikes against the Islamic State. The assessment comes as President Obama is to meet Tuesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for his first White House visit as prime minister. Al-Abadi has said Iraq needs more international assistance in his country’s fight against Islamic State militants.

Iraq

Soldiers and officers returning to Iraq have found that Iraqi troops they had once trained are no in a state of disrepair, reports the New York Times. Colonel Schwemmer said he was stunned at the state in which he found the Iraqi soldiers when he arrived here. “What training did they have after we left?” Apparently, not much. Iraq’s army looked good on paper when the Americans left, after one of the biggest training missions carried out under wartime conditions. But after that, senior Iraqi officers began buying their own commissions, paying for them out of the supply, food and payroll money of their troops. Corruption ran up and down the ranks; desertion was rife. The army did little more than staff checkpoints. Then, last year, four divisions collapsed overnight in Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq under the determined assault of Islamic State fighters. An army that once counted 280,000 active-duty personnel, one of the largest in the world, is now believed by some experts to have as few as four to seven fully active divisions — as little as 50,000 troops by some estimates.

  • Obama pulled our troops from Iraq prematurely which led to the rise of the Islamic State

Iran

Iran expects Russia to deliver the S-300 air defense missile system by the end of the year, the head of the Iranian Security Council said Tuesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday lifted a five-year ban on delivery of the missile system to Iran, drawing criticism from the United States and Israel. The S-300 would significantly bolster the Islamic republic’s military capability by providing a strong deterrent against any air attack. Iran had responded to the Russian ban by filing a lawsuit with a court in Geneva seeking $4 billion in damages for breach of contract. Russia signed the $800 million contract to sell Iran the S-300 missile system in 2007, but suspended delivery three years later because of strong objections from the United States and Israel.

Ukraine

Fighting raged overnight and in the early hours on Tuesday on the outskirts of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine despite an agreement reached by the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers a day earlier. Six troops were killed and 12 wounded. The yearlong military conflict between Russian-backed rebels and government forces has claimed more than 6,000 lives and left large parts of Ukraine’s once industrial heartland in ruins. Fighting in the east had largely subsided following a cease-fire deal signed in February but has rekindled in recent days.

Pakistan

U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan killed two leaders of al-Qaeda’s Indian branch earlier this year, a spokesman for the militants said Sunday, a major blow to the affiliate only months after its creation. In an audio message, spokesman Usama Mahmood identified the dead as deputy chief Ahmed Farooq and Qari Imran, in charge of the group’s Afghan affairs. Mahmood said a Jan. 5 drone strike in North Waziristan killed Imran, while a later drone strike killed Farooq. His claim corresponds with dates that previously reported suspected U.S. drone attacks were carried out in Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghan border.

Yemen

Yemen has been descending into chaos in the weeks since Houthi rebels forced Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi from power in January. The Houthis are minority Shiites who have long complained of being marginalized in the majority Sunni country. More than 500 Houthi rebels have been killed since the start of Saudi-led military operations against Yemeni Shia fighters, a Saudi Defense Ministry official said Saturday. A Saudi general said Saturday the nine-nation coalition has undertaken 1,200 airstrikes since they began on March 26. The Yemeni Health Ministry on Saturday said 385 civilians have been killed and 342 others have been wounded. The World Health Organization has put higher figure on both tolls — 648 killed and 2,191 wounded — but includes militant casualties in the totals.

Nigeria

Around 800,000 children have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the conflict in northeast Nigeria between Boko Haram, military forces and civilian self-defense groups,” UNICEF said Monday. The “number of children running for their lives within Nigeria, or crossing over the border to Chad, Niger and Cameroon, has more than doubled in just less than a year.” More than 1.5 million people have fled their homes due to the violence, UNICEF said. About 1.2 million are displaced internally, while others have crossed into Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Kenya

Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto on Saturday gave the United Nations’ refugee agency three months to relocate refugees from the Dadaab camp — the world’s largest — to Somalia, or “we shall relocate them ourselves.” The problem: Kenya’s government says the attack on Garissa University in which 147 people were killed was masterminded by senior Al-Shabaab leader Mohamed Mohamud, whose “extensive terrorist network within Kenya” extends into the sprawling Dadaab complex The U.N. refugee agency manages the Dadaab complex, having set up the first camps there in late 1991 amid Somalia’s civil war. Any mass move would be a monumental task, disrupting the already difficult lives of more than 600,000 Somalis who call the camp their home.

Mogadishu

Militants from the Somali extremist group al-Shabab attacked a government office complex in the country’s capital of Mogadishu, killing eight people Tuesday. A suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle at the gate and some of the ministry’s employees were taken hostage by other attackers. The al-Qaeda-linked group said that it was behind the attack on the complex, where the Higher Education and Petroleum Ministries are based. Al-Shabab militants attacked Garissa University College in neighboring Kenya on April 2, killing 148 students. The group said the attack was a reprisal for Kenya sending troops to Somalia to fight the militants.

Libya

An Islamic militant group attacked the South Korean embassy in Libya killing one embassy guard and wounding another, Yonhap news agency reported Sunday. The attack appears to be in response to South Korea issuing a ban on travel to Libya due to security concerns there.

Turkey

Last week, Turkey’s government shut down access to social media. A Turkish court blocked access to the three social networking sites, along with dozens of other URLs, ordering them to remove images linked to a recent deadly hostage crisis, showing a bound and gagged Istanbul prosecutor held at gunpoint by members of a leftist terror group. Both the prosecutor and his captors were killed in a shootout with police after authorities stormed the courthouse. The photographs went viral on social media after being released by the militants during the six-hour hostage standoff. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused media organizations of being “partners in the martyring of our prosecutor” by printing the images, while prosecutors launched criminal investigations into seven Turkish newspapers for disseminating “terrorist propaganda.” When the images continued to circulate online, authorities went after social media to curb their spread. The websites complied with the court and removed the offending images, which led to a lifting of the ban. But nearly 68,000 websites remain off-limits in Turkey, including that of an atheist association and the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Cuba

President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro met in the first sit-down talks between the top leaders of U.S. and Cuba in more than a half-century Saturday afternoon. Obama said the U.S. is ready to “turn the page” with Cuba but significant differences remain. “After 50 years of policy that had not worked, “it was time for us to try something new,” Obama said. The discussion is the most meaningful face-to-face encounter between U.S. and Cuban presidents since Dwight Eisenhower and Fulgencio Batista met in 1956 at another summit like this one organized by the Organization of American States in Panama. Castro said the two nations can have differences but respect each other’s ideas.

Wildfires

Out-of-control agricultural fires have killed at least 23 people, injured nearly 400 more and destroyed or damaged more than 1,000 homes in Siberia. The fires were started in Khakassia, a region in southeastern Siberia, by farmers burning the grass in their fields, but spread quickly because of strong winds. The fires have left 5,000 people homeless and it will take about $94 million to rebuild housing in the area. The fires in all 38 villages in the area were put out by Tuesday with the help of aircraft and 6,000 firefighters

Weather

Parts of the South and Gulf Coast will be stuck in wet weather this week with the threat of locally heavy rain and flash flooding. Parts of the northern Gulf Coast already have been soaked by more 7 inches of rain. Cottondale, Florida, picked up 11 inches of rain by early Monday morning. Mobile, Alabama, had its fourth wettest April day on record Sunday, picking up 7.28 inches. Numerous roads were flooded and impassable near Marianna, Florida, as well as in southern Mobile County, Alabama, and parts of Texas requiring numerous resues. Snow is forecast for the Rocky Mountain areas midweek.

