Signs of the Times (1/8/16)

New Study Reveals Millennials More Skeptical of Church

A new Pew Research Center study has revealed that millennials are becoming more skeptical of religious organizations. According to Charisma News, the new study revealed that only 55 percent of millennials now believe churches and other religious organizations have a positive impact on the country. That is down from 73 percent in 2010. However, older generations’’ views on religious organizations have mostly remained the same.

New Legislation Bans ‘Transphobia’ with Charges Up to $250,000

New laws were enacted in New York City and Washington State this week intended to protect the rights of transgender individuals, with fines up to $250,000 per offense. Charisma News reports that the new legislation protects transgender individuals from acts of “transphobia” in businesses. Writer Michael Brown provided the following examples: If a biological male walked into the women’s changing room at a gym and was stopped from proceeding by an employee, that is considered transphobia. Also according to the legislation, businesses must have the same uniform for men and women. If a restaurant requires women to wear skirts, the men must now also. “Sex stereotyping” in businesses is also prohibited. This means companies that permit female employees to wear makeup and jewelry must also allow men to do so.

  • A wacky world gets wackier. Come Lord Jesus, come.

New Scientific Study Confirms Biblical Account of Where Water Came From

The Bible describes how, after God created the Earth, “springs came up from the ground and watered all the land (Genesis 2:6). In the account of the Flood, the Bible also mentions how “the fountains of the great deep burst forth” (Genesis 7:11). According to Christian Today, a new nine-page scientific study confirms the Bible’s account that water came from within the Earth. “The ultimate origin of water in the Earth’s hydrosphere is in the deep Earth—the mantle,” the scientists wrote in their report. The study also discovered that there is a “major repository for water” located within the mantle, about 250 to 410 miles below the Earth’s surface. “It’s actually the confirmation that there is a very, very large amount of water that’s trapped in a really distinct layer in the deep Earth,” said Graham Pearson, the research team’s leader.

Native Tribe Blasts Oregon Building Takeover

The leaders of the Burns Paiute tribe have a message for the men and women who have taken over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside Burns, Oregon: this was our land long before you ranchers or the federal government. “Go home. We don’t want you here,” said a tribe spokeswoman. The message came from several tribe members whose ancestors fought and died over portions of that land long before the ranchers and farmers had it, long before the federal government even existed. The tribe is still fighting over land use but now works with the federal government’s Bureau of Land Management to save its archaeological sites. “We have good relations with the refuge. They protect our cultural rights there,” said tribal council Chairwoman Charlotte Rodrique. The Bureau of Land Management is the same agency that has riled up Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy and the armed protesters who joined him from out of state. The men took over the wildlife refuge headquarters, saying they would stay until the land was returned to who they consider its owners, the 100 or so ranchers and farmers who worked the land as far back as 1900.

New Age Militia Holds its Ground in Oregon

Blaine Cooper, from Humboldt, Ariz., stands guard at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge here, one of a small faction of armed anti-government protesters and vigilantes who say they won’t back down until the U.S. recognizes their rights as landowners. It’s a classic struggle borne right out of the Wild West, with deeply distrustful ranchers fearing their land – and their freedoms – are under siege. “What makes me nervous is government,” he says, wearing military fatigues and standing in the Oregon snow-covered sagebrush. “Government has been responsible for the greatest atrocities in the world.” Cooper and the others are new ‘Millennium Marlboro Men’, dressed in cowboy hats, army fatigues and militia gear while keeping up with the news on handheld mobile devices. They tweet their land-rights rhetoric to reporters. iPhones protrude from the breast pockets on their flannel shirts. Cooper posts occasional videos to YouTube on his support for civilian patrols along the U.S. border and his defiance of federal land bureau practices.

Democrats Ramp Up Pressure on Obama to ‘Immediately’ Sanction Iran

Some of President Obama’s closest Democratic allies are joining Republicans in calling on the administration to reverse course and sanction Iran for illicit missile tests. The White House had notified Congress of looming sanctions last week and then abruptly pulled back, without offering a specific explanation for the delay. Republicans swiftly slammed the decision as a weak-kneed response to an increasingly belligerent regime, but top Democrats including party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz are now joining in — urging the administration to act “immediately” to penalize Tehran. “The United States and our allies must take immediate, punitive action and send a clear message to Iran that violating international laws, treaties, and agreements will have serious consequences,” Schultz, D-Fla., and six other House Democrats wrote in a letter Wednesday to Obama. The lawmakers pointed to several Iranian missile launches – including a test in October deemed a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, and another in November that the U.N. has not yet ruled on. They also cited reports last week that an Iranian rocket came within 1,500 feet of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz.

