Signs of the Times (4/8/16)

Mississippi Passes Religious Freedom Law

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a controversial religious freedom bill Tuesday, a piece of legislation that gay rights groups and the state’s businesses have decried as discriminatory. Protesters had urged the governor not to sign it, saying it enables discrimination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. But Bryant said he signed the bill into law “to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government. “The legislation is designed in the most targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people from which all power to the state is derived,” he said. The law says it protects from discrimination claims anyone who believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, that sexual relations are reserved solely for marriage, and that the terms male and female pertain only to a person’s genetics and anatomy at birth.

Hackers Have Infected U.S. Energy Grid

Hackers have stolen sensitive information from American energy companies — and have planted malware in the energy grid with the intent to turn off the lights in the future. They even managed to infect at least three energy companies with Cryptolocker ransomware, a particularly nasty computer virus that locks digital files and demands a ransom payment. Newly released documents from the Department of Homeland Security are finally shedding some light on what exactly hackers are doing when they sneak into the American electrical grid. Some of the attacks described in the reports are potentially serious. Aggressive foreign government hackers broke into American companies 17 times between October 1, 2013 and September 30, 2014, according to DHS. They hack “primarily to conduct cyber espionage … to conduct a damaging or disruptive attack in the event of hostilities with the United States,” DHS stated in a recent internal “intelligence assessment.”

2030 Agenda Calls For Redistribution Of Wealth And Income

In the context of Participants discussed tackling inequality as a moral imperative and goal of the 2030 Agenda, and policy priorities to address inequality at national, regional and global levels. the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) organized a Special Meeting on Inequality to consider key drivers of inequality, and propose policy solutions. ECOSOC President Oh Joon noted that inequality is more than an issue of income and wealth disparities; these challenges are compounded by unequal access to basic human needs such as food, healthcare, education, drinking water and sanitation. Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, noted that inequality features prominently in the Sustainable Development Goals.

  • Couched in lofty goals, Sustainable Development and Agenda 2030 are the primary strategies for the secular-humanists to attain their one-world-government objectives, which Revelation 13 reveals is orchestrated behind the curtain by that wizard of old, Satan.

Dramatic Rise in Number of Global Executions

Beheading, hanging, lethal injection, shooting — the number of people executed by countries in 2015 hit a 25-year high, according to new figures published Wednesday by Amnesty International, the British human rights group. At least 1,634 civilians were executed by governments last year using various methods, an increase of 50% compared to the year before. However, 90% of those killings took place in just three countries: Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The numbers exclude China, where these data remain a state secret, although Amnesty said thousands were almost certainly killed there in 2015 by the government. Iran killed 977 people, mostly for drug-related offenses. Executions in Saudi Arabia jumped 76% to at least 158 people. Most of them were beheaded but firing squads were also used. Amnesty said the U.S. carried out 28 executions, the lowest number since 1991. The numbers don’t include the Islamic State since it is not a recognized national government.

Panama Papers Trigger Resignations/Charges

Iceland’s prime minister became the first high-profile casualty over the leaked Panama Papers, stepping aside Tuesday following the disclosure of offshore assets that he and his wife held. That posed a conflict of interest for him, because Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, 41, had negotiated a deal for Iceland’s bankrupt banks at a time when he was a claimant in those banks. Gunnlaugsson had been expected to face a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Thursday, Icelandic news site Vísir reported. Gunnlaugsson on Monday denied any wrongdoing, but thousands protested outside the parliament building in Reykjavik over the disclosure that he owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands.

The Panama Papers claimed its first banking chief executive victim on Thursday with the resignation of Michael Grahammer, the CEO of Austrian lender Hypo Landesbank Vorarlberg. Vorarlberg was one of the institutions named in the 11.5 million leaked documents published this week. Grahammer said in a brief statement he was “100% convinced that the bank broke no laws or violated sanctions” agreements, but that he was stepping down because of the media’s inaccurate portrayal of the case. The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority said Thursday it has asked 20 banks and other financial firms to disclose their dealings with Mossack Fonseca, after reports that some of them allegedly helped clients hide money from tax authorities.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who has been linked to two offshore companies identified in the Panama Papers leak, will appear before a judge Friday to address his role in the businesses. Macri, a wealthy conservative who promised to crack down on corruption, has also said he intends to set up a blind trust to manage his accounts without his input for the rest of his time in office. Even as Macri tries to stave off the potential political fallout, a federal prosecutor has asked a judge for permission to investigate whether the president failed to disclose his role in the companies in his tax filings.

