Signs of the Times (7/25/14)

IRS Faces New Grilling Over Targeting Churches

The Internal Revenue Service, already probably the most reviled of federal agencies, was caught harassing conservative organizations. It is currently the focal point of multiple investigations by irate members of Congress who believe the agency deliberately withheld information. Now yet another scandal could be looming. The Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the largest constitutional-rights legal teams in the nation, has submitted a demand for information about the agency’s actions against churches. “We are asking the IRS to disclose the new protocols and procedures it apparently adopted for determining whether to investigate churches. What it intends to do to churches must be brought into the light of day.” The issue developed because of a recent announcement by the Freedom from Religion Foundation that the IRS had set up procedures to begin investigating what the group called “rogue political churches.” The atheist group recently settled its lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service for not challenging pastors that speak from the pulpit on political issues and candidates. Alliance Defending Freedom is seeking IRS documents related to that agreement.

Freedom from Religion Foundation sued the IRS for not enforcing the Johnson Amendment, passed in 1954. The Johnson Amendment limits political involvement by non-profits, which includes churches. ADF, which conducts an annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” encourages preachers to abide by the First Amendment rather than the Johnson Amendment. Last year more than 1,600 pastors participated in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” by preaching on political issues based on biblical truth. If the IRS takes action against the churches and pastors, ADF is waiting to represent them.

Atheists ‘Warn’ about Children Hearing the Good News

Atheists in Oregon are warning parents that a Christian organization will damage their children through its summer Bible program. Child Evangelism Fellowship, well known for its after-school “Good News Clubs” on school campuses, is working with local churches to conduct “Good News Summer Clubs” in the Portland area. There are approximately 4,300 Good News Clubs in the U.S. OneNewsNow reports that Portland atheists paid for a full-page newspaper ad to oppose the outreach. Atheists, incidentally, aren’t opposed to all summer camps as evidenced by “Camp Quest.” Those atheist summer camps are conducted across the United States, combining archery and canoeing with learning about “humanist heroes” and evolution for children as young as eight. Gallup polls as recently as 2012 showed Oregon is among the “least religious” state in the country.

  • The supposedly tolerant humanists and atheists are hypocritically intolerant of Christianity because they fear that the Good News really does set people free

Texas Gov. Perry Sends National Guard Troops to Border

Texas Gov. Rick Perry will immediately send up to 1,000 National Guard troops to help secure the southern border, where tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America have crossed into the United States this year in a surge that is deemed a humanitarian crisis. Perry also wants President Barack Obama and Congress to hire an additional 3,000 border patrol agents for the Texas border, which would eventually replace the temporary guard forces. Perry’s state has received the majority of migrant children, especially in the Rio Grande region, and he has repeatedly called on the federal government to beef up border security, which is a federal responsibility. The Rio Grande sector currently has 3,000 border patrol agents covering 320 miles of land and 250 miles of water, which equates to 5.4 agents per mile. The Tucson sector, for instance, has approximately 15.7 agents per mile.

Conflicting Rulings on Obamacare

A three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals dealt a major blow to ObamaCare Tuesday. The Federal Court of Appeals ruled that federal tax subsidies, which are central to the ObamaCare program, may not be provided to residents of the states which opted out of the ObamaCare exchanges, reports Liberty Counsel. The poorly written law that Congress passed without reading and President Obama signed says that the federal subsidies can only be provided when someone enrolls in an exchange run by the states or the District of Columbia. Then, hours after that ruling, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, issued a conflicting ruling, finding that the IRS rule for the federal subsidies is valid based on the intention of the law.

  • The Affordable Healthcare Act is so huge, jumbled and complicated that even federal courts can’t figure it out.

Voters say Obama Exceeded Authority, but Oppose Impeachment

Despite believing Barack Obama has overstepped his authority as president, most voters reject calls to impeach him for that — or for any other reason. By a 58-37 percent margin, the latest Fox News poll finds that voters think President Obama exceeded his authority under the Constitution when he unilaterally changed the health care law by executive order. And, more generally, a similar majority disapproves of Obama bypassing Congress, acting unilaterally and refusing to enforce laws he disagrees with. Obama’s use of executive power plays well with the party faithful, as a 64-percent majority of Democrats approves of his actions, while a majority of every other demographic group disapproves (including fully 91 percent of Republicans). Some prominent Republicans, including 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, have called for the president’s impeachment. Yet 61% oppose impeaching Obama for changing some laws and failing to enforce others or “for any other reason.” Some 36 percent favor impeachment.

