Signs of the Times (12/14/15)

Bible Translations Increasing Despite Persecution

Currently there are 3,377 languages across the globe that need a Bible translation project started, according to Wycliffe Associates. A Bible translation is now in progress for 2,195 languages worldwide. Of the 2,883 languages in the world that have the Scriptures, 531 have an adequate Bible, 1,329 have an adequate New Testament and 1,023 have at least one book of the Bible. Wycliffe announced that it launched or re-launched 203 translation projects worldwide in 2015. The organization is currently engaged in a large effort called Vision 2025, a plan to have a Bible translation started for every language that needs it by 2025. According to the news release, Vision 2025 is a worldwide endeavor that involves national Bible translators, translation consultants, volunteers, and financial donors.

The start of these new translation projects has not been easy. The organization has reported intense persecution of Bible translators in some areas, including a Bible translator in India who was dragged from his home in the middle of the night and shot 17 times. The same week, a Bible translator in the Middle East was arrested, jailed, and tortured. Within a week, three more translators were arrested. Since then, more than 12 Bible translators have been jailed. “In the aftermath, in the agony of grief,” said Smith, “we remembered the truth: we are engaged in spiritual warfare.” Despite the persecution, Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Wycliffe, says, “We have seen dramatic breakthroughs like this all around the world this year, He added, “I was exhilarated to witness God at work like this. We were stymied in our own power-yet when we prayed, when we acknowledged God’s power, God opened the door.”

San Bernardino Cover-Up Revealed

Last Thursday, a San Bernardino whistleblower came forward, reports WesternJournalism.com. Phillip Haney, a former Department of Homeland Security investigator, says he could have likely prevented the attacks in San Bernardino if the government had let him do his job. Three years ago, Haney had developed surveillance that revealed a global network of jihadists had infiltrated the United States. Haney, one of the founding members of Homeland Security, had been transferred to the Intelligence Review Unit and it was in that capacity that he discovered the global network of jihadists at work in the U.S. It was at that point when Haney said he was visited by officials from the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security’s Civil Rights Division who told Haney that tracking the jihadists was “problematic” because they were Islamic groups. Haney said his investigation was shut down and 67 of his files were deleted. One of the files that was deleted was an investigation into the mosque that the San Bernardino terrorists frequently attended. Haney claims that he was targeted, reassigned, and eventually lost his security clearance, even though he had received a commendation letter for locating 300 known terrorists in the U.S.

Americans Fearful of Homeland Terrorism

Americans are more fearful about the likelihood of another terrorist attack than at any other time since the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, reports the New York Times. In the aftermath of attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris and in San Bernardino, Calif., a plurality of the public views the threat of terrorism as the top issue facing the country. A month ago, only 4 percent of Americans said terrorism was the most important problem; now, 19 percent say it is, above any other issue. Forty-four percent of the public says an attack is “very” likely to happen in the next few months, the most in Times or CBS News polls since October 2001, just after the deadliest terrorist assault in the country’s history. Seven in 10 Americans now call the Islamic State extremist group a major threat to the United States’ security, the highest level since the Times/CBS News poll began asking the question last year.

  • Guns aren’t the problem, terrorists are.

Homeland Security Warns of Bogus Syrian Passports

Fake Syrian passports aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, but they can be had for as little as $200, according to a report from the Department of Homeland Security that could call into question the ability to screen Middle East refugees fleeing to the West. The 18-page report, circulated to law enforcement agencies across the nation, warns that a certain batch of Syrian passports – those issued since June 2014 from two regions under the Islamic State control, Deir- ez-Zour and Raqqa – are likely to be phonies. The report also asserts ISIS is using its own passport printing machines to generate the bogus documents with covers printed in Russia, and then selling them for between $200 and $400. Intelligence agencies have already flagged some 3,800 counterfeit Syrian passports, and will add data on another 10,000 fake Syrian passports recently intercepted in Bulgaria on the way to Germany. The sheer volume of fake passports flooding the market as refugees – or terrorists posing as refugees – flock into Europe has investigators on edge. The fake Syrian passports will add to an already challenging problem of vetting Syrian refugees

Authorities Missed Terrorists Social Media Posts

Tashfeen Malik, who along with her husband killed 14 people in Southern California, reportedly passed three background checks by American officials before she moved from Pakistan to the United States and none of them found her social media posts about jihad. The New York Times reports U.S. law enforcement officials discovered old and previously unreported postings as they investigated Malik and her husband Syed Rizwan Farook. Immigration officials don’t usually check social media posts as part of their background checks, according to the newspaper. Malik’s path to the U.S. highlights the inadequacy of the U.S. government’s immigration vetting practices. The Obama administration is reviewing the program, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said.

