Signs of the Times (3/15/16)

Religion on the Decline in U.S.

American observance of religion is on the wane, according to a new study from University College London and Duke University. Publishing in the American Journal of Sociology, the researchers note that the number of Americans who believe in God, attend church regularly, and identify with a particular religious sect are all in slow, but steady decline. Results vary widely by age: 68% Americans aged 65 and over said they had no doubt God existed compared to 45% of young adults, aged 18-30; 41% of people 70 and older said they attend church services at least once a month, compared to 18% of people 60 and below. The decline in religiosity is on par with drops in other western nations. Duke Professor Mark Chaves, noted, “The U.S. decline has been so gradual that until recently scientists haven’t had enough data to be sure the trend was real.”

Released Illegal Immigrants Committing More Crimes

The Center for Immigration Studies released a report Monday detailing the Obama administration’s negligent release of criminal illegal aliens who’ve gone on to commit heinous crimes after being allowed to remain in the country. According to the report, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released 30,558 criminal aliens in 2014. CIS states these individuals had already been convicted of a collective 92,347 crimes before their release. Many of these criminals go on to commit more crimes after being released, CIS reports. “As of July 25, 2015, a total of 1,895 aliens have been charged with a crime after being freed by ICE. As of that date, 1,607 aliens had been convicted of a crime after being freed by ICE. The total number of new crimes for which these aliens were convicted after ICE released them was 2,560.”

Police Blame Sentencing Overhaul for Increase in California Crime

California communities may be feeling the fallout from a controversial measure that reduced penalties for a range of crimes, as law enforcement report an uptick in everything from robberies to auto theft – and point the finger squarely at what’s known as Prop 47. The measure was approved at the ballot box in 2014 and downgraded many nonviolent offenses like property crimes and simple drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, part of an effort to reduce prison over-crowding in the state. But as the measure has been implemented, several police departments have reported a spike in shop-lifting, burglary, identity theft and auto theft, among other crimes. Since the law went into effect, major cities have seen an increase in more serious crimes as well. In San Francisco, robberies are up 23 percent; in Los Angeles, violent crimes are up 20 percent; and in Sacramento, homicides are up 23 percent.

Unprecedented U.N. Global Data Gathering in Support of Sustainable Development

Six months after giving birth to a cluster of nebulous Sustainable Development Goals that aim to dramatically change the economic, social and environmental course of the planet, the United Nations is working on a drastic renovation of global data gathering to measure progress against its sweeping international agenda, reports Fox News. The so-called “draft global indicators framework” likely will add huge new volumes of information that governments will be required to collect as they measure progress toward what amounts to a global socialist or progressive agenda, notes Fox. In all, the draft framework outlines 230 statistical indicators to measure progress toward the SDGs.

Eight Billion Hours Wasted in Commuting Last Year

Los Angeles has the worst traffic of any U.S. city in terms of average time wasted per commuter, according to a 2015 traffic scorecard from transportation analytics firm Inrix. Los Angeles snagged the top spot with 81 hours spent in traffic per commuter in 2015. Residents of Washington, D.C. and San Francisco were a little better off — but not much. They tied for second with 75 wasted hours per year. INRIX said across commuters spent more than 8 billion extra hours of traffic across the U.S. in 2015. However, Inrix said that increased traffic often comes hand-in-hand with economic advances. “Cities that have experienced the most economic improvement during the past year are at highest risk for consequences related to worsened traffic conditions, including reduced productivity, higher emissions and increased stress levels,” the company said.

Migrant Update

Europe has struggled to cope with the large number of Muslim migrants and refugees, many of whom refuse to assimilate and are instead embracing criminal activity. German police are reluctantly admitting that they have essentially lost control of several “problem neighborhoods” or “no-go zones” throughout the country, and that enforcing the law in these areas has become next to impossible, according to Breitbart, citing a German-language report in the Rheinische Post. Police in North Rhine-Westphalia report that roughly 78 percent of all regions within the district have had to be reinforced in order to deal with migrant criminal gangs, a problem other countries in Europe have reported as well. These ethnic and nationally based gangs sometimes even launching attacks upon police officers attempting to maintain law and order. While there is no doubt that some of the migrants fleeing the Middle East have traveled to places like Germany in search of work and a better life, it is also a fact that far too many of them have come with sinister ulterior motives, such as spreading their Islamic faith, or even launching terror attacks.

Persecution Watch

A Christian charity says that Christian refugees at Muslim-dominated camps in Germany are being psychologically abused and mistreated. According to ChristianToday.com, Germany took in more than 1 million refugees last year. Open Doors International claims that there have been reports of violence against Christians in the camps, particularly in Berlin. “We’ve heard much about the nasty treatment of Christians, and we’re compiling a report to push politicians into action,” said Rachel Marsuk, a spokesperson for Open Doors. “Politicians at [the] local and national level here have done nothing to help and don’t want to hear about these cases. They don’t see how religious differences have fueled tensions and led to persecution,” she said.

Despite being a “Christian” province, West Papua, Indonesia has been experiencing heightened Christian persecution. Christian Today reports that though the majority of people living in West Papua are Christians, reports of Christian persecution have been surfacing. The majority of Indonesians are Muslims, and there are reports of Muslim persecution of Christians. “The Indonesians want to replace the Christian religion with Islam,” says a report by an Australian Catholic organization. “Many mosques are being built everywhere. They want Papua to be a Javanese Malay nation. Radicalization is happening in Papua, with some militias very active near the border with PNG. They burn down the Papuan houses.”

Economic News

Retail sales dipped last month on tumbling gasoline prices while January’s total was revised down sharply in a sign that consumption has been less robust than believed so far this year. Consumer purchases dipped 0.1% in February, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Excluding volatile autos and gasoline, retail sales increased 0.3%. Sales in January were revised down sharply to a 0.4% decline from a 0.2% rise, raising concerns about the recent strength of consumption.

Americans with lower credit scores are falling behind on auto payments at an alarming pace. The rate of seriously delinquent subprime car loans soared above 5% in February, according to a Fitch Ratings review of loans that are packaged and resold on Wall Street. That’s worse than during the Great Recession and the highest level since 1996. Fitch blames it on a dramatic rise in the availability of loans along with lax borrowing standards that have helped fuel the recent boom in auto sales. More Americans bought new cars last year than ever before as the amount of auto loans soared beyond $1 trillion for the first time ever.

The Obama administration abandoned its plan to allow new offshore oil drilling on the U.S. southeast coast, dealing a blow to petroleum companies that had hopes of tapping new reserves. The reversal comes after environmentalists, coastal residents and the U.S. military vocalized opposition to the plan. It also comes amid declining industry investment in new exploration and production activities as oil prices fell by about 70% since late 2014 — although the industry is still seeking long-term investment opportunities under the assumption that oil prices will recover.

Belgium

Police in Belgium were hunting Tuesday for at least one suspect who fled after shots were fired and at least one officer was wounded during a raid “linked to the Paris attacks investigation,” Sky News reported. As many as three police officers were wounded in the raid. National security forces have been searching for suspects connected to the Nov. 13, 2015, Paris terror attacks. The skirmish Tuesday occurred in the Forest suburb, which is not far from the Molenbeek neighborhood where two of the Paris attackers lived. Two suspects reportedly were seen fleeing the area. Eleven suspects have been arrested in Belgium since the massacre, which saw 130 people killed when gunmen opened fire at a sidewalk cafe and at the Bataclan theater.

Islamic State

Islamic State forces have attacked an Iraqi town at least twice this week with mortars containing an unidentified chemical, killing a three-year-old child and wounding or driving out hundreds of people, Iraqi officials said, according to media reports. In the latest attack, the town of Taza, near the northern city of Kirkuk, was hit early Saturday, the Associated Press reports, quoting security and hospital officials. A German and an American forensics team have arrived in the area to test for the presence of chemical agents. The wounded are suffering from infected burns, suffocation and dehydration.

An American who allegedly was fighting with the Islamic State was detained by Kurdish military forces Monday while apparently trying to defect and flee to Turkey, authorities said. The Kurdish news agency Rudaw, citing a local commander, said Muhammad Jamal Amin is an American citizen from Virginia with a Palestinian father and Iraqi mother from Mosul. Rudaw said Amin had mistaken the Peshmerga territory for the Turkish border when he approached a checkpoint near the Iraqi town of Sinjar.

Syria

Russia began withdrawing its forces from Syria on Tuesday in a move that will leave behind both significant destruction and a Syrian regime to fend for itself to a much greater extent. The first group of Russian planes left Hmeymim air base in Syria on Tuesday morning. Russia’s surprise announcement Monday that it would withdraw from the conflict came as suddenly as its devastating airstrike campaign that started in September. “We were not surprised because the decision was made in coordination and consultation with us,” Bouthaina Shaaban, senior adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told CNN. “The Russians came here to achieve certain jobs, and we and they agreed that most of the jobs have been achieved.”

Syria peace talks resumed Monday, as the conflict approaches its fifth anniversary. Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, told reporters in Geneva that the resumption of the negotiations was a “moment of truth” and that the “only Plan B available is return to war.” De Mistura said the first round of talks will end around March 24, followed by a 7- to 10-day break. A second round will last for at least two weeks, followed by another break and then a third round, if necessary. De Mistura suspended the first round of talks more than a month ago, citing continued violence and lack of humanitarian relief on the ground.

U.S.-backed Syrian rebels say Al Qaeda militants seized their bases and stolen weapons in a series of raids in the northern Idlib province. Division 13 of the Free Syrian Army said on Twitter Sunday that the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front occupied and looted its posts late the night before. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, says Nusra seized anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles, a tank, and other arms from the division, which has received weapons, training, and money from the U.S. government. Both the FSA and the Nusra Front are fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

  • Once again, American arms fall into the hands of those who want to inflict harm on us

Turkey

A suicide car bomb ripped through a busy square in central Ankara on Sunday, killing at least 36 people and wounding over 100, officials said, the latest in a spate of deadly attacks to hit Turkey. A female suicide bomber and a male accomplice were behind a car bomb attack in the Turkish capital city that claimed the lives of at least 35 civilians, an official said Monday. Eleven people have been detained in relation to Sunday’s bombing in Ankara, Kurtulmus said, and 10 more remain at large. Although the government has not officially blamed the PKK, or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, for carrying out the suicide attack. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters Monday that the evidence uncovered in the investigation very strongly indicates a “separatist terrorist organization” is responsible. Turkish warplanes struck multiple targets in northern Iraq Monday morning in retaliation for the massive car bomb attack in Ankara which authorities blame on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) faction. The attack was quickly condemned by most world governments.

Iran

Iran said Monday that it would welcome American dollars being pumped into its aging oil and gas industry. Iran is staging a big economic comeback following its landmark nuclear deal with global powers. The country’s enormous oil and natural gas resources are at the center of the rebound — but years of economic isolation have left Iran’s energy infrastructure seriously outdated. That’s why Iran has been trying to drum up Western investments. For instance, in January French oil giant Total (TOT) signed a memorandum of understanding to buy crude oil from Iran and weigh potential investments in the country’s oil industry. “Iran is desperate for investment in its oil and gas infrastructure in order to catch up with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar,” said Majid Rafizadeh, a Middle East scholar at Harvard. But the U.S. still has sanctions in place that block most American companies from investing in Iran. They are different from the ones that were lifted in January, which cleared the way for non-U.S. citizens and businesses to head to Iran without fear of American penalties.

Ethiopia

Despite the crisis confronting millions of Ethiopians lacking food and drinking water, a world caught up in strife is paying insufficient attention to their plight, because it is distracted by other urgent needs. The government and the United Nations are trying to raise $1.4 billion to feed 10.2 million Ethiopians, but only half has come through so far, as the wars in Syria and Yemen plus the migrant crisis dominate the news. A strong El Nino has blocked two consecutive rainy seasons that normally nourish crops that feed 85% of the country. The drought has forced the government to find additional food aid from the United States and other donors. The U.S. Agency for International Development dispatched a response team to Ethiopia to provide emergency assistance that includes nearly $4 million in corn and wheat seeds for more than 200,000 families.

South Sudan

Horrific allegations were made in a United Nations report released Friday focusing on South Sudan. It chronicles what it called a “scorched earth policy that deliberately targeted civilians” by those working with and for the African nation’s government. Atrocities included burning people to death, suffocating them in shipping containers, looting and destroying villages, and raping girls and women by the hundreds, if not the thousands — sometimes by groups of soldiers, who made family members watch and then took their victims away as property. This has been the dark reality since a civil war flared in December 2013, after which all parties, including rebels, allegedly inflicted pain, suffering and humiliation on innocents. South Sudanese forces gained the upper hand in 2015 and, in doing so, began carrying out an inordinate amount of travesties, according to the U.N. report.

Ivory Coast

The United States and France have pledged assistance to Ivory Coast as the West African nation investigates a terror attack that left at least 18 people dead. Gunmen stormed three hotels Sunday in the beach resort city of Grand-Bassam about 25 miles from the country’s largest city, Abidjan. Foreign nationals, including four French citizens and a German woman, were among the dead. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility on a social media account tied to the group. Three soldiers and 15 civilians were among those killed, President Alassane Ouattara said as he visited the sites of the attack. Three terrorists also were killed in the attack.

