Archive for November, 2012

Signs of the Times (11/30/12)

November 30, 2012

U.S. Abortion Rate has Fallen

U.S. abortions have fallen by 5 percent, the biggest one-year decrease in at least a decade, according to a report from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Nov. 21. While the exact reasons for the decline are difficult to pinpoint, an Associated Press report attributed it to more people using contraceptives and more women being careful because they could not afford to get pregnant in the economic recession. However, the AP report didn’t mention other factors, such as the undeniable growth of the pro-life movement and pro-life groups and the growth of pregnancy resource centers across the country. Participation in Students for Life has doubled in the past five years, while 40 Days for Life now promotes prayer vigils in 400 cities, and Care Net has doubled the number of its affiliated crisis pregnancy centers to 1,100 in the past decade. The media has also failed to mention recent polls that found public opinion of abortion changing, with a majority of Americans identifying themselves as pro-life and only a little more than 40 percent being pro-abortion.

Mississippi’s Only Abortion Clinic Faces Shutdown

The owners of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic are headed back to federal court in another attempt to stop a new state law which could close its doors — effectively banning abortion in the state. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization filed for a preliminary injunction Wednesday to delay enforcement of the new law. Clinic officials say House Bill 1390, which was signed into law in April, imposes unnecessary guidelines and requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The clinic’s doctors have been unable to gain those privileges. In July, a federal judge in Jackson, Mississippi, temporarily blocked the law from going into effect to allow the clinic time to comply with it, and stopped the state from imposing civil and criminal penalties against the organization. If the federal court does not grant a preliminary injunction while the clinic fights the constitutionality of the law, it could close down as early as February.

Supreme Court Orders New Look at Obamacare Challenge

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a federal appeals court to reconsider Liberty University’s legal argument that President Obama’s health care law violates the school’s religious freedom. The case will be returned to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. The school is challenging the constitutionality of the part of the law that mandates employers provide insurance and whether forcing insurers to pay for birth control is unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause.

Atheist Group Gets Major Funding at the University of Wisconsin

An atheist group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison seems on track to receive nearly $70,000 in student fees for staffing and programming next year, in what is believed to be the first major funding of any atheist student group at a state university, the Journal Sentinel reports. The group — Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics, or AHA — said it would provide support services for students struggling with doubts about their faith and offer a safe place to discuss religious issues without fear of recrimination. The allocation marks the first time that an atheist group has qualified for funding beyond the small, event-specific grants most student-run organizations receive, and it appears to be the largest ever awarded to any campus group of its kind in the country. According to Dr. Albert Mohler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: “The decision to fund an atheist student group at the University of Wisconsin follows the appointment of atheist chaplains at several major universities, including Harvard University. Taken together, this is another sign of the increasingly secularized character of the nation’s leading academic institutions.”

Catholic Intensity Fades as Evangelical Devotion Surges

New research shows that Catholics now report the lowest proportion of “strongly affiliated” followers among major American religious traditions, while the data indicates that evangelicals are increasingly devout and committed to their faith. In the 1970s there was only a five-point difference between how strongly Catholics and evangelicals felt about their religion. By 2010, that “intensity gap” had grown to around 20 points, with some 56 percent of evangelicals describing themselves as “strongly affiliated” with their religion compared with 35 percent of Catholics. Even mainline Protestants reported a higher level of religious intensity than Catholics, at 39 percent. The decline in religious enthusiasm among Catholics began in the mid-1980s, and that coincided with the first revelations about the sexual abuse of children by clergy – a scandal that has haunted the church ever since. Moreover, Latino Catholics are less likely to report a strong religious affiliation compared with other Catholics, and the number of Latino Catholics in the U.S. has been growing steadily in past decades.

Immigrants Lead Record Drop in U.S. Birthrate

The U.S. birthrate fell to a record low last year, led by a big decline in babies born to immigrant women during the economic downturn. the 2011 birthrate fell 8% between 2007 and 2010 to 63.2 per 1,000 women of prime childbearing ages, 15 to 44. That’s half the Baby Boom rate of 1957, and the lowest since 1920, the earliest year for reliable data. The decline was most dramatic among Mexican immigrants: 23%. Overall, the birthrate for foreign-born women fell 14%. For U.S.-born women, it dropped 6%.

Foreign-born mothers continue to give birth to a disproportionate share of the nation’s newborns, as they have for at least the past two decades. The 23% share of all births to foreign-born mothers in 2010 was higher than the 13% immigrant share of the U.S. population. The 2010 birth rate for foreign-born women (87.8) was nearly 50% higher than the rate for U.S.-born women (58.9).

Deadly ‘Superbugs’ Invade U.S. Health Care Facilities

A once-obscure family of drug-resistant bacteria has stalked U.S. hospitals and nursing homes for over a decade. Now, it’s attacking in hundreds of those institutions, a USA TODAY examination shows, and it’s a fight the medical community is not well positioned to win. The bacteria, known as Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, are named for their ability to fight off carbapenem antibiotics — the last line of defense in the medical toolbox. And so far, they’ve emerged almost exclusively in health care facilities, picking off the weakest of patients. There have been thousands of CRE cases throughout the country in recent years — they show up as everything from pneumonia to intestinal and urinary tract infections. Yet even the larger outbreaks have received little or no national attention until now. Death rates among patients with CRE infections can be about 40%, far worse than other, better-known health care infections such as MRSA or C-Diff, which have plagued hospitals and nursing homes for decades. And there are growing concerns that CRE could make its way beyond health facilities and into the general community.

  • Increased ‘pestilence’ is also an end-time phenomenon: “And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” (Matthew 24:7)  “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.” (Revelation 15:1)

Unemployment Benefits Cost $520 Billion

Jobless Americans have collected more than half a trillion dollars in benefits over the past five years. State and federal unemployment insurance programs have cost roughly $520 billion, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released Wednesday. The price of continuing this safety net will be the subject of intense debate in Congress as lawmakers decide whether to extend the deadline to file for federal benefits beyond year’s end as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations. Extending federal jobless insurance next year. The jobless generally receive up to 26 weeks of state benefits and then shift to federal emergency unemployment compensation, which is broken into four tiers and lasts up to 47 weeks.

Gun Sales Continue to Soar

For the second consecutive year, prospective gun buyers joined Black Friday shoppers in record numbers as firearms dealers swamped the FBI with required buyer background check requests. The FBI fielded 154,873 calls, a roughly 20% increase from last year’s previous one-day record of 129,166. The requests came in such volume throughout the day that FBI call centers experienced two brief outages. Dealers attributed the continuing gun surge to a variety of factors, including an increase in women buyers and concerns that lawmakers in President Obama’s second term could impose stricter gun laws.

Economic News

The economy grew at a 2.7% annual rate in the third quarter, much faster than initially estimated. The report is revised from the government’s initial estimate of 2.0% growth, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported. In the second quarter, GDP grew at a 1.3% rate. Gains in business inventory investment and federal government spending contributed to the revised growth rate.0

Consumer confidence in October rose to its highest level in four years, boosted by improvements in the job market. The closely watched index, which measures how Americans feel about the economy, edged higher to a reading of 72.2 from a downwardly revised 68.4 in September. It marks the highest level since February 2008, when the country was at the early stages of a long and deep recession.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 393,000 last week. It was the second straight drop after Superstorm Sandy had driven applications much higher earlier this month. Applications spiked to 451,000 three weeks ago after Sandy battered the East Coast. Before Sandy, applications fluctuated between 360,000 and 390,000 this year.

Online retailers had their biggest day ever on Cyber Monday as holiday shoppers drove sales up 30% vs. the same day last year, says IBM Smarter Commerce, which tracks Web sales at 500 top online retailers. Online sales for department stores account for much of the boost, as they were up 43% over last year. The iPad drove more than 7% of online shopping, more than any other tablet or smartphone. Mobile sales overall, which include smartphones and tablets, had a huge boost – up more than 96% from 2011.

New U.S. single-family home sales fell slightly in October and the prior month’s pace of sales was revised sharply lower, casting a small shadow over what has been one of the brighter spots in the U.S. economy. The Commerce Department said on Wednesday sales dropped 0.3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted 368,000-unit annual rate. The data leave the pace of new home sales just below that reported in May, suggesting little upward momentum in the market for new homes.

Home prices are up 3% year over year, according to a widely followed index out Tuesday. The Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index of 20 major cities rose 0.3% in September from a month earlier, marking the sixth consecutive month of increases. Prices rose in 13 cities, declined in five and were unchanged in two. Phoenix has been leading the recovery with a 20% year-over-year gain. And prices in Atlanta prices finally rose 0.1% year over year in September, after 26 straight months of declines.

Eurozone

Eurozone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund announced Monday they had reached an agreement that moves Greece closer to receiving a massive bailout payment. The deal includes lower interest rates for Greece, a debt buyback and more time for the debt-laden country to repay its rescue loans. But plans to forgive Greek debt, a step some negotiators think is necessary to restore fiscal balance in the country, were shelved .

Middle East

The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday endorsed an upgraded U.N. status for the Palestinian Authority, despite intense opposition from the United States and Israel. The resolution elevates their status from “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state,” the same category as the Vatican, which Palestinians hope will provide new leverage in their dealings with Israel. The vote was 138 delegates in favor of the measure, nine against and 41 abstentions, including Germany. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the move, which many call symbolic, represents a “last chance to save the two-state solution.” But Israel’s U.N. ambassador Ron Prosor said the move largely ignores the specifics of longstanding issues, such as settlements in disputed lands.

Large billboards saying “Thank you Iran” have appeared next to three major road junctions in the Gaza Strip in an unprecedented public acknowledgment of the weapons terrorist groups in the Strip receive from the Islamic Republic. The message was written in Arabic, English, Hebrew and Farsi above a picture of an Iranian manufactured Fajr 5 rocket like the ones fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during the recent round of hostilities. “Iranian rockets struck at Tel Aviv. They reached Jerusalem. Therefore it was our duty to thank those who helped our people,” Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib told Reuters.

Egypt

An Islamist-dominated committee voted Friday to approve a new Egyptian constitution, angering protesters who say the vote is an unacceptable power-grab by President Mohammed Morsi. The vote by the constitutional committee could give Muslim clerics oversight over legislation and bring restrictions on freedom of speech, women’s rights and other liberties, say opponents. The draft must be put to a nationwide referendum within 30 days. The proposed new constitution will be based on “principles” of Islamic law though what that will mean in practice is not yet known.

Egypt’s two highest appeals courts suspended their work Wednesday to protest presidential decrees that gave the country’s Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi nearly absolute powers. Judges of the Cassation Court decided in an emergency meeting that they will not return to work until Morsi rescinds his decrees. The country’s lower appeals court also decided Wednesday to stop work nationwide. The move followed a defiant statement by the Supreme Constitutional Court that rejected charges made by Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood that it is working to bring down his government.

Syria

Rebel fighters were continuing Thursday to battle Syrian troops holding defensive positions on roads leading to Damascus’ main international airport. Internet service was shut down in the entire country. The unprecedented blackout, confirmed by U.S. Internet firms, comes amid intense fighting in the capital. The attacks follow the rebel capture of a dam in northern Syria that was part of a re-supply line to government soldiers in the embattled city of Aleppo.

Twin car bombs ripped through a Damascus suburb on Wednesday, killing at least 34 people and leaving dozens critically wounded in a district that is mostly loyal to President Bashar Assad. The area is populated mostly by Christians and Druse, a minority sect. A series of car and suicide bombings have struck regime targets in Damascus and elsewhere since last December, raising fears of a rising Islamic militant element among the forces seeking to topple Assad.

Iraq

A wave of bombings targeting Shiite Muslims in two major cities south of Baghdad killed at least 39 people and wounded more than 100 Thursday morning. The deadliest of the attacks was in the city of Hillah, where back-to-back explosions in a busy commercial area killed at least 27 people and wounded up to 90. Insurgents first detonated a roadside bomb that was followed by a car bomb explosion when rescuers rushed to the scene. Just hours earlier, a parked car bomb went off at one of its gates of the city of Karbala killing six people and wounding 20. Shiite religious ceremonies have often been targeted by Sunni militants who view the Shiites as heretics.

Tibet

Two dozen Tibetans have set themselves on fire in western China this month in a dramatic acceleration of the protests against authoritarian Chinese rule. The surge in self-immolations, along with an increase in large demonstrations, mark a new phase in the Tibetan protests. At least 86 people have set themselves on fire since the immolations began in 2009. In a change in recent months, most self-immolators now are lay people — some of them acting together — rather than Buddhist monks and nuns who can be more closely watched by the authorities because they live in tightly monitored monasteries. Despite the altered approach, observers see little short-term possibility of Beijing changing its repressive policies.

Persecution Watch

Suicide bombers attacked a church inside a military barracks in Kaduna state in northern Nigeria, killing at least 30 people and injuring at least 45 others. According to ASSIST News, a military spokesman said two vehicles were driven into the barracks in Jaji in what he described as “surprising and an embarrassment.” A bus entered the barracks and was driven into the wall of the church, where it exploded. Ten minutes later, a car blew up outside the church. “The first blast caused no casualties, and curious worshipers gathered around the scene looking at the debris … and that was when the second blast happened,” the spokesman said. It is not clear who is responsible for the attack, but the army suspects the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has recently targeted churches in the state. The group is fighting to overthrow the government and impose a strict form of sharia, or Islamic law. The militant Islamist group Boko Haram has been responsible for an estimated 3,000 deaths since 2009.

A North Carolina community college has been accused of violating the First Amendment rights of students after it told a club they could not use the word “Christmas” to promote a Christmas tree sale, Todd Starnes reports. The BEST Society was planning to sell the Christmas trees to raise money for Angel Tree, an organization that provides Christmas presents to prisoners’ children. Club members followed college protocol and submitted forms to promote the sale, with the proposed text reading, “The BEST Society will be selling Christmas trees…” But when the announcement appeared on the college’s website and in other venues, every reference to “Christmas trees” had been replaced with “holiday trees.” The communications relations director allegedly told the students, “We cannot market your trees in association solely with a Christian event.” The Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to officials at Western Piedmont Community College, urging them to either reconsider their decision to censor the word “Christmas” or else face a possible lawsuit. “It’s ridiculous that anyone would have to think twice about using the word ‘Christmas’ as part of a Christmas tree sale,” said ADF attorney Matt Sharp.

