Signs of the Times (2/1/12)

Christians Fear Arab Spring Movement

Visitors still come to look upon the spot where Egypt’s Christians — most known as Copts — believe the Holy Family found refuge after fleeing Bethlehem and assassins sent by King Herod to kill the baby Jesus. However, an area once crowded with Christians, Cairo’s Coptic quarter is now home to fewer than 50 Christian families. The Arab Spring uprisings are creating near-panic among ancient Christian communities that dot the Muslim world and predate Islam by centuries. Christians in Syria, where Muslims have risen up against President Bashar Assad, have been subjected to murder, rape and kidnappings in Damascus and rebellious towns, according to Christian rights groups, including Open Doors, which helps Christians facing persecution. Many had hoped for better in an Arab movement that proponents said was about replacing tyrannies with democracies.

“The outlook is grim,” says John Eibner, CEO of the California-based human rights group Christian Solidarity International. Nowhere is the irony more profound than in Egypt, where an estimated 8 million Christians live with more than 70 million Muslims. Christians demonstrated alongside Muslims early last year to oust Hosni Mubarak. Before Mubarak’s overthrow, Christians had suffered from years of church burnings and murders at the hands of radical Muslims who want an Islamic state free of religious minorities. But after the ouster, the military regime that has been running the country has refused to make any arrests in attacks on Christians and the Islamists appear emboldened to escalate their persecution.

Egypt: 3,000 Muslims Attack Christian Homes and Shops

A mob of more than 3,000 Muslims looted and torched Coptic-owned homes and shops in the village of Kobry-el-Sharbat, Alexandria, Egypt, leaving two Copts and one Muslim injured, ASSIST News Service reports. The violence began after a rumor spread that a Coptic man had an allegedly intimate photo of a Muslim woman on his cell phone; he surrendered to the police for his protection, but the mob stormed his house, the houses of his neighbors and a number of nearby businesses. According to eyewitnesses, the attackers were bearded men in white gowns — some Salafists and some from the Muslim Brotherhood — and security forces took an hour to respond. “This happens every time,” said Coptic activist Mariam Ragy. “They wait outside the village until the Muslims have had enough violence, then they appear.” Mina Girguis of the Maspero Youth Union said he believed the reason for the violence was fabricated by the military: “They are trying to divert the attention from the second revolution which is taking place now,” he said.

Organization of Islamic Cooperation Enjoins U.S. to Criminalize Islamic Criticism

This past December, the U.S. State Department hosted a three-day, closed-door international conference to discuss implementation of a resolution with members of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation to will criminalize the criticism of Islam in America.  To read reports on this meeting click the following links for articles written by reputable sources:  The Investigative Project on Terrorism and Hudson Institute. The OIC is the world’s largest Islamic Organization with 56 member states and the Palestinian Authority.  The OIC is the second largest intergovernmental agency behind the United Nations.  By discussing the implementation of Resolution 16/18, the U.S. State Department immediately gives validity to the OIC’s position. The OIC has attempted for the past 12 years to pass resolutions that would criminalize the ‘defamation of religions’, specifically Islam. There appears to be nothing in this that mentions criticism of Christianity or Judaism. Under the resolution, even if what you say about Islam is true, if it incites Muslims to violence, you could be held criminally liable. Unlike traditional U.S. defamation laws, truth would not be considered a defense.

‘Father’ and ‘Son’ Ousted From Trinity in New Bible Translations

A decision by three major Christian organizations to remove the words “Father” and “Son” from new Arabic Bible versions because the terms are “offensive to Muslims” is stirring a controversy among critics, according to Yahoo! News. Wycliffe Bible Translators, Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and Frontiers are coming under fire for various translations in which “Father” and “Son” are replaced with the Arabic equivalents of “Lord” and “Messiah,” or in which “Father” is replaced with “Allah.” The organizations argue that in certain cultures, the literal translation could “communicate an incorrect meaning,” but many church leaders in Arab countries, as well as experts in Christian-Muslim relations, say such a change is unnecessary. ” “We do not have the right as human beings to do that kind of manipulation to the text,” said Dr. Paul M. Elliott of Teaching The Word Ministries. Nationwide, Christian leaders, missionaries, Bible translators and pastors have started a public petition to implore that the organizations stop producing such translations.