A major rockslide closed U.S. 52 in southern Ohio on Friday after a house-sized boulder slid onto the highway’s westbound lanes near the Kentucky border. A pickup truck slammed into the boulder, but the driver wasn’t injured. It rained in the region Friday and for much of the week prior to that.

Signs of the Times (4/10/15)

April 10, 2015

Belief in Jesus Waning Among Millennials

With Bible-themed movies and programs hitting the big screen and flat screen in unprecedented numbers over the past few years, the Barna Group research company set to find out what Americans really believe about Jesus Christ. On Sunday, March 29, National Geographic Channel premiered its adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesus to 3.7 million viewers — the channel’s biggest audience in history, Barna reports. CNN’s Finding Jesus miniseries has also sustained impressive viewership. Google searches of Jesus Christ climbed by 53 percent in the week leading up to Easter. Barna found that the older the generation, the more people believe in the historical account of Jesus as a man who walked on earth. Here’s the breakdown: Elders (born in 1945 or before) ─ 96 percent; Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) ─ 95 percent; and Gen-Xers (born between 1965 and 1983) ─ 91 percent. Most adults — not quite six in 10 — believe Jesus was God (56 percent), while about one-quarter say he was only a religious or spiritual leader like Mohammed or the Buddha (26 percent). The remaining one in six say they aren’t sure whether Jesus was divine (18 percent). Barna also found that “younger generations are increasingly less likely to believe Jesus was God. Millennials are the only generation among whom fewer than half believe Jesus was God (48 percent).”

“Day to Praise” Calls on Christians and Jews to Thank God for Israel’s Protection

The Center for Jewish and Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) has launched a bold initiative calling for a day of praise of God’s name around the world. Coinciding with Israel’s Independence Day on April 23, the “Day to Praise” calls on Jews and Christians around the world to recite Psalms 113-118 in celebration of God’s covenantal love for the Jewish nation. The organization is founded on the proposition that each of the two great faith communities is rooted in one shared Bible, which both accept as the eternal and living word of God. The CJCUC is holding this worldwide praise initiative as part of its larger mission of bridging the relationship between Jews and Christians.

  • The Bible exhorts all believers to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.” (Psalm 122:6-7)

New Abortion Law in Kansas

A new Kansas law banning a common second-term abortion procedure is the first of its kind in the United States. The law, signed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday, bans what it describes as “dismemberment abortion” defined as “knowingly dismembering a living unborn child and extracting such unborn child one piece at a time from the uterus.” Supporters of the measure described it as a groundbreaking step, while opponents warned it was dangerous and among the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Planned Parenthood Wants More Taxpayer Money

In the last 42 years, 61 million innocent unborn lives have been snuffed out by abortion, reports the Pro-Life Alliance. Planned Parenthood already receives hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars every year to perform abortions – 327,000 in 2013 alone. Now, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards claims she wants to share “a simple way to save lives.” Her proposal? More taxpayer money for Planned Parenthood.

Indiana Pizzeria Reopens After Receiving $800,000 from Donors following Gay Backlash

An Indiana pizzeria will reopen its doors after receiving $800,000 in donations. Memories Pizza in Walkerton recently closed after owner Crystal O’Connor stated that the restaurant would not cater same-sex weddings. Charisma News reports O’Connor and the company received threats after making the statement and police were forced to heighten security in the area. O’Connor told the Daily Mail, “I wasn’t trying to score points. It is something I believe in from my heart and my faith about gay weddings. But I don’t regret what I said. I have been scared, but God is giving me strength. I think it is nothing compared to what Christ had to suffer.”

A Tale of Two Cakes: Tolerance a One-Way Street

Back in 2012, Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, refused to bake a “wedding” cake for a homosexual couple. The ACLU got involved, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that Phillips had violated anti-discrimination laws. Phillips is currently appealing. In March 2014, Bill Jack from Castle Rock, Colorado, walked into Azucar Bakery and asks for a Bible-shaped cake with the phrase “Homosexuality is a detestable sin. Leviticus 18:2,” and a picture of two men holding hands and a big red X over it. Owner Marjorie Silva refused to add the anti-homosexual messages. Jack filed a discrimination complaint, and now the Colorado civil rights division has ruled that Silva did not violate the law by following her own conscience.

Federal Judge Denies Request to Lift Hold on Obama Immigration Order

A federal judge in Texas denied a Justice Department request Tuesday to lift his temporary hold on President Obama’s executive action shielding potentially millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen refused to set aside his Feb. 16 decision granting a preliminary injunction requested by 26 states. The U.S. government wants the injunction lifted — allowing Obama’s action to proceed — while it appeals Hanen’s ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans. The coalition of states leading the challenge filed a lawsuit to overturn Obama’s executive actions, which would prevent as many as 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally from being deported.

Obama Gun Control Push Backfires as Industry Sees Unprecedented Surge

The American firearms industry is as healthy as ever, seeing an unprecedented surge that has sent production of guns soaring to more than 10.8 million manufactured in 2013 alone — double the total of just three years earlier. The 2013 surge — the latest for which the government has figures — came in the first full year after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, signaling that the push for stricter gun controls, strongly backed by President Obama, did little to chill the industry despite the passage of stricter laws in states such as New York, Maryland, Connecticut and California. Interest in guns appears to be at an all-time high in California, which shattered its previous record for gun-purchase background checks last month, with nearly 200,000 processed, suggesting a vibrant firearms market in the country’s largest and most liberal state.

Historic Election in Ferguson, Missouri

Residents in Ferguson, Mo. Tuesday elected two black city council members, transforming the political body’s racial composition after months of protests over racial profiling and police brutality. When the two new African-American council members take their seats it will be the first time that blacks have controlled half of the council, despite the fact that two-thirds of the city’s 21,000 residents are black. Demonstrations gave way to increased civic activism with 29% of eligible voters casting more than 3,700 ballots. That’s more than double the 12% of eligible voters that came out for last April’s mayoral election.

More than 1,200 in Arrested in Nationwide Gang Raids

Targeting gangs across the country, teams from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arrested more than 1,200 people, while seizing weapons and drugs directly used by international crime syndicates. Members and associates from 239 different gangs were arrested in 282 cities across the U.S. during what’s been called Project Wildfire, a six-week operation that included 215 state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. Those arrested include 650 with violent criminal histories, including 19 individuals wanted on active warrants for murder and 15 for rape or sexual assault. There were 200 foreign nationals arrested in the raids. The operation targeted transnational criminal gangs and others associated with transnational criminal activity. The majority of those taken into custody were affiliated with the Sureños, Norteños, Bloods, Crips, Puerto Rican-based gangs and several prison-based gangs, with the greatest activity taking place in the San Juan, Puerto Rico; Dallas, El Paso, Los Angeles and Detroit HSI areas.

