Archive for December, 2011

Signs of the Times (12/30/11)

December 30, 2011

Clerics Battle for Bethlehem Turf

Up to 100 Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic priests and monks swinging brooms clashed inside the Church of Nativity today in Bethlehem in a frenzied turf battle. Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics share the administration of the church, which often leads to jurisdictional disputes. The fighting broke out during cleaning of the West Bank church in preparation for Orthodox Christmas celebrations in early January, as each side jealously guards its territory. Palestinian police, using batons and shields, were called in to break up the fighting inside the basilica.

  • A shameful exhibit of interdenominational feuding that only fuels disbelief among unbelievers

Palestinian Authority Claims Jesus as Own

As part of the Christmas celebration in Bethlehem this weekend, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (a man regarded by the Obama Administration as a moderate and reliable partner for peace) said, “Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate the Palestinian identity of Jesus Christ.” The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes, “Such claims, which were often made by chief terrorist Yasser Arafat during his life, are part of a calculated strategy by the Palestinians to delegitimize Israel and remove any traces of Jewish history from the Promised Land. While we may laugh at such silly and obviously false statements, the Palestinian people take them as gospel truth. They are indoctrinated in hatred for the Jewish people and given a totally perverted view of history. There are so many threats facing Israel today, and we urgently need to stand with them right now.”

  • As Hitler said and proved, tell a lie often enough and people will begin to believe it

Maryland Abortion Doctors Charged with Murder

Authorities say two doctors accused of performing late-term abortions in Maryland have been arrested and charged with murder. At least one case involved a woman who was critically injured during the procedure. Police say Dr. Steven Brigham, of Voorhees, N.J., was arrested Wednesday night in New Jersey. Brigham remained in the Camden County Jail on Thursday, awaiting an extradition hearing. Authorities also arrested Dr. Nicola Irene Riley, of Salt Lake City, Utah, on Wednesday night. Riley was being held the Salt Lake City Jail, where she too was awaiting an extradition hearing. Police say Brigham and Riley face charges of first- and second-degree murder. A Maryland grand jury handed up indictments against Brigham and Riley earlier Wednesday, capping a 16-month-long investigation.

  • Hit-and-run abortionists are a murderous plague on our nation and must be stopped.

Jesus Prayer Ban in 5 States Being Challenged

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide soon whether to hear the case that could ban or restore the right to pray “in Jesus’ name across America, in what is being hailed as the most important free speech case of our generation. Forsyth County, North Carolina, is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend our right to speak the illegal word “Jesus” in a public prayer.  The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that oversees 5 states has already banned prayers ending “in Jesus name” at public city council meetings in Virginia and West Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Maryland.  Forsyth County voted 6-1 to appeal and defend our free speech rights to the Supreme Court. A 38-page brief that opposes the appeal was filed Thursday at the Supreme Court by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Court Upholds Spying Law, Revives Suits over NSA ‘Dragnet’

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the federal government can be sued for the National Security Agency’s warrantless “dragnet” of Americans’ telephone conversations and e-mails. But in a separate opinion, another three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based court upheld the 2008 law that gave telecommunications companies immunity for aiding the NSA in its hunt for terrorists. NSA had been secretly collecting call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth. Operating out of a secret room in an AT&T office in San Francisco, the NSA compiled what was described as “the largest database ever assembled in the world.” Two groups of customers sued the NSA, arguing it violated their privacy by collecting Internet data from AT&T and other big telecoms. The 9th Circuit overturned a lower-court ruling that had dismissed the suits as a “general grievance” from the public, and not an actionable claim.

  • Typical judicial confusion that will likely only be resolved by the Supreme Court years hence

Federal Judge Blocks Calif. Low-Carbon Fuels Rule

A federal judge moved Thursday to block California from enforcing its first-in-the-nation mandate for cleaner, low-carbon fuels, saying the rules favor biofuels produced in the state. The lawsuit challenging the state regulations, which were adopted as part of California’s landmark 2006 global warming law, was filed in federal court last year by a coalition that includes the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association and the Consumer Energy Alliance. The ruling Thursday said the low-carbon fuel rules violated the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause by discriminating against crude oil and biofuels producers located outside California. Out-of-state fuels producers hailed the decision as a win for California drivers.

Several New State Saws Set for 2012

Some 40,000 laws were passed by legislatures meeting in all 50 states during 2011, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and many have a start date of Jan. 1, 2012. In New Jersey, a toll increase enacted in 2008 takes effect Sunday, rising as much as 40%. California, as usual, is implementing a wide range of new legal requirements. One adds lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and disabled people, to a list of cultural groups whose contributions to the development of the United States must be portrayed in social science course material in public schools. The law bans teaching materials that reflect poorly on gays or particular religions. Already, opponents have begun seeking a ballot initiative to repeal the law. In addition the production, distribution and sale of beer to which caffeine has been added is prohibited.

Several states have enacted requirements that some businesses use the federal E-Verify program to determine whether new workers are eligible under immigration laws. Countering the trend, California will prohibit local governments from requiring a private employer to use E-Verify. New laws requiring voters to present photo identification will go into effect in Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas. New abortion rules also go into effect. In New Hampshire, a law will require girls seeking abortions to tell their parents or a judge. In Arkansas, clinics that perform 10 or more non-surgical abortions a month must be licensed by the state and be subject to inspections.

Crime Still Dogs New Orleans

Homes are being built better. Neighborhoods are repopulating. Schools are improving. But one ingredient of recovery here continues to elude city leaders: stopping murders. Stories of street killings continue to crowd nightly newscasts, despite vows by leaders to stem the violence. As of Thursday, police had counted 197 murders in the city — well above last year’s tally of 175. The murder rate last year was 51 per 100,000 residents — 10 times the national average and five times larger than other similar-size cities. This year’s rate promises to be even higher. The violence gained national attention over the Halloween weekend, when five separate shootings across the city left two dead and 14 injured.

  • Perversion in New Orleans remains rampant and celebrated, opening the door to Satan’s follies – sow to the flesh, reap corruption (Gal. 6:8)

Incandescent Light Bulbs on the Way Out

The nation’s light bulbs begin facing new efficiency and labeling standards starting Jan. 1, but don’t expect old-fashioned incandescents to suddenly disappear from store shelves. The congressionally mandated efficiency standards gradually phase out Thomas Edison’s 131-year-old creation in favor of other light bulbs that use at least 25% less energy. The first to go, beginning Sunday, is the traditional 100-watt, followed in January 2013 with the 75-watt version and in January 2014 with the 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs. Yet even Edison’s 100-watt bulb will still be available for a while. The law says the bulbs can’t be manufactured or imported after Jan. 1 but lets stores sell them until stock runs out.

Endangered Elephants have Worst Year since 1989

Large seizures of elephant tusks make this year the worst on record for the endangered species since ivory sales were banned in 1989, with recent estimates suggesting as many as 3,000 elephants were killed by poachers. In one case earlier this month, Malaysian authorities seized hundreds of African elephant tusks worth $1.3 million that were being shipped to Cambodia. The ivory was hidden in containers of Kenyan handicrafts. Most cases involve ivory being smuggled from Africa into Asia, where growing wealth has fed the desire for ivory ornaments and for rhino horn that is used in traditional medicine, though scientists have proved it has no medicinal value. Asian crime syndicates are increasingly involved in poaching and the illegal ivory trade across Africa, a trend that coincides with growing Asian investment on the continent.

2011 to be ‘Safest Ever’ Year for Fliers

It appears 2011 may end up as the safest year on record for fliers. So far, there’s been one fatality for every 7.1 million passengers traveling on a commercial or charter flight somewhere around the globe. That compares with the previous record of one passenger death per 6.4 million fliers in 2004. The global numbers reflect a recent safety trend by U.S. airlines, which haven’t experienced a passenger death in a crash in four of the last five years. The exception was 2009, when a Colgan Air turboprop crashed near Buffalo on Feb. 12, leaving 50 dead. U.S. airlines had 17 fatal accidents from 2000 through 2009, including the four planes lost during the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, says the U.S. industry trade group Airlines for America. That’s in comparison with 44 fatal accidents throughout the 1970s. Better technology and improved training of crews have helped make flying less hazardous, travel experts say.

Economic News

The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes in November rose by 7.3$ to the highest level in a year and a half. Normally, that would signal better home sales. But a growing number of buyers are canceling their contracts at the last minute, making the gauge less reliable.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week after three straight weeks of declines to a level consistent with a modest pick-up in hiring. Weekly applications increased by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 381,000 the week ended Dec. 24th. Applications generally must fall below 375,000 — consistently — to signal that hiring is strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate.

More small businesses plan to hire than at any time in three years, a trade group said earlier this month. And a separate private-sector survey found more companies are planning to add workers in the first quarter of next year than at any time since 2008.

Italy saw investors more willing to part with their cash Wednesday as it raised euro10.7 billion ($14 billion) in a pair of auctions, a sign that market jitters may be easing as the country presses ahead with its austerity measures. The lower rates Italy had to pay are the first post-Christmas test of sentiment in the markets over the debt crisis that has engulfed the 17 countries that use the euro, and may be a signal that some of last week’s massive injection of money into the European banking system from the European Central Bank may be filtering through into government bonds.


Iran has threatened that it will retaliate against the Obama administration’s proposed new economic sanctions on Iran’s oil exports by blocking the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. “If sanctions are adopted against Iranian oil,” said Iran’s Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, “not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz,” the narrow waterway at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, which one-fifth of the world’s oil supply passes through daily. To drive the point home, Iran has started a 10-day naval exercise in the Persian Gulf to show off how it could use small speedboats and a barrage of missiles to combat America’s naval armada. This is a significant escalation of tension between the United States and Iran, and the start of a more dangerous phase in the West’s attempt to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.


U.S. investment and other business in Iraq has quadrupled this year despite concerns over violence and sectarian rivalry as the last American troops withdrew from Iraq. U.S. companies reached deals worth $8.1 billion through Dec. 1, up from $2 billion last year. The surge follows a number of years in which U.S. companies were fearful of entering Iraq and have lagged behind some European and regional countries. Iraq’s oil industry is attracting U.S. and other foreign companies, and Iraq’s government is spending billions of dollars to upgrade infrastructure, such as housing, roads and port facilities.

The Obama administration is moving ahead with the sale of nearly $11 billion worth of arms and training for the Iraqi military despite concerns that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is seeking to consolidate authority, create a one-party Shiite-dominated state and abandon the American-backed power-sharing government. The military aid, including advanced fighter jets and battle tanks, is meant to help the Iraqi government protect its borders and rebuild a military that before the 1991 Persian Gulf war was one of the largest in the world; it was disbanded in 2003 after the United States invasion. While the United States is eager to beef up Iraq’s military, at least in part as a hedge against Iranian influence, there are also fears that the move could backfire if the Baghdad government ultimately aligns more closely with the Shiite theocracy in Tehran than with Washington.


An Afghan army soldier shot and killed two French NATO troops Thursday, the French government said, in what was the latest attack by members of Afghan security forces against their coalition partners. This year has been the deadliest for French forces in Afghanistan since the international operation began there in 2001. Thursday’s deaths bring to 26 the number of French troops killed this year, and 78 over the entire 10-year conflict. They also bring the December toll for NATO troops killed in Afghanistan to 25, while the year’s toll so far is 541. The yearly total is considerably lower than for 2010, when more than 700 troops died. The number of wounded has remained high, dipping only slightly from last year’s total of more than 5,000 service members.


Syrian security forces opened fire Thursday on tens of thousands protesting outside a mosque in a Damascus suburb, close to a municipal building that members of the Arab League monitoring mission were visiting. Activists said at least four people were killed in the shooting. The ongoing violence, and new questions about the human rights record of the head of the Arab League monitors, are reinforcing the opposition’s view that Syria’s limited cooperation with the observers is nothing more than a farce for President Bashar Assad’s regime to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.


Turkey’s air force attacked suspected Kurdish rebel targets along the border with Iraq, killing at least 20 people, many of them believed to be smugglers mistaken for guerrillas. The Turkish military confirmed the Wednesday night raids, but said its jets struck an area of northern Iraq that is frequently used by the rebels to enter Turkey, after drones detected a group approaching Turkey’s border. It said an inquiry has been launched.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi women will not be required to get a male guardian’s approval to run or vote in municipal elections in 2015, according to the state-run al-Watan newspaper. The newspaper announced the change today, the Associated Press reports. Even so, women in Saudi Arabia cannot travel, work, study abroad, marry, get divorced or gain admittance to a public hospital without permission from a male guardian. While King Abdullah has pushed for some changes on women’s rights, he has been cautious not to push too hard against ultraconservative clerics, who have in the past challenged social reforms.

The United States has completed a $29.4 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, the Obama administration announced today, saying the deal “will support more than 50,000 American jobs.” The sale may also be seen as a message to Iran. Under the agreement, the United States will provide advanced F-15SA combat aircraft to the Royal Saudi Air Force. The sale comes amid U.S. and Saudi concerns about the military intentions of Iran. The Saudis are concerned about Iranian efforts to influence events in Iraq, which is on the Saudi border; the U.S., meanwhile, has cautioned Iran against any effort to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil transport traffic, saying “any disruption will not be tolerated.”


The Communist Party does not acknowledge its mental facilities are used to silence critics, but according to numerous human rights groups and Chinese dissidents, China’s Communist-led government has for decades incarcerated healthy people in mental wards to suppress dissent. In the past two years, wrongful confinement cases have sharply increased, says Liu Feiyue of Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, a human-rights organization based in Suzhou. The rise in confinements is greatest among petitioners — the ordinary people who complain about local problems, he says. Committing them to mental hospitals is a “quick, convenient and very effective” method for the government to silence criticism.


Russia’s Foreign Ministry released a report today attacking the U.S. human rights record, citing examples ranging from wrongful death row convictions to the terrorism prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “The situation in the United States is a far cry from the ideals that Washington proclaims,” says the report released Wednesday. The report comes shortly Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Obama administration officials criticized the conduct of recent Russian elections, drawing a rebuke from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The 90-page Russian report also slams EU nations, Canada and Georgia, but reserves its longest section of 20 pages for what it says are violations by the United States.

North Korea

North Korea’s power brokers publicly declared Kim Jong Un the supreme leader for the first time at Thursday’s massive public memorial for his father Kim Jong Il, cementing the family’s hold on power for another generation. The unequivocal public backing for Kim Jong Un at his father’s memorial provides a strong signal that government and military officials have unified around him in the wake of Kim Jong Il’s death Dec. 17. North Korea warned the world Friday there would be no softening of its position toward South Korea’s government after Kim Jong Il’s death as Pyongyang strengthened his son and heir’s authority with a new title: Great Leader.


Sirens wailed and fireworks exploded in the skies over Samoa as the tiny South Pacific nation jumped forward in time, crossing westward over the international dateline and effectively erasing Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, from the country’s calendar. Samoans who had gathered around the main clock tower in the capital Apia cheered and clapped as the clock struck midnight on Thursday, Dec. 29, instantly transporting the country 24 hours ahead to Saturday, Dec. 31. The switch, also being observed by neighboring Tokelau, is meant to align the islands’ time with key trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region. The time jump means that Samoa’s 186,000 citizens, and the 1,500 in the three-atoll United Nations dependency of Tokelau, will now be the first in the world to ring in the new year, rather than the last.


A volcano in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands sent up an ash cloud Thursday that prompted scientists to increase the alert level for commercial aircraft traffic. The Alaska Volcano Observatory said satellite images showed Cleveland Volcano had spewed ash 15,000 feet into the air in a cloud that moved east-southeast. The ash cloud was significant enough to raise the alert level from yellow, representing elevated unrest, to orange, representing an increased potential of eruption. Cleveland Mountain is a 5,675-foot peak on uninhabited Chuginadak Island about 940 miles southwest of Anchorage.


A cyclone brought heavy rains and gale-force winds to India’s southeastern coast, killing at least 11 people, uprooting trees and damaging homes. Heavy rains and winds of speeds reaching 85 miles per hour uprooted trees and damaged homes. The deaths were caused mostly by wall collapses and electrocution. The India Meteorological Department said Friday morning that Cyclone Thane was centered in the Indian Ocean, 22 miles southwest of the town of Pondicherry.

year ago, snow was falling in Utah at about twice the average rate, and resorts were reveling in the white stuff, packed with crowds of tourists swarming the ski slopes. Now the state’s snowpack is at about 50 percent of average, and one resort without snowmaking capability hasn’t even opened for the season. Things weren’t looking better heading into the New Year’s weekend, with temperatures for northern Utah forecast in the upper 40s on Thursday. Northern Nevada’s Tahoe Basin and the Sierra also are suffering this season with snowpack at only about 10 percent of normal.

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Signs of the Times (12/28/11)

December 28, 2011

Christian Population Shifts Away From Europe

A new study by the Pew Research Center shows that during the last century, the Christian population has shifted dramatically away from Europe to Africa, Asia and the Americas, the Associated Press reports. About one-fourth of the world’s Christians live in Europe today, compared to two-thirds 100 years ago. About one-fourth of the worlds Christians can now be found in sub-Saharan Africa, while 37 percent live in the Americas and 13 percent live in Asia.

  • The end-time “falling away” is underway in earnest (2Thess. 2:3)

No Economic Downturn on Capital Hill

Largely insulated from the country’s economic downturn since 2008, members of Congress — many of them among the “1 percenters” denounced by Occupy Wall Street protesters — have gotten much richer even as most of the country has become much poorer in the last six years, according to an analysis by The New York Times based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group. Congress has never been a place for paupers. From plantation owners in the pre-Civil War era to industrialists in the early 1900s to ex-Wall Street financiers and Internet executives today, it has long been populated with the rich, including scions of families like the Guggenheims, Hearsts, Kennedys and Rockefellers. But rarely has the divide appeared so wide, or the public contrast so stark, between lawmakers and those they represent. There is broad debate about just why the wealth gap appears to be growing. For starters, the prohibitive costs of political campaigning may discourage the less affluent from even considering a candidacy. Beyond that, loose ethics controls, shrewd stock picks, profitable land deals, favorable tax laws, inheritances and even marriages to wealthy spouses are all cited as possible explanations for the rising fortunes on Capitol Hill. What is clear is that members of Congress are getting richer compared not only with the average American worker, but also with other very rich Americans.

  • This is why rich, pampered politicians will never have the resolve to fully deal with the debt crisis

State Workers Add Time to Pensions

Government workers in 21 states are using an obscure perk to retire early or to boost their annual pensions by thousands of dollars, which can cost taxpayers millions more in payments to retirement funds. The practice, called buying “air time,” lets state, municipal and school employees pay to add up to five years to their work history so they are eligible to retire and collect a lifetime pension. Workers already eligible for retirement can buy extra years to boost a pension by up to 25%. It’s called “air time” because workers buy credit for non-existent work, in contrast to policies that let workers buy credit for military service or government jobs in a different state. Federal law allows air-time purchases only in government pension plans.

