Archive for December, 2012

Signs of the Times (12/28/12)

December 28, 2012

Iranian Pastor Shares Joy Despite Imprisonment

Jailed Iranian pastor Behnam Irani, who last month was denied hospitalization despite his critical condition, wrote a letter from his prison cell before Christmas, ministering to Christians in his country and thanking God for letting him share “very little of” Jesus’ suffering on the cross, the Christian Post reports. “Despite the pressure and difficulties in prison, I am pleased to share, what is like a fountain, my Christian joy with you in the new Christmas days to come,” wrote Irani, who is currently serving a six-year sentence. “My brothers and sisters, I love you all. Christ has given you to me on Calvary. Even if I were sentenced to many years behind bars for the salvation of one of you, there would never be any complaint.” Before his arrest in 2011 for “acting against the interests of national security,” Irani was leading the Church of Iran in the city of Karaj. He has been tortured in prison and was denied hospitalization for a bleeding ulcer. Several times he was found unconscious in his prison cell, raising fears for his well-being. His wife and two children have said they are afraid that unless the beatings stop and he is offered proper medical care, he could die in prison soon. Yet suffering has not robbed Irani of the joy Jesus gives.

Justice Refuses to Block Morning-After Pill Mandate

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has denied a request to block part of the federal health care law that requires employee health-care plans to cover the morning-after pill and other emergency contraceptives. Hobby Lobby Stores and sister company Mardel Inc. sued the government, claiming the mandate violates the owners’ religious beliefs. Justice Sotomayor said the companies may continue to challenge the regulations in lower courts, but the mandate kicks in next week. So company officials must now decide whether to violate their faith or face fines of $1.3 million a day beginning Jan. 1 if they ignore the law. Opponents say the drugs cause abortions and that the U.S. has no business mandating insurance coverage for them.

Public Schools Promoting Islam

Texas public school curriculum is teaching students that “Allah is the Almighty God.” The private curriculum, CSCOPE, is being used in 70 percent of K-12 public school classes. Critics find that the program teaches that “Allah alone is the Creator” as fact, without any opposing viewpoint. In addition, portions of the Quran are handed out to accompany the PowerPoint presentation. CSCOPE, which is independent of the Texas State Board of Education, also teaches that the Boston Tea Party was carried out by a band of terrorists and that the Second Amendment is limited to state-run organizations. But because the program operates outside the board of education, public review of the content is not permitted. Even parents are denied access to this online program.

  • Can you imagine the media outrage if similar Christian material was forced on public school students?

Out-of-Wedlock Births Society’s ‘New Norm’

The number of children being born outside of marriage has increased sharply, according to a new study by the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values, CBN News reports. The report focuses on what it calls “middle America,” the nearly 60 percent of Americans who complete high school but not college. Among that group, 44 percent of children are now born outside of marriage — up from 13 percent in the 1980s. “Marriage in middle America is at a tipping point, with unwed childbearing threatening to become a new norm,” said study co-author Brad Wilcox. Research shows children born or raised outside of marriage are more likely to suffer from a range of social and emotional problems, including drug use, depression, attempted suicide and dropping out of high school.

More Than Half of U.S. homes Don’t Use Landline

Over half of Americans don’t have or use a land line telephone. A recent survey found that more than one-third of American homes (35.8 percent) had only wireless telephones during the first half of 2012 while 15.9 percent of all households had both landline and wireless telephones but received all or almost all calls on the wireless phones. This means 51.7% of U.S. homes don’t have or didn’t use their landlines in the first half of 2012. Six in 10 adults aged 25–29 (60.1 percent) lived in households with only wireless telephones. That number drops as household members get older. More than half of all adults renting their home (58.2 percent) had only wireless telephones. This rate is more than twice as large as the rate for adults owning their home at 23.2 percent. The poor like wireless too. Adults living in poverty were more likely (51.8 percent) than adults living near poverty (42.3 percent) and higher income adults (30.7 percent) to be living in households with only wireless telephones.

White House Meeting Last Stab at Fiscal Deal

Amid partisan bluster, top members of Congress and President Barack Obama were holding out slim hopes for a limited fiscal deal before the new year. But even as congressional leaders prepared to convene at the White House, there were no signs that legislation palatable to both sides was taking shape. The Friday afternoon meeting among congressional leaders and the president – their first since Nov. 16 – stood as a make-or-break moment for negotiations to avoid across-the-board first of the year tax increases and deep spending cuts. Although there were no guarantees of a deal, Republicans and Democrats said privately that any agreement would likely include an extension of middle-class tax cuts with increased rates at upper incomes.

Economic News

U.S. consumer confidence tumbled in December, driven lower by fears of sharp tax increases and government spending cuts set to take effect next week. The Conference Board said Thursday that its consumer confidence index fell this month to 65.1, down from 71.5 in November. That’s the second straight decline and the lowest level since August.

The U.S. government will hit the $16.4 trillion federal debt limit Monday and turn to “extraordinary measures” to continue borrowing, the Treasury Department said Wednesday, beginning a countdown until Congress either passes legislation to allow for more borrowing or the government defaults on its debt. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said the government could buy roughly two months’ more time before it would be unable to meet all its obligations.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell to 350,000 the week ended Dec. 22, down 12,000 from the previous week. That’s the lowest figure since March 2008. Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have mostly fluctuated this year between 360,000 and 390,000. At the same time, employers have added an average of 151,000 jobs a month in the first 11 months of 2012. That’s just enough to slowly reduce the unemployment rate.

U.S. holiday retail sales this year were the weakest since 2008, when the nation was in a deep recession. In 2008, sales declined by between 2 percent and 4 percent as the financial crisis that crested that fall dragged the economy into recession. Last year, by contrast, retail sales in November and December rose between 4 percent and 5 percent.

Americans bought new homes last month at the fastest pace in more than two and a half years. The Commerce Department says sales of new homes rose 4.4% in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 377,000. New home sales have increased 15.3% in the past year, although the improvement comes from depressed levels. Sales remain below the 700,000 that economists consider healthy.

Persecution Watch

At least 12 Christians, including a pastor and a deacon, were killed by unknown gunmen in separate attacks in northern Nigeria on Christmas Eve, International Christian Concern reports. Witnesses said the gunmen also set a church on fire in connection with the attacks. Late on Christmas Eve, gunmen opened fire on the Evangelical Church of West Africa in Peri, killing the pastor and five worshipers. In a separate attack, gunmen attacked worshipers at the First Baptist Church in Maiduguri, killing a deacon and five church members. The Islamist group Boko Haram is suspected to be behind the attacks, even though the group has yet to claim responsibility. Boko Haram, which is fighting to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria’s north, is known to target Christians, their places of worship, and government institutions.

Middle East

Israel has advanced the process of building 942 more settler homes in east Jerusalem under a new fast-track plan to tighten its grip on the territory, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state. About 40,000 Israelis live in the area. “With God’s help, we will continue to live and build in Jerusalem, which will remain united under Israeli sovereignty,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the new Israeli announcement was a “red line” that would block the chance for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which a Palestinian state would be established alongside Israel.

  • Jerusalem is the only city which God claims as His own; for that reason it is called the “City of God.” He declares in II Chronicles 33:7, “In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put My Name forever.

Egypt

The official approval of Egypt’s disputed, Islamist-backed constitution Tuesday held out little hope of stabilizing the country after two years of turmoil and Islamist President Mohammed Morsi may now face a more immediate crisis with the economy falling deeper into distress. Morsi signed a decree Tuesday night that put the new constitution into effect after the election commission announced the official results of the referendum held over the past two weekends. It said the constitution has passed with a 63.8 percent “yes.” Turnout of 32.9 percent of Egypt’s nearly 52 million registered voters was lower than most other elections since the uprising nearly two years ago that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak

In a clear sign of anxiety over the economy, the turbulence of the past month and expected austerity measures ahead have some Egyptians hoarding dollars for fear the currency is about to take a significant turn for the weaker. The battle over the constitution left Egypt deeply polarized at a time when the government is increasingly cash-strapped. After a spate of resignations of senior aides and advisers during the constitutional crisis, Morsi appeared to have lost another member of his government late Tuesday night when his communications minister posted on his Twitter account that he was resigning.

Syria

Syrian rebels fully captured a northern town near the Turkish border on Tuesday after weeks of heavy fighting and attacked a regime air base in a neighboring province. The air base is in Aleppo province, where opposition fighters have already captured three other large military bases in recent months. Rebels have also laid siege to the international airport in the city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital, and launched an offensive on the police academy near the city. With steady rebel gains across the north, President Bashar Assad’s regime is having increasing difficulty sending supplies by land to Aleppo province, especially after rebels cut a major thoroughfare from Damascus.

Pakistan

Militants in Pakistan killed two security forces and abducted 21 others in an assault on two military camps Thursday. More than 200 people suspected to be members of the Taliban conducted the raid. The Pakistan Taliban confirmed they had the security forces in custody. The northwestern region of Pakistan — near the volatile border with Afghanistan — has a large militant presence. On Saturday, the Pakistani Taliban carried out a suicide bombing targeting a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial official in downtown Peshawar, Bashir Bilour. The official was among 10 people killed; 17 other people were wounded.

Iran

Rigorous new sanctions against Iran’s banking, shipping and industrial sectors took effect on Saturday, as part of the European Union’s effort to force Tehran to scale back its nuclear program. The toughest EU measures yet, they include bans on financial transactions, sales to Iran of shipping equipment and steel, and imports of Iranian natural gas, adding to earlier bans, including on the OPEC producer’s oil. They reflect heightened concern over Iran’s nuclear goals and Israeli threats to attack Iranian atomic installations if diplomacy and other measures fail to deliver a solution. The new sanctions mark a significant change of policy for the 27-member bloc, which previously sought mainly to target specific people and companies with economic restrictions. It has lagged the United States in imposing blanket industry bans because it is anxious to avoid penalizing ordinary Iranian citizens, while punishing the Tehran government. The European Commission said the new law brought the number of entities subject to sanctions to 490 and the total number of persons to 105. The latest companies added to the banned list include energy and steel distribution firms and financial companies.”

Central African Republic

The president of the Central African Republic asked Thursday for help from other nations to stave off rebel advances that threaten his rule. The former French colony asked France and the United States to help ensure “the rebels return home…instead of destroying and killing Central Africans,” President Francois Bozize said. Amid indications that the rebels may try to take the capital, Bangui, the United Nations began relocating dependents and nonessential staff. The U.S. Embassy in Bangui suspended operations Friday “as a result of the deteriorating security situation. Attacks on several cities by the coalition of rebel groups known as “Seleka” have undermined peace agreements; rebels say they are fighting because the government has broken promises.

Volcanoes

Nicaraguan authorities say they’ve ordered the evacuation of some 300 families living on the flanks of the country’s highest volcano after it began spewing hot gas and ash Tuesday. A yellow alert was declared Wednesday in a 1.8-mile radius around the San Cristobal volcano to allow the evacuation of residents who would be at highest risk during a significant eruption. Fifteen eruptions had been recorded over the last day at the volcano northeast of the capital of Managua. The volcano has emitted regular small eruptions, but larger ones are unpredictable.

Weather

About 30 twisters hopscotched across the Deep South Tuesday to Wednesday with brutal winds, that knocked down countless trees, blew the roofs off homes and left many Christmas celebrations in the dark. The storms were blamed for three deaths, several injuries, and left homes from Louisiana to Alabama damaged. In Mobile, Ala., a tornado or high winds damaged homes, a high school and church, and knocked down power lines and large tree limbs in an area just west of downtown. Earlier in the day, winds toppled a tree onto a pickup truck in the Houston area, killing the driver, and a 53-year-old north Louisiana man was killed when a tree fell on his house.

Holiday travelers in the nation’s much colder midsection battled treacherous driving conditions from freezing rain and blizzard conditions from the same fast-moving storms. Icy roads already were blamed for a 21-vehicle pileup in Oklahoma. The snowstorm that caused numerous accidents pushed out of Oklahoma late Tuesday, carrying with it blizzard warnings for parts of northeast Arkansas, where 10 inches of snow was forecast. Freezing rain clung to trees and utility lines in Arkansas and winds gusts up to 30 mph whipped them around, causing about 71,000 customers to lose electricity for a time. Christmas lights also were knocked out with more than 100,000 customers without power for at least a time in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

Winter Storm Euclid dumped a swath of heavy snow from California’s Sierra to the Northeast during the Christmas holiday week. Little Rock, Arkansas recorded its snowiest Christmas Day (9″) and snowiest single day since Jan. 6, 1988. The Christmas Day blizzard dumped more than 15 inches of snow on the state, causing massive damage to power lines that have affected more than 200,000 customers many of whom might be without power through New Year’s Day. The heaviest snowfall was reported in Woodford, Vermont: 27 inches. Upstate New York reported 20 inches while Pennsylvania saw 15 inches.

2012 was a year of weather extremes: the warmest year on record, a devastating late-season hurricane, and a drought that is still growing well into winter. However, there was one area in which the U.S. actually received a bit of a break: tornadoes. “At this point (Dec. 26), the U.S. as a whole is on pace to have the quietest tornado year since at least 2002 and possibly 1989,” says Tornado Expert Dr. Greg Forbes. There have been 922 tornadoes versus the ten-year average of 1334.

Signs of the Times (12/24/12)

December 24, 2012

Christmas Carols = Bullying?

A Christian attorney says some Montana parents are taking the “war on Christmas” to a whole new level. The complaining parents in Missoula, who refused to be identified, want “Joy to the World” and “Good Christian Men Rejoice” replaced with secular songs. They say the traditional carols are a form of bullying and need to go. But Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel thinks their claim is ridiculous. The attorney says Christians should not be afraid to push back against such anti-religious attacks, doing it in a godly, civil manner. “We need to make a stand. If we don’t, we ultimately will lose our liberties, lose our right to speak, and the only viewpoint will be a secularist, anti-God viewpoint,” Staver warns.

Secularists see ‘HumanLight’ as New December Holiday

In addition to Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, secular humanists have added a new celebration to the crowded calendar. HumanLight, observed on or about Dec. 23, is a secular celebration of human potential that is growing in acceptance. This year, at least 18 groups, from New Jersey to Florida and Pennsylvania to Colorado, have ceremonies planned. And at least one government building that displays holiday scenes has added HumanLight to the roster: the county courthouse in Wabash, Ind., displays a yellow, white and red HumanLight banner on the same lawn as the Christian creche.

  • Christmas has already become so secularized with its emphasis on Satan and materialism that the secularists hardly need another event. However, the anti-Christ spirit will continue to escalate its end-time war against all things Christian.

Evil Cited as Reason Behind School Shooting

Amid national soul searching in the wake of one of the worst mass shootings in American history, faith leaders say the removal of God from the nation’s schools and communities is at the root of this monstrous tragedy. Marshall Foster, a Christian historian, founder of the World History Institute, says the culprit is “not an imbalance of chemical enzymes in Lanza’s brain; the culprit is Lanza’s sin nature. For years, public schools have been teaching children that evil does not reside in their souls and is therefore, by default, circumstantial, Foster says, and according to this misguided worldview, there must have been something circumstantially that caused Lanza to shoot innocent children. Mankind, Foster says, always looks for excuses “outside himself,” but he never wants to face the “demons in his own soul.”

