Signs of the Times (1/4/12)

A ‘Christ-Centered’ Alternative to Girl Scouts

The founder of a faith-based alternative to the Girl Scouts credits God for her organization’s continued growth, OneNewsNow.com reports. Patti Garibay started American Heritage Girls in 1995 because she was concerned about the Girl Scouts’ philosophies on abortion and sex education, and the group has continued to grow over the years to more than 17,000 members today. “We are a Christ-centered organization for girls, and so we are happy to welcome girls ages five to 18 … to grow in their knowledge and love of Christ, as well as do some of the very fun scouting activities,” Garibay said. “Now we’re ready to really grow and to let families all over the country know that there is an organization where you can enjoy the activities of scouting, but still be in line with your family’s values.” In late 2011 after a Colorado Girl Scout troop allowed a boy to join, three troops at a Louisiana Christian school were motivated to disband; as a result, many parents sought out American Heritage Girls as an alternative.

  • Christian parents need to pull their children out of secular schools, boy scouts, girl scouts, etc. as they have become indoctrination centers for ungodly, anti-Christian attitudes

Personhood Battle Shifts to Mississippi Legislature

The blistering fight over whether Mississippi law should define life at conception is expected to continue this year by way of the Legislature. Voters soundly rejected the so-called “personhood amendment” with 58% of the vote in November, but anti-abortion advocates say they have hope in the Capitol. During the most recent election cycle, more than 60 lawmakers – mostly Republicans – signed a pledge to support the effort. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who first expressed concern over the initiative but eventually said he voted in favor of it, repeatedly has said he thought the effort would be more successful in the Legislature. Gov.-elect Phil Bryant, also a Republican and a major supporter of Initiative 26, has said he, also, expects the issue to gain support at the Capitol. Mississippi lawmakers have approved some of the nation’s toughest anti-abortion measures in recent years, including a mandatory waiting period and a requirement that doctors perform ultra sounds. The state has just one abortion clinic.

Sexting: Youth Leaders Deal With New Challenge

Sexting — sending sexually suggestive messages or photos via text messaging on phones — has become a trend among teens, and church kids are not immune, Charisma News reports. While different surveys reveal different numbers as to what percent of teens have sent or received such messages, “it’s happening with church kids just like unchurched kids,” says Mandy Crow, editor of EC, a student devotional magazine published by LifeWay. “We talk with teens and student leaders often. We hear this everywhere. … They seem to think it’s flirty or funny. They just don’t see the long-term consequences.” Church leaders agree that sexting often comes out of peer pressure or boyfriend/girlfriend insistence, and Crow says it’s important for youth leaders and parents to be proactive in dealing with it: “Student leaders need to help parents know what to do and how to talk to their teenagers about sexting. Parents need to be empowered to speak out. The issue isn’t going away.”

Record Gun Sales for Christmas

Along with millions of Kindles, Angry Birds and gift cards, Santa left a record number of guns under Americans’ Christmas trees, according to FBI statistics on background checks. In the six days before Christmas, gun dealers submitted nearly half-a-million names for checks on criminal records and mental health issues, with 20% coming Dec. 23. That was the second-busiest gun-buying day in history, topped only by firearm purchases on the recent Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. For the first 11 months of 2011, the FBI did a record 14.6 million checks, an increase of more than 70% from the 8.5 million in 2003. About 1% of buyers are typically rejected.

  • The uncertain times and increasingly volatile protests add up to more guns for end-time protection. Then [Jesus] said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. (Luke 22:36)

35 Terror Training Camps Now Operating Inside U.S.

A radical jihadist group responsible for nearly 50 attacks on American soil is operating 35 terrorist training camps across the nation, but the U.S. government refuses to include the organization on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorists, according to WorldNetDaily. Jamaat ul-Fuqra, known in the U.S. as “Muslims of America,” has purchased or leased hundreds of acres of property – from New York to California – in which the leader, Sheikh Mubarak Gilani, boasts of conducting “the most advanced training courses in Islamic military warfare.” In a recruitment video from Gilani’s “Soldiers of Allah,” he states in English: “We are fighting to destroy the enemy. We are dealing with evil at its roots and its roots are America.” Though Gilani and his organization is suspected of committing assassinations and firebombings inside the U.S., and is also suspected of the beheading murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, the terrorist camps spread through the country continue to expand in numbers and population.

