Signs of the Times (6/30/15)

Bibles Pour into Cuba to Feed Christianity Boom

Christians in Cuba received more than 83,000 Bibles earlier this month from the International Missions Board. The Bibles come at a time of growth in the evangelical church in Cuba. The Baptist Convention in Cuba is distributing the Bibles to believers in more than 1,000 churches all over the island. Bibles have not been sold in Cuban bookstores for more than 50 years. The only place people can get one is at a church. Churches have had to rely on Bible donations, and have had a hard time keeping up with the growing number of believers in the past few years, especially since U.S. sanctions and restrictions against Cuba have recently been lifted.

Planned Parenthood Now Does 33% of All U.S. Abortions

Planned Parenthood sells itself as a non-profit organization that concerns itself with women’s health, but a shocking new report indicates Planned Parenthood is little more than an abortion business. While the number of abortions it does and the percentage of its operations that are abortions is in the rise, the number of women receiving legitimate health care at Planned Parenthood is steadily declining. “Over the last 45 years, Planned Parenthood has become the expert in making money from ending lives,” observed Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest. She told LifeNews.com: “Unlike the national trend observed by the Associated Press last week, the Centers for Disease Control, and everywhere else that abortions are on the decline, at Planned Parenthood abortion sales are up – meanwhile its overall patients and other services are down. This is as a result of a move to create abortion mega-centers to mass-produce abortions at an even deadlier rate.”

Greece Closes Banks for a Week, Roils Eurozone

Greece’s parliament has voted in favor of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ motion to hold a referendum on the country’s creditor proposals for reforms in exchange for loans. Tsipras and his coalition government have urged people to vote against the deal, throwing into question the country’s financial future. The vote is to be held next Sunday, July 5. It has raised the question of whether Greece can remain in Europe’s joint currency, the euro. Eurozone officials were bracing for the possibility of a Greek debt default next week after financial ministers rejected Greece’s bid for a credit extension. Greece had asked for the one-month grace period. The swift rejection represented a startling demonstration of how Tsipras had alienated the rest of the currency bloc with the eleventh-hour referendum announcement that derailed five months of talks.

As Greece’s financial crisis deepens, the country kept its banks closed Monday and plans to keep them closed for the rest of the week, following a recommendation from the Bank of Greece. The banks also place restrictions on transactions. The moves come after the European Central Bank on Sunday said it won’t increase the level of emergency credit to help Greek banks. Without such an increase, the country’s four major banks could soon run out of cash. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Tuesday that his country would not make a debt payment to the International Monetary Fund by a midnight deadline, setting the stage for a tense showdown with its international creditors.

Puerto Rico Can’t Pay Debts, Bond Market Shaken

The governor of Puerto Rico has decided that the island cannot pay back more than $70 billion in debt, setting up an unprecedented financial crisis that could rock the municipal bond market and lead to higher borrowing costs for governments across the United States. For many years, those bonds were considered safe investments — but those assumptions have been shifting in recent years as a small but steady string of U.S. municipalities, including Detroit, as well as Stockton and Vallejo in California, have tumbled into bankruptcy. Puerto Rico’s debt obligation is four times that of Detroit, which became the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy in 2012. A U.S. commonwealth with a population of 3.6 million, Puerto Rico carries more debt per capita than any state in the country. The island has been staggering under the increasing weight of those obligations for years as its economy has tanked, triggering an exodus of island residents to the mainland not seen since the 1950s.

Loads of Debt: A Global Ailment with Few Cures

There are some problems that not even $10 trillion can solve, notes the New York Times. That’s the gargantuan sum of money that central banks around the world have spent in recent years as they’ve tried to stimulate their economies and fight financial crises. The tidal wave of cheap money has played a huge role in generating growth in many countries, cutting unemployment and preventing panic. But, stifling debt loads continue to weigh on governments around the world. Greece’s government has repeatedly called for relief from some of its debt obligations, and Puerto Rico’s governor said on Sunday that its debt was “not payable.” Both borrowers are extreme cases, but high borrowing, either by corporations or governments, is also bogging down the globally significant economies of Brazil, Turkey, Italy and China. And economists say that central banks and their whirring printing presses can do only so much to alleviate the burden.

  • Astronomical debt loads due to global money-printing stimulus is coming home to roost. Greece and Puerto Reco are just the tip of the iceberg.