Congress Passes Health Law Repeal & Defunding Planned Parenthood

Congress sent an ObamaCare repeal bill to the president’s desk for the first time in 61 tries on Wednesday, marking an election-year victory of sorts for Republicans who have tried since 2010 to scrap the law. The bill repealing most of President Obama’s signature health care law was approved in a final 240-181 House vote Wednesday afternoon, after clearing the Senate late last year. The legislation also would strip federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The president is sure to veto, and Republicans do not have the votes to override.

Congress Responds to Obama’s Gun Control Executive Order

On the same day that President Barack Obama released a new statement on his gun control measures, the The House Appropriations Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch saying that they will not provide extra funds for the “unlawful limitations on the unambiguous Second Amendment Rights of Americans.” The GOP-led committee told Lynch that they will not fund a “new law” that directly contradicts the Second Amendment to the Constitution. “We look forward to reviewing a fiscal year 2016 spending plan and fiscal year 2017 budget request that enforces existing federal law and does not create new law.” Critics point to statistics from the FBI that show U.S. Homicide rates at their lowest level (4.5 homicides per 1,000 people) in more than fifty years, down from a peak of 10.2 in 1980, in spite of highly publicized mass shootings.

Obama Sued over Keystone Pipeline

TransCanada on Wednesday accused President Obama in a federal lawsuit of exceeding his constitutional authority when rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline and, in a separate challenge, said the White House violated a historic trade agreement, igniting an election-year battle over a project that most considered dead. The company, which proposed the project nearly a decade ago, is seeking $15 billion in damages from the U.S. for the “loss of value” of assets related to Keystone. The company argues that Mr. Obama “intruded on Congress’s power to regulate interstate and international commerce” and blatantly disregarded the will of the legislative branch. Congress last year passed a bill approving Keystone, but the president vetoed it. In a separate legal action, the Canadian company filed a challenge under the North American Free Trade Agreement saying the president’s decision was “arbitrary and unjustified” and violated a portion of the landmark trade deal.

Bisexuality on the Rise, Says New U.S. Survey

A growing number of women and men say they are bisexual, according to the latest national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers asked more than 9,000 people in the United States age 18 to 44 about the types of sexual experiences they have had, whether they are attracted to the same or opposite sex and whether they identify as being straight, gay/lesbian or bisexual. Interviews were conducted between 2011 and 2013 as part of the CDC’s National Survey of Family Growth. Similar to previous surveys the group conducted, 1.3% of women and 1.9% of men said they were homosexual. However, a few trends stood out. More women reported having had sexual contact with other women: 17.4% in the current survey compared with 14.2% in the 2006-2010 survey. And higher numbers of both women and men identified as bisexual, 5.5% of women and 2% of men, compared with 3.9% and 1.2% respectively in the last survey from 2006-2010.

  • Deviation from God’s creation will continue to rise as the end-times plod forward toward the Tribulation

Terrorism Update

Paris, a city on edge after weathering a year of jihadist violence, faced a fresh scare Thursday as police shot and killed a cleaver-wielding man on the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. French authorities said the man with the weapon was shot as he attempted to enter a police station in the northern Paris neighborhood of Barbes. The man was shouting “Allahu Akbar,” Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told CNN. The attacker wore a pouch of what appeared to be explosives, but it turned out to be fake. The attempted attack near the police station in Goutte D’Or, in the 18th arrondissement, took place on the one-year anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo killings, the first of deadly jihadist attacks that have roiled the French capital over the past 12 months. In those attacks, two gunmen killed 12 people at the offices of the French satirical magazine, which had angered Islamists for its irreverent approach to Islam and publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Two men born in Iraq who came to the U.S. as refugees were set to appear in court Friday on terror-related charges in California and Texas, as investigators say one of the men wrote that he wanted to travel to Syria because he was “eager to see blood.” A criminal complaint unsealed Thursday accused 23-year-old Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, of Sacramento, Calif., of traveling to Syria to fight alongside terrorist organizations and lying to government investigators about it. In Houston, federal authorities announced the arrest of Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, 24, on charges of attempting to provide material support to ISIS, procurement of citizenship or naturalization unlawfully and making false statements to investigators. He was the 80th person charged under Federal law in an ISIS-related case since April 2013, and the first in 2016.

