Archive for February, 2013

Signs of the Times (2/26/13)

February 26, 2013

Republicans Sign Brief in Support of Gay Marriage

Dozens of prominent Republicans — including top advisers to former President George W. Bush, four former governors and two members of Congress — have signed a legal brief arguing that gay people have a constitutional right to marry, a position that amounts to a direct challenge to Speaker John A. Boehner and reflects the civil war in the party since the November election. The document will be submitted this week to the Supreme Court in support of a suit seeking to strike down Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative barring same-sex marriage, and all similar bans. The court will hear back-to-back arguments next month in that case and another pivotal gay rights case that challenges the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act.

  • Politicians almost always abandon principles to ensure reelection

Report: Pope Resigned Because of Gay Priest Scandal

The Italian media is reporting that Pope Benedict XVI resigned after receiving the results of an internal investigation, delivered in a 300-page, two-volume dossier, that laid bare a sordid tale of blackmail, corruption and gay sex at the Vatican. The respected Italian newspaper La Repubblica stated Friday that the report stamped “Pontifical Secret,” contained “an exact map of the mischief and the bad fish” inside the Holy See. A similar story was carried by Panorama, a conservative weekly. “What’s coming out is a very detailed X-ray of the Roman Curia that does not spare even the closest collaborators of the pope,” respected Vatican expert Ignazio Ingrao writes in Panorama. “The pope was no stranger to the intrigues, but he probably did not know that under his pontificate there was such a complex network and such intricate chains of personal interests and unmentionable relationships.”

The Vatican has heatedly denied reports in the Italian media that the pope resigned in the week of sensational scandals involving financial irregularities and a secret gay network that controls key parts of the Vatican bureaucracy. Some Vatican observers believe that the leaks are part of an effort to influence the upcoming selection of the next pope. LIGNET, Newsmax’s global intelligence service, reported that a power struggle that took place in the months and days leading up to the Pope’s resignation.

Scotland’s Roman Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has resigned amid allegations that he abused four men studying to be priests in the 1980s. Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation last week, the Vatican said in a statement released Monday. O’Brien said he submitted his resignation to the pope months ago, citing his upcoming 75th birthday and his health. His accusers took their complaints to the Vatican representative in Britain and demanded O’Brien’s resignation.

  • It’s no surprise that a religion based on unbiblical doctrine would be infected by internal cancers

GOP Lawmakers Join Hobby Lobby’s Contraception Fight

Nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers have joined the legal fight against the Obamacare contraception mandate, CBN News reports. Nine senators and two House members challenged the mandate by formally backing arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby, whose owners filed a lawsuit against the government, saying the mandate required them to choose between their Christian beliefs and providing insurance for abortion-inducing drugs. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, led the group of lawmakers in filing a “friend of the court” brief on Hobby Lobby’s behalf. “Religious freedom is an issue our country was founded on, and it’s not a Democrat or Republican issue,” Hatch said. “Unfortunately, the Obama administration has time and time again ignored calls to stop the implementation of a policy some organizations or businesses are morally opposed to.” Hobby Lobby is among the few corporations not granted temporary relief from the mandate by the courts.

  • Religious freedom is under severe attack for Christians, not so for any other religion

New Drone Base in Niger Builds U.S. Presence in Africa

President Barack Obama said Friday that about 100 American troops have been deployed to the African nation of Niger. Two U.S. defense officials said the troops would be setting up a base for unarmed drones to conduct surveillance. Obama announced the deployment in a letter to Congress, saying that the forces “will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region.” The move marks a deepening of U.S. efforts to stem the spread of al-Qaida and its affiliates in the volatile region. It also underscores Obama’s desire to fight extremism without involving large numbers of U.S. ground forces.

Government Plans Drastic Expansion of Domestic Mini-Drones

When most Americans think of drones, they think of the government’s targeted killing of Al Qaeda operatives overseas. Lately, the debate in Washington has been over the killing of Americans, like U.S-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was taken out by the CIA in September 2011. Now there appears to be every intention to expand the use of so-called mini-drones inside the U.S. Used mostly by local police and first responders, the Federal Aviation Administration has already granted 327 licenses, and it projects as many as 10,000 licensed systems by 2017. Privacy concerns are rising over the potential for a tsunami of drones, cluttering a kind of digital wild West where the law is easily being outpaced by technology.

Texas, Mississippi Lure Gun &Ammunition Manufacturers

Top elected officials in Texas and Mississippi want gun and ammunition makers in several states to flee and relocate to their respective states. Texas Gov. Rick Perry reportedly sent letters to 26 firearms and ammunition manufacturers earlier this month. Perry’s letter to Connecticut-based gun maker Mossberg & Sons reads in part, “As you consider your options for responding to unwarranted government intrusion into your business, you may choose to consider relocating your manufacturing operations to a state that is more business-friendly.” Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn sent letters Thursday to 14 gun manufacturers in Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and North Carolina.

With Deadline Looming, White House Details Cuts

Food safety inspections, early education classrooms and mental health treatment are all at risk if massive forced spending cuts are allowed to take effect at the end of this week, the White House said Sunday. Those cuts would accompany deep reductions in defense spending. In detailed reports for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, President Barack Obama’s budget office spelled out how the cuts – which are the result of a stalemate between Congressional Republicans and the White House over reducing the federal deficit – will affect localities, putting the stakes of the budget debate in stark terms as Congress returns to Washington after a week-long break. Lawmakers in both parties agree looming $85 billion in cuts would cause problems, but blame each other on failure to reach a deal and express little optimism one will be reached this week.

Economic News

Despite 2013’s higher payroll taxes, late refunds and higher gas prices, consumer spending is surprising economists. Auto sales climbed in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 15.2 million. That’s up 14% from a year ago. Sales of gasoline, measured in gallons, are up 2.8% so far this year. Retail sales rose 0.1% in January, to a pace 4.4% above last year.

A titanic courtroom showdown with billions of dollars in the balance opened in New Orleans on Monday, with oil giant BP arguing it shouldn’t face the government’s steepest penalties for the 2010 Gulf oil spill. BP already pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to a record-setting $4 billion fine for the spill. But it could face more than $20 billion in additional environmental penalties if found to have committed gross negligence in the disaster.

Things are getting a little messy in Italy, but Wall Street was showing signs of a rebound on Tuesday. U.S. stocks sold off sharply Monday on concerns about Italy, with the Dow and S&P 500 suffering their biggest one-day declines of the year. But U.S. stock futures were modestly higher early Tuesday.

Eurozone

World markets retreated Tuesday as a big vote for anti-austerity parties in Italy’s elections left the eurozone’s third biggest economy in political deadlock, sparking fears of a revival of the region’s debt crisis. European stock markets were sharply lower. Final results showed the center-left coalition of Pier Luigi Bersani winning by a very slim margin in the lower house of parliament but unable to control the Senate. The former head of a technocrat government which steered Italy through the worst of the eurozone crisis last year, trailed badly in fourth place.

Credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded Britain’s government bond rating one notch from the top AAA to AA1, citing weaknesses in the economy’s medium-term outlook. Moody’s said “subdued” growth prospects and a “high and rising debt burden” are weighing on the British economy. The U.K. government pledged to stick to its program of austerity even as the sterling extended its recent slide Monday.

A key gauge of momentum in China’s manufacturing sector fell unexpectedly in February, raising concerns about the strength of recovery in the world’s second largest economy. The index, which had been on a winning streak, is now at a 4-month low. Global bank HSBC said its “flash” index of purchasing managers’ sentiment fell to 50.4 in February from January’s final reading of 52.3. Any reading above 50 signals expansion in the manufacturing sector.

Middle East

A group known as Asaib Ahl al-Haq, which is closely aligned with the Hezbollah terrorists (backed, funded, trained, and equipped by Iran) is establishing a political party in Iraq. They hope to follow the success of Hezbollah in Lebanon by gaining political power through the ballot box and drawing a cloak of respectability across their evil efforts. This very group was, according to The New York Times, “responsible for most of the attacks against US forces in the final years of the Iraq war.” This is no accident; it is a strategy designed to draw the net around Israel tighter and tighter until the Jewish state is destroyed.

Israel’s Defense Ministry says a joint exercise with U.S. forces has successfully tested the Arrow anti-missile system for the first time. The system is meant to defend Israel from the threat of an Iranian strike. The Arrow is produced jointly by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. and Chicago-based Boeing Co. Iran’s Shahab ballistic missile can carry a nuclear warhead and has a range of 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers), putting Israel well within range.

A rocket was fired into Israel from Gaza on Tuesday for the first time in three months amid days of riots by Palestinians over the death of a Palestinian man. The Al- Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which says it is affiliated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, took responsibility for the attack. The rocket fell on a road in southern Israel. No injuries were reported. All of the Palestinians in Israeli prisons — about 4,500 people — took part in a hunger strike Sunday, and crowds protested in the streets of the West Bank as Palestinian officials called for an international investigation into an inmate’s death. Israel said doctors had worked to save the inmate, who was suffering from previous injuries.