  •  For I [Jesus] testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life (Rev. 22:18-10)

‘Courageous’ Hits No. 1 in Nationwide DVD Sales

The church-made film “Courageous,” which follows the story of four police officers as they strive to become better fathers, surprised critics once again by becoming the No. 1-selling DVD nationwide for the week ending Jan. 22, Baptist Press reports. Made by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., for a budget of just $1 million, “Courageous” surpassed DVD sales of several movies with much larger budgets, including “Ides of March,” “Abduction” and “Moneyball.” In addition to grossing $34.3 million in theaters, it was the top-grossing film in the box office its opening weekend and was No. 1 in per-theater average. Each film made by Sherwood Baptist — including “Fireproof” (2008) and “Facing the Giants” (2006) — has grossed more than its predecessor.

Komen: No More Money to Abortion-Providers

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization is halting contributions to Planned Parenthood affiliates. The nation’s leading breast-cancer charity made the announcement Tuesday afternoon. Planned Parenthood officials say Komen is bowing to pressure from pro-life organizations. But Komen says the move is because the abortion-provider is under the threat of a congressional investigation — a probe that was launched by Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-Florida) at the urging of pro-life groups. Under a newly adopted policy, the charity bars grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state, or federal authorities. “It is fantastic news,” says Mark Crutcher of Life Dynamics. “You know, we’ve been putting pressure on Komen for years over this issue because there’s a lot of good people who have supported this organization in the past who had no idea that they gave money to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest profiteer on abortion.”

Obama Won’t Come Close on Deficit Pledge

President Obama’s pledge to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term will fall short, according to the latest economic outlook released Tuesday by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The president said in February 2009 that the $1.3 trillion deficit he inherited would be cut in half under his budget blueprint, but according to the CBO, the deficit in 2012 will continue to hover around $1 trillion, and fall to just under $1 trillion next year if current tax laws are extended, as expected. Congress’ inability to pass a long-term deficit reduction plan last year and ongoing partisan deadlock over how to overhaul the tax code and reform entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare currently leaves no realistic option to achieve a balanced budget anytime over the next decade, according to the report.

Obama’s Green Jobs Program Faces Investigation

House Republicans are expanding their probe into the Obama administration’s energy programs, investigating $500 million in green job training grants that placed just 10% of trainees in jobs. The program’s goal was to train 124,893 people and put 79,854 in jobs. But 17 months later, 52,762 were trained and 8,035, or roughly 1 in 10, had jobs. President Obama has made green jobs a cornerstone of his economic agenda. In his first 2012 campaign ad this month, he said clean energy industries created 2.7 million jobs and were “expanding rapidly.” But the facts appear to undermine such grandiose pronouncements.

AG Holder Threatened with Contempt over Mexico Gun Probe

The chairman of the House’s chief investigative committee today threatened Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress if he failed to provide additional documents in the panel’s ongoing inquiry into allegations that federal agents allowed hundreds of weapons to flow to Mexico and into the hands of drug cartel enforcers, known as “Operation Fast and Furious.”. In a four-page letter, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., charged that the Justice Department was actively attempting to “obstruct” the panel’s investigation and that documents sought under an October subpoena be delivered by Feb. 9. “If the department continues to obstruct the congressional inquiry by not providing documents and information, this committee will have no alternative but to move forward with proceedings to hold you in contempt of Congress,” Issa wrote.

Judge Rejects Occupy DC Camping Request

Living in a public park as a means of protest is not protected by the First Amendment, a federal judge said Tuesday in rejecting an Occupy DC demonstrator’s request to keep park police from enforcing a ban on camping. Occupy protesters sought a temporary restraining order prohibiting the National Park Service and its police department from taking action against protesters found sleeping in or in possession of camping gear in Washington’s McPherson Park and Freedom Square. The setback came on the first full day of the camping ban enforced by U.S. Park Police. Authorities told protesters Monday that they had to remove camping gear such as sleeping bags and housekeeping materials but could keep their tents so long as one flap remains open at all times.

