Signs of the Times (7/7/15)

Most Americans Don’t Believe the U.S. is a Christian Nation

The majority of Americans believe that faith in God is an important component of being a true American, but that the U.S. is not a Christian nation, a new study has found. Data compiled by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 69 per cent of Americans agreed with the statement that a belief in God is an “important part of being truly American”. This view was more popular among older people, held by 77 per cent of seniors in comparison to 52 per cent of young adults. That viewpoint was more widely held among Republicans (81 per cent) than Democrats (63 per cent). However, most Americans do not believe that America is a Christian nation. Around 59 per cent said that it isn’t, though 45 per cent agreed that it once was. Just 35 per cent said that it is currently a Christian nation, pointing to the decline of religion across the U.S.

90% of Evangelicals Disagree with Supreme Court Gay Marriage Ruling

A new survey from the Barna Group indicates that nine out of 10 Evangelical Christians do not agree with the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage across the United States. The survey also found that seven out of 10 practicing Christians opposed the ruling. About half (49 percent) of the general population agreed with the ruling. The Barna Group defined Evangelical Christians as those who said “they have made ‘a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today. Practicing Christians were defined as “self-identified Christians.

Entire Staff of Tennessee County Clerk’s Office Resigns Over ‘Gay Marriage’ Ruling

The entire staff of a county clerk’s office in Tennessee has resigned following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling declaring that all 50 states must legalize same-sex “marriage.” Three women who work at the Decatur County office announced their resignations this past week because of their Christian convictions. A number of area residents called or visited the office on Thursday to express their support of the women. “These three ladies stood upon their beliefs and they stood upon their morals,” resident Scott King said. “Too often we as Christians don’t do that. It’s time we followed the lead of what they showed us.”

Oregon Declares War on Christian Faith

In one of the most egregious anti-Christian acts committed by a state official in recent memory, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian not only upheld the ridiculous $135,000 fine levied against Aaron and Melissa Klein for declining to bake a cake for a lesbian commitment ceremony, but he ordered the Kleins to “cease and desist” from making any public comments about their religious convictions relative to this case. The fine itself is unconscionable, as the amount of $135,000 was determined by tallying up the alleged emotional damages experienced by the lesbian couple. The list of 178 purported damages suffered by the two lesbians includes ‘mental rape,’ adding that they had suffered a ‘loss of appetite’ and ‘impaired digestion,’ which remarkably led to ‘weight gain.'” If anyone here was “raped,” it was the Kleins (by the government) not this couple (by the Kleins), notes OneNewsNow.com.

  • Are these people so blind that they do not see the ridiculousness of these absurd accusations? Yes, because the “god of this age” (Satan) has indeed blinded them (2Corinthians 4:3-4)

Health Insurance Companies Seek Big Rate Increases for 2016

Health insurance companies around the country are seeking rate increases of 20 percent to 40 percent or more, saying their new customers under the Affordable Care Act turned out to be sicker than expected, reports the New York Times. Federal officials say they are determined to see that the requests are scaled back. The rate requests, from some of the more popular health plans, suggest that insurance markets are still adjusting to shock waves set off by the Affordable Care Act. It is far from certain how many of the rate increases will hold up on review, or how much they might change. But already the proposals, buttressed with reams of actuarial data, are fueling fierce debate about the effectiveness of the health law.

The Internet has Run Out of Addresses

The regional organization tasked with assigning IP addresses in North America, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, is now wait-listing all applicants because it has almost exhausted its supply of IP addresses under the current protocol. IP addresses are the unique numerical labels that identify any device connected to the Internet. Under the current protocol, Internet protocol version 4 (IPv4), addresses are designated by four series of numbers ranging from 0 to 255, like 69.171.224.0. But this protocol has been in use since the early days of the Internet, and almost all of the 4.3 billion possible labels of IPv4 are already in use. A new protocol that was developed in the 1990s, Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6), has already been deployed in response. IPv6 consists of eight groups of both letters and numbers — like 2a03:2880:f022:6:face:b00c:0:2 (the IPv6 address for Facebook’s servers). It provides roughly 340 trillion trillion trillion (or 340-undecillion) unique combinations, an almost limitless number of addresses. IPv6 is already installed in most devices, and most websites have made themselves accessible through IPv6, but Internet service providers (ISPs) have been slow to adopt the new protocol.