Obama, Congress Locked in Keystone Pipeline Dispute

President Obama and Congress are starting the election year locked in a tussle over a proposed 1,700-mile oil pipeline from Canada to Texas that will force the White House to make a politically risky choice between two key Democratic constituencies. Some unions say the Keystone XL pipeline would create thousands of jobs. Environmentalists fear it could lead to an oil spill disaster. A law Obama signed just before Christmas that temporarily extended the payroll tax cut included a Republican-written provision compelling him to make a speedy decision on whether to build the pipeline. The administration is warning it would rather say no than rush a decision in an election year. Some liberal donors have threatened to cut off funds to Obama’s re-election campaign to protest the project, which opponents say would transport “dirty oil” that requires huge amounts of energy to extract. If he rejects the pipeline, Obama risks losing support from organized labor, a key part of the Democratic base, for thwarting thousands of jobs.

  • The security of the USA against Muslim oil nations is unfortunately more important than jobs and the environment at this time

North Dakota Oil Boom Fuels Real Estate Sales in Arizona

Flush with cash from an oil boom and plentiful jobs, North Dakotans are snapping up homes 1,500 miles away in balmy Arizona, where prices have plunged 55% since the real estate bubble burst. Some want second homes. Others move outright. The weather and bargain prices are drawing many more North Dakotans now because small towns are overrun with oilfield workers sleeping in cars, motels or “man camps,” compounds of modular, temporary housing for predominantly male oil workers. “The oil boom has changed the way of life,” says Mark Schill, an economic development consultant in Grand Forks, N.D. “The region has become fairly congested.”

Occupy Protesters Follow Rose Parade

The 2012 Tournament of Roses brought its flowery floats and strutting bands to a worldwide audience Monday under clear blue skies, and in its wake came a scruffier parade — several thousand anti-Wall Street protesters. On the heels of the two-hour parade came several thousand Occupy Wall Street protesters in a pre-arranged demonstration. The thunder of the retreating marching bands mingled in the air with chants of “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out” as the Occupy the Rose Parade demonstrators retraced about 1.5 miles of the 5.5-mile parade route before veering off for a rally near City Hall.

Hollywood Car Torching a Common Crime in Germany

A German man whose mother was threatened with deportation is accused of a crime that has become a popular way in Germany for young people to express anger: burning cars. Harry Burkhart, 24, watched as his mother was arrested last week on a warrant from their native Germany on fraud charges that include not paying for breast-augmentation surgery. Two days later, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck alleges, Burkhart began a nighttime rampage of arson attacks that terrorized the city. The burning of cars is a common phenomenon in Berlin and also other northern German cities such as Hamburg, which are magnets for young, “left-wing” idealists protesting the establishment, gentrification of their neighborhoods and globalization.

  • Violence will become more and more prevalent as the end-times progress

Road Funds at Risk in Some States

Stuck in a financial pothole, Missouri’s highway department has been selling equipment and eliminating employees to scrounge up enough money to repair its roads. Unless it also changes state law, it could lose tens of millions of federal highway dollars as a penalty for not adopting new safety requirements for commercial truck drivers. Approximately one-third of states have indicated they may not meet a Jan. 30 deadline for their drivers’ license offices to require interstate truck drivers to provide proof from a medical professional that they are healthy enough to drive. States that fail to comply with the federal mandate could lose 5 percent of their highway funds. But noncompliant states could receive a grace period; as long as they submit a plan to obey the mandate.

  • More federal meddling, bungling

Men Grab Most New Jobs, Even in Retail

Men are claiming more than two-thirds of the private-sector jobs created as the economy recovers, reversing a long-running trend that came within a whisker of giving the USA its first-ever majority-female workforce. In addition, over two-hundred thousand men are now working in the once mostly female world of retailing. Nearly 1.28 million men gained jobs in the 12 months that ended in November, compared with 600,000 women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Though men have returned to work in greater numbers in goods-producing jobs and service-related businesses, they’re not returning to still-stagnant construction industries. Instead, retailers have added 216,900 men vs. about 9,000 women. Also, manufacturers have added more than 250,000 men and cut 33,000 women.

Economic News

At least 17 states predict budget gaps for 2012 (which will be made up through higher taxes and further spending cuts and layoffs)… State tax collection remains $21 billion below 2008 levels. The combined budget gaps are estimated to be $40 billion for the year. Only 29 states are spending less from their general funds than they were before the crisis.

