Archive for September, 2015

Signs of the Times (9/29/15)

September 29, 2015

Obama and Putin Butt Heads over Ukraine and Syria

In their first meeting since Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin argued Monday over how to resolve the Syrian civil war without agreeing on the way forward. They especially disagreed over the role of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who Obama described earlier as “a tyrant” and Putin believes is a bulwark against Islamic State militants in Syria. Their private meeting came after they very publicly clashed over Syria and Ukraine in their speeches to the U.N. General Assembly in New York. After their 95-minute meeting ended, Putin told reporters he would not rule out joining the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, but would not send ground troops into combat. He said any Russian action will be in accordance with international law. During his news conference broadcast by the Russian news site RT, Putin claimed the U.S.-led airstrikes violate the U.N. Charter because Syria didn’t ask for them, and the U.N. Security Council has not approved the action.

Obama reiterated U.S. support for the sovereignty of Ukraine and urged enacting the cease-fire signed in February in Minsk, Belarus, that has yet to be fully implemented. Fighting in Ukraine has recently abated for nearly a month. The United States accuses Russia of sending its military and heavy weapons to help pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine seize territory and battle Ukrainian government forces, which Russia denies. According to the U.N., more than 8,000 people have died in the conflict that started in April 2014 after Russia seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

World Leaders Gang-Up on Obama

The Russian president showed up at the United Nations on Monday for the first time in a decade, proposing a coup against U.S. global leadership and seeking to wrest control of a coalition battling ISIS away from America’s grip. And he wasn’t the only leader of a country challenging the United States to effectively upstage Obama at the annual global meeting, which a U.S. president traditionally uses to command the spotlight. Speeches by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the 70th anniversary of the creation of the world body also left Obama defending not only his personal foreign policy legacy, which is already under assault at home from Republican presidential candidates, but the entire concept of a world order based on seven decades of U.S. global leadership, CNN reported. The day of speech-making also included an address by Cuban leader Raul Castro and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which underscored the multipolar challenges to U.S. global leadership.

President Obama to meet with Cuban President Raúl Castro

While in New York for the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, President Obama will have his second face-to-face meeting with Raúl Castro since the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic relations in late 2014. Obama met the communist leader in April on the sidelines of a Summit of the Americas meeting in Panama. The two also spoke by phone this month before the visit of Pope Francis to Cuba and the USA. This is Castro’s first trip to the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly.

Pope Finally Addresses Priest Sexual Abuse

Pope Francis said Sunday morning that all those responsible for the sexual abuse of youth by clergy will be held accountable. “God weeps” for sexual abuse of children, he said, vowing “careful oversight” to ensure that youth are protected. “The people who had the responsibility to take care of these tender ones violated that trust and caused them great pain,” he said during a meeting with bishops in Philadelphia. Earlier Sunday, Francis met with some of the victims of clergy sexual abuse. “Those who have survived this abuse have become true heralds of mercy. Humbly we owe each of them our gratitude for their great value, as they have had to suffer terrible abuse, sexual abuse of minors,” he said.

  • The problem remains that very little action has been taken to identify, remove and discipline clerical abusers as well as to take measures to prevent future abuse

Over 522,000 Migrants Arrive in Europe by Sea in 2015

A record 522,124 migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe by sea this year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Tuesday. The number is more than double the previous high set only last year. Of the estimated number of migrants who made the hazardous journey by sea, 388,000 arrived in Greece and 130,891 in Italy. They hail from countries that include Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Bangladesh, the IOM said. Last year, 219,000 migrants and refugees escaping war and poverty sailed to Europe. The route to Italy along the central Mediterranean is the deadliest — 2,621 migrants have drowned or gone missing there this year — but deaths have started to increase in the Aegean Sea, where many Syrians are heading from Turkey in an effort to reach Greece, the IOM said. It estimated that 246 people have died on that route in 2015. Thousands more migrants are on the move in many African countries says the IOM.

Republicans push to defund Planned Parenthood

Republicans are trying a new way to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, while avoiding a government shutdown. On Tuesday, two committees will take up bills that would pave the way for Congress to pass legislation that would essentially strip federal funds from the organization. It appears that Congress will vote this week to keep the government open without addressing the issue; President Obama has vowed to veto any legislation to defund Planned Parenthood. Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, is expected to testify before Congress regarding the non-profit’s use of taxpayers’ funds, amid allegations that the organization had discussed selling tissue and organs from aborted fetuses for profit. Ahead of what promises to be a volatile hearing on taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, a forensic analysis has determined that a series of disturbing videos showing the group’s employees discussing fetal tissue harvesting “are authentic and show no evidence of manipulation or editing,” reports Fox news.

FBI Reports Violent Crime Down in U.S.

The FBI says crime rates, including murder, were down last year. The report is in contrast to headlines this year about a surge in killings in some major cities. The annual Uniform Crime Report statistics released Monday come amid lingering tension over police shootings and the relationship between officers and minority communities. The FBI report shows a 0.2% decline nationwide in violent crimes in 2014. The report says that in 2014 the U.S. recorded the fewest murders since 2009. Most other violent crimes, such as robbery, burglary, theft and arson have declined, while aggravated assaults and rapes, which now includes a broader definition, were on the rise in 2014. The 2014 numbers do not reflect an increase this year in murders and other violent crimes reported in some cities, such as Washington, Baltimore, Milwaukee and others.

Asians to Pass Hispanics as Largest Immigrant Group in U.S.

In a major shift in immigration patterns over the next 50 years, Asians will have surged past Hispanics to become the largest group of immigrants heading to the United States, according to estimates in a new immigration study by the Pew Research Center. An increase in Asian and Hispanic immigration also will drive U.S. population growth, with foreign-born residents expected to make up 18 percent of the country’s projected 441 million people in 50 years. This will be a record, higher than the nearly 15 percent during the late 19th century and early 20th century wave of immigration from Europe. Today, immigrants make up 14 percent of the population, an increase from 5 percent in 1965. The percentage of people living in the USA who were born outside the country is projected to hit a record 14.9% in 2025, the report said. The country’s previous high of 14.8% was set in 1890, when waves of Irish, Italian, Polish and other immigrants were coming to the USA.

VW Scandal: 1.8M Vehicles with Software to Fool Emission Regulations

Volkswagen’s commercial vehicles division says 1.8 million of its vehicles are among those affected by the emissions-rigging scandal. Volkswagen AG has admitted using a piece of engine software to cheat on diesel car emissions tests in the U.S. Also affected are another 5 million VW brand cars, 2.1 million Audis and 1.2 million Skodas. German prosecutors are investigating former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn for possible fraud related to selling cars with falsified emissions data. Winterkorn took responsibility for the scandal when he resigned last week, but said then he was not aware of any wrong doing on his part. Volkswagen’s scheme was discovered last year by a West Virginia laboratory that was commissioned by a clean energy advocacy group that had raised questions about emission levels in diesel vehicles. For more than a year, VW argued to U.S. officials that it was not doing anything wrong. Only recently did VW admit to them that it had installed “defeat devices” in the cars to get around emissions standards.

Economic News

The average American full-time employee may be bringing home more money each year, but the truth is they’re earning less money today than the average American forty years ago when adjusted for inflation. Because most everything we buy gets more expensive over time, you have to earn more money each year just to maintain your existing standard of living. When raises don’t keep up with inflation, you’re effectively suffering a pay cut. The U.S. Census Bureau measured the median male full-time worker made just over $50,383 in 2014 — and if you measured the median male full-time worker in 1973 adjusted for inflation, they’d be making more than $53,294.

The broad U.S. stock market is down more than 10% since the May peak, which in Wall Street-speak is just a “correction.” But a growing number of investment gurus are saying a bear market has already arrived on Wall Street. After a 2.6% drop Monday to 1881.77, the broad Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index was down 11.7% from its May 21 record close of 2130.82. But the current downdraft, at least from a numerical standpoint, is still a far cry from a full-fledged bear market, or a drop of 20% or more from a peak. The recent market turbulence has been sparked by a slowdown in China, uncertainty over when the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates, and slowing earnings growth in the U.S. Stocks rose slightly at the open Tuesday. Asian stocks were down with Japan’s Nikkei 225 index plunging 4.1% Tuesday. The fall of Asian shares extended a global market sell-off triggered by grim corporate news.

Royal Dutch Shell said it will end oil exploration in offshore Alaska “for the foreseeable future,” after an exploratory well in the Chukchi Sea failed to yield the oil and gas that was hoped for. The company also said it was ending its efforts in the basin because of the expense, lower oil prices and the contentious regulatory climate in the area. The announcement was a major setback for Shell, which hoped that drilling off the Alaska coast would boost the company’s revenue.

Russia’s economy will shrink by 3.4% this year, and by a further 1% next year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Ordinary Russians are feeling the pain. Prices have shot up by nearly 16% over the past year. Oil is Russia’s biggest earner. Around 70% of its exports are energy-related, and 50% of government revenue comes directly from the oil sector. Analysts estimate Russia loses $2 billion for every dollar fall in the global oil price – thus the price drop from $105 to $45 per barrel caused a $120 hit to the Russian economy.

Persecution Watch

Naghmeh Abedini, wife of imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini says her husband’s treatment in Iran has worsened since the nuclear accord was signed. She said her husband is increasingly sent to solitary confinement and suffers attacks from both guards and inmates. His father visited him this week and learned that prison officials attacked him with a stun gun and interrogated him Tuesday. Apparently, additional charges are forthcoming that could lengthen his sentence. “My husband’s situation has gotten worse,” she told me while sitting in the office of Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., who invited her to the pope’s address. “Honestly, since the [nuclear] deal, I thought the treatment of my husband would improve.”

Three church buildings were set ablaze on Tuesday, Sept. 22, in an area of northwestern Tanzania where Muslim extremists have issued threats, pastors said. A pastor of one of the three churches whose buildings were gutted, Vedasto Athanas of Living Water International church, said area Christians are worried and frightened because such attacks have increased each of the past few years. “What is worrying us is that the burning of the three churches happened within a span of two hours,” he told Morning Star News. Also burned were the buildings of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God and the Evangelical Assemblies of God; all three churches are located in the Kashfa village area of Bukoba District.

Middle East

Israeli riot police briefly clashed with young Palestinian protesters at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site early Sunday, raising tensions ahead of a major Jewish holiday. No injuries or arrests were reported. The clashes occurred at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City that is revered by Jews and Muslims. The site is a frequent flashpoint of violence, and Israel has beefed up security around the area following several rounds of clashes in recent weeks. In Sunday’s incident, police said a small group of masked Palestinian youths threw stones and firecrackers at Israeli police gathered at the main entrance point. The unrest occurred hours before the beginning of Sukkot, a weeklong festival that celebrates the fall harvest and commemorates the wandering of the ancient Israelites through the desert following the exodus from Egypt. Many Jews are expected to visit the city throughout the holiday period, raising the risk of further unrest. The Temple Mount was home to the biblical Temples, and is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven.

Islamic State

Nearly 30,000 foreign recruits have now poured into Syria, many to join the Islamic State, a doubling of volunteers in just the past 12 months and stark evidence that an international effort to tighten borders, share intelligence and enforce antiterrorism laws is not diminishing the ranks of new militant fighters, reports the New York Times. Among those who have entered or tried to enter the conflict in Iraq or Syria are more than 250 Americans, up from about 100 a year ago. That grim appraisal coincides with the scheduled release on Tuesday of a six-month, bipartisan congressional investigation into terrorist and foreign fighter travel, which concludes that “despite concerted efforts to stem the flow, we have largely failed to stop Americans from traveling overseas to join jihadists.”

France on Sunday said it launched its first airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria. French President Francois Hollande said there was proof that attacks were planned from Syria against several countries including France, and blamed ISIL for Europe’s refugee crisis, the largest the continent has faced since World War II. Announcing the airstrikes, Hollande’s office said in a statement Sunday: “Our country thus confirms its resolute commitment to fight against the terrorist threat represented by Daesh (the Arabic acronym for ISIL). We will strike each time that our national security is at stake.”

Iraqi will begin sharing “security and intelligence” information with Russia, Syria and Iran to help combat the advances of the Islamic State group, the Iraqi military announced Sunday. A U.S.-led coalition has been conducting aerial bombing campaigns against ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria, but U.S. officials insist they have no coordination with Iran. The agreement with Russia comes at a time when Moscow is ramping up its involvement in Syria in defense of its ally Bashar Assad, with Russian soldiers on the ground in Syria, according to activists. The Iraqi military statement said that Moscow is increasingly concerned about “the presence of thousands of terrorists from Russia who are carrying out criminal acts with Daesh.” “Russia’s military build-up in Syria has grown to include the shipment of a half-dozen highly sophisticated battle tanks — and more troops — a defense official told Fox News, in what the source called the ‘first clear sign of offensive weapons arriving in Syria,'” reports Fox News.

Saudi Arabia

Muslims embarked on the final day of religious pilgrimage known as the hajj in Saudi Arabia on Saturday as the death total from Thursday’s stampede there reached 769 and international recriminations grew bitter. Saudi Health Minister Khalid al-Falih said Saturday that another 934 were injured in the crush at the site in the city Mina. Saudi Arabia’s chief regional rival, Iran — which lost more than 130 citizens in the disaster — leveled the most damning allegations, accusing the Saudis of “crimes” and incompetence. It vowed Saturday to take legal action in international courts. Iranian leaders contend the kingdom is no longer capable of managing an event that draws 2 million people each year.

Afghanistan

The Taliban seized half of a major city in northern Afghanistan on Monday. The militants launched coordinated attacks to capture Kunduz, once one of the wealthiest cities in the country. At least 25 militants and two policemen have been killed and reinforcements have been sent, the BBC reported. The city is in lockdown as gun battles between the extremists and Afghan government forces continue, Al Jazeera said. Taliban forces have occupied a number of government buildings including a hospital and a courthouse. The BBC said that militants claim that they captured the city’s prison and freed about 500 inmates. The U.S. military says it launched an airstrike on Kunduz in early Tuesday, after it was captured by the Taliban the previous day.

Yemen

At least 131 people died after an airstrike hit a wedding party in Yemen, medical officials said Tuesday. The Saudi-led coalition against Shiite rebels known as Houthis mistakenly hit the gathering Monday. On Monday, Locals said two missiles struck tents in the Red Sea village of al-Wahga, where a man affiliated with the Houthis was holding his wedding reception. The Saudi-led coalition, which began the airstrikes in March, said it was not responsible for the incident, but witnesses said warplanes targeted the party and Yemeni officials acknowledged that there had been a mistake, according to the BBC.

Spain

Pro-secession parties pushing for Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region to break away and form a new Mediterranean nation won a landmark vote Sunday by capturing a majority of seats in the regional parliament, setting up a possible showdown over independence with the central government in Madrid. With 99% of the vote counted, the “Together for Yes” group of secessionists had 62 seats in the 135-member parliament. If they join forces with the left-wing pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy party, which won 10 seats, they will have the 68 seats needed to try to push forward their plan to make Catalonia independent from Spain by 2017.

Earthquakes

A huge sinkhole opened up along a Queensland, Australia, beach late Saturday night, forcing dozens of campers to flee. Shortly after the sinkhole began to open, several vehicles were sucked into the hole. The sinkhole was roughly 300 feet wide, 300 feet long and 10 feet deep. Authorities are still investigating the cause of the sinkhole, but there are some who suspect it may have been caused by recent seismic activity off the coast, the Brisbane Times also reported.

  • As end-time earthquake activity has heated up, sinkholes are appearing around the world in greater numbers

Weather

Heavy rain hammered parts of the Gulf Coast on Sunday. Even without tropical development, local flash flooding will continue to be a headache along the Gulf Coast Tuesday. So far, flooding was reported in southern Mississippi and southern Alabama on Sunday, with more than a half foot of rain falling in some locations. The Mobile, Alabama, regional airport saw 7.5 inches of rain on Sunday Street flooding was reported in the Pensacola, Florida, area Monday morning from a band of very heavy rainfall. The Pensacola National Air Station had seen more than six inches of rain since late Sunday night as of 8 a.m. CDT Monday. Farther east in Navarre, Florida a private weather station has reported over 12 inches of rain through late afternoon Monday. On Monday night, flooding of homes and roads was reported in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida where rainfall rates of 2 to 3 inches per hour were observed.

Two people are dead and six others are missing in Taiwan after Typhoon Dujuan slammed the island nation before moving west into mainland China. Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported 324 injuries. Six mountain climbers have been reported missing. More than 7,000 people have been evacuated to safety, according to a government report. At least 2,000 people were spread amongst 72 shelters, and 370,000 households are without running water. Nearly1.8 million households lost power at some point during the storm, with 710,000 people remaining in the dark.

