Signs of the Times (10/23/15)

Texas & Ohio Defund Planned Parenthood

After Planned Parenthood was caught in a series of 10 videos selling aborted babies and their body parts, Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday announced his decision to eliminate state taxpayer funding for the abortion business. One of the expose’ videos caught a Houston, Texas Planned Parenthood arranging for the sales of aborted babies and dissecting babies it had aborted and planned to ship off for sale to a biotech firm. Texas state investigators conducted a raid today on multiple Planned Parenthood abortion clinics across the state Thursday. The investigators were seeking hundreds of pages of information, from patient records to employee home addresses, involving 10 Planned Parenthood facilities across the state related to suspicions of misspent Medicaid money. The Ohio state Senate also approved new legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, which runs approximately one-third of the abortion centers in the Buckeye State. “The grotesque revelations of this summer’s video scandal have brought renewed energy to our pro-life state to end business with the abortion industry once and for all,” said Stephanie Ranade Krider, executive director of Ohio Right to Life.

UN Helping Palestinians Lay Claim to Jewish Holy Sites

A United Nations organization recently declared that two Israeli holy sites now belong to Muslims. CBN News reports that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem are Palestinian sites. Last week Palestinians set fire to the tomb of the Biblical patriarch Joseph. Israelis claim that if holy sites are given over to Palestinian control, they will be set on fire like Joseph’s tomb. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon commented on UNESCO’s recent declaration: “It is an attempt by the Arab side, and by the Palestinians, to change history and pretend as if those places, which are holy places for Judaism, which have been holy places for Judaism for thousands of years, are actually Palestinian or Muslim holy places,” Nahshon said.

Obama Vetoes Defense Bill

President Obama issued a rare veto of a defense policy bill Thursday in a showdown with Congress over broader spending levels. The veto of the National Defense Authorization Act is an extraordinary use of one of the president’s most powerful executive tools. While the White House had problems with some of the bill’s provisions, Obama’s main objection is that the bill uses a budget gimmick to increase defense spending without increasing domestic spending first. The president wants Congress to lift the automatic budget caps known as sequestration included in a 2011 budget agreement. Congressional Republicans said it is an unprecedented and irresponsible use of the President’s veto power. “The president has vowed to veto it. Why? Because he wants to stop and spend more money on his domestic agenda,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday. “It’s time to put our troops first, time to stop playing political games.”

Hackers Break into Email of CIA & Homeland Security Chiefs

On Monday, a group of hackers claimed credit for a breach of CIA director John Brennan’s email, as well as the account of Jeh Johnson, who heads the Department of Homeland Security. CNNMoney reached out to the alleged hackers on Twitter, and in a subsequent recorded interview, the self-proclaimed hackers described who they are and how they did it. They say they are American and younger than 22. They smoke pot and go the by name CWA, for Crackas with Attitude. And their methods were incredibly low-tech. Their motivation? “Free Palestine. The United States government funds Israel, and in Israel they kill innocent people. We’re going to do it until they stop funding Israel or until we get raided.”

  • S. government computer systems and files are so poorly protected that it poses a severe cyber-threat to the American economy

Feds Reveal How They Secretly Track Americans’ Phones

Federal law enforcement officials, in testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday, gave some long-awaited answers about how they use secret devices to track Americans’ cell phones. Until now, the FBI and several other law enforcement agencies have kept a tight grip on any information about the use of “Stingray” machines. Police nationwide have been using Stingray devices for years. It mimics an actual company cell phone tower and tricks your phone into connecting with it. There have been serious concerns about whether police are listening to phone calls, collecting text messages and tracking Americans’ locations without warrants. On Wednesday, two officials from the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security told Congress that the devices are programmed to track cell phone locations — but not gather calls or messages.

  • The potential for abuse is very real – especially as end-time socialistic government control increases

Number of Americans Smoking Pot Doubles in 10 Years

A lot more Americans were smoking marijuana in 2012-13 than 10 years before — and not for medical reasons, either — according to a new study. The percentage of American adults who had used marijuana within the last year was 9.5%, the study found. That compared to 4.1% in 2001-02. The study was sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It was based on in-person interviews with more than 36,000 Americans over the age of 18. The percentage of pot smokers with marijuana use disorders actually dropped, with about one in three showing signs of dependence or abuse. But the total number of disorders increased because of the large increase in total users. The attitudes toward the use of marijuana are shifting in the United States, as are the laws governing its use. Twenty-three states now allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons, the study notes, and four of those states also allow recreational use of the drug.