  • The secularist denial of evil is Satan’s greatest triumph, because by extension it also leads to denial of God

Unbelief Now the World’s Third-Largest ‘Religion’

A new study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that while Christians and Muslims make up the two largest groups, those with no religious affiliation — including atheists and agnostics — are now the third-largest “religious” group in the world, the Religion News Service reports. The study found that 84 percent of the world’s 7 billion people adhere to some form of religion. Christians make up the largest group, with 2.2 billion adherents, or 31 percent worldwide, followed by Muslims, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent worldwide. Close behind are the “nones” — those who say they have no religious affiliation — at 1.1 billion, or 16 percent. The next largest groups, the report finds, are Hindus (1 billion people, or 15 percent), Buddhists (500 million people, or 7 percent) and Jews (14 million people, or 0.2 percent). More than 400 million people — 6 percent — practice folk traditions from African, Chinese, Native American or Australian aboriginal cultures. An additional 58 million people — slightly less than 1 percent — belong to “other” religions, such as the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism.

NRA Calls for Armed Police Officer in Every School

The nation’s largest gun-rights lobby is calling for armed police officers to be posted in every American school to stop the next killer “waiting in the wings.” The National Rifle Association broke its silence Friday on last week’s shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school that left 26 children and staff dead. The group’s top lobbyist, Wayne LaPierre, said at a Washington news conference that, quote, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” He also blamed video games, movies and music videos for exposing children to a violent culture day in and day out. LaPierre also said that President Obama has “zeroed out school emergency planning grants in last year’s budget. And scrapped ‘Secure Our Schools’ policing grants in next year’s budget. With all the foreign aid the United States does, with all the money in the federal budget, can’t we afford to put a police officer in every single school?”

Court Blocks California Law Banning Gay Therapy

A federal appeals court on Friday put the brakes on a first-of-its-kind California law that bans therapy aimed at turning gay minors straight. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency order putting the law on hold until the court can hear full arguments on the measure’s constitutionality. The law was set to take effect Jan. 1. Licensed counselors who practice so-called “reparative therapy” and two families who say their teenage sons have benefited from it sought the injunction after a lower court judge refused the request. The law, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this fall, states that therapists and counselors who use “sexual orientation change efforts” on clients under 18 would be engaging in unprofessional conduct and subject to discipline by state licensing boards.

Audits of Companies for Illegal Immigrants Rise

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reached its highest number yet of companies audited for illegal immigrants on payrolls this past fiscal year. Audits of employer forms increased from 250 in fiscal year 2007 to more than 3,000 in 2012. From fiscal years 2009 to 2012, the total amount of fines grew to nearly $13 million from $1 million. The number of company managers arrested has increased to 238. “Our goal is compliance and deterrence,” said Brad Bench, special agent in charge at ICE’s Seattle office. “The majority of the companies we do audits on end up with no fines at all. If companies know we’re out there, looking across the board, they’re more likely to bring themselves into compliance.”

Army Teams Sent to Africa as Terror Threat Grows

A U.S. Army brigade will begin sending small teams into as many as 35 African nations early next year, part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists and give the U.S. a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge. The teams will be limited to training and equipping efforts, and will not be permitted to conduct military operations without specific, additional approvals from the secretary of defense. The sharper focus on Africa by the U.S. comes against a backdrop of widespread insurgent violence across North Africa, and as the African Union and other nations discuss military intervention in northern Mali. The terror threat from al-Qaida linked groups in Africa has been growing steadily, particularly with the rise of the extremist Islamist sect Boko Haram in Nigeria.

U.S. Population Growth Flat

The nation’s population growth remains near historic lows as it struggles to recover from the Great Recession, new Census estimates show. The U.S. population reached 313.9 million on July 1, a 0.75 percent increase or 2.3 million gain in one year. The population numbers also show that the oil boom in North Dakota has sparked a people boom that made the state the fastest-growing since 2011 — 2.2 percent or three times the national rate. Former boom states such as Nevada and Arizona continue to grow but at a much slower pace than before the 2007-09 recession. Two states — Rhode Island and Vermont — lost population, largely because young people are leaving and few immigrants are arriving. Maine and West Virginia are aging so rapidly that deaths now outnumber births. Many states with strong diversified economies like North Carolina and Colorado are showing new strength. Texas gained the largest number of people — 427,400.

Tax increases in California Prompt Exodus

A vote last month that makes Californians among the highest-taxed residents in the country is sparking debate about whether the Democrat-back initiative will backfire, by forcing high-earners to join a long exodus from the cash-strapped state. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown successfully pushed the tax increase by suggesting that high-earners must shoulder the largest burden in bailing out the state, particularly its debt-ridden public school system. However, high unemployment and government debt have already sent residents fleeing in large numbers – an estimated 225,000 annually. And the recently passed tax increase for families making more than $250,000 each year could further shrink the tax base for California, whose 2012 budget deficit is projected to hit $28 billion.

Fiscal Cliff Talks head to New Year’s Eve

Some things never change: Negotiations in Washington always go down to the last minute. So it is with the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the series of tax hikes and budget cuts that take effect next year if the White House and Congress are unable to reach a debt reduction deal. With President Obama and Congress taking a Christmas break — amid the stops and starts of recent weeks — it looks like they will need every possible hour to avoid going over the cliff on Jan. 1. With the year running out, more lawmakers question whether they can agree on a big deal to reduce the nation’s $16 trillion-plus debt, or a smaller one to get past the fiscal cliff.

Economic News

Companies increased their orders for long-lasting manufactured goods in November. The Commerce Department said orders for durable goods rose a seasonally adjusted 0.7% in November from October, when orders rose 1.1%.Orders for core capital goods — considered a proxy for business investment — were up 2.7% in November after a revised 3.2% gain in October, which was the biggest increase in 10 months.

A federal judge has given final approval to BP’s settlement with a bulk of businesses and individuals who lost money because of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP PLC has estimated it will pay $7.8 billion to resolve economic and medical claims from more than 100,000 businesses and individuals hurt by the nation’s worst offshore oil spill.

Persecution Watch

Gunmen in central Somalia on Dec. 8 killed an underground Christian who had been receiving death threats for leaving Islam, Morning Star News reports. Two unidentified masked men shot Mursal Isse Siad, 55, outside his home in Beledweyne, 200 miles north of Mogadishu, and fled immediately after the murder. Siad’s oldest daughter, 15, said her father was killed “because he failed to attend the mosque for prayers and used to pray at home. He used to share with us about Jesus.” She said he had received messages on his mobile phone stating, “We know what you are doing, and you must stop, otherwise you risk your life.” “Siad deserved to die because he was not committed to the Islamic religion,” a Muslim resident said. Siad’s 42-year-old wife, three daughters and two sons have fled the area, fearing for their lives.

Egypt

Egypt’s Islamist-backed constitution received a “yes” majority in a final round of voting on a referendum that saw a low voter turnout, but the deep divisions it has opened up threaten to fuel continued turmoil. Passage is a victory for Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, but a costly one. The bruising battle over the past month stripped away hope that the long-awaited constitution would bring a national consensus on the path Egypt will take after shedding its autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago. Instead, Morsi disillusioned many non-Islamists who had once backed him and has become more reliant on his core support in the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. Hard-liners in his camp are determined to implement provisions for stricter rule by Islamic law’

Syria

The international envoy tasked with pushing to end Syria’s civil war said he was worried after discussing the crisis with President Bashar Assad on Monday, indicating there had been no apparent progress in efforts to achieve a negotiated solution to the conflict. The two met just hours after a government airstrike on a bakery in a rebel-held town in central Syria killed more than 60 people late on Sunday. Little progress has been made toward brokering an end to the conflict because both sides adamantly refuse to talk to each other. The government describes the rebels as foreign-backed terrorists set on destroying the country. The opposition says that forces under Assad’s command have killed too many people for him to be part of any solution.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber in Pakistan killed nine people including a provincial government official at a political rally held Saturday by a party that has opposed the Taliban. The rally in Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was held by the Awami National Party, whose members have been repeatedly targeted by the Taliban. Over 20 others were wounded by the blast. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the bombing in a statement, reiterating the United Nations’ support for Pakistani efforts “to combat the scourge of terrorism.”

Myanmar

Myanmar’s military chief says the country plans to use nuclear technology for medical, research and energy purposes but will not develop atomic weapons, a statement that came a month after the government said it would declare any nuclear material in the country. “The military will not develop nuclear technology to produce weapons of mass destruction but will conduct studies and experiments for peaceful purposes in accordance with international standards to use in the medical sector, in laboratory research for science and in the electrical energy sector,” said Vice Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

Argentina

Looters ransacked supermarkets in several Argentine cities Friday, causing two deaths and evoking memories of widespread theft and riots that killed dozens during the country’s worst economic crisis a decade ago. Two people were killed by a sharp object and gunfire after attacks early Friday on about 20 supermarkets in the cities of Rosario and Villa Gobernador Galvez. 25 people were injured and 130 arrested during the looting about 190 miles northeast of Buenos Aires. Closer to the capital, riot police fired rubber bullets to drive off a mob that was trying to break into a supermarket in San Fernando, a town in Buenos Aires province. Officials said 378 people had been arrested in those confrontations. The officials also said that the act of “vandals” instigated by union leaders who oppose President Cristina Fernandez.

  • The end-time spirit of lawlessness will continue to stir up more wars, violent protests and mass killings

Haiti

Despite billions of dollars spent — and billions more allocated for Haiti but unspent — rebuilding has barely begun and 357,785 Haitians still languish in 496 tent camps following the Jan. 10, 2010, earthquake. Michèle Pierre-Louis, a former prime minister of Haiti, says “If you ask what went right and what went wrong, the answer is most everything went wrong. There needs to be some accountability for all that money.” More than half of the money has gone to relief aid, which saves lives and alleviates misery but carries high costs and leaves no permanent footprint — tents shred; emergency food and water gets consumed; short-term jobs expire; transitional shelters, clinics and schools are not built to last. Just a sliver of the total disbursement — $215 million — has been allocated to the most obvious and pressing need: safe, permanent housing.

Volcanoes

Chilean authorities on Sunday issued a red alert — the most severe in their warning system — that the Copahue Volcano, high in the Andes mountains on the border with Argentina, might be poised for a significant eruption. No mandatory evacuations have been ordered around the remote volcano. The service warned specifically about potentially dangerous mudslides.

Weather

Christmas 2012 will not only feature heavy snow from Winter Storm Euclid.  Euclid will head out across the Great Basin to produce snow and wind through Nevada to The Wasatch where a foot or more of new snow is likely. Snow levels will be low enough to bring a few inches to Salt Lake City on Monday. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes will target parts of the South Christmas Day into Wednesday. Isolated strong to severe thunderstorms possible in parts of the Deep South both during day and Monday night. Severe weather outbreak may begin before sunrise Christmas morning in east and southeast Texas into Louisiana.

Western Antarctica has warmed unexpectedly fast over the last five decades, weather records confirm, adding to sea-level rise concerns in a warming world. Temperatures in West Antarctica have increased at a rate nearly twice as large as the global average, a 4.3 degree Fahrenheit increase since 1958.

  • Global warming/climate change is an end-time God/nature induced cycle that has been exacerbated not caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Note to scientists: correlations are not causations

Signs of the Times (12/21/12)

December 21, 2012

Mike Huckabee: Removing God From the Classroom Leads to Violence in Schools

In response to the deadly mass shooting Friday in Newtown, Conn., former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said new laws regulating guns won’t deter such shootings, linking the removal of God from the classroom to increased violence in schools, CNN reports. “We ask why there’s violence in our school but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “Should we be surprised that schools have become such a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we’re not just gonna have to be accountable to the police if they catch us but one day we stand before a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that. People are going to want to pass new laws. This is a heart issue … laws don’t change this kind of thing.” Huckabee made similar comments following the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., earlier this year, saying violent acts should not be a surprise considering the removal of God from public forums.

In Debate Over Gun Control and Mental Health, Evangelicals Diverge From Rest of Nation

In the wake of last week’s massacre of 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary, two main subjects of debate have emerged regarding how to prevent future tragedies: better gun control versus better treatment of mental illness. Both sides have vocal advocates, and a recent survey of attitudes toward gun control suggests where evangelicals and other religious groups stand on the issue, Christianity Today reports. The August survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Religion News Service posed the question: “What do you think is the most important thing that could be done to prevent mass shootings from occurring in the United States?” Only 8 percent of white evangelicals said “stricter gun control laws and enforcement,” whereas 19 percent said “better mental health screening and support.” Thirty-six percent chose a third option: “Put more emphasis on God and morality in school and society.” Meanwhile, 41 percent of minority Christians favor focusing on gun control whereas 20 percent favor focusing on mental health and only 14 percent favor focusing on God and morality. By comparison, 27 percent of all Americans favor focusing on gun control, 22 percent favor focusing on mental health and 20 percent favor focusing on God and morality. Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated favor focusing on gun control, whereas mainline Protestants favor focusing on mental health.

  • Focusing on God is, of course, the best intermediate solution. But until Jesus returns, the forces of evil will continue to afflict the world.

Arm Teachers Instead of Disarming Americans?

Connecticut had some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, but Adam Lanza didn’t care about the law.  Some of the other areas of our nation that have the highest crime rates also have strict gun control laws, but laws rarely stop people that are determined to commit violent acts on other people, notes da Tagliare of GodfatherPolitcs,com. So what is the solution?  How about taking a look at what works in other countries like Thailand and Israel.  Both countries have active terrorist threats against school children by Muslim extremists and Jihadists.  In an effort to prevent a similar shooting at their schools, they have been arming their teachers.  Many teachers in Israel and Thailand now carry concealed handguns with them.

LGBT Bible Blasphemous

Homosexuals now have their own translation of the Bible. But since it’s absent of any passages related to their sinful conduct, Barton Gingerich, a research assistant at The Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD) believes this version should be considered blasphemous. There have been efforts to change the Bible before, but now an independent publisher has produced the LGBT-friendly “Queen James Bible.” Based on the King James translation, it makes issues of homosexuality and sexual immorality “deliberately more vague” by eliminating or altering wording that condemns homosexuality. He asserts that God does not smile upon those who add to or subtract from Scripture. In fact, notes the IRD researcher, God’s Word indicates that doing so makes God angry.

  • For I [Jesus] testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life (Rev. 22:18-19)
  • For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:18-19)

Contraception Opponents Hail DC Court Ruling

Foes of the federal contraception mandate are cheering a Tuesday (Dec. 18) appeals court decision requiring the Obama administration to devise exemptions to the new rule for two Christian colleges. They’re also buoyed by the D.C. Circuit Court’s reversal of lower court decisions to throw out their cases. The administration had argued that because it was crafting an exemption to the contraception rule, the cases should not go forward. Now the cases continue, and every 60 days, the administration must report on its plan to ensure that the colleges do not have to comply with the new rule, which mandates that employers cover contraception in their health plans. The two colleges, Catholic Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina and evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois, filed suit against the Obama administration before the new rule went into effect on Aug. 1, and argued that the mandate is a violation of the schools’ religious freedom.

