Signs of the Times (11/4/14)

Pastors Endorsing Candidates, in Defiance of IRS Rules

Christian pastors reportedly are defying IRS rules and endorsing political candidates at an unprecedented rate, CNN reports. Under IRS rules, nonprofits — such as churches — are allowed to discuss politically sensitive subjects in their sermons, but historically have been barred from actively campaigning and endorsing particular candidates. But a growing number of pastors are challenging that standard – and the IRS appears to be looking the other way. Politico reports that, according to the group Alliance Defending Freedom, more than 1,600 pastors are endorsing candidates this year as part of so-called Pulpit Freedom Sunday. That’s up from a mere 33 pastors in 2008. Alliance Defending Freedom is urging pastors across the country to endorse candidates on any Sunday leading up to Election Day. The argument against pastors making endorsements is that they are using tax-exempt money for political purposes.

Majority of Teens Who Date Experience Abuse

Teen dating violence is on the rise, according to a nationwide study published in October. Experts say the latest numbers reveal a startling culture of relational abuse, especially emotional abuse, with much of it happening online. The National Survey on Teen Relationships and Intimate Violence found nearly 20 percent of dating teens, both boys and girls, reported they had been victims of physical or sexual abuse, and more than 60 percent reported being both victims and perpetrators of psychological abuse, meaning that dating abuse is often mutual and cyclical. The study, conducted by the University of Chicago and sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, surveyed more than 650 teenagers who had dated in the past year. The study considered everything from threats and humiliation to shoving and sexual pressure as abuse. It also included online abuse—cyber stalking, incessant texting, or shaming social media posts. The results revealed “the startlingly widespread nature of this problem,” said Bruce Taylor, one of the study’s two lead researchers.

  • A generation brought up with violent video games and media promotion of of sex has yielded its dark fruit

World Trade Center Reopens for Business

Thirteen years after the 9/11 terrorist attack, the resurrected World Trade Center is again opening for business — marking an emotional milestone for both New Yorkers and the United States as a whole. Publishing giant Conde Nast will start moving Monday into One World Trade Center, a 104-story, $3.9 billion skyscraper that dominates the Manhattan skyline. It is America’s tallest building. It’s the centerpiece of the 16-acre site where the decimated twin towers once stood and where more than 2,700 people died on Sept. 11, 2001, buried under smoking mounds of fiery debris. “The New York City skyline is whole again, as One World Trade Center takes its place in Lower Manhattan,” said Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that owns both the building and the World Trade Center site.

ObamaCare Patients Turning to Community Care Centers

When ObamaCare patients learn their deductible is so high they’re unlikely to get any reimbursement, they often wind up in community care centers. “There are quite a few, and I saw another one today, where their deductibles are so elevated that they can’t afford them,” said Dr. Flippo Masciarelli, chief physician at the Denton, Texas Community Care Center, which was designed to treat indigent patients. The administration pushed insurance companies to keep premiums low, but that also created high deductibles, about $5,000 per person for the least expensive plan, as well as narrow networks of providers. But most people buy based only on premiums. “They don’t even look at what their deductible is going to be,” said Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalere Health. “They don’t look at the cost of the medications that they’re on. And they don’t look at the…network that they have.”

U.S. Arms al Qaeda Again

Two of the main rebel groups receiving weapons from the United States to fight both the regime and jihadist groups in Syria have surrendered to al-Qaeda, reports London’s Daily Telegraph. The US and its allies were relying on Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front to become part of a ground force that would attack the Islamic State. For the last six months the Hazm movement, and the SRF through them, had been receiving heavy weapons from the US-led coalition, including GRAD rockets and TOW anti-tank missiles. But on Saturday night Harakat Hazm surrendered military bases and weapons supplies to Jabhat al-Nusra, when the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria stormed villages the Hazm controlled in northern Idlib province. The development came a day after Jabhat al-Nusra dealt a final blow to the SRF, storming and capturing Deir Sinbal, home town of the group’s leader Jamal Marouf.

Ebola Update

Ebola fears are slowing in the United States, but in embattled West African countries like Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the disease still conjures up fear and isolation— even when it comes to its smallest survivors. While reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest new infections are slowing in Liberia, the country hardest hit by the disease, the number of children orphaned by Ebola continues to rise along with the death toll— nearly 5,000 people as of Friday. “Our orphanages are full right now, so we are not able to take in more children,” Kay Knapp, a U.S. liaison at Lifesong for Orphans Liberia, a Christian nonprofit that runs orphanages in several developing nations, told FoxNews.com in an email. “The estimates from our directors are that there are 2,000+ children newly orphaned as a result of Ebola in Liberia alone.” Nearly 4,000 children in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have lost one or both parents to Ebola, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and many are being rejected by their surviving relatives.

