Signs of the Times (2/19/16)

Bibles Needed for China

It’s been estimated that close to 20,000 people in China are placing their faith in Jesus every single day, according to Bible Gateway. Others estimate that China could be the largest Christian nation in the world by 2020. But Chinese readers face a very real challenge. Since the early 1900s, they’ve been constrained to using the Chinese Union Version (CUV) of the Bible – which is now a terribly outdated translation that’s hard to understand and often fails to engage the hearts of new believers. Five years ago, Biblica released an updated Chinese Contemporary Bible (CCB, but they need funds to get this updated translation in the hands of Chinese men and women desperate to read God’s Word. With a matching grant up to $10,000, a gift of $48, for example, would normally send 12 Bibles. But today, through the matching grant, each gift will be doubled to $96, sending 24 Bibles.

  • Click here to make a donation to send bibles to China

35 Unborn Lives Saved in ‘40 Days for Life’ Campaign

The 40 Days for Life campaign recently reported that 35 unborn babies have been saved through the efforts of pro-life volunteers. The volunteers go to local abortion clinics and offer information and prayer for the women going into the clinic, intending to get abortions. LifeNews.com reports that, through the campaign, 35 mothers decided at the last moment to save their child’s life.

Wisconsin De-Funds Planned Parenthood

On Thursday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed two pro-life bills that will help further de-fund the Planned Parenthood abortion business in the Badger State after it was caught across the country selling the body parts of aborted babies for profit. Walker signed the bills at Life’s Connection, a women’s health clinic in Waukesha that helps promote abortion alternatives. AB 310/SB 237 redirects federal Title X family planning funds away from organizations that perform abortions, meaning $3.5 million taxpayer dollars will be driven away from Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. SB 238/AB 311 dramatically reduces Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s artificially inflated Medicaid reimbursement rates, and will eliminate $4.5 million taxpayer funds that have previously gone to Planned Parenthood.

Justice Scalia’s Death has Major Impact on Current Court Cases

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a major setback for the conservative legal movement in the months ahead. This was to be the term conservatives roared back after one in which the court’s liberal bloc won most of the important cases, such as same-sex marriage and Obamacare. On tap to be decided in the next four months are cases affecting abortion rights, affirmative action, voting rights, the power of labor unions and President Obama’s health care and immigration policies — and conservatives stood a chance of winning them all. Not anymore. Scalia’s untimely death Saturday at a Texas ranch leaves an empty seat on the Supreme Court — almost surely for the remainder of the 2015 term, and most likely for the duration of Obama’s presidency.

  • A very convenient death – too convenient.

World War III Taking Shape in Syria?

Armies and militias from more than a dozen countries have joined the Syria conflict, making for a mind-boggling and dangerous stew of shifting and competing alliances. Even as a proposed cease-fire is scheduled to begin as early as this week, more nations are escalating their roles in the nearly 5-year-old civil war: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey said they may send ground troops to fight. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad are backed by two nations, Russia and Iran, and many Shiite militias from across the region who are organized by Iran. Many rebel forces fighting to overthrow the Syrian government are backed by arms, funds and airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition. The U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq includes: Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

Kurdish militia from Turkey, Iraq and Syria are fighting the Islamic State. But the Kurds are sometimes aligned with the Syrian government and seen as a threat by Turkey, which has fought for years against a Kurdish separatist movement threatening its territorial sovereignty. Syrian Kurds are backed by Russia, the United States and Iraqi Kurdish groups. The Islamic State, a vicious al-Qaeda spinoff, and Jabhat al Nusrah, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria that works with many Sunni Arab opposition groups in Syria, have attracted foreign fighters from across the Arab world and Europe. Both have expanded during the chaos in Syria.

