Signs of the Times (5/27/15)

After a two-week hiatus for travel and family, Signs of the Times is back.

Ireland Votes for Same-Sex Marriage

Considerable surprise has been expressed around the world about the fact that traditionally conservative and Catholic Ireland approved same-sex marriage in a referendum May 22 by a majority of nearly two to one. The fact is, Ireland is no longer a Catholic country in the old sense. Much of the state’s urban population is what we call here “cultural Catholics” — that is, they like to have baptisms and funerals in the local Catholic church, but are no longer regular mass-goers, notes Conor O’Clery, a former foreign correspondent for the Irish Times. “And the true believers who still make up a sizable portion of the population no longer feel obliged to obey the edicts of the bishops, who last Sunday opposed the “yes” vote from the pulpits. The reasons can be found in the universal disgust at the revelations in the past two decades of widespread clerical sexual abuse of children and the cover-up by bishops.”

  • Catholicism has never truly represented what real Christianity is all about, imposing man-made structure that interferes with believers’ personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Boy Scouts President Calls for Lifting of Ban on Gay Leaders

Robert Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America, called for the organization’s ban on gay adult leaders to be lifted this week. Speaking at the Boy Scouts annual meeting, Gates said that it was time for the change to occur to prevent “the end of us as a national movement.” Fox News reports the ban will not be lifted immediately, but Gates hopes to revise the policy in the near future. However, local chapters will be able to decide individually to allow homosexual leaders in the troops.

  • The Boy Scouts organization’s existence is already threatened because of earlier policy decisions to allow gay scouts. Lifting the ban on gay leaders would only serve to drive the last nail in the coffin. Even as our government and courts promote the gay agenda, parents are not so easily swayed.

United Methodists: Practicing Homosexuality Doesn’t Contradict Christian Doctrine

The United Methodist Church leadership has voted to submit a proposal to the 2016 General Conference that would remove “prohibitive” language about homosexuality from the United Methodist Book of Discipline, concluding that homosexuality doesn’t contradict Christian doctrine. The proposal removes homosexuality and the performance of same-sex weddings from the church’s list of chargeable offenses. Under the proposal, United Methodist pastors would be able to perform same-sex marriages in churches. Jennifer LeClaire, senior editor of Charisma, disagrees. She says pastors are supposed to teach people the “difference between the holy and profane.” “If we’re going to condone the practice of homosexuality, what’s stopping us from allowing pastors to commit adultery without rebuke?” she wrote in a column for Charisma. “Why not let drunken revelers lead kids’ church? Why not give greedy thieves and extortioners the responsibility for church finances?”

  • The end-times “falling away” that the Apostle Paul cites in 2Thessalonians 2:3 not only refers to Christians abandoning the Church but also to the Church abandoning Biblical principles

Senate Fails to Pass Patriot Act Extension

The Senate blocked reauthorization of the Patriot Act early Saturday, and left for Memorial Day recess without a clear plan to reauthorize the bill before it expires May 31. Senators rejected both a two-month extension of the bill the National Security Agency uses to justify its bulk collection of phone data, and a reform bill that would make phone companies responsible for keeping the data. The House overwhelmingly passed the reform bill, the USA Freedom Act, but won’t be back in session until June 1. The Senate will return from recess and resume debate on the bill a week from Sunday, just hours before the Patriot Act expires. Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who is running for president, and largely responsible for preventing the Senate from agreeing to even a 24-hour extension of the bill, lauded the delay. “I am proud to have stood up for the Bill of Rights,” he tweeted Saturday. “But our fight is not over.”

Obama Loses Immigration Court Battle

A federal appeals court on Tuesday denied a request from Justice Department lawyers to allow President Barack Obama’s controversial immigration actions to go into effect pending appeal. The decision is a victory for Texas and 25 other states that are challenging the Obama administration’s actions, which were blocked by a District Court judge in February. Tuesday’s decision means that while the issue is appealed, eligible undocumented immigrants will be unable to apply for the new programs aimed at easing deportation threats. At issue is the implementation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that permits teenagers and young adults who were born outside of the United States, but raised in the country, to apply for protection from deportation and for employment authorizations.

Obama Releases 2,300 Regs Before Memorial Day

The Obama administration released its spring regulatory agenda last Friday, including its costliest regulation to date, just as Americans were getting ready to celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend. The Spring 2015 Unified Agenda and Regulatory Plan includes more than 2,300 regulations. This is not the first time the ‘transparent’ Obama administration has released its regulatory agenda right before a major holiday, when such things might go unnoticed. The Daily Caller notes that the most recent edition contains what could be the most expensive regulation in U.S. history, which is a proposed change to the ozone pollution standards by the Environmental Protection Agency. Under the EPA’s proposal, the national ambient ozone standard will be reduced from 75 parts per billion to 65 to 70 parts per billion. This reduction, the EPA claims, will result in significantly fewer asthma attacks each year and help prevent 750 to 4,300 premature deaths, but will cost billions to implement.