Scalia Blasts Obamacare Ruling: ‘Words Have No Meaning’

The Supreme Court of the United States effectively rewrote the text of Obamacare to save the legislation. By a 6-3 majority, the Court upheld the Fourth Circuit’s decision in King v. Burwell and decided that federal subsidies were available on state Obamacare exchanges, even though the text of the so-called Affordable Care Act said that such subsidies were only available on “State” exchanges. The majority stated that the word “State” was, at best, “ambiguous.” The majority–led, again, by Chief Justice John Roberts, who infamously interpreted a “penalty” as a tax to uphold Obamacare’s constitutionality in 2012–held that the “context” of the word “State” mattered more than the “most natural reading.” The dissent, by Justice Antonin Scalia, was blistering. “Words no longer have meaning… normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved.” He concluded: “We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”

Family Income Posts First “Meaningful Gain” in 15 Years

The 99% finally saw their incomes grow in 2014, according to a new analysis by UC Berkeley Professor Emmanuel Saez. Family income rose 3.3% after inflation, the first meaningful gain in 15 years. That’s because the unemployment rate fell substantially last year, Saez said. More than 2.95 million jobs were created, and the jobless rate fell to 5.6%.But though the 99% saw their incomes rise, the Top 1% did even better. They saw their income jump 10.8% last year, and they captured 58% of the income growth for the year. Because of that, income inequality continued to rise last year too. The average family income for the Bottom 99% was $47,200 last year. The Top 1%, meanwhile, had an average income of $1.3 million. It took $423,000 just to get into the Top 1%.

Supreme Court Blocks Obama’s Limits on Power Plants

The Supreme Court on Monday blocked one of the Obama administration’s most ambitious environmental initiatives, an Environmental Protection Agency regulation meant to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants. Industry groups and some 20 states had challenged the E.P.A.’s decision to regulate the emissions, saying the agency had failed to take into account the punishing costs its rule would impose. The Clean Air Act required the regulation to be “appropriate and necessary.” The challengers said the agency had run afoul of that law by deciding to regulate the emissions without first undertaking a cost-benefit analysis. The E.P.A. had argued that it was not required to take costs into account when it made the initial determination to regulate. But the agency added that it had done so later in setting emissions standards and that, in any event, the benefits far outweighed the costs. Industry groups said the government had imposed annual costs of $9.6 billion to achieve about $6 million in benefits. The agency said the costs yielded tens of billions of dollars in benefits. The decision, Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 14-46, does not strike down the rule, but it means the E.P.A. will have to review and rewrite it, taking costs into consideration.

The World’s Power Mix is Changing

Big changes are afoot for the energy sector in the next 25 years. Coal and gas are headed out, and solar and wind are rushing to take their place, reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Since 2004, renewable energy investments have risen from $43 billion to $270 billion annually. In 2014, most of that money went to China, a pattern that’s expected to continue through 2040. The world will spend a combined $12.2 trillion on new power-generating capacity over the next 25 years. The majority of that — two-thirds to be exact — will go to renewables, like wind and solar, thanks to falling costs. The world’s power-generating capacity will more than double by 2040. Of the new additional power generation to come online, 60 percent will come in the form of renewables. Fossil fuels currently account for roughly two-thirds of all power generating capacity, with renewables and nuclear making up the rest. The rapid rise of renewables will essentially flip the percentages. Fossil fuels will only account for a third of the world’s power-generating capacity in 25 years. Solar and wind will account for 26 percent and 14 percent respectively, up from just 2 percent and 5 percent in the present.

Digital Divide Decreasing but Not Gone

The digital divide in the United States has decreased significantly since 2000, with rates of Internet use and the advantages it brings increasing significantly across the entire population. But those without high school diplomas, African-Americans, Hispanics and people living in lower-income households still lag when it comes to accessing the online world. As of 2015, 84% of American adults use the Internet, according to a survey released Friday by the Pew Research Center. Those living in households earning more than $75,000 and English-speaking Asian Americans have the highest rates of Internet use, at 97%.Next came Americans aged 18 to 29, at 96% and college-educated adults at 95%. About of Hispanics are 81% are online. For African-Americans, the figure is 78%. Eighty-five percent of whites are online. However, only 66% of people who hadn’t completed high school were online. That’s up from just 19% in 2000 but still lags significantly.