Syria

Syria is ready to hold talks with the armed opposition trying to topple President Bashar Assad, the country’s foreign minister said Monday, in the government’s most advanced offer yet to try to resolve the 2-year-old civil war through negotiations. Walid al-Moallem did not say whether rebel fighters would first have to lay down their arms before negotiations could begin, a key sticking point in the past. Still, the proposal marked the first time that a high-ranking Syrian official has stated publicly that the government would meet with opposition fighters. Syria’s 23-month-old conflict, which has killed more than 70,000 people and destroyed many of the country’s cities, has repeatedly confounded international efforts to bring the parties together to end the bloodshed.

Iran

Days before resuming talks over its disputed atomic program, Iran said on Saturday it had found significant new deposits of raw uranium and identified sites for 16 more nuclear power stations. State news agency IRNA quoted a report by the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) which said the reserves were discovered in northern and southern coastal areas and had trebled the amount outlined in previous estimates… The timing of the announcement suggested Iran, by talking up its reserves and nuclear ambitions, may hope to strengthen its negotiating hand at talks in Kazakhstan on Tuesday with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his NATO counterparts are considering leaving 8,000 to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, but a dispute arose Friday between the U.S. and German defense officials over whether that contingent would be an international force or an American one. President Barack Obama has said that the last combat troops will leave Afghanistan Dec. 31, 2014. Panetta said he and the NATO partners talked about ranges of options for the post-2014 troop force. And he said the figures reflected contributions that other nations would make, in addition to the United States.

A series of early morning attacks hit eastern Afghanistan Sunday, with three separate suicide bombings in outlying provinces and a shootout between security forces and a would-be attacker in the capital city of Kabul. The attacks were a reminder that insurgents are still going on the offensive even as U.S. and other international forces draw down. All four attacks Sunday appeared to target Afghan forces, who have been suffering higher casualties this year. Afghan soldiers and police are easier targets than their NATO allies because their checkpoints and bases are less fortified.

The Afghan government says armed individuals who may be U.S. special forces carried out acts of torture and murder, allegations that spurred it to demand that members of the elite American military units leave a key province west of Kabul. The U.S. military says it is investigating. Attacks on coalition troops by allied Afghanistan security forces, which reached record levels last year, have declined dramatically so far this year, as coalition and Afghan commanders bolster security and improve screening of troops who might be a threat.

Mali

The Chadian army says that its troops killed 65 Islamic extremist rebels and destroyed five vehicles in fierce fighting northern Mali; 13 Chadian soldiers were also killed and six were wounded in the fighting Friday. Chad has deployed some 1,800 troops in Mali as part of the French-led military intervention begun in January to wrest control of northern Mali from the Islamic radicals linked to al Qaeda. The Islamic rebels retreated to mountainous hideouts near Mali’s northern border with Algeria, after being expelled at the end of January by French and Malian forces from the major towns in northern Mali.

South Korea

Park Geun-hye became South Korea’s first female president Monday, returning to the presidential mansion where she grew up with her dictator father. Park’s last stint in the Blue House was bookended by tragedy: At 22, she cut short her studies in Paris to return to Seoul and act as President Park Chung-hee’s first lady after an assassin targeting her father instead killed her mother; she left five years later after her father was shot and killed by his spy chief during a drinking party. As president, Park will face stark divisions both in South Korean society and with rival North Korea. South Koreans worry about a growing gap between rich and poor, and there’s pressure for her to live up to her campaign suggestion that she can return the country to the strong economic growth her strong-man father oversaw.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 5.7 earthquake rattled central Japan on Monday afternoon, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. A second quake — magnitude 4.6 quake — struck about 11 minutes later. The Japan Meteorological Agency said no tsunami alert has been issued. The quake was centered about 89 miles north-northwest of Tokyo at a depth of 6.2 miles.

Weather

A strong winter storm has dumped up to 27 inches of snow in the mountains just outside of Denver as of Monday morning. The storm is now blasting the snow-weary — but also drought-weary — Plains and Midwest with a combination of high winds and heavy snow that’s already closing roads and creating whiteout conditions. The ferocious blizzard blasted the southern Plains with heavy snow and high winds Monday, burying much of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles under more than a foot of snow, wreaking travel havoc on the roads and in the air. Overnight Monday and through the day Tuesday, the storm will slowly slog to the north and east, bringing a swath of snow across Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. This storm will have a huge impact, with additional heavy snows likely over portions of eastern Kansas and northern Missouri which received very heavy snowfall amounts last week. About 40,000 people in northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas awoke to no power as heavy, wet snow weighed on power lines.

Last winter produced pitiful amounts of snow for many cities across the country. In this winter, some places from the Northeast to the Midwest and Rockies have now doubled, tripled or quadrupled last winter’s low snow totals. Only 3.9 inches of snow fell in Kansas City last winter season. This season’s total more than triples that number with 14.2 inches. Just 6.3 inches of snow was recorded last winter. This season’s total of 12.7 inches doubles last season’s total. Boston’s total this winter is up to 42.6 inches. This more than quadruples last season’s paltry snow total of 9.3 inches.

 

Signs of the Times (2/22/13)

February 22, 2013

For those of you who’ve been asking, book 7, The Beginning of Forever of The End series is now available as an e book on Amazon (Kindle) & Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Megachurches Thriving in Tough Economic Times

A new survey shows that despite the tough economy, many of the nation’s largest churches are thriving, with increased offerings and plans to hire more staff, the Religion News Service reports. Just 3 percent of churches with 2,000 or more attendees surveyed by Leadership Network, a Dallas-based church think tank, said they were affected “very negatively” by the economy in recent years. Forty-seven percent said they were affected “somewhat negatively,” but one-third said they were not affected at all. The vast majority — 83 percent — of large churches expected to meet their budgets in 2012 or their current fiscal year, and a majority also reported that offerings during worship services were higher last year than in 2011. Even though some churches have ministries that provide other income, such as schools or wedding chapel rentals, an average of 96 percent of their budget comes from members’ donations. Most megachurches surveyed spend 10 percent or more of their budget beyond their congregation on causes ranging from local soup kitchens to world missions. Most large churches also reported that they expected to give staff at least a 1 percent raise in the next budget cycle. Most also expect to modestly increase staff, and just 6 percent expect to reduce the number of staffers.

Obama Administration May Ask Supreme Court to Overturn Prop 8

The Obama administration is considering asking the Supreme Court to overturn California’s Proposition 8, the voter approved-measure that defined marriage in the state as only between a man and a woman, CBN News reports. President Obama raised expectations for gay marriage supporters last month when he declared during his inaugural address that gays and lesbians must be treated like anyone else under the law. The administration has one week to file a “friend of the court” brief, and while an administration brief alone is unlikely to sway the Supreme Court, the government’s opinion does carry weight with the justices.

UK Trial Reveals New al Qaeda Strategy to Hit West

The trial of three Birmingham men convicted Thursday of plotting to launch a “catastrophic” suicide bombing attack in the United Kingdom revealed that al Qaeda has developed a new strategy to target the West. The new strategy involves a teacher-training approach in which a select few Western operatives are taught bombmaking and other aspects of terrorist tradecraft in the tribal areas of Pakistan and are then instructed to return back to the West to “spread the knowledge” to a larger body of Islamist extremists keen on launching attacks. The new approach is a response to the growing toll of drone strikes which have made travel to the tribal areas increasingly perilous for Western recruits and significantly diminished al Qaeda’s ability to orchestrate terrorist plots from the region.

Al Jazeera Launches Major US Expansion

Al Jazeera, the cable news network owned by the government of Qatar, has big plans for its American operation despite being criticized by the U.S. government for airing videos from Osama bin Laden. Al Jazeera spent $500 million last year to buy Current TV — which can be seen on cable channels in 41 million homes — from former Vice President Al Gore and other investors. Cable operators have the option of dropping Al Jazeera, which Time Warner has suggested it might do. Al Jazeera English, which launched in 2006, has until now been available on just a few cable systems or online. Al Jazeera America plans to increase its staff of 13 to some 200 people across the country. It is building a new broadcast center in Washington, expanding its space at the UN in New York, and setting up bureaus in Detroit, New Orleans, San Francisco and five other cities.

Massive Sunspot Rapidly Forming

A giant sunspot that’s at least six times the diameter of Earth has formed on the sun in less than 48 hours, according to NASA. Sunspots form when the sun’s magnetic fields rearrange and realign. They tend to be unstable and can lead to solar flares. The agency says it could even be larger than six times the diameter of Earth. Sun activity goes through cycles that stretch about 11 years. Currently the sun is moving toward the peak of a very energetic cycle which scientists expect to last through the middle of this year.