Paris Teacher Stabbed by Islamic State Lone Wolf

A schoolteacher in a Paris suburb was stabbed Monday by a man who invoked the Islamic State, French police said. The masked assailant attacked the pre-school teacher in Aubervilliers with a box-cutter and scissors. French media said the teacher, a man, 45, was injured but was expected to survive. He was stabbed in the throat. The attacker remains at large, according to police. Children were not at the Jean-Perrin preschool at the time of the attack. The incident comes as France remains under state-of-emergency anti-terrorism legislation following the attacks on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people. On Sunday, France’s anti-immigration National Front party failed to make expected gains in regional elections.

Threats, Harassment, Vandalism at U.S. Mosques at Record High

Gunshots fired into a mosque in Connecticut. Armed men protesting the “Islamization of America” outside Islamic centers in Texas. Death threats called in to mosques in Florida, Maryland and Virginia. 2015, a year bookended by murderous attacks carried out in the name of Islam, has been one of the most intensely anti-Muslim periods in American history. Through December 8, American mosques and Islamic centers have been the victims of vandalism, harassment and anti-Muslim bigotry at least 63 times this year, the Council on American-Islamic Relations says in the study conducted with CNN. That’s a threefold increase over last year. Death threats and vandalism appear to be spiking again since December 3, when a Muslim couple killed 14 people and injured 21 more in San Bernardino, California.

Ohio AG to seek injunction against Planned Parenthood

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine plans to file court papers seeking an injunction Monday that would prevent Planned Parenthood from disposing of fetal remains in landfills. Attorney General Mike DeWine’s report that facilities in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland improperly disposed of fetal remains. The move comes after a four-month investigation of three Planned Parenthood facilities in the state. The probe began after undercover videos surfaced that allegedly showed Planned Parenthood representatives negotiating the sale of fetal organs. The investigation found no evidence the organization sold aborted fetuses, but DeWine said Planned Parenthood hired a company that heats the tissue to kill bacteria and then disposes of the remains in a Kentucky landfill. Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit to “protect abortion access” in Ohio, and called DeWine’s allegations false and inflammatory.

Vanishing Groundwater a Worldwide Crisis

Much of the planet relies on groundwater. And in places around the world – from the United States to Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America – so much water is pumped from the ground that aquifers are being rapidly depleted and wells are going dry. Groundwater is disappearing beneath farms in California, cornfields in Kansas, rice paddies in India, asparagus farms in Peru and orange groves in Morocco. As these critical water reserves are pumped beyond their limits, the threats are mounting for people who depend on aquifers to supply agriculture, sustain economies and provide drinking water. In some areas, fields have already turned to dust and farmers are struggling. Even as satellite measurements have revealed the problem’s severity on a global scale, many regions have failed to adequately address the problem. Aquifers largely remain unmanaged and unregulated, and water that seeped underground over tens of thousands of years is being gradually used up.

Climate Negotiators in Paris Reach ‘Historic’ Draft Agreement

The 195-nation U.N. climate summit concluded with delegates adopting the Paris Agreement, the first-ever global climate deal of this sweep and ambition. The 31-page draft, called the “Paris Agreement,” sets a global goal of peaking global greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible.” It also calls for achieving a balance between man-made emissions and the Earth’s ability to absorb them by the second half of this century. The draft includes a target of limiting the temperature rise since pre-industrial times to 2 degrees Celsius, with the aim of working towards a 1.5-degree limit. Under the terms of the draft text, countries will have to revise their emissions pledges every five years.

The differing responsibilities of developed and developing nations are made clear throughout the agreement. One article of the draft agreement said wealthy nations should continue to provide financial support for poor nations to cope with climate change, at least $100 billion a year. The agreement formally asks the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change the U.N. climate science and research body, to issue a special report in 2018 detailing steps needed to reach the 2- and 1.5-degree Celsius targets. However, the agreement carries no sanctions or penalties for noncompliance. Thousands of protesters held hands beneath the Eiffel Tower and denounced an impending Paris climate accord as too weak to save the planet.

U.S. Leads the World in Combatting Climate Change

With the new accord to fight global warming reached Saturday, Americans need not brace for a raft of new onerous regulations, laws and restrictions imposed as a result, experts say. Even though the U.S. is second only to China as a climate polluter, many of the initiatives needed to keep global temperatures in check over the long term are already being implemented. The U.S. has gone through two two rounds of regulations to boost automakers’ average fuel economy in the cars they produce. Better fuel economy works in tandem with lowering carbon emissions. Appliances have become more efficient. Costs of LED light bulbs and solar panels have fallen, fostering greater acceptance. Less electricity is being generated by coal-fired power plants. Since the climate-accord goals are shaped around many current or planned initiatives, the agreement is unlikely to result in new rules being imposed on Americans.

