Signs of the Times (5/8/15)

Millions Observe National Day of Prayer

Americans in the nation’s capital and at thousands of venues nationwide participated in the 64th annual National Day of Prayer on Thursday. In Washington, a national observance on Capitol Hill today featured members of Congress, Senate Chaplain Barry Black, Christian filmmaker Alex Kendrick, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, and National Day of Prayer Task Force Chair Shirley Dobson. The theme of this year’s event was “Lord, hear our cry.” Washington also is playing host to Friday’s National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, featuring Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone and Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

The Gideons Distribute Two Billionth Bible

The Gideons International has just surpassed the two billion mark in distributing Bibles and New Testaments since the Association began doing so in 1908. The distribution of the first one billion Bibles and New Testaments by Gideon members spanned 93 years (1908 to 2001). This second billion was attained in less than 14 years (2002 to 2015). “It is more than just a number,” said International President Dr. William E.G. Thomas. He added, “We are placing Bibles because they save souls. Behind every number is a face, behind every face a story, behind every story a priceless soul that could live throughout eternity.” The Gideons currently distribute over 80 million Scriptures annually, and the numbers are growing, especially in places like Brazil, India, and Asia. Through the efforts of over 300,000 members in 200 countries, territories, and possessions, The Gideons share more than two Scriptures every second of every day—in over 90 languages.

Huckabee/Walker: We are Moving Rapidly toward Criminalization of Christianity

Mike Huckabee announced his presidential run Tuesday (May 5). The Republican candidate is not shy about his Christian faith and said in a recent conference call that the United States is “moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity.” Though the statement was criticized by liberals, Huckabee said at the Faith and Freedom gathering that he stands by his words. “Let me be clear tonight: I’m not backing off because what I’m saying is true,” he said. Charisma News reports Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker expressed a similar view of Christianity in the U.S. “We should be standing up for religious freedom,” he said at the event held on last Saturday.

Government Presses Charges against Church for Pro-Life Signs

In another sign that the American government is moving in the direction of the oppressive governments of Europe, city officials in Virginia began exerting legal pressure on a local church because they were putting up anti-abortion signs. Government bureaucrats sent a letter to Valley Church of Christ in Virginia, notifying them that someone had complained about a couple of pro-life signs posted outside the church. Officials told them that they had 10 days to remove the signs or face criminal charges. The attorney representing the church said that the charges could result in thousands of dollars in fines and up to a year in prison. In England churches and citizens can be fined/imprisoned for saying/writing things that the government deems offensive… like speaking out against abortion or homosexuality. Many observers believe it is only a matter of time before the USA begins imposing similar restrictions on speech and Christians/conservatives will likely be the first to suffer the consequences, reports Eagle Rising.

Read more at http://eaglerising.com/18232/government-presses-charges-against-church-for-pro-life-signs/#cBQBri91lIbGIGqq.99

Human Traffickers Target Nepal Earthquake Survivors under Guise of Rescue Effort

Young women in Nepal are facing an increased human trafficking risk in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. The Guardian reports that human traffickers are posing as relief workers and attempting to lure the women into “jobs” at brothels. According to the UN and local NGOs, between 12,000 and 15,000 girls are trafficked in Nepal each year. A crisis like the earthquake increases the risk of trafficking. The Guardian spoke to a Nepali trafficking victim who escaped after police raided the brothel where she was forced to have sex with 20 to 30 men a day.

Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Texas Attack

The Islamic State claimed responsibility Tuesday for the attack outside a Texas art show showcasing cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed. A security guard in the patrol car was wounded in the leg. Police killed the attackers, identified as Phoenix residents Elton Simpson, 30, and Nadir Soofi, 34.The statement from the group said: “We tell … America that what is coming will be more grievous and more bitter and you will see from the soldiers of the Caliphate what will harm you, God willing,” the Associated Press reported. It is the first time ISIL, which controls vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, has claimed responsibility for an attack on U.S. soil. It was not clear if Islamic State leaders had any knowledge of the attack before it took place Sunday night at the Mohammed Art Exhibit event. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, condemned the attack as “more insulting to our faith than any cartoon.”

