Signs of the Times (1/25/12)

Strongest Solar Storm Since 2005 Hitting Earth

The sun is bombarding Earth with radiation from the biggest solar storm in more than six years with more to come from the fast-moving eruption. The solar flare occurred at about 11 p.m. EST Sunday and will hit Earth with three different effects at three different times. The radiation is mostly a concern for satellite disruptions and astronauts in space. It can cause communication problems for polar-traveling airplanes. It’s the plasma that causes much of the noticeable problems on Earth, such as electrical grid outages. In 1989, a solar storm caused a massive blackout in Quebec. But this coronal mass ejection seems likely to be only moderate, with just a chance of becoming strong. The worst of the storm is likely to go north of Earth.

Supreme Court Rules Warrants Needed for GPS Tracking

In a major decision on privacy in the digital age, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that police need a warrant before attaching a GPS device to a person’s car. The case ensures that police cannot use the Global Positioning System to continuously track a suspect before presenting sufficient grounds and obtaining a warrant from a judge. The ruling, which marked the justices’ first-ever review of GPS tracking, was unanimous. The justices divided, however, on how the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures applies to such high-tech tracking. Five justices suggested in concurring statements that a warrant might similarly be needed for prolonged surveillance through smartphones or other devices with GPS capabilities.

Are National IDs Coming to U.S.?

National IDs for voting, or proving citizenship, is an idea that is being floated in the United States to crack down on voter fraud, illegal immigration and foreign terrorists. Proponents, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, say it is an efficient way to verify identities and prevent crime. Opponents, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, describe it as an invasion of privacy. Minority advocacy groups have even alleged that the cards would frighten minorities going to the polls. The free photo ID issued by the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute had become the accepted way to prove one’s identity — and is a one-card way to open a bank account, board an airplane and buy beer. Mexico has not seen many problems with its card, and national identity cards have been issued for years in France, Poland, Singapore, Brazil, to prove citizenship.

  • We know from Revelation that there will eventually be global IDs that will become the “mark of the beast.” The justifications will seem reasonable, but the implementation will be onerous.

Obama’s State of the Union Address Highlights Partisan Divide

While President Barack Obama may have referred to “investments” in his State of the Union address, what he was actually calling for higher taxes and more spending. President Obama’s populist-flavored State of the Union Address on Monday night and the harsh reaction of Republican leaders to it reflect more than Washington’s typical partisan divide. Their sharply divergent views about the causes of the country’s problems and the solutions to them are part of the most fundamental debate in a generation or more, perhaps even since the New Deal era, over what the government can and should do at a time of economic pain. That deep disagreement isn’t likely to be narrowed before November. The gulf between the two sides and the capital’s partisan vitriol undercut the traditional role of the State of the Union — that is, as an account of the legislative priorities the president will pursue this year. Instead, with limited prospects of major legislation passing, the speech and the reaction were election-year arguments that each side hopes will persuade voters to endorse its view of the world.

  • The choice is clear: more debt and more socialism or a return to true capitalism and Biblical morality

Obama Calls for Offshore Oil Drilling and Clean Energy

In a broad appeal to U.S. voters, President Obama said Tuesday he will open more than 75% of potential offshore oil and gas resources to exploration and, at the same time, produce enough clean energy on public land to power three million homes. During his State of the Union address, Obama said the nation is rapidly boosting its oil production but, with just 2% of the world’s oil reserves, it needs to look at other energy sources. He said he will “take every possible action to safely develop” natural gas while requiring companies that drill on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. His comments on energy, a lengthy part of his speech, were aimed to deflect criticism he received last week from many Republicans for rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried oil sands from Alberta, Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

  • Obama has proven to be big on promises in an election year, but to fall well short on delivery

Arizona Strikes Back: State Investigates Feds over Gun-Running

Arizona’s state legislature will open its own investigation into the Obama administration’s disgraced gun-running program, known as “Fast and Furious,” the speaker of the state House said Friday. Speaker Andy Tobin created the committee, and charged it with looking at whether the program broke any state laws — raising the possibility of state penalties against those responsible for the operation. It’s a turnaround from the rest of the immigration issue, where the federal government has sued to block the state’s own set of laws. Fast and Furious was a straw-purchase program run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The goal was to try to trace guns sold in Arizona shops and then trafficked across the Mexican border, where they landed in the hands of drug cartels. As part of the operation, however, agents let the guns “walk” — meaning they lost track of them. At least two of the guns ended up at the scene where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a shootout with Mexican bandits along a smuggling corridor in Arizona.