Hobby Lobby Loses court Battle on Contraceptive Mandate

A federal appeals court has denied Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby’s request to block a portion of the federal health care law that requires the company provide insurance coverage for emergency contraception pills. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday denied the arts-and-crafts company’s request for an injunction while it appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit says the mandate violates the religious beliefs of its Christian founder and CEO David Green and his family. The Greens say requiring insurance coverage for the birth-control pills known as the “morning-after” and “week-after” pills forces them to either violate their religious beliefs or face hefty fines. The federal appeals court ruling upheld a district court that found the religious burden to the Green family is indirect.

Benghazi Review Slams State Department on Security

The leaders of an independent panel blamed systematic State Department management and leadership failures for gross security lapses in the deadly Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya. An unclassified version released late Tuesday said serious bureaucratic mismanagement was responsible for the inadequate security at the mission in Benghazi where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed. Despite those deficiencies, the board determined that no individual officials ignored or violated their duties and recommended no disciplinary action. But it also said poor performance by senior managers should be grounds for disciplinary recommendations in the future. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to have appeared at Thursday’s hearing but canceled after fainting and sustaining a concussion last week while recovering from a stomach virus that dehydrated her.

  • A most convenient ‘fall’

Illegal Migrant Activity Waning in AZ

The number of drophouses discovered by law-enforcement agencies in the Phoenix area has decreased significantly over the last four years, further indication, federal immigration-enforcement officials say, that human smuggling in Arizona is waning. Federal immigration officials found 490 illegal immigrants in 37 drophouses in the Phoenix area last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, compared with 3,221 illegal immigrants found in 186 drophouses in fiscal 2008, the peak year, according to statistics provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Matthew Allen, special agent in charge of ICE investigations for Arizona, attributed the decrease in smuggling activity in Arizona to an overall decrease in illegal immigration because of the weak U.S. economy, tighter border security, stepped-up immigration enforcement, and tougher sentences imposed on smugglers who hold illegal immigrants hostage inside drophouses.

Just 3% in USA have Ideal Heart Health

When it comes to heart health, 3% of American adults get a perfect score, according to a new report from the American Heart Association. Everyone else has room for improvement because they have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes; they are overweight, underweight or obese; they smoke; they don’t get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week; or they don’t eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Over Half of American Adults Have Received Entitlements

More than half of Americans adults have received benefits from government entitlement programs during their lifetimes, according to a Pew Research Center report released Tuesday. The study found that 55% of Americans have been on at least one of the six largest government safety net programs: unemployment benefits, Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, Medicaid and welfare. When factoring in veterans’ benefits and federal college loans and grants as well, the number rises to 70% of Americans receiving government aid. About 27% of Americans have received unemployment assistance at some point in their lifetimes. Social Security is a close second, at 26% of Americans. Overall, Democrats were more likely to have received poverty or unemployment assistance, but when it comes to programs for the elderly, like Social Security and Medicare, both Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to have used those benefits.

Boehner’s Plan B Fiscal Cliff Bill Fails

House Speaker John Boehner’s proposal to avert the looming fiscal cliff’s automatic tax increases failed to curry enough Republican support Thursday night, after which Congress left for the holiday with no clear end in sight in the high-stakes debate. Democratic leaders already had signaled they opposed the so-called Plan B. “The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass,” Boehner said in a statement. “Now it is up to the president to work with Senator (Harry) Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff.”

  • Congress and the White House created the fiscal cliff. And now they’ve waited too long to avert it, even if they do somehow eke out a deal by Dec. 31. The IRS and payroll processors no longer have enough time to incorporate whatever (if any) new measures are passed.

Economic News

The London-based Think Tank Legatum Institute recently offered empirical evidence of what many Americans have been thinking lately. Our national well-being is slipping. Over the past four years, prosperity has increased around the globe, while it has remained stagnant in the United States, the Legatum Institute reports. As a result, the Institute ranked the United States 12th out of 142 countries on its 2012 Prosperity Index, putting the country outside the top ten for the first time. The Legatum Institute finds that a decline in entrepreneurship and economic opportunity. In particular, the authors say that the fall in prosperity: “. . .is driven by a decline in the number of US citizens who believe that hard work will get them ahead.”

Americans earned more, spent more and saved more in November, according to a Commerce Department report released Friday. Personal income rose 0.6% during the month, and spending rose 0.4%, both more than economists had expected. Meanwhile, Americans also stashed away a larger portion of their earnings. The savings rate rose to 3.6% in November, up from 3.4% in October.

The economy grew at a revised annual rate of 3.1% over the July-September quarter as consumers spent more and state and local governments added to growth for the first time in nearly three years. But the economy is likely slowing in the current quarter. Growth in the third quarter was more than twice the 1.3% growth rate in the April-June quarter. But disruptions from Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast, and uncertainty over the Jan. 1 “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and deep spending cuts are likely holding back growth in the October-December quarter.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week by 17,000, reversing four weeks of declines. Unemployment claims rose the week of Dec. 15 to a seasonally adjusted 361,000, still under the 375,000 level that analysts believe indicates job growth. Just over 5.4 million people were receiving some type of unemployment benefit the week ended Dec. 1, down from nearly 7.2 million a year earlier.

A $7.6 billion federal program to help prevent foreclosures is still struggling to get money out to homeowners more than two years after the money went to states. Through November, $900 million had gone to homeowners, and another $620 million had been committed to them in 18 states and Washington, D.C. Through September, states had helped more than 77,000 homeowners with Hardest Hit funds. California got $2 billion in funding, the most of any state, but so far has disbursed only $200 million to 20,000 homeowners.

  • Most of the funds have gone to building a new bureaucracy. Why do so many people continue to think government can solve their problems?

The national debt clock is spinning faster every year. It is now approaching $16.4 trillion. Just four years ago, it was $10.6 trillion. As of today, every household in the United States owes about $140,000 of this debt. The country is borrowing roughly $6 billion every day, and $239 million every hour, $4 million every minute. This year, for every dollar in revenue the federal government brought in, it spent two dollars and six cents.

  • This is a pace that cannot be maintained – the real fiscal cliff is not far away

Eurozone

Standard & Poor’s ratings agency has raised Greece’s credit grade 6 notches to B-, yanking the debt-heavy country out of default but still keeping its devalued bonds in the junk zone. The agency said Tuesday that the upgrade reflected its view that the other 16 European Union countries are determined to keep Greece inside the currency union.

Middle East

A day after the U.S. State Department strongly condemned Israel’s plans to build a 1,500-unit settlement in East Jerusalem, Israel announced it would continue a plan to build settlements in other East Jerusalem neighborhoods. On Wednesday, initial approval for a total of up to 3,000 homes in Jerusalem was granted. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of foreign ambassadors from Asia-Pacific countries he met with on Wednesday, while overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City: “The walls that you see behind me represent the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. All Israeli governments have built in Jerusalem.”

Persecution Watch

As the crisis in Syria appears to be reaching a critical phase, Barnabas Aid has charted the suffering of the Christian community in a categorized timeline to show how targeted violence against them has intensified. Will the international community take note of their plight before it is too late? The timeline reveals how anti-Christian hostility has become more and more brazen as the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad has gained strength, with Islamist jihadi groups playing an increasingly influential role among the rebels.

A campaign of intimidation by Islamists left most Christians Egypt too afraid to participate in last week’s referendum on an Islamist-drafted constitution they deeply oppose, residents say. The disenfranchisement is hiking Christians’ worries over their future under empowered Muslim conservatives. Around a week before the vote, some 50,000 Islamists marched through the provincial capital, Assiut, chanting that Egypt will be “Islamic, Islamic, despite the Christians.” They made sure to go through mainly Christian districts of the city, where residents, fearing attacks, shuttered down their stores and stayed in their homes.

Work continues to free an American citizen in prison in Iran. The man who has been imprisoned is a Christian pastor and former house church leader there. Saeed Abedini and his wife converted to Christianity from Islam and immigrated to the United States.  He has made frequent trips to his homeland to visit with family who are also Christian converts. “He has had a dust-up before there and agreed to stop his house church movement, which had hundreds of churches around Iran,” Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law & Justice told OneNewsNow, “but Saeed Abedini has been in prison now in Iran since September.” Abedini’s wife and two children remain in the U.S.

A radical Muslim cleric has issued a fatwa threatening Iraqi Christians with death unless they convert to Islam as the country’s prime minister urges them to remain in their homeland. The ultimatum was issued by Ayatollah Ahmad Al Hassani Al Baghdadi on 13 December on Egyptian television. He called Christians “polytheists” and “friends of the Zionists”, and said that “their women and girls may legitimately be regarded wives of Muslims”. The pronouncement casts a shadow over the re-opening of a Baghdad church that was the scene of a bloody massacre on 31 October 2010; around 58 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the siege by al-Qaeda front group the Islamic State of Iraq.

Over half of Kazakhstan’s officially-recognized religious groups have seen all their congregations liquidated following a year-long re-registration process required under a controversial religion law. Many Christian churches are among those affected. To be eligible for registration under the new law, which came into force in October 2011, a group must have a minimum membership of 5,000 nationally, 500 regionally and 50 locally, making it impossible for smaller groups to obtain state approval.

Egypt

Egypt’s opposition is leading mass protests to reject the Islamist-backed draft constitution, days after President Morsi claimed victory in the first round of voting amid allegations of polling violations, International Christian Concern reports. The National Salvation Front, a coalition led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, called for mass demonstrations Tuesday to urge rejection of the constitution, which was finalized by the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly after Christians and secular parties had pulled out of it, alleging marginalization. Ten of Egypt’s 27 districts cast ballots Saturday, Dec. 15 — following which the Muslim Brotherhood claimed the constitution was approved by 57 percent of those who voted — and voting in the remaining governorates is scheduled for this coming weekend. The constitution must be approved by more than 50 percent of voters who cast ballots. According to rights groups, irregularities and violations marred Saturday’s voting — including the presence of Muslim Brotherhood members at the polls, women being prevented from voting because they weren’t wearing Islamic veils, and Christians being denied entry to polling stations.

Syria

In an escalation of its civil war, Syria is firing more Scud missiles in a desperate attempt to quash rebel gains, the NATO chief said Friday. The move is an escalation on the war, which has threatened to draw in neighboring countries and militant groups. NATO confirmed that they have detected the launch of Scud type missiles,which they called “an act of a desperate regime approaching collapse.” Though the missiles have not hit Turkey, he said, the development highlights the need for a protection plan for the neighboring nation.

Syrian rebels have tried to storm a base protecting a military industrial compound in the north in al-Safira, just south of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, which is home to Syrian military factories. Friday’s clashes come three days after rebels captured a warehouse in the area. It was later bombed by Syrian warplanes, killing nearly two dozen rebels. The conflict in Syria that began in March 2011 and became a civil war has left more than 40,000 people dead.he plants are surrounded by army bases and posts to protect them.

Libya

The Libyan National Congress (LNC) has announced that it is closing its southern and eastern borders for an indefinite period of time, and that it is declaring six provinces, covering the bulk of the south, a “closed military zone.” The LNC decree went on to give the Defense Ministry the power to impose a military governor on each of the six provinces, with unchecked power to arrest people and deport “illegal immigrants.” Southern provinces have been increasingly embroiled in tribal clashes in recent months, and many of the southern representatives to the LNC were boycotting the body when it declared their regions under military rule.

Somalia

Pirates in the Somalia region hijacked seven merchant ships this year, down from 44 in 2010. The Somali pirates who terrorized the seas off the Horn of Africa for years appear to have been nearly vanquished. NATO’s separate maritime force based in Britain says piracy in the Gulf of Aden region, where much of the world’s oil tankers pass, is now at its lowest level since 2008. The maritime forces credit the drop to a variety of factors, including the placement of armed security guards on more merchant ships and the flotilla, launched in 2008 to intercept armed pirates in boats who board tankers and recreational vessels, kidnapping crew and passengers for ransom.

Mali

The U.N. Security Council on Thursday authorized military action to wrest northern Mali from the control of al-Qaeda-linked extremists but demanded progress first on political reconciliation, elections and training African troops and police. A resolution adopted unanimously by the U.N.’s most powerful body stressed that there must be a two-track plan, political and military, to reunify the country, which has been in turmoil since a coup in March. The Security Council authorized an African-led force to support Malian authorities in recovering the north — an area the size of Texas — but set no timeline for military action. Instead, it set out benchmarks to be met before the start of offensive operations, beginning with progress on a political roadmap to restore constitutional order.

South Korea

Emerging from victory, Park Geun-hye who will become the next president of South Korea — the first woman for the Asian nation — pledged to “take care of our people one-by-one.” Park, 60, will assume office in February, in a country grappling with income inequality, angst over education and employment prospects for its youth, and strained relations with North Korea. South Korea is also a strategic Western ally and the fourth-largest economy in Asia. Park is the daughter of former President Park Chung-hee, whose legacy left the Korean public divided. Some claim he was a dictator who ignored human rights and cracked down on dissent, while others credit him with bringing economic development to South Korea. Her father was assassinated in 1979.

Weather

The first major snowstorm of the season began its slow eastward march across the Midwest early Thursday, leaving at least eight people dead, creating treacherous driving conditions and threatening to disrupt some of the nation’s busiest airports ahead of the holiday weekend. The storm dropped nearly a foot of snow in Des Moines and nineteen inches in Wisconsin. The airport at Creston, Iowa, recorded the highest winds, with a gust of 53 mph. On the southern edge of the storm system, high winds damaged homes and downed trees in central Arkansas. The storm led airlines to cancel about 1,000 flights ahead of the Christmas holiday and  the number was climbing.

A powerful storm — possibly a tornado — toppled trees, flipped cars and damaged several buildings in parts of Mobile, Ala., early Thursday from a severe strong storm system sweeping the South. Large oak trees and limbs were blown across roads, causing some of them to be blocked ahead of Thursday’s morning rush hour. There were no immediate reports of injuries. The trucks that were toppled were parked and unoccupied.

Signs of the Times (12/18/12)

December 18, 2012

Gun Sales Surge after Connecticut Massacre

The prospect of a renewed assault weapons ban in the wake of the Connecticut school massacre has set off a round of buying before potential government prohibitions on their purchase. The last federal assault weapons ban expired without being renewed by Congress. The deluge of buyers had officials working overtime. Background checks that normally took 15 minutes in California took more than four hours, In Colorado, background checks that normally take minutes turned into wait times of more than 12 hours. Democrats say meaningful action in the wake of last week’s elementary school shooting must include a ban on military-style assault weapons and a look at how the nation deals with individuals suffering from serious mental illness.

  • Only when Jesus returns will evil be stamped out for good. Until then, government measures will have only limited effect.

