Signs of the Times (8/18/17)

Iranian Youth Turning to Christ

The Christian Post reports that there has been a “massive rise of Christianity in Iran, especially among youths, continues despite the Islamic government’s efforts to suppress the faith. Even Islamic leaders admitted that more and more young people are choosing to follow Christ.” According to Mohabat News, which reports on the persecution and state of Christianity in Iran, the “exponential rate” of Christian growth has been a factor for the last couple of decades. Now even leading Islamic seminary officials, such as Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, have pointed to “accurate reports indicating that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches.” Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has also been raising alarm over the number of Iranian youths becoming Christians, and has blamed “foreign influence” for the conversions. Other ayatollahs, such as Wahid Khorasani, have slammed government officials “for their negligence in preparing counteracting strategies to stop the spread of Christianity.”

Terrorism in Spain & Finland

A white van jumped up onto a sidewalk and sped down a pedestrian zone in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district Thursday, swerving from side to side as it plowed into tourists and residents. Barcelona police are calling it a terror attack, and an official says 13 people were killed and more than 50 injured. Two men were arrested by authorities. Hours later police fatally shot five men in a car which was hitting pedestrians in the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils. In the coordinated attack, the men were wearing what turned out to be fake explosive belts. Responsibility for the incidents, which mimicked events in Berlin, London, Stockholm and the French city of Nice over the past year, was claimed by the Islamic State. The news agency Amaq, which represents the Islamic State, said in a statement that the Barcelona attackers were soldiers of the extremist group. Police have not confirmed whether they have any evidence to support the claim. The perpetrators of the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils originally planned to use explosive devices to wreak greater devastation but were apparently thwarted because their materials detonated prematurely, police said Friday.

At least two people have been killed and six others hospitalized in a stabbing attack in the Finnish city of Turku on Friday, police said. Three people are now undergoing surgery, state broadcaster YLE reports. Police earlier shot and arrested a suspect after the stabbing in the southwestern city and said they were searching for other possible perpetrators. The attack occurred at two market places close to each other in the city center. Police earlier said that it was too early to tell whether the attack was terror-related.

North Korea Backs Down

North Korea says its plan to fire ICBMs into the waters around Guam is on hold while it waits to see what the “foolish Yankees” do next. North Korean state media said Tuesday that Kim Jong Un has reviewed the plan for “the enveloping fire at Guam,” discussed it with military officials, and decided to delay a decision, the BBC reports. The official KCNA news agency said Kim decided to see “if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula” per Reuters. Pyongyang earlier called for the US to stop flying heavy B-1B bombers around South Korea. The last such flight involving the Pacific island-based bombers was on Aug. 7, the Guardian reports.

U.S. Missile Defense System is effective but Not Foolproof

If North Korea fires a missile toward Guam, as it has threatened, there is a good chance that the U.S. military or an ally will be able to shoot it down. The United States and allies in the Pacific have an effective, though not foolproof, defense against a North Korea missile launch in the region, analysts say. Missile defense systems are located in Guam, South Korea and aboard naval ships in the area. The defenses include the ability to counter the Hwasong-12, an intermediate-range missile that can travel about 2,800 miles, which was cited by North Korea in its threat to target Guam, which is about 2,100 miles away. A missile of that range would be easier to intercept than a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile, which travels faster and spends much of its travel time outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

More Than 14,000 Clergy Members Condemn White Supremacy

More than 14,000 clergy members, all part of The Clergy Letter Project, have released a statement saying that while some language used by white supremacists may be protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, it isn’t acceptable. The Clergy Letter Project is an effort from American Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist and Buddhist clergy in support of the teaching of evolution. Michael Zimmerman, founder and executive director for The Clergy Letter Project, said the project was created to “demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible.” “For the average geneticist, race simply does not exist,” he says. “Similarly, from a religious perspective, we know that all people, regardless of any demographic attribute, should be treated fairly. Therefore, simply put, the vile rhetoric being spewed by white supremacists is religiously and biologically bankrupt,” he added.