ISIS Warns it has Terror Cells in Place in 15 States

A grim online warning from a self-described American jihadist said that the ISIS terrorist group has scores of “trained soldiers” positioned in 15 states, awaiting orders to carry out more operations like that in Texas. The warning, which was posted on a file-sharing site, could not be verified, but was signed by Abu Ibrahim Al Ameriki. That name matches the moniker of a shadowy American known to have joined a terrorist group in Pakistan several years ago and who has appeared in propaganda videos before. The chilling threat named five of the states where is claimed ISIS has terror cells in place. “Out of the 71 trained soldiers 23 have signed up for missions like Sunday, we are increasing in number,” read the warning. “Of the 15 states, 5 we will name… Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, California, and Michigan.”

Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Iran Nuclear Bill

A bill that would give Congress a voice in any nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran passed the Senate overwhelmingly Thursday afternoon. The measure withstood months of tense negotiations, White House resistance, the indictment of one of its sponsors and a massive partisan kerfuffle over a speech to Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just as an accord was coming together, reports the New York Times. Republican infighting prevented a debate of significant amendments to the bill, leaving some members deeply unhappy that they were unable to weigh in further on a matter that many said was the most significant of their careers. But in the end, a bipartisan accord that seemed nearly impossible in the upper chamber just a few months ago came together by a convincing margin.

Court Rules NSA Program Illegal

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the National Security Agency’s controversial collection of Americans’ phone records, first revealed by Edward Snowden, is not legal under the Patriot Act. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held in the case, which was brought by the ACLU, that the telephone metadata collection program “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized.” The program gathers up bulk telephone records to enable targeted searches based on telephone numbers or other identifiers associated with terrorist organizations. The Court said, “If Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, unambiguously. Until such times as it does so, however, we decline to deviate from widely accepted interpretations of well-established legal standards. ”

Ariz. ‘Dreamers’ Celebrate Court Decision on In-State Tuition

A group of students who came to the U.S. as young undocumented immigrants gathered at Phoenix College on Wednesday to celebrate a Superior Court judge’s order that makes them eligible for in-state tuition at community colleges in Maricopa County. Judge Arthur Anderson ruled Tuesday that students eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals have lawful presence in the U.S. and that the Maricopa County Community College District has both the authority and obligation to grant in-state tuition to all DACA recipients (so-called Dreamers) in Arizona. Anderson’s ruling is expected to pave the way for other community-college districts and universities in Arizona to follow suit.

Hillary Clinton Calls for Path to ‘Full and Equal Citizenship’ for Illegal Immigrants

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that any immigration overhaul must include a path to “full and equal citizenship,” drawing a sharp contrast with Republicans who have promoted providing a limited legal status. Clinton’s remarks during her first campaign stop in Nevada underscored Democrats’ efforts to box-in Republican presidential candidates who have opposed a comprehensive bill including a pathway to citizenship. Congressional Republicans have said the changes must be made incrementally, beginning with stronger border security.

Scientific Community Blasts Chinese Researchers for Altering a Human Genome

Researchers in China have, for the first time, changed the genome of human embryos, sparking an outcry from the scientific community. Opponents are calling for a moratorium on such experiments until they can be proven safe and society has time to determine ethical guidelines. Scientists hope gene editing can one day be used to eradicate certain diseases, but the ease and affordability of the new technique have allowed research to run ahead of a full understanding of the implications. Two well-known journals, Science and Nature, refused to publish the research paper because of ethical objections. Scientists hope to use the new technology, known as CRISPR, to repair or delete specific disease-causing genes. But the method may cause unintended and unpredictable harmful mutations which would permanently alter the germ line of future generations.