  • Unfunded pension liabilities are already an albatross around the necks of state budgets

Federal Workers Starting at Much Higher Pay

Newly hired federal workers are starting at much higher salaries than those who did the same jobs in the past, a lift that has elevated the salaries of scientists and custodians alike, according to a USA Today analysis. The pay hikes have made the federal government a go-to place for many young people. A 20- to 24-year-old auto mechanic started at an average of $46,427 this year, up from $36,750 five years ago. The government hires about 400 full-time auto mechanics a year. A 30- to 34-year-old lawyer started at an average of $101,045 this year, up from $79,177 five years ago. The government hires about 2,500 lawyers a year. And a mechanical engineer, age 25 to 29, started at $63,675, up from $51,746 in 2006. The government hires about 600 mechanical engineers a year.

  • Yet another way the federal government ignores the economic constraints others are forced to follow

Senate Politics to Shut Down Some Agencies

When Senate Republicans filibustered President Obama’s nominee to a key consumer watchdog post this month, it was the first time in history the Senate blocked an appointment in an effort to effectively shut down an agency. It likely won’t be the last. Already, Senate Republicans are threatening to hold up Obama’s nominees to a number of posts overseeing elections, labor law and health care — and in each case, they aim to kill the agency outright. Part of the problem is that Democrats have created s many new agencies without Republican input. In blocking the president’s nomination of Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Dec. 8, McConnell said, “We are not going to let the president put another unelected czar in place.”

  • Government expansion without oversight is the hallmark of Obama’s socialistic strategy

Obama Seeks $1.2 Trillion Increase in Debt Ceiling

The Treasury Department is expected to seen another $1.2 trillion in borrowing authority by the end of the week, raising the federal debt ceiling to $16.4 trillion. It’s the third and final installment of a deal that Obama and Congress reached back in August, amid conservative opposition to a debt ceiling rise that threatened a government default. In recent months, Obama has secured two debt ceiling increases totaling $900 billion. Congress can move to block this latest increase, but Obama can veto the effort. This would be the final increase allowed under the budget agreement reached in August. The budget agreement largely pre-empts the partisan debate over federal deficits and debt that the request might otherwise have touched off in Congress.

  • Will the debt spiral ever end? Not until defaults cause economic chaos.

Copper Thieves Darken Streetlights

Nighttime stretches of road across the USA are being left dark by the theft of copper wiring from streetlights, and police are investigating whether the darkness contributed to some crashes. Copper thieves also are hitting traffic lights. In Kentucky, copper thieves have left about 450 highway lights dark in the Lexington area. Hawaii will spend more than $3 million next year to repair lights on the H-1 and H-2 freeways that have been dark for several years. Police in Colorado Springs are investigating the 4 a.m. crash of a milk tanker that overturned on a stretch of Interstate 25 that was darkened because copper wiring had been stolen from streetlights. In Vallejo, Calif., thieves stripped copper wiring from nearly 80 streetlights and from traffic lights at five intersections. A nearly 50% increase in the value of copper over the past five years makes it “an exceptionally attractive target” for thieves.

Economic News

Banks are lending again. After three years of Scrooge-like underwriting following 2008’s financial crisis, banks have turned on the spigot, boosting lending at annual rates as high as 8.2% since July, according to Federal Reserve statistics. Lending had fallen from mid-2008 through this year’s second quarter. Among the reasons: The economy is improving, while smaller banks have positioned themselves to pick up slack left as bigger banks remain cautious.

Holiday retail sales appear on track to be somewhere between ho-ho-ho and ho-hum, raising the prospect that the economic expansion is still struggling to reach top form. The National Retail Federation on Dec. 15 raised its estimated holiday sales to a 3.8% rise from 2010 — up from its previous 2.8% estimate — buoyed by the strong sales in October and November. But when you take price increases into account, the gains were only marginal.

Between 100 and 120 Sears and Kmart stores will be closed, the retailer said Tuesday, after terrible holiday sales during what is the most crucial time of the year for retailers. The company is moving away from its practice of propping up “marginally performing” stores in hopes of improving their performance. Sears said it will now concentrate on cash-generating stores.

Just as several new plug-in electric vehicles are headed to showrooms, the government is letting expire a tax credit for installing home and commercial charging equipment. A tax credit for chargers ends Saturday, even as proponents press Congress to reinstate it, perhaps retroactively, in January. The credit allows taxpayers to deduct 30% of the cost of chargers installed in their garages up to $1,000. On commercial units, the tax break is up to $30,000, according to the IRS.

A wide-ranging currency agreement between China and Japan is expected to give the Chinese Yuan a more powerful role in international trade. Economic woes in Europe and U.S. have undermined market confidence in the dollar and euro, but investors looking for a safe place to store their money have few other currency options. China, among other nations, has objected to the primacy of the dollar in international trade, and has suggested other options to the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency.

Brazil will remain one of the fastest-growing nations in the coming years after overtaking the U.K. this year to become the world’s sixth-largest economy. The countries that will grow the most are the emerging markets such as Brazil, China, India and Russia, according to the London-based Center for Economics and Business Research.


The Christmas terror attacks on two churches marked the second year in a row that the extremists seeking to install Islamic Shariah law across the country of 160 million have staged Christmas attacks. Last year, a series of bombings on Christmas Eve killed 32 people. This year, 39 people were killed with at least 52 wounded. After the bombings, a Boko Haram spokesman for the radical Muslim sect said, “”There will never be peace until our demands are met. We want all our brothers who have been incarcerated to be released; we want full implementation of the Sharia system and we want democracy and the constitution to be suspended.” The group, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in the local Hausa language, is responsible for at least 504 killings this year alone, and Nigeria is bracing for more brazen attacks.


The Arab League sent monitors to Syria Monday even though President Bashar Assad’s regime has only intensified its crackdown on dissent in the week since agreeing to the Arab plan to stop the bloodshed. Activists say government forces have killed several hundred civilians in the past week. At least 23 more deaths were reported Monday from intense shelling in the center of the country, just hours before the first 60 monitors were to arrive. The opposition says thousands of government troops have been besieging the Baba Amr district of in the central city of Homs for days and the government is preparing a massive assault on the area. Tens of thousands of defiant Syrian protesters thronged the streets of Homs Tuesday, calling for the execution of President Bashar Assad shortly after his army pulled its tanks back and allowed Arab League monitors in for the first time to the city at the heart of the anti-government uprising.

Activists say at least four soldiers have been killed and 12 others wounded in southern Syria in an ambush carried out by a group of military defectors. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the ambush targeted a joint military and security convoy. Thousands of army defectors in Syria have grown increasingly bolder in attacking government forces. Wednesday’s ambush comes as Arab League observers began a second day of work touring districts in the flashpoint central city of Homs. The Syrian government released 755 prisoners Wednesday who had been detained over the past nine months in the regime’s crackdown on dissent. The prisoners’ release followed accusations by Human Rights Watch that Syrian authorities were hiding hundreds of detainees from the observers now in the country.


President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that his government would accept Taliban insurgents’ opening a representative office in the Gulf state of Qatar for the purpose of holding peace talks, although Saudi Arabia or Turkey would be preferable venues. Earlier this month, Kabul recalled its ambassador to Qatar for consultations over reports that the Taliban was planning to open an office in the tiny, gas-rich Arab state. The Islamist group has so far not publicly responded to peace offers. The insurgents, who perceive themselves as winning the war, have repeatedly said they would not engage in talks with the government while foreign troops remain on Afghan soil. “Having an exact address for the opposition (is a condition) for practical steps toward starting negotiations,” Tuesday’s statement said. Three NATO service members have been killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan Wednesday. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the target was a U.S. military convoy.

  • Peace with Islamist terrorists is a dangerous illusion that only serves to give them more room to operate


An al-Qaeda front group in Iraq has claimed responsibility for the wave of attacks that ripped through markets, cafes and government buildings in Baghdad on a single day last week, killing 69 people and raising new worries about the country’s path. The coordinated attacks struck a dozen mostly Shiite neighborhoods in the first major bloodshed since U.S. troops completed a full withdrawal this month after nearly nine years of war. They also coincided with a government crisis that has again strained ties between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites to the breaking point, tearing at the same fault line that nearly pushed Iraq into all-out civil war several years ago. The claim of responsibility focused its rage on the country’s Shiite-dominated leadership, which Sunni insurgents have battled since it came to power as a result of the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.


An alleged CIA spy went on trial in Tehran on Tuesday. “The first hearing in the trial of Amir Mirzai Hekmati, recently arrested for spying for the United States, began Tuesday morning” in a Tehran court, according to a statement on the Fars website. Hekmati, an Arizona-born former marine, was accused of being on a mission to infiltrate Iran’s intelligence service when he was arrested in the Islamic Republic on Aug. 29. His family deny the claim, saying it was “absolutely, positively” wrong and that Hekmati was forced to lie and confess to being an agent in an Iranian state television broadcast earlier this month.


The Obama administration has decided in principle to allow the embattled president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to enter the United States for medical treatment, subject to certain assurances, two administration officials said Monday. But those conditions — including a proposed itinerary — have not yet been submitted to the American Embassy in Yemen, these officials said, and no visa has yet been issued to Mr. Saleh. The complex negotiations over Mr. Saleh’s visa request attest to the high stakes for the administration, which urgently wants to secure room for political progress in Yemen but does not want to allow Mr. Saleh to use a medical visit as a way to shore up his political position.


A South Korean mourning delegation returned home Tuesday after meeting with North Korea’s next leader, who has rapidly gained prominence since his father’s death. Kim Jong Un’s brief meeting Monday with a group led by a former South Korean first lady and a prominent business leader shows Seoul that he is assured in his new role atop the country’s ruling structure. The South Koreans also met with Kim Yong Nam, president of Presidium of North Korea’s parliament. The sides agreed to push for the implementation of 2000 and 2007 summit agreements between the countries aimed at expanding economic cooperation.


Colombian rebels on Tuesday announced plans to release six hostages who have been held captive for more than a decade. Colombian rebels on Tuesday announced plans to release six hostages who have been held captive for more than a decade. three of those to be freed include police officers who were kidnapped in southern Colombia on July 11, 1999. The leftist rebel group has been fighting Colombia’s government since 1964 and is estimated to have between 8,000 and 9,000 fighters. FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez earlier this month repeated a proposal to free jailed guerrillas in exchange for rebel-held hostages. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has rejected any such exchange and has called on the rebels to free all their hostages unilaterally as a step toward possible dialogue.


Officials say fast-moving mudflows streaming from the mouth of a volcano in eastern Indonesia have killed four villagers. More than a dozen others were hospitalized with injuries ranging from broken bones to head wounds. About 1,000 others have fled their homes. Mount Gamalama, located in the Molucca Islands, sprang back to life this month with a powerful, non-fatal eruption. Days of heavy rains triggered flows of cold lava, rocks and other debris that slammed into villages near the base Tuesday night.


Another storm will develop in the Southeast while moving through the eastern third of the country. This storm will carry a significant amount of moisture that will produce widespread moderate to heavy rain through the Southeast. Many areas will receive several inches of rain. In the colder air to the north, a mix of rain and snow will fall in the Ohio Valley. Even colder air in the Upper Midwest will produce several inches of snow in Wisconsin and Michigan.

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Signs of the Times (12/26/11)

December 26, 2011

Christmas Celebrated in Bethlehem, Blasted in Nigeria

Hundreds of Christian faithful, defying lashing rains and wind, celebrated Christmas Mass at Jesus’ traditional birthplace on Sunday, even as a deadly blast in a Nigerian church shattered the holiday’s message of peace on earth. Worshippers, dressed in their holiday best and some in the traditional attire of foreign lands, rushed under cover of umbrellas into St. Catherine’s Church on Bethlehem’s Manger Square, leaving the plaza, with its 50-foot-tall Christmas tree, deserted. St. Catherine’s is attached to the smaller Church of the Nativity, which is built over a grotto where Christians it is believed that Jesus was born.

Thousands of miles away near the Nigerian capital, Abuja, holiday celebrants were not so fortunate. Officials said at least 39 people were killed in two church bombings that were caused by a radical Muslim sect. The violence came amid a wave of increasingly deadly attacks by the Muslim sect bent on implementing strict Shariah law across Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people divided into a largely Christian south and a Muslim north.

Pope laments Christmas consumerism

Pope Benedict XVI decried the increasing commercialization of Christmas as he celebrated Christmas Eve Mass on Saturday night, urging the faithful to look beyond the holiday’s “superficial glitter” to discover its true meaning. In his homily, Benedict lamented that Christmas has become an increasingly commercial celebration that obscures the simplicity of the message of Christ’s birth. “Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light,” he said.

  • Christmas has largely become a secular event, worshipping Santa Claus and focusing on presents instead of His presence

Churches Closed Sunday?

Because Christmas falls on Sunday this year, some churches opted to close that day so that families can spend the morning together at home. Among the nation’s top 20 largest Protestant churches — as ranked by Outreach Magazine — three were closed on Christmas, and 10 had only one service. Life Research, based in Nashville, says its national survey of Protestant churches found that 91% would hold at least one service Christmas morning, while about 9% will not worship on Sunday at all. Pastors identifying themselves as Mainline (87%) are more likely to have a service on Christmas Eve compared to those identifying themselves as Evangelical (70%), Life Research found.

  • Santa Claus triumphs over Jesus once again in the secularized, pseudo-celebration of Christ’s birth

Congress Banned from Saying ‘Merry Christmas’

After all United States Congressmen were banned from writing the words “Merry Christmas” in their letters to constituents (but permitted to say “Happy Holidays”) one brave Christian Congressman took a stand for Jesus Christ.   Congressman Scott Rigell (R-VA) made a viral video that got over 55,000 hits in 3 days, daring to violate the “Jesus ban” by uttering the forbidden words, “Happy Hanukkah” and “Merry Christmas.”  Earlier this month the House banned congressmen from sending out Christmas and Hanukkah cards. Rigell’s video is clearly criticizing new franking rules in the House that ban holiday greetings such as “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah” or even “Happy New Year” from being sent out in mass mailings paid for with tax dollars.

  • The level of anti-Christian/Judeo prejudice has gotten ridiculous and petty

Arizona Sheriff Faces New Setback over Immigration

America’s self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff” has been dealt another setback to his immigration enforcement efforts by a federal judge’s ruling that bars deputies from detaining people based solely on the suspicion that they’re in the country illegally. The ruling issued Friday sets the stage for a possible trial in a lawsuit that alleges racial profiling in the patrols in Arizona’s Maricopa County, and would further limit Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration authority after Washington yanked his federal powers earlier this month. Lawyers pushing the lawsuit on behalf of five Latino clients also won class-action status that lets other Hispanics join the case if they have been detained and questioned by Arpaio’s deputies as either a driver or passenger in a vehicle since January 2007.

  • The more illegals the better for Obama as the 2012 elections approach

Justice Department Rejects S.C. Voter-Identification Law

The U.S. Justice Department’s decision Friday rejecting South Carolina’s voter ID law ignited outrage and celebration on opposite sides of an emotionally charged issue. Civil rights activist and Greenville native Jesse Jackson called it a fitting Christmas present, while Gov. Nikki Haley said she is trying to improve things in South Carolina but “the president and his bullying administration are fighting us every step of the way.” The state’s new voter ID law requires a state-issued driver’s license or ID card, a U.S. military ID, or a U.S. passport.

  • Obama is determined to allow as many people as possible to vote illegally, since that demographic is widely supportive of his totalitarian administration

Congress To Fund Massive Expansion Of TSA Checkpoints

Congress is set to give the green light on funding for a massive expansion of TSA checkpoints, with the federal agency already responsible for over 9,000 such checkpoints in the last year amidst increased fears America is turning into a police state following the passage of the ‘indefinite detention’ bill. The increase in funding has nothing to do with the TSA’s role in airports – this is about creating 12 more VIPR teams to add the federal agency’s 25 units that are already scattered across the country and responsible for manning checkpoints on highways, in bus and train terminals, at sports events and even high school prom nights. “The TSA’s 25 “viper” teams — for Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response — have run more than 9,300 unannounced checkpoints and other search operations in the last year. Department of Homeland Security officials have asked Congress for funding to add 12 more teams next year,” reports the L.A. Times. The extra money is being demanded despite the fact that there is “no proof that the roving viper teams have foiled any terrorist plots or thwarted any major threat to public safety,” according to the L.A. Times report.

Treasury Report Shows U.S. Debts Growing

The Treasury Department gave President Obama an early Christmas lump of coal on Friday: the 2011 financial report of the U.S. government, which shows rapidly rising debts. The report reveals the government owes $17.5 trillion to its creditors, retirees, veterans and others. Little wonder Treasury released the financial statement and GAO’s response on the Friday before Christmas. The report is no surprise: While Obama and Congress finally settled on a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance and Medicare payments to doctors, they have been unable to cut much from future budget deficits.

  • The U.S. is essentially bankrupt and unwilling to do anything about it. As soon as foreign lenders balk at underwriting more debt, the threat of default will become quite real. Our fate is now in the hands of China and OPEC. I’m sure they have our best interests at heart.

Corporate Borrowing Soars

Consumers may be cutting debt and banks may be tightening up their balance sheets, but borrowing by U.S. corporations is in full swing. At a time when the popular narrative centers on how tight-fisted banks are getting with their lending, end-of-year data for syndicated loans tell a different story. Corporations use syndicated loans for longer-term financing. The loans usually are provided by a group of deep-pocketed lenders who can distribute liability among them and thus decrease their risk. Big Wall Street investment banks are usually the source of such loans. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch were the two biggest players. So far in 2011, syndicated loan volume has increased a whopping 56% compared to 2010, according to Dealogic. The total of $1.76 trillion is the highest single-year sum since the pre-financial crisis days of 2007. Moreover, the U.S. was the biggest player in the space, with 47% of the total global loan volume, up 9 percentage points over 2010.

  • As usual, banks and fat cats have no trouble getting funds while Main Street is held on a short leash – New World Order socialism only extends to the masses, not the so-called ‘elite’

Economic News

New home sales rose in November from October, but 2011 will likely end up as the worst year for sales in history. The Commerce Department says new-home sales rose 1.6% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 315,000. That’s less than half the 700,000 new homes that economists say should be sold to sustain a healthy housing market. It’s also below the 323,000 homes sold last year — worst year for sales on records dating back to 1963.

Consumers spent at a lackluster rate in November as their incomes barely grew, suggesting that Americans may struggle to keep spending more into 2012. Consumer spending rose just 0.1% in November, matching the modest October increase. Incomes also rose 0.1%. Both the spending and income gains fell below expectations.

Last-minute shoppers hit stores on Christmas Eve in a surge that is expected to top off an unexpectedly strong U.S. holiday shopping season. Apparel, electronics, perfume and jewelry were among the biggest sellers. Stores are expected to ring up $469.1 billion during the holiday season, which begins Nov. 1st and runs through Dec. 31st. The final week before Christmas can account for up to 20% of those sales. Online, shoppers spent almost $32 billion for the holiday season, a 15% increase from a year ago.


