Signs of the Times (4/21/16)

Hundreds in Heart of Egypt Make Decisions to Accept Jesus Christ

Despite the threat of government protests, thousands of people went to hear Dr. Michael Youssef preach at Kasr el Dobara Church in Cairo, Egypt, this past weekend, with hundreds of people giving their lives to Christ during this three-day evangelistic event, reports Breaking Christian News. Dr. Youssef, founder of global outreach ministry Leading The Way, was born in Egypt, and he returned to Kasr el Dobara Church, the largest evangelical church in Egypt. During the first evening of the event, a heavy military presence was outside the church bracing themselves for government protests in Tahrir Square following a recent government decision. However, throughout the weekend, approximately 5,000 people still came to hear Dr. Youssef preach a Gospel message on salvation in Christ and victory over sin and addiction, with millions more watching live via satellite television. At least 500 people responded to Dr. Youssef’s clear invitation to salvation.

Pro-Life Christian Billboard– Don’t Abort, We’ll Adopt Your Baby!

A Phoenix church is turning some heads with a new billboard they posted on Interstate 10 near the Phoenix Premium outlets. It reads: “Don’t abort. We’ll adopt.” It’s from Saint Steven’s Parish in Sun Lakes, near Chandler. ABC15 spoke with the church who says the billboard is intended to let people know there are options with an unplanned pregnancy. The church says members within the church are willing to adopt, but, they also partner with “Catholic charities.”

Planned Parenthood Lied About Not Profiting from Baby Parts Sales

The Select Panel on Infant Lives has released a series of exhibits that prove beyond a doubt that Planned Parenthood has lied to the American people about not earning illegal profits from trafficking aborted baby tissue and organs. “It is clear from the documentation released by the Select Panel that money paid to Planned Parenthood in exchange for aborted baby remains qualified as illegal ‘valuable consideration.’ This completely validates every allegation that was put forth by investigators from the Center for Medical Progress,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue. The Center for Medical Progress recorded the underground videos of Planned Parenthood leaders talking about such sales. Newman continued, “Planned Parenthood has engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign to convince the public that videos released by the Center for Medical Progress were ‘hoaxed’ and that Planned Parenthood never profited from the sale of fetal remains. Now we all can see for ourselves that this was a bold-faced lie. Planned Parenthood should be prosecuted for their crimes. They must not be held above the law.”

Federal Appeals Court Sides with Transgender Teen

A federal appeals court in Richmond has sided with a transgender high school student, saying that he can proceed with his lawsuit arguing that his school board’s decision to ban him from the boy’s bathroom is discriminatory. In backing high school junior Gavin Grimm, the 4th Circuit deferred to the U.S. Education Department’s interpretation of policies that give transgender students access to the bathrooms that match their gender identities rather than their biological sex. The department has said that denying transgender students access to the school bathrooms of their choice is a violation of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. In a 2-1 decision, the 4th Circuit reversed a lower court ruling, saying that court had used the wrong legal standard in denying the student a preliminary injunction that would have allowed him to use the bathroom at his high school in Gloucester County, Va.

  • Sexual identity is biological, not a choice, despite whatever feelings a person might have.

State Dept. “Doesn’t Know” if Iran Used Iran Deal Cash to Fund Terror

The State Department admitted Tuesday that it is “entirely possible” that Iran has used some of the estimated $3 billion in unfrozen assets it can now access thanks to the Iran Deal to fund terrorist activity, adding that U.S. officials “have no way to know” how Iran is spending the money. “We don’t know. We have no way to know,” State Dept. spokesperson John Kirby during a press briefing Tuesday. He went on to say that it is in fact “entirely possible that they can use some of this funding to support terrorist networks.”

