Signs of the Times (12/29/15)

With ISIS Rising in Europe, Queen Elizabeth Boldly Declares Faith in Christ

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth focused on what she called the light of the Christian faith in her annual Christmas message on Friday, after a year marked by militant Islamist attacks across the world. Elizabeth, 89, the head of the Church of England, quoted the Bible and spoke of millions of people lighting candles of hope. “It is true,” she said, “that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services: ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.'” She reminded her audience that Christianity’s unchanging message “was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another.” She added: “There’s an old saying that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Department of Education Says Britain is a Christian Country

British schools will not be required to teach atheist worldviews on par with Christianity, according to an order from the Department of Education. Christian Today reports that the order declares Christianity to be the primary religion in England and asserts that it should be prioritized over atheist views such as humanism in the classroom. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said, “This government is determined to protect schools’ freedom to set their own religious studies curriculum, in line with the wishes of parents and the local community. The guidance I have issued today makes absolutely clear that the recent judicial review will have no impact on what is currently being taught in religious education.”

  • If only the U.S. schools would education system would similarly stand up against the activist judicial system in the U.S. that is forcing its secular humanist agenda upon our children in public schools

Massachusetts Court Tells Catholic School It Must Hire Homosexuals

The Fontbonne Academy, a Catholic Girls Preparatory School, has just earned a place in American history. This past week a Massachusetts court decided that religious institutions like Fontbonne had no right to “discriminate” against homosexuals by choosing not to hire them. The court said that the religious freedom of those attending the Fontbonne Academy was not as important as the “right” of a homosexual to work for the school. The court found that there is “minimal risk” that hiring homosexuals would “significantly and seriously burden [Fontbonne’s] expression” of its faith.

  • Think the government will force Muslim mosques and organizations to hire homosexuals? Of course not. The war is only against Christianity and the One True God.

Planned Parenthood Killed 323,999 Babies in 2014

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America abortion business released its annual report today covering its activities for 2014 and the abortion company indicated it killed 323,999 babies in abortions. Meanwhile, while the abortion corporation, which bills itself as a health care provider, actually delivered health care to fewer patients in 2014 than the year before. The newest annual report shows the number of abortions done at Planned Parenthood centers fell from 327,653 in 2013, but lifenews.com says the numbers still make Planned Parenthood the largest abortion business in the nation, by far. The 2,500,000 patients Planned Parenthood saw in 2014 is the lowest annual number reported by Planned Parenthood since 1998.

Terrorists are Winning says CNN Poll

More Americans say that terrorists are winning the war against the United States than they have at any point since the 9/11 attacks, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. The public is broadly unhappy with the nation’s progress against terrorism, with nearly three-quarters of Americans saying they are not satisfied with how the war on terror is proceeding. That figure, following terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, this fall, is well above the previous high of 61% who said they were dissatisfied in August 2007. Dissatisfaction with the war on terrorism crosses party lines, with even a majority of Democrats, 59%, expressing frustration with how the Obama White House is responding to terrorism. Seventy-nine percent of independents and 86% of Republicans also say they are dissatisfied with how the war on terror has fared.

Belgium Arrests Two Terrorists for New Year’s Eve Plot

Belgian police detained two people Tuesday on suspicion of planning attacks in Brussels on New Year’s Eve. The nation’s federal prosecutor’s office said an investigation uncovered “the threat of serious attacks that would target several emblematic places in Brussels and be committed during the end-of-year holidays.” While police seized military clothing and propaganda materials from the Islamic State group, no weapons or explosives were found, the prosecutor’s office said. Six people were taken in for questioning, but four were later released without charge. The prosecutor’s office said the probe was not connected to the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more. Several of the perpetrators of that incident, including presumed ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud and fugitive suspect Salah Abdeslam, had connections to Belgium.

More Terror Warnings

An unnamed “friendly” intelligence service has warned several European cities of possible terror attacks, according to a statement released Saturday by police in Vienna, Austria. The attacks would involve explosives or guns and occur sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, according to the statement. The warning included the names of several possible attackers the Vienna police have investigated without finding “concrete further results.” In response to the terror threat warning, Vienna and other police in Europe have heightened the security alert by increasing police observation and surveillance at public venues, especially at key events and high-traffic areas.