Russians Hacked the White House

Russian hackers behind the damaging cyber intrusion of the State Department in recent months used that perch to penetrate sensitive parts of the White House computer system, reports CNN. While the White House has said the breach only affected an unclassified system, that description belies the seriousness of the intrusion. The hackers had access to sensitive information such as real-time non-public details of the president’s schedule. While such information is not classified, it is still highly sensitive and prized by foreign intelligence agencies, U.S. officials say. The FBI, Secret Service and U.S. intelligence agencies are all involved in investigating the breach, which they consider among the most sophisticated attacks ever launched against U.S. government systems. Investigators found tell-tale codes and other markers that they believe point to hackers working for the Russian government.

Economic News

It’s going to be harder to find a Walgreens – the drugstore chain is closing about 200 stores in the U.S. out of a total of 8,232 locations. You’ll also have to look harder to find office supply sellers and some apparel sellers, too. Walgreens drugstore, is just one of 14 major publicly traded companies that are reducing their store counts the quickest even as the economy is growing, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from S&P Capital IQ. The closures show just how some bricks-and-mortar retailers are contracting as online shopping grows. Department store Sears Holdings, office supply seller Office Depot and teen apparel retailer Aeropostale reported the largest percentage declines in the number of stores in their most recently reported annual counts compared with a year ago.

Since June, American companies have disclosed 51,747 job cuts directly attributed to falling oil prices, according to CNNMoney. The vast majority of the layoffs — 47,610 — have been announced this year as oil prices have struggled to climb back up from the depths. Oil job layoffs in the first three months of the year rose an eye-popping 3,900% from the same period a year ago. In addition, the mining industry, which includes support for oil and gas extraction, has lost 30,000 jobs in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Anglo-Dutch oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell agreed Wednesday to buy Britain’s BG Group in a $70 billion cash and stock deal that creates a massive European energy giant in one of the biggest deals for the sector in a decade or more. The deal is expected to save $2.5 billion a year and comes after oil prices tumbled around 50% since June last year on sluggish global demand and amid a glut in supply. Conflicts across the Middle East as well as nuclear negotiations with Iran have further added to volatility.

Greece’s government has given the order to repay a $485-million loan instalment to the International Monetary Fund due Thursday — a debt Athens had insisted it will honor despite being severely cash-strapped. The debt stems from Greece’s international bailout, under which the country was extended rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the IMF to prevent bankruptcy. Greece’s new left wing-led government has been locked in strained negotiations with creditors since winning elections in January on pledges to abolish the deeply resented budget austerity measures required by the rescue program.

Islamic State

Hackers claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group seized control of a global French television network, simultaneously blacking out 11 channels and taking over the network’s website and social media accounts. The message on the TV5 Monde website read in part “I am IS” with a banner by a group that called itself Cybercaliphate. The attack appeared to be an unprecedented step in the extremist group’s information warfare tactics. The Islamic extremist group has claimed complex hackings before, but experts and a French official said the ability to black out a global television network represented a new level of sophistication for the group. Previously, hackers claiming to work on behalf of the Islamic State have seized control of the Twitter accounts of other media, such as Newsweek, and in January they hacked into the Twitter page and YouTube site of the U.S. military’s Central Command.

ISIS militants destroyed a historic church on Easter Sunday, according to Breitbart. Terrorists placed explosives inside the Church of the Virgin Mary in Tal Nasri and detonated the bombs. The church was one of three main churches in the Assyrian village. Local news outlet Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) said the church was “levelled” in the bombing. Sunday’s attack was not ISIS’ first church destruction, as the group previously burned the church of Tal Hurmoz in Syria, in addition to three more churches in Tal Tamer.

An Iraqi Kurdish security official says the Islamic State group has released more than 200 Yazidi elderly and children after eight months of captivity. Gen. Hiwa Abdullah, a peshmerga commander in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, says most of the 216 prisoners freed Wednesday are in poor health and bore signs of abuse and neglect. No reason was given for the release of the prisoners who were originally abducted from the area around Sinjar in the country’s north. Tens of thousands of Yazidi people fled in August last year when the Islamic State group captured the town of Sinjar.

Syria

Labeled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, the conflict in Syria has now entered its fifth year. According to the UN, 18 million people are in need of urgent help as conditions have worsened dramatically and violence continues to escalate. While four million Syrians have fled into neighboring countries, another 7.6 million are displaced within Syria. And an entire generation of children is growing up with no experience of a peaceful existence. Christians face the double problem of the war itself and of the persecution they face as Christians.

Iran

Tehran will not sign a final nuclear deal unless world powers simultaneously lift economic sanctions imposed on Iran, the nation’s president said Thursday. The United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany — the so-called P5 +1 group — reached an understanding with Iran last week on limits to its nuclear program in return for lifting crippling economic sanctions. The U.S. has previously said the sanctions would be lifted in phases, but the details have not yet been negotiated. President Hassan Rouhani appeared to rule out a gradual removal of the sanctions, which have hit the nation’s energy and financial sectors hard — and devastated its economy. “We will not sign any agreement, unless all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the first day of the implementation of the deal,” he said.

Iran will begin using its latest generation IR-8 centrifuges as soon as its nuclear deal with the world powers goes into effect, Iran’s foreign minister and nuclear chief told members of parliament on Tuesday, according to Iran’s semi-official FARS news agency… If accurate, the report makes a mockery of the world powers’ much-hailed framework agreement with Iran, since such a move clearly breaches the US-published terms of the deal, and would dramatically accelerate Iran’s potential progress to the bomb. Iran has said that its IR-8 centrifuges enrich uranium 20 times faster than the IR-1 centrifuges it currently uses.

Yemen

Iran dispatched a naval destroyer and another vessel Wednesday to waters near Yemen as the United States quickened weapons supply to the Saudi-led coalition striking rebels there, underlining how foreign powers are deepening their involvement in the conflict. The maneuver comes amid an intense Saudi-led Sunni Arab air campaign targeting the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, who come from a Shiite sect. Critics say Shiite Iran backs the Houthis, though both the Islamic Republic and the rebels deny any direct military assistance. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday that an al-Qaeda branch is making “great gains” on the ground amid the chaos in Yemen, and that the U.S. will have to rethink how it prevents the group from launching attacks against the West. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia deepened on Thursday as Iranian leaders lashed out with rare vehemence against the continuing Saudi air campaign in Yemen

Nigeria

Islamist Boko Haram militants disguised as clerics killed at least 24 people and wounded several others in an attack near a mosque in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state, a military source and witness said. The attackers arrived in cars late Sunday and gathered people at a mosque in the remote village of Kwajafa, pretending to preach Islam. They then opened fire on them. The group fighting for an Islamic state has killed thousands and kidnapped hundreds, although a military operation against it by Nigeria and neighbors Chad, Cameroon and Niger in the past two months has wrested back much of the territory it controlled. The group’s six-year insurgency, and President Goodluck Jonathan’s failure to end it or protect civilians, were factors in the victory of opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari in last week’s election.

