Signs of the Times (10/2/15)

Oregon Community College Shooter Targeted Christians

The gunman in Thursday’s mass murder at an Oregon community college specifically targeted Christians, three witnesses said. Authorities say Christopher Harper Mercer killed at least nine people at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg before he was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police. One victim remains in critical condition at Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg. Kortney Moore, 18, told the Roseburg News-Review that the shooter then burst into the room and ordered students to get on the ground, before asking people to stand up and state their religion before shooting the Christians, Fox News reports.

Billy Graham Disturbed by ‘The Moral Decline of This Nation’

The nearly 97-year-old Billy Graham recently voiced his concern over the state of affairs in America and abroad. SRNNews.com reports that Graham, who is a few weeks short of his 97th birthday, has observed that the world he was born into in 1918 is barely recognizable today. The famous evangelist’s son, Franklin Graham, who has taken over his ministry, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, stated that his father is concerned with “the moral decline of this nation, and the embracing of sin.” Graham said his father was particularly concerned about the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage, as well as the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

Planned Parenthood Spent Millions on ‘Blowout’ Parties, Travel, Salaries

Planned Parenthood and its affiliates have spent millions in recent years on “blowout” parties, first-class travel and “lucrative” salaries, according to a report from the chairman of the House oversight committee. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, publicly accused the organization of spending a big chunk of its budget on non-health care expenses during a heated hearing on Tuesday. Afterward, he released a report detailing those costs. According to the report, which cited tax returns, Planned Parenthood spent over $5.1 million on travel in 2013, or nearly $14,000 a day. Several affiliates reported spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on travel. The report also said Planned Parenthood “books first class or charter travel.” Further, the House report said Planned Parenthood spent $622,706 on “blowout parties” in 2013 and 2013; and the group’s affiliates likewise spent on vast sums on events such as a so-called “Gathering of Goddesses and Gods.” The report also said over 40 executives earned salaries of $200,000 or more between 2009 and 2013. Richards acknowledged during Tuesday’s hearing, under questioning from Chaffetz, that her annual compensation is $520,000. Chaffetz called the salaries “exorbitant.”

Oregon Bakery Owners Refuse to Pay Damages in Gay Wedding Cake Case

The owners of an Oregon bakery are refusing to pay $135,000 in state-ordered damages to a same-sex couple who were denied service. Melissa and Aaron Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, cited religious beliefs when they refused to bake a wedding cake for Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer more than two years ago. The Kleins have filed an appeal of the ruling and are defying the order to pay. They’re claiming financial hardship although crowdfunding efforts have raised more than $500,000 on their behalf, according to The Oregonian. A 2007 Oregon law protects the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people in employment, housing and public accommodations. It provides an exemption for religious organizations, but the agency ruled that exemption does not allow private businesses to discriminate against potential customers.

  • Private businesses should be exempt from this law. Publicly-owned corporations should be allowed to apply for religious exemptions.

Americans’ Trust of Media at All-Time Low

A new Gallup poll shows that just 40% of Americans have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust and confidence in the media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly. That figure represents a steep decline from the 55% high in the late 1990s when Gallup began polling. Trust in the media is even lower among young Americans aged 18 to 49, where just 36% of that demographic expressed faith in news media outlets. As has long been the case, trust remains higher among Democrats than Republicans. However, Gallup found that trust among Democrats fell to a 14-year low of 54%, while trust among Republicans grew from 27% to 32%.

Recreational Marijuana Sales Begin in Oregon

Oregon joins Colorado and Washington as the only states with recreational marijuana marketplaces on Thursday. Adults 21 and older in Oregon may buy up to a quarter-ounce of cannabis per day, without needing a doctor’s recommendation. And frugal stoners will be pleased to note that pot sales will be untaxed until January. Voters in Alaska and the District of Columbia have approved recreational marijuana, but sales there have not yet begun.

U.S. Leads the World in Mass Shootings

With the latest mass shooting at an Oregon Community College Thursday, a new study reports that there are more public mass shootings in the United States than in any other country in the world. Between 1966 and 2012, there were 90 mass shootings in the United States. Mass shootings are defined for the study as having four or more victims and don’t include gang killings or slayings that involve the death of multiple family members. The 90 U.S. mass shootings are nearly a third of the 292 such attacks globally for that period. While the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, it had 31% of all public mass shootings. In the United States, people have a greater chance of dying in mass shootings if they’re at work or at school. Overseas, these incidents typically happen near military installations.

