Signs of the Times (6/1/16)

Atheists File Complaint against Christian School for LGBT Policy

The atheist organization Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has filed a complaint against a Christian school for the school’s LGBT policy. According to The Christian Post, St. John’s Lutheran School of Baraboo, Wisconsin, says it maintains the right as a private Christian school to “discipline and dismiss student” for their adherence to a homosexual lifestyle. The FFRF, also a Wisconsin-based organization, alleges that the school does not have the right to discriminate against LGBT students. The FFRF filed its complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. In comments emailed to The Christian Post, the school maintains that “the complaint is without merit.” They also said the school is “confident that the government will recognize, as it always has, the church’s constitutional right to teach and practice our beliefs without interference from the government. The federal funds we receive are designed to help children and families not fund and operate our school.”

  • This is just the initial volley in the war to come against Christian organizations for not adhering to the gay agenda.

High School Graduates Defy Atheists and Recite Lord’s Prayer

A graduating class from Ohio decided to defy a district decision to remove the Lord’s Prayer from the graduation ceremony and instead, the senior class recited it themselves. The district had banned the students from singing the Lord’s Prayer after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained that the Lord’s Prayer violated the Constitution and promoted religion. The singing of the Lord’s Prayer was a 70-year-old tradition for the high school. As the valedictorian finished his welcome, the seniors began to recite the Lord’s Prayer. “The class thought it was wrong that we were being forced to remove it,” senior Bobby Hill said.

Russian President Putin Warns He’ll Retaliate against NATO Missiles

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia will retaliate against the placement of U.S. missiles in nearby countries such as Romania, according to Russia’s state-run news agency TASS. “If yesterday in those areas of Romania people simply didn’t know what it means to be in the cross hairs, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security,” Putin said. The United States installed a ground-based missile defense system earlier this month in Romania. The system is meant to defend Europe against rogue states like Iran and not intended to target Moscow’s missiles, Washington has said. NATO, which operates the missile defense system, said the missiles could not be used offensively as they don’t include explosives and are designed to simply “punch” targets out of the sky.

World’s Most Enslaved Nations

Mauritania, the West African country long thought to be home to the world’s highest percentage of enslaved people, no longer holds that lamentable title, according to a report released late Monday by the Walk Free Foundation. WFF’s slavery index says the percentage of people living in modern slavery in Mauritania dropped from 4% in 2014 to about 1% this year and now has the world’s seventh-highest incidence of slavery. The Mauritanian government last year established special anti-slavery courts. North Korea now ranks worst on the index. Nearly one in five people there are thought to be enslaved. Uzbekistan has the second highest estimated proportion of prevalence of modern slavery. 18.3 million people are in some form of modern slavery in India. Globally 45.8 million people are held in slavery, according to the report. That’s a 28% uptick since the group’s last slavery index report was released in 2014. Slavery is not a thing of the past, and we must stop thinking that it is,” the Walk Free Foundation said in a statement issued to CNN. “The very nature of modern slavery means it is clandestine and hidden from view, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t everywhere. Every country in the world is affected.”

Tech Giants Pledge to Remove Hate Speech within 24 Hours

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft are teaming up with the European Union to crack down on online hate speech. The internet giants signed up to a new set of rules designed to stop racist, violent and illegal content from going viral. They agreed to review a “majority” of flagged content within 24 hours. They’ll remove it, if necessary. The companies also agreed to promote “independent counter-narratives” to fight hate speech, including content promoting non-discrimination, tolerance and respect. Facebook (FB, Tech30) said it gets as many as 1 million violation reports from users every day. “Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalize young people and racists use to spread violence and hatred,” said Vera Jourova, the EU justice commissioner.

  • The problem is the definition of hate speech. Speaking out God’s Word about LGBT issues is regarded by the liberal left as ‘hate speech.’ Soon, much of Christianity will be censored.

Critics Slam Obama’s Efforts to Settle 10,000 Syrian Migrants in U.S.

Nearly eight months into an effort to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States, Mr. Obama’s administration has admitted just over 2,500. And as his administration prepares for a new round of deportations of Central Americans, including many women and children pleading for humanitarian protection, the president is facing intense criticism from allies in Congress and advocacy groups about his administration’s treatment of migrants. They say Mr. Obama’s lofty message about the need to welcome those who come to the United States seeking protection has not been matched by action. And they warn that the president, who will host a summit meeting on refugees in September during the United Nations General Assembly session, risks undercutting his influence on the issue at a time when American leadership is needed to counteract a backlash against refugees. The delay is frustrating for Mr. Obama, who has made a point of speaking out against anti-immigrant sentiment both in the United States and abroad.