Earth in Midst of Sixth Mass Extinction

The loss and decline of animals around the world — caused by habitat loss and global climate disruption — mean we’re in the midst of a sixth “mass extinction” of life on Earth, according to several studies out Thursday in the journal Science. One study found that although human population has doubled in the past 35 years, the number of invertebrate animals – such as beetles, butterflies, spiders and worms – has decreased by 45% during that same period. The study reported that around 322 species have gone extinct over the last five centuries. Five times in the history of the Earth, a huge percentage of the planet’s life has been wiped out in what are called mass extinctions, typically from collisions with giant meteors. What’s new about this extinction is “that the underlying driving force for this is not a meteorite or a mega-volcanic eruption; it is one species – homo sapiens.” Overall, scientists estimate that due to all of the past extinctions, about nine out of 10 of all life-forms that have existed on our planet are extinct.

  • The plagues in Revelation suggest that there will be mass extinctions of life in the seas and on land
  1. S. Ranks near Bottom for Energy Efficiency

A new report says the U.S. scored 13th in global energy efficiency ranking, or near the bottom of the world’s 16 largest economies. That’s the conclusion of a new report released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, which ranks the world’s 16 largest economies based on 31 different measurements of efficiency, including national energy savings targets, fuel economy standards for vehicles, efficiency standards for appliances, average vehicle mpg, and energy consumed per square foot of floor space in residential buildings, among other metrics. The ACEEE report ranked the U.S. 13th overall, with Germany, Italy, smaller European Union nations, France and China making up the top five most energy efficient economies in the world.

The U.S. was the 9th most energy-efficient economy in the ACEEE’s 2012 ranking, which criticized the country for focusing more on road construction than expanding public transportation. Since then, the U.S. has made very little progress toward using energy more efficiently, the 2014 report says. Americans drive more than 9,300 miles per year, more than citizens in any other major world economy, according to the report. India tops the list, driving 85 miles per year per capita, followed by China with 513 miles per year. Americans also ranked last for the percentage of their travel accomplished using public transit — 10 percent, tying with Canada. Residents of China use transit 72 percent of the time, followed by Indians, who use transit 65 percent of the time.

Economic News

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week to its lowest level in eight years. The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment aid dropped 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 284,000. That’s the lowest reading since February 2006, nearly two years before the Great Recession began.

The consumer price index increased 0.3% after rising 0.4% in May, which was a 15-month high, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Over the past 12 months, prices have risen 2.1%.Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, consumer prices were up 0.1%.Gasoline prices surged 3.3% last month — the biggest increase in a year — accounting for two-thirds of the rise in all consumer prices. Food costs moderated after several months of dramatic increases, with overall prices rising 0.1% following a 0.5% increase in May. Meat prices rose 0.2% after jumping 1.4% in May and prices for dairy and foods and vegetables fell.

Foreclosure activity in the United States dropped last month to the lowest level since July 2006, before the housing bubble burst, and likely will continue to drop through the first half of next year. RealtyTrac, which tracks housing market trends, said that 107,194 properties across the country were at some stage of the foreclosure process in June. That marked a 2 percent decline from May and left foreclosure activity, which includes foreclosure notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, 16 percent below the year-ago level. June was the 45th consecutive month foreclosure activity was down on an annual basis. Lenders reclaimed a total of 26,889 properties in June, down 5 percent from May and the lowest level since June 2007. Repossessions were down 24 percent from a year ago.

Forget stocks. Millennials want their money in cold, hard cash. Americans between 18 and 29 years old are three times more likely than older generations to keep their long-term investments in the form of cash rather than in the stock market, according to a survey from Bankrate.com. Even the booming stock market hasn’t been able to shake off the risk-aversion that is now the hallmark of this recession-scarred generation. About 39% of Millennials picked cash as the preferred way to invest the money that they don’t need for at least 10 years — the biggest percentage of any age group. Another 24% chose real estate, while 13% picked the stock market.

