Signs of the Times (1/6/12)

Explosive Growth of Christianity, Missions in Sub-Saharan Africa

A new study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows the largest growth in Christianity during the past 100 years has occurred in sub-Saharan African countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria. In 1910, just 1.4 percent of the world’s Christians lived in sub-Saharan Africa, but in 2010 that number had grown to 24 percent. And now, instead of Christianity being spread into African nations by missionaries, African converts are now the ones taking the message to the rest of the world. Many large churches in Europe are also now filled with African Christians who escaped persecution, said Larry Henderson of Abilene Christian University (ACU). “Europeans and North Americans are no longer in the driver’s seat [of world missions],” he said. “African Christian leaders have taken the ball and run with it,” said Wimon Walker of ACU.

Obama Defies GOP Lawmakers with Recess Appointments

President Obama defied Republican lawmakers on Wednesday when he bypassed Congress and invoked presidential recess appointment authority to install former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to head the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republicans blasted the move by Obama as constitutionally dubious, arguing that the Senate was in “pro forma session” and technically not in recess. Meanwhile, business groups, such as the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce, expressed disappointment with the decision and said that Cordray’s authority as the consumer watchdog could ultimately be challenged in the courts. The president had announced the nomination last summer and pushed Republicans to give Cordray an up or down vote. The White House also announced that Obama made three recess appointments to fill vacant seats on the National Labor Relations Board. The White House says Obama has made 28 recess appointments, compared with 61 made by President George W. Bush at the same point in his first term.

  • It’s not good whenever the Executive Branch finds ways to operate out from under Congressional scrutiny

Judges Gone Wild!

Still reeling from the Obama administration’s ongoing socialist makeover of their country, most Americans have understandably focused their outrage on the executive and legislative branches of government, watching a rogue president and radicalized Congress wreak havoc on the freest, most prosperous nation on earth, notes WorldNetDaily. Yet, the branch of government arguably most responsible for the “fundamental transformation of America” is neither the executive nor legislative. As the January issue of WND’s monthly Whistleblower magazine dramatically shows, the most arrogant, unaccountable and transformational branch of government today is the judiciary, which, virtually unshackled from the Constitution, has declared itself the supreme branch of government.

  • Further Obama socialist appointments to the runaway judiciary is the biggest threat of a second term

Obama to Slim Down Military

President Barack Obama is putting his personal stamp on a rejiggered Pentagon strategy for absorbing hundreds of billions of dollars in defense budget cuts, marking a turning point in U.S. security policy after a decade of war. Obama announced Thursday the results of a strategy review that he ordered last spring. The aim was twofold: Streamline the military in an era of tighter budgets and reassess defense priorities in light of China’s rise and other global changes. The administration says smaller Pentagon budgets are a must but will not come at the cost of sapping the strength of a military in transition, even as it gets smaller.

After 10 years of fighting insurgencies, the Pentagon’s plan to fundamentally alter its global strategy is sparking controversy over America’s role in the world. The military strategy that Obama unveiled Thursday will lead to a smaller force in the Army and Marines and a shift to counter China’s military might. The strategy emphasizes high-tech surveillance and drones, and the use of special forces to assist foreign militaries to quell conflicts. The U.S. nuclear force may also shrink. Critics wondered whether the new Obama doctrine means less U.S. involvement in global military affairs at a time when the world remains dangerous. “The president has packaged our retreat from the world in the guise of a new strategy to mask his divestment of our military and national defense,” said Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Casualty List Skips Concussions

The Pentagon is undercounting the number of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan by not including in the official tally all the troops who suffer concussions caused by a blast, Defense Department officials say. Though the undercount has no effect on the medical treatment of those troops, it means the true number of wounded is more than the 47,409 troops listed on the Defense Department website. It is unclear how many concussions have not been counted in the casualty figure. Potentially thousands occur each year in combat, according to medical and research figures. A hundred concussions per month were being identified last year in Iraq and Afghanistan through the use of more aggressive efforts to identify and treat blast-related concussions.

  • Undercounting our casualties is a time-honored political tradition

Judge Dismisses Medical Marijuana Suit by Arizona

A U.S. District Court judge Wednesday dismissed Arizona’s lawsuit seeking to clarify whether its voter-approved medical-marijuana law trumps federal drug laws. In an unusual legal request, Gov. Jan Brewer had asked the court to mediate the conflict between state and federal drug laws. But Judge Susan Bolton tossed the suit, saying the state couldn’t show its workers were at risk of federal prosecution for following Proposition 203, or even if it intended to fully implement the law. Although Bolton’s decision clears the way for state health officials to begin licensing medical-marijuana dispensaries, officials are not likely to begin the process immediately. Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor would consult with Attorney General Tom Horne before deciding whether to appeal Bolton’s ruling.

Toxic Chemical Releases Rise 16% in 2010

Reversing a downward trend, the amount of toxic chemicals released into the nation’s environment in 2010 was 16% higher than the year before, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports. Due largely to changes in metal mining, 3.93 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the environment in 2010. Such amounts had previously been falling since 2006. “In this sector, even a small change in the chemical composition of the ore being mined, may lead to big changes in the amount of toxic chemicals reported nationally,” the EPA said. The agency said the chemical and primary metals industries also reported increases in toxic releases. The problem was most severe with toxic chemical releases into the ground, the amount of which jumped 28% in 2010. Such releases into surface water rose 9%. Total air releases fell 6% in 2010, continuing a multi-year downward trend, but those of dioxin rose 10%.

Cancer Death Rates Continue to Drop

Small but continued drops in cancer incidence and deaths in the United States in recent years are highlighted in a new report. Between 2004 and 2008, death rates for cancer went down by 1.8 percent a year in men and 1.6 percent a year in women, the American Cancer Society (ACS) reported Wednesday. And from 1990 through 2008, death rates plunged almost 23 percent for men and just over 15 percent for women. Meanwhile, cancer incidence rates dipped 0.6 percent for men, although they remained unchanged for women. Death rates dropped most dramatically among black men (2.4 percent per year) and Hispanic men (2.3 percent annually). The decreases “reflect improvements in prevention, early detection and treatment.”

Workplaces not only Ban Smoking, but Smokers Themselves

More job-seekers are facing an added requirement: no smoking — at work or anytime. As bans on smoking sweep the USA, an increasing number of employers — primarily hospitals — are also imposing bans on smokers. They won’t hire applicants whose urine tests positive for nicotine use, whether cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or even patches. Such tobacco-free hiring policies are designed to promote health and reduce insurance premiums. Each year, smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke causes 443,000 premature deaths and costs the nation $193 billion in health bills and lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says 19.3% of U.S. adults smoked last year, down from 42.4% in 1965.

Many Doctors Going Broke

Doctors in America are harboring an embarrassing secret: Many of them are going broke. This quiet reality, which is spreading nationwide, is claiming a wide range of casualties, including family physicians, cardiologists and oncologists. Half of all doctors in the nation operate a private practice. So if a cash crunch forces the death of an independent practice, it robs a community of a vital health care resource. Doctors list shrinking insurance reimbursements, changing regulations, rising business and drug costs among the factors preventing them from keeping their practices afloat. But some experts counter that doctors’ lack of business acumen is also to blame.

Giant Non-Native Pythons Spreading in Florida

Giant Burmese pythons have already established themselves across thousands of square miles of Florida’s Everglades, where outdoor workers now routinely find them. The state had held out hope that bays, inlets and open seas would form a natural barrier, keeping the non-native snakes, often discarded pets, from spreading to the Florida Keys and beyond. But that might not be the case. Research published this week finds that even newly-hatched pythons can survive in seawater for up to a month. Research has shown that snakes often prefer to swim rather than crawl because it uses less energy. One group of pythons that had been radio tagged in the Everglades stayed put for months until the water levels rose enough that they could swim and then they took off. Burmese pythons are considered one of the largest snakes in the world and can grow up to 20 feet and 250 pounds. Last October, workers in the Everglades killed a 16-foot python that had just eaten a 76-pound deer.

‘Zombie’ Fly Causing Bee Die-Off?

Northern California scientists say they have found a possible explanation for a honey bee die-off that has decimated hives around the world: A parasitic fly that hijacks the bees’ bodies and causes them to abandon hives. Scientists say the fly deposits its eggs into the bee’s abdomen, causing the infected bee to exhibit zombie-like behavior by walking around in circles with no apparent sense of direction. The bee leaves the hive at night and dies shortly thereafter. The symptoms mirror colony collapse disorder, in which all the adult honey bees in a colony suddenly disappear. The disease is of great concern, because bees pollinate about a third of the United States’ food supply. Its presence is especially alarming in California, the nation’s top producer of fruits and vegetables, where bees play an essential role in the $2 billion almond industry and other crops.