Ferguson Protesters Now Protesting Over Not Getting Paid

At least some of the protesters who looted, rioted, burned buildings and overturned police cars in Ferguson, Missouri, last year were promised payment of up to $5,000 per month to join the protests, reports Newsmax. However, when the Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), the successor group to the now-bankrupt St. Louis branch of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), stiffed the protesters, they launched a sit-in protest at the headquarters of MORE and created a Twitter page to demand their money, the Washington Times reports. The Kansas City Star estimates that the Ferguson riots, characterized as a spontaneous eruption of anger over the shooting of unarmed black criminal Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, cost the county $4.2 million.

Hackers Steal Tax Info from 100,000

Thieves hacked into an Internal Revenue Service online service and gained access to information from more than 100,000 taxpayer accounts, the agency said Tuesday. The criminals used personal data obtained from other sources, including Social Security numbers, street addresses and dates of birth, to get into the IRS “Get Transcript” service. The service has been temporarily shut down. The thieves gained access to tax returns and other tax information on file with the IRS. The IRS said that the hack occurred from February through mid-May. The IRS first detected unusual activity last week. The IRS’ main computer system that handles tax filings wasn’t compromised.

Hacking Breaches Expensive for Large Companies

The average cost of a computer breach at large companies globally was $3.79 million, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Ponemon Institute in conjunction with IBM. For U.S.-based companies, the average cost was much higher, $6.5 million. Those costs included abnormal turnover of customers, reputation loss, diminished goodwill and paying for credit reports and aid to customers whose information was breached. Globally these costs have risen 23% since 2013. In the United States it’s up 12%. Simply investigating breaches in and of itself is expensive, costing global companies on average just shy of $1 million per breach, the survey found.

Economic News

Federal tax revenues hit an all-time record of $1.891 trillion in the first seven months of the fiscal year, but the federal government still ran a deficit of $262.7 billion, according to the latest Monthly Treasury Statement. Interest on federal debt amounted to $192 billion over the seven months, and is projected to cost $431.5 billion for the full fiscal year — more than the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior and Labor combined.

Consumer prices rose by just 0.1% in April as gasoline costs fell after two months of increases. Core prices, excluding food and energy, were up 0.3% in April and 0.8% over the past year. The average price of a gallon of regular gas heading into the weekend stood at $2.74, the high point so far this year. Existing home sales unexpectedly fell in April by 3.3% due to low housing supplies and higher prices after reaching an 18-month high the previous month.

The U.S. and Israel have the worst inequality in the developed world, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD found that the gap between rich and poor is at record levels in most of its 34 member countries. But the U.S. and Israel stood out from the pack. In the U.S., the richest 10% of the population earn 16.5 times the income of the poorest 10%. In Israel, the richest 10% earn 15 times that of the poorest.

In 2013, 9.6 million Americans over the age of 60 — or one of every six older men and women — could not reliably buy or access food at least part of the year, according to an analysis from researchers at the University of Kentucky and the University of Illinois, using the most recent data available. Across the country, the rate of food insecurity — the academic term for a disruption in the ability to maintain a basic, nutritious diet — among seniors has more than doubled since 2001, according to the National Council on Aging.

Persecution Watch

A new decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals holds that New York’s state government has the right to ban “Choose Life” license plates on the grounds that such a statement is “patently offensive.” The Children First Foundation (CFF), an organization promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion, submitted a design for a “Choose Life” license plate, which featured a drawing of two children’s faces in front of a yellow sun. The “patently offensive” category in U.S. speech is typically related to public obscenity laws, and allows for limitations on things like the public display of pornography or other materials that blatantly violate community standards.

  • The affirmation of life over death is offensive? No, it’s just an excuse to marginalize Christianity using any means available, not matter how ludicrous it might be.

A federal judge ruled this week that city commissioners in Rowan County, North Carolina must immediately cease opening government meetings with prayers specific to one religion as a lawsuit regarding the prayer tradition continues its way through court, reports the Christian Post. Three Rowan County residents argued that their constitutional rights were being violated because the majority of the county commission’s prayers were Christian in scope.

