Signs of the Times (12/21/12)

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.

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