Migrant Update

A spate of alleged sexual assaults and robberies at New Year’s Eve festivities in the German city of Cologne has fueled a political firestorm over immigration in Germany. Ninety criminal incidents, a quarter of which were sexual assaults, were reported following New Year’s Eve celebrations in the city, Cologne police told CNN. Police said victims described the perpetrators as gangs of Arab or North African men. Authorities said the crimes, including a rape, occurred around the train station, next to the western German city’s landmark cathedral. A smaller number of similar assaults also were reported in the German city of Hamburg on New Year’s Eve. The episodes raised questions about the viability of Cologne’s famous Carnival next month when hundreds of thousands are expected to join celebrations on city streets.

Economic News

The labor market ended 2015 on a roll as employers added 292,000 jobs last month, underscoring that the U.S. economy remains on solid footing despite weakness in China and this week’s brutal market selloff. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 5%, the Labor Department said Friday. Businesses added 275,000 jobs, led by professional and business services, healthcare and construction. Federal, state and local governments added 17,000. Job gains for October and November were revised up by a total 50,000. Wall Street opened sharply higher open Friday after the release of the strong U.S. jobs report and a 2% rebound in Chinese stocks

The Dow dropped 392 points on Thursday. The wave of selling knocked the Dow down 911 points, or more than 5% so far this year. That’s the worst four-day percentage loss to start a year on record. China’s stock market is in complete disarray. For the second time in four days, trading was suspended under new circuit breaker rules unveiled this week. Many observers believe the circuit breakers, which are aimed at easing volatility, are actually creating more chaos by causing investors to sell out of fear they won’t be able to get their money out before trading is stopped.

Oil prices tumbled further Thursday as investors grew increasingly jittery about the prospect of prolonged economic sluggishness in China amid market turmoil. The benchmark U.S. crude, called West Texas Intermediate, fell 3.5% to $32.81 a barrel in morning trading, a level not seen since April 2004. Much of the distress in the oil markets can be attributed to market turbulence in China, where the CSI 300 Index dropped more than 7% after halting trading early to counteract sharp declines. Stocks are selling off around the world because there are growing fears that the volatility in China’s stock market is signaling a bigger-than-expected slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy, which has been one of the world’s biggest drivers of growth in recent years.

U.S. car sales in 2015 jumped to a record, clearing a peak last reached 15 years ago as cheap gasoline, employment gains and low interest rates spurred Americans to snap up new vehicles. In all, auto makers sold 17.5 million cars and light trucks in the U.S. last year, a 5.7% increase, reports the Wall Street Journal. With gas hovering around $2 a gallon nationwide and credit plentiful, auto makers are projecting a continuation of the robust demand for higher-margin pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles now fattening their bottom lines. Those larger vehicles account for more than half of U.S. sales, pushing the average transaction price to $34,428, according to automotive data provider Kelley Blue Book.

Mortgage application volume plunged more than 25 percent during the past two weeks in the wake of the Federal Reserve’s first rate hike in nearly a decade. Refinance applications, which are most rate-sensitive, decreased 37 percent from two weeks ago, CNBC reported. Applications to purchase a home fell 15 percent, but were 22 percent higher than the same period one year ago.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is running out of money. While the world’s attention is focused on Saudi Arabia’s latest flare up with Iran, many Saudis are concerned about the “economic bomb” at home. The government is slashing a plethora of perks for its citizens. The cash crunch is so dire that the Saudi government just hiked the price of gasoline by 50%. Saudis lined up at gas stations Monday to fill up before the higher prices kicked in. Gas used to cost a mere 16 cents a liter in Saudi Arabia, one of the cheapest prices in the world. Many Saudis drive large SUVs and “have no concept of saving gas. The gas hike is just the beginning. Water and electricity prices are also going up, and the government is scaling back spending on roads, buildings and other infrastructure. About 75% of the Saudi government’s budget comes from oil. The price of oil has crashed from over $100 a barrel in 2014 to around $33 currently. Most experts don’t expect a rebound anytime soon.