  • A bad deal gets worse

Three Charged over Flint Water Crisis

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said charges Wednesday against two state officials and a Flint city administrator were “only the beginning” in the aftermath of Flint’s ongoing water crisis. From the start of Flint’s water woes, residents have insisted that culpability extended to the state capitol — namely Gov. Rick Snyder’s office — when the city opted to switch to the Flint River as a temporary water source, releasing toxic amounts of lead into the water supply. Charged were Mike Glasgow, utilities administrator, city of Flint, for tampering with evidence, a felony, and willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor; Stephen Busch, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality district water supervisor, for one count of tampering with evidence, one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence — all felonies — and two misdemeanor violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, one involving treatment, the other involving monitoring; and Mike Prysby, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality district water engineer, for the same charges as Busch.

Immunotherapy Curing Some Cancers

New immunotherapy drugs are showing significant and extended effectiveness against a broadening range of cancers, including rare and intractable tumors often caused by viruses. Researchers say these advances suggest the treatment approach is poised to become a critical part of the nation’s anti-cancer strategy. Scientists reported Tuesday that the medications, which marshal the body’s own immune defenses, are now proving effective against difficult-to-treat head and neck cancer and an extremely lethal skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma. Both can be caused by viruses as well as DNA mutations, and the drugs help the immune system to recognize the virus-associated cancer and attack it. Since pathogens are responsible for more than 20 percent of all cancers, these results have implications that go far beyond a rare cancer, reports the Washington Post. Data released as an abstract Tuesday showed the immunotherapy drug Opdivo led to improved overall survival for patients with advanced cancer who had not responded to chemotherapy. Former President Jimmy Carter, who last year was diagnosed with advanced melanoma that had spread to his brain, was treated with one of the new drugs, Keytruda, as well as radiation. The combination caused his tumors to disappear, and he was able to stop treatment in March.

UnitedHealth, Nation’s Largest Health Insurer, Withdraws from Obamacare

The nation’s largest health insurer, fearing massive financial losses, announced Tuesday that it plans to pull back from ObamaCare in a big way and cut its participation in the program’s insurance exchanges to just a handful of states next year – in the latest sign of instability in the marketplace under the law. UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley said the company expects losses from its exchange business to total more than $1 billion for this year and last. Hemsley said the company cannot continue to broadly serve the market created by the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion due partly to the higher risk that comes with its customers. The state-based exchanges are a key element behind the Affordable Care Act’s push to expand insurance coverage. But insurers have struggled with higher-than-expected claims from that business.

Economic News

Existing home sales increased 5.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.33 million, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. Single-family home sales increased 5.5%, while condominium and co-op sales edged up 1.8%. The median sales price was $222,700, up 5.7% from a year ago. Tight inventories have limited sales and pushed up prices. In March, there was a 4.5-month supply of unsold inventory, up from 4.4 months in February. A six-month supply is considered balanced. Homes turned over rapidly. They were on the market an average 47 days in March, down from 59 days in February and matching the briskest pace since last August.

More business travelers are hopping rides with ride-hailing services such as Uber or Lyft — taking more business away from car rental agencies and the taxi industry. The number of trips taken with the ride share services by corporate trekkers nearly doubled in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2015, according to expense management company Certify, which reviewed more than 9 million receipts and expenses. At the same time, there were 10% fewer trips taken in car rentals than in the first three months of 2015. But taxis were the hardest hit, with their share of rides falling from 37% at the start of 2014, to 25% last year and now has hit just 14%.

Americans who earned six figures or more paid 79.5 percent of the nation’s share in individual income taxes in 2014, according to preliminary IRS information, reports The Washington Free Beacon. Those top earners represented 16 percent of the total number of individual income tax returns filed with the IRS in 2014. The top fifth of earners paid a 14-percent tax rate, while the middle fifth paid at a 2-percent rate, according to Congressional Budget Office figures, belying claims that the wealthy “don’t pay their fair share.” The U.S. progressive tax rate is the highest among wealthy nations, according to the Beacon.

Intel will lay off 11% of its global workforce, up to 12,000 employees, a painful downsizing aimed at accelerating its shift away from the waning PC market to one more focused on cloud computing and connected devices. Intel CFO Stacy Smith said that half the workforce reduction, 6,000 people, will be accomplished by the end of this year. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel currently has about 112,400 employees worldwide. The layoffs will have an outsized effect on Oregon and especially the Portland area. Intel is Oregon’s largest private employer, with 18,500 working at six campuses west of Portland.

