Archive for January, 2013

Signs of the Times (1/28/13)

January 28, 2013

U.S. Passes 55 Million Abortion Mark

At some point in the past year, the United States experienced its 55 millionth legal abortion — a number far more than the combined U.S. death toll of every American war since the nation’s founding, Baptist Press reports. The total spans 40 years, beginning with the Jan. 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The abortion count is based on data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. “That’s 55 million creative minds, 55 million people that could be working, 55 million that could be contributing to society,” said Randall K. O’Bannon, National Right to Life’s director of education and research. “It’s hard to fathom all the different ways in which any person has the potential to impact the community and impact our country. The loss is staggering.”

  • To put the total of 55 million in perspective, the combined number of military deaths in all of America’s wars — from the Revolutionary War to the second Iraq war — is 1.2 million.

53 Percent of Americans Say Abortion ‘Not That Important’ Compared to Other Issues

How important is the abortion issue to Americans? Fifty-three percent of the public says abortion is “not that important” compared with other issues, while 45 percent says abortion is either “one among many important issues” (27 percent) or “a critical issue facing the country” (18 percent), according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. However, the split masks stark differences between those who attend religious services at least once a week (37 percent of U.S. adults) and those who attend less often. About two-thirds (64 percent) of weekly churchgoers say abortion is a critical or important issue, while about two-thirds (65 percent) of those who attend less say abortion is not that important of an issue.

  • In this upside down world, secular issues trump morality as a direct consequence of a godless world view

Birth Control Insurance Mandate Heading to Supreme Court

The legal challenges over religious freedom and the birth control coverage requirement in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul appear to be moving toward the U.S. Supreme Court. Faith-affiliated charities, hospitals and universities have filed dozens of lawsuits against the mandate, which requires employers to provide insurance that covers contraception for free. However, many for-profit business owners are also suing, claiming a violation of their religious beliefs. But the lawsuits are yielding conflicting rulings in appeals courts around the country, so the line of cases will have to go to the Supreme Court for resolution.

  • The loss of religious freedom, whether we agree with the mandate or not, is the bigger issue here because it will lead to more federal jurisdiction over doctrinal beliefs

Court: Obama Appointments are Unconstitutional

President Barack Obama violated the Constitution when he bypassed the Senate to fill vacancies on a labor relations panel, a federal appeals court panel ruled Friday. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said that Obama did not have the power to make three recess appointments last year to the National Labor Relations Board. The unanimous decision is an embarrassing setback for the president, who made the appointments after Senate Republicans spent months blocking his choices for an agency they contended was biased in favor of unions. The ruling also throws into question Obama’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Sheriffs Uniting Against Proposed Gun Control Laws

Three Arizona sheriffs have joined a small but growing list of sheriffs across the nation who say they won’t enforce any unconstitutional laws that may result from President Barack Obama’s push to reduce gun violence. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio,Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher are among the more than 100 sheriffs nationwide expressing concern about any legislation that would diminish the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Babeu posted a letter on his website Friday morning that he sent to Obama on Jan. 16, informing him that neither he nor his deputies would carry out any unlawful mandates. Arpaio took a similar stance last week in a broadcast interview.

Brazil: Strict Gun Control, Worst Gun Violence

In Brazil, only police, people in high-risk professions and those who can prove their lives are threatened are eligible to receive gun permits. Anyone caught carrying a weapon without a permit faces up to four years on prison. But Brazil also tops the global list for gun murders. According to a 2011 study by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, 34,678 people were murdered by firearms in Brazil in 2008, compared to 34,147 in 2007. The numbers for both years represent a homicide-by-firearm rate of 18 per 100,000 inhabitants — more than five times higher than the U.S. rate. Brazilian officials admit guns flow easily over the nation’s long, porous Amazon jungle border.

Bipartisan Senators Offer a New Blueprint for Immigration

A bipartisan group of senators has agreed on a set of principles for a sweeping overhaul of the immigration system, including a pathway to American citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants that would hinge on progress in securing the borders and ensuring that foreigners leave the country when their visas expire. The senators were able to reach a deal by incorporating the Democrats’ insistence on a single comprehensive bill that would not deny eventual citizenship to illegal immigrants, with Republican demands that strong border and interior enforcement had to be clearly in place before Congress could consider legal status for illegal immigrants. Their blueprint, set to be unveiled on Monday, will allow them to stake out their position one day before President Obama outlines his immigration proposals in a speech on Tuesday in Las Vegas, in the opening moves of what lawmakers expect will be a protracted and contentious debate in Congress this year.

Flu Waning in East and South, Gaining in West

Although the flu appears to be leveling off in the East, South and Midwest, numbers are still rising in the Southwest and Northwest, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Nationally, 37 children have died from flu this season. Last year the entire season’s toll was 34. This year’s flu season got off to an early start, ramping up in late December, almost a month earlier than usual. The CDC doesn’t track statistics for adult flu deaths, but during the week of Jan. 13-19, 9.8% of deaths reported in CDC’s 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System were due to pneumonia and influenza. That’s above the epidemic threshold of 7.3%.

Nearly Half are Overqualified for Their Jobs

Nearly half of working Americans with college degrees are in jobs for which they’re overqualified, a new study out Monday suggests. The study, released by the non-profit Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says the trend is likely to continue for newly minted college graduates over the next decade. the problem is the stock of college graduates in the workforce (41.7 million) in 2010 was larger than the number of jobs requiring a college degree (28.6 million).

The number of Americans whose highest academic degree was a bachelor’s grew 25% to 41 million from 2002 to 2012. The number with associate’s degrees increased 31%, while the number of Americans for whom the highest level of education attainment was a master’s or doctorate degree grew fastest of all — 45% and 43%, respectively.

Economic News

Sales of new homes cooled in December from November, but sales for all last year were the best since 2009. The Commerce Department said Friday that new-home sales fell 7.3% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 369,000. That’s down from November’s 398,000 rate, which was the most in 2 ½ years. For all of 2012, sales rose nearly 20% from 2011, to 367,000.

The supply of homes for sale has been shrinking for six months and shows no improvement so far in January — a bad sign for buyers. New listings of existing homes for sale were down 14% year-over-year in the first two weeks of January. In Phoenix, where prices were up 24% in November from a year earlier, new listings through the first three weeks of January hit their lowest level in 13 years. Prices need to go up to bring more sellers to market.

Last Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished at its highest level since October 2007, while the S&P 500 closed above the 1,500 mark for the first time since December 2007. Both indexes also logged their fourth consecutive week of gains.

The price of sending mail with a first-class stamp, the kind of postage most consumers use, will go up by one cent Sunday to 46 cents — a hike the U.S. Postal Service first announced last October. Postcard postage will also rise one cent to 33 cents. Letters to international destinations will rise in cost to $1.10, up from the old prices of 85 cents to Canada and Mexico and $1.05 to other destinations. Overall, prices for mailing and shipping services will increase by 4% on average, with priority mail prices rising 6.3%.

Social Security’s disability trust fund won’t have enough money to pay full benefits by 2016. The fiscal security of the disability trust fund got rapidly worse as the unemployment rate rose. The number of applications has almost doubled in the last 10 years, from 1.5 million in 2001 to more than 2.8 million in 2012.

  • Even more alarming is the fact that the fund exists only on paper (or digital bits). The actual money has already been spent against the budget deficit

Eurozone

The British economy slipped back into reverse in the final quarter of 2012, raising the prospect of a third recession since the financial crisis and increasing pressure on the government to ease up on its austerity drive. Gross domestic product for the U.K. fell by 0.3% in the fourth quarter, a weaker performance than many economists were expecting. A fall back into recession could put the country’s AAA credit rating in doubt, risking an increase in borrowing costs. The government said last month that the belt tightening would have to continue into 2018, a year longer than expected, due to low revenues. National output remains about 3% below pre-recession levels.

Persecution Watch

The U.S. State Department says an American pastor who has been jailed in Iran since September has been sentenced to eight years in prison. Earlier this month Iran’s semi-official news agency, ISNA, quoted Abedini’s attorney as saying his client stood trial in the Revolutionary Court on charges of attempting to undermine state security by creating a network of Christian churches in private homes. The pastor, who is of Iranian origin but lives in Boise, Idaho, has rejected the charges.

After remaining silent for several weeks, the Islamist group Boko Haram killed five Christians in Nigeria’s northeastern city of Maiduguri, International Christian Concern reports. The five victims were beheaded in their homes overnight after militants suspected to be working with Boko Haram broke in. At least 23 others were killed this week in separate attacks in Nigeria’s north blamed on militants wanting to impose Islamic law. Boko Haram has killed more than 3,000 people since it started its armed insurgency in 2009, and many Christians fear the group will be successful in creating a purely Islamic state in northern Nigeria.

Algeria

Algeria’s foreign minister acknowledged that security forces made mistakes in a hostage crisis at a Saharan gas plant in which many foreign workers were killed by Algerian military strikes. Mourad Medelci, in an Associated Press interview, also conceded that Algeria will need international help to better fight terrorism. Algeria’s decision to refuse foreign offers of aid in handling the crisis, and to send the military to fire on vehicles full of hostages, drew widespread international criticism. The Jan. 16 attack, which an al-Qaeda-affiliated organization has claimed responsibility for, sent scores of foreign energy workers fleeing across the desert for their lives. A four-day siege by Algerian forces on the complex left at least 37 hostages and 29 militants dead. Some of the fatalities were badly burned, making it difficult to identify them.

Egypt

At least seven were killed Friday after clashes erupted between police and protesters on the second anniversary of the uprising that ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak. Six deaths, including a 14-year-old boy, occurred in Suez Canal city as protesters marched across Cairo in outrage over unfulfilled demands for reform and calling for change. Another person died in clashes in Ismailia, another Suez Canal city east of Cairo. At least 480 people were injured nationwide, the Health Ministry said, including five with gunshot wounds in Suez, raising the possibility of a higher death toll. Clashes continued Monday near Tahrir Square mark the fifth consecutive day of street violence in Egypt, a day after President Morsi declared a state of emergency in three provinces hit hardest by political violence.

The death toll climbed to 37 in Saturday’s riots in the northern city of Port Said after an Egyptian court handed down 21 death sentences in connection with last year’s deadly soccer melee. At least 300 have been injured, local media reported, in ongoing clashes between security forces and protesters who are angered by the verdicts related to a February brawl in which 74 soccer fans were killed.

Mali

French and Malian troops held a strategic bridge and the airport in the northern town of Gao on Sunday as their force also pressed toward Timbuktu, another stronghold of Islamic extremists in northern Mali. The advances come as French and African land forces also make their way to Gao from neighboring Niger in a bid to defeat the al-Qaida-linked Islamists who seized control of northern Mali more than nine months ago. The United States will support the French military by conducting aerial refueling missions. Leaders also discussed plans for the United States to transport troops from African nations, including Chad and Togo, to support the international effort in Mali. Ground forces backed by French paratroopers and helicopters took control of the airport and roads leading to the fabled desert town of Timbuktu in an overnight operation, a French military official said Monday.

Afghanistan

A police truck packed with officers and detainees struck a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan’s largest city, killing 10 of those aboard. It was one of four blasts Saturday that left at least 24 people dead across the country. Attacks by insurgents are a daily occurrence around Afghanistan and the Afghan police with their unarmored pickup trucks and remote checkpoints are a common target.

Weather

A winter storm dumped snow and ice on the Midwest this weekend before moving into the Northeast and snarling Monday morning travel. Several hundred schools are closed in the Detroit, Michigan region. The snow began falling Sunday night in downtown Detroit followed by freezing rain. Accidents dotted the roads in the Detroit metro region. The freezing rain and snow is moving into the Northeast Monday morning. In Washington D.C. most schools districts are opening late. The federal government and several other major employers are also opening late on Monday. Flight cancellations and delays are rolling in throughout the Northeast corridor, including Newark, Laguardia, Philadelphia, and Dulles.

A powerful storm system will cross the country this week. Ahead of it, temperatures will skyrocket in many areas, only to crash well below freezing immediately behind the system. Just two days after seeing snow, sleet and freezing rain, Chicago will aim for the 60-degree mark. Detroit and even Buffalo could touch 50. And as far east as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., temperatures will be some 10 to 15 degrees warmer than Monday.

And while sometimes strong temperature swings can come without a lot of other weather drama, that won’t be the case this time. The strong cold front that brings the temperature drop may also bring a widespread area of severe thunderstorms Tuesday and Wednesday, from Texas east and northeast into the mid- and lower Mississippi Valley, the Tennessee Valley and the central Gulf Coast as a cold front pushes east.

Signs of the Times (1/25/13)

January 25, 2013

Anti-Abortion March to Draw Thousands to Washington

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to fill the National Mall on Friday to protest the 40-year-old landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the first trimester. Buses are shuttling in anti-abortion protesters from all over the country for the annual March for Life, many of them young people. Organizers  are expecting record-breaking crowds. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 37% of Americans do not know that Roe v. Wade dealt with the issue of abortion. Among the age group targeted by the March for Life, the number is higher — 57% of adults under age 30 don’t know what the case is about.

  • Lack of knowledge and apathy are the two of the enemy’s greatest advantages against us: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.(Hosea 4:6)

Majority of Americans Think Religious Freedom is Fast Declining in U.S.

Slightly more than half of American adults, particularly Protestants and evangelicals, feel religious freedoms have grown worse in the last decade in the United States and foresee further restrictions in the years to come, according to a new study by the Barna Group and the Clapham Group, the Christian Post reports. Twenty-nine percent say they are very concerned and 22 percent say they are somewhat concerned that religious freedom in the U.S. will become more restricted in the next five years. The survey found that 71 percent of evangelicals, 46 percent of practicing Protestants and 30 percent of practicing Catholics are “very concerned” about this prospect. Concerns are not only the future of religious freedom, but also about the current level of restraints: 48 percent of practicing Protestants say they perceive religious freedom to have grown worse in recent years, while 60 percent of evangelicals perceive religious freedom to have grown worse.

Is UN Arms Trade Treaty Part of Obama’s Gun Control Plans?

One day after President Barack Obama won re-election, his  Administration agreed to a new round of  international negotiations to revive a United Nations-sponsored treaty regulating the international sale of conventional arms, which critics fear could affect the Constitutionally protected right of U.S. citizens to purchase and bear firearms. The fate of the UN treaty, which enters a “final” round of negotiations this March, may loom as more important than ever, according to critics, some of whom argue that the U.S. should never have entered the talks in the first place. The critics say the draft version of the treaty is a mine field of clauses and propositions that mandate a much greater federal role in U.S. gun sales, and potentially tie the U.S. to the gun control agenda of other governments or regimes.

  • The New World Order folks are pulling Obama’s strings. Disarming the masses in order to prevent future dissent over their one-world socialist government is a top priority.

House Passes Bill to Defuse Debt Ceiling Crisis

The House on Wednesday passed the “No Budget, No Pay Act,” a Republican bill that would effectively defuse the debt ceiling threat for several months. The bill would let the Treasury Department borrow new money until mid-May. In exchange, the legislation would require lawmakers in both chambers of Congress to pass a budget resolution or have their pay withheld until they do. The vote was 285 to 144. The bill passed largely on the back of GOP support — 199 Republicans voted for it. But Democrats were needed, and 86 backed the measure. Most House Democrats, however, voted against the bill. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the salary provision a “joke” and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer called the bill a “political gimmick” that perpetuates uncertainty. But other leading Democrats said they would support the legislation because it takes the immediate threat of default off the table and divorces the debt ceiling from Republican demands for spending cuts.

Pregnancies Up in the Military

Despite access to free contraceptives, unplanned pregnancies are a rising problem for women in the U.S. military, according to a new study. Nearly 11% of more than 7,000 active-duty women surveyed by the Department of Defense in 2008 reported an unplanned pregnancy during the previous year. That’s 50% higher than the average rate in the United States. The rate has increased steadily since 2005. Unplanned pregnancies can have a significant impact on the health of military personnel and on troop readiness, according to the study. Servicewomen who become pregnant unexpectedly while at home cannot be deployed, which may affect their career. Servicewomen who become pregnant while overseas must be sent home, which can cost the military around $10,000. Approximately 43% of unplanned pregnancies in the United States end in abortion, perhaps more so for servicewomen.

Panetta to Lift Ban on Women in Combat

Women in all branches of the military soon will have unprecedented opportunities to serve on the front lines of the nation’s wars. Leon Panetta, in one of his last acts as President Obama’s defense secretary, is preparing to announce the policy change Thursday, which would open hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war. The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta’s decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

Jobs Recovery Favors Educated Workers

Workers across America are experiencing completely different versions of the jobs recovery, depending on their education level. The recovery is favoring the college educated, but leaving behind those with a high school diploma or less. Workers with the highest level of education — including master’s, doctorates and professional degrees — are a relatively small part of the population, yet they’ve experienced the fastest employment gain. 6.7%. Workers with just a bachelor’s degree reported gains of 5%. That contrasts starkly with workers at the opposite end of the education spectrum, who are not only reporting they have fewer jobs, but are also leaving the workforce in droves. Those with a high school education or less are a large group, making up 36% of all U.S. workers over age 25. Their job losses started in 2007 and have yet to stop. About 767,000 fewer workers reported having a job in 2012, than they did in 2010.