High-Tech Criminals have Police Outmatched and Outgunned

European police say today’s criminals have gotten better than ever at using technology to hurt people — and escape justice by hiding in the shadows. Crooks are increasingly using electronic money, such as Bitcoin, which is hard to trace. There’s no middleman, no central player like a bank tracking customer transfers by name. Underground marketplaces online are getting smarter. They’re now decentralized too. No one person is in control. There’s no single computer server to shut down, no dragon’s head to chop off. In addition, it’s harder for police to eavesdrop on criminals, because they now regularly encrypt their conversations. Email, online chats — everything is encoded. “The speed at which society and crime ‘cyberize’ exceed the speed at which law enforcement can adapt,” the Europol report states.

Experian Breach May have Exposed 15 Million T-Mobile Records

A hacker has acquired the records of 15 million T-Mobile customers and people who had applied for credit, the company reported Thursday. The breach, which affected two years’ worth of records, occurred at Experian, the vendor that processes T-Mobile’s credit applications. Experian has notified both U.S. and international law enforcement. Experian North America’s parent company, Experian is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland. The data set was for applicants and customers of T-Mobile who applied for service over the past two years. The breach happened approximately two weeks ago.

Government Waste Continues to Increase

Government waste took a significant turn for the worse in fiscal 2014, rising dramatically to $124.7 billion from $105.8 billion in fiscal 2013. That’s a striking increase of nearly 20 percent in improper federal payments. Since fiscal 2003, “cumulative improper payment estimates have totaled almost $1 trillion,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a new report. The waste spans 24 federal programs across 22 government agencies. In addition, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said: “There is, of course, plenty of questionable spending that the government does on purpose on a more or less daily basis.”

Dip, don’t Swipe your Credit Card

Credit card technology is getting an upgrade, and it was supposed to be in place by Thursday. Banks should have supplied you with a new credit card with chip-enabled technology (though 60% of people haven’t gotten theirs yet). Merchants need new credit card readers that make you “dip,” not swipe, your credit card into the reader. Until they are geared up with the new machines (and only about a third of them are), merchants will be held fully liable for any losses due to credit card fraud.

Amtrak Mimics Airlines, adds Baggage Fees

Amtrak is cracking down on passengers who try to board their trains with too many bags. Starting Thursday, passengers who exceed the limit of two carry-on bags and two personal items will have to p.ay $20 for each extra bag. Overweight bags will also carry a fee. Most U.S. airlines have been charging fees for checked bags for years, raking in $3.5 billion in baggage fees last year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Congress Passes Budget Legislation to Avert a Shutdown

Congress on Wednesday approved a short-term spending bill that will prevent a government shutdown and fund federal agencies through mid-December. The Senate passed the stop-gap funding bill earlier in the day on 78 to 20 vote and the House cleared it later in the afternoon on a 277 to 151 vote. Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law. Attention now turns to December when House Republicans will have a new slate of leaders who are being urged by conservatives to take a more aggressive approach with President Obama over issues such as government spending and abortion, raising the possibility there will be another tense standoff that could lead to a shutdown.

Economic News

Employment growth slowed for the second straight month in September as employers added 142,000 jobs, possibly weakening the case for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates later this year. Also discouraging: employment gains for July and August were revised down by a total 59,000. The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, was unchanged at 5.1% as a sharp drop in the number of Americans employed was offset by an even steeper decline in the number working or looking for jobs, the Labor Department said Friday. In another disappointing sign, average hourly earnings ticked down 1 cent to $25 09 cents, and are up 2.2% over the past year, roughly in line with the sluggish 2% pace that has prevailed through most of the recovery. Stocks on Wall Street plunged at the open Friday as investors reacted to a weaker-than-expected September jobs report

U.S. automakers enjoyed a robust sales performance in September. Ford reported a 23% increase for the month, General Motors posted a 12% gain and Fiat Chrysler extended its sales streak to 66 consecutive months of gains with a 14% rise. Shoppers are fleeing cars for crossovers, sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks, as low gasoline prices shift buyers focus away from high-mileage compacts.

Manufacturing activity grew at the slowest pace in two years last month as a strong dollar and low oil prices continued to weigh on the manufacturing industry in the U.S. An index of factory activity slipped to 50.2% from 51.1% the previous month, the lowest since May 2013, the Institute for Supply Management said Thursday. A reading above 50 means the sector is expanding, while below 50 indicates contraction.

