Signs of the Times (7/11/15)

Oklahoma Governor Keep Ten Commandments Monument on Capitol Grounds

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday the Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol will stay there despite the state’s Supreme Court ruling it violated the Constitution and must be removed. Fallin and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reconsider the 7-2 decision that was handed down last week after a challenge from the ACLU of Oklahoma on behalf of three plaintiffs. Lawmakers have also filed legislation to let people vote on the issue.

Kansas Governor Protects Pastors from Lawsuits over Gay Weddings

The governor of Kansas has issued an executive order that protects pastors from lawsuits that could emerge over refusal to officiate gay weddings. The order from Gov. Sam Brownback comes after the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote to legalize same-sex marriage across the United States. In a statement, Brownback said, “We recognize that religious liberty is at the heart of who we are as Kansans and Americans, and should be protected. The Kansas Bill of Rights affirms the right to worship according to ‘dictates of conscience’ and further protects against any infringement of that right. Today’s Executive Order protects Kansas clergy and religious organizations from being forced to participate in activities that violate their sincerely and deeply held beliefs.”

Oregon Allows 15-Year-Olds to Get Sex-Change Operations without Parents’ Consent

A policy allowing 15-year-olds in Oregon to undergo a sex-reassignment surgery without the knowledge or consent of parents was passed in January, without gleaning media attention. Fox News reports the policy is the first of its kind in the U.S. and allows transgender children to seek cross-sex hormone therapy, puberty-suppressing drugs and sex changes all paid for by the state. The policy was passed by Oregon’s health Evidence Review Commission (HERC), who believe that allowing children with gender identity disorder access to the therapies, drugs and surgeries will reduce the number of suicides in the state. Lori Porter of Parents’ Rights in Education said, “For a life-altering decision like that to be done unbeknownst to a parent or guardian, it’s mindboggling.”

Kenyans Warn Obama: Don’t Bring Abortion or Gay Agenda Here!

When he visits his father’s homeland in Africa later this month, President Obama is expected to run into vocal opposition over his administration’s high-profile promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues. Obama’s trip to Kenya, his first as president, is scheduled to take place four weeks after the White House was bathed in rainbow colors to mark the U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring that same-sex marriage is a right. At a pro-family demonstration at the parliament in Nairobi Monday, organized by the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, participants called on the American president not to raise the subject during his visit. Irungu Kangata, a lawmaker in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance party, said: “We are telling Mr. Obama when he comes to Kenya this month and he tries to bring the abortion agenda, the gay agenda, we shall tell him to shut up and go home.”

OPM government data breach impacted 21.5 million

Government investigators now believe that the data theft from the Office of Personnel Management computer systems compromised sensitive personal information, including Social Security numbers, of roughly 21.5 million people from both inside and outside the government, officials said Thursday. In a second major OPM breach, hackers obtained information from the security clearance applications — known as SF-86’s – of 19.7 million people. Another 1.8 million were non-applicants comprised mostly of spouses and partners of applicants. OPM had initially said the hackers obtained the files of 4 million people. OPM Director Katherine Archuleta. Resigned Friday. The hackers also took 1.1 million fingerprints, a theft that poses an unprecedented danger. The thieves could create physical copies, then break into the fingerprint-locked devices of U.S. diplomats and government agents.

Terrorism Fears Rise after Missile Hacking Incident

German-owned Patriot missiles stationed on Turkey’s Syrian border have been briefly hacked, according to reports in the German media. The nature of the technology hack, and the culprits, are unknown. The American-made anti-aircraft missiles were stationed in Turkey by Germany to protect their Nato ally, The Local reported. According to civil service magazine Behorden Speigel, the missile system carried out “unexplained” commands. It reports that the missiles are susceptible to hacking in the “digital space”, as commands are broadcast from the command centre to the missile in real time.

More Than 347,000 Convicted Criminal Immigrants at Large in the U.S.

According to a “ICE Weekly Departures and Detention Report” obtained by the Center for Immigration Studies, there were 168,680 convicted criminal immigrants who had final orders of removal but who remained at large in the U.S. Another 179,018 convicted criminal immigrants with deportation cases pending also remained at large. While the vast majority were not in custody, only a relative few were detained — 6,220 criminal immigrants facing final deportation orders and another 7,680 convicted criminal immigrants with immigration cases pending. In 2013 the Obama administration released 36,007 criminal immigrants who had nearly 88,000 convictions. Those convictions included 193 homicide convictions, 426 sexual assault convictions, 303 kidnapping convictions, and 1,075 aggravated assault convictions.

