Signs of the Times (4/17/15)

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,

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