Mass Shootings Not Increasing

The perception that mass shootings are on the rise such that “something must be done,” appears to be emotion not supported by facts. Those who study mass shootings say they are not becoming more common. “There is no pattern, there is no increase,” says criminologist James Allen Fox of Boston’s Northeastern University, who has been studying the subject since the 1980s, spurred by a rash of mass shootings in post offices. MinuteMenNews.com notes, “Demands for bans on assault weapons in a shooting that did not involve an assault weapon, or for greater gun control laws in response to a shooting in a state with gun control laws which were complied with, are based on emotion, not analysis. By law, the Bushmaster used in the massacre is not an assault weapon. “The term ‘assault weapon,’ as used by the media, is a media invention,” said Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen. “These are semi-automatic firearms that have military cosmetic characteristics.”

Judge to Force Student to Receive ‘Mark of the Beast?’

A ruling is expected in days from a federal court in the case of a student in Texas facing possible expulsion over her decision to contest a mandatory “spychip” implemented by her school district, a system she and her family call “the mark of the Beast.” The Rutherford Institute requested an injunction before U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio to prevent the disciplinary action planned by the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio. The plan has some 4,200 students at John Jay High School and Jones Middle School wearing mandatory “SmartID” card badges embedded with an RFID tracking chip which allow school officials to track students at all times on campus. A lower court’s temporary restraining order has been maintained against the district, and officials say it remains in effect until the judge issues his decision. Rutherford attorneys have alleged that the school’s attempts to penalize, discriminate and retaliate against Andrea violate her rights under Texas’ Religious Freedom Act and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

  • A forerunner example of the end-times prophecy in Revelation 13:17 which describes a time when “no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.”  Rev. 14:11 goes on to tell what happens to those who receive the mark: “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.

Christianity in Britain Losing Ground to Islam, Secularism

New figures from the 2011 Census show that the number of people who identify as Christians in England and Wales has fallen by 4 million over the last 10 years — from 37.3 million in 2001 to 33 million last year, the Religion News Service reports. Meanwhile, the number of people declaring themselves to be atheists rose by more than 6 million, to 14.1 million. Other polls have detected similar shifts: The 2012 British Social Attitudes Survey showed that only about half of Britons claim a religious affiliation, down sharply from 20 years ago when two out of three did. Barely a quarter of young people identify themselves as religious. The new figures also show that Islam is the U.K.’s second-largest religion, at 2.7 million. Hinduism is third, at 817,000.

  • Britain and Europe exemplify where the U.S. is headed. The ‘great falling away’ is well underway (2Thessalonians 2:3)

U.S. Refuses to Sign UN Internet Treaty

The United States, along with the United Kingdom and Canada, is refusing to sign a United Nations treaty on telecommunications and the Internet that has been under negotiation for the past two weeks. Terry Kramer, the U.S. Ambassador to the World Conference on International Telecommunications, said Thursday, “Internet policy should not be determined by member states but by citizens, communities, and broader society, and such consultation from the private sector and civil society is paramount,” he continued. “This has not happened here.” The U.S. decision to withdraw comes following a surprise move late Wednesday in which the chair of the conference called a voice vote on controversial proposal that encourages governments to help expand global Internet access. It was approved in a controversial manner that left some participants confused and upset.

Domino’s Founder Sues over Obamacare

The founder of Domino’s Pizza is suing the federal government over mandatory contraception coverage in the health care law. Tom Monaghan, a devout Roman Catholic, says contraception isn’t health care but a “gravely immoral” practice. Monaghan offers health insurance that excludes contraception and abortion for employees. The new federal law requires employers to offer insurance including contraception coverage or risk fines. Monaghan says the law violates his rights, and is asking a judge to strike down the mandate. There are similar lawsuits pending nationwide.

  • Christians are divided over whether contraception violates God’s law or not, but that’s not the real issue here. Federal legislation should not enact secular-humanist doctrine over other beliefs. The ‘morning-after’ abortion pill is next on the list for inclusion.

Obama Wants to Reduce Deductions for Charitable Giving

A Washington Post report says President Obama is working to reduce the tax deduction that charities depend upon for donations. The president sees the move as part of his plan to reduce the federal deficit. If Obama has his way, the government would limit the charitable deduction for high-income earners, the people that groups such as the Red Cross and the United Way depend upon for donations. According to the Post story, non-profit group leaders say lowering or eliminating the deduction would reduce giving by wealthy donors, which represents a significant proportion of total contributions.

Economic News

About 2.1 million Americans will lose their extended jobless benefits on Dec. 29, leaving many on the brink of poverty, if Washington doesn’t renew them as part of a deal on the package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the “fiscal cliff.” An additional 930,000 people will run out of unemployment insurance in early 2013 when their 26 weeks of benefits runs out.

The Consumer Price Index, the key measure of inflation, fell 0.3% in November, thanks to the 7.4% drop in gas prices. Overall prices were still up 1.8% compared to a year ago, but that’s down from the 2.2% inflation rate recorded in October. Even with the drop in prices in November, gasoline prices are still 1.9% above year ago levels. Food prices, another key component of the price index, edged up slightly in November and were up 1.8% from a year earlier.

Wealthy Americans are scrambling to transfer their riches before the end of the year when gift taxes are set to jump. Currently gifts and estates of up to $5.12 million are exempt from taxes, but as part of the fiscal cliff, any bequest of more than $1 million will be taxed next year — and at a 55% rate (currently the rate is 35%).The drop to a $1 million exemption means that the tax hit on gifts or estates of $5.12 million will go from zero this year to $2.266 million next year.

The average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gas has fallen steadily every day for almost four weeks. Tuesday’s $3.24 a gallon reading from the AAA was the lowest price so far in 2012 and only three cents away from the price last reached in February 2011.

Eurozone

With Spain’s regional and municipal governments deeply in debt, even workers like bus drivers and health care attendants, dependent on government financing for their salaries, are not always paid. But few workers in this situation believe they have any choice but to stick it out, and none wanted to name their employers, to protect both the companies and their jobs. They try to manage their lives with occasional checks and partial payments on random dates — never sure whether they will get what they are owed in the end. The courts have become jammed with people trying to get back pay from a government insurance fund aimed at giving workers something when a company does not pay them. Spain’s unemployment rate is the highest in the euro zone at more than 25 percent, and despite the government’s labor reforms, the rate has continued to rise month after month.

Persecution Watch

Nigerian Christians are asking American churches to pray they will be safe from attacks this Christmas, CBN News reports. The radical Islamic group Boko Haram is carrying out a war to drive Christians from northern Nigeria, and dozens of Christians have died in bombing attacks during Christmas services the past two years. Rev. Musa Asake, general secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, says he’s “very, very worried” — but he says that won’t stop Nigerian Christians from going to church on Christmas. He is asking Christians in America to pray that “the Lord will intervene to protect churches.” More than 770 people have been killed in Boko Haram attacks so far this year, making 2012 the worst year of violence attributed to the group.

Eastern Michigan University has settled a lawsuit with a graduate student who was kicked out for refusing to affirm homosexuality, CBN News reports. Julea Ward was a student in the school’s counseling program when she asked her superiors to refer a gay client to someone else, saying her Christian faith prohibited her from affirming homosexual behavior. Instead, EMU officials expelled her from the masters program. The school has now settled with Ward for $75,000, and her lawyer said her constitutionally protected rights had been “vindicated.” Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Jeremy Tedesco, who argued Ward’s case, said: “Public universities shouldn’t force students to violate their religious beliefs to get a degree. The Sixth Circuit rightly understood this and ruled appropriately, so the university has done the right thing in settling this case.”

An appeals court panel in Sweden has granted the state full custody of the son of a homeschooling family. Their son was “state-napped” from a jetliner in 2009 as the family prepared to move to India, the mother’s native country. The reason authorities initially gave for taking Domenic was that he had been homeschooled. During the first months following his seizure, the parents were only permitted to visit Domenic once every two weeks. The visits soon became every five weeks, and in 2010, all visitations were cut off.

  • The undercurrent here is that ‘homeschooling’ is seen as a largely Christian movement to keep children out of the government’s secular-humanist indoctrination centers, otherwise known as public schools.

Egypt

With the first round of voting over, Egypt’s ruling Freedom and Justice Party declared Sunday that citizens had given their thumbs-up to a controversial draft constitution. But a coalition of 123 local rights groups that monitored the Saturday referendum alleged widespread abuses. And the nation’s electoral commission acknowledged that it received — and will investigate — complaints of voter intimidation, bribery and other violations. The commission said it would not announce official results until after second phase of voting December 22. But that didn’t stop President Mohamed Morsy’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) from claiming that 56.6% of the ballots were in favor of the draft; while 43.5% rejected it.

Syria

After months of fighting in the major city of Aleppo and surrounding countryside, opposition rebels say they are close to forcing out the Syrian army from much of northern Syria. Opposition fighters on Sunday captured the last military base in the northern Aleppo province loyal to President Bashar Assad. The infantry base was the second such base to be captured in the province in a week. The capture provides a significant boost of captured equipment, mainly small arms and at least two tanks. The rebels are continuing efforts to cut off supply lines to government forces in the north and emboldened civilians are taking the most ambitious steps yet to create a transitional government inside Syria.

An NBC reporter and his crew spoke Tuesday of their overwhelming relief after being freed from kidnappers in Syria who kept them bound, blindfolded and repeatedly threatened to kill them during a five-day ordeal. The crew was seized by a group of masked, heavily armed men shortly after crossing into northwest Syria from Turkey on Thursday. While the NBC crew members were bundled into a waiting container truck, one of the rebel fighters who had been escorting them into Syria was executed on the spot. Then followed five days during which the team was moved among a series of safe houses and interrogation places, always blindfolded. Although they weren’t physically harmed, they were subjected to “a lot of psychological torture” and threats of being killed.

Afghanistan

Ten girls were killed in eastern Afghanistan on Monday when a landmine exploded as they were out collecting firewood — the latest casualties in one of the most mined countries in the world. Two other girls were injured in the incident. Landmines — those planted by insurgents and those left over from the Soviet occupation — continue to kill dozens of Afghans every year. “Naturally curious, children are likely to pick up strange objects, such as the infamous toy-like ‘butterfly’ mines that Soviet forces spread by the millions in Afghanistan,” according to UNICEF.

A car bomb exploded outside of a compound housing a U.S. military contractor in the Afghan capital Monday, blowing apart an exterior wall and wounding dozens inside. The blast on the outskirts of Kabul sent a plume of smoke up in the air and shook windows more than a mile away in the city center. A suicide attacker drove a vehicle packed with explosives up to the exterior wall of the compound and detonated the bomb. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.

Iraq

The president of Iraq is in a coma after suffering a stroke, sources tell Fox News. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has had a stroke and his medical team in Baghdad is still trying to stabilize his condition, officials said Tuesday. Talabani, a rare unifying figure who is seen to rise above the country’s ethnic and sectarian fault lines, has been actively involved in trying to mediate an ongoing crisis between Iraq’s central government and the country’s Kurdish minority. Doctors have not decided whether Talabani will continue to be treated in Baghdad or will be flown to another country for treatment.

Weather

Most of South Carolina is now in moderate or severe drought, and all of the state’s 46 counties are now in some drought stage, according to the state agency that monitors the conditions. On Tuesday, the South Carolina Drought Response Committee upgraded the drought status in every county by one level. Conditions were most dire in 12 of the state’s western counties, where the drought was determined to be severe. Most places in severe drought have received less than half of normal rainfall amounts over the last two months. In North Carolina, 16 counties are reporting abnormally dry conditions. Without adequate winter rainfall, there could be bigger problems in store next spring and summer.

Chicago and Milwaukee both set a new record without measurable snow: 287 straight days through Sunday. Lincoln, Nebraska has gone a record 306 straight days without snow, also through Sunday.

The strongest Northwest storm of the season blew in early Monday on winds that gusted to more than 80 mph on the coast, knocking out power in places and creating blizzard-like conditions in the mountains. The storm is headed east along the U.S.-Canada border and will eventually impact the Midwest and even the Northeast. The highest winds hit Sunday evening with an 84 mph gust recorded at the mouth of the Columbia River and an 81 mph gust on the central Oregon coast. Winds early Monday hit 60 mph on the Washington coast and 55 mph in the south Puget Sound area. Winds brought tree limbs down on power lines. Seattle City Light had 11,000 customers out of service at one time. Puget Sound Energy had 17,000 outages.

Fiji residents are beginning to clean up after a powerful cyclone blew through the Pacific island nation. Tropical Cyclone Evan on Monday ripped roofs from homes and churches, flooded roads and forced thousands to evacuate their homes. A wind gust to 104 mph was clocked in the western coastal town of Nadi. Strong seas near the capital, Suva, pulled two container ships onto a reef. Evan is the most intense tropical cyclone ever to have impacted Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu.  At its peak intensity, Evan was estimated to have maximum sustained winds of 135 mph The Republic of Fiji (population estimate:  890,000) is a group of islands in the south Pacific about 1265 miles northeast of New Zealand.

Signs of the Times (12/14/12)

December 14, 2012
  • For those of you who have been asking, Book 6, The End of Judgment, of The End, series is now available as an ebook on Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Ministry Helps 38 Workers Leave Abortion Clinics

A ministry started by a former Planned Parenthood center director is succeeding in helping abortion clinic workers leave the industry, Baptist Press reports. And Then There Were None (ATTWN), started by Abby Johnson after her departure from a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas, has helped 38 workers leave the abortion business, according to a report by LifeSiteNews.com. Johnson said her organization was helping five workers leave the same clinic in Atlanta, and three already have jobs. It has also assisted three employees of a Houston clinic. Johnson worked at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan for eight years, serving as its director for more than two years. She left her position and became a pro-life advocate in 2009 shortly after witnessing the destruction of a 13-week-old unborn baby as part of an ultrasound-guided abortion she assisted in.

Government to See Red over Abortions

This year, 1.2 million American babies will never breathe their first breath, feel the gentle touch of a mother or find comfort in the arms of a loving father as victims of abortion. Now – after four decades of legally sanctioned abortion – Americans are sending a visual expression of moral outrage directly to Washington D.C., deep into the Halls of Congress, beyond the marble columns of the Supreme Court and into the Oval Office. Jan. 22 has been designated Red Envelope Day, with one group seeking to flood the offices of President Obama, key government officials and mainstream news media with 1.2 million empty red envelopes bearing a very clear message on the outside: “This envelope represents one child who died in abortion. It is empty, a life taken that was unable to offer anything to the world. Responsibility and life begin at conception.” A portion of the proceeds of every red envelope go directly to organizations committed to the pro-life cause.

New Insurance Fee from Obamacare Likely to Hit Consumers

Your medical plan is facing an unexpected expense, so you probably are, too. It’s a new, $63-per-head fee to cushion the cost of covering people with pre-existing conditions under President Obama’s health care overhaul. The charge, buried in a recent regulation, works out to tens of millions of dollars for the largest companies, employers say. Most of that is likely to be passed on to workers. Based on figures provided in the regulation, employer and individual health plans covering an estimated 190 million Americans could owe the per-person fee. The Obama administration says it is a temporary assessment levied for three years starting in 2014, designed to raise $25 billion. It starts at $63 and then declines.