Earthquakes

An earthquake struck the eastern part of Indonesia on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. There were no immediate reports of damage. The magnitude-5.5 quake was centered 56 kilometers (35 miles) under the sea. There have been 11 magnitude 5+ quakes in this region in the past week – including a 5.6 Tuesday.

Weather

An atmospheric river of Pacific moisture is now soaking parts of the West Coast and will continue to do so through the weekend. A deep dip, or trough, in the jet stream is currently in place over the eastern Pacific Ocean. This will continue to send a parade of frontal systems and upper-level disturbances into the West Coast. Winds have gusted in excess of 50 mph in San Francisco with this latest storm as of early Friday morning. Gusts of 120 mph have been reported along the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Storm total rainfall amounts will likely be over 10 inches through this weekend, leading to flash flooding, river flooding and, in recent burn areas, debris flows. This will particularly be the case in the coastal ranges of northwest California and the Sierra foothills. The strong winds could result in localized power outages and tree damage.

The snowstorm will bury California’s Mount Shasta in astronomical amounts of snow through the weekend — amounts that could flirt with world records. The forecast for Shasta predicted an incredible 33 to 39 inches of snow — just for Thursday alone. Add in another 37 to 43 inches of snow Thursday night, and additional amounts ranging from  21 to 35 inches every 12 hours through Saturday night, plus a light dusting of 11 to 17 inches on Sunday… …and you get a storm total of 176 inches.  On the low end. Add up the high end of the numbers and you get a forecast maximum of 218 inches of snow in four days. According to Weather Underground, the world record for a single snowstorm is 189 inches in six days at the Mount Shasta Ski Bowl in February 1959.

Two decades of satellite readings back up what dramatic pictures have suggested in recent years: The mile-thick ice sheets that cover Greenland and most of Antarctica are melting at a faster rate in a warming world. The net loss of billions of tons of ice a year added about 11 millimeters — seven-sixteenths of an inch — to global average sea levels between 1992 and 2011. Greenland and two of the three ice sheets that cover Antarctica have lost an estimated 237 billion metric tons of ice.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme and set many kinds of records

Signs of the Times (11/26/12)

November 26, 2012

‘Games’ Keeping Obamacare Out of Court

A lower court has dismissed lawsuits filed by two Christian schools — Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College — which object to the mandate that health insurance exchanges under ObamaCare provide free coverage of contraceptives, abortion-causing drugs and sterilization. Attorney Lori Windham of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty tells OneNewsNow the reason for the ruling is because the HHS has rewritten its “safe harbor” guidelines, giving the schools another year to comply. “What happened is the federal government has been playing some games here,” says Windham. “They put a safe harbor in place, and then they’ve changed that safe harbor several times. Every time somebody files a new lawsuit that might actually get this mandate into court to decide whether it’s a religious freedom violation, they start changing the safe harbor to keep them out of court.” Implementation of the mandate is January 1. So, Windham says religious institutions, which face huge penalties, need an answer now.

Supreme Court Allows ‘Christian Worldview’ Course to Stand

Because the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, high school students in a South Carolina public school district can continue taking off-campus religion courses for school credit. The Freedom From Religion Foundation argues that the district is endorsing religion. But the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals already upheld a lower court decision in favor of the Spartanburg County School District’s program that gives students credit for taking a “Christian Worldview” class at a neighboring religious school. Oran Smith of the Palmetto Family Council, an organization that aims to “persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family,” says this is good news for Spartanburg High students. “They’re teaching the Bible as Scripture, as the Word of God. So, to receive high school credit for that is something that’s, I think, significant,” he contends.

Courts Divided Over Searches of Cellphones

Judges and lawmakers across the country are wrangling over whether and when law enforcement authorities can peer into suspects’ cellphones, and the cornucopia of evidence they provide. A Rhode Island judge threw out cellphone evidence that led to a man being charged with the murder of a 6-year-old boy, saying the police needed a search warrant. A court in Washington compared text messages to voice mail messages that can be overheard by anyone in a room and are therefore not protected by state privacy laws. In Louisiana, a federal appeals court is weighing whether location records stored in smartphones deserve privacy protection, or whether they are “business records” that belong to the phone companies. The issue will attract attention on Thursday when a Senate committee considers limited changes to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a 1986 law that regulates how the government can monitor digital communications. Courts have used it to permit warrantless surveillance of certain kinds of cellphone data.

  • Individual privacy will continue to erode as technology advances and governments seek greater control

U.N. Climate Talks Open in Qatar

U.N. talks on a new climate pact resumed Monday in oil and gas-rich Qatar, where negotiators from nearly 200 countries will discuss fighting global warming and helping poor nations adapt to it. The two-decade-old talks have not fulfilled their main purpose: reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are warming the planet. Attempts to create a new climate treaty failed in Copenhagen three years ago but countries agreed last year to try again, giving themselves a deadline of 2015 to adopt a new treaty.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme regardless of whether greenhouse gas emissions are cut or not

Congressional Republicans Break Tax Pledge

More congressional Republicans are breaking a long-standing pledge to oppose tax increases before returning to Washington on Monday to avert a looming fiscal crisis with a deal that increasingly appears impossible to reach without changes to the tax code. The decades-old pledge from the Americans for Tax Reform group has been signed by 238 House members and 41 senators in this Congress and has essentially become inescapable for any Republican seeking statewide or national office over recent election cycles, especially in the Republican-controlled lower chamber. But several Republicans  said Sunday they would break the pledge and accept tax changes to generate more revenue to curb the trillion-dollar federal deficit. New York Rep. Peter King said, “The world has changed, and the economic situation is different.”

  • Compromises to avoid the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ on Jan. 1st will only forestall – and worsen – the economic collapse to come

‘GivingTuesday’ Aims to Boost Charitable Donations

In the days following Thanksgiving, there’s already Black Friday and Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday to kick off the holiday shopping season. Now, a group of charities and corporate sponsors is urging Americans to make the Tuesday after Thanksgiving just as powerful a day of giving to those in need. It’s called GivingTuesday, and organizers say it’s gaining momentum as the holiday shopping season approaches. There are 800 partners, from non-profits to corporations, including heavy hitters such as Microsoft and Sony. GivingTuesday is a consumer movement, much like the big post-Thanksgiving shopping days, and organizers say it’s up to people to make it a success. The goal is to drive donations of time, money or services to charities with the same enthusiasm that shoppers have on Black Friday.

Economic News

The biggest holiday shopping weekend of the season still has one day left, but retailers can already consider it their best yet. More shoppers came out Thanksgiving night, more shoppers hit stores on Black Friday, more shopped online and everyone spent more. The result: more than $59 billion in estimated sales from Thursday through Sunday. That’s up from $52.4 billion last year. And all signs point to a huge Cyber Monday, as more consumers turned to their computers or mobile devices to shop during the weekend.

  • The god of mammon continues to increase in strength as the USA becomes more and more Godless

Eurozone

One country — Greece — continues in outright depression, having contracted at an annual rate of 7.2 percent in the third quarter. Reuters reports that “Greece’s GDP for the quarter was 20 percent lower in real terms than output in the third quarter of 2008, when the downturn began.” Currently, Greece suffers a general 25 percent unemployment rate, but youth unemployment is a staggering 58 percent. Meanwhile, Spain’s rate of unemployment is a whopping  25.8 percent!

Middle East

A fragile truce between Israel and Hamas appeared to hold Friday despite reports that Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian man near its border in Gaza. Israeli troops fired on Gazans surging toward Israel’s border fence Friday, killing one person but leaving intact the fragile two-day-old cease-fire between Hamas and the Jewish state.

Hamas leaders and thousands of flag-waving supporters declared victory over Israel on Gaza’s first day of calm under an Egyptian-brokered truce Thursday. Eight days of punishing Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and a barrage of Hamas rocket fire on Israel ended inconclusively. While Israel said it inflicted heavy damage on the militants, Gaza’s Hamas rulers claimed that Israel’s decision not to send in ground troops, as it had four years ago, was a sign of a new deterrent power.

The top leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood denounced peace efforts with Israel and urged holy war to liberate Palestinian territories on Thursday — one day after the country’s president, who hails from the movement, mediated a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians to end eight days of fierce fighting. The Brotherhood sometimes delivers conflicting messages, depending on its audience. There are also ideological and generational divisions within the movement, with older leaders often seen as more conservative.

A poll shows about half of Israelis think their government should have continued its military offensive against Palestinian militants in Hamas-ruled Gaza. The independent Maagar Mohot poll released on Friday shows 49% of respondents feel Israel should have kept going after squads who fire rockets into Israel. Thirty-one percent supported the government’s decision to stop. Twenty percent had no opinion. Twenty-nine percent thought Israel should have sent ground troops to invade Gaza.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah group would fire thousands of rockets into Israel in any future war and target cities in the country’s heartland, the group’s leader said Sunday. Hezbollah, like Hamas and other Gaza militant factions, maintains a rocket arsenal and regularly threatens to use it. It fought an inconclusive 34-day war with the Jewish state in 2006 that left 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis dead. Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel during the 2006 war and is believed to have upgraded its arsenal since then. Nasrallah did not say how many missiles and rockets his group possesses, although in the past he said they have more than 20,000. Israel estimates the number at several times that.

Iran & Qatar Vie for Hamas Influence

The courtship of Hamas between rivals Iran and Qatar has been one of the Middle East’s intriguing subplots of the Arab Spring. The bloodshed in Gaza has now sharpened their competition for influence with the Palestinian militant group and the direction it takes in the future. Qatar has sought to use its vast wealth to win over Hamas with investments and humanitarian aid and encouraging Arab partners to do the same — part of the hyper-rich U.S. allied nation’s broader campaign to bring under its wing Islamist movements that have risen to power in the region the past two years. Qatar’s influence with Hamas could edge it away from armed action toward diplomacy. Iran, meanwhile, is invigorating its longtime role as the builder of the rocket arsenal for Hamas’ military wing. For Hamas, there are benefits in both directions — and it’s happy to play both sides

Israel

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday abruptly announced he was quitting politics, injecting new turmoil into the Israeli political system weeks ahead of general elections. His resignation could mean the departure of the most moderating influence on hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who holds a wide lead in polls and is expected to easily win re-election. Barak, who heads a small centrist faction in parliament, often served as Netanyahu’s unofficial envoy to Washington to smooth over differences with the Obama White House. His impending departure comes at a key time for Israel, as the nation struggles to find its way in a region where the old order of Arab autocrats has been swept aside by the Arab Spring and the rise of Islamist political parties. Israel also faces a looming decision on whether to attack Iran’s nuclear program, which the Jewish state fears is designed to develop atomic weapons

Egypt

A wave of fresh clashes erupted in Egypt on Sunday as resentment over the president’s new powers and support for him continues to divide the country. The latest clashes broke out between protesters and security forces on the outskirts of Tahrir Square, in Cairo. Opponents of President Mohammed Morsi have set fire to offices of his Muslim Brotherhood in several Egyptian cities, clashing with his supporters after the Islamist leader assumed sweeping new powers. Egypt’s Islamist president unilaterally decreed greater authorities for himself Thursday and effectively neutralized a judicial system that had emerged as a key opponent by declaring that the courts are barred from challenging his decisions. President Morsi will meet Monday with members of Egypt’s highest judicial body in an attempt to resolve their differences.

Riding high on U.S. and international praise for mediating a Gaza cease-fire, Mohammed Morsi put himself above oversight and gave protection to the Islamist-led assembly writing a new constitution from a looming threat of dissolution by court order. The edicts by Morsi have turned months of growing polarization into an open battle between his Muslim Brotherhood and liberals who fear a new dictatorship. Some in the opposition, which has been divided and weakened, were now speaking of a sustained street campaign against the man who nearly five months ago became Egypt’s first freely elected president.

Syria

Activists say Syrian rebels have captured a hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates river in the country’s north in a strategic victory that followed days of fighting. The dam supplies several areas of Syria with electricity. The rebels have been making strategic advances recently. Syria’s conflict started in March 2011 as uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts. It quickly morphed into a civil war that has since killed more than 40,000 people, according to activists.

Afghanistan

A Taliban suicide bomber detonated a truck full of explosives Friday in eastern Afghanistan, killing three Afghan civilians and wounding more than 90 people, including several Afghan and NATO troops. The early morning explosion in Maidan Shahr, the capital of Wardak province, also destroyed or damaged several government offices and a local prison. The blast occurred in an area that is home to government offices, the provincial governor’s office, police headquarters, a prison and a coordination center used by international and Afghan security forces.

American and allied military planners are drawing up the broad outlines of a force that would remain in Afghanistan following the handover to Afghan security after 2014, including a small counterterrorism force with an eye toward Al Qaeda, senior officials say. NATO forces would advise Afghan forces at major regional military and police headquarters but most likely have a minimal battlefield role, with the exception of some special operations advisers. Final decisions on the size of the American and NATO presence after 2014 and its precise configuration have not been made by the United States or its allies. But one option calls for about 10,000 American and several thousand non-American NATO troops.

Pakistan

A bombing claimed by the Taliban killed at least five people and wounded some 90 others at a Shiite religious procession in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday. At least 30 have now died in five attacks on Shiites claimed by the Pakistani Taliban over the past five days, while about 100 were wounded in the run up to the holiday, which commemorates the 7th century death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. The schism between Sunni and Shiite Muslims dates back to that time.

Thailand

Anti-government protesters calling for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down launched a rally in Bangkok on Saturday that authorities feared would grow into the biggest demonstration the country has seen since she took office last year. The rally drew tens of thousands of protesters and was mostly peaceful in its early stages. Police, however, fired tear gas to disperse between 50 to 100 people who tried to break through a line of concrete barricades erected on a street near the protest site. The demonstration underscores the still-simmering political divisions that have split the country since the army toppled Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra in a 2006 military coup.

Persecution Watch

Millions of Indian Christians are being denied their constitutional rights by the government, which is refusing to give them a place in the country’s hierarchical caste system. The Indian Constitution recognises two groups of historically disadvantaged people, the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Scheduled Tribes (STs); legislation exists to the redress the socio-economic deprivation they have suffered and bolster their rights. But Christian Dalits and tribal Christians are being denied this important status on the grounds of their faith. Two-thirds of India’s 27 million Christians are Dalits, the category of people at the very bottom of Indian society.