China’s factories continued to sputter in September, suggesting continued pain for the world’s second-largest economy. The government’s official purchasing managers’ index hit 49.8 in September, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, up slightly from 49.7 the previous month. As in the U.S. manufacturing index, any number below 50 represents a deceleration in the manufacturing sector.

Saudi Arabia’s mountain of oil money is shrinking. After years of raking in cash from lofty prices, oil-producing countries are getting squeezed by the crash in crude oil prices. The cash crunch caused the OPEC leader to sell bonds over the summer to raise at least $4 billion. It was the first time Saudi Arabia tapped the bond markets in eight years. Now there are signs Saudi Arabia is pulling out cash from global asset investments.

  • This may cause OPEC to allow the price of crude oil to rise from the artificially low levels they have maintained in order to drive U.S. shale-oil drillers out of business

Middle East

The Israeli military says it has carried out airstrikes in the Gaza Strip after a rocket was launched from the Palestinian territory toward Israel. No casualties were reported in the exchange. The military says it targeted four “terror sites” in Gaza early Wednesday. Local media reports in Gaza said Israeli warplanes hit training sites belonging to the militant Hamas group that controls Gaza. The strikes were in retaliation for a rocket launched at southern Israel late Tuesday. The rocket was intercepted mid-air by Israel’s aerial defense system. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian incitement over the situation on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for a shooting attack Thursday evening which left Eitam and Naama Henkin the parents of four children dead. “The killers knew that they were murdering a mother and father, the children were there.”

In a watershed moment that has won support on many fronts, but drawn condemnation from Israel and the United States, the Palestinian flag was raised outside the headquarters of the United Nations in New York for the first time Wednesday. At the ceremony, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the occasion a “day of pride for the Palestinian people around the world” and a “day of hope.” The historic moment came after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly that the Palestinian Authority was no longer bound by the Oslo Peace Accords. During his General Assembly speech, , Abbas accused Israel of not committing to the Oslo Accords and, in response said, “They leave us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements, while Israel continuously violates them.” Abbas declared Palestine as a “state under occupation.”

  • Just as the Bible prophecies for the end-times, Israel is falling out of favor in the world. Eventually this will result in war against Israel with Russia and Iran leading the way

Islamic State

Nuclear annihilation across the globe. This is what a German reporter who successfully embedded with the Islamic State says the terror group is planning. Jurgen Todenhofer released his findings in a book titled “Inside IS – Ten Days in the Islamic State,” reports the UK’s Daily Express. “The terrorists plan on killing several hundred million people. The west is drastically underestimating the power of ISIS. ISIS intends to get its hands on nuclear weapons,” says Todenhofer, calling the group a “nuclear tsunami preparing the largest religious cleansing in history.” He adds, “They now control land greater in size than the United Kingdom and are supported by an almost ecstatic enthusiasm the like of which I’ve never encountered before in a war zone. Every day hundreds of willing fighters from all over the world come. They are the most brutal and most dangerous enemy I have ever seen in my life. I don’t see anyone who has a real chance to stop them. Only Arabs can stop IS. I came back very pessimistic.”

Syria

Russia launched its first airstrike in Syria following a buildup of its forces in the embattled country, a U.S. official said Wednesday. The airstrike was conducted around the city of Homs. The United States was given one hour’s notice before the strike took place. The notice was sent in Baghdad, where the Russians have set up a coordination unit with Iraq’s government. Russia claims its warplanes are bombarding Islamic State positions in Syria’s war-torn northern regions, but a senior U.S. defense official tells Fox News that the strikes are actually hitting the Free Syrian Army and other forces aligned against President Bashar Assad, adding that there is no presence of ISIS in those areas. Any future for Syria that includes its embattled president, Bashar Assad, is “a non-starter,” and Russian effort to back him in Syria’s long civil war are bound to fail, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir predicted.

Further Russian airstrikes continued Thursday, and Russia said its airstrikes have destroyed 12 Islamic State targets including a command center and two arms depots. More Iranian troops have arrived in Syria for an upcoming ground operation to accompany Russian airstrikes, U.S. defense officials claimed to Fox News. A joint statement released Friday by Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States expressed concern over Russia’s military actions in Syria and said it will “only fuel more extremism and radicalization.” In response, Russian officials issued a demand to the United States to move its warplanes out of Syria.

