Signs of the Times (8/16/16)

Poll: Most Churches Avoid Discussing Social Issues

A new Pew Research Center poll has revealed that most Christians do not hear about relevant social issues from the pulpits of their churches. The poll asked respondents how often they heard about various social issues in a sermon. Only forty percent of respondents said that the pastor had spoken about religious liberty. Thirty-nine percent said that the pastor had spoken about homosexuality. And only 29 percent said they heard about abortion from the pulpit. The findings of the survey held true across denominations, including for White Evangelicals, Black Protestants, and Roman Catholics. Possible reasons for why clergy are reluctant to discuss such sensitive social issues from the pulpit are that they are afraid of the controversy such a discussion may ignite, or they may be afraid of losing their tax-exempt status, reports ChristianHeadlines.com.

Evangelical Lutheran Church Passes Anti-Israel Resolutions

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approved a resolution at its triennial convention in New Orleans Saturday which demanded an end to US aid to Israel unless it end construction of Jewish communities in the West Bank and “enable an independent Palestinian state.” Also on Saturday, the convention approved a resolution supporting the international effort to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel. Additionally, the resolution demanded that the US recognize an independent Palestinian State and not block efforts for such a state to join the United Nations and other international bodies.

  • Another end-time sign. The Word of God says to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you.” (Psalm 122:6, NKJ)

Anti-Police Protests Rock Milwaukee

For a second night, violent protests rocked Milwaukee over the police shooting of an armed African-American man. At least two people were injured after shots were fired and objects hurled during the protest early Monday, police said. One victim was shot during the Monday unrest and rushed to a hospital in an armored vehicle. A police officer was injured and also taken to the hospital. The death of Sylville Smith, 23, triggered unrest hours after his killing on Saturday. Protesters torched six businesses, including a gas station, burned cars and threw rocks at officers. During the first night of protests, four officers were injured and 17 people were arrested. The turbulent weekend prompted Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to declare a state of emergency on Sunday. But the National Guard was not deployed Monday as local police sought to restore order. The incident began when a pair of police officers stopped Smith and another person in a car on Saturday about 3:30 p.m., police said. The men fled the car and the officers followed, shooting Smith in the arm and chest when he failed to put his gun down. The handgun, along with 500 rounds of ammunition, were stolen during a burglary in nearby Waukesha in March, police said. Milwaukee has the unfortunate distinction of being the country’s most segregated metropolitan area, according to a recent study released by the City of Milwaukee Health Department (p15).

Obama Administration Violates Bid Process to Build Detention Center

As Central Americans surged across the U.S. border two years ago, the Obama administration skipped the standard public bidding process and agreed to a deal that offered generous terms to Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest prison company, to build a massive detention facility for women and children seeking asylum. The four-year, $1 billion contract — details of which have not been previously disclosed — has been a boon for CCA, which, in an unusual arrangement, gets the money regardless of how many people are detained at the facility. Critics say the government’s policy has been expensive and ineffective. Arrivals of Central American families at the border have continued unabated while court rulings have forced the administration to step back from its original approach to the border surge. In hundreds of other detention contracts given out by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, federal payouts rise and fall in step with the percentage of beds being occupied. But in this case, CCA is paid for 100 percent capacity even if the facility is underutilized, reports the Washington Post.

Pentagon Releases 15 More Gitmo Detainees

The Obama administration has approved the release of 15 detainees from the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United Arab Emirates, a move derided Monday night by a leading member of Congress as reckless. Rep. Ed Royce, the California Republican who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, called the released detainees “hardened terrorists” who will be a threat for years to come. When President Obama took office in 2009, there were 242 detainees still in the Guantanamo Bay prison, down from a high of almost 700. There are 61 detainees remaining at Guantanamo. Obama earlier this year announced a plan to close down the facilities at Guantanamo, arguing that the keeping them open was “contrary to our values.” “In its race to close Gitmo, the Obama administration is doubling down on policies that put American lives at risk,” Royce said in a statement. “Once again, hardened terrorists are being released to foreign countries where they will be a threat.”

