Signs of the Times (1/4/13)

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.

 

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