Signs of the Times (12/21/15)

ACLU Sues Christian Hospitals for Their Refusal to Perform Abortions

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has volunteered to defend Trinity Catholic Hospitals after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Hospitals in October for their refusal to perform abortions. Trinity Health operates 86 facilities in 21 states. The ACLU lawsuit is asking the court to force Trinity Health and its staff to commit abortions regardless of their religious and pro-life objections. ADF already represents the Catholic Medical Association, Christian Medical and Dental Association, American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Concerned Women for America. “Patients should always have the freedom to choose a health care facility that respects life and to choose doctors who do not commit abortions,” stated ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman.

Messianic Group: Vatican is Wrong; Jews do Need Jesus for Salvation

The executive director of Jews for Jesus said that the Vatican’s statements that Jews do not need to believe in Jesus Christ to be saved are “egregious.” The statement from David Brickner, the executive director of Jews for Jesus, comes after the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews released a document last week about Jewish salvation. The Committee’s document says that God has never revoked his covenant with his people Israel.” Brickner states, “We believe that the Apostle Paul, whose name is invoked frequently in the Vatican document, would be horrified at this repudiation of the words with which he started his letter in Romans: ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.'”

  • Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

CDC Report: Homosexual Lifestyle Extremely Violent

The Center for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey is a first-of-its-kind study geared to determine the difference between the victimization of men and women by sexual orientation, reports OneNewsNow.com. The results show that men and women involved in homosexual behavior undergo much higher rates of sexual violence than men and women who are heterosexual. According to the study, 44 percent of lesbians were either raped, experienced physical abuse, and/or were stalked by their intimate partners during their lifetime. Even more shockingly, 61 percent of bisexual women endured such violence from their partners. It is also reported that 37 percent of bisexual women indicated they were stalked, which is more than double the rate that heterosexual women experience from their male partners.

Tragically, 48 percent of bisexual women who reported that they were raped said that their first experience of being raped occurred when they were adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17. The research also shows that 26 percent of homosexual men experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by their intimate partners. It’s even higher for bisexual men, who experience these types of assaults at a rate of 37 percent. Refuting many of the claims by LGBT activists that homosexual behavior is a natural biological condition, the CDC report found that a large percentage of homosexual transgenders and bisexual women experienced sexual violence during their childhood years, which could have likely resulted in their choices in adulthood to adopt a homosexual lifestyle.

ISIS Creates New Type of Jihadist: Part Terrorist, Part Gangster

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have brought into sharper focus the rise of a new breed of jihadists, one that blurs the line between organized crime and Islamist extremism, using skills honed in lawbreaking in the service of violent radicalism, reports the Washington Post. The Islamic State is constructing an army of loyalists from Europe that includes an increasing number of street toughs and ex-cons. Before he became the notorious ringleader of last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 28, was linked to a den of radicalized thieves led by a man nicknamed “Santa Claus.” The gang — including young men who would go on to fight in Syria and Iraq — robbed tourists and shoplifted, forming a petty-crime operation in the service of the Islamic State, authorities say. ISIS recruiting strategy is distinctly different from the development of al-Qaeda, which relied heavily in its early years on ostensibly pious recruits and wealthy foreign sponsors.

Confidence in Gov’t Response to Terrorism Falls to Post-9/11 Low

According to a recent national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, Americans’ confidence in the government’s handling of terrorism has plummeted to an all-time low in the post-9/11 era. President Obama’s job rating on terrorism has also declined to a new low since assuming the Oval Office. Since the start of this year, the share of Americans who say the government is doing well in reducing the threat of terrorism has fallen by 26 percentage points – from 72% to 46%. Approval of the way Barack Obama is handling the threat of terrorism also has declined with just 37% approving of the way Obama is handling terrorism while 57% disapprove, the lowest rating of his presidency for this issue. Data also show that public concerns regarding whether anti-terrorism policies have gone too far in restricting civil liberties have fallen to their lowest level in five years (28%).Twice as many (56%) now say their greater concern is that these policies have not gone far enough to adequately protect the country,” Pew reports.