  • A prayer that is not specific to a religion is not a prayer

A United States Marine was convicted at a court-martial for refusing to remove a Bible verse on her computer – a verse of Scripture the military determined “could easily be seen as contrary to good order and discipline.” Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling is being criminally prosecuted for displaying a passage of Scripture from the Old Testament on her computer: “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.” Sterling, who represented herself at trial, was convicted in a court-martial at Camp Lejune, North Carolina after she refused to obey orders from a staff sergeant to remove the Bible verses from her desk. She was found guilty of failing to go to her appointed place of duty, disrespect toward a superior commissioned officer, and four specifications of disobeying the lawful order of a noncommissioned officer. Sterling is now unemployed and looking for work, a process made more difficult because of the bad conduct discharge from the military. Liberty Institute is now working to restore this Christian Marine’s good name and expunge the charge.

  • The absurdity of the all-out war against all things Christian is astounding

Middle East

At least one rocket was fired from Gaza into southern Israel late Tuesday afternoon, causing air raid sirens to sound and residents to run for shelter. Sirens blared on Tuesday throughout many populated areas in the south, including the port cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon and smaller towns that border Gaza. Israel said that at least one rocket exploded near the city of Ashdod. No injuries were reported. Although there has been relative quiet along the Israel-Gaza border since last summer’s war with Hamas, there have been several terrorist attacks and an incident of rocket fire.

  • As terrorist incidents against Israel ramp up once again, will the media note that it is the Palestinians who initiated the violence? Of course not. The liberal anti-Judeo/Christian media will continue to blame Israel.

Islamic State

An ISIS ship filled with “mercenaries, weapons and ammunition” was attacked by a Libyan air force plane Sunday morning, the chief of the air force told CNN. The attack took place off the coast of Sirte after Libya received information that the ship was allegedly bringing fuel for ISIS. The fuel was destined for electricity stations in Sirte, which ISIS controls. It’s not known exactly where the ship or the fuel came from.

Islamic State extremists have seized more than half of Syria after taking full control of the town of Palmyra. Militants then executed captive fighters and residents by the dozens, with many children executed as well. Previously, the Islamic State was able to seize Ramadi because the Iraqi military “showed no will to fight,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in an interview that aired Sunday. Close to 55,000 people have fled Ramadi since ISIS captured the city, a United Nations agency said.

American and allied warplanes are equipped with the most precise aerial arsenal ever fielded. But American officials say they are not striking significant — and obvious — Islamic State targets out of fear that the attacks will accidentally kill civilians, reports the New York Times. Killing such innocents could hand the militants a major propaganda coup. But many Iraqi commanders, and even some American officers, argue that exercising such prudence is harming the coalition’s larger effort to destroy the Islamic State. A persistent complaint of Iraqi officials and security officers is that the United States has been too cautious in its air campaign, frequently allowing columns of Islamic State fighters free movement on the battlefield.

Iraq

Iraq’s government announced Tuesday that its military had launched a counterattack aimed at driving the Islamic State terror group out of the western part of Anbar province just days after militants captured the city of Ramadi. Iraqi state TV announced the start of the operation, which was backed by Sunni and Shiite paramilitary forces, but did not provide further details. The possibility of a large-scale counteroffensive has has sparked fears of potential sectarian violence in the Sunni province, long the scene of protests and criticism against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. Iraq’s operation to recapture areas under the control of Islamic State extremists faced a setback Wednesday as ISIS unleashed a wave of suicide attacks targeting the Iraqi army in western Anbar province.

Lebanon

Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant and political organization, says it is nearly halfway through its stated goal of clearing al Qaeda-linked militants from the mountainous border between Syria and Lebanon. But there’s still a tough fight ahead, according to Hezbollah officials who took CNN on a rare tour of recaptured territory. Reporters were shown mountainous bases that Hezbollah officials said had been held merely a week ago by al Qaeda-linked militants, the Nusra Front, which Hezbollah says threatens Lebanon’s wider security. The maneuvers come amidst threatening statements by Hezbollah that it continues to plan offensive actions against Israel despite being fully engaged in Syria’s multifaceted conflict.

Afghanistan

An all-night siege in an upscale neighborhood of Afghanistan’s capital ended in the early hours of Wednesday morning with the deaths of four heavily armed Taliban attackers. No civilians or security personnel were injured or killed. The attack took place in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of downtown Kabul, home to many embassies and foreign firms. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in tweets on a recognized Twitter account. They referred to the target as “belonging to the occupiers,” reiterating the insurgents’ message that foreign installations are specific targets in the Afghan capital.

Nigeria

Boko Haram militants hacked 10 people to death in a Friday raid on a village in northeast Nigeria’s Adamawa state, a local government administrator said Monday. Dozens of Boko Haram insurgents stormed Pambula-Kwamda village in Madagali district, which the military recently declared free of the militant group, and killed 10 residents. The attackers, armed with machetes, stormed the village shortly before dawn, while residents were still asleep. Also, the Fulani, a nomadic Muslim group, attacked three villages in central Nigeria over the weekend, leaving 23 people dead, police said Tuesday.