Panama Papers Also Reveal Corporate Shell Companies

A USA TODAY analysis of more than 1,000 American-based companies registered by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the heart of the Panama Papers leak, casts the United States openly into an uncomfortable role secretive tax havens. The analysis found that both Nevada and Wyoming have become secretive havens much like Bermuda and Switzerland have long been. And at least 150 companies set up by Mossack Fonseca in those states have ties to major corruption scandals in Brazil and Argentina. The corporate records of 1,000-plus Nevada business entities linked to the Panamanian law firm reveal layers of secretive ownership, with few having human names behind them, and most tracing back to a tiny number of overseas addresses. The financial records show more than 600 of the companies’ corporate officers are listed at one of just two addresses in the world, one in Panama and the other Seychelles, a small Indian Ocean archipelago. The addresses, in both countries, are the same as Mossack Fonseca’s headquarters.

Gun Background Checks on Record Pace

FBI background checks for gun purchases have surged by more than a third this year, compared to the first quarter of 2015. This puts 2016 is on track to surpass last year’s record of 23 million background checks. Background checks, also known as NICS, for National Instant Criminal Background Check System, totaled 7,682,141 in the first quarter this year. Gun sales are still being propelled by last year’s mass terrorist shootings in France and California, according to Rommel Dionisio, a gun industry analyst with Wunderlich Securities. Political rhetoric from the presidential campaign is also spurring gun sales as Hillary Clinton pushes for stronger gun control.

VA Bosses in 7 States Falsified Vets’ Wait Times

Supervisors instructed employees to falsify patient wait times at Veterans Affairs’ medical facilities in at least seven states, according to a USA TODAY analysis of more than 70 investigation reports released in recent weeks. Overall, those reports — released after multiple inquiries and a Freedom of Information Act request — reveal for the first time specifics of widespread scheduling manipulation. Employees at 40 VA medical facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico regularly “zeroed out” veteran wait times, the analysis shows. In some cases, investigators found manipulation had been going on for as long as a decade. The manipulation masked growing demand as new waves of veterans returned from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and as Vietnam veterans aged and needed more health care. The newly released findings show that supervisors instructed schedulers to manipulate wait times in Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Texas and Vermont, giving the false impression facilities there were meeting VA performance measures for shorter wait times.

Economic News

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have said repeatedly that America’s unemployment rate is higher than 5%. Now a Wall Street bank agrees with them. The real rate is “more like 6%+,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a research report Tuesday. Bank of America believes that over 10 million people want a job and can’t get one. But by the Obama administration’s count, only 8 million people are among those seeking employment. It means the job market hasn’t fully healed, argues Bank of America.

The American oil boom is proving far harder to kill than OPEC expected. Even though OPEC has been drowning the world in oil, the U.S. pumped a near-record 9.18 million barrels per day in January, according to recent stats released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s down a miniscule 0.6% from the end of 2015. Many, including OPEC, expected U.S. production would crumble as oil prices declined sharply. America’s incredibly resilient oil boom has not tapped on the brakes hard enough yet to fix that epic global supply glut that has caused crude to crash as much as 75% over the past two years.

More than 40% of Americans who borrowed from the government’s main student-loan program aren’t making payments or are behind on more than $200 billion owed, raising worries that millions of them may never repay, reports the Wall Street Journal. The new figures represent the fallout of a decade-long borrowing boom as record numbers of students enrolled in trade schools, universities and graduate programs.

China has stopped bleeding cash — at least, for now. The country’s foreign exchange reserves rose by roughly $10 billion in March to $3.21 trillion, the first monthly increase since October, according to central bank data. The modest upward tick indicates that money is no longer flooding out of China at the torrid pace seen in late 2015 and early 2016. Investors had been sending huge sums out of China amid worries over a slowing economy, stock market turmoil and a weakening yuan. Now, it appears that investor concerns have eased.

