Signs of the Times (5/4/15)

War on Christianity: Churches to Lose IRS Exemptions?

Churches that oppose same-sex marriage will lose their tax exemption said President Barack Obama’s lawyer, the sitting Solicitor General of the United States, Donald Verrilli, Jr., on Tuesday, April 28, 2015, during questioning by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Samuel Alito, Jr. Solicitor General Verrilli, using a public office to defend same-sex marriage on behalf of the United States, was asked by Justice Alito if religious institutions could be at risk of losing their tax-exempt status due to their beliefs about Biblical marriage. Verrilli’s reply was, “It’s certainly going to be an issue.”

  • The loss of IRS tax exemptions will become the weapon the federal government will use to force churches to toe the line on ungodly issues as the “beginning of sorrows” run-up to the Tribulation rolls onward

House Votes Down D.C. Pro-Abortion ‘Discrimination’ Law

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives struck down a law that pro-abortion groups want very badly. The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act was all about cramming the abortion agenda down Americans’ throats, starting in Washington, D.C. The Left portrays the proposed law as protecting pro-abortion workers from discrimination in hiring because of their political views. The truth of the vaguely worded law was actually aimed at religious freedom. As written, the law could be (and would be) interpreted as requiring pro-life groups to hire pro-abortion workers. Nancy Pelosi tried to frame the debate as an issue of “states’ rights” (which she generally opposes) and Republicans meddling in “reproductive rights.” The vote to reject the law was 228-192. Rep. Diane Black said, “Congress has a constitutional duty to ensure that our laws are upheld in the District of Columbia and we would be shirking our duties as legislators to allow this discriminatory ‘nondiscrimination’ act to go unchallenged.”

Aid Slow to Reach Remote Nepal Earthquake Victims

Nepal shut its only international airport in Kathmandu to large planes carrying aid on Sunday because of damage to the main runway from last week’s devastating earthquake. With help still not reaching some isolated villages a week after Nepal’s devastating earthquake, a top international aid official said Saturday that more helicopters were needed to get assistance to the farthest reaches of this Himalayan nation. Many mountain roads, often treacherous at the best of times, remain blocked by landslides, making it extremely difficult for supply trucks to get to the higher Himalayan foothills. More than 130,000 houses were destroyed in the quake, according to the U.N. humanitarian office. Near the epicenter, north of Kathmandu, whole villages were in ruins, and residents were in desperate need of temporary shelters against the rain and cold. The magnitude-7.8 earthquake killed more than 7,200 people, with the death toll continuing to rise as reports filter in from isolated areas. The U.N. has estimated the quake affected 8.1 million people — more than a fourth of Nepal’s population of 27.8 million. With its sewage system badly damaged and carcasses rotting in the rubble, experts say Nepal faces a race against time to ensure that the devastating earthquake does not also trigger a public health disaster.

May Day Rallies Turn Ugly

Police say black-clad May Day marchers hurled wrenches and rocks at officers and hit police with sticks as a Friday night march through a Seattle neighborhood turned violent and injured three officers. Police responded with pepper spray and pepper balls, eventually arresting 15 people. Protesters damaged several dozen vehicles. The march was just one of several May Day demonstrations done to support workers’ rights and other causes in Seattle on Friday. Others were peaceful, including a Black Lives Matter March and an immigrant and workers’ rights event, organized by the group El Comite.

Tensions Still High in Baltimore Even after Six Officers Charged

While jubilation appeared to be the mood in Baltimore’s streets on Friday after an announcement that charges would be filed against six city officers in the death of Freddie Gray, tensions still flared after the 10 p.m. curfew started Friday night. Arrests were made near City Hall as law enforcement announced that the only people permitted to be out on the streets would be credentialed members of the media. According to Baltimore police, there were 38 protest-related arrests and 15 curfew-related arrests Friday night. The developments came a few hours after representatives for the family of Gray expressed satisfaction at Friday’s announcement by State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby that charges would be filed against six city officers she says are responsible for the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died while in police custody. All six officers posted bail and were released Friday night. Among the charges: failure to find probable cause, illegal arrest, failure to seek or render medical aid, gross negligence and misconduct.

2 Gunmen Dead at Muhammad Cartoon Exhibit in Texas

Two Muslim gunmen were killed after they opened fire Sunday in a parking lot outside a provocative contest for cartoon depictions of the prophet Muhammad in Garland, Texas. Garland’s city government issued a statement saying that as a Muhammad Art Exhibit event was coming to a close at the Curtis Culwell Center, “two males drove up to the front of the building in a car” and started shooting at a security officer. “Garland police officers engaged the gunmen, who were both shot and killed,” the statement posted online said. The security officer, a Garland Independent School District employee, was shot in the lower leg and suffered non-life-threatening injuries. None of the approximately 200 people attending the event were hurt. A search for explosives continued Monday as police searched the Phoenix home of the radical roommates. The exhibit was placed on lockdown and attendees later moved to a nearby high school. A group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative hosted the Muhammad Cartoon Exhibit and $10,000 cartoon contest.