U.S. Doctor Declared free of Ebola Discovers the Virus in his Eye

American doctor Ian Crozier was treated for Ebola in Atlanta last year and was declared free of the virus in his blood. About two months after being released from the hospital, he experienced a piercing pain in his left eye, he told The New York Times. The pressure in his eye elevated while his vision decreased. After repeated tests, doctors discovered the virus was still living in his eye. His case has left doctors stunned and highlighted the need for eye checkups for Ebola survivors. Despite the presence of the virus in the eye, samples from tears and the outer eye membrane tested negative, which means the patient was not at risk of spreading the disease during casual contact. Doctors gave him a steroid shot above his eyeball and had him take an experimental antiviral pill that required special approval from the Food and Drug Administration. His eye gradually returned to normal, but it’s unclear whether it was as a result of the steroid shot, pill or his body’s immune system.

Economic News

Milder weather helped the labor market shake off a winter chill in April as employers added 223,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell from 5.5% to 5.4%, lowest since May 2008. Businesses added 213,000 jobs on strong advances by professional and business services, health care and construction. Federal, state and local governments added 10,000. Mining employment continued to decline, falling by 15,000, as energy companies shed workers because of low crude oil prices.

Some other signs were more encouraging. A broader measure of joblessness — which includes discouraged workers who have stopped looking for jobs and part-time employees who prefer full-time work as well as the unemployed — slipped to 10.8% from 10.9%.And the number of Americans out of work at least six months fell by 38,000 to 2.5 million. They now make up 29% of all those unemployed.

Wage growth, sluggish throughout the recovery, ticked up a bit. Average hourly earnings increased 3 cents to $24.87 an hour. Over the past year, pay is up 2.2%, in line with previous tepid advances.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment benefits rose 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 4,250 to 279,500, the lowest level since May 2000. The total number of people receiving benefits was 2.23 million, the lowest figure since November 2000. These new lows indicate that employers are holding onto workers despite sluggish economic growth since the start of 2015.

The U.S. trade deficit in March jumped to the highest level in more than six years as a small increase in exports was swamped by a flood of imports from autos to cellphones. The deficit rose to $51.4 billion, the largest trade gap since October 2008 and more than 43 percent higher than the February imbalance, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. Exports were up 0.9 percent to $187.8 billion, while imports increased 7.7 percent to $239.2 billion. The trade deficit is the short-fall between exports and imports. Exports have been hurt by an increase in the value of the dollar against other major currencies over the past year. For the first three months of this year, the trade deficit was 5.2 percent higher than the same period a year ago. A larger trade deficit acts as a drag on growth because it means more U.S. producers are losing sales to foreign competitors.

It may be time to redefine retirement. A new survey of American workers from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that 82% of the respondents expect to keep working past the age of 65, or maybe not retire at all. Across all ages, many workers worry that they will be unable to save enough to last their lifetime. Outliving investments and savings was the top retirement concern for 44% of all respondents.

Persecution Watch

Just three months ago, over the course of just a few hours a mob of hundreds of Muslim radicals destroyed 69 churches, killed ten people and injured hundreds more. Today, the Christians living in the area are trying to move on, preaching the Gospel and forgiving those who’ve done them such great harm. One woman had this to say, “My prayer is that they would come to know Jesus and that the Lord would touch them even in a dream. I want God to do to them what He did to Paul the Apostle when he persecuted Christians. God touched him on his way to Damascus. I want those men to experience the same touch from God!” Her husband concurred with his wife and added, “The Lord is training us; He’s building us. There cannot be increase without hardships. If you want to go to the next level you have to go through hardship.”

The Fairfax County Public Schools School Board voted Thursday night to add “gender identity” to its nondiscrimination policy in spite of massive opposition from parents and the area’s religious community. Police were summoned to control a standing-room-only crowd as board members approved the controversial measure. Critics argued it would allow boys who identify as girls to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice — and vice versa. Parents also had concerns about the possibility of transgender teachers. The district said they were mandated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to add “gender identity” to the policy — or else risk losing federal funding.

A Georgia principal says he was fired for praying at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meeting. Dr. Michael Lehr served as the principal of Manchester High School for three years before he was given notice that his contract would not be renewed. Christian News Network reports Lehr had filled in to a lead a FCA meeting only two days before he received the notice of termination. Lehr says he did not receive a reason for the termination and could not think of another reason that he would be fired. Students and parents have expressed their concern that Lehr would be fired for praying at a meeting that was not held during school hours.

