Signs of the Times (6/23/15)

Over 300,000 Rally in Rome against Gay Marriage

Hundreds of thousands of people travelled from all over Italy and Europe yesterday to protest against the proposed legalization of gay marriage, and the teaching of ‘gender theories’ in schools. Gathering in the San Giovanni Square in Rome, with estimates of participants running from 300,000 to a million people, attendees held aloft banners reading “The family will save the world” and “Let’s defend our children”, as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tries to push a civil-union bill through parliament. The rally was also provoked by an Italian school district having boys dress up like girls and vice versa to allegedly break down gender stereotypes.

Billions Spent on War against ISIS despite Strategy Concerns

Despite mounting concerns in Congress over the Obama administration’s strategy for defeating the Islamic State, the U.S. already has spent billions on the war. A Pentagon breakdown shows the military has spent more than $2.74 billion on the fight against ISIS, amounting to about $9.1 million a day, from August 2014 through early June 2015. But, even as lawmakers continue to debate the legality and funding for the war, the billions already spent may be just a drop in the bucket. Administration officials acknowledge a years-long effort ahead. Of the billions spent so far, the Air Force has gotten the bulk of the money – about 67 percent, or $1.8 billion — underscoring the importance of the airstrike mission. Critics continue to question the strategy and endgame for confronting the terror group, let alone the cost.

U.S. Sending Tanks, Weapons to Europe

The U.S. military will be sending dozens of tanks, Bradley armored fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers to allied countries in the Baltics and Eastern Europe in response to Russian actions in the Ukraine, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday. The equipment, enough to arm one combat brigade, will be positioned in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. Carter said the equipment will be moved around Europe for training and exercises. The U.S. defense chief also said Washington and its NATO allies will be boosting cyber defense efforts. “We must prepare NATO and our allies for cyber challenges, particularly from Russia,” Carter said in prepared remarks.

  • Russia and Persia (Iran) are the leading perpetrators in the end-time war against Israel (Ezekiel 38)

EU Extends Sanctions against Russia

European Union foreign ministers meeting Monday in Luxembourg extended the term of sanctions imposed a year ago against Russia imposed because of the country’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. The sanctions aimed to punish Russia for its annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and its military support for separatists in the eastern regions of Ukraine, which border Russia. The sanctions consist of asset freezes on some Russian companies and people as well as travel bans against certain officials. A Kremlin spokesman condemned the extension of the sanctions. “Russia, naturally, considers these sanctions to be unfounded and illegal,” spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists. Peskov said Russia would respond by extending measures against the European Union, which include restrictions on the import to Russia of foodstuffs from the EU.

Hacking Attack Gave Chinese Privileged Access to U.S. Systems

For more than five years, American intelligence agencies followed several groups of Chinese hackers who were systematically draining information from defense contractors, energy firms and electronics makers, their targets shifting to fit Beijing’s latest economic priorities, reports the New York Times. But last summer, officials lost the trail as some of the hackers changed focus again, burrowing deep into United States government computer systems that contain vast troves of personnel data. Undetected for nearly a year, the Chinese intruders executed a sophisticated attack that gave them “administrator privileges” into the computer networks at the Office of Personnel Management, mimicking the credentials of people who run the agency’s systems. The hackers’ ultimate target: the one million or so federal employees and contractors who have filled out a form known as SF-86 which details personal, financial and medical histories for anyone seeking a security clearance. “This was classic espionage, just on a scale we’ve never seen before,” one senior administration official said. The administration is urgently working to determine what other agencies are storing similarly sensitive information with weak protections.

Senate Hands a Victory to Obama on Trade Pact

The Senate on Tuesday morning narrowly voted to end debate on legislation granting President Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major Pacific trade accord, virtually ensuring final passage on Wednesday of Mr. Obama’s top legislative priority in his final years in office. The procedural decision barely cleared the 60 votes needed, but final passage will need only 51 votes. It was the second time the Senate blocked a filibuster of the so-called trade promotion authority, but this time the bill was shorn of a measure to offer enhanced retraining and education assistance to workers displaced by international trade accords. That measure faces a crucial procedural vote on Wednesday as well.

Man Runs Car into Crowd Killing 3, Injuring 34 in Austria

A man apparently distraught over personal issues drove his SUV into a crowd Saturday in Graz, Austria’s second largest city, killing three people and injuring 34 others, officials said. The governor of the Styria province, Hermann Schuetzenhoefer, gave the casualty figures and described the suspected driver as a 26-year old Austrian who was “mentally disoriented” and acting alone. He said one of the injured is in a critical condition.

  • I call for an immediate ban on automobiles, the greatest of all killing devices. Oh, and then there was that depressed German pilot who flew the plane into the ground. Better ban airplanes too.