Cuba

PANAMA CITY — Cuba’s first-ever inclusion into the Summit of the Americas was expected be to the headline-grabbing news at the two-day gathering in Panama City that starts Friday. So far there have been fisticuffs between rival Cuban protesters, an angered Cuban delegation over credentials and reports of the killer of Cuban icon Che Guevara mingling with opposition leaders outside the meetings. And that’s all before President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro have even set foot in this tropical city. In the most talked-about incident, a group of anti-Castro Cuban demonstrators on Wednesday planned to lay flowers at a bust of Cuban patriarch José Martí near the Cuban embassy here when they were confronted by a group of pro-Castro activists. TV newscast images showed the two factions clashing in fistfights. For only the second time in more than 50 years, the presidents of the United States and Cuba have talked by phone Thursday. No additional details were reported.

Environment

Scientists are working to reveal the source of a methane mass half the size of Connecticut currently hovering over the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. The Associated Press reports that researchers with the University of Colorado, the University of Michigan, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are teaming up to conduct a month-long study. Last year, researchers with NASA and the University of Michigan released a study that showed the methane mass was the largest concentration of the greenhouse gas in the U.S. Now, these scientists are coming together to piece together how the “hot spot” formed. According to NASA, the likely sources of the hot spot include the region’s many coal mines and the oil and gas activities in the area.

Weather

Drought-plagued California received multiple rounds of wet weather this week, but it’s nowhere near enough to squash all of the thirsty state’s drought issues. The first storm rushed ashore on Sunday, bringing snow to some areas in the higher elevations and even reports of small hail in northwestern California. The pea-sized hail covered roadways and yards in several towns, according to the National Weather Service. A second wave came through Monday and Tuesday, bringing more much-needed rain and snow to the Golden State. Even though some areas in the higher elevations received more than a foot of snow, according to local storm reports, it’s merely a drop in the proverbial bucket of a years-long drought gripping the state.

A multi-day severe weather outbreak lashed the Midwest, knocking out power for thousands and killing one person. Grapefruit-sized hail was reported around Sullivan, Missouri Wednesday. A tornado touched down in Comanche County, Kansas. Minutes later, the same storm spawned another tornado, which lasted 3 to 5 minutes, in rural Barber County, Kansas. Roofs were damaged and some tree limbs were down following a storm near Kincaid, Illinois Wednesday morning. Rescue crews worked into the night to pull 12 people from the rubble of a Rochelle, Illinois, restaurant leveled by a large tornado Thursday night. The Illinois towns of Fairdale, Rochelle and Kirkland sustained major damage from a massive twister that reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble Thursday. Authorities say a couple of people are still unaccounted for. Two animals at the Summerfield Zoo in Belvidere, Illinois, were killed in Thursday’s storms.

The same system responsible for a severe weather outbreak this week also brought downright hot temperatures from the Plains to the South and parts of the Midwest. Kansas City set a record high on Tuesday of 85 degrees and Joplin, Missouri tied their record high of 84 degrees. Fort Myers, Florida also tied their record high when temperatures reached 89 degrees. On Wednesday, Atlanta reached 87 to set a new daily record; Athens, Georgia, also set a record at 89. Daily records were tied in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (87), Greenville, South Carolina (85), Naples, Florida (89) and Tallahassee, Florida (91). On Thursday, a record high was set in Columbia, South Carolina, also at 91 degrees.

Signs of the Times (4/7/15)

April 7, 2015

Franklin Graham Highlights Christian Persecution in Easter Message

Franklin Graham, President of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, addressed Christian persecution in his Easter Sunday message. “Today, untold millions of Christians around the world are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And millions in many countries risk their freedom and their very lives to worship Him and claim His Name. Even under the threat of imprisonment, they faithfully follow, like pastor Saeed Abidini and scores of others,” Graham said. The church leader continued, “Despite the ever extending reach of the murderous hand of Islamist terror groups like ISIS, they continue to gather to pray as we saw in Kenya this week with 148 brutally killed in cold blood.” Graham said Christian persecution is increasingly occurring in the United States, as well. “Even in America there has recently grown an ugly, anti-Christian bias and intolerance that is changing our nation from the inside out, opening doors for all kinds of discrimination and loss of religious freedom that we hear about daily in the news,” he said.

  • Just as the Bible prophesied, end-time hostility toward Christians is rapidly escalating as ‘tolerance’ and ‘inclusiveness’ pertain to everyone except Christians

America—Then vs. Now. The Change is Almost Unbelievable

Charisma News reports that Newsweek magazine, on Dec. 27, 1982, in an article titled, “How the Bible Made America,” made this revealing statement: “Historians are discovering that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution, is our Founding document.” If a proposed article for the Constitution was not supported by, or rooted in the Bible, it was not considered. In their early writings, many of the Founding Fathers quoted or referenced the Bible nearly four times more than any other source. Then: John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, said, “Unto Him who is the author and giver of all good, I render sincere and humble thanks for His manifold and unmerited blessings, and especially for our redemption and salvation by His beloved Son.” Then: Noah Webster, the Founding Father of American Scholarship and Education, said, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed ”

Now: Even though creation screams “Creator,” the Bible is mocked, ridiculed, and discarded. Now: Students can’t pray in the name of Jesus during school graduation ceremonies, the military is removing the cross from many base churches, and the Courts are trying to eradicate God from all areas of life. God help us! Now: Many students are criticized when they read their Bibles in public, or at school. Christianity is challenged, mocked and ridiculed while most other beliefs are accepted and embraced. Sadly, in order to be politically correct, Noah Webster’s Scripture references have been withdrawn from recent textbook editions.

  • To suggest that the universe was created by random chance and that humans came from primordial ooze, is the height of arrogance. “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm. 14:1). Charisma notes.

New York Assembly Passes Bill Allowing Atrocities against Unborn Babies

The New York state Assembly proved that promoting the best interest of women apparently includes pushing late-term abortions, reports LifeNews. In a vote of 94-49 the New York State Assembly approved passage of AB 6221 which would expand third-trimester abortions and allow non-doctors to perform abortions. The abortion bill would also allow an abortion procedure that has abortionists shooting poison through the hearts of unborn children to kill them. “Expanding cruel and brutal third-trimester abortions has long been a goal of the anti-life lobby who never met an abortion they didn’t like,” said Lori Kehoe, New York State Right to Life executive director. “With no regard for the fully developed unborn baby who is violently dismembered, or otherwise killed, the New York State Assembly once again put the abortion lobby above New York State women and their children.”

1,500 Medical Studies Declare Healing Power of Prayer Undeniable

A belief in God may make people healthier and happier, according to new studies, reports ChristianHeadlines.com. “Studies have shown prayer can prevent people from getting sick—and when they do get sick, prayer can help them get better faster,” Duke University’s Harold G. Koenig, M.D., told Newsmax Health. The analysis of more than 1,500 medical studies showed that “people who are more religious and pray more have better mental and physical health,” Koenig said. The results come from a study published in the Southern Medical Journal. “And out of 125 studies that looked at the link between health and regular worship, 85 showed regular churchgoers live longer,” said Koenig, director of Duke’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health.” Researcher and writer Tom Knox agreed with the findings. Knox was an atheist who became a Christian after studying faith and medicine. “What I discovered astonished me,” Knox said. “Over the past 30 years a growing and largely unnoticed body of scientific work shows religious belief is medically, socially, and psychologically beneficial.”

