Signs of the Times (4/3/15)

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.

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