  • Odd how information about Obamacare fees are coming out after the election – then again, not odd at all

Medical Companies Prepare for Obamacare Layoffs

Come Jan. 1, an ObamaCare-tied tax specific to the medical device industry is expected to go into effect. Though the Obama administration has downplayed the impact, ADM Tronics calls it “devastating.” Many other companies in the industry predict preemptive layoffs and significant cutbacks in research and development. The Affordable Care Act imposed the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices with the goal of raising nearly $30 billion over the next decade. Manufacturers say the impact of the tax is far greater than meets the eye — the 2.3 percent tax is on gross sales, meaning it’s a much greater percentage of net income.

U.S. Arming Egypt Despite Turmoil

Instability in Egypt, where a newly-elected Islamic government teeters over an angry population, isn’t enough to stop the U.S. from sending more than 20 F-16 fighter jets, as part of a $1 billion foreign aid package. The first four jets are to be delivered to Egypt beginning Jan. 22nd. The North African nation already has a fleet of more than 200 of the planes and the latest shipment merely fulfills an order placed two years ago. But given the uncertainty in Cairo, some critics wonder if it is wise to be sending more top gun planes. The U.S. government ordered and paid for the fighter jets for Egypt’s military as part of foreign aid for Egypt back in 2010, when Hosni Mubarak ruled. “Should an overreaction [by Egypt] spiral into a broader conflict between Egypt and Israel, such a scenario would put U.S. officials in an embarrassing position of having supplied massive amounts of military hardware … to both belligerents,” said Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute. “Given Washington’s fiscal woes, American taxpayers should no longer be Egypt’s major arms supplier.”

Michigan Passes Right-to-Work Law

Michigan has dealt a tremendous blow to unions, approving a right-to-work measure in the heart of organized labor’s industrial stronghold. The new law — passed by legislators and signed hours later on Tuesday — not only signals a change in America’s so-called Rust Belt, but is also the latest sign that the power of organized labor is shrinking in the United States. American unions already have a fraction of the influence they did a few decades ago. Only about 12% of workers are union members, down from 20% in 1983. Michigan has become the 24th state to adopt a right-to-work law, which removes the requirement for people to pay unions to work at unionized agencies, effectively decreasing union funding and making it less likely that workers choose to organize.

Food Stamp Use Hits New High

Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, reached another high in September, according to new data released by the United States Department of Agriculture, the Daily Caller reports. The data, released on Friday, shows that 47,710,324 people were enrolled in the program in September, an increase of 607,559 from the 47,102,765 enrolled in August. The average monthly benefit was $134.29 per person and $278.89 per household, and Texas, California and Florida were the states with the most recipients. The new numbers mean that an estimated one in 6.5 people in America were on food stamps in America. In the 1970s, one out of every 50 Americans was on food stamps, but spending on the program has quadrupled since 2001 and doubled in just the last four years.

  • Our socialistic government wants as many people as possible on the dole because that gives our noble leaders the greatest control

Economic News

The Federal Reserve dropped more hints Wednesday as to when its unconventional easing measures might finally end. The Fed announced that it plans to expand its controversial stimulus program, known as quantitative easing, to keep long-term interest rates near record lows. It also set explicit economic targets for when it plans to end its easing programs. The Fed will buy $45 billion in Treasuries, in addition to its existing policy of buying $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities each month. The end date for all this easing? Until the job market improves “substantially” and the unemployment rate falls to 6.5%, or inflation exceeds 2.5% a year.

  • Tantamount to printing money, it only further postpones the inevitable debt-driven crash

November retail sales rebounded in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, helped by a strong and early start to the holiday shopping season. Overall sales bounced back to a 0.3% increase in the month, after a 0.3% decline in October. While sales at department stores fell 0.8% in the month, sales at electronics stores jumped 2.5% and clothing store sales rose 0.9%. In addition sales at non-store retailers, primarily online shopping sites, jumped 3%.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, and are now back to pre-hurricane levels. About 343,000 people filed initial jobless claims last week, 29,000 fewer than those who sought help in the previous week. A reading less than 375,000 indicates an expanding job market.

The U.S. trade deficit widened in October as exports suffered the biggest drop in nearly four years, indicating slowing global demand is likely to weigh on U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter. The Commerce Department said on Tuesday the trade gap increased 4.9 percent to $42.2 billion even as imports declined to the lowest level in 1-1/2 years. The wider trade gap in October reflected a 3.6 percent fall in exports of goods and services to $180.5 billion.

After years of budget cuts and sluggish recovery, states expect to see their revenues climb back to pre-recession levels this year for the first time since the financial crisis hit. But Washington’s efforts to tame the federal deficit, state officials fear, could end up further whittling away the federal aid that states depend upon and weakening the economy as it slowly mends. Federal aid provided states with roughly a third of their revenue last year.

The U.S. Treasury is selling its remaining stake in insurer American International Group Inc., bringing an end to government ownership of the company about four years after it was rescued from the brink of bankruptcy. The sale will close the chapter on one of the most politically contentious government rescues and turn a profit for taxpayers, a development once seen as inconceivable. But as AIG restructured and returned to viability, it was able to repay the entire rescue plus generate a profit for U.S. taxpayers. Imports of goods and services fell 2.1 percent to $222.8 billion in October, the lowest since April 2011.

Eurozone

Eurozone finance ministers formally agreed Thursday to release more aid to Greece, with the first installment of funds due in the coming days. In total, Greece will receive €49.1 billion, with €34.3 billion paid out shortly. The remainder will be disbursed during the first quarter of 2013, with the first part of that going toward covering bank recapitalization in a bid to revive lending to companies and households. EU finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund agreed on a deal that would lower interest rates for Greece and help the troubled nation cut debt targets to 124% of GDP by 2020.

Finance ministers agreed early on Thursday to place banks in the euro area under a single supervisor, a step enabling European Union leaders to deliver a show of unity at their year-end summit that starts later in the day. European leaders were expected to hail the breakthrough, which gives the European Central Bank the leading supervisory role over lenders, as a sign they are taking concrete steps to maintain the viability of the euro. The deal would put more than 100 large banks in Europe under the direct supervision of the central bank.

Middle East

Since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring almost two years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood has made significant advancements both in Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot in Gaza, celebrated its 25th anniversary over the weekend, and hundreds of thousands gathered in possibly the biggest rally in the history of Gaza to hear Hamas’ political leader, Khaled Meshaal, CBN News reports. Egypt’s new government allowed Meshaal to enter — something the Mubarak government would not do — and it marked the first time in 45 years that he had been in Gaza. He used the opportunity to pledge Israel’s destruction, saying: “Palestine will be Palestine. We will never surrender the land, Jerusalem, the right of return or [our right] to resistance. We will not leave any inch of Palestinian land and we’ll never give up any of our rights.” Israeli president Shimon Peres stated in response to Meshaal’s speech: “He unmasked the real nature of Hamas: to kill, to conquer, not to compromise, the people of Gaza can remain poor and hungry.” Some have speculated Meshaal could one day be a candidate for president of the PA.

Turkey

The United States gave the go-ahead Friday to deploy Patriot anti-ballistic missiles to Turkey along with 400 troops to operate them as the heavily embattled government in neighboring Syria again vehemently denied firing ballistic missiles at rebels. The United States has accused Damascus of launching Scud-type artillery from the capital at rebels in the country’s north. One Washington official said missiles came close to the border of Turkey, a NATO member and staunch U.S. ally. The surface-to-air interceptors will help in “dealing with threats that come out of Syria,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

Syria

American military satellites picked up and confirmed the infrared signature of four short-range Scud missiles launched from the Damascus area to northern Syria in the past several days. The missiles did not land on the Turkish side of the border but came close. “As the regime becomes more and more desperate, we see it resorting to increased lethality and more vicious weapons moving forward and we have in recent days seen missiles deployed,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Defeat could be near for Syria’s embattled regime, NATO and Syrian ally Russia said Thursday. “I think now it’s only a question of time,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. The al-Assad government is “approaching collapse,” Rasmussen said. The Syrian president’s control is crumbling at an accelerating pace but the latest assessment by U.S. intelligence finds few indications Bashar al-Assad is willing to step down.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday recognized the leading Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the country’s people, marking a “big step” in U.S. engagement with the nearly two-year-old crisis. “We’ve made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime,” Obama said. The United States joins Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council in recognizing the opposition. The move will be a major psychological boost for the rebels, but it doesn’t mean Washington will be arming them anytime soon.

Egypt

Masked gunmen attacked opposition protesters camped out at Cairo’s Tahrir Square early on Tuesday, firing birdshot at them and wounding nine people. The attack stoked tensions just hours ahead of rival mass rallies in the Egyptian capital by supporters and opponents of the country’s Islamist president over a disputed draft constitution. The charter has vastly polarized the nation and triggered some of the worst violence since Mohammed Morsi took office in June as Egypt’s first freely elected president.

Afghanistan

At least three people died when a suicide bomb exploded near Afghanistan’s Kandahar airfield Thursday, hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had left the city. One American was killed and three others were wounded, Panetta said. Two Afghan civilians were killed and 18 others were wounded. The attack struck an MRAP, the acronym for a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle used by U.S. forces, as it was about to enter the base. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

Iran

Sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program have pushed the country into recession, a global association of financial services said on Monday. Crude oil exports have dropped sharply, the Iranian rial has plummeted and inflation has soared in 2012, the Washington-based Institute for International Finance said in its report on the Middle East and North Africa. During the 2012/2013 fiscal year, revenues from oil (which accounted for about half of its total revenues in previous years) could drop by at least 40 percent,’ it said. The Iranian government has started consolidating public spending to offset a fall in revenues, it added. The rial has been ‘steadily depreciating this year as foreign currency inflows have been garnered by the central bank for use in payment for government imports and to meet essential import needs,’ it said. Inflation will average around 50 percent this year, up from 26.5 in 2011… ‘As the economy enters a recession, the regime faces pressures from rising public unrest and discontent within Parliament,’ the report said.

North Korea

North Korea successfully fired a long-range rocket on Wednesday, defying international warnings as the regime of Kim Jong Un took a big step forward in its quest to develop a nuclear missile. While the rocket launch will enhance the credentials of young leader Kim, who took power after his father Kim Jong Il’s death a year ago, it is also likely to bring fresh sanctions against the country and further complicate relations between North Korea, its neighbors, and the West. Even China, North Korea’s closest ally, expressed “regret” that North Korea went ahead with the launch “in spite of the extensive concerns of international community.” “North Korea will now turn its attention to developing bigger rockets with heavier payloads,” said Chae Yeon-seok, a rocket expert at South Korea’s state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute. “Its ultimate aim will be putting a nuclear warhead on the tip.”

Nigeria

Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram’s violent jihad against Christians in Nigeria pushed the country into seventh place in annual rankings of countries impacted by terrorism, fueling more calls for the State Department to reconsider its decision not to designate the Islamist group as a foreign terrorist organization, CNSNews.com reports. Nigeria’s ranking in the latest Global Terrorism Index, released this week, marked a shift from 12th place a year ago, from 16th place in 2008 and from 30th place in 2005. The top six countries this year are Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Yemen and Somalia. Produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the index is calculated based on the number of terrorist incidents, the number of deaths, the number of casualties and the level of property damage. The newly-published rankings relate to 2011, a year during which 168 terror attacks were recorded in Nigeria, accounting for 437 deaths and 614 injuries. This year, however, has already witnessed more than 700 Nigerian Christian deaths in Boko Haram-related violence, according to the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN), and the coming Christmas holiday could bring more, if past years are a guide.

Mali

Mali’s prime minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra (a former NASA engineer, who holds U.S. citizenship), abruptly resigned Tuesday on state television, a day after he was arrested by a group of soldiers loyal to a former coup leader. The development is another blow to the stability of a country once hailed as a model of democracy in Africa, but one derailed by a coup and an uprising of Islamist militants. “The arrest was made by a small force loyal to coup leader Capitaine Amadou Sanogo,” said army spokesperson Colonel Idrissa Traore. “The majority of the military officers in Bamako were not informed about the arrest of Mr. Diarra, and no one knows what will happen now,”

Persecution Watch

The U.S. Navy directed service members serving in Bahrain to cancel and dismantle a live nativity after receiving a complaint from a military atheist group who said the manger scene endangered Americans serving in a Muslim country and violated the U.S. Constitution, Fox News reports. The live nativity was a long-standing tradition at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain that featured the children of military personnel dressed as shepherds and wise men along with Mary and Joseph. It was part of a larger celebration that included a tree lighting, Christmas music and photographs with Santa Claus and a camel. Some service members in Bahrain called the cancellation “heartbreaking,” and children who were supposed to act in the nativity were devastated. “Here we are serving in the Middle East, defending our country and other people’s religions, and we couldn’t understand why we can’t enjoy our own religious freedoms,” said one officer who asked not to be identified.

New restrictions on religious freedom are coming into force in Vietnam in the New Year, sparking concerns that Christian groups will face more harassment from the authorities. Religious activity is already strictly controlled in Vietnam; all churches and other religious groups are supposed to register with the government and submit to its direction. Unregistered house churches, particularly those in the hill-tribe areas, are subjected to a great deal of harassment and hostility from the authorities. Churches have been closed, members arrested and hundreds sentenced to long prison terms. The new Decree 92 measures have sparked alarm among the Christian and Buddhist communities. One article states that in order to receive full recognition, a religious group must prove that it has operated for 20 years without violating the law, including “infringing national security”.

Two church leaders were wounded in separate attacks targeting worship services in Sri Lanka.  A large mob, including numerous Buddhist monks, stormed the building. The attackers overwhelmed eight police officers, who had been sent to the scene to oversee a planned demonstration by the monks against the church. The mob vandalized church furniture and equipment and also vehicles belonging to church members that were parked outside the building. Children were present during the attack. The day before the incident, a group of Buddhists, including a number of monks, had visited the pastor and told him that he was not allowed to conduct Christian worship in Weeraketiya without the permission of Buddhist clergy.

Earthquakes

The U.S. Geological Survey is reporting that a magnitude 4.5 earthquake rattled Costa Rica early Wednesday. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. The USGS said the quake, which struck at 12:54 a.m. local time, had an epicenter about two miles south-southwest of Naranjo, which is about 22 miles west of the capital San Jose. Its depth was 6.3 miles.

A smaller earthquake shook Puerto Rico on Tuesday evening. The USGS says the magnitude 2.6 quake, which occurred at about 6:30 p.m. at a depth of 5.6 miles, had an epicenter three miles east-southeast of Mayaguez, or about 66 miles west of San Juan. No injuries or damage were immediately reported.

Weather

Tropical Cyclone Evan is battering the South Pacific with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph and gusts up to 144 mph. Forecasters predict Evan could get stronger over the next 36 hours, evolving into a more powerful Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 126 mph, as it creeps southwest, away from the Samoan islands and toward Fiji. There were reports of two deaths in Samoa, an independent country with a population of 183,000. American Samoa is a U.S. territory with a population of about 55,000.

