Signs of the Times (1/17/13)

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

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