Signs of the Times (9/26/15)

September 26, 2015

Pope Regurgitates Global Marxist Agenda

Pope Francis urged the United States not to turn its back on undocumented immigrants, to reject the victimization of religious and ethnic minorities, to overcome income inequality and to save the planet from climate change in a historic address to Congress Thursday. Pope Francis also asked lawmakers to wage a constant battle against poverty and to ensure the wealth of the world is equitably shared and used to create jobs. Francis is on a six-day U.S. visit and is the first-ever pontiff to address a joint meeting of Congress. Pope Francis called on world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York on Friday to take firm action on the environment, blaming a “selfish and boundless thirst for power and material” for its destruction. Socialist Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was ecstatic over the pope’s address to Congress, reports Cliff Kincaid in a NewsWithViews.com column. “In a message to his supporters, titled, ‘Why we must listen to Pope Francis,’ he was particularly pleased with the fact that in his address to Congress, ‘Pope Francis spoke of Dorothy Day, who was a tireless advocate for the impoverished and working people in America.” Day was a Marxist apologist for socialism and communist regimes. Phyllis Bennis of the Marxist Institute for Policy Studies agreed. The list of left-wing causes in the pope’s address was extensive, Bennis noted. Praising “his uniquely progressive papal perspective,” far-left radio host Amy Goodman noted that “The pope has been frank in his criticism of much of the core of U.S. society: capitalism, consumerism, war and the failure to confront climate change.”

  • Pope Francis is using the U.S. as a stage to promote the socialistic agenda of the one-world government folks

Pope Fails to Mention Jesus or Abortion

While touting the one-world government’s agenda, Pope Francis didn’t even mention Jesus once in his speech to Congress. Denny Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he was “disappointed” in the Pope’s speech to Congress. “He stands before the United States Congress—a platform that commands the attention of the world—and he says nothing about the heart of the Christian gospel,” Burke wrote in a column for his site. “Nothing about Jesus Christ crucified and raised for sinners. Nothing about the Kingdom of God and the renewal of all things in Christ.” Burke also added that the Pope didn’t “mention abortion explicitly.” “He spoke specifically to defend the lives of the guilty from the death penalty. But he said nothing specific to defend the lives of the innocent millions who have been killed legally in our country since 1973.”

Critics say Pope’s Remarks on Priest Sexual Abuse too Tepid

A group representing victims of priest sexual abuse blasted Pope Francis Wednesday for his remarks to U.S. bishops praising their response to the scandal while failing to utter the words “sexual abuse.” Francis referred to the crisis only obliquely, telling the bishops he was “conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice.” “What sacrifice?” said Barbara Blaine of Chicago, the president of Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests. “What bishop takes fewer vacations, drives a smaller car, does his own laundry or has been passed over for promotion because he’s shielding predators and endangering kids? None.” Allegations of sexual abuse by priests date back decades, but exploded into a full-blown crisis in 2002 when the Boston Globe published a Pulitzer Prize-winning series detailing a litany of abuses and cover-ups by bishops.

Pope Francis Makes Quiet Protest of Obamacare

Pope Francis made an unscheduled stop to visit the Little Sisters of the Poor Wednesday, a move that Vatican officials said was intended to send a message of support in the nuns’ battle against Obamacare. The religious order of Catholic sisters is suing the Obama administration over a provision of the Affordable Care Act that the administration has interpreted as requiring the sisters to purchase health insurance with birth control coverage. Catholic teaching opposes the use of birth control. The sisters are suing under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a Clinton-era law that prohibits the government from placing a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion.

Feds Say Nearly 18 Million Now Insured Through Obamacare

Nearly 18 million people have gained health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act, but 10.5 million more remain uninsured, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Tuesday. Citing just-released federal data, Burwell said the 17.6 million people who gained coverage included children up to age 26 who were able to stay on their parents’ plans, the expansion of Medicaid and the availability of the state and federal insurance exchanges. Burwell also noted that the uninsured rate dropped 10.3% among African-Americans as 2.6 million gained coverage. Four million Latino adults also became insured, representing an 11.5% decline in the rate of uninsured Hispanics.

Rubio Announces Boehner Resignation at Values Voter Summit

Attendees at the annual Values Voter Summit learned from presidential candidate Marco Rubio Friday morning that House Speaker John Boehner is stepping down. U.S. Senator Rubio made the announcement midway through his political stump speech, drawing a standing ovation and raucous applause from the surprised audience of evangelical conservatives. The battle among Capitol Hill Republicans to replace House Speaker John Boehner will likely unfold like the one that led to Boehner’s resignation: GOP leadership vs. the party’s most conservative caucus. Members of Boehner’s leadership team already appear to be positioning themselves for the job of running the Republican-controlled chamber. However, ascending to the speakership will be difficult for any of them, considering a relatively small-but-powerful number of House Republicans who repeatedly suggested Boehner and his leadership team wasn’t conservative enough and derailed several legislative initiatives.

Economic News – Domestic

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday declared a state of emergency on homelessness, calling for $100 million to help address the growing crisis. The move was announced the same day the mayor unveiled his plans for moving people off the streets. Since the mayor took office two years ago, homelessness in Los Angeles has increased 12%, according to figures released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Los Angeles has one of the largest unsheltered populations in the country, with more than 25,000 homeless residents. Some of them live on the city’s infamous Skid Row, a makeshift camp on public sidewalks that stretches for blocks.

New oil and gas production projects worth $1.5 trillion are at risk because of plunging prices. Research firm Wood Mackenzie said the planned projects are unlikely to go ahead because they’re uneconomic at current prices of less than $50 a barrel. Oil and gas groups have already cut investment for this year and next by $220 billion. But Wood Mackenzie warned the cuts do not go far enough, and many more investment plans will have to be scrapped.

The oil rigs in North Dakota are vanishing, a sign that the slide in oil prices is taking a big toll. There are now only 68 rigs operating in the state, down 65% in the past year, according to state figures. The sharp decline in further exploration is cutting into jobs and the state’s tax revenues. The number of mining and logging jobs in North Dakota, a category that includes oil field workers, has dropped by 3,700, or 12%, since March. Tax revenues in the state in August were 20% below forecasts, a $47.4 million shortfall.

Orders for durable goods fell 2% last month in contrast to July when orders had risen by 1.9%, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. A key category that serves as a proxy for business investment edged down 0.2% last month after gains of 2.1% in July and 1.5% in June. The underlying demand for manufactured goods has been weaker this year as a strong dollar and China’s economic slowdown have dragged down demand for American exports and big declines in oil prices have resulted in cutbacks in investment by energy companies. In August, demand for commercial aircraft fell for a second month, dropping 5.9% after an 8.7% decline in July. Orders for motor vehicles and parts fell 1.6% after gains in the two previous months.

New home sales for single families totaled 552,000 homes last month. That’s the best monthly figure since February 2008 and an encouraging sign of the housing market’s momentum. It was nearly a 6% increase from July. Still, the figure is a far cry from the historic average: the average monthly number of new home sales over the last 30 years is 706,000.

Economic News – International

China’s economic slowdown and cheap oil are killing more American jobs. This time. Caterpillar announced that job cuts could exceed 10,000 through 2018. Up to 5,000 employees will lose jobs between now and the end of 2016. The moves are aimed at cutting $1.5 billion in annual costs as the global growth outlook continues to darken. Nearly 10% of the company’s revenue is generated in China.

China — the largest holder of U.S. debt — raised eyebrows by disclosing a record $94 billion plunge in foreign-exchange reserves during August. A big chunk of that decline occurred due to a reduction in U.S. Treasury holdings. The sale raised fears that China could sink the American economy by sending borrowing costs surging as it stops lending the U.S. money by buying Treasuries. China badly needs cash to offset a massive outflow of capital triggered by its currency devaluation, stock market crash and economic slowdown.

Europe’s Migration Crisis

European Union ministers on Tuesday approved a plan for individual countries in the bloc to accept a share of the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking asylum on the continent — but only after overruling four former Soviet bloc countries. The home affairs and interior ministers, meeting in an emergency session here, voted on a plan to apportion 120,000 refugees — still only a small fraction of those flowing into Europe — among members of the European Union. The dissenters were the ministers representing the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Under European law, three of the countries — the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia — would be required to accept migrants against their will noted one official. The idea behind the plan is to relieve the pressure on front-line nations like Italy and Greece, which migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and African have been flooding into. Slovakia says it will try and block European Union plans to relocate 120,000 migrants and refugees from Greece, Hungary and Italy to other countries under a mandatory quota system, as divisions grew among EU member states over how to manage the crisis.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says 477,906 people have arrived in Europe by sea this year. It is calling for the EU to go beyond relocating 120,000 refugees approved by European Union interior ministers. The Balkan nation of Croatia grappled with an increasing wave of migrants on Tuesday. Croatian officials said that 2,400 migrants had entered the country in just the past 12 hours. Nearly 35,000 people had previously arrived in the country, which has a population of only 4.4 million. Croatia said 5,100 were transported out of the country on Monday and a further 1,160 by Tuesday morning. Currently 1,630 people are at a camp in Opatovac, in eastern Croatia near the border with Serbia. The migrant crisis sweeping Europe can’t be resolved without cooperation from the U.S., Russia and Middle Eastern countries,

German Chancellor Angel Merkel said Thursday. Iran and Saudi Arabia should also be key players, she said. The U.S. and Russia are at odds over how to deal with Syria, which has been torn by the Islamic State’s violent insurgency and a brutal civil war that has been raging for more than four years. Russian President Vladimir Putin blames the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Syrians on Western foreign policy. The U.S. and European governments, however, condemn Putin’s support of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and the Russian military buildup in Syria.

Middle East

Israeli forces shot a female Palestinian attacker after she attempted to stab a soldier at a West Bank checkpoint on Tuesday, the military said, as tensions continued to simmer ahead of this week’s major Jewish and Muslim holidays. The woman was identified as 18-year-old university student and was in critical condition at an Israeli hospital but had no further details. The soldier was not wounded. Earlier Tuesday, the military said a Palestinian was found dead in a village near Hebron allegedly after an explosive device he was handling went off. The violence comes amid rising tensions surrounding Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The site, holy to both Jews and Muslims, has been a flashpoint for violence in recent days.

Iran’s Army commander on Tuesday voiced the country’s eagerness to face down Israel militarily and destroy the regime even sooner than the next 25 years, a period that Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei has recently cited as the timeframe for Israel’s eradication. ‘We will annihilate Israel for sure,’ Major General Ataollah Salehi told reporters on the sidelines of military parades in Tehran, held to commemorate the start of the Sacred Defense Week. ‘We are also eager that Israel take (military) action against us sooner, so that we would mark the destruction (of Israel) earlier than the 25 years that has been pledged,’ the top commander added. Major General Salehi noted that annihilation of the Tel Aviv regime by Iran will even rid the ‘US nation’ of the Israeli influence.

Multiple senior Iranian officials have vowed in recent weeks to violate the recently inked nuclear accord that aims to constrain the Islamic Republic’s contested nuclear enrichment program, according to multiple comments by top Iranian leaders. Iranian leaders, including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, have said that the country has “no intention” of abiding by a United Nations Security Council Resolution that encompasses the deal and other restrictions on Tehran’s rogue activities

  • These are the people with whom we have signed a nuclear agreement that lifts economic sanctions in exchange for their worthless promises that they have no intention of keeping, while they keep their eyes on their ultimate goal – first, the elimination of Israel and then the destruction of the ‘Great Satan’ (the U.S.)

Islamic State

Russian, Syrian and Iranian military commanders have set up a coordination cell in Baghdad in recent days to try to begin working with Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting the Islamic State, Fox News reported. Western intelligence sources say the coordination cell includes low-level Russian generals. U.S. officials say it is not clear whether the Iraqi government is involved at the moment. Describing the arrival of Russian military personnel in Baghdad, one senior U.S. official said, ‘They are popping up everywhere.’ The Russians already have been building up their military presence in Syria, a subject expected to factor prominently in a planned meeting between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in New York Monday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. While the U.S. also is fighting the Islamic State, the Obama administration has voiced concern that Russia’s involvement, at least in Syria, could have a destabilizing effect.

  • The end-time alliance between the Persians and Russia (Ezekiel 38) is well underway

Syria

U.S.-trained rebels in Syria handed over American-supplied vehicles and ammunition to an al-Qaeda linked group, the Pentagon said Friday in the latest blow to a program plagued by problems since its inception. The equipment was about a quarter of what the rebels were issued and was turned over in exchange for safe passage through an area controlled by the Nusra Front. The allegations, if true, would be “a violation of Syria train-and-equip program guidelines,” Col. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in the statement. The program is part of an effort to get Syrian rebels to form a ground force to combat the Islamic State. The rebels are trained by U.S. advisers in locations outside the country and then inserted back into Syria.

  • When will we ever learn that the weaponry we supply to militants and insurgents often wind up in the hands of our foes?

Saudi Arabia

At least 717 people were killed and more than 800 injured in a stampede Thursday during the annual hajj pilgrimage just outside Mecca, Saudi officials said. Saudi Arabia’s civil defense directorate said the incident happened in Mina, about three miles from Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. It said the dead are of several different nationalities. Officials said around 4,000 rescue workers and 220 ambulances were sent to the scene. Stampedes have happened before in Mina, a valley where the symbolic “stoning of the devil” — the last major rite of the pilgrimage — occurs. Pilgrims sleep in 160,000 tents in Mina during the hajj. Hundreds of thousands of people had gathered for the rite, where pebbles are thrown against three stone pillars representing the devil. There was a “sudden increase” in pilgrims heading toward the pillars inside the structure, which “resulted in a stampede among the pilgrims.

Yemen

At least 25 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a mosque in Yemen’s capital Thursday as worshippers said prayers to mark the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha. Two explosions struck the al-Bolayli mosque in Sanaa on the holiday, also known as the Feast of Sacrifice, one of Islam’s two most important. Dozens of others were wounded in the morning blast. An Islamic State affiliate in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place in an area controlled by Shiite rebels known as the Houthis. The Islamic State is a Sunni militant group, and it has targeted the Shiite rebels in the past because it views them as heretics.

Ukraine

Ukraine and Russia may be headed for a fresh conflict over Crimea, where ethnic Tatars and members of a Ukrainian extremist group blockaded truck traffic into the Ukrainian province seized by Russia last year. The blockade on three highways by the Tatars and Right Sector, in its third day Tuesday, prevents food and other supplies from entering the peninsular province. It is a legal protest approved by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, according to the Kyiv Post newspaper. It comes as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hopes to focus world attention on Crimea in a speech next week at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The demonstration, led by the Tatars elected leaders, is allowing people to pass but not truck cargo. “It’s a demonstration for Russia that Crimean Tatars will not give up on Ukraine,” said Ukraine’s ambassador to Washington, Valeriy Chaly,

China

The specter of China surpassing the United States as an economic superpower was all the talk when President Obama visited Beijing in 2014. Today, China’s economy is stumbling. Its stock market has shed 45% since June, and the country’s extraordinary actions to get things going haven’t been very successful. China’s economy is heavily dependent on making goods and selling them to other people around the world, especially the U.S. During his second day in Seattle, Chinese President Xi Jinping met Wednesday with some of the biggest names in the tech and aerospace industries. Boeing and Xi announced that Chinese companies have inked a deal to buy 300 more Boeing (BA) planes this year. According to the company, China will need an estimated 6,330 new airplanes over the next 20 years, a deal worth $950 billion. President Obama and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping vowed Friday not to engage in economic cyber espionage, to cooperate more on climate change, and to work out disputes in the South China Sea region while indicating that differences remain in what has become a tense relationship between key global powers.

Wildfires

The Valley fire in northern California has now reduced more than 1,750 structures to ash, according to CalFire. Factor in another large wildfire still burning in Northern California, the Butte fire, and the total number of houses, outbuildings and commercial properties destroyed nears 2,700. Together, the two fires have burned through about 229 square miles, an area roughly the size of the city of Chicago. A 1991 fire in Oakland Hills burned 2,900 structures and still ranks as the worst fire in state history in that category.

As wildfires blazed in nearby Indonesia, schools in Singapore were closed Friday and anti-pollution masks were distributed to the elderly and other vulnerable residents. Pollution levels on the island nation, an annual problem for Singapore, reached their highest levels of the year this week. It resembles a wintry fog, removing the skyline from sight and even seeping into homes. Caused by burning forests to clear farmland in Indonesia, repeated efforts to end the practice have been unsuccessful. As a result, residents in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia suffer the consequences, especially children, the elderly and those with breathing difficulties.

Weather

High surf with large breaking waves and rip currents can be expected through the weekend from the New Jersey shore southward to at least the northern Outer Banks of North Carolina. Even experienced swimmers should stay out of the water due to the rip current threat. Over 30,000 rip current rescues are performed each year in the U.S., often occurring in waves of just 2-3 feet. Breaking waves along the east coast will be at least in the 6-9 foot range. Even the ocean beaches of Long Island are expected to see breakers in the 3-5 foot range.

A confirmed tornado hit an area just west of Charleston, South Carolina, overnight Thursday, damaging houses and downing trees. No injuries were reported in the twister. The National Weather Service confirmed the tornado was of EF2 intensity on the Enhanced Fujita Scale early Friday evening. Two homes were majorly impacted, including one that lost most of its roof and external walls. The tornado damaged several other homes and downed traffic lights in the area. More than 3,400 homes and businesses were without power early Friday morning.