Obama Admits Iran will Eventually Produce Nuclear Weapons

Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden was among many slamming the Obama administration’s framework for a nuclear deal with Iran telling Newsmax that it turns Tehran into an “industrial-strength nuclear state” that could have its own weapon within a year. Gary Bauer, president of the nonprofit American Values and a staunch supporter of Israel, said, “It’s time to start dealing with Iran’s expansionary activities throughout the Middle East over the last six years rather than worrying about a deal that won’t accomplish its main goal,” he told OneNewsNow. Bauer believes that not only have the last two years of negotiations brought little progress, “the Iranian government appears to have gotten everything that matters. It’s a foreign policy disaster in the making.”

President Obama admitted Tuesday in a broadcast interview that his nuclear agreement with Iran only delays Tehran from eventually acquiring a weapon, which could come immediately after Year 13 of the agreement — leaving the problem for future presidents. Obama made the comments about Tehran’s so-called “breakout time” in an interview with NPR News that aired Tuesday morning. The president was attempting to answer the charge that the deal framework agreed upon by the U.S., Iran, and five other nations last week fails to eliminate the risk of Iran getting a nuclear weapon because it allows Tehran to keep enriching uranium. Obama said that Iran would be capped for a decade at 300 kilograms of uranium — not enough to convert to a stockpile of weapons-grade material. The stark admission — after his energy secretary even claimed the deal was a “forever agreement” — came as the president seeks to quiet a growing chorus questioning whether the deal he and world leaders have negotiated merely delays the certainty of a nuclear-armed Iran.

  • The truth sometimes seeps out from this ‘transparent’ administration when the President forgets to use his teleprompter

Disagreements Emerge over Terms of Iran Nuclear Deal

Four days after a framework agreement was announced in Lausanne Switzerland, sharp disagreements about key details have emerged, including diametrically opposed narratives between Iran and the US about the lifting of economic and political sanctions. Iranian officials are saying the agreement called for all sanctions to be lifted immediately, whereas the White House is saying the sanctions will be “phased out” only gradually in response to demonstrated Iranian compliance with the terms of the agreement. The US also insists on a mechanism to re-instate sanctions should Iran violate any of the terms, a clause Iran flatly rejects and Russia is also opposed to unless it is done through consultations at the UN Security Council.

Obama’s “Light Footprint” Approach to Counterterrorism Fails

President Obama has cited the battle against al-Shabab militants in Somalia as a model of success for his relatively low-investment, light-footprint approach to counterterrorism, reports the Washington Post. By some measures, it has paid dividends. U.S. drones have killed several of the Islamist group’s leaders, including two top planners in just the past month, a senior administration official said Friday. African Union troops backed by the United States have forced al-Shabab fighters to flee huge swaths of territory. But this week’s massacre of 148 people at Garissa University College, the deadliest terrorist attack on Kenyan soil in two decades, demonstrates the limits of the administration’s approach and the difficulty of producing lasting victories over resilient enemies. Only last fall, Obama was touting his counterterrorism strategy in the region as one that “we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” The collapse of the American-backed government in Yemen forced the Pentagon last month to pull its Special Operations forces from the country.

  • Obama’s overall soft approach to Islamic terrorism has aided and abetted the enemy and given rise to the Islamic State

Obama, Congress on Collision Course over Iran Nuke Deal

President Obama appealed to lawmakers to reconsider contentious legislation giving Congress a say on an Iran nuclear deal, as the co-author of the bill vowed to hold a key vote next week. In an interview published Sunday, Obama said the newly agreed framework of a nuclear deal with Iran represented a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and move toward stabilizing the Middle East. Obama cautioned there are many details that still need to be worked out with the Iranians and there would be “real political difficulties” in implementing an agreement in both countries. The so-called P5+1 nations — the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have until June 30 to agree on all the details of a final deal with Iran. But the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” said Congress would exercise its “rightful role” to scrutinize and approve any agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting international sanctions.

Number of ‘Food Insecure’ Children Rising

More than half of students in public schools — 51% — were in low-income families in 2013, according to a study by the Southern Education Foundation. The number of low-income children in public schools has been steadily rising over the past several decades. In 1989, only 32% of children in public schools lived in poverty, the foundation says. Nationwide, one in five households with children are considered food insecure, which means people in the household are at risk of going hungry or missing meals or don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Schools Becoming the ‘Last Frontier’ for Hungry Children

America’s schools are no longer just a place for students to learn their ABCs. More states are providing after-school meals in communities where at least half the children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. A federal program covering dinner at school expanded to all states in 2010. Before that, only 13 states and the District of Columbia could provide dinner. The rest could offer only after-school snacks such as peanuts and popcorn. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the program, estimates that 108 million after-school meals were served in fiscal year 2014, up from 81 million in fiscal year 2013. In addition, schools are opening permanent or mobile food pantries. Last year, 1,141 schools ran food pantries on their grounds, up from 834 the year before, says Feeding America, which runs 200 food banks across the country. Food banks are the warehouse operations that provide food to pantries. And more than a third of teachers, 37%, buy food more than once a month for students, according to a 2015 report by advocacy group No Kid Hungry. On average, teachers spend $35 a month to keep food in their classrooms for hungry children.

Economic News

The number of Americans 16 years and older who did not participate in the labor force–meaning they neither had a job nor actively sought one in the last four weeks–rose from 92,898,000 in February to 93,175,000 in March, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is the first time the number of Americans out of the labor force has exceeded 93 million. Also from February to March, the labor force participation rate dropped from 62.8 percent to 62.7 percent, matching a 37-year low.

  • The government’s unemployment rate severely understates the employment problem, ignoring those who’ve given up trying to find a job in its calculations. And many of those who have found jobs did so by accepting part-time employment or jobs with lower pay.

Getting paid $10-an-hour is a welcome lift for Walmart (WMT) and McDonald’s (MCD) workers. But the 13 CEOs of a group of well-known retailers and restaurants haul in an average $5,859 an hour according to a USA TODAY analysis. The biggest CEO payout goes to the co-CEOs of Chipotle Mexican Grill who pulled down more than $13,000 an hour apiece. Compare that with the average $9.15 an hour paid to Chipotle crew members, according to Glassdoor.com.

Islamic State

Mass graves believed to hold Iraqi up to 1700 soldiers have been discovered in newly liberated Tikrit. ISIS claimed to have executed that many soldiers captured in June outside Camp Speicher, a fortified Iraqi base near Tikrit. Iraqi soldiers and Shiite militias retook Tikrit a few days ago after a fierce battle.

Newsweek magazine examined the atrocities committed against Syrian Christians in its most recent cover story. In the piece, “The New Exodus: Christians Flee ISIS in the Middle East,” writers Janine Di Giovanni and Conor Gaffey looked in-depth into where the mass exodus from the region began, and how Christians are surviving now. Newsweek reports that 4 million Syrian refugees have been uprooted from their homes and now live in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. An addition 6.5 million have been displaced internally. A report by the Center for American Progress said, “Some of the oldest Christian communities in the world are disappearing in the very lands where their faith was born and first took root. Christians have migrated from the region in increasing numbers, which is part of a longer-term exodus related to violence, persecution, and lack of economic opportunities stretching back decades.”

