Signs of the Times(11/19/12)

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.

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