Signs of the Times (9/3/15)

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.

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