ER Visits Unexpectedly Up under Obamacare

Three-quarters of emergency physicians say they’ve seen ER patient visits surge since Obamacare took effect — just the opposite of what many Americans expected would happen. A poll released Monday by the American College of Emergency Physicians shows that 28% of 2,099 doctors surveyed nationally saw large increases in volume, while 47% saw slight increases. Such hikes run counter to one of the goals of the health care overhaul, which is to reduce pressure on emergency rooms by getting more people insured through Medicaid or subsidized private coverage and providing better access to primary care. A major reason that hasn’t happened is there simply aren’t enough primary care physicians to handle all the newly insured patients, ER doctors say.

Superstorm Sandy Victims Told To Pay Back $24 Million in Aid

As some survivors still struggle to get back on their feet more than two years after Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Northeast, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has notified 3,600 families in five states that they’ll have to pay back a combined $24 million in emergency funding that was doled out to help with recovery from the massive storm, according to the Telegraph. On average, that’s more than $6,000 per family. A FEMA audit was conducted recently and determined that there was $24 million in overpaid funds. There is hope for the families being sought out by FEMA, however. New Jersey congressman Frank Pallone has proposed legislation that would waive debts from FEMA overpayments. FEMA also sent out 90,000 debt letters after Hurricane Katrina, but Congress passed a law six years after the disaster that allowed the agency to waive that debt.

Iowa Declares State of Emergency over Bird Flu

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad declared a state of emergency Friday to battle the rising toll that bird flu is taking on the state’s poultry industry. The avian influenza outbreak does not pose a risk to humans, officials say. So far, 21 sites spanning 10 Iowa counties have cases that are presumed or confirmed positive for avian influenza. Once the virus is found at a site, all birds must be killed to prevent spread of the disease. Nationally, producers are having to kill more than 21 million turkeys and chickens because of the virus.

Economic News

Home prices took off in 2012 and went on a tear in 2013. And while the double-digit growth has slowed somewhat, prices are still heading higher. In February, prices rose 4.2% from the year prior, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Index.

Since the end of 2010, rental prices have surged at nearly twice the pace of average hourly wages, according to data from the Labor Department. More than one in four U.S. renters now have to use at least half their family income to pay for housing and utilities, up 26% since 2007.

The share of Americans underwater on their mortgages has declined to just over 4 million (or 8% of borrowers), nearly 30% fewer underwater borrowers than last year. 29% of underwater borrowers are seriously delinquent on their mortgages.

The Eurozone purchasing managers’ index was 52 in April, down slightly from 52.2 in March, but still above the 50 mark that separates expansion from contraction. Greece’s manufacturing sector hit a 22-month low of 46.5. France also remained in contraction.

Persecution Watch

Two Jewish residents of Paris were assaulted on the street Friday by a gang of about 40 people, prompting police to warn Jewish business owners in the neighborhood to be extra vigilant. The attack occurred on Boulevard Voltaire in Paris’ 11th arrondissement. The victims were described as being in their 20s. JSS News said police had launched an investigation and warned the many Jewish business owners in the Right Bank area to take precautions. The attack, the latest in a series of anti-Semitic assaults, was associated with two anti-Israel groups.

Thousands of Migrants Rescued Sunday in Mediterranean

Italian ships rescued 3,690 migrants in just one day from smugglers’ boats on the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast, the Italian Coast Guard said Sunday. The agency said 17 different rescue operations were carried out Saturday after smugglers took advantage of calm seas and warm weather to move the migrants out of Africa on motorized rubber dinghies and fishing boats. Some of the migrants were being brought Sunday to ports in Sicily while others were expected to reach Calabria, in the south of the Italian mainland, on Monday, as temporary shelters for those rescued were reaching full capacity on the Mediterranean island. While there was no issue with the weather, the smugglers often use include aging vessels that sometimes begin leaking shortly after leaving Libya. The boats are crammed with too many people as traffickers try to maximize earnings off the migrants, who pay hundreds of euros (dollars) for the passage between the Mediterranean’s southern shore and Italy. The relentless flood of migrants is continuing this year after 170,000 were rescued at sea by Italy in 2014 — a 277 percent increase over the numbers in 2013.


Israel’s ceremonial president Reuven Rivlin said Monday that an outbreak of violent protests by Ethiopian Jews has “exposed an open, bleeding wound in the heart of Israeli society” a day after thousands of people clashed with police in Tel Aviv. The protesters shut down a major highway, hurled stones and bottles at police officers and overturned a squad car. They were ultimately dispersed with tear gas and water cannons. More than 60 people were wounded and 40 arrested. Simmering frustrations among Israel’s Ethiopian community boiled over after footage emerged last week of an Ethiopian Israeli in an army uniform being beaten by police. Ethiopian Jews begin migrating to Israel three decades ago. Many complain of racism, lack of opportunity, endemic poverty and routine police harassment. Sunday night’s violence was the second such protest in several days, and demonstrations are expected to continue. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Monday with the beaten soldier and community leaders.


