Signs of the Times (12/26/15)

81% of All Abortion Clinics Open in 1991 Have Shut Down

The total number abortion clinics in America continues to decline, following a nationwide trend extending back to 1991. In 2015, abortion clinics closed at a rate of more than one per week with 53 abortion clinics shutting down or halting all abortion services, reports lifenews.com. In all, 81 abortion clinics closed or reduced services in 2015. Currently, there are 517 surgical abortion clinics and 213 medication abortion clinics remaining active in the U.S., the lowest numbers in decades. In 1991, which is considered the high water mark for the number of abortion clinics, 2,176 surgical facilities offered abortions. Since then, 81% have closed with new ones failing to make up for the loss. In 2015, 21 new facilities began performing abortions.

Franklin Graham Quits the GOP over Planned Parenthood Funding

Evangelist Franklin Graham has announced he is abandoning the Republican Party in disgust over the move by the GOP-led Congress last week to pass a budget that Graham said was “wasteful” and provided funding for Planned Parenthood, which he compared to the Nazis. The federal government provides $528 million in funding for Planned Parenthood, about 40 percent of the organization’s annual budget. Social conservatives have long fought to strip taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood, and after the release of a series of undercover videos by anti-abortion activists earlier this year, those calls ramped up to a fever pitch. In the wake of that white-hot controversy, there was wide expectation that with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, Congress would eliminate funding for 2016. But the shooting massacre at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic late last month by a lone gunman, Robert Lewis Dear, who proclaimed himself “a warrior for the babies,” seemed to change the calculus. The new budget deal funds Planned Parenthood at previous levels, a development that has enraged many on the religious right, including Graham.

Muslims Protect Christian Passengers in Kenyan Bus Attack

Christian leaders hailed Muslims for their bravery and selflessness Tuesday after they shielded Christians from suspected al-Shabab gunmen who attacked a passenger bus. The gunmen sprayed the bus with bullets Monday, killing two. But when they asked the Muslim passengers to help identify the Christian passengers, they told the militants to kill everyone or leave. The Associated Press reported that Muslims also helped dress non-Muslim passengers in scarfs to try to conceal their identity. Defeated, the militants left hurriedly, according to witnesses. The gesture is uniting Christians and Muslims in Kenya, which lies along the country’s northern border with Somalia. Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of Mombasa congratulated the Muslims for their selfless act of bravery and said. “This is the true meaning of religion.”

Christianity Growing in India Despite Hindu Hostility

Missionaries in northern India say Hindu extremists are increasingly trying to entrap them with trumped-up accusations of forced conversions. But the rise in persecution isn’t dissuading true converts, who are turning to Christ in larger numbers, according to new census data. People have the freedom to change their religion in India, but forced conversions are illegal. Christians are allowed “to profess their faith,” but cannot “convert somebody, coerce somebody, or lure someone to convert,” said Raju Sharma, CAM’s South Asia director. Missionary Kanak Chauhan (not his real name) says people call about once a week trying to goad him into saying something that could get him in trouble with authorities in Chandigarh, where officials are especially hostile toward religious conversions. Christians in the north face violent persecution in an attempt to limit the spread of the gospel. In mid-November, Hindu extremists attacked a Pentecostal congregation during a worship service, beating parishioners with sticks and demanding they return to Hinduism.

A Record 60 People in U.S. Arrested for Terrorism in 2015

The Justice Department has charged at least 60 individuals this year with terrorism-related crimes, an unprecedented number that officials attribute to a heightened threat from the Islamic State and the increasing influence of social media on potential recruits. Last week alone, prosecutors charged three people and convicted two others on terrorism-linked charges. “The common connection we’re seeing is — in almost every case — a tie to social media,” said John P. Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, at a conference last month hosted by the news site Defense One. He also pointed out that many of the cases involve young people, who are at ease building relationships online. More than 55 percent of those charged are under 25 years old. Most troubling, Carlin said, about one-third are 21 or younger. “That’s not the same age demographic that we saw with al-Qaeda,” he said.

Deportations Plummet During Obama’s Second Term

For the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. who stay out of trouble, the chances of being deported are less than 1 percent, according to new figures released by the Department of Homeland Security. The new figures show a dramatic four-year decline in the number of deportations carried out by the Obama administration, from more than 409,000 in 2012 to just 235,000 in fiscal 2015, the fewest deportations since 2006. Obama ha emphasized throughout his two terms that he is focused on deporting “criminal aliens.” Yet the new numbers show criminal alien deportations declined 27 percent from last year, from 86,923 to 63,127 in 2015.

