Signs of the Times (8/14/15)

Pro-Lifers Organize Planned Parenthood Protests in 180 Cities Nationwide

Pro-life advocates across the country will unite on Aug. 22 to protest abortion, Planned Parenthood and the company’s alleged sale of aborted fetal organs. Life News reports the protests will at Planned Parenthood clinics in 180 cities and 43 states nationwide. Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, Created Equal, the Pro-Life Action League and 40 Days for Life are sponsoring the event alongside over 60 additional pro-life groups. The advocates organized the mass protest after five videos leaked online, appearing to show Planned Parenthood profiting from the illegal sale of aborted organs. Monica Miller of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society said, “Now is the time for all of us to take to the streets and publicly expose Planned Parenthood for the pro-death organization that it is.”

Sixth Expose Video of Planned Parenthood Released

A few weeks ago, Holly O’Donnell, a former “procurement technician” at StemExpress, provided a firsthand account in a video of the process used to sell aborted baby parts in conjunction with Planned Parenthood. In the second part of her story, Ms. O’Donnell describes how StemExpress (a contracted partner with Planned Parenthood) removed aborted baby parts without the consent of the mother. Other times, according to O’Donnell, women were pressured into consenting while they were still under the influence of the medication used during the abortion procedure.

Judge Rules StemExpress Can’t Confiscate Planned Parenthood Videos

In a victory for the pro-life activists behind the expose’ videos that have caught Planned Parenthood selling aborted babies and their body parts for research, a judge has ruled the biotech firm StemExpress can’t take videos and documentation from them. While the videos have focused on the Planned Parenthood abortion business, the biotech firm StemExpress, which buys and resells aborted baby body parts from the abortion giant, has filed a lawsuit seeking to block some information the Center for Medical Progress obtained in its three year undercover operation. A Superior Court of the State of California issued a decision Thursday in StemExpress v. The Center for Medical Progress, which prohibits a biomedical company from accessing the material of an investigative journalist exposing Planned Parenthood’s selling of fetal body parts.

Obama Administration Cracks Down on States’ Efforts to Defund Planned Parenthood

The Obama Administration says that the recent action taken by Louisiana and Alabama to defund Planned Parenthood is in violation of federal law. The two states have contacted their respective Planned Parenthood headquarters, notifying the clinics that their Medicaid provider agreement with the states will be terminated. According to LifeNews, both states gave Planned Parenthood the required 30-days’ notice of agreement termination–an action that either party in the agreement could have made at any time. However, the Obama Administration, through the federal Center for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS), has contacted Louisiana and Alabama, warning the states that their recent actions may place them in conflict with federal law, restricting individuals who have coverage through Medicaid from receiving care from a qualified provider.

Sixteen States Support Christian Universities in Challenge to Obamacare

Sixteen states have agreed to join three Christian universities to challenge ObamaCare. According to Fox News, the 16 states filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court to support East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University and Westminster Theological Seminary. The colleges have appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that requires the schools to have contraception options in their health insurance plans. The 16 states to ally with the schools are: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia, according to Fox News. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the International Mission Board for the Southern Baptist Convention, the Christian Missionary Alliance Foundation and the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities have also pledged to support the colleges.

Christian Universities Grapple with Implications of Gay Marriage Ruling

Many Christian universities are grappling with the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage across the U.S. A few schools in particular–Hope College, Belmont University, and Baylor University–have already made changes to their official school policies in order to accommodate homosexual students. According to One News Now, Baylor University has taken the words “homosexual acts,” as well as other sexual references, from its sexual misconduct policy. It is reported that Hope College and Belmont University have similarly changed their policies.

  • The secular humanists aligned with the gay agenda are weakening Christianity from the inside out – and too many Christian institutions are caving in

TV Shows for Children Show Record Number of LGBT Characters

Awareness and acceptance of homosexuality has been gaining unprecedented support in America and elsewhere; now that awareness and support is even affecting children’s TV. In a Christian Today article, Jeff Johnston, Christian media watcher, reported that “There are definitely more gay and transgender characters and stories in children’s television.” Johnston has warned that parents who are concerned about the morals and values to which their children are being exposed ought to be aware that homosexual, transgender, and sexually ambiguous characters are becoming more prevalent not only in television shows, but in children’s books and games as well.

  • The entertainment industry is in an all-out war to foist homosexuality on our children, following similar efforts in our public schools. The number of gays in TV shows and movies are far out of proportion with their numbers overall. Even so, this is ultimately Satan’s ploy to undermine families and Christianity.

Record 42.1 Million Immigrants in U.S.