More Americans Delay Retirement

Retirement is becoming a more distant dream for a rising number of older Americans, largely because they need the money but also because they are healthy enough to keep working. The share of Americans 65 and older in the labor force went from 12.1% in 1990 to 16.1% in 2010, and the increase was larger for women, according to new analysis of Census data released Thursday. The percentage of 65-plus women who are working jumped more than 4 percentage points to 12.5%. Men in the same category rose 3.2 percentage points to 20.8%. For workers younger than 65, women increased 1.9 percentage points to 69.8%, while younger men’s participation dropped 5.2 points to 78.2%.

Economic News

The International Monetary Fund is projecting a modest rise in global economic growth for 2013, but also warns that problems in the Eurozone and the United States could derail momentum. The IMF forecasts growth of 3.5%.in 2013 The world economy grew 3.2% in 2012, according to IMF estimates.

A payroll tax increase of 2 percentage points has hit workers who have received their first paychecks of the year. The tax increase came when Congress decided not to renew a temporary payroll tax reduction as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations at the end of December. The rate returned to 6.2% as a result.

The number of Americans filing initial claims for unemployment benefits is hovering at its lowest level in five years, after falling for a second week in a row. First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell by 5,000 last week to 330,000, down from 335,000 the previous week. That’s the lowest level since January 2008.

Home sales are set to keep marching upward this year after hitting their highest level in five years in 2012, economists say. Existing-home sales for the full year rose 9.2% from 2011. However, the 4.7 million homes sold still pales in comparison to the 7.1 million sold in 2005.

For the first time in history, digital stores became the primary outlet for buying music albums, eclipsing mass merchants that had been the leading sales sector for the previous five years. And booming digital sales this month suggest the shift is broadening more dramatically.

Persecution Watch

Open Doors USA has confirmed the death of two Christians in North Korea. According to the ministry that serves persecuted Christians worldwide, one Christian was recently shot while he was on his way back to Bible training in China. The other died in one of North Korea’s notorious labor camps. The first Christian “was very excited about his new faith and wanted to share the gospel with his family,” said an Open Doors worker. “He wanted to come back to China to study the Bible more so he could explain the Christian faith better to his family. The second Christian, who also studied the Bible in China, recently died in a labor camp. Authorities found out about his secret faith after his return to North Korea and he was sent to prison. “We just received an update that he was dead,” said the Open Doors worker. “He was terribly tortured because of his faith. He was also forced to do heavy labor while hardly receiving any food. Before his return to North Korea, he was baptized and willing to deal with the all the hardships he had to face. … We are devastated to hear about these murders. We know Christians die for their faith almost every day in North Korea, but it is still hard to deal with.”

Israel

A badly weakened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrambled Wednesday to keep his job by extending his hand to a new centrist party that advocates a more earnest push on peacemaking with the Palestinians after Israel’s parliamentary election produced a stunning deadlock. Israeli media said that with nearly all votes counted, each bloc had 60 of parliament’s 120 seats. Commentators said Netanyahu, who called early elections three months ago expecting easy victory, would be tapped to form the next government because the rival camp drew 12 of its 60 seats from Arab parties that traditionally are excluded from coalition building. A surprising strong showing by a political newcomer, the centrist Yesh Atid, or There is a Future, party, in Tuesday’s vote turned pre-election forecasts on their heads and dealt a setback to Netanyahu.

Tensions simmered in the West Bank on Thursday after a skirmish between Israeli Defense Forces and Molotov cocktail throwing Palestinians left a 21 year old Arab woman dead and several others wounded. According to the IDF, the incident started when an IDF vehicle travelling near the village of Al-Arroub southwest of Bethlehem was hit by several gasoline bombs on Wednesday. The soldiers within quickly abandoned the vehicle and fired on their attackers, hitting several. However, Palestinians who witnessed the event told Reuters the woman and several companions were innocently walking to Al-Arroub College when soldiers travelling in a civilian car opened fire on them for no reason. Rioting erupted in the area in the wake of the incident, but did not spread to other Palestinian cities.

Syria

As many as 20,000 Syrian refugees have flooded Jordan in just the last few days, the nation’s foreign minister and refugee officials said Wednesday, straining resources amid warnings from international aid organizations to prepare for a prolonged humanitarian crisis. The refugees are fleeing the ongoing violence in Syria, where the United Nations estimates at least 60,000 people have died in 22 months of fighting between government forces and rebels seeking to depose President Bashar al-Assad. Last week, the International Rescue Committee warned of a “protracted humanitarian emergency” in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, which have absorbed about 600,000 Syrian refugees since the conflict began.

Afghanistan

Explosions and gun fire rang out across central Kabul on Monday morning after a group of Taliban insurgents stormed the headquarters of the city’s traffic police, the second attack on a government office in the Afghan capital in less than a week. A suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance gate of the traffic police compound. Two or three other attackers then managed to charge inside the main building, armed with machine guns and more explosives.

Iraq

A suicide bomber killed at least 35 people and wounded scores more Wednesday at a funeral near a Shiite mosque in northern Iraq. Among the injured is Ahmed Abdul-Wahed, deputy governor of Salaheddin province, a largely Sunni region in north central Iraq. Last week, a series of car and roadside bombs targeting buses and bus stations rocked predominantly Shiite areas of Iraq and killed 19 people. More than 100 people were wounded in two separate incidents at bus stations in Karbala province, south of Baghdad.

Iran

An explosion deep within Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility has destroyed much of the installation and trapped about 240 personnel deep underground, according to a former intelligence officer of the Islamic regime. The previously secret nuclear site has become a center for Iran’s nuclear activity because of the 2,700 centrifuges enriching uranium to the 20-percent level. The explosion occurred Monday, but Iran is not discussing it.

Egypt

Egyptian opposition protesters are gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to mark the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime. The protesters, mostly led by liberals and secularists, are using the anniversary to stage a show of strength in a bid to force President Mohammed Morsi to amend a disputed constitution drafted by his Islamist allies. They are also demanding freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary. Hundreds of thousands are expected to turn out for the rallies planned in Cairo and several major cities. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups are staying off the streets to avoid clashes.

Mali

French troops in armored personnel carriers rolled through the streets of Diabaly on Monday, winning praise from residents of this besieged town after Malian forces retook control of it with French help a week after radical Islamists invaded. The Islamists also have deserted the town of Douentza, which they had held since September. Diabaly, located about 320 miles north of the capital of Bamako, fell into rebel hands on Jan. 14.

Algeria

The prime minister of Algeria offered an unapologetic defense on Monday of the country’s tough actions to end the Sahara hostage crisis, saying that the militants who had carried out the kidnappings intended to kill all their captives and that the army saved many from death by attacking. But the assertion came as the death toll of foreign hostages rose sharply, to 37, and as American officials said they had offered sophisticated surveillance help that could minimize casualties, both before and during the military operation to retake a seized gas field complex in the Algerian desert. American counterterrorism officials and experts said they would have taken a more cautious approach. The United States said that three Americans were among the dead and that seven had survived.

The attack signals changes in the terror landscape of North Africa. It showed that al Qaeda-linked groups now have the resources to reconnoiter and launch complex attacks against places far from their strongholds, using a network of camps and intermediaries throughout the desert. And it raises the alarming prospect that al Qaeda affiliates and other jihadist outfits could turn parts of northern and western Africa into no-go zones — places too dangerous for Westerners to work, or even visit. If their rhetoric is to be believed, their goals include targets farther afield — leveraging sympathizers among the vast North and West African diaspora in Europe.

China

China has essentially said it wants to chase every nation from the South China Sea. It has laid claim to 1 million square miles of the sea and in recent months has been dispatching ships and aircraft to enforce its ownership, infuriating many Asian nations whose coastlines also touch the sea. It’s not just for the rich sources of fish that China and others are battling. The World Bank has estimated that the seabed contains huge deposits of oil and natural gas. The sea is a major route for the world’s cargo (50% of global oil tankers pass through it). As Asia’s economies and populations grow, the food source and the energy resources of the South China Sea will become even more important. Confrontations that have already taken place between China and its neighbors over the sea could escalate and lead to war, observers of the situation say.

Japan says it may fire warning shots and take other measures to keep foreign aircraft from violating its airspace in the latest verbal blast between Tokyo and Beijing that raises concerns that a dispute over hotly contested islands could spin out of control. Japanese officials made the comments after Chinese fighters tailed its warplanes near the islands recently. The incident is believed to be the first scrambling of Chinese fighters since the tensions began to rise last spring. a pair of J-10 fighters was scrambled after Japanese F-15s began tailing a Chinese surveillance plane near the disputed islands in the East China Sea. Japan says this represents a rapid intensification of Chinese air force activity around the islands, where Japanese and Chinese coast guard ships have squared off for months.

North Korea

North Korea’s top governing body warned Thursday that the regime will conduct its third nuclear test in defiance of U.N. punishment, and made clear that its long-range rockets are designed to carry not only satellites but also warheads aimed at striking the United States. The National Defense Commission, headed by the country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, rejected Tuesday’s U.N. Security Council resolution condemning North Korea’s long-range rocket launch in December as a banned missile activity and expanding sanctions against the regime. The commission reaffirmed in its declaration that the launch was a peaceful bid to send a satellite into space, but also said the country’s rocket launches have a military purpose: to strike and attack the United States. The commission called it “a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century [that] will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people,”

Earthquakes

A strong, shallow earthquake has rocked parts of western Indonesia, reportedly killing a young girl. Several other people were injured. The quake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.9 hit Aceh province around dawn on Tuesday. Local media said it was felt strongly in the capital Banda Aceh and surrounding districts. Aceh is on the western tip of Sumatra Island. In 2004, a monster temblor off its shores triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people across Asia. Most of the deaths were in Aceh.

Weather

The same brutal arctic cold front that’s already delivered sub-zero temperatures across the upper Midwest and Northeast is forecast to bring ice and freezing rain to the South and Mid-Atlantic states on Friday. The National Weather Service expects widespread accumulations of ice across parts of five states: Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and North and South Carolina. Southern cities like Atlanta are not prepared for wintry weather because it comes so seldom. Southern drivers have little experience driving on the stuff. An ice storm in December 2010 resulted in hundreds of accidents across metro Atlanta. Many motorists just ditched their cars and gave up.

The National Weather Service forecasters urged caution early Friday as they warned “bitterly cold conditions” were expected to continue across much of the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast into the weekend. With temperatures plummeting, warming centers were opened in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other areas. Dozens of school systems in Tennessee and some in northern Georgia said they would be closed.

Signs of the Times (1/21/13)

January 21, 2013

Gay-Affirming Pastor Chosen to Replace Giglio for Obama Benediction

An Episcopal pastor at a church not far from the White House has been chosen to replace evangelical pastor Louie Giglio for the official benediction at President Barack Obama’s public inauguration on Jan. 21, the Christian Post reports. The Rev. Dr. Luis Leon, who has led St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., since 1995 and who also delivered the invocation at George W. Bush’s second inauguration in 2005, was invited last week to deliver the benediction. After Giglio decided to decline the invitation to lead the benediction due to protests against an anti-homosexuality sermon he preached 20 years ago, many had predicted the minister chosen to replace him would be gay-affirming. St. John’s Church, which has been attended by Obama as well as former president George W. Bush, blesses gay and lesbian unions. Giglio was chosen to perform the benediction largely for his global anti-slavery campaign, which drew strong support from Obama, but he explained he did not want to stir negative emotions at a time when he said the country needed healing, not division.

European Court Says U.K. Equality Laws Trump Personal Religious Beliefs

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that equality laws trump personal religious beliefs, rejecting three appeals filed by British Christians who were fired or disciplined for expressing religious beliefs in the workplace, the Religion News Service reports. In what lawyers describe as “landmark rulings,” the court in Strasbourg, France, ruled that employers did not violate the religious rights of a registrar who refused to officiate for the civil partnership of a same-sex couple or of a counselor who was unwilling to offer sex therapy for gays. The court also rejected an appeal by a nurse whose hospital barred her from wearing a cross around her neck because it was a health hazard.

  • So-called ‘equality laws’ are derived from the religion of secular humanism which world and U.S. courts are blatantly favoring over Christianity.

March for Life this Thursday in D.C.

On January 25, 2013, Americans will gather for the 39th annual March for Life to memorialize the fateful Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. The location this year will be on the National Mall between 7th & 9th Streets. The rally will begin at 12:00 PM and continue until about 1:30 PM, followed immediately by the March. The March will begin immediately after the rally and follow its customary route up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill. The MARCH FOR LIFE Youth Rally will be held on Thursday, January 24, 2013, in the Regency Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency hotel, from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM. On January 22, 1974, the first MARCH FOR LIFE was held on the West Steps of the Capitol. An estimated 20,000 committed prolife Americans rallied that day “on behalf of our preborn brothers and sisters. Our numbers have gradually risen through the years…  testimony to the increasing ranks of prolife Americans and to the importance of the March’s work.”

ACLU Drops Challenge to Kansas Abortion Law

The American Civil Liberties Union ended its legal challenge Friday to a Kansas law restricting private health insurance coverage for abortions. A court filing shows the parties have agreed to dismiss all remaining claims, with each side bearing its own costs and attorneys’ fees. The agreement follows a federal judge’s Jan. 7 ruling that, as a matter of law, the ACLU failed to provide any evidence that the Legislature’s predominant motivation in passing the 2011 law was to make it more difficult to get abortions. The Kansas law prohibits private insurance companies from offering coverage for abortions in their general plans except for when a woman’s life is in danger. Kansas residents or employers who want abortion coverage must buy supplemental policies, known as riders.

Thousands Join Pro-Gun Rallies in State Capitals

Thousands of gun rights supporters gathered at state capitols around the country Saturday to rally against new laws to regulate firearms proposed by President Obama in the wake of last month’s school shooting in Connecticut. The crowds included people of all ages, some waving flags and holding signs saying “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Stand behind the Second Amendment.” A recurring message was that responsible gun owners should be left alone. The rallies were part of a grass-roots effort, called Guns Across America. Police in Connecticut said about 1,000 people showed up on the capitol grounds in Hartford, about 50 miles from the site of last month’s mass shooting at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. Around 500 protesters in Phoenix, Arizona, carried rifles and handguns, waving signs that said “We respect gun rights” and “Defend your constitution before it is too weak to defend.”

U.S. Military to Embrace Eastern Religion?

While Bible-based Christianity is increasingly under attack in the U.S. military, at least one branch of America’s armed forces appears ready to embrace eastern religion practices. The U.S. Marine Corps is studying how to make its troops even tougher through meditative practices, yoga-type stretching and exercises based on mindfulness. Marine Corps officials say they will build a curriculum that would integrate mindfulness-based techniques into their training if they see positive results. Mindfulness is a Buddhist-inspired concept that emphasizes active attention on the moment to keep the mind in the present. Facing a record suicide rate and thousands of veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress, the military has been searching for ways to reduce strains on service members burdened with more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • As Christianity was minimalized in the military, suicide rates are up, but the end-time anti-Christ spirit blinds officials to the correlation, just as removing God from schools has caused increased violence there

Child Flu Deaths Rising

The flu continues to take its toll on the most vulnerable age groups of Americans. Nine more children or teens have died of the flu, bringing the nation’s total this flu season to 29. That’s close to the 34 pediatric deaths reported during all of the last flu season, although that one was unusually light. The number of older people hospitalized with the flu has risen sharply, prompting federal officials to take unusual steps to make more flu medicines available and to urge wider use of them as soon as symptoms appear. The U.S. is about halfway through this flu season, and it’s shaping up to be a worse-than-average season.

83% Think Government Spending Out of Control

More than eight in ten American voters (83 percent) think government spending is out of control, according to a Fox News poll released Friday.  That’s up from 78 percent who said so in 2010 and 62 percent in 2009.  Some 11 percent think spending is being managed carefully. The poll also finds almost all voters rate the nation’s economy negatively. On the upcoming debt ceiling debate, most voters side with the position of some Republican lawmakers who say Congress should only raise the debt limit after agreeing on major cuts (69 percent).  The president says it is Congress’s duty to raise the debt ceiling without demanding spending cuts to do so — 23 percent agree with that position.

  • It doesn’t really matter what the people think, politicians will do what they want, which most often is to spend money to get votes

Twice as Many Favor More Guns over Banning Guns

Nearly twice as many voters say there would be less violent crime if more law-abiding Americans owned guns, than if guns were banned.  In addition, while American voters generally favor strengthening gun laws, 71 percent do not think tougher laws can stop shootings like the one last month in Newtown, Connecticut.  Some 22 percent say new laws can prevent the next Sandy Hook in a Fox News poll released Friday. Majorities of gun owners (81 percent), non-gun owners (58 percent), Democrats (58 percent), independents (72 percent) and Republicans (85 percent) say the people who do these kinds of things “will always find the guns” to commit violent acts.