Black Segregation Lowest in Century

Black segregation from other racial groups has hit its lowest point in more than a century — declining in all 85 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. No housing market has a level of black isolation as high as the national average 40 years ago and that “all-white neighborhoods are effectively extinct.” Black suburbanization, gentrification, access to credit, fair housing laws and immigration have all contributed to a significant decline in black segregation. “America is now more racially integrated than any time in the past century,” the report says. However, Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said, “This report misses out on the reality of neighborhood life across this country. For low-income black and Latino households … their neighborhoods are clearly segregated, their schools are clearly segregated, and their access to opportunity is also segregated.”

  • Progress has been achieved, more is still needed

Giant Pythons Strangling Florida Everglades

It sounded like a joke when the news first hit in 2000: Giant Burmese pythons were invading the Everglades. Now scientists have measured the real impact of the arrival of this voracious species, and the news is troubling. In areas where the pythons have established themselves, marsh rabbits and foxes can no longer be found. Sightings of raccoons are down 99.3%, opossums 98.9% and white-tailed deer 94.1%. Everglades park personnel have captured or killed 1,825 pythons since 2000. They can grow up to 16 feet long and weigh up to 150 pounds. The Burmese pythons could conceivably expand across the southern portion of the United States.

Economic News

European Union leaders agreed Monday to move forward with a plan to forge a tighter budgetary union among countries that use the euro currency, including tougher sanctions on nations that spend beyond EU-set limits. But some experts warned that the citizens of some countries may object to ceding authority to the EU as Greece sinks further in debt and the European public loses patience with a rescue that has dragged on for two years.

Chrysler, propelled by higher sales of Jeeps and other revamped cars and trucks, reported its first annual net income since 1997, capping a pivotal turnaround year that many thought would never come. The U.S. automaker, now privately held and majority owned by Italy’s Fiat SpA, earned $183 million last year, reversing a $652 million loss in 2010, its first full year out of bankruptcy protection.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday that the nation’s homeownership rate fell to 66% in the fourth quarter, continuing a seven-year drop from a fourth-quarter peak of 69.2% in 2004. In addition, U.S. home prices fell 1.3% in November from October and were 3.7% below 2010 levels, the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index indicates. Falling homeownership — and prices — reflect the worst housing downturn since the Great Depression. And while there are signs that the housing industry’s downturn may at least be nearing a bottom, the impact of the collapse will be evident for years to come, economists say.

Americans’ incomes rose last month by the most in nine months, a hopeful sign for the economy after a year of weak wage gains. But consumer spending was flat. Incomes rose 0.5%, the Commerce Department said Monday. It was the strongest increase since a similar gain last March. Consumer spending was unchanged. That followed weak gains of 0.1% in previous months.

Syria

Syrian troops crushed pockets of rebel soldiers Tuesday on the outskirts of Damascus. Syrian government forces took back control of the eastern suburbs of the capital after rebel soldiers briefly captured the area in a startling advance last week. The fact that rebels made it to the doorstep of Damascus, the seat of Assad’s power, was a dangerous development for the regime. The military launched a swift offensive Monday and on Tuesday crushed the remaining resistance.

The U.N. Security Council took up a draft resolution Tuesday demanding that President Bashar Assad halt the violence and yield power. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Council that action to end the violence in Syria would be different from U.N. efforts to pacify Libya. I know that some members here may be concerned that the Security Council is headed toward another Libya,” she said. “That is a false analogy.” Russia, one of Assad’s strongest backers, has signaled it would veto any U.N. action against Damascus, fearing it could open the door to eventual international military involvement, the way an Arab-backed U.N. resolution led to NATO airstrikes in Libya.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s intelligence agency is directly helping the Taliban in Afghanistan and knows where its senior leaders are hiding, the BBC is reporting, citing a secret NATO report. The report is based on 27,000 interrogations with more than 4,000 captured Taliban, al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters and civilians. The BBC said the report “fully exposes for the first time” the relationship between the Taliban and the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Sunday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on CBS’ 60 Minutes that he still believes that someone in the Pakistani government must have known where Osama bin Laden was hiding, though he added he has no proof.

Iraq

A bomb blast north of Baghdad has killed three Iraqi soldiers, hours before the nation’s parliament is to reconvene after Sunni-backed lawmakers ended their boycott to protest persecution of Sunni officials. Al-Qaida has frequently targeted Iraqi security forces since the U.S. troops left in December. The group appears to be exploiting a political crisis that has erupted after the Shiite-led government issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president on terrorism charges.

