Signs of the Times (12/18/12)

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.

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