Health Insurance Rates Rising Ahead of Obamacare

While the most sweeping provisions of the health care overhaul have not yet gone into effect, plenty of Americans will still be paying higher insurance premiums this year — as insurance companies try to preemptively cover the cost of a tax increase included in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. That tax doesn’t take effect until next year, when other major provisions like the so-called “individual mandate” and insurance subsidies also kick in. But that hasn’t stopped insurance companies from charging higher premiums this year to cover the hike, as well as the cost of ObamaCare benefits such as free birth control and preventive care. The looming tax on the insurance industry will cost health-insurance providers $8 billion in 2014, then $14.3 billion in 2018 and a total $100 billion over the next 10 years

Already, a pair of taxes has hit higher-income households to cover the law. Those making more than $250,000 are seeing a .9 percentage point increase in their Medicare tax, and another 3.8 percentage point hike on investment income.

Looming Defense Cuts Already Causing Contractors to Shed Jobs

With a March 1 deadline looming for Congress to once again strike a deal in order to avoid $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts — including $500 billion at the Pentagon — some companies that rely on the defense industry are already bracing for the worst by canceling contracts and laying off workers. While private businesses are used to ups and downs in the economy, the automatic spending cuts looming in Washington are something completely different. “We don’t know what’s going to be cut. Nobody knows. There is no plan. What successful business today has been successful without a plan?” said Jim Lynch, Chief Operating Officer at K2 Solutions.

GOP Offers Debt-Limit Concession

Scaling back their ambitions in the latest fight over the nation’s borrowing limit, House Republicans said Friday that they will try to pass a bill next week to raise the limit for three months without spending cuts. But they warned that the Senate must work with them to pass a budget deal during that time before they would agree to raise the debt ceiling for the long term. Under the proposal, Congress would increase the debt limit through mid-April — long enough, House Republicans say, to give both chambers time to pass a budget agreement.

GAO Reports U.S. on Unsustainable Long-Term Fiscal Path

The Government Accountability Office warned in a report that if cuts are not made to mandatory spending — including Social Security and Medicare — there will be a fundamental gap between spending and revenue as more baby boomers retire. “Significant actions to change the long-term fiscal path must be taken,” the GAO warned. The GAO said that discretionary spending is not the crux of the problem. “Discretionary spending limits [which includes defense spending] alone do not address the fundamental imbalance between estimated revenue and spending, which is driven largely by the aging of the population and rising health care costs.” The GAO says the costs of mandatory government programs must also be reined in.

Economic News

The Dow and S&P 500 climbed during the last hours of trading Friday to finish the week at their highest levels since December 2007. All three major indexes logged a third straight week of gains. The Dow gained 1.2%, the S&P 500 rose 1% and the Nasdaq added 0.3%.

A preliminary reading of the University of Michigan-Thomas Reuters index of consumer sentiment showed it at 71.3 in January, below December’s final 72.9 reading and the lowest level since December 2011. Consumers and investors remain wary of the ongoing budget battles in Washington, despite the 11th-hour “fiscal cliff” agreement that temporarily averted massive spending cuts and even more tax hikes.

China’s economy is finally rebounding from its deepest slump since the 2008 global crisis but the shaky recovery could be vulnerable to a new downturn in global trade. For the year, the economy grew by 7.8 percent, which was China’s weakest annual performance since the 1990s.

Persecution Watch

The 15-year prison sentence given to a woman and her seven children by an Egyptian court for converting to Christianity is a sign of things to come, according to alarmed human rights advocates who say Egypt’s Islamist government spells trouble for Christians, Fox News reports. A criminal court in the city of Beni Suef gave the shocking sentence last week to Nadia Mohamed Ali, who was raised a Christian but converted to Islam when she married her husband 23 years ago. After he died, she planned to convert her family back to Christianity to obtain an inheritance, and sought the help of the registration office to process new identity cards between 2004 and 2006. But when the conversion came to light under Egypt’s new regime, Nadia, her children and even the clerks who processed the identity cards were all sentenced to prison. Samuel Tadros of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom said conversions like Nadia’s have been common in the past, but said Egypt’s new sharia-based constitution “is a real disaster in terms of religious freedom.” He added: “The cases will increase in the future. It will be much harder for people to return to Christianity.”

Middle East

The most recent report on poverty in Israel shows the shocking fact that one out of every three Israeli children is living in poverty. Many of them are facing hunger—their families, even in those families where at least one parent has a job, simply do not make enough money to cover all of their living expenses.

Iran

An Iranian diplomat says Tehran will not stop uranium enrichment “for a moment,” defying demands from the U.N. and world powers to halt its suspect nuclear program. The comments by Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, come just two days after senior IAEA investigators ended two days of intensive talks with Iranian officials on allegations the Islamic Republic may have carried out tests on triggers for atomic weapons.

Afghanistan

U.S. troop deaths and wounds from makeshift bombs in Afghanistan dropped by almost half in 2012 as Afghan forces take a larger share of fighting and Americans find and defuse more bombs than ever, according to Pentagon data. Improvised explosive devices — the top threat in Afghanistan — killed 104 U.S. troops in 2012 compared with 196 in 2011, a 46% decline. Bombs wounded fewer, too, from 3,542 in 2011 to 1,744 in 2012, a 50% drop. A flood of surveillance equipment, metal detectors and intensive training have helped spur the decline in casualties.

Taliban militants detonated a car bomb at the gates of the Kabul traffic police headquarters early Monday and then stormed the compound, setting off a six-hour gunbattle with security forces that killed at least one policemanIt was the second brazen raid inside the Afghan capital in less than a week, a sign that the insurgency is determined to keep carrying out such spectacular attacks even as the U.S. and Afghan governments try to entice the Taliban into holding peace talks.

Algeria

Fourteen of BP’s 18 employees at the Amenas plant were safe after Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in a final assault Saturday that ended a four-day-old hostage crisis. The fate of the four missing BP employees appears bleak. Seven hostages are believed to have been killed by terrorists during Saturday’s assault, bringing the death toll to at least 55 — 23 hostages and 32 Islamist militants. The death toll from the bloody terrorist siege at a natural gas plant in Algeria has climbed past 80 Monday as the country’s forces searching the refinery for explosives found dozens more bodies, many so badly disfigured they could not immediately be identified A total of 685 Algerian and 107 foreigner workers were freed over the course of the standoff, which began last Wednesday

Mali

The French military says its fighter planes and helicopter gunships have carried out a dozen operations over the weekend in Mali, most of them aimed at “terrorist vehicles.” Radical Islamists have fled Diabaly, a key Malian town, on foot following French airstrikes that began after they seized the town nearly one week ago. The departure of the Islamists from Diabaly marks a success for the French-led military intervention that began Jan. 11 to oust the Islamists from northern and central Mali. Earlier in the week, the Malian military was able to retake another key town, Konna, whose capture had sparked the French intervention. France now has 2,000 troops in Mali.

  • One of the reasons for this latest intervention lies in the determination of the world’s powers to preserve Mali’s great resource wealth, including gold, oil and uranium. Mali was once one of France’s colonies.

Yemen

A U.S. drone airstrike on a car east of Yemen’s capital of Sanaa on Monday killed two suspected Al Qaeda militants and wounded three others, two of them seriously, according to security officials. They said the five were traveling in a pickup truck when it was hit Monday in the province of Maarib. The three wounded were traveling in the vehicle’s back bed. Yemen’s government, aided by the U.S., has waged a campaign against Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch. The group is considered among the world’s most active, having planned a series of foiled or aborted attacks on U.S. territory.

Weather

Heavy flooding in the Indonesian capital Jakarta this week has killed 12 people, driven thousands from their homes and paralyzed the sprawling city — and officials are warning that more water is on its way. Caused by unusually strong monsoon rains, the flood waters — often carrying trash and human waste — have inundated the city’s central business district, closed schools and offices, and entered the presidential palace.

Parts of the Southeast were digging out Friday from a winter storm that dumped snow around the region. In Virginia, the areas hardest hit Thursday and Friday were in the southwest, where the National Weather Service says 13 inches were reported in Giles County, while Grayson County and the Galax area received about a foot.

Temperatures in Sydney, Australia on Friday hit their highest levels since records began 150 years ago. While a vicious cold snap has recently hit Russia and eastern Europe and the Middle East has suffered its worst winter storm in a decade, Australian firefighters were battling scores of wildfires in stifling summer heat. In Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, the temperature smashed the previous hottest recorded temperature peaking at 114.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The old record, of 113.5 Fahrenheit, was set in January 1939.

Hundreds of fights were canceled in Britain, France and Germany on Monday as snow and ice blanketed Western Europe. Flights have been disrupted since Friday at London’s Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, which has seen long lines and stranded passengers camping out on its terminal floors. Forty percent of flights were canceled at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris. In Munich, which saw more than 5 inches of snow overnight, another 200 flights were cancelled, and long delays were expected at both airports. In northern Germany, slick roads outside Berlin caused a stretch of a major highway to be closed down for the Monday morning commute, and the high-speed train that runs through Brussels from Paris to Germany was experiencing long delays.

Signs of the Times (1/17/13)

January 17, 2013

Obama Gun Control Plan faces Hurdles in Congress

President Obama is pitching the most ambitious gun control program in decades — but whether it becomes law or not remains to be seen. The proposals to ban assault weapons, expand background checks, and restrict the capacity of gun magazines face big hurdles on Capitol Hill. Republicans control one branch of Congress, the U.S. House, and many of their members have sworn strong fidelity to Second Amendment gun rights. Gun rights supporters sharply criticized the president’s proposals as ineffective, unconstitutional, and politically motivated. A new assault weapons ban may be the toughest to achieve. Congress refused to renew the old one when it expired in 2004.

One obstacle President Obama may face in proposing a new federal ban on assault weapons could lie in the use of the term “assault weapon” itself. Some argue that it would be impossible to come up with a definition comprehensive enough to effectively remove the weapons from the market. Second Amendment groups — and many firearm owners — heatedly object to the use of “assault weapon” to describe guns that they say are routinely used in target shooting and hunting. The term, they argue, should be used only for firearms capable of full automatic fire.

Obama Enacting 23 Executive Orders Aimed at Gun Violence

President Barack Obama is taking 23 executive actions aimed at curbing gun violence that don’t require congressional action, including measures to encourage schools to hire police officers, increase research on gun violence and improve efforts to prosecute gun crime. The executive actions are part of an overarching package assembled by a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden. The head of the Republican National Committee called the provisions an “executive power grab.” Thousands of gun owners across America have had enough of the Obama administration’s attack on the Second Amendment – and they’re preparing to take their concerns to the capitols in at least 47 states this Saturday at 12 p.m. Many see it more as a mental illness problem than a gun problem.

  • The real problem is evil and separation from God. The only solution is the return of Jesus to establish His Kingdom on earth.

Stanford University Appoints Atheist ‘Chaplain’

Although it may sound like a contradiction in terms, Stanford University has appointed an atheist “chaplain” to serve its non-believing students, WORLD News Service reports. Stanford’s independent Humanist Community technically employs John Figdor, but he is an officially recognized chaplain under Stanford’s Office of Religious Life. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Harvard Divinity School graduate Figdor explains his work by saying that “atheist, agnostic and humanist students suffer the same problems as religious students — deaths or illnesses in the family, questions about the meaning of life, etc. — and would like a sympathetic nontheist to talk to.” The Stanford family, who created the university in 1885, did explicitly prohibit the school from aligning with any particular denomination, but its founding grant also called for the university to teach students the doctrines of “the immortality of the soul, the existence of an all-wise and benevolent Creator, and that obedience to His laws is the highest duty of man.” And the family established the campus’ Memorial Church for nonsectarian worship, and so that “all those who love Our Lord Jesus Christ may partake of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” Chapel attendance at Stanford has been voluntary.

  • Atheism is not a faith-based system but rather a denial of faith, much like darkness isn’t a something but rather the lack of something (light)

Boeing Dreamliner 787 in Trouble

Aviation authorities around the world have ordered airlines to stop flying their Boeing 787s until they can show they’ve fixed a fire risk linked to battery failures aboard the closely watched Dreamliners. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday that the planes should stay on the tarmac following an emergency landing in Japan this week and a similar problem aboard a Dreamliner on the ground in Boston nine days earlier. The 787, known as the Dreamliner, is Boeing’s newest and most technologically advanced jet, and the company is counting heavily on its success. Since its launch, which came after delays of more than three years, the plane has been plagued by a series of problems including battery fires and fuel leaks. Since about half the 787 fleet is in Japan, more problems are cropping up there.

Energy Drinks ER Visits Double

A new government survey suggests the number of people seeking emergency treatment after consuming energy drinks has doubled nationwide during the past four years, the same period in which the supercharged drink industry has surged in popularity in convenience stores, bars and on college campuses. From 2007 to 2011, the government estimates the number of emergency room visits involving the neon-labeled beverages shot up from about 10,000 to more than 20,000. In 2011, about 42 percent of the cases involved energy drinks in combination with alcohol or drugs, such as the stimulants Adderall or Ritalin. Most of those cases involved teens or young adults. The calls energy drink consumption a “rising public health problem” that can cause insomnia, nervousness, headache, fast heartbeat and seizures that are severe enough to require emergency care.

Veteran Disability Costs more than Doubled since 2000

What the nation owes each year to veterans who are disabled during service has more than doubled since 2000, rising from $14.8 billion to $39.4 billion in 2011. “I would point first and foremost to multiple deployments,” says Allison Hickey, VA undersecretary for benefits. “I would call it unprecedented demand.” The 3.4 million men and women disabled during their service — some of them having served in World War II — are about 15% of the nation’s 22.2 million veterans.

Pentagon Reports Record Number of Military Suicides

Despite extensive support and counseling programs, as many as 349 U.S. service members committed suicide last year, the highest number since the Department of Defense began keeping detailed statistics in 2001. Each branch of the service showed an increase. For years, the Pentagon has struggled with how to identify service members at risk for suicide and to provide counseling and other services. The Army and Navy have focused on teaching “resiliency” to troops in hopes of helping them cope with stress. Military experts have long said one of the enduring challenges is that there doesn’t appear to be a direct link between suicides and the stress of being in a combat zone.

Wal-Mart to Hire 100,000 Veterans

Wal-Mart Stores said Tuesday that, over the next five years, it will hire every veteran who honorably left the military in the last year. More than 100,000 people are expected to find work through the program, making it one of the largest hiring commitments for veterans on record. The retailer was already the largest private employer of veterans in the country, even before this new push. About 100,000 of the company’s 1.4 million employees in the U.S. are veterans. In recent years, finding any work, let alone good jobs, has been a struggle for veterans. The unemployment rate for veterans serving in recent wars has fallen some, but remained at a doggedly high 10.8% in December. That’s still well above the 7.5% rate for nonveterans.

Division I Schools Spend More on Athletes than Education

Public universities competing in NCAA Division I sports spend as much as six times more per athlete than they spend to educate students, and for the first time per-athlete spending at schools in each of the six highest-profile football conferences topped $100,000 in 2010, an analysis of federal and school data finds. Between 2005 and 2010, spending by athletic departments rose more than twice as fast as academic spending on a per-student basis. Median per-athlete spending by 97 public institutions that compete in the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision increased the most: 51%, to $92,000, between 2005 and 2010, while median spending on education increased 23%, to just under $14,000 per full-time student.

  • Moral values will continue to turn upside-down as the end-times roll on

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low last week. But much of the decline reflects seasonal volatility in the data. Weekly unemployment benefit applications fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000.

Builders started work on single-family homes at a 616,000 annual rate in December, up 8% from November. An estimated 780,000 housing units were started in 2012, up 28.1% from 2011. Overall housing starts last month rose 12% from November and 36.9% from a year earlier.

Banks repossessed 671,251 homes last year, down nearly 17% from 804,423 the year before. Among the states with the biggest increases were New Jersey, Florida and Illinois. States with the biggest annual decline in foreclosure activity included Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

Consumer prices were unchanged in December as cheaper gas prices offset more expensive food and rent. The consumer price index rose 1.7% in 2012, comfortably below the 2% to 2.5% rate considered too high by the inflation-fighting Federal Reserve.

Citigroup and Morgan Stanley have already announced new job cuts, and analysts predict other large banks will follow suit, as they seek to slash costs in the wake of declining revenue. Citi has already trimmed its staff by 25% since the financial crisis hit. And last week, Morgan Stanley announced plans to cut 1,600 employees, or 3% of its staff, in the coming weeks. BofA already announced plans to slash its workforce by 30,000 back in September 2011. Since then, the bank has cut 17,800 employees,

Quarterly earnings from financial heavyweights JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs sailed past analyst estimates. JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, earned $5.7 billion in the fourth quarter, compared with $3.7 billion a year ago. Goldman Sachs earned $2.83 billion after paying preferred dividends, compared with $978 million a year earlier. Citigroup earned 38 cents a share in the fourth quarter, well short of the 97 cents a share forecast by analysts, while Bank of America posted fourth-quarter earnings of just 3 cents a share as it cleaned up problems from its mortgage unit.