Monster Hurricane Threatens Mexico

Mexico’s Pacific coast is in the crosshairs of Hurricane Patricia, which became the most powerful hurricane ever measured in the Western Hemisphere on Friday morning as its maximum sustained winds reached an unprecedented 200 mph. The hurricane is forecast to make landfall in the Mexican state of Jalisco Friday evening as a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane capable of causing widespread destruction. Residents and authorities in Mexico are rushing to prepare for what will likely be the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall on that country’s Pacific coastline. Patricia now holds the record for lowest pressure in any hurricane on record: 25.99 inches of mercury.

Migrant Crisis Update

The epicenter of the European migrant crisis has shifted to tiny Slovenia which was poised Tuesday to deploy its army to stem the flow of migrants pouring into the Balkan nation who were bound for northern Europe. The migrants are mainly from war-torn Syria and its neighbors. A surge of migrants has swamped the tiny nation’s border security at Trnovec since Hungary closed its border with Croatia on Friday. Hungary previously had sealed its border with Serbia, so Slovenia has become the primary passageway to Austria, Germany and beyond. The Slovenia government said Tuesday that more than 12,000 refugees are now in their country, with more than 5,000 arriving daily. The European Union on Wednesday announced it is calling an extraordinary meeting of EU and Balkan leaders this coming Sunday to deal with the continent’s ongoing refugee and migrant crisis.

Obama Administration asks Congress for Puerto Rico Bankruptcy Protection

The Obama administration is asking Congress to grant bankruptcy protection to Puerto Rico as the island territory struggles to restructure its $72 billion in debt. A proposal sent to Capitol Hill Wednesday would allow Puerto Rico and other territories to seek a financial restructuring under the supervision of a federal bankruptcy court — a step currently not available to states or territories. The administration is also asking for new oversight of Puerto Rico’s finances, revamp the territory’s Medicaid funding system and extend the earned income tax credit to Puerto Rican taxpayers. Puerto Rican officials have been in talks with hedge fund managers to refinance the island’s debts, but those talks appear to have broken down. The Treasury Department has discussed the possibility of some kind of federal role in helping Puerto Rico but has emphasized that a bailout is not part of the plan.

Treasury Postpones Bond Sale as Debt Limit Nears

The Treasury Department said Thursday it would postpone an auction of two-year notes scheduled for next week because of worries that the debt limit impasse in Congress would prevent the sale from going through. The Treasury move marks the first time it’s had to delay a bond offering because of the debt limit since 2004. The move is the latest warning from the Treasury Department that the looming Nov. 3 deadline for raising the $18.1 trillion debt ceiling is already having and adverse effect on the economy — and the government’s borrowing costs. Rates for bonds that mature in November have risen.

Economic News – Domestic

Construction companies built more apartment complexes in September, sparking a temporary rise in housing starts for a real estate market that otherwise appears to have peaked during the summer. Housing starts last month rose 6.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.21 million homes, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. But a 17% surge in multi-family housing — which includes apartments — accounts for almost all of that increase. New construction and sales of existing homes surged in the first half of the year as more Americans found work and the unemployment rate dipped to a solid 5.1%. But tight inventories, rising prices and the absence of meaningful wage growth have capped growth as affordability has become an issue.

Big banks and brokerages slashed their bonus pools last quarter after reduced trading activity led to double-digit revenue declines. Unless things turn around — and soon — Wall Streeters will see shrunken bonuses and possible layoffs, experts said. Wall Street’s woes started in August when investors became rattled by China’s unusual move to devalue its currency. That, combined with uncertainty over the direction of U.S. interest rates, led investors to pull back from trading in bonds, currencies and commodities.

Economic News – International

Money is leaving China at a torrid pace. An estimated $520 billion to $530 billion left the country in the first eight months of the year, according to a semi-annual report by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In 2014, only $26 billion left China in the first six months of the year. Outflows remain high despite government efforts to reassure investors who are worried about the country’s economic slowdown and a sudden devaluation of the yuan earlier this year. China already limits the amount of money an individual can move out of the country to $50,000 per year. But last month, Beijing even clamped down on the amount of cash its citizens can withdraw from ATMs overseas, another attempt to stop money from leaving the country. However, China’s stock market is rebounding. The Shanghai Composite has soared 12% so far in October after its dramatic 34% plunge between June and September. China slashed key interest rates again on Friday, the latest in a string of measures aimed at boosting its economy.