Canada to Resettle Thousands of Muslim Refugees

As a U.S. backlash against letting Muslim refugees into the country is festering, Canada will be welcoming tens of thousands of Syrian refugees over the next few months. Newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will allow 25,000 refugees to resettle in the nation by February, with up to another 25,000 by the end of 2016. The plan gives priority to women, children, families and persecuted groups such as lesbians and gays. Millions of Syrians have fled their country’s nearly 5-year-old civil war that helped spawn the Islamic State. “The U.S. is concerned about extremists … Therefore (the U.S.) processes in a much more careful manner,” said Kyle Matthews, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “In Canada’s case, this is a political promise in an election.” Trudeau, who won a majority government in October, campaigned on a promise to resettle thousands of refugees.

Newly Discovered Hack has U.S. Fearing Foreign Infiltration

A major breach at computer network company Juniper Networks has U.S. officials worried that hackers working for a foreign government were able to spy on the encrypted communications of the U.S. government and private companies for the past three years, CNN reported Saturday. The FBI is investigating the breach, which involved hackers installing a back door on computer equipment, U.S. officials told CNN. Juniper disclosed the issue Thursday along with an emergency security patch that it urged customers to use to update their systems “with the highest priority.” The concern, U.S. officials said, is that sophisticated hackers who compromised the equipment could use their access to get into any company or government agency that used it. Juniper sells computer network equipment and routers to big companies and to U.S. government clients such as the Defense Department, Justice Department, FBI and Treasury Department. The breach is believed to be the work of a foreign government, U.S. officials said, because of the sophistication involved.

Cholera Outbreak Threatens World’s Largest Refugee Camp

Kenya’s cholera epidemic has reached the world’s largest refugee camp and doctors worry the outbreak could spread even further. Seven people have died in Dadaab, in northern Kenya near the border with Somalia, since the outbreak was declared in November, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders said in a statement. Dadaab is home to more than 330, 000 refugees, the majority of them fleeing violence and insecurity in neighboring Somalia. In the last three weeks, more than 300 patients have been admitted to treatment centers, and 30% of those patients were children under twelve. Lack of proper sanitation and education of the population are among the main challenges in halting infections. There are not enough pit latrines in the camp for the size of its population, and people often allow their children play in the mud or in flood water. The infection spreads through contaminated water or food, and is accelerated by poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation.

Drug Overdose Deaths Reach All-Time High in U.S.

Despite efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, deaths from drug overdoses reached an all-time high in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths from overdoses of prescription drugs and heroin continue to be the leading cause of unintentional death for Americans, rising 14% from 2013 to 2014. Last year, 47,055 people died from drug overdoses — 1.5 times greater than the number killed in car crashes. Opioids are involved in 61% of all drug overdose deaths. The latest CDC data finds that deaths from natural opiates such as morphine, codeine and semisynthetic prescription pain killers like oxycodone and hydrocodone jumped 10% from 2013 to 2014. Deaths from heroin overdoses rose 26%. The biggest increase in deaths was from synthetic opioids, which went up 80%. Prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine are derived from the same poppy plants as heroin.

Groundwater Depletion Contributing to Global Sea-Level Rise

Increasing amounts of water are being depleted from the world’s aquifers, and scientists have estimated that a large portion of the water ends up flowing into the oceans. So much groundwater is being pumped from wells that researchers say it is contributing significantly to global sea-level rise. The quickening rate of global depletion adds an alarming dimension to scientists’ findings, based on satellite measurements, that reveal widespread declines in aquifers around the world. And as that water flows off the continents, it is adding to the problem of rising seas.

  • Water is ultimately a recycled resource. The problem is that it is being recycled back into the oceans and into rainy areas that already have sufficient water supplies.