Arizona Proposes Elective Bible Course for High Schools

Arizona’s public and charter high-school students soon could earn credit for learning about the influence of the Old Testament on art or how biblical references are found throughout literature. A state lawmaker has proposed legislation that would make Arizona the sixth state in the nation to allow school systems to offer a high-school elective course on the Bible. Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas already have laws allowing such classes. Arizona law doesn’t ban the use of the Bible, or any other religious document, as part of a public-school class curriculum as long as it is for academic purposes and does not involve sectarian ideas or religious devotion. But state Rep. Terri Proud, a Republican from Tucson, Ariz., said teachers and school districts still are often afraid to even discuss religion in their classrooms. “There is this false perception that separation of church means absolutely no religion in school, that the Bible is not allowed,” Proud said. “That is absolutely not true.”

Shake & Bake Meth Filling Hospitals with Burn Patients

A crude new method of making methamphetamine poses a risk even to Americans who never get anywhere near the drug: It is filling hospitals with thousands of uninsured burn patients requiring millions of dollars in advanced treatment — a burden so costly that it’s contributing to the closure of some burn units. So-called shake-and-bake meth is produced by combining raw, unstable ingredients in a 2-liter soda bottle. But if the person mixing the noxious brew makes the slightest error, such as removing the cap too soon or accidentally perforating the plastic, the concoction can explode, searing flesh and causing permanent disfigurement, blindness or even death. Up to a third of patients in some burn units were hurt while making meth, and most were uninsured. The average treatment costs $6,000 per day. And the average meth patient’s hospital stay costs $130,000 — 60% more than other burn patients.

Seniors Working Past Retirement Age

Experts say Baby Boomers are starting to work past conventional retirement age, a trend fueled by an uncertain economy, improved health in older life and an understanding that staying engaged leads to a better sense of well-being. The percentage of people who work and people who want to work has increased markedly in both the 65-and-older and 75-and-older groups. For 2011, the participation rate for 65 and older was 17.9% compared with 10.8% in 1985. For 75 and older, the rate jumped from 4.3% in 1990 to 7.5% in 2011. An April Gallup survey had similar findings:18% said they would work full-time, and a third of those said it was because they wanted to, not because they would have to; and 63% said they would work part-time.

Economic News

After rounds of plant closures as the economy headed into recession — and some automakers headed into bankruptcy court — a resurgent auto industry is helping lead the way out with a hiring surge of an estimated 60,000 jobs this year. Total jobs at all U.S. auto plants and parts factories will rise 10% to about 650,000 this year, says the Center for Automotive Research, and hit 756,800 by 2015. That’s up from about 550,000 in the depths of the recent recession, but still well below more than a million a decade ago.

Apple nudged out oil giant Exxon Mobil early Wednesday to become the most valuable publicly-traded company in the world. The company’s stock surged 8% at the open to $454.44 a share, one day after Apple reported the best quarterly results in history for a tech company. That spike pushed the company’s market value to $418 billion. Apple’s stellar quarter included a 73% jump in sales to $46.3 billion, a tech industry record. The company said its fiscal first-quarter profit more than doubled from a year earlier, rising to $13 billion

A modestly growing number of Americans are moving out of state to get a job, a development that could cut unemployment and better match workers with positions. In a Manpower survey, 26% of U.S. workers said the recession made them more willing to move, vs. 19% who were less willing. Obstacles to mobility (such as homes that won’t sell) still exist, but they’re slightly less daunting.

Job discrimination complaints in the United States rose to an all-time high last year, led by an increase in bias charges based on religion and national origin. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received nearly 100,000 charges of discrimination during the 2011 fiscal year, the most in its 46-year history. Charges of religious discrimination jumped by 9.5 percent, the largest increase of any category. Claims of bias based on ancestry or country of origin rose 5 percent.

Somalia

U.S. Navy SEALs parachuted into Somalia under cover of darkness early Wednesday and crept up to an outdoor camp where American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul man were being held hostage. Soon, nine kidnappers were dead and both hostages were freed. President Obama authorized the mission two days earlier, and minutes after he gave his State of the Union address to Congress he was on the phone with the American’s father to tell him his daughter was safe. The raid caught the guards as they were sleeping after having chewed the narcotic leaf qat for much of the evening. New intelligence emerged last week that Buchanan’s health was “deteriorating rapidly,” so Obama directed his security team to develop a rescue plan.

