Signs of the Times (12/26/11)

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.

Libya

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.

Yemen

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.

Pakistan

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.

Iraq

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.

Iran

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.

Russia

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.

Sudan

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.

Weather

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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