  • Trump may be over the top about illegal immigration, but he’s correct that there is a very serious problem with criminals being allowed to roam free

Several U.S. Cities see Homicide Rates Surge

After seeing years of decline in violent crime, several major American cities experienced a dramatic surge in homicides during the first half of this year. Milwaukee, which had one of its lowest annual homicide totals in city history last year, has recorded 80 murders so far this year, more than double the 39 it tallied at the same point last year. Baltimore, New Orleans and St. Louis have also seen the number of murders jump 33% or more in 2015. Meanwhile, Chicago, the nation’s third largest city, has seen the homicide toll climb by 19%. In all the cities, the increased violence is disproportionately impacting poor and predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods. In parts of Milwaukee, the sound of gunfire has become so expected that about 80% of gunfire detected by ShotSpotter sensors aren’t even called into police by residents.

U.S. Army to Cut 40,000 Troops over Next Two Years

The U.S. Army is planning to cut more than 40,000 troops over the next two years, a senior U.S. defense official confirmed to Fox News Tuesday. eneral Martin Dempsey announced at a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing Tuesday that dwindling resources was a major factor in the decision to cut the number of active troops from 490,000 to 450,000. In addition to the troop cuts, 17,000 Army civilian employees will be laid off.

Persecution Watch

Reports have emerged of houses owned by Christian families in Jerusalem being marked with graffiti including the name of the Islamic State (IS) terror militia and warning the occupants to take seriously threats that if they do not leave Jerusalem by the end of the Moslem holy month of Ramadan they will be massacred. The graffiti comes a week after flyers purportedly placed by IS operatives and containing the ultimatum were first discovered. “ISIS has been making claims and threats towards Jerusalem since November last year and unfortunately, many Palestinians have embraced this ideology and its goal to “liberate Jerusalem” at any cost,” said a Facebook post by Father Gabriel Naddaf, a leader in the Arab Christian community who has advocated for Arab Christians to support the Jewish State. “The continuous incitement for violence towards Jewish people and the recent attacks, ambushes, stabbings and drive-by shootings by Palestinians, is the result.”

Economic News – Domestic

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level since late February. But the increase likely reflected temporary auto plant shutdowns rather than any underlying labor market weakness, economists say. The number of people filing applications for unemployment benefits rose by 15,000 to 297,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That is the highest weekly total since 327,000 applications were filed in the week of Feb. 28. Even with the recent increases, benefit applications, which are a proxy for layoffs, remain at levels reflecting a labor market that has been posting solid employment gains.

One year after announcing a massive round of job cuts impacting 18,000 employees, Microsoft is wielding the axe again. Microsoft announced another round of layoffs on Wednesday, cutting up to 7,800 jobs. Most of the cuts are connected to the company’s phone business. The job cuts are tied to Microsoft’s big gamble to become a larger player in the smartphone market. Last year, it completed its acquisition of Nokia’s handset business after partnering on the Lumia line of smartphones running Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system.

The number of publicly listed U.S. stocks peaked at a record 7,562 during the summer of 1998, according to the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index. Today, there are just 3,812. Simply put, there are more companies disappearing than entering the stock market. Not only do investors have fewer options to invest in, but it directly impacts American jobs. “We’re shrinking the stock market. Unless we figure out how to create a lot more startups and a lot more IPOs, the economy is going to continue to generate jobs at lower rates than it should,” said David Weild, former vice chairman at Nasdaq. However, the collective value — known as market capitalization — of the stock market has risen tremendously since the 1990s.

The American financial system is at risk. That’s the message from the International Monetary Fund, which on Tuesday released its first check-up on the U.S. financial system since 2010. The IMF believes the U.S. is safer than it was before the financial crisis. However, new threats to the system — like big banks that have grown even bigger — have formed over the past few years and efforts to safeguard the system have not been finished. “New pockets of vulnerabilities have emerged, partly in response to the continuing search for yield,” the IMF’s executive summary reads. “Large and interconnected banks dominate the system even more than before,” the IMF warns. There’s also worry over the shadow banking industry. These non-banks, which include hedge funds, asset managers and insurers, now account for more than 70% of assets and contribute to systemic risk.