Massive Extermination of Christians & Civilians in Syria

United Nations investigators are reporting that “a massive scale” of extermination against detainees and civilians is taking place right now in Syria, adding it’s an “urgent, large scale crisis of human rights protection.” According to the written report, both loyalist and anti-government forces are committing war crimes — painting “a terrifying picture of the magnitude.” In Syria alone, more than 250,000 men, women, and children have been killed — many of those have been tortured and raped before being executed and coldly discarded into mass graves. The 13.5 million civilians who remain are in desperate need of aid, often unable to access fresh water, food, and medicine due to supply lines being cut. Millions of these are Christians and other religious minorities who, in addition to being caught in the violent civil war, are also being aggressively targeted by Islamic State forces. As one Christian man told a reporter in Syria, “This life is worse than death.”

Austria to Limit Number of Refugees Crossing its Borders

Austria vowed to press ahead early on Friday with plans to cap the number of asylum seekers entering the country despite claims the move would break the law, as European Union leaders struggled to end their fragmented approach to managing Europe’s biggest refugee emergency since World War II. In the latest in a series of uncoordinated and unilateral measures by nations, Austria announced that it would allow no more than 80 people a day to apply for asylum at its southern border points, as of Friday. In tense late night talks in Brussels on Thursday, EU leaders decided to hold a summit in early March with Turkey, which has been the source of hundreds of thousands of people arriving in the EU over the last year to push Ankara to tighten border controls. More than 1 million people entered the EU in 2015 fleeing conflict or poverty, and some 84,000 have entered so far this year.

Facebook User Arrested for ‘Offensive’ Posts about Syrian Refugees

Scotland police have said the arrest of a man responsible for a series of offensive Facebook posts about Syrian refugees resettled on the Isle of Bute should send a clear message that such social media abuse will not be tolerated, reports The Guardian. Following the arrest, Insp Ewan Wilson from Dunoon police office said: “I hope that the arrest of this individual sends a clear message that Police Scotland will not tolerate any form of activity which could incite hatred and provoke offensive comments on social media.” Only months ago, Obama’s Attorney General, Loretta Lynch warned Americans the U.S. Department of Justice intends to criminally prosecute and even imprison Americans who they determine are guilty of using “speech that edges towards violence” against Muslims.

  • The end of free speech? While such posts are indeed offensive and give Facebook grounds to cancel an account, arrests are a harbinger of the coming police state which will enforce political correctness

Hollywood Hospital Hit by Ransomware Attack, Hackers Demand $3.6M

Ransomware is always going to present a major headache for any victim, but when a hospital is at the center of an attack, the matter suddenly appears more threatening, with the stakes a whole lot higher. Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles computer systems have been offline for more than a week following a ransomware attack, with hackers reportedly demanding a $3.6 million payment to restore access, CSO reported Monday. Staff are understandably having a hard time coping, with procedures such as CT scans unable to be carried out. In some cases, patients are being ferried to nearby medical facilities for treatment. The ongoing incident also means hospital workers are unable to gain access to important documents, patient data, and emails. Instead, staff have had to step back in time, firing up fax machines and making more use of pens and paper to keep track of work at the facility. On Wednesday, the hospital paid a ransom equivalent to around $17,000 in bitcoins to get its computer systems back up and running.

Apple Resists Push by FBI to Unlock iPhone Data

Apple’s resistance to help the FBI obtain iPhone data associated with the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorists pits Washington versus Silicon Valley in a high-stakes war over Tech Age privacy rights amid escalating, international terrorism. A federal magistrate ruled Tuesday that Apple must help FBI agents try to get into Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone by disabling a feature that will lock them out after 10 unsuccessful tries. Apple, the largest publicly traded company in the world by market value, is fighting the order. Law enforcement, CEO Tim Cook says, is asking the company to create a new version of the iPhone operating system and install it on Farook’s phone as a “backdoor” into obtaining its data. “In the wrong hands, this software . . . would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession,” Cook says. At stake are the sweeping international ambitions of the entire U.S. technology industry, billions of dollars in potential global growth that hinges on customers entrusting the most intimate details of their lives to Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, especially in areas of the world where people have far greater qualms about the government gaining unfettered access to their personal information.