As climate change melts permafrost in the Arctic, huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane are released into the atmosphere, speeding global warming in the process. The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that permafrost soils contain roughly 1,700 gigatons of carbon locked in frozen organic matter, which has begun to thaw as the globe warms. The study shows that the issues negotiators will be dealing with during this December’s COP21 international climate talks are even more severe than previously thought, Hope said.

  • Extreme weather is an end-time phenomena, regardless of what humans do or don’t do (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:11)

Signs of the Times (9/21/15)

September 21, 2015

House Votes to Freeze Federal Funding for Planned Parenthood

The House on Friday voted along party lines to freeze federal funding for Planned Parenthood after weeks of escalating tension surrounding its use of fetal tissue. In a 241-187 vote, nearly all Republicans and two Democrats approved legislation that would block Planned Parenthood’s federal funding for one year, giving time for Congress to fully investigate claims of selling baby body parts raised by the Center for Medical Progress in a series of videos. Lawmakers also passed a bill tightening restrictions on abortion doctors who violate infant protections in a 248-177 vote. “What we’ve learned about Planned Parenthood is appalling, barbaric and indefensible,” Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.) said. The Democrats voting to defund were Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who are both opposed to abortion rights.

Court Shuts Down Attempt to Permanently Stop the Release of More Planned Parenthood Videos

A federal court has shut down a pro-choice group’s attempt to prevent the Center for Medical Progress from releasing more Planned Parenthood videos. Life News reports pro-choice group the National Abortion Federation (NAF) served the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) a restraining order on July 31, preventing the CMP from posting any videos with footage from their meetings. The order was extended several times, but has now been blocked from permanence by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. While the restraining order has not been lifted, the stay indicates that the 9th Circuit court judges question the validity of the restraining order. Katie Short of Life Legal said, “David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress are exercising their First Amendment rights in order to expose the unconscionable practices of Planned Parenthood and other abortionists. Despite howls of derision from abortion apologists, CMP’s video evidence has proven very effective in showing the public what the abortion industry is really all about.”

Pope’s Mass in Cuba Draws Hundreds of Thousands

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans swept into an electric Revolution Plaza on Sunday to see Pope Francis say Mass on the first leg of a trip that will also take him to Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. Thousands of singing, clapping Cubans began streaming into the square several hours before Mass began. Later, Francis smiled and waved to huge, adoring crowds as he rolled through the city streets in a partially glass-enclosed “popemobile” enroute to the Mass. He exited the vehicle from time to time to warmly shake hands with some of the throngs lining the streets leading to the square. It was an enthusiastic showing for the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in a country where, according to one recent survey, less than one-third of its residents consider themselves Catholic. The Mass was just the beginning of a busy day for the pope, who visited Cuban President Raul Castro and Castro’s brother, Fidel. A night prayer service and a meeting with young people also is scheduled. Peace and reconciliation are expected to be major themes of the pontiff’s four-day Cuba visit, which includes stops in Havana, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba.

  • The Pope’s visit is another historic benchmark of the communist country’s increasing openness to reconciliation with estranged nations of the world, and in particular with Christianity

Obama Nominates First Openly Gay Military Service Chief

President Barack Obama is nominating longtime Pentagon official Eric Fanning to be the Army’s new secretary. If confirmed, Fanning, a civilian, would be the nation’s first openly gay leader of a military service. Fanning, 47, became the Army’s acting undersecretary in July. Before that, he served as Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s chief of staff, and the undersecretary and acting secretary of the Air Force. The nomination comes at a time when the Obama administration is working to eliminate barriers to military service based on sexuality or gender. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allowed homosexuals to serve in the military as long as they hid their sexuality was officially repealed during Obama’s first term. Gays are now allowed to openly serve. In the meantime, women have been crossing traditional barriers in the military, as well. Two women competed for and earned their Army Ranger tabs this summer for the first time in history. On Friday, the Marines announced they would open armored units to women, but would seek to keep several front-line combat jobs – infantry and artillery – closed.

U.S., Russia Launch Military Talks on Syria

Military talks between the U.S. and Russia on the Syrian crisis began Friday with a telephone call between Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoygu. The two leaders talked about areas where U.S. and Russian “perspectives overlap and areas of divergence,” according to a Pentagon statement. The two sides agreed to continue to discuss how to prevent conflict between U.S. and Russian forces fighting in Syria against Islamic State militants who have attacked Syrian and Kurdish militias supported by the United States and Syrian government forces supported by Russia. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S.-Russian talks are focused on “trying to find out what the Russians are doing and what their intentions are.” “We’ve been very clear we don’t accept Russia’s premise that somehow Assad can be a credible partner in fighting ISIL,” Toner said. “We reject that.”

  • Russia’s alignment with Persia (Iran, Syria) is a key end-time alliance (Ezekiel 38)

US will Take 85,000 Refugees Next Year; 100,000 in ’17

Scrambling to address a growing Syrian refugee crisis, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Sunday that the United States would significantly increase the number of worldwide refugees it takes in over the next two years, though not by nearly the amount many activists and former officials have urged. The U.S. will accept 85,000 refugees from around the world next year, up from 70,000, and that total would rise to 100,000 in 2017, Kerry said. Many, though not all, of the additional refugees would be Syrian, American officials have said. Others would come from strife-torn areas of Africa. The White House had previously announced it intended to take in 10,000 additional Syrian refugees over the next year. Asked why the U.S. couldn’t take more, Kerry cited post-Sept. 11 screening requirements and a lack of money made available by Congress.

Europe’s Ongoing Migrant Crisis Worsens

Hungary, which has deployed thousands of troops to cope with a flood of migrants, escorted thousands more to the border with Austria Saturday and is calling up army reservists to cope with the onslaught. Slovenian police used pepper spray on a group of migrants trying to cross the border from Croatia, the BBC reported. Most of the migrants, who are fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, want to go to Germany or the Scandinavian countries. Austria said Saturday 6,700 people have arrived there. Croatia claims it cannot cope with thousands of refugees and sends them to Hungary which, in turn, passes them along to Austria. The latest moves by governments in the region have left thousands of refugees stuck in southeast Europe.

Thirteen migrants died Sunday when their boat collided with a ferry off Turkey, as Hungary reopened its main border crossing with Serbia after closing it five days ago to stop migrants from entering. In another incident early Sunday, the Greek coastguard was searching for 26 missing migrants after rescuing 20 people, who said that 46 people were aboard their boat which sank off the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos. A search is also continuing east of Lesbos for between 10 and 12 people missing after their boat sank Saturday morning. The coast guard rescued 11 people. Altogether, more than 4,500 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday in 21 operations as they tried to reach Europe from Libya, the Italian coastguard said.

The migrants and refugees coming to Europe have faced everything from daunting overland journeys to sinking boats, razor wire border fences and their shelters being set on fire. Now, as more of them head to Croatia, there’s a new obstacle: minefields. Thanks to one of the 1990s wars that followed Yugoslavia’s collapse, parts of Croatia — including near its northeast border with Serbia, where migrants are now crossing — are still scattered with active mines. There are around 50,000 of them, according to the Croatian Mine Action Center (CROMAC). Mines have killed more than 500 people in the southern European country since the end of the war in 1995, the BBC reports.

Consumption Trends Affecting the World

As the world’s population surpasses 7 billion, each of our actions—positive or negative—gets multiplied. Worldwatch Institute’s latest publication, Vital Signs: The Trends That Are Shaping Our Future, reveals five global consumption trends affecting the world:

1) Since 1800, the rate of meat production has outpaced human population growth by a factor of over three. The livestock sector uses industrial methods that consume large quantities of water, feed, grazing land, synthetic fertilizers, and antibiotics.

2) Since 1950, the amount of coal consumed worldwide has nearly quadrupled. The Asia-Pacific region accounted for 70% of global coal consumption in 2013. Coal is the dirtiest energy source we use today, polluting the air and spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

3) The world’s fleet of light-duty vehicles (such as passenger cars and light trucks) has grown so much that there is now one car for every seven people on the planet. Today’s light-duty gasoline-powered vehicles are the top contributor to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

4) Even though most plastic is recyclable, between 22 and 43 percent of plastic worldwide is disposed of in landfills. And each year, 10–20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans. When plastic is not recycled, it is often sent to a landfill where its resources are wasted, it takes up valuable space, and it blights communities. Plastic in oceans can entangle seabirds, whales, and dolphins or get transferred up the food chain as small particles get ingested.

5) Since they were first commercialized in the early 1990s, genetically modified (GM) crops have reached a global plantation area of 447 million acres in 2014. The most commonly planted GM crops were soybeans (used for animal feed and oil), maize (used for animal feed), cotton, and canola (used for oil). Growing more crops for animal feed is driving numerous environmental problems, from pollution to deforestation.

Economic News

U.S. home resales fell more than expected in August, a cautionary sign for the U.S. housing market which has recently looked on stronger footing. The National Association of Realtors said on Monday existing home sales dropped 4.8 percent to an annual rate of 5.31 million units. The decline in August might be due to rising prices shutting out potential buyers, said Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist. Home sales fell most in America’s South and West, areas which had recently seen the fastest price gains, he said. Nationwide, the median home price fell slightly in August to $228,700. That was still up 4.7 percent from a year earlier. Prices in the West were up 7.1 percent from a year earlier.

Americans’ wealth hit a record $85.7 trillion this spring, thanks mainly to the recovering housing market. The value of owner-occupied real estate hit $21.5 trillion, up more than $400 billion from the first quarter and nearly $4.5 trillion since the low point in 2011, according to a Federal Reserve report released Friday. Still, Americans’ housing wealth remains about $5 trillion below the all-time high hit in 2006. Most middle class Americans’ net worth is tied up in their homes. However, these figures don’t take into account housing debt. Subtracting out mortgages, Americans’ equity in their homes hit $12.2 trillion, but that is roughly $3.5 trillion below its 2006 high. Factoring in mortgages, Americans’ share of equity in their homes has recovered to 56.3%, up from a low of 37% in 2009. Throughout most of the early 2000s, Americans’ share of equity was around 60%.

The nation’s wealth recovery stands in marked contrast to the fortunes of the typical American family. Median household income was $53,657 in 2014, far below the peak set in 1999, said the Census Bureau last Wednesday. The holding pattern in wages comes despite the fact that millions more Americans are working. Some 1.2 million more men and 1.6 million more women are working full-time, year-round than during the depths of the recent recession. Meanwhile, the nation’s poverty rate also held steady at 14.8% last year, the Census Bureau reported. Some 46.7 million Americans remained in poverty.

When an Indian state government recently advertised for 368 tea servers and night guards, 2.3 million people applied. Officials were overwhelmed by the number of applicants, which was roughly equivalent to one percent of the population of Uttar Pradesh, a state in north India. High demand for the lowly jobs suggests that all is far from well in India’s labor market, which gets one million new workers each month. It also underscores the premium that millions of Indians still place on working for the government. State jobs come with good benefits, relatively high pay and, thanks to strict labor laws, often last for a lifetime.

Middle East

Israeli police rounded up dozens of Palestinians suspected of throwing rocks and gasoline bombs during riots in and around Jerusalem over the weekend. Three police officers were badly wounded during the clashes, requiring hospital treatment for burns, while others received less serious wounds. A heavy police presence in the capital, including reconnaissance helicopters and hundreds of supplemental border police reservists, have largely kept the situation from deteriorating.

Islamic State

At least 75 fighters trained by U.S., British and Turkish forces have entered northern Syria, said the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The fighters crossed over from Turkey on Friday and Saturday and are now located in areas north of the city of Aleppo. Their arrival comes shortly after U.S. officials acknowledged that the Pentagon’s program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to help fight ISIS had fallen far short of its original aims. A review of the training program has been underway since an initial group of some 54 rebels put into northern Syria this summer came under attack and are no longer a functioning fighting force. That attack demonstrated that units have to be larger so the forces can protect themselves, officials said. Warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition continue to carry out a bombing campaign against ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq. But Western nations haven’t yet sent ground troops to fight against the militant group.

Syria

The United States is concerned about Russia’s recent deployment of fighter jets to Syria despite new conversations between the two countries to de-escalate the conflict in Syria. “Clearly, the presence of aircraft with air-to-air combat capacity as well as … surface-to-air missiles raises serious questions,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in London. Before this development, the United States had observed eight Russian military helicopters inside Syria, and seen Russia move tanks, mobile artillery and armored vehicles into the country.

Yemen

Six hostages, including three Americans and one British citizen, have been released by rebels in Yemen after more than five months in captivity, airport officials and rebels in the Middle Eastern country said Sunday. The Times of Oman reported that after being freed the six boarded a plane heading to Muscat, Oman. Houthi officials refused to give the reasons for the hostages’ detention, but said at least one of them is a journalist who “entered the country illegally” and “worked without notifying the authorities.”

Nigeria

At least 54 people were killed and 90 were wounded in a three-bomb attack in northeast Nigeria, local police reported Monday. The multiple bomb attack occurred in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, Sunday night. There are conflicting reports on casualties but Reuters has reported at least 54 dead. Although there’s been no official claim of responsibility, police suspect Boko Haram Islamic militants. Boko Haram has recently resorted to hit-and-run tactics after the Nigerian military recaptured territory once held by the militants. At least 20,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram’s six-year-old uprising which has displaced 2.1 million people across three countries.

Japan

Japan’s upper chamber of Parliament early Saturday approved controversial bills allowing the country’s military to engage in overseas combat in limited circumstances — a major shift after seven decades of pacifism following World War II. Supporters of the legislation, including top U.S. officials, say Japan needs to expand the role of the SDF to counter potential threats from nations such as China and North Korea. Both continue to develop their military and nuclear weapons programs. Last week, North Korea warned the United States and its allies that it is ready to use nuclear weapons “at any time” and is expected to launch a new satellite using a long-range rocket sometime in the coming weeks. Tokyo has faced growing international pressure to expand the role of its military, including deployment, to defend the interests of its key allies, including the United States. America is bound by treaty to defend Japan, an agreement that has been in place since 1960.

Wildfires

Over the weekend, fire officials determined that a large blaze north of San Francisco destroyed another 162 homes, making it the fourth-worst wildfire in state history. The Valley fire has now reduced 1,050 residences to ash, according to authorities. Factor in another large wildfire still burning in Northern California, the Butte fire, and the total number of houses destroyed nears 1,600. The Valley fire has burned 75,711 acres and threatens another 6,563 structures; it is 69-percent contained and 3 persons have been killed. The Butte Fire has consumed 70,760 acres and burned; 545 homes with 6,400 structures threatened; it is 72-percent contained and 2 people have been killed. A third wildfire, the Rough Fire has burned 41,599 acres and is 68-percent contained; no structures have been destroyed.

 

Signs of the Times (9/18/15)

September 18, 2015

One Christian Martyred Every 5 Minutes

According to Relevant, Christian Freedom International in a recently released video, a Christian is martyred every five minutes for their faith somewhere in the world. The video was released in preparation for the International Day of Prayer on November 8. Relevant reports that more Christians have been martyred for their faith in the 20th and 21st centuries than in the previous 19 centuries combined. More than 200 million Christians face persecution worldwide in 105 countries out of 190 around the world. Open Doors has released a global map, detailing the countries in which Christians face the most persecution. Number one on the list is North Korea, followed by Somalia and Iraq. Nearly all of the 50 countries listed are either in the Middle East or in Africa.

  • When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed. (Revelation 6:9-11)

Christians Fight against Teaching of Islam in Public Schools

A report from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) says that US students in public schools are being forced to learn how to convert to Islam. “It’s Islamic indoctrination right here in our schools,” ACLJ said. According to Christian Today, Brandee Porterfield, a parent, said her seventh grade daughter is learning about Islam as part of her world history class in Maury County, Tenn. “They did this assignment where they wrote out the Five Pillars of Islam, including having the children learn and write the Shahada, which is the Islamic conversion creed,” she said. Porterfield said she asked school officials if there would be lessons on Judaism and Christianity, but the lessons only included Hinduism and Buddhism. Tennessee isn’t the only state teaching Islam culture. In Wisconsin, students were given an assignment to “pretend you are Muslim.” In Florida, students were asked to recite the Five Pillars of Islam.

  • Our youth indoctrination centers, (aka public schools) have banned Christianity on the basis of the separation of church and state but welcome the teaching of other religions. Can these progressive liberals not see the obvious hypocrisy? Sure they can, because their (and Satan’s) goal is to eliminate Christianity by any means necessary

Defiant Kim Davis Still Won’t Sign Marriage Licenses, but Won’t Stop Others

In returning to work Monday, Kim Davis, the embattled Kentucky county clerk at the center of the dispute over gay marriage, said she will continue to defy the Supreme Court order and will not authorize marriage licenses. Davis, the Rowan County clerk, said she will take no action against deputy clerks who issue licenses, but says the forms will not be under her name or authority. At least one deputy clerk in Rowan County, Brian Mason, has been issuing licenses since U.S. District Judge David Bunning jailed Davis on Sept. 3 for contempt of court. Bunning released Davis from jail Tuesday, six days later, on the condition that she does not interfere with her deputies issuing the licenses. Her attorneys, however, say the licenses issued in her absence — around 10, mostly for same-sex couples — are not valid without Davis’ authorization.