Economic News – International

The Greek government has formally requested a third international bailout to help pay its debts, and prevent economic collapse and ejection from the euro. The Greek government proposes that the new rescue package run for three years and promised to introduce fresh economic reforms in exchange for the money. Greece has already received two massive bailouts worth roughly 240 billion euros ($265 billion), but needs more. The latest bailout program ended last week. Greece then missed a big debt payment to the International Monetary Fund, becoming the first developed economy to default to the fund. Finance ministers meeting in Brussels on Saturday will decide whether a reform plan submitted by Greece to its creditors is sufficient to secure Athens a third bailout and prevent it from dramatically crashing out of Europe’s euro-currency bloc.

Greeks who voted against harsh austerity measures just last weekend accepted the government’s about-face on a new bailout plan with resignation Friday, saying it’s better than the economic misery they’ve been living with for the past few weeks. Banks remain closed with strict limits on ATM cash withdrawals, and the country’s largest industry — tourism — has been severely curtailed. Unemployment levels have surged in recent months, and the nation’s economy has contracted by 25% since the crisis began.

In a flurry of new moves to halt a stock market slide, China’s government told state-owned companies to buy shares, raised the amount of equities insurance companies can hold and promised more credit to finance trading. Hundreds of companies have announced a halt to trading in their shares after emergency measures announced last weekend failed to stop a slide that has caused China’s main market index to decline by more than 30% since early June. Auto sales in China — the world’s largest vehicle market — are suddenly sputtering as concerns mount over the country’s stock market plunge.

Global poverty has fallen by half over the past decade. However, 71% of the world’s population remain low-income or poor, living off $10 or less a day, according to a new Pew Research Center report. The global middle class nearly doubled over the decade to 13% in 2011, but it still represents a small fraction of the world’s population. “The world has made tremendous strides in pulling people out of poverty, but most of the growth has been only one step up the economic ladder,” said Rakesh Kochhar, associate director at Pew. People “are potentially one financial shock away from slipping back into poverty.”

Middle East

Israeli security agencies released a gag order Thursday on the case of Avera Mengistu, a 26-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli resident of Ashkelon who is believed to be held hostage by the Islamist terror militia Hamas in Gaza. Another unnamed Israeli citizen is also believed to be held in Gaza. Mengistu crossed into Gaza, September 8, 2014, and was not a soldier. Israel believes Hamas is holding Mengistu with intention of using him as a bargaining chip in future negotiations.

Iran

Efforts to wrap up a nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers by Friday have hit a new snag over arms embargoes against Tehran that is dividing the U.S. and its negotiating partners. Just as the two sides were moving closer to a nuclear agreement, Iran this week demanded that conventional weapons and missile embargoes be among the sanctions lifted in return for curbing its nuclear program. That demand complicates the talks because the United States, Britain, France and Germany oppose such a move, but Russia and China want the embargo lifted so they can sell ballistic missiles and other weaponry to Iran. Diplomats agreed to extend until Monday terms of a temporary deal that set conditions for talks to continue.

  • What a surprise, new demands that further stall the negotiations while Iran continues to move toward nuclear weapons

Syria

More than 4 million Syrians have fled the violence in their homeland to seek refuge in neighboring countries, the United Nations said Thursday. At least 7.6 million other people have displaced inside Syria, the U.N. refugee agency said. That means more than half of all Syrians have been driven from their homes by the war, which has killed well over 200,000 people. Turkey is hosting the highest number of Syrian refugees at more than 1.8 million, followed by Lebanon with 1.17 million, and Jordan with 629,000. The grim numbers make Syria’s lengthy civil war the worst crisis that the U.N. refugee agency has had to deal with in nearly 25 years. The Syrian refugee population is the highest on record since the number of people who fled Afghanistan reached 4.6 million in 1992.

Afghanistan

The government of Afghanistan held talks this week with the Taliban in an attempt to work toward a peace process for the war-ravaged nation, officials said. The Afghan government described the meeting as “the start of the first ever official peace talks” between the two sides. U.S. and Chinese officials also attended the discussions Tuesday at a hilltop resort in Pakistan. “The participants agreed to continue talks to create an environment conducive for peace and reconciliation process,” the Pakistani government said in a statement Wednesday. The next meeting is expected to take place after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Hafiz Saeed, a former Taliban leader now thought to be ISIS’ leader in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been killed in a U.S. drone strike, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said Saturday. Saeed killed with 30 other insurgents in a strike on their compound in the Achin region of Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province. In addition, another leader of the Islamic State in Afghanistan — and former Pakistani Taliban spokesman — was killed in a separate U.S. drone strike. Shahidullah Shahid died Tuesday in the attack in Nangarhar Province, eastern Afghanistan. Another 24 militants were killed in the strike. Among the dead were deputy ISIL commander Gul Zaman and his deputy Jahanyar. Last year, Shahid was fired as Pakistani Taliban (TTP) spokesman after pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, which controls vast swaths of Syria and Iraq.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s Boko Haram extremists are offering to free more than 200 young women and girls kidnapped from a boarding school in the town of Chibok in exchange for the release of militant leaders held by the government, a human rights activist has told The Associated Press. The activist said Boko Haram’s current offer is limited to the girls from the school in northeastern Nigeria whose mass abduction in April 2014 ignited worldwide outrage and a campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls” that stretched to the White House. The new initiative reopens an offer made last year to the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan to release the 219 students in exchange for 16 Boko Haram detainees. The recent slew of Boko Haram bloodletting — some 350 people killed in the past nine days — is consistent with past ratcheting up of violence as the militants seek a stronger negotiating position. The 5-week-old administration of President Muhammadu Buhari offers “a clean slate” to bring the militants back to negotiations.