Manufacturing grew in December at the fastest pace in six months and hiring at U.S. factories picked up. The data helps bolster the view that the economy gained momentum at the end of last year. The Supply Management manufacturing index rose to 53.9 from 52.7 in November. Readings above 50 indicate expansion. U.S manufacturing has expanded for more than two years.

A flurry of post-Christmas shopping helped sales surge in the last week of December. Sales at stores open at least one year rose 5.3% the week ended Dec. 31. Increased gift card use and mild weather contributed to the sales increase. As a result of the Christmas-week surge, the sales growth estimate for the full month of December increased to 4.5%.

Homeowners insurance premiums are starting to rise after tornadoes, hail, winds and lightning slammed U.S. insurance companies’ balance sheets throughout 2011. Customers are starting to feel the cost of years of heavy losses, particularly in the Southeast and Midwest. In 2008, the average annual cost of homeowners insurance was $791, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Average premiums rose slightly to $799 in 2009 and $807 in 2010. Experts predict that 2011’s average premium will be about $840.

Middle East

Jordan’s foreign minister says the first meetings between Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators in more than a year have ended without any significant breakthroughs. Although he says there were no breakthroughs on matters of “substance,” he says “the important thing is the two sides have met face to face.” Peace talks broke down in September 2010. The Palestinians say they will not resume talks while Israel continues to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel insists on talks without preconditions.

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) released a report on Monday showing a significant rise in terror attacks carried out against Israelis in December 2011. Even as this report was released, Israeli officials are expressing unease at the possibility that the large arsenal of rockets and missiles in Syria, many of which are designed to carry chemical weapons, might fall into the hands of terrorist groups if/when the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad falls from power.

Afghanistan

U.S. military deaths in the Afghanistan War declined in 2011, the first drop in four years, amid a string of battlefield successes against Taliban insurgents by U.S. and other coalition forces. The number of U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan totaled 405 last year, down 18% from 2010, according to Pentagon reports. Overall allied deaths , including U.S. forces, totaled 545 in 2011, down from 699 in 2010. A surge of more than 30,000 U.S. service members beginning in 2010 helped drive insurgents from their strongholds in the southern province of Helmand and in Kandahar, which is the Taliban’s spiritual homeland. Coalition forces have also launched regular raids targeting leaders, bomb makers and others important to the insurgent organization.

The Afghan Taliban said on Tuesday they have reached a preliminary deal with the Gulf state of Qatar to open a liaison office there in what could be the first step toward peace talks to end more than a decade of war. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the liaison office will conduct negotiations with the international community. He did not say when it would open. For the United States and its allies, the idea of a Taliban political office in the Qatari capital Doha has become the central element in efforts to draw the insurgents into peace talks. Taliban plans to open an office in Qatar may be a sign that after 10 years of war with the U.S. in Afghanistan, the extremist insurgent group could be trying to achieve through talks what it can’t get through battle.

Syria

The Arab League has called for an emergency meeting to discuss whether to withdraw the group’s monitors from Syria after reports that Syrian security forces are still killing anti-government protesters despite the observers’ presence. There are about 100 Arab League monitors in Syria, dispatched to verify the regime’s compliance with a plan to stop its crackdown on dissent. On Monday, League chief Nabil Elaraby said Syrian troops are still killing anti-government protesters despite the presence of foreign monitors.

Egypt

Egyptians voted Tuesday in the final round of elections likely to seal the domination by Islamists over the country’s new parliament as secular activists grew increasingly worried over the possibility of an alliance between the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling military. The result, they fear, will be a shelving of reforms for greater democracy that they hoped for after the Feb. 11 fall of President Hosni Mubarak. The military wants a safe return to its past life away from the limelight and with its privileges and prestige, and the Islamists want power. The two could strike a deal that’s at everyone else’s expense.

Iraq

A series of attacks in Iraq on Wednesday targeting the homes of police officers and a member of a government-allied Sunni militia killed four people, including two children, with nine others wounded. Police said a total of six explosions were caused by roadside bombs planted near houses belonging to security officers in Baqouba as their families were sleeping. The city, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, is a former stronghold of al-Qaeda militants. Meanwhile, police said gunmen stormed the house of a leader in the anti al-Qaeda militia, killing him and his wife in the predominantly Sunni suburb of Abu Ghraib, west of the capital.