Afghanistan

An Afghan woman has been strangled to death, apparently by her husband, who was upset that she gave birth to a second daughter rather than the son he wanted. It was the latest in a series of grisly examples of subjugation of women that have made headlines in Afghanistan in the past few months — including a 15-year-old tortured and forced into prostitution by in-laws and a female rape victim who was imprisoned for adultery. The episodes have raised the question of what will happen to the push for women’s rights in Afghanistan as the international presence here shrinks along with the military drawdown. In the 10 years since the ouster of the Taliban, great strides have been made for women in Afghanistan, with many attending school, working in offices and even sometimes marching in protests. But abuse and repression of women are still common, particularly in rural areas.

  • Islam is the worst religion ever for the subjugation and abuse of women.

Yemen

Air raids struck an Al Qaeda meeting and control post in southern Yemen, killing up to 12 people including a long-hunted regional militant leader. The four raids overnight appeared to have been carried out by U.S. drones. Three of the raids targeted a school in which Al Qaeda fighters and chiefs of a local militant network were meeting around midnight. The fourth strike hit an Al Qaeda control post.Al Qaeda extremists have taken advantage of months of political turmoil in Yemen to overrun swathes of the country’s south.

Tibet

The Chinese crackdown on Tibet appears to be reaching the breaking point. Authorities have cut two towns off from the world after the worst unrest in Tibetan-inhabited areas since 2008. Deadly clashes Jan. 23 and 24 between Tibetan protesters and armed police in Drango, and in Serthar to the north brought a swift response from the Chinese military. In another incident Jan. 26, security forces killed one Tibetan and wounded several others in Ngaba prefecture, also in Sichuan, as a crowd tried to prevent the detention of a youth who had called for Tibetan freedom. The escalating violence indicates that China’s key ethnic problem just won’t go away, however much firepower and funding the Chinese government dispatches to Tibetan areas.

Mexico

Police in northern Mexico have captured an alleged member of the Zetas drug gang who confessed to killing at least 75 people, including many who were pulled off buses, authorities said Monday. The 35-year-old suspect told investigators that he had been working in the area at least three years and that he was in charge of killing members of the rival Gulf drug cartel heading to the towns of Cerralvo and General Trevino. Northeastern Mexico has been engulfed by a turf battle between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas since they split in 2010. More than 47,000 people have been killed nationwide since President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown against drug traffickers in December 2006.

Weather

Thirty people, most of them homeless, have died of hypothermia in recent days in Ukraine, part of a surge of deaths across eastern Europe as the region grapples with an unusually severe cold spell. In Poland, five people died of hypothermia in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll from the cold to 15 in the last four days. In all, at least 54 people have died from the cold in Europe over the last week. Temperatures plunged to minus 10 degrees in the capital of Kiev and elsewhere in Ukraine, as schools and nurseries closed down and authorities set up hundreds of heated tents. Temperatures sank Tuesday to minus 17 degrees in the southeastern Polish city of Ustrzyki Gorne — and forecasts predicted minus 20 degrees in the region Tuesday night.

January was an unusually violent month for tornadoes in the USA: 70 twisters have been reported. And more could be on the way. The total this month is the third-highest in January since accurate tornado records began in 1950. Freakishly warm January temperatures across nearly the entire USA were one of the ingredients that helped trigger several bouts of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, mainly in the South and Ohio Valley. Almost 2,800 record-high temperatures were either tied or broken across the country last this month (compared with about 160 daily record lows that were either tied or broken).

The drought in northern Mexico is so bad that it has hurt even illicit drug growers and their normally well-tended crops of marijuana and opium poppies. One effect of the lack of rains is that drug planting has declined considerably. Cartels have been increasingly turning to the production of synthetic drugs like methamphetamine, because they are easier to produce and are more profitable.

The sound of winter is usually heard in January but that was hardly the case this year in the Mojave Desert and southern Great Basin as winter weather lacked for most of the month. Instead of snow and cold most of the month was characterized by warm and dry conditions even in the higher elevations. A persistent ridge of high pressure aloft centered off the coast of California was present during much of the month and helped keep the main storm track away from the area. As a result the month featured a prolonged dry streak especially in the first half and also turned out to be one of the warmest Januaries on record across the area.

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