A 25-year-old Christian convert from Islam has been beheaded by al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. Farhan Haji Mose was killed in the city of Barawa on Friday (16 November) in front of a crowd that had gathered to watch the execution. The Islamist militants accused Farhan of being a spy for foreigners and of embracing the “foreign religion of Christianity”. The militants, who control most of southern Somalia, have killed dozens of converts from Islam in their ruthless campaign to rid the country of Christianity.

Five members of a Christian family were shot in their home, which was then set ablaze with the victims inside. The attack in Madauchi-Zonkwa, Kaduna state, Northern Nigeria, took place on November 14th. Soldiers stationed nearby failed to intervene, despite gunshots ringing out for almost an hour.

Earthquakes

Chinese says a strong earthquake has damaged buildings in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. The magnitude-5.5 quake struck at early Monday afternoon near the town of Ruoqiang in the vast but lightly populated region. Homes were damaged, but there were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries. Only about 1,000 people live in the area.

Weather

The merciless drought that has scorched much of the central USA this year shows no signs of letting up, according to the most recent forecast from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. For a massive portion of the nation — in almost every state west of the Mississippi River — drought is forecast to continue throughout the next several months: According to Wednesday’s U.S. Drought Monitor, the percentage of the USA enduring drought conditions worsened slightly from the week before, from 58.8% to 60.1%.

A crucial 200-mile stretch of the Mississippi River may be on the verge of shutdown to barge traffic, a move that could paralyze commerce on the USA’s most vital inland waterway and ultimately drive up consumer prices. Already-low river levels caused by drought could shrink to the point that barges carrying grain, coal and other products won’t be able to navigate the Mississippi.

Two people died and more than 80 people were hurt Thursday when at least 140 vehicles collided in Southeast Texas in a pileup that left trucks twisted on top of each other and authorities rushing to pull survivors from the wreckage. The collision occurred in extremely foggy conditions at about 8:45 a.m. Thanksgiving Day on Interstate 10 southwest of Beaumont, a Gulf Coast city about 80 miles east of Houston. The fog was so thick that deputies didn’t immediately realize they were dealing with multiple accidents.

Days of heavy rain have led to flooding in southwestern England and parts of Wales and at least one fatality. The region has seen four days of non-stop rainfall that has capped months of heavy precipitation, including the wettest April-June period on record. More than 225 areas stretching from Cornwall through the Midlands region to the northeastern coast were under flood warnings Sunday afternoon as the latest system moved through.

Signs of the Times (11/22/12)

November 22, 2012

Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. (Psalm 188:1)

Middle East Peace Accord Holds

The Gaza cease-fire deal reached Wednesday marks a startling trajectory for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi: an Islamist leader who refuses to talk to Israelis or even say the country’s name mediated for it and finally turned himself into Israel’s de facto protector. The accord inserts Egypt to an unprecedented degree into the conflict between Israel and Hamas, establishing it as the arbiter ensuring that militant rocket fire into Israel stops and that Israel allows the opening of the long-blockaded Gaza Strip and stops its own attacks against Hamas. In return, Morsi emerged as a major regional player. He won the trust of the United States and Israel, which once worried over the rise of an Islamist leader in Egypt.

Morsi hails from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful political group and Hamas’ own parent organization. Brotherhood leaders, including Morsi, refuse to speak to Israeli officials. Morsi hasn’t even said the name of the country publicly since he was inaugurated in late June, though he has referred to its people as “Israelis.” In ideology, the Brotherhood supports the use of force against Israel to liberate “Muslim lands.” The group opposes Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel. But since coming to power, the group has had to yield to pragmatism. The Brotherhood and Morsi have promised to abide by the peace accord. Through a military operation and through dialogue, Morsi has tried to rein in Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula who have attacked Egyptian security forces and staged attacks across the border into Israel.

Middle East Fallout

Iran has supplied military aid to the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, Iran’s parliament speaker said Wednesday, reports AFP. “We are proud to defend the people of Palestine and Hamas … and that our assistance to them has been both financial and military,” Ali Larijani said without elaborating. Iran has never made a secret of its support for Israel’s foes Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, but generally avoids mention of sending military aid. Israel has accused Iran of supplying Hamas with its Fajr 5 missile, used to target Tel Aviv since Israel launched its offensive on Gaza on Nov. 14. The Fajr 5 rocket can hit targets up to 75 kilometers (46 miles) away, a far greater range than the home-produced Qassam rockets used in the past by Palestinian militants in Gaza to target Israel.

In the digital age, war isn’t contained to the ground. The Israeli government on Sunday said it has been hit with more than 44 million cyberattacks since it began aerial strikes on Gaza last week. Anonymous, the hacker collective, claimed responsibility for taking down some sites and leaking passwords because of what it calls Israel’s “barbaric, brutal and despicable treatment” of Palestinians. Israel and the military wing of Hamas have been criticized for using ready-to-share images on social media to spread spin about the conflict.

A bomb ripped through an Israeli bus near the nation’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, wounding at least 10 people. In the past week, Israeli airstrikes have destroyed many of the underground channels that connect Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt as part of its operation to stop the seemingly relentless rocket attacks against Israeli cities and towns.

Masked gunmen publicly shot dead six suspected collaborators with Israel in a large Gaza City intersection Tuesday. The Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, claimed responsibility, saying the six were killed because they gave Israel information about fighters and rocket launching sites. Israel relies on a network of local informers to identify its targets in Gaza; the killings brought to eight the number of suspected informers being shot dead in public since Israel began its military offensive against Hamas.

Atheist Bullies Shut Down Christmas Displays

Once again, atheists have shut down the First Amendment rights of Christians and Jews with the blessings of a federal court. For 60 years, the city of Santa Monica, California, has allowed private Nativity and Hanukkah displays in its Palisades Park, which overlooks the ocean and the famed Santa Monica Pier. For 60 years, the city of Santa Monica, California, has allowed private Nativity and Hanukkah displays in its Palisades Park, which overlooks the ocean and the famed Santa Monica Pier. Atheist Damon Vix wasn’t content with just putting up his protest booth three years ago. Last year, he recruited a bunch of other atheists to flood the city with applications, packing what was supposed to be a fair lottery. The atheists managed to steal 18 of the 21 spaces, leaving only three for Christian and Jewish groups. They only actually used half of the spaces, leaving the others empty. The ones they did use were filled with signs and displays insulting people who believe in God. Rather than step in and do something to preserve a community tradition, Santa Monica city officials this year chickened out and just banned all holiday booths in the park. A federal judge this week rejected the request by the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee to allow the display this year while its lawsuit against the city proceeded.

Judge Rejects Hobby Lobby’s Case Against ObamaCare

A federal judge Monday rejected Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.’s request to block part of the federal health care overhaul that requires the arts and craft supply company to provide insurance coverage for the morning-after and week-after birth control pills. The Oklahoma City-based company and a sister company, Mardel Inc., sued the government in September, claiming the mandate violates the owners’ religious beliefs. The owners contend the morning-after and week-after birth control pills are tantamount to abortion because they can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s womb. They also object to providing coverage for certain kinds of intrauterine devices. In his ruling denying Hobby Lobby’s request for an injunction, Heaton said that while churches and other religious organizations have been granted constitutional protection from the birth-control provisions, “Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations.”

Court Halts Abortion Pill Mandate for Tyndale House Publishers

A federal court Friday stopped enforcement of the Obama administration’s abortion pill mandate against Tyndale House Publishers, a Bible publisher represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom, the ADF reports. The administration opposed the order, arguing that Tyndale wasn’t “religious enough” for an exemption from the mandate — a component of Obamacare that forces employers to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception. Obama administration rules say for-profit corporations are categorically non-religious, even though Tyndale is strictly a publisher of Bibles and Christian materials and is primarily owned by the non-profit Tyndale House Foundation. The court, however, wrote in its opinion accompanying a preliminary injunction order in Tyndale House Publishers v. Sebelius that “the beliefs of Tyndale and its owners are indistinguishable.” ADF senior legal counsel Matt Bowman said: “Bible publishers should be free to do business according to the book that they publish. The court has done the right thing in halting the mandate while our lawsuit moves forward. For the government to say that a Bible publisher is not religious is startling. It demonstrates how clearly the Obama administration is willing to disregard the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom to achieve certain political purposes.” The court’s order is the third nationwide against the mandate and the second obtained by ADF attorneys.

Student Expelled for Refusing Location Tracking RFID Badge

After months of protesting a policy requiring high school students to wear an RFID-enabled ID badge around their necks at all times, Andrea Hernandez is being involuntarily withdrawn from John Jay High School in San Antonio effective November 26th. Civil liberties lawyers at the Rutherford Institute said that they are in the process of filing a temporary restraining order petition to prevent the school from kicking Hernandez out until further appeals can be made to resolve the matter. Andrea, backed by her family, has claimed the policy violates her religious beliefs and unduly infringes on her privacy. The controversial ID badge includes the photo and name of each student, a barcode tied to the student’s social security number, as well as an RFID chip which pinpoints the exact location of the individual student, including after hours and when the student leaves campus.

Fracking Boom Gains Momentum

Political obstacles to oil and gas production are starting to fall away at the state and local levels as voters, elected officials and courts jump on the energy boom bandwagon. Voters are rewarding local politicians who support production. Ballot measures are distributing potential tax windfalls broadly. And most state legislatures are focused on managing the economic and environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, so the drilling boom can speed up rather than slow down. The trend is crucial to the nation’s energy future because oil and gas production is regulated and taxed almost entirely by state and local governments. The federal government’s role is largely advisory, except on federal lands and on pipelines. Most states were caught off guard when fracking turned Pennsylvania into a major natural gas producer in 2009. Fracking could produce oil or gas in as many as 36 states. Result: The USA will become the world’s No. 1 producer of natural gas in 2015 and oil in 2017, overtaking Russia and Saudi Arabia, respectively, predicts the International Energy Agency.

Social Media Snags 4 U.S. Residents Supporting Taliban

Jihadist social media postings helped lead to the arrest and charging of four Los Angeles area men, who were allegedly on their way to Afghanistan to train with the Taliban and join al Qaeda. They were also plotting to kill American soldiers and bomb government installations, according to a joint statement Monday by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles. One of the men, a U.S. citizen born in Afghanistan, encouraged two of the others to embrace violent Islamic doctrine by introducing them online to radical teachings. The three exposed their connection to each other and their radical leanings explicitly on Facebook for over a year. And one of them detailed his intentions to participate in jihad in an online chat with an FBI employee.

Economic News

Claims for unemployment benefits fell last week following an earlier surge related to Superstorm Sandy. About 410,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits during the week ending November 17, down 41,000 from the previous week. Revised data show during the week ending November 10 initial claims spiked by 90,000, the largest increase in a single week since September 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In the four weeks before Sandy, an average of 367,000 new claims for unemployment benefits were filed each week.

Builders started construction last month on the most single-family homes and apartments since July 2008, more evidence that the housing recovery is gaining momentum. The Commerce Department says housing starts jumped 3.6% in October from September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 894,000. Housing starts are 87% above the annual rate of 478,000 in April 2009, the recession low. That’s still short of the 1.5 million annual rate considered healthy.

Americans cranked up their use of credit cards in the third quarter, racking up more debt than a year ago, while also being less diligent about making payments on time. The average credit card debt per borrower in the U.S. grew 4.9% in the July-to-September period from a year earlier. At the same time, the rate of credit card payments at least 90 days overdue hit 0.75%, up from 0.71% in the third quarter of last year. While higher, the late payment rate is rising from historically low levels.

Syria

Syrian rebels seized a key military base with artillery stockpiles in the country’s east Thursday, strengthening their hold in an oil-rich strategic province bordering Iraq. The rebels have been making advances in the Deir el-Zour province recently, and the capture of the base followed the seizure of a military airport in the same area last week. The base was considered the last stronghold for regime forces in the eastern province. Syrian rebels and opposition groups accused government forces of bombing a building by a hospital late Wednesday in the besieged city of Aleppo, where at least 40 people died as the conflict rages on. In Damascus, two mortar shells struck the upscale neighborhood of Mazzeh during the morning rush hour Thursday, injuring at least one person. The neighborhood is home to a number of foreign embassies and has been targeted several times in the past few days.

Pakistan

A Taliban suicide bomber struck a Shiite Muslim procession near Pakistan’s capital, killing 23 people in the latest of a series of bombings targeting Shiites during the holiest month of the year for the sect. The bomber attacked the procession around midnight Wednesday in the city of Rawalpindi, located next to the capital, Islamabad. At least 62 people were wounded by the blast, including six policemen. Police tried to stop and search the bomber as he attempted to join the procession, but he ran past them and detonated his explosives. Earlier Wednesday, the Taliban set off two bombs within minutes outside a Shiite mosque in the southern city of Karachi, killing at least one person and wounding several others. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan said, “We have a war of belief with Shiites,” Ahsan told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location. “They are blasphemers. We will continue attacking them.”

  • As the Bible notes, descendants of Ishmael will not only fight outsiders but themselves as well: “He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man.” (Genesis 16:12) I believe this applies now to all the Islamic sects that were spawned by the Arab Muhammad

China

Chinese church leaders do not expect major changes after China’s ruling Communist Party announced a new leadership team Thursday in Beijing, Open Doors USA reports. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang will succeed Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao as top Politburo Standing Committee members and take over the presidency and premiership, respectively, in March 2012. Xiao Yun (not his real name), Open Doors director for China, said it is unlikely the leadership change will affect China’s policy toward the church. “As long as we communicate with the government, they leave us alone,” one house church leader stated. Yun said: “For now, the Chinese church expects it can continue to grow both in size and in depth. The government will keep close watch, that’s for sure, but severe oppression is something of the past. I like to say the government is improving, but on the other hand there are still some Christians in jail because of their faith. Christians are among the 400 minority groups … that are still persecuted by society and sometimes the government.” The majority of the Christians, however, experience growing freedom. China is ranked No. 21 on the 2012 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians, compared to No. 16 last year and No. 13 in 2010.