Economic News

Despite increasing tensions in the Middle East, the nationwide average for a gallon of gas stands below $3 for the first time in four years — a roughly 20% drop from June levels. And OPEC, the oil-producing group that controls an estimated 40% of world supply seems to be just fine with that. So, why would a cartel that aims to defend $100 a barrel oil and depends on high prices for the success of its economies, allow oil to slip into the $80s? Simple. America’s energy alternatives are becoming far too good. In recent years, the energy renaissance in the U.S. has emerged as a growing threat to Middle East oil production. The biggest problem with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is its high cost; oil prices need to stay above $85 a barrel in order for new fracking investment to be worthwhile. As of Tuesday morning, the price of light crude oil stood at $75.84.

The percentage of homes that were sold to first-time homebuyers dropped to 33% this year, the lowest percentage in almost three decades, according to the National Association of Realtors. Typically, first-time homebuyers comprise about 40% of all purchases. This is despite the fact that mortgage rates are hovering near record lows and home prices are still off about 15% compared to the housing boom peak. It’s not that young adults, who make up the lion’s share of first timer buyers, don’t want to own; many do. According to a Zillow survey released in October, respondents ages 23 to 34 were, in fact, very bullish on home buying, with 83% of young renters expecting to buy a home someday. Experts blame the decline on heavy student debt loads and incomes that aren’t keeping up with rising home prices — especially in the urban areas where young Millennials would want to buy, the NAR said.

Ukraine

Rebel-held areas of war-torn eastern Ukraine went ahead with controversial elections Sunday amid encouragement from Moscow and fierce criticism from Kiev and Washington. The voting takes place against a violent backdrop. Despite a truce on paper between pro-Russian separatist groups and Ukrainian government forces, sporadic fighting on the ground continues. Ukrainian authorities said Sunday that they are launching a criminal investigation into the separatist elections, calling it “a power grab.” Last weekend, the bulk of Ukraine under government control held its own parliamentary elections which keep pro-Western parties in power. But citizens in Russian-annexed Crimea and the eastern areas controlled by separatists didn’t participate in those elections because of the ongoing violence. The leader of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine was officially sworn in Tuesday after the election that was roundly condemned by the West as illegal and destabilizing. Russia has backed the contentious elections, setting the stage for renewed diplomatic tensions with the West.

Iran

A massive naval drill kicked off this week in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, with ships and personnel from 44 navies demonstrating their commitment to securing the strategic waterway in the face of Iranian aggression and regional piracy threats. ” The tremendous number of nations participating in this exercise sends a clear signal that threats to global commerce will not be tolerated,” US 5th Feet Commander Vice. Adm. John Miller said. The drill is taking place against the backdrop of a looming 24 November deadline for a deal on the Islamic Republic’s renegade nuclear program. Washington’s allies in the region, including Israel and the Sunni Arab oil sheikdoms in the Gulf, are openly expressing nervousness over the Obama Administration’s apparent eagerness for a deal which will leave Iran in possession of most of what it needs to quickly deploy atomic weapons.

Iran’s government continues to stonewall United Nations weapons inspectors, complicating the Obama administration’s effort to forge a nuclear agreement with Tehran by a late-November deadline, according to U.S. and U.N. officials. The U.S. and the European Union have said Iran’s cooperation with the U.N. in addressing evidence that Tehran conducted studies in the past on the development of atomic weapons is crucial to reaching a broader accord on the future of the Iranian nuclear program. But Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, said Friday there has been almost no progress in resolving the outstanding allegations of weapons development, despite a year of negotiations with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani ‘s government.

  • Stalling for time to complete their nuclear program has been Iran’s strategy all along with the gullible West

Pakistan

A suicide bomber detonated explosives near a Pakistani paramilitary checkpoint near the country’s eastern border with India on Sunday, killing at least 54 people in the deadliest attack to hit the country in several months. The death toll was likely to rise because over 100 people were wounded, with several in critical condition. The explosion hit near the checkpoint at the Wagah border crossing as hundreds of people were returning from a military parade on the outskirts of Lahore. Both the Pakistani and the Indian military conduct daily parades and flag-flying ceremonies on their respective sides of the border. The events draw crowds of hundreds, a number that would rise into the thousands on a weekend like Sunday.