  • As we’ve chronicled before, several of the previously released detainees became active terrorists once again

Britain’s ‘Most Hated Man’ Convicted for ISIS Support

A notorious hate preacher who led a flag-burning demonstration outside the US embassy on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and voiced support for jihad has been convicted of inviting support for ISIS. Anjem Choudary, 49, has courted controversy over two decades, skirting the edges of the law, backing extremism but with no proof of actually inciting violence. He earned the wrath of Britain’s tabloid newspapers, making him – by his own admission — the country’s “most hated man.” In 2014, he pledged allegiance to ISIS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, bringing him under scrutiny and leading to his arrest. British authorities say they were able to link him to the battlefields of Iraq and Syria; UK police say they don’t know exactly how many of the 850 Britons who have traveled there were directly influenced by Choudary, but they say he is a “key” figure in ISIS’s recruitment drive. Under the UK’s Terrorism Act, he could be jailed for up to 10 years.

Russia Launches Syria Airstrikes from Iranian Base

Russians warplanes have conducted missions over Syria from an airbase in Iran — the first time a major power has done so since the Islamic Revolution there in 1979. Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 tactical bombers took off from Hamedan airbase in western Iran Tuesday, and hit targets belonging to ISIS and the Jabhat al-Nusra militant group in the Syrian provinces of Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and Idlib, Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement. The raids “eliminated” five major arms depots, used to supply ISIS militants near the city of Aleppo, as well as three militant command points and training camps in the cities of Serakab, Al-Bab, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor. Tehran and Moscow “enjoy strategic cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Syria and share their facilities and capacities to this end,” Iran’s Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said Tuesday.

  • The alliance of Russia and Iran (Persia) is a key end-time indicator leading up to war against Israel (Ezekiel 38-39)

Russia Building Dozens of Underground Nuclear Command Bunkers

In the latest indication that Moscow is pushing ahead with a major modernization of its armed forces, Russia is constructing numerous nuclear command bunkers, The Washington Free Beacon reports. American intelligence officials say the building of dozens of underground bunkers has been proceeding for years and is a clear sign that the West should be concerned about the nuclear use doctrine Moscow is adopting. Recently, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti warned that Moscow is considering using low-yield nuclear weapons in a future conflict in order to conclude it to its advantage, confident that the West would not respond with nuclear weapons of its own. The general said this is why he insists that the West’s nuclear deterrence must be enhanced and taken seriously, especially as the Obama administration has been considering a declaration that it would not use nuclear weapons to stop aggression by conventional forces.

5,400 diagnosed with Cancers Linked to 9/11 Attacks

Next month will mark 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but thousands of people across the country continue to feel its effects on their health. As of June 30, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s World Trade Center Health Program enrolled more than 5,400 people who have been diagnosed with cancers linked to the 9/11 attacks, according to statistics released by the program. The number of people with 9/11-related cancers could be even higher; the 5,441 number reflects only the people who’ve chosen to enroll in the federal health program. The program provides health care, medical monitoring and treatment to thousands of people directly affected by the 9/11 attacks. Among those in the program, 4,692 are first responders, emergency responders, recovery and cleanup workers, and volunteers who helped in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash site near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The other 749 people are other survivors who lived, worked or went to school near the World Trade Center on September 11 or in the subsequent months.

Aetna to Pull Out of Most Obamacare Exchanges

In the latest blow to Obamacare, Aetna is vastly reducing its presence on the individual exchanges in 2017. The insurer will stop offering policies on the exchanges in 11 of the 15 states where it currently operates, according to a press release it issued Monday evening. The company noted Monday that it has lost $430 million in its individual policies unit since the exchanges opened in January 2014. Aetna, which had 838,000 exchange customers at the end of June, said its policyholders are turning out to be sicker and costlier than expected. The company, along with its peers, has criticized the federal program designed to mitigate those risks. Like Aetna, a growing number of insurers on the Obamacare exchanges are voicing concerns about the viability of the program as they run up big losses. United Healthcare, the nation’s largest insurer, is expecting to lose about $1 billion on Obamacare policies in 2015 and 2016, and is exiting most Obamacare exchanges in 2017. Humana announced last month that it was pulling out of nearly 1,200 counties in eight states next year. Others, including several Blue Cross Blue Shield companies, are also scaling back.