Confederate Monuments Prompt Protests Across USA

The violent fallout from a decision by city officials in Charlottesville to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park has energized efforts to eliminate Confederate symbols across the nation. There are more than 700 across at least 31 states. In Louisville, more than 150 people rallied Monday at a bronze statue of Confederate officer John B. Castleman, shouting “Mayor Fischer, take it down! Mayor Fischer, take it down!” Meanwhile, at a rally 75 miles to the east in Lexington, Mayor Jim Gray drew cheers for his decision to remove two Confederate statues from public grounds. And the Kentucky chapter of the NAACP said it wants a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis removed from the state Capitol Rotunda. In Nashville, protesters demanded that a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate officer who later helped lead the KKK, be removed from the state Capitol. Protesters in North Carolina took a more direct approach Monday, toppling a statue of a Confederate soldier near the courthouse in downtown Durham. A college student was arrested Tuesday for toppling the nearly century-old statue in front of a cheering crowd. Statues dedicated to Confederate heroes were swiftly removed across Baltimore in the early morning hours Wednesday, just days after violence broke out over the removal of a similar monument in neighboring Virginia.

Solar Eclipse Monday Drawing Millions, Sparking Prophecies

On Monday, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will be visible in totality within a band across the entire contiguous United States; it will only be visible in other countries as a partial eclipse. The band in the U.S. extends through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partly obscuring the image of the sun for a viewer on Earth. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon’s apparent diameter is larger than the sun’s, blocking all direct sunlight, turning day into darkness.

Millions of people are hitting the road to spend the weekend in towns along the path of totality for Monday’s total solar eclipse. Some highways and side streets were already filling up Thursday afternoon. In Oregon, a traffic jam extended 15 miles along Highway 26 leading to the town of Prineville. Authorities are expecting similar traffic problems elsewhere along the path of totality Friday and into the weekend as visitors spend the next few days enjoying whatever small town they chose to view the once-in-a-generation event.

Ominous prophesies are accompanying this rare event. Numerous religious commentators, including Anne Graham Lotz, are claiming that it’s a sign from God showing that the last days—prophesied in the Bible—are now upon on us. One of the main Bible prophecies that some of these commentators point to is Joel 2:31, which says, “The sun will be turned to darkness…before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Jewish rabbis have historically viewed solar eclipses as warnings from God to Gentile nations,” Anne notes. “While no one can know for sure if judgment is coming on America, it does seem that God is signaling us about something. Time will tell what that something is.”

Major Arrests of M-13 Gang Members

More than a dozen alleged members of the feared MS-13 street gang were arrested during early morning raids Tuesday in Ohio and Indiana, the Department of Justice said. Federal prosecutors said a grand jury had charged 10 gang members of the “Columbus Clique” with conspiracy to commit extortion and money laundering, as well as the use of firearms during a violent crime, in an indictment returned in late July. The indictment alleges the 10 “conspired to commit extortion through the use of threatened or actual force, violence or fear to intimidate their victims into paying money to the defendants and their co-conspirators.” Prosecutors said money was then sent “usually by wire transfer and often through intermediaries,” to MS-13 members and associates in El Salvador and elsewhere to promote the group’s criminal activities. Besides the 10 members charged in the federal indictment, federal officials said an additional five people were arrested and charged with federal immigration offenses.

Trump Ends Obama’s Central American Youth Immigration Program

The Trump administration on Wednesday shut down yet another Obama-era program — this one created to give Central American minors fleeing poverty and gang violence in their homeland temporary legal status in the United States. The “CAM parole” program was established in 2014 in response to a surprise spike in the number of unaccompanied minors and families entering the country from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The program allowed minors who did not make the cut for “refugee status” to enter the U.S. on a two-year, renewable parole if they had a parent already legally in the country. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversaw the project, 1,465 minors have been granted entry under the parole program. Another 2,714 people had been conditionally approved to enter the U.S. but have now lost the opportunity. The program’s termination was announced in the federal register.

Arkansas Can Defund Planned Parenthood, Court Rules

A U.S. appeals court has reversed a ruling that prohibited the state of Arkansas from cutting funding to Medicaid, which in turn would have maintained funding for Planned Parenthood. In the earlier court decision, three women claimed the state violated their rights to choose their preferred healthcare provider, as federally mandated through Medicaid. However, the 8th Circuit Court has now ruled that the federal law does not unequivocally give patients this right; therefore, Arkansas can proceed with its plan to direct taxpayers’ dollars away from Planned Parenthood. Arkansas’ initial restriction of funds to Planned Parenthood came after the Center for Medical Progress released a series of undercover videos in 2015, allegedly showing Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal body parts.

Texas Bans Taxpayer Insurance Funding of Abortion

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill today to restrict state funding for abortion insurance. The new law will keep Texans from having to pay for elective abortions through their insurance plans. “As a firm believer in Texas values I am proud to sign legislation that ensures no Texan is ever required to pay for a procedure that ends the life of an unborn child,” Gov. Abbott said. “This bill prohibits insurance providers from forcing Texas policy holders to subsidize elective abortions. I am grateful to the Texas legislature for getting this bill to my desk, and working to protect innocent life this special session.” HB-214, which the House passed last week and the Senate approved Sunday, applies to “elective” abortions and specifically includes an exemption for cases of medical emergency to save the mother’s life.

