Signs of the Times (9/15/15)

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”

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