Kenya

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility Tuesday for a nighttime attack on two homes in northeastern Kenya’s Mandera County. The attack killed at least 14 people and injured 11 others. The compound primarily housed quarry workers. An explosive device — something other than a hand grenade — was used to blow open a gate to the compound. The attackers then entered and started shooting. Local security forces responded within 10 minutes, and as their vehicles approached, the attackers dispersed into the bush and surrounding villages. Some may have crossed the border into Somalia, the home base for this Islamist terrorist group.

Volcanoes

Indonesia Mount Raung sent an explosive eruption of ash into the air Friday, putting people who live near the volcano on high alert. The ash spewing from the volcano on Indonesia’s main island of Java caused widespread chaos for vacationers as airports closed and international airlines canceled flights to tourist hotspots, stranding thousands. The eruption forced authorities to close five airports due to the risks posed by volcanic ash, though two airports on Lombok island reopened Friday afternoon.

Wildfires

An area the size of Connecticut has burned in Alaska this year, the state said. That’s 3.1 million acres, a loss that comes during one of the hottest periods in decades. The state set a new record for the earliest day with a temperature above 90, when the mercury hit 91 in the town of Eagle on May 23 — 30 degrees hotter than the average high temperature in May. Apart from charred landscape, smoky air is affecting even Alaskans who don’t live close to where a fire is raging. The air quality has been so bad that advisories to avoid the outdoors have been issued. There were 152 new fires in a single weekend in late June. Though lightning caused most of the blazes, humans caused 17 of the 67 newest fires.

Thousands of people in Canada have fled their homes as hundreds of wildfires burn, sending thick smoke as far south as Colorado, officials said Wednesday. More than 13,000 have evacuated in Saskatchewan. Evacuation orders affect 60 communities, the government of Saskatchewan said on its website, adding there are 113 active fires. Fifteen homes in Montreal Lake had been destroyed by fire. Firefighters will soon get help from the military. As many as 1,400 troops will be trained in firefighting and sent to the hotspots. Several hundred had been deployed Wednesday.

Weather

Typhoon Chan-hom made landfall on the Chinese coast as a Category 2 storm, just under 200 miles from Shanghai in Zhoushan, state media reported. Nearly a million people were evacuated ahead of the storm’s landfall. So far no injuries or deaths have been reported in the country. The provincial flood control bureau said 28,764 ships had been ordered back to port by late Friday. The country’s railway service said more than 100 trains between the region’s cities were canceled through Sunday.

In rivers across the western U.S., the region’s historic drought and severe heat are addig up to lethal conditions for the fish that live in them. Salmon and trout, especially, are feeling some of the biggest impacts from the drought, according to a survey released Wednesday of more than 50 rivers in Oregon, California and Washington by the Wild Fish Conservancy. Nearly three-fourths of the rivers had temperatures that reached above 70 degrees, the threshold considered potentially deadly for salmon and trout. Low river flows from the record low winter snowpack, which normally feeds rivers through the summer, combined with record hot weather have created a “perfect storm” of bad conditions for salmon and trout. The entire West Coast saw record low snowpack last winter, leading to low rivers this summer. All three states had record high temperatures for June.

Even if the world manages to limit global warming to 2°C — the target number for current climate negotiations — sea levels may still rise at least 6 meters (20 feet) above their current heights, radically reshaping the world’s coastline and affecting millions in the process. That finding comes from a new paper published on Thursday, July 9, in Science that shows how high sea levels rose the last time carbon dioxide levels were this high. That was about 3 million years ago, when the globe was about 3-5°F warmer on average.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme (Daniel 9:26, Rev. 8:7, 11:19, 16:11)

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