North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered tests of a nuclear warhead in the “nearest future,” state-run news agency KCNA said Tuesday. According to KCNA, the proposed tests are the result of years of development and “diligent research” into heat-resistant materials and technology. South Korean President, Park Geun-Hye, warned North Korea should be ready to accept the consequences if it did not curb its nuclear ambitions. South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesman, Moon Sang-kyun, questioned the authenticity of the claims. “From our analysis on various sources, it has not achieved re-entry technology,” he said at a press briefing.”

Cuba

The Obama administration announced a new round of measures chipping away at the decades-long sanctions against Cuba Tuesday, encouraging more person-to-person educational travel and allowing Cuban nationals to get jobs in the United States or to open U.S. bank accounts. The new measures come days before President Obama departs for Havana for a historic two-day mission to improve economic ties with the communist nation, even while he also plans to meet with dissidents in an effort to push the regime toward democracy. It’s the fifth round of new rules the Obama administration has announced since opening up diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014.

Environment

Living or working in an unhealthy environment caused almost one-quarter of all deaths worldwide in 2012, a report made public Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO) found. In that year, about 12.6 million people died due to human-caused environmental risk factors, such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposure, climate change and ultraviolet radiation, the study found. Environmental risks are deadliest for young children and older people, the report said, with children under five and adults aged 50 to 75 years most imperiled. Yearly, 1.7 million children under five and 4.9 million adults aged 50 to 75 deaths could be prevented through better environmental management. Geographically, the report said Asia had the largest environment-related disease burden. This includes countries such as China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 4.5 earthquake rocked south-central Alaska on Saturday and was felt in the state’s largest city, Anchorage. The quake hit at 12:57 p.m. and was centered 50 miles northwest of Homer, a city near the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula. It was the third notable quake of the day for the state. The Alaska Earthquake Center reported a magnitude 6.1 quake at 9:06 a.m. in the Andreanof Islands. The quake was felt in Adak. No damage was reported. The Alaska Earthquake Center also reports a magnitude 5.0 quake at 4:23 a.m. in the Andreanof Islands, but no damage was reported.

Weather

For the third month in a row, Earth’s global temperatures in February 2016 were the most abnormally warm on record for any month, according to an analysis released by NASA Saturday. February’s global temperature departure of 1.35 degrees Celsius above the 1951-1980 average topped the previous record just set in January (1.13 degrees Celsius above average), according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. NASA’s analysis found this was the largest monthly warm temperature anomaly in their database dating to 1880, topping a record set the previous two months in a row. The global record was paced again by exceptional warmth in the northern hemisphere higher latitudes. Much of Alaska into western and central Canada, as well as eastern Europe, Scandinavia and much of Russia were at least 4 degrees Celsius (roughly 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above February averages, according to NASA/GISS.

  • Global warming isn’t a manmade phenomenon, it’s an end-time sign (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:11)

The Southeast finally got a respite Saturday from persistent rainfall, but floodwaters continued to rise, forcing some residents to flee homes their homes. Mississippi emergency officials deployed 255,000 sandbags, 7,200 bottles of water and 150 tarps statewide. Mandatory evacuations were ordered Sunday in Deweyville, Texas, after a week of storms have pushed the nearby Sabine River beyond historic flood levels. Upwards of 18 inches of rain fell in the Sabine River Basin from a weather system that lingered over the area for five days, and as of Sunday morning the river was just shy of 29 feet. At that level, Deweyville becomes isolated, with no vehicle access other than by boat or helicopter. By Tuesday, the river is expected to be over 35 feet.

A strong frontal system moving into the Northwest and northern California hit the West Coast with high winds, as well as more heavy rain and mountain snow, impacting a swath from Washington to California. This storm is the tail end of the “Pineapple Express” parade of storms that have hammered the coast over the last two weeks. One person was killed high winds that caused numerous problems across the state on Sunday. The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of 58 to 76 mph in Grey Harbor County. More than 200,000 customers in Washington were without power at one point Sunday. Meanwhile, water from the rain-swollen Sacramento River is spilling over a 33.5-foot-high concrete wall and into a bypass built to divert flood water. Four straight days of rain have replenished several key reservoirs in Northern California, raising hopes that water-use restrictions might be eased.

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