Congo

Congolese rebels took control of the eastern city of Goma and part of the border with Rwanda on Tuesday after days of heavy clashes. The rebels took control of the government radio station in Goma and were seen walking through town, entering government and police buildings. The rebels are part of the M23 rebel group, which has been engaged in heavy fighting with Congolese army forces in the region since last Thursday. Though 1,500 United Nations peacekeeping troops are in Goma and have control of the airport there, a U.N. spokesman said the situation is at a “critical stage.”

Persecution Watch

Gunmen shot five members of a family in Madauchi-Zonkwa, Kaduna state, in northern Nigeria on Nov. 13 before setting their house ablaze with the victims inside, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports. According to pastor Bitrus Titus of Living Faith Church in Zonkwa, the sound of gunfire lasted for close to an hour without any intervention from security personnel. He added that the victims’ corpses were burnt beyond recognition. The attack prompted young men in the Christian community to take to the streets in protest, demanding that soldiers stationed nearby be removed from their post. The Rev. Yunusa Nmadu, CEO of CSW Nigeria, said: “We are saddened by yet another attack on a predominantly Christian community and urge the relevant security agents to live up to their responsibilities, especially since there has been a long-standing threat that the community and others around would be attacked after the April 2011 presidential electoral violence in Kaduna state. Our hearts go out to the relatives and friends of the family that has been affected.”

A Pakistani court on Tuesday dismissed blasphemy charges against Rimsha Masih, a Christian teenager whose case prompted international outrage. The high court in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad found that the accusations against her were legally unsound. The court’s decision follows weeks of uncertainty for Rimsha and her family, who were forced to go into hiding because of the furor surrounding the case. Rimsha’s ordeal began in August when she was arrested over allegations she had burned pages of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, for cooking fuel. She denied the charges, which carried the possible sentence of life in prison. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws “don’t help protect religious harmony,” said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan researcher.

Islamic extremists from Somalia’s rebel al Shabaab militants killed a Christian in Somalia’s coastal city of Barawa on Nov. 16, accusing him of being a spy and leaving Islam, Morning Star News reports. The extremists beheaded 25-year-old Farhan Haji Mose after monitoring his movements for six months, underground Christians in Somalia said. Mose drew suspicion when he returned to Barawa in December 2011 after spending time in Kenya, which is nearly 83 percent Christian, opposed to Somalia, which is close to 100 percent Muslim. Mose had converted to Christianity in 2010 while in Kenya. Sources said a crowd assembled in Barawa to watch the slaughter of Mose. The extremists accused Mose of being a spy for foreigners and of embracing the “foreign religion of Christianity.” Al Shabaab rebels have killed dozens of Christian converts from Islam since embarking on a campaign to rid Somalia of Christianity. The extremists, variously estimated at 3,000 to 7,000, seek to impose a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) on Somalia.

Weather

The Pacific Northwest took a punch to the gut with drenching downpours and damaging hurricane-force winds Monday. Falling trees killed at least one person, and there were reports of flooding and landslides.

The average New Jersey beach is 30 to 40 feet narrower after Superstorm Sandy, according to a survey that is sure to intensify a long-running debate on whether federal dollars should be used to replenish stretches of sand that only a fraction of U.S. taxpayers use. Routine storms tear up beaches in any season, and one prescription for protecting communities from storm surge has been to replenish beaches with sand pumped from offshore. Places with recently beefed-up beaches saw comparatively little damage. The federal government picks up 65 percent of the cost, with the rest coming from state and local coffers.

Signs of the Times(11/19/12)

November 19, 2012

Middle East

International pressure is mounting to end the hostilities between Israel and Hamas, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon flying to the region to personally appeal for a cease-fire. “This must stop,” Ban said late Sunday. He called on both sides to cooperate with Egyptian-led effort to broker a cease-fire. Ban joins a growing chorus of Western and Arab diplomats calling for end to the crisis that has raised fears of a repeat of Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza following a similar spate of rocket attacks. At least 1,400 people were killed in that conflict.

Israeli aircraft struck crowded areas in the Gaza Strip on Monday, driving up the Palestinian death toll to 94 and devastating several homes belonging to one clan — the fallout from a new tactic in Israel’s 6-day-old offensive meant to quell Hamas rocket fire on Israel. Escalating its bombing campaign, Israel on Sunday began attacking homes of activists in Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. These attacks have led to a sharp spike in civilian casualties. Hamas fighters, meanwhile, have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel in the current round of fighting, including 75 on Monday, among them one that hit an empty school. Newer longer-range rockets from Iran have reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time.

Over the previous  three days, 737 rockets from Gaza were fired upon Israel: 492 landed, but 245 were intercepted by the Iron Dome interceptor defense system, Israel Defense Forces said Sunday. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “The terrorists are committing a double war crime. They fire at Israeli civilians, and they hide behind Palestinian civilians. And by contrast, Israel takes every measure to avoid civilian casualties.” The Israeli military has called up thousands of reservists and massed troops, tanks and other armored vehicles along the border with Gaza, signaling a ground invasion could be imminent.

  • “But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet.”(Mark 13:7) – not until a much larger conflagration centered on Israel

God’s Still with Israel

The leader of a Messianic Jewish ministry says even though American voters decided to abandon Israel on November 6, God will not abandon the Jewish state during this current or any future struggle. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel will no longer tolerate Hamas terrorists launching indiscriminate rocket attacks on innocent Israeli citizens. But Jan Markell, founder and director of Olive Tree Ministries, says the re-election of Barack Hussein Obama has sent a clear message to Israel: America is not going to help you. “I think Israel realizes that she no longer has any kind of a bond with America after the November 6 election,” Markell laments. “Israel realizes she’s on her own, which the Bible predicted. Zechariah chapters 12 through 14 indicate that in the time of the end, she will be without a friend — and that’s the case now.”

  • Scripture calls Jerusalem the “throne of the Lord” (Jer. 3:17) and thus the target of Satan’s wrath

Poll: 60 Percent of Voters Back Traditional Marriage

Despite four victories by gay marriage supporters on Election Day in Maine, Maryland, Washington state and Minnesota, a solid majority of voters nationwide still believe marriage is between one man and one woman, according to a new poll, Baptist Press reports. The Nov. 7 survey by the Polling Company of 800 people who voted either on Election Day or voted early shows 60 percent of voters this year agreed that “marriage is between one man and one woman.” Fifty-one percent agreed strongly, and all total, 34 percent disagreed with the statement. “Americans remain strongly in favor of marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” said Brian Brown, president of the pro-family National Organization for Marriage. “The election results reflect the political and funding advantages our opponents enjoyed in these very liberal states.”

Atheists Ask Obama to Ditch ‘So Help Me God,’ Bible in Presidential Oath

When President Barack Obama takes the oath of office for the second time on Jan. 21, 2013, an atheist group wants him to do so without mentioning God and without a Bible, the Christian Post reports. Following Obama’s re-election, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent him a letter asking him to reject the way “this country politicizes religion.” FFRF attorney Andrew L. Seidel wrote: “When you stand to reaffirm your oath, do so using the language of the Founders. Eliminate the religious verbiage. While you’re at it, why not place your hand on the Constitution instead of a Bible?” The FFRF argued that the words “so help me God” are not prescribed by the Constitution, nor is a requirement for the president to place his hand on a Bible when taking oath. “[Obama’s second term] is a chance to do something that no president in recent memory has done: reach out to secular Americans,” FFRF wrote. “In the past, that might have been politically costly. But this recent election shows that it will be politically costly not to reach out to secular America. We are the future.”

  • The secularization of America accelerates the ‘falling away’ of our Christian-founded nation

Atheists Sue IRS for Failure to Prosecute Church Politicking

A First Amendment watchdog group is suing the Internal Revenue Service for failing to challenge the tax-exempt status of churches whose pastors engage in partisan politicking from the pulpit. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates total separation of church and state, filed the lawsuit Wednesday (Nov. 14) in U.S. District Court in Western Wisconsin, where the 19,000-member organization is based. The lawsuit claims that as many as 1,500 pastors engaged in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” on Sunday, Oct. 7, when pastors endorsed one or more candidates, which is a violation of IRS rules for non-profit organizations. IRS rules state that organizations classified as 501 (c) (3) non-profits — a tax-exempt status most churches and other religious institutions claim — cannot participate or intervene in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any political candidate.” Though the regulation has been in place since 1954, a federal court ruled in 2009 that the IRS no longer had the appropriate staff to investigate places of worship after a reorganization changed who in the agency had the authority to launch investigations.

Obama Officials Altered CIA Report on Benghazi

The CIA told the White House that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was a terror attack by an al-Qaeda linked group, but the assessment was altered by Obama administration officials, Gen. David Petraeus told the House Intelligence Committee. Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director a week ago over an extra-marital affair, said he knew that the attack was not sparked by a protest over an anti-Islam video, as White House officials and President Obama had said for days after the Sept. 11 attack. Petraeus didn’t know why al-Qaeda involvement was taken out of the talking points.

  • Why? It was close to the election, of course

FEMA Camps More Like Prison Camps

An estimated 130,000 of Americans are still struggling without power following Superstorm Sandy. Many live without heat, hot water or inhabitable homes and question the government’s efforts to alleviate their condition. Right now, homeless Americans are literally freezing, wrapped in blankets and trash bags as they struggle to survive in FEMA tent cities such as New Jersey’s “Camp Freedom,” which reportedly “resembles a prison camp.” According to a WorldNetDaily.com article, camp occupants report that Blackhawk helicopters patrol the skies “all day and night” and a black car with tinted windows surveys the camp while the government moves heavy equipment past the tents at night. According to the story, reporters aren’t even allowed in the fenced complex, where lines of displaced residents form outside portable toilets. Security guards are posted at every door, and residents can’t even use the toilet or shower without first presenting I.D. “They treat us like we’re prisoners,” Ashley Sabol told Reuters. “It’s bad to say, but we honestly feel like we’re in a concentration camp.”

Army, Navy Suicides at Record High

With six weeks left in the year, the Army and Navy are already reporting record numbers of suicides, with the Air Force and Marine Corps close to doing the same, making 2012 the worst year for military suicides since careful tracking began in 2001. The deaths are now occurring at a rate faster than one per day. Military and medical leaders have been searching for answers to what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta describes as an “epidemic” of suicides ever since the numbers began increasing among soldiers and Marines in 2005. Military suicide researcher David Rudd sees a direct link with the effects of combat and frequent deployments.

  • Sending soldiers in extended deployments into wars we can’t win without a revised strategy (i.e. more aggressive) is the underlying problem

More Young Drivers Texting, Surfing the Web

Nearly seven in 10 young drivers are still texting behind the wheel, and a growing number of them are accessing the Internet on their cellphones while driving, according to a new survey by insurer State Farm. Despite years-long national campaigns against texting while driving, which is now illegal in 39 states and the District of Columbia, 68 percent of young drivers — those 18-29 — reported engaging in the practice, up from 64 percent last year. That compares with 34 percent of all drivers who reported texting while driving, up from 32 percent a year ago. There were even sharper increases in the equally risky behavior of surfing the Internet while driving: 48 percent of young drivers reported accessing the Web behind the wheel, up from 43 percent last year. Those figures exclude programming a GPS device.

BP Gets Record Fine in Gulf Oil Spill

Oil giant BP has agreed to pay the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history, totaling $4.5 billion for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Two BP employees face manslaughter charges over the death of 11 people in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the massive spill. BP will plead guilty to obstruction for lying to Congress about how much oil was pouring out of the ruptured well. The largest previous corporate criminal penalty assessed by the Department of Justice was a $1.2 billion fine imposed on drug maker Pfizer in 2009.

Feds Give States Another Month for Health Exchange Decision

A day before the deadline, federal health officials on Thursday gave states another month to decide whether to run their own health-insurance marketplaces. The health exchanges are a key part of Obama’s federal health-care reform. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius extended the deadline in response to a request from the Republican Governors Association. They want the agency to publish rules on how the exchanges would work before they decide whether to opt in.

Obama Win Brings out ‘Dreamers’

The re-election of President Barack Obama has emboldened more young undocumented immigrants to apply for a program that could allow them to stay and work temporarily in the United States without the threat of deportation. Many illegal immigrants hesitated to apply out of fear that if Republican challenger Mitt Romney won the presidential election, he would kill the Obama program, leaving those who had applied potentially vulnerable to deportation. Obama’s victory with the overwhelming support of Latino voters has pushed many Republicans to once again line up behind comprehensive immigration reforms that include a way for millions of illegal immigrants to legalize their status and eventually become U.S. citizens.

More Layoffs Due to Obamacare

Medical supply giant Stryker is the latest company to announce job cuts in anticipation of coming costs associated with ObamaCare. The company will cut 1,170 jobs, or five percent of its worldwide workforce. A “medical device excise tax” included in the mandate imposes a 2.3 percent levy on medical device manufacturers and suppliers, which critics say will raise prices on everything from pacemakers to prosthetics to stents. Companies will be required to pay the tax regardless if they have a profit or loss for the year. The tax is estimated to cost the medical device industry $20 billion.

Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter said he must reduce employee hours and possibly lay off workers to deal with the costs of Obamacare and the increasing number of regulations coming out of the Obama Administration. Schnatter has said Obamacare could cost up to $8 million per year. The Left’s knee-jerk response has been to call for a boycott because Schnatter is wealthy and therefore he should just absorb any increase costs. Or the other analysis floating around the leftist blogs and places like Forbes is that Obamacare would only mean an increase of 14 cents per pizza, therefore Schnatter is just being evil, conservative and political.

  • The junkie entitlement addicts  continue to want more freebies and have someone else pay for them

Economic News

Average rates on fixed mortgages fell to fresh record lows this week, a trend that has helped the housing market start to recover this year. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on 30-year loans dipped to 3.34%, lowest on records dating back to 1971. The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage also dropped to 2.65%.

The Federal Housing Administration has exhausted its reserves, forcing it to institute another round of measures to shore up its finances. The government agency’s capital cushion plummeted to -$16.3 billion at the end of fiscal 2012. FHA’s continued financial troubles may force it to ask taxpayers to bail it out for the first time in its 78-year history. FHA’s financial health is being closely monitored because of the vital role it plays in the housing market, particularly during crisis times. The agency doesn’t make loans, but it backstops lenders if borrowers stop paying.