1.5 Million Muslim Immigrants have Relocated to U.S. Since 9/11

The rate of Muslim immigration has been increasing since September 11, 2001 reports Breitbart.com. Between 2001 and 2013, the United States permanently resettled 1.5 million Muslim immigrants throughout the United States. Unlike illegal immigrants, legal immigrants granted lifetime resettlement privileges will be given automatic work permits, welfare access, and the ability to become voting citizens. In 2013 alone, 117,423 migrants from Muslim-majority countries were permanently resettled within the United States— having been given lawful permanent resident status. Additionally in 2013, the United States voluntarily admitted an extra 122,921 temporary migrants from Muslim countries as foreign students and foreign workers as well as 39,932 refugees from Muslim countries. Experts believe these numbers will only continue to increase with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees currently seeking asylum.

  • Granted that most Muslims are good, peace-loving people, but they also have the highest proportion of militants than any other people group (are there any Christian militants?). The Boston bombers were migrants.

Migrants Seek Different Routes after Hungary Closes Border

Hungarian riot police officers fired water cannons and tear gas on Wednesday after hundreds of migrants tried to break through a gate at the newly reinforced border between Serbia and Hungary. Military helicopters hovered overhead. Hungary announced that police officers had detained 519 people for illegal entry or damaging a border fence since new rules came into force a day earlier. Hungary’s decision to seal its borders and press criminal charges against migrants continued to reverberate across Europe, sending thousands of people on alternative routes through Croatia and other countries to reach Germany and other points in Western Europe. Croatia’s prime minister promised them safe passage, as long as they were only passing through the country. But on Thursday, they too closed their borders as thousands of refugees sought refuge.

Report Cites Antibiotics in Fast Food Meat Supply

A new report is sounding the alarm about the use of antibiotics in the meat and poultry supply chains of the 25 largest U.S. fast food and “fast casual” restaurants. Most top U.S. restaurant chains have no publicly available policy to limit regular use of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supply chains, according to the “Chain Reaction” report by Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council and four other consumer interest, public health and environmental organizations. Chipotle and Panera Bread fared best, with both receiving A’s. Those restaurants are the only two that report serving a majority of their meat from animals raised without regular use of antibiotics, the report said. Chick-fil-A received a grade of B, and responded to the rating by noting that it was “the first in the quick service restaurant industry to announce a commitment to ‘No Antibiotics Ever’ in its chicken supply back in 2014.

‘”When livestock producers administer antibiotics routinely to their flocks and herds, bacteria can develop resistance, thrive and even spread to our communities, contributing to the larger problem of antibiotic resistance,” the authors wrote in the report, which was released Tuesday. “The worsening epidemic of resistance means that antibiotics may not work when we need them most: when our kids contract a staph infection (MRSA), or our parents get a life-threatening pneumonia.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have repeatedly warned about the not-far-off public health threat of antibiotic resistance. The CDC estimates at least 2 million Americans contract antibiotic-resistant infections every year, and that 23,000 die as a result.

Economic News

Stocks tumbled at the open Friday a day after the Federal Reserve opted not to hike interest rates. Citing global economic weakness and financial market turmoil, the Federal Reserve agreed Thursday to keep its benchmark interest rate near zero despite the rapidly improving U.S. labor market. But the Fed policymakers’ forecast indicates they still expect to bump up the federal funds rate this year for the first time in nearly a decade, with meetings scheduled for October and December. Their projections, however, show they expect to raise it even more gradually over the long-term than they previously signaled.

Inflation remained modest in August as gasoline prices fell sharply, giving the Federal Reserve another reason to delay a hike in interest rates at a key meeting that began Wednesday. The consumer price index dipped 0.1%, the Labor Department said Wednesday. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, so-called core prices that the Fed monitors closely picked up a tepid 0.1%. Prices are up a meager 0.2% over the past year. Gasoline prices tumbled 4.1%, while used cars and trucks fell 0.4% and airline fares dropped 3.1% after a 5.6% decline in July. Offsetting those were a 0.2% rise in food prices, and 0.3% increase in both rent and apparel costs.

The number of people without health insurance dropped last year by 8.8 million, to a total of 33 million, but there was no statistically significant change in income for the typical American household, the Obama administration said Wednesday. Median household income in the United States was $53,660 last year, virtually unchanged from 2013. In addition, it said, there was no meaningful change in the official poverty rate — 14.8 percent in 2014. About 46.7 million people were in poverty, the bureau said. This was the fourth consecutive year in which the number of people in poverty was not statistically different from the prior year.

Hewlett Packard said Tuesday afternoon that 25,000 to 30,000 people will leave the enterprise division as part of a planned spinoff. The cuts, meant to cut $2.7 billion in annual costs, represent about 10% of the company’s total workforce of 302,000 employees. HP has cut jobs for three years in a row including a 5.1% cut in fiscal 2012, 4% cut in fiscal 2013 4.8% in fiscal 2014. Even so, HP is still the third biggest tech employer.

General Motors agreed to pay a $900 million fine and accept two criminal charges to resolve a Justice Department investigation into its handling of a deadly ignition-switch blamed for more than 120 deaths. Federal prosecutors said in a court filing Thursday that GM had agreed to accept a wire-fraud charge and a charge for “engaging in a scheme to conceal a deadly safety defect” from regulators.

Middle East

Tensions were simmering in Jerusalem’s Old City and adjacent neighborhoods Wednesday following a third straight day of disturbances on the Temple Mount. “For the third straight day Arabs rioted and attempted to attack police and visitors when visiting hours for non-Muslims began in the morning,” said Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. “Police used non-lethal stun grenades to disperse the rioters, who fled into Al-Aksa Mosque, which police did not enter. Security assessments have been made and extra units have been called in to ensure no more attacks take place in the Old City or on the Temple Mount.” Declarations by Israeli officials that they are protecting freedom of worship for all on the Temple Mount have been ignored by Arab governments which have condemned Israel for “storming a Moslem holy site” and Western governments which have expressed “grave concern” and urged “all sides to refrain from an escalation” of the situation.

A bus travelling through the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras el-Amoud was attacked by stone and gasoline bomb throwing Palestinian youths on Thursday night. The driver of the otherwise empty bus escaped with light injuries but the vehicle was destroyed. Security forces were taking no chances on an escalation of violence in the Capital Friday amidst calls by several Palestinian leaders for a “Day of Rage” to protest Israeli security measures on the Old City’s Temple Mount. Around 800 additional police officers have been mobilized and deployed to the capital and Moslem men under 40 are being barred from ascending the Temple Mount.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement Wednesday regarding the recent round of rioting on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City saying, “Al-Aksa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet. We won’t allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem. There will be no Palestinian state without Jerusalem. We are in Jerusalem and we will stay in it to defend our Islamic and Christian holy sites. We’re not going to leave our country. Each drop of blood that was spilled in Jerusalem is pure blood as long as it’s for the sake of Allah. Every shahid (martyr) will be in heaven and every wounded person will be rewarded, by Allah’s will.”

  • Interesting how Abbas plays the Christian card when it suits his purposes. Otherwise, Christianity is also in the Islamic crosshairs for ultimate elimination

Pakistan

A brazen Taliban attack on a Pakistani military base on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar killed 20 people on Friday, including 16 worshippers who were gunned down when the militants stormed a mosque inside the compound during prayers. The attack triggered an hours-long firefight at the base and Pakistani forces said they killed 13 of the attackers. The attack was a major blow for Pakistan’s military, which stepped up operations against the militants following a horrific Taliban attack last December at a Peshawar school that killed 150 people, mostly children. It also underscored the ability of the militants to stage spectacular attacks on targets linked to the country’s military and government.

Iran

The government of Iran released five senior members of Al Qaeda earlier this year, including the man who stepped in to serve as the terrorist group’s interim leader immediately after Osama bin Laden’s death, and who is the subject of a $5 million bounty, according to an American official who had been briefed on the matter. Iran’s release of the five men was part of a prisoner swap in March with Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, the group holding an Iranian diplomat, Nour Ahmad Nikbakht. Mr. Nikbakht was kidnapped in the Yemeni capital of Sana in July 2013. The American official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the matter, confirmed the release of Saif al-Adl, a senior member of Al Qaeda’s ruling body, known as the Shura Council, who oversaw the organization immediately after bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs in Pakistan in 2011. Analysts tracking Al Qaeda described the release as alarming, given the seniority of the five men. It comes at a time when much of the organization’s leadership has been lost in back-to-back airstrikes… The release of the men could re-energize the militant group, providing an influx of vetted leaders at a crucial time, terrorism experts say.

Nepal

Bombs exploded in two churches in Nepal’s easternmost Jhapa district at around 11:30 p.m. on Monday, September 14, only hours after the country’s constituent assembly (CA) overwhelmingly rejected proposals to make Nepal a Hindu state. More bombs were planted in two other church buildings but did not explode inside. No one was injured in the explosions at the churches in Damak-10 and Khajurgachi, but the church buildings were damaged. A bomb taken from a church in Surunga exploded at a police station after police removed it from the church building. Three police officers were seriously hurt in the blast. Over two-thirds of the lawmakers voted to reject appeals from the Hindu nationalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal (or National Democratic Party Nepal) to return the country to its Hindu status.

China

China appears to building a third airstrip in disputed waters in the South China Sea, according to new satellite images analyzed by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The images, taken September 8, come after China pledged to bring land reclamation in those waters to a halt, and will make for uncomfortable discussions when Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Washington next week. The South China Sea is the subject of numerous rival — often messy — territorial claims, with China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam disputing sovereignty of several island chains and nearby waters.

Environment

Nearly half of the world’s fish have been lost since 1970. The global marine life population is reaching a dangerously low level according to a new report from The World Wide Fund for Nature and the Zoological Society of London. The study published this week indicates that marine mammals, birds, fish and reptiles declined by 49 percent between 1970 and 2012. The decline included fish that are considered essential to the world food supply such as tuna, mackerel and bonito. Overfishing and climate change are seen as the root of the staggering decline. “Healthy seas are the bedrock of a functioning global economy,” said WWF Chief Advisor on Marine Policy Dr. Louise Heaps in a press release. “By overexploiting fisheries, degrading coastal habitats and not addressing global warming, we are sowing the seeds of ecological and economic catastrophe.”

A new study shows that air pollution is killing 3.3 million people each year and indicates that industrial farms are a major contributor to the problem. Researchers from Germany, Cyrups, Saudi Arabia and Harvard University joined forces for the report that makes some of the most detailed estimates ever recorded on the toll of air pollution. The group also looked to the future, determining that the yearly death rate could as much as double by 2050 if current trends fail to change. The study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, used health statistics and computer models. About three quarters of the deaths are from strokes and heart attacks. About 6 percent of all global deaths each year occur prematurely due to exposure to ambient air pollution, more than HIV and malaria combined, the report claims. With nearly 1.4 million deaths a year, China has the most air pollution fatalities, followed by India with 645,000 and Pakistan with 110,000.

Earthquakes

A powerful magnitude-8.3 earthquake hit off Chile’s northern coast Wednesday night, causing buildings to sway in Santiago and other cities and sending people running into the streets. Authorities said at least 12 people have died. Tsunami advisories were in effect for Hawaii and Southern California after the powerful magnitude-8.3 earthquake struck the Pacific Ocean waters just off the coast of Chile, generating a dangerous 15-foot tsunami along parts of the Chilean coast. A million people were evacuated following the quake Wednesday night, which sparked several aftershocks. The tsunami fanned out across much of the Pacific Ocean, though the worst of its power is expected to be focused westward toward Tahiti. Nuku Hiva, a French Polynesian island about 1,000 miles north-northwest of Rikitea, measured a 4.5-foot tsunami wave height. The lead tsunami waves reached as far west as the Chatham Islands east of New Zealand’s two main islands Thursday morning U.S. time, where a 1.2 foot wave height was measured at Owenga.

Wildfires

Authorities have deemed it safe for some evacuated residents to return to their neighborhoods Wednesday and survey damage from a trio of northern California wildfires, but what they’ve found has been nothing short of complete destruction. About 23,000 residents of several small towns were given very little time to flee fast-moving wildfires that eventually claimed their homes. The Valley Fire has burned 67,200 acres and destroyed 720 homes with 9,000 structures threatened as of Wednesday and is 30% contained. Five persons have been killed inside burned homes. The Butte Fire has consumed 71,780 acres and burned 166 homes with 6,400 structures still threatened and is 40% contained. The Rough Fire has burned 139,531 acres and is 49% contained.

Weather

This week we’ve already seen the deadliest flash flood in Utah history, followed by one of the heaviest September rain events on record in Los Angeles and San Diego. Starting this weekend, the combination of upper-level low pressure several hundred miles southwest of Southern California and upper-level high pressure centered over the Rio Grande Valley of Texas will act like an atmospheric egg-beater, piping deep moisture northward toward the Desert Southwest. Some forecast guidance suggests the moisture content of the atmosphere early in the week ahead may approach record levels for the time of year in some parts of the Southwest.

On Tuesday, searchers found the seventh and final victim of a flash flood that tore through a slot canyon in Utah’s Zion National Park and wiped out an entire party of climbers. More than six-tenths of an inch fell over the park in less than an hour Monday afternoon, with flows in one of the tributaries to the Virgin River spiking from 50 cubic feet per second to more than 2,500 feet per second in one 15-minute period. At the time, the group was still inside Keyhole Canyon, a deep, narrow slot canyon popular for canyoneering, requiring rope rappels and swims through deep water. The group of climbers had been warned of the danger of flash flooding when they received an entry permit at 7:40 a.m.

Signs of the Times (9/15/15)

September 15, 2015

Evidence Mounts for Viability of Babies not Considered Legally ‘Human’

A new study published Sept. 8 found that more infants born before 28 weeks gestation are surviving without disease or other complications compared to 20 years ago. The findings cast further doubt on the adequacy of the viability standard for protecting the unborn. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined 35,000 premature births between 1993 and 2012 at 26 U.S. centers participating in the Neonatal Research Network. More than 450,000 infants are born prematurely in the United States every year. While previous studies showed improvement in survival rates for infants born at 22 weeks gestation, the latest study shows a greater upward trend. In 1993, only 52 percent of infants born at 24 weeks survived. But in 2012, 65 percent survived. And the percentage increase in healthy premature infants is even more significant: 47 percent of infants born at 27 weeks in 2012 survived without major illnesses compared to 29 percent in 1993. Despite the new research, babies are still only legally considered viable at 24 weeks. But Dr. Edward Bell, co-author of the May study, told The New York Times that 22 weeks should be the new viability standard.

  • While a 2-week improvement in ‘viability’ is welcome, we need to declare all babies ‘human’ from the moment of conception.

Judge Orders Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments Monument Taken Down

A judge has ruled that a Ten Commandments monument must be removed from the grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol within 30 days. The monument was erected in 2009 with personal funds from Oklahoma Rep. Mike Ritze, according to Christian Today, and has been controversial since 2013 when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma, led by Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists Director Bruce Prescott, told the court that the monument was unconstitutional. The ACLU quoted the section of the Oklahoma Constitution which states that public property cannot be used to promote a “church denomination or system of religion.” Judge Thomas Prince who issued the ruling initially ruled that the monument served a historical purpose, as well as a religious one, and was therefore permitted to be on state capitol property. The ACLU appealed the decision, however. Attorney General Scott Pruitt argued that “religious people have an equal right to participate in the public square and to have their contributions to Oklahoma history and society recognized.” Pruitt’s argument was ultimately unsuccessful as Judge Prince ruled that the monument was in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.

Europe’s Migrant Woes Continue to Cause Division

Hungary’s hard-line prime minister highlighted stark divisions in Europe over a growing migrant crisis, telling a German newspaper in an interview published Saturday that refugees entering the continent should go back “where they came from.” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban argued that rather than opening borders to a flood of largely Syrian refugees, the European Union should create a $3.4 billion aid package for Turkey and Middle East countries to improve refugee camps that are the first stop for families fleeing war. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann compared Orban’s crackdown on migrants with Nazi racial policies. Meanwhile, tens of thousands rallied Saturday on the streets of London, Madrid, Athens, Budapest, Lisbon, Warsaw, Geneva and Sweden as part of a solidarity movement supporting the refugees. Some 14,000 demonstrators assembled in Hamburg and another 30,000 gathered in Denmark, according to European media.

Germany announced Sunday that it was invoking emergency powers to start protecting its borders, seemingly reaching a point of overload after greeting with open arms tens of thousands of migrants pouring into Europe, and urging other European nations to do the same. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière announced that Germany would temporarily enforce measures that would block people at its borders. A total of 12,200 migrants came to Munich on Saturday, according to the German police, The Associated Press reported. On Sunday morning alone, 700 people arrived at Munich’s main train station. The emergency measures would presumably allow Germany to turn away migrants from the Balkans and other areas whose citizens are not fleeing war or persecution. Hungary declared a state of emergency Tuesday in two southern counties as new laws to prevent migrants and refugees from illegally entering the country went into effect. The state of emergency paves the way for the army to be deployed to patrol the borders and assist police in dealing with refugees.