Bangladesh

A huge power cut in Bangladesh left tens of millions of people nationwide without electricity for hours on Saturday. The blackout hit the entire South Asian country after a failure on a line that imports power from neighboring India. Shops were forced to close, hospitals resorted to backup generators to keep providing emergency services and people had to watch food spoil in their powerless refrigerators. The blackout lasted into the night, plunging streets in the capital of Dhaka into darkness as people used candles and flashlights to find their way. Power started to come back around 11 p.m. Saturday. And government officials said at a news conference Sunday morning that the electricity supply had been fully restored. An eight-member team has been set up to investigate exactly what caused the massive outage.

Zambia

Demonstrators fought police in the southern African nation of Zambia in protests against the acting president, a white Zambian who fired the ruling party chief following the death last week of President Michael Sata. The riots occurred late Monday in several places in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, including the University of Zambia and a government building designated as a place for Sata mourners to gather. Protesters had descended on the building, Belvedere Lodge, with stones, machetes and other weapons, and police fired tear gas into the venue to clear demonstrators from the area. The protesters were angry over the decision by acting president, Guy Scott, to dismiss Edgar Lungu, the ruling party’s general secretary. Lungu, who remains defense and justice minister, said his dismissal is illegal and accused Scott, a white Zambian of Scottish descent, of “insulting our culture.”

Yemen

U.S. drone strikes killed at least nine suspected members of al Qaeda in Yemen, where clashes intensified Tuesday between the terrorist group and Shia Houthi rebels, local security officials said. The three airstrikes in Yemen’s Al Baitha province, near Radaa district, targeted the local al Qaeda vehicles on their way to fight Houthis, the three security officials said. The strikes came amid fighting on the ground in the province that killed at least 36 fighters from both sides. Over the years, the Yemeni military, aided by American drone strikes, has failed to beat back AQAP. Yet the Houthis, a militant group that follows the Zaidi sect of Islam, have managed to defeat al Qaeda on numerous fronts, last week sweeping its militants from a stronghold in Al Baitha province.

Venezuela

For the first time in its 100-year history of oil production, Venezuela is importing crude — a new embarrassment for the country with the world’s largest oil reserves. The nation’s late president Hugo Chávez often boasted the South American country regained control of its oil industry after he seized joint ventures controlled by such companies as ExxonMobil and Conoco. But 19 months after Chávez’s death, the country can’t pump enough commercially viable oil out of the ground to meet domestic needs — a result of the former leader’s policies. The dilemma — which comes as prices at U.S. pumps fall below $3 per gallon — is the latest facing the government, which has been forced to explain away shortages of basic goods such as toilet paper, food and medicine in the past year.

Volcanoes

The front edge of a lava flow that’s been creeping its way toward Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii since June, stalled just a few hundred feet from a major thoroughfare on October 30 and hasn’t moved since, the U.S. Geological Survey announced Sunday. But that doesn’t mean that the lava flow isn’t moving at all. The lava is breaking out of the main flow and spreading horizontally just a few yards behind the stalled tip of the flow, threatening to merge with the stalled front and push the lava toward homes once again.

Weather

More than 100,000 Maine homes and businesses remained without power Monday after a powerful fall dumped up to 21 inches of snow on parts of the state, and officials said the restoration effort could take several days. The storm was so severe that utility crews were having trouble getting around to assess damage and to make downed lines safe. The storm packed gusts of 50 mph across much of Maine. Bangor (12 inches) and Caribou (10.1 inches), Maine both set their record earliest double-digit snowfall days.

An early season snow combined with gusty winds caused power outages, road closures and other adverse impacts across the South Saturday. At the peak of the snow, tens of thousands of people were without power in South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia. Road closures were also reported across the region. The North Carolina Department of Transportation reported that all lanes on I-40 were closed for roughly 15 miles in Haywood County due to multiple vehicle accidents and inclement weather. It was a record earliest snow for South Carolina.

Warning of “irreversible and dangerous impacts,” some of the world’s top scientists Sunday released the most comprehensive assessment of climate change ever done. Hundreds of scientists from 80 countries gathered in Copenhagen to take part in the assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group. Newest in the report is the level of certainty — 95% — that humans and greenhouse gas emissions are largely to blame for the change. “The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen,” the report states. The assessment comes as the Earth is headed toward its hottest year ever recorded, along with its highest level of atmospheric carbon dioxide in at least 800,000 years. “If left unchecked, climate change will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report said.

  • Whether human caused or not, extreme changes in the weather is an end-time sign

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