A new analysis of legal and illegal immigrant counts by the Census Bureau released Thursday reveals that there is a record 42.1 million in the United States, an explosion that is being driven by Mexicans flooding across the border. The report by the Center for Immigration Studies shows that the total immigrant population surged 1.7 million since 2014. The growth was led in the last year by an additional 740,000 Mexican immigrants. The 42.1 million tabulated by Census in the second quarter represent over 13 percent of the U.S. population, the biggest percentage in 105 years.

Seven Million Fewer Uninsured this Year

The number of Americans without health insurance dropped from 36 million last year to 29 million in the first quarter of this year, according to the federal government. Among adults 18-64, 18.1% had public coverage, 70.4% had private coverage and 13% were uninsured. The uninsured rate was down from 16.3% in 2014. Among children, 4.6% were uninsured — less than half the 1997 rate of 13.9% — and 40.4% had public coverage. Just over 56% were covered by private plans. Since 2013, poor and near-poor children and working-age adults saw the biggest drops in their uninsured rates.

  • However, many of the newly insured and those forced to change policies have such high deductibles that they are actually losing money unless a catastrophic illness or accident occurs

Economic News – Domestic

Retail sales in the U.S. rose 0.6% in July as consumers began spending more on new vehicles and dining out. Retail sales rose 0.4% excluding autos. Car sales rose 1.4%. Home and furniture store sales rose 0.8%, while sales at building supply and gardening retailers rose 0.7%. The Commerce Department also revised June’s surprising 0.3% decline in retail sales to a 0.2% increase, making it five straight months with increased sales.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for jobless benefits rose 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 274,000 last week. Yet the four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 1,750 to 266,250, the lowest since April 15, 2000. Economists note that when adjusted for population growth, the current level of applications is likely at all-time lows. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The low readings also suggest that employers are confident about the economy’s health and see little need to shed workers. The number of Americans receiving aid rose 15,000 to 2.27 million. That figure has fallen 10.7% in the past 12 months. Some of those former recipients have likely gotten jobs, but many others used up all the benefits available to them.

Prices charged by producers rose more slowly in July, reflecting declines in both food and energy. The Labor Department said Friday its producer price index, which measures inflation pressures before they reach the consumer, increased 0.2% in July compared to June when prices had risen 0.4%. Over the past 12 months, prices at the wholesale level have fallen 0.8%, the sixth straight month that prices have been down on a year-over-year basis. Core prices, which exclude the volatile categories of energy and food, are up a modest 0.6% over the past 12 months.

Economic News – International

China’s central bank on Thursday allowed its yuan currency to drop against the dollar for a third straight day, although the devaluation was smaller than ones earlier this week. The People’s Bank of China, or PBOC, cut its so-called guiding rate against the dollar by 1.1% but also issued assurances that the currency was not in free fall. China also devalued its currency Wednesday as the world’s second largest economy aggressively pushed back against slowing growth and trade, roiling global financial markets and driving expectations the currency could be set for more falls and even open a new currency war. The yuan fell as much as 2% Wednesday against the dollar before paring losses. U.S. companies that rely heavily on sales to China, including Apple and fast-food chain Yum Brands, are feeling the pain of China’s move to weaken its currency. Apple shares cratered 5.2%, while Yum, which owns KFC, slid 4.9%.

Oil prices hit a six-year low Thursday, reacting to the devaluation of the Chinese yuan and a report of higher Iranian oil production. West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark U.S. crude, for September delivery closed at $41.35 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest since 2009. Just over a year ago oil was comfortably hovering above $100 a barrel. Falling oil prices reflect a changing world situation in which the U.S. is producing more while the Chinese economy is slowing, creating less demand for oil and other raw materials.

At the same time, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has raised its output. Much of the increase was due to Iran, which boosted production by 32,300 barrels a day in July to 2.86 million a day, highest since June 2012, as sanctions are being lifted due to the nuclear accord. OPEC’s strategy to pump like crazy despite collapsing oil prices seems to be finally paying off: The U.S. oil industry is declining as more oil producers rethink their priorities and cut production. The U.S. drilling activity is already down steeply from the October 2014 peak; 59% fewer rigs were operating at the end of July.

According to Bloomberg and other sources, the International Monetary Fund is expected to announce a reserve currency alternative to the U.S. dollar on October 20th of this year, which experts say will send hundreds of billions of dollars moving around the world, literally overnight. This announcement is expected to trigger one of the most profound transfers of wealth in our lifetime. Bloomberg reports that this decision comes on the heels of China pushing for their own currency to be elevated to reserve currency status.