  • The confluence of forces and interests in Syria are so diverse that ongoing strife is a certainty with the potential of spreading outward

Afghanistan

Afghan forces launched a counterattack Tuesday in an effort to drive Taliban militants from the northern city of Kunduz in what is emerging as a critical test of a U.S. military strategy that greatly restricts the involvement of American forces. U.S. warplanes conducted several airstrikes near the city’s airport and the coalition has provided intelligence and surveillance support to Afghan forces. Heavy fighting was reported within the city. Government forces retook Kunduz and were mopping up pockets of Taliban resistance in the beleaguered northern city, Afghan officials said Thursday. But heavy street battles were still taking place Thursday, raising questions about the government’s claims and highlighting the uncertainty of the situation.

An American C-130 cargo plane crashed early Friday in Afghanistan, killing 11 people, including six U.S. service members, officials said. The plane crashed at Jalalabad Airport in eastern Afghanistan at about midnight local time. First responders are still on the scene, and the cause of the crash was under investigation. A spokesman for the Air Expeditionary Wing said six U.S. service members who comprised the plane’s crew died, along with five civilian passengers.

Iraq

Antiwar.com found that at least 647 civilians and security personnel were killed across Iraq during September. Another 736 were wounded. Militants lost 3,195 personnel, while 397 of them were known wounded. Adding these brings the preliminary figures to 3,842 killed and 1,133 wounded in the last month. Meanwhile on Wednesday, sixteen Turkish kidnapping victims were freed and immediately flown home to Turkey. On Sept. 2, a previously unknown militant group had kidnapped 18 men and released a list of political demands. Two of the abductees were freed two weeks ago. It is unclear which demands, if any, were satisfied. Over 500 people have now been sickened by cholera across Iraq.

Iran

The Iranian death toll in the recent stampede during the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia has jumped above 450, state media reported. That’s a high proportion of the total of 769 people that Saudi Arabia says were killed in the stampede. Iran’s Supreme Leader on Wednesday says the real total is much higher and delivered verbal broadsides against Saudi Arabia, threatening it with “tough and harsh” retaliation because Iranian stampede victims weren’t being treated and repatriated swiftly enough.

China

At least seven people have been killed and 51 others injured after multiple parcel bomb blasts in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, according to local media. Initial investigations suggest the explosions were caused by 17 parcel bombs in the seat of Liucheng county and the surrounding area. Police named a 33-year-old man from Liucheng Tai Po town as a suspect in the explosions and said their investigations were continuing. Authorities said they had ruled out a terrorist attack.

Weather

Potentially historic flooding is forecast for the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic from a weather system not directly related to Hurricane Joaquin. As meteorologists eye the strengthening hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean, a more immediate problem faces the East Coast: severe flooding that has now turned deadly. Two persons were killed Thursday morning in Spartanburg, South Carolina, after several cars were submerged in floodwaters underneath a bridge. Locally heavy rain in the Spartanburg, South Carolina area late Wednesday and into early Thursday prompted the flash flooding. Rain has fallen in this area every day for the past week and more rain is expected through Monday. Extremely heavy rainfall is possible this weekend with more than six inches of additional rain expected, leading to a potentially dangerous situation throughout the Carolinas. Areas from the mid-Atlantic to the central Appalachians and the Carolinas appear to be the epicenter for the heaviest rainfall amounts.

Hurricane Joaquin, an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm, remains parked over the central Bahamas Friday morning, producing hurricane-force winds, storm surge flooding and torrential rain. Dozens are trapped in their homes in the central Bahamas, with authorities unable to reach them. All schools have been closed in The Bahamas. The storm ripped off tree branches and sent widespread flooding throughout some areas, with reports that water reached the windows of homes on Long Island and submerged the airport runway at Ragged Island. Maximum sustained winds are around 130 mph, making Joaquin a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. For now, Joaquin is expected to pass sufficiently west of Bermuda Sunday to limit any direct impacts.

In a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers compared sea level and storm surge heights in New York City from 850 to 1800 to the period from 1970 to 2005. The average flood height increased by about 4 feet in New York between the two time periods. Larger and more extreme storms along with an even higher sea level are likely to cause more frequent and intense flooding, the study says.

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