The Digital Doctor is the Next Wave in Health Care

In today’s digitally focused world, there are some cases where a trip to the doctor can be easily replaced with the download of an app or the power of a text message. The health care industry is in the midst of a technological boom, a transition which physician Bob Wachter, author of The Digital Doctor, says is necessary – but no one has gotten it completely right yet. “There are many things that patients can do to help themselves … if armed with good algorithms and good backup plans,” he said. “But the trick here is that you need to draw a line, and know how to tell when a patient needs to see a human, versus when they do not.” Investment in digital health startups was more than $2 billion in 2014, says Ahmed Albaiti, founder and CEO of Medullan, a digital health innovation lab in Boston. RockHealth, CBInsights and McKinsey & Company say they’ve found more than 2,000 startups with the key words “digital health” and “new health care technologies.” Among the hundreds of companies focused on digital technologies, CVS Health is one of the latest businesses looking to bolster its image as a digital health care powerhouse. CVS Health recently opened up its Digital Innovation Lab, a warehouse-size space where innovators and entrepreneurs can come together, test new products and hash out ideas with each other.

Greece Voters Reject EU Bailout Terms

Greek voters handed Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras a decisive vote of confidence Sunday. With nearly all the votes counted, 61% responded to his appeal to vote “no” in a referendum on whether to accept bailout terms that required more austerity in the beleaguered country without any promise of debt relief. By voting “no” in a referendum called with little more than a week’s notice, Greek voters affirmed their choice last January in parliamentary elections that brought Tsipras’ Syriza party to power on a dual pledge to stick with the euro but reject further austerity policies after five years of deflation and recession. Greece’s economic collapse is on par with America’s Great Depression and similar to a country at war. Greece’s economic output — known as GDP — has fallen 25% since 2008. Stock markets and oil prices fell across the globe Monday in reaction to the ‘no’ vote.

The “no” vote puts the ball back in the court of EU officials, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who must find a way to provide Greece with aid to avoid a full-fledged default or to pull the plug and effectively eject Greece from the euro. A belated acknowledgment by the International Monetary Fund last week that Greece’s debt is unsustainable and will need to be restructured could help pave the way for some concessions on the EU side to reach a quick agreement. Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s embattled finance minister, has defiantly resigned his post decrying “debt bondage.” However, the resignation could help Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reach an agreement with creditors. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras plans to present new proposals to European leaders Tuesday

  • Debt relief is the new mantra of indebted nations. However, somebody always winds up paying for the unchecked borrowing and the money printing that has artificially kept economies afloat

Economic News

The U.S. trade deficit widened in May, fueled by a drop in exports that could heighten concerns over weak overseas demand and a strong U.S. dollar. The Commerce Department reported on Tuesday that the trade gap grew $1.2 billion to $41.9 billion. Exports fell $1.5 billion, or 0.8 percent, to $188.6 billion in May, led by a drop in overseas sales of U.S.-made capital goods.

States are mounting an uneven fiscal recovery from the Great Recession, with energy-rich states leading and Northeastern states with big pension obligations lagging, a new study shows. Alaska, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Florida are on the most solid financial footing, according to rankings of the 50 states released Tuesday by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Illinois are at the bottom.

One common state burden is the commitment to pay out huge sums in pensions. Some states may struggle financially because they used pensions and entitlements to pay general expenses. In Illinois, ranked No. 50, the government used funds set aside for future pensions to pay more urgent bills. When the pensions came due, Illinois tried to cut them. A judge ruled this past May that Illinois’ pension cuts were unconstitutional. But that left the state with no plan to deal with a growing list of debts.

The U.S women’s World Cup team are champs. But they’re being paid far less than men on losing teams. The women’s team won $2 million from FIFA for winning this year’s tournament. Last year, the German men’s team collected $35 million after winning the 2014 World Cup. In fact the 16 men’s teams that were eliminated in the first round of last year’s World Cup each got $8 million, or four times as much as the championship women. The U.S men’s team, which finished 11th, won $9 million.