Economic News

If you’re expecting last minute action from Congress to avoid the March 1 spending cut deadline, think again. Congress isn’t even in session this week, and lawmakers and aides from both parties say they don’t expect anything to pass anytime soon. The cuts can be phased in over time, and leaders on both sides of the aisle know they can act after March 1 to undo any reductions in the months to come. Also, some Democrats and Republicans aren’t totally unhappy with many of the cuts, $85 billion of which will be split between Pentagon and non-defense programs this year.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress on Wednesday that if automatic government spending cuts kick in on March 1 he may have to shorten the workweek for the “vast majority” of the Defense Department’s 800,000 civilian workers. They would lose one day of work per week, or 20 percent of their pay, for up to 22 weeks, probably starting in late April.

Smarting from smaller paychecks, consumers are tightening their budgets and looking for other ways to save money, according to a survey released Thursday. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they were cutting back to cope with tax changes this year. Consumers are seeing smaller paychecks after a two-year payroll tax “holiday” expired this year. The rate returned to 6.2% on the first $113,700 of annual income, up from 4.2%. For workers earning $30,000 a year, that means about $50 less in their paychecks each month. For those earning $100,000 annually, it’s about $167 less a month.

Stocks continued a two-day slide Thursday on weak economic data and concern about the Federal Reserve’s resolve to keep juicing the market. The sell-off began Wednesday afternoon in New York after the release of minutes from the Fed’s latest meeting suggesting that some policymakers want to wind down bond purchases and other measures aimed at boosting the economy.

Eurozone

France is poised to drag the Eurozone into a fourth quarter of recession as business activity slumps in the region’s second-largest economy. The Purchasing Managers’ Index flash estimate fell to 47.3, from 48.6 in January, as the decline in French output hit a near four-year low. France’s performance in the first quarter of 2013 was shaping up to be the worst since the same period in 2009. Germany, by contrast, saw a further improvement in business activity in February for a third month running, although the pace of expansion slowed slightly.

The ailing Eurozone economy will shrink further in 2013, making it harder still for governments to reduce borrowing and promising more misery for millions of unemployed. The European Commission said Friday it expected combined gross domestic product across the 17 members of the Eurozone to contract by 0.3% this year. The region’s economy shrank for a third consecutive quarter in the last three months of 2012, leaving it 0.6% smaller than at the start of the year.

Many Spaniards are bartering, or trading, their way through a recession that has lasted years and left more than a quarter of the workforce unemployed. Tens of thousands of households have no wage earners, but they have skills and time on their hands to do work that can be traded for things they need but have no money to buy. Trading produce for other services and merchandise is one of the many unconventional ways the Spanish are making ends meet in what has been described as the new “sharing economy” that has developed here since the economic crisis hit more than four years ago. More than half a million families have no income. The unemployment rate has climbed to 26%, but among young workers it is as astonishing 55%.Spain borrowed massively to lend the banks money to survive, but that put the national government in a severe budget deficit.

  • This is the socialistic model Obama and the New World Order folks want to follow because it weakens the masses and makes them more dependent on an elitist government (and therefore more manageable)

Persecution Watch

Authorities in New Jersey allege a Muslim man beheaded two Coptic Christians, burying their bodies and heads and hands in separate graves near Philadelphia, bringing the horror of the persecution of Christians in Islamic nations to the United States. The report said the victims were from the Coptic Christian community in the area. One of the victims had come from Egypt not many years ago.

An evangelical group that digs wells and provides clean water to 11,000 people in Uganda risks losing Canadian government money because it also teaches that homosexuality is a sin, WORLD Magazine reports. Thomas Mulcair, a leader in Canada’s liberal New Democratic Party, said Crossroads Relief and Development, which received $389,000 from the Canadian government to help fund its relief work, was “completely against” Canadian values and law because of its stance on homosexuality. Crossroads’ water project partner group in Africa, Victory Outreach Ministries, states on its website that while homosexuality is sinful, gays are “created in God’s image, and we condemn the activities of those who are violent toward gays.” Canada has frozen $156,000 in Crossroads funding until it can review the organization’s work.

Mathayo Kachili, pastor of the Assemblies of God church in Buseresere, Tanzania, a church affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God of Canada, was beheaded when a group of religious extremists attacked Christians at the church on February 11, Christian Press reports. “Escalating hostility and violence toward Christians in various places in Africa causes us grave concern for our brothers and sisters, and especially our pastors,” said Mike McClaflin, AG World Missions regional director for Africa. “Our prayers are with the family of Pastor Mathayo Kachili as well as the other pastors of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in Tanzania and missionaries from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada laboring in East Africa.” Barnabas Mtokambali, the Tanzania AG general superintendent, encouraged Christians in Tanzania to remain Christlike in their faith. “Our response as a church is not one of violence and hatred, reflecting the attitude of those committing such crimes, but that of Christ and reflecting his image by loving and praying for those who humiliate and persecute us, and not holding such sins against them,” he said.

Four foreign Christian workers in Libya have been arrested on suspicion of spreading Christianity and giving out Christian literature in Benghazi, CBN News reports. Police said one of the suspects is a Swedish-American, and the others are from South Africa, Egypt and South Korea. “We are still holding interrogations and will hand them over to the Libyan intelligence authorities in a couple of days,” police spokesman Hussein bin Hamid said. The four workers were arrested Tuesday, and police confiscated some 45,000 books in their possession. Another 25,000 reportedly were distributed. Preaching the gospel is against the law in the Muslim-majority nation. Prior to the 2011 revolution that ousted Moammar Gadhafi, Libya was home to approximately 100,000 Christians, but now only a few thousand remain.

Christians gathered in Cairo on Sunday to protest the destruction of a church that was attacked by Muslim villagers over the weekend in Egypt’s Fayoum province — the second attack on Christians in the province in a little over a month, International Christian Concern reports. Twenty to 30 Muslims, most from an extended family, attacked Mar Girgis church in the village of Tamiyyah following a 3 p.m. service on Friday. The villagers pelted the church and four worshippers with stones, tore down the cross erected on top of the building, and threw Molotov cocktail-type explosives at the structure with the intent of setting it on fire. About a hundred Christian protesters rallied in the Shubra district of Cairo on Feb. 17, demanding that the church be rebuilt and that those responsible be brought to justice.

Saudi authorities on Feb. 8 arrested 53 Ethiopian Christians, mostly women, who were attending a worship service in the private, rented home of an Ethiopian believer in Dammam, the capital of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, ASSIST News Service reports. The Christians — 46 women and six men, including three church leaders — were arrested around 10 a.m., and the three church leaders were produced in an Islamic court in Dammam the same day when authorities alleged they were converting Muslims to Christianity. Authorities are likely to release two of the Ethiopian Christians who have residential permits, and the others are expected to be deported.

Middle East

Iran is “closer than ever” to the ability to build a nuclear bomb, Israel said on Thursday, as a new UN report said Tehran has begun installing next-generation equipment at one of its main nuclear plants. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s report said Iran started installing new and advanced centrifuges at Natanz, which would enable it to speed up the enrichment of uranium. “Iran is closer than ever today to obtaining enriched material for a nuclear bomb,” said a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Syria

A car bomb shook central Damascus on Thursday, exploding near the headquarters of the ruling Baath party and the Russian Embassy. Opposition activists say at least 35 people have been killed. Syrian state TV also reported the blast in the central Mazraa neighborhood, calling it a “terrorist” attack on a heavily populated area. A car exploded at a security checkpoint between the Russian Embassy and the central headquarters of the ruling Baath party of President Bashar Assad. The Damascus car bomb was one of at least three attacks in the heart of the city. A second blast shook another neighborhood and mortar rounds exploded near the Syrian Army General Command.

India

Indian police investigating a dual bomb attack that killed 16 people outside a movie theater and a bus station in the southern city of Hyderabad were searching for links to a shadowy Islamic militant group with reported ties to Pakistan. India’s recent execution of an Islamic militant is being examined as a possible motive for the bombings. Police have not yet detained anyone in connection with the Thursday evening attack, the first major terror bombing in India since 2011.

Bulgaria

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov tendered his government’s resignation Wednesday after eight days of nationwide protests over high energy bills. The protests morphed into wider discontent over austerity and the way the country is being run. Parliament will vote Thursday on whether to accept the Cabinet’s resignation. If it is accepted, the president will announce an election date. Bulgaria, a country of just over 7 million people, held its first free multiparty elections since the Second World War in 1990.

Kenya

Every five years or so, this stable and typically peaceful country, an oasis of development in a very poor and turbulent region, suffers a frightening transformation in which age-old grievances get stirred up, ethnically based militias are mobilized and neighbors start killing neighbors. The reason is elections, and another huge one — one of the most important in this country’s history and definitely the most complicated — is barreling this way. In less than two weeks, Kenyans will line up by the millions to pick their leaders for the first time since a disastrous vote in 2007, which set off clashes that killed more than 1,000 people. The country has spent years agonizing over the wounds and has taken some steps to repair itself, most notably passing a new constitution. But justice has been elusive, politics remain ethnically tinged and leaders charged with crimes against humanity have a real chance of winning.

Weather

A powerful storm roared across the nation’s midsection Thursday, threatening 20 states and 60 million residents in its path. Parts of Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas have been blasted with more than a foot of snow, with sleet and freezing rain exacerbating treacherous conditions. Winter storm warnings and advisories were issued from eastern Colorado to southwestern Virginia. A whiteout was reported on the Kansas Turnpike, and 90 miles of Interstate 70 was shut down. Missouri’s Kansas City International Airport shut down, and almost 200 flights had been canceled. Outside St. Louis, hundreds of drivers were stuck on roads for several hours. Officials feared the storm would be the worst in the central U.S. since the Groundhog Day blizzard in 2011, which killed dozens and left hundreds of thousands powerless.

A winter storm brought California much-needed rain and even a rare tornado, but the breadth and severity of snowfall in much of the state caught drivers by surprise and left hundreds stranded on mountain highways. A late barrage of snow forced the shutdown of a 60-mile stretch of Highway 58 between Los Angeles and Bakersfield late Tuesday. Dozens of cars were either stuck in the snow or involved in accidents near the rural community of Sonora. About 50 to 75 vehicles became stranded or were in collisions on Highway 49 and nearby roadways when it started snowing heavily in the Sierra Nevada foothillsThe storm from the Gulf of Alaska brought the first significant rainfall to the region in several weeks.

Signs of the Times (2/19/13)

February 19, 2013

Congressmen Urge Kerry to Seek Release of Imprisoned American Pastor

More than 80 U.S. senators and representatives have sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to “exhaust every possible option” to secure the release of American pastor Saeed Abedini, who is facing a lengthy prison sentence in Iran because of his Christian faith, the American Center for Law and Justice reports. “This is a significant bipartisan effort to secure the freedom of a U.S. citizen who faces incredible torture and life-threatening punishment in one of Iran’s most brutal prisons — simply because of his Christian beliefs,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ. “This letter from a politically broad spectrum of members of Congress underscores the real issue here: the U.S. government must protect its citizens and exercise every diplomatic tool available to secure the freedom of Pastor Saeed. We are very grateful for the Congressional support and urge Secretary Kerry to act without delay. Pastor Saeed’s life hangs in the balance. Secretary Kerry’s personal involvement in this case is critical to securing the freedom of this American.”

More GOP Governors Reject ObamaCare Health Exchanges

As the final deadline for creating state health insurance exchanges passed Friday, New Jersey, Tennessee and Florida said they would not work with the federal government on establishing insurance markets required under ObamaCare. With some exceptions, states led by Democrats opted to set up their own markets, called exchanges, and Republican-led states declined. Barring last-minute switches that may not be revealed until next week, 23 states plus Washington, D.C., have opted to run their own markets or partner with the Obama administration to do so. Exchanges are online markets required under the federal health care law where consumers will be able to buy individual private policies and apply for government subsidies to help pay their premiums.

Tens of thousands Demand Action on Climate Change

In what was billed as the largest climate rally in U.S. history, thousands of people marched past the White House on Sunday to urge President Obama to reject a controversial pipeline and take other steps to fight climate change. Organizers, including the Sierra Club, estimated that more than 35,000 people from 30-plus states — some dressed as polar bears — endured frigid temperatures to join the “Forward on Climate” rally, although the crowd size could not be confirmed. Their immediate target is Obama’s final decision, expected soon, on the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would carry tar sands from Canada through several U.S. states.

  • End=time weather will continue to grow more extreme no matter how many people protest and how much greenhouse gas emissions are reduced

Rise of Drones in U.S. Drives Efforts to Limit Police Use

Drones are becoming a darling of law enforcement authorities across the country. But they have given rise to fears of government surveillance, in many cases even before they take to the skies. And that has prompted local and state lawmakers from Seattle to Tallahassee to proscribe how they can be used by police or to ground them altogether. Although surveillance technologies have become ubiquitous in American life, like license plate readers or cameras for catching speeders, drones have evoked unusual discomfort in the public consciousness. “To me, it’s Big Brother in the sky,” said Dave Norris, a city councilman in Charlottesville, Va., which this month became the first city in the country to restrict the use of drones. Last week, the Seattle Police Department agreed to return its two still-unused drones to the manufacturer after Mayor Michael McGinn answered public protests by banning their use. On Thursday, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in Oakland, Calif., listened to the county sheriff’s proposal to use federal money to buy a four-pound drone to help his officers track suspected criminals — and then listened to raucous opposition from the anti-drone lobby, including a group that uses the Twitter handle @N.O.M.B.Y., short for Not Over My Back Yard.

U.S. Government Extends Federal Benefits to Homosexuals in Military

The U.S. government announced last week that it was extending a number of federal benefits to homosexuals in the military, the Christian News Network reports. The announcement was made by outgoing Department of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who stated that he would like to see the accommodations implemented by October 1, if not before. Among the 22 total benefits include hospital visitations, military child care and legal services, participation in family groups on base and privileges in commissaries. Because the federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the government from recognizing any other relationship outside of one man and one woman as being in a marriage, certain other benefits could not be extended, including assistance with housing and the provision of healthcare benefits. DOMA is currently being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to hear an oral argument on the issue next month and rule on the matter in June.

  • President Obama and his administration, including the Dept. of Defense, are in violation of DOMA and should be sanctioned or impeached

Singles Survey Reveals Casual Views on Sex

A new survey done for Match.com is shedding some light on what singles are saying about their sexual behavior, CBN News reports. According to the survey, 42 percent would not date a virgin, 47 percent report having a “friends with benefits” relationship, and 44 percent of women and 63 percent of men have had one-night stands. Almost a third say they’ve had sex by the third date and almost half said they had sex by the sixth date. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control released two new studies Wednesday showing that the United States faces an ongoing and severe epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. More than 19 million new infections are reported every year, up from 15 million in 1996, and half of the new cases affect people ages 15 to 24.

Fewer Bees a Threat to World’s Almond Supply

Bee brokers, beekeepers and almond growers around California say there’s a shortage of healthy honeybees for this year’s pollination, especially after colony collapse disorder took a higher toll this winter. The disorder, in which honey bees suddenly disappear or die, wipes out thousands of colonies each year. The shortage has some growers scrambling for bees — even sub-performers — as trees are about to bloom, driving up bee prices again this year, to an all-time high of more than $200 per colony. Since it was recognized in 2006, colony collapse disorder has destroyed colonies at a rate of about 30% a year. This year, experts say, the die-off has been as high as 40% to 50% for some beekeepers.

  • This is a major threat not just to almonds but a wide variety of food staples and could lead to debilitating shortages which will mostly affect the poor as food prices escalaate

K-5 Teacher Overload, Shortage of Content Teachers

The nation is training twice as many K-5 elementary school teachers as needed each year, while teacher shortages remain in the content specific areas of math, science and special education. National Council on Teacher Quality president Kate Walsh says the market is “flooded with elementary teachers” because universities and colleges don’t make the effort to match supply and demand as other professions might do.” Illinois trained roughly 10 teachers for every one elementary positions available. In New York, about 6,500 childhood education specialists were trained in 2010 to fill the projected demand of 2,800. A combination of state budget cuts, hiring freezes and teachers delaying retirement has shrunk the pool of open elementary teacher positions. Content certification in the low-staffed content-specific areas requires additional credits and hours, a discouragement for some to pursue the endorsement.

Feds Admit: Gun Laws Won’t Slow Crime

A study by the Department of Justice’s research wing, the National Institute of Justice, has the feds admitting that so-called “assault weapons” are not a major contributor to gun crime. The study also concluded those weapons are not a major factor in deaths caused by firearms, nor would an “assault weapons” ban be effective. “The existing stock of assault weapons is large, undercutting the effectiveness of bans with exemptions,” it said. “Therefore a complete elimination of assault weapons would not have a large impact on gun homicides.” The report finds no significant link between “assault weapons” and murders.

More States Push to Keep Feds Out of Gun Markets

States across the country are trying to protect gun ownership from the long arm of Washington by proposing bills declaring that firearms made and kept within their borders are not subject to federal restrictions. Nine states have proposed such legislation since President Obama and fellow Democrats in the Senate began trying to tighten federal gun laws in the wake of several mass shootings that occurred within months of each other. Montana was behind the original Firearms Freedom Act, which says the Commerce Clause allowing Congress to regulate inter-state commerce does not apply to the in-state manufacturing, selling and ownership of firearms. Montana passed the bill in 2009. Since then, a host of other states have tried to pass copycat legislation. Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington have proposed such legislation since January.

Gun Makers Boycott Governments Hostile To Second Amendment

In a turning of the tables, liberty minded gun makers and companies that supply firearms, accessories and ammunition have determined that they have had it with anti-gun governments at the city, state and Federal levels, even if it means lost revenue.Six firearms manufacturers are fed up with these gun control laws around the country, and they’ve made announcements stating that they will no longer be selling their products to any government agency within a jurisdiction that restricts firearms from citizens.

Taxpayers Spend Over $2 Billion on Illegals Emergency Health Care

Even though federal law largely bars illegal immigrants from obtaining Medicaid coverage, the program annually pays out more than $2 billion in free emergency coverage that mostly goes to illegal immigrants, according to Kaiser Health News. The vast majority of the total emergency care reimbursements cover delivering babies, Kaiser reports. Based on a Kaiser data analysis of the states believed to have the greatest populations of illegal immigrants — including California, New York, Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, Illinois and Florida — more than 100,000 Illegals annually receive emergency care that is reimbursed by Medicaid

Economic News

Federal workers could start facing furloughs as early as April, according to federal agencies trying to prepare for the worst. Unless Congress steps in, some $85 billion in massive spending reductions will hit the federal government, doling out furloughs to much of the nation’s 2.1 million federal workforce. he cuts coming as a part of the “sequester” will end up carving some 9% from non-defense programs and 13% from defense programs. They’re part of a larger effort to trim $1.2 trillion from federal deficits over 10 years.

Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan next year may see their war tours extended because budget cuts will drastically limit training for brigades to replace them, the top Army general said Friday. the Army is facing a shortfall of as much as $8 billion in operating funds for Afghanistan, and there could be an additional $5.4 billion in cuts if Congress can’t resolve a budget standoff and automatic sequester reductions go into effect.

Gas prices have risen for 32 days straight, according to AAA. That means that the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline has increased more than 13% over that period to $3.73. The rise is due to a confluence of factors, from rising crude oil prices, to production cuts and refinery closings. The average price for a gallon of gas has jumped to nearly 14% this year.

Beef prices are expected to increase as much as 10% by summer, leading beef producers and sellers to worry that their product might become a luxury. Retail beef prices have risen by an average of $1 per pound since 2007. Prices for cattle have jumped by as much as 25% in the past two years as the nation’s herd dropped to its lowest level in six decades while foreign export demand boomed.

Demonstrations were held across Spain on Saturday to protest harsh repossession laws that have led to hundreds of thousands of evictions during the country’s deep recession. In Madrid — one of 50 cities where such protests were planned — thousands of people marched to demand that the government amend the laws.

Persecution Watch

Four foreigners were arrested in Libya on suspicion of distributing books about Christianity and proselytizing. The suspects were from South Africa, Egypt and South Korea, and one held both Swedish and U.S. nationality. Spreading Christianity is a crime in the predominantly Muslim North African county. The four were arrested in the eastern city of Benghazi on Tuesday.

Pakistan

Angry residents on Sunday demanded government protection from an onslaught of attacks against Shiite Muslims, a day after 81 people were killed in a massive bombing that a local official said was a sign that security agencies were too scared to do their jobs. Saturday’s blast at a produce market in the city of Quetta also wounded 160 people and underlined the precarious situation for Shiites living in a majority Sunni country where many extremist groups don’t consider them real Muslims. Most of the dead and wounded were Hazaras, an ethnic group that migrated from Afghanistan over a century ago.

  • Odd that we never hear of Catholics attacking Baptists, or maybe it’s the just the Islamic religion that promotes violence

Iraq

A series of car bombs exploded within minutes of each other in and around Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 28 people and wounding dozens in overwhelmingly Shiite areas. The attacks come amid rising sectarian discord in Iraq. The explosions, mostly in outdoor markets, struck at the start of the local work week and appeared aimed at causing mass casualties among residents going about their morning shopping. Violence in Iraq has fallen since the height of sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007, but insurgents still launch lethal attacks frequently against security forces and civilians in an attempt to undermine the Shiite-led government.

Bangladesh

Protests over a war-crimes trial verdict in Bangladesh have resulted in at least six deaths here in the capital city of Dhaka and in the southeast tourist city of Cox’s Bazar. The incidents stem from February 5, when an International War Crimes Tribunal sentenced Abdul Quader Mollah, a leader of the Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, to life in prison on war-crimes charges — including murder — that date back to the country’s war of independence in 1971. The protesters, many of them students, demanded that Mollah’s penalty be changed to death. Protests have also taken place 450 kilometers (280 miles) southeast of the capital in Cox’s Bazar, where at least three people were killed Friday when Jamaat-e-Islami activists clashed with police.

Nigeria

Police in northern Nigeria say gunmen have kidnapped seven foreign workers from a construction company. The attack happened in Bauchi state overnight Saturday. The attack first targeted a prison in the area, then moved on to the construction company STRAECO, where they killed a guard and kidnapped the foreign workers. The nationalities of the workers were not immediately known. Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north has been under attack by the radical Islamic sect known as Boko Haram in the last year and a half. The country’s weak central government has been unable to stop the group’s bloody guerrilla campaign of shootings and bombings.

Russia

A small army of workers set to work Saturday to replace the estimated 200,000 square meters (50 acres) of windows shattered by the shock wave from a meteor that exploded over Russia’s Chelyabinsk region. The astonishing Friday morning event blew out windows in more than 4,000 buildings in the region, mostly in the capital city of the same name and injured some 1,200 people, largely with cuts from the flying glass and damaged over 4,000 buildings. Fifteen of the injured remained hospitalized on Saturday, one of them in a coma. Officials promised to have all the broken windows replaced within a week. But that is a long wait in a frigid region. The midday temperature in Chelyabinsk was minus-12 C (10 F), and for many the immediate task was to put up plastic sheeting and boards on shattered residential windows. NASA estimated the meteor was only about the size of a bus and weighed an estimated 7,000 tons. It exploded with the force of 20 atomic bombs. NASA said it was the largest meteor to strike the earth in over 100 years.

China

Hackers at a secretive unit of the Chinese military have stolen huge amounts of data from 115 companies and organizations in the U.S. since at least 2006, a U.S. computer security firm said in a research report released online Tuesday. The details made public by Mandiant Corp. add weight to arguments that Chinese authorities are increasingly targeting foreign firms, institutions and government agencies. China is the “most threatening actor in cyberspace,” concluded a draft report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Earthquakes

A 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck Saturday near the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. It struck at a depth of about 98 kilometers. No tsunami warning or watch has been issued.

Weather

A little more than a week after a massive snowstorm hit New England, another storm brought several inches of snow and strong winds to parts of the Northeast on Sunday. Coastal parts of southern New England were expected to see the brunt of the storm, including Cape Cod and Nantucket. About 5 inches fell in Barnstable, Mass., and up to 10 inches was forecast before the storm tapered off later Sunday. Much of northern Maine received more than 6 inches of snow by Sunday, and a blizzard warning was in effect until Monday afternoon.

Landslides and floods triggered by torrential rain in northern Indonesia have killed at least 15 people and sent hundreds fleeing for safe ground. Disaster official Sutopo Purwo Nugroho says mud and rocks cascaded down hills Sunday in seven sub-districts of Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi province, while more than 1,000 houses were flooded after downpours caused a river to burst its banks. Rescuers are searching for those who may still be buried beneath mud and rocks.

Signs of the Times (2/15/13)

February 15, 2013

Obama Presses for More Spending

President Obama used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to press for more government spending, challenge Republicans over Medicare and declare that victims of gun violence “deserve a vote” on a sweeping gun control package. Obama largely pressed on with the policies of his first term, while adding a roster of wish-list items – including a call to increase the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, up from $7.25, and pass immigration reform. The speech was wrapped in the theme of boosting the middle class and jolting what continues to be a tepid economic recovery. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who was delivering the GOP response, said Obama’s solution “to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more.”

Florida Judge Rules Homosexual Threesome Can Be Named on Baby’s Birth Certificate

A Florida judge has ruled that a gay man who fathered a child via artificial insemination may be listed on the girl’s birth certificate along with the two lesbian women that are raising her, the Christian News Network reports. The ruling ends a two-year legal battle between the women and their friend, who they approached to help them produce a child. Maria Italiano, 43, and Cher Filippazzo, 38, turned to Massilmiliano Gerina three years ago to ask if he would consider being a sperm donor so they could have a baby. When he agreed, the three made a verbal agreement that Filippazzo would adopt the baby and the two women would raise it. However, just before the baby was born, Gerina reportedly changed his mind and stated that he did not want to merely be the donor, but he wanted to have a parental role in the child’s life. The women disagreed and did not want Gerina to be listed on the birth certificate as the baby’s father, but Gerina hired an attorney and began to fight for legal recognition in the courts. Last week, Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge Antonio Marin ruled that Gerina’s name could be placed on the birth certificate along with Italiano and Filippazzo, making the baby the child of three parents.

  • More unnatural, ungodly family units will continue to mark our descent down the slippery slope away from the high calling of God’s ordained two-parent, male-female family units

5.8M Women have Used the ‘Morning After’ Pill

As many as 11% of U.S. women ages 15-44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used a “morning after” pill at least once, according to the first federal report on emergency contraception, out Thursday. That’s 5.8 million women — and half say they used it because they feared their birth control method may have failed. The rest say they had unprotected sex. The FDA approved emergency contraceptive pills in 1998 for use up to five days after intercourse. The report shows that emergency contraception was most common among women 20-24, the never married, Hispanic and white women, and the college-educated. Internists say the “morning after pill” should not be confused with the “abortion pill which stops a pregnancy that’s already existing. The abortion pill is taken after you already know you’re pregnant and it’s given by a health care provider. Emergency contraception does not cause an abortion. You take emergency contraception pills to largely prevent ovulation from happening. This is pregnancy prevention.”

LGBT Catholic Groups Call for Gay-Friendly Pope to Succeed Benedict XVI

Several LGBT Catholic groups are calling for a new gay-friendly pope following news of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation as head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Christian Post reports. “For the last three decades, Benedict has been one of the main architects of the Vatican’s policies against LGBT people,” said New Ways Ministry, a gay-rights group that seeks to “build bridges” between the homosexual community and the Catholic Church. The group said it was praying for a new pope that would “combine his intelligence with true and deep pastoral concern for the lives of the people of the world.” Hoping for a new pope that will be less conservative, the group added that they placed their trust in the Holy Spirit to “guide our church in the days and years to come.” Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic groups working on behalf of LGBT people and their families, also expressed wishes for a new pope that would be more gay-friendly. The group insisted that the Catholic Church needed to take this opportunity “to turn away from his oppressive policies toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, and their families and friends.”

  • A gay-friendly Pope would be a travesty against the Bible’s admonitions against homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27)

‘Final Pope’ Already Running Vatican?

Did Pope Benedict XVI line up his successor and then resign to fulfill a 900-year-old prophecy that the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church would be history’s “final pope?” The idea was posed by Tom Horn, co-author of the book “Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope is Here.” As WorldNetDaily reported, Horn and his co-author, Cris Putnam, accurately predicted Benedict would become the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign. Horn believes the last pope, called “Petrus Romanus” in the prophecy by Irish Archbishop St. Malachy, could be the man who is set to take over interim leadership the moment Benedict resigns. Malachy described the last pope as “Petrus Romanus,” or “Peter the Roman,” writing: “In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock among many tribulations; after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people.”

  • This ‘final Pope’ might be the second beast and ‘false prophet’ prophesied in Revelation 13:11-17

Meteor Shower in Russia Injures Hundreds

Russia was hit by a meteor shower on Friday in the nation’s central Ural Mountains, injuring hundreds and causing damage to buildings in six cities, according to reports. Fragments of a 10-ton meteor fell in a thinly populated area of the Chelyabinsk region. At least three had been hospitalized in serious condition but the majority received treatment for minor cuts from broken glass after the explosions broke windows and shook buildings. More than 400 people had called for medical assistance. About 6,000 square feet of a roof at a zinc factory had collapsed. According to an unconfirmed report in Russia Today, the meteor was intercepted by Russian air defense.

  • A portent of end-time tribulation

Sources Confirm U.S. Gun-Running to Jihadists

WorldNetDaily has reconfirmed with multiple knowledgeable Middle Eastern security sources that the U.S. special mission in Benghazi was used to coordinate Arab arms shipments and other aid to the so-called rebels fighting in Libya and later in Syria. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claims she did not know whether the U.S. special mission was involved in gun-running out of Benghazi, Libya. Now knowledgeable security sources have reconfirmed WND’s original reporting on the use of the Benghazi mission in aiding the rebels who are known to be saturated by al-Qaida and other Islamic terrorist groups. Slain U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens, played a central role in recruiting jihadists to fight Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, according to Egyptian security officials.

Dick Act of 1902 – Gun Control Forbidden

It would appear that the Obama administration is counting on the fact that the American Citizens don’t know that the Dick Act of 1902, also known as the Efficiency of Militia Bill H.R. 11654, of June 28, 1902, invalidates all so-called gun-control laws. It also divides the militia into three distinct and separate entities. The Dick Act specifies that all members of the unorganized militia have the absolute personal right and 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms of any type, and as many as they can afford to buy. The Dick Act of 1902 cannot be repealed; to do so would violate bills of attainder and ex post facto laws which would be yet another gross violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, according to FourWinds10.com.

Americans More Dependent on Welfare

Department of Labor statistics show four programs in particular contribute to Americans’ increasing dependence on government:

  • Nearly 30 million more Americans receive food stamps now than in the year 2000.
  • 3 million Americans received Social Security Disability payments in 1990 — today it’s 8.6 million.
  • 3.9 million students were awarded Pell Grants in 2000. Today it’s 9.7 million.
  • 26 weeks of extended unemployment benefits had been the standard — today it’s 52 weeks or more

Ohio University economist Richard Vedder says the expanding system of government benefits has helped increase the poverty rate to 14 percent.

Tea Party Announces ‘Day of Resistance’

Conservatives and Tea Partiers plan to reignite the flame of 2010 next Saturday, Feb. 23, at rallies in cities and towns across America. The event is titled the “Day of Resistance” and more than 50,000 Americans have already signed up for 97 rallies in more than 30 states across the country. The rallies will focus on Second Amendment issues and President Barack Obama’s push for gun control, but they will also branch out into all aspects of oppressive big government. The gun control fight is a new launching pad for a bigger discussion, similar to how Obamacare sparked the Tea Party movement’s beginnings in 2009.

Economic News

After dropping during the recession, drug prices have reignited in the past four years, returning to growth rates of a decade ago. In 2012, prescription drug prices rose 3.6%, twice the 1.7% inflation rate, Bureau of Economic Analysis data show. What’s driving drug costs up: brand-name drugs paid for by insurance and often heavily advertised. The trend is in sharp contrast to other health costs. Prices for a doctor’s visit, lab test and nursing home room all fell below the rate of inflation for the past two years.

American Airlines, a storied but struggling carrier that sought bankruptcy protection 15 months ago, has agreed to merge with US Airways, creating what will be the largest carrier in the world. The deal would still need the approval of the bankruptcy court overseeing American’s restructuring, as well as federal regulators.

General Motors makes the most reliable pickups. Lincoln, struggling for its life, is as dependable a brand as Toyota. And Detroit brands overall are nearly as dependable as foreign brands. Those are some of the surprising results in J.D. Power and Associates’ latest Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures problems on three-year-old cars and trucks. The report card this year is for 2010 models.

Persecution Watch

Supporters of American Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned in Iran for practicing his Christian faith, have asked the United Nations to take up his cause. The European Centre for Law and Justice filed a formal request with the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to call on Iran to immediately release Abedini, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. “By bringing his story before a global audience, it’s our hope that member states and other organizations will become a strong voice for Pastor Saeed – raising the visibility of this troubling case and putting additional pressure on Iran to free him,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice.

The Christian-Armenian community in Syria is relatively small — between 60,000 and 100,000 people according to estimates — but its history has added to its unease. Armenians in Syria are descendants of people who fled to Syria after escaping a genocide against Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in World War I. Many worry the same can happen in Syria, where the Christian Armenians are again at the mercy of Muslim factions at war, and they are desperate to get out. The 7,000 who have fled to Armenia still face a struggle. Armenia is a former republic of the Soviet Union landlocked by Turkey, Georgia and Iran. Unemployment is estimated at 20%, according to the International Monetary Fund. Armenian authorities are trying to find ways to speed the exit from Syria and make the adjustment to life here easier.

For over 18 months now, the Burmese army has been ruthlessly attacking the predominantly Christian ethnic Kachin people. Children have been killed, women raped and people tortured in the conflict. Over 100,000 people have been displaced and around 200 villages destroyed. Western politicians are finally starting to speak out about the situation and preliminary peace talks have begun. It is time for Burma (Myanmar) to end this atrocious campaign once and for all.

Egypt

Security forces sprayed protesters with water hoses and tear gas outside the presidential palace as Egyptians marked the second anniversary of the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s with angry demonstrations against his elected successor. Earlier, masked men briefly blocked trains at a central Cairo subway station and a dozen other protesters blocked traffic with burning tires on a main overpass in Cairo. Hundreds rallied outside the office of the country’s chief prosecutor, demanding justice and retribution for protesters killed in clashes with security forces after Islamist President Mohammed Morsi took office last summer. Another group of protesters locked shut the doors of the main administrative building for state services just outside the subway station at Tahrir Square. For many in Egypt, the past two years have only increased frustration, with the economy deteriorating as political bickering between a largely secular opposition and a tightly organized and conservative Islamist bloc obstructed progress.

Iran

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) think tank released a report on Wednesday indicating that Iran is making rapid progress in its renegade nuclear program. Specifically, the Islamic Republic recently attempted to buy 100,000 magnets used in centrifuge machines, despite UN sanctions forbidding such transactions. “This large potential order by Iran in late 2011 for 100,000 ring magnets ready for use in IR-1 centrifuges implies an Iranian intention to greatly expand its number of these centrifuges,” the report stated. Elsewhere on Wednesday, Iranian officials told local media that it intends to build a large network of advanced uranium enrichment machines, marking a significant technological advance in its atomic infrastructure.

Afghanistan

President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night that some 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have returned home by this time next year. The move will reduce the number of U.S. forces in the country by more than half. There are now about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Afghan forces will take the lead in combat missions throughout the country starting in the spring, instead of mid-year, as was previously expected.

A NATO airstrike struck two houses, killing as many as nine Afghan civilians and four insurgents in an eastern province near the Pakistani border. The attack occurred Tuesday during a joint NATO-Afghan operation in the Shigal district of Kunar province. The civilians killed were in one house while four senior Taliban leaders were slain as they were gathering next door. The civilians killed included five children and four women.

Mali

Obama administration officials said Thursday that France will lead the fight against terrorists in north Mali without U.S. combat support, but one adviser to U.S. forces in Africa warned that the United States may not be able to avoid direct involvement. French and Malian forces continue to fight remnants of jihadist Muslim militias in north Mali that are headed by al-Qaeda’s North African franchise, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Obama officials from the State Department and the Pentagon said the militias pose a significant threat to U.S. interests and security.

  • Our interests are Mali’s natural resources

North Korea

North Korea said Tuesday that it had conducted a new, more powerful underground nuclear test using more sophisticated technology, jolting the already fragile security situation in Northeast Asia and drawing condemnation from around the globe. It is the first nuclear test carried out under the North’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, who appears to be sticking closely to his father’s policy of building up the isolated state’s military deterrent to keep its foes at bay, shrugging off the resulting international condemnation and sanctions. The test was designed “to defend the country’s security and sovereignty in the face of the ferocious hostile act of the U.S.,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said, referring to new U.S.-led sanctions on Pyongyang after the recent launch of a long-range rocket. Experts say North Korea’s successful detonation of a miniaturized nuclear device is concerning because it indicates the country may be getting closer to the ability to put a nuclear device on a missile.

Weather

Snow-weary Northeasterners still digging out driveways and clearing roads from a weekend storm were hit with potential danger coming from above as well – roofs collapsing from the weight of snow and ice along with recent rainfall. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the number of reported roof collapses across Connecticut had grown to at least 16 by early evening on Monday, up from five in the morning. He warned places with flat roofs, like schools, to get them cleared. Police on Long Island evacuated one of the area’s biggest malls on Monday because of major roof leaks. Schools remained closed across much of New England and New York on Monday after the epic storm swept through on Friday and Saturday with 1 to 3 feet of snow that entombed cars and sealed up driveways.

With schools still closed, cars still buried and streets still blocked by the widespread weekend snowstorm, officials around southern New England are asking people to pick up a shovel and help out. In Boston, a “snow angel” campaign is using social media to encourage neighbors and friends to be an angel and help dig out the stranded. Hundreds of volunteers carried shovels to downtown Waterbury, Conn., after the mayor promised to pay minimum wage to anyone who helped clear the City Hall area and the schools Tuesday. By early Wednesday, more than 6,800 utility customers still were without power, including 5,539 in Massachusetts, which was hardest hit with outages.

Officials estimate it will take tens of millions of dollars to repair damage at the University of Southern Mississippi caused by Sunday’s tornado. The tornado damaged eight buildings at the southern edge of campus. Officials say USM plans to resume classes Thursday, although 87 sections will be in temporary quarters. Because the school was already closed Monday and Tuesday for Mardi Gras, only one day of class was canceled. USM officials said nearly 1,000 students and other volunteers helped to clean up debris Wednesday, filling 1,450 trash bags.

Signs of the Times (2/11/13)

February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI to Resign

Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he will resign Feb. 28, ending eight years as head of the world’s Catholics because the 85-year-old pontiff is too infirm to carry on. He is the first pope to resign in 600 years. “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he told the cardinals. The pope said that “both strength of mind and body are necessary” to oversee the world’s 1 billion Catholics, “strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope in 2005 after the death of John Paul II. It was announced that the pope will retire to a small monastery where some contemplative nuns live on the Vatican grounds. The announcement comes as a surprise to many Catholics in Rome though they were aware that the pope was ill.

Plan B Use ‘Skyrocketing’ in NYC Schools

The New York Post has uncovered the fact that this Plan B giveaway program, part of the Reproductive Health Project, is far more extensive than originally thought. Forty separate “school-based health centers” distributed nearly 13,000 doses of the “morning-after pill” during the 2011-2012 school year — up from 10,720 in 2010-11 and 5,039 in 2009-10. “Handouts … to sexually active students have skyrocketed under an unpublicized project,” the exclusive article asserts. Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council (FRC) says the program allowing thousands of girls as young as 14 to receive emergency contraception and other forms of birth control from the New York public schools without parental consent is an infringement on parental rights. “This suggests that there is a desperate need for abstinence education in the New York City public schools to explain to young people the dangers of early sexual activity or of sexual activity outside of the context of marriage,” he asserts. According to city officials, more than 6,000 New York girls got pregnant by age 17 last year, and more than half chose to have abortions.

  • Immorality continues to escalate as the period Jesus calls “the beginning of sorrows” rolls onward (Matt. 24:8)

Christian Music Bouncing Back

Christian recording artist TobyMac’s blend of rap, hip-hop, rock and soul raced up the charts last year and shattered many stereotypes along the way. “Toby blows everybody’s perception of what Christian or gospel music is because Toby makes Jesus look cool,” Billboard Magazine’s Deborah Evans Price told the PBS program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.” TobyMac’s album “Eye on It,” which was released last August, was the first Christian album since 1997 to debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s all-genre chart, and only the third Christian album ever to do so. Many experts say thanks to artists like TobyMac, the contemporary Christian music industry is experiencing a revival, with strong sales, record-breaking tours, and new success in the mainstream charts. For three consecutive weeks last fall, the Billboard 200 chart included Christian albums that debuted in the Top Ten. In mid-January, Christian artist Chris Tomlin’s new album “Burning Lights” opened at No. 1.

Visions of Jesus Appearing to Muslims

“Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions,” asserts the promise of God from the book of Joel. Yet some of those men reportedly seeing visions and dreams are neither Jews nor Christians, but Muslims. What’s more, Middle East evangelists report the dreamers are coming to Christianity because of their visions of Jesus. Christian Middle East evangelist Hazem Farraj told CBN that he hears from Muslims who report having dreams or visions of Jesus. Tom Doyle, an evangelist, pastor and the E3 Partners Ministry director for the Middle East and Central Asia says it’s true: Muslims are coming to Christianity through dreams and visions. “Great things are happening in the Muslim world,” Doyle said in an email to WND. “It’s all very unexpected.”

Northeast Recovering Quickly from Snowstorm

After one of the worst snowstorms in a century (see Weather below), life in the Northeast is returning to normal faster than many expected. Electric power is back in most places. Airports are open. Amtrak and commuter trains are mostly running. Warm weather is on the way. What remains is plenty of shoveling and plowing. New England states will dodge a second big storm that dropped a foot of snow Sunday on the Great Plains, says AccuWeather meteorologist Brian Edwards. That storm is now on track to head north into Canada and cause rain, but no snow, on New England and New York. The rain will be absorbed by the snowpack and could cause fog and flooding in urban areas.

Automatic Sequester Cuts Due March 1

Some 600,000 poor women and children will no longer get free milk and cheese, 70,000 children would get kicked out of early childhood intervention programs that help poorer children catch up to middle-class peers, heading into kindergarten, and some 2,100 fewer food inspections will take place if federal budget cuts expected to kick in March 1 actually take place. The White House warned Friday that some $85 billion in budget cuts coming as a part of the “sequester” will end up carving some 9% from non-defense programs and 13% from defense programs. Federal agencies notified hundreds of thousands of federal workers that furloughs could be around the corner.

The cuts are a part of a larger effort to trim $1.2 trillion from federal deficits over ten years. President Obama this week started pushing Congress to delay the cuts by a few months, allowing time to pass a more comprehensive new budget that both cuts expenses and hikes taxes. House Republicans want to replace the defense cuts with more non-defense cuts, something Democrats reject. Entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which fall under mandatory spending, would be largely protected from the cuts. Congressional Democrats and Republicans appeared far apart Sunday on a deal to avert $85 billion in federal spending reductions next month, with a top House Republican saying the cuts appear “inevitable.”

DHS Declares Borders Secure

The effort in Washington to pass immigration reform is headed for a potential showdown over border security – with the Senate and White House plans putting different emphasis on the issue, and Democrats and Republicans appearing to disagree over the extent of the problem. The likely conflict was highlighted last week when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared U.S. borders secure and said Republicans have a flawed argument about border security needing to precede comprehensive immigration reform. She said the Republicans have failed to recognize yearly improvements in contraband seizures and the number of people caught trying to cross the border illegal.

  • Most of the reductions in improved border numbers are due to the recession. To say the border is secure is a gross misrepresentation. This is the same DHS head who once declared right-wing Christians and returning veterans as the primary threat to U.S. security.

Some Republican Governors Switch, Expand Medicaid

Once largely united in resisting the Obama administration’s new health care overhaul, a growing number of Republican governors are now buying into parts of the system as the financial realities of their states’ medical costs begin to counterbalance the fierce election politics of the issue. This week, Michigan’s Rick Snyder became the sixth GOP governor to propose expanding his state’s health insurance program to cover more low-income residents, in line with the Democratic administration’s strong recommendation. Eleven Republican governors have rejected the idea while a dozen, who have been mostly critical, have not announced a decision.

  • Once the Supreme Court declared Obamacare legal, the die was cast.

Flu Activity Decreasing in U.S.

Flu season is still upon us, but it appears to be winding down. As of Feb. 2, the percentage of people visiting the doctor for flu-like illness in the United States was 3.6 percent, down from 4.2 percent for the week ending Jan. 26. Nineteen states are reporting high levels of flu activity, down from 24 states the week before and 13 states are reporting low levels of flu activity, up from four states the previous week.

Economic News

The first half of 2013 is expected to be sluggish as government spending cuts dampen growth and a payroll tax increase crimps consumer spending. The nation’s economy and job-creating engine will start to purr later this year as business activity picks up — more than offsetting federal government cutbacks, predict economists surveyed by USA TODAY. They expect unemployment to fall from 7.9% to 7.5% by year-end.

Despite an improving economy and an unemployment rate ticking downward, many people remain unemployed, some for years. U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned that long-term unemployment remains a serious problem, with 40 percent of the unemployed out of work six months or more. Higher salary requirements usually equate to longer searches. And someone older than 55 could spend on average 30 weeks looking for a job.

U.S. gasoline prices jumped nearly a quarter per gallon over the past two weeks as higher crude oil prices and refinery shutdowns drove prices upward. The average price of a gallon of regular stood at $3.59 a gallon on Friday. While U.S. crude prices have stayed relatively stable, prices on international markets have gone up substantially in recent weeks.

Persecution Watch

Two church leaders in Kenya were attacked last Thursday morning by unknown gunmen in the city of Garissa, Open Doors USA reports. Pastor Abdi Welli was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital and Pastor Ibrahim Makunyi of the East Africa Pentecostal Church was immediately rushed to a hospital, where his condition was described as stable and out of danger. Garissa is a violence-stricken city in Kenya’s northeast, and the Islamic terrorist group al Shabaab has been targeting Christians and churches in the area. “The attack today is the latest in increasing violence, especially in the Garissa area,” said Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra. “It was reported by Open Doors that 22 Christians were killed in incidents last year and over 100 seriously injured or maimed.”

Human-rights activists say the situation for Christians in Syria is growing more intense and that the ever-shrinking Christian population is near the breaking point. “In Syria, again in the name of democracy, the U.S. is supporting jihadis who are eradicating the nation’s Christians,” says Middle East Forum fellow and analyst Raymond Ibrahim. “U.S.-backed freedom-fighters are driving away Syria’s indigenous Christians. Christians in the Middle East are running out of places to survive.” Syria’s Christians have also been the victims of inhumane violence. Rebels kidnapped and killed a Christian cab driver, then fed his body to dogs.

  • Obama’s policy of Islamic appeasement and support is bad news for Christians in the Middle East

Middle East

In regard to President Obama’s March trip to Israel and the West Bank, the Jerusalem Prayer Team notes that, “The timing of this is all about politics. Though Prime Minister Netanyahu won the most votes in the recent election, the Knesset is very closely divided, and he must form a coalition government with members from a number of different political parties. President Obama has made no secret of his view that Jerusalem must be divided, and much of it given to the Palestinians to form a capital for their new state. This visit strengthens those in Israel who support that plan. The animosity of Mr. Obama toward Mr. Netanyahu is no secret—and now it is breaking out into the open.”

The Israeli military says it has driven out some 100 Palestinian activists who had pitched an illegal tent camp near the city of Hebron in the southern West Bank. Saturday’s operation marked the fifth time in the past month Israeli forces broke up a Palestinian encampment. The Palestinians aim to draw attention to Israel’s control of territory they seek for a future state. In particular, they say they are protesting what they describe as a broad Israeli policy to prevent Palestinians from building in West Bank areas controlled by the Jewish state.

Heads of state from across the Islamic world will meet in Cairo Wednesday to tackle crises ranging from Syria’s civil war to the battle against Islamist terrorists in Mali. Syria will not be represented at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit even though much of the debate is expected to be focused on the conflict that has ravaged that country for almost 23 months, leaving tens of thousands dead. The meeting will gather leaders of 26 of the OIC’s 57 states, with Egypt’s first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, assuming the organization’s rotating presidency.

Syria

Iran and its Lebanese-based ally, Hizbollah, are reportedly trying to build a network of militias inside Syria to protect their interests there in case President Bashar al-Assad falls. The Washington Post said Iran’s goal appears to be to have reliable operatives in Syria in case the country fractures into ethnic and sectarian enclaves. Iran claims to be backing as many as 50,000 militiamen in Syria. Efforts to find a political solution to the nearly two-year-long conflict, which has killed more than 60,000 people, appear to be deadlocked.

President Barack Obama rejected calls from four of the most senior members of his foreign policy team to arm the rebels fighting to overthrow the Syrian regime. Leon Panetta, the US defense secretary, disclosed that he and the Pentagon supported a proposal by Hillary Clinton before she stood down as Secretary of State last week to supply rebel forces with weapons. Gen Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, also agreed with Mrs Clinton’s plan, which received the further backing of David Petraeus, Mr Obama’s CIA director until late last year. Obama resisted pressure from his colleagues, rejecting their plan at the height of his re-election campaign last year.

  • Political expediency always trumps other objectives

Iraq

Assailants fired rockets and mortar rounds at a refugee camp for Iranian exiles outside Baghdad on Saturday, killing six people and wounding dozens. Nearly three dozen rockets and mortar shells struck the camp, home to some 3,100 people, before daybreak. More than 100 were wounded, several in serious condition. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The facility houses members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq or MEK, the militant wing of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran. Iraq’s Shiite-led pro-Iranian government considers the MEK a terrorist group and is eager to have it out of the country. The refugee camp is located in a former American military base known as Camp Liberty, adjacent to Baghdad’s international airport. It is meant to be a temporary way station while the United Nations works to resettle the residents abroad. They are unlikely to return to Iran because of their opposition to the regime.

Afghanistan

An Afghan government panel has acknowledged that almost half of detainees it interviewed in Afghan prisons have been tortured but denies systematic abuse of the inmates. The panel’s findings are the result of a two-week fact-finding mission and follow a U.N. report last month that said Afghan authorities are still torturing prisoners despite promises of reforms. The complaints have prompted NATO to stop many transfers of detainees to the Afghans.

Tunisia

Members of the president’s party in Tunisia will quit the coalition government. The move threatens to worsen a political crisis, set off after an opposition leader was assassinated there last week. The Congress for the Republic Party, which counts Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki among its ranks, has three ministers and two secretaries of state in the government. The five officials will “continue to shoulder their responsibilities within their respective departments to avoid any administrative vacuum.” The killing of Chokri Belaid was the country’s first high-profile political assassination since Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” that toppled President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali two years ago and spawned the Arab Spring.

India

Anxious relatives were searching for missing family members Monday in a northern India city that is home to one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, unsure if their loved ones were caught in a stampede that killed 36 people or had simply gotten lost among the tens of millions of pilgrims. People thronged to the main hospital in Allahabad to see if their relatives were among 36 dead and 30 people injured in Sunday evening’s stampede at the city’s train station. Tens of thousands of people were in the station waiting to board a train when railway officials announced a last-minute change in the platform, triggering the chaos. An estimated 30 million Hindus took a dip Sunday at the Sangam — the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the Saraswati rivers — as part of the 55-day Kumbh Mela, or Pitcher Festival.

Venezuela

Venezuela’s government announced Friday that it is devaluing the country’s currency, a long-anticipated change expected to push up prices in the heavily import-reliant economy. Officials said the fixed exchange rate is changing from 4.30 bolivars to the dollar to 6.30 bolivars to the dollar, a rise of 46.5%. The devaluation had been widely expected by analysts in recent months, though experts had been unsure