Persecution Watch

Christians have inhabited Mosul for over 2,000 years, but the last Christian fled the Iraqi city on Saturday around noon. ISIS militants had demanded that all Christians leave Mosul, convert to Islam or be killed. The ultimatum prompted thousands of people to leave the city; 500,000 have been forced to flee since ISIS gained control of the city on June 10. Former Mosul residents said that militants forced themselves into homes, stole anything they saw and threatened to kill families inside. The Muslims who remain in the city are now being controlled under strict Sharia law; many Muslims are trying to escape now as well.

Middle East

Israel continued airstrikes across the Gaza Strip on Friday, as Palestinians in the West Bank called for a “Day of Rage” following the shelling of a U.N. school used as a shelter the previous day, where the deaths of at least 15 set off protests in the West Bank. Israeli planes hit 30 houses throughout Gaza early Friday, including the home of Salah Hassanein, a leader of the military wing of Islamic Jihad, the second-largest militant group in Gaza after Hamas. The Kalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah was the site of a massive riot Thursday evening. Police estimated a crowd of over 10,000 Palestinians gathered to protest Israel’s military operations in the Hamas ruled Gaza Strip. One Palestinian was killed and over 200 others wounded in the melee, while 13 Israeli police officers were also wounded. The Iron Dome anti-rocket system intercepted at least eight rockets fired from Gaza into central Israel on Thursday morning.

As Israeli forces continued their air, land and sea offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, outrage among Palestinians caught in the crossfire grows with the mounting death toll. More than 828 Palestinians have died and more than 5,200 people injured in the offensive, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. The United Nations estimates that more than 70% were civilians. The two-week carnage has led many Palestinians to express their support for Hamas, the terrorist-cum-political group that Israeli forces have been targeting since July 8 in retaliation for ongoing rocket attacks against Israel. Abu Awni, 38, of Gaza City, said, “Civilians are attacked in their homes. I’m against Hamas, but when Israel is killing my family, then I will join Hamas… we have been collectively punished.”

  • Israel warned civilians to leave the areas they intended to attack, but Hamas urged them to stay thereby reaping a huge propaganda victory.

Hamas, a radical Islamist terror organization, is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawamah al- Islamiyah (Islamic resistance movement.) The overall leader, Khaled Meshaal, is based in Qatar. Not only is his base far removed from the war in Gaza, virtually the entire leadership of Hamas and its command and control center is there as well, reports David Evans of the Jerusalem Prayer Team. Hamas’s leaders are not fighting in Gaza; they are hiding behind the safety of a rich Gulf Oil state that boasts the world’s third largest natural gas and oil reserves…but funds their attacks on the Jewish people.

Ukraine

The Ukrainian army on Friday charged that its soldiers came under artillery fire from the Russian side of the border overnight, bolstering claims by U.S. officials that the Russian military has been firing artillery rounds at Ukrainian military targets for several days. Russian-backed separatists shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets Wednesday in the eastern regions of the country. The jets were among four Russian-built fighters that were returning to base after providing air support for Ukrainian troops near the border. The Sukhoi-25 fighters were downed in an area called Savur Mogila in the Shaktersky region near the Russian border.

In the tangled aftermath of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster, two narratives have emerged — one that most of the world subscribes to, and another that Russia and the rebels are pushing. In the first, MH17 was shot down by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, using a sophisticated Russian-built missile system. In the second, Russia and the rebels suggest several different scenarios for what brought the jetliner down, some of them bordering on the bizarre. Rebel commander Igor Girkin suggested that many of MH17’s passengers were corpses — already dead — and put aboard the 11-plus-hour flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

  • Russia has a long history of misinformation and lying to sway public opinion, but this time it’s obviously absurd

Russia

Russia is paying an ever higher price for its growing isolation over the crisis in Ukraine. The country’s central bank jacked up interest rates Friday for the third time since March, taking them up to 8%.With inflation running at 7.5%, it had little choice. The crisis has led investors and companies to yank money out of Russia. This has crushed the ruble and raised the cost of imports — helping to drive prices higher. The ruble has fallen 6% against the dollar so far this year, while Moscow’s main stock market has dropped 7.6%.Russia’s $2 trillion economy slowed dramatically this year as cash flooded out of the country in response to the threat of tough financial sanctions.