U.K. Legislating Calories, Sugar & Salt

After cracking down on sugar and salt, Public Health England said Friday it now wanted companies to slash the calories in food to tackle an obesity epidemic among children. It plans to set calorie targets for fast food and other meals popular with kids by the start of 2018. The new targets would be voluntary to start, Lemon said. But if the program doesn’t work, the government would consider making the targets legally binding. The U.K. introduced a tax last year as part of an effort to reduce childhood obesity. Drinks with total sugar content above 5 grams per 100 milliliters are affected by the levy with a higher rate ($0.30 per liter) for drinks with over 8 grams.

  • While obesity is a worthy target, the march toward socialism and technocracy, spurred by the sustainability requirements of the U.N.’s Agenda 2030, are leading toward government intrusion into virtually all aspects of life. Can the mark of the beast be closer to implementation if consumers don’t toe the line?

Economic News

Consumer confidence was better than expected in August, beating projections from economists surveyed by Reuters. The consumer sentiment index, a survey of consumers by The University of Michigan, rose to 97.6 in August. Economists estimated the index would climb to 94 from the 93.4 reading in July. Consumer confidence rose in the first half of August to its highest level since January due to a more positive outlook for the overall economy as well as more favorable personal financial prospects. The consumer sentiment index nearly returned to peak levels recorded earlier in 2017 before the last recession.

A slump in motor vehicle production pushed down U.S. factory output unexpectedly in July, Federal Reserve data showed Thursday. Factory output dropped 0.1%. Manufacturing output minus motor vehicles rose 0.2%, reflecting a pickup in non-durable goods production. Total industrial production, which also includes mines and utilities, increased 0.2%. Automobile production fell 3.6 percent in July, the fourth decline in the last five months.

U.S. homebuilders bounced back in August from a recent funk, as current sales and sales expectations leaped forward. New home sales in June were 9 percent higher compared with a year ago, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. A monthly index of builder sentiment rose 4 points to the highest level since May. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index now stands at 68. Anything above 50 is considered positive sentiment. The index was at 59 last August. Builders say over-regulation at the federal, state and local levels have hampered production and driven up the cost of new construction. Sentiment had dropped more recently due to rising material costs, especially lumber. The Trump administration imposed a tariff on Canadian lumber, causing the price to spike.

These days “gig workers” aren’t just Uber drivers or Task-Rabbits (a website for finding manual laborers). They also include freelancers, contractors, consultants and on-demand workers — basically anyone who is working on a temporary basis. The gig economy now makes up about 34% of the U.S. workforce, according to Intuit. That’s expected to grow to 43% — or 7.7 million people — by 2020. Some are turning to the gig economy out of necessity, while others are hoping to get a better work-life balance.

Persecution Watch

Many Christian organizations are fearful for their safety after CNN published a bogus “hate map” concocted by the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Here are all the active hate groups where you live,” CNN’s headline declared. The list included among others American Family Association, Family Research Council, Alliance Defending Freedom, Liberty Counsel and Pacific Justice Institute. American Family Association blasted the CNN story calling it a “sham news article that could easily incite violence and place AFA employees and supporters in harm’s way.” Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver demanded an immediate retraction – calling CNN’s report “false, defamatory and dangerous.” “Liberty Counsel is not a hate group,” he said. “The false ‘hate’ label is very damaging to our reputation and is a safety risk to our staff. Liberty Counsel is a Christian ministry, and hates no one.”

Middle East

The U.N. is allowing Hezbollah – an officially recognized terrorist group – to amass significant weapons on Israel’s border. Hezbollah jihadists are funded and directed by Iran. Hezbollah – Iran’s army in the region – is preparing for war against our ally Israel, and the U.N. is refusing to do anything about it, notes Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ). “This continues a long line of U.N. betrayals of Israel. Israel could be wiped off the face of the map and the U.N. wouldn’t blink.” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley is demanding action from the U.N. to stop this threat to Israel. Meanwhile, the ACLJ is preparing “critical legal action at the U.N. and the International Criminal Court if necessary to defend Israel.”