Persecution Watch

A Pakistani Christian woman facing death for drinking water out of the same vessel used by her Muslim co-workers is in such poor health her supporters fear she won’t make it to her date with the executioner. Aasiya Noreen, a wife and mother of five better known as Asia Bibi, was sentenced in 2010 to be hanged for apostasy. The grim verdict was handed down after her co-workers charged she had insulted Prophet Mohammed when she was told she could not share the water vessel. Now 50, Bibi is suffering from numerous health problems, including intestinal bleeding. Supporters of Bibi are calling on the U.S. to use the approximately $900 million in annual foreign aid it provides Pakistan as leverage to obtain justice for Bibi and others suffering under the Muslim nation’s Draconian blasphemy laws.

Father Jonathan Morris was walking near Broadway in New York City wearing his cleric’s collar when he stumbled up the Gay Pride Parade. “Two men walked by and spat on me,” he reported to Fox News. But instead of responding with anger Father Jonathan responded with grace. As Todd Starnes notes, “In a way it’s a modern-day parable – those who preach tolerance are the least tolerant of all.”

A pastor in Belfast is facing prosecution after calling Islam “satanic” in a sermon. Christian News Network reports James McConnell, 78, is being charged with a hate crime for his speech. McConnell said in the sermon, “The God we worship and serve this evening is not Allah. The Muslim god—Allah—is a heathen deity. Allah is a cruel deity. Allah is a demon deity.” He continued to say that Islam was “satanic” and “a doctrine spawned in Hell.” The Christian Post reports McConnell plans to plead not guilty to the hate crime charge of making a “grossly offensive” statement. If convicted, McConnell says he is “prepared to go to jail.”

  • You can condemn Christianity all you want but don’t say anything back about Islam, LGBT, etc.

Economic News

The consumer sentiment index rose 6% in June from a month ago to 96.1, said the University of Michigan. The results put the index 16.5% above June last year and marked the biggest increase since 2004. The index is now at a five-month high.

New home sales rose 2.2% in May, according to the Census Bureau, and existing home sales rose 5.1%, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Global stocks lurched lower Monday as Greece closed its banks and imposed restrictions on cash withdrawals to try to prevent a deepening financial crisis from worsening amid faltering bailout talks with its international creditors.

China’s central bank took some aggressive steps on Saturday to boost its slowing economy. The People’s Bank of China cut both its one-year lending and deposit rates by 0.25%. In an additional move to shore up the economy, the bank also lowered the amount of cash that large banks must keep on reserve by 0.50%, a move intended free up money for banks to lend. China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite index dropped by 7.4% on Friday, as hundreds of individual stocks lost 10%.

Middle East

A terrorist attack on an Israeli vehicle traveling near the West Bank settlements of Shilo and Shvut Rachel Monday evening left Malachi Moshe Rosenfeld fighting for his life in hospital and three of his companions also hospitalized with light-to-moderate wounds. “This looks like an attack that was well-planned and not a spontaneous attack,” a security source said. Flyers in Arabic and bearing an image of the Islamic State terror militia were found posted around Jerusalem over the weekend, threatening Arab Christians with death unless they leave the city by the end of Ramadan. “Those who work with the Zionists also encourage Muslims to leave their religion and become more secular and open, and they spread evil. They take these Muslims away from us…. We know where they are, but we need help to find them all – all those Christian collaborators…ISIS soldiers will work to kill these people so this country is clean of them and… will clean this country and the Muslim Quarter from these Christians during this holy Ramadan.”

The Vatican State signed its first treaty with the “State of Palestine” on Friday, saying the pact “deals with essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine.” A statement accompanying the signing demanded “courageous decisions” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution. Israel’s Foreign Ministry reacted by issuing a statement saying the treaty won’t do anything to bring peace closer but rather “moves the Palestinian leadership further away from returning to direct bilateral relations.”

Islamic State

ISIS militants have reportedly kidnapped over 1,200 more children from Mosul to train as jihadists. Christian Today reports the children were taken to a “cubs of the caliphate” training camp, 1,227 in all. The children will be trained as fighters and suicide bombers, and will be brainwashed with Islamic extremist ideology. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said, “IS militants train children and send them to the frontlines to scare opposition forces. They train children from about 100 countries around the world.” Despite ISIS persecution in Iraq, Rev. Canon Andrew White, the so-called “Vicar of Baghdad,” said that Christians are holding onto their faith. They are “desperate,” he said, but they “are not (ceasing) to love Jesus. We are still serving him.”