  • Conservatives, however, are quite pleased with Obama’s inability to back up his words with action

U.S. Death Rate Up for First Time in a Decade

The death rate in the United States rose last year for the first time in a decade, preliminary federal data show, a rare increase that was driven in part by more people dying from drug overdoses, suicide and Alzheimer’s disease. The death rate from heart disease, long in decline, also edged up slightly. Death rates — measured as the number of deaths per 100,000 people — have been declining for years due to improvements in health, disease management and medical technology. The death rate rose to 729.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015, up from 723.2 in 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. It was one of the few times in the past 25 years that the rate has increased. A bad flu season pushed it up in 2005, and AIDS and the flu contributed to a sharp increase in 1993. Recent research has documented a sharp rise in the death rates less-educated whites, who have been hardest hit by the prescription drug epidemic

Zika Update

A baby girl delivered Tuesday in New Jersey is the first in the continental U.S. to be born with the Zika virus-related brain condition, giving rise to new fears about the spread of the disease. The 31-year-old mother, whose name was not disclosed, apparently contracted the Zika virus while in Honduras and was admitted to the emergency room at Hackensack University Medical Center on Friday while vacationing in the U.S. Doctors at Hackensack performed an emergency caesarean section to deliver the baby girl, who was born with microcephaly (a partially formed brain) as well as intestinal and visual issues. In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that a woman in Hawaii delivered a baby who suffered from severe microcephaly as a result of Zika infection.

Economic News

Consumer spending surged in April by the largest amount in more than six years, led by a big jump in purchases of autos and other durable goods. Consumer spending rose 1% last month after a flat reading in March, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. The increase was the biggest one-month climb since a 1.3% rise in August 2009. Incomes were up a solid 0.4%, matching the March gain. The strong April showing for consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of economic activity, is a good sign that the economy is performing notably better this quarter after nearly stalling out at the start of the year.

Royal Dutch Shell announced that it would eliminate another 2,200 positions, which means that its total job losses are roughly equivalent to the entire payroll of the tech giant Facebook. By the end of 2016, Shell will have slashed 12,500 positions. Much of Shell’s attrition is due to the collapse of oil prices, which has plunged the Anglo-Dutch oil major into a cash flow crisis.

India has done it again. The country’s economy outpaced all other major markets during the most recent quarter, further cementing its reputation as a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy world economy. India’s gross domestic product expanded by 7.9% in the quarter ended March 31, a better-than-expected performance that trumps the 6.7% growth posted by China’s slowing economy over the same period. Some experts have called into question the validity of the country’s GDP statistics. Industrial production and investment spending fell at the end of 2015, and exports remain weak. Critics argue that economic reality is being disguised by low oil prices, which have slashed India’s huge energy import bill.

Migrant Update

Over 1,000 migrants are feared dead in three Mediterranean Sea shipwrecks south of Italy in the last few days as they tried desperately to reach Europe in unseaworthy smuggling boats, the U.N. refugee agency said Sunday. An estimated 100 people are missing from a smugglers’ boat that capsized Wednesday and about 550 other migrants and refugees are missing from a smuggling boat that capsized Thursday morning after leaving the western Libyan port of Sabratha a day earlier. In a third shipwreck on Friday, Sami says 135 people were rescued, 45 bodies were recovered and an unknown number of people — many more, the migrants say — are missing. Around 1,900 migrants were rescued by the Italian Coastguard.

The makeshift Idomeni refugee camp in northern Greece, which housed people fleeing the conflicts in the Middle East and which was home to some 8,200 refugees, was closed last Tuesday, with residents being evacuated to other areas around Greece. The majority of the people in Idomeni were Syrian refugees, but there was also a large contingent from Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran.Giorgos Kyritsis, a spokesman for the Greek government’s refugee crisis committee, told the Athens News Agency that “we believe that it will take up to 10 days to transfer the refugees.”

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprising announcement Monday evening, saying that his government is now ready to enter into negotiations with the Palestinian Authority based on the so-called Arab Peace initiative, which would see Israel withdraw from the West Bank and make other concessions in return for diplomatic relations with the 22 members of the Arab League. “I remain committed to making peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors,” Netanyahu said in a press conference. “The Arab peace initiative includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians. We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in the region since 2002, but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples.”

Islamic State

Iraqi troops entered the Islamic State-held city of Fallujah on Monday in an effort to drive out the militants. Iraqi forces entered Fallujah under air cover from the international coalition, the Iraqi air force and army. Iraqi forces then repelled a four-hour attack counter-attack by the Islamic State in the south of the city on Tuesday. The city is one of the last major Islamic State strongholds in Iraq, along with the country’s second-largest city, Mosul. It was also the first city to fall to the militants when they swept across northern and western Iraq in early 2014. Several hundred innocent families used as human shields for the terror group, the United Nations refugee agency reported.

Meanwhile, ISIS launched a string of bombings in and around Baghdad that left at least 24 people dead. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for two bombings in the capital in an online. One bomb killed eight civilians and three soldiers. The second bombing occurred in Sadr City when a motorcycle exploded in a market killing three people and injuring 10. A third bombing in Tarmiyah, about 31 miles north of Baghdad, killed seven civilians and three policemen.