Persecution Watch

An American pastor currently imprisoned in his native Iran because of his Christian faith will go on trial next week before a judge known for meting out harsh sentences. Saeed Abedini, will go before one of Iran’s most notorious “hanging judges” on Jan. 21 on charges of compromising national security. Court documents indicate that the charges are directly related to Abedini’s work starting a house church movement, and his supporters say it is a clear case of a Christian being punished for his beliefs. Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned since September, when he returned to Iran to visit family. In a letter written to his wife just days ago, Abedini said his captors have tortured him.

A longtime substitute teacher in Phillipsburg, NJ, has been fired after he shared a Bible verse with a student – and upon request gave the child a Bible. The Phillipsburg School Board voted Monday night to terminate the employment of Walter Tutka. He was accused of breaking two policies – distributing religious literature on school grounds and another policy that directs teachers to be neutral when discussing religious material. “It’s unfortunate the Phillipsburg School District chose the path of religious hostility and intolerance against a retired man serving his community and simply responding to a student’s intellectual curiosity,” Hiram Sasser, director of litigation at Liberty Institute, told Fox News. “What’s next – are they going to ban Shakespeare because his plays have Bible quotations?”

Syria

Syrian activists are reporting new clashes and air raids in suburbs of the capital Damascus from which the government is trying to oust rebels. Activists reported deadly airstrikes that killed dozens of civilians on both Sunday and Monday. The U.N. says at least 60,000 people have been killed in the war and millions have fled their homes. The death toll from two massive blasts that ravaged the campus of a Syrian university has reached 87, anti-regime activists said Wednesday. The numbers will rise further because medics have collected unidentified body parts and some of the more than 150 injured are in critical condition.

Pakistan

Thousands of Pakistanis fed up with political leaders they say are corrupt and indifferent rallied in the Pakistani capital, as the cleric who organized the rally called for the government to resign. Meanwhile, Officials say Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of the country’s prime minister as part of a corruption case involving private power stations. The prime minister’s adviser, Fawad Chaudhry, condemned the court’s order, calling it unconstitutional.

Iraq

Insurgents unleashed a string of bomb attacks mainly targeting Shiite Muslim pilgrims across Iraq on Thursday, killing at least 22 people and extending a wave of deadly bloodshed into a second day. An explosives-packed vehicle driven by a suicide bomber blew up outside offices for the party of a key Kurdish leader early Wednesday in the disputed Iraqi city of Kirkuk, the largest in a wave of morning strikes that left at least 24 dead and scores wounded across the country. The attacks come amid rising tensions among Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups that threaten to plunge the country back into chaos nearly a decade after the U.S.-led invasion. Car bombs and coordinated attacks are favorite tactics for Sunni insurgents such as al-Qaida’s Iraqi branch. They seek to exacerbate divisions within Iraq in an effort to undermine the Shiite-led government.

Afghanistan

The Taliban claimed responsibility Wednesday for a midday suicide attack near an office of Afghanistan’s national security agency in central Kabul that killed a soldier and wounded 30 other people. One suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden car, but five other attackers were killed by Afghan security forces and a second car bomb was neutralized. An e-mail from Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the group was targeting government officials and foreigners.

France/Mali

France’s top security official says the country is ready to prevent new terror attacks after its military operation to push back al-Qaeda-linked insurgents grabbing territory in Mali. Declaring France had “opened the gates of hell” with its assault, the rebels from the Sahel desert region that includes Mali threatened retribution on Monday. Interior Minister Manuel Valls said Tuesday that France is well aware of the dangers of terror attacks both inside and outside France, but believed the threat posed by the advance of the militant Islamist fighters was far greater. A French military assault on jihadist rebels marching south from a desert stronghold in northern Mali cannot be maintained without support from France’s NATO allies, including the United States, analysts say.

Algeria

Originating in eastern Turkey, the Euphrates flows through Syria and Iraq to join the Tigris in the Shatt al-Arab, which empties into the Persian Gulf. Earlier Thursday, the Algerian army surrounded the Amenas gas facility a day after Islamist militants took dozens of foreign nationals hostage, including 7 Americans. There were also unconfirmed reports Thursday from Algeria’s official APS news agency that 30 Algerian workers have escaped the gas facility. The attack appeared to be the first violent shock wave from the French intervention against rebels in neighboring Mali that began on Friday. Islamic terrorists linked to al-Qaeda attacked the complex in Algeria, killing one British and one French worker and taking numerous hostages.

Weather

As an unusual cold spell gripped parts of the West for a fifth day, some California citrus growers reported damage to crops and an agriculture official said national prices on lettuce have started to rise because of lost produce in Arizona. The extreme chill in the West comes as the eastern U.S., from Atlanta to New York City, is seeing spring-like weather. The extreme chill in the West comes as the eastern U.S., from Atlanta to New York City, is seeing spring-like weather. Prolonged temperatures in the mid-20s or below cause damage to citrus crops. Much of the eastern U.S. has averaged 5 to 10 degrees above average for the 14-day period, with some places poking 20 to 30 degrees above normal on a few of those days.

The heaviest snowstorm in seven years struck Tokyo Monday, causing thousands of car accidents and disrupting train travel just as the nation celebrated a unique national holiday. Coming of Age Day, held the second Monday of every January, celebrates those who have turned or are about to turn 20 years old. Ceremonies and parties are held in communities across Japan, and the newly-minted adults often wear traditional kimono for the occasion. But with wind-driven snow flying in the Japanese capital Monday, getting around proved difficult. Roads were clogged with slush, and the country’s extensive rail network experienced delays.

While the USA sweltered through its warmest year on record in 2012, the globe as a whole wasn’t quite that toasty. Last year was the 10th-warmest year on record globally, according to data released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). According to NOAA data, 2012 marked the 36th consecutive year that the yearly global temperature was above average. All 12 years in the 21st century (2001–2012) rank among the 14 warmest in the 133-year period of record keeping.

  • The warming is an end-time phenomenon which will cause increasingly more extreme and violent weather

Signs of the Times (1/14/13)

January 14, 2013

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday – January 20th

In a January 13, 1984 proclamation, President Ronald Reagan designated January 22, 1984 as the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day. The date was chosen to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that first recognized the constitutionally-protected status of abortion in the United States. This January 22nd marks the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Over 50 million preborn children have lost their lives to abortion with countless women and men being harmed by legalized abortion. Thousands of churches across the U.S. will recognize this important day with special services and messages.

2012: A Good Year for Pro-life Legislation

A total of 43 new pro-life laws went into effect in 19 states last year, making 2012 the year with the second highest number of pro-life legislation passed at the state level. Arizona enacted seven provisions — more than any other state — to help protect preborn children. Following Arizona are Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, which enacted three or more pro-life laws. Most of the restrictions passed in 2012 focused on stopping late-term abortions and limiting coverage in health exchanges or chemical abortion. In addition to Arizona, Georgia and Louisiana enacted measures to ban late-term abortions, once the baby can feel pain. Laws adopted in Louisiana and Oklahoma require abortion businesses to make the pre-born baby’s heartbeat audible to the mother prior to undergoing an abortion.

Legal Woes for Mississippi’s Only Abortion Clinic

Mississippi’s only abortion clinic missed a Friday deadline to comply with a 2012 state law that requires each of its physicians to get hospital admitting privileges — a law the governor said he signed with the hopes of shutting the clinic down. Clinic administrator Diane Derzis said every Jackson-area hospital where the clinic applied for privileges said no. The state Health Department won’t immediately close the clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The department will set an inspection later, and if it orders a shutdown, the clinic can appeal.

Hobby Lobby finds Loophole to Avoid $1.3-Million-a-Day Obamacare Fine

By Friday, Hobby Lobby would have racked up $14.3 million in fines from the Internal Revenue Service for bucking Obamacare. But in keeping with the great American tax tradition, they may have found a loophole. The company is facing $1.3 million a day in fines for each day it chooses not to comply with a piece of the Affordable Care Act that was set to trigger for them on January 1. The craft store chain announced in December that, because of religious objections, they would face the fines for not providing certain types of birth control through their company health insurance. Hobby Lobby said in a statement that they” discovered a way to shift the plan year for its employee health insurance, thus postponing the effective date of the mandate for several months.”

Gay Marriage Protest in Paris

Holding aloft ancient flags and young children, hundreds of thousands of people converged Sunday on the Eiffel Tower to protest the French president’s plan to legalize gay marriage and thus allow same-sex couples to adopt and conceive children. The opposition to President Francois Hollande’s plan has underscored divisions among the secular-but-Catholic French, especially more traditional rural areas versus urban enclaves. The protest march started at three points across Paris, filling boulevards throughout the city as demonstrators walked three miles to the grounds of France’s most recognizable monument. Paris police estimated the crowd at 340,000. Public opposition spearheaded by religious leaders has chipped away at the popularity of Hollande’s plan in recent months. About 52 percent of French favor legalizing gay marriage, according to a survey released Sunday, down from as high as 65 percent in August.

Inaugural Pastor Withdraws over Anti-‘Gay’ Remarks

The evangelical pastor chosen to give the benediction at President Barack Obama’s inauguration withdrew from the ceremony after remarks he made two decades ago condemning the gay rights movement surfaced. The Rev. Louie Giglio of Passion City Church in Atlanta said in a statement he withdrew because it was likely that the “prayer I would offer will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.” A spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said the committee had chosen Giglio because of his work to end human trafficking.

Growth of Religiously Unaffiliated Slowing

After years of marked growth, the proportion of Americans who identify with no religion slowed in 2012, according to a study released Thursday. Since 2008, the percentage of Americans who identify as religious “nones” has grown from 14.6% to 17.8% in 2012, according to the Gallup survey. That number, which grew nearly one percentage point every year from 2008 to 2011, grew only 0.3% last year – from 17.5% in 2011 to 17.8% in 2012 – making it the smallest increase over the past five years.

More Americans over 75 Keep Working

The number of workers who are 75 and older has skyrocketed by 76.7% in the past two decades, according to research by the AARP Public Policy Institute. It’s still a relatively small percentage of the American labor force. – 7.6% last year, up from 4.3% in 1990. Americans are living longer and healthier, but there are a number of other reasons why Americans workers may decide to put off retirement. Some may just love their jobs; others may need more money. But even those who have socked away plenty of cash are often terrified about rising medical bills and want to keep earning. It’s hard to know how many older workers are also forced to retire. But there is a growing number of older Americans who are not retired and are in search of a job. The number of unemployed Americans age 75 and older increased from 11,000 in 1990 to 75,000 in 2011, according to AARP.

World Wastes Half its Food

Up to half of the world’s food is wasted, according to a new report that found production inefficiencies in developing countries and market and consumer waste in more advanced societies. The British-based independent Institution of Mechanical Engineers said about 4.4 billion tons of food is produced annually and roughly half of it is never eaten. Some of it is lost to inefficient harvesting, storage and transportation, while the rest is wasted by markets or consumers. “This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands,” the group said in its report.

Pentagon Preparing for Drastic Budget Cuts

The Pentagon will begin taking steps to freeze civilian hiring, delay some contract awards and curtail some maintenance to prepare for drastic budget cuts if Congress can’t reach an agreement on a final spending plan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday. The Pentagon is facing a spending reduction of nearly $500 billion over a decade. An additional $110 billion in automatic spending cuts to military and domestic programs will take effect in early March if no agreement is reached. Panetta said that department officials must also develop detailed plans to implement unpaid furloughs for civilian personnel. The furloughs would kick in if the automatic cuts are triggered. But Panetta said he has asked defense leaders to ensure that any initial moves they make now should be reversible if at all possible, and they must minimize harmful effects on military readiness.

Post Office Faces its Own Fiscal Cliff

The U.S. Postal Service is facing its own fiscal cliff this spring. But it is in danger of being overshadowed by bigger fiscal issues facing the nation. For the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service, the cost of being ignored by Congress means that it will be on the brink of bankruptcy. For the American public, it could result in cutbacks on mail delivery. For postal employees, job cuts. The postal service has been in a financial bind for several years, borrowing billions of dollars from taxpayers to make up for shortfalls caused by a 2006 congressional mandate, under which it has to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees.

Economic News

The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly grew in November. The Commerce Department said on Friday the trade gap increased 16 percent in November to $48.7 billion. Analysts were expecting the deficit to shrink to $41.3 billion, so the report could lead some economists to trim their forecasts for economic growth in the fourth quarter. The trade deficit was the widest since April, and its expansion was driven by a 3.8 percent increase in imports, the largest gain in eight months.

Oil prices jumped 10% over the last month on several factors including a Saudi production cut, the fiscal cliff resolution and the reversal of a key pipeline, but analysts expect the gains will be short lived. Taking oil’s lead, gasoline prices have begun to rise too. Prices at the pump are up almost a dime a gallon from December lows.

Persecution Watch

A new report has exposed the West’s blindness to the persecution of Christians around the world; it highlights how the “lion’s share” of this is done by Muslims, whom the media do not want to criticize over misplaced fears of “racism”. Christianophobia, which was published last month, written by journalist Rupert Shortt for Civitas, argues that “Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers.” He quotes research by the Pew Forum and the World Evangelical Alliance, which estimates that 200 million Christians (ten per cent of the global total) are socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their faith. The report notes that the “lion’s share” of anti-Christian persecution happens in Muslim-majority societies. But such persecution is also rife under the Communist regimes of China and North Korea and also in mainly Buddhist societies such as Sri Lanka and Burma. Shortt suggests that the subject does not receive much attention for two reasons: first, because “persecuted Christians tend not to respond with terrorist violence”, and second, because “parts of the media have been influenced by the logical error that equates criticism of Muslims with racism, and therefore as wrong by definition”.

Middle East

Palestinian protesters who pitched tents at a strategic West Bank site to protest plans to build a Jewish housing project there were evicted early Sunday. Police evicted about a hundred protesters from the site after a court decision authorizing their removal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday evening ordered roads closed leading to the area and had the military declare a closed military zone and shut off access.

Syria

Attacks by government forces on Damascus’ rebellious suburbs killed at least 45 people, including eight children, activists said Monday. Sunday’s death toll was part of an intensifying regime offensive to dislodge rebels from strategic areas around the capital. Activists said the bombardments were some of the heaviest in the Damascus region since the government launched a series of offensives there in November. On Monday, Syrian fighter jets carried out fresh airstrikes on the strategic suburb of Daraya, from which opposition fighters have tried to storm Damascus, the seat of Assad’s power.

Syrian activists say Islamic militants seeking to topple President Bashar Assad have taken full control of a strategic northwestern air base in a significant blow to the Assad regime. The activists say rebels from the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamic groups seized control of buildings, ammunition and military equipment in the sprawling Taftanaz air base in northern Idlib province Friday. Taftanaz is the biggest airfield in the country’s north for helicopters used to bomb rebel-held areas and deliver supplies to government troops.

Pakistan

Pakistani leaders dismissed the government of southwest Baluchistan province early Monday in response to the demands of protesters angry about an attack on minority Shiite Muslims there that killed 86 people. Over the past three days, thousands of Shiites have blocked a main road in the Baluchistan capital of Quetta with dozens of coffins of relatives killed in the twin bombing of a billiards hall in the city Thursday. They demanded the provincial government be dismissed and that the army take over responsibility for the city. A series of bombings killed 115 people across Pakistan, including 86 who died in twin blasts at a bustling billiards hall in a Shiite area of the southwestern city of Quetta. Pakistan’s minority Shiite Muslims have increasingly been targeted by radical Sunnis who consider them heretics.

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi king on Friday granted women seats on the country’s top advisory council for first time, a much-awaited step for women to get a toehold in Saudi Arabia where males dominate the political system and ultraconservative religious Islam law tightly controls daily life of females. The appointments come against the backdrop of heavy restrictions on women who are not allowed to travel, work, study abroad, marry, get divorced or gain admittance to a public hospital, without permission from a male guardian. The nation’s official news agency said that King Abdullah issued two royal decrees granting women 30 seats on the Shura Council, which has 150 members plus a president. The council reviews laws and questions ministers, but doesn’t have legislative powers. All members are appointed by the king and serve four-year terms.

Iran

Despite onerous sanctions that have basically shut Iran out of the global financial system, the country is still finding some ways to bypass them, the Treasury Department said Thursday, describing what it called a small but ’emerging threat’ to the effectiveness of the sanctions effort. Adam Szubin, director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which supervises American enforcement of the sanctions, said the Iranians were using private exchange houses and trading companies in other countries, masking transactions with fake identities and relying on the paperless practice known as hawala, common in parts of the Middle East and Asia, in which money is transferred informally and often illegally through trustworthy couriers.

WorldNetDaily.com reports that Iran already has built a nuclear bomb with the help of Russia and North Korea and has enough weapons-grade uranium and plutonium for more, according to a source in the Revolutionary Guards intelligence unit. The source, who has access to Iran’s nuclear program, said the Islamic regime is working out of seven nuclear sites, most unknown to the IAEA, and that its nuclear bomb program is complete. North Korea has provided the regime with plutonium for nuclear warheads, the source verified, and the last obstacle to overcome is arming missiles with those warheads. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is convening an emergency meeting Monday of his cabinet and others from the Supreme National Security Council over WND’s revelation of the Islamic regime’s secret nuclear facility. Iran is scrambling to find out who leaked the information.