The federal agency that insures pensions for 43 million Americans saw its deficit swell to $34 billion in the past year, the largest in its 38-year history. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. blamed the growing shortfall on its inability to charge private employers adequate premiums for insuring pensions. Citing the increasing deficit, PBGC Director Joshua Gotbaum called on Congress to give the agency power to set its own premiums.

The Postal Service posted a record net loss of $15.9 billion in fiscal 2012, more than triple its $5.1 billion loss last year. The USPS, which relies on the sale of stamps and other products rather than taxpayer dollars, has been grappling for years with high costs and tumbling mail volumes as consumers communicate more online. Earlier this year, the Postal Service defaulted on more than $11 billion in payments that Congress had directed it to pay into a fund for future retiree health benefits.

A group of Wal-Mart workers are planning to stage a walkout next week on Black Friday, arguably the biggest holiday shopping day for the world’s largest retail store. The union-backed groups OUR Walmart and Making Change at Wal-Mart, and a watchdog group Corporate Action Network, are calling on the nation’s largest employer to end what they call retaliation against employees who speak out for better pay, fair schedules and affordable health care.

Iran

Iran is poised to double its output of higher-enriched uranium at its fortified underground facility, the U.N. nuclear agency said Friday — a development that puts Tehran within months of being able to make the core of a nuclear warhead. In its report, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran was ready within days to ramp up its production of 20 percent enriched uranium at its plant at Fordo using 700 more centrifuges. That would double Iran’s present output and cut in half the time it would take to acquire enough of the substance needed to make a nuclear weapon, reducing it to just over three months.

Japan

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the lower house of parliament Friday, paving the way for elections in which his ruling party will likely give way to a weak coalition government divided over how to solve Japan’s myriad problems. Noda followed through on a pledge to call elections after the opposition Liberal Democratic Party agreed to back several key pieces of legislation, including a deficit financing bill and electoral reforms. The Cabinet was expected to quickly announce elections for Dec. 16. Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan has grown unpopular thanks to its handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis and especially its recent doubling of the sales tax.

Uganda

Scores of Ugandans were isolated on Thursday to prevent the spread of a new outbreak of Ebola which has already killed three people. Uganda has experienced increasingly regular outbreaks of deadly hemorrhagic fevers that have left health officials grappling for answers. The outbreak comes roughly a month after Uganda declared itself Ebola-free following an earlier outbreak in a remote district of western Uganda.

  • Increasing pestilence is another end-time sign

Persecution Watch

Calvary Baptist Church in Jerusalem, led by an Arab Israeli Christian pastor, is the latest congregation to be hit in a string of vandalism incidents to hit Christian holy sites in Israel this year, ASSIST News Service reports. On Nov. 12, “the sign pointing people to the church was defaced with white paint with ‘Justice’ written on the wall next to the sign,” said pastor Steven Khoury, head of Calvary Baptist Church. In September, vandals burned a door of the Trappist Monastery in Latrun and spray-painted anti-Christian graffiti with the words “Jesus is a monkey,” Khoury said. Last month, the Church of the Dormition Abbey on Mt. Zion, near Jerusalem’s Old City, was defaced with graffiti that included the words “price tag.” According to Khoury, church members are taking precautions to ensure than no further attacks are carried out against the church. He said security cameras were being installed and round-the-clock watch groups would patrol the church building in the interim. Police are currently investigating the matter, and Khoury emphasized it was important for Israel to prosecute the perpetrators under its hate crime statutes to demonstrate that defacing holy sites is a serious offense under the law as well as the country’s democratic values.

Hindu extremists in Kannur village in Karnataka, India, beat a pastor unconscious by the side of the road, then attacked him in his hospital bed the next day, Compass Direct News reports. Pastor John Samuel Kim was standing on the road with three friends Oct. 11 when a mob of 20 extremists began questioning him, then accused him of forceful conversion and began kicking and punching him and beating him with sticks and stones. Kim was knocked unconscious, and was hospitalized with a broken rib and injuries to his head and neck. The next morning, four attackers entered his hospital ward. “They told me that I should die, shook my bed and started to beat me again, and strangled me on my neck and brought a sharp weapon to cut my neck,” said Kim, who suffered a severe neck injury. The attackers left when they heard people coming, and Kim later provided a description to police, who posted guard on the ward for the next seven days as he recovered. The police have registered a case against the attackers, but no arrests have been made. It is the second attack on Kim within the past year; he did not file a police complaint after he was beaten up the first time.

Muslim protesters again blocked a Protestant church from holding Sunday services in front of their place of worship in West Java, Indonesia, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports. A spokesman for the the Batak Society Christian Church of Philadelphia said the congregation had to call off the service after scores of protesters gathered to stop them from worshiping. “They were there an hour or so before we were to start our service,” said the Rev. Palti Panjaitan. “They brought loudspeakers and played very loud music. They also threatened us.” Panjaitan said he tried to reason with the protesters, who included women and children, but to no avail. Police who were there told the church to “cancel the service to prevent any violence,” Panjaitan said. “By doing so, however, they violated our constitutional right.” According to International Christian Concern, the church has regularly faced opposition from radical Islamist groups despite having all the necessary permits to operate. It received international media coverage in May when a mob threw bags of urine and other objects at the congregation.

Weather

A powerful storm system will pound the Northwest with periods of heavy rain, high winds and mountain snow through midweek. Rainfall amounts up to 8 inches are possible along the Oregon coast and adjacent coastal mountains. Some minor flooding problems may develop. Landslides and road slumps are possible in areas of prolonged heavy rain. High wind warnings and advisories are posted through Monday evening for portions of coastal Oregon and northwest California, along with areas east of the Cascades in Oregon and southeast Washington. There have already been reports of damage along the central Oregon coast with a 98-mph gust observed at Yaquina Head on Monday morning. Snow totals of more than a foot are expected in the Cascades.

The winds of Superstorm Sandy took out more trees in the neighborhoods, parks and forests of New York and New Jersey than any previous storm on record, experts say. Nearly 10,000 were lost in New York City alone, and “thousands upon thousands” went down on Long Island, a state parks spokesman said. New Jersey utilities reported more than 113,000 destroyed or damaged trees. “These are perfectly healthy trees, some more than 120 years old, that have survived hurricanes, ice storms, nor’easters, anything Mother Nature could throw their way,” said Todd Forrest, a vice president at the New York Botanical Garden.

Signs of the Times (11/15/12)

November 15, 2012

Rockets Kill 3 in Israel, Retaliation Escalating

Militants in the Gaza Strip pounded southern Israel with rocket fire on Thursday, killing three people as the Israeli military pressed forward with a second day of intense air raids and naval attacks on militant targets. With Israel threatening to invade the Palestinian territory, the heaviest fighting between Israel and Hamas in four years showed no signs of letting up. The fighting began Wednesday when Israel assassinated Hamas’ military chief. Gaza’s streets were mostly empty as the Israeli air force continued to strike targets. Residents across southern Israel remained huddled indoors or close to home, ordered by authorities to remain close to a network of public bomb shelters. Following the assassination of Hamas mastermind Ahmed Jabari on Wednesday, Israeli tanks, gunboats and aircraft struck dozens of sites across Gaza. A total of 13 Palestinians, including four civilians, have been killed and more than 100 people wounded.

  • War in the Middle East is a precursor to the Tribulation period and will usher in the rise of the anti-Christ

Government Surveillance On the Rise

The tangled David Petraeus scandal highlights how easily the U.S. government can access citizens’ private e-mails. The FBI’s request to access Paula Broadwell’s personal Gmail account was one of 7,969 similar requests Google received from the U.S. government in the first half of 2012, according to Google. The company said it complied with the requests, either fully or partially, 90% of the time. “One trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise,” Dorothy Chou, a Google senior policy analyst, writes in the blog post announcing the latest report.

750,000 Petition to Secede from U.S.

The White House has received petitions from all 50 states – signed by nearly 750,000 citizens asking permission to secede from the United States. The petitions were filed on the White House website’s “We the People” petition system. The Obama administration promises to respond to petitions that receive at least 25,000 signatures within 30 days. At least seven states – including Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee have met that threshold. Nearly 100,000 citizens have signed the Texas petition. But the Lone Star State is not going anywhere, according to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, but he said he also shares the frustrations many Americans have with our federal government.

  • Unrest in the U.S. is increasing from both the left (Occupy) and the right (Tea Party, etc.)

Catholic Pro-Life Group Anticipates Incarceration

The spokesman for a Catholic pro-life group predicts that unless the courts intervene, civil disobedience — and maybe even prison time — could result in the clash between the Obama administration and the church over religious freedom. Thus far, 40 Christian organizations and businesses have filed suit to block the HHS mandate requiring free insurance coverage of contraception, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, a Catholic pro-life group, told OneNewsNow that the church is on a collision course with the administration, which has refused to provide a broad religious exemption that would protect the rights of people of faith who oppose such practices on religious grounds. The churches, says Pavone, are not going to back down.

Timing of Petraeus Resignation Questioned

CIA chief David Petraeus’ extramarital affair ended months ago. But it continues to make waves in Washington this week, as suspicions ripple through lawmaker ranks about the timing of its revelation and his resignation which coincided with scheduled testimony into the September 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. President Barack Obama has bypassed the chorus of congressional voices calling for an investigation into why the FBI did not notify Washington’s leaders sooner about its investigation. There is also some concern that confidential information may have been leaked.

Health Insurance Costs Rising Despite Obamacare

Health insurance premiums are high and rising. According to a survey from the National Business Group on Health, employers  expect their health insurance costs to increase 7%. And, 60% of those employers plan to ask workers to pay higher monthly premiums. Health-care reform was supposed to keep costs low and quality of care the same or better. But increasingly, it’s clear the industry is changing dramatically even before all parts of the law go into effect. What’s more, the unintended consequences aren’t good. Obamacare was supposed to ensure everyone gets covered while keeping costs low, but already Wal-Mart employees are saying they will drop out of company plans – meaning more people will burden emergency rooms. And costs aren’t declining; they are rising.

Health Law Has States Feeling Tense Over Deadline

The days since President Obama won re-election have been marked by tension and angst in Republican-led states like which have waited until the last minute to decide whether to create a crucial tool for people to get medical coverage under Mr. Obama’s health care law. States are supposed to tell the Obama administration by Friday whether they want to create their own health insurance exchange or cede that responsibility to the federal government — a deadline that many had bet might never come to pass, choosing to sit on their hands for months in the hope that Mitt Romney would win the presidency and the health care law would be repealed. On Wednesday, leaders of the Republican Governors Association, gathering in Las Vegas for their annual meeting, wrote a letter to Mr. Obama requesting more time, more guidance and a meeting where the president and governors could talk.

Diabetes Cases Hit Record High- But Half Go Unnoticed

Diabetes is running at record levels worldwide and half the people estimated to have the disease are, as yet, undiagnosed. The number of people living with diabetes is now put at 371 million, up from 366 million a year ago, with numbers expected to reach 552 million by 2030, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) said. Diabetes is often viewed as a western problem, since the vast majority of people have type 2 disease which is linked to obesity and lack of exercise. But the disease is also spreading rapidly in poorer countries, alongside urbanization, and four out of five diabetics now live in low and middle-income countries. China alone has 92.3 million people with diabetes, more than any other nation in the world, and the hidden burden is also enormous in sub-Saharan Africa where limited healthcare means less than a fifth of cases get diagnosed. Diabetics have inadequate blood sugar control which can lead to serious complications, including nerve and kidney damage and blindness. Worldwide deaths from the disease are running at 4.8 million a year.

U.S. Preterm Birthrate Lowest in a Decade

For the fifth consecutive year, the preterm birthrate in the USA continued its slow but steady downward trend. The nation’s premature birthrate is 11.7% of all live births — the lowest in a decade. In 2006, the nation’s preterm birthrate peaked at 12.8% after rising steadily for more than two decades. Preterm birth (before 37 weeks of completed pregnancy) is the leading cause of infant death during the first month of life.

Persecution Watch

Two women in full Islamic head coverings assaulted and forcefully cut the hair of a Christian woman on the metro Sunday, the third such reported incident in two months, raising fears of a growing vigilante movement to punish Egyptian women for not wearing the veil in public, the Egypt Independent reports. According to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the assaulters called the 28-year-old Christian woman an “infidel” and pushed her off the train, breaking her arm. Last week, a woman wearing the veil cut the hair of a 13-year-old Christian girl on the metro, and a teacher was also given a six-month suspended prison sentence for cutting the hair of two 12-year-old girls after they refused to cover their heads.

An evangelist accused of defaming Islam was telling mourners at a funeral about the sacrifice of Christ when Muslims present took offense, ASSIST News Service reports. Karma Patras, 55, has been in jail since Oct. 13 for allegedly “outraging the religious feelings” of Muslims at the funeral of a Christian where most of those present were church members, and he faces a sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine under Section 295-A of Pakistan’s widely condemned blasphemy law. Patras’ son, Robin Masih, said after his father’s arrest, area Muslims told him and his four brothers to leave the village or else they would set them on fire. Masih’s family and those of his brothers sought refuge with relatives elsewhere; meanwhile, Patras awaits a second hearing on his bail application after the first was denied.

Islamic Child Abusrse Get Probation in Arizona

Apparently torturing your offspring is no longer a violent offense in Phoenix, Arizona. Last week an Arizona Superior Court Judge awarded probation to a Muslim family who admitted to kidnapping, beating and trying to kill their nineteen-year-old daughter. Islamists rejoice! “Honor violence” is now officially sanctioned as part of the American culture. According to Maricopa County Prosecutors, in February 2012, Aiya Altameemi, a nineteen-year-old Muslim female was beaten, tied to her bed, burned with a hot spoon, stabbed in the neck and locked in her room by her family for her unwillingness to accept an arranged marriage to a 38-year-old Muslim man and speaking to a male classmate in public. Last week, during a sentencing hearing Aiya’s father admitted to attempting to kill his daughter by cutting her neck. Mohammed Altameemi, 46, received two years’ probation for disorderly conduct. Altameeni’s wife, Yursah Farhan, 51, was sentenced to two years’ probation for unlawful imprisonment of her daughter.