China’s stock markets are in trouble. The Shanghai Composite Index has fallen over 25% since mid-June. The turmoil in China’s stock market is so bad that some companies are calling it quits. Over 700 Chinese companies have halted trading to “self-preserve,” according to the state media. That means about a quarter of the companies listed on China’s two big exchanges — the Shanghai and Shenzhen — are no longer trading

Many economists now believe that the global banking system is on the verge of collapse having once again built up their portfolios with ‘toxic assets.” But this time, the collapse will be greater than in 2007, they say, because they’ve already used up their arsenal of low interest rates and debt-driven stimulus.

Middle East

The Islamic State’s affiliate group in Egypt claims it fired three Grad rockets Friday in southern Israel. The Telegraph reports ISIS said the rocket launches were retaliation for Israel’s support of Egypt’s armed forces Wednesday after the militants attacked army checkpoints in northern Sinai. An Israeli military spokesman said that two rockets were fired from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and exploded inside the country and didn’t cause any casualties. Islamic militants unleashed a wave of simultaneous attacks on Egyptian army checkpoints Wednesday, killing at least 64 soldiers.

Islamic State

Islamic State militants have released a video that apparently shows a mass execution within the ruins of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. The video shows militants from the group executing soldiers in an amphitheater in Tadmur—the Arabic name for the city that includes the historic Palmyra ruins— and blowing up a prison. ISIL said the men were soldiers captured in the city of Homs. Stills from the video show the killers as young men, possibly as young as 13 or 14, in front of an audience of several hundred men in civilian clothes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that ISIS killed 20-25 men in the public execution and around 200 people in the area when it won the city.

U.S.-led coalition forces conducted 16 airstrikes Saturday and early Sunday against key ISIS buildings and transit routes in the terror group’s stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, a U.S. Army official said. The U.S.-led coalition often targets ISIS-held towns and cities in Syria, but the overnight strikes on Raqqa were rare in their intensity. “The significant airstrikes tonight were executed to deny Daesh the ability to move military capabilities throughout Syria and into Iraq,” Lt. Col. Thomas Gilleran said in a statement, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. Raqqa is the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic caliphate declared a year ago by the Islamic State group in territories it controls in Iraq and Syria.

Iran

World powers seeking a nuclear deal with Iran in Vienna will continue negotiating past a second deadline on Tuesday — after missing a previous one last week. European Union representative Federica Mogherini said “this does not mean we are extending our deadline” because negotiators are interpreting the deadline “in a flexible way,” taking the time they need to finalize the agreement. The talks have been “difficult” and “tense,” she said, according to The Jerusalem Post. Delegations from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — plus Germany have been working with Iran to seal an agreement on curbing Iran’s disputed nuclear program and lift international sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. The talks are meant to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

A $150 billion windfall Iran would get after a deal to curb its nuclear program is raising new alarms in Congress that it will use the money to boost terrorist funding across the Middle East. James Clapper, Obama’s director of national intelligence, calls Iran the world’s “foremost state sponsor of terrorism,” citing Iran’s support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria and Houthi insurgents in Yemen. Yet the Obama administration argues that a nuclear deal with world powers and increased revenue would reduce Iran’s isolation, potentially leading to a more constructive Iranian foreign policy. There’s hope that success on the nuclear deal “could lead to other openings with Iran on other issues that could possibly have a positive benefit in terms of their behavior and conduct on a whole range of other security matters in the region,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

  • It is ludicrous to believe that handing Iran what they want will lead to a more peaceful, compliant relationship. Iran is determined to annihilate Israel and eliminate all infidels.

Afghanistan

Two suicide attacks rocked areas in and around Kabul on Tuesday, one of them targeting coalition forces and another an Afghan government building, authorities said. No coalition forces died as a result and that “all personnel and equipment have been recovered.” It was not immediately clear if any such forces suffered injuries, or how many of the attackers died. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombings, according to a Twitter post by spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid. Such violence is hardly unprecedented in Afghanistan, which has been wracked by years of unrest. The Taliban had ruled the Asian nation until U.S.-led forces ousted them from power after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for helping harbor al Qaeda. The group never went away, though, remaining a disruptive and sometimes deadly force. President Barack Obama had announced his intention to pull out all but 5,500 troops by year’s end. But a senior Obama administration official said in March that Obama was reconsidering that drawdown at the request of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Nigeria

A bomb killed 25 people at a local government building in north-central Nigeria Tuesday, a state governor said — marking the latest in a series of recent deadly attacks in a country where the government is battling the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. The bomb — “most likely carried by a suicide bomber” — exploded at a local government council’s office in the Sabon Gari section of the city of Zaria. Thirty-two other people were injured and being treated at a hospital. The Nigerian military on Saturday said “scores” were killed when six Boko Haram suicide bombers staged coordinated attacks Friday in a village near Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. Friday’s suicide attacks came the same day as reports of a fierce gun battle between Nigerian troops and Boko Haram on the outskirts of Maiduguri. A Wednesday raid on the fishing village of Kukawa left 97 people dead. The same day, Boko Haram militants stormed two nearby villages and opened fire at a mosque during evening prayers. Local lawmaker Mohammed Tahir told CNN 48 people were killed in that attack.