Persecution Watch

Christians in the Central African Republic (CAR) are once again being targeted by armed Muslim groups going from house to house, shooting and beheading innocent believers in an appalling display of violence. Some reports indicate as many as 200 people were killed in the clashes, their bodies thrown into wells. Around 20,000 Christians have fled their homes in terror. They have lost everything in their flight, and with the country now well into the rainy season, nutrition and health concerns are paramount, reports Barnabas Aid.

Bowing to the demands of Muslim hardliners, authorities in Indonesia’s Aceh province tore down three simply made churches of wood, concrete and tin, on Monday (October 19). A further seven churches are set to be demolished in the coming days. Earlier in the month, an Islamic youth group held a demonstration demanding the closure of churches in Aceh which do not have official permits to exist. Then, taking the law into their own hands, hundreds of angry Muslims arrived on motorcycles and in pickups and cars, armed with axes and machetes, and set fire to three churches last week.

Six St. Louis, MO area churches have been set on fire in the last two weeks, and authorities believe the arsonist is racially and/or religiously motivated. Christian Today reports that the six churches which were set on fire were of different denominations, but five congregations were black, and the sixth was racially mixed. St. Louis Fire Capt. Garon Mosby stated that “it is arson” and that hate crime “is part of the dynamic” of the attacks.

Middle East

Israel arrested a senior Hamas official in the West Bank on Tuesday, accusing him of inciting violence by encouraging attacks against Israelis. The Israeli military says it detained Hassan Yousef near Ramallah and accused him of “actively instigating and inciting terrorism,” the Associated Press reported. It marks the most high-profile arrest in a month of unrest in the region. Over the past month, nine Israelis have been killed in lone-wolf Palestinian attacks, most of them stabbings and 41 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, including 20 described by Israel as attackers. The rest died in clashes with Israeli troops. An Eritrean migrant died late Sunday after being mistakenly shot by a security guard and then beaten by a mob that mistook him for a Palestinian attacker.

Wednesday saw several more terrorist attacks by Palestinians directed at Israelis, starting with a stabbing attack which seriously wounded a female IDF soldier at Kikar Adam, north of Jerusalem in the Binyamin region. The attacker was shot dead and another individual suspected of assisting in the attack was arrested. Later on Wednesday, a suspected vehicular ramming attack wounded five IDF soldiers near the Palestinian village of Beit Omar. A soldier fired on the driver of the ramming vehicle, incapacitating him. Three other attacks at various locations in the West Bank resulted in wounds and injuries to a police officer and the terrorist attackers, prompting Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai to issue a public appeal for calm. Another stabbing attack against an IDF soldier took place Friday morning near the Gush Etzion security fence in the West Bank. The soldier was lightly wounded and his attacker was shot and wounded.

Islamic State

A U.S. service member died during a commando raid Thursday to free about 70 Islamic State hostages in Iraq, according to a senior Defense official, the first U.S. service member to die fighting ISIS. The raid was led by elite Iraqi troops backed by U.S. special operations forces. The New York Times, citing unnamed Iraqi officials, said the mission near the northern Iraqi town of Hawija “appeared to be a significant joint strike against the Islamic State.” The Times said the raid involved American helicopters, Kurdish and American Special Operations forces, and airstrikes. Iraqi officials said the objective had been a prison run by the militants at a village east of Hawija.

The Islamic State rakes in up to $50 million a month from selling crude from oilfields under its control in Iraq and Syria, part of a well-run industry that U.S. diplomacy and airstrikes have so far failed to shut down, according to Iraqi intelligence and U.S. officials. Oil sales — the extremists’ largest single source of continual income — are a key reason they have been able to maintain their rule over their self-declared “caliphate” stretching across large parts of Syria and Iraq. With the funds to rebuild infrastructure and provide the largesse that shore up its fighters’ loyalty, it has been able to withstand ground fighting against its opponents and more than a year of bombardment in the U.S.-led air campaign.

Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad made a secret visit to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, their two governments disclosed Wednesday. The trip, which took place on Tuesday, was Assad’s first known visit abroad since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. The leaders discussed their joint military campaign against militants in Syria and stressed the need for a political solution to the conflict. The United Nations estimates the civil war has killed at least 250,000 people. Russia began launching airstrikes against insurgents in Syria on Sept. 30 amid criticism from the United States and its allies who say the intervention is doing little beyond helping to keep Assad in power and fanning the violence. The U.S. and allies want Assad to step down from power.