Islamic State/Al-Qaeda

While the U.S.-led fight against ISIS in Syria is inching closer to victory, the worst may not be over. Al Qaeda-linked militants continue to make significant advances and maintain territorial control some 150 miles west of the de facto caliphate capital of Raqqa, sweeping through the war-shattered country’s province of Idlib. Late last month the extremist faction Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) waged war with more mainstream Ahrar al-Sham, successfully seizing control of most of Idlib and capturing a key border crossing into Turkey. The increasing HTS dominance could see the U.S. dragged further into the conflict, especially given the credible threat Al Qaeda still poses to the U.S. homeland. HTS was previously known as Syria’s Al Qaeda (AQ) branch al-Nusra Front, and later named Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. “The United States continues to target Al Qaeda in Idlib governorate and across Syria in order to protect the homeland from terrorist attacks,” Eric Pahon, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, told Fox News.

Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that his country could abandon the nuclear deal it struck with six world powers in 2015 “within hours” if the United States imposes any more new sanctions. He said that once restarted; the program could quickly be brought to a much more advanced level than it was in 2015. However, he added that Iran seeks to remain loyal to its commitments under the nuclear deal. Last month, the Senate voted to approve a new package of stiff financial sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea. The sanctions impose mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. President Trump signed the new sanctions into law earlier this month. Iran’s missile development is banned by the U.N. but not covered by the nuclear deal, which capped Iran’s uranium enrichment levels in return for the lifting of previous international sanctions.

Iraq

Iraq has begun an aerial bombardment of Tal Afar, a town under Islamic State control west of Mosul, Baghdad-based al-Sumariya TV said on Tuesday. The ground attack to try to take the city will start when the air campaign is over. Tal Afar, 50 miles west of Mosul that was recently recaptured, is the next target in the war on the Islamist militant group that swept through swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Afghanistan

An American service member died in Afghanistan on Wednesday after being wounded in an operation against the Islamic State’s affiliate in the country, the military said. American and Afghan troops were also injured in the raid, which took place in eastern Afghanistan. American military spokesmen did not disclose how many were hurt or provide details about their mission. Even as the United States has sought to help Afghan forces push back the Taliban, it has been involved in a separate fight with the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, as the affiliate is known.

Volcanoes

Scientists have announced the discovery of 91 volcanoes underneath the West Antarctica ice sheet – a discovery that makes the area one of the largest volcanic regions in the world. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh conducted an expansive study of the West Antarctic Rift System and found 178 cone-shaped structures under the ice sheet. They determined that 138 were volcanoes, 91 of which were previously undiscovered. It’s likely that the West Antarctic Rift System will surpass east Africa’s volcanic ridge, home to Mount Kilimanjaro, as the location with the highest density of volcanoes in the world. “The big question is: how active are these volcanoes?” asked Robert Bingham, a glacier expert and one of the paper’s authors, in a report from the Guardian. “That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible.”

Wildfires

Forest fires trapped 2,000 people in a village in Portugal Wednesday as firefighters fought to control two massive blazes burning in the country. “It’s impossible to leave or to enter Mação because of the flames and the smoke,” Mação village mayor Vasco Estrela said. The wildfire first erupted Tuesday evening and surrounded the village by Thursday morning. About 133 people were evacuated beforehand from the village. The firefighters were also concerned about the forecast – hotter weather could re-ignite extinguished fires and trigger blazes in new locations. Portugal’s government declared a state of public calamity ahead of the expected temperature rise.

In the U.S., drought in the Northwest has caused numerous wildfires in Washington, Oregon, western Montana and northern California. At least 25 large wildfires are burning across this region, with 11 of them major Incident One fires, drawing firefighters from across the U.S. The rest are Incident Twos, tapping firefighting resources from across the region. Even more wildfires are being handled by local firefighters. The weather forecast remains warm and dry, making things even more difficult for the thousands of firefighters. More than 19,700 firefighters have been assigned to fires in the West, Alaska and Florida. In 2017 to date, wildfires have consumed 6,371,233 acres of land, well above the ten-year average of 4,653,087.

Weather

Flash flooding in Northwest Arkansas on Tuesday morning has sent water into homes and businesses, covered bridges and stranded vehicles. Arkansas with hit with rainfall rates of more than an inch per hour. Damascus picked up 7 inches of rain in just three hours early Tuesday. Water covered the roadway on Highway 41 north and south of Branch, Arkansas, and shut down several bridges outside of town. There were also reports of cars under water in Clarksville and Russellville.

Red Cross officials estimate that 500 people are still missing after heavy rains and flash flooding led to landslides in the west African nation of Sierra Leone on Monday. Local officials estimate that more than 400 people have died and say they expect the death toll to continue to rise. A hillside in the Regent area collapsed early on Monday following heavy rains leaving many houses completely covered in mud. Many people may were caught asleep when the mudslide occurred.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: