Signs of the Times (1/16/12)

Member of Kuwaiti Royal Family Embraces Christ

A Kuwaiti royal prince has become a believer in Jesus Christ and says that if he is killed because of an audio recording he made about his decision, he believes he will meet Christ face-to-face, ASSIST News Service reports. Prince Abdullah Al-sabah, who comes from a royal family that currently governs Kuwait, said in an recording on a Christian Arabic TV station that he had recently denounced his Islamic faith and become a Christian. He introduced himself and stated: ” I’m satisfied with whatever they do to me, because the truth in the Bible has guided me to the right way.” Islam is the official religion in Kuwait, and almost the entire population is Muslim, with Christians making up only 4 percent.

Memorial New Focal Point for MLK Weekend Events, King Misquoted

Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy will be celebrated like never before in the nation’s capital this weekend now that a granite memorial and bookstore have been erected where events can be held. This will be the first MLK weekend since the memorial was dedicated in October. A children’s art exhibit opens Saturday morning at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial bookstore, followed by story time for children, a talk about King’s quotations at the memorial, a scavenger hunt for adults, and children’s marches on Sunday and Monday. National Park Service rangers will lay a wreath in King’s honor Sunday, his birthday, and on Monday, more lectures will explore the man, his family background and his moral philosophy.

The National Park Service has 30 days to fix a crudely excerpted quotation on the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told The Washington Post. A spokesman for the U.S Department of the Interior confirmed the decision Friday evening to the Associated Press. It’s not clear how much any change might cost or how it would be paid for, the AP reports. At issue is this quote, chiseled into the monument’s left flank: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” The phrase came from the beginning of a 1968 King speech: “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

AZ Gov. Brewer Lifts Hold on Medical Pot Dispensaries

State health officials will be allowed to start the process for licensing medical-marijuana dispensaries after a decision by the governor, but a lawsuit and state bureaucracy could delay doors from opening for nearly a year or more. Gov. Jan Brewer, who in May blocked the dispensary-licensing process, said Friday that she will drop her lawsuit, which sought a judge’s assurance that state workers would not be subject to federal prosecution for implementing the law. The decision moves the state closer to fully implementing the voter-approved medical-marijuana system. However, although the licensing process can now begin, the governor said she will not allow workers to complete the process by issuing licenses until the courts resolve a separate legal challenge over the rules governing dispensaries. The lawsuits from would-be dispensary owners are still pending in Maricopa County Superior Court.Nearly 18,000 Arizonans have permission to use marijuana to treat a variety of debilitating conditions, including cancer and chronic pain, and about 15,000 of them have permission to grow pot.

New TB Strain Resistant to All Drugs

Indian doctors are reporting the country’s first cases of “totally drug-resistant tuberculosis,” a long-feared and virtually untreatable form of the killer lung disease. It’s not the first time highly resistant cases like this have been seen. Since 2003, patients have been documented in Italy and Iran. It has mostly been limited to impoverished areas, and has not spread widely. But experts believe there could be many undocumented cases. No one expects the Indian TB strains to rapidly spread elsewhere. The airborne disease is mainly transmitted through close personal contact and isn’t nearly as contagious as the flu.

  • With more and more diseases become drug resistant (e.g. MRSA), end-time pestilence becomes more likely

Study Links Processed Meat with Increased Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Eating processed meat such as sausages or bacon increases the risk of pancreatic cancer, according to a new study. Swedish researchers analyzed data from 11 clinical trials and 6,643 pancreatic cancer patients. They concluded that the risk of pancreatic cancer increases by 19 percent for every 50 grams of processed meat a person adds to their daily diet. Consuming an extra 100 grams per day would boost the risk by 38 percent. Previous research has linked consumption of red and processed meat with colorectal cancer.

Biometric ID Launched in India

Recently, India has launched a nationwide program involving the allocation of a Unique Identification Number (UID) to every single one of its 1.2 billion residents. Each of the numbers will be tied to the biometric data of the recipient using three different forms of information – fingerprints, iris scans, and pictures of the face. All ten digits of the hand will be recorded, and both eyes will be scanned. The project was approved under the premise of preventing identity theft and social welfare fraud. India has rather extensive social welfare and safety net programs, ranging from medical support and heating assistance to others aimed at helping the poor. Fraud is a rampant problem in India, especially in relation to these programs due to a preponderance of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who often stuff welfare rolls with fake names and take the money for themselves.

Biometric Identification Will Soon Replace Passwords

According to a recent prediction by IBM, many of the problems with passwords will be solved by biometric systems that can identify individuals based on unique biological features. Scientists have gotten smarter about denying access to fakers. For example, early fingerprint scanners were notoriously easy to fool, but researchers have developed techniques to test for the “liveness” of their input sources. Not only will sensors be able to track matching fingerprints and faces, but they’ll correlate them with heartbeats and bodily movements.