Severe storms swept across the South Monday, December 10 with at least six preliminary tornadoes being reported from Arkansas to Florida.  The National Weather Service has confirmed that storm damage in Birmingham, Ala., was caused by a tornado with maximum winds estimated at 90 mph. the storm damaged roofs and broke windows. The storm damaged roofs and broke windows, but no injuries were reported. Despite the recent tornadoes, 2012 is on pace to have the fewest U.S. tornadoes in any year since 1989.

A weather system ejecting out of the Southwest may fire off some thunderstorms in the south-central states on Friday. Isolated hail is possible with these overnight in parts of Oklahoma and northwest Texas. A few isolated severe storms are possible ahead of this system on Saturday in southeast Texas, southern Arkansas and western/northern Louisiana.–

Signs of the Times (12/10/12)

December 10, 2012

Supreme Court Takes on Same-Sex Marriage

The Supreme Court will tackle the contentious issue of same-sex marriage, agreeing to hear two constitutional challenges to state and federal laws dealing with the recognition of gay and lesbian couples to legally wed. The decision to review the matter came just weeks after voters approved same-sex marriage in three states. One appeal to be heard involves the federal Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples legally married in their own state. The second is a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved referendum that took away the right of same sex-marriage that previously had been approved by the state’s courts. There are now approximately 120,000 legally married same-sex couples in the United States.

Fiscal Cliff Deal or Not, ObamaCare Tax Increases Coming

Even if lawmakers somehow stop the Bush-era tax rates from expiring, taxes are still expected to rise on Jan. 1 — thanks to a trio of new fees tied to the federal health care overhaul. The IRS this past week published rules for some of the first major taxes meant to help pay for President Obama’s massive insurance coverage expansion. Together, they will raise investment and income taxes on top earners and impose a separate — and controversial — tax on medical devices. The bundle of fees has been largely overlooked as lawmakers and the White House bicker over the Bush tax rates, with Republicans demanding they be extended for everyone and Obama insisting rates rise for top earners. But that same group of earners is already in the crosshairs under the ObamaCare tax rules published this week. Starting Jan. 1, investment income for individuals earning over $200,000 and households earning over $250,000 will be subject to a new 3.8 percent tax. Further, regular income above those thresholds will be hit with a .9 percent Medicare surtax.

FEMA Teams Told to ‘Sightsee’ as Sandy Victims Suffered

A FEMA worker who spoke to FoxNews.com described a chaotic scene at New Jersey’s Fort Dix, where emergency workers arrived as Superstorm Sandy bore down on the Atlantic Coast. The worker said officials at the staging area were unprepared and told the incoming responders there was nothing for them to do for nearly four days. After arriving in New Jersey, the worker and others waited for three full days and parts of another, even as reports dominated the television of the devastation and suffering wrought by the storm. Workers were told to go to the Walmart nearby or to check out the area but told us to stay out of the areas affected by the storm. Told of the worker’s complaints, a FEMA official acknowledged that there were delays in getting responders out into the field. “There were logistical challenges but we have been fully engaged in the areas since then.” Some workers said the much-maligned agency seemed more organized during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

  • The Obama administration wants people to be more dependent on government to meet their every need, but then fails to deliver when it counts the most

Feds Confirm: Military Drones are Watching You

Records newly released to the Electronic Frontier Foundation reveal the federal government has approved dozens of licenses for unmanned aerial surveillance drones all across the United States. “These records, received as a result of EFF’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration,” the EFF reports, “come from state and local law enforcement agencies, universities and – for the first time – three branches of the U.S. military: the Air Force, Marine Corps and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).” Some of the records show drones used for purposes as sensible as helping the U.S. Forest Service fight forest fires. Others purposes, such as performing aerial observation of houses when serving warrants or covert surveillance of drug sales, however, have prompted the EFF to question privacy issues.

“Perhaps the scariest is the technology carried by a Reaper drone the Air Force is flying near Lincoln, Nev., and in areas of California and Utah,” EFF reports. “This drone uses ‘Gorgon Stare’ technology, which Wikipedia defines as ‘a spherical array of nine cameras attached to an aerial drone … capable of capturing motion imagery of an entire city.’ … This technology takes surveillance to a whole new level.” The use of military drones further raised flags in a New York Times report earlier this year, when reporter Mark Mazzetti joined a group of observers watching drone use at Holloman Air Force Base in remote New Mexico and discovered the military was practicing for foreign missions by spying on American vehicles.

  • On the one hand, if you’re not doing anything wrong or illegal, what’s the worry? On the other hand, who defines what’s wrong or illegal? According to Homeland Security, right-wing Christians are potential terrorists. Suppressing dissent against our increasingly socialistic, secular, anti-Christian government will become more common as the end-times roll on.

Unions Prepare for Protests, Legal Challenges in Michigan

Union members and supporters are gearing up for a massive protest Tuesday in Michigan’s capital in a last-ditch effort to stall the expected passage of “right-to-work” legislation, as they already make plans to challenge the proposal in court. The surprise move by Michigan Republicans this past Thursday to approve the anti-union bills touched off a firestorm in the home of the U.S. auto industry. Following high-profile fights over union privileges in Wisconsin and Indiana, Michigan instantly became the latest battleground in that struggle. The state legislature returns to Lansing on Tuesday, when Republicans are planning to cast the final votes on the union package and send it to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk. Snyder, a Republican, has said he would sign the bill, which prohibits unions from demanding dues from workers. If this happens, Michigan would become the 24th “right-to-work” state in the nation — and American unions would suffer a stinging defeat in the cradle of the labor movement

Economic News

Modest hiring continued in November and the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in nearly four years. The U.S. economy added 146,000 jobs in November, and the unemployment rate fell to 7.7% from 7.9% in October. Of the job gains in November, more than a third, or 52,600, came from retailers, but much of that was due to holiday hiring.

While much of the media focus is on the fact that the overall rate dropped 0.2 points, few media outlets are focusing on why the rate dropped – 542,000 Americans gave up their job search and are no longer being counted in the overall statistics. And while the overall size of the population grew by nearly 200,000 people, the number of people working or looking for work has dropped precipitously.

The net wealth of American households increased in the third quarter due to gains in the value of homes and stock investments. Net financial wealth grew $1.72 trillion to $64.77 trillion, the Federal Reserve said last Thursday. The value of. real estate owned by households rose about $300 billion during the period, while stock holdings climbed by about $520 billion.

Households decreased debt at a 2 percent annual rate during the third quarter, the steepest drop since the second quarter of 2011. In the third quarter, household debt fell $65.5 billion to $12.87 trillion. Total household liabilities were 112.7 percent of after-tax income during the quarter, the lowest since 2003.

Gas prices have plummeted 46 cents a gallon in the past two months. U.S. consumers have been paying all-time highs for gasoline in 2012, but they are about to get a break for the holiday season: $3 a gallon gas in much of the country. With U.S. supplies rising and demand fizzling, wholesale prices are sinking fast and will soon be reflected at the pump. Now averaging $3.37 a gallon nationwide, prices are expected to drop to about $3.20 a gallon within the next two to three weeks. Consumers in many states could find prices at $3 a gallon or even less.

Eurozone

The euro slipped towards a two-week low on Monday while shares and Italian bond prices also fell after Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti’s decision to resign deepened euro zone uncertainty. Monti announced over the weekend he would resign once the 2013 budget is approved, raising questions over who will take the reins of the euro zone’s third largest economy after elections expected in February. Government bonds of Spain, the other major euro zone economy deep in crisis, also fell and the cost of insuring both Italian and Spanish debt against default rose. Poor economic data compounded the jitters. French industrial output was much weaker than expected in October and tepid export growth reduced Germany’s trade surplus to its lowest level in over half a year.

Greece extended its offer to buy back debt until Tuesday, seeking more bids from bondholders after falling short of a target to retire bonds worth 30 billion euros at a cost of just 10 billion euros. The buyback is designed to provide about half of a 40-billion euro debt relief package for Athens agreed last month by the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Its success is crucial to ensuring Greece’s debt is put back on sustainable footing and – more immediately – to unlocking badly-needed aid for the country. Despite the initial lack of investor interest, the scheme is expected to ultimately hit its targets since Greek banks – whose own fate depends on a successful buyback – are expected to make up the shortfall.

Syria

The lone Syrian rebel group with an explicit stamp of approval from Al Qaeda has become one of the uprising’s most effective fighting forces, posing a stark challenge to the United States and other countries that want to support the rebels but not Islamic extremists. As the Nusra Front’s successes mount, they raise more money, gather more weapons and attract more fighters. The group is a direct offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has contributed veteran fighters and weapons. The United States, sensing that time may be running out for Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, hopes to isolate the group to prevent it from inheriting Syria or fighting on after Mr. Assad’s fall to pursue its goal of an Islamic state.

Libya

The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats. The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government. The experience in Libya has taken on new urgency as the administration considers whether to play a direct role in arming rebels in Syria, where weapons are flowing in from Qatar and other countries. The Obama administration did not initially raise objections when Qatar began shipping arms to opposition groups in Syria, even if it did not offer encouragement, according to current and former administration officials. But they said the United States has growing concerns that, just as in Libya, the Qataris are equipping some of the wrong militants.

  • The U.S. has an unfortunate history of arming groups and nations that later become enemies

Egypt

A national dialogue committee said a referendum on a disputed draft constitution will be held on schedule, but President Mohammed Morsi has agreed to rescind the near-absolute power he had granted himself. The statement came after a meeting that was boycotted by the main opposition leaders who are calling for the Dec. 15 vote to be canceled. Morsi had called for the dialogue to try to defuse a spiraling crisis, but the decision appeared unlikely to appease the opposition since it recommends the referendum go ahead as scheduled. It appears as though Morsi has just reworked his initial decree and has maintained his primary goal of  protecting the Shura Assembly and preventing the dismissal of the Prosecutor General. The draft constitution essentially remains very much the same.

Pakistan

A U.S. drone strike has killed a senior Al Qaeda leader in Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghan border, Pakistani intelligence officials said, in the latest blow to the global terrorist network. Sheik Khalid bin Abdel Rehman al-Hussainan, who was also known as Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti, was killed when missiles slammed into a house last Thursday. Al-Kuwaiti earlier this year replaced Abu Yahya al-Libi, Al Qaeda’s second in command, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in June. Covert CIA drone strikes have killed a series of senior Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan’s tribal region over the past few years. But the attacks are controversial because the secret nature of the program makes it difficult to determine how many civilians are being killed.

  • It is the military who should be carrying out these drone strikes, not the super-secretive CIA. Otherwise, this is a laudable use of technology that saves American lives

Iran

Iran’s crude exports are set to drop by about a quarter in December from the preceding month to the lowest level since tough sanctions were applied this year, shipping sources said, as the OPEC-member comes under pressure to curb its nuclear program. Oil shipments by Iran have more than halved in 2012 due to U.S. and European sanctions on its oil trade, straining Tehran’s finances, pressuring its currency and igniting inflation.

Belgium

Two Muslim politicians who won October municipal elections in Belgium’s capital, Brussels, have vowed to implement sharia, or Islamic law, in Belgium, the Gatestone Institute reports. The two candidates, Lhoucine Ait Jeddig and Redouane Ahrouch, both from the fledgling Islam Party, won seats in two heavily Islamic municipalities of Brussels, and say they regard their election as key to the assertion of the Muslim community in the country. The Islam party, which plans to field candidates in European-level elections in 2014, campaigned on three core issues: ensuring that halal meals are served in public school cafeterias, securing the official recognition of Muslim religious holidays, and pushing for a law that would legalize the wearing of Islamic headscarves in public spaces. Ahrouch has admitted he is taking a gradual approach, saying it may take decades to enforce sharia, but says his ultimate goal — creating an Islamic state in Belgium — has not changed.

Kenya

A blast ripped through a neighborhood in Kenya’s capital, killing three people in the second attack in three days targeting the predominantly Somali area. At least 16 others were injured in the Friday explosion near a mosque in Eastleigh. On Wednesday, another blast left eight people injured — three critically with severe head wounds. Recent explosions have rocked the East African nation, including a grenade attack last month that triggered riots in Eastleigh. Following that attack, angry mobs scorched and looted Somali-owned shops in the area. Grenade attacks have escalated since Kenya sent its forces to neighboring Somalia last year to battle the Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked group it blamed for kidnapping foreigners in the nation.

North Korea

It’s been one year since the leadership mantle in North Korea was passed from Kim Jong Il to his son, Kim Jong Un, but there have been no significant changes. “There’s still tremendous persecution, including against Christians,” Dykstra tells OneNewsNow. “It’s been number one on Open Doors’ World Watch List for ten straight years. Religious freedom, which there is none for Christians, continues; Christians — estimated to be between 200,000 and 400,000 — still live in horrific conditions. Many of them are in prison. In fact, Open Doors estimates in gulags as 50,000 to 70,000.” Open Doors is hearing from Christians inside the country who are very thankful for what Christians in the West are doing. But they ask that the prayer effort continues. They are also listening to Christian radio programs, although that practice is illegal.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake struck Friday off the coast of northeastern Japan in the same region that was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami last year. Tokyo high-rises swayed for several minutes, one city reported a small tsunami and at least two people were reportedly injured. The earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 7.3 and struck in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Miyagi prefecture at 5:18 p.m. local time The epicenter was 6.2 miles beneath the seabed and 150 miles offshore. The magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami that slammed into northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, killed or left missing some 19,000 people, devastating much of the coast.

Weather

A slow-moving storm has dumped at least 16 inches of snow on parts of Minnesota, blanketing the Twin Cities, making some rural roads impassable and leading to at least one fatal crash. The heaviest snowfall the Twin Cities has experienced in two years led to the cancellation of dozens of flights at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Sunday and caused hundreds of traffic accidents around the state. Blizzard conditions, blowing and drifting snow made visibility so poor that the state Department of Transportation pulled snowplows off the highways Sunday afternoon in southwest and west Minnesota. The Minnesota State Patrol reported nearly 600 crashes by Sunday night.

Freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall have killed at least five people and caused travel chaos across the Balkans, with rescue teams struggling to reach passengers stranded in buses and cars in Serbia on Sunday. Four people have died in Croatia and one in Serbia as a result of blizzards in the region of southwestern Europe over the weekend, closing airports and roads and blocking public transportation in big cities. People traveling in vehicles waited for hours on several roads in Serbia’s northern province of Vojvodina, including the main highway leading from Belgrade to the Hungarian border, before rescue teams could free them from 20 inches of snow that had fallen in just a few hours.

Rescue workers are searching for more than 300 Filipino fishermen who have gone missing after a devastating typhoon that tore across the Philippines last week, killing more than 600 people, authorities said Monday. Typhoon Bopha, the strongest tropical cyclone to hit the Philippines this year, set off flash floods and landslides that engulfed people sheltering in their rickety houses in remote, unprepared regions on the southern island of Mindanao. The number of people still unaccounted for climbed sharply during the weekend.

