Signs of the Times (12/21/11)

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

Iraq

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)

Afghanistan

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.

Egypt

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.

Syria

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.”

Weather

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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