For the first time in more than four decades, Libyans on Saturday celebrated the 60th anniversary of the country’s independence from Italy and France. Libya was occupied for decades by various nations, and it was not until 1947 that both Italy and France relinquished claims to parts of the country. Under Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year rule, the celebration was scrapped and instead, only the 1969 date of his coup was marked. Thousands of people flocked to the capital from around the country in hopes of breaking bread on an 7-mile-long set of tables planned along Tripoli’s coast as part of the ceremony. However, the dinner was canceled due to security reasons and infighting among former rebel groups who were invited.


The Obama administration is considering whether to allow Yemen’s outgoing president into the United States for medical treatment, as fresh violence and political tensions flare in the strategically important Middle Eastern nation. Yemen’s outgoing president said Saturday he would leave the country for the United States to help calm tensions in his country as forces commanded by his son and nephew opened fire on more than 100,000 protesters marching into the capital, killing at least eight. The protesters had marched on foot for four days from the city of Taiz, south of Sanaa, in the first such march of its kind seen in Yemen, to pressure the government not to give Saleh immunity from prosecution. When they reached the southern entrances to the capital, forces of the elite Republican Guard fired on them with automatic weapons, tear gas and water cannons. The turmoil reflected the confused political situation in Yemen caused by the slow-motion, uncertain exit of Saleh from power.


A Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber rammed a car filled with explosives into a paramilitary camp in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, killing six soldiers in the second attack in as many days meant to avenge the killing of senior commander in a U.S. drone strike. At least 19 soldiers were wounded in the attack, and rescue workers were searching for additional casualties. A Pakistani Taliban spokesman said the attack was meant to avenge the death of commander Taj Gul in a U.S. drone strike in October in the South Waziristan tribal area, a key sanctuary for the militants.

For the past six weeks, the CIA has suspended drone strikes against militants in Pakistan in an effort to repair relations with Islamabad. Fragile relations between the countries, which deeply mistrust each other, hit a new low last month when U.S. forces mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan. The pause comes amid an intensifying debate in the Obama administration over the future of the CIA’s covert drone war in Pakistan. The agency has killed dozens of Al Qaeda operatives and hundreds of low-ranking fighters there since the first Predator strike in 2004, but the program has infuriated many Pakistanis. Some officials in the State Department and the National Security Council say many of the airstrikes are counterproductive. They argue that rank-and-file militants are easy to replace, and that Pakistani claims of civilian casualties, which the U.S. disputes, have destabilized the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, a U.S. ally.


A suicide attacker set off a car bomb Monday at a checkpoint leading to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, killing seven people and injuring 32 others. The bomber struck during morning rush hour, hitting one of many security barriers set up around the ministry’s building. Five policemen were among the dead. The attack followed a series of bombings last week that killed up to 70 people in a single day, increasing fears about Iraq’s future after U.S. troops withdrew earlier this month. U.S. and some Iraqi officials have warned of a resurgence of Sunni and Shiite militants and an increase in violence after the full U.S. troop withdrawal. Years of anger and disenfranchisement are driving some largely Sunni provinces to try to wrest more autonomy from Iraq’s Shiite leaders.

A young Christian couple have been killed and a Christian man kidnapped in Iraq, heightening fears about the increasing threat to the Christian community now US troops have left the country. Adnan Elia Jakmakji (34) and his wife Raghad al Tawil (25) were shot dead in their car last Tuesday (13 December). Their two sons were wounded as gunmen sprayed the vehicle with bullets. The family was ambushed in Mosul, northern Iraq, by an armed group. The previous day, Sermat Patros, a 29-year-old Christian man, was kidnapped from his family’s home furnishings store in Ankawa in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan and held for ransom.


Hundreds of nuclear scientists from North Korea are working in 10 different locations in Iran. The disclosure of the number of scientists in the Islamic Republic spells out the close ties between the two powers. Both North Korea and Iran are under United Nations sanctions for not cooperating with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. North Korea has been also been known to be working closely with Pakistan and Syria on nuclear development. The scientists and missile engineers are working at Iran’s Natanz and Qom sites, among others. Despite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denials, Israel and Western powers assume the objective of the enrichment plant is to use the uranium to build a nuclear weapon, while engineers try to build a missile capable of delivering it.

North Korea

Kim Jong Il’s son was identified Monday as head of a top decision-making body of the ruling Workers’ Party, a post that now gives him authority over political as well as military matters in North Korea. A week after state media reported leader Kim Jong Il’s Dec. 17 death, the campaign to install successor Kim Jong Un gained momentum. On Saturday, state media referred to him as “supreme leader” of North Korea’s 1.2 million-strong armed forces and said the military’s top leaders had pledged their loyalty to him.


Tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied in the Russian capital Saturday in the largest protest so far against election fraud, signaling growing outrage over Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s 12-year rule. The demonstration in Moscow was even bigger than a similar protest two weeks ago, although rallies in other cities in the far east and Siberia earlier in the day drew much smaller crowds than on Dec. 10. The demonstrations are the largest show of discontent the nation has seen since the 1991 Soviet collapse. The recent protests in Moscow and other cities have dented Putin’s authority as he seeks to reclaim the presidency in a March vote. The Kremlin has responded by promising a set of political reforms that would allow more political competition in future elections. But protest leaders say they will continue pushing for a rerun of the Dec. 4 parliamentary election and punishment for officials accused of vote fraud.


Sudanese troops killed Khalil Ibrahim, the leader of the main Darfur rebel group, in fighting early Sunday west of the capital Khartoum. Ibrahim led the Darfur-based Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, which unlike other Darfur rebel groups did not join a peace deal with the government in Khartoum. Ibrahim was believed to have been until recently in Libya, where he enjoyed support of Moammar Gadhafi until the death of the Libyan dictator at the hands of the country’s revolutionaries. On Saturday, the Sudanese army said the rebels from Darfur attacked three locations in neighboring North Kordufan, killing an unspecified number of civilians in an area where government forces were not present.


Heavy snow from a winter storm blanketed parts of the West on Friday, stranding motorists throughout New Mexico, and delaying holiday travelers who were trying to fly in and out of Albuquerque and Denver. The snow and high winds struck the region Thursday and forced dozens of drivers off Interstate 40 after severe conditions made driving near impossible in western New Mexico. By Friday morning, Grants and parts of western New Mexico had been slammed with more than a foot of snow.

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Signs of the Times (12/23/11)

December 23, 2011

Not Christmas, but Christ.

Not merriment, but the Messiah.

Not goodwill, but God.

Not presents, but His presence

(by Greg Laurie)

House Republicans Agree to Two-Month Payroll Tax Patch

Both chambers of Congress passed an amended version of the two-month payroll tax cut extension Friday, sending the measure to President Barack Obama’s desk and handing Democrats a hard-fought victory on an issue — taxes — that has historically favored their Republican counterparts. The measure cleared the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives by unanimous consent, a procedural move allowing the measure to pass even though most members of Congress are now home for the holidays. Among other things, the measure also includes a two-month extension of emergency federal unemployment benefits and the so-called “doc fix,” a delay in scheduled pay cuts to Medicare physicians. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill, wrapping up a legislative year marked by repeated partisan brinksmanship and declining public approval of a seemingly dysfunctional Congress.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, finally succumbed Thursday to calls from across the political spectrum for House Republicans to stop blocking congressional approval of the bipartisan two-month extension, which has been previously approved by the Senate. Thursday’s agreement produced essentially the same proposal House Republicans rejected from the Senate earlier this week. The Senate passed the measure last Saturday in an 89-10 vote, with strong Republican support. Under the deal, the payroll tax will remain at the current 4.2% rate instead of reverting to the 6.2% rate it was at before the cut enacted last year. Without congressional action, the higher rate would have returned in 2012, meaning an average $1,000 tax increase for 160 million Americans. The deal also includes a provision supported by Republicans regarding construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas that Republicans say will create 20,000 jobs in short order. The White House has said the project needs more time for environmental review, but President Obama will have 60 days to either issue a permit to allow it to be built, or to explain why it is not in the national interest in order to halt it.

Religious Freedom Under Fire at the United Nations

The Religion News Service reports that on Dec. 19, the United Nations adopted a resolution against religious intolerance. However, religious rights groups say the resolution, backed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), is really designed to prevent and criminalize criticism of Islam as well as granting cover to Islamic-based blasphemy laws such as those in Pakistan. Frank Gaffney, president of the American Center for Security Policy, says the OIC is a “multi-national Muslim mafia. … It is 57 states and Palestine that have come together to promote what is fundamentally the agenda that is known as sharia [Islamic law].” Author Nina Shea added, “[The OIC is] asking the West to enforce criminal punishment for blasphemy against Islam within Western borders against their own citizens.” The American Center for Law and Justice is calling for nations with histories of religious persecution to think twice before implementing the new resolution.

Charities Give Christmas Gift of Water

Clean, accessible water for the world’s poor is one of the hottest causes of the season. December donors are sending millions of dollars flowing to villages and urban slums in Africa, South Asia and Central America. And, drop by drop, lives are changed. Countless children are spared killer waterborne diseases. Countless women are spared backbreaking hours fetching water in 40-pound, 5-gallon plastic jugs. There are dozens of water-focused charities touted on websites, in Christmas-themed catalogs and at social events such as a sold-out, celebrity-packed Manhattan charity ball last week. They’ve honed the message — water is critical to health and social and economic development for nearly 900 million people — in a way that it can compete for urgent attention with hunger, malaria, HIV/AIDS and refugee aid.

Pro-Life Nurses Win Major Workplace Battle

Twelve nurses who sued one of the state’s largest hospitals after claiming they were forced to assist in abortions over their religious and moral objections reached a deal Thursday with their employer in federal court. Under the agreement, 12 nurses in the same-day surgery unit of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey can remain in their current positions and not be compelled to assist in any part of an abortion procedure. The nurses must only help in a life-threatening emergency if no other non-objecting staff members are available and only until which time one can be brought in to relieve them, according to the agreement. Despite the ruling specifying that the nurses wouldn’t be discriminated against, Racpan Vinoya said she was still nervous they would be transferred, have their hours cut or otherwise be punished for having sued.

Voters Leaving Republican, Democratic Parties in Droves

More than 2.5 million voters have left the Democratic and Republican parties since the 2008 elections, while the number of independent voters continues to grow. The trend is acute in states that are key to next year’s presidential race. In the eight swing states that register voters by party, Democrats’ registration is down by 800,000 and Republicans’ by 350,000. Independents have gained 325,000. The pattern continues a decades-long trend that has seen a diminution in the power of political parties, giving rise to independents as Ross Perot and Ralph Nader and the popularity this year of libertarian Republican Ron Paul. Registered Democrats still dominate the political playing field with more than 42 million voters, compared to 30 million Republicans and 24 million independents. But Democrats have lost the most — 1.7 million, or 3.9%, from 2008. “The strident voices of both the left and the right have sort of soured people from saying willingly that they belong to one party or the other,” says Doug Lewis, who represents state elections officials.

Judge Blocks Portions of S.C. Immigration Law

A federal court granted an order sought by the U.S. government blocking enforcement of South Carolina’s immigration law. U.S. District Judge Richard Mark Gergel said the United States is likely to succeed in its challenge to three sections of the law.The measure, which was to take effect Jan. 1, criminalizes an immigrant’s failure to carry a certificate of registration and requires police who suspect someone is in the United States unlawfully to verify the person’s legal status. The federal government on sued Oct. 31, saying the law will impose “significant and counterproductive burdens” on the United States, which claims legal preeminence in setting immigration policy.

Planes, Choppers to Replace National Guard Troops on Border

In January, the Pentagon will begin pulling out most of the 1,200 National Guard troops stationed along the Southwestern border since 2010 and replacing them with military helicopters and airplanes. Officials from the Defense Department and Homeland Security say aircraft outfitted with high-tech radar and other gear can cover more ground than troops in spotting and catching illegal border crossers and drug smugglers. “We are basically going from boots on the ground to boots in the air,” said David Aguilar, deputy commissioner for Customs and Border Protection. The officials say the shift in strategy is aimed at maintaining the Pentagon’s support for the Border Patrol while lowering costs. The new policy will reduce the National Guard presence on the border from the 1,200 authorized in 2010 to 300.

More Police Officers Dying in Ambushes

Despite a national campaign focused on police officer safety, the number of officers killed in the line of duty will increase for the second consecutive year, largely because of an alarming spike in ambush-style attacks, a Justice Department review has found. Federal and local officials for the past two years have been troubled by the overall number of firearms-related fatalities, which are up 23% so far in 2011, even though violent crime has declined in much of the country. Yet in 63 of the 65 shooting deaths that the Justice Department has analyzed this year, 73% were the result of ambush or surprise attacks. Less than two weeks until the end of the year, the total number of officer deaths from all causes—174 —already marks the third largest death toll in the past decade. Police departments were directed by the Justice Department to require officers to wear body armor or risk losing millions of dollars in federal aid.

Economic News

Consumers spent at a lackluster rate in November as their incomes barely grew, suggesting that U.S. households may struggle to sustain their spending into 2012. The Commerce Department says consumer spending rose just 0.1% in November, matching the modest October increase. Incomes also rose 0.1%. That was the weakest showing since a 0.1% decline in August.

In a second report Friday, Commerce said orders to factories for durable goods rose 3.8% in November, biggest gain since July. But so-called core capital goods, a proxy for business investment spending, dropped for a second straight month, falling 1.2% after a 0.9% decline in October. The declines in business capital goods excluding aircraft represented a setback in a key pocket of strength for the economy this year.

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits dropped last week to its lowest level since April 2008, extending a downward trend that shows the job market strengthening. The Labor Department says new applications for unemployment benefits fell last week by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 364,000, a pace that usually signals hiring is strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate. It was the third straight weekly decrease.

The Commerce Department says the economy grew at an annual rate of 1.8% in the July-September quarter. That was the fastest growth this year, up from 1.3% in the April-June quarter. Economists think the economy is growing at an annual rate of more than 3% in the final three months of this year. That would be the fastest pace since a 3.8% performance in the spring of 2010. Among positive factors are a brightening job market, strong holiday shopping, further gains in factory production and cheaper gasoline prices.

After years of pain and a market free fall that has shaved $6.8 trillion off the value of the nation’s 104 million homes, the decline in U.S. house prices may be nearly over. U.S. homeowners lost $681 billion this year. That’s less than the $1.1 trillion drop in value in 2010, let alone the $2.7 trillion in losses in 2008. And a Zillow survey of 109 economists says U.S. home prices will stop falling late next year or early 2013, with the most optimistic quarter of economists predicting an 18% rebound by 2016. The reason is that the economy is slowly turning around, as prices have come into balance with buyers’ incomes.

Bank of America agreed to pay $335 million to resolve allegations that its Countrywide unit engaged in a widespread pattern of discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers on home loans. The Department Of Justice says it’s the largest settlement in history over residential fair lending practices.


President Obama’s order to withdraw 10,000 American troops from Afghanistan this year has been accomplished, a little more than a week before the year-end deadline, military officials said Thursday. The drawdown is the first step in the plan to wind down the war, transition security to Afghan forces and end the combat role for international troops by the end of 2014. It also gives the Obama administration a second war-related accomplishment to tout this month — coming just a week after U.S. officials marked the end of the war in Iraq and the last convoy of American soldiers rumbled out of that country into Kuwait. Officials say there are now 91,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan — down from the peak of 101,000 in June.


A wave of at least 14 bombings ripped across Baghdad Thursday morning, killing at least 60 people in the worst violence Iraq has seen for months. The apparently coordinated attacks struck days after the last American forces left Iraq and in the midst of a major government crisis between the country’s top Shiite and Sunni political leaders that has sent sectarian tensions soaring. The bombings may be linked more to the U.S. withdrawal than the political crisis, but all together the developments heighten fears of a new round of sectarian bloodshed like the one a few years ago that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

Iraq’s Shiite prime minister is warning Kurdish authorities that they will face “problems” if they don’t hand over the Sunni vice president who fled to the Kurdish region after he was charged in an arrest warrant with running hit squads against the government. The terrorism charges were filed against Vice President Tariq Al-Hashemi one day after the last American troops left Iraq. Prime Minister Al-Maliki also threatened to replace members of a Sunni bloc that has boycotted parliament since the arrest warrant was issued. Al-Hashemi is a member of the bloc.


Under international pressure, the Iraqi government on Wednesday backed off its threat to close a refugee camp holding 3,400 Iranian exiles by the end of the month. Instead, Iraq said it will shut Camp Ashraf sometime in January and insisted that all its residents must leave the country by April. It promised not to deport anyone to Iran. The extension of the deadline raises the likelihood of a peaceful resolution to the standoff, heading off a possible bloodbath that many international observers have feared. The future of Camp Ashraf, home to exiles dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian regime, has been a sticking point for Iraq’s Shiite-led government, which counts Iran as an ally.


Pakistani Taliban fighters attacked a paramilitary fort in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, killing one soldier and kidnapping 15 others. The militants burned down buildings and captured a significant amount of weapons. The brazen attack was followed by a statement to media in which the militants said they would kill the abducted troops. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed the attack was carried out to avenge the death of a local Taliban commander.


Twin suicide car bomb blasts ripped through an upscale Damascus district Friday, targeting heavily guarded intelligence buildings and killing at least 40 people. The blasts came a day after an advance team of Arab League observers arrived in the country to monitor Syria’s promise to end its crackdown on protesters demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad. Government officials took the observers to the scene of the explosions and said it backed their longtime claims that the turmoil is not a popular uprising but the work of terrorists. The blasts were the first such suicide bombing in Syria since the uprising began in March.


Tunisia’s prime minister has presented a coalition government that gives key ministries to a moderate Islamist party, which dominated the country’s first post-uprising elections. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, the No. 2 in the Islamist Ennahda party, says the 41-member government will focus on boosting the economy and fighting corruption. Joblessness and corruption helped drive popular anger during protests a year ago that forced out hard-line, longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. That uprising led to revolts around the Arab world.


A series of strong earthquakes struck the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Friday, rattling buildings, sending goods tumbling from shelves and prompting terrified holiday shoppers to flee into the streets. There was no tsunami alert issued and the city appeared to have been spared major damage. One person was injured at a city mall and was taken to a hospital, and four people had to be rescued after being trapped by a rock fall. The city is still recovering from a devastating February earthquake that killed 182 people and destroyed much of the downtown area. The first 5.8-magnitude quake struck Friday afternoon, 16 miles north of Christchurch. Minutes later, a 5.3-magnitude aftershock hit. About an hour after that, the city was shaken by another 5.8-magnitude temblor.


Strong storms that moved through Georgia caused at least two injuries from flying glass and damaged several homes and businesses, mostly in the northwestern part of the state. Emergency management officials say several businesses had windows blown out. Most of the damage was from fallen trees. Georgia Power estimated that more than 19,000 customers had lost electricity early Thursday evening.