Middle East

Marching boldly at the funeral earlier this week of terrorist Mahammed Saeed Ali in the Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat in Jerusalem, hundreds of masked and armed Hamas terrorists fired in the air with automatic assault rifles and waved knives and machetes, Arutz-7 reported on Thursday. The scene was shocking, the news site noted, given the fact that it occurred in the Israeli capital, not in Gaza. The location was in the northeastern part of Jerusalem, not far from the Hebrew University and merely about 100 meters away from the Jewish residential French Hill neighborhood.

Two attempts were made by Palestinians late Thursday to attack IDF soldiers in the West Bank, resulting in four attackers being shot dead and no Israelis being wounded. The first attack came by a lone Palestinian attacker against a group of IDF soldiers at the Beit Anoun junction near Hebron. The second involved three attackers rushing soldiers at the Gush Etzion junction south of Jerusalem.

Iran’s government accused Saudi Arabia of “intentionally” striking its embassy in Yemen, another incident likely to ratchet up tensions between Tehran and Riyadh and imperil efforts to forge peace in Syria and combat ISIS. According to Ansari, the Iranian Embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, was damaged and several guards were injured in the late Wednesday airstrike. “This is not credible because we have not seen any evidence,” Saudi spokesman Col. Ahmed Asseri said. “But we will investigate.” Of course, it’s doubtful Iran will readily accept the results of a Saudi investigation. Not in light of the longstanding tensions between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shiite-led Iran, which have escalated in recent days, threatening an even bigger showdown that could roil not only the Middle East but the world.

Islamic State

The retaking of Ramadi by Iraqi security forces last week has been hailed as a major blow to the Islamic State and as a vindication of the Obama administration’s strategy to fight the group by backing local ground forces with intensive airstrikes. But the widespread destruction of Ramadi bears testament to the tremendous costs of dislodging a group that stitches itself into the urban fabric of communities it seizes by occupying homes, digging tunnels and laying extensive explosives, reports the New York Times. The scars of war in Ramadi were visible just about everywhere. Many streets had been erased or remained covered in rubble or blocked by trenches used in the fighting. Entire neighborhoods were full of collapsed homes, shrapnel-ridden shop fronts and swimming-pool-size craters left by airstrikes.

Libya

A massive truck bomb exploded near a police base in the western Libyan town of Zliten on Thursday, killing at least 60 policemen and wounding around 200 others, officials said. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but a local Islamic State affiliate has been trying to gain a foothold in Zliten, spreading westward from its central stronghold of Sirte along the North African country’s coast. The police base, where about 400 recruits were training, was used by Libya’s border police, a Zliten security official said. Border police foiled numerous human smuggling attempts off the coast of Zliten last year.

Iraq

The fighting has finally stopped in Ramadi, a major city in the Sunni heartland. The Islamic State has been ousted, and the Iraqi flag is flying once again. But Iraq’s government defeated the Islamic State only with the help of Sunni tribes, which pacified local distrust of the Shiite-led central government. Now, as Iraq faces the even greater challenge of routing the Islamic State from other cities, it is confronted with a heated conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia that threatens to inflame sectarian tensions across the entire region. For Iraq, which barely survived years of sectarian civil war, the hostilities between Iran and Saudi Arabia could once again foil Sunni-Shiite cooperation — and empower the Islamic State, reports the New York Times.

Iran

Just days after the US backed off on a threat to impose new sanctions on Iran over its violation of UN Resolutions regarding its illegal ballistic missile programs, the Islamic Republic brazenly broadcast video footage of an underground facility housing some of its most advanced missiles. The bunker housing several Imad missiles, which has a range of 1,700 kilometers and is capable of delivering a nuclear payload to a target. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, described as a “moderate” by several Western governments, lashed out harshly against reports that the US planned to sanction his country over the recent violations of UN resolutions, saying such a move would be “hostile and illegal” and declared his intention to enlarge the ballistic missile program.