Obamacare’s Cadillac Tax under Attack

Companies want to kill it. Unions hate it. Republicans want to eliminate it. Some Democrats agree. It’s the much-reviled Obamacare Cadillac tax, which is set to levy a hefty 40% excise tax on employer health plans that are considered generous. The tax suffered its first setback last week, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreeing to delay its implementation until 2020, instead of 2018, as part of Wednesday’s budget deal. President Obama has even said he’ll sign it, which would make it the first significant change to Obamacare that Congress would get past his desk. Companies will have to pay the levy on the value of policies above a certain cap, which for 2018, is slated to be $10,200 for an individual and $27,500 for a family. The goal is to control the growth of health care spending: Eliminating pricier benefit plans would supposedly curtail excessive health care usage.

Illinois and Pennsylvania 170 days Overdue on Budget

Illinois and Pennsylvania are rivals for the title of “most dysfunctional state in America,” reports CNN. States are required to pass budgets each year. Most got their budgets done by the July 1 deadline. But not Illinois and Pennsylvania. They are now 170 days overdue. Both states have the same problem: Republicans and Democrats who can’t work together. Illinois has a brand new Republican governor who is fighting a state legislature controlled by Democrats. Pennsylvania has the reverse: a new Democratic governor battling a Republican-led legislature. Unlike the federal government, states are required by law to pass balanced budgets. Both the states are largely stuck over how to close budget shortfalls: by raising taxes or making cuts? Schools and programs that serve the poor, vulnerable and elderly are scaling back or closing altogether. Trash hasn’t been picked up for several weeks. Schools, county governments and nonprofits have been shutting programs down and trying to get loans from banks and donors.

Economic News

The Dow tumbled a whopping 367 points to 17,129 Friday and capped off its worst two-day slide since August, largely because oil fell below the critical $35-a-barrel threshold this week and investors are worried what that weakness will affect the global economy. Lower oil prices have taken their toll in areas of the U.S. that had been taking advantage of the oil-production boom. In oil-rich Texas alone, 60,000 energy-related jobs vanished form the peak at the end of 2014 until now.

After mortgages, student loans represent the biggest debt being shouldered by U.S. households. Americans owe $1.21 trillion in student loans — that’s an average of $47,712 for each household in debt, according to a new study by NerdWallet. Over 70% of this debt is owed to the federal government, making Uncle Sam the largest holder of non-revolving American consumer debt, with $932 billion owed. As recently as the third quarter of 2009, auto loans and credit cards outranked student loans in terms of their burden on American households — and the federal government held just a small part of that debt.

The U.S. has surprisingly low taxes compared to other developed nations, according to new data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. With an overall tax rate of 26%, the U.S. has the fourth lowest tax rate of 34 developed countries, who average 34.4%. The data includes all federal, state and local taxes – including income, payroll and property taxes, along with corporate taxes and value-added taxes, among others. However, U.S. taxes are lower than most other nations, in part, because the federal government doesn’t impose Value Added Taxes on its population. Instead, retail sales taxes at differing levels are imposed at the state and local level. Those would lift the U.S. closer to the OECD average.

The percentage of U.S. homes with high-speed broadband Internet service has significantly fallen for the first time, as a growing number of Americans are relying solely on mobile broadband service via smartphones. Overall, about 67% of U.S. homes have broadband connectivity, down from 70% in 2013, according to the new Home Broadband report, out Monday from the Pew Research Center. On the rise: those who connect to the Net using only smartphones, now at 13%, up from 8% two years ago. That boosts the total Americans with broadband via home and mobile connectivity at 80%, compared to 78% in 2013.

Persecution Watch

A campaign to convert African Christians to Islam has claimed to have converted more than 4,000 Christians to Islam in just one week this month,” reports The Blaze. Videos posted on the Internet reveal that Muslim missionaries have been teaching Christian men, women and children in Africa to chant, ‘I attest that Jesus is the slave of Allah and His Messenger.’ That chant is an embellishment to the classical Muslim testimonial of faith: ‘I attest that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger.’ Muslims cannot persuade converts by using words, so they must use force. Islam rules by fear. In the Christian faith, people voluntarily choose Jesus because they are drawn to His selfless love.