The forecast around Reno, Nevada, doesn’t call for snow any time soon. And if that happens, it will be the first time in 128 years — since 1883 — that no precipitation will have fallen in December. The situation couldn’t be more different from this time last year, when the Lake Tahoe Basin’s snowpack was at more than twice the normal levels. On Tuesday, Tahoe’s snowpack was 10 percent of average. The situation not only affects the ski slopes but also the water supply. Dry western states’ primary source of water all year is snow melt.

President Obama announced an additional $113 million in emergency aid to the Horn of Africa Thursday, where millions of people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are suffering through famine and drought. Tens of thousands have died. The new emergency relief assistance will go for food, health, shelter, water and other needs. It is on top of $870 million the U.S. already has provided.

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Signs of the Times (12/21/11)

December 21, 2011

Christianity Grows Exponentially in Africa

With 2.18 billion adherents, Christianity has become a truly global religion over the past century as rapid growth in developing nations offset declines in Christianity’s traditional strongholds, according to a report released Monday. Billed as the most comprehensive and reliable study to date, the Pew Research Center’s “Global Christianity” reports on self-identified Christian populations based on more than 2,400 sources of information. Findings illustrate major shifts since 1910, when two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe. Now only one in four Christians live in Europe. Most of the rest are distributed across the Americas (37 %), sub-Saharan Africa (24 %) and the Asia-Pacific region (13 %).”In two out of three countries in the world, the majority of the population identifies as Christian,” said Conrad Hackett, lead researcher on the “Global Christianity” report.

The report confirms Christianity’s standing as the world’s largest religion, with 32% of the global population. Islam is second with about 23%.Although Christianity traces its beginnings to the Middle East and North Africa, only 4% of residents in these regions claim the Christian faith today. Meanwhile, the faith has grown exponentially in sub-Saharan Africa, from just 9% of the population in 1910 to 63% today. Nigeria, home to more than 80 million Christians, has more Protestants than Germany, where the Protestant Reformation began. For its part, Europe is more religiously diverse than it was in 1910, when 94% was Christian. Still, Europe hasn’t abandoned its Christian heritage, according to the report. Today, 76% of Europeans self-identify as Christian.

‘Layaway angels’ pay off accounts

Anonymous “layaway angels” are rescuing Christmas for needy families across the nation. Mystery donors are visiting stores and paying the balance on accounts that allow customers to pay for purchases over several months. Some donors ask the store to apply the money to children’s toys or clothing. They aren’t told recipients’ names, nor do recipients learn the identities of the donors. Many of the angel visits have been at Kmart stores, where more than $412,000 has been donated to more than 1,000 layaway accounts. More than 15 layaway accounts totaling almost $4,000 have been paid by strangers at a Kmart in Lafayette, Indiana. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Dianna Gee says layaway angels are visiting its stores “from coast to coast.” At a Haleyville, Ala., Wal-Mart, a man donated $11,000 to pay the accounts of 75 families. Last Friday, a man walked into a Hayward, Calif., Kmart with $10,000 cash to pay down layaway accounts. He used $9,800 on 63 accounts and dropped the remaining $200 in a Salvation Army kettle as he left the store.

Spending Bill Reinstates Abstinence Education Funding

A $662 billion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress Dec. 14 contains $5 million for abstinence education programs, WORLD News Service reports. In 2009, the Obama administration slashed community-based sexual risk avoidance (SRA) programs from the federal budget — giving comprehensive, condom-based sex education programs $16 for every $1 spent on abstinence education. However, “this funding of five million dollars is contrasted against about 100 million dollars in the budget for contraceptive sex education,” said Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association. “We are a long way from parity. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

House Rejects 2-month Extension of Payroll Tax Cut

The Republican-controlled House on Tuesday rejected a Senate-approved two-month extension of a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits to millions of Americans, raising the likelihood that both will expire on Dec. 31. The House effectively adjourned for the year following the vote, and with the Senate out of town for the holiday, there is no resolution in sight on a legislative battle waged by House Republicans over the length of the benefits’ extension. Both chambers can return to Washington at the call of party leaders if there is an agreement. Republicans are seeking approval of a one-year extension, which the House already approved and which Senate leaders and the White House support in principle, but a final deal on how to pay for it remained out of reach with the clock ticking down. Before the Senate adjourned, senators overwhelmingly approved a short-term patch with the intention of finding a longer term solution early next year, but House GOP leaders rejected the patch as bad economic policy.

States Loosen Concealed Carry Gun Laws

A Mississippi resident who receives a concealed carry permit and takes an eight-hour course can now carry a gun on college campuses, in bars and in courthouses. As of this summer, Wyoming residents need no permits for concealed weapons. In Indiana, private businesses must allow employees to keep firearms in their vehicles on company property. Alaska, Arizona and Vermont, like Wyoming, do not require permits for concealed guns, Those and other recent changes on the state level represent a growing shift toward loosening state gun regulations. Supporters of the trend see it as a boost for gun rights. Others say the trend could pose a threat to public safety. Proponents of the shift say they are just trying to give law-abiding citizens a way to protect themselves.

  • While the feds seek ways to limit and control guns, states are exerting their constitutional rights to grant citizens their constitutional rights

Violent and Property Crime Down in Early 2011

The FBI said violent and property crimes reported to police are dropping despite tough economic times. Violent crimes reported in the first half of 2011 were down 6.4% compared to the first six months of 2010. The number of property crimes, including burglary, larceny and vehicle theft, decreased 3.7%. All four offenses in the violent crime category — murder and non-negligent homicide, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — decreased between the first half of 2010 and 2011. Robbery experienced the biggest drop of 7.7%. The report is based on information from more than 12,500 law enforcement agencies. There were drops in every region of the country.

  • Perhaps a better armed citizenry is a real deterrent to crime

States Make Life Harder for Illegal Immigrants

State legislators looking to crack down on illegal immigration in 2012 are turning away from the law enforcement laws that dominated state houses this year, and instead are pushing other measures that can make life just as difficult for illegal immigrants. Kansas legislators will continue expanding the use of E-Verify, which businesses can use to check the immigration status of job applicants. They are also expanding use of  Secure Communities, which allows police to check the immigration status of people booked into local jails, and laws that restrict illegal immigrants from accessing public benefits. Alabama was the first state to invalidate all contracts entered into with illegal immigrants. A strict reading of the law could mean that any contract, including mortgages, apartment leases and basic work agreements, can be ruled null and void. Another aspect of Alabama’s law forbids illegal immigrants from conducting any “business transaction” with a government agency.

Occupy Denver Protesters Set Shelters on Fire

Police arrested four people at the site of Occupy Denver, including two charged with arson for allegedly setting the makeshift shelters on fire as officers moved in just before midnight. Two other people were arrested for failing to obey a police officer’s order. Police Chief Robert White said officers had hoped to convince demonstrators to remove their belongings on their own, but moved in after two protesters began setting fire to the shelters.

Online Access to Patient Data Gets Mixed Reaction

Patients and doctors have dramatically different visions about the value of access to physicians’ notes about their patients, a new survey from Harvard Medical School released Monday shows. The study indicates that 80% of doctors surveyed worry their patients aren’t educated enough to understand their notes freely available online, while 80% of patients say the information will empower them to take charge of their health. Ninety-four percent or patients believe the records should be available. Researchers say the difference represents a generations-long history of doctors telling patients what to do, and to patients listening to but not questioning that advice, a patriarchal system that assumes the doctor knows best.

  • Many doctors act like gods and don’t want to give up that autonomy

U.S. Bio-Security Officials Sound Warning

The U.S. government is sounding the alarm after reports that Dutch scientists have created a highly-contagious and deadly airborne strain of bird flu that is potentially capable of killing millions. The mutated form of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza was created by a Dutch team of scientists, and the researchers are now hoping to publish the details of how they developed the new strain. The new virus differs from H5N1—which is only known to be transmitted between humans who have very close contact with each other—because it can be transmitted through the air in coughs and sneezes. The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity is currently analyzing how much of the scientists’ information should be allowed to be published—given the inherent risks of having the information fall into the hands of terrorists or rogue states. Scientists, too, are questioning whether the science should ever have been performed in the first place. “With influenza now it is possible to reverse engineer the virus. It’s pretty common technology in many parts of the world. With the genomic sequence, you can reconstruct it. That’s where the information is dangerous,” the Biosecurity Board notes.

Soyuz Launch Will Return ISS to Full Staff

A multinational crew plans to rocket to the International Space Station this week, fully staffing the outpost before the arrival early next year of the first commercial spaceship to visit the complex. Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko will be at the controls when a Soyuz FG rocket blasts off Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Flying with him: U.S. astronaut Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers of the European Space Agency. U.S. astronaut Dan Burbank and two Russian cosmonauts — Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov — already are onboard. The Expedition 30 crew will perform dozens of experiments, many of which will focus on how the human body adapts to living and working in the weightless space environment — work considered key to preparing for future missions beyond Earth orbit. The astronauts and cosmonauts also will be onboard for a test flight that will open a new era of commercial resupply services. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and a Dragon spacecraft are tentatively scheduled to launch Feb. 7 on a mission to demonstrate the capability to safely and reliably deliver cargo to the space station. If all goes well, the test flight will clear the way for SpaceX to begin launching resupply missions to the station later next year. The Hawthorne, Calif., company holds a $1.6 billion contract to launch 12 cargo missions to the outpost.

First Permit OK’d for Oil Drilling in Alaska Reserve

After rejecting the project nearly two years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today issued ConocoPhillips a permit to begin work on the first commercial oil well in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. The corps’ decision comes two weeks after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service dropped their objections to a bridge and a pipeline the energy giant has been wanting to build over the Colville River to reach its leases in the 23-million-acre North Slope reserve, about the size of Indiana. In February 2010, the Army Corps rejected Conoco’s application on environmental grounds. The permit approved today sets 22 conditions for minimizing the project’s impact and requires Conoco to pay into a special fund to pay for “unavoidable” damage to tundra wetlands. Alaska’s Republican governor and congressional delegation hailed the decision. But Rebecca Noblin of the Center for Biological Diversity in Anchorage called it “another big gift to the oil companies” from President Obama’s administration.

Economic News

A surge in apartment construction gave builders more work in November. But 2011 is still shaping up to be one of the worst years in history for homebuilders. The Commerce Department says builders broke ground on a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 685,000 homes last month, a 9.3% jump from October. That’s the highest level since April 2010. Still, that’s far below the 1.2 million homes that economists say would be built each year in a healthy housing market.

The European Central Bank loaned a massive $639 billion to hundreds of banks for an exceptionally long period of three years to shore up a financial system under pressure from the eurozone’s government debt crisis. It was the biggest ECB infusion of credit into the banking system in the 13-year history of the shared euro currency. The ECB is trying to make sure banks have enough ready cash to keep lending to businesses. Otherwise, a credit crunch could choke growth and spread the debt crisis to the wider economy.

  • Continually expanding the money supply only postpones the day of debt reckoning

Middle East

New plans to divide Jerusalem surfaced last week. Sophisticated designs on how Jerusalem should be divided were published in the prestigious Atlantic magazine. These plans are an attempt to kick-start the misguided plan to make Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian State. This plan will likely be adopted by the Palestinians to supposedly show that Jerusalem can be divided. Of course, this plan assumes that Jerusalem should be divided, by denying the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of only one people: The Jewish people. This plan does not point out that the Temple Mount, the holiest spot in Judaism, would be in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

  • Secular, anti-Christ, globalist attitudes are expanding support for Palestinians at the expense of Israel, leading up to the Middle East war that will trigger the 7-year Tribulation


An arrest warrant has been issued against Iraq’s vice president as the alleged mastermind behind a recent bombing targeting parliament, Reuters reports. The car bomb went off Nov. 28 inside Baghdad’s Green Zone. An Interior Ministry spokesman showed reporters today what he said were confession videos from people identified as Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi’s security guards, CNN reports. In the videos, the purported security guards described various occasions in which they said they carried out attacks under Hashimi’s direct orders. Hashimi has allied himself in parliament with Iraq’s disenchanted Sunni Arab minority.

  • As the Bible prophesied, Arabs will never be able to get along with one another with instability the only constant: [Ishmael] shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. (Gen. 16:12)


Soldiers who just returned from Iraq are among several thousand being ordered to Afghanistan in six months as part of a mission designed to beef up Afghan forces ahead of a planned 2014 U.S. military withdrawal. News of the pending Afghanistan deployments came as families at bases across the country were celebrating the return in recent days of troops who turned off the lights at a number of U.S. bases ahead of an end-of-the-year deadline to leave Iraq. The 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, said Tuesday it was one of four selected to “support a Security Force Assistance Mission to Afghanistan in early summer.” The new mission is part of an overall U.S. military exit strategy from Afghanistan that moves troops from a combat role to advise-and-assist positions that commanders and analysts say will significantly scale back operations ahead of President Barack Obama’s self-imposed deadline to leave the country.


An estimated 10,000 angry Egyptian women marched through Cairo Wednesday to demand that the military rulers resign after video and photographs showed soldiers beating and abusing female demonstrators. Many displayed the photo of a young woman whose clothes were partially pulled off by troops as soldiers beat, stomped and dragged her during an attack against protesters Saturday. In an about-face, the military council issued what the Associated Press termed “an unusually strong statement of regret” for what it called “violations” against women.

  • Women will always be second-class (or worse) citizens under Islam

Egyptian troops and riot police raided Cairo’s Tahrir Square early on Tuesday in their latest attempt to evict protesters who want the ruling military to immediately step down. The troops and police initially succeeded in chasing the protesters out of the square, but they returned a short time later using a different route. The security forces pulled out of the square following clashes in which each side pelted the other with rocks. It was the second pre-dawn raid in as many days on the city’s central square. It comes as Egypt’s ruling generals are coming under mounting criticism at home and abroad over the excessive use of force by troops against unarmed protesters, including women, since the latest spate of violence broke out on Friday. At least 14 protesters have since been killed.


Syrian troops assaulting a northwest town with machine gun fire and shelling have killed at least 100 people in one of the deadliest episodes of the 9-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime. Tuesday’s attack on the town of Kfar Owaid in Idlib province showed the Syrian government was pressing ahead with its crackdown despite its agreement this week to an Arab League plan for bringing a halt to the bloodshed. “It was an organized massacre. The troops surrounded people then killed them,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

North Korea

Minutes after announcing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s death, the country’s ruling Central Committee dubbed his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, the “great successor” of North Korea’s revolution, hoping to avert any doubt about who would control the secretive regime. The young Kim’s grip on power, however, may be shakier than the committee wants its people to believe, experts say. Despite Kim Jong Il’s clear anointing of his 20-something son three years ago, North Korea may become embroiled in a violent power struggle, Cato Institute senior fellow Doug Bandow said. The son “has had little time to establish himself,” he said. “There are several potential claimants to supreme authority in the North, and the military may play kingmaker.”


One-third of a century of satellite measurements of the Earth’s temperature show a warming of about 0.82 degrees. this is at the lower end of computer model projections of how much the atmosphere should have warmed in the past 33 years due to the effects of extra greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels. “While [this] warming is noticeable in climate terms, it isn’t obvious that it represents an impending disaster,” says John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH). “Part of the upward trend is due to low temperatures early in the satellite record caused by a pair of major volcanic eruptions,” Christy said. “Because those eruptions pull temperatures down in the first part of the record, they tilt the trend upward later in the record.” “How much of that underlying trend is due to greenhouse gases? While many scientists believe it is almost entirely due to humans, that view cannot be proved scientifically.”

A winter storm dumped up to 15 inches of snow and forced the closure of interstates across the Great Plains. Fierce winds and snow that caused fatal accidents and shuttered highways in five states crawled deeper into the central U.S. early Tuesday. Hotels quickly filled up along major roadways from eastern New Mexico to Kansas. Nearly 100 rescue calls came in from motorists in northern Texas as blizzard conditions closed part of Interstate 40, a major east-west route, Monday night. New Mexico shut down a portion of Interstate 25, the major route heading northeast of Santa Fe into Colorado. Authorities still reported snow drifts of up to 10 feet high in southeast Colorado, and Texas officials warned drivers to stay off the road in the Panhandle so crews could remove ice and snow.

The official death toll from last week’s massive flash flooding in two southern Philippine cities topped 1,000 on Wednesday, while authorities said they lost count of how many more were missing in one of the worst calamities to hit the coastal region. A tropical storm swept through the area Friday night and unleashed flash floods in the middle of the night that caught most of the victims in their sleep.

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Signs of the Times (12/19/11)

December 19, 2011

Thousands Rally to Save Nativity Scene

As many as 5,000 attended a rally in a small Texas community to show their support for a Nativity scene under attack by a Wisconsin-based atheist group, according to a minister who organized the event. “We are humbled at the turnout of the crowd,” said Nathan Lorick, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Malakoff and one of the organizers of Saturday’s rally in Athens. “We believe that God led us to do this and so we knew he was up to something great,” he told Fox News & Commentary in an email message. “This message is resonating in the hearts of people all over the country. This was a real statement to the nation that Christians are tired of the persecution and suppression. We want all to know that we are ready to contend for the faith.”

  • This is a true “occupy” movement: Occupy till I come. Luke 19:13

School Teacher/District Sued over Student Bullying

A teacher’s decision to promote homosexuality in class rather than teach the approved economics curriculum – and the school district’s endorsement of that – soon will be hitting the court docket, as a complaint has been filed by a student subjected to the instructor’s “bullying.” Officials with the Thomas More Law Center say they have filed a federal lawsuit against the Howell Public School District in Howell, Mich., and teacher Johnson “Jay” McDowell for punishing and humiliating a student after he responded to McDowell’s question about homosexuality with his biblically based perspective. “Rather than teach the required economics curriculum for which he is paid, McDowell, with the full knowledge of school officials, used his position of authority to promote his homosexual agenda at taxpayers’ expense,” said Richard Thompson, chief of the law center.

  • Christians need to contend for the faith as the gay agenda becomes more aggressive

‘Gay’ Indoctrination to be Challenged in California

A new 2011 law in California mandates that all children from kindergarten through 12th grade be taught to admire “the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.” Parents will neither be notified of the teaching requirements nor allowed to opt their children out. Critics have said children as young as 6 years old will be taught to admire homosexuality and same-sex “marriages” and to support the political activism of so-called “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning” (LGBTIQ) political groups. However, the Pacific Justice Institute is working on a referendum that would allow voters to approve superseding regulations that focus on the historical significance of any group or person irrespective of gender orientation.