Iran

Eight Iranian border guards have been killed in clashes with unidentified militants near the border with Pakistan, Iranian state media reported. Three of the militants who crossed into the country from Pakistan were killed by Iranian forces in the fighting Monday. Southeastern Iran borders the restive Pakistani province of Balochistan, where a number of terrorist groups are active. Some militants from Sunni-majority Pakistan have carried out attacks across the border in Shiite-dominated Iran.

Yemen

The Saudi-led coalition smashed parts of Yemen’s Defense Ministry Central Command in the capital over the weekend, senior Yemeni officials said. Under the rain of coalition bombs, the Houthis, who are Shiites in a majority Sunni country, still control Sanaa, the capital. The electricity has gone out on 16 million Yemenis living in Houthi-held areas, the Yemeni officials said. Many fear they will lose access to clean water as well. But the airstrikes have hurt them and destroyed a lot of infrastructure. Since the bombing campaign and intense fighting began just over a week ago, some 600 people are estimated to have been killed. Many more have been wounded, and tens of thousands have fled the country. Yemeni officials said Saudi airstrikes targeting a military base on Tuesday hit a nearby school, injuring at least a half dozen students. Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate is expanding its footprint amid the chaos in the country and now providing guidance to the Somalia terror group that claimed responsibility for last week’s deadly terror attack at a university, an intelligence source told Fox News.

Kenya

Kenyan jets blasted two Islamic militant camps across the border in Somalia on Monday in retaliation for a terror attack in Kenya last week that killed 148 people, Kenyan military officials said. No casualty reports related to the airstrikes were immediately released. The Somalia-based al-Shabab militant group has taken responsibility for the attack Thursday at Garrissa University College. “We bombed two Shabab camps in the Gedo region,” Kenyan army spokesman David Obonyo told AFP. “The two targets were hit and taken out, the two camps are destroyed.” Also Monday, Garissa Township MP and National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale called for closure of Somali refugee camps in Kenya, saying they were being used to plan attacks against Kenya. More than 300,000 Somalis live in the camps, which Duale told the Daily Nation have become centers for assembling and training of terror networks. Duale said the United Nations refugee agency can relocate the camps across the border.

Venezuela

President Obama declared Venezuela a “national security threat” and hit the country with economic sanctions last month. In response, And so, President Nicolas Maduro is drumming up a petition, to be signed by Venezuelans opposed to the measure, to hand Obama in person at the Summit of the Americas in Panama April 10-11. The man handpicked by the late Hugo Chavez to continue his “Bolivarian” socialist revolution claimed to already have 6.2 million signatures. But for Maduro, with an approval rating of just 22%, that sounds like an exaggeration representing one out of five Venezuelans, including children.

Weather

The historic California drought hurts the rest of the nation as well. That’s because California is a significant breadbasket to the nation, growing more than a third of its vegetables and nearly two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. While not as bad as California, Texas and Oklahoma are also seeing extreme and exceptional drought — the two worst categories — in several parts of their states, the U.S. Drought Monitor said this week. As a result, consumers paid a whopping extra 12.1% for beef and veal in 2014, the USDA reports. Farmers are drilling wells at a feverish pace and pumping billions of gallons of water from the ground, depleting a resource that was critically endangered even before the drought, now in its fourth year, began, reports the New York Times.

A change in the weather pattern will bring rain and snow to the northwest early this week. The jet stream has now shifted with a trough, or a large southward dip in the jet stream, moving into the West. This will allow rain and snow to continue along the northern West Coast the next few days. Rainfall, however, will generally be light and won’t be of much help to the ongoing California drought.

Separate tropical storms that have swept through parts of Bangladesh have left at least 36 people dead and scores injured. The storms have also uprooted trees, damaged electricity distribution lines, while hundreds of homes, shops and schools have been flattened in parts of the South Asian nation.

Signs of the Times (4/3/15)

April 3, 2015

Persecution of Christians Rising Rapidly

“This is the time of the year when Christians the world over — more than 2 billion of us — reflect upon the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord,” writes Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, along with Roma Downey and Mark Burnett , the honorary chairpersons of The Cradle Fund and the producers of the mini-series A.D. — The Bible Continues. “In light of the tragic massacre of Christian college students in Kenya on Thursday, and the ongoing threat against Christians in other nations, this Holy Week we are calling upon Christians to also reflect upon the crucifixion, beheading, stoning, enforced slavery, sexual abuse, human trafficking, harassment, bombing and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Christians — and others — whose faith alone has made them a target of religious extremists. Countless lives have been utterly destroyed in nations such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, India, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria.”

  • “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2Timothy 3:12, KJV)

Kenyan Militants Storm University, Kill Christians

Four armed terrorists stormed a university in northern Kenya on Thursday, killing 147 people, wounding dozens and taking hostages during a 15-hour siege until they were killed by security forces. Christians and converts to Islam appeared to have been the targets. The gunmen stormed the Garissa University campus on Thursday, taking nearly 600 students and staff members hostage. Heavy gunfire was reported as the Kenyan military tried to end the siege. The Somali-based al-Shabab terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack. The total number of students at the school is 815. Witnesses said the militants were killing Christians and releasing Muslims. The al-Shabab militants warned that this was only the beginning of attacks on Kenyan schools.

Islam Projected to be World’s Largest Religion by 2070

Muslims will outnumber Christians by 2070, ending two millenniums of Christian dominance going back to the birth of Jesus Christ, projections released Thursday by the Pew Research Center show. Islam is projected to grow more than twice as fast as any other major religion over the next half century because of a higher fertility rate. That rapid growth will end Christian majorities in nations such as the United Kingdom, France and Australia, according to the Pew study. Such a dramatic change poses questions about whether global religious conflicts between radical Muslim groups and western nations that currently have Christian majorities will become more inflamed in the decades ahead or if greater equality in numbers will lead to reconciliation.

  • Islam will never reconcile with Christianity because it is intent on doing away with it entirely. Christianity is a peaceful religion, but Islam is not (although many Muslims are). We seldom hear of Christians carrying out terrorist attacks, but it is a constant litany for Islamist militants.

Iran Nuke Talks Resume after Deadline Abandoned

Nuclear talks between world powers and Iran resumed Wednesday, after being extended past Tuesday’s deadline. On Thursday, Iran and six world powers agreed on “key parameters” for resolving the long-standing dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, which has left the Islamic nation economically isolated. Part of the deal notes that Iran would not produce weapons grade fuel and that international monitors will have enhanced access to Iran’s nuclear facilities. Negotiators have to come to work out the details of the deal by June 30. France Foreign Minister claims U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gradually backed down and lowered the bar over the course of the talks as Iran’s delegation dug in. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved quickly Friday to condemn the preliminary agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, warning it would threaten Israel’s existence and increase risks of nuclear proliferation as well as “a horrific war.” He added that the deal gives “legitimacy to Iran’s nuclear program” and enabling Iran to build nuclear bombs “in a few years.”

  • What a joke. Iran keeps stalling, obfuscating and pulling the wool over the eyes of the Obama Administration as it continues to work toward building a nuclear arsenal.