The U.N. children’s agency reports an “alarming spike” in suicide bombings by girls and women used by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. It says women and children carried out three-quarters of the 26 suicide attacks reported in 2014 and the 27 seen in just the first five months of this year. UNICEF said Tuesday that kids are “being used intentionally by adults in the most horrific way.” It’s not known how many thousands of children and women have been kidnapped by Boko Haram, with new abductions reported every week. UNICEF estimates 743,000 children have been uprooted by the nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising, with as many as 10,000 separated from their families in the chaos.

Kenya

Al Shabaab gunmen attacked Kenyan police vehicles near Somalia’s border, injuring at least five officers and burning five cars, police said on Tuesday. Two officers were critically injured and three others sustained minor injuries in the attack in Garissa County. Two of the attackers were killed. Al Shabaab has carried out several attacks in Kenya in retaliation for Kenya’s military involvement in Somalia. In a separate incident Tuesday morning, suspected al-Shabab militants ambushed a vehicle carrying four passengers in Lafey in the northern county of Mandera, wounding at least one person before seizing the vehicle and driving it toward Somalia.

Ukraine

Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday voted to suspend military cooperation with Russia signaling a further break in relations between the once-close partners. Russia is so desperate to hide its military involvement in Ukraine that it has brought in mobile crematoriums to destroy the bodies of its war dead, say U.S. lawmakers who traveled to the war-torn country this spring. The U.S. and NATO have long maintained that thousands of Russian troops are fighting alongside separatists inside eastern Ukraine.

China

China is building the world’s greatest economic development and construction project ever undertaken: The New Silk Road. The project aims at no less than a revolutionary change in the economic map of the world. It is also seen by many as the first shot in a battle between east and west for dominance in Eurasia. The ambitious vision is to resurrect the ancient Silk Road as a modern transit, trade, and economic corridor that runs from Shanghai to Berlin. The ‘Road’ will traverse China, Mongolia, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Germany, extending more than 8,000 miles, creating an economic zone that extends over one third the circumference of the earth. The plan envisions building high-speed railroads, roads and highways, energy transmission and distributions networks, and fiber optic networks. Cities and ports along the route will be targeted for economic development.

The buildup of Chinese naval power in the South China Sea and recent groundbreaking on two island lighthouses are elevating tensions between the U.S. and China over the disputed region. The release of a new white paper, “China’s Military Strategy,” indicates China plans to broaden its influence over the South China Sea. The paper notes that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will be adding “open seas protection” to “offshore waters defense” in its naval mission. An editorial in the state-run Chinese tabloid Global Times said conflict between China and the U.S. will be unavoidable if Washington doesn’t stop harassing Beijing for building islands and military facilities in disputed parts of the South China Sea.

Volcanoes

After three decades of silence, a volcano on the largest of the Galapagos Islands erupted Monday, sending smoke, ash and lava into the air. The Wolf volcano, which sits on Isabela Island’s northern tip, began erupting before dawn, 33 years since its last eruption. The Galapagos, which form an archipelago, are provinces of Ecuador. Wolf is 70 miles from the only populated area of the island.

Earthquakes

A 4.8 magnitude earthquake hit Las Vegas Nevada last Friday causing several roads to close due to damage, but not injuries or fatalities were reported.

Weather

Rainfall broke records and river banks, and killed a firefighter early this week in Texas and Oklahoma, as emergency crews scrambled to pull residents from floodwaters. The storms washed away hundreds of homes in Texas and Oklahoma. Damaging thousands of structures and stranding thousands on inundated roads. Widespread flooding continues in the Houston metro area, with stretches of major freeways still flooded. Numerous vehicles are submerged on flooded roads and stuck in gridlocked traffic. At least eighteen people have died in Oklahoma and Texas over the past three days. Firefighters answered 2,300 calls for help Tuesday. Flood-ravaged Houston is in the middle of another round of locally heavy rain Wednesday morning following the deluge of up to 11 inches of rain Monday and Tuesday. As floodwaters slowly recede in Texas, more bodies surface — many found in vehicles swept away by raging currents. At least 13 people remain missing.

A dam near Dallas was on the brink of collapse Wednesday following the heavy rains and deadly flooding. Officials warned residents and farmers to get to high ground as they worked frantically to pump out lake water and ease pressure on the earthen structure on Padera Lake about 25 miles southwest of Dallas. Officials expected the dam to fail sometime Wednesday and send a wall of water down Highway 287 in Ellis County.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme

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