US Drops to 16th on ‘Economic Freedom’ List

The United States, ranked second in worldwide economic freedom as recently as 2000, has plummeted to 16th, according to a new report of world economies by the Fraser Institute, a Canadian public policy think tank. Its annual report, Economic Freedom of the World, shows that the USA’s decline started in 2010, the second year of the Obama administration. The world-recognized report showed that the U.S. fell in several areas, including legal and property rights and oppressive government regulation. The top 10: Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Mauritius, Jordan, Ireland, Canada, with the United Kingdom and Chile tied at 10.

  • The USA’s decline correlates closely with the government’s move toward socialism and secular humanism

Economic News

Retail sales increased modestly in August despite market turmoil as consumers continued to benefit from low gasoline prices and strong job and income growth. Sales at stores and online rose 0.2%, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Excluding volatile autos and gasoline, sales advanced 0.3%. Commerce slightly revised up its sales estimate for July from 0.6% to an even stronger 0.7%.

Thursday is D-Day for the Federal Reserve to come to a decision on whether to increase interest rates. And the nation’s central bank, which keeps insisting its decision is dependent on incoming economic data, will have to sort through an onslaught of data points before it goes public with its decision. The Fed is weighing its first rate hike since 2006. Analysts say recent U.S. data on jobs, the pace of economic growth, the health of the economy’s services sector and sales of durable goods all point to the Fed raising short-term rates, currently pegged at 0% to 0.25%. However, if the Fed views the recent financial market turbulence, sparked by a slowdown in China’s economy, as a sign of market instability, which could override the positive data and keep the Fed on hold.

China stocks suffered another round of heavy losses on Tuesday, renewing concerns over its government failed efforts to support markets. The Shanghai Composite shed 3.5% on Tuesday, bringing losses for the week to 6%. Declines have been even steeper on the smaller Shenzhen Composite, which has lost more than 11% over the past two trading sessions. China’s government announced a shakeup at the country’s stock market regulator.

Persecution Watch

A group of 15 young Christians have been attacked and arrested for engaging in evangelism in eastern Ethiopia. In southern Ethiopia, six Christian leaders from Kilto, in southern Ethiopia, have been found guilty of inciting public disturbance, destroying public trust in government officials and spreading hatred. The six men sentence complained of discrimination in employment opportunities, unfair dismissal from jobs, harsh job performance feedback, burned church buildings, physical attacks and death threats. Yemariam Worke, was sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison and the other five men to five years and six months. They were then transferred to a prison in Worabe, capital of Silte zone.

A group of local police officers, led by the Inspector, as well as a mob of around 40 Hindu radicals, stormed the home of a 70-year-old Christian man in Kanheipur village, in India’s Odisha (formerly Orissa) state, insulting and attacking all 17 Christians in the house. Pastor Sushil Lima, who was visiting the elderly Christian in his home, was arrested on charges of forced conversions and of creating tension in the local population. Police released him later that night, but only after threatening him with beatings. The next day, Hindu extremists forced a Christian couple who had visited Pastor Sushil in prison, to attend a village meeting. The couple, Mahendra Nayak and his wife, were tortured and threatened with being banished from the village. The Hindu leaders had also gone to their children’s school and forced the authorities to expel the children.

Suspected Islamist militants searching for Christians stormed a police station in Oursi, in northern Burkina Faso, close to the Malian border, injuring at least two people. Police later confirmed that the two people injured in the attack are police officers. It is not known whether the gunmen were linked to the Islamist group Boko Haram as they claimed. There have been few Islamist attacks in Burkina Faso, although several Islamist groups are active in neighboring Mali. In April 2012, ethnic Tuareg rebels in Mali, including Islamist movement Ansar Dine and a separatist group, seized control of northern Mali following a military coup that overthrew the government. Boko Haram was also involved in the fighting. “Horrible crimes [were] made against the population,” a Barnabas Fund contact said then. “Massacres, rape of women, obligation to wear the veil, and chasing Christians. All the churches were destroyed in Gao and Timbuktu. All the believers had to flee towards the south, leaving their homes and giving up all their goods.”

Middle East

Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem Sunday morning to clear Muslim stone throwers who had taken refuge in the compound amid allegations they planned to disrupt Jewish worshipers on the eve of the Jewish new year. Police used tear gas and stun grenades as they entered the area to clear the Arab protesters. Masked men fled into the mosque and threw dozens of rocks, stone blocks and fire crackers at the Israeli personnel, the Israeli news site Ynet News reported. Al-Aqsa sits on the former site of the Jewish Temple in a location known to Jews as the Temple Mount. The outer wall of the temple compound is the Jewish holy site known as the Western Wall. The mosque compound overlooks the open pavilion at the Western Wall, where Jews gather for prayers. The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, began Sunday at sundown. Rioting broke out on the Temple Mount on Tuesday for the third straight day, as dozens of young Palestinians wearing masks and hurling rocks and firecrackers attacked Israeli police who were escorting Jewish and Christian visitors to the site. Jordan’s King Abdullah issued condemned Israel for what he called their “acts of aggression against Moslem holy sites” in Jerusalem.

Islamic State

In January the U.S. Central Command announced that U.S. and coalition airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria destroyed some 184 Humvees, 58 tanks and nearly 700 other vehicles. The number of ISIS military vehicles destroyed may seem significant, but is really just a drop in the bucket compared to the militants’ overall firepower. While specific numbers are difficult to come by, reports suggest that ISIS has a huge fleet of vehicles – including tanks – its possession. Last year, for example, the jihadists captured 2,300 Humvees from Iraqi forces when they captured the city of Mosul. Unlike traditional nation states ISIS doesn’t produce tanks or other weapons in factories, and unlike past insurgent forces that were supported by a nation state ISIS isn’t being armed or equipped by a major power either. Yet the group’s fleet of vehicles continues to grow.

In May ISIS captured U.S.-built equipment, including M1A1 tanks after the group took control of the town of Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad. In addition to modern military hardware, militants have also captured Cold War-era weaponry from Syrian forces, everything from AK-47 assault rifles to T-72 main battle tanks. ISIS has not only tanks but towed field guns and artillery pieces, which allow the group to conduct shelling against Iraqi military targets from a great distance. There is a growing concern that these weapons have allowed ISIS to operate more like an actual army than merely as insurgents.

Egypt

Egyptian security forces mistakenly killed 12 people, including at least two Mexican tourists, in an anti-terror operation in the country’s western desert, authorities said. The military and police fired on four vehicles, which turned out to be carrying tourists, while pursuing militants in the restricted area Sunday. Ten Mexicans and Egyptians who were injured in the incident were taken to a hospital. The tour company involved “did not have permits and did not inform authorities,” that they would be there. Any trips to the area must be cleared by the authorities.

Egypt’s government resigned Saturday in the face of intense criticism from state-friendly media that reflects growing discontent but stops short of faulting President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the former general who led the overthrow of an Islamist president two years ago. The office of the president said he accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and his Cabinet but that the ministers would continue to serve until a new body is appointed. Egypt’s president is generally in charge of major affairs of state while the prime minister, whom he appoints, handles day-to-day running of the government. El-Sissi in recent months has had to perform tasks that normally should fall to Mehleb. Mehleb also failed to pressure his ministers into following through on memorandums of understanding that el-Sissi signed during a much-publicized economic summit in March.

Yemen

Of the many perils Yemen’s civilians have faced during the last six months of war, with starvation looming and their cities crumbling under heavy weapons, none have been as deadly as the Saudi Arabian-led coalition airstrikes. What began as a Saudi-led aerial campaign against the Houthis, the rebel militia movement that forced Yemen’s government from power, has become so broad and vicious that critics accuse the coalition of collectively punishing people living in areas under Houthi control. Errant coalition strikes have ripped through markets, apartment buildings and refugee camps. Other bombs have fallen so far from any military target. More than a thousand civilians are believed to have died in the strikes, the toll rising steadily with little international notice or outrage, reports the New York Times. Rather than turning more Yemenis against the Houthis, though, the strikes are crystallizing anger in parts of the country against Saudi Arabia and its partners, including the United States.

North Korea

North Korea on Tuesday said it has restarted operations at its atomic bomb fuel production plants, in a move that pushes Pyongyang further toward a standoff with Washington and its allies. The secretive state says it is fully ready to use nuclear weapons against the United States “and other hostile forces” at any time if they “persistently seek their reckless hostile policy towards [North Korea] and behave mischievously.” It follows a warning by Pyongyang on Monday that it is ready to launch “satellites” — which the West considers banned long-range missiles — aboard long-range rockets to mark the ruling communist party’s anniversary next month. The 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party falls on Oct. 10.

Earthquakes

One of Japan’s most active volcanoes erupted again Monday, sending a plume of ash at least 6,000 feet into the air and disrupting some flights in the western part of the island nation, which has had to deal with disastrous flooding, deadly landslides, and a moderate earthquake all within the past week. Authorities raised the alert level in the area. People were not allowed to be within 1.25 miles of the volcano’s mouth. There are no homes located in the banned area, and officials said there haven’t been any reports of injury or damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey says an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.6 has hit in the Gulf of California. The earthquake struck Sunday at 1:14 a.m. local time at a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles). The epicenter is 37 miles (59 kilometers) south-southwest of Topolobampo, Mexico. Mexico, which lies on three tectonic plates, is one of the world’s most seismically active regions.

Wildfires

Fire crews in northern California continued Sunday to battle two blazes that have consumed up to 1,000 structures, forced thousands to evacuate and sent four firefighters to the hospital with burns and killed at least one person who refused to evacuate. The Valley Fire, which started Saturday afternoon in Lake County northwest of Sacramento, grew quickly to more than 15 square miles and forced 23,000 residents to flee, Cal Fire reported. Entire towns as well as residents along a 35-mile stretch of highway were evacuated. No containment was reported as of Monday morning. The Butte Fire has consumed 65,000 acres with 6,400 structures threatened and is 25-percent contained. A third fire in northern California, the Rough Fire, has burned 135,000 acres and is 36-percent contained. Hot, dry weather will give way to a sharp drop in temperatures across California starting Monday, bringing chances for welcomed rain showers but also a shift in wind directions for many areas.

Weather

Due to higher temperatures and lower precipitation levels, the Sierra Nevada snowpack in Northern California has dipped to its lowest level in the past 500 years, a new study has found. This is just the latest in a series of studies of the declining Western snowpack. The lack of water contributes to the increase in wildfires, limits available drinking water and causes agricultural irrigation systems to run dry. In the latest paper, researchers from the University of Arizona used previously published tree-ring data, which reflects annual winter precipitation from 1405 to 2005, as well as snowpack measures since the ’30s. The findings indicate a loss “unprecedented” not just for the modern era, but for the past five centuries.

A flash flood swept through the small Utah-Arizona border community of Hildale Monday, killing at least eight people and leaving five others missing. An SUV and a van carrying a total of 16 people had been swept away by the flooding. They were “hit by a large wall of water and debris,” Washington County Emergency Services said in a statement. Most of the people were thrown from the vehicles. Three people survived as the flash flooding carried the vehicles several hundred yards downstream. The floods came after heavy rains fell in the canyons just north of the towns, sending waves of water barreling through the streets.

If the globe continues its unabated use of fossil fuels, global sea levels will swamp populous regions much sooner than previously anticipated, a new study out Friday indicates. If the currently attainable coal, natural gas and oil deposits are burned, the entire ice sheet covering Antarctica will melt into warming oceans, authors of the Sciences Advances study claimed. The new projections say the first 100 feet of sea level rise would happen over the next 1,000 years, more than an inch a year, said Ken Caldeira, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the Carnegie Institution for Science. New Orleans is especially vulnerable, Hurricane Katrina’s 20-foot storm surge nearly wiped the city off the map. Los Angeles, New York City and nearly all of Florida would also flood and disappear. “Most projections this century are two to three feet of sea level rise, which we can deal with,” Caldeira said. “But 100 feet basically means abandoning London, Rome, Paris, Tokyo and New York.”

Signs of the Times (9/12/15)

September 12, 2015

Christian Rapper and Former Lesbian Tells about Her Conversion

Christian rapper and former lesbian Jackie Hill-Perry discussed in a recent interview how she learned to overcome her same-sex attraction. After accepting Christ in 2008, Hill-Perry was able to leave behind her old lifestyle and is now married to fellow artist Preston Perry with whom she has a daughter. She said that after meeting with church leaders, she realized her struggle with homosexuality was much bigger than she had thought and she needed to deal with her whole person, specifically “hatred, bitterness, laziness, gluttony, lack of stewardship, pride.” Hill-Perry stated that it helped her turn her life around when she realized that “only Jesus can make me whole.” When I was able to see that all of me needed Jesus, all of me needed to be whole and all of me needed to be disciplined, that’s what helped me. Because it kind of humbles you where [I said] ‘I’m real messed up because it’s not this one little fraction of me. It’s all of me.’ And I’m able to really crawl to Jesus and know He can fix me.”

California Legislature Approves Assisted Suicide

The California State Legislature on Friday gave its final approval to a bill that would allow doctors to help terminally ill people end their lives. Four other states — Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont — already allow physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to some patients. The California bill, which passed Friday in the State Senate by a vote of 23 to 14, will now go to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has given no indication of his intentions. The California bill is modeled on the law in Oregon, with several notable changes. The California law would expire after 10 years and have to be reapproved, and doctors would have to consult in private with the patient desiring to die, as part of an effort to ensure that no one would be coerced to end his or her life — a primary concern for opponents of the law.

  • The culture of death continues to advance in the U.S.

Office Depot CEO Apologizes over Refusal to Copy Anti-Abortion Fliers

The CEO of Office Depot apologized Friday to a suburban Chicago woman who said the company discriminated against her religious beliefs when its employees told her that making copies of an anti-abortion prayer violated company policy. Maria Goldstein, who is Roman Catholic, asked the Office Depot in Schaumburg last month to make 500 copies of “A Prayer for Planned Parenthood.” The prayer was composed by the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of the anti-abortion group Priest for Life. It calls on God to “Bring an end to the killing of children in the womb, and bring an end to the sale of their body parts. Bring conversion to all who do this, and enlightenment to all who advocate it.” The prayer also includes statistics about abortion in the U.S. and decries “the evil that has been exposed in Planned Parenthood and in the entire abortion industry.”

Senate Democrats Deliver Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal

Democrats on Tuesday gave President Barack Obama the votes he needs to prevent the Senate from passing a measure disapproving of the Iran nuclear deal. Reaching the threshold to filibuster means the President likely won’t need to veto the measure, even though opposition to the Iran deal enjoys majority support in the House and Senate. The Senate would need 60 votes to advance a measure rejecting the deal for a floor vote. If all 41 Democrats who support the deal vote to filibuster, it would not reach a final vote in the Senate. Not all have pledged to do so, though they have pledged to vote with the President on the deal otherwise. On Thursday, Despite overwhelming disapproval for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) 42 Democratic Senators blocked a resolution Thursday to bring the question of approval or disapproval of the JCPOA for a full vote. Minority leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada triumphantly declared the matter closed. “You can call (a vote) ten more times and you’ll get the same result,” added Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Latest Military Lab Problems Involve Plague Bacteria & Deadly Viruses

The Pentagon’s most secure laboratories may have mislabeled, improperly stored and shipped samples of potentially infectious plague bacteria, which can cause several deadly forms of disease, USA Today reported Friday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flagged the practices after inspections last month at an Army lab in Maryland, one of the Pentagon’s most secure labs. That helped prompt an emergency ban on research on all bioterror pathogens at nine laboratories run by the Pentagon, which was already reeling from revelations that another Army lab in Utah had mishandled anthrax samples over the past 10 years. There is no danger to the public from the plague and encephalitis specimens found in the labs, said Army spokesman Dov Schwartz. After extensive testing, no danger has been found to scientists and researchers who have worked with the vials, he claimed. Final test results are expected by the end of the month.

Criminal Hacks of Healthcare Systems Up 125% Since 2010

Criminal attacks on healthcare computer systems are up 125% since 2010 and are now the leading cause of data breaches, a study by the Ponemon Institute found in March. Healthcare companies are especially tempting targets for cyber attackers, as their files contain large amounts of personal information on users. Because of the rise in attacks in the sector, earlier this year Excellus hired cyber security firm Mandiant to conduct a forensic review of its computer systems. Mandiant found evidence of cyber break-ins dating back to Dec. 23, 2013. The FBI was called in and the company began working to notify customers. Excellus, an upstate New York health care company, says information for as many as 10 million of its clients nationwide may have been exposed.

OPEC is Winning

The Saudi-led cartel’s master plan to pump record amounts of oil in order to squeeze other producers out of the market appears to be working. “The strategy…appears to be having the intended effect of driving out costly, ‘inefficient’ production,” the International Energy Agency said Friday in its monthly oil market report. The IEA monitors energy market trends for the world’s richest nations. The agency said OPEC’s rivals such as the U.S. and Russia will see the biggest decline in oil output next year since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Non-OPEC production will drop by nearly 500,000 barrels a day in 2016, the agency said. It singled out the U.S. shale oil industry as the biggest loser, forecasting that output will fall by 400,000 barrels a day next year. By contrast, demand for OPEC oil is expected to rise. In addition, Iran is gearing up to boost supplies and reclaim its place in the market once trade sanctions are lifted following its nuclear deal with the West. Crude oil prices could plummet to $20 a barrel as the massive supply glut persists until the end of next year, forecasts Goldman Sachs. Currently, crude oil is around $45 per barrel, down from $106 last year.