Syria

A wave of late night airstrikes pummeled the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, killing at least 23 people, wounding dozens and trapping several under the rubble of their homes as the intense bombardment struck near two hospitals and a mosque, opposition activists said Tuesday. At least seven children were among those killed, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, claiming that Russian aircraft carried out the strikes. Moscow, however, insisted it was not involved in the strikes on Idlib, a city held by several militant groups, including Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria known as the Nusra Front. Since the Russian military campaign began last September in an effort to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in their battle against Islamic militants, Moscow has staunchly denied that its warplanes have hit any civilian areas in Syria.

Afghanistan

The Taliban attacked several buses on a road in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday morning, forcing passengers to disembark, killing nine people and abducting at least 35, officials said. The assault in the volatile, northern Kunduz province took place in Aliabad district as the buses were travelling from the capital, Kabul, northeast to Takhar and Badakhshan provinces. The attackers were wearing Afghan army uniforms. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but government spokespersons blamed the Taliban, who are increasingly active in the area and have been behind mass abductions last year across Afghanistan.

Turkey

Five people were killed when a suicide bomber blew up a checkpoint between two ancient Syrian Orthodox villages in Turkey. ChristianToday.com reports that the bombing took place very close to St. Mary Church (Idto d’Yoldath-Aloho), in Hah, Tur Abdin. The church is considered to be the oldest church in the world. It is thought that the three Wise Men who traveled to Bethlehem to see the infant Christ passed through the spot on which it is built. Tur Abdin is situated in a mountainous region, and the meaning of its name is “The Mountain of the Servants of God.” It is considered to be the heartland of Syriac Orthodox Christianity.

Kenya.

Kenya is shutting all its refugee camps, displacing 600,000 people. The government said the camps have become infiltrated by terrorists. There are five camps that make up Dadaab in eastern Kenya near the Somali border — the largest refugee complex in the world. The largest camp, Ifo looks like a rural village, with goats and camels wandering around small shops that sell everything from clothes to camel milk. Now the Kenya government wants to repatriate Dadaab refugees to Somalia. The government also wants to close another camp, Kakuma, that houses refugees from South Sudan, where a fragile cease-fire has taken hold in that country’s civil war. Kenya announced that it would will shutter the camps by November and send refugees back to Somalia and elsewhere after numerous attacks staged by al-Shabab, a Somalia terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda.

North Korea

North Korea attempted to launch a missile Tuesday, although it appeared to be unsuccessful, South Korea’s military said. It appears to be the latest in a string of missile tests as the country tries to advance its weapons program in defiance of the international community and its closest regional ally, China. Initial reports suggested it was an intermediate-range Musudan missile, according to a U.S. defense official; if confirmed, it would be the fourth time North Korea has tried and failed to launch this type of missile. The missile apparently flew for about two or three seconds and then exploded. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged all parties “to refrain from taking any action that may escalate tensions” on the Korean Peninsula.

Brazil

Brazil’s economy, the largest in Latin America, shrank 5.4% in the first quarter of this year, according to government figures released Wednesday. On Tuesday, government officials announced that unemployment in Brazil had shot up to 11.2% in the period between April and February. There are 11.4 million unemployed Brazilians, up nearly 20% from a year ago. The news comes as Brazil is only 65 days away from hosting the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the country is in the midst of immense political turmoil. Just last month, President Dilma Rousseff was temporarily suspended by a congressional impeachment vote. Her vice president, Michel Temer, has taken over as interim president. Brazil is in its longest recession since the 1930s. Inflation has spiked up, consumer confidence has plummeted and a massive corruption scandal continues to engulf public officials two years since it first began. Brazil is also a fighting an extensive Zika virus epidemic.

Weather

Tropical Depression Bonnie made landfall Saturday in South Carolina. Bonnie weakened from a tropical storm to a tropical depression Sunday morning. Maximum sustained winds were 35 mph as of Sunday morning. Rain, some wind, and choppy surf affected some of the beaches of the Carolinas and Georgia through the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Seven people died and at least four others were missing as of Tuesday morning after heavy rains in Texas and Kansas caused severe flooding. In one case near Austin, which received nine inches of rain this week, a vehicle with two people was swept off a flooded roadway. Threats of floods prompted authorities to evacuate thousands of prisoners near Houston. Most of the deaths took place in rural Washington County, Texas, between Austin and Houston, where more than 16.5 inches of rain fell in some places late last week. Over 18 inches of rain hammered the official reporting station in Brenham, Texas, about 65 miles west-northwest of downtown Houston, according to the National Weather Service. That set a new 24-hour rainfall record for the location. With heavy rain continuing and one river forecast to crest at a record high level, Texas can expect little relief with more rain due all week. Flooding in Texas is driving wildlife, some of it dangerous and deadly, into homes along the Brazos River as the animals flee the rising waters. The rising water carried water moccasin snakes, ants and debris into neighborhoods of houses and businesses.

Lightning strikes on Saturday injured more than 40 in Europe, including children playing at a popular park in Paris and attendees at a children’s soccer game in Germany. In Paris’ Park Monceau, a surprise spring storm prompted adults and children attending a birthday party to seek shelter under a tree. Eleven people, including eight children, were injured when lightning struck. In Western Germany, lightning struck a children’s soccer match, seriously injuring three adults.

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