  • Secular indoctrination centers (otherwise known as public schools) have been laying the groundwork for years in their quest to eradicate Christian morality from American culture – success is almost within their grasp as the youngest generations have been infected with their demonic propaganda

Obama Accused of Treating Israel ‘Like a Punching Bag’

Jewish-American conservatives have taken out a full-page ad in leading newspapers urging the Obama administration to “stop blaming Israel first.” The ad by the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) ran Thursday in The New York Times, Miami Herald and several other papers. Under the headline “Why does the Obama administration treat Israel like a punching bag?” the ad cites the recent exchange between President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy complaining about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The ad states that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta blames Israel for “the failure of talks with the Palestinians,” citing his remark at a forum calling on Israel to “get to the damn table.” The ad also quotes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who charged Israel with discrimination against women, and U.S. envoy to Belgium Howard Gutman, who recently linked the rise of anti-Semitism in the Arab world to the unsolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Following the quotes, the ad states: “Enough with the cheap shots. It’s time for the Obama Administration to stop blaming Israel first.”

  • The Obama administration is the most anti-Israel in U.S. history and will ensure further curses on our country: I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you. (Gen 12:3)

House Passes $1T Budget Bill, Avoids Shutdown

The House has passed a $1 trillion-plus catchall budget bill Friday, paying for day-to-day operations of 10 Cabinet departments and averting a government shutdown. The 296-121 vote to approve the spending measure represented a rare moment of bipartisanship in a polarized Capitol. Agreement on the spending legislation was reached after Republicans agreed to drop language that would have blocked Obama from easing rules on people who visit and send money to relatives in Cuba. But a GOP provision will stay in the bill thwarting a 2007 law on energy efficiency standards that critics argued would make it hard for people to purchase inexpensive incandescent light bulbs.

House Rejects Payroll Tax Extension

Just when it looked like President Obama and Congress would get out of town for the holiday recess, House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday rejected a Senate plan to extend the payroll tax cut for two months, thwarting a deal cut by the White House and Senate Republicans that would prevent taxes from rising on middle-class workers in the new year. Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Senate plan to extend the payroll tax cut for only two months is “just kicking the can down the road” and called on Congress to come up with a bill that extended the break through all 2012 along with provisions to pay for the tax reduction. A day earlier, the Senate voted on a compromise plan that would have kept the payroll tax rate at the reduced 4.2% rate through February and required President Obama to make a decision on whether to approve building of the Canada-to-Gulf of Mexico Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days of passage of the bill. If Congress isn’t able to cut a deal by year’s end, the payroll tax rate will revert to 6.2% on Jan. 1.

Health Care Law Will Let States Tailor Benefits

In a major surprise on the politically charged new health care law, the Obama administration said Friday that it would not define a single uniform set of “essential health benefits” that must be provided by insurers for tens of millions of Americans. Instead, it will allow each state to specify the benefits within broad categories. The move would allow significant variations in benefits from state to state, much like the current differences in state Medicaid programs and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. By giving states the discretion to specify essential benefits, the Obama administration sought to deflect one of the most powerful arguments made by Republican critics of President Obama’s health care overhaul — that it was imposing a rigid, bureaucrat-controlled health system on Americans and threatening the quality of care. Opponents say that the federal government is forcing a one-size-fits-all standard for health insurance and usurping state authority to regulate the industry.

  • Any move back toward states’ rights is welcome, getting closer to the Constitutional framework of limited federal government

SEC Charges Ex-CEOs of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac

Two former CEOs at mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Friday became the highest-profile individuals to be charged in connection with the 2008 financial crisis. In a lawsuit filed in New York, the Securities and Exchange Commission brought civil fraud charges against six former executives at the two firms, including former Fannie CEO Daniel Mudd and former Freddie CEO Richard Syron. The executives were accused of understating the level of high-risk subprime mortgages that Fannie and Freddie held just before the housing bubble burst. Huge losses on their subprime loans eventually pushed the two companies to the brink of failure and forced the government to take them over.

NYC Occupy Protesters Move in on Church Grounds

Dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested Saturday after they scaled a chain-link fence or crawled under it to get to an Episcopal church-owned lot they want to use for a new camp site. Protesters used a wooden ladder to scale the fence or lifted it from below while others cheered them on as they ignored red “Private Property” signs. As officers made arrests, protesters shouted obscenities. About 50 people were arrested. Before the arrests, several hundred gathered in Duarte Square, a half-acre (0.2 hectare) wedge of a park at the edge of Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood and across the street from the vacant lot.

Nearly 1 in 3 Will be Arrested by Age 23

Nearly one in three people will be arrested by the time they are 23, a study published in Pediatrics found. The new data show a sharp increase from a previous study that stunned the American public when it was published 44 years ago by criminologist Ron Christensen. That study found 22% of youth would be arrested by age 23. The arrests excluded only minor traffic offenses, and include arrests for a wide variety of offenses such as truancy, vandalism, underage drinking, drugs, shoplifting, robbery, assault, domestic violence and murder — any encounter with police perceived as an arrest. The high rate of arrest among youth is troubling because the records will follow them as adults and make it harder for them to get student loans, jobs and housing.

  • The end-time spirit of rebellion is spreading rapidly among our youth

Eat-Local Trend Grows, Farmers Markets Go Year-Round

As Americans show greater interest in eating locally produced fruits and vegetables, an increasing number of farmers markets are selling year-round. Since 2010, the number of winter markets jumped 38% from 886 to 1,225 in August 2011, according to the updated National Farmers Market Directory. These winter markets, defined as those operating at least once between November and March, now account for nearly 17% of the nation’s 7,222 operating farmers markets. “Consumers are looking for more ways to buy locally grown food throughout the year,” Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said in announcing the upswing.

More States Ban Electronics in Landfills

Seventeen states have banned electronic waste from landfills, requiring it to be recycled so its toxic materials don’t leach into groundwater. Seven of these bans took effect this year, and two more will take effect soon: Illinois in January 2012 and Pennsylvania in January 2013. “The disposal bans are starting to kick in,” says Barbara Kyle of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, which promotes recycling. “Are there green police? Not really,” Kyle says, adding states aren’t enforcing the bans by checking a household’s garbage. Rather, she says the goal is to educate the public. “This stuff definitely does not belong in the trash.” Electronics can contain lead, mercury, cadmium and other potentially harmful chemicals, but only 25% of discarded devices (by weight) was recycled in 2009, the most recent year for which the Environmental Protection Agency has data.

‘Flippers’ Spurred Housing Collapse

Blame for the housing crisis of recent years has mostly been directed at subprime mortgages, over-eager lenders and home buyers purchasing properties they ultimately could not afford. But a new report asserts that significant blame must be shared by investors who speculated on properties they intended to “flip” — buy and sell quickly at a profit — rather than live in. According to the study on the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, more than a third of all home purchase lending in the United States at the peak of the housing boom in 2006 was made to people who already owned at least one house. In the four states where housing prices have had the biggest downturn — California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona — the investor share was nearly half, 45 percent. Overall, investors’ share of home purchases roughly doubled between 2000 and 2006.

Economic News

State governments across the country have cut more than 80,000 jobs since the beginning of the recession, reflecting steep drops in tax revenue and providing a drag on the economies in many parts of the country. The national average of state employees per 1,000 people has dropped from 8.1 to 7.6, due to layoffs and hiring freezes since the 2007-08 budget year.

The World Trade Organization agreed Friday to allow Russia to become its newest member, giving a critical boost to the ailing economy of its biggest trading partner, the European Union. Until now, Russia has been the only member of the Group of 20 leading world economies still outside the WTO, the global body that sets legally binding rules for international trade and mediates disputes. The deal is expected to quickly increase EU exports by some €4 billion ($5.2 billion) a year, EU trade officials say. Under the deal, Russians will be able to buy European-made goods at far lower prices and to sell its oil and gas more efficiently.

Saab Automobile filed for bankruptcy on Monday, giving up a desperate struggle to stay in business after previous owner General Motors blocked takeover attempts by Chinese investors. While experts say the company is likely to be chopped up and sold in parts, local officials in the town of Trollhattan, where Saab employs more than 3,000 people, were holding out hope that a new buyer would emerge to salvage the brand.


The last U.S. soldiers rolled out of Iraq across the border into neighboring Kuwait at daybreak Sunday, whooping, fist bumping and hugging each other in a burst of joy and relief. Their convoy’s exit marked the end of a bitterly divisive war that raged for nearly nine years and left Iraq shattered and struggling to recover. The war cost nearly 4,500 American and well more than 100,000 Iraqi lives and $800 billion from the U.S. Treasury. The question of whether it was worth it all — or whether the new government the Americans leave behind will remain a steadfast U.S. ally — is yet unanswered.


About 30,000 Islamists staged a protest on Sunday to condemn the United States and show support for Pakistan’s military, which has reasserted itself after a cross-border NATO attack and a controversial memo that has weakened the civilian government. Speakers included Hafiz Saeed, a fiercely anti-American cleric suspected of links to the group blamed for the 2008 militant rampage in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people. Also at the podium was Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, known as the father of the Afghan Taliban, who are fighting U.S.-led NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan. The Islamists’ show of support for the military will bring more pressure on Pakistan’s civilian leaders, especially deeply unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari, who could be damaged by a memo, allegedly crafted by the former U.S. ambassador to the United States, accusing the military of plotting a coup.


The Obama administration said Friday it had lifted sanctions on more than $30 billion in assets it had issued against Libya’s banks earlier this year ahead of a historic visit to Tripoli by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Friday’s action would unfreeze all government and Central Bank funds within U.S. jurisdiction. Assets in the U.S. of the Gadhafi family and former Gadhafi regime members remain frozen. The move will let the Libyan government access most of its worldwide holdings and will help with the new government’s transition. The Pentagon chief said the U.S. needs to give Libya’s new leaders some time to gain control of the militias that overthrew Moammar Gadhafi before the Obama administration can determine how to further help the fledgling government.


Hundreds of Egyptian soldiers in riot gear swept through Cairo’s Tahrir Square early Monday and opened fire on protesters demanding an immediate end to military rule. The Health Ministry said at least three people were killed, bringing the death toll for four days of clashes to 14, with about 500 wounded. Soldiers stormed an anti-military protest camp outside Egypt’s Cabinet building Friday, beating women with sticks and hurling chunks of concrete and glass onto protesters from the roof of the parliament in a resurgence of turmoil only a day after millions voted in parliamentary elections. The heavy-handed assault was an attempt to clear out protesters who have been camped out in front of the building for three weeks demanding the ruling military leave power. But the mayhem — which came despite promises from the army-appointed prime minister that no one would try to clear the protesters by force — threatened to spark a new round of violence after deadly clashes between youth revolutionaries and security forces in November that lasted for days and left more than 40 dead.


Syria’s foreign minister says Damascus has signed an agreement with the Arab League to allow Arab monitors into the country. Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem says he expects that the observer mission will vindicate the government’s position that Syria has been battling an armed rebellion. “There are many countries in the world who don’t wish to admit the presence of terrorist armed groups in Syria.” he said, according to Al Jazeera. Under the terms of the deal, Syrian security forces are required to pull back from the towns and villages that have been at the center of a nine-month uprising against the regime of President Bashad al-Assad..

North Korea

Kim Jong Il, the diminutive North Korean dictator whose provocations and brinkmanship confounded three U.S. presidents and raised tension across northeast Asia, has died. He was 69. The state media report said Kim died of a heart ailment on a train because of a “great mental and physical strain” on Saturday during a “high intensity field inspection. Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 but appeared relatively vigorous in photos and video from recent trips to China and Russia and in numerous trips around the country carefully documented by state media. Kim’s death raises the specter of political chaos in a nuclear-armed hermit country. In September 2010, Kim Jong Il unveiled his third son, Kim Jong Un, as his successor, putting him in high-ranking posts. It is unclear whether the Swiss-educated Kim Jong Un, 27, has the skills to stay in power or keep the fragile country from collapse.


Two strong earthquakes have struck Puerto Rico within minutes of each other. The quakes, with magnitudes of 5.1 and 5.3 respectively, occurred three minutes apart just after 2 a.m. local time Saturday in the Mona Passage, just to the west of the island. A smaller aftershock was reported a few minutes later. There were no immediate reports of damage.


Pounding rain from a tropical storm swelled rivers and sent walls of water rushing through the southern Philippines while people were asleep, killing more than 650 with over 800 missing, officials said Sunday. Some of the dead were swept out to sea from the worst-hit coastal cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in the Mindanao region, which is unaccustomed to the typhoons that are common elsewhere in the archipelago nation. More than 12 hours of continuous rain from Tropical Storm Washi overflowed a river and sent muddy floodwaters cascading from nearby mountains. The late-season tropical storm turned the worst-hit coastal cities of Cagayan de Oro and nearby Iligan into muddy wastelands filled with overturned cars and broken trees.

A storm system will bring significant winter weather from the Southwest through the central and southern Plains Monday and into Tuesday. Portions of eastern Arizona through New Mexico, the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, Kansas, and southeastern Colorado will see snow accumulations of up to 6 to 12 inches, with areas of locally heavier snowfall. In addition to snowfall, the storm will bring strong wind gusts greater than 40 mph, leading to blizzard conditions.

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Signs of the Times (12/16/11)

December 16, 2011

Explorers Say They’ve Found Pieces of Noah’s Ark

A group of scientists say they have discovered two large sections of Noah’s ark resting just below the surface atop Mount Ararat in Turkey, where the Bible says the ark came to rest, ASSIST News Service reports. The team of explorers used military satellite imaging and ground-penetrating radar technology to locate the ruins, which are buried under ice, and they believe the large object is wooden. “The evidence is overwhelming,” said Daniel McGivern, a member of the team. “The mountain is treeless … volcanic with gases. There is no conceivable way that you could have an object that big on a mountain. This is the large piece from Noah’s ark.” Tyler James of CBN News said that since there was no way to melt the ice to get to the ruins, the explorers’ claim might never be verified, “but the discovery could provide a great opportunity to share the gospel.”

Thousands of Children Abused in Dutch Catholicism

Thousands of children suffered sexual abuse in Dutch Catholic institutions, and church officials failed to adequately address the abuse or help the victims, according to a long-awaited investigation released Friday. The report by the independent commission said Catholic officials failed to tackle the widespread abuse “to prevent scandals.” Based on a survey among more than 34,000 people, the commission estimated that one in 10 Dutch children suffered some form of abuse. The number doubled to 20 percent of children who spent some of their youth in a Catholic institution. The commission said it received some 1,800 complaints of abuse at Catholic schools, seminaries and orphanages and that the institutions suffered from “a failure of oversight.”

  • Unbiblical celibacy sure worked out well for all those poor children. Just because the Apostle Paul could do it doesn’t mean it should become church policy

Few Penalties for Child Abuse Silence

Laws that could punish doctors, teachers and other adults for keeping silent when they suspect a child has been abused have gone largely unenforced over the past decade. Those state laws require people who work closely with children to alert police or child-welfare investigators anytime they so much as suspect a child has been abused. Yet a USA TODAY examination of police and court records from across the USA found that a combination of infrequent enforcement and small penalties means adults often have little to fear from concealing abuse. In most of the states that could provide records, local police and prosecutors typically charged no more than one or two people each year. Michigan police made just five arrests over the past decade. In Hawaii and Minnesota, court officials said they couldn’t find a single case. Fewer than half of the cases USA TODAY reviewed in detail ended in convictions, and the penalty was usually a fine of less than $1,000.

  • Those who keep silent are enablers and should be punished as co-conspirators

Pink Bibles Pulled after Benefits Linked to Planned Parenthood

To promote breast cancer awareness, supporters buy pink shirts, pink shoes, pink mouse pads and a host of other pink products. Until Wednesday, there was even a pink version of the Holman Christian Standard Bible on store shelves. That’s no longer the case. Southern Baptist-owned LifeWay Christian Resources is recalling its pink Bible because it benefited a charity with ties to Planned Parenthood. The “Here’s Hope Breast Cancer Bible” was sold at Wal-Mart stores and other major retailers, with a dollar per copy going to the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. LifeWay decided to recall the Bible after receiving complaints that some of the breast cancer charity’s local affiliates donated funds to Planned Parenthood.

U.S. War in Iraq Officially Ends

The U.S. war in Iraq officially ended with a ceremony held under tight security Thursday. The conflict killed more than 4,000 American troops, wounded over 30,000, cost $800 billion and divided the nation. “To be sure, the cost was high — in blood and treasure for the United States and also for the Iraqi people,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. “But those lives have not been lost in vain.” The fighting resulted, Panetta said, in a “free and sovereign Iraq.” He also warned that the Iraq will be tested by terrorism and other threats. The U.S., he said, remains committed to Iraq’s success. About 4,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, their withdrawal expected to be complete by the end of the month.

Congress Passes $662 Billion Defense Bill

Congress passed a massive $662 billion defense bill Thursday after months of wrangling over how to handle captured terror suspects without violating Americans’ constitutional rights. A last-minute compromise produced a truce, but lawmakers said the fight is not yet over. The Senate voted 86-13 for the measure and will send it to President Obama for his signature. The bill would authorize money for military personnel, weapons systems, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and national security programs in the Energy Department for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The legislation is $27 billion less than Obama wanted and $43 billion less than Congress gave the Pentagon this year, a reflection of deficit-driven federal budgets, the end of the Iraq war and the troops drawdown in Afghanistan.

A fierce struggle over provisions on suspected terrorists pitted the White House against Congress, divided Republicans and Democrats and drawn the wrath of civil rights groups. The White House initially threatened to veto the legislation but dropped that warning late Wednesday, saying last-minute congressional changes no longer challenge the president’s ability to combat terrorists. One hotly contested provision would deny suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens seized within the nation’s borders, the right to trial and subject them to indefinite detention. It reaffirms the post-Sept. 11 authorization for the use of military force that allows indefinite detention of enemy combatants. The provision includes a Senate-passed compromise that says nothing in the legislation may be “construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.”

  • While watered down, the movement toward federal power to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens as terrorists without judicial oversight remains on the horizon to quell domestic dissent

Congress Nears Deals to Avoid Shutdown, Extend Tax Cut

Congress has reached an agreement to fund the federal government through Sept. 30 of next year — avoiding a government shutdown at midnight Friday — and was considering a deal for a short-term extension of a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits to American workers. While a final deal on the payroll package continued to elude negotiators on Thursday, congressional leaders expressed optimism that a deal could be reached. The spending package bundles together nine appropriations bills totaling $915 billion and funds the government through the end of the fiscal year. Lawmakers agreed to the measure, but it was delayed due to White House objections to two provisions in the bill: to reinstate travel restrictions to Cuba that President Obama has eased, and funding cuts to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, undercutting the Obama administration’s efforts to increase oversight of Wall Street. As of late Thursday, congressional leaders were discussing a short-term $40 billion deal for a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits in order to buy Congress more time to negotiate how to pay for the measures through the end of 2012.

U.S. Marriage Rate at Record Low

A record-low 51 percent of adults aged 18 and older in the United States were married in 2010, compared with 72 percent in 1960, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data. The most dramatic decline in marriage has occurred among adults ages 18 to 29. Just 20 percent of them were married last year, compared with 59 percent in 1960. The median age at first marriage is also at its highest — 26.5 years for women and 28.7 years for men — and over the past 50 years has risen by about six years for both women and men. The decline in marriage has been accompanied by an increase in cohabitation, single-person households and single parenthood. If current trends continue, the percentage of U.S. adults who are currently married will fall below half within a few years.