Military fails to treat new cases of war-related stress

The U.S. military is struggling to provide adequate therapy sessions for thousands of active-duty troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, a massive study released Thursday concludes. The RAND Corp. study of 40,000 cases, the largest ever, found that only a third of troops with PTSD and less than a quarter who are clinically depressed receive the minimum number of therapy sessions after being diagnosed. The good news in the study: vast improvement in how the Army and other service branches follow up with inpatient cases of PTSD after servicemembers are released from mental hospital care, a crucial period when many suicides occur. “We just don’t have enough mental health professionals to meet the demand,” said Brad Carson, acting principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. Since 2009, the military has increased mental health professionals on staff by 42% to 9,295.

Flint Residents Paid Highest Rate for Water in U.S.

Flint residents paid the highest water rates in America even as their water was tainted with lead, according to a national study released Tuesday by the public interest group Food and Water Watch. A survey of the 500 largest water systems in the country, conducted last year, found that on average, Flint residents paid about $864 a year for water service, nearly double the national average and about three-and-a-half times as much as Detroiters pay. The United Nations recommends that water and sewer service shouldn’t exceed 3% of a household income. In Flint, the charges totaled about 7%. A Flint lawyer who sued to reduce the rates says they are high in part because city officials and state-appointed emergency managers have tapped water and sewer money for other needs.

Economic News

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia and Venezuela on Tuesday reportedly agreed to freeze oil production at January levels if other oil-producing countries do the same. But indications that Iraq and Iran have no plans to slash production dampened hopes for a global reduction in oil output — so prices relinquished earlier gains, slipping into negative territory. Iran’s OPEC envoy on Wednesday said his country will not freeze its oil production levels, snubbing the proposal that was agreed upon by four other OPEC members a day earlier

Cheap gasoline kept a lid on consumer prices again in January, but a core measure of inflation rose more than expected. The consumer price index was unchanged last month, the Labor Department said Friday. The index was up 1.4% over the past year. Excluding volatile food and gasoline, core inflation rose 0.3%, more than the 0.2% economists expected. The measure was up 2.2% the past 12 months. Low oil prices and a strong dollar, which makes imports cheaper for consumers, has held down inflation. But prices of services such as healthcare and rent, have risen more sharply in recent months. In January, gasoline prices fell 4.8%, matching its December decline. Regular unleaded averaged $1.72 Thursday, according to AAA, down from $1.88 a month ago. Food prices were unchanged.

2015 was a tough year for oil driller Schlumberger. Unless you were the CEO. CEO Paal Kibsgaard received total compensation worth $18.3 million in 2015, the company reported, down only slightly from $18.5 million the year before. The rest of Schlumberger didn’t fare so well. The company cut 25,000 jobs during the year, or 20% of its workforce. Revenue was down 27%, and profit plunged 41%.The weak results and layoffs are the result of the plunge in the price of oil.

Latinos opened 86% of all the new businesses created in the U.S. between 2007 and 2012, according to a recent report by the Stanford Graduate School of Business. But they lagged non-Latino businesses in how much revenue they brought in — $155,806 in 2012 versus $573,209, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. The biggest issue? A lack of access to capital. The researchers pointed to the lack of a pipeline between investors and Latino-owned businesses and a dearth of financial education, as well as cultural issues within the Latino community.

As China’s manufacturing sector stalls, the world’s second-largest economy is relying on a more dangerous growth engine: Debt. The Chinese government is encouraging banks to lend and people and businesses to spend. New loans in China hit a record level in January, according to data released this week. But as loans skyrocket, so does something else: the risk of defaults. America did it for years, spurring people to buy homes, cars and just about everything else on credit. The debt gorging led to the financial crisis of 2008 and the Great Recession.