Islamic State

Islamic State militants allegedly used deadly mustard gas against Kurdish forces in Iraq this week. The Wall Street Journal and NBC News reported the allegations, citing unnamed defense and intelligence officials. Mustard gas is a deadly agent that was used extensively in World War I, causing blisters on the skin and lungs. The chemical could be disbursed with artillery shells or rockets. The Islamic State was previously accused of using chlorine gas in weapons.

For the first time, the United States launched manned airstrikes from a base in Turkey against ISIS forces in Syria, the Pentagon said Wednesday. The attacks from Incirlik Air Base are part of an agreement reached last month between NATO allies Turkey and the United States. The United States has long wanted to use Turkish bases for manned airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and parts of Iraq. Such access should shorten flight times for U.S. (and presumably allied) fighter jets compared with taking off from bases in Iraq or aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. While the U.S. has helped train moderate Syrian rebels as well as Iraqi forces, the U.S. military hasn’t put any of its troops in combat roles — though Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army’s outgoing chief of staff, said this should be a real option if more progress isn’t made against ISIS.

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets, reports the New York Times. A growing body of internal policy memos and theological discussions has established guidelines for slavery, including a lengthy how-to manual issued by the Islamic State Research and Fatwa Department just last month. Repeatedly, the ISIS leadership has emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous.

Iraq

At least 76 people were killed in Baghdad on Thursday after a massive truck bombed ripped through a food market. Around 200 people were wounded in the blast in Sadr City, a district of Iraq’s capital. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. The Sunni militant group frequently targets predominantly Shiite neighborhoods such as Sadr City. The Sunni militants currently hold territory in about a third of Iraq. Last month, an attack by the Islamic State group on a crowded marketplace in Iraq’s eastern Diyala province killed 115 people, including women and children.

Syria

A 48-hour truce began early Wednesday between pro-government forces and rebel groups in three Syrian towns. The truce involves the rebel-held city of Zabadani on the outskirts of Damascus, and the towns of Kefraya and al-Fouaa on the outskirts of Idlib in the north. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group, reported that negotiations were ongoing between “Iranian delegations and Hezbollah on one hand and the local Zabadani fighters and fighters of the factions in the other hand.” These involve two key issues, the group said — providing buses to evacuate Ahrar Al-Sham rebels from Zabadani, and allowing food aid into Kefraya and al-Fouaa, which have been besieged by rebel groups. Iran props up both the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah and the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Greece

Greek lawmakers approved their country’s draft third bailout on Friday after a nearly 24-hour marathon parliamentary procedure culminated in a vote that saw the government coalition suffer significant dissent. The government needed the bill to pass in time for Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos to head to Brussels to meet his eurozone counterparts, who will decide Friday afternoon whether to approve the draft agreement. The rescue package would give Greece about 85 billion euros ($93 billion) in loans over three years in exchange for harsh spending cuts and tax hikes.

Greek ministers met Thursday in Athens amid concern over the treatment of migrants on the Greek island of Kos, following reports of thousands being corralled in a stadium for days with little access to food, water or shelter. More than 7,000 migrants arrived on the small island of Kos in July, according to medical charity Doctors Without Borders. They are part of an unprecedented wave of people venturing across the Mediterranean in boats, many of them not seaworthy, to reach European soil. The migrants had been ordered to go to the stadium by police who carried out a sweep of parks and public squares where they’d congregated — for want of any proper facilities to house them — with only three officers deployed to register them. With no shade, toilets or water provided, the situation deteriorated. Doctors Without Borders pulled its staff out of the stadium late Tuesday because of safety concerns, but they have returned since.

  • Greece is already struggling under a failed economy and severe austerity measures imposed by the EU as a condition for bailout funds. An influx of migrants is the last thing they (and the migrants) need.

Cuba

The United States and Cuba entered a new phase in their long, tumultuous history Friday when the American flag was raised outside the recently reopened U.S. Embassy along Havana’s historic waterfront. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry oversaw the event, which followed a similar flag-raising ceremony outside the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., last month. The events represent the latest steps in the changing relationship between the two nations since President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced an end to the diplomatic freeze in December. Kerry also highlighted rifts that are likely to persist even as American commerce and connections expand on the island, including U.S. calls for “genuine democracy” in Cuba and improvements in human rights to open more room for civil and political groups

Environment

A disturbing trend has earned Hawaii the dubious nickname of “the extinction capital of the world,” reports the Washington Post. Hawaii is home to 25 percent of the endangered species in US, reports the Huffington Post, while representing just 0.25 percent of the country’s land mass. As of August 2015, the US Fish and Wildlife Service counts more than 80 species that are endangered or threatened. A team of researchers recently published the first rigorous assessment of extinction of invertebrates in the islands, reporting that the rate of extinction in the state has been as high as 14 percent per decade. According to the Hawaii State Museum of Natural and Cultural History, 271 species of all indigenous and endemic flora and fauna have become extinct in the last 200 years alone. But despite its rank as the state with the highest number of endangered or threatened species, the paper states, Hawaii receives less than 5 percent of the funding allotted by the federal government’s endangered species program — in 2013 just $1.5 million out of $32 million given to 20 states.