December 6, 2012

Washington State to Eliminate ‘Bride’ and ‘Groom’ on Marriage Certificates

The words “bride” and “groom” are about to become archaic language in Washington state as officials prepare to remove the terms, along with “husband” and “wife,” from marriage and divorce certificates. They will be removing those words in favor of more gender-neutral terms in response to the same-sex marriage law that takes effect in the state December 6. “We’ve been quickly moving ahead to change our marriage certificate to make sure it fits for everyone who is going to be using it,” Church said. The words “bride” and “groom” could be replaced with “Spouse A” and “Spouse B” or “Person A” and “Person B.” The department has been taking public input, but the state’s secretary of health will ultimately decide which terms are used. “We want our form to work for everyone who is getting married,” Church said. Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council said: “It is one sort of symbolic indication of how radical a change the legalization of same-sex marriage is. Symbolically, they are doing away with the whole concept of bride and groom, husband and wife — at least in the eyes of the law.”

  • Absurd, but another key marker in the advance of end-time unrighteousness

Marijuana Now Legal in Washington State

Crowds of people lit marijuana joints under Seattle’s Space Needle early Thursday morning with nary a police officer in sight. Marijuana is now legal under Washington state law. Hundreds gathered at Seattle Center for a New Year’s Eve-style countdown to 12 a.m., when the legalization measure passed by voters last month took effect. When the clock struck, they cheered and sparked up in unison. Washington and Colorado became the first states to vote to decriminalize the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults over 21. Both measures call for setting up state licensing schemes for pot growers, processors and retail stores. Colorado’s law is set to take effect by Jan. 5.

Judge Rules Arizona’s Medical-Marijuana Law is Constitutional

A court ruling that Arizona’s controversial medical-marijuana law does not conflict with federal drug laws cleared the way Tuesday for dispensaries to open and allows patients to legally obtain marijuana from the facilities. The long-awaited decision by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon rejected arguments made by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne that the voter-approved law should be shut down because marijuana is illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act and that state employees would be facilitating federal crimes if they issued licenses to medical-marijuana dispensaries. The first dispensary, Arizona Organix, is scheduled to open at 10a.m. Thursday in Glendale, with another to follow in Tucson later this month. Gordon, in his ruling, made clear that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but he wrote that the U.S. Constitution allows Arizona to make different policy choices than the federal government when it comes to decriminalizing and regulating medical marijuana.

  • Marijuana itself isn’t the key issue, but rather its role as a pathway to stronger narcotics

California Gay Therapy Ban Temporarily Blocked

A federal judge has issued a temporary injunction against a California law that bans counselors from using reparative therapy to help minors combat unwanted same-sex attractions, CBN News reports. U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb said protecting the free speech rights of counselors outweighed concerns that the practice could harm young people. The California legislature had said that therapy helping teens overcome same-sex attraction could lead to depression and even suicide, but Shubb said that claim was based on “questionable and scientifically incomplete studies.” The injunction applies only to three counselors — psychiatrist Anthony Duk, marriage and family therapist Donald Welch, and Aaron Bitzer, a former patient who is studying to become a counselor. The three sought to overturn the law, which will remain in force until a trial.

57% of Mexican Immigrants on Welfare

A report by the Center for Immigration Studies (www.cis.org) reveals some startling figures about welfare use by families headed by immigrants. “In 2010, 36 percent of immigrant-headed households used at least one major welfare program (primarily food assistance and Medicaid) compared to 23 percent of native households.” Families headed by immigrants from specific countries or areas of the world range from just over 6 percent for those immigrants from Great Britain to more than 57 percent of those from Mexico using some type of welfare. This comprehensive study suggests there are approximately 40 million immigrants in the United States of which more than a 25 percent of that number, and the largest overall group, originate from Mexico. The study estimates that approximately 28 percent of immigrants, or just over 11 million, are within the United States illegally. The study also suggests that nearly 50 percent of those immigrants originating from Mexico and Central America are here illegally.

  • Illegal immigrants are a drain on state and federal budgets and have already caused many hospitals to close (especially in southern California) because they can’t afford to provide so much free emergency service.

Obama Quietly Releases ‘Insider Threat Policy’ Memo

President Obama continues to release important information and executive orders late on Friday afternoons or around the time of holidays so that they are not as noticed by the public, or at least don’t get the media attention they should. Just prior to Thanksgiving, the White House published a memo from Barack Obama, in which he lays out guidelines for executive agencies to establish effective “insider threat programs.” The memorandum was issued on November 21, 2013 and is titled National Insider Threat Policy and Minimum Standards for Executive Branch Insider Threat Programs. It was issued to “heads of executive departments and agencies.” While the memo seems to target “potential espionage, violent against the government and unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” it does not distinguish between those things and legitimate whistleblowers who are letting the American people know about corruption within the government.

  • The Obama administration has been tougher on legitimate whistleblowers than any other previous administration, notes FreedomOutpost.com.

Senate Rejects UN Disability Treaty

The Senate voted down a United Nations treaty Tuesday that would have compromised parental rights regarding how best to care for children with disabilities. President Obama signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009, and sent it to the Senate in May. The Senate voted 61-38 Tuesday, falling short of the 66 votes needed for ratification. Despite the treaty’s nice-sounding name, it was never really focused on the protection of people with disabilities in the United States, said Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) Director of Federal Relations Will Estrada. “This treaty would have surrendered sovereignty and parental decision to the UN instead of leaving it to parents and caregivers,” Estrada told CitizenLink.

68% Prefer ‘Merry Christmas’ Over ‘Happy Holidays’

Most Americans still prefer signs in stores that say “Merry Christmas” rather than ones with “Happy Holidays,” according to a new Rasmussen Reports national survey. The poll found that 68 percent of American adults prefer “Merry Christmas,” while just 23 percent like “Happy Holidays” instead. The survey of 1,000 adults nationwide was conducted November 11-12, 2012, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

  • But, of course, our ‘representative’ government and judicial system ignore what the people think or want in order to establish their anti-Christ, secular-humanist agenda

Voyager 1 Enters New Region of Solar System

The unstoppable Voyager 1 spacecraft has sailed into a new realm of the solar system that scientists did not know existed. “We do believe this may be the very last layer between us and interstellar space,” said chief scientist Ed Stone of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Voyager 1 is on track to become the first manmade object to exit the solar system. Exactly when that day will come is unknown, partly because there’s no precedent. Stone estimated Voyager 1 still has two to three years to travel before reaching the boundary that separates the solar system from the rest of space.

  • The vastness of the universe shouts of an incredibly powerful Creator: The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Economic News

There are now more people receiving government healthcare benefits (119,249,000 on Medicare/Medicaid) that there are full-time workers (112,556,000). In addition, there are just 3 workers paying into Social Security for every retiree drawing benefits – when Social Security was created, there were 46 workers for every recipient.

  • This shouts ‘socialism’ and ‘welfare state’ but few are listening

Manufacturing shrank to the lowest level since July 2009, the first month after the recession ended, according to a purchasing managers survey out Monday. The impact of Superstorm Sandy and worries about the “fiscal cliff” — automatic tax increases that could take effect in January — combined to reduce factory orders and manufacturing jobs. The Institute for Supply Management says its index of manufacturing conditions fell to a reading of 49.5. That’s down from 51.7 in October. A reading above 50 signals expansion.

Home prices rose 6.3% in October from a year earlier, marking the biggest increase since June 2006. The gain is the eighth consecutive year-over-year jump in home prices nationally. The biggest gainers were states that were hit hardest during the downturn or those with strong energy sectors. Arizona saw prices increase 21% year-over-year; Hawaii, 13%; Idaho and Nevada, 12%; and North Dakota, 10%. Five states continued to see prices fall. Illinois and Delaware posted declines of 2.7% in October from a year ago. Rhode Island and New Jersey were down 0.6% and Alabama was off 0.3%.

Builders increased spending on construction projects in October by the largest amount in five months, led by a surge in housing. Construction spending rose 1.4% in October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $872.1 billion. That is nearly 17% higher than a 12-year low hit in February 2011. It was the largest gain since a 1.7% increase in May. Still, even with the gain, the level of spending remains only about half of what’s considered healthy.

Middle East

According to a source who served in Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and who recently defected, the Islamic regime has 170 missiles targeted at Tel Aviv from underground silos, some of which are armed with biological warheads, reports WorldNetDaily. The Islamic regime ruling Iran has prepared for the total destruction of Israel as well as a capability to target European capitals, he said. As reported in the Washington Times, the media outlet of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards confirmed that the Islamic regime not only has weapons of mass destruction but has armed its terrorist proxies with them, including Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.

Palestinians demanded urgent action by the U.N. Security Council and the international community on Wednesday to halt Israel’s “illegal settlement campaign.” Palestinian Charge d’Affaires Feda Abdelhady Nasser said in letters to the council, the General Assembly and the secretary-general that the intensification of the Israeli campaign is clearly part of “Israel’s contemptuous response” to the assembly’s overwhelming vote last week to recognize the state of Palestine. Palestinians called on the council and the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia — “to act immediately to demand an end to Israel’s illegal activities and to salvage the prospects for reviving credible peace negotiations for attainment of the two-state solution of Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace and security on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.”

  • A two-state solution requiring a shared Jerusalem will never be accepted by Israel

Egypt

The Egyptian army deployed tanks outside the presidential palace Thursday following fierce street battles between supporters and opponents of Mohammed Morsi that left five people dead and more than 600 injured in the worst outbreak of violence between the two sides since the Islamist leader’s election. The intensity of the overnight violence, with Morsi’s Islamist backers and largely secular protesters lobbing firebombs and rocks at each other, signaled a turning point in the 2-week-old crisis over the president’s assumption of near-absolute powers and the hurried adoption of a draft constitution.

Given just two weeks to consider a draft constitution that will be put to a national referendum Dec. 15, Egyptians took to the streets in large numbers to protest the latest development in their country’s chaotic political transition, More than 100,000 Egyptians protested outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Tuesday. Morsi’s opponents, long fractured by bickering and competing egos, have been re-energized since he announced decrees last month that place him above oversight of any kind, including by the courts, and provide immunity to two key bodies dominated by his allies: The 100-member panel drafting the constitution and parliament’s upper chamber.

Syria

Syrian forces fired artillery at rebel targets in and around Damascus on Tuesday as the country’s civil war closed in on President Bashar Assad’s seat of power and the international community grew increasingly alarmed about the regime’s chemical weapons stocks. U.S. intelligence has detected signs the regime was moving chemical weapons components around within several sites in recent days. NBC News reports that Syria’s military has loaded nerve-gas chemicals into bombs and is awaiting final orders from President Bashar Assad. Syrian rebels have made gains in recent weeks, overrunning military bases and bringing the fight to Damascus, killing scores of people, forcing international flights to turn back or cancel flights and prompting the United Nations to withdraw most of its international staff.

Yemen

Residents in parts of southern Yemen experienced a “human rights catastrophe” when an al-Qaeda affiliate took control of the country’s Abyan province for 14 months, according to Amnesty International. In a new report entitled “Conflict in Yemen: Abyan’s Darkest Hour”, the rights group catalogs “a raft of gross and deeply disturbing” punishments carried out by Ansar al-Sharia, including crucifixions, public executions, amputations and floggings. “They committed horrific abuses,” said Cilina Nasser, of Amnesty International. “They set up courts, their own courts and claimed to apply Islamic law.”

Nigeria

Suspected Islamist militants killed 10 Christians in an overnight machete and gun attack in the remote village of Chibok in Nigeria’s Borno state on Dec. 2, BBC News reports. Residents said a group of men went from house to house in a largely Christian area of Chibok, setting people’s houses on fire before slitting the throats of 10 people. Later, gunmen attacked government targets and churches near the border with Cameroon, killing five policemen. It is still unclear who is behind the attacks, but the army suspects the Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has targeted churches and government establishments in the region in the last few years, killing more than 3,000. The group is fighting to overthrow the government and impose a strict form of sharia, or Islamic law.

  • Ah, yes, Islam, the ‘peaceful’ religion

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake Monday was felt over a 175-mile swath of Alaska, including the state’s largest city, Anchorage. But there were no immediate reports of damage beyond items knocked off shelves. the magnitude-5.8 earthquake occurred at about 4:45 p.m. and was centered about 30 miles northwest of Anchorage.

Weather

December is starting out very warm for much of the U.S., with one large exception…Alaska. This current cold snap is impressive, even by Alaskan standards for late fall.  Fairbanks just recorded its 6th coldest November in 108 years of records.  Seventeen days featured daily low temperatures in the -20s or colder.  Only one other November had more frigid lows. However, snow was rather paltry in the interior, with only 4.2″ of November snow measured in Fairbanks.

A record warm spring coupled with a slow start to snowfall this season is sending some Midwest cities into snowless streaks that are nearing record territory. Chicago has seen 275 days without measurable snow, nearing its all-time record of 280 days. Similarly, Omaha has not had snow in 284 days, just short of its record of 285 days.

One of the strongest typhoons to hit the Philippines this year barreled across the Philippines Tuesday, killing at least 350 people. Another 400 are still missing. Officials fear more bodies may be found as rescuers reach hard-hit areas that were isolated by landslides, floods and downed communications. Typhoon Bopha slammed into the Davao region at dawn, its ferocious winds ripping roofs from homes and its 311-mile wide rain-band flooding low-lying farmland. The storm, packing winds of 160 mph with gusts up to 195 mph, toppled trees, triggered landslides and sent flash floods surging across the region’s mountains and valleys.

An unusually destructive tornado swept through neighborhoods around New Zealand’s largest city Thursday, killing three people and forcing 250 more to evacuate damaged and powerless homes. Seven people suffering a range of injuries were admitted to hospitals. The tornado was the deadliest in New Zealand in more than 60 years. Although the country reports about seven tornados on average each year, most are small, mild and do little damage.

Signs of the Times (12/3/12)

December 3, 2012

Lawsuit Fails to Overturn Nevada Marriage Law

Nevada is willing to gamble on a lot of things, but marriage isn’t one of them. In federal court yesterday, Judge Robert Jones dealt a big setback to state activists hoping to redefine marriage. His opinion, which he issued just days after oral arguments, may be one of the most compelling yet on the question of “equality” for homosexual couples. The lead plaintiffs in the case are two lesbians, both grandmothers, who argued that Nevada’s 10-year-old marriage amendment is discriminatory. Judge Jones emphatically disagreed in a 41-page masterpiece that thoroughly dismantled the Left’s legal logic. “Homosexuals have not historically been denied the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, or the right to own property,” he pointed out. “The protection of the traditional institution of marriage, which is a conceivable basis for the distinction in this case, is a legitimate state interest,” he said, adding that if the state recognized same-sex couples’ marriages, heterosexuals might “cease to value the civil institution as highly as they previously had and hence enter into it less frequently… because they no longer wish to be associated with the civil institution as redefined.”

West Point to Host First Same-Sex Marriage

The first same-sex marriage at the U.S. Military Academy’s Cadet Chapel at West Point will be celebrated Saturday as Brenda Sue Fulton and Penelope Dara Gnesin exchange vows. The ceremony comes a little more than a year after President Obama ended the military policy banning openly gay people from serving. n September 2011, the Pentagon issued guidance stating that “determinations regarding the use of DOD real property and facilities for private functions, including religious and other ceremonies, should be made on a sexual-orientation neutral basis, provided such use is not prohibited by applicable state and local laws.” The policy change came with the caveat that the use of a military facility does not constitute an endorsement of gay marriage by the Defense Department.