For two decades, Venezuelans have paid just pennies at the pump. But on Wednesday, President Nicolás Maduro announced that they’ll soon be paying a lot more. Before the announcement, a liter of high-quality gas in Venezuela cost about 10 centavos or one U.S. penny. Now it costs 6 bolivars or about 60 U.S. cents — a 6000% price increase. Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves. It’s a member of OPEC, and oil exports account for about 95% of its export revenue. Its economy is currently in a severe recession as oil prices have fallen dramatically in the past two years.

European Union

European Union leaders face twin challenges this week: keeping Britain as a member and finding a common solution to a migrant crisis that has divided the group’s 28 members. The outcome of the two-day summit that kicks off Thursday in Brussels may determine the timing of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s planned referendum on continued membership in the political group. Cameron has promised to negotiate new terms with the EU before holding the vote at home. He is seeking concessions on issues that include economic competitiveness, members’ sovereignty rights, welfare policies and the free movement of labor within the bloc. If he succeeds, he may hold the referendum in June. Polls show the British public evenly split over “Brexit” — British exit from the EU. Cameron’s proposals face opposition from nations such as France, which don’t want Britain to gain any unfair advantage over how it regulates banks and other financial institutions since London competes with other European capitals as a financial hub. Other members object to his demands to reduce social payments and curb working rights for non-British citizens. Germany opposes any weakening of the EU as a single political entity.

Middle East

IDF soldier Tuvia Yanai Weissman, 21, was buried Friday morning at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem a day after he was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist during a stabbing attack at a supermarket in the West Bank’s Binyamin region which also left another shopper wounded. The two 14-year old terrorists who carried out the attack were both shot by an armed civilian, with one later dying of his wounds. The Rami Levi supermarket where the attack occurred has both Arab and Jewish employees and is patronized by both Arab and Jewish customers on a daily basis. Also on Friday morning, the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City was the site of yet another stabbing attack which wounded two Border Police officers. The terrorist who carried out the attack was shot dead at the scene by police, while an uninvolved bystander was wounded in the incident.

Persecution Watch

Two Christian leaders in India were left in critical condition after they were violently attacked in two separate incidents on 5 February and 28 January. Pastor Simon Tandy and his wife were deliberately rammed into by Hindu extremists while they were on a motorbike and church leader Jose Kannumkuzhy sustained serious head injuries in a mob attack. The incident against Pastor Simon Tandy and his wife took place a few days after Hindu extremists barged into a Sunday worship service on 31 January and threatened the couple. Hindu radicals have since gone to the couple’s house and ordered his wife not to take legal action against them. In a separate, earlier incident, a mob of 35 people attacked and beat up church leader Jose Kannumkuzhy and three other Christians – Lijo, Joseph and Stanley – in Ettimada, a suburb around 20 km south of Coimbatore city, in Tamil Nadu state.

Also in India, a mob of around 400 Hindu radicals ambushed a group of eleven Christians who had met together to pray for a girl who was ill in Sardarshahr, Churu, in India’s northern Rajasthan state, on 31 January. They beat the Christians and handed them over to the police, falsely accusing them of giving people money to convert to Christianity.

In recent weeks, Fulani Muslim herders have been setting fire to the fields of Christians in the central-northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), leaving them completely destroyed, according to a Barnabas Fund contact. Many homes have also been torched in the Batangafo area, in central-northern CAR. Muslim Seleka gunmen initiated an uprising in November 2012 and took control of the government in this Christian-majority country. Seleka militants ravaged the country, propagating a spree of violence, rapes and killings, primarily against Christians. Thousands were killed in fighting and nearly 500,000 people fled their homes.

Christians among the thousands of Middle Eastern migrants who have fled to Europe have discovered that a familiar burden has followed them: religious harassment. Some Christian migrants have been subjected to discrimination, harassment and violence from Muslim migrants with extremist views. One Iranian convert to Christianity was murdered. The persecution has been observed in various locations across Europe, reports ChristianHeadlines.com. The situation has raised great concerns among local churches, which are now supporting migrants by supplying them with food, clothing, and, in some cases, even shelter.