Mali

France’s defense minister says that Islamist extremists have overrun Diabaly, a small town in central Mali where fighting in the four-day-old offensive continues to rage. French military forces on Monday widened their bombing campaign against Islamic extremists occupying northern Mali, launching airstrikes for the first time in central Mali to combat a new threat as the four-day-old offensive continued to grow. The al-Qaida-linked insurgents are now only 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Mali’s capital, Bamako. Mali’s north, an area the size of France itself, was occupied by al-Qaida-linked rebels nine months ago, following a coup in the capital. Since seizing control of Mali’s upper half, the Islamists have imposed an austere form of Islam, foreign to the people of Mali. In December, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a military intervention, but only after an exhaustive list of pre-emptive measures were fulfilled.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland police fought day-and-night street battles with Protestant militants Saturday as a protest march to Belfast City Hall degenerated into riots when many marchers returned home to the Protestant east side. The Protestants, who have blocked streets daily since Catholics on the council decided Dec. 3 to curtail the flying of the British flag, have frequently clashed with police in hopes of forcing politicians to overturn the decision. Saturday’s violence began as police donning helmets, shields and flame-retardant suits tried to shepherd the British flag-bedecked crowd past Short Strand, where masked and hooded Catholic men and youths waited by their doors armed with Gaelic hurling bats, golf clubs and other makeshift weapons. The two sides began throwing bottles, rocks and other missiles at each other and, as police on foot struggled to keep the two sides apart, Protestant anger then turned against the police.

Pollution

Beijing, China has a history of wretched air pollution but smog on Monday has pushed the situation to an extreme health emergency that’s never been seen before. Children were keep indoors at schools and coughing residents went to hospitals in droves. the peak air quality index measured at the U.S. embassy in Beijing Saturday night was 755. This is more than twice the level considered ‘extremely rare’ in the U.S. The skyline was so murky, you could barely see the top of buildings. Many wore face masks to protect against the dangerous smog.  The particular dust and smog particles contained within the Beijing smog are so small they can get deep within a person’s lungs and cause dangerous health problems. Air pollution is a major problem in China due to the country’s rapid pace of industrialization, reliance on coal power, explosive growth in car ownership and disregard to environmental laws. It typically gets worse in the winter because of heating needs.

Weather

As water levels already at or above flood stage continue rising in rivers in southwestern Louisiana, the weather forecast says more rain is on the way. Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon after thunderstorms drenched the state with as much as a foot of rain this week. Hundreds of people have been evacuated. There were no initial reports of injuries. Many rivers in the southwest, closer to Texas, where flooding has been prominent, are still rising and expected to crest over the weekend.

Consumers in the Valley of the Sun and nationwide can expect a bump in the prices of lettuce and other winter crops as a result of a four-night freeze moving through Arizona. It will be nearly impossible to save all the crops, say farmers and agricultural experts. Lettuce and leafy vegetables will be hardest hit. Root crops, such as carrots, beets and radishes, will be affected, as will broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Citrus also is likely to take a hit. Much of the state, including Yuma and Phoenix, is under a freeze warning through the weekend. Pinal, Pima and Santa Cruz counties have freeze watches in place.

Frost and freeze warnings were also in effect early Sunday for parts of San Diego County with lows in some areas dipping to 25, Temperatures dropped to 5 degrees in the snow-covered Big Bear mountain resort east of Los Angeles on Saturday. Freeze warnings were issued for Sunday morning across wide swaths of the Los Angeles Basin. Residents were being urged to cover outdoor plants and bring pets inside.

In Atlanta, meanwhile, shorts-wearing residents basked in the balmy weather as it and two other major Georgia cities set record highs for this date. The weird weekend weather had temperatures as much as 30 degrees below normal in parts of the West and 30 degrees above normal in the East. Atlanta’s spring-like high of 76 topped the 1890 record by 1 degree. Columbus (77), and Macon (78), also broke records.

As rain continues to fall over much of Sri Lanka, the country’s death toll from floods and landslides has reached 43 people, and more than 300,000 have been affected by the damage. More than 31,000 people are living in 246 relief camps. Adding to the island nation’s problems, which began nearly a month ago, the minister of health announced an outbreak of leptospirosis, or rat fever, a potentially deadly disease often caused by contaminated water. Citizens were advised to stay hydrated, but many have lost their clean water sources.

Western Australians witnessed a freakish dust storm off the coast of Onslow on Wednesday. Storm gusts reached 75 mph about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The dust storm was not related to Tropical Cyclone Narelle, which was a couple hundred miles north of the dust storm location. Dust storms, or haboobs, are common in the U.S. Desert Southwest in the summer months. Thunderstorms form over higher terrain, but the dry air in the lowest layers of the atmosphere evaporates precipitation falling out of the thunderstorm, leading to strong winds at the surface, surging outward, picking up dust, instead of rain with a typical thunderstorm.

In the Middle East, flooding rains this week were followed by rare snow. Several inches of snow accumulated in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Thursday. The snow, reportedly the most in a decade, had significant impacts on transportation. The record-breaking rainfall followed by rare snow have ended a nearly decade-long drought in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Turkey, Egypt and the Palestinian-ruled territories. But the torrential rains and arrival of a few inches of snow Wednesday overwhelmed a region more accustomed to sandstorms than snow.

Signs of the Times (1/10/13)

January 10, 2013

Planned Parenthood: Record Year for Abortions, Taxpayer Funding

Planned Parenthood’s latest annual report shows it performed a record number of abortions in the fiscal year 2011-2012 and received a record amount of taxpayer funding. Planned Parenthood performed 333,964 abortions during the 12-month period. That compares 332,278 abortions in 2009 and 329,445 abortions in 2010 — making a three-year toll of close to one-million abortions. Planned Parenthood also had a record year when it comes to funding from the government. An analysis done by the pro-life group, Susan B. Anthony List, shows the abortion provider received a record $542 million in taxpayer dollars by way of government grants, contracts, and Medicaid reimbursements. That amounts to almost half of all Planned Parenthood’s budget.

  • The Obama administration is the prime sponsor of abortion in the U.S.

National Cathedral to Perform Same-Sex Weddings

The Washington National Cathedral, where the U.S. gathers to mourn tragedies and celebrate new presidents, will soon begin performing same-sex marriages. The church will be among the first Episcopal congregations to implement a new rite of marriage for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members. As the nation’s most prominent church, the decision carries huge symbolism. The Very Rev. Gary Hall, the cathedral’s dean, said performing same-sex marriages is an opportunity to break down barriers and build a more inclusive community “that reflects the diversity of God’s world.”

  • If the Very Rev. read the Bible, as he says he does, then he would know from Romans 1:26-27 that God does not approve this kind of diversity

White House Ramps Up Talks on Gun Control

The Obama administration is making a big push this week to gather ideas for a comprehensive plan to curb gun violence, amid reports that the Vice President Biden-led task force is homing in on a host of gun control measures. Biden met Wednesday with gun safety organizations and gun violence victims’ groups. Thursday he met with gun ownership groups as well as advocates for sportsmen. Biden has also scheduled a meeting with representatives from the entertainment and video game industries. The administration has vowed, by the end of the month, to produce a comprehensive plan for addressing gun violence in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting massacre.

Bank Hacks Were Work of Iranian

The attackers hit one American bank after the next. As in so many previous attacks, dozens of online banking sites slowed, hiccuped or ground to a halt before recovering several minutes later. Instead of exploiting individual computers, the attackers manipulated networks of computers in data centers. The skill required to carry out attacks on this scale has convinced United States government officials and security researchers that they are the work of Iran, most likely in retaliation for economic sanctions and online attacks by the United States.

Hacker Attacks on U.S.Power, Nuclear Targets Spiked in ’12

America’s power, water, and nuclear systems are increasingly being targeted by cyber criminals seeking to gain access to some of the nation’s most critical infrastructure. The number of attacks reported to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity response team grew by 52% in 2012, according to a recent report from the team. There were 198 attacks brought to the agency’s attention last year, several of which resulted in successful break-ins. An unidentified group of hackers targeting natural gas pipeline companies gained access to the corporate systems of several of their targets and “exfiltrated” — that’s security-speak for “stole” — data on how their control systems work.

  • Cyber-warfare will continue to increase in our technologically-dependent world

Flu Season Starts Out Harsh

The flu is racing across nearly 41 U.S. states and it’s leaving a deadly trail. The current flu season is turning out to be a bad one, affecting more people than usual, starting earlier and covering a broader geographical area. Boston declared a flu emergency Wednesday morning after health officials reported 700 confirmed cases in the city, 10 times the total number for the previous flu season. Government health experts say 18 children, under age 18, have died because of the seasonal flu and 2,257 people had been hospitalized with flu symptoms through the end of 2012. For the fourth week in a row, the proportion of people seeing health care providers for flulike illness is above the national baseline, and jumped from 2.8% to 5.6% in that time. Last season’s proportion peaked at 2.2%.Twenty-nine states plus New York City are now reporting high flulike activity, up from 16 states the week before.

Americans Dying Earlier than International Peers

Despite spending more per person on health care than any other country, Americans are getting sicker and dying younger than our international peers — a problem persisting across all ages and both genders, according to a new report. Data from 2007 show Americans’ life expectancy is 3.7 years shorter for men and 5.2 years shorter for women than in the leading nations — Switzerland for men and Japan for women. As of 2011, 27 countries had higher life expectancies at birth than the United States. On the plus side, the U.S. has higher cancer survival rates, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and lower smoking prevalence rates than many of its peer countries.

But that’s where the good news stops. The report outlines nine health areas where the United States lags behind other rich nations, including infant mortality, homicides, teen pregnancy, drug-related deaths, obesity and disabilities. Americans have the highest prevalence of AIDS in the group. Seniors are at a greater risk of developing and dying from heart disease. And our children are less likely than children in peer countries to reach their fifth birthday.

“The U.S. health system is highly fragmented, with limited public health and primary care resources and a large uninsured population,” the authors wrote. “Compared with people in other countries, Americans are more likely to find care inaccessible or unaffordable.” But the panel says that’s not all that’s to blame. Studies show even white, insured, college-educated Americans are sicker than their peers in Europe. Although we are less likely to smoke and drink heavily than our peers, we consume more calories, have higher rates of drug abuse, are less likely to use seat belts and are more likely to use guns in acts of violence, according to the report.

Economic News

The federal government hit its legal borrowing limit of $16.394 trillion on Dec. 31, and has begun taking “extraordinary measures” to cover shortfalls. The red alarm deadline to raise the debt ceiling could be as soon as Feb. 15 — but no later than March 1, according to the latest estimate from the Bipartisan Policy Center. If Congress misses that deadline, the Treasury Department will be forced to make legally questionable, no-win decisions on how to honor the tens of millions of bills owed every month.

Applications for unemployment benefits ticked up slightly last week. The Labor Department says applications rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 371,000, the most in five weeks. Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have fluctuated for most of the past 12 months between 360,000 and 390,000. At the same time, employers added an average of 153,000 jobs a month in 2012, the same as in 2011.

Sales of luxury homes spiked in the final months of 2012 as high-end homeowners rushed to take advantage of lower tax rates before January 1. Many sellers wanted to cash in on their homes before a widely expected capital gains hike — to 20% from 15% — that was part of the fiscal cliff budget deal. High-income earners (singles with income of $200,000 or more and couples making more than $250,000) also wanted to close sales ahead of a 3.8% Medicare surtax on investment income that was already slated to go into effect this year as part of Obamacare. All told, a high-earner would pay $88,000 less in taxes if they made a $1 million profit on their home in 2012 rather than in 2013.

A Nebraska Wendy’s franchise is slashing employee hours so the owners do not have to pay for health benefits for their workers under ObamaCare’s requirements. About 100 workers in non-management positions at 11 Omaha-area Wendy’s will have their hours cut to 28 a week. The restaurants cannot afford to pay for health coverage for all their employees under the new Affordable Health Care Act. President Obama’s health care overhaul requires employers to offer health insurance to employees working 32-38 hours a week.

Eurozone

Eurostat data published Tuesday showed unemployment in the 17-nation eurozone hit a record high of 11.8% in November, leaving 18.8 million people without work – two million more than a year ago. At nearly 27%, Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union, and youth unemployment is more than twice as high at 56%. Thousands of Spanish bank employees will lose their jobs as a result of an EU-backed bailout of Spanish banks. Only Greece, which is facing a sixth year of recession, has a greater proportion of young people out of work.

Persecution Watch

Persecution of Christians in Africa vastly increased in 2012, according to the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith. The number of countries on the African continent sharply increased on the annual list due to the increasing influence of Islam, states Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians worldwide. North Korea is still No. 1 when it comes to persecution of Christians. Apart from North Korea, the Top 10 on the World Watch List consists of eight countries where extreme Islam poses the largest threat for Christians. They are (from No. 2 to No. 9) Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran and Yemen.

Possessing a Bible in North Korea can be a reason for a Christian to be executed or sent to a prison camp along with three generations of his or her family. It is estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians suffer in horrific prison camps. The intense persecution has continued under new leader Kim Jong-Un. The number of defectors to China greatly decreased in 2012 and half of those who try to defect do not make it.

Middle East

A car bomb has gone off Thursday in Tel Aviv, injuring at least seven people. The explosion, apparently detonated by a motorcyclist, went off in the old north part of the city. Initial findings suggest the blast may be linked to criminal rather than terrorist activity, and that it may have been an assassination attempt on a known mobster.

President Obama has nominated an anti-Israel former Senator to be Secretary of Defense. Senator Chuck Hagel has blamed American support for Israel on the “Jewish lobby,” refused to sign a letter supporting Israel, and opposed labeling Hezbollah a “terrorist organization.” Senator Hagel supported direct dialogue with Hamas – a terrorist group that launches near-daily attacks on Israeli civilians – and even refused to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as terrorists.

Egypt

Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi appointed Islamists to key cabinet posts over the weekend, bringing new parts of the government under Muslim Brotherhood control, CBN News reports. Morsi swore in 10 new ministers in total, and handed the role of finance minister to an Islamic finance expert. According to Reuters, Morsi is taking steps to attempt to rebuild confidence in Egypt’s economy ahead of a visit from the International Monetary Fund. The country’s currency value has plunged more than 10 percent since the 2011 uprising brought the Muslim Brotherhood into power, and Egypt is seeking a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF to stop the currency crisis. Meanwhile, Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians continue to flee the country as Islamists gain more control and persecution rises.

Pakistan

Several missiles fired from American drones slammed into a compound near the Afghan border in Pakistan early Tuesday, killing eight suspected militants. An al-Qaeda operative was believed to have been killed in the strike. North Waziristan, the area where the strike occurred, is considered a stronghold for insurgent groups operating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is one of the few parts of the tribal areas that border Afghanistan in which the Pakistani military has not conducted a military operation to root out militants, despite repeated pushes to do so from the American government.

Afghanistan

The NATO command says an individual wearing an Afghan army uniform has turned his weapon against foreign troops, killing one in southern Afghanistan in another apparent attack by Afghans against their foreign allies. Killings by uniformed Afghans of foreign soldiers and civilians rose dramatically last year, eroding confidence between the sides at a crucial turning point in the conflict. Deadly insider attacks surged to 61 last year compared to 35 a year earlier.

President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington this week will center on talks to help shape the U.S. commitment to his country after the bulk of American combat forces leave in two years, according to analysts. Afghans worry about U.S. abandonment, fearing a repeat of history when the United States supported the mujahedin in their fight against the Soviets, then walked away after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The Soviet-backed Afghan government collapsed within a few years, and Afghanistan plunged into a bloody civil war in the 1990s that led to the Taliban’s takeover in 1996.

Northern Ireland

Police and their vehicles were attacked with petrol bombs, hatchets and sledgehammers in East Belfast as rioting broke out in Northern Ireland for a fifth consecutive night, police said Tuesday. Officers responded with plastic bullets and water cannon before calm was restored. Authorities accused pro-British extremists of exploiting protests over a decision by Belfast City Council to stop a century-old tradition of flying the Union Jack year-round. About 400 people gathered at Belfast City Hall on Monday as the City Council met for the first time since it voted in December to fly the British flag only on certain days. Protesters called for the council to reverse its ruling over the flag.

China

Journalists and activists are pressing their battle against the Communist Party censorship at one of China’s most daring newspapers, the Southern Weekly, which has seen 20 stories per issue altered or scrapped by party censors. Free-speech protesters in masks Tuesday competed with flag-waving communist loyalists in the southern city of Guangzhou in a dispute over censorship at a newspaper. Though government censorship is routine, the killing and changing of numerous articles at popular Southern Weekly has riled people nationwide and prompted authorities to shut down bloggers who support the paper. Strict state censorship has prevailed in China, in print, broadcast and online, for more than six decades. Officials and editors reached an agreement Thursday that requires the government to stop directly censoring content prior to publication and to not punish the journalists who walked off the job

Wildfires

Firefighters battled scores of wildfires raging across southeastern Australia on Tuesday as authorities evacuated national parks and warned that blistering temperatures and high winds had led to “catastrophic” conditions in some areas. No deaths have been reported, although officials in Tasmania were still trying to find around 100 residents who have been missing since last week when a fire tore through the small town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, destroying around 90 homes. On Tuesday, police said no bodies were found during preliminary checks of the ruined houses. The entire country is scorching, including the island of Tasmania.

Weather

According to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, the average high temperature measured over Australia on Monday set an all-time record of  104.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The first 7 days of 2013 have been in the top 20 hottest days on record. Marree reached 119 on Jan. 5; Melbourne 107 on Jan. 4;  and Canberra:  104 on Jan. 5.

2012 is officially in the books as the hottest year on record for the continental United States and the second-worst for “extreme” weather such as hurricanes, droughts or floods, the U.S. government announced Tuesday. The year’s average temperature of 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit across the Lower 48 was more than 3.2 degrees warmer than the average for the 20th century.

A mild winter has forced organizers to cancel construction on a popular ice palace in northern Wisconsin. The Eagle River Ice Palace is usually built between Christmas and New Year’s. However, there have not been enough cold nights to thicken the ice on Silver Lake. The Eagle River Ice Palace has been a tradition for more than 80 years.

Chinese nationwide are shivering through the coldest weather in nearly three decades. Freezing weather has sent temperatures diving to a national average of 25 degrees Fahrenheit since Nov. 20, the lowest average temperature in 28 years. And a new cold front will hit south China later this week. About 180,000 cattle have died in the north. Ice covered 10,500 square miles of China’s sea surface, the most expansive since 2008 when authorities began to collect ice data, and it said the ice coverage will likely continue to grow.

The fiercest winter storm to hit the Mideast in years has unleashed deadly flash flooding in the West Bank, dumped a rare foot of snow on desert Jordan, and disrupted traffic on the Suez Canal in Egypt. The unusual weather was a particularly harsh blow for the vulnerable Syrian refugees, especially about 50,000 sheltering in the Zaatari tent camp in Jordan’s northern desert. Torrential rains over the past four days have flooded 200 tents and forced women and infants to evacuate in temperatures below freezing at night, whipping wind and lashing rain. In the West Bank town of Ramallah, two West Bank women drowned after their car was caught in a flash flood a day earlier.

Rain continued to pour down on Israel with massive flooding causing damage and road closures in Tel Aviv and several other Israeli cities, as traffic accidents damaged several vehicles and killed three Israelis late Monday evening. Snow fell on Mount Hermon and in the southern mountains of neighboring Jordan, with snow expected in Jerusalem on Wednesday. The Ayalon Highway, Tel Aviv’s main traffic artery, was closed due to flooding Tuesday morning, causing police to advise against any unnecessary travel to the city. Throughout the country temperatures were lower than normal and strong winds buffeted many areas. Army Radio reported on Tuesday that Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) rose 22 centimeters within 24 hours, the fastest rate ever recorded.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme

Signs of the Times (1/7/13)

January 7, 2013

Court Won’t Stop Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Supreme Court won’t stop the government’s funding of embryonic stem cell research, despite some researchers’ complaints that the work relies on destroyed human embryos. The high court on Monday refused to hear an appeal from two scientists who have been challenging the funding for the work. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia earlier this year threw out their lawsuit challenging federal funding for the research. Opponents claimed the National Institutes of Health was violating the 1996 Dickey-Wicker law that prohibits taxpayer financing for work that harms an embryo.

  • Adult stem cells have produced more tangible results without the attendant moral issues

The Truth about Children with Gay Parents

A group of professors has debunked the research of a sociologist, finding that children with heterosexual parents do better in school than those raised by homosexuals. Dr. Douglas Allen, Burnaby Mountain professor of economics at Simon Fraser University, tells OneNewsNow that he, Dr. Catherine Pakaluk of Ave Marie University, and Dr. Joseph Price of Brigham Young University took a look at a large study conducted by Stanford sociologist Dr. Michael Rosenfeld that found no difference between children who are reared by heterosexual parents and those raised by homosexual couples. The three found a mistake in the research that completely alters the outcome. “It turns out the children from these homes don’t do as well. They’re about 35 percent more likely to fail a grade,” Allen reports about youngsters raised by homosexuals.

New U.S. Congress has fewer Friends of Israel

Israel’s relations with the United States have long been the cornerstone of its defense and foreign policies, but the 113th Congress was sworn in on Thursday without some of Israel’s best friends who either retired, lost their re-election bids or in the case of Hawaiian Sen. Daniel Inouye, died. “It has to be considered quite a loss, but everything is relative, and in terms of support for Israel it shouldn’t make a difference,” said veteran Israel supporter Morrie Amitay. Referring to the large number of Congressional delegates who are unschooled in issues related to Israel, he sounded a cautiously optimistic note by saying “there’s no one coming in that’s waving a red flag. On the other hand, there’s no one coming in flying the blue and white flag.”

  • U.S. support of Israel is waning as the anti-Christ spirit gains more ground under the most anti-Israel administration in history

How Will Al Jazeera Translate in USA?

Media watchers in the Middle East say the Arabic news network Al Jazeera is well known for promoting radical Islamist causes overseas, but it remains to be seen how it will present the news on its newly purchased U.S. cable channel. There is a big difference between Al Jazeera’s Arabic programming and its international English-language broadcasts. The Arab broadcasts very often promote a very radical Islamist approach. The international programs occasionally interview people with differing opinions, including Israeli leaders. This creates a perception of balanced reporting, but in fact, the overall underlying agenda is very radical. Al Jazeera has a long history of close ties to and support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

  • Islam is determined to take over the entire world using any means necessary. This is yet another foot in the door for Islam in America.

Fiscal Crisis Package Loaded with Special-Interest Tax Breaks

The last-minute deal Congress approved for the stated purpose of sparing the middle class from tax hikes was iced with a host of special-interest favors — including tax breaks for Hollywood, Puerto Rico rum producers and the alternative energy industry. All told, the more than 50 temporary tax breaks, extended for another year thanks to the fiscal crisis package, are worth about $76 billion. Lawmakers, including those who approved the package earlier this week, are now lambasting the decision to load up the bill in the final hours with the tax break extensions. “It’s hard to think of anything that could feed the cynicism of the American people more than larding up must-pass emergency legislation with giveaways to special interests and campaign contributors,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said

Congress OKs $9.7B in Sandy relief

Congress approved a $9.7 billion aid bill for victims of Superstorm Sandy on Friday, amid a gusty debate between those who say Congress must ultimately approve a total of $60 billion to help communities rebuild and those who warn the aid package is festooned with unnecessary and costly items. House conservatives continued to object to more government spending without spending cuts to offset it. Sixty-seven of them voted Friday against the Sandy package, which replenishes the National Flood Insurance Program that was due to run out of money next week. And fiscal watchdog groups pointed out that plenty of items in the earlier Senate bill — a version of which would presumably make up the $51 billion House bill — were not necessarily specific to Sandy, or even the battered East Coast.

  • Liberals in Congress will use every opportunity to pad legislation with unrelated pork

New Food Safety Rules Will Take Years to Enact

The Food and Drug Administration’s new food-safety rules will make the food Americans eat safer and help prevent food-borne diseases that every year kill about 3,000 people and sicken at least 2 million others. The new rules will cost businesses about half a billion dollars annually. Proposed Friday, it will still be another three years before the rules are implemented at the biggest farms and even longer at smaller farms. The new rules come exactly two years to the day President Obama’s signed food safety legislation passed by Congress, But their administration delayed enactment until after the election. The 2011 law required the FDA propose a first installment of the rules a year ago and food safety advocates sued the administration to expedite the process.

  • The new rules will also cause food prices to rise

Health Insurers Raise Some Rates by Double Digits

Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers. Particularly vulnerable to the high rates are small businesses and people who do not have employer-provided insurance and must buy it on their own. In California, Aetna is proposing rate increases of as much as 22 percent, Anthem Blue Cross 26 percent and Blue Shield of California 20 percent for some of those policy holders, according to the insurers’ filings with the state for 2013. These rate requests are all the more striking after a 39 percent rise sought by Anthem Blue Cross in 2010 helped give impetus to the law, known as the Affordable Care Act, which was passed the same year and will not be fully in effect until 2014. In other states, like Florida and Ohio, insurers have been able to raise rates by at least 20 percent for some policy holders.

  • Government controls will never stamp out greed

Economic News

Bank of America said Monday it will pay $10 billion to federal mortgage issuer Fannie Mae to settle allegations that mortgages were improperly handled during the financial crisis. The Charlotte, N.C-based bank will pay $3.6 billion in cash related to how it sold and distributed certain residential mortgage loans. Bank of America (BAC) will also repurchase $6.75 billion worth of residential mortgage loans it and its Countrywide Financial unit sold to Fannie Mae. Bank of America bought Countrywide Financial in July 2008, just before the financial meltdown triggered by the bursting of a residential real estate bubble. Countrywide was a giant in mortgage lending, but was also known for approving risky loans.

Separately, federal regulators reached an $8.5 billion settlement on Monday to resolve claims of foreclosure abuses that included flawed paperwork used in foreclosures and bungled loan modifications by 10 major lenders, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citibank. About $3.3 billion of that settlement amount will go toward Americans who went through foreclosure in 2009 and 2010, while $5.2 billion will address other assistance to troubled borrowers, including loan modifications and reductions of principal balances. Eligible homeowners could get up to $125,000 in compensation.

Employers may be hiring, but there’s another big problem with the job market that isn’t being tracked as closely: the 3.25 million “hopelessly unemployed.” An often overlooked number calculated by the Labor Department shows millions of Americans want a job but haven’t searched for one in at least a year. They’ve simply given up hope. They’re not counted as part of the labor force, the official unemployment rate, or the category the Labor Department refers to as “discouraged workers” — those who haven’t bothered to look for work in the last four weeks. These hopelessly unemployed workers have just been jobless so long, they’ve fallen off the main government measures altogether.

Gasoline prices remain below $3 a gallon in at least 50% or more outlets in 14 states. But the national average has crept up three cents to $3.30 a gallon the past week and 8 cents since hitting a 2012 low of $3.22 in mid-December. It’s likely to get worse in the coming weeks with crude oil prices rising.

Persecution Watch

A new court ruling in Britain says Christians have no right to refuse to work on Sundays because it is not a “core component” of their beliefs, The Telegraph reports. The judgment came on an appeal brought by a Christian woman who said she was forced to resign from the job she loved at a care home because she refused to work on Sundays. Celestina Mba said when she took the position in 2007, her managers initially agreed to accommodate her church commitments, but after a few months they began pressuring her to work on Sundays and threatening her with disciplinary measures even though other workers were willing to take her shifts. The ruling has caused an uproar among Christians who say the decision puts them at a disadvantage to other religions and essentially means the courts are now in a position of deciding what is and what is not a “core” doctrine of Christianity.

Middle East

Egyptian authorities seized six U.S.-made missiles in the Sinai Peninsula Friday that security officials said were likely smuggled from Libya and bound for the Gaza Strip. Libya’s 2011 uprising and subsequent civil war left the country awash in weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades, automatic rifles and other munitions. Since the end of the country’s eight-month conflict, smugglers have transferred some of the weapons to Islamic militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which has faced a security vacuum since the country’s own uprising, and from there onward in underground tunnels to neighboring Gaza.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians gathered in Gaza in a show of support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party on Friday, the 48th anniversary of the party’s founding. It was an unusual scene in Gaza because it was the first mass rally showing open support for Fatah since 2007. That is the year Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah, which now controls only the West Bank. High-level Fatah Party officials also showed up for the event after entering Gaza for the first time since being ousted by Hamas. Leaders of both parties described it as another step toward unity.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has issued a decree renaming the organization the “State of Palestine.” The change comes a little more than a month after the United Nations voted to upgrade the authority’s status to “non-member observer state.” With the decree, Palestinian identification, passports and other documents will be branded with the new name. The rebranding comes amid efforts to unify rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas following the watershed U.N. vote — widely seen as a victory for Abbas’ Fatah faction — as well as the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

  • Palestinians are acting under the assumption that a two-state solution with Jerusalem as its capital is a lock, and virtually no one (including the U.S.) is opposing that notion.

Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday outlined his vision for a road map to end nearly 22 months of violence in Syria but also struck a defiant tone, calling on his countrymen to unite against “murderous criminals” whom he said are carrying out a foreign plot seeking to tear the nation apart. In a one-hour speech to the nation in which he appeared confident and relaxed, Assad ignored international demands for him to step down and said he is ready to hold a dialogue but only with those “who have not betrayed Syria.” He offered a national reconciliation conference, elections and a new constitution but demanded regional and Western countries stop funding and arming rebels trying to overthrow him first. The proposal, however, is unlikely to win acceptance from Syria’s opposition forces who have repeatedly said they will accept nothing less than the president’s departure.

As the civil war in Syria nears its two-year anniversary, the United Nations estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed, with monthly casualty figures steadily increasing, reports Yahoo! News. The death toll, based on reporting by seven different sources, is a third more than the figure of 45,000 given by activists opposed to the regime of President Bashar Assad — the first time that the U.N.’s estimates are higher. “The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking,” said Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Syrian ground and air forces bombarded rebel strongholds on the outskirts of Damascus and other areas around the country Friday while anti-government forces targeted a military post near the capital with a car bomb. Government troops were firing rockets and mortars from the Qasioun mountains overlooking the capital down at orchards near the southern suburbs of Daraya and Kfar Sousseh.

Turkey

U.S. troops have started to arrive in Turkey to man Patriot missiles meant to protect the NATO ally from potential Syrian warheads, the U.S. military said Friday. The United States, Germany and the Netherlands are each deploying two batteries of the U.S.-built defense system to boost ally Turkey’s air defenses against any spillover from Syria’s nearly 2-year civil war. The Patriot systems are expected to become operational later this month. Some 400 personnel and equipment from the U.S. military’s Fort Sill, Oklahoma-based 3rd Battalion were to be airlifted to Turkey over the coming days

Afghanistan

A pair of suicide bombers targeted a meeting of tribal elders in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, killing up to eight people. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the dual attacks. The attack occurred at a weekly meeting where tribal elders listen to concerns from constituents. Fifteen people were injured in the attack.

India/Pakistan

Tensions between India and Pakistan flared Sunday in the Kashmir region, with at least one Pakistani soldier killed in the violence, its military said. But exactly what happened depends on the source. According to the Pakistani military, Indian troops crossed the Line of Control — the de facto border between India and Pakistan in the disputed Kashmir region — and attacked a military post. The Indian Defense Ministry, however, said Pakistani troops opened fire unprovoked on Indian posts in the north Uri sector of Indian-administered Kashmir. The territory under dispute lies in India’s Kashmir Valley, separated from Pakistan by the 450-mile Line of Control. The two south Asian nuclear neighbors have had a bilateral ceasefire along the de facto border since November 2003. But the ceasefire has been violated repeatedly, with both sides accusing each other of offenses.

Sudan

The presidents of the two Sudans concluded talks Sunday aimed at addressing outstanding economic, oil and security issues after tensions between the two nations nearly led to a return to war. Talks between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir concluded in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, where the two agreed to temporary arrangements over a disputed oil-rich region claimed by both countries. The agreement called for the creation of temporary administrative and security arrangements for the Abyei region, including the creation of a police service and a limited governing council.

  • This agreement will not likely hold for long as the underlying source of tension is the hostility between Islamic North Sudan and Christian South Sudan.

Central African Republic

Opposition and pro-government militias are recruiting child soldiers as the Central African Republic faces a rebellion in the north, the United Nations warned. Rebels demanding the resignation of President Francois Bozize have seized various towns and threatened to head to the capital of Bangui. As the government scrambles to quash the rebellion, alarm is growing as children are separated from their relatives. Armed groups are forcing children under age 18 to fight, carry supplies and serve as sex slaves, the U.N. children agency said Friday.

Northern Ireland

Fresh pro-British protests erupted Saturday in the Northern Ireland city of Belfast, police said, hours after nine officers were hurt in rioting. Tensions have been high since city council members there voted a month ago to stop flying the Union flag year-round, restricting it instead to certain days. Officers came under sustained attack in east Belfast from more than 100 people, some throwing fireworks and bricks. Friday night, more than 30 petrol bombs were thrown at officers during serious disorder in the same part of the city. Police have arrested more than 20 people in connection with the disorder.

Cuba

Political arrests in Cuba jumped to more than 6,600 in 2012, the highest in decades as authorities shifted their strategy for dealing with growing civic resistance, dissident groups say. Cuba’s communist government is using more short-term arbitrary arrests to disrupt and intimidate critics rather than slap them with long prison sentences like those used against dozens of Cubans in a crackdown on dissent in 2003. Most people are freed within a few hours or days. Some of them report being beaten.