Nigeria

A days-long raid on a northeast Nigerian town by Boko Haram left dozens dead and displaced more than 15,000 residents, Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency reports. Scores of fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades, explosives and guns descended on the town of Damboa last Thursday evening. By the time the raid ended on Sunday, 66 residents had been killed and more than 15,000 had fled. The Islamic militant group’s trademark black flag was hoisted afterward, signifying that the town was under their control. But the Nigerian military tried to assure residents that it would retake the town.

Wildfires

Washington and Oregon remain under siege from about 20 major wildfires across the two states, and as brisk winds prevail in some of the fire zones, temperatures are also expected to rise in the coming days. Both states, particularly Oregon, have been hit hard by drought, leading to dry foliage that’s easily ignited by lightning strikes. Firefighters continued to make progress in their efforts to get the largest wildfire the state’s history under control, with wetter weather bringing some relief but also raising concerns about flash flooding. Temperatures have cooled down in the region on the heels of triple-digit heat, providing much-needed relief for the thousands of firefighters trying to keep the flames at bay, but changing weather conditions in the coming days won’t provide much certainty for containment efforts. The Carlton Complex fire has grown to become the largest wildfire in state history at more than 250,000 acres. Rainy conditions helped firefighters immensely on Wednesday, as fire containment grew from 16 percent to 52 percent.

  • While the mainstream media continues to proclaim increased fire danger due to global warming and call for greater funding, official statistics tell a different story. So far this year, 31,326 fires have burned 1,612,197 acres, much less that the ten-year average of 45,195 fires and 6,630,417 acres over the same time span, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Weather

Just hours after Matmo cut through Taiwan as a category 1 equivalent tropical cyclone, the storm hit eastern China as a tropical storm, producing heavy rain and strong winds over Fujian province as it moved north toward Shanghai. On Wednesday, a TransAsia Airways plane carrying 58 people crashed into a small Taiwanese island, killing 48. Though the cause of the crash is still under investigation, severe weather from Matmo is seen as the likely explanation. An additional 17 people were injured when Matmo first passed through Taiwan. More than 460,000 people lost power and water in Taiwan due to Matmo. About $9 million worth of crops were destroyed. More than 50,000 were evacuated in Zhejiang province due to floodwaters. This typhoon struck China just a week after Typhoon Rammasun killed at least 56 people in southern provinces of China.

An Air Algerie flight en route to Algiers from Burkina Faso with 116 people aboard — including 50 French citizens — disappeared from radar early Thursday over the Sahara during bad weather. Air navigation services lost track of AH0517 about 50 minutes after takeoff. The pilot reportedly contacted air traffic control in Niamey, Niger, to change course because of a storm. The charred remains of the plane and its missing passengers in a remote region of northern Mali Friday. None of the 116 passengers and crew survived the crash.

Damaging thunderstorms took a swipe across Arkansas Wednesday, bringing down large trees and damaging several buildings. Thunderstorm wind damage reports were filed from Kansas to the Arkansas-Louisiana-Texas border, a distance that spans over 300 miles. Entergy Arkansas Inc. said about 40,000 people were without power immediately after the storms. An estimated 20 buildings have sustained damage due to the thunderstorms.

A husband and wife were killed Thursday morning when a tornado rushed through a crowded campground on the Delmarva Peninsula, injuring at least 36 people. Their 13-year-old son was staying in a nearby tent and sustained life-threatening injuries and is in a coma. All three of the couple’s children are hospitalized. The storm overturned recreational vehicles and downed numerous trees at Cherrystone Family Camping & RV Resort, a 300-acre playground of swimming pools, mini-golf, pier fishing, crabbing and other activities. The campground is located near Cape Charles, a small town about 40 miles north of Norfolk on the Chesapeake Bay side of the peninsula.

Last month was the hottest June in more than 130 years of recorded weather history, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday in its monthly state of the climate report, surpassing the previous record high for the month set in 1998. Nine of the 10 warmest Junes on record have occurred in the 21st century, including each of the past five years. Parts of southeast Asia, eastern and central Africa, northern South America and southern Greenland experienced record June warmth. On the other end of the spectrum, cooler-than-average June temperatures were observed in parts of Alaska, the northern Rockies, western Russia and the Baltic countries.

  • Whether due to greenhouse gases and human activity or not, end-time weather will continue to grow more extreme eventually resulting in flooding, high winds and the 100-pound hailstones in Revelation

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