France

Over the past three years, France has deported 40 foreign imams for “preaching hatred.” A quarter of those have taken place since the January terror attacks in Paris, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Monday. The minister vowed to clamp down on mosques and preachers inciting hatred after a suspected Islamist beheaded his boss during an attack on a gas factory last week. Any “foreign preacher of hate will be deported,” said Cazeneuve, adding that several mosques were being investigated for inciting terrorism and if found to be doing so, “will be shut down.”

  • The U.S. needs to follow suit. We have hate crime laws, so why aren’t they being implemented against hate-mongering Islamists but only against Christian bakers and florists?

Wildfires

All over the West, wildfire danger is high and hundreds of fires are actively burning in Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska. As temperatures soar in the Northwest, firefighters are being dealt a very difficult hand in the battle against several large blazes burning across multiple states. With so many areas already under severe, long-term drought, any fire that’s sparked immediately becomes a huge danger to grow into a huge inferno. All over the state of Washington, fire crews have been stretched to the brink as they attempt to extinguish dozens of wildfires currently burning. Over 80 active wildfires were burning in Oregon as of the weekend. Firefighters have their hands full as at least 20 large wildfires continue to burn in Alaska.

A large grass fire is threatening to burn structures in the town of Vacaville, and at least 100 people have been forced from their homes as a result. The so-called Lake fire, the largest of the Golden State’s active blazes, had burned through more than 31,000 acres of land as of Sunday morning. A wildfire has grown to nearly 18,000 acres in rough terrain south of Lake Tahoe.

Overall, there are 22 large wildfires (over 100 acres) actively burning in Alaska as of Tuesday morning, having already consumed 400,000 acres. Another 17 large wildfires are burning in Washington and Oregon, destroying over 46,500 acres. Nationally, 29,374 wildfires have burned 3,111,481 acres through Monday, July 6th. This is the most in four years at this point, greater than the 10-year average of 2,339,310 acres, due to the extreme heat of early summer and the drought in the west.

Weather

The torrid heat wave in the Northwest, now in its second week, will continue for a while this week. Seattle tied its record streak of five straight 90-degree-plus highs Sunday. Boise, Idaho, tied its all-time record streak of 100-degree-plus highs on July 4, a string of nine straight days. Portland, Oregon, set a daily record high Sunday (96 degrees) and has seen 95-degree-plus heat the first five days of July. More record highs are expected over the next several days in Oregon, Washington and northern Idaho before a cooling trend starts by the end of the week. One of the Big Four Ice Caves near Granite Falls, Washington, partially collapsed Monday night due to the unseasonably warm temperatures, killing one person and injuring four others.

Dangerous storms moved into the Kansas City area Monday night, bringing heavy rain, lightning and even reported tornadoes. There were no immediate reports of major damage, but photos showed trees snapped and power lines down in Eudora, Kansas. Torrential rains were another signature of Monday’s storms. The National Weather Service said 6 inches of rain was reported in Platte County, Missouri, as well as flooding in downtown Wichita. Flood watches are in effect in several areas Tuesday from the Ohio Valley to the mid-Mississippi Valley, Ozarks, southern Plains, Rockies and even parts of the Great Basin and Sierra. In 24 hours ending at 7 a.m. EDT Tuesday, there had been 104 reports of flash flooding.

A heat wave blasting through Europe smashed the German record, the 104.5-degree temperature recorded Sunday in Kitzingen the hottest in the nation since record keeping began in 1881. Kitzingen is a town of about 20,000 people in southern Bavaria. Europe has experienced extreme heat since last week, with scorching temperatures saddling England, France, Poland, Portugal, Spain and other nations. Britain last week saw a record high for a July day.

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