U.S. Plans Raids to Deport Families Who Surged Across Border

The Department of Homeland Security has begun preparing for a series of raids that would target for deportation hundreds of Central American families who have flocked to the United States since the start of last year, reports the Washington Post. The nationwide campaign, to be carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as soon as early January, would be the first large-scale effort to deport families who have fled violence in Central America, those familiar with the plan said. More than 100,000 families with both adults and children have made the journey across the southwest border since last year. The ICE operation would target only adults and children who have already been ordered removed from the United States by an immigration judge. The number of families fleeing Central America has surged again, with the homicide rate in El Salvador reaching its highest level in a generation. people to flee Central America last year has surged again, with the homicide rate in El Salvador reaching its highest level in a generation.

Over 1 Million Refugees Reach Europe in 2015

With just days left in 2015, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday that more than 1 million migrants and refugees have crossed into Europe this year. It marks more than a four-fold increase from last year. The IOM said. More than 455,000 Syrians crossed into Greece from Turkey this year and over 186,000 from Afghanistan. Some 3,695 migrants drowned or remain missing trying to reach Europe.

Corruption Rampant in Africa

Seven out of 10 people in Liberia say they have had to pay bribes to access basic services like healthcare and schooling, according to Transparency International, a global watchdog. In the latest poll — which the NGO conducted with Afrobarometer, an organization which publishes surveys on African governance — 58% of Africans said they thought bribery was increasing. “Corruption creates and increases poverty and exclusion. While corrupt individuals with political power enjoy a lavish life, millions of Africans are deprived of their basic needs like food, health, education, housing, access to clean water and sanitation,” said José Ugaz, chair of Transparency International, in a statement.

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week, reflecting a job market that continues to look moderately healthy. The Labor Department says applications for jobless aid declined 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 267,000. Claims have been below the critical threshold of 300,000 for the past 42 weeks, a level that generally points to monthly job gains in excess of 200,000.

Some 12 states alone are expected to increase their minimum wages on January first, including California and Massachusetts, which are going up to $10 an hour. The District of Columbia was the first to exceed the $10 minimum, but several states have incremental plans to raise their wages even further by 2018. Despite unsuccessful attempts to raise the wage at the federal level, many states have acted.

A state budget that was a point of Alaskan pride — and envy from around the nation — lies in tatters as revenue that flowed from selling crude oil from Prudhoe Bay over the past four decades has been swept away. With oil prices down along with oil production, the state is facing an Alaska-size shortfall: two-thirds of the revenue needed to cover this year’s $5.2 billion state budget has dried up. Alaska is the nation’s least-taxed state, where oil royalties and energy taxes once paid for 90% of state functions. Oil money was so plentiful that residents received annual dividend checks from a state savings fund that could total more than $8,000 for a family of four

Persecution Watch

Christmas attacks by Muslim rebels against Christian communities in the Philippine’s volatile south have left at least 14 people dead. The dead included nine Christian villagers gunned down by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter insurgents and at least five rebels killed by government forces in clashes in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and North Cotabato. Around 200 rebels took part in the attacks. The rebels broke off from the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front when the latter entered into peace talks with the government.

Middle East

Israeli authorities said Thursday that three Palestinians were killed after they carried out attacks against Israelis across the West Bank. The three separate incidents were the latest in a three month-long wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence and came as revelers were gathering in the West Bank city of Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations. In the first incident, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the attacker approached the entrance to an industrial zone in the Ariel settlement and stabbed two security guards, wounding them moderately, before they shot and killed the attacker. Shortly afterward, the Israeli military said another Palestinian wielding a screwdriver was shot dead after he tried to stab security forces in the West Bank city of Hebron, a frequent flashpoint for violence. Later, in another incident, the military said a Palestinian was shot and killed after he rammed his car into soldiers, wounded one slightly. Near-daily Palestinian attacks have killed 20 Israelis and an American student. Israeli fire has killed 123 Palestinians.

Islamic State

The Iraqi military is about a mile from the ISIS-held government compound in Ramadi in Iraq’s battle to retake the key city from the terrorist group. “Thousands of improvised explosive devices were planted in the district by Daesh,” said Col. Mohammed Ibrahim said, using another name for ISIS. “Each one needs at least 30 minutes to be dismantled.” Soldiers are moving slowly through Ramadi’s liberated neighborhoods looking for ISIS terrorists amid the IEDs. With the help of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Iraqi forces are continuing a coordinated attack on Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad. ISIS took over Ramadi in May after a year of fighting there, spurring tens of thousands of civilians to flee.