  • Abnormal changes in nature will become more prevalent as the end-times roll forward, eventually contributing to the famine and pestilence prophesied for the Great Tribulation

Economic News

The Obama administration received a bit of good news today as the unemployment rate fell to 8.5% in December, the lowest level in three years. The Labor Department reports this morning that employers added 200,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate, which stood at 8.6% in November, has now fallen four straight months, and suggests that the economy could be gaining momentum just as President Obama’s reelection effort heats up.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell further last week, ending the year on a three-month run of declines that point to stronger hiring in 2012. Weekly applications dropped by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 372,000 last week, the Labor Department said. That’s 11% lower than the same time last year. The four-week average, which smooths fluctuations, fell to 373,250 — the lowest level since June 2008. When applications drop below 375,000 — consistently — they generally signal that hiring is strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate.

According to the Treasury, the U.S. ended 2011 with total debt at an all-time record of $15,222,940,045,451.09 (that’s $15 trillion). U.S. debt-to-GDP is now more than 100%. Unfortunately, these statistics are only going to get worse in 2012.

Arizona ended FY 11 (fiscal year 2011) with a surplus, and expects to conclude FY 12 (the current fiscal year) with a surplus of $600 million. By the end of FY 13, it projects that the surplus will total $1.3 billion.

  • Conservative leadership works

Governments of the world’s leading economies have more than $7.6 trillion of debt maturing this year, with most facing a rise in borrowing costs. Led by Japan’s $3 trillion and the U.S.’s $2.8 trillion, the amount coming due for the Group of Seven nations and Brazil, Russia, India and China is up from $7.4 trillion at this time last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Ten-year bond yields will be higher by year-end for at least seven of the countries, forecasts show.

Corn prices will be at an all-time high for the next year, and we’re beginning to see that reality on the grocery store shelves. Many consumables – from meat, to cereal, to the gas in your car – depend on corn in one form or another. And because corn has surged in price to more than $7 a bushel (an increase of 70% since August 2010), farmers have concentrated on growing it instead of wheat and soybeans in order to maximize the return on their investment. Lower supplies of wheat and soybeans have also driven the prices of groceries up. Top economists are predicting that retail food prices will rise an additional 4% next year, on top of the 4% rise in cost this year.

Americans’ appetite for trucks of all kinds rebounded strongly in December, boosting pickups, vans and SUVs to a combined 54.8% of new vehicle sales. The trend is a surprise because trucks use a lot of fuel, and gasoline is stubbornly above $3 a gallon.

All three U.S. automakers are on track to be profitable in 2011. That’s something that hasn’t happened since 2004. After posting a loss last year Chrysler says it will swing to a profit. Nissan and Hyundai set sales set records in December; while Honda plunged, Toyota sagged. Honda is considered hardest-hit by the March tsunami that devastated much of the auto industry in Japan, and thus has been low on inventory.

Middle East

The United States has released $40 million in foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority, CBN News reports. The $40 million amounts to about 20 percent of the $187 million in funds from fiscal year 2011 that was frozen in response to the P.A.’s bid for statehood at the United Nations last September; the Obama administration is urging Congress to release the rest. According to the Associated Press, the administration has requested that Congress allocate nearly $546 million to the Palestinian Authority in the new fiscal year.

  • Obama is the Palestinians’ best friend and Israel’s worst enemy

Afghanistan

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is demanding that the U.S. detention center at Bagram Air Base be handed over to Afghan control within a month. A presidential statement said Thursday that keeping Afghan citizens there without trial violates the country’s constitution, as well as international human rights conventions. The prison, inside the sprawling U.S. base at Bagram north of Kabul, abuts a a well-known public detention center known as Parwan, which is run jointly by Afghan authorities and the U.S. military. The U.S.-led NATO coalition is gradually handing over responsibility for security to the Afghan police and army. The process is due to be completed in 2014, when most foreign troops are scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Iran

Iran is mounting an intensive campaign to undermine U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. The Iranian initiative includes developing closer ties with the Taliban and funding media outlets and politicians, The Washington Post reported. Although Iran has been meddling in Afghanistan for years, it recently increased its efforts. Iran’s strategy is similar to the one it used in Iraq to undermine U.S. efforts there, the Post reported. Iran has a dim view of U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, seeing them as a help to the West in gathering intelligence on their nuclear program and as an advantage should the United States and Iran go to war.