After a year filled with repeated threats and attacks against Protestant churches and their leaders in Turkey, the leader of their tiny Christian community has admitted that they remain “anxious and distressed”. In an interview with Al-Monitor, Pastor Ihsan Ozbek of the Association of Protestant Churches named last week two major obstacles to his community’s quest for true religious freedom: the Turkish judiciary’s failure to respond to their members’ security concerns, and the government’s exclusion of Protestants from the state’s protocol dialogue with other religious minorities. Even though freedom of religion and belief is “secured under national and international laws and the constitutional authority in Turkey,” serious obstacles still violate the basic rights of the nation’s 6,000 to 7,000 Protestants, some 80 percent of whom are citizens of Muslim background.

Islamic State

The FSB — Russia’s security agency and the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB — told state-run TASS news that seven alleged ISIS members were charged Wednesday for plotting terrorist attacks in Moscow and St. Petersburg. To date, Russia hasn’t been hit by ISIS terror attacks on busy, civilian-filled areas like those in Paris, Tunis or Jakarta. But it is a target due to the Kremlin’s armed efforts against the Islamist extremist group in Syria. ISIS’ Caucasus affiliate claimed credit for a pair of attacks, one in September on a Russian military facility, and another a December shooting in the troubled Russian republic of Dagestan. And an ISIS affiliate in Sinai said that its members bombed a Russian passenger plane flying from Egypt to St. Petersburg, killing 224 people.

Syria

Scores of rockets fell on the Christian areas of Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, last the weekend, killing seven Christians, wounding many more, and devastating buildings. Many of those killed last weekend were young people, one of them just 13 years of age, said a Barnabas partner based in Aleppo. Earlier in February, a renewed offensive in Aleppo left around 100 apartments in Christian areas badly damaged. A senior church leader in Syria told Barnabas that an estimated 40% of Christians in Syria have been forced to leave their homes since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. Some of these are living in other parts of Syria and some have fled into other countries. In capital city Damascus, where the situation is more stable, the number of Christians living there is growing, he says, as Christians from other parts take refuge there.

Turkey

Turkish fighter jets on Thursday pounded Syrian Kurdish rebel positions across the border in northern Iraq in retaliation for an attack in Ankara on Wednesday that killed at least 28 people. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu both blamed Syrian Kurdish militias for a car bomb that targeted a convoy of Turkish military vehicles in the nation’s capital. At least 61 people were wounded in the incident. Salih Muslim, a Syrian Kurdish leader, nevertheless rejected Turkey’s allegation, saying his group had “no link to these bombings.” There were no other claims of responsibility including the Islamic State that has bombed the city in the past. Davutoglu said 12 people were detained in connection with the attack. He also confirmed the man who denoted the bomb was a Syrian national.

Libya

U.S. warplanes on Friday bombed an Islamic State camp in Libya, targeting a militant linked to two terror attacks in Tunisia last year. More than 30 militants from the extremist group were killed at the camp near the coastal city of Sabratha, near the border with Tunisia, the New York Times reported. Noureddine Chouchane, the target of the strike, is believed to have been one of the organizers of the attack at the Bardo Museum in the Tunisian capital of Tunis that killed 22 people in March, and an attack in June that killed 38 people in the seaside resort of Sousse. The Islamic State has gained a foothold in Libya, which has spiraled into chaos since a U.S.-backed coalition helped rebels overthrow the regime of leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The Islamic State has been attempting to expand its influence in the war-torn country, threatening to take over oil refineries near Sirte. The United States and its allies have become increasingly concerned about the group’s growing presence near those refineries, which could provide the militant group with another source of revenue.

China

China deployed missiles to a disputed island in the South China Sea, according to a statement from Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, even as President Obama called for reduced tensions in the region at the conclusion of a summit with Southeast Asian leaders. Commercial satellite imagery picked up the deployment, Fox News reported. The network said it obtained imagery from ImageSat International (ISI) showing two batteries of surface-to-air missile launchers and a radar targeting arrays on the island. The U.S. recently challenged China’s territorial claims in the Parcel Islands, sending the Navy missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur within 12 miles of one of the islands claimed by China. The South China Sea has become hotly contested as China and other nations in the region seek to control trade routes and mineral deposits in the area. China has complicated the regional tensions further by building new “islands” in the sea by piling sand on reefs and then constructing military installations.