  • The decline of marriage and traditional families is a harbinger of the social dysfunction and chaos that is undermining morality and God’s natural order

Number of Death Sentences Hits a 35-Year Low

The number of state executions continued to decline in 2011, according to an annual report issued Thursday, and for the first time in 35 years, the number of new death sentences meted out fell to below 100. There were 43 executions in 2011, down slightly from 46 last year and half of the 85 executions in 2000. There were 78 new inmates under death sentence in 2011, compared with 112 in 2010 and 224 in 2000, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.  Illinois abolished the death penalty — becoming the fourth state in recent years to stop executions. Sixteen states now forbid capital punishment; 34 allow it. Polls show, however, majority support for the death penalty.

Half of U.S. Schools Fail Federal Standards

Nearly half of America’s public schools didn’t meet federal achievement standards this year, marking the largest failure rate since the much-criticized No Child Left Behind Law took effect a decade ago, according to a national report released Thursday. The Center on Education Policy report shows more than 43,000 schools — or 48% — did not make “adequate yearly progress” this year. The failure rates range from a low of 11% in Wisconsin to a high of 89% in Florida. The law requires states to have every student performing at grade level in math and reading by 2014, which most educators agree is an impossible goal. “No Child Left Behind is broken,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement Wednesday. “That’s why we’re moving forward with giving states flexibility from the law in exchange for reforms that protect children and drive student success.”

  • Once again, federal control yields worse performance. States need more autonomy and independence.

Online Schools Lack Oversight

Experts who have studied online schools say no state has model regulations for them. A growing number of states are increasingly bent on ensuring there are fewer barriers to the growth of online schools. The belief is that the marketplace will bring the needed discipline to the system as parents and students choose good schools and reject bad ones. Arizona online schools get state funds, and students attend for free. The number of online charter and district schools has grown from 14 to 66 in the past two years. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal was a strong supporter of online schools when he served in the Legislature. He says the state Department of Education needs to review the state’s online program and conduct a thorough analysis of student academic progress. He also favors random surveys of parents whose children are enrolled in the largest online providers to get their opinions on quality. Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee, is drafting legislation for early 2012 that would revamp online-school funding. It would place more emphasis on students finishing and mastering their courses. Schools are now paid based on the hours students spend doing their work. The school gets paid the same if the student scores an A or a D in a class. Under Crandall’s plan, an online student would have to complete the course and demonstrate mastery by scoring 80 percent or above to get all the per pupil online funding.

eCheating: Students Use High-Tech to Deceive Teachers

Everything’s going digital these days — including cheating. As students gain access to sophisticated gadgets both at school and at home, educators are on the lookout for new kinds of cheating. From digitally inserting answers into soft drink labels to texting each other test answers and photos of exams, kids are finding new ways to get ahead when they haven’t studied. YouTube alone has dozens of videos that lay out step-by-step instructions: One three-minute segment shows how to digitally scan the wrapper of a soft drink bottle, then use photo editing software to erase the nutrition information and replace it with test answers or handy formulas. The video has gotten nearly 7 million hits.

Several security-related companies, such as, will even overnight-mail a kit that turns a cellphone or iPod into a hands-free personal cheating device, featuring tiny wireless earbuds, that allows a test-taker to discreetly “phone a friend” during a test and get answers remotely without putting down the pencil. Common Sense Media, a non-profit advocacy group, finds that more than 35% of teens ages 13 to 17 with cellphones have used the devices to cheat. More than half (52%) admit to some form of cheating involving the Internet, and many don’t consider it a big deal. For instance, only 41% say storing notes on a cellphone to access during a test is a “serious offense.” Nearly one in four (23%) don’t think it’s cheating at all.

  • The moral breakdown of society is reaching down into all levels and facets – and will continue to increase as the end-time darkness of Isaiah 60 spreads

Census Shows 1 in 2 People are Poor or Low-Income

Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans, almost 1 in 2, have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income. States in the South and West had the highest shares of low-income families, including Arizona, New Mexico and South Carolina, which have scaled back or eliminated aid programs for the needy. The latest census data depict a middle class that is shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government’s safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, questioned whether some people classified as poor or low-income actually suffer material hardship. He said that while safety-net programs have helped many Americans, they have gone too far, citing poor people who live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs. “As we come out of recession, it will be important that programs promote self-sufficiency rather than dependence and encourage people to look for work.”

Economic News

The number of people applying for benefits fell last week to 366,000, the fewest since May 2008. If the number stayed that low consistently, it would likely signal that hiring is strong enough to lower unemployment. The big question is whether fewer layoffs will translate into robust hiring. It hasn’t happened yet, even though job growth has been rising consistently each month.

U.S. consumer prices, a widely followed indicator of inflation, were unchanged in November, further evidence that inflation is cooling off. Rises in the prices of some items, such as food, clothing and medical services, were offset by falling energy prices. The Consumer Price Index remained unchanged, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. That followed a 0.1% decrease in October. Over the past year, the rose 3.4%. Economists say inflation probably has peaked and is likely to increase at a much lower pace in 2012.

High demand for U.S. government debt pushed the yield on the 30-year Treasury bond down to a record low Wednesday. Worsening concerns about Europe’s latest efforts to contain its debt crisis are keeping demand brisk for Treasury securities. The Treasury Department sold $13 billion worth of 30-year bonds at a record low yield of 2.925%.

Middle East

The Israeli government has once again asked the Palestinians to resume peace talks, as requested by the Quartet for Middle East Peace (US, EU, UN and Russia). Once again the Palestinians have refused. They say they will only return to talks if Israel agrees to freeze all building activity in Jerusalem and agrees to return to the 1967 borders. The Jerusalem Prayer Team comments, “It should go without saying, but when you hear news from the Middle East about Israel’s reluctance to make peace, remember that peace talks can’t even begin unless Israel gives the other side everything they want in advance! No sane person would ever enter negotiations on that basis. There will be no lasting peace because the Palestinians do not want peace. They want to see the Jewish people killed and Israel destroyed.”

Iceland formally today recognized the Palestinian state at a ceremony in Reykjavik Thursday. Foreign Minister Oessur Skarphedinsson’s announcement makes Iceland one of the first Western European countries to recognize Palestine.The Guardian  reports that statements on government websites, from the Arab League, Palestinian administrations and elsewhere suggest that in some form, often with caveats, 126 United Nations member states already grant formal diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian state. Iceland becomes the 127th.

  • Anti-Semitic attitudes will continue to grow more entrenched during these latter days


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday ordered a crackdown on Jewish extremists believed to be responsible for a wave of violence and vandalism against Israeli soldiers and Muslim mosques. The measures grant soldiers the ability to make arrests, ban extremists from contentious areas and enable rioters to be tried in military courts. The crackdown came hours after arsonists torched a Jerusalem mosque in an overnight attack. The Israeli government has vowed to root out and punish assailants who in recent months have vandalized military bases, mosques, cemeteries, farmlands and cars in the West Bank and Israel proper.


The Obama administration is concerned Iran is on the verge of being able to enrich uranium at a facility deep underground near the Muslim holy city of Qom, which may strengthen those advocating tougher action to stop Iran’s suspected atomic weapons program. Iranian nuclear scientists at the Fordo facility appear to be within weeks of producing 20 percent enriched uranium, according to Iran analysts and nuclear specialists who are in close communication with U.S. officials and atomic inspectors. Enriched uranium is used to fuel power plants and reactors, and may be further processed into atomic weapons material. Administration officials say Iran’s actions may bolster calls for military or covert action against the Persian Gulf country.

In Tehran, jihadists calling themselves “Cyber-Hezbollah” organized a conference called “Clicks of Resistance” on the occasion of the Holy Defense Week, marking the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin. And the rest of the world is paying attention, as a main speaker, Hassan Abbasi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard warned, “In hyperspace one can destroy the laws that have been created by the security apparatus of the enemy, and one can attack their strategies.” He said the Internet should be looked at as a battlefield. Fars News Agency reported that the aim of the conference was to recognize the efforts of the Muslim cyber hackers operating in cyberspace who are dedicated to jihad against the United States and Israel.


U.S. lawmakers froze $700 million in foreign aid to Pakistan this week. Pakistan is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid and the cutback announced is only a small proportion of the billions in civil and military assistance it gets each year. But it could presage even greater cuts. The aid freeze targets funds used to fight Taliban insurgents. Calls are growing in the United States to penalize Islamabad for failing to act against militant groups and, at worst, helping them.


Army defectors have killed at least 27 soldiers and security forces in clashes in the southern province of Daraa. The three separate clashes erupted at dawn Thursday and are among the deadliest attacks by rebel troops since the uprising began nine months ago.


Authorities in the city of Angren, Uzbekistan, have warned local religious communities not to be involved in “proselytism” or “missionary activity” or allow children to attend worship services, reports. Religious communities were also commanded to provide authorities with lists of their members, which many members did not want to do for fear of being singled out and persecuted. “It’s not in the law, but we recommend that you do it,” said Saidibrahim Saynazirov, deputy head of the administration, when asked what legal basis there was for such a requirement. Intolerance of those exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief is often touted in Uzbekistan, particularly by the country’s state-run TV programs, but seems like more propaganda than truth.


The tsunami-devastated Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has reached a stable state of “cold shutdown” and is no longer leaking substantial amounts of radiation, Japan’s prime minister announced Friday. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s announcement marks a milestone nine months after the March 11 tsunami sent three reactors at the plant into meltdowns in the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. But experts noted the plant remains vulnerable to more problems and it will take decades to decommission.


Russia supports Canada’s decision to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, says its foreign ministry, reaffirming Friday that Moscow will not take on new commitments. Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told Friday’s briefing that the treaty does not cover all major polluters, and thus cannot help solve the climate crisis. “This is yet another example that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol has lost its effectiveness in the context of the social and economic situation of the 21st century,” Lukashevich said, adding that the document does not ensure the participation of all key emitters. The protocol requires some industrialized countries to slash emissions, but doesn’t cover the world’s largest polluters, China and the United States. Canada, Japan and Russia said last year they will not accept new Kyoto commitments.

Another round of strong winds is headed for Southern California. The National Weather Service has issued a high wind watch for a wide area of the region beginning late Thursday into Saturday. Forecasters say northeast winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts up to 65 mph are possible below the Cajon and Banning passes in the Inland Empire and the Fremont and Modjeska canyons in the Santa Ana mountains. Damaging winds also are possible across the mountains of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, the strongest occurring most likely on Friday morning.

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Signs of the Times (12/14/11)

December 14, 2011

Signs Point to ‘Catastrophic’ Flood

A pro-creation geologist says it’s no surprise that scientists are scratching their heads over the discovery of ancient whale bones on land along the Pacific Coast in Chile. Researchers have found the fossils of about 75 bus-sized whales, including more than 20 perfectly intact skeletons, over a hill in Chile’s Atacama Desert, and scientists are trying to figure out how they ended up there together — half a mile from the ocean. One scientist has hypothesized the region used to be a “lagoon-like environment” and that the whales died between two million and seven million years ago. Dr. Andrew Snelling, director of research at Answers in Genesis, tells OneNewsNow the answer is simple: the Flood. However, he continues, scientists’ evolutionistic worldview will not allow them to go there. “Because of this mindset of the evolution of millions of years, they’re not even asking the right questions, or not even thinking clearly about the observations that they’re making,” he contends. “It’s clear from the observations that these whales had to be buried catastrophically; otherwise, they would not be preserved in the way that they are found.” But when the evidence of the discovery is examined alongside scripture, Snelling says it all makes sense.

  • Secularists cling tightly to their closed-minded faith in evolution because of an anti-Christ attitude and spirit

Judge Dismisses Suit on AZ Prayer Proclamations

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s proclamations of a state “day of prayer.” Judge Roslyn Silver granted Brewer’s request to dismiss the March lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The foundation contended that the proclamations amounted to an unconstitutional government establishment of religion. Silver’s ruling issued Monday in Phoenix says the foundation and other plaintiffs lack legal standing to sue because they haven’t proved they were injured by Brewer’s proclamations in 2010 and 2011. According to Silver, it’s not enough that the challengers felt slighted at being exhorted by the proclamations to pray.

House Passes Payroll Tax Cut Extension

Defiant Republicans pushed legislation through the House on Tuesday night that would keep alive Social Security payroll tax cuts for about 160 million Americans at President Barack Obama’s request — but also would require construction of a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline that has sparked a White House veto threat. Passage, on a largely party-line vote of 234-193, sent the measure toward its certain demise in the Democratic-controlled Senate, triggering the final partisan showdown of a remarkably quarrelsome year of divided government. The legislation “extends the payroll tax relief, extends and reforms unemployment insurance and protects Social Security — without job-killing tax hikes,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner declared after the measure had cleared.

  • It’s nice for consumers to have the extra paycheck dollars, but ultimately something needs to be done about the debt crisis before it’s too late (it might already be so). Increased taxes and decreased spending are required post haste.

Congress Pushes Multiple Deadlines to the Brink

Throughout the year, the House and Senate have exhibited symptoms of intense partisan rancor, inflexibility and white-hot rhetoric. But as Congress struggles to keep the government running past Friday, renew a payroll tax cut by Dec. 31 and extend unemployment benefits, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.said he believes he has diagnosed the political malady afflicting Capitol Hill: “deadline-itis.” Congress repeatedly flirted with disaster in 2011. It careened to the brink with potential government shutdowns, a debt ceiling crisis and a failed effort by the Super Committee to make historic cuts. So with sands slipping through the hourglass this December, it’s only natural that Congress would once again find itself in this contorted position with only days to spare.

  • “Partisan rancor” is not just politically motivated, but rather the result of an expanding divide between socialists and capitalists; between those who want to continue increasing government’s role in everyday life and those who want to rein in out-of-control spending; between anti-Christian secularists and those who seek to affirm our country’s Christian foundation and heritage. This is an end-time divide that will not go away.

Bush No Longer the Economic Scapegoat

For years, President Barack Obama has diverted attention from his own economic decisions by blaming his predecessor, George W. Bush, for the nation’s financial woes, from deficits to debt to taxes to Medicare and Medicaid spending. But that strategy has reached the end of its effectiveness, according to a new poll that reveals more people blame Obama for the failed state of the economy now than blame Bush. A new poll from the public-opinion research and media consulting company Wenzel Strategies shows that 22.3 percent of registered voters say Obama is the “one person” most responsible for the nation’s continuing economic troubles with just 19.1% naming Bush.

Occupy Protesters to Continue Port Blockades

Thousands of demonstrators forced shipping terminals in Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Longview, Wash., to halt parts of their operations Monday. Heady with their successful attempts to block trucks and curb business at busy ports up and down the West Coast, some Occupy Wall Street protesters plan to continue their blockades and keep staging similar protests despite requests to stop because they’re hurting wage earners. The movement, which sprang up this fall against what it sees as corporate greed and economic inequality, focused on the ports as the “economic engines for the elite.” It comes weeks after police raids cleared out most of their tent camps.

Occupy Baltimore demonstrators who spent 10 weeks protesting economic disparity were removed peacefully from a downtown plaza near the Inner Harbor tourist district during a pre-dawn raid Tuesday. Baltimore City police in full riot gear moved into McKeldin Square about 3:30 a.m. to remove the protesters. City police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told WBAL-AM the scene was “extremely peaceful, very, very civil.” Demonstrators said about 30 people were camped out in the plaza at the time. No arrests were made. The city made it very clear that they were allowed to protest all day and into the night, but that camping is prohibited.

Postal Service Delays Closings until May 15

The U.S. Postal Service has agreed to hold off on closing any more post offices or mail facilities until May 15, 2012, to allow Congress time to work on a plan to save the service. The Postal Service agreed to voluntarily enact a moratorium on closures, after a series of talks with senators. Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that reforming the postal service and getting it out of its debt spiral is his first priority when Congress comes back in 2012. Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said the postponement is a challenge to Congress to “put up or shut up.”

  • A little-publicized fact is that the USPS shows an operational profit. The big losses come from pension liabilities. These are sinking many state and local budgets as well. The notion of awarding high pensions after just twenty years of service is the elephant in the debt closet

Child Homelessness up 33% in 3 Years

One in 45 children in the USA — 1.6 million children — were living on the street, in homeless shelters or motels, or doubled up with other families last year, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. The numbers represent a 33% increase from 2007, when there were 1.2 million homeless children. The report paints a bleaker picture than one by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which nonetheless reported a 28% increase in homeless families, from 131,000 in 2007 to 168,000 in 2010. HUD’s numbers are much smaller because they count only families living on the street or in emergency shelters. The worst states for homeless children are Southern states where poverty is high, including Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, and states decimated by foreclosures and job losses, such as Arizona, California and Nevada. The states where homeless children fare the best are Vermont, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Maine.

No Spike in Recession-Related Child Abuse

The recession has not resulted in more child abuse, which continues to decline, according to the latest federal figures. Between 2008 and 2010, abuse and neglect declined slightly, while estimated deaths dropped 8.5%, from 1,720 in 2008 to 1,560 last year, the Department of Health and Human Services reports. The estimated number of abused or neglected children fell to 695,000 last year from 716,000 in 2008 and 825,000 in 2006. Last year’s rate of abuse hit the lowest level since 1990, when the current tracking system began. More women abused children than men (53.6% vs. 45.2%). 51% of victims were girls and 49% were boys. 45% of victims were white, 22% were African-American and 21% were Hispanic.

Economic News

Americans spent more on autos, furniture and clothing at the start of the crucial holiday shopping season, boosting retail sales for a sixth straight month. Retail sales rose 0.2% in November, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That’s lower than October’s gain, which was revised higher to show a 0.6% increase. Still, more spending on retail goods is the latest sign that the U.S. economy continues to grow at a slow but steady pace.

Electric bills have skyrocketed in the last five years, a sharp reversal from a quarter-century when Americans enjoyed stable power bills even as they used more electricity. Households paid a record $1,419 on average for electricity in 2010, the fifth consecutive yearly increase above the inflation rate , a USA TODAY analysis of government data found. The jump has added about $300 a year to what households pay for electricity. Greater electricity use at home and higher prices per kilowatt hour are both driving the higher costs, in roughly equal measure: Residential demand for power dropped briefly in 2009 but rebounded strongly last year to a record high.

According to Edward Luce, the Financial Times’ Washington-based columnist, the true unemployment rate in the U.S. is closer to 11% than the 8.6% the government claims. The reason for the discrepancy is the definition of “unemployment.” To be unemployed, one must be “actively seeking” work. When you give up on the job hunt, you’re no longer “unemployed,” according to the government. In December 2007, the U.S. was employing 62.7% of its population. Today, the employment-to-population rate is 58.5%.