India

In northeastern India, people are bravely turning to Christ in ever-increasing numbers. They are doing so in spite of strict laws that frequently make it a crime to convert from Hinduism to Christianity, and in the face of radical Hindu mobs that have engaged in massive, brutal killings, and torture in the villages of Christian converts. Akbar Digal, a pastor in a small Indian village in the state of Orissa, was one of their many victims. In the night he heard mobs approaching and went from home to home, waking and warning members of his church, helping them flee into the forest. He was caught by the anti-Christian mob, dragged down a dirt road, hacked to death with axes, and then burned.

  • “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10

Egypt

With Islamists comprising the overwhelming majority of its lawmakers, the parliament elected in Egypt’s first legislative vote after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster nearly a year ago held its inaugural session on Monday. The convening of the new parliament is a significant benchmark in the timetable provided by the generals who took over from Mubarak for the handover of power to a civilian administration. It is also a step forward for Islamist groups on the road to becoming the strongest political force in the nations that experienced Arab Spring revolts. Islamists dominated elections first in Tunisia and then in Egypt, and Libya’s Islamists are also expected to do well in parliamentary voting later this year. But the revolution that brought hundreds of thousands of Egyptians to Tahrir Square has not brought prosperity and has yet to end worries about government oppression.

Tens of thousands of Egyptians rallied Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the country’s 2011 uprising, with liberals and Islamists gathering on different sides of Cairo’s Tahrir Square in a reflection of the deep political divides that emerged in the year since the downfall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. Egypt’s joblessness is rising, and tourism, a major source of foreign income, has declined drastically. The economy is hobbled by state controls that still benefit the politically favored, according to the Index of Economic Freedom. Democratic changes that brought the first free and fair elections in decades have handed control of parliament to Islamist parties that want Egypt governed by some form of religious law. Egypt’s military, which has been running the country, has yet to surrender all political power or revoke abusive Mubarak-era laws. Egypt’s military ruler on Tuesday decreed a partial lifting of the nation’s hated emergency laws, while saying the draconian measures would still apply to crimes committed by “thugs.”

Syria

Syria on Monday rejected the Arab League’s wide-ranging new plan to end the country’s 10-month crisis, saying the League’s call for a national unity government in two months is a clear violation of Syrian sovereignty. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people poured into the streets in a suburb outside the capital, Damascus, to mourn 11 residents who were either shot dead by security forces or killed in clashes between army defectors and troops a day earlier. Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Tuesday signaled the crackdown will continue, saying in Damascus that the government will take any steps necessary to defend against chaos. Activists, meanwhile, reported more violence nationwide Tuesday, with more than 15 people killed and possibly many more.

Iraq

Iraqi officials said a leader of a Sunni militia that turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and sided with the U.S. troops to fight the militants has been killed in Baghdad. Mullah Nadhum al-Jubouri died in a drive-by shooting in western Baghdad on Tuesday. Before joining the pro-government group known as Awakening Councils, al-Jubouri fought Americans alongside al-Qaeda militants.

A wave of car bombings hit the Iraq capital on Tuesday, killing 14 people and wounding more than 70 as violence surges in the country amid an escalating political crisis a month after the U.S. military withdrawal. t least 170 people have died in attacks since the beginning of the year, many of them Shiite pilgrims attending religious commemorations. Suspected Sunni insurgents have frequently targeted Shiite communities and Iraqi security forces to undermine public confidence in the Shiite-dominated government.

Romania

Romania’s prime minister on Tuesday used a national holiday to call for unity as thousands of protesters angry at the government’s failure to reverse falling living standards turned their ire toward state media. The government has been battling to contain 12 days of demonstrations fueled by frustration pent up since the country’s troubled transition to democracy after its 1989 revolution. President Traian Basescu accused opposition figures and the press of indulging in what he called “the joy of destruction,” and of undermining and ignoring his government’s achievements.

Weather

A landslide struck villages in mountainous central Papua New Guinea, and local media reported Wednesday that 40 bodies have been recovered and 20 people are still missing. The landslide completely covered two villages while people slept where heavy rains have been falling.

Nine months after powerful tornadoes plowed across Alabama and killed 238 people, the state again is looking for victims and assessing damage, this time from rare January tornadoes that killed two and left scores more injured. The heaviest damage from the storm system, which moved across northern Alabama on Sunday night and Monday morning, was in Jefferson County near Birmingham.

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