A New Mass Extinction Could be Underway

Sixty-five million years ago, the dinosaurs disappeared in what’s known as the Earth’s fifth mass extinction. Today, a sixth mass extinction could be well underway and humans are the likely culprit, according to new research published in Science Advances. The past five mass extinctions on Earth were caused by large-scale natural disasters like meteors or enormous chains of volcanic eruptions, wiping out between half and 96% of all living species. But the modern mass extinction isn’t being caused by a freak act of nature, the researchers say. It’s being caused by man-made changes to the environment including deforestation, poaching, overfishing and global-warming, and it’s proving to be just as deadly. About 477 vertebrate species have been lost since 1900, according to the report. There should’ve only been nine species going extinct during the same time period.

  • Revelation tells us that there will be massive deaths of species in the water and on the land during the end-times. We tend to read that as an instantaneous incident, but it could play out over time.

Persecution Watch

The Mennonite owners of a Iowa gift shop and bistro say they have to close their doors after they were ordered to pay a settlement when they refused to hold a same-sex wedding at the venue. Richard Odgaard and his wife, Betty, are the owners of Görtz Haus Gallery in Grimes, Iowa. About two years ago, the couple refused to rent their facility to a gay couple from Des Moines. The couple filed a discrimination complaint through the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. The Odgaards agreed to a $5,000 settlement, but decided to stop hosting wedding ceremonies for all couples. The remaining business hasn’t been enough, Betty said. They say the business will close at the end of August, The Christian Post reports. “It was just so hateful and so awful and personally it took me down. I didn’t want to be on this Earth anymore. It destroyed me,” Betty said of the public response. But, in a twist, the facility is set to likely become home to a church.

Economic News

Home rental prices are climbing across much of the United States — with the biggest gains coming not from New York or San Francisco but Jackson, Miss., and Portland, Maine. Real estate data firm Zillow said Tuesday that prices nationally climbed a seasonally adjusted 4.3% in May from a year ago. The steadily rising costs of renting houses and apartments are creating new financial pressures for many Americans. Rental prices have grown at roughly double the rate of wages, forcing more Americans to limit their spending elsewhere or cut into their savings.

The United States’ chief executive officers made 303 times as much as the average worker in 2014, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute released Monday. The report from the left-leaning think tank found that average CEO compensation for the largest firms was $16.3 million in 2014, an increase of 3.9% from last year and 54.3% since the end of the financial crisis in 2009. Since 1978, inflation-adjusted CEO pay has jumped 997%, while wage growth for the average worker grew only 10.9% over the same period, the report says.

A deal to resolve Greece’s debt crisis and avoid economic disaster could be reached within days after the country submitted proposals to its international creditors welcomed by European leaders at an emergency summit. The proposals, the specific details of which have not been released, came after months of unproductive negotiations between Athens and its trio of creditors — the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission (eurozone governments). Although an agreement has not yet been formally struck, Eurozone leaders said at the summit in Brussels late Monday that the fresh submissions from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipris were a step in the right direction that could ultimately lead to a deal by Wednesday evening.

Middle East

A much-awaited United Nations report into the 2014 Gaza war released Monday found that both Israel and Palestinian militant groups may have committed war crimes during the conflict. The commission said it gathered “substantial information pointing to serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” by both sides. In some cases, it added, these violations may amount to war crimes. “The extent of the devastation and human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations to come,” said Mary McGowan Davis, the chair of the commission. “There is also ongoing fear in Israel among communities who come under regular threat.” More than 2,200 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed during the fighting, according to U.N. and Palestinian officials, while 73 people, including six civilians, died on the Israeli side.

Israel swiftly moved to dispute the report’s findings. In defending itself against attacks, Israel’s military acted according to the highest international standards,” the Foreign Ministry said. “Israel does not commit war crimes,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Israel defends itself against a terrorist organization that calls for its destruction and carries out many war crimes.”

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) late Sunday took over the investigation into last Friday’s shooting attack which left 25 year old Danny Gonen dead and his friend wounded. The attack took place near the settlement of Dolev, near Ramallah, as the two men were driving in their car towards the Parsa junction, where a Palestinian man flagged them down and spoke briefly with them before pulling out a pistol and firing several shots. The Islamist terror militia Hamas claimed responsibility. Meanwhile, an Israeli Border Police officer was stabbed by a Palestinian man near the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday morning.

Islamic State

A top Islamic State operative also implicated in the terror attack on U.S. embassy personnel in Benghazi, Libya in 2012 was killed by a U.S. airstrike on June 15 in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the Pentagon announced late Monday. A U.S. Air Force drone fired a missile at the vehicle in which Ali Awni al-Hazri was riding. Al-Hazri had operated with militants associated with the Islamic State, or ISIL, throughout North Africa and the Middle East, said a Pentagon spokesman. Al-Hazri had been a major player in recruiting militants from Libya, Tunisia and other parts of North Africa into the fight in Iraq and Syria, the official said. “Ali Awni al Harzi was responsible for planning hundreds of suicide attacks across the world, and was one of the first foreign fighters to join ISIL,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democratic on the House Intelligence Committee.