OPEC says its 12 oil ministers have agreed to keep the organization’s output at 30 million barrels a day. The agreement includes a voluntary commitment by producing nations to lower their outputs if world demand for crude drops. Iran had sought lower production — which would raise prices. But it apparently bowed to Saudi Arabia, which wanted to maintain current levels.

More than 407,000 jobs in the U.S. are due to Japanese automakers and their dealers, reports the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association. And nowadays, Japanese makers are producing most of the cars they sell in America in America — 68% altogether.


The European Central Bank sharply cut back its purchases of government bonds to only $841 million worth of Euros last week, underlining its determination to limit its support for indebted governments as they try to dig out of the Eurozone debt crisis. The amount of the purchases, published Monday, compares to $4.9 billion from the week before. The ECB, the chief monetary authority for the 17 countries that use the Euro, has kept the purchases limited despite calls from many economists to buy more. So far the bank has bought around $274 billion worth, a small fraction of the outstanding debt of the troubled countries.

Middle East

Christian Solidarity International (CSI) has issued a genocide warning for endangered religious minorities in the Islamic Middle East, Mission Network News reports. Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs USA said, “When you look at elections in Egypt where 60-some-odd percent of the vote went to the Islamic parties … there is fear among the church about what this means.” Nettleton said it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that the Middle East could experience an exodus of Christians, but he said there still remained a remnant church in even the most difficult areas.

The latest in a series of mysterious explosions in Iran took place overnight Sunday in a steel factory in the central Iranian province of Yazd. The explosion and subsequent fire reportedly killed eight people, including foreign nationals. Various reports over the years have indicated that the city of Yazd has been the site of activities related to Iran’s renegade nuclear program, leading analysts to speculate that this might be part of a wider covert campaign by Israel and other Western intelligence agencies designed to delay and damage it. A member of Iran’s parliament told reporters on Monday night that the explosion was an accident caused by old military ordnance which had accidently gotten mixed up with scrap metal being recycled at the facility, offering no evidence to support the claim.


Dozens of Israeli settlers entered an army base in the West Bank early Tuesday and lit fires, damaged vehicles and threw stones at a senior officer, the military said, in a sign of growing animosity between Jewish extremists and soldiers guarding the settlements. Troops subsequently dispersed the rioters and two people were in custody. The incident came only hours after a different group of settlers entered a closed military zone along the West Bank’s border with Jordan, crossing the border fence into no-man’s land and taking over an abandoned structure near a Christian baptism site on the Jordan River. Israeli security forces removed them, and police said all 17 people involved in the incident were arrested. The settlers were protesting the planned evacuations of unauthorized settlement outposts. There are about 300,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank, among some 2.5 million Palestinians.


Syrian dissidents and Western diplomats are urging Syrians to wage war against the government forces that have killed thousands of people to put down a protest movement against President Bashar Assad. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), a force of Syrian exiles who believe the Assad regime must be deposed militarily, is asking for help from the West much as the rebels received in Libya against Moammar Gadhafi. That NATO air campaign destroyed Gadhafi’s arms advantage and allowed rebels to fight back. Though the U.S. and European nations imposed sanctions against Assad’s regime, they have not yet discussed using air power to assist the Syrians. Gunmen believed to be army defectors opened fire on a military convoy in central Syria on More than 5,000 people are believed to have been killed in the Syrian government’s crackdown on protests, U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay told the U.N. Security Council Monday. Wednesday, killing eight soldiers in a retaliatory ambush after troops destroyed a civilian car.


Around 2,000 Libyans are protesting in the eastern city of Benghazi to demand transparency and justice from the country’s new leaders. The country’s new leaders have asked Libyans to give the new government time to get the country back on its feet after an eight-month civil war. National Transitional Council chief Mustafa Abdul-Jalil told reporters in the capital Tripoli Monday that there will be no forgiveness for those who committed crimes against the Libyan people.


Seven people died in Iraq as shootings and explosions targeted judges, security forces and liquor stores Monday. Gunmen in Falluja attacked a minibus carrying Justice Ministry officials and wounded six people, including three judges. When police arrived minutes later, two roadside bombs exploded and four people died. Three of them were police officers. Iraqi officials said two large explosions have damaged an oil pipeline in southern Iraq Tuesday and set off a huge blaze. Security official in Basra said the explosions were set off by bombs.


Egyptians turned out in large numbers Wednesday to vote in the second round of parliamentary elections that have become a stiff competition between dominant Islamist parties likely to steer the country in a more religious direction. Two Islamist blocs won an overwhelming majority, close to 70% of seats contested, in the first round of voting on Nov. 28-29. The secular and liberal forces that largely drove Egypt’s uprising failed to turn their achievement into a victory at the polls and were trounced. The final two rounds of voting are not expected to dramatically alter the result and could even strengthen the Islamists’ hand.


An earthquake measuring 7.1 magnitude hit Papua New Guinea on Wednesday afternoon. The tremor struck at a depth of 75 miles, about 137 miles north-northwest of the capital Port Moresby at 3:05 p.m. local time. Witnesses in Port Moresby said that people came running out of buildings, power lines swayed and parked cars rocked. The quake may have caused bigger problems for the nearest largest town, Wau, about 12 miles from the epicenter, and Lae, 55 miles away, with landslides the greatest concern for the mountainous region, but no official reports have been released as yet.


Canada’s environment minister said Monday his country is pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Peter Kent said that Canada is invoking its legal right to withdraw and said Kyoto doesn’t represent the way forward for Canada or the world. Canada, joined by Japan and Russia, said last year it will not accept new Kyoto commitments, but renouncing the accord is another setback to the treaty concluded with much fanfare in 1997. No nation has formally renounced the protocol until now. The protocol, initially adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, is aimed at fighting global warming.

A monstrous bloom of toxic algae looming across the Texas coast has shut down oyster season. Fueled by Texas’ ongoing drought, the algae — known as Karenia brevis— thrives in warm, salty water and has spread through the bays and islands along Texas’ 350-mile coast. The algae could cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea in humans and is harmful to fish but not fatal to people. State health officials took the rare step of closing the entire coast for oyster harvesting — all 17,586 acres of oyster beds — before the season opened Nov. 1. The $30 million Texas oyster industry, having already endured destruction from Hurricane Ike in 2008, fallout from last year’s BP oil spill and the ongoing statewide drought, now faces one of its toughest challenges.

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Signs of the Times (12/12/11)

December 12, 2011

British Christians Fearlessly Proclaim Jesus’ Name

Thousands of Christians all over the United Kingdom took to the streets last week for “Not Ashamed Day 2011,” a day to publicly proclaim the gospel of Jesus and pray for their nation, which has become increasingly hostile to Christianity, CBN News reports. “It’s young people, students in their 20s, the youth, calling out to the rest of the church to come and pray,” said the Rev. Pat Allerton, coordinator of the rally. “Calling them on to the streets where the gospel is designed to be. I mean, the gospel is designed for the marketplace.” Many Christians gathered on the same grounds as Occupy London protesters: “We want to reach out to them in love and proclaim the hope and the truth that is found only and supremely in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” said Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern.

U.S. to Use Foreign Aid to Promote Gay Rights

The Obama administration announced an effort to use U.S. foreign aid to promote rights for gays and lesbians abroad, including combating attempts by foreign governments to criminalize homosexuality and requiring U.S. agencies to protect gay and lesbian refugees and asylum-seekers, reports. “The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States’ commitment to promoting human rights,” Obama said. Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel Action said the policy was “frankly offensive,” noting that the administration was apparently ignoring the sovereignty of foreign nations by forcing them to change their principles. He added, “What about nations where Christians are driven out of the nation or executed?”

  • As a global promoter of the gay agenda, the U.S. will increasingly reap the curses that come with violating God’s natural laws

Bill Legalizes Sodomy and Bestiality in Military

The Senate has voted 93-7 to approve a defense authorization bill that includes a provision which not only repeals the military law on sodomy, it also repeals the ban on sex with animals-or bestiality. Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said “It’s all about using the military to advance this administration’s radical social agenda.” The bill, which passed 93-7, now goes to a conference committee to be reconciled with the House of Representatives’ version of the bill. According to Perkins, the House version reinforced the Defense of Marriage Act, saying that there is a military Defense of Marriage Act as well, prohibiting same-sex marriage on military bases.

EU’s  Latest Agreement Still Leaves Unfinished Work

After all the hype about the do-or-die talks to save the euro, there was a strange absence of urgency about the latest summit of European Union leaders. The two-day meeting that ended Friday produced no silver bullet to end the euro-crisis and left out some critical details that may require future summits to resolve. Stocks and the euro rose on the news, despite the deep rift which emerged between Britain and the other EU members and the summit’s lack of any clear signal on central bank intervention to save the euro, which many had considered essential to restore confidence in the common currency. Central to what the summit did decide is the creation of a new “fiscal compact” among the 17 Eurozone nations and up to nine of the other EU members. Only Britain, which doesn’t use the euro, said it would stay out.

The plan will involve unprecedented oversight of national economies by the EU with sanctions for governments that run up high deficits as part of a German-inspired drive to restore market confidence in Eurozone nations’ debt and prevent a repeat of the current debt crisis. The pact drafted largely by Germany and France must now be sold to average citizens, who are increasingly mistrustful of surrendering national sovereignty to the European Union, analysts said Sunday. The pact, then, could wind up forcing nations to choose between further European integration or disintegration.

Climate Conference Approves Landmark Deal

A U.N. climate conference surprisingly reached a hard-fought agreement Sunday on a complex and far-reaching program meant to set a new course for the global fight against climate change for the coming decades. The 194-party conference agreed to start negotiations on a new accord that would put all countries under the same legal regime enforcing commitments to control greenhouse gases. It would take effect by 2020 at the latest. The deal also set up the bodies that will collect, govern and distribute tens of billions of dollars a year for poor countries. Other documents in the package lay out rules for monitoring and verifying emissions reductions, protecting forests, transferring clean technologies to developing countries and scores of technical issues. Currently, only industrial countries have legally binding emissions targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Those commitments expire next year, but they will be extended for another five years.

  • Putting “all countries under the same legal regime” is a major advance for the globalist New World Order folks. Along with the U.N., World Bank and World Court (International Court of Justice) and European Union, it goes another step toward the prophesied end-time one-world government (Rev. 13)

Supreme Court Wtoill Hear Challenge to Arizona Immigration Law

The Supreme Court announced Monday it will hear arguments over Arizona’s immigration law after a lower court upheld a Justice Department challenge to void the law, arguing the state can’t legislate rules that the federal government is responsible for enforcing. Similar laws in Alabama, South Carolina and Utah also are facing administration lawsuits. Private groups are suing over immigration measures adopted in Georgia and Indiana. The justices said they will review a federal appeals court ruling that blocked several provisions in the Arizona law, including one that requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person’s immigration status if officers suspect he is in the country illegally.Like the health care debate, the case adds another politically charged dispute between a Republican-dominated state and the Democratic administration to the court’s election-year lineup.

Police Evict Occupy Boston Protesters

Police officers swept through Dewey Square early Saturday, tearing down tents at the Occupy Boston encampment and arresting dozens of protesters, bringing a peaceful end to the 10-week demonstration. The city had set a deadline for midnight Thursday for the protesters to abandon the site but police took no action until early Saturday, making Boston the latest city where officials moved to oust protesters demonstrating against what they call corporate greed and economic injustice. The protesters were “very accommodating” to the police officers. Forty-six people were arrested on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct, police said. No injuries were reported. The entire operation lasted less than an hour.

Loss of Drone an Intelligence Coup for Iran

The loss to Iran of the CIA’s surveillance drone bristling with advanced spy technology is more than a propaganda coup and intelligence windfall for the Tehran government. The plane’s capture has peeled back another layer of secrecy from expanding U.S. operations against Iran’s nuclear and military programs. Just as the Soviet Union’s downing of the American U-2 spy plane revealed a hidden aspect of the Cold War, Iran’s recovery of the drone has shed light on the espionage that is part of U.S.-Iran hostilities. Iran has charged the U.S. or its allies with waging a campaign of cyberwarfare and sabotage, and of assassinating some Iranian scientists. The U.S. has accused the Iranian government of helping kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan and plotting to murder the Saudi ambassador in Washington. Iran protested Friday to the United Nations about what it described as “provocative and covert operations” by the U.S. The Tehran government called the flight by the drone a “blatant and unprovoked air violation” that was “tantamount to an act of hostility.”

  • It is the loss of advanced technology to Islamists that is the most serious ramification

Obama’s Foreclosure Aid Programs Not Working

The Obama administration’s initial foreclosure-prevention programs, launched in early 2009, were intended to help 7 million to 9 million people. So far, they’ve aided about 2 million, and not all of those are out of foreclosure danger. Programs begun later have also faltered. One intended to help at least 500,000 has helped just a few hundred a year after its launch. Another initiative to extend $1 billion to help the jobless or underemployed avoid foreclosure ended in September, obligating less than half of its funds. The unused money went back to the U.S. Treasury. As of Nov. 30, the government had spent just $2.8 billion of the $46 billion war chest it had in 2009 to devote to the housing crisis, the Treasury Department says. More has been committed, but only $13 billion will ultimately be spent, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in March.

The administration’s programs were hampered by design flaws, their reliance on a mortgage industry overwhelmed by the fallout from a historic collapse in home prices, and a brutal extended housing downturn. Nor could they always overcome the conflicting interests of borrowers with too much debt, mortgage investors unwilling to surrender profits and mortgage servicers with sometimes greater financial incentives to foreclose on loans than to permanently modify them. Meanwhile, 2.5 million homes have been lost to foreclosure since 2009, an additional 4 million are in the foreclosure process or seriously delinquent, and home prices are still falling in much of the U.S., shrinking household wealth for millions of Americans.

Voters Disapprove of Obama’s Job Performance

Less than a year before the election, more American voters disapprove than approve of the job President Obama is doing as president — and almost all view the economy negatively. Forty-four percent of voters approve and 51 percent disapprove of President Obama’s job performance, according to a Fox News poll released Friday. An overwhelming majority of voters — 94 percent — say the economy is in bad shape. Twenty-eight percent rate conditions as “only fair” and 66 percent say “poor.” That is the highest “poor” rating ever measured by the Fox News poll. Less than 1 percent of voters says the economy is in “excellent” shape and 5 percent say it is in “good” condition.

Federal Oversight Lacking on State Highway Projects

The federal government spends $40 billion a year on highway construction but does not track how many projects are over budget, how much goes toward overruns or whether the record is getting better or worse. The result is a patchwork pattern of planning lapses and design errors that sends some states back for more money again and again. State transportation departments (DOTs) are responsible for managing highway and interstate projects, which are usually at least 80% federally funded. Gannett newspapers obtained construction costs for 21 federally funded highway projects through Freedom of Information Act requests. About half finished within 5% of the original contract, but the others had significant overruns: From 2001 to 2010, more than half of state contracts ran over budget and 45% finished late. The House Transportation Committee wants to publicize states’ performance and link it to federal highway funding.

Northeast States Cut Heating Aid to Poor

Thousands of poor people across the Northeast are bracing for a difficult winter with substantially less home heating aid coming from the federal government. Several Northeast states already have reduced heating aid benefits to families as Congress considers cutting more than $1 billion from last year’s $4.7 billion Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that served nearly 9 million households. Families in New England, where the winters are long and cold and people rely heavily on costly oil heat, are expected to be especially hard hit. Many poor and elderly people on fixed incomes struggle with rising heating bills that can run into thousands of dollars. That can force them to cut back on other necessities like food or medicine.

Economic News

Americans are clearly worse off than they were just since this past spring, according to a new Federal Reserve report. The average U.S. household lost $21,261 of net worth over the summer months, according to the latest quarterly report by the Fed. Attributed to falling home values and a tumultuous stock market, the third-quarter decline marked the second straight quarter of eroding net wealth for U.S. households.

Consumers plan to spend considerably more this holiday, but not in the same way they have in years past. The average U.S. shopper plans to spend $751 this year, a 22% increase from a 2010, according to this year’s survey. Only one in five shoppers plans to use credit cards or other types of debt that will not be immediately paid off in full. The most popular destination remains big box stores, like Walmart and Best Buy, where 42% of shoppers plan to do at least some spending. However, that’s down six points from a year ago. Also down six points, the percentage of shoppers who plan to visit traditional department stores — 19%, vs. 25% in 2010. At the same time, plans to shop online continue to move higher, with 27% of shoppers planning to buy online this year, up two points from a year ago.

Come New Year’s Day, San Francisco will make history by becoming the first city in the nation to scale a $10 minimum wage. The city’s hourly wage for its lowest-paid workers will hit $10.24, more than $2 above the California minimum wage and nearly $3 more than the working wage set by the federal government.

The Army said Thursday it is moving forward with plans announced in July to cut about 8,700 positions, using a mix of early retirement offers, buyouts and attrition to trim the jobs by the end of the fiscal year in late September. The cuts will come in 37 states at 70 different locations across eight commands and agencies.

Middle East

Israel exchanged fire with terrorists in the Gaza Strip late Thursday night and into Friday morning, with several rockets landing in Israel and the IDF killing a senior operative in the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah political faction. The Jerusalem Prayer Team reports, “Violence against the Jewish people continues to escalate as Gaza terrorists have fired at least ten rockets into Israel over the past two days. The southern region around Ashkelon was the target of these latest attacks, which thankfully resulted in no injuries. It is so ironic to read the news reports of attacks on Israel from Gaza—the land Israel gave up in exchange for empty promises of peace—side by side with reports of politicians like President Obama urging Israel to give up even more land for peace. There will never be peace until the Palestinians give up their dream of destroying Israel and killing the Jews. That is their purpose. They have no interest in peace. They may enter into an agreement that will give them a temporary advantage, but they will never rest until their evil goal is accomplished—or until they are stopped. The threat to Israel will not disappear because a meaningless piece of paper is signed.”

A slew of Palestinian officials reacted with dismay and rage Saturday to Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich’s statement that the Palestinians are an “invented” people. The Jewish Channel, a U.S. cable TV network, released excerpts of the interview on Friday in which the former House speaker said Palestinians were not a people because they never had a state and because they were part of the Ottoman Empire before the British mandate and Israel’s creation. “I think we have an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and historically part of the Arab community and they had the chance to go many places,” Gingrich said. Gingrich responded to the criticism by saying he is speaking as a historian but adds that it’s time for a candidate to stand up and call Palestinian leaders “terrorists.”

  • Gingrich is exactly right. While many Arabs were displaced when the state of Israel was re-formed after WW II, there has never been a nation of Palestine. That was the term the Romans used when they first conquered that general area that included Israel and what we now call Jordan and Syria.