  • Russia is becoming more entrenched in the Middle East just as Ezekiel 38 prophesies

Canada

Canada voted in its first new leader in nearly a decade in a general election that handed Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party an absolute majority — and dealt a stunning blow to incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The victory denied a fourth term to Harper and his Conservative party. Harper has held the position since February 2006. Liberal candidates have secured 184 seats in the federal legislature, putting them over the 170 seats needed for forming a majority government. Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, as Harper’s Conservatives will now officially be designated, have 99 seats.

Earthquakes

There is a 99.9 percent chance of a magnitude-5 or greater earthquake striking within three years in the greater Los Angeles area, where a similar sized temblor caused more the $12 million in damage last year, according to a study by NASA and university researchers. The study released Tuesday was based on Global Positioning System and airborne radar measurements of how the Earth’s crust was deformed by the magnitude-5.1 quake on March 28, 2014, in La Habra, about 20 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Damage included broken water mains and cracked pavement. While the magnitude-5 quake was found to be extremely likely by April 1, 2018, one of magnitude-6 or higher was pegged at just 35 percent and the largest potential quake was estimated at 6.3. The U.S. Geological Survey took issue with the study, asserting that it was unclear how the study derived its numbers and that the accepted probability is more like 85 percent – still quite high.

Environment

Two new studies highlight issues with methane gas emissions in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. One, published in the journal Energy Science and Engineering, suggests that the methane released during shale gas extraction has not been properly measured. “The EPA has seriously underestimated the importance of methane emissions in general – and from shale gas in particular,” Robert Howarth, who authored the paper and is a professor at Cornell University, said in a press release. Another new study, published in Water Resources Research, also suggests hidden issues regarding methane and fracking. The paper suggests that abandoned oil wells near fracking sites can become conduits for methane, which is not currently measured by the current monitoring system. These wells, rather than hold and trap the methane gas, release it to the surface where it can linger for a decade or more, warming the atmosphere at a level 100 times higher than carbon dioxide (though CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for much longer).

Lathering yourself with sunscreen before a sunny day on the beach is a healthy living must. But, like many other healthy habits, there might be a downside for the environment. A chemical in sunscreen, oxybenzone, which helps filter UV rays, is highly concentrated in the waters around highly trafficked reefs in Hawaii and the Caribbean, an international team of researchers found. Oxybenzone not only kills coral, but also causes damage at the DNA level, both in fully grown coral and in the larval stage, hampering further development. Report author Craig Downs of the non-profit scientific organization Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia said in a press release, “We have lost at least 80 percent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean. Any small effort to reduce oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers.”

Earthquakes

A major earthquake, magnitude 7.1, struck just off the coast of the island nation of Vanuatu Wednesday morning (local time), where residents are still struggling to recover from Tropical Cyclone Pam. More than 3,300 Vanuata residents were left homeless from the devastation caused by Pam and 11 lives were lost. With an epicenter at a depth of 79 miles, there was no threat of any significant tsunami occurring. Reports of damage or injuries were not readily available, but Shadrack Welegtabit, director of Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office, told local media officials are awaiting word from islands located near the epicenter. The Vanuatu islands are just over 1,000 miles east of Australia.

Weather

The death toll from Koppu has climbed to at least 39 people since the storm made landfall in the Philippines Sunday morning, local time, while flooding rains continue to lash parts of the country with torrential downpours. Koppu was downgraded to a tropical storm late Monday, but remains a deadly threat to the archipelago. The Philippine government is warning its citizens that the deadly impacts from Koppu will persist for days to come. Massive rainfall totals have been reported in the northern Philippines, where water has flowed down the mountains and into villages, the BBC reported. The floods left many residents stranded on the roofs of their homes, awaiting rescue. As of Wednesday evening, more than 100,000 people are still in evacuation centers.

At least 16 homes in Odessa, Texas, were flooded Thursday morning, the National Weather Serivce reported, as a slow-moving storm system moved east across the central and southern Plains. More than 3.7 inches of rain fell in just four hours late Wednesday night. As of early Thursday morning, the Odessa Fire Department said it had conducted at least 30 swift water rescues and pulled people from five buildings. About 2 feet of water covered intersections in Andrews, Texas, and 6-12 inches of water flowed over Highway 180 near Seminole, Texas. The Oncor power company reported more than 2,000 customers without power in Midland Thursday morning, with nunerous smaller outages scattered across the region. Hobbs, New Mexico, was also seeing high water, and the NWS reported at least four water rescues there late Wednesday night.

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