Despite the packed pews at Gaza’s Church of Saint Porphyries just weeks before Christmas, Christianity is not booming there. Rather, the worshippers at the 1,600-year-old shrine believe they may be the last group of Christians in Gaza, where believers have lived and prayed since the birth of Christ. The ongoing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the highest unemployment rate in the world are prompting Christians to leave the besieged area in droves. Dozens of Christians are allowed to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem during Easter and Christmas, and some take the opportunity to never return home so they can start a new life. The population of 3,000 Christians in Gaza just a few years ago has dwindled to just 1,200. Israeli sanctions on Gaza have made freedom of movement and goods almost non-existent in order to protect themselves from radical Palestinians who seek nothing short of Israel’s complete extermination.

  • While Christians are exhorted to support Israel and pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), Israel is no friend of Christianity, neither the orthodox Jews nor Israel’s secular leadership. We need to be praying for the Jews to come to Jesus.

Islamic State

The Pentagon is considering more aggressive cyberattacks on the Islamic State’s computers in an effort to decrease its propaganda on social media and prevent potential terror attacks, according to the Los Angeles Times. The report states that military hackers at Cyber Command in Fort Meade, Md. have created malware that could be used to curb the terror group’s capabilities on the Internet. However, the military’s fight against the extremists’ online communications faces blowback from the FBI and other intelligence officials who say that constricting the Internet in Syria and Iraq may shut the window into the militants’ whereabouts and intentions. The White House has directed top Pentagon officials to prepare for an increase in cyberwarfare after the investigation into the San Bernardino, Calif. terror attack showed that Sayed Farook and Tashfeen Malik had been inspired from extremist propaganda online to carry out the attack that killed 14.

For months, the United States military has known that the Islamic State uses the city hall in Raqqa, Syria, as an administrative center and a dormitory for scores of fighters. Some American officials even believe that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader, may have been in the building at times. Yet, despite the American air campaign against the Islamic State, the white, three-story building remains standing because it also houses a jail. Its inmates are mainly victims of the extremist group — men caught sneaking a cigarette, women spotted with clothes that reveal even a hint of skin, shop owners who failed to pay their bills — and for American officials, the risk of killing any of them in an airstrike is too high. The same is true of six other nearby buildings, including a mosque and court complex, which, together with city hall, compose the closest thing the Islamic State has to a headquarters. Obama acknowledged the dilemma the United States and its allies face in Raqqa and other urban areas in Syria and Iraq, noting that the Islamic State “is dug in, including in urban areas, and they hide behind civilians.”

  • The strategy of hiding behind civilians is the primary means through which the Islamic State is able to maintain its evil caliphate. They also employ that strategy here within the U.S. with sleeper cells hidden deep within our free society. The question is whether or not to employ a Hiroshima strategy in response, sacrificing some civilians in order to protect greater numbers of future civilian losses.

Belgium

Police in Belgium have arrested five people in their investigation into last month’s Paris terror attacks, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office announced Monday. Police arrested two brothers and a third person Sunday in Brussels based on phone records. Two more people were arrested Monday morning in Laeken. Police said no guns or explosives were found at either location. A worldwide search is underway for key suspect Salah Abdeslam, 26, who is thought to have been the driver of a black Renault Clio that dropped off three suicide bombers near the Stade de France the night of November 13.

Syria

The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution Friday that calls for talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups as well as a cease-fire in the nation’s 4-year-old civil war. However, the resolution doesn’t mention what role Syrian President Bashar Assad will play. The Syrian leader is supported by close ally Russia, but the United States has said it would like to see him removed from power. The disagreement has been a contentious issue in discussions on resolving the conflict, and Syrian opposition groups have said they will not participate in a cease-fire unless Assad agrees to step down as president. Friday’s resolution says elections must be held in the next 18 months but makes no mention of whether Assad will be able to run. Delegates from across the world had gathered in New York earlier Friday to discuss the conflict, which has left 250,000 dead and caused millions of Syrians to flee, intensifying the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe.