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eked out a government coalition less than two hours before the extended deadline set by President Reuven Rivlin. The premier hopes to expand the coalition in the coming days. The new coalition has the bare minimum of 61 seats out of the Knesset’s 120 necessary to form a majority. Netanyahu expressed a desire to expand his coalition beyond 61 seats in order to give his government more stability. Under the current situation, unanimity will be required to pass laws, and the defection of just two MKs would cause the collapse of the entire government. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the new government, saying that it “will be one of war which will be against peace and stability in our region. This government will set its sights on killing and reinforcing settlement activities.”

Iran

U.S. Navy warships began accompanying British-flagged commercial cargo vessels through the Strait of Hormuz Monday, something they’ve already been doing with US-flagged vessels, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren announced Monday. The accompanying of U.S. and British ships follows the seizure of a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel by Iranian Revolutionary Guard ships last week. The new military operation offers armed protection from potential harassment by Iran’s navy. A U.S. official said if it becomes necessary, U.S. warships are prepared to escort U.S. commercial vessels throughout the entire Gulf. Iran on Thursday released a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship that its navy seized last week, allowing it to leave Iranian waters. All the ship crew members were safe and healthy. As a result, the U.S. Navy said Thursday that they will no longer accompany U.S. and British flagged cargo vessels through the Strait of Hormuz given there have been no further incidents with Iran.

Sunni Arab leaders are warning the United States that Iran’s role in arming and funding Shiite allies in the Middle East is fueling support for extremist groups like Islamic State and al Qaeda by those who fear Tehran is gaining power in the region. These leaders are pressing the Obama administration to more aggressively support Saudi Arabia and its allies in pushing back Iranian influence in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere, in part, as a means to drain support for Islamic state and al Qaeda. Both are Sunni-based terrorist organizations. They say Saudi Arabia’s ongoing military operations in Yemen, which are targeting an Iranian-allied militia, should serve as a model for confronting Tehran and its allies going forward.

Yemen

A senior commander in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been killed in a U.S. drone strike, according to an online video statement from an AQAP spokesman. A U.S. official confirmed that al-Ansi was dead. The senior commander was well known for giving a lengthy statement after the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, claiming AQAP was responsible for the attack. Al-Ansi urged all would-be jihadists to wage war at home, when possible, as opposed to traveling abroad.

Shiite rebels from Yemen fired rockets into Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, killing at least three people and reportedly capturing five soldiers. The attack is the first time the rebels, known as Houthis, have targeted a civilian area in Saudi Arabia since airstrikes on their positions in Yemen began on March 26. The Houthis, who have overtaken Yemen’s capital Sanaa and a number of other cities, captured five Saudi soldiers in unclear circumstances, the AP reported. Residents in the southern Yemeni city of Aden said a Houthi advance had forced hundreds of families to flee.

Ukraine

Fighting has again shaken a nearly three-month ceasefire deal between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, leaving five Ukrainian troops dead in a 24-hour period, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday. Twelve other Ukrainian service members were injured in the fighting in separatist areas of eastern Ukraine. The violence happened despite a ceasefire that was agreed to in mid-February for Ukrainian forces and rebels who hold territory in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, near the border with Russia. It’s an extension of a conflict that the United Nations says has killed more than 6,000 people since last year and forced A1.6 million people from their homes, including more than 600,000 who sought refuge in other countries.

Afghanistan

An Afghan judge sentenced four men to death Wednesday in the mob killing of a woman accused of burning the Quran in March. Eight other suspects received 16-year sentences. Judge Safiullah Mujadidi said the sentences in the cases of the 19 police officers charged in the incident will be announced early week. The mob killing was recorded in a video that resonated around the globe. Her tearful father, Nadir, told CNN affiliate TOLOnews she was a religious teacher who taught the Quran to children. He said there was no way his daughter would burn pages of the holy book, which has been cited as the motive for the horrific attack.