At Least 107 Dead in Crane Collapse at Mecca’s Grand Mosque

A huge construction crane buffeted by strong winds collapsed and crashed onto the Grand Mosque in Mecca on Friday, killing as many as 107 worshipers only days before the start of the annual Muslim pilgrimage, the Saudi Arabia Civil Defense reports. The Civil Defense said on Twitter that as many as 238 people had been injured. Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Mansouri, spokesman for the Presidency of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet Mosque, blamed the accident on a “strong sandstorm, winds and torrential rains,” the official Saudi Press Agency reports. The accident occurred as the kingdom prepared to welcome 3 million people to the Muslim holy city for the annual pilgrimage that begins Sept. 21.

  • This ‘accident’ occurred on 9/11. Ironic? Or spiritual justice?

Poor Nations want Wealthy Nations to Pay Reparations for Climate Change

Poorer nations suffering from extreme weather disasters want rich nations like the United States to pay for reparations and to relocate populations. Poorer nations blame extreme weather-related disasters on climate change stemming from emission-polluting countries that have more developed and wealthier economies. Preparatory talks ahead of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change to be held in Paris in December has representatives from developing nations asking for more than an already agreed upon $100 billion per year for climate change mitigation measures. They want additional compensation for weather-related disasters as well as a “displacement coordination facility” for refugees. And they want all this to be legally binding as part of the larger anticipated Paris accord. The U.S. and wealthier nations in the European Union are balking.

  • Having worked so hard to ‘prove’ climate change is a result of human-generated emissions, the U.S. and other wealthy nations are now reaping the price for their efforts.

Economic News

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.

America could soon be exporting a lot of oil. Momentum is building fast on lifting the ban on U.S. oil exports. A House subcommittee has scheduled a vote for Thursday on a bill that would eliminate the oil export ban. The U.S. passed the ban in 1975 on most — though not all — exports of crude oil on the heels of an OPEC oil embargo. That embargo sent oil prices skyrocketing and took a huge toll on the U.S. economy, which had grown dependent on foreign oil. The ban was put in place to prevent such disruptions in the future and protect domestic resources. But it’s a very different world now. Thanks to the shale oil revolution, the U.S. has become the world’s top producer of crude oil and natural gas, surpassing even Saudi Arabia.

Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, keeping this key indicator of labor market health near historic lows. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 275,000. Benefit claims, a proxy for layoffs, below the 300,000 mark indicate moderate growth in the economy.

The prices charged by U.S. manufacturers, farmers and other producers were unchanged in August, the latest evidence that inflation remains tame. The Labor Department said Friday the producer price index, which measures price changes before they reach the consumer, was flat after a 0.2% increase in July. In the past year, wholesale prices have actually fallen 0.8%.

Tuition has increased 225% since 1984-85, forcing many students to take out student loans to pay for the increasing cost of higher education. Student loan debt in U.S. has reached $1.2 trillion, causing families, lawmakers and others to worry about students’ ability to pay off this debt, not to mention the potential repercussions of this debt on the economy. Some blame decreases in state funding of higher education due to lower state appropriations during the recession as the reason for this increase in tuition costs.

Persecution Watch

Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi has formed a committee tasked with monitoring the persecution of Christians, reports Catholic news outlet Agenzia Fides. The committee’s goal is to reign in the violent oppression of Christians in areas like Baghdad, where they are victims of kidnapping, extortion and murder. A recent increase in persecution has caused a Christian member of the Iraqi parliament and a leader of the Chaldean Patriarchate to call for greater protection of Christians in Iraq. June and July saw four Christians kidnapped in a two-week span. Two of those kidnapped were found dead – even after their ransom was paid. The Patriarchate is assisting the committee with the gathering of information, and has already delivered records of 14 instances of Christian homes and properties that were seized illegally. One non-governmental organization, Bagdad Beituna (translated, “Baghdad Our Home”), states that “7,000 violations against properties belonging to Iraqi Christians in Baghdad” have occurred since 2003.

Middle East

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution Thursday allowing what it officially recognizes as the “State of Palestine” and the Vatican to raise their flags outside of U.N. Headquarters and U.N. offices. In a 119-8 vote, with 45 abstentions, the General Assembly approved a move allowing the two nonmember observer states to raise their flags following the flags of member states. The Vatican announced Wednesday that it had brokered a treaty with the “state of Palestine,” upsetting Israeli advocates and propelling Pope Francis into the heart of yet another geopolitical fray. The treaty is expected to be signed “in the near future,” the Vatican said. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is scheduled to visit Pope Francis on Saturday, the day before the church canonizes two Palestinian nuns. Vatican policy, however, has long held that a two-state solution is the best road to peace in the Holy Land. The Vatican has referred to Palestine as a state since November 2012, when the United Nations voted to recognize it as a nonmember observer state.

Israel will not exist in another quarter century, Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said during a speech this week in Tehran, state-run media report. “God willing, there will be no such thing as a Zionist regime in 25 years. Until then, struggling, heroic and jihadi morale will leave no moment of serenity for Zionists,” he said. From London, where he is meeting with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the opportunity to reiterate his opposition to the recently signed nuclear deal, saying that Khamenei’s words leave its supporters with no “room for illusion” about its true intentions. “He has made it clear that the U.S. is the Great Satan and that Iran intends to destroy the state of Israel.” Netanyahu said in a statement.

Islamic State

The Islamic State (ISIS) is now offering a Norwegian and a Chinese hostage ‘for sale.’ The two men are shown in the ISIS online magazine Dabiq standing in yellow jumpsuits, staring toward a camera with a chilling message posted below their portraits: “FOR SALE.” ISIS is asking an undisclosed ransom to pay for their “release and transfer.” An ominous warning appears beneath an Iraqi phone number at the bottom of each page: “Note: This is a limited time offer.” Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg confirmed that the kidnappers have asked for specific ransom amounts several times in the past, but Norway will not pay. ISIS has taken dozens of international hostages seeking ransoms for them to swell its coffers. Apparently some ransoms have been paid.

In a blistering new message, the leader of al Qaeda denounces the leader of ISIS as the illegitimate leader of a phony caliphate. Exposing a glaring hostility between the two jihadi groups, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, openly attacks ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for usurping the jihadi movement. “We do not acknowledge this Caliphate,” he says, according to a translation from SITE Intelligence posted Wednesday. He dismisses al-Baghdadi as a pretender who declared himself caliph with the support of only “a few unknown people,” and established ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State, “by force and with explosions and car bombs,” instead of by “the choice of the people” through “approval and consultation.” Georgetown University’s Nicholas Palarino says al-Baghdadi is stealing his thunder, and al-Zawahiri feels threatened. “You can compare it to two drug gangs, or two mafia mobs. One is encroaching on the other’s territory.”

European Migration Woes

France and Britain on Monday offered haven to a combined 44,000 migrants, the latest efforts by Europe to cope with its worst migration crisis since World War II. The twin announcements follow a pledge of $6.6 billion made by Germany late Sunday night to care for hundreds of thousands entering the country. The aid package will provide asylum seekers improved housing, language courses and enhanced security. Germany’s vice chancellor said his country could take in 500,000 refugees annually for the next several years. Germany’s welcome mat for migrants has sparked a backlash in the country. In recent months refugee centers across Germany have been the subject of apparent attacks by anti-migrant extremists. Germany and France are calling for a quota system so migrants are more evenly distributed across the 28-nation European Union. President Barack Obama has ordered his team to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, the White House said Thursday, amid criticism that the United States has not done enough.

Syria

Almost half (49%) of Syria’s population have now fled their homeland since war broke out in 2011 in an attempt to remove President Assad from power. Since then rival factions have warred against each other and the Islamic State took over a third of the country as part of its new caliphate. The fighting and later rise of ISIS have forced 10.6 million people to leave their homes. About 6.5 million of those are displaced within Syria, but nearly 4.1 million have fled to nearby countries, mostly in Europe.

Russia

U.S. officials are expressing growing concern about Russia’s military build-up in Assad-controlled Syria, calling it “unprecedented” — with one telling Fox News it compares in scope to Vladimir Putin’s incursion into Crimea. Sources in Lebanon were reporting Wednesday that Russian troops have engaged in combat operations in support of the Assad regime in neighboring Syria, although so far the number of ground troops is reported to be small. Russia’s Foreign Ministry revealed early Wednesday that Russian military experts are assisting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country’s long-running civil war. The statement by Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova to Reuters marks the first confirmation from Moscow that members of the Russian military are on the ground in Syria after weeks of reports that Russia had stepped up its support for the embattled Assad regime. Zakharova said the advisers were assisting with Russian arms deliveries to Syrian government forces, which Moscow says are aimed at fighting Islamist militants.

Nigeria

Schoolchildren in Nigeria are returning to school next week – but not the hundreds of thousands of children displaced by terrorist violence. Islamic extremist rebel group Boko Haram stepped up attacks on civilians after Muhammadu Buhari took office as president of Nigeria on May 29, casting a shadow over the government’s recovery of territory earlier this year and adding to the more than 1.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs). About half of Nigeria’s displaced people are children, and an indigenous ministry is focusing on their needs. “Schoolchildren have been out of school now for many months or even years,” said the director of the ministry based in the capital, Abuja. “Can we allow these children in the IDP camps to be without schools, when we Christians have the opportunity to show the love of Christ and empower them by giving them schooling?” The ministry, unnamed for security reasons, plans to send hundreds of children to rural schools in safe areas of Adamawa and Niger states.

Wildfires

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in northern California where an explosive wildfire forced the evacuation of 2,700 residents Friday. The Butte Fire in Amador & Calaveras Counties surged from a few hundred acres Thursday to nearly 65,000 as of Saturday morning and is still only 5 percent contained. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for the town of San Andreas, about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento. Six homes and two outbuildings burned Thursday, and 6,000 more are threatened. The number of homes burned could increase because the blaze was moving through rural areas with houses.

Pestilence

After discovering a frozen giant 30,000-year-old virus, French scientists plan to reanimate it in order to explore how it developed. Unearthed from 100 feet of Siberian permafrost, Mollivirus Sibericum, which means “soft virus from Siberia,” measures 0.6 microns, making it a giant virus compared to regular virus specimens which are less than half a micron. NewsWeek reports that this is the fourth type of prehistoric virus found since 2003, all of which have proven to be harmless. However, as reported by weather.com, these kind of discoveries raise the possibility that, as the climate warms and exploration expands in long-untouched regions of Siberia, humans could release ancient or eradicated viruses which might be harmful.

Weather

A bout of extreme weather is bombarding Southern California with heat, hail and flooding, which has killed one, and at one point, stranded several motorists. Moisture from Tropical Storm Linda is reaching north into portions of Southern California. The amount of moisture in the atmosphere is considerably above average and will promote drenching thunderstorms across the area through the end of the week.

One person died and another remains missing after heavy rainfall triggered floods in the San Antonio area on Thursday. Four people were attempting to cross a creek near Interstate 10 when floodwaters swept them away Thursday evening – three were rescued the fourth is missing. In just 22 minutes Thursday afternoon, San Antonio International Airport picked up 1.01 inches of rain.

Dramatic helicopter rescues were conducted in Japan Thursday as a flood-swollen river breached a levee, sending raging floodwaters into a neighborhood north of Tokyo and leaving dozens of residents trapped on the roofs or upper floors of their homes. Three people are confirmed dead, 23 are reported missing, and 27 others have been injured due to the extreme rainfall resulting from former Tropical Storm Etau. At least 93 landslides, and left several thousand people stranded. Rare emergency warnings for heavy rainfall, flooding and landslides were issued for nearly 5 million people in two prefectures near Tokyo Thursday morning as torrential rain continued to inundate parts of Japan, flooding hundreds of homes north of Tokyo, where more than 20 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. Over 10,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes.

Signs of the Times (9/7/15)

September 7, 2015

American Muslim Leader Call for 10,000 Volunteers to Kill White People

Appearing on his Justice or Else! Tour at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal church in Washington DC, Nations of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan said, referencing the Koran, “Retaliation is a prescription from God to calm the breasts of those whose children have been slain. So if the federal government will not intercede in our affairs, then we must rise up and kill those who kill us. Stalk them and kill them and let them feel the pain of death that we are feeling…. 10,000 in the midst of the million … 10,000 fearless men who say death is sweeter than continued life under tyranny.” The sonsofliberty.com ask, “Why is Louis Farrakhan not in jail? Why has he not been arrested and charged with inciting riots? Why has he not been arrested and charged with encouraging the murder of thousands of people based on his racist views?”

  • It appears that hate-crime legislation applies only to Christians

Kentucky Clerk Now in Jail as Others Also Refuse to Issue Gay Marriage Licenses

The Kentucky county clerk refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses isn’t the only local official in the United States using religion as a basis for denying licenses to gay couples. A federal judge jailed Kim Davis for contempt of court Thursday after she again refused to issue marriage licenses to gays in Rowan County, Ky., pursuant to the Supreme Court decision earlier this year. Despite the Supreme Court’s 5-4 landmark ruling in the same-sex marriage case, many other local officials across the country are not giving up the fight. In Oregon, an ethics investigation of Marion County Circuit Judge Vance Day has been launched following his decision not to perform same-sex marriages. Day has never performed a same-sex marriage because of “deeply held religious beliefs.” Up to 15 counties in Alabama had shuttered their marriage license operations as of Wednesday with no date for relaunching them, according to Ianthe Metzger of the Human Rights Campaign. In North Carolina, a law allowing officials to refrain from conducting marriage-related duties has led to more than 30 magistrates refusing to perform same-sex unions. Only Utah has a similar law.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the Carter County Detention Center in a “Free Kim Davis” rally on Saturday and prayed for jailed Rowan County clerk, who was locked up just a few hundred feet away. As Davis’ mugshot flew across the Internet, it became clear that the gay rights movement must now confront the idea that Christianity is under siege, said Kenneth Upton, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, a law firm specializing in LGBT issues. “This is what the other side wants,” Upton said, pointing to an image of Davis in handcuffs. “This is a biblical story, to go to jail for your faith. We don’t want to make her a martyr to the people who are like her, who want to paint themselves as victims.” The American Civil Liberties Union, representing couples she turned away, asked that she be fined rather than imprisoned, in part to avoid “a false persecution story,”

  • Christianity is under siege and this is not a ‘false persecution story.’ Instead, this event marks the beginning of the criminalization of Christianity in America

Bathroom Access for Transgender Teen divides Missouri Town

Missouri transgender teen Lila Perry says she began to feel like a girl when she was 13 and started appearing as one in school this year when classes began in August. The 17-year-old Hillsboro High School senior wears skirts, makeup and a long wig styled with bobby pins. She even started using the girls’ locker room to change for gym class, despite the school’s offer of a single-occupancy restroom. However, it became clear she was not welcome in the locker room. Because Perry has male anatomy, many students simply see her as a boy in a wig changing in the girls’ locker room — and that makes them uncomfortable. They whispered about her in hallways, complained to faculty and told their parents, who brought it up at the school board meeting on August 27. In a petition read aloud, one parent asked the board to stop extending privileges to “confused teenagers who want to be something they are not sexually” at other students’ expense. When they didn’t get the response they had hoped for, a group of students organized a walkout Monday with their parents’ support. The protest made national headlines, casting a large spotlight on this small town of 2,900 people about 30 miles south of St. Louis.

  • Anatomy is anatomy, not a choice, like it or not.

Judge Upholds Controversial Arizona Immigration Law

An Arizona judge upheld the state’s landmark immigration law on Friday after challengers failed to show that police would enforce the statute differently for Latinos than it would for people of other ethnicities. The ruling could signal the end of the case and give a victory to backers of the 2010 law. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton upheld the law’s controversial requirement that police, while enforcing other laws, can question the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally. The Supreme Court also upheld the requirement, but the law’s challengers continued to try to get it overturned at a lower-level court. Opponents have “not produced any evidence that state law enforcement officials will enforce SB1070 differently for Latinos than a similarly situated person of another race or ethnicity,” Bolton wrote.

Arab Nations Silent as Migrant Crisis Swells in Europe

The richest Arab nations in the Gulf region aren’t taking in Syrian refugees, the largest population of migrants overwhelming neighboring Middle Eastern countries and flooding into Europe. Persian Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait have pledged or donated hundreds of millions of dollars, but won’t resettle those fleeing the Syrian civil war that has been raging for more than four years. Nearly half of Syria’s pre-war population of more than 20 million people have been displaced within Syria or have fled the country, according to the United Nations. The neighboring nations of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq have taken in more than 3.5 million Syrians combined. But tens of thousands more have embarked on perilous journeys this year across the Mediterranean and through the Balkans to reach northern Europe. “The Gulf States have not stepped up in accepting refugees,” said Geoffrey Mock, the Syria specialist for Amnesty International USA. “They have offered zero resettlement places … and this is shameful.”