ISIS has already committed countless unspeakable acts on Yazidi and Christian girls and women in Iraq, but the terrorist army may have reached a new low with a twisted new contest in which female slaves captured in war are given away as “prizes” to fighters who show they have mastered the Koran. The shocking practice of giving away human beings as prizes, called “sibya,” was organized by the Da’wa and Mosques Department in Al-Baraka province in Syria in honor of the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan and was announced June 19 on ISIS Twitter accounts.

Afghanistan

The Taliban launched a suicide bombing and gunfire attack outside the Afghan parliament in Kabul on Monday. A suicide bomber detonated a car laden with explosives outside the parliament, causing “considerable” damage to other cars and nearby buildings. All seven attackers were killed by special forces and 31 civilians were injured. The incident happened around 10.30 a.m. local time as lawmakers were meeting to confirm the appointment of a new defense minister. Lawmakers were reported to have no serious injuries. Parliament security prevented the gunmen from entering the building, and fought the attackers off for more than 20 minutes before security forces arrived.

Iran

Iran’s parliament voted Sunday to oppose the inspections of government military sites as part of a pending, multi-nation agreement to curb the country’ nuclear program — potentially complicating a final deal ahead of a June 30 deadline. The bill would allow for international inspections of Iranian nuclear sites but forbid inspections of military facilities. And it demands the complete lifting of all sanctions against Iran as part of any final nuclear accord. “We won’t agree to a deal without that,” one of the U.S. negotiation officials said. “We expect that there will be many voices and opinions on the difficult issues as we work towards a final deal. … But our team is focused on what is happening in the negotiating room.”

Iraq

Iraqi officials say attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country have killed at least eight people on Monday. A bomb struck an outdoor market in Taji, about 12 miles north of Baghdad, killing three civilians and wounding eight. Another bombing at a market in Baghdad’s southern Abu Disher neighborhood, killed two civilians and wounded 11. Gunmen in two SUVs opened fire, killing two policemen and a civilian who were traveling in a civilian car in Baghdad’s eastern Baladiyat neighborhood. He says that attack also wounded two other civilians.

Wildfires

A wildfire near Big Bear Lake in California’s San Bernardino National Forest continued to grow in size over the weekend, with a hot, dry forecast elevating concerns for firefighting efforts. The wildfire grew to 17,305 acres on Monday, according to the U.S. Forest Service, and was 21 percent contained. More than 1,200 firefighters were on working the blaze from both the air and the ground. The Forest Service said 500 structures were threatened, but didn’t think any had been burned by Saturday. Smoke reached portions of the highly populated Coachella Valley, resulting in air quality at “unhealthy” levels. The fire started last Wednesday, but the cause is not yet known.

Fifteen wildfires are burning in Alaska where temperatures have been much higher than normal over the past month. As of Tuesday morning, the fires have consumed over 127,000 acres and have destroyed 47 structures. Three wildfires in Arizona and another three in New Mexico have burned almost 38,000 acres. A wildfire south of Lake Tahoe, Nevada, has burned nearly 15 square miles of timber and grass. It was about 10 percent contained Tuesday morning after forcing the evacuation of some campgrounds.

Weather

June has been a hot month in parts of the West. Earlier in the month, Yakima, Washington, tied its all-time June high of 105 degrees. This occurred 15 days earlier on the calendar than the previous June 105-degree high. The first significant heat wave of the year swept into the Desert Southwest last week, pushing temperatures above the 120 degree mark in a few spots. High and low temperatures have been up to 15 degrees above average for much of the region, with only a slight reprieve in the forecast. Phoenix tied daily record highs last Wednesday (114 degrees) and Thursday (115 degrees). Palm Springs, California, reached 116 degrees on Thursday, breaking its daily record of 115 degrees.

A dome of high pressure aloft that has been searing the Desert Southwest over the past week will surge northwestward, becoming established over the Great Basin by late this week where record highs are expected. The extreme heat is even expected to surge north into Canada. On Monday, Charlotte, North Carolina set a new daily record high of 100 degrees and Charleston, South Carolina tied their record of 98 degrees. Daytona Beach, Florida also tied their record high of 96 degrees. Florida had its warmest spring on record.

Severe weather marched into the High Plains and Midwest Monday with powerful straight-line winds and tornadoes, causing significant damage to a town in northeastern Illinois. There were 12 reports of tornadoes in the High Plains and Midwest Monday. Pieces of homes were scattered all over, and trees were heavily damaged in Coal City, Illinois. A long-lived squall line known as a derecho ripped across a swath from South Dakota to Wisconsin Monday morning, leaving widespread damage in a path that also included northern Iowa and parts of southern Minnesota. A second round of thunderstorms erupted in the afternoon and evening hours across parts of Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan, bringing several reports of tornadoes.

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