Afghanistan

A U.S. service member died Tuesday from injuries sustained in clashes with insurgents during a joint operation with Afghan forces in southern Afghanistan. Two Americans were injured. Fighting in the area was ongoing and the situation remained “fluid,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said. The Americans were part of an advisory team operating with Afghan special forces in Helmand province, a poppy-growing region and former Taliban stronghold. Fighting has intensified in the region in recent weeks. Early reports indicate no Afghan forces were killed. The U.S. is launching airstrikes to support American and Afghan forces around the ongoing battlefield.

North Korea

The United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting Wednesday in response to North Korea’s announcement that it conducted a successful hydrogen bomb test. If the North’s claim is confirmed, there will be calls for new, tougher sanctions against the regime of Kim Jong Un. A successful test would be a disturbing development for the United States and its allies because a hydrogen bomb is more powerful than a traditional fission bomb, and if the North’s claim is confirmed, it would indicate intelligence reports underestimated the sophistication of the secretive nation’s nuclear program. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said initial analyses show no evidence to support the claim.

As world powers work to verify North Korea’s claims that it has tested a hydrogen bomb, others are asking what the country’s only real ally — China — will do. On Wednesday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement that it “firmly opposes” this and any future nuclear tests by North Korea. Spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters that Beijing had not been given advanced warning of the test and would be summoning Pyongyang’s ambassador to lodge a protest.

Africa

Corruption in Africa is seen as the primary barrier to combatting poverty. “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 the latest poll conducted by Afrobarometer, 58% of people said they thought bribery was increasing. The NGO estimates that around 75 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa have paid a bribe in the past year. The poor fare the worst — they are twice as likely as the richest in the region to have had to make payoffs according to the report. The police and courts — institutions which exist to safeguard citizen’s rights — are seen as the most corrupt, with over a quarter of those who had dealings with them saying that they had paid a bribe.

El Salvador

Despite improved security among its neighbors, El Salvador faced an explosion of homicides in 2015, likely making it the murder capital of the world. The surge in violence explains why thousands of Salvadorans and other Central Americans have fled to the United States. Government data show 6,657 people were murdered in the small country last year, a 70% increase from 2014. The homicide rate of 104 people per 100,000 is the highest for any country in nearly 20 years, according to data from the World Bank. All countries south of the U.S. border face the same problem: cartels and gangs fighting to control smuggling of drugs and people to the United States and infiltrating government institutions to help them

Earthquakes

A pair of moderate earthquakes shook northwest Oklahoma late Wednesday night, part of the latest swarm of Sooner State temblors since Wednesday morning. A 4.7-magnitude tremor was followed 30 seconds later by another 4.8-magnitude quake centered in a sparsely populated area, about 97 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. The quakes struck at depths of 2.1 and 3.7 miles below the surface. This was one of 20 separate earthquakes reported in just under 10 hours from Wednesday evening through Thursday morning. The 4.8-magnitude quake was the strongest in the Sooner State since the November 2011 swarm that included the state’s strongest on record, a 5.6-magnitude temblor in Prague on Nov. 6, 2011. Many believe these are due to all the fracking wells drilled in Oklahoma over the past few years.

Weather

A series of storm systems impacting the West Coast has closed and flooded highways in California and iced over parts of Oregon and Washington, where a plane skidded off a runway in Spokane. While wet conditions are normal for the area this time of year, the amount of precipitation being received is unusual. Mudslides and flooded roadways displaced hundreds again in California on Thursday. A reported tornado overturned one mobile home in southern San Clemente near the Orange County and San Diego County border Wednesday. More than two feet of snow fell in areas south of Flagstaff, while rain and snow caused problems on roadways across the state. Flagstaff schools were canceled for a third consecutive day on Friday.

Record flooding along some tributaries after torrential post-Christmas weekend rain has sent the Mississippi River to levels not seen since the Great Flood of 1993, and that excess water will continue to flow downstream triggering flooding in the Lower Mississippi Valley into mid-January. Flood crests also continue to roll down several tributaries in the Mississippi River’s drainage basin. Nearly a dozen locations have seen water levels on rivers or creeks rise to new record crest.

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