  • This is what happens when our big, bloated government takes over for free-market enterprise. Obamacare doesn’t need to be repealed, its already dying from self-inflicted wounds.

Obama One of the Most Prolific Presidents Issuing Executive Orders

In nearly eight years in office, President Obama has sought to reshape the nation with a sweeping assertion of executive authority and a canon of regulations that have inserted the United States government more deeply into American life, reports the New York Times. “Once a presidential candidate with deep misgivings about executive power, Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history.” Blocked for most of his presidency by Congress, President. Obama “created the kind of government neither he nor the Republicans wanted — one that depended on bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency. But once Mr. Obama got the taste for it, he pursued his executive power without apology, and in ways that will shape the presidency for decades to come.”

  • President Obama has seriously undercut and damaged the balance of powers called for by the U.S. Constitution, and has employed Executive Orders to further grow an already bloated, intrusive federal government

Zika Update

The Obama administration Friday declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico due to the Zika virus, which has infected at least 10,690 people. Among them are 1,035 pregnant women, who bear the greatest risk from the infection. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell declared the emergency at the request of Puerto Rico’s governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, because of the threat to pregnant women and their children. The newest statistics were released a day after the U.S. surgeon general visited Puerto Rico and said he expects 25 percent of people on the island will be infected by Zika by year’s end. Zika can cause catastrophic birth defects, including microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and, in most cases, incomplete brain development. The declaration will give Puerto Rico more money to fight the outbreak. Although Zika is normally a mild illness, causing no symptoms in 80% of patients, 90 Puerto Ricans have been hospitalized due to the virus and 30 have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, which develops when the immune system attacks the body’s nerves, causing paralysis.

Migrant Update

Nine Iraqi men were arrested on suspicion of raping a German tourist in Austria, police said Monday. The incident happened in Vienna on New Year’s Day, when the men are accused of taking the woman from a downtown neighborhood to an apartment where two of them lived. He said the suspects who were arrested are aged between 21 and 47 and are either asylum-seekers or were recently granted asylum. In neighboring Germany, more than 100 women reported being sexually assaulted and robbed on New Year’s Eve in the western city of Cologne. Criminal proceedings have begun against 50 people, many of them asylum-seekers. Figures from the Pew Research Center showed about 1.3 million people sought asylum in Europe in 2015, many of them fleeing conflict in countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Economic News

Housing starts posted a robust gain in July, increasing 2.1% from June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.21 million, its highest level since February 2016 and the second highest level since October 2007, when housing starts hit 1.26 million. Single-family housing starts rose just 0.5% but multi-family housing units of 5 or rose 8.3%. Building permits dipped by 0.1% but stayed at a healthy level as home builders strive to catch up with strong demand. Rising home sales and prices have grown steadily in recent months.

Consumer prices cooled in July as the cost for gasoline fell sharply, helping to keep inflation in check. The consumer-price index, which measures prices paid by Americans for major consumer items, was unchanged in July on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department said Tuesday. The CPI had risen in four previous months, including 0.2% in June. Excluding food and energy prices, which are considered more volatile, consumer prices rose 0.1% in July, the smallest increase since March. Total energy costs fell 1.6% as the cost off all types of gasoline tumbled 4.7%. Food costs were unchanged in July.

Global central banks are unloading America’s debt. In the first six months of this year, foreign central banks sold a net $192 billion of U.S. Treasury bonds, more than double the pace in the same period last year, when they sold off $83 billion. China, Japan, France, Brazil and Colombia led the pack of countries dumping U.S. debt. It’s the largest selloff of U.S. debt since at least 1978, according to Treasury Department data. U.S. Treasurys are considered one of the safest assets in the world. A lot of foreign countries keep their cash holdings in U.S. government bonds. Many countries have been selling their holdings of U.S. Treasuries so they can get cash to help prop up their currencies if they’re losing value.