Iraq

Turkey announced Saturday it would move its troops from Iraq after weeks of tensions over its military presence near the city of Mosul, according to a statement from the country’s Foreign Ministry. Turkey said its troops had been deployed to the Bashiqa military base in northern Iraq earlier this month to protect a mission to train and advise Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS. However, Iraq’s government has insisted that it never invited the Turkish forces and that their presence constituted a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Iraqi President Fuad Masum said Turkey violated international laws when its military entered the country.

Afghanistan

NATO says that six of its soldiers have been killed in a suicide attack near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Three foreign troops were also wounded in the attack. It is the deadliest attack on foreign troops since August. The patrol squad was rammed by the explosive-laden motorcycle as they moved through a village near Bagram Airfield, 28 miles north of Kabul. The Taliban claimed responsibility. Bagram is the biggest U.S. military base in Afghanistan. It is the first major attack on a NATO military convoy since August 22, when three American contractors with the RS base were killed in a suicide attack on their convoy in Kabul.

Yemen

Fierce fighting and airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition pounded northern Yemen on Saturday, as the two main parties in the country’s conflict continued to violate a ceasefire agreement and undermine already tenuous peace talks in Switzerland. The clashes in Hajjah Province near the Saudi border between rebel-allied units and pro-government Yemeni forces have killed more than 75 over the past three days. Most were killed by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition that dominates the skies in Yemen. Coalition troops advanced across the border from Saudi territory after training there for months. Yemen’s fighting pits the internationally recognized government backed by a Saudi-led, U.S.-supported coalition against the rebels, known as Houthis, who are allied with a former president and backed by Iran. Local affiliates of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have exploited the chaos to grab land and exercise influence.

Spain

Spain braced for weeks of political uncertainty Monday after voters ended decades of two-party dominance by electing a fragmented Parliament made up of multiple parties. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s ruling conservative Popular Party took the most the seats, 123, in Sunday’s election, but it still fell far short of the 176 majority needed to govern alone. That meant it will need to form a coalition government with one of the country’s other political parties. It has no obvious partner for that. King Felipe VI, who will broker the process, plans to consult with each party before nominating a prime minister. That nomination must then be approved by Parliament. The lawmaking body has two months to elect a prime minister or call fresh elections. Spain’s stock market index, Ibex 35, dropped over 2.5% in the wake of the results, illustrating the extent to which the election has unnerved the country’s investors.

China

More than 91 people are missing after a massive landslide struck an industrial park in Shenzhen, China on Sunday collapsing and burying buildings in its path. Just seven people were rescued overnight and 13 overall were hospitalized. More than 900 people had been evacuated. At least 33 factory buildings were buried or damaged, involving 15 companies, including two workers’ dormitories. The soil that slid down onto the area had been piled up against a 100-meter (110-yard) -high hill after being dug up in the past two years in construction work.

Weather

A week before Christmas, the season’s first measurable snow finally arrived in Buffalo, New York, ending the city’s longest wait for a season’s first snow in records dating to the late 19th century. But it wasn’t much – just 0.1 inch. This year’s El Nino (the warming of the Pacific Ocean off California) is one of the strongest and is forecast to produce more precipitation than normal over the southern half of the U.S. while the northern half will get less.

Winter Storm Ferus will bring potentially damaging winds, heavy snow and rain to the West for the start of Christmas week. Some snow from Ferus will also spread into the northern Plains early week. A second round of widespread warmth that has been so prevalent in December will dominate much of Christmas week in the central and eastern United States, possibly bringing the warmest Christmas Days in decades.

A massive avalanche came crashing down on Norway’s archipelago of Svalbard on Saturday, killing at least two people and sending eight others to the hospital. The avalanche came down from Sukkertoppen Mountain around 11 a.m. and tumbled straight into the remote arctic region’s main settlement of Longyearbyen where it knocked houses off their foundations, flipped vehicles and buried residents in yards of snow.

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