European Migration Crisis

Anger is mounting in nations along the path Middle Eastern and North African refugees are taking to Europe, where citizens and officials alike say the crisis is stretching resources and threatening security. An estimated 1 million refugees, many from Syria, are making their way to European Union nations that have agreed to take them in. But their treacherous path crosses Greece and winds through Balkan nations including Macedonia and Serbia, which are finding themselves overwhelmed. Many blame European Union officials for making policy that has brought a wave of human misery across their borders. “Balkan countries are not members of NATO or the EU, and they have sensitive economies and defenses. The refugees have fueled crime and smuggling of people and other illegal businesses,” noted Dusko Stojanovski, a professor of security and international crime at University American College, in Skopje.

Germany pledged nearly $7 billion to care for the hundreds of thousands of refugees entering the country and France said it would welcome 24,000 refugees as Europe on Monday stepped up efforts to deal with its migration crisis. More than 4,000 migrants arrived in Austria and thousands more were heading there on foot Saturday as European countries broke a stalemate and began finding ways to take in the masses of humanity. Hungary, which had spent days stopping migrants from leaving by train, provided buses to take them into Austria. The government relented under international pressure and after desperate refugees who had camped out at the Budapest train station simply began walking toward the border. Austria opened the floodgates by announcing that “every refugee in Austria can apply for asylum.” By early afternoon Saturday, about 6,500 migrants had crossed into the country.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday said “thousands more” Syrian refugees would be allowed into the United Kingdom. Cameron appeared to be bowing to public pressure at home and to political momentum in the European Union to do more to address a growing humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of people flee to Europe — mainly Syrians fleeing the Islamic State, but also Iraqis, Eritreans, Nigerians, Albanians and many others. Countries across Europe have been struggling to fashion a cohesive strategy to deal with a refugee crisis on a scale not seen since World War II. The head of the U.N. refugee agency said Friday that Europe is facing a “defining moment” that required a “massive common effort” to deal with the largest influx of refugees onto the continent in decades.

Pentagon Halts Work with Bioterror Germs at 9 Labs

The discovery of live anthrax outside a containment area at a military lab in Utah prompted military officials to order an immediate freeze on operations at nine biodefense laboratories that work with dangerous viruses, toxins and bacteria, the Pentagon announced Thursday. The moratorium came after officials took a detailed look at policies and procedures at the labs and found them wanting, according to Defense officials. Labs at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground facility in Utah have been the focus of international concern since May, when the first clues emerged that the facility had been mistakenly shipping live anthrax — instead of killed specimens — to labs in the USA and abroad for years. An ongoing USA TODAY Media Network investigation has revealed numerous safety problems at government, university and private labs that operate in the secretive world of biodefense research. Activities at the labs will restart when the Army determines they can be conducted safely.

  • The always present possibility of human error is often overlooked in the haste to get things done. Extra layers of safeguards should always be built into protocols at facilities dealing with harmful agents.

Fiat Chrysler Orders Recall to Thwart Hackers

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has ordered the second recall in two months in order to install software that protects against computer hackers. The recall ordered Friday will update software in about 7,810 of its new 2015 Jeep Renegade that have 6.5-inch touchscreens. The system involved in the latest recall is different that than the infotainment system that was the subject of a recall of 1.4 million vehicles in July, the automaker says. Owners will receive a thumb drive so they can perform the update themselves. Fiat Chrysler said it will include new safety features that can block remote access. The July recall came after two hackers demonstrated to Wired magazine how they could take over a Jeep SUV as it drove down the highway with a journalist in the driver’s seat. They also cranked up the air conditioning and took over the sound system. The car ended up in a ditch.

Economic News

In reporting that the unemployment rate declined to 5.1% last month, the mainstream media failed to also report that a record 94,031,000 Americans were not in the American labor force last month — 261,000 more than July — and the labor force participation rate stayed stuck at 62.6 percent, a 38-year low, for a third straight month in August, the Labor Department reported on Friday. The number of Americans not in the labor force has continued to rise, partly because of retiring baby-boomers and fewer workers entering the workforce.

Payroll growth slowed in August as employers added 173,000 jobs in a key report that could help the Federal Reserve decide whether to raise interest rates later this month. The unemployment rate fell from 5.3% to 5.1%, lowest since March 2008. Businesses added 140,000 jobs last month, fueled by strong advances in health care, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality. Federal, state and local governments added 33,000. Partly offsetting the disappointing report is that job gains for June and July were revised up by a total 44,000. Among the major demographic groups, the unemployment rate for whites declined to 4.4 percent in August. The rates for adult men (4.7 percent), adult women (4.7 percent), teenagers (16.9 percent), blacks (9.5 percent), Asians (3.5 percent), and Hispanics (6.6 percent)

Wage growth picked up moderately as average hourly earnings rose 8 cents to $25.09 after dipping in June, and is up 2.2% the past year, slightly faster than the tepid 2% pace so far in the recovery. The Fed is seeking signs of faster wage growth that would indicate stronger inflation as it considers increasing its benchmark interest rate. The report is the most significant the Fed will review before its September 16-17 meeting. Until recent financial market turmoil, Fed officials had been signaling there was at least a reasonable chance they would raise the fed funds rate for the first time in nine years.

With stock markets hitting some major bumps recently, cheap gasoline should provide Americans a far smoother ride this Labor Day weekend and the likely prospect of $2 pump prices by Christmas. Average regular unleaded will cost the least for the Labor Day break since 2004, AAA says. The national average was $2.44 a gallon Thursday, down nine cents over the past week and $1 below the year-ago price.

Persecution Watch

The Islamic State is attempting to wipe out Christianity in the Middle East. Christians in the Islamic State-controlled town of Qaryatian in Syria have been issued 11 mandates which they must follow if they want to live. Nahren Anweya, an Assyrian-American activist stated, “We have been purged out of Mosul, Nineveh, Khabour, Hassaka, Qaryatian and many more ancestral Assyrian homelands. They took our native homelands, our girls, our churches and now they want the few lives we have left.” And for those who are left, the Islamic State has set strict rules in place, including requiring all conquered peoples to pay the jizyah tax, which is a tax imposed by Muslims on non-believers. In addition, the Islamic State prohibits: the establishment of churches, displaying of crosses, and offending Islamic religious beliefs. This persecution of Christians has caused many Christians to flee their homelands.

Middle East

Five yeshiva students from New York City took a wrong turn Thursday evening as they were travelling by car to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, entering the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Johar. Pedestrians, on seeing the Israeli license plate on their vehicle, immediately began throwing stones and firebombs at them, with the students barely able to exit the vehicle before it was consumed in flames. A resident of the neighborhood hid the students in his apartment while calling for assistance from the PA police, who assisted Israeli forces in extracting them from the situation.

Iran

Even as President Obama was securing the Senate support necessary to assure passage of the nuclear deal with Iran, Tehran’s top defense officials were scoffing at U.S. claims the pact will restrict the Islamic Republic’s military ambitions. “Iran does not plan to issue permission for the [International Atomic Energy Agency] to inspect every site,” Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan told Al Mayadeen News Wednesday. “U.S. officials make boastful remarks and imagine that they can impose anything on the Iranian nation because they lack a proper knowledge of the Iranian nation.” Iran’s official FARS news agency added that “Dehqan had earlier underlined that Tehran would not allow any foreigner to discover Iran’s defensive and missile capabilities by inspecting the country’s military sites.”

  • What a great deal, lifting sanctions against Iran while they go about business as usual and continue to get closer and closer to nuclear weapons

Yemen

A Saudi Arabian military spokesman says 10 Saudi troops were killed in a rebel missile strike a day earlier in Yemen’s Marib province, which also killed 45 allied troops from the United Arab Emirates. The Saudis are leading an air campaign against the rebels in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, training Yemeni troops, supplying weapons and providing military advice. The rebels, known as Houthis, and army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh are fighting forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is in self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia, as well as southern separatists and local militias.

At least 28 people were killed in two suicide bombings at a mosque in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. Dozens of people were wounded in the bombings, Yemeni Defense Ministry officials said. ISIS claimed responsibility on social media for the attacks. The first attack targeted Al Moayyad mosque, a pro-Houthi neighborhood in northern Sanaa and the second bombing took place as civilians were trying to help the victims of the first attack. This is the fifth mosque attack over the past two months in Sanaa. The attacks have targeted pro-Houthi mosques. It’s all part of the turmoil and violence that has wracked Yemen for months, as the Houthis — a minority group that has long held sway in northern Yemen — increasingly asserted themselves elsewhere in the country, including taking over Sanaa early this year.

Russia/Syria

Unconfirmed reports about Russia possibly planning to expand its military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad has prompted a warning from the U.S. that such actions could lead to a clash with coalition forces. The State Department issued a statement after Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to express concern over the rumors “suggesting an imminent enhanced Russian military build-up” in Syria. The State Department said Kerry made it clear to Lavrov in their conversation that such actions “could further escalate the conflict, lead to greater loss of innocent life, increase refugee flows and risk confrontation” with the anti-Islamic State coalition led by the U.S. that is carrying out airstrikes in Syria. Russia has been an ally of Assad throughout Syria’s civil war and has provided diplomatic support and weaponry to help the Syrian leader maintain his grip on power. Moscow also maintains a small naval facility at the Syrian port of Tartous on the Mediterranean Sea.

  • As Ezekiel 38 prophesies, Russia (Rosh) is aligned with the Persians (Iran & Syria) in the end-time war against Israel

Guatemala

Hours after resigning his post as the president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, a former general and the nation’s most powerful man, was sent to jail to await the conclusion of an evidentiary hearing into his role in a multi-million dollar customs fraud. The decision to detain Mr. Pérez Molina, much like his resignation, is unprecedented in Guatemalan history and was a stunning conclusion to a day of swift change in the Central American nation. Mr. Pérez Molina tendered his resignation overnight, and by midmorning on Thursday the country’s Congress had accepted it. He then presented himself before the courts for the evidentiary hearing, where prosecutors played more than six hours of wiretapped conversations and then placed him in prison. The decision to jail Mr. Pérez Molina highlighted the seismic change sweeping through Guatemala after the corruption accusations in April, and offered a dramatic validation of a growing street demonstration movement demanding his ouster and prosecution.

Environment

There are approximately 3 trillion trees on Earth, but that figure has fallen roughly 48 percent since the beginning of human civilization, according to scientists from Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. And that number continues to fall fast, thanks to human intervention. Humans are the top driver of tree numbers worldwide, the study found, after using satellite imagery, forest inventory information of more than 400,000 plots and “supercomputer technology” to map the world’s trees. “Trees are among the most prominent and critical organisms on Earth, yet we are only recently beginning to comprehend their global extent and distribution,” author Thomas Crowther, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher at the school. Farming is the chief culprit in the decline of trees. The study indicates that there are more than 400 trees on Earth per person, with the highest density overwhelming present in the tropics, which boasts about 43 percent of the world’s trees. The sub-arctic boreal forests have the second most, with 24 percent of the world’s trees.

The Pacific Ocean has long been the ultimate symbol of paradise and marine diversity, but now, it has become a heartbreaking picture of devastating pollution. Throughout the world’s largest ocean, there are “garbage patches,” or areas with swirling vortices of marine litter, says National Geographic. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the most massive patch of pollution, stretching from Japan to the West Coast. According to a new study published in the journal Science, China is the worst polluter. South China’s Anquan village is a particularly grotesque scene of rubbish, stretching along the beaches as far as the eye can see. Several organizations around the world are working to prevent situations like that on Anquan’s beaches, including The Ocean Cleanup, which seeks to “extract, prevent and intercept plastic pollution.”

Wildfires

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack revealed Thursday a record $243 million was spent last week combatting wildfires raging around the country. The U.S. Forest Service has been forced to borrow funds from forest restoration work, normally used to reduce the risk of wildfires, as it has already spent all the money allotted by Congress for its 12-month budget. Vilsack noted this has happened the past six of 10 years. Vilsack said the agency will likely be forced to borrow even more funds and continue to expect spending $200 million a week battling the blazes.

Wildfires have burned almost one million acres in Washington, leaving destruction in its wake. One of lesser known impacts of the fires is the toll on the hunting season. “This is an unprecedented drought year.” Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Madonna Lures said. “We have unprecedented fires burning and people fighting them and people losing their lives and their homes over them.” Both the Idaho Fish and Game and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have made several closures. A lot of private land in the panhandle in Idaho has been closed from fears of fires sparking from gun fire.

The widespread wildfire that has proven to be California’s biggest this year is expected to spew smoke throughout the Labor Day weekend, emptying some campgrounds and prompting health warnings. The fire burning east of Fresno grew to 134 square miles. It was 25 percent contained as of Saturday. The fire that began July 31 during a lightning strike has closed roads and about 10 campgrounds around Hume Lake and Kings Canyon.

Weather

Melting ice is leading to a archaeological gold rush in Yellowstone National Park, and archeologists can’t keep up. As large patches of ice melt all throughout the region, artifacts from another era are exposing themselves all over the national park. Animal bones, wooden weapons, ancient tools and more are among the relics discovered by scientists in Yellowstone, according to Smithsonian Mag. Carbon dating has revealed that some of the items are over 5,000-years-old. All of the artifacts have been discovered in the upper Rocky Mountains, where they have been preserved in ice patches for centuries until gradual warming has resulted in significant melting.

Baseball-sized hail came smashing down near Naples, Italy on Saturday in a storm that injured several people and animals in addition to causing damage to vehicles, crops and more. The storm hit the city of Pozzuoli just outside the popular coastal destination of Naples. Alitalia flight AZ2016 destined for Milan, Italy, flew into “an extraordinary and violent hailstorm” just minutes after takeoff from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport Wednesday morning, according to an Alitalia statement. Hailstones as large as tennis balls pelted the aircraft as it attempted to climb to cruising altitude. The aircraft’s nose was crushed and torn in several spots, one cockpit window was shattered. The pilots turned abruptly south and made an emergency landing at Naples International Airport.

  • And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. [about 75 pounds] (Revelation 16:21

Signs of the Times (9/3/15)

September 3, 2015

Pro-Life, Pro-Traditional Marriage Rally in South Carolina Attracts Thousands

Thousands gathered on the lawn of South Carolina’s statehouse last Saturday for a rally for traditional values. Those present at the rally supported defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing the the ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. 2016 presidential hopefuls, Senator Ted Cruz and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, as well as South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, were present and spoke at the rally. Senator Ted Cruz said that America is in crisis, but there is a spirit of revival. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry said that he is angry over the state of the nation, adding that Jesus is angry, and he hoped those in the crowd were angry too. The theme of the rally focused on bringing about change, as David Gibbs of the National Center for Life and Liberty stated. “They want their rights protected. They want their free speech and their freedom of religion to be honored in this state as it has been since the founding of our nation.”

  • Unless Christians mobilize in greater numbers, the accelerating decline of America will continue unabated

Ky. Clerk Defies Court on Gay-Marriage Licenses

A county clerk here defied the Supreme Court on Tuesday and again refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. The Supreme Court refused Monday to allow Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis’ office to deny the licenses because of her religious beliefs. However, on Tuesday morning, she denied the licenses to at least two couples. The issue brought large crowds to the courthouse. Dozens of Davis’ supporters and critics were demonstrating outside, chanting and singing songs. Monday’s ruling from the Supreme Court, made without comment or any apparent dissents, is an early indication that while some push-back against gay marriage on religious grounds may be upheld, the justices won’t tolerate it from public officials. Davis argued that her Christian faith prevented her from recognizing such marriages.

Like Pope Francis, Many USA Catholics’ Beliefs Are Changing

Pope Francis’ evolving views on a host of social issues have surprised observers since his rise to the Vatican two-and-a-half years ago. Now unprecedented research shows that USA Catholics’ views may be just as surprising. A report out Wednesday from the Pew Research Center finds that the typical American Catholic doesn’t find it sinful to use contraception or to live with a romantic partner outside of marriage. While nearly half of Catholics believe the church should not recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples, just as many think it should. The findings come as Pope Francis this week waded into one of the thorniest topics of his papacy: abortion. The new Pew survey of 5,122 adults found that while most Catholics — 57% — believe it’s “sinful” to terminate a pregnancy, but only one in three respondents said opposing abortion was essential to being Catholic.

Pope Francis Alters Abortion Rules for Catholics

Pope Francis has temporarily changed the way the Catholic Church treats women who have had an abortion, dropping the requirement that they have a bishop’s permission to lift the ban of their excommunication. Now, women who’ve had an abortion and anyone who helped them get one will be forgiven of what the Church still considers a sin, as long as they confess to having had the procedure or assisting someone in getting an abortion. Before the Pope’s change in policy, women who’d had an abortion were automatically excommunicated by the Catholic Church and needed the permission of a bishop in order to lift that ban. “Forgiveness of the sin of abortion does not condone abortion nor minimize its grave effects,” the Vatican said in a statement Tuesday.

  • It is God who forgives the sins of those who repent with Godly sorrow, not the Pope or the priests

Mainstream Media Ignores Undercover Videos of Planned Parenthood

A Fox News poll has revealed that half the nation has not seen or heard of the videos released by the Center of Medical Progress which expose Planned Parenthood’s harvesting and trafficking of aborted babies’ body parts. In an outrageous display of news censorship, the mainstream media is masking the barbaric actions of Planned Parenthood by limiting their coverage of the Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) videos, while advancing PPH’s line of defense that the videos were “highly edited” and “obtained illegally,” reports Liberty Counsel.