United Kingdom

With almost all the results in, British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party have claimed an outright majority in Parliament, with 330 seats out of 650, and can form a new government. As the dust settled Friday, three party leaders resigned, including opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. What this means for the UK is that the Conservatives get to govern alone after five years in a coalition. The Conservatives have said they’ll push forward with reforms to tackle the huge UK deficit and rein in spending on the welfare state as well as holding a national referendum on continued EU membership by 2017.

Cuba

The Obama administration approved the first ferry service in decades between the United States and Cuba on Tuesday, potentially opening a new path for the hundreds of thousands of people and hundreds of millions of dollars in goods that travel between Florida and Havana each year. Baja Ferries, which operates passenger service in Mexico, said it received a license from the U.S. Treasury Department to operate a ferry to Cuba. Approvals also were received by Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale, United Caribbean Lines Florida in the Orlando area and Airline Brokers Co. of Miami.

Chile

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday that she has asked all her Cabinet ministers to submit their resignations and she will decide who stays and who leaves in the next 72 hours. Bachelet is faced with the lowest approval ratings of her political career, and recently acknowledged that corruption scandals have rocked her administration. Chile’s corruption is among the lowest in South America. But trust in politicians and the business elite has been eroded amid a recent bank loan scandal involving Bachelet’s son, as well as a campaign financing scandal involving right-wing politicians and a prominent financial company.

Environment

For the first time since record keeping began, carbon dioxide levels have surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) globally, according to newly published data for March. CO2 emissions are the main driver of climate change and have risen more than 120 ppm since pre-industrial times. The planet has warmed 1.6°F over that period. Concentrations will likely remain above that mark until May when blooming plants in the northern hemisphere start to suck CO2 out of the air. The only solution to reducing the overall amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is to cut emissions sharply. A new analysis suggests global warming could directly threaten 1-in-6 species with extinction if polluting practices continue unabated — up from about 3 percent today. Several studies have collectively revealed a strong relationship between the amount of climate pollution that human activity pumps into the atmosphere, and the number of extinctions it’s ultimately projected to cause.

Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake rattled the South Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea on Tuesday, generating a small tsunami near the epicenter, bringing down power lines and cracking walls, but causing no widespread damage or injuries. A tsunami estimated under 3 feet high was seen in the harbor of Rabaul, a town near the epicenter of the 7.5-magnitude quake.

Weather

Subtropical Storm Ana formed off the coast of the Carolinas late Thursday night. It’s the first named storm of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season. A tropical storm watch is in effect for the coast from Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to Cape Lookout, North Carolina. The center of Subtropical Storm Ana is about 160 miles south-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A slow crawl toward the coastal Carolinas is likely into the weekend where the most direct impacts are expected with bands of locally heavy rain, some strong wind gusts, minor coastal flooding and isolated beach erosion.

Thunderstorms drenched the Plains Monday, flooding roads and submerging cars in Texas’ south plains and Kansas. Nearly 3 inches fell in Manhattan, Kansas in a matter of hours. Over 4 inches of rain were reported just northwest of Manhattan. That’s a new record for Manhattan; the last time the city saw near that amount of rain was in 1908. Lubbock, Texas, saw 3 to 4 inch per hour rainfall rates that forced officials to close roads. Severe storms produced a tornado outbreak that wreaked havoc across the Great Plains Wednesday, destroying multiple homes, causing several injuries and prompting the governor of Oklahoma to prepare a state of emergency. Water rescues continued into the pre-dawn hours Thursday morning in Oklahoma City after violent storms spawned tornadoes and dumped record rainfall. The worst of the storms appeared to have hit southwest of the city. About 10 homes were destroyed in Amber and 25 were destroyed in Bridge Creek. No deaths have been reported, but at least 12 people were injured in Oklahoma. Storms that could produce more powerful tornadoes could rake the Plains on Friday and Saturday.

A significant late-season snow storm is setting up in the central and northern Rockies for Mother’s Day weekend. This could affect travel in the region. A closed upper-level area of low pressure will move into California late this week and then will slide eastward this weekend, potentially producing significant mountain snows across the central Rockies. Cooler temperatures will develop in the Southwest late this week and then in the Rockies and portions of the northern Plains this weekend. High temperatures will be as much as 20 degrees below average.

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