Japan’s economy is growing, but very slowly. The country managed meager GDP expansion of only 0.2% in the second quarter of this year, according to official data released Monday. Japan has pumped vast amounts of money into its struggling economy in recent years to try to spur growth and combat falling prices. But the efforts are failing to produce their desired results. Japanese businesses are suffering from the country’s strengthening currency, which has surged more than 18% against the dollar this year. That hurts exporters by making goods produced in Japan more expensive abroad. Exports fell during the second quarter, and so did business investment. After plunging into recession in 2014, Japan’s economy has swung back and forth between growth and contraction. It has also failed to pull free of deflation.

Islamic State

U.S.-backed fighters have seized a key Islamic State stronghold in northern Syria after two months of heavy fighting and freed hundreds of civilians the extremists had used as human shields, Syrian Kurdish officials and an opposition activist group said Saturday. Nasser Haj Mansour, of the predominantly Kurdish Syria Democratic Forces told The Associated Press that the town of Manbij “is under full control,” adding that operations are ongoing to search for any IS militants who might have stayed behind. The SDF launched its offensive in late May to capture Manbij under the cover of U.S.-led airstrikes. The town lies on a key supply route between the Turkish border and the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the IS group’s self-styled caliphate. Manbij residents finally freed from the stranglehold of ISIS occupation celebrated in the streets Saturday, cutting off beards, burning niqabs and smoking cigarettes, things they weren’t allowed to do during the terror group’s two-year rule over the city.

The leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group in Afghanistan and Pakistan was killed by a U.S. drone last month, a U.S. defense official confirmed to Fox News Friday. Hafiz Saeed Khan died July 26 from an airstrike in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. “Khan was known to directly participate in attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, and the actions of his network terrorized Afghans, especially in Nangarhar,” Pentagon spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said. He added that ISIS had been active in the region since last summer and used the area to train and equip militants and provide a “continuous supply of enemy fighters.”

Syria

Airstrikes in opposition areas of Syria’s northern Aleppo province struck a market, a hospital and a village on Friday, killing at least 18 people, including children and two hospital staffers, activists and rescue workers said. The air raids hit the only hospital for women and children in the town of Kafr Hamra before dawn, killing two staffers, including a nurse. The Syrian Civil Defense, a group of first responders, said it pulled 10 people alive from under the rubble. Kafr Hamra is near the northern front line in the divided city of Aleppo, where government troops have sealed the main route into opposition areas, effectively trapping nearly 300,000 residents. The Syrian Civil Defense said one of its centers in the rebel-held part of Aleppo was hit.

Yemen

An airstrike on Monday hit a hospital in northwestern Yemen and killed at least 11 people, said humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders. Medical teams are treating the wounded after an airstrike hit the Abs hospital in Hajjah province, the aid group said on Twitter. At least 19 were injured, the group said. “We are assessing the situation to secure the safety of patients and staff,” Doctors Without Borders said. More than 4,600 patients have received medical help since the group, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, began supporting the hospital in July 2015. The facility has been providing a range of services and medical aid for internally displaced people, along with emergency and maternal health care and surgery, the group said on its website. The strike on the hospital comes on the heels of Saudi-led coalition planes bombing two schools in northern Yemen on Saturday, killing at least 14 children. The coalition insists the target of the airstrikes was a militia training camp. The country has become a proxy battleground between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Arab coalition began launching airstrikes in support of the Sunni government against the Shiite Houthi minority rebels in March 2015. UN-led peace talks reached a dead end last week

Venezuela

Venezuela’s economic turmoil has brought malaria back, spreading it from the jungle to the cities at levels not seen in decades. With Venezuela’s economy in tatters, at least 70,000 people from all walks of life have been streaming into a mining region to hunt for gold in watery pits. It is a perfect breeding ground for the mosquitoes that spread malaria. Then, with the disease in their blood, the miners return home to cities where there is often no medicine and little fumigation, and they have passed the disease on to tens of thousands more people and left entire towns desperate for help.