Despite all the leaps the United States made in the past few years to cut ozone emissions, researchers found China’s pollution is blowing into the Western U.S. and putting a dent in the progress. The findings, published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, show the ozone levels in the troposphere – the lowest level of the atmosphere – rose by about 7 percent over China from 2005 to 2010. The study also said that the Chinese pollution has offset 43 percent of all efforts to reduce ozone in the Western U.S. Ozone pollution can lead to a slew of respiratory problems, including asthma and respiratory infections.

Wildfires

Officials have ordered more evacuations in a Northern California town as firefighters said that one wildfire has merged with another. At least 150 residents have been pushed from their homes in the Hidden Valley area. Many of those who were forced out by the advancing Jerusalem fire were also evacuated a week ago when the Rocky fire threatened their properties. On Tuesday, Cal Fire officials confirmed that the two fires have merged. Cooler weather has been helping crews battle the fires, but unpredictable winds have added a challenge to the firefight. The blazes are being pushed away from populated areas, but the infernos are moving into areas with bad access because of steep terrain. The Jerusalem fire has burned at least 14,000 acres and is 5 percent contained. The Rocky fire has burned nearly 70,000 acres and is 88 percent contained. 43 homes and 53 outbuildings have been destroyed by the Rocky fire, none so far by the Jerusalem fire.

One of the state’s worst wildfire seasons in history has scorched 5 million acres of tundra and forests across Alaska, and experts here fear climate change will cause even more devastating fires through a combination of lower snowpack, drying tundra and melting permafrost. Anchorage, for example, had its least snowy winter on record, with just over two feet of snow, the National Weather Service reported. The number and size of the fires in the drought-parched West are pushing lawmakers to ask Congress to change the way it funds firefighting. This week, senators from Oregon and Idaho said they would propose bipartisan legislation that would allow firefighting agencies to use federal disaster funds to fight fires.

Weather

California’s searing drought forced wildlife officials to remove tons of rainbow trout from a fish hatchery in the central part of the state, as they moved them by truck to cooler lake water. About 80,000 pounds of trout were scooped up from the San Joaquin Hatchery near Fresno and hauled 30 miles uphill to Shaver Lake in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Temperatures in Millerton Lake, which flow through into the hatchery on the San Joaquin River, had reached nearly 70 degrees, threatening the trout’s survival. In June, wildlife officials trucked millions of young Chinook salmon from a hatchery near Redding to the San Francisco Bay 200 miles away. The drought depleted rivers that the migratory fish normally travel to the Pacific Ocean.

The Los Angeles Reservoir has been transformed into a huge black ball pit in an effort to preserve the water. L.A. officials dropped 20,000 more black balls into the reservoir Wednesday, Aug. 12, bringing the total number of balls to 96 million. These are shade balls, part of a serious initiative to combat the California drought. The black balls block sunlight and UV rays that promote algae growth and slow down evaporation. They also prevent chemical reactions from triggering, deter birds and other wildlife and protect the water from dust.

An extended heat wave is smashing all-time records in parts of Europe for the second time this summer, and may remain in place into the weekend. Triple-digit heat prompted Poland’s national supplier to cut electricity to factories for several hours Monday. The combination of this extended heat plus dry weather has left rivers that are used to cool Poland’s power plants running low. Wroclaw, Poland, set an all-time high temperature Saturday of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Germany tied its all-time record high Friday, when Kitzingen soared to a high of 104.5 degrees. At least 19 cities in the Czech Republic tied or set new all-time heat records.

At least three people have died and some 11,000 people were forced from their homes by severe flooding in Argentina’s Buenos Aires province. After a weekend storm brought another unusual soaking to the Atacama Desert of Chile, a stalled frontal boundary and slow-moving upper-air low-pressure system produced heavy rain from northern Argentina to Uruguay. On Wednesday, Economy Minister Alex Kicillof announced plans to provide aid to retirees and low-income families affected by the flooding.

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