As U.S. Focuses on ISIS and the Taliban, Al Qaeda Re-Emerges

Even as the Obama administration scrambles to confront the Islamic State and resurgent Taliban, an old enemy seems to be reappearing in Afghanistan: al Qaeda training camps are sprouting up there, forcing the Pentagon and American intelligence agencies to assess whether they could again become a breeding ground for attacks on the United States, reports the New York Times. Most of the handful of camps are not as big as those that Osama bin Laden built before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The scope of Al Qaeda’s deadly resilience in Afghanistan appears to have caught American and Afghan officials by surprise. Until this fall, American officials had largely focused on targeting the last remaining senior Qaeda leaders hiding along Afghanistan’s rugged, mountainous border with Pakistan. “I do worry about the rebirth of AQ in Afghanistan because of what their target list will be — us,” said Michael Morell, the deputy director of the C.I.A. until two years ago.

First of 17 Detainees to be Released from Gitmo Next Week

The first of 17 detainees scheduled to be released from the Guantanamo Bay prison in January will be transferred next week, as the Obama administration continues to reduce the population at the controversial detention center, a senior U.S. official said Monday. Another three detainees are slated to appear before a review board during January to determine if they can also be considered eligible for transfer to another country, the official added. Defense Secretary Ash Carter notified Congress earlier this month that 17 detainees would be transferred to other countries in January. The 17 are more transfers than Carter has approved all year, and they will reduce the total detainees at Guantanamo to 90, with 31 still eligible for transfer. In the 10 months since Carter took office in February, he transferred 15 detainees out of Guantanamo.

Week of Severe Weather Leaves at least 43 Dead Across 7 States

Blizzard conditions and flash flood warnings hit the already-ravaged residents of the heartland Monday after a string of severe storms left at least 43 people dead across seven states during the previous four days. Hundreds of thousands of people lost power Monday — including more than 120,000 in Oklahoma. Parts of 11 states were under a winter storm warning Monday from a weather system that spawned tornadoes in Texas and flooding in Missouri. At least 24 people were killed after tornadoes barreled through Texas. The Dallas area was ravaged by at least nine tornadoes that killed 11 people Saturday night. Five people died in a flash flood in Illinois, and eight deaths have been confirmed in Missouri. It’s the latest tragedy in what has become a week-long outbreak of severe weather. The storms hit Dallas suburbs Saturday evening, with Garland suffering the most casualties. Forecasters say a tornado that struck Garland, Texas, may have had winds up to 200 mph. In some neighborhoods, the storms ripped facades off houses, leaving gaping holes. Cars that had been in driveways ended up inside homes after the tornado barreled through. The NWS also said damage in nearby Rowlett indicated it was likely an EF3 tornado when it hit the town, with winds up to 165 mph. City officials said 23 people were injured by the storm.

Guinea, where the Ebola Outbreak Began, Declared Free of the Virus

The World Health Organization declared Guinea Ebola-free on Tuesday, an important milestone for the West African nation where the worst outbreak of the deadly virus began two years ago. A country is declared Ebola-free after 42 days — double the 21-day incubation period for the virus — have passed since the last confirmed case. Guinea now enters a 90-day period of “heightened surveillance” to help identify any new cases quickly, the WHO said in a statement. More than 2,500 people have died from Ebola in Guinea since late December 2013. The virus later spread to neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia. Overall, more than 28,000 people were infected and 11,300 died from the disease in West Africa.

The Wealthy Created a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes, reports the New York Times. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means. Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions, and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.

Working Poor Still Without Health Insurance

As many as five million Americans remain not only poor but also uninsured, despite an array of state and federal policies specifically intended to help them get health care. They are the working poor toil in America’s fast-food restaurants, call centers and retail stores. These people are caught in a health care netherworld. Their employers classify them as part-time workers or independent contractors, therefore avoiding any obligation to provide health care. They reside in one of the 20 states whose governments have not expanded Medicaid to include low-wage earners. And government mandates established a standard for “affordable” coverage that is not affordable at all for these families, according to a USA Today analysis of the Affordable Care Act.

Saudi Arabia’s Economy Crushed by Low Oil Prices

Saudi Arabia’s finances are getting slammed by the crash in oil prices. The government spent way more than it collected in 2015 — leading to a budget deficit of nearly $100 billion. Oil accounts for 75% of Saudi Arabia’s revenue, and when crude prices were sky high, the country enjoyed frequent budget surpluses. Now oil has collapsed below $35 a barrel, compared to over $100 in mid-2014. As a results, cuts are coming: The budget calls for a 14% reduction in budget cuts. The Ministry of Finance confirmed it is “reviewing” a change to government subsidies on energy, water and electricity. The country hopes to boost revenue by introducing a previously-approved VAT tax and by adding fees to “harmful goods” like tobacco and soft drinks.