A wave of attacks across Iraq killed at least 15 civilians on Wednesday, government officials said. In the Shiite-majority town of Khalis, about 50 miles north of the Iraqi capital, two explosives-laden cars were detonated. The first car was parked inside a bus station and that explosion killed three and wounded 10. The second car bomb exploded at the town’s outdoor grocery market, killing four civilians and wounding eight. In and around Baghdad, five bombs went off in commercial areas, killing eight civilians and wounding 35. The attacks came a day after Iraqi security forces reported progress in recapturing some areas in Ramadi.

Syria

Russia’s air campaign in Syria has killed hundreds of civilians and caused massive destruction in residential areas, according to a report released Wednesday by Amnesty International. The rights group claims the pattern of attacks “show evidence of violations of international law.” Russia has been engaged in a military campaign in Syria in support of embattled President Bashar al-Assad since September. Moscow says its operation is aimed at defeating “terrorist targets” there, but the United States claims the Russian airstrikes are targeting Syrian opposition forces rather than ISIS, which has taken control of large parts of the country.

An airstrike near the Syrian capital of Damascus on Friday killed one of the most powerful rebel commanders attempting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. The killing of Zahran Allouch, leader of the Saudi-backed Army of Islam, comes a month before peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition are scheduled to begin in Geneva. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an airstrike hit an Army of Islam meeting near the Damascus suburb of Otaya, killing five rebel commanders, including Allouch, as well as eight rebel fighters. It was unclear whether the strike was carried out by the Assad regime or Russia.

France

In France, the West’s biggest supplier of foreign fighters in Syria, the loss of sons, daughters and grandchildren to Islamic State has been a slow-motion tragedy. For some French families, the Paris attacks, while deepening the wedge between militants and the West, were a painful reminder of their ties to the enemy. The French wife of Foued Mohamed-Aggad—who along with two others killed 90 people in Paris’s Bataclan concert hall on Nov. 13—is living in Islamic State territory and ready to give birth soon. “An alarming number of young men and women are leaving France to start a family in Syria,” said Alain Ruffion, director at Unimed, a group that works to prevent the radicalization of residents around the southern French city of Nice. The French government estimates that about 50 children have been taken to Syria since 2012.

Afghanistan

Afghan forces holding out against a Taliban assault on the district of Sangin are reportedly running out of weapons and supplies, and there have been no reinforcements despite pleas for help to the central government in Kabul. Sangin is a key district in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province. December marks one year since NATO handed over security operations to the Afghans. Before that, British and American forces struggled for years to hold on to Sangin. It is strategically important because it links Lashkar Gah, the Helmand capital, to districts in the north. If the Taliban gain control of Sangin, they will control supply routes to the districts.

Iran

Republicans on Monday blasted Secretary of State John Kerry for suggesting in a letter to his Iranian counterpart that the administration could help the country get around new visa restrictions passed by Congress. “Instead of bending over backwards to try to placate the Iranian regime, the White House needs to be holding it accountable for its recent missile tests, its continued support for terrorism, and its wrongful imprisonment of Americans,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said in a statement. At issue are tightened security requirements for America’s visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. without visas. Under changes in the newly signed spending bill, people from those countries who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan in the past five years must now obtain visas to enter the U.S. Top Tehran officials, however, complained the changes violate the terms of the nuclear deal, which says the U.S. and other world powers will refrain from any policy intended to adversely affect normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran. Kerry responded to these concerns in a Dec. 19 letter and suggested the administration could simply bypass the rules for Iran.

  • The arrogance, duplicity and stupidity of the Obama administration is unprecedented

Russia

Russia has bolstered its military and asserted itself on the world stage with a forcefulness not seen since the Cold War, ratcheting up tensions with the West, reports the New York Times. Russia is reinvesting in its bases in the Arctic, building new ones, expanding old ones and deploying personnel to operate them. Analysts say Russia’s efforts in the Arctic are driven in part by climate change, as the country seeks to exploit and defend maritime trade routes as well as oil and natural gas resources in areas made more accessible by melting ice. Russia has made big increases to its military budget, including a jump of nearly $11 billion from 2014 to 2015. Russia has also scheduled mobilizations of more than 100,000 troops and has repeatedly entered or skirted the airspace of other countries, including the United States. In several regions, Russia has exerted its military authority, rattled its rivals, and seeded instability to preserve its influence. Russia’s role in the Syrian war escalated in September 2015 when it started airstrikes to support the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. In early 2014, Russia sent special forces troops into Crimea, when Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president was ousted. Crimea then joined Russia in a referendum that Ukraine and Western leaders consider illegal.