Indiana & Arkansas Pass Revised Religious Objection Laws

Lawmakers in Arkansas and Indiana passed legislation Thursday that they hoped would quiet the national uproar over new religious objections laws that opponents say are designed to offer a legal defense for anti-gay discrimination. The Arkansas House voted 76-17 to pass a revised bill after Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked for changes in the wake of mounting criticism. A parallel process played out at the Indiana Capitol as the House and Senate passed changes to a law signed last week by GOP Gov. Mike Pence, who quickly approved the revisions. The Indiana amendment prohibits service providers from using the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide goods, services, facilities or accommodations. It also bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or U.S. military service. The measure exempts churches and affiliated schools, along with nonprofit religious organizations. Gay-rights groups noted that Indiana’s civil-rights law still does not include LGBT people as a protected class.

  • com reports that a Christian Asked Thirteen gay bakeries o bake him a pro-traditional marriage cake and as denied service by all of them. Tolerance only works in one direction
  • These watered-down bills no longer protect private business owners who don’t want to participate in gay weddings or support other functions that violate their religious beliefs. The gay agenda and liberal lobby have clearly assumed the position of power in the increasingly secularized socialistic U.S.

California Snowpack Lowest Ever, Forces Water Restrictions

California’s snowpack is at historically low levels, a casualty of the state’s wimpy winter and ongoing drought. In Northern California, the Sierra Nevada snowpack’s water content is at its lowest late-March level since records began in 1950, at just 6% of the historical late-March average, the California Department of Water Resources said Monday. The snow’s water content is a key measurement for water resource managers, since it measures the amount that will trickle into the state’s reservoirs once it melts later in the spring. More than 98% of the state of California remains in some level of drought, with 93% in severe drought or worse (41% in ‘exceptional’ drought).

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday imposed mandatory water restrictions for the first time on residents, businesses and farms, ordering cities and towns in the drought-ravaged state to reduce usage by 25%. The reduction in water use does not apply to the agriculture industry, except for the requirement that it report more information on its groundwater use. The exclusion prompted some criticism, as agriculture uses about 80% of California’s developed water supply.

U.S. Pledges to Cut Emissions up to 28 Percent for Global Climate Treaty

The United States is offering to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 percent by 2025 as part of a global initiative to battle climate change. U.N. member countries first met in Lima, Peru, this past December to discuss the initial steps of a global climate deal to fight greenhouse gas emissions. One of those steps included agreeing to submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution by March 31 of this year, although most countries aren’t expected to meet that deadline. In 2014, the U.S. and China met in Beijing and both President Obama and President Xi Jinping pledged to cut emissions over the next decade or so, the Associated Press reports. Obama reached the 28 percent figure and 2025 timeline at that meeting.

Medieval Remedy Kills MRSA Superbug

Researchers in Britain and the U.S. have found that a medieval concoction meant to treat eye infections also has the ability to kill the MRSA superbug. The Daily Telegraph reported that the recipe, which dates from the 10th century, calls for two species of Allium – a genus of bulbous herbs of the lily family including onion, garlic, chive, leek, and shallot – as well as wine and oxgall, or bile from the stomach of a cow. The paper reports that the recipe specifically calls for the mixture to be brewed in a brass vessel, purified through a strainer, and left to sit for nine days before use. Dr. Christina Lee, a professor at the School of English at Nottingham University, recreated the treatment to see if it could work as a modern-day remedy. To her surprise, it not only cleared up styes, but also worked effectively against the potentially deadly superbug. The Telegraph reports that the mixture killed about 999 of 1,000 MRSA bacterial cells present in mice wounds.

World’s Oldest Person Dies at 117

The world’s oldest person, died Wednesday, just weeks after celebrating her 117th birthday. The Japanese woman, who said 117 years goes by rather quickly, died of heart failure. Okawa, the daughter of a kimono maker, was born on March 5, 1898, in Osaka and was recognized as the oldest person in the world by Guiness World Records in 2013.

  • Just as the Bible prophesied thousands of years ago: And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive[a] with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6:3)

U.S. Trade Deficit Plunges 16.9% in February

The U.S. trade deficit plunged in February as both imports and exports sank, driven by a since-settled trade dispute and a global economic slowdown that has cut into oil prices and caused the dollar to rise in value. Commerce Department said Thursday that the deficit plummeted 16.9% to $35.4 billion in February, down from $42.7 billion in January. The sharp decrease reflects a $10.2 billion drop in imports since January, likely due to cheaper oil prices and a since-resolved West Coast ports dispute that interrupted the flow of 20% of the nation’s imports. The dispute led to sharp declines in imported goods from China and Japan, causing the trade deficit with both countries to fall. Exports also tumbled because a strengthening dollar has caused American-made goods to be more expensive abroad. The domestic energy boom has also helped to hold the deficit in check. Not only has the U.S. reduced its dependence on foreign oil, but the falling prices have further limited the cash value of imported petroleum.

Poll: Americans Worse Off under Obamacare

According to a Fox News poll released Thursday, more voters say their family is worse off than better off under ObamaCare. Fifteen percent say they are better off under the law, while 26 percent say their family is worse off. In addition, most of those who had to change their insurance coverage because of the health care law say it cost them money. Overall, 42 percent say the country is worse off under the 2010 health care law. Just 33% feel that the country is better off under ObamaCare. 22% say the law hasn’t made much of a difference to the country.

Economic News

Employers added a subpar 126,000 jobs in March as the labor market cooled off amid harsh weather and mounting oil company layoffs, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.5%. The payroll total breaks a 12-month string of job gains above 200,000 and is the lowest tally in 15 months. Also discouraging: Job gains for January and February were revised down by a total 69,000.

Wage growth, which has been sluggish throughout the recovery, ticked up only modestly in March. Average hourly earnings increased 7 cents to $24.86 an hour. Over the past year, pay is up 2.1%, in line with previous tepid advances.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 268,000 last week, down 20,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week moving average, which smooths out volatility in the weekly numbers, was 285,500, a decrease of 14,750 from the previous week’s revised average. Claims have fallen sharply in the years since the recession. They averaged more than 417,000 a week in 2008 and 308,500 a week last year.

Home price gains picked up in January as inventories remained tight. The Standard & Poor’s/Case Shiller 20-city home price index increased 4.6% compared to a year earlier, according to Tuesday morning’s report. That’s up from a 4.4% annual rise in December. Previously, price increases had been slowing. Home prices gains slowed in mid-2014, a development economists welcomed after sharp increases the previous year made homes less affordable for many Americans.

Planned oil industry layoffs in the U.S. are approaching 100,000 in the past four months with more likely to come. Oil-producing states such as North Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana are catching the brunt of the cutbacks just as consumers are enjoying cheaper gasoline prices brought on by the 55% drop in crude oil prices since last June. About 91,000 energy-related job cuts have been made public since early December,

McDonald’s said it plans to increase pay at least $1 more than the local minimum wage on July 1 for the 90,000 employees at corporate-owned restaurants. It expects wages to rise to more than $10 an hour by the end of 2016. McDonald’s rivals could be forced to match the raises that the chain is handing out as they compete harder for fast-food and retail workers.