Economic News

Consumer confidence closed out 2015 on a high note amid solid job growth and falling gas prices. The Conference Board said Tuesday that its index of Americans’ confidence climbed to 96.5 in December from 92.6 the previous month. Regular unleaded gas is cheap, recently dipping below a nationwide average of $2 a gallon, and employers added 211,000 jobs in November after a robust 298,000 gains the previous month. Such developments typically brighten consumer perceptions of the economy and their finances.

U.S. home prices rose 5.2% in October, compared to a year earlier, as the housing market maintained its momentum, according to a key benchmark released Tuesday. Average prices rose in all 20 major markets tracked by the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, reflecting rising consumer confidence in the economy throughout the country. One factor propping up prices is a low number of homes for sale. Lower supply fuels quick sales and a competitive bidding environment. The market has had an average of five months of inventory for the last year or so, a level that indicates a fairly tight market with limited supplies.

The number of companies with the lowest level of credit ratings and negative outlooks jumped to 195 in December, the highest level since March 2010, says Standard & Poor’s. The biggest culprit for the jump in these so-called “weakest links” is the oil and gas sector, which accounts for 34 of them. But financial companies are close behind, representing 33 of the weakest links, says S&P. The U.S. distress ratio – a measure of the amount of risk the market has priced into bonds – hit 20.1% in November, which is the highest level since hitting 23.5% in September 2009 during the last recession, says S&P.

Persecution Watch

Boko Haram militants killed 16 people in Nigeria, including children, in a raid on Christmas Day. According to the Christian Post, the Islamic extremist group raided the Kimba village, located in southern Borno State. The group set houses on fire and kidnapped people. Some members of the village fled to nearby Biu where they were housed in a refugee camp. “Not a single house was spared in the arson,” said Musa Suleiman, a local citizen who is helping the military in their campaign to eradicate Boko Haram.

Fulani Muslims in Nigeria attacked a Christian pastor while he was still in his church; they took also his wife and daughter, and hacked all three of them with a machete, they then tied all three of them with rope and set the entire house on fire. The three of them were burned to ashes in the living room of the pastorate.

Middle East

Attackers wearing Santa suits and gas masks attacked the town of Bethlehem starting on Christmas Eve and continued through the weekend. Palestinians killed at least 20 Israelis and a U.S. citizen during the attacks, according to Christian Today. Angry Muslims also reportedly threw firebombs and rocks at Israeli soldiers near the wall at the West Bank.

Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians on Sunday after an alleged stabbing attack at the Hawara checkpoint in the West Bank, according to various news reports. The incident took place at a gas station near the Hawara checkpoint, south of the city of Nablus. The two men approached a group of Israeli soldiers and began stabbing one of the soldiers in the face. news organization reported. The Israeli troops shot at the alleged assailants, killing them, and also wounded a soldier who was caught in the crossfire. Earlier Sunday, an assailant stabbed a soldier near Jerusalem’s central city bus station. The assailant was taken into police custody. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the Palestinian Authority for the attacks which, he said, “encourages and incites” them, leading to numerous stabbing attacks over the past couple of months.

Islamic State

Iraqi government forces retook central parts of the key city of Ramadi on Monday from Islamic State militants, the military said. The operation’s success was subsequently confirmed by the Pentagon. While the Iraqi military declared the city had been “fully liberated,” Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar Province, clarified that parts of the city remained under Islamic State. Iraq’s government has been trying to recapture the city for weeks. It fell to the Islamic State in May. ISIS leader Charaffe al Mouadan, who coalition says had direct contact with ringleader of Paris attacks, was killed in airstrike in Syria Tuesday.

The Islamic State group on Saturday released a new message purportedly from its reclusive leader, claiming that his self-styled “caliphate” is doing well despite an unprecedented alliance against it and criticizing the recently announced Saudi-led Islamic military coalition against terrorism. In the 24-minute audio, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said airstrikes by the international coalition only increase his group’s determination and resolve. The message was al-Baghdadi’s first since May, and comes amid battlefield setbacks that IS has recently faced. Meanwhile, a U.S.-backed coalition of rebels in Syria — including Syrian Kurdish, Arab and Christian groups — captured a major dam on the Euphrates River from the Islamic State group as part of the coalition’s march on IS-held areas in northern Syria. Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition and Russia in Syria have also destroyed Syrian oil facilities and killed several IS leaders in recent weeks.

Afghanistan

Top Afghan and American officials have begun to voice increasingly grim assessments of the resurgent Taliban threat, most notably in a previously undisclosed transcript of a late-October meeting of the Afghan National Security Council. We have not met the people’s expectations. We haven’t delivered,” Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive, told the high-level gathering. “Our forces lack discipline. We haven’t taken care of our own policemen and soldiers. They continue to absorb enormous casualties.” With control of — or a significant presence in — roughly 30 percent of districts across the nation, according to Western and Afghan officials, the Taliban now holds more territory than in any year since 2001, when the puritanical Islamists were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks. For now, the top American and Afghan priority is preventing Helmand, largely secured by U.S. Marines and British forces in 2012, from again falling to the insurgency.