Tens of thousands of Muscovites thronged to a city square to protest against alleged electoral fraud and against Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his party on Saturday, and demonstrators gathered in other rallies across the vast country, the largest public show of discontent in post-Soviet Russia. The protests come three months before Putin, who was president in 2000-2008 and effectively remained the country’s leader while prime minister, is to seek a third term in office. The public outpouring challenges his image, supported by state-controlled TV channels, as a man who won the affection of most Russians. That image was undercut by last Sunday’s parliamentary elections, during which his United Party narrowly retained a majority of seats, but lost the unassailable two-thirds majority it held in the previous parliament. The unprecedented protest by tens of thousands of Russians claiming elections were rigged has prompted the Kremlin to promise to look into fraud charges and may be the first major threat to Vladimir Putin’s uncontested hold on power.


Radioactive water leaked inside a nuclear power plant in southwestern Japan but did not escape into the environment, the government said Saturday, the latest problem for the country’s nuclear industry amid an ongoing crisis at the northern earthquake/tsunami-destroyed plant. Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said 1.8 tons of radioactive water leaked from a pump in Genkai’s No. 3 reactor, and the cause was still under investigation. The water was funneled into a storage area and posed no safety risk.


A national unity government was sworn in Saturday in Yemen as part of a deal for the country’s embattled president to step down after nearly a year of protests against his rule and a crackdown that has killed hundreds. The new 35-member administration is made up of an almost equal number of opposition and loyalist ministers, among them nine who served in the previous Cabinet. The new government’s first main task will be to push through a law shielding President Ali Abdullah Saleh from prosecution for alleged corruption and for the violence against protesters — a key condition under the deal for him to relinquish power after 33 years ruling over the Arab world’s poorest nation. Many protesters have rejected the deal, which was brokered by Gulf Arab nations and supported by the United States, because they want to see Saleh brought to trial and because the agreement does not include far-reaching political changes. Many of those activists have continued protesting.


The Syrian government has warned protesters in the city of Homs that it has a 72-hour deadline to stop demonstrations, hand in weapons and surrender defecting military members — or face bombardment, Lt. Col. Mohamed Hamdo of the opposition Free Syrian Army said Saturday. The deadline would come Monday night. The Syrian National Council, the country’s leading opposition movement, had warned earlier of a potential bloodbath at the hands of the Syrian regime in Homs. And Israeli President Shimon Peres on Sunday described Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a “killer,” implicitly comparing him to Libya’s ousted ruler Moammar Gadhafi.


A 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck in Mexico’s western Guerrero state Saturday night, shaking buildings and causing panic in the nation’s capital and the Pacific resort of Acapulco. Officials said at least three people died, but there were no reports of widespread damage. A quake of that magnitude is capable of causing severe damage, although the depth of this temblor lessened its impact. The quake was centered 40.3 miles below the earth’s surface. One man was killed when a house’s roof collapsed in Iguala, and the driver of a cargo truck was killed by rocks that fell on the vehicle driving on the toll highway linking Acapulco with Mexico City.


The round of dry conditions through the country will come to an end Monday as a strong storm will slam into Southern California. The storm will renew areas of heavy rain along with high-elevation snow not only in California but also through the Southwest over the next couple of days. Winter storm watches are in effect for the hills of Southern California as snow levels will tumble to near 4,000 feet with the cold air from the storm.

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December 9, 2011

Government Activating FEMA Camps Across U.S.

Halliburton subsidiary KBR’s call for FEMA camp service bids arrived right after the Senate overwhelmingly passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which permits the military to detain and interrogate supposed domestic terror suspects in violation of the Fourth Amendment.Section 1031 of the NDAA bill declares the whole of the United States as a “battlefield” and allows American citizens to be arrested on U.S. soil and incarcerated indefinitely. In 2009, the National Emergency Centers Act or HR 645 was introduced in Congress. It mandates the establishment of “national emergency centers” to be located on military installations for the purpose of providing “temporary housing, medical, and humanitarian assistance to individuals and families dislocated due to an emergency or major disaster,” according to the bill. In addition to emergencies, the legislation is designed to “meet other appropriate needs, as determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security,” an open ended mandate which many fear could mean the forced detention of American citizens in the event of widespread rioting after a national emergency or total economic collapse.

  • The Feds are systematically preparing to establish detention camps. The question is why? And under what circumstances? The potential for abuse of powers is enormous

FDA Approves Plan B, Then HHS Overrules

On Wednesday, the FDA approved the sale of Plan B One-Step emergency contraception as an over-the-counter medication to girls younger than 17. It was already and will continue to be available to women 17 and older without a prescription. On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services overruled the FDA decision to allow an emergency morning-after contraceptive pill to be sold to girls younger than 17 without a prescription. “There is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for non-prescription use for all females of childbearing potential,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement. Sebelius decided 10- and 11-year-olds should not be able to buy the drug “alongside bubble gum or batteries” because it could have an adverse effect if not used properly.

  • Morning after pills to 10-11 year-olds? Over the counter? Seriously? The FDA has become a front for the secular, sex-addled socialists seeking to destroy God’s natural order.

New Deal Forged to Try and Save the Euro

Twenty-three European Union states agreed Friday to set up a new treaty, giving up crucial powers over their own budgets in an attempt to overcome a crippling debt crisis. All 17 countries that use the euro, plus Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria are part of the new deal. The U.K. gave a clear “no,” while Hungary, Sweden and the Czech Republic left the door open to sign up at some point if their parliaments want them too. For the past two years, the countries that share the euro have been rocked by a debt crisis that has recently threatened the survival of the currency. Germany and France in particular argued that only tough rules enshrined in a treaty would convince markets that all countries will be able to repay their debts and a similar crisis will never happen again. All 23 countries commit to keep their deficits below 0.5% of economic output. The European Court of Justice will make sure all states’ debt brakes are effective, with more automatic penalties for deficit sinners.

  • The crisis leads to more globalization, all part of the New World Order’s strategy

‘Temporary’ Tax Cuts Plentiful, and Often Long-Term

President Obama wants to extend this year’s payroll tax cut for another year. But if history is any guide, it could be on its way to becoming a permanent part of the tax code. No fewer than 65 tax cuts are set to expire in 2011, a testament to the scores of temporary reductions that riddle the tax code. Most are extended year after year. The payroll tax cut — from 6.2% to 4.2% for about 160 million workers — is far broader than most of the so-called “rifle shots” aimed at helping one industry or interest group. It costs $112 billion in lost revenue to the Social Security Trust Fund, which must be made up from general revenue. Senior White House officials acknowledge it may be difficult to raise the tax rate back to 6.2% unless the economy improves and average Americans can afford, on average, a $1,000 tax increase.

Tax cuts are often temporary, with expiration dates, because of the arcane way in which Congress budgets. President George W. Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, for example, were set to expire 10 years later so they could be approved as part of the budget process with only 51 Senate votes, rather than 60. Still, Bush’s cuts were extended for two years last December, and most of them are almost certain to be extended again in 2012. Many “temporary” cuts from 1998 remain on the books today, including tax credits for research and development and for businesses hiring people from the welfare rolls. One of those coming up for renewal is a steadily increasing income exemption that shields more than 20 million taxpayers from paying more under the Alternative Minimum Tax. The last two-year extension cost more than $136 billion.

  • Politicians love tax cuts and spending increases because it helps them get elected by a greedy, gullible public. Unfortunately, this has created the current debt crisis which can only be overcome with less spending and tax increases. Since this is unlikely, a second worse recession is on the horizon

Military Bible Ban Rescinded

The Walter Reed military hospital says it has rescinded a ban on Bibles or other religious materials being used or given away during visits to wounded troops. The ban was issued in September but only came to light last week. It said, “No religious items, i.e. Bibles, reading material and/or artifacts are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.” Iowa Congressman Steve King’s office says that when he demanded an explanation, the hospital’s senior officers told him the memo was improperly worded and would be rewritten to affirm that religious items are “welcome in the hospital, if they are welcomed by the patient.” On its website, Walter Reed now apologizes and says the visitation policy has been rescinded, that patients’ families may bring religious materials and that religious groups won’t be barred from visiting.

While rescinding and apologizing, the military also reveals their anti-Christian bias

Studies Show Prayer Improves Mental and Physical Health

An exhaustive analysis of more that 1,500 reputable medical studies indicates “people who are more religious and pray more have better mental and physical health,” Duke University’s Harold G. Koenig told Newsmas. “And out of 125 studies that looked at the link between health and regular worship, 85 shows regular churchgoers live longer.” The proof of the power of prayer is “overwhelming,” says researcher and former atheist Tom Knox, who became a Christian worshiper after doing in-depth study of the medical benefits of faith. “What I discovered astonished me. Over the past 30 years, a growing body of scientific work shows religious belief is medically, socially and psychologically beneficial.” “What’s more,” Koenig adds, believers “experience less depression, less anxiety, and the commit suicide less often. The have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure.”

Bankruptcies Drop as Corporate Profits & Cash at Record High

Consumers may be struggling financially, but companies are having a great year. While unemployment remains stubbornly high and more consumers are facing serious financial hardship, corporate earnings and cash hordes continue to be at record highs. Another sign of the great shape companies are in is the dearth of corporate bankruptcies. Thanks largely to the availability of low cost loans following the financial crisis in 2008-2010, companies have largely been able to finance their debts. Meanwhile, rampant cost cutting has allowed companies to operate more leanly than they’ve been able to in years. As a result, corporate bankruptcies have declined dramatically. Just 1.9% of companies with the lowest credit ratings have defaulted over the past 12 months, says Standard & Poor’s. That’s well below the long-term average of 4.6%.

  • This is the underlying cause of the Occupy protests as corporations profit at the expense of jobs

Retailers, Small businesses Brace for Postal Cuts

Snail mail is about to trudge even slower, forcing companies dependent on the postal service, such as prescription-medication firm Express Scripts and thousands of small businesses, to revamp fundamental business models. The U.S. Postal Service’s plan to save $2.1 billion a year and fend off possible bankruptcy threatens to end almost all overnight delivery of first-class letters and postcards next year. Everyone from Netflix to timely magazines to the greeting card industry to political campaigns who still rely massively on traditional mail deliveries will be negatively impacted. Online retailers — not to mention small and midsize businesses — that are dependent on timely shipping could feel the pinch. estimates 92% of the specialized T-shirts and apparel it sells are shipped, via a third-party, through the Postal Service. The threat of discontinued Saturday mail service, which would require congressional approval, could add two days.

  • I want everything now and I don’t care what damage it does to the economy

Crowded ERs Help Urgent Care Centers Thrive

Across the U.S., an estimated 3 million patients visit these centers each week, according to the Urgent Care Association of America, a trade group based in Chicago. To meet demand, the number of facilities has increased from 8,000 in 2008 to more than 9,200 this year, the association said. About 600 urgent centers opened this year. Fueling that rise are two longstanding trends — crowded emergency rooms and a lack of primary care doctors. Urgent care operators say another factor is helping to propel business: the drive to lower costs. Urgent care centers’ fees are at least half those charged at a hospital emergency department for the same condition. The savings in ER costs are a big draw for patients without insurance, as well as insured patients facing higher out-of-pocket costs because of rising deductibles.

Public Mass Transit Regains Footing

More people rode public transportation in the first nine months of this year than last, a sign that more people are working and looking for cheaper options to get around. Ridership on public buses and trains increased 2% — from 7.63 billion rides to 7.76 billion. People are turning to public transit as a less expensive option to high gas prices. About 60% of public transit riders are commuters going to and from work. The increase is part of an upward trend in transit ridership that has been taking place since the mid-1990s. The increase in riders comes as almost 80% of public transit agencies say they cut service or increased fares last year or are considering such moves.

Fastest-Growing Urban Parks Are for the Dogs

Urban parks are going to the dogs. Dog parks where canines can romp freely without a tether are the fastest-growing segment of city parks, according to a study by the non-profit Trust for Public Land. There were 569 off-leash dog parks in the 100 largest cities in 2010, a 34% jump in five years. Portland, Ore., has the highest per capita: 5.7 dog parks for every 100,000 residents. The increase mirrors demographic shifts: There are now more households with dogs (43 million) than with kids (38 million). Dog parks have become the equivalent of playgrounds and community centers.

States Expand Lucrative Pensions to More Jobs

Special retirement benefits once reserved for police, firefighters and others with dangerous jobs are now being given to tens of thousands of state workers employed as park rangers, foresters, dispatchers, coroners, even highway laborers, museum guards and lifeguards. The trend will add heavily to the $70 billion that state taxpayers owe state retirement funds each year and is costing states such as Florida and Maryland $15 million to $30 million annually, a USA TODAY analysis shows. Thirty-one states have passed laws since 2000 that expand the range of workers who can retire when they turn 50 or 55 or after working 20 or 25 years, then collect special pensions that will pay some an extra $1 million or more in retirement. People in dangerous public safety jobs have long had enhanced early retirement to encourage them to make way for younger workers as their physical abilities decline, and to compensate them for lasting physical and mental damage.

  • Unfunded pension liabilities are already a noose around state finances. For some inexplicable reason, states are now tightening the noose themselves.

Economic News

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nine months, evidence that the job market is improving. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped by 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 381,000. That’s the lowest number of applications since late February, and a level that can support weak, but sustained job growth.

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in October to its lowest point of the year as Americans bought fewer foreign cars and imported less oil. Exports of American-made autos also fell. The Commerce Department said Friday that the trade deficit shrank 1.6% to $43.5 billion. Imports fell 1% to $222.6 billion, reflecting a 5% decline in oil imports. Exports slipped 0.8 percent to $179.2 billion, the first drop after three months of gains.

The European Central Bank has cut its key interest rate by a quarter percentage point to 1.0% to help the Eurozone economy as it slides toward recession because of the debt crisis. The bank also cut rates five weeks ago.

Americans have been driving fewer miles every month since March, a decline fueled by factors ranging from the weak economy to high gas prices. The miles driven during the year that ended in September were down 1%.

Middle East

Israeli aircraft fired missiles at militant facilities in the Gaza Strip early Friday, killing a Palestinian civilian and wounding 25 other people, Gaza officials said, as a new round of violence in the area threatened to escalate into a wider confrontation. The airstrikes, confirmed by the Israeli military, followed Israeli air attacks a day earlier that killed two Islamic militants and touched off rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israel. The rockets caused no casualties but further ratcheted up frictions.

As more details emerge from the massive explosion at an Iranian missile base a few weeks ago, the Iranians are heightening their military preparedness. Units, particularly those that would respond to a military assault, have been placed on high alert. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard forces are said to be on a “war footing.” The missile base that was destroyed was home to solid fuel missiles—which can be launched without notice. Israeli special forces are suspected of causing two explosions on Iran’s munitions bases.


Russia and NATO remain deadlocked on a long-running dispute over the alliance’s plan for a missile shield for Europe, officials said Thursday, and Russia warned that time was running out for an agreement. NATO and the United States say the planned missile defense program is meant to protect Europe from threats in the Middle East. Russia has insisted on a treaty that would be binding on the United States and its allies, guaranteeing that the anti-missile system would in no way threaten Russia’s own ballistic missiles. The U.S. has said it’s willing to adopt a nonbinding written agreement, but that a treaty is unworkable.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blasted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday for encouraging and supporting the election protesters and warned of a wider Russian crackdown on unrest. By describing Russia’s parliamentary election as rigged, Putin said Clinton “gave a signal” to his opponents. Russian protesters have taken to the streets in Moscow and St. Petersburg for three straight nights despite heavy police presence, outraged over observers’ reports of widespread ballot box stuffing and manipulations of the vote count in Sunday’s parliamentary election. The demonstrations have been some of the biggest and most sustained protests Russia has seen in years, and police have detained hundreds of protesters.


The United States is in discussions with Libya over ways to help rebuild the country’s military, which the U.S. military considers essential to unify the country and bring rival militias under national control. If the two countries do establish a relationship, it would not be the scale of U.S. efforts to rebuild the militaries of Iraq and Afghanistan. Libya’s military mostly disintegrated over the course of the revolt that began with protests in February. Some units defected to the rebel side, some fought alongside foreign mercenaries and indiscriminately bombed cities, and others broke under pressure from rebel forces and NATO airstrikes. Libya had an impressive arsenal for a small country, according to a report of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, with more than 4,000 tanks and other armored vehicles and 400 combat aircraft.

  • How long are we going to continue to arm our enemies who ultimately turn our own equipment against us?


Data obtained by Amnesty International shows that the US has repeatedly transferred ammunition to Egypt despite security forces’ violent crackdown on protesters. A shipment for the Egyptian Ministry of Interior arrived from the US on 26 November carrying at least seven tons of “ammunition smoke” – which includes chemical irritants and riot control agents such as tear gas. It was one of at least three arms deliveries to Egypt by the US company Combined Systems, Inc. since the brutal crackdown on the “25 January Revolution” protesters.


Afghanistan’s president vowed Wednesday to confront the government in Pakistan over a devastating suicide bombing against a Shiite shrine in Kabul that he said originated on Pakistani soil. At least 56 people were killed in Tuesday’s bombing at a shrine where hundreds had gathered to mark the Shiite holy day of Ashura. One American citizen was among the dead. A man claiming to be from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, a Pakistan-based splinter group of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi that has carried out attacks against Shiite Muslims in Pakistan, has called various media outlets to claim responsibility for the Kabul bombing. Pakistan dismissed any suggestions that the violent sectarian group has links to the country’s intelligence agencies.


Assailants torched more than 20 tankers in Pakistan carrying fuel for U.S. and NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan on Thursday, in the first reported attack since Islamabad closed the border to protest coalition airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops last month. Several hundred trucks have been stranded at poorly guarded terminals around the country as they wait for Pakistan to reopen its two border crossings into Afghanistan. Around 40 percent of the non-lethal supplies for U.S.-led troops in landlocked Afghanistan travel across Pakistani soil. Rockets were fired at a terminal for the tankers close to the southwestern city of Quetta. At least 23 tankers were set ablaze.


The USA endured 12 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2011, breaking the record of nine set in 2008. The aggregate damage from these 12 events is approximately $52 billion. The breakdown for the 12 disasters: six severe weather/tornado outbreaks; the spring and summer river flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers; the ongoing Southern drought; the blizzard in February in the Central and Eastern USA; Hurricane Irene in August; and the Southwestern wildfires. In these 12 disasters, 646 Americans have been killed, the weather service says. Including other weather events that didn’t reach the billion-dollar threshold, more than 1,000 people have lost their lives because of weather and climate events this year.

this year’s U.N. climate negotiations are poised to end without a new binding accord to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The 12-day U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa, is likely to end today or Saturday much as it began — without a definitive successor to a 1997 global warming treaty, the first phase of which expires next year. The Kyoto Protocol obligates 37 industrial nations to lower their greenhouse gas emissions, compared with 1990 levels, an average of about 5% between 2008 and 2012. It does not require cuts of developing countries, including China and India. The United States never ratified the treaty because of its exemptions for the developing world but has made voluntary efforts to cut emissions. Now, the European Union says it will not renew its pledges to reduce emissions for another five-year period unless all countries — rich and poor alike — agree to negotiate a new binding treaty. India and China are also playing hardball.

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