A Syrian group opposed to the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad, says airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition has killed 52 civilians. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called the alleged killings a “massacre” committed under the “pretext” of targeting ISIS militants. The observatory also leveled a fresh charge against the al-Assad regime on Sunday, saying helicopters dropped explosive barrels on a neighborhood — and that medical sources believe the barrels contained chlorine gas. At last 40 people suffered from suffocation, the group said. Both attacks allegedly took place Saturday. The London-based organization said U.S.-led coalition airstrikes hit a village northeast of the city of Aleppo. The dead include seven children and nine women, the observatory said, adding that 13 more civilians were unaccounted for, so the death toll could rise.


The State Department has reportedly deemed any mission to rescue U.S. government assets in war-torn Yemen too risky. The Wall Street Journal reported that any attempted evacuation in the country where an Al Qaeda affiliate is active would put hundreds of stranded Americans and any U.S. military assets involved at risk. Usually the U.S. evacuates citizens when commercial methods of transport are cut off, the WSJ says. However, the State Department made clear that no such operation was in the works for Yemen, where airports have been bombed and seaports are closed to commercial traffic.


The world’s largest refugee camp is becoming a scene of not only chronic misery but a new and growing confrontation between a Kenyan government threatening to shut it down and occupants vowing to stay. The government announced April 11 that it wanted the camp closed within three months because it was used as a staging ground by al-Shabab terrorists for the deadly university attack in Garissa earlier this month that killed more than 140 students and staff. Mohamed Kuno, believed to be the mastermind behind the university attack, was a headmaster at a madrassa, or Islamic school, in the Dadaab camp. But the 350,000 refugees — mostly Somalis who have fled civil war, terrorism and famine — say they won’t willingly leave the peace and security of Dadaab. The United Nations has spoken out against the move.


The Atlantic Ocean is teeming with life, but for the first time researchers have discovered dead zones in these waters — areas low in both oxygen and salinity — off the coast of Africa. Fish can’t survive in the dead zones, and researchers don’t yet fully understand how microorganisms will react. In 2014, a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico measured more than 5,000 square miles — huge, but down from the previous year’s 5,800 square miles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.


For the second time in less than a month, a small earthquake jangled nerves early Sunday when it struck on the west side of Los Angeles. No damage or injuries were reported. The quake measured 3.9 on the Richter Scale and was centered near the communities of View Park and Windsor Hills, adjoining neighborhoods in the Baldwin Hills, a mostly unincorporated area near Inglewood and Culver City, California. It was felt widely across a swath that included Santa Monica and the area around Los Angeles International Airport.

A 4.2-magnitude earthquake struck Kalamazoo, Michigan, and was felt across multiple states early Saturday afternoon. People in Lower Michigan, as well as in Ohio, Indiana and the Chicago area reported feeling the brief tremor. The quake caused damage to several structures in cities southeast of Kalamazoo, including damaged chimneys, broken windows and plaster and downed brick cornices. While the earthquake itself wasn’t very powerful, the location is uncommon, with this 4.2-magnitude earthquake is the strongest in Michigan since 1947

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently released a map highlighting the future risk for man-made earthquakes, and up to eight states have an increased chance to see ground shaking. In particular, a new corridor spanning from north Texas to southern Kansas stands out as the most vulnerable. Azle, Texas, which had no recorded quakes for 150 years, felt 27 tremors from November 2013 to January 2014. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex continues to feel regular earthquakes. As Science Magazine reports, earthquakes hit areas of Kansas bordering Oklahoma 192 times in the last two years; the same counties were only hit twice in the preceding 35 years. The scientific community has already reached a consensus that oil and gas operations, more specifically underground wastewater injections (fracking), are causing the swarm of earthquakes down the middle of the country.


For much of this week, even into the Mother’s Day holiday weekend, scattered severe thunderstorms with large hail, damaging wind gusts and isolated tornadoes will flare up each afternoon and evening in parts of the nation’s heartland. Severe storms broke out in parts of the Plains and Upper Midwest Sunday. Hail up to the size of ping-pong balls fell in Minneapolis, and spotty wind damage was also reported in the Twin Cities area. Golfball-size hail was reported on the south side of Lincoln, Nebraska. A tornado was reported over open country about 20 miles south of Lincoln Sunday evening. There were no immediate reports of major structural damage or injuries from any of Sunday’s storms.

The eastern two-thirds of the nation will finally see some longer-lasting warm temperatures for most of this week. The warm-up is already underway in parts of the Northeast and Great Lakes, and it will stick around for much of the week ahead. Instead of taking a sharp southward dip in the eastern U.S., the polar jet stream has flattened out, tracking more west-to-east across the northern Great Lakes, eastern Canada and northern New England.

Severe storms struck New South Wales and Queensland, Australia Friday, setting off fatal flash floods. At least six people died Friday, five of whom died in vehicles stranded by floodwaters. Rain began late on Wednesday and continued through Friday with more than 9 inches of rain measured, with the majority falling on Friday. Fast-moving floods triggered over 30 water rescues.

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