  • The technological basis for the ‘mark of the beast’ is rapidly coming to fruition

S&P Downgrades France, Italy, Spain, 6 Others

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has downgraded the government debt of France, Austria, Italy and Spain, but maintained Germany’s at the coveted “AAA” level. The cuts, which eliminated France and Austria’s triple-A status, deal a heavy blow to the currency eurozone’s ability to fight off a worsening debt crisis. In total, S&P cut its ratings on nine eurozone countries. France and Austria both dropped one notch to AA+. Italy was lowered by two notches to BBB+ from A, and Spain fell to A from AA-. Portugal and Cyprus also dropped two notches. The agency also cut ratings on Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Economic News

In 2009 and 2010 total health care spending grew at just under 4%, the slowest rate since the government began keeping records more than 50 years ago. One big reason is that Americans dramatically curtailed their use of physician and hospital services. Total health care spending in 2010 reached $2.6 trillion, or an average of $8,400 per person. The total amounts to 17.9% of GDP unchanged from 2009. But a spending increase of 3.9% from 2009 marks a dramatic deceleration from earlier in the decade when spending grew nearly twice as fast — an average of 7.6% annually.

Home sales and home building are forecast to rise this year after sliding steeply the past five years. Recovery is expected to be slow, and home prices are widely expected to fall this year. But investors are betting on the start of an upturn, bidding up home builder stocks and causing them to outperform the broader stock market. Many economists expect home prices to fall more this year because of foreclosures and other properties sold at very low prices.

Golf resort communities are bleeding money and members, as the recession exposed the vulnerability of the business model that created an unbreakable linkage between golf and real estate. Fewer people play golf, and Baby Boomers don’t have the time, money or interest in the game their parents did. The number of golfers in the U.S. has fallen by 13% in the past five years. Nationally, golf memberships have dropped by a million since the early 1990s.

California’s plan to balance its budget, as is the case with most states, is to raise taxes on the highest earners. But there’s a problem… The top earners Governor Jerry Brown plans to gouge are leaving. The number of Californians earning more than $500,000 annually shrank by one-third from 2007 to 2009, the most recent available data. According to tax returns, the number of individuals making more than $500,000 a year fell from 146,221 to 98,610 in two years.

Crucial negotiations between the Greek government and its private creditors on a bond swap needed to avoid financial default appeared close to collapse Friday. The bond swap aims to reduce Greece’s debt by €100 billion ($127.8 billion) and is a key part of a second, €130 billion ($166 billion) international bailout. Without it, the country could suffer a catastrophic bankruptcy that would send shockwaves through the global economy.

Middle East

Department of Defense officials are increasingly alarmed that Israel is on the verge of military action against Iran — to take out that country’s nuclear weapons potential, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. The report suggests that the Israeli preparations are being carried forth despite strong objections by the U.S., which has ramped up planning to safeguard U.S. facilities in the region. President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, among others, have warned Israeli leaders about the consequences of a strike, urging patience to allow the sanctions against Iran to take hold. The moves to calm Israel come against a backdrop of stern U.S. messages to Iran’s leaders against provocative actions such as closing the Strait of Hormutz to oil shipments. Some suggest that Israel’s assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists is intended to provoke a belligerent response that would cause the US to make war on Iran.

The Jerusalem Prayer Team notes, “An Iranian newspaper with close ties to the most radical part of Iran’s government has published a call for “retaliation” against Israel for the string of explosions at key military and industrial facilities and the deaths of a number of Iranian nuclear scientists. This is yet another escalation in tensions, leading toward the day when the silent war becomes an open war. Truly the pale horse of war and death is about to ride across the Middle East. The Israeli government has issued an urgent security warning for Jews living around the world, particularly those connected to official missions because of the new threat from Iran.”

The Israeli and U.S. militaries have postponed large-scale war games, in part to avoid aggravating mounting tensions between the international community and Iran over its disputed nuclear program, Israeli defense officials said Monday. The missile defense exercise, dubbed “Austere Challenge 12,” was scheduled for April to improve defense systems and cooperation between U.S. and Israeli forces. The Israeli military confirmed in a one-line statement that the drill would be rescheduled for the second half of 2012.

Thailand

An alleged terrorist plot aimed at Bangkok that sparked urgent warnings of danger from the United States and Israel has been thwarted, Thai police said Saturday. The alleged bombing scheme was called off by the alleged plotters — two Lebanese men said to be linked to pro-Iranian Hezbollah militants. One man was in custody for questioning, and the other was at large. Thailand seemed to have been caught by surprise by the publicity over the alleged plot, which officials said they had been informed about before New Year’s. The U.S. Embassy warning was the first public notice of the affair, and Defense Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapa said Thai authorities did not release news of the alleged plot because of fears that it would hurt the tourist industry and cause panic.

Iran

Iran said Saturday it has evidence that the United States was behind the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist this week in Tehran, state media reported. Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was killed in a brazen daylight assassination Wednesday when two assailants on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car in the Iranian capital. The killing bore a strong resemblance to earlier killings of scientists working on the Iranian nuclear program, and has prompted calls in Iran for retaliation against those deemed responsible. The U.S. has denied any role in the assassination. Britain’s Foreign Office has condemned the killing of civilians. Israeli officials, in contrast, have hinted at covert campaigns against Iran without directly admitting involvement.