Officials from the 27 countries that make up the European Union are trying to thrash out an agreement on banning the purchase of Iranian oil in hopes of choking off funding for the country’s nuclear program. EU foreign ministers agreed in December to work toward such an agreement. But an EU official said Thursday that significant issues remain and no agreement is expected before the end of January.

Iraq

A suicide bomber targeting Shiite pilgrims in southern Iraq killed 30 people Thursday, just hours after a wave of bombings hit Shiite areas in Baghdad and killed 27 others, intensifying fears that insurgents are stepping up attacks after the U.S. troop withdrawal that was completed last month. The coordinated attacks targeting Shiites bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents linked to Al Qaeda and added to a deepening sectarian crisis in Iraq that exploded just as soon as the last Americans troops left in mid-December. At least three explosions struck Friday near Baghdad’s Green Zone, where a parade to mark Iraq’s Army Day was taking place. There were no immediate reports of casualties in the attacks, which come amid heightened security across the Iraqi capital in preparation for Army Day.

Syria

Syrian authorities have released more than 500 prisoners accused of involvement in anti-regime activities, state TV reported Thursday, in what appeared to be another gesture to comply with the Arab League plan to end the regime’s 9-month-old crackdown on dissent. The plan, being monitored by about 100 Arab League observers now in Syria, requires President Bashar Assad’s regime to remove security forces and heavy weapons from cities, start talks with opposition leaders and free political prisoners. However, Syria’s opposition is accusing the regime of misleading the monitors by taking them to areas loyal to the government, changing street signs to confuse them, painting army vehicles blue to look like those of police and sending supporters into rebellious neighborhoods to give false testimony.

An explosion ripped through a police bus in the center of Syria’s capital Friday, killing at least 10 people and possibly 25 in an attack authorities blamed on a suicide bomber. State television also said that 46 people were wounded. The target of the attack appeared to be a bus carrying policemen. The blast went off at an intersection in a central Damascus neighborhood

Yemen

Suspicions are mounting in Yemen that outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh is trying to wiggle out of a U.S.-backed deal meant to bring his 33-year, autocratic rule to an end. Both opposition leaders and officials close to the president said Thursday they remain unconvinced that Saleh is serious about leaving power. They worry he will try to use the unstable country’s continued unrest to keep his seat on the grounds that Yemen’s active al-Qaeda branch will step up operations if he leaves. Following 10 months of mass street protests calling for his ouster, Saleh in November signed a deal agreeing to pass power to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution for alleged crimes he committed while in office.

Wildfires

Shifting winds caused flames to sweep over a group of firefighters battling wildfires in Chile on Thursday, killing six of them, badly burning two and leaving another missing. Nearly 50 wildfires have sprung up in southern Chile, destroying hundreds of houses, forcing the evacuations of thousands of people and causing millions of dollars in damage to the forestry and tourism industries that fuel the economy in the country’s Patagonia region. The wildfires alongside the Cordillera de la Costa are being by fueled by strong winds, unusually high temperatures and dangerously dry conditions.

Weather

The entire world endured its costliest year ever for losses from natural disasters at more than a third of a trillion dollars in damage, according to a report released Wednesday by global reinsurance firm Munich Re. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March accounted for more than half of the damage. The number of disasters was about average, and fatalities were below average. Still, direct property losses from natural catastrophes reached almost $380 billion. an average year sees global economic losses of $75 billion. The previous record for damage was $261 billion in 2005. The figures are adjusted for inflation.

The absence of significant snowfall across the Midwest this winter is great news for state, county and city budgets. The unusual weather, however, is depressing for snowplow drivers who contract with governments or work for private companies. Some of the 27 drivers for Chicago Snow Removal Services face home foreclosures and were really counting on snow plowing work to bail them out.

A high-pressure system hovering over Phoenix brought warm afternoons perfect for long walks, golf or winter gardening. High temperatures in 2012 have been running as much as 10 to 15 degrees above normal. But there are consequences. With high pressure overhead, the air becomes more stagnant. The result is fine-particulate pollution that exceeds the federal health standard. On New Year’s Day, Maricopa County air-monitoring data showed levels three times what is considered healthy.

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