Migrant Update

As many as 500 migrants seeking a better future in Europe may have drowned last week in the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and Italy, U.N. refugee officials said Wednesday. On Tuesday, a team from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spoke with some of the 41 survivors of the alleged accident who had arrived at Kalamata, a Greek town on the Peloponnese Peninsula, the U.N. agency said in a statement. So far this year, around 25,000 migrants and refugees have reached the shores of Italy from North Africa, slightly more than the 24,000 who arrived during the same period last year. A controversial agreement between the European Union and Turkey has dramatically reduced the numbers of refugees reaching the Greek islands. Balkan nations are closing their borders as well, preventing travel from Greece to Germany and beyond. That has triggered fears that more refugees and migrants could attempt to enter Europe from Egypt or Libya.

Israel

Vice President Joe Biden said Monday night that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was leading the country “in the wrong direction” hours after a bus bombing in Jerusalem wounded at least 21 people. In a speech to the Israel advocacy group J Street, Biden criticized Palestinian leaders, but saved his harshest words for Israeli officials. “I firmly believe that the actions that Israel’s government has taken over the past several years — the steady and systematic expansion of settlements, the legalization of outposts, land seizures — they’re moving us, and, more importantly, they’re moving Israel in the wrong direction,” Biden said. Biden did single out Palestinian leaders, including Mahmoud Abbas, for declining to condemn specific acts of terrorism carried out against Israelis. Israeli officials have called the bombing of an empty bus parked near other vehicles a terror attack, with Netanyahu linking it to the ongoing wave of attacks in which Palestinians have targeted Israelis in Jerusalem. “We will settle accounts with these terrorists,” Netanyahu said in a speech following the bombing. “We are in a protracted struggle against terror — knife terror, shooting terror, bomb terror and also tunnel terror (referring to the underground tunnels from Gaza into Israel).”

Islamic State

ISIS has executed 250 women in Mosul for refusing to become sex slaves under the group’s ‘sexual jihad’. The victims had all been ordered to accept ‘temporary marriages’ to fighters in the terror group’s northern Iraq stronghold. But when they refused the so-called sexual jihad, they were butchered – sometimes along with their families, according to an official from the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Another official, from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, claimed women were barred from going out alone in Mosul and must be fully covered while in public. They are also not allowed to choose their spouses, Ghayas Surchi told the news agency. Mosul has been under the extremists’ control since 2014.

Syria

Despite President Obama’s call Monday urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to maintain a fragile cease-fire in Syria, Russia has shifted the bulk of its fire power to areas outside Aleppo where a new offensive to recapture Syria’s largest city is poised to take place soon, a U.S. defense official told Fox News. Russia continues to ignore repeated requests from the administration to stop backing the Syrian regime after five years of a civil war that has killed a quarter of a million people. Russian-backed Syrian forces recently recaptured the historic city of Palmyra from the Islamic State terror group in central Syria. Russian and Syrian jets also have been striking rebel-held towns around Damascus and Homs despite the cease-fire agreement reached in late November.

Saudi Arabia

By virtue of its vast oil riches, Saudi Arabia is widely believed to be one of the biggest owners of U.S. debt. But there’s a lot of mystery over exactly how much. The Saudi central bank is sitting on an incredible $584 billion of foreign currency reserves, but doesn’t disclose how much of that is parked in U.S. Treasuries. Since the 1970s, Saudi Arabia’s holdings of Treasuries are lumped together with that of other oil exporting nations like Venezuela and Iraq. Collectively, these nations hold $281 billion of Treasuries. Since the end of 2014, the Saudis have burned through $139 billion of reserves — almost definitely a portion of it came from selling U.S. debt — as the country grapples with the budget shortfalls brought on by the oil crash. Saudi Arabia recently threatened to sell off American assets if Congress passes a bill that would allow 9/11 victims to sue foreign governments. Saudi Arabia is pulling out all the stops to raise cash and fill the hole in its budget created by cheap oil.

President Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to attend a security summit amid rising tensions with the wealthy sheikdom. He will spend about 24 hours in the Saudi capital Riyadh before traveling to Britain and then Germany. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Saudi Arabia is an important partner in U.S. efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict and counter Islamic State militants, al-Qaeda in Yemen and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Indirect peace talks in Geneva between the Russian-backed Syrian government and the U.S.- and Saudi-backed Syrian opposition teetered on the brink of collapse Tuesday, along with a partial cease-fire on the ground. Talks on ending the Yemen civil war set to take place Monday failed to happen. The Iran-backed Houthi rebels refused to attend, citing heavy fighting and Saudi-led airstrikes.

Afghanistan

At least 64 people were killed and more than 300 wounded Tuesday in a coordinated attack by the Taliban that included a suicide bombing in the Afghan capital of Kabul. The suicide bomber detonated a vehicle laden with explosives before gunmen entered the compound of a government secret service unit whose role was to protect VIPs. A two-hour gun battle between security forces and insurgents ensued. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault. The Taliban has stepped up attacks since announcing the beginning of its spring offensive last week.

Nigeria

Terrorists descended on four villages in northern Nigeria on April 12, destroying homes and killing villagers. Early reports from eyewitnesses say Fulani tribal fighters burned alive Christian residents, torched animals and houses, and destroyed farms. They estimate the attackers killed 44 villagers, but numbers are difficult to confirm because victims scattered to take refuge elsewhere. Fulani terrorism is on the rise in northern Nigeria but has generated less attention than attacks by Boko Haram, the militant group that last year formally pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Fulani and their tactics predate Boko Haram and other factions. Like Boko Haram, the group has targeted Christians in the north with little resistance from local law enforcement or national security forces. The Fulani “are jihadist in nature,” and increasingly targeting Christians, said Mark Lipdo, director of Stefanos Foundation, a human rights monitor based in Jos

Brazil

Brazil’s economy is spiraling out of control as a political crisis is pushing the country’s president towards impeachment. Between December and February, Brazil’s unemployment rate shot up to 10.2%, according to government data published Wednesday. That’s the same level the U.S. jobless rate had hit during the Great Recession in 2009. A year ago, Brazil’s unemployment rate was at 7.4%. Wages have fallen nearly 4% and inflation remains high. Currently, 10 million Brazilians are unemployed. That’s 3 million more than a year ago, official figures show. The country’s economy continues to dive deeper into recession. Brazil’s economy shrank 3.8% last year and its central bank forecasts it will decline another 3.5% this year. The economic downturn — along with the massive corruption scandal — are sparking mass protests in cities across Brazil, with just about a 100 days left before the Summer Olympics arrive in Rio.

Mexico

The death toll from a huge explosion at a Mexican petrochemical plant that forced the evacuation of surrounding neighborhoods has risen to 13, authorities said. Another 136 were injured, of whom 88 remained hospitalized. Wednesday’s explosion at the Petroquimica Mexicana de Vinilo facility in the southern state of Veracruz sent large plumes of dark smoke and toxic fumes across the region. The blast was felt about six miles away. Emergency protocols were put in place, with surrounding municipalities evacuated and schools closed. Pemex said on its Twitter account that the fire had been brought under control by early Wednesday evening and that the plume of toxic smoke was dissipating.