Iran

Iran’s ailing currency took a steep slide Monday, losing 12 percent against foreign currencies after President Obama on Saturday signed a bill that places the Islamic republic’s central bank under unilateral sanctions. The currency, which economists say was held artificially high for years against the dollar and the euro, has lost about 35 percent of its value since September. Its exchange rate hovered at 16,800 rials to the dollar, marking a record low. The currency was trading at about 10,500 rials to the U.S. dollar in late December 2010… But in Tehran, people said they were bleeding money.

North Korea

Pumping their fists and chanting, tens of thousands of North Koreans packed the snowy main square of the capital Tuesday to pledge their loyalty to new leader Kim Jong Un as the campaign to consolidate his power deepened. The succession campaign to install the third-generation Kim as leader has hastened since Kim Jong Il died more than two weeks ago. He led the country for 17 years after the death of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. North Korea’s neighbors and the United States are keeping close watch on the younger Kim’s rise amid uncertainty about how the country will manage a change of leadership during a time of sensitive negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Nigeria

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram has issued an ultimatum for Christians living in northern Nigeria, warning them to leave the area within three days, CNN reports. Boko Haram spokesman Abul Qaqa said Boko Haram fighters were prepared to confront soldiers sent to the area under the state of emergency declared in parts of four states by Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan on Saturday, and also called on Muslims in southern Nigeria to “come back to the north because we have evidence they will be attacked.” Human rights activist Shehu Sani said Boko Haram’s threat was credible, but that many Christians living in northern Nigeria had nowhere to escape. “The killings will continue,” he said, adding that Boko Haram might also begin attacking new areas. In recent months, Boko Haram has increased its number and intensity of terror attacks, including the Christmas Day church bombing that killed 35.

Irate drivers in Africa’s most populous nation paid more than twice the usual price Monday after the government quietly removed a long-cherished consumer subsidy that had kept gas affordable, prompting fears of strikes and unrest. The government’s announcement — made over a long holiday weekend — drew outrage. Protesters furious over spiraling gas prices set fires on an expressway Tuesday and at least one person was killed. Further unrest would only add to Nigeria’s security woes: President Goodluck Jonathan already declared a state of emergency over the weekend in parts of the country hit by a growing Islamic insurgency that is fueled in part by widespread poverty.

Uganda

Ugandan church leader Umar Mulinde had acid thrown in his face outside his church in Kampala on Christmas Eve. The substance caused burns to the right side of his face, neck and arms, and doctors are struggling to restore the sight in his right eye. Pastor Umar, a convert from Islam and former sheik, had been receiving threats for some time; it is believed that he was targeted because of his conversion to Christianity and strong critique of the Islamic faith. He had also been a key opponent of Muslim plans to introduce Kadhi courts (sharia courts) in Uganda.

India

There were a number of attacks against Christians and churches in India over the Christmas period. On Christmas Day, a group of Christians who had gathered for a meal in one of their homes were attacked by a group of around 20 Hindu extremists. Elsewhere, the home of one young Christian couple was burnt down while they were at a Christmas celebration at their village church in Kandhamal, Orissa State, on Christmas Eve.

Earthquakes

Tsunami waves hit Hawaii in the early morning hours last Friday and swept through the island chain after an earthquake in Japan sparked evacuations throughout the Pacific and as far as the U.S. western coast. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said Kauai was the first island hit early Friday by the tsunami, and the waves surged in Waikiki. Hawaii experienced waves up to 6 feet.

Wildfires

Firefighters in Chile battled three huge wildfires Monday that have burned about 90 square miles (23,000 hectares) of forest, destroyed more than 100 homes and have driven away thousands of tourists while causing millions of dollars in losses. The fires also claimed their first victim: an elderly man who refused warnings to leave his home. Chile’s normally rainy southern regions are suffering from a nationwide heat wave, on top of a drought that makes fires increasingly likely. The country was battling 48 separate fires on Sunday alone.

Weather

December was much warmer than average nearly coast-to-coast, with many cities experiencing one of their top-10 warmest Decembers on record. Snow was scarce, with some spots picking up a fraction of their average snowfalls. Salt Lake City, for example, saw only 0.1 inch of snow, the city’s smallest amount of December snow since 1911. And New York City had no December snow for only the third time on record. In the West, the warm, dry December weather had many folks trading skis for golf clubs in the Reno-Lake Tahoe area.

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