  • Russia will play a significant role in the end-time war against Israel (Ezekiel 38)

Brazil

Brazilian health officials are dishing out some unusual advice these days: Don’t get pregnant. That’s the message for would-be parents, especially in the country’s northeast, after officials linked a mosquito-borne virus called Zika to a surge in newborn microcephaly, a neurological disorder that can result in incomplete brain development. More than 2,400 suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported this year in 20 Brazilian states, compared with 147 cases last year. Doctors are investigating 29 related infant deaths. In Pernambuco state alone, more than 900 cases have been reported. Most of the affected mothers reported having Zika-like symptoms during early pregnancy — mild fever, rash and headaches.

Landslides

Dozens of people are missing and feared dead after a landslide struck a remote jade mining region in northern Myanmar, the second such incident in a month, officials said Saturday. The landslide occurred Friday in Kachin state’s mining community of Hpakant. The steep terrain was complicating search efforts. A Nov. 21 landslide in the same region killed more than 100 people and highlighted the perilous conditions created by a breakneck effort to dig up the world’s richest deposits of jade. Most of the victims in last month’s disaster were itinerant jade pickers and their families who made a living scavenging for scraps of jade in the debris left behind by mining companies. Kachin state is home to some of the world’s highest-quality jade, and the industry generated an estimated $31 billion last year, with most of the wealth going to individuals and companies tied to Myanmar’s former military rulers.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake rattled cities from Afghanistan to India late Friday, injuring dozens as they slept and forcing residents out of their homes. More than 30 people were injured as houses or walls collapsed in the northwestern Pakistan city of Peshawar. The magnitude-6.3 quake was centered near Feyzabad in Afghanistan and struck at 7:15 p.m. local time. The quake was also felt in the Kashmir region. In Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, some residents remained outside their homes despite the chilly winter weather, fearful of aftershocks.

Wildfires

Parts of two of Southern California’s most well-known highways shut down early Saturday due to a wildfire that has burned hundreds of acres and spurred mandatory evacuations. Traffic along U.S. Highway 101 and the Pacific Coast Highway — which run alongside each other on the West Coast — was closed off in Ventura County due to the Solimar Fire. Winds drove flames through drought-stricken vegetation and within striking distance of area beaches. People in the Solimar Beach area have been ordered to leave their homes. Roughly 1,000 acres had been burned as of Saturday.

More than 100 houses were destroyed by a Christmas Day wildfire that tore through a stretch of coastline popular with tourists in southern Australia, forcing thousands to flee their homes, officials said Saturday. Cooler weather and light rain on Saturday eased the immediate threat from the blaze along Victoria state’s scenic Great Ocean Road, but officials warned that it could continue burning for weeks. No one was killed or injured in the fire. Hundreds of firefighters spent Christmas battling the blaze, which was triggered by a lightning strike.

Weather

Unseasonably warm weather helped fuel more storms and floods across the South on Christmas Day. A separate system is forecast to bring snow and ice to the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico and Kansas over the weekend. Drenching rain on Christmas Day led to flash floods across Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi, where residents were still recovering from tornadoes and severe storms that left 14 people dead Wednesday and Thursday. In Birmingham, trees were down and people were trapped inside damaged houses. Several people were taken to hospitals for treatment of minor injuries.

December 2015 is on track to be the warmest December on record at many stations across the Great Lakes, Midwest and Northeast, southward toward the Gulf Coast and Florida. On Thursday, locations such as Burlington, Vermont and Richmond, Virginia not only experienced their warmest Christmas Eve on record, but also all-time record highs for the entire month of December. From 82 degrees in Savannah, Georgia, to 79 in Norfolk, Virginia, to 68 in Philadelphia, to 62 in Portland, Maine, cities up and down the East Coast tied or smashed record high temperatures for Christmas Day. After record warmth dominated much of the East through the majority of December, cooler air will return to the region to wrap up the month.

Because of the warm, moist fall, there is a “full-blown mosquito outbreak” across southeastern Louisiana. As long as the rain continues and cold temperatures remain at bay, it’ll take drastic measures to control the population of these blood-thirsty insects, reports the Weather Channel. This year, the rain keeps falling and water levels keep rising, and that means more baby mosquitoes in Louisiana than they usually see this time of year. What the state, and much of the South, needs at this point is cold, dry weather to end the insect invasion.

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