Roughly a third of American adults don’t have any emergency savings, meaning that over 72 million people have no cushion to fall back on if they lose a job or have to deal with another crisis, according to a survey released Tuesday by NeighborWorks America. Among the 1,035 adults who took part in the poll, 34% had no money set aside for an emergency, while 47% said their savings would cover their living expenses for 90 days or less.

Many currencies haven’t been able keep up with the dollar’s speedy increase in value. The dollar has gained 8% compared to many currencies over the last 12 months, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank. America’s greenback has gained 61% on Russia’ ruble, 43% on Brazil’s Real and 19% on Turkey’s Lira in the past year.

Middle East

The “State of Palestine” joined the International Criminal Court in the Hague on Wednesday, welcomed in a brief ceremony presided over by the ICC’s Second Vice-President, Judge Kuniko Ozaki and attended by most of the Court’s senior leadership. Ozaki said “Accession to a treaty is, of course, just the first step. As the Rome Statute today enters into force for the State of Palestine, Palestine acquires all the rights as well as responsibilities that come with being a State Party to the Statute. These are substantive commitments, which cannot be taken lightly.” Meanwhile, Israel and the US government maintain that there is no such thing as the “State of Palestine” until such a state comes into being as a result of completing a negotiating process with Israel or a resolution at the UN Security Council.

Islamic State

Iraq’s defense minister says security forces have achieved a “magnificent victory” over the Islamic State group in Tikrit. Khalid al-Obeidi said Wednesday that security forces have “accomplished their mission” in the monthlong offensive to rid Saddam Hussein’s hometown of the militant group. The U.S. launched airstrikes last week in support of Iraqi ground forces. The battle for Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, is seen as a key step toward eventually driving the militants out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. ISIS is gone, but they left behind vehicles laden with explosives and buildings that might be booby-trapped.

Yemen

A Saudi-led military coalition blunted the advance of Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Monday as the regional coalition’s naval forces blockaded the country’s ports to prevent the rebels from getting resupplied. Airstrikes over the past two days were designed to stop the Houthi rebels from seizing Aden, a stronghold of the U.S.-backed government that was driven from power. Analysts said the Saudi-led air campaign would shift military momentum away from the Houthis and push them toward the negotiating table before a possible ground invasion by Arab armies.

Al Qaeda fighters attacked a prison in the coastal Yemeni city of Al Mukallah early Thursday, freeing at least 270 prisoners, a third of whom have al Qaeda links. Khaled Batarfi, a senior al Qaeda figure, was among the escapees, officials said. Dozens of attackers took control of government buildings, including the city’s Central Prison, Central Bank and radio station during the assault early Thursday. Government troops arrived shortly afterward and clashed with the al Qaeda fighters. Most of the militants fled. Last month, hundreds of inmates escaped from Al Mansoorah Central Prison in Aden after clashes between Shiite Houthi rebels and forces loyal to ousted Sunni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi.

Syria

The four-and-a-half-year old Syrian civil war has become an “unsustainable” humanitarian disaster that threatens soon to undermine the stability of neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, United Nations aid officials are warning. While the world’s wealthier countries this week pledged $3.8 billion in new relief, that is inadequate to deal with the 4 million refugees from the battle zone who have sought refuge outside Syria, combined with 7.6 million Syrians displaced internally, and 12.2 million—half the country’s pre-war population– considered overall to be in dire need of humanitarian aid—up from 9.3 million at the end of 2013. “We are at a dangerous tipping point,” Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned.

Egypt

Seeking to patch up relations with a longtime regional ally at a time of spreading war and instability in the Middle East, President Obama on Tuesday lifted an arms freeze against Egypt that he first imposed after the 2013 military overthrow of the country’s elected government, reports the New York Times. Mr. Obama removed his holds on the delivery of F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles and M1A1 tank kits and in a telephone call assured President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt that he would continue to support $1.3 billion in annual military assistance for the Cairo government.

Turkey

Large parts of Turkey were hit by a massive power outage Tuesday. More than 40 provinces as well as metro lines and traffic lights are reported to have been affected by the blackout, which happened at 10.36 a.m. local time. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that all possible causes were being investigated, including terrorism. Meanwhile, Turkish news agencies say that members of a banned leftist group have taken a chief prosecutor hostage in his office inside a court house in Istanbul, the Associated Press reported.

Nigeria

With results from all of Nigeria’s 36 states counted, the former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari, delivered a crushing defeat to President Goodluck Jonathan, getting nearly 55 percent of the vote to Mr. Jonathan’s 45 percent. Voter anger swelled over corruption, inequality and a devastating Islamist insurgency in the nation’s north, choosing an austere former general who once ruled with an iron hand to be their next president, according to election results on Tuesday. The election was the most competitive presidential race ever in Nigeria, one of the largest democracies in the world. Now, if power is handed over peacefully, it will be a major shift for the nation — the first transfer between civilians of different parties in a country that has spent much of its post-colonial history shaken by military coups.

Wildfires

A rash of grass fires, brush fires and forest fires broke out in a warm, windy weather regime from the Plains to the East Coast Tuesday, destroying at least one home in North Carolina and another in Iowa. The fires are just the latest round in a days-long series of virtually countless grass fires, most of them small and short-lived, mainly in the Plains states. One of those fires burned a cluster of abandoned cars near Kearney, Nebraska, on Monday. Strong winds associated with a storm system emerging into the nation’s midsection will keep the fire danger high throughout the Plains and into the Southwest throughout the week.

Weather

The threat of severe thunderstorms will continue on Friday as a potent storm system pushes through the Midwest and South. Tornadoes were sighted in Kansas, Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma Thursday and a woman was killed early Friday morning in Kentucky when a dead tree fell onto a tent during a thunderstorm. Heavy rain and flooding are also concerns through Friday. Parts of Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri have already seen flooding with more than 100 high water rescues reported in Louisville, Kentucky.

In Alaska, only 20.7 inches of snow had fallen all season through March 31 at Anchorage International Airport, a season-to-date deficit of over 4 feet (49.5 inches). The least snowy season on record in the city, 30.4 inches, took place before Alaska officially became a state, during the 1957-1958 season. It also was the least snowy March in 31 years in the city. Only 0.2 inches of snow was measured during the month, tying 1984 for second place behind only 1983, during which only a trace of snow fell.

Several western U.S. cities recorded their warmest January to March temperatures: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and Salt Lake City. In contrast, several northeastern cities experienced their coldest January to February: Bangor, Hartford, Providence, Syracuse and Worcester, Mass. Antarctica hit its highest recorded temperature ever at 63 degrees on March 24th.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme

Typhoon Maysak struck Micronesia’s Chuuk State on Sunday evening, killing at least five and demolishing up to 95 percent of tin houses on the island. Communications systems on the island, which has a population around 50,000, were down this weekend, and the full extent of the damage caused by Maysak’s battering winds and rain is still unknown. Two days after causing widespread destruction in Micronesia, Maysak intensified into a super typhoon. Its eye is projected to make landfall in the central or northern part of the Philippine island of Luzon on Sunday, though the country’s residents could start feeling its effects days before.