Report Cites 241 Near Collisions between Aircraft & Drones

There has yet to be a confirmed U.S. collision between a drone and a manned aircraft, but there’s a growing number of close calls as drones fly where they least belong — near airports. A report released Friday counted at least 241 reports of close encounters between drones and manned aircraft that meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s definition of a near-collision, including 28 incidents in which pilots had to veer out of the way. The analysis by Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone found that 90 of the close drone encounters involved commercial jets. Most of the incidents occurred within 5 miles of an airport and at altitudes higher than 400 feet. Those are spaces in which the FAA prohibits drones from flying, raising questions about the effectiveness of the rules.

Economic News

Stocks plunged Friday. The Dow fell 310 points, a nearly 2% decline. It finished the week 3% lower. The continued collapse in oil prices was clearly putting investors in a foul mood. Crude fell 3.5% to a new seven-year low and dipped below $36. Weaker-than-expected retail sales for November didn’t help ether. CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index, which looks at seven gauges of investor sentiment, hit Extreme Fear mode Friday.

Retail sales rose a modest 0.2%, the Commerce Department said Friday. But excluding volatile autos and gasoline, sales increased 0.5%. Gasoline sales fell 0.8% as a result of the continuing fall in prices and auto sales declined 0.4%. But other categories climbed sharply as the holiday sales season officially kicked off with Black Friday. Sales jumped 0.6% at electronics and appliance stores, 0.8% at clothing stores, 0.7% at general merchandise outlets, 0.8% at sporting goods stores, and 0.6% for online retailers. Furniture stores saw a 0.3% drop after recent increases.

Nearly half of renters in the U.S. are struggling to afford their monthly payments. Experts generally recommend keeping housing costs around 30% of monthly income. But the number of “cost-burdened” tenants — those who spend more than 30% of their income on rent — rose to 21.3 million people last year, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Of those, more than 26% are “severely cost burdened” and spend more than half of their income to cover rent. rents are increasing much faster than wages. Inflation-adjusted rents increased 7% from 2001-2014 while household incomes dropped 9%, the report showed.

A college degree is getting so expensive that it might not be worth the money anymore, according to Goldman Sachs. Many students are better off not going to mediocre colleges — ones that rank in the bottom 25% of all universities — Goldman says in a new report. They earn less, on average, than high school graduates. But even those who attend mid-tier universities might want to reconsider. “The average return on going to college is falling,” Goldman researchers wrote. In 2010, the typical college student had to work 8 years to break even on their bachelor’s degree investment, Goldman found. “The choice of college and major are more important than ever to students given the changing return profile,” says Goldman.

OPEC’s strategy of pumping as much oil as it can to force other producers out of the market appears to be working. The International Energy Agency, which monitors energy market trends for the world’s richest nations, said non-OPEC production rose by just 300,000 barrels a day in November. At the start of the year, production from countries outside the cartel was rising by 2.2 million barrels a day. Growth will evaporate completely early next year, with non-OPEC supply expected to fall by about 600,000 barrels per day in 2016, largely due to a decline in U.S. shale production. The global supply glut continues to swell and oil prices have plunged to their lowest level in seven years.

Islamic State

President Obama said Saturday that U.S. air strikes are hitting the Islamic State “harder than ever” amid a stepped-up U.S. campaign in Iraq and Syria. “We’re taking out more of their fighters and leaders, their weapons, their oil tankers,” Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday. “Our special operations forces are on the ground, because we’re going to hunt down these terrorists wherever they try to hide. In recent weeks, our strikes have taken out the ISIL finance chief, a terrorist leader in Somalia and the ISIL leader in Libya.” Much of the recent effort has been directed at the oil smuggling that is the source of much of the Islamic State’s revenue. The National Security Council says coalition airstrikes have destroyed 283 oil trucks, 120 oil storage tanks, and a “significant amount of oil field infrastructure” in eastern Syria since Nov. 17. The United States has about 15,475 combat troops deployed to fight the war on terror, about 2,650 more troops than six months ago.

ISIS buys bombs and pays fighters with the billions of dollars it makes from the oil fields, mineral mines, and banks under its control. ISIS also imposes taxes on the people living inside its territory in Iraq and Syria. ISIS raked in $2 billion in 2014 alone, reports CNNMoney. It ditched Al-Qaeda’s old model of relying on rich donors in the Arabian Gulf. Instead, the Islamic State is a self-funded powerhouse. “The Islamic State is certainly the best financially endowed terrorist organization in history, notes Andreas Krieg, a military scholar at King’s College London in Qatar.