  • Caveat or not, it’s another step down the prophesied immoral path of lawlessness indicative of the end-times

Plan X: The Pentagon’s Roadmap for Cyberwarfare

The Pentagon plans to bring warfare into the 22nd century, creating a new system to “map” the digital battlefield of cyberspace, defining a playbook for deploying cyberweapons and designating a management facility in Arlington, Va. to bring it all together. It’s called Plan X, and it makes one thing very clear: Cyberwar is the future. On Nov. 20, Pentagon research arm DARPA — short for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — released a document called “Foundational Cyberwarfare (Plan X),” a 52-page outline of how to fight a cyberwar. Its heart is a new map of cyberspace, a real-time rendering of the world of computers and how they connect — switches, bridges, nodes and so on. It then seeks “support platforms” that can deploy cyberweapons, measure damage, strengthen defenses and communicate.

Drones Change ‘Top Gun’ Culture of Air Force

The rise of drone warfare has meant a dramatic cultural shift for the Air Force, whose leadership has for decades been dominated by officers who made their mark flying combat aircraft. Drones were initially dismissed by many pilots as nothing more than video games, and it took prodding from the Pentagon before the Air Force embraced the aircraft. Today, the Air Force pins more wings on new drone pilots than fighter and bomber pilots. The smallish aircraft, fitted with powerful cameras for surveillance and sometimes missiles for airstrikes, play a critical role in Afghanistan. They provide 24/7 surveillance of the battlefield and have the ability to hit precise targets. The Air Force has now embraced drone pilots without reservations. Air Force officers blanch at using the word drone, which they say suggests it is a dumb aircraft that flies itself. The accepted term is remotely piloted aircraft, or RPA. The message is that pilots control the aircraft, even if from a remote location. Some pilots say the Air Force embraces the drones at the expense of manned aircraft. n the view of many aces, “just the very idea of a pilotless aircraft is dishonorable.”

  • It’s evolving high-tech that explains the formerly indecipherable images of Revelation’s end-time symbolism

Obamacare to Cause Massive Hospital Layoffs

Hospitals are expected to cut some 93,000 jobs in 2013 in anticipation of ObamaCare. Louisiana State University announced in October it would cut 1,495 positions and various programs across its seven hospitals to trim more than $150 million from its budget. Officials with the Central Florida-based Orlando Health announced on Monday that the largest staff reduction in its nearly 100-year history will result in cutting up to 400 jobs, starting immediately. Gary Bauer, president of Washington DC-based American Values, warns that this is only the beginning of an economic catastrophe that will impact America for years. “What the public still doesn’t realize is that all the savings the president projected are literally savings that come from not paying hospitals, doctors and other care centers for services,” he told OneNewsNow.

Obama to Punish States That Don’t Comply With Obamacare

Residents of states that refuse to set up health insurance exchanges under Obamacare are set to be hit with higher premiums under new rules announced by the Health and Human Services Department. Insurance companies will be charged 3.5 percent of any premiums they sell through the federal exchanges, the department announced Friday. And insurers are likely to pass that surcharge on to clients, leading to higher premiums. The only states to be affected are those that refuse to set up their own exchanges because of opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. They are almost certain to be those under Republican control. In those states, HHS will set up the exchanges. GOP governors are taking a hard line against implementing any part of the healthcare law. So far, 17 states have refused to set up their own insurance exchanges.

School Removes God From First-Grader’s Poem

A first-grade girl in West Marion, North Carolina, had the word “God” stripped from a poem she wrote and was going to read at her school’s Veterans Day assembly earlier this month. The poem honored her two grandfathers who served during the Vietnam War. “He prayed to God for peace,” she wrote of one of them. “He prayed to God for strength.” Unfortunately, a parent found out about this, and complained to the school district. When the demand from this person was heard, the rights of another stopped. It did so by hushing the voice of a six-year-old girl. School Board member Lynn Greene told McDowell News, “My understanding on the law is a teacher cannot promote any certain religion, but when it comes to students voicing their opinion or expressing themselves in a poem we pretty much have to give some leeway. To me this whole thing is a violation of that child’s rights.”

  • Another ridiculous example of how the end-time anti-Christ spirit is growing in influence (1John 2:18)

12,000 Still Without Power after Sandy

At least 12,000 New Yorkers are trying to survive in unheated, flood-damaged homes, despite warnings that dropping temperatures could pose a health risk. The chill is only one of the potential environmental hazards that experts say might endanger people trying to resume their lives in the vast New York and New Jersey disaster zone. Uncounted numbers of families have returned to coastal homes that are contaminated with mold, which can aggravate allergies and leave people perpetually wheezing. But it is the approaching winter that has some public health officials worried most. Nighttime temperatures have been around freezing and stand to drop in the coming weeks.

Homeless at Risk of Cold Too

A report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found that the nation’s homeless population decreased from 643,067 in 2009 to 636,017 in 2011. The only increase was among those not living in shelters: Almost 4 in 10, or 243,701, were living on the streets, in cars or abandoned buildings. That’s a 2% increase from 2009. As winter approaches, those people are at risk in many parts of the country.

Economic News

Just four years after the worst shock to the economy since the Great Depression, U.S. corporate profits are stronger than ever. In the third quarter, corporate earnings were $1.75 trillion, up 18.6% from a year ago. That took after-tax profits to their greatest percentage of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product in history. But the record profits come at the same time that workers’ wages have fallen to their lowest-ever share of GDP. Profits accounted for 11.1% of the U.S. economy last quarter, compared with an average of 8% during the previous economic expansion. They fell as low as 4.6% of GDP during the recession. A separate government reading shows that total wages have now fallen to a record low of 43.5% of GDP. Until 1975, wages almost always accounted for at least half of GDP, and had been as high as 49% as recently as early 2001.

  • Greed and power almost always win – until Jesus returns

About 2 million jobless Americans fear they’ll lose their extended unemployment benefits, which are slated to end next month unless Congress votes to renew them. Their concerns make a new finding all the more puzzling: Many people eligible for unemployment don’t even bother to collect it. In the depths of the recession in 2008 and 2009, only half of those who qualified for benefits applied, a study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank shows. Many unemployed people aren’t eligible for benefits because they worked part-time or weren’t at their jobs long enough. But of the roughly 11.4 million who were laid off and eligible to collect in 2009, only about 5.7 million filed claims. Those who didn’t saved state and federal governments $108 billion — nearly as much as the $121 billion in benefits paid.

Hundreds of holiday jobs are there for the taking around here — and employers are having trouble finding people to fill them. Major distribution companies like Amazon and UPS are struggling to fill jobs to ship holiday orders. UPS still had 200 openings paying $8.50 per hour on four shifts this week, three months after setting out to hire 1,000 temporary workers.

Since passage of the health care overhaul two years ago, 5.8 million Medicare patients have saved $5 billion from prescription drug discounts. The savings are a continuation of the 2010 health care law’s attempt to close the “doughnut hole” — or the prescription drug coverage expenses that kick in once Medicare coverage runs out. In 2012, Medicare coverage ends when total prescription costs top $2,930.

Majority in U.K. Want Return to Christian Roots

A breeding ground of Darwinian evolution and atheism — and more recently, spreading Islamization — England has been recognized as falling away from its Christian heritage for generations. But recent survey results released by Oxford University indicate that a large majority is ready for a return to its Christian roots. A YouGov poll reveals that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the 1,800 participants in the study believe that Christianity should be taught in schools because children need to learn about it in order to understand English history and culture.  slight majority (51 percent) of those polled, believe that Christianity provides a moral compass that helps children decipher right from wrong.

Middle East

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared Sunday in Ramallah: “Now, we have a state.” The Palestinian Communications Ministry will also reportedly petition the International Telecommunication Union and the Universal Postal Union for frequencies and country codes, in a further attempt to capitalize on what the PA views as a de facto recognition of statehood by the international community.

Israel on Sunday roundly rejected the United Nations’ endorsement of an independent state of Palestine, and announced it would withhold more than $100 million owed to the Palestinians in retaliation for their successful statehood bid. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the statehood campaign, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as “a gross violation of the agreements signed with the State of Israel.” The U.N. resolution spelled out the borders of a future Palestine, endorsing the Palestinian position that it comprise the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war,

  • Israel will (rightfully) never agree to splitting Jerusalem

More than 100 anti-Israel demonstrations have been held in the United States following Israel’s military operation in Gaza, with more than one-third on college campuses, the Times of Israel reports. The campus demonstrations have included comparisons of Israelis to Nazis and accusations that the Jewish state is trying to perpetrate “another Holocaust” in Gaza, according to the Anti-Defamation League. During the demonstrations and on social media, some students and professors openly expressed support for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, and for terrorism targeting Israeli civilians. Many of the protests were organized by Students for Justice in Palestine.

  • Our liberal colleges and universities are growing more anti-Christ and anti-Jehovah (Israel)

The Palestinian U.N. envoy accused Israel on Friday of carrying out “an immediate provocation” following the U.N.’s recognition of the state of Palestine by announcing the expansion of settlements which he denounced as illegal. Israel accused the Palestinians of bypassing direct negotiations by seeking recognition as a state, and less than 24 hours after the vote the government approved the construction of 3,000 homes in Jewish settlements on Israeli-occupied lands. The Palestinians have insisted that settlement building stop before negotiations resume. Sitting behind a nameplate saying “State of Palestine” for the first time, Mansour called Thursday’s overwhelming vote in the assembly to raise the Palestinians’ status to a nonmember observer state “historic” for his people and the United Nations.

  • It’s also historic in its continuing isolation of Israel which will eventually result in a major conflagration that will trigger the Tribulation

Syria

The American effort to stem the flow of Iranian arms to Syria has faltered because of Iraq’s reluctance to inspect aircraft carrying the weapons through its airspace, American officials say. The shipments have persisted at a critical time for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has come under increasing military pressure from rebel fighters. The air corridor over Iraq has emerged as a main supply route for weapons, including rockets, antitank missiles, rocket-propelled grenade and mortars. Iran has an enormous stake in Syria, which is its staunchest Arab ally and has also provided a channel for Iran’s support to the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah.

Egypt

Egypt’s top court says it has suspended its work indefinitely to protest “psychological pressures.” The Supreme Constitutional Court’s announcement Sunday comes hours after it postponed a ruling on the legitimacy of an Islamist-dominated panel that drafted a disputed new constitution for the country. The judges also were expected to rule to on the legitimacy of another Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament, or the Shura Council. Several thousand supporters of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi have gathered outside the Nile-side courthouse in Cairo to prevent the judges from entering.

Tens of thousands of people waving Egyptian flags and hoisting large pictures of the president are demonstrating across Egypt Saturday in support of him and Islamic law. The rally, organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, is seen as a test of strength for Islamists seeking to counteract large opposition protests held this past week. The Islamists argue that the liberals, who are still laboring to create a cohesive opposition nearly two years after the uprising that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, do not represent the vast majority of Egyptians. The Brotherhood and harder-line Islamists won nearly 75% of the seats in last winter’s parliamentary election.

Kuwait

Voting is under way in Kuwait to pick a new parliament that’s certain to side with the ruling establishment after a widespread election boycott by opposition groups. The voting Saturday displays deep divisions in the strategic Gulf nation, a major oil producer and hub for U.S. ground forces in the Gulf. Opposition groups — ranging from hardline Islamists to Western-leaning liberals — have bitterly denounced a decree in October by Kuwait’s emir to change the balloting system. They claim it will make it easier for officials to influence the outcome. The opposition groups now may increasingly turn to street protests after staying on the sidelines in the election.

Tunisia

The army moved into a southwestern Tunisian town, an official and witnesses said Friday, the fourth day of protests that have injured more than 300 people. President Moncef Marzouki said on television that the North African country’s government has not “met the expectations of the people” and asked that a new one, smaller and specialized to deal with the unrest, be formed. The current government has about 80 members. Up to 10,000 people marched Friday to demand more jobs, government investment and the resignation of the local governor, but the peaceful protest degenerated into clashes with police. Still, the confrontation was far less serious than a day earlier, when the army was brought in briefly to quell protests.

Afghanistan

Taliban suicide bombers attacked a joint U.S.-Afghan air base in eastern Afghanistan early Sunday, detonating explosives at the gate and sparking a gunbattle that lasted at least two hours with American helicopters firing down at militants before the attackers were defeated. The attackers and at least five Afghans were killed. It was the largest clash at the Jalalabad air base since February, when a suicide car bombing at the gate triggered an explosion that killed nine Afghans, six of them civilians.

China

With a long red AIDS ribbon pinned to his chest, Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang warned of the grave situation of HIV/AIDS in China, calling it “not only a medical issue but also a social challenge.” The disease shows no sign of abating in the world’s most populous country. AIDS related-deaths have increased by 8.6 percent to 17,740 deaths, compared with the previous year. And 68,802 new HIV/AIDS cases were reported this year up to October. China has grappled with a checkered HIV history that includes a contaminated blood scandal in a central province and, in years past, denying that AIDS was a problem in the country.

Weather

The last in a series of punishing storms swept through Northern California on Sunday, leaving downed power lines, cracked tree limbs and buckets of rain — but not, it appeared, the disastrous flooding that authorities had feared. The rains totaled nine inches east of Sacramento; a foot in Paradise, near Chico. Some rivers, such as the Napa, began topping their banks. Roughly 100,000 homes and businesses lost power, powerful winds knocked over a truck on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, and Bay Area Rapid Transit train service was disrupted briefly after a power outage. And the threat was not over; the Russian River in Sonoma County could overflow its banks Monday. But in several communities, calamity was narrowly avoided.

Since we’re now in December, one would think that snowflakes and frozen conditions would be in the forecast for the majority of the country. Right? Wrong. With the jet stream riding to the north and southerly winds at the surface, warmer-than-average air engulfed a large portion of the country through Monday. Daily record highs will be threatened in numerous cities through Tuesday. Many cities in the Rockies, Midwest, and South are experiencing temperatures that are 10 to 30 degrees above average for early December. Highs in the 50s and 60s will stretch from Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, Pa. to Chicago, Ill. and Rapid City, S.D. Rockford, Ill. has a chance to see its first 70-degree December day on record Monday.

The amount of heat-trapping pollution the world spewed rose again last year by 3 percent. So scientists say it’s now unlikely that global warming can be limited to a couple of degrees, which is an international goal. The overwhelming majority of the increase was from China, the world’s biggest carbon dioxide polluter. Of the planet’s top 10 polluters, the United States and Germany were the only countries that reduced their carbon dioxide emissions. Last year, all the world’s nations combined pumped nearly 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, according to new international calculations on global emissions. That’s about a billion tons more than the previous year. Emissions of the key greenhouse gas have been rising steadily and most carbon stays in the air for a century. Worldwide carbon dioxide levels are 54 percent higher than the 1990 baseline.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme no matter what we do (Ezek. 13:11-13, 38:22, Rev. 8:7, 11:19. 16:21)