  • Persecute Christians but give Islamists a break – that’s life in the U.S. now as the end-times ramp up

Economic News

The Treasury Department said Tuesday that the October $120 billion deficit — the gap between the government’s tax revenue and its spending — was 22 percent higher than the same month last year. Tax revenue increased to $184.3 billion — 13 percent greater than the same month last year. Still, spending also rose to $304.3 billion, a 16.4 percent jump. Obama’s presidency has coincided with four straight $1 trillion-plus deficits, the first in history.

Retail sales dropped in October for the first time in three months as Superstorm Sandy took its toll on auto sales, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Retail and food-service sales were down 0.3 percent last month, compared with September. Car buying has been a major driver of retail sales growth recently. Auto sales dropped 1.6 percent last month compared with September. But higher gas prices led to an increase of 1.7 percent in sales at gas stations in October compared with the previous month.

There were nearly 50 million Americans living in poverty in 2011, under an alternative measure released by the Census Bureau Wednesday. That’s 16.1% of the nation. The alternative measure showed the importance of Social Security and the weight of medical care on the elderly. Without Social Security, some 54.1% of Americans age 65-plus would be in poverty, as opposed to 15.1%.Refundable tax credits — the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit — proved the next most effective government initiative keeping Americans out of poverty. It lowered the supplemental rate by 2.8 percentage points. Food stamps, meanwhile, kept 4.7 million people out of poverty, and unemployment insurance 3.4 million.

  • Despite record spending on welfare programs, more and more people are immersed in poverty or dependent on government assistance – just the way the New World Order folks like it

Eurozone

The Eurozone has slipped into recession for a second time in four years, as the sharp fall in activity in debt-ridden southern Europe economies weighed on output across the region. Eurostat’s first reading of gross domestic product for the three months ended in September showed a contraction of 0.1% in the Eurozone, after a decline of 0.2% in the second quarter — confirming the 17-nation currency area is back in recession for the first time since 2009. Efforts by governments and households to reduce debt, rising unemployment and uncertainty over the fate of weaker members of the Eurozone are depressing economic activity.

A wave of anger over austerity is sweeping across Europe as workers fed up with government spending cuts and tax rises take to the streets in a coordinated day of action. Some of the largest protests are taking place in Spain, where a general strike is under way. Public transport has been shut down, or disrupted, while many schools, shops, factories and airports are closed. There have also been significant walkouts — and outbreaks of violence — in Portugal, Greece and Italy. Limited protests are taking place in other countries, including France and Belgium — and even in Germany where the traditionally strong economy has taken a hit. Transport across the continent is being disrupted by the strikes. Hundreds of flights have been grounded, and there are severe reductions in intercity rail services and local transit systems. Protesters say the cuts will compromise livelihoods and increase unemployment.

  • This is a harbinger of what awaits the U.S. as it plunges deeper into European-style socialism

Syria

France announced Tuesday that it was recognizing the newly formed Syrian rebel coalition and would consider arming the group, seeking to inject momentum into a broad Western and Arab effort to build a viable and effective opposition that would hasten the end of a stalemated civil war that has destabilized the Middle East. Throughout the conflict, the West has taken half measures and been reluctant to back an aggressive effort to oust Mr. Assad. This appears to be the first time that Western nations, with Arab allies, are determined to build a viable opposition leadership that can ultimately function as a government. Whether it can succeed remains unclear.

As the total death toll in Syria marches towards 40,000, the Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday lambasted the recent U.S. backing of Syria’s opposition in its quest to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. “The Syrian opposition has been given a false signal, strengthening the positions of extremists, including terrorists,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry wrote.

  • A Russian and Persian alliance is key to the end-time war against Israel (Ezek. 38-39)

Pakistan

Pakistan freed several Taliban prisoners at the request of the Afghan government Wednesday, a move meant to facilitate the process of striking a peace deal with the militant group. The release of the prisoners — described as mid- and low-level fighters — is the most encouraging sign yet that Pakistan may be willing to help jumpstart peace talks that have mostly gone nowhere, hobbled by distrust among the major players involved, including the United States. Pakistan is seen as key to the process because of its historical ties to the Taliban and because many of the group’s leaders are believed to be based on Pakistani territory, having fled there following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Iran

The US and its allies have targeted Iran for a range of financial sanctions, designed to make it harder for the country to insure its tankers or receive payment for oil sales. Mounting evidence suggests that these measures are helping to cripple the Iranian economy. The International Energy Agency released its monthly oil market report showing that Iranian exports averaged 1.3 million barrels per day in October, compared with the average of 2.3 million per day last year. That represents a daily loss of revenue of $109 million at current market prices. Iran’s losses are running over $3 billion per month – or $33 billion so far this year. That represents almost 30 per cent of the Iranian government’s total budget of $113 billion in 2012/13

Sudan

A yellow fever outbreak in Sudan’s Darfur region has killed 107 people in the past six weeks, the World Health Organization reported Tuesday, warning that the disease could spread all over the country. The number of deaths from the outbreak is steadily rising, and Sudan is working on an emergency vaccination drive. There is no medicinal cure for yellow fever, which is spread by mosquitoes. Doctors treat the main symptoms — dehydration, fever, bleeding and vomiting — and wait for the viral infection to pass. The WHO estimates that more than 500 million people in 32 countries in Africa are at risk of infection.

China

China’s magnificent seven, the fifth and latest generation of Communist Party leaders to helm the world’s most populous nation, strode into the limelight Thursday morning to end many months of backroom bargaining. The leader of the group is Xi Jinping, 59, who has a celebrity singer wife and a daughter studying at Harvard. He took over from Hu Jintao as general secretary of the 82-million-strong Chinese Communist Party. This once-a-decade leadership transition, picking a new party chief and the other members of the party’s Politburo standing committee, the apex of power in China, represents only the second orderly succession in the People’s Republic of China’s often-troubled history. There was no surprise in Xi’s appointment, as he had long been picked to succeed Hu as party chief and president; nor in the appearance of Li Keqiang, 57, likely to succeed Wen Jiabao as premier when the less-important transition of government leaders takes place in March.

Earthquakes

An earthquake has shaken southern Mexico, though there are no immediate reports of damage. The quake hit at about 3:20 a.m. Thursday, causing alarm in Mexico City. The U.S. Geological Survey reported it had a magnitude of 6.0 and was located about 107 miles southwest of Mexico City.

Weather

At least three people have been killed as heavy rain in Italy’s Tuscany region caused rivers to burst their banks and flood the surrounding areas. Two men and a woman were killed when their car fell off a collapsed bridge in Tuscany on Tuesday, as floods battered central Italy for a third straight day. The flooding forced part of the country’s main north-south highway to close and has damaged many homes and shops as well as thousands of acres of farmland. 800 people were evacuated from their homes in the village of Albinia, thousands were left without electricity and several towns were isolated by swamped roads.

Signs of the Times (11/12/12)

November 12, 2012

Justice Department Targeting Abortion Protesters

According to CBN News, government officials are increasingly using lawsuits to target pro-life protesters outside abortion clinics. A variety of laws have already put restrictions on these protests — a major one being the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which can cause convicted protesters to face thousands of dollars in fines as well as jail time — and the Feds have steadily stepped up the number of cases in the past few years. “They’re trying to shut down free speech at abortion clinics, but then [Planned Parenthood president] Cecile Richards is one of the most frequent  visitors to the White House, so you know she’s having an impact,” said Jo Scott, a longtime protester outside Planned Parenthood in Denver who has faced several charges of obstructing the clinic’s entrance with her husband, Ken. Though the government has had a tough time winning many of its cases against pro-life protesters, the FACE Act remains “dangerous in so many ways,” said pro-life attorney Rebecca Messall. “And it’s been used … across the country to try to intimidate and punish people for exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Kansas Cities Say No to Gay Protection Laws

Earlier this year in Salina, Kansas, the city council passed an ordinance granting special legal protections for gender identity and sexual orientation. Citizens drafted a protest position that made the ballot and voted to repeal the ordinance granting special protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity by a margin of 54 percent to 45 percent. In Hutchinson, the city passed a limited ordinance along the same lines. Citizens launched a successful protest petition,and  voters in Hutchinson rejected the proposed ordinance 58 percent to 42 percent.

Gay Agenda to Step Up Lawsuits

After election successes in four states this month, there likely will be lawsuits against churches. Justices of the peace or other officials could have a bull’s-eye on their backs. Small businesses, such as photographers, venue operators and cake bakers will be hit with claims under anti-discrimination laws. People who have any connection to governmental licenses could be impacted, such as notaries public, mayors and commissioners. In Canada, according to a report by National Review, there have been hundreds of formal complaints pursued against people who hold to the biblical instruction that marriage is between a man and a woman.

  • The gay agenda isn’t just about homosexual rights, it is the hallmark of Satan’s strategy to undermine the Biblical family structure

Gun Sales Soar after Obama Re-election

Owners of guns have been stocking up because they are concerned about a potential tightening of regulations on assault weapons in the president’s second term. In October the number of background checks on people applying to buy guns, an indicator of future sales, increased by 18.4 per cent. There was a similar jump when President Obama was first elected in 2008. A total of 12.7 million background checks were carried out that year, up from 11.2 million the year before, and the number has been rising since then.

  • Obama’s second term will yield more aggressive steps toward gun control, immigration amnesty, higher taxes on the ‘wealthy,’ increased welfare spending, and the expansion of homeland security’s fusion and detention centers.

NY Drivers Deal with Continued Gas Rationing

A return to 1970s-era gas rationing seemed to help with hours-long gas station lines that formed after Superstorm Sandy, but it didn’t end a fuel-gauge fixation that suddenly has become a way of life for drivers in the nation’s largest city. As drivers sorted out an odd-even plan – a scheme not seen in New York since the 1970s Arab oil embargo – thousands of people in the region got their power back for the first time since Sandy came ashore 12 days ago. Meanwhile, disaster cleanup efforts have been hampered by the influx of gawkers – tourists who want to see the carnage for themselves.

Record number of foreign students in U.S.

The number of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges climbed 6% to a record 764,495 last year, propelled primarily by continuing increases of students from China and a recent surge from Saudi Arabia. The number of U.S. students earning academic credit abroad also continues to increase but at a slower rate. In 2010-11, 273,996 U.S. students studied abroad, up 1.3% from the previous year. Raising concerns that American students are not developing the skills they will need to succeed in a global workforce, Institute of International Education President Allan Goodman called on U.S. educators to step up efforts to send more students abroad.

Small Banks to Disappear?

Now that President Obama has been re-elected, analysts, consultants and dealmakers have turned from whether Dodd-Frank Act will be repealed to what it means for banks now that it’s likely here to stay. The overwhelming conclusion: Thousands of small banks will soon disappear. Industry analysts predicted that the number of banks in the U.S. would shrink to a few hundred. There are currently more than 7,000. Bill Egan, head of financial institutions investment banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, agreed, but said the weeding out process was likely to take more than a decade. All the new regulations lumped on the banking industry in a good faith effort to make our financial system safer will most likely make it harder for small banks to stick around.

Occupy’s New Mission: Forgiving Peoples’ Debt

Occupy Wall Street, the protest movement launched to fight corporate greed and corruption, is now buying up peoples’ debts and forgiving them. Its new initiative, called Rolling Jubilee, is being spearheaded by Occupy’s Strike Debt team to protest a “predatory” lending system, according to its website. The group will hold a telethon and variety show called “The People’s Bailout” in New York on Nov. 15 to raise money for the cause, and the proceeds will be used to buy defaulted debts — such as unpaid student loans and medical bills — and erase them. “The basic premise is simple: people shouldn’t have to go into debt for an education, because they need medical care, or because they have to put food on the table during hard times,” Occupy’s website says.

  • The premise that people shouldn’t have to pay for basic services such as education and medical needs results in socialism or communism which failed miserably in the 20th century.

U.S. to Become Biggest Oil Producer

The United States will overtake Saudi Arabia to become the world’s biggest oil producer before 2020, and will be energy independent 10 years later, according to a new forecast by the International Energy Agency. The recent resurgence in oil and gas production, and efforts to make the transport sector more efficient, are radically reshaping the nation’s energy market, reported Paris-based IEA in its World Energy Outlook. “The United States, which currently imports around 20% of its total energy needs, will become all but self-sufficient in net terms — a dramatic reversal of the trend seen in most other energy importing countries,” the IEA stated.

Economic News

Democratic and Republican leaders appeared Sunday to draw closer to reaching a compromise on keeping the country from going off the fast-approaching “fiscal cliff” — with closing tax loopholes for America’s highest earners emerging as the potential middle ground. Economists and others warn the country could go over the fiscal cliff in January when tax cuts for many Americans expire while nearly $1 trillion in federal cuts begin.

The U.S. trade deficit declined to the lowest level in nearly two years because exports rose to a record high. The gain might not last given the global economic slowdown. The deficit narrowed to $41.5 billion in September, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That is 5.1 percent below the August deficit and the smallest imbalance since December 2010. Exports climbed 3.1 percent to an all-time high of $187 billion. That followed two monthly declines and reflected stronger sales of commercial aircraft, heavy machinery and farm goods. Imports rose 1.5 percent to $228.5 billion.

  • A deficit is still a deficit, and it’s still a large one which adds to overall federal indebtedness

Another month, another dip in video game sales. Total retail sales for October plunged 25%, the 11th straight month the industry has shown decline. Hardware experienced the largest drop, 37%, compared to the same time last year.

Japan’s economy contracted in the latest quarter, signaling that like Europe it may already be in recession, further weighing down world growth. On an annualized basis, the world’s No. 3 economy shrank 3.5% in the July-September quarter, the government reported Monday. Japan’s territorial dispute with China hammered exports that were already weakened by feeble global demand.

Persecution Watch

A pastor was killed and 11 others wounded in the eastern Kenyan town of Garissa on Sunday when suspected Islamic extremists launched a grenade through the sheet-iron roof of Utawala Interdenominational Church during the worship service, the Christian Post reports. At least three of the 11 injured had wounds so serious they were airlifted to Kenyatta General Hospital in Nairobi. According to a source, the grenade “landed right at the podium where the chaplain was delivering a church sermon, hitting him right at the forehead, and he died immediately.” Then followed several gunshots, the source added. It is suspected the blast could be a revenge attack by sympathizers of the terror group al Shabaab in neighboring Somalia, where Kenyan forces are involved in fighting the Islamists.

A Bible school in Sudan that was torched by an Islamist mob earlier this year has re-opened but remains in danger as Muslim hostility towards Christians intensifies. The compound, which includes a Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church building, was targeted on 21 April. The Islamist attackers bulldozed a wall and set fire to the school and church; three other congregations were affected, as they used halls at the school for their services. A clinic, home for the elderly and living quarters were damaged. Some of the students’ belongings were destroyed, as were library books and a large number of Bibles. The perpetrators broke into a safe and made off with school funds; they also ruined school furniture. Before the arson attack, Islamists had obtained approval from the Commissioner of Khartoum to take part of the property.

Christians were assaulted by a mob of Salafist Muslims as they left a church service in Egypt. The Muslims were angry that ten Christians from neighboring villages, which do not have church buildings, were coming to Tala for worship. Five Christians were hospitalized with broken limbs, and the two cars that were used to transport the visiting Christians were torched. Later in the afternoon, Muslims went to a number of Christian homes and attacked the residents; five required hospital treatment.

Middle East

Israeli airstrikes hit Palestinian targets in Gaza overnight, scoring direct hits on a “terror tunnel” and a weapons storage facility, the military said Monday. A military representative said militants have launched more than 110 rockets at Israel  since Saturday. “The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians, and will operate against anyone who uses terror against the State of Israel,” an Israel Defense Forces statement said. “The Hamas terror organization is solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip.”

The Israeli military says it scored “direct hits” on targets in Syria after responding to stray mortar fire from its northern neighbor. The military says that Israeli tanks opened fire on targets in Syria on Monday after the mortar round landed in an open area in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. The incident marked the second straight day that Israel has responded to fire from Syria. The mortars are believed to be coming from fighting in Syria’s civil war, and Israel says the shells do not appear to be aimed at Israeli targets. Nonetheless, Israel has promised a tough response if the fire continues.

Attempts to find Arab-Israeli common ground on banning weapons of mass destruction from the Mideast have failed, and high-profile talks on the issue have been called off, diplomats said Saturday. The diplomats said the United States, one of the organizers, would make a formal announcement soon saying that with tensions in the region remaining high, “time is not opportune” for such a gathering. The meeting — to be held in Helsinki, Finland, by year’s end — was on shaky ground since it was agreed to in 2010 by the 189 member nations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Fatah Central Committee member Abbas Zaki dropped a diplomatic bombshell on Thursday when he said the 1993 Oslo Accords, which govern the relatively peaceful relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, would become null and void when the UN General Assembly votes to grant the PA the status of non-member state. “Once we become a recognized state, we will go to all UN agencies to force the international community to take legal action against Israel,” Zaki told the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper. PA President Mahmoud Abbas is reportedly considering making a request for a vote on the question in the coming weeks. Several PA officials have warned Israel of dire consequences if it imposes sanctions in retaliation for the move.

Syria

Chaos and terror reigned near Syrian border towns, forcing thousands to flee to Turkey over a 24-hour period — some in the dead of the night amid raging gunfire. More than 11,000 Syrians have entered neighboring Turkey since Thursday. Of the thousands of refugees, 71 were injured, the official said. Two died of their wounds. Before the new arrivals, the Turkish government had said it is hosting more than 111,000 Syrian refugees. Elsewhere, at least 22 people were killed Friday when shelling and fierce clashes erupted in various cities, including Damascus. The bloody uprising against the Syrian government has gone on for 19 months and left more than 35,000 people dead.

Syria’s rebel fighters — who have long staked claim to the moral high ground for battling dictatorship — are losing crucial support from a public increasingly disgusted by the actions of some rebels, including poorly planned missions, senseless destruction, criminal behavior and the coldblooded killing of prisoners. The shift in mood presents more than just a public relations problem for the loosely knit militants of the Free Syrian Army, who rely on their supporters to survive the government’s superior firepower. A dampening of that support undermines the rebels’ ability to fight and win what has become a devastating war of attrition.

Iran

Iran defended its right to “confront” incursions into its territory after the Pentagon said two Iranian jets fired on an unmanned U.S. Air Force drone last week. The United States said the shooting happened over international waters. It triggered a formal warning by the United States to Iran through diplomatic channels. The drone was not hit, and it returned under its own power to its base.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake struck Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, on Sunday, collapsing a bridge and a gold mine, damaging several old Buddhist pagodas and leaving as many as 12 people feared dead. The magnitude-6.8 quake struck at 7:42 a.m. local time. The area surrounding the epicenter is underdeveloped, and casualty reports were coming in piecemeal, mostly from local media. Authorities resumed their search for four missing workers Monday near the collapsed bridge over the Irrawaddy River in Kyaukmyaung. Myanmar has a poor official disaster response system, despite having lost upwards of 140,000 people to a devastating cyclone in 2008.

Signs of the Times (11/8/12)

November 8, 2012

Election Roundup: Slippery Slope Leading Over the Cliff

President Obama’s reelection means more socialism and less freedom – and, most significantly, much less Godliness.

  • Gay marriage supporters won in all four states where it was up for a vote. Voters in Maine approved for the first time in history a measure that gives the right to same-sex couples to marry, while in Maryland voters also made history by upholding a new law allowing same-sex couples to marry in the state. Washington voters also legalized same sex marriages. Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment banning gay unions.
  • Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana Tuesday night, setting up a battle between the states and the federal government, which prohibits use of the drug
  • $6 billion later, we are stuck with same leaders who failed last year to strike a deal on raising taxes, cutting spending and reducing the budget deficit. Now they are stuck with each other once again through 2014,with the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ of automatic spending cuts and expired tax breaks hitting the fan on January 1st.

Are these results surprising? Not in the least. Scripture teaches that the end-times will demonstrate increasing lawlessness and decreasing righteousness – and a great ‘falling away’ of the saints.

Catholics Voted for Obama, Evangelicals for Romney

Catholics voted for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 50 to 48 percent, while Protestants preferred Romney by a 15-point margin — 57 to 42 percent, the Religion News Service reports. Obama won 70 to 26 percent among Americans with no religious affiliation, 69 to 30 percent among Jews and 74 to 23 percent among other religions. Evangelicals voted for Romney 78 to 21 percent — the same rate as Mormons. Additionally, those who said they attend worship weekly preferred Romney by 20 points, 59 to 39 percent, while those who said they attend less frequently went for Obama by 25 points.

Ten Commandments Judge Restored to Chief Justice of Alabama Supreme Court

Roy Moore, known as the “Ten Commandments judge,” edged out his Democratic opponent Tuesday to win back his seat as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, the Christian News Network reports. Moore, the predicted favorite over Democrat Bob Vance, had been removed from the position in 2003 when a state panel expelled him from office for failing to comply with a federal court order to remove a two-ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments that he had placed in the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery. Moore argued he had a right to acknowledge God and that following the order would have been a violation of his oath to the Constitution. “Most people see him as a godly man with strong convictions,” said Republican state party chairman Bill Armistead.

Election Does Not Bode Well for Israel

Throughout his first four years in office, President Obama steadily distanced himself from the Jewish state and made no visits as the leader of the Western World. Shortly after taking office on January 20, 2009, Obama made every effort to visit Muslim countries, including two trips to Indonesia and Afghanistan and one each to Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia (where he was caught on camera bowing to King Abdullah), and to Egypt. It was there that he delivered a speech designed to “seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” The president has yet to set foot in Israel since taking office. In his Cairo speech, he stated unequivocally that, “America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”

  • The Jerusalem Prayer Team warns that, “It seems that Mr. Obama was and still is dedicated to the proposition of a fifty-fourth Muslim country. With the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel would be completely isolated—an island in a sea of fanatical Muslim enemies.”

Winter Storm Follows Superstorm Sandy

Winter Storm Athena brought gusting winds, rain, snow and the threat of flooding to the already pummeled northeast. It menaced travelers with icy roads, snarled the Long Island Rail Road and knocked out power to people who had only recently gotten it back after Superstorm Sandy.” Residents from Connecticut to Rhode Island generally got slammed with 3 to 6 inches of snow on Wednesday. There were 13 inches measured in Freehold, N.J., and a foot in Manchester Township. Worcester, Mass., had 8 inches of snow, although a number of other communities threatened to exceed that accumulation. New York’s Central Park received a record 4.3 inches of snow, which was the city’s earliest 4-inch snowfall on record.

Covering a snow storm nine days after covering a hurricane is something I’ve never done before,” said meteorologist Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel, reporting from Trenton, N.J. Under ordinary circumstances, a storm of this sort wouldn’t be a big deal. But large swaths of the landscape were still an open wound, with the electrical system highly fragile and many of Sandy’s victims still mucking out their homes and cars and shivering in the deepening cold. As the storm picked up in intensity Wednesday evening, lights started flickering off again. More winds are expected through Thursday and commuters may have to brave lingering snowfall.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more severe

U.K. Government Regulates Church Communion

A government agency that oversees charities in the United Kingdom has decided that a local Christian congregation cannot be registered because it does not open its communion services to just any outsider. The decision by the U.K.’s Charity Commission is being reported by The Christian Institute, which has been working on the case of the Plymouth Brethren assembly in Devon. Without registration, the group would be subject to a number of government restrictions that do not apply to other charity organizations. The decision “would have a huge impact on the group’s tax relief and would also have other implications,” said the institute in a report.

  • Just another example of the many insidious ways Christianity will be persecuted, prosecuted and discriminated against in the near future.

Study: Churchgoing Teens Go Further in School

Sociologists from Brigham Young University and Rice University found religiously-affiliated youth are 40 percent more likely to graduate high school than their unaffiliated peers and 70 percent more likely to enroll in college, Phys.org reports. The study of data from more than 8,379 teens from across the country found that Catholic teens, mainline Protestants and black Protestant congregations are twice as likely as unaffiliated teens to finish high school and about 80 percent more likely to enroll in college, and that Jewish and Mormon youth have the highest odds of graduating high school and enrolling in college.

Economic News

Californians approved a measure Tuesday that raises taxes on the wealthy and hikes the state sales tax. It is expected to bring in $6 billion a year, on average, over five years. Its approval prevents massive budget cuts to the state’s public schools and universities.

Californians were more open to tax increases than their peers elsewhere on Tuesday. Arizona residents turned down a proposal making a temporary sales tax increase permanent to raise money for education, while South Dakota voters rejected a sales tax increase that would have funded education and Medicaid.

Claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, as Hurricane Sandy led to power outages and closed offices on the East Coast and kept many people from filing claims. About 355,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits in the week ended November 3, down 8,000 from the previous week. That level is the lowest in a month, but economists say the fall is almost entirely due to the extreme weather conditions.

The clock is ticking on a tax break that saves struggling homeowners from paying thousands of dollars to the IRS. If the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 does not get extended by Congress by the end of the year, homeowners will have to start paying income taxes on the portion of their mortgage that is forgiven in a foreclosure, short sale or principal reduction. Should the tax break expire, a large number of mortgage borrowers could be affected. More than 50,000 homeowners go through foreclosure each month.

Eurozone

Europe’s leading central banks kept interest rates unchanged Thursday despite a worsening near-term outlook for the region’s economy. The European Central Bank held its main interest rate at 0.75%, while the Bank of England kept rates at 0.5% and said it would not be adding to its £375 billion program of quantitative easing.

Europe’s economy is still reeling and unemployment could remain high for years in spite of the progress made in solving the debt crisis, the European Union warned Wednesday as it downgraded its forecasts for the 27-country bloc. The European Commission revised its forecast for the economy of the entire region, saying that it now expected gross domestic product to contract by 0.3 percent on an annual basis this year,

The Greek parliament early Thursday narrowly adopted a new round of austerity cuts that are required for Greece to receive the next installment of a crucial international economic bailout. The cuts have provoked protests by Greeks furious about the effects of multiple rounds of belt-tightening, which have resulted in cuts to pensions and pay. They have seen unemployment soar to more than 25%.It is Greece’s fifth year of recession. The nation of Greece came to a screeching halt again Tuesday. Unions called for a 48-hour general strike ahead of the anticipated vote by the Greek government on yet another round of austerity measures. Greeks are furious about the effects of multiple rounds of belt-tightening, which have resulted in cuts to pensions. Critics of austerity have called for economic stimulus programs instead, like those implemented in the United States.

Syria

In another sign of cracks in the Syrian government’s armor, seven army generals defected to Turkey on Tuesday, Turkish media reported. The generals were allowed to enter Turkey through the southern Hatay province under tight security measures. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has lost a stream of high-level government and military officials in recent months as his forces continue battling rebels seeking an end to four decades of al-Assad family rule. Opposition members met in Qatar for a third day Tuesday in an effort to unify and strengthen Syria’s rebellion.

Adding to the allegations of overt Western backing for the increasingly sectarian rebel fighters in the ongoing Syrian Civil War, Russian Gen. Nikolai Makarov said that his government has “reliable information” about rebel fighters having acquired US-made Stinger missiles, a shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft weapon. weapons exported abroad have a way of finding themselves in the hands of third parties, as Swiss officials discovered over the past year, with Syrian rebels using Swiss-made hand grenades that were sold to the United Arab Emirates, then given to Jordan for “anti-terror” operations, then “somehow” wound up in Syrian rebel hands. Turkey will imminently lodge an official request with NATO asking the military alliance to deploy Patriot missiles along its border with Syria to guard against violence spilling over, a senior Turkish foreign ministry official said on Wednesday.

Iran

The U.N. nuclear chief said Monday that Iran is not cooperating with an investigation into suspected secret work on nuclear weapons. Yukio Amano told the U.N. General Assembly that talks between the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran have intensified this year after an IAEA report in November 2011 said it had “credible information that Iran had carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” he said. “However, no concrete results have been achieved so far,” Amano said. “Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable us to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities,” Amano said. “Therefore, we cannot conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities,”

France

French ministers grappled Wednesday with the issue of same-sex marriage and adoption rights as the Cabinet approved a draft bill in the face of fierce resistance from the Roman Catholic Church and social conservatives. Extending the right to marry and adopt to same-sex couples was one of President Francois Hollande’s electoral pledges in campaigning this year. The bill is expected to go before the National Assembly and Senate in January, and is likely to be voted on in February or March. An opinion poll released Wednesday found 65% of those surveyed support equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

China

Those who think the U.S. electoral college is a complicated system for choosing a leader should take a look at China right now. Thousands of senior officials from around the world’s most populous nation have gathered in Beijing amid heavy security for a week of lengthy speeches and jargon-heavy meetings that began Thursday. At the end of it all, the once-in-a decade process will unveil a new set of top leaders to the world. The major outcomes of the ruling Communist Party’s 18th National Congress, as the event is known, have been determined in advance after months of secretive maneuvering and deal-making among senior party figures. The method may be arcane, but the results matter around the globe to nations trying to decipher what the Asian giant’s growing international clout means for them.