Earthquakes

A tsunami was caused by the magnitude 7.5 quake that struck off the Alaskan coast Friday night. The powerful earthquake sparked a tsunami warning for hundreds of miles of Alaskan and Canadian coastline, but the alert was canceled when no damaging waves were generated. The temblor struck at 1 a.m. PST Saturday and was centered about 60 miles west of Craig, Alaska. “Houses shook; mine had things tossed from (the) wall,” Craig Police Chief Robert Ely said. But he added that there were “no reports of any injuries, no wave, no tidal movement seen.”

Wildfires

Australian authorities were searching Sunday for a number of people reported missing in wildfires that destroyed more than 100 homes and an elementary school in southeast Tasmania. The wildfire was advancing on Taranna, a small town known for the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park. Hundreds of people have been evacuated by sea and air from the Tasman Peninsula because the fires have blocked roads in and out of the rural communities.

Weather

More than 100 people have died of exposure as northern India deals with historically cold temperatures. At least 114 people have died from the recent cold in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Many were poor people whose bodies were found on sidewalks or in parks. The weather department said temperatures were 7 to 18 degrees below average in the state. Temperatures in New Delhi, which borders Uttar Pradesh, hit a high Wednesday of 49.6 degrees F, the lowest maximum temperature in the capital since 1969. Overnight lows were below freezing.

Signs of the Times (1/4/13)

January 4, 2013

Christianity ‘Close to Extinction’ in the Middle East

According to a new study by the think tank Civitas, Christianity faces being wiped out in the “biblical heartlands” in the Middle East because of mounting persecution of Christians — with militant Islam the primary reason for the oppression, The Telegraph reports. The report, entitled “Christianophobia,” warns that Christians suffer greater hostility around the world than any other religious group, and asserts that politicians have been “blind” to the extent of violence faced by Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Study author Rupert Shortt, a journalist and visiting fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, wrote: “Exposing and combating the problem ought in my view to be political priorities across large areas of the world. That this is not the case tells us much about a questionable hierarchy of victimhood.”

Obama Condemns Rights of Christian Military Chaplains

President Barack Obama has signed the $633 billion defense bill into law, but has criticized one of its provisions protecting conscience rights. The provision exempts chaplains from ceremonies like same-sex weddings that they oppose based on their faith. It also says the military cannot punish chaplains or other service members for their religious beliefs and must accommodate them unless the individual’s speech or actions threaten good order and discipline. In a signing statement, Obama called the conscience provision “unnecessary and ill-advised” and said his administration remains committed “to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members.”

  • Now that Obama has come out of the closet about the gay agenda and been reelected, we can expect a much more aggressive stance from this administration for the next four years.

Obama to Move ‘Quickly’ on Immigration, Guns

President Barack Obama will go for immigration reform and gun control this month, the White House tells the left-leaning Huffington Post. Obama’s actions will reportedly be done “quickly.” An Obama administration official said the president plans to push for immigration reform this January. The White House plans to push forward quickly, not just on immigration reform but gun control laws as well, reports the Huffington Post.

  • With no further elections crimping his plans, Obama will try to advance the liberal agenda on many fronts at an accelerated pace

Fathers Vanish in U.S. as Single Motherhood Continues to Rise

In every U.S. state, the portion of families where children have two parents, rather than one, has dropped significantly over the past decade, the Washington Times reports. Even as the country added 160,000 families with children, the number of two-parent households decreased by 1.2 million. Fifteen million U.S. children, or one in three, currently live without a father — compared to 1960, when just 11 percent of American children lived in homes without fathers. And in an America awash in crime, poverty, drugs and other problems, Vincent DiCaro of the National Fatherhood Institute ultimately points to absent fathers: “[People] look at a child in need, in poverty or failing in school, and ask, ‘What can we do to help?’ But what we do is ask, ‘Why does that child need help in the first place?’ And the answer is often because [the child lacks] a responsible and involved father.”

House Passes Fiscal Cliff Bill

A divided Republican House passed the Senate’s “fiscal cliff” agreement Tuesday night, following a tense day of GOP protests that the plan does not do enough to rein in federal spending. President Obama lauded the vote, saying it averts a series of tax hikes and spending cuts “that could have sent the economy back into recession.” Obama also said the deal is “just a step” in a comprehensive effort to reduce the nation’s debt, and that he had wanted a larger agreement but encountered too much political opposition. House Democrats provide the winning margin for the plan that stopped the fiscal cliff which technically took effect Tuesday with the new year. The finally tally was 257-167. Opponents said the plan’s two-month delay of major spending cuts only sets up more budget battles in the weeks to come, as the nation bumps up against its $16.39 trillion debt ceiling. The tax deal approved by the House and Senate could slow the economic recovery by ending a 2-year-old payroll tax cut that gives many households at least $1,000 a year more to spend.

More Fiscal Cliffs Ahead

The lame duck Congress avoided sending the economy over the fiscal cliff, but the new Congress will have to address several key issues in the coming months. They include raising the nation’s borrowing limit, passing a bill authorizing government spending and avoiding major spending cuts that were delayed two months. The Fiscal Cliff  compromise didn’t solve, or even seriously address, the deficit problems that prompted Congress to write the laws that nearly forced the nation over the cliff in the first place. These will immediately be on the hot plate for the new Congress which starts at noon Thursday.

Al Jazeera buys Current TV from Al Gore

Al Jazeera, the Pan-Arab news channel that struggled to win space on American cable television, has acquired Current TV, boosting its reach nearly nine-fold to about 40 million homes. With a focus on U.S. news, it plans to rebrand the left-leaning news network that co-founder Al Gore couldn’t make relevant. Al Jazeera, owned by the government of Qatar, plans to gradually transform Current into a new channel called Al Jazeera America by adding five to 10 new U.S. bureaus beyond the five it has now and hiring more journalists. The former vice president confirmed the sale Wednesday, saying in a statement that Al Jazeera shared Current TV’s mission “to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling.”

  • Islamic inroads in the U.S. continue on all fronts with the assistance of ultra-liberals like Gore

Arizona’s School-Voucher System Takes Effect

One out of every five Arizona students in public schools becomes eligible today to apply for public money to attend private schools this fall under an expansion of a controversial voucher-type program. The program, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, allows parents to receive a debit card from the state preloaded with money to pay for educational expenses, such as private-school tuition, with state funds. A recent change in state law expands the program to include children at the state’s lowest-performing public schools. If schools receive a D or F letter grade from the state, their students can apply for the scholarships, estimated to be worth an average of $3,000 to $3,500 per student for the 2013-14 school year.

AZ Teens Score Pot from Medical Marijuana Cardholders

Close to one out of every eight high schoolers who admitted to smoking marijuana recently say they got it from a medical marijuana cardholder. The biennial study done by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission found that nearly 29 percent of students in grades 10 through 12 admitted to having smoked marijuana at some point. Not surprisingly, the vast majority said they had obtained the drug from a friend, with family and relatives also a major source. But 11.6 percent said they got the marijuana from one of the more than 33,000 individuals who have the state’s permission to legally grow or purchase marijuana for their own medical conditions.

Maryland Business Owner Ends Wedding Services Over Same-Sex Marriage

A well-known Maryland tour company famous for its old-fashioned trolley rides will no longer be offering its wedding services starting in January because its owner opposes same-sex marriage and fears he might face discrimination claims for turning away gay couples, the Christian Post reports. “We’re a Christian-owned company, and we just can’t support gay marriages,” said Matt Grubbs, owner of Discover Annapolis Tours. “We’re not trying to make a statement. We’re not trying to make a point. We’re just trying to be faithful Christians,” Grubbs said, adding that his attorney advised him to shut down wedding services to avoid discrimination lawsuits

Dead Sea Scroll Digital Library Opens

A new digital library stored on Google servers and containing fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls was launched Dec. 18 by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Google Israel, reports Travelujah. The current library contains 4,000 high resolution scans of infrared photographs that were taken after being discovered in the 1950s. An additional 1,000 new scans were specially constructed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The actual Dead Sea Scrolls are on display inside the Shrine of the Book exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The scrolls were discovered in the 1950s in caves situated in the Judean Desert at the site of Qumran. To learn more about the new Dead Sea Scroll library, visit this link: www.deadseascrolls.org.il/.

245 Arrested in U.S.-Led Child Sex Abuse Operation

An international operation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement aimed at child pornography and sexual abuse has resulted in the arrest of 245 suspects, officials announced Thursday. All but 23 of the suspects were apprehended in the United States. The agency said that during the course of Operation Sunflower, law enforcement officers identified 123 victims of child exploitation and removed 44 of those children from their alleged abusers with whom they were living. Of the 123 victims, 110 lived in the United States.

Economic News

Congress was able to pass legislation to keep broader middle class income taxes from rising. But workers will still have to pay at least 2% more in payroll taxes. That’s because the government had temporarily lowered the payroll tax rate in 2011 to 4.2% from 6.2%, in an effort to keep more cash in the pockets of Americans and provide a boost to the economy. The tax cut, which applies on the first $113,700 in annual earnings, expired on Monday.

The economy ended 2012 with a 7.8% unemployment rate. That was unchanged from November’s unemployment rate, which was revised up from 7.7% to 7.8%. The economy added 155,000 jobs in December, bringing the total added in 2012 to 1.84 million, the Labor Department says. In another report Thursday, the Labor Department said weekly claims for unemployment benefits rose 10,000 to 372,000 in the latest week.

December retail sales ended on a high note, with better-than-expected results, despite setbacks, in the form of Hurricane Sandy and fiscal-cliff-weary customers. Sales for the month rose 4.8% over December, 2011.

Persecution Watch

The condition of the church in Syria is becoming more and more desperate as Christians, their property and their churches continue to be the targets of violent attacks, ASSIST News Service reports. A senior church leader reported that Christians in Syria face “inflation, poverty, growing of sectarian enmity, shortages of supplies of food and fuel, cold weather, revenge, kidnapping for big amount of ransom, risks of traveling, frequent Internet cut-off and [more].” While the Christian population of the city of Homs was once between 50,000 and 60,000, just 80 Christians remained in a Christian neighborhood of the old city as of December 2012. They are being held hostage by rebels and prevented from leaving, and are dying one by one as a result of serious hardships and lack of medication.

According to Barnabas Aid, the Christians are being kept there as “human shields” by Salafist rebel groups to deter government forces from attacking the Christian area, which is now occupied by rebels. But despite the dangers they face, and the fact that many Syrian Christians have fled their homeland, church leaders have refused to leave their people. “It is our vocation to give our testimony,” one senior Christian leader said. “We had a lot of persecution in the past and we have to find a way to continue.” As observers predict the collapse of the Assad regime, under which Christians in Syria had been well-treated, the future for Christians looks bleak. “Pray that all Christians in Syria will know the Lord’s peace in these desperate times, and that He will make a way for them to live in safety in their own country,” Barnabas Aid said.

The Daughters of the American Revolution, one of the nation’s oldest patriotic organizations, has erased any mention of Jesus Christ in their official book, removed prayers and poems that reference Christian imagery, and directed members to refrain from praying in the name of Christ, an outraged group of members alleged. The dispute has been brewing for more than a year when DAR members learned that the newly revised Ritual and Missal books – the primary guide for chaplains – were altered. They noticed that the name of Jesus Christ had been omitted. The members said DAR leadership made the changes to be politically correct and to accommodate new members of other religious beliefs. The directive has infuriated rank and file members of the DAR – an organization that is deeply rooted in the Christian faith.

Syria

Clashes between government troops and rebels on Tuesday forced the international airport in Aleppo to stop all flights in and out of Syria’s largest city, while fierce battles also raged in the suburbs of the capital Damascus. The rebels have been making inroad in the civil war recently, capturing a string of military bases and posing a stiff challenge to the regime in Syria’s two major cities — Damascus and Aleppo. The opposition trying to overthrow authoritarian President Bashar Assad has been fighting for control of Aleppo since the summer, and they have captured large swathes of territory.

The new year brought Syrians the same intense carnage they’d been living through for the last 21 months — and a reminder of just how bloody the past year was – 39,520 died in 2012, up from 6,548 in 2011. And 2013 could bode worse, said U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

Libya

Dozens of armed groups have stepped into the role of overlords of cities and towns since Gadhafi was killed and his regime deposed in October 2011. The transitional government that replaced the regime has done little to impose security on its own, leaving many Libyans under the threat of militias that compete for territory and terrorize those without arms to fight back. The militias refused to disarm after the revolution, saying at the time that they needed to protect themselves from rival tribes. But the militias, which are sometimes acting on behalf of a tribal clan, have since gone on the offensive, setting up operations across Libya.

Iraq

Iraqi authorities on Thursday ordered the release of 11 female detainees facing criminal charges and vowed to transfer women prisoners to jails in their home provinces, in a move that addresses one of the main demands of a wave of protests by the country’s Sunni minority against the Shiite-led government. The detention of female prisoners has been a focus of the demonstrations, but it was not clear whether the decision to release some of them will appease the protesters. The demonstrations are also driven by Sunni grievances of perceived second-class treatment by the central government and what they see as the unfair application of laws against their sect.

Iraqi officials say a car bomb has struck a procession of Shiite pilgrims south of Baghdad, killing at least 12 and wounding dozens. The bomb hit the pilgrims as they were returning from the holy city of Karbala to commemorate the Arbaeen. The religious event marks the passing of 40 days after the anniversary of the seventh century martyrdom of the revered Shiite saint Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Iran

President Barack Obama signed into law a wide ranging defense bill, including about $633 billion in spending and beefed up sanctions on Iran late Wednesday night… The defense package includes stringent new sanctions on Iran’s energy and shipping sectors in a fresh attempt to hobble the Islamic Republic’s economy and hamper its nuclear ambitions. The sanctions build upon penalties that Congress has passed – and Obama has implemented – that target Tehran’s financial and energy sectors… Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, who have shepherded sanctions bills through Congress, sponsored the latest package that also would close a major loophole – the ability of Iran to circumvent sanctions and barter oil for precious metals. Turkey has been bartering gold for oil.

Pakistan

Two suspected U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s volatile tribal region left 15 people dead — including Mullah Nazir, a Taliban commander — on Thursday. Nazir narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack in early December. n recent years, the U.S. government has sharply stepped up the use of drone attacks in Pakistan’s mostly ungoverned tribal region, widely believed to be a safe haven for militant groups fueling the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Seven aid workers — all but one of them women — were shot to death Tuesday in a remote area of northern Pakistan. Five of those killed were teachers and the other two were health officials. The victims worked for the Ujalla community center, a non-profit organization providing health and education to the community in the Swabi area.

India

The brutal rape and ultimate death of an unnamed woman in New Delhi, India, this week has opened the eyes of the world to violence against women in India and their deeply rooted social plight. “The long-time abuse women in India endure has now been highlighted,” said K. P. Yohannan, president of Gospel for Asia (GFA). “Their social stigma and inhuman treatment with impunity make them the one of the largest unreached people groups.” Conditions are worst among the women “untouchables,” or Dalits, who are the lowest castes and considered subhuman. Of India’s 1.2 billion people, one-fourth are “untouchables.” The ratio of 1,000 men to 850 women is due to routine murders of women through infanticide, gender-based abortion, the dowry system and lack of proper medical care. Mortality rates of Indian women in childbirth are 254 per 100,000 women, contrasted with only 21 in the United States.

Nigeria

At least 15 Christians were killed by suspected Boko Haram militants in northern Nigeria on Dec. 28 when the militants snuck into Musari, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Maiduguri, early in the morning and slit the throats of the Christians in their own homes, International Christian Concern reports. Nigerian military officials — who often under-report the casualties in Boko Haram attacks — put the death toll at five, but residents of Musari and other relief organizations put the number at 15. According to a resident, the militants were specifically targeting Christians because they broke into only Christian homes in an area of Musari that is predominantly Christian. A relief official added that the victims “were selected because they were all Christians, some of whom had moved into the neighborhood from other parts of [Maiduguri] hit by Boko Haram attacks.” Since beginning its armed insurgency in 2009 in a campaign to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria’s north, Boko Haram has killed more than 3,000 people in Nigeria. Christians in the region continue to live in a constant state of fear amid an increasing number of bombings, shootings and violent attacks.

Myanmar

Myanmar’s military acknowledged launching airstrikes against ethnic Kachin rebels in the north and said it captured a hilltop post from where the insurgents had attacked government supply convoys. The United States said Wednesday the use of air power in Kachin state was “extremely troubling.” In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged the government and the Kachin rebel group to cease their conflict and begin a real dialogue for peace. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called on Myanmar, also known as Burma, “to desist from any action that could endanger the lives of civilians living in the area or further intensify the conflict in the region,”

Weather

Natural disasters caused $160 billion in damage in the U.S. last year according to the world’s leading reinsurer, Munich Re. Superstorm Sandy was the year’s highest insured loss, according to Munich Re, with an estimated $25 billion. However, it was just one of several weather disasters that contributed to the multi-billion dollar price tag. Droughts, tornadoes, and wildfires were among the devastating events in the U.S. Munich Re says in average years, insured losses are around $9.0 billion.

