Signs of the Times (12/16/11)

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 Spycheatstuff.com, 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

Israel

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.

Iran

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.

Pakistan

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.

Syria

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.

Uzbekistan

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, Persecution.org 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.

Japan

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.

Weather

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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