Philippines

According to the Christian Post, conflict between the Islamic rebels and government forces occurred in three separate provinces across the country on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Those killed include nine villagers who were gunned down by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter rebels. Military forces have in turn killed five of the rebels. Those killed include nine villagers who were gunned down by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter rebels. Military forces have in turn killed five of the rebels. A military spokeswoman said that there were as many as 200 Islamic rebels carrying out the attacks.

Iran

A Russian ship left Iran on Monday carrying almost all of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, fulfilling a major step in the nuclear deal struck last summer and, for the first time in nearly a decade, apparently leaving Iran with too little fuel to manufacture a nuclear weapon. The shipment was announced by Secretary of State John Kerry and confirmed by a spokesman for Russia’s civilian nuclear company, Mr. Kerry, in a statement, said the ship, which Russian officials said was the Mikhail Dudin, carried 25,000 pounds of nuclear material. That included, Mr. Kerry said, the fuel that was closest to bomb-grade quality: It had been enriched to 20 percent purity… For face-saving purposes, Iran is calling the uranium shipment part of a ‘fuel swap.’ But the fuel it is receiving, partly from Kazakhstan, is natural uranium, which would require substantial processing to be used for either a nuclear reactor or a weapon. Mr. Kerry’s statement said that with the removal of the fuel, Iran’s ‘breakout time’ – the time needed to produce a weapon – had already moved from two to three months to six to nine months. Before the deal goes into effect, that time is supposed to extend to a full year.”

  • Let’s keep in mind that Russia and Iran (Persia) are end-time allies according to Ezekiel 38. With Russia’s increased belligerency toward the U.S., the risks of some shenanigans here are more than a little.

Vietnam

To win friends and open new markets for Chinese companies, Beijing is offering its Asian neighbors tens of billions of dollars in loans and investment. But in Vietnam, the effort is falling flat. China’s aggressive assertion of its maritime territorial claims has alienated many here, and President Xi Jinping’s grand vision of a new Silk Road with China at its center is greeted with scorn and suspicion rather than excitement, reports the Washington Post. The relationship has turned so bad that Vietnam’s Communist Party is tilting more and more toward an old enemy, the United States. China wants to help its fellow Asian countries build the infrastructure their economies desperately need, under the banner of re-creating ancient Silk Road trade routes and partly channeled through a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Vietnam needs the money but fears a hidden agenda.

China

It’s official. Starting January 1, 2016 China will allow two children for every couple. Chinese lawmakers rubber-stamped the new legislation Sunday during a session of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, which governs the country’s laws. This effectively dismantles the remnants of the country’s infamous one-child policy that had been eased in recent years. “China will fully implement the policy of ‘one couple, two children’ in a proactive response to the issue of an aging population,” the ruling Communist Party said.

Earthquakes

A moderate earthquake shook the Oklahoma City area Tuesday morning, waking residents and knocking out power in a state that was already dealing with an ice storm and severe flooding. The 4.3-magnitude tremor was centered about 5 miles east-northeast of Edmond, Oklahoma, and about 16 miles north-northeast of Oklahoma City. The earthquake occurred at 5:39 a.m. CST Tuesday morning, and a 3.4-magnitude aftershock was reported nearby 10 minutes later. There are no reports of injuries. The City of Edmond said about 4,400 customers lost power immediately after the main temblor.

Weather

As of early Sunday morning, snow and wind gusts over 40 or 50 mph were ongoing in the southern Highs Plains. Winter storm Goliath dumped up to 16 inches of snow on Cloudcroft, New Mexico, where strong winds created drifts to 3 feet and caused numerous power outages as well. Goliath will continue to spread a swath of snow and ice accompanied by strong winds through the Midwest and portions of the Plains Monday. Parts of 10 states are under winter storm warnings from northwest Texas to Michigan.

Days of unrelenting rain have caused at least 10 deaths and led to the evacuations of at least 150,000 people in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil in what officials are calling the worst flooding event in the area in 50 years. El Nino rain led to the swelling of three major rivers, the Paraguay river, the Uruguay river, and the Quarai river. ‘Unprecedented’ flooding is also soaking the United Kingdom. Thousands are without power and hundreds of people have been evacuated in England, Scotland, Wales. Flood warnings remain in effect Monday as residents deal with the aftermath of weeks of persistent rainfall.

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