Signs of the Times (12/19/11)

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.

Iraq

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.

Pakistan

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.

Libya

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.

Egypt

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

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.

Earthquakes

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.

Weather

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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