Iran

Several top negotiators seeking a nuclear agreement with Iran are headed to Vienna to work past Tuesday’s self-imposed deadline to close the remaining gaps. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrives Tuesday and will meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who went home Sunday for consultations with his leaders, flies back to Vienna on Tuesday. Federika Mogherini, the European Union’s representative, arrived Sunday and said the Tuesday deadline had wiggle room built into it. Major differences remain, including allowing international inspections of all suspected nuclear sites, including military ones; a schedule for lifting sanctions and lasting limits on Iran’s nuclear research and development.

  • Iran thrives on creating ‘wiggle room’ to keep stalling while they build their nuclear arsenal

Afghanistan

A powerful explosion shook the Afghan capital Kabul on Tuesday in an attack near the U.S. Embassy that appeared to target foreign forces but mostly affected civilians. One person was killed and 22 people, including four children and three women, were wounded after a suicide bomber attacked a convoy of foreign troops serving with NATO on the main road running between Kabul’s airport and the U.S. Embassy. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place near Kabul’s Supreme Court building, a school and a mosque. U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Heather Easton said all embassy personnel were accounted for. The U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in Afghanistan in December. Some foreign troops remain in the country to train and support Afghan security forces, who have assumed full responsibility for security.

Egypt

Egypt’s top public prosecutor was killed by a car bomb attack on his convoy on Monday, the most senior state official to die at the hands of militants since the toppling of an Islamist president two years ago. Security sources said a bomb in a parked car was remotely detonated as Hisham Barakat’s motorcade left his home. Judges and other senior officials have increasingly been targeted by radical Islamists opposed to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and angered by hefty prison sentences imposed on members of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Reuters reports. Last month, the Islamic State militant group’s Egyptian affiliate urged followers to attack judges, opening a new front in an Islamist insurgency in Egypt..

Earthquakes

An earthquake struck the Hawaiian city of Volcano on Saturday evening. The magnitude-5.2 earthquake was followed by five aftershocks, the largest of them registering at magnitude 3.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. No injuries have been reported. No stranger to earthquakes, the island of Hawaii has experienced 94 earthquakes in the past two weeks, the largest of them being the one that occurred on Saturday.

Wildfires

Nineteen large (over 100 acres) wildfires are burning in Alaska. As of Tuesday morning, they had consumed over 230,000 acres and destroyed 77 structures. The largest of the wildfires in the Teana area has burned nearly 184,000 acres with no containment as of yet.

A grass fire fueled by hot, dry and windy conditions quickly grew out of control in central Washington Sunday night, consuming homes and businesses and forcing dozens of evacuations as it threatened to burn through additional structures. The Sleepy Hollow fires burned through Michelsen Packaging, Northern Wholseale Inc. and the Bluebird fruit warehouse. Propane and other chemical tanks at the businesses caught fire and exploded, sending a plume of flames into the night sky. As of Tuesday morning, the fire had consumed about 3,000 acres and 27 structures and was only 10% contained. Eight other large wildfires were also burning in the Pacific northwest over 42,000 acres.

Weather

June record highs have been broken in at least 31 cities in the Northwest, five of which appear to have tied or broken their all-time record highs. The extreme heat is likely to last into next week and may end up breaking records for longevity as well. An unofficial weather station located in Hell’s Canyon along the Oregon/Idaho border (Pittsburg Landing) recorded an incredible 116 degrees for a high Sunday. Highs well into the 90s and triple digits are expected in many lower-elevation locations west of the Continental Divide and inland from the Pacific Coast for the rest of this week.

Flooded roadways put a damper on weekend travel in several Midwestern states over the weekend, and in one area, it was so bad that it led to two deaths from an unusual storm late-June storm. More than 100,000 homes remained without power in Michigan Sunday morning, DTE Energy confirmed. To the south, more than 30,000 were without power in the Fort Wayne area alone, and crews said it could be days before the lights come back on for everyone. In Ohio, a nursing home had to be evacuated Sunday morning in Deshler as the floodwaters rose.

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