Earthquakes

A 7.4-magnitude earthquake rocked Guatemala on Wednesday, killing at least 48 people in two provinces as it toppled thick adobe walls, shook huge landslides down onto highways, and sent terrified villagers streaming into the streets of this idyllic mountain town near the border with Mexico. One hundred people were missing, and hundreds were injured. The quake, which hit at 10:35 a.m. in the midst of the work day, caused terror over an unusually wide area, with damage reported in all but one of Guatemala’s 22 states and shaking felt as far away as Mexico City, 600 mile to the northwest.

Weather

Flooding in southern India in the wake of a tropical cyclone has killed 25 people in the past few days and driven tens of thousands of others from their homes, authorities said Tuesday. The severe weather has caused flooding affecting 2,000 square miles of agricultural land in the state of Andhra Pradesh. About 70,000 people in Andhra Pradesh, which is north of Tamil Nadu, have been relocated to temporary shelters. The full extent of the damage to crops won’t be known until after the flood waters recede.

Signs of the Times (11/5/12)

November 5, 2012

Sandy Aftermath

Six days after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the U.S. East Coast, the storm’s U.S. death toll continues to rise – reaching 110 on Sunday, in addition to two killed by the storm in Canada and 67 in the Caribbean. More than 1.5 million customers were still without power on Sunday night, six days after Sandy slammed into the U.S. East Coast, according to data from utilities. More than 900,000 of those outages were in New Jersey, with about half a million in New York. An estimated 27% of stations in metropolitan New York – which includes parts of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York state – do not have gas for sale. The buildings that dot the water’s edge in Lower Manhattan remain weeks or months away from being able to reopen and invite their tenants back.

Commuters into New York City endured long waits and crowded trains, giving the recovering commuter system a stress test a week after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the New Jersey and New York coast lines. Trains were so crowded Monday on the Long Island Rail Road that dozens of people missed their trains. With PATH trains between New Jersey and Manhattan still out, lines for the ferry in Jersey City quickly stretched to several hundred people by daybreak. Key subway lines connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn under the East River had been restored after a week off-line. But officials warned that other water-logged tunnels still weren’t ready for Monday’s rush hour and that fewer-than-normal trains were running.

Just what New York and New Jersey need after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy: more high winds. The National Weather Service predicted Sunday that a Nor’easter that could include gusts of up to 55 mph is likely to reach the area by Wednesday and could compound the havoc brought by last week’s violent weather. “Prepare for more outages,” advised weather service meteorologist Joe Pollina. “Stay indoors. Stock up again.” Meanwhile, cold temperatures streamed in and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that means “tens of thousands” of people whose homes were damaged by the superstorm will need other places to live. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 20,000 people in the city could need housing help.

Appeal of Arizona Abortion Law Begins

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery will face off this morning against an attorney for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to defend Arizona’s new law forbidding abortions past 20 weeks of gestation except in medical emergencies. Three Arizona obstetrician-gynecologists challenged the law in federal court, and a U.S. District Court judge in Phoenix ruled that it was constitutional. The doctors appealed to the 9th Circuit, which will compel a ruling that will, in itself, become law and affect similar laws in other states. HB 2036 forbids doctors from aborting most fetuses with a gestational age of 20 weeks or older, even in situations where the doctor discovers the fetus has a fatal defect. The law defines gestational age as beginning on the first day of the woman’s last period. Supporters of House Bill 2036, the Mother’s Health and Safety Act, claim that it protects the health of the mother — and prevents the fetus from suffering pain. Its opponents claim that the law is an attempt to whittle away a woman’s choice to have an abortion.

  • The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is notoriously liberal, so this requires a lot of prayer

Graphic Homosexual Sex Taught in Elementary School

Gay marriage activists falsely claim time and time again that legalizing same sex-marriage won’t change what is taught to our children in school. They should tell that to Kristy Howard, a mother in Maine whose child was taught about graphic homosexual foreplay during “Diversity Day” at Gorham Elementary and Middle School just last week – without any notice to their parent,. the National Organization for Marriage reports. “I don’t want my child taught heterosexual foreplay, let alone homosexual foreplay in school,” she said. Amazingly, the principal is still defending the choice to have “Diversity Day.”

  • Gay marriage doesn’t just mean it will be taught in schools in the future—it’s already happening now

Anti-Semitic Incidents Decline in U.S.

Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. dropped by 13 percent in 2011, according to a report released Thursday (Nov. 1) by the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks assaults and other attacks on Jews. “It is encouraging that over the past five or six years we have seen a consistent decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country and that the numbers are now at a historic low,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL’s national director. ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents for 2011 included 19 physical assaults, 731 cases of harassment and threats and 330 incidents of vandalism.

  • Anti-Semitism declines while anti-Christ persecution intensifies

Persecution Watch

A woman who voted early last week near Austin, Texas, was forced to cover up her T-shirt that said “Vote the Bible,” CBN News reports. According to the pro-family group Texas Values, Kay Hill was told by election workers at the Taylor City Hall polling place in Williamson County that her shirt was “offensive.” She was told to either turn the shirt inside out, go home and change, or cover up the words “Vote the Bible.” She tried to disagree but was eventually forced to cover up the words, and poll workers reportedly provided a jacket for her to wear over the shirt. Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, said: “It’s outrageous that a person of faith would be mistreated this way while trying to vote. If this isn’t voter intimidation, I don’t know what is. No one should have to suffer the humiliation, embarrassment and intimidation that Ms. Hill endured. No one should be asked to give up their religious freedom in order to vote.”

Members of a Christians-only health insurance plan will lose their coverage on January 1st under a judge’s order to cease operations. Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate found that Medi-Share doesn’t comply with state insurance regulations and shouldn’t be operating in Kentucky. That means some 800 Kentuckians will lose coverage. Medi-Share closely resembles secular insurance, but only allows participation by churchgoers who pledge to abstain from smoking, intoxicating substances or sex outside of marriage. Medi-Share contends that its participants aren’t buying insurance, but are involved in a charitable endeavor to help cover medical bills of fellow Christians and potentially have their own expenses covered should the need arise.

An Iranian Assembly of God pastor, his wife and two other church ministers have each been sentenced to a year in prison for preaching Christianity, ASSIST News Service reports. The four Christians, who were arrested in a church raid on Dec. 23, 2011. The Revolutionary Court said their charges were “converting to Christianity, inviting Muslims to convert, as well as propagating against the Islamic regime through promoting evangelical Christianity.” When the Christians’ homes were searched, security authorities confiscated a number of personal items, including their computers, books, cell phones and DVDs, as well as sound equipment and musical instruments used at their church. The Christians have an opportunity to appeal the sentencing, but the verdict issued by that court will be final.

Poll: 29 Percent of Pastors Discuss Candidates in Pulpit

A majority of regular churchgoers say their pastor has discussed the importance of voting, while 29 percent say their pastor has taken sides, in sermons, in the presidential race, according to a new Pew Research Center survey, Baptist Press reports. The Oct. 24-28 poll shows that among all churchgoers — Protestants and Catholics who attend church at least monthly — 15 percent say their pastor’s message has been more supportive of President Obama while 14 percent say their pastor’s sermon has been more supportive of Mitt Romney. However, what “people are hearing” from their pastor “varies greatly by race,” the survey shows. For example, among black Protestants, 45 percent say their pastor has supported Obama, with none in the sample saying their pastor backed Romney. Among white evangelicals, 26 percent say their pastor has been more supportive of Romney but only 5 percent say the pastor has been more supportive of Obama.

  • The pulpit challenge against IRS rules prohibiting political discourse has been largely successful

Economic News

The economy added 171,000 jobs in October, and unemployment ticked up to 7.9%, from 7.8% in September. The rise in the unemployment rate was expected by economists, and was mainly because more people entered the labor force. Roughly 12.3 million people remain unemployed, 40.6% of whom have been so for more than six months. While many industries are adding jobs, the current tepid pace of growth is not enough to climb out of the jobs hole, economists said.

The number of planned layoffs by U.S. firms jumped 41.1 percent in October to the highest level in five months. Employers announced 47,724 planned job cuts last month, up from September’s 33,816. The total for the year so far stands at 433,725, down from 521,823 for the same period in 2011.

OPEC oil output rose slightly in October as extra supplies from Iraq, Angola and Libya have offset disruptions in Nigeria and a further decline in Iran to its lowest in two decades.

Middle East

Iran and Syria have arranged a gasoline-for-diesel swap, helping each other overcome international sanctions that have cut them off from fuel supplies needed to keep their economies afloat and support their armies. Tracking data shows that a tanker from Iran arrived in Syria with a cargo of fuel, and a shipper who works in the region said Iran was delivering diesel to Syria in return for gasoline. U.S. and European Union sanctions have virtually ground Syria’s trade in oil and refined products to a halt, while Iran is struggling to sell its crude as buyers around the world cut purchases.

In contrast to a recent survey finding respondents in 21 countries around the world favor President Obama over Mitt Romney by a significant margin, a new opinion poll in Israel suggests that Jews in that country would be much happier to see the Republican candidate win, according to CNSNews.com. Fifty-seven percent of Jewish respondents said that “when it comes to Israel’s interests,” they would prefer Romney as the next U.S. president, compared to 22 percent who said the same of Obama. Among Israeli Arab respondents, Obama was favored by a 45-to-15-point margin.

Iran

Fulfilling a request of Barack Obama’s administration, Iran announced a promise in the secret negotiations with the U.S. to suspend uranium enrichment to the 20 percent level for its nuclear program, WorldNetDailycom reports. During an interview with the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), Mohammad Hassan Asfari, member of the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, announced that Iran has halted the enrichment to the 20 percent level and at the same time requested the removal of sanctions by the West. “In order to build trust, the Islamic regime has set aside the 20 percent enrichment process. It is expected that the 5+1 will remove the sanctions. If such action does not take place, Iran will continue with its process of reaching peaceful nuclear energy,” said Asfari.

Iranian car manufacturers have begun laying off thousands of workers as production grinds to a halt, the latest setback to strike an economy nearing collapse under pressure from international sanctions. The mass redundancies in one of Iran’s biggest industries has added to the sense of crisis in the country. Inflation is soaring and the rial slumped to an all-time low against the US dollar last month. Unemployment in some parts of the country has reached 40 per cent.

Syria

An array of explosives, from shells to barrel bombs, fell on Syrian cities in another day of bloodshed Thursday. The Local Coordination Committees accused the government of using “vacuum bombs.” Also known as thermobaric explosives, they are effective at spreading destruction through urban areas, according to military experts. At least eight people died Thursday, according to opposition activists. The early reports follow a week of grim tolls, including 121 reported dead Wednesday and 163 on Tuesday.

Rebel fighters in Syria sought to move against the government’s increasing use of deadly air power Saturday, with an attack on the Taftanaz military airport in the northerly Idlib province. An opposition activist in the north told CNN the air base was surrounded and that about 200 regime troops were thought to be inside.

Pakistan

It’s the latest cruel tactic in the Pakistani Taliban’s battle to stop girls and women from getting an education: acid thrown in their faces to scar them for life and deter others from following in their footsteps. Fifteen students, boys and girls, from Kohat University were on their way home to Parachinar when unknown “extremists” stopped the vehicle and threw acid at the girls and shot one of the boys. “We will never allow the girls of this area to go and get a Western education,” said Qari Muhavia, the local Pakistani Taliban leader.

Egypt

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-majority government continues to debate the phrasing used while drafting its new constitution, which will more than likely have sharia (Islamic law) as its foundation, the Christian Post reports. According to Jerry Dykstra of Open Doors USA, the implementation of such a constitution is expected and can only mean deepening trouble for Egyptian Christians. “It is hardly a surprise that the Muslim Brotherhood is now pushing sharia as the law of the land in Egypt,” Dykstra said. “Strict Islamic law has always been its main agenda for Egypt. President Morsi attempted to disguise this before the election, saying his government would be moderate. Now the true face of extreme Islam is being unveiled to the world. The high hopes of the revolution and overthrow of Mubarak have now been replaced by the reality of another form of extremist government — an Islamist one.” Islamists have dominated every election since the ousting of Mubarak, and ultra-conservative Salafis are pressuring the new government to make sure sharia is followed. Last week, the Associated Press reported that the Brotherhood was “committed to enshrining Islamic sharia law as the main source of a new constitution.”

Russia

Moscow is to increase its annual defense spending by 59 percent by 2015 as it attempts to modernize its military – while the United States looks to ways to downside in the face of major spending cuts, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin. Russia is expected to concentrate its modernization efforts in command and control structures and the ability to project its conventional forces within its regional area of influence, designed primarily to project Russia itself while relying more on its nuclear arsenal to thwart attempts to gain influence by other countries.

  • Russia is prophesied to be a key player in the end-time war against Israel/God (‘Rosh’ in Ezek. 38-39)

Earthquakes

As if they haven’t had enough headaches in New Jersey in the past week, this morning they can add earthquake to the list. The magnitude-2.0 temblor struck at 1:19 a.m. and was centered two miles south-southeast of Ringwood, New Jersey, not far from the border with New York. The depth was 3.1 miles. People felt the quake across seven zip codes in New York and New Jersey. Quakes in the eastern U.S. – even small ones like this – are typically felt over a larger area than quakes in the western part of the country because of their shallow depth. No damage was reported from Monday’s quake.

Weather

At least eight people were killed and thousands displaced after powerful Cyclone Nilam roared into India’s southeastern coast Thursday. About 8,000 people in low-lying areas on the coast of Tamil Nadu state were moved to temporary shelters. Nilam crossed the southern coast at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. It then moved inland and weakened into a deep depression.