Tunisia

Thousands of Tunisians marched in peaceful triumph Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of the revolution that ended the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali— and sparked uprisings around the Arab world. Tunisia greeted the anniversary with prudent optimism, amid worries about high unemployment that cast a shadow over Tunisians’ pride at transforming their country. Now a human rights activist is president, and a moderate Islamist jailed for years by the old regime is prime minister at the head of a diverse coalition, after the freest elections in Tunisia’s history.

Syria

The U.N. Secretary General demanded Sunday that Syria’s president stop killing his own people, and said the “old order” of one-man rule and family dynasties is over in the Middle East. In a keynote address at a conference on democracy in the Arab world, Ban Ki-moon said the revolutions of the Arab Spring show that people will no longer accept tyranny. Thousands of people have been killed in the Syrian government’s crackdown on a 10-month-old uprising, which has turned increasingly violent in recent months. The failure of an Arab League mission and a government as defiant as its opposition is in disarray have thrust Syria into what increasingly looks like a protracted and chaotic conflict, perhaps full-scale civil war.

Yemen

Al-Qaeda militants seized full control of a town south of the Yemeni capital on Monday, overrunning army positions, storming the local prison and freeing at least 150 inmates. The capture of Radda in Bayda province, some 100 miles south of Sanaa, underscores the growing strength of al-Qaeda in Yemen as it continues to take advantage of the weakness of a central government struggling to contain nearly a year of massive anti-government protests. The opposition has accused President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is to step down this month in line with a power transfer deal, of allowing the militants to overrun the city to bolster his claims that he must remain in power to secure the country against the rising power of Islamist militants.

Iraq

Iraqi authorities have detained a few hundred foreign contractors in recent weeks, industry officials say, including many Americans who work for the United States Embassy, in one of the first major signs of the Iraqi government’s asserting its sovereignty after the American troop withdrawal last month. The detentions have occurred largely at the airport in Baghdad and at checkpoints around the capital after the Iraqi authorities raised questions about the contractors’ documents, including visas, weapons permits and authorizations to drive certain routes. Although no formal charges have been filed, the detentions have lasted from a few hours to nearly three weeks. The crackdown comes amid other moves by the Iraqi government to take over functions that had been performed by the United States military.

A car bomb killed at least eight people outside the northern city of Mosul on Monday, Iraq officials said, in the latest in a series of attacks to target the country’s Shiites. Another bomb killed at least 53 Shiite pilgrims near the southern port city of Basra on Saturday. It was the latest in a series of attacks during Shiite religious commemorations that have killed scores of people and threaten to further increase sectarian tensions just weeks after the U.S. withdrawal. The attack happened on the last of the 40 days of Arbaeen, when hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims from Iraq and abroad visit the Iraqi city of Karbala, as well as other holy sites.

Iraqi security forces on Sunday battled gunmen who detonated a car bomb before blasting their way into a government compound and killing seven policemen in a one-time Sunni insurgent hotbed. The three-hour standoff between Shiite-dominated security forces and suspected Sunni insurgents in the Anbar province capital of Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, marked the first serious gunbattle for Iraqi forces against insurgents without American backup since the U.S. military completed its withdrawal last month.

Myanmar

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, freed some of its most famous political inmates Friday, sparking jubilation outside prison gates while signaling its readiness to meet Western demands for lifting economic sanctions. Prominent political activists, leaders of brutally repressed democratic uprisings, a former prime minister, ethnic minority leaders, journalists and relatives of the former dictator Ne Win were among those released. State media described the presidential pardon freeing 651 detainees as allowing them to take part in “nation-building.” In response, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. will exchange ambassadors with that nation.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s president announced Monday the government would subsidize gasoline prices to immediately reduce the price to about $2.75 a gallon amid a crippling nationwide strike over fuel prices in Africa’s most populous country. President Goodluck Jonathan also claimed provocateurs have hijacked the protests and demonstrations, which have seen tens of thousands march in cities across the nation. The strike began Jan. 9, paralyzing the nation of more than 160 million people. The root cause remains gasoline prices: Jonathan’s government abandoned subsidies that kept gasoline prices low on Jan. 1, causing prices to spike from $1.70 per gallon to at least $3.50 per gallon. The costs of food and transportation also largely doubled in a nation where most people live on less than $2 a day.

Weather

The ice that has cut off a remote Alaska town for months will connect it to the world again as crews prepare to build a path over it to carry fuel from a Russian tanker that was moored roughly a half mile from the town’s harbor Sunday. A Coast Guard cutter cleared a path through hundreds of miles of Bering Sea ice for the tanker as it made its way toward the town of 3,500 on Alaska’s western coastline, where residents are coping with their coldest winter since the 1970s.

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