Migrant Update

The European Union’s border agency admitted Tuesday it cannot fully track the flood of refugees pouring in, and said a “staggering number” of Europeans have joined terror groups only to return to the continent amid the migrant wave. Europe reported a record 1.82 million illegal border crossings last year, according to Frontex, but the group conceded that the true number of illegal crossings is probably much higher because so many refugees have entered Europe undetected. “The Paris attacks in November 2015 clearly demonstrated that irregular migratory flows could be used by terrorists to enter the EU,” the report said. “There is no EU system capable of tracing people’s movements following an illegal border-crossing.”

The EU Commission announced Wednesday it wants to change the standard that forces the first nation where a migrant arrives to process his or her asylum request. “The current system is not sustainable,” EU Vice-President Frans Timmermans said. The Commission on Wednesday proposed activating a “distribution key” to spread asylum applicants around the EU. That means each EU nation would have to take a set number of asylum-seekers, according to a quota devised by the bloc. However, a mandatory distribution of some asylum-seekers already in Europe has caused serious frictions among many EU nations.

Greece deported a second group of migrants Friday to Turkey as part of a European Union deal aimed at reducing the number of displaced people traveling to the continent. The 45 people sent back on a ferry from Lesbos to the Turkish port Dikili followed a four-day pause. The resumption of expulsions came amid protests in Greece by activists who say thousands of migrants are being held there in poor and overcrowded conditions. Delays have also been hampered by overburdened Greek authorities processing asylum claims. The deal between the EU and Turkey went into effect Monday, when 202 migrants were sent back. Under the terms of the deal, for each Syrian migrant that Greece returns to Turkey the EU will take in a Syrian refugee who meets asylum criteria.

Persecution Watch

After 10 months of urban conflict in Turkey’s war-torn southeast, the government has expropriated huge sections of property, apparently to rebuild and restore the historical center of the region’s largest city, Diyarbakir. But to the dismay of the city’s handful of Christian congregations, this includes all its Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches. Unlike the state-funded mosques, Turkey’s ancient church buildings – some of which pre-date Islam – have been managed, historically, by church foundations, reports ChristianHeadlines.com. The new decision has effectively made the Diyarbakir churches – one 1,700 years old, another built only in 2003 – state property of Turkey, an Islamic country of 75 million.

The Nepali government has removed Christmas as a national holiday, which has prompted protests from the country’s Christian population. Christian Today reports that Nepal first recognized Christmas as a national holiday eight years ago when the country became a secular state. Now, however, Nepal has removed Christmas Day as a national holiday because the Nepali calendar is already too filled with the holidays of other religions. The government told Christians that those who work for the government will still be given Christmas Day off as a holiday. Nepali Christians say that this doesn’t take into account all the Christians who work in the private sector, however.

Videos allegedly showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal body parts have been taken by government agents from the home of undercover journalist David Daleiden. FoxNews.com reports that agents from the California Department of Justice raided Daleiden’s home and confiscated the undercover videos Daleiden had taken of Planned Parenthood employees which show the employees casually discussing the sale of fetal body parts. Daleiden said that the agents had, however, not taken documents which he says implicate Planned Parenthood in illegal behavior. Matt Heffron, a legal advisor to Daleiden and former federal prosecutor, said that the government agents’ raid of Daleiden’s home was “outrageously out of proportion for the type of crime alleged. It’s a discredit to law enforcement [and] an oppressive abuse of government power.”

Islamic State

The Islamic State’s presence in Libya has doubled over the past year, but the political chaos in the country has prevented the United States and its allies from building a local ground force needed to confront the militants, U.S. officials said. The number of Islamic State fighters in Libya has grown to 6,000 fighters, Army Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said Thursday. The Pentagon stands ready to support a Libyan national military if current efforts to build a central government succeed and if the new government asks for help. Last week’s arrival of a prime minister to head a new U.N.-backed unity government is providing hope that Libyans will form a legitimate central government in a country that spiraled into chaos after the collapse of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in 2011.

Danish police seized weapons and ammunition in connection with the arrests of four people suspected of being radicalized by ISIS, Copenhagen police said Thursday. The arrests and seizures mark the latest efforts by European authorities to crack down on terror in the wake of attacks Brussels and Paris. ISIS claimed responsibility for both those attacks as it spreads terror from its epicenter in Iraq and Syria.