Environment

An ongoing nuclear waste leak in Washington State has rapidly intensified over the past weekend, leaving workers scrambling to pump the waste out of the storage facility. Crews at the United States Department of Energy’s storage site in Hanford were alerted by leak detection alarms Sunday morning, and after lowering a camera into the affected area, the staff found 8.4 inches of radioactive and chemically toxic waste had poured between the inner and outer walls of the tank. “This is catastrophic,” said former site employee Mike Geffre. “This is probably the biggest event to ever happen in tank farm history. The double shell tanks were supposed to be the saviors of all saviors.” An estimated 20,000 gallons of waste remain in the 800,000-gallon AY-102 tank, Q13 FOX reports.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is suffering its worst coral bleaching in recorded history with 93 percent of the World Heritage site affected, scientists say as they reveal the phenomenon is also hitting the other side of the country. Aerial and underwater surveys of the Great Barrier Reef have revealed 93 per cent of it has been bleached to some extent. The damage varied dramatically along its 2,300 kilometers (about 1,400 miles), from 90 per cent north of Port Douglas to less than 10 per cent south of Mackay. Scientists say it is a result of warming ocean temperatures.

Volcanoes

A dramatic volcanic eruption in Mexico has left an entire town covered with ash. Officials in the town of Puebla are urging to people to wear masks to avoid inhaling the fine grit that spewed from the Popocatepetl volcano Sunday evening. About 25 million people live within 62 miles of the crater of the 17,797-foot stratovolcano. It’s been periodically erupting since 1994. The current ash cloud has been blowing over Puebla, directly to the east of the volcano, covering the city in a layer of fine powder that looks like snow and forcing closure of the city’s airport. While the government does not see the eruption as a threat high enough to warrant evacuations, Puebla Online reports that authorities have advised a restriction of outdoor activities. Officials also warn against cleaning the ashes with water, recommending residents sweep the ash into plastic bags instead.

Earthquakes

The most powerful aftershock yet struck Ecuador Wednesday, just four days after a 7.8-magnitude quake killed at least 570 people. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that the 6.1-magnitude aftershock struck just after 3:30 am local time. The quake’s epicenter was located offshore, some 15 miles west of Muisne, Ecuador, at a depth of just over 9 miles. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. Local seismologists had recorded more than 550 aftershocks, some felt 105 miles away in the capital of Quito. Ecuadoreans had just begun to bury their loved ones killed during Saturday’s massive earthquake when the aftershock hit. The funeral for two children had to be held outdoors under a makeshift awning due to structural damage to the town’s Roman Catholic church. A lengthy recovery process from a devastating earthquake in Ecuador will be funded by raising taxes, the country’s president announced Wednesday.

A swarm of dozens of small earthquakes shaking a sparsely populated part of northwestern Arizona is entering its fourth week. The Arizona Geologic Survey says the swarm in a remote area south of Littlefield near the Arizona-Nevada line extended Sunday and Monday with 10 small quakes, ranging from magnitude 0.9 to magnitude 3.7. The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office says it has no reports of injury or damage. The swarm began March 28 and is occurring along the boundary between the Colorado Plateau and another region with active faults, the Basin and Range Province.

Wildfires

The Rocky Mount Fire in Shenandoah National Park wildfire grew to more than 5,600 acres Wednesday, closing scenic Skyline Drive and multiple trails, including the Appalachian Trail. The fire, which was reported Saturday, was burning in mountain laurel, pine and oak forests with heavy leaf litter. Authorities tried to protect structures and keep the fire within the boundaries of the park, west of Skyline Drive, east of 2 Mile Run community and west of Beldor Hollow fire road to reduce damage to private lands. But Tuesday afternoon the fire jumped Skyline Drive.

Weather

Historic rain, which brought flash floods to much of eastern and southern Texas on Sunday and Monday, continued to flood the Houston area Tuesday and Wednesday, killing eight and leading to hundreds of water rescues. Monday was one of the rainiest single days ever recorded in Houston, with nearly 10 inches of rain reported. Hundreds of homes and many major roads were flooded out in the Houston area, forcing schools, governments and businesses to close and causing power outages for thousands of residents. Many areas reported over a foot of rain. One spot near Houston unofficially recorded as much as 20 inches. Schools in Houston reopened Wednesday despite the ongoing severe flooding that continues to cripple parts of the city. In downtown Houston, some operations returned to normal. More rain and thunderstorms will continue to rumble across the south-central states Thursday, but a drier weather pattern is expected take hold for the weekend.

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