  • The liberal media is complicit in advancing the corrupt, immoral goals of the secular humanists who now run our country

Report Shows 51% of Immigrant Households on Welfare

Immigrants are far more likely to use government welfare programs than the native-born population, according to a Center for Immigration Studies report released Wednesday. About 51% of immigrant-led households receive some kind of welfare benefit, compared to 30% for native-led households. Benefits include Medicaid, food stamps, school lunches and housing assistance. Those numbers increase for households with children, with 76% of immigrant-led households receiving welfare, compared to 52% for the native-born. The findings are sure to further fuel the ongoing debate on the presidential campaign trail. Donald Trump’s immigration proposals to build more/better fencing, increase deportation and end birthright citizenship have sparked controversy within the 2016 Republican field. Former Gov. Jeb Bush called the proposals “unrealistic.

Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities

Cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines, and few places have witnessed a shift as precipitous as Milwaukee. With the summer not yet over, 104 people have been killed this year — after 86 homicides in all of 2014. More than 30 other cities have also reported increases in violence from a year ago. In New Orleans, 120 people had been killed by late August, compared with 98 during the same period a year earlier. In Baltimore, homicides had hit 215, up from 138 at the same point in 2014. In Washington, the toll was 105, compared with 73 people a year ago. And in St. Louis, 136 people had been killed this year, a 60 percent rise from the 85 murders the city had by the same time last year. No one is claiming to know for sure why murder rates are climbing.

  • The decline of morality and the culture of death are the breeding grounds for violence

307,000 Veterans Died Awaiting Veterans Affairs Health Care

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ system for tracking veterans’ applications for health care is so unreliable that it’s impossible for VA officials to know how many former troops still want care — or even if they are still alive, according to a new report. Investigating allegations made by a whistleblower in July that nearly a third of 847,882 veterans listed in the Veterans Health Administration enrollment system died while waiting for care, the VA Inspector General confirmed with the Social Security Administration that 307,000 former troops on the list are in fact deceased. But investigators also found that the VA system cannot discern how many records in the system are associated with actual applications for health care, and more than half the records did not contain an associated date of application. Investigators also found that employees incorrectly marked unprocessed applications as completed and may have deleted as many as 10,000 applications during the past five years. The system also shows a backlog of waiting patients. According to the IG report, 11,000 applications and 28,000 related transactions, some as old as September 2012, have not been processed.

SAT Scores at Lowest Level in 10 Years

Scores on the SAT have sunk to the lowest level since the college admission test was overhauled in 2005, adding to worries about student performance in the nation’s high schools. The average score for the Class of 2015 was 1490 out of a maximum 2400, the College Board reported Thursday. That was down 7 points from the previous class’s mark and was the lowest composite score of the past decade. There were declines of at least 2 points on all three sections of the test — critical reading, math and writing. The test results show that gains in reading and math in elementary grades haven’t led to broad improvement in high schools, experts say. Educators cite a host of enduring challenges in the quest to lift high school achievement. Among them are poverty, language barriers, low levels of parental education and social ills that plague many urban neighborhoods.

More than 225,000 Apple iPhone Accounts Hacked

Hackers have stolen more than 225,000 Apple accounts from iPhone customers. Security company Palo Alto Networks is calling the attack “the largest known Apple account theft caused by malware.” The good news for most iPhone customers is that the malware, nicknamed KeyRaider, only targets “jailbroken” iPhones. Jail-breaking allows iPhone owners to access parts of a phone’s file systems that are otherwise restricted for security reasons. KeyRaider is mostly found in Chinese websites and apps that provide software for jailbroken iPhones. But the malware has spread far beyond China, showing up in 18 countries, including the United States. Once infected with the KeyRaider malware, a jailbroken iPhone will give up all of its owner’s iTunes App Store information to the hackers.

Economic News – Domestic

Manufacturing activity expanded in August at its slowest pace since 2013 as a strong dollar and low oil prices continued to temper production in the U.S. A closely watched index of the manufacturing industry fell more sharply than expected, dropping to 51.1 from 52.7 in July, the weakest reading since May 2013. A reading over 50 indicates the sectors expanding; below 50 means it’s contracting. Manufacturing activity was expected to pick up in the second half of the year, but the rebound has been delayed by volatility in both the dollar and crude prices. Still, a solid U.S. housing recovery and stronger retail sales, particularly autos, have helped U.S. factories maintain modest growth.

U.S. productivity in the spring rose at the fastest pace since late 2013, while labor costs declined. Worker productivity increased at an annual rate of 3.3% in the April-June quarter, the Labor Department reported Wednesday. That was a rebound from the first quarter when productivity had fallen at a 1.1% rate. Labor costs fell at a 1.4% rate in the second quarter, indicating that wages are not rising even as unemployment declines. Even with the strong gain in the second quarter, productivity over the past year has increased by just 0.7%, far below the long-run average of 2.2%.

The U.S. trade deficit fell in July to the lowest level in five months as exports posted a small gain while imports declined, reflecting a big drop in shipments of consumer goods such as cell phones. The deficit narrowed to $41.9 billion in July, a 7.4% decline from a June imbalance of $45.2 billion. Exports were up a small 0.4 % to $188.5 billion, helped by stronger sales of U.S.-made autos and machinery, while imports declined 1.1% to $230.4 billion. So far this year, the deficit is running 3.6% above last year’s level, reflecting weaker export sales. The concern is that U.S. growth will be hurt by further declines in exports, reflecting a stronger dollar and overseas weakness in nations such as China.

Economic News – International

Canada has fallen victim to cheap oil and slid into recession for the first time in six years. Canada is a big energy exporter and the slump in crude prices — currently below $50 a barrel — has spread pain across the country and hit growth. Second quarter Gross Domestic Product fell by 0.5% on annualized basis. First quarter GDP contracted by 0.8%. That puts the country in a technical recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of declining GDP.

A tsunami of Chinese money is heading for global real estate as local investors look for alternatives to the country’s crashing stock markets. Chinese buyers have already spent billions in the U.S., UK and Australia, causing property prices to rise — and experts say much more cash is on its way. Chinese stocks have crashed 40% since June, wiping away trillions of dollars in market value; and Beijing surprised investors by allowing the yuan — or renminbi — to fall sharply last month. Chinese are starting to “think money in the bank is not safe — it won’t gain any value if the renminbi is still devaluing,” said David Ji of Knight Frank, an international real estate agency. “So people will look to real estate as a more solid investment channel.”

Ice Wars in the Arctic

While visiting Alaska and becoming the first American president to enter the Arctic Circle, President Obama announced Tuesday he would speed up the acquisition of icebreakers to help the U.S. Coast Guard navigate an area that Russia and China increasingly see as a new frontier. The announcement is the latest power play in the Arctic north, where melting ice has led to a race for resources and access. Forty percent of the world’s oil and natural gas reserves lie under the Arctic. Melting ice also would lead to new shipping routes, and Russia wants to establish a kind of Suez Canal which it controls. More than a Cold War, Russia may be preparing for an Ice War, and the Pentagon is taking note. Last March, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a snap, full combat military exercise in Russia’s Arctic north to mark the anniversary of his annexation of Crimea — with 40,000 Russian troops, dozens of warships and submarines.

Europe’s Migration Woes Continue

Thousands of migrants near Budapest’s main international train station were blocked from seeking asylum in Germany and other European nations for a second day Wednesday as authorities continue to look for answers to the growing crisis. With an estimated 3,000 people already encamped near Keleti station, Hungary’s police said Wednesday they intend to reinforce their positions outside the terminal. Authorities also vowed to continue working with security services from Austria, Germany and Slovakia to search for migrants traveling illegally on Hungarian trains. Hungary is a member of the European Union but many migrants prefer to try to make it to Germany, where asylum applications are more likely to be approved and where there is relatively generous support from the government. Sweden is also a favored destination. Fights between police and migrants broke out in the town of Bicske after a train packed with migrants heading for the Austrian-Hungarian border was stopped and passengers ordered to disembark.

Another batch of refugees arrives in Munich, Germany, with almost every train that pulls into the station. The migrants are fleeing from the chaos and killing in Syria, where cities lie in rubble; from South Sudan, which has been ravaged by war and poverty; from Libya, where warlords maraud and people suffer; and from Iraq, where ISIS likes to video its slaughter of innocents. Of the 4 million Syrians who have fled their country since the war began, including hundreds of thousands who have poured into Europe, just 216 Syrian refugees have qualified for the government’s official relocation program. As Germany prepares for an expected onslaught of 800,000 asylum applications just this year, the contrast between the two biggest powers in Europe couldn’t be sharper. On a continent that is supposed to be bound together by a common set of rules and values, the impact of this summer’s migrant crisis is being felt disproportionately by a handful of countries while others, such as Britain, have resisted efforts to more equitably share the burden.

Middle East

With Wednesday’s announcement by Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland that she intends to vote in favor of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s renegade nuclear program, the Obama Administration now has the necessary support of 34 Senators to prevent an override of a presidential veto, guaranteeing that the deal will proceed despite massive opposition from a majority of American voters. US Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter to members of Congress shortly after Mikulski’s announcement, saying among other things that the US continues to take Israel’s security needs seriously and will launch a comprehensive set of initiatives to ensure that Iran honors its end of the JCPOA. However, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue speaking out against the agreement.

Islamic State

One of the most culturally significant pieces of architecture in the world has been destroyed, the United Nations said on Monday. The U.N. released satellite images and analysis that confirmed the Temple of Bel — which for nearly 2,000 years has been the center of religious life in Palmyra, Syria — was no longer standing. Syria’s antiquities chief, Maamoun Abdulkarim called the site “the most important temple in Syria and one of the most important in the whole Middle East.” ISIS has become known not only for its brutal executions but also for its hatred of antiquities and its wanton destruction of them. Recently, it executed Khaled al-As’ad, an 82-year-old man who had spent his life on the painstaking task of preserving antiquities in Palmyra, because he refused to reveal where various irreplaceable relics had been hidden.

Iraq

Masked men in military uniforms kidnapped 18 Turkish employees of an Ankara-based construction company in Baghdad early Wednesday, bundling them into several SUVs and speeding away. The eighteen are employed by Nurol Insaat, a Turkish construction company contracted to build a sports complex in the sprawling Shiite district of Sadr City. The kidnappers stormed the construction site, where the workers were sleeping in caravans, breaking down doors and disarming the guards before taking the workers away. Iraqi officials said an Iraqi national was kidnapped along with the Turks. Neither the identity nor the motives of the kidnappers were immediately known.

Guatemala

Guatemala’s president resigned early Thursday, hours after a judge ordered him to appear in court amid an ongoing investigation into a customs fraud ring involving members of his government. Presidential spokesman Jorge Ortega told the Associated Press that Otto Perez Molina submitted his resignation at midnight local time. Late Wednesday, Judge Miguel Angel Galvez ordered that Perez Molina, 64, be detained to answer accusations of illicit association, fraud and receiving bribes. Perez Molina, 64, has maintained his innocence and vows to face the legal process. The corruption scandal, uncovered by prosecutors and a U.N. commission probing criminal networks in Guatemala, involved a scheme known as “La Linea,” or “The Line,” in which businesspeople paid bribes to avoid import duties through the customs agency. The ring is believed to have defrauded the state of millions of dollars.

Earthquakes

An earthquake shook parts of Southern California on Monday morning. The U.S. Geological Survey said the 2.9-magnitude tremor was centered near Compton. It struck just after 9 a.m. local time and was more than 7 miles beneath the surface. People in the surrounding communities, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, felt weak to light shaking. Although not terribly strong, some people said it did shake them out of bed.

Pestilence

Dengue fever — formerly known as “break-bone fever” because of the severe joint points it causes — is spread by one of nature’s toughest, most versatile mosquitoes — and it’s not the one that spreads malaria. A bite from a single mosquito can result in fever, headaches, and pain. Severe cases can experience a multitude of symptoms including bleeding, shock, organ failure — and potentially death. There is no treatment or vaccine and no real means of protecting yourself in countries endemic for the disease. Though affected countries were once few, today more than 100 harbor the risk of infection — putting more than half the world’s population at risk and resulting in 50 million infections each year. It has now been found in Texas and southern Arizona. “It lives, eats and breathes humans” says Duane Gubler, professor of Infectious Diseases at Duke University Medical School. “Urbanization provides the ideal ecology for these mosquitoes,” says Gubler.

Environment

A nasty problem has taken to beaches in Israel and other areas along the Mediterranean Sea. Jellyfish and several other invasive species that are not native to Middle Eastern waters are showing up in mass and creating a painful issue for beachgoers and native fish alike. The nomadic jellyfish are coming from the Indian Ocean a few thousand miles away. Expansions to the Suez Canal have provided the fish with a new passageway that allows them to set up shop in the sunny Mediterranean. Foreign species like the marbled rabbitfish that feed purely on algae can pick an entire habitat clean of the plant, effectively reshaping the available food sources. This influx of new fish often forces native marine life out of the sea changing the entire underwater ecosystem. In early August, Egypt announced plans to even further expand the canal to link the Rea and Mediterranean seas. It is estimated that 450 invasive species have traveled through the canal since it first opened in 1869.

Scientists have launched an investigation into the deaths of 30 large whales off the western Gulf of Alaska. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have declared the recent demise as an “unusual mortality According to NOAA, since May, 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale and four unidentified others have stranded near the islands of the western Gulf of Alaska and the southern shoreline of the Alaska Peninsula. The agency defined the situation as “a stranding event that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of a marine mammal population. One possible reason for the spike in deaths could be a toxic algal bloom.

Wildfires

Wildfires have taken their toll on the Western landscape this year. They’ve reduced entire neighborhoods to ash, forced thousands to evacuate and required a nonstop battle from countless firefighters, some who have even come from other countries to help out. And there’s no indication that this fire season is letting up at all. More than 8.2 million acres have burned in U.S. wildfires this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. That’s well above the 10-year average of about 5.6 million acres through Sept. 1. That’s larger than the total land area of Maryland. There are still dozens of large wildfires burning across the West.

Firefighters have been making more gains on two massive wildfires burning in north-central Washington. As of late Wednesday night, the Okanogan Complex is now 50 percent contained, but has grown to more than 231 square miles. Last week, it became the largest wildfire in state history. Officials are managing the complex of fires as one fire, including the Chelan Complex. That particular fire was 65 percent contained and had burned more than 146 square miles as of Wednesday night. Nearly 2,000 firefighters are working on the two big fire complexes that have burned more than 140 residences. Many other residents are still under evacuation notices.

Weather

Heavy flooding drenched Brownsville, Texas, Monday night after severe thunderstorms dumped 3-6 inches of rain on South Texas while winds blew at 40 mph. Streets were left littered with abandoned vehicles after floodwaters made a majority of the city inaccessible. In the Calle Pluton Colonia neighborhood, some residents had to be evacuated temporarily as the floodwaters rose Monday night. The Brownsville Public Utilities Board reported that crews were actively working to restore power to nearly 1,400 customers who were left in the dark as the storms rolled in. Officials advised residents to stay off the streets and not attempt to drive through the high waters that reached halfway up vehicles in some parts of the city.

Monsoonal moisture led to the flare-up of numerous showers and thunderstorms in southern Arizona late Monday. Flash flooding and strong storms hit the Phoenix area Monday night, which left some roadways flooded and knocked out power to tens of thousands. More than 55,000 homes lost power during the storms that brought down power lines, sparked a few fires and left motorists stranded on flooded roads. Localized rainfall amounts of more than an inch were reported in the Phoenix area, along with strong winds gusts and hail up to a half-inch in diameter. Phoenix Sky Harbor airport recorded a wind gust to 61 mph. The storms also led to a 90-minute ground stop at the Phoenix airport Areas near Tucson also reported more than an inch of rainfall Monday night.

The tropics are heating up, just as the typical peak of hurricane season begins. Three hurricanes were roaring Monday in the Pacific Ocean. And a fourth hurricane churned far out in the Atlantic. All three Pacific hurricanes reached Category 4 strength at one point on Sunday — something that’s never been seen before, the National Hurricane Center said. It’s the most powerful hurricane season in the central Pacific since 1994. Late August and early September are the typical peak of hurricane season. None of these storms is forecast to strike the USA. Hurricane Ignacio, which weakened Monday to a Category 2 storm with winds of 105 mph, passed northeast of Hawaii Wednesday. Massive 12-20-feet waves crashed against the northeastern shores of the islands, possibly damaging coastal homes and roads.

At least 21 people are dead and some 800,000 others were forced to flee from monsoonal flooding that affected hundreds of villages in northeastern India’s Assam state. Many of the evacuated residents were staying with family or friends, but about 50,000 others were sheltering in 168 relief camps across the stateAt least 1,600 villages have been affected by the flooding, which occurred when rivers overflowed their banks. Hardest-hit was the Dibrugarh district, through which the rain-swollen Brahmaputra and its tributaries flow.