North Korea

President Barack Obama signed new sanctions on North Korea into law Thursday, punishing the regime for its nuclear and missile tests as well as for suspected cyber-hacking incidents. Congress overwhelmingly passed the measure earlier this month. The unilateral U.S. sanctions Obama approved Thursday would freeze the assets of anyone doing business related to North Korea’s nuclear or weapons programs or is involved in human rights abuses in the country. The measure is meant to compel American allies to enact similarly tough restrictions on North Korea to further isolate the country, which conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and recently launched a satellite into space. Tough new multilateral sanctions have been held up at the United Nations Security Council over disagreements between China and other nations. China, a longtime sponsor of North Korea, has expressed concerns about measures that it worries could debilitate North Korea’s economy. But South Korea welcomed the American sanctions

Wildfires

Parts of central U.S. will feel more like summer than winter on Thursday, with possibly record-breaking high temperatures. The higher temperatures, combined with powerful, gusty winds are expected to create an extreme potential for fire in a swath covering eastern Colorado, the Texas panhandle as well as parts of Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning, which advises extreme caution about open flames. Blazes popped up in Oklahoma and Missouri, prompting evacuations and shutdowns of roadways.

Weather

A full-blown case of spring fever bloomed in the Plains Thursday, with dozens of daily record highs, but also an extreme danger of fast-spreading wildfires. A winter heat wave is spreading inland from the West Coast and could bring unseasonable warmth spanning from coast-to-coast by the weekend. Southern California is on track to continue setting hot temperature records, On Wednesday, Phoenix recorded 91 degrees — and it’s only February! Parts of the South could see temperatures 20°-30°F above normal.

Millions woke up Tuesday morning to ice-covered roads that made travel nearly impossible, all due to a winter storm that killed at least five people. Winter Storm Olympia hindered travel up and down the East Coast for a second consecutive day, knocking out power to thousands while being blamed for hundreds of crashes. Schools were closed again Tuesday in many towns as officials attempt to keep students safe and roads clear. Thousands of New Jersey homes and businesses lost power Tuesday afternoon as a line of strong storms moved across the Garden State. Trees and power lines were felled by the nasty weather. As the severe weather moved east, damage was also reported in New York City from gusty winds. In Manhattan, two women were injured at about 11:15 a.m. Tuesday morning when broken glass from a table blew off a 22-story building.

Tornadoes touched down in the Deep South Monday on the southern end of the low-pressure system associated with Winter Storm Olympia. A few additional severe storms are possible Tuesday before the cold front clears the Florida peninsula and the eastern Carolinas. Seventeen reports of tornadoes were received by the National Weather Service from early Monday afternoon through early Tuesday morning in four states, with the densest clusters of reports in southern Mississippi and southern Alabama. Injuries have been reported in Louisiana and a high school in Mississippi sustained damage Monday. In total, 15 tornadoes have been confirmed from the severe weather event Monday and Tuesday in the South.

By studying more than a decade of measurements recorded by NASA satellites, scientists have documented a striking pattern in places around the world: many wet regions have grown wetter, while a number of dry regions have grown drier. Researchers examined data from NASA satellites between 2002 and 2014 and found areas that have become wetter included the upper Missouri River basin, the northern Amazon and parts of Africa, as well as other parts of the tropics. Areas throughout the mid-latitudes became drier: in the Middle East and North Africa, parts of India and China, and across much of the southern and western United States, where drought-plagued California and the southern High Plains stood out for especially large losses of water.

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One Response to “Signs of the Times (2/19/16)”

  1. Odessa Says:

    terrificly informational write-up, thanx, +4 for info

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