Environment

On Monday, Scientists reported that most of the methane emissions contributing to a “hot spot” the size of Delaware recorded over the Four Corners region of the U.S. was due to natural gas production equipment and infrastructure. The hot spot was originally identified in a NASA report that used satellite imagery of the Four Corners, which includes the southwestern corner of Colorado, southeastern corner of Utah, northeastern corner of Arizona, and northwestern corner of New Mexico. Using data collected from air and land surveys covering about 1,200 square miles across the region in April 2015, researchers identified more than 250 sources for atmospheric methane, which included natural gas storage tanks, wells, pipelines and processing plants. Those sources released methane gas into the atmosphere at rates up to 11,000 pounds per hour, according to the study, which was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Solving the problem will require the oil and gas industry to cut emissions from all sources, large and small, the report states.

Hot and stagnant weather is making this summer one of the worst for smog in Southern California, leading to an increase in people seeking treatment for respiratory illnesses. According to the Los Angeles Times, the area has not had so many bad air days or had these levels of ozone pollution since 2009, and with the bad air quality come increases in the number of people seeking medical treatment for respiratory illnesses like asthma and chronic bronchitis. According to a report by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, ozone levels have exceeded federal standards on 91 days so far this year compared to 67 days over the same period last year. In June, only four days had healthy air across the South Coast basin and in July, the ozone levels violated the federal health standards each day except July 31, and in August, each day so far has been over the federal limit of 70 parts per billion, according to the study.

Wildfires

Four thousand people have been forced to flee their homes as a fire rages across Northern California. Residents in Lower Lake and Clearlake have been evacuated, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). The area is around 130 miles north of San Francisco. The blaze, known as the Clayton Fire, has scorched 3,000 acres so far, the Clayton Fire Department said, with 5% of it contained. A thousand homes are threatened by the fire, Cal Fire said, while 100 structures already are damaged with 10 completely destroyed.

The wildfire season in the U.S. so far this year is much better than last year and less than the ten-year average, with 37407 fires (vs. 40,509 in 2015 and a ten-year average of 49847) having consumed 3,889,265 acres (vs. 6,969,074 acres in 2015 and a ten-year average of 4,897,036 acres).

Weather

The federal government declared a major disaster in Louisiana Sunday after torrential rain inundated the state killing at least six people, flooding thousands of homes and prompting thousands of water rescues. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards called the widespread flooding spawned by the region’s pounding rain across the southern part of the state a “truly historic event” that won’t be over anytime soon. Edwards said Sunday that more than 20,000 people had been rescued by all participating agencies and volunteers since the flooding outbreak began. As many as 10,000 people are in shelters as a result of the widespread flooding. As of Saturday, more than 30 inches of rain fell in Watson, Louisiana, according to the National Weather Service. Gov. Edwards said the weekend flooding was the third major flooding event the state has endured this year. The downpours have sent at least six river gauges to record levels in Louisiana. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant issued a state of emergency Saturday for Adams, Amite, Pike, and Wilkinson counties, as well as any other counties also affected by the heavy rainfall and flooding.

Nearly a third of all the homes in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, have been flooded as floodwater overtopped a levee along the Amite River. Though skies have cleared as of Tuesday morning, the region is still dealing with the massive amount of water left behind, which is responsible for at least seven deaths and is pushing flood control systems to their limits. Ascension is just one of close to the 30 parishes Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards expects to eventually be declared disasters – nearly half of the state’s 64 parishes, CNN reported Tuesday. “We’re going to have standing water all over south Louisiana,” Edwards said.

Global mean temperatures in July 2016 were the warmest on record not just for July, but for any month dating to the late 1800s, according to separate just-released analyses. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies found July 2016 was the globe’s warmest July in their dataset dating to 1880. This marked the tenth straight month setting a warm record for that month in NASA’s analysis. Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), operated by the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), calculated the global average July temperature was nearly one-fifth of a degree Celsius higher than previous July temperature records set in 2015 and in 2009, in their dataset dating to 1979.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme (Daniel 9:26b, Revelation 8:7, 11:19, 16:8,11)

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