Saudi Arabia

At least 17 women have been elected to public office in Saudi Arabia, according to preliminary results published in state media Monday. Saudi Arabia women voted in municipal elections Saturday, marking the first time they have been allowed to cast ballots in the conservative nation. Women in the conservative religious kingdom are being allowed both to run for office and to vote this year, although critics have said restrictions on both activities have made it difficult on would-be women candidates and voters. Among other things, women have complained of difficulties proving identity and residency and a limited number of registration centers, according to Human Rights Watch. Female candidates also were barred from speaking to male voters and required to segregate campaign offices. In the end, 979 women candidates and 130,637 women voters registered to participate in the election, according to Saudi election officials. More than 1.3 million men have registered to vote and a total of 5,938 men are running for the local offices, which mostly oversee planning and development issues. Voters will fill half of the seats. The King selects the other half.

Cuba

A group of 4,500 Cubans are stranded in Costa Rica as they try to reach the USA by land. They suffered a new blow this week when one more Central American country refused to let them pass. Nicaraguan police forcibly stopped them from crossing the border last month, and Guatemalan officials announced last week they would not let the Cubans fly into their country to continue their journey north. Belize this week scrapped a planned “air bridge” that would have let the Cubans fly into the country and continue their march. Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís said the Cubans can return home if they want, but he assured them they would be treated with dignity in his country and nobody would forcibly deport them. Cubans have long reached the USA by braving the 90-mile journey at sea, riding rickety boats and rafts across the dangerous, shark-infested waters of the Florida Straits. More Cubans started taking advantage of another route in the past year after the Cuban government eased travel restrictions for its citizens. They can fly to countries such as Ecuador without a visa to start the long journey to the USA by land.

Brunei

From 21 to 40 dead people were reported killed as political violence surged Saturday in Bujumbara, the capital of the central equatorial African nation of Burundi, after police responded to attacks carried out Friday against military installations. The Associated Press reported that 21 bodies were found in one neighborhood of the capital city with gunshot wounds to the head and some victims were found with hands bound behind their backs. Residents of one neighborhood told Reuters that young and middle-aged men were gathered up by police and taken away from their homes and killed. The nation of 10 million people has historically been the setting of violence between Hutu and Tutsi tribal members. At least 240 people have died since this recent spate of Burundi unrest began in April and 215,000 have fled the country. Burundi, one of the poorest nations in the world, has been immersed in unrest since an attempted coup in May and protests that followed President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term in a disputed election where he prevailed in July. Foreign observers and opponents in Burundi contend Nkurunziza’s actions were unconstitutional and violated a peace accord. The treaty ended a civil war that left 300,000 dead between 1996 and 2006.

Environment

Rarely can the average beachgoer do their grocery shopping just by walking along the beach, but baffled beachcombers spotted everything from coffee to laundry detergent along Florida’s shores last Friday. Pet food, wine, paper towels and more washed ashore a day after thousands of coffee cans were discovered in Indialantic, Florida. Unfortunately, not all items were of grocery store quality. Water seems to have gotten into at least some of the packages, leaving food soggy and coffee salty. The United States Coast Guard identified the cargo barge Columbia Elizabeth as being responsible for the random items washing ashore. The ship reported missing several containers – as many as 25 – in the waters from Cape Canaveral to Palm Beach.

Weather

Up to 20 inches of snow have fallen in parts of California, Oregon and Idaho as of Monday morning. The heavy snow is now moving on to other Western states. The heaviest snow will be across the Rockies, including valley locations such as Salt Lake City. Tuesday into Wednesday. The snow will significantly impact travel in parts of the northern Plains and Upper Midwest, with some areas picking up more than a half-foot.

According to the National Weather Service, at least nine locations across the Pacific Northwest reported more than two feet (24 inches) of total rainfall so far this month, as of Friday evening. The top rainfall total so far is 28.20 inches at Baring along Washington’s western slopes of the Cascades. Parts of coastal northwest Washington have seen more than a foot of rain, while interior locations have seen 4 to 8 inches since last weekend, including Seattle. Rivers topped flood stage at over two dozen river gauges in western Washington and northwest Oregon.

A very mild weather pattern by December standards has engulfed eastern half of the Lower 48 states, setting hundreds of record highs and record-warm daily lows. Temperatures will soar up to 30 degrees above average into Monday, setting even more records as the mild air spreads to the East Coast. According to preliminary data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, at least 574 record daily highs were tied or broken across the U.S. during the first 10 days of December.

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