Low water in the Mississippi River, due to the worst U.S. drought since 1956, has already impeded the flow of billions of dollars’ worth of grain, coal, fertilizer and other commodities between the central United States and shipping terminals at the Gulf of Mexico. A further drop in river levels could halt commercial shipping traffic entirely by this weekend, the American Waterways Operators and the Waterways Council Inc said in a statement on Wednesday. A shutdown could affect more than 8,000 jobs, cost $54 million in wages and benefits, and halt the movement of 7.2 million tons of commodities valued at $2.8 billion.

Blizzard conditions hampered efforts early Friday to reopen large sections of Interstate 10 in west Texas that were closed following crashes. Portions of a 240-mile stretch of the interstate were closed in both directions from El Paso to Fort Stockton city Thursday evening. Heavy snow also caused the closure of U.S. Highway 62/180, from east of El Paso west to the New Mexico state line.

Catastrophic flooding sliced through the island nation of Sri Lanka, leaving thousands homeless and more than 300,000 impacted—many without the basic needs to survive. During the last two weeks, a continuous downpour of rain fueled flooding throughout a large portion of the island. Now, at least seven people are missing. The floodwaters have destroyed nearly 4,000 homes and damaged 10,000 others. They have also caused landslides, blocked transportation and wiped out thousands of acres of crops. Even for those who still have their homes intact, their lives have been dramatically affected. With floodwaters, wells become contaminated, which means clean water is not accessible. Crops, which provide many families their only source of income, are completely destroyed. And with food prices skyrocketing, as a result of the disaster, food is unaffordable to many. This flood comes on the heels of Cyclone Nisha in early November, which affected approximately 200,000 people and displaced close to 20,000.

 

Signs of the Times (1/1/13)

January 1, 2013

Senate passes fiscal cliff deal, 89-8

Hours past a self-imposed deadline for action, the Senate passed legislation early New Year’s Day to neutralize a fiscal cliff combination of across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts that kicked in at midnight. The pre-dawn vote was 89-8. Senate passage set the stage for a final showdown in the House, where a vote was expected later Tuesday or perhaps Wednesday. Under the deal, taxes would remain steady for the middle class and rise at incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples — levels higher than President Obama had campaigned for in his successful drive for a second term in office. Spending cuts totaling $24 billion over two months aimed at the Pentagon and domestic programs would be deferred. That would allow the White House and lawmakers time to regroup before plunging very quickly into a new round of budget brinkmanship certain to revolve around Republican calls to rein in the cost of Medicare and other government benefit programs.

One set of taxes is set to go up in 2013: The deal does not address the end of the payroll tax holiday on Tuesday. That tax will rise by 2%, back to its 2010 level. The deal also stops scheduled pay increases for Congress set for spring 2013 and includes a nine-month extension of the farm bill, which had been delayed for months because of differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation that sets U.S. agricultural policy every five years.

Domino’s Wins Temporary Ruling on Contraception Coverage

The billionaire founder of Domino’s Pizza has won a temporary court victory, with a federal judge blocking enforcement of part of the health care reform bill requiring most employers to provide a range of contraception and reproductive health services which many businesses and organizations see as a violation of their religious rights. Federal Judge Lawrence Zatkoff issued his order late Sunday, saying Thomas Monaghan had “shown that abiding by the mandate will substantially burden his exercise of religion.”

Hobby Lobby Won’t Violate Faith Over Abortion Drugs

The Christian owners of Hobby Lobby say they must remain true to their faith despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to block the Obamacare contraception mandate, CBN News reports. Hobby Lobby’s attorney, Kyle Duncan, said the company would not provide the morning-after and week-after pills in its employee insurance plan when the health care mandate takes effect Jan. 1. “The company will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees,” Duncan said in a statement. “To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.” Hobby Lobby faces a fine of $1.3 million per day for ignoring the Obamacare mandate; the company is still fighting the law in court.

Judge Allows Texas Ban on Funding Planned Parenthood

Texas can cut off funding to Planned Parenthood’s family planning programs for poor women, a state judge ruled Monday. Judge Gary Harger said that Texas may exclude otherwise qualified doctors and clinics from receiving state funding if they advocate for abortion rights. Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit to stop the rule will still go forward, but the judge decided Monday that the ban may go into effect for now. In seeking a temporary restraining order, Planned Parenthood’s patients could have continued to see their current doctors until a final decision was made the judge ruled.

Armed Teachers Protect Israeli Students

Americans intent on ensuring a school massacre like the one in Newtown, Conn., never happens again could learn a lot from Israel, where the long menu of precautions includes armed teachers. The Jewish state, which has long faced threats of terrorist strikes in crowded locations including schools, takes an all-of-the-above approach to safety in the classroom. Fences, metal detectors and armed private guards are part of a strategy overseen by the country’s national police. And the idea of armed teachers in the classroom, which stirred much controversy in the wake of the U.S. attack, has long been in practice in Israel. Security consultant Dov Zwerling, an Israeli counter-terror police veteran, believes armed guards are crucial for school security. “From what I know of almost all of the active shooter events in the U.S., almost all of them conclude with the shooter taking his own life the moment he is challenged by the first officer on the scene,” Zwerling said. “Why not challenge him earlier?”

California Crime Drops As Gun Sales Surge

Gun deaths and injuries have dropped sharply in California, even as the number of guns sold in the state has risen, according to new state data…. During that same period, the number of California hospitalizations due to gun injuries declined from about 4,000 annually to 2,800, a roughly 25 percent drop, according to hospital records collected by the California Department of Public Health. Firearm-related deaths fell from about 3,200 annually to about 2,800, an 11 percent drop, state health figures show. Most of the drop in firearm-related injuries and deaths can be explained by a well-documented, nationwide drop in violent crime. The number of California injuries and deaths attributed to accidental discharge of firearms also has fallen. The number of suicide deaths involving firearms has remained roughly constant.

Congress Renews Warrantless Wire Tapping

Congress approved a measure Friday that would renew expansive U.S. surveillance authority for five more years, rejecting objections from senators who are concerned the legislation does not adequately protect Americans’ privacy. The bill passed the Senate, 73 to 23. The House approved it in September, and President Obama is expected to sign it before the current authority expires Jan 1st. The lopsided Senate vote authorized a continuation of the government’s ability to eavesdrop on communications inside the United States involving foreign citizens without obtaining a specific warrant for each case. The surveillance has been credited with exposing several plots against U.S. targets but also has drawn fire from civil liberties advocates. The e-mails and phone calls of Americans who communicate with the foreigners are also being swept up. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee said that about 100 arrests have occurred in terrorism-related plots over the past four years — 16 in the past year — and that electronic surveillance played a role in some of them.

  • Balancing privacy issues vs. terrorism deterrence is a difficult problem. The potential abuse of such powers is a real concern, especially if used to quench homeland dissent.

Iranians Planning an EMP Attack?

An Iranian military journal published an article titled “Electronics to Determine Fate of Future Wars,” and it detailed how an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, attack on the electronic infrastructure of the United States caused by the detonation of a nuclear bomb over the U.S. would be crippling. “Once you confuse the enemy communication network you can also disrupt the work of the enemy command- and decision-making center,” the journal said. “Even worse today when you disable a country’s military high command through disruption of communications, you will, in effect, disrupt all the affairs of that country. If the world’s industrial countries fail to devise effective ways to defend themselves against dangerous electronic assaults then they will disintegrate within a few years,” the Iranian journal added. “American soldiers would not be able to find food to eat nor would they be able to fire a single shot.” The Iranians do not yet have nuclear weapons but are working on it, with some experts saying they are very close.

26 Percent of American Children Grow Up in Single-Parent Homes

A newly released study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 25.8 percent of American children live in single-parent homes, WORLD Magazine reports. That number is particularly troubling when considering that of the 26 other countries surveyed, the average was 14.9 percent. Among African-Americans, the rate was much worse: 72 percent of black children grow up in single-parent homes. No-fault divorce and social welfare policies are among the possible explanations for the high rates of single-parent homes in the U.S.

  • The real culprit is Satan’s ongoing attack against the tradition, Biblical family structure, aided and abetted by liberals who support the gay agenda

Economic News

It’s official: U.S. debt will reached its legal borrowing limit on Monday, giving Congress about two months before it must raise the debt ceiling or risk causing the government to default on its bills and financial obligations. As expected, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner submitted a letter to Congress on Monday saying he had begun a “debt issuance suspension period” that would last through Feb. 28. That means Treasury will employ a series of “extraordinary measures” so it does not exceed the debt limit, currently set at $16.394 trillion. Such measures include suspending the reinvestment of federal workers’ retirement account contributions in short-term government bonds.

A total of 464 banks with combined assets of $680.3 billion have failed in the U.S. since 2008. Another 202 global banks — with assets of $43.6 trillion — are at risk, with ratings in the two lowest tiers.

Eurozone

France’s highest court on Saturday blocked President Francois Hollande’s plan to tax the ultrawealthy at a 75 percent rate, saying it was unfair. In a stinging rebuke to one of Socialist Hollande’s flagship campaign promises, the constitutional council ruled Saturday that the way the highly contentious tax was designed was unconstitutional. It was intended to hit annual incomes of more than 1 million euros, or $1.3 million.

Middle East

Palestinians say a raid by Israeli soldiers disguised as vegetable vendors to seize members of a militant group has sparked clashes in the northern West Bank. Residents in the town of Tamoun say youths are tossing stones and bottles at Israeli troops, while the soldiers have responded with what appears to be live fire. Resident Faris Bisharat says eight men have been wounded, some by live fire. Bisharat says the wanted men belong to Islamic Jihad, a violent group sworn to Israel’s destruction. Bisharat says the clashes began early Tuesday after Israeli forces dressed as merchants arrested one man. He says regular forces then entered the town, and men began hurling rocks at them to prevent other arrests.

The Israeli military says tons of building materials will start crossing daily into the Gaza Strip from Israel if the quiet along their border holds. It’s the first significant easing of a near-ban Israel had imposed on such shipments after Hamas militants seized the Palestinian territory five years ago. The new policy is also the first key concession to Hamas since an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ended eight days of fighting last month. Israel says that construction materials like cement, gravel and metal rods have been used to make fortifications and weapons in the past.

Persecution Watch

Egypt has approved a new, pro-Islamist constitution, and Christians and other minorities foresee bleak and repressive days ahead, Patheos.com reports. Voter turnout in the two-stage nationwide referendum was reportedly limited, and Christians were particularly underrepresented — as low as 7 percent in some areas. Intimidation from Islamists kept many away from the polls, and in one instance, an estimated 50,000 pro-constitution Egyptians marched through Christian areas of the city of Assiut before the election. Men on horseback with swords led the way — evoking the seventh-century Muslim conquest — as marchers chanted that Egypt would be “Islamic, Islamic, despite the Christians.” Under the new charter, the rights of Christians and other religious minorities are “undermined beyond salvage,” says Hudson Institute scholar Samuel Tadros.

An explosion at an Egyptian Coptic Christian church in Libya’s third largest city, Misrata, has killed two people and wounded two others. Sunday’s explosion killed two Egyptian citizens working at the church in preparation for traditional New Year’s Eve mass. Tens of thousands of Egyptian workers have returned to work in Libya following last year’s civil war, despite security dangers.

Afghanistan

Violence in Afghanistan fell in 2012, but more Afghan troops and police who now shoulder most of the combat were killed. Insider killings by uniformed Afghans against their foreign allies rose dramatically, eroding confidence between the two sides at a crucial turning point in the war and when NATO troops and Afghan counterparts are in more intimate contact. Afghan forces were now charged with 80 percent of security missions but were less equipped to face the most lethal weapon of the militants — roadside bombs. U.S. troop deaths, overall NATO fatalities and Afghan civilian deaths all dropped as insurgent attacks fell off in their traditional strongholds in the country’s south and east. However, insurgent activity was up in the north and west, where the Taliban and other groups have been less active than in the past, and overall levels of violence were higher than before a U.S. troop surge two years ago.

Syria

At least 397 people were killed across the country Saturday. The dead includes more than 200 people who were captured and “field executed” by Syrian soldiers in the Homs suburb of Deir Baalbeh after Syrian forces won a battle there. Syrian rebels stepped up their siege of a government helicopter base and clashed with soldiers near Aleppo’s international airport on Friday, part of an effort to chip away at the air power that poses the biggest challenge to their advances against the regime of President Bashar Assad. That airborne threat came into stark relief the same day, when a government airstrike on a northern town killed 14 people — most of them women and children, activists said. More than 21-months into Syria’s conflict, the Assad regime is counting more than ever on its air force to block rebel gains.

Iraq

Tens of thousands of Iraqi Sunnis angry over perceived second-class treatment by the Shiite-led government massed along a major western highway and elsewhere in the country Friday for the largest protests yet in a week of demonstrations. The well-organized rallies, which took place after traditional Friday prayers, underscore the strength of a tenacious protest movement that appears to be gathering support among Sunnis, whose sense of grievance has been increased by arrests and prosecutions that they feel underscore Shiite political dominance. At least five people were injured when bodyguards for a top Iraqi official opened fire on stone-throwing Sunni demonstrators Sunday.

Pakistan

A car bomb targeting a bus carrying Shiite Muslim pilgrims killed 19 people in southwest Pakistan on Sunday. Pakistan has experienced a spike in killings over the last year by radical Sunni Muslims targeting Shiites, whom they consider heretics. Earlier Sunday, 21 tribal policemen believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban were found shot dead in Pakistan’s troubled northwest tribal region.

Gunmen killed five female teachers and two other people on Tuesday in an ambush on a van carrying workers home from their jobs at a community center in northwest PakistanThe van was transporting teachers and aid workers from the center in conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Two health workers, one man and one woman, were also killed and the driver was wounded. The attack was a reminder of the risks faced by educators and aid workers, especially women, in an area where Islamic militants often target women and girls trying to get an education. Many militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province oppose female education and have blown up schools and killed female educators as a way to discourage girls from getting an education.

  • Islam is such a wonderful, peaceful religion, isn’t it?

Yemen

Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen has announced that it will pay tens of thousands of dollars to anyone who kills the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa or an American soldier in the country. An audio produced by the group’s media arm, the al-Malahem Foundation, and posted on militant websites Saturday said it offered three kilograms of gold, worth $160,000, for killing the ambassador. The group said it will pay 5 million Yemeni riyals ($23,000) for anyone who kills an American soldier inside Yemen. The bounties were set to “inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad,” the statement said.

India

Indian police charged six men with murder on Saturday, hours after a woman who was gang-raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi nearly two weeks ago died in a Singapore hospital. New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said the six face the death penalty if convicted, in a case that has triggered protests across India for greater protection for women from sexual violence, and raised questions about lax attitudes by police toward sexual crimes. The frightening nature of the crime shocked Indians, who have come out in the thousands for almost daily demonstrations.

Mali

Deep inside caves, in remote desert bases, in the escarpments and cliff faces of northern Mali, Islamic fighters are burrowing into the earth, erecting a formidable set of defenses to protect what has essentially become Al Qaeda’s new country. They have used the bulldozers, earth movers and Caterpillar machines left behind by fleeing construction crews to dig what residents and local officials describe as an elaborate network of tunnels, trenches, shafts and ramparts. Northern Mali is now the biggest territory held by Al Qaeda and its allies. And as the world hesitates, delaying a military intervention, the extremists who seized control of the area earlier this year are preparing for a war they boast will be worse than the decade-old struggle in Afghanistan. The catalyst for the Islamic fighters was a military coup nine months ago that transformed Mali from a once-stable nation to the failed state it is today.

Russia

Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a bill on Friday banning American families from adopting Russian orphans, apparently in retaliation for U.S. criticism of his nation’s human rights record, Fox News reports. The law will block dozens of Russian children expected to be adopted by American families from leaving the country and cut off one of the main international routes for Russian children to leave orphanages. Russia is the single biggest source of adopted children in the U.S., with more than 60,000 Russian children being taken in by Americans over the past two decades. According to UNICEF estimates, there are more than 700,000 Russian orphans but only 18,000 Russians waiting to adopt a child. The U.S. State Department previously expressed deep concern about the Russian measure. “The welfare of children is simply too important to be linked to political aspects of our relationship,” said spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

Haiti

The State Department has issued a revised Haiti travel advisory, warning Americans planning to travel to the Caribbean island nation about robbery, lawlessness, infectious disease and poor medical facilities. “U.S. citizens have been victims of violent crime, including murder and kidnapping, predominantly in the Port-au-Prince area. No one is safe from kidnapping, regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender, or age,” the department said.

Ivory Coast

Authorities say that at least 61 people were killed in a stampede when New Year’s revels turned into a panicked stampede in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial center. Many more people were injured in the incident at about 2 a.m. after a fireworks display in the Plateau district of Abidjan.

Weather

Up to a foot of snow fell in parts of southern New England with the latest winter storm to move through the Northeast, national weather forecasters said Sunday. The storm began Saturday afternoon and ended by Sunday morning, with some power outages but no reports of critical injuries or major property damage. The snowpack’s extent in the Lower 48 States (63.1% as of Sunday morning) exceeds that at any time last season.

A fresh supply of cold Arctic air will plunge into the Midwest Monday, then slide south and eastward into the Plains, Ohio Valley and Northeast over the next several days.