Signs of the Times (12/30/11)

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

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.

Iraq

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.

Afghanistan

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.

Syria

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

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.”

China

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

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.

Samoa

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.

Volcanoes

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.

Weather

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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