India

India’s demographics are mind-boggling: By 2020, it will have 900 million people of working age, and the average age of its citizens will fall to 29. Two years later, it should pass China to become the world’s most populous country. But unless India makes big improvements in how it educates and trains students, this demographic boom will saddle the country with another generation of unskilled workers destined to languish in low-paying jobs. The need to train workers quickly is paramount. Currently only 2% of India’s workers have received formal skills training, according to Ernst & Young. That compares with 68% in the U.K., 75% in Germany and 96% in South Korea.

Environment

A massive methane leak in Southern California was expected to have lasting impacts, but a new announcement by energy officials suggests prolonged blackouts – as long as 14 days – could also be coming as temperatures soar this summer. At the same time, state regulators continue to investigate what caused the blowout that led to the largest-known release of methane, a greenhouse gas, in U.S. history. For four months, the well leaked uncontrollably, sickening nearby residents and forcing more than 6,000 from their homes. Officials concluded that they “will reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of gas shortages this summer that are large enough to cause electricity interruptions for the region’s residents and businesses.”

Earthquakes

A series of small earthquakes swarmed the state’s northwest corner after an initial magnitude 2.3 earthquake on the Arizona strip March 29, officials said Tuesday. The earthquake that struck near Littlefield, Ariz., a community about 20 miles southwest of St. George, Utah, was the first of 18 small-magnitude tremors that lasted through Sunday, according to the Arizona Geological Survey. The largest event was a 2.6 magnitude quake at about 8:36 a.m. Sunday. The area is “tectonically active,” but this was the first time a swarm has been recorded in the northwest corner of the state, bordering Utah and Nevada. The tremors were large enough to register with the seismometers installed in the area but small enough to go unnoticed.

Wildfires

Large grass fires have yet again ignited in Oklahoma and Kansas, forcing at least 300 people from their homes while destroying an unknown number of structures. The flames have been fanned by strong winds r, leaving local crews scrambling to put out the flames. Residents were asked to evacuate in the town of Freedom, some 170 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. “Strong winds across the Plains are creating dangerous conditions for the rapid spread of wildfires particularly from portions of New Mexico and west Texas, western Oklahoma, and Kansas,” reported weather.com. The 350 Complex fire has burned nearly 56,000 acres of land in Oklahoma as of Thursday morning and has forced hundreds to evacuate. It was caused by arcing power lines.

A wildfire driven by gusty winds erupted in western Arizona on Wednesday and jumped the Colorado River into California, devouring more than 2 square miles of brush and prompting the evacuation of a resort and RV parks before the flames began to ease, authorities said. The fire that began before dawn in the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, which spans both states, threw huge waves of smoke into the air along the border before the 15- to 20-mph winds began easing in late afternoon. The fire, which burned more than 1,400 acres of salt cedars, mesquite and river-bottom vegetation, was only 5 percent contained by nightfall Wednesday.

Weather

Multiple rounds of April snow blanketed parts of the Midwest and Northeast this week. With a southward dip in the jet stream dominating eastern North America, waves of cold air from Canada will continue to surge into the eastern states. The air has been cold enough to deposit snow in the Midwest and Northeast. As much as 12.3 inches was reported near Negaunee, Michigan as of Thursday morning. Just under 9 inches of snow had piled up in Marquette, Michigan on Wednesday. Disturbances rotating through the southward dip in the jet stream across the East will have just enough moisture to produce additional bouts of snow into this weekend. Gusty winds will accompany these fast-moving systems, as well. The prolonged siege of Arctic air has shattered daily records in the Northeast and Great Lakes, with more record cold expected this weekend.

Tropical Cyclone Zena is passing south of Fiji just days after torrential rain triggered major flooding, and just six weeks after parts of the archipelago were slammed by Tropical Cyclone Winston, their strongest tropical cyclone on record. Zena peaked in intensity as a Category 2 cyclone Wednesday afternoon with maximum sustained winds estimated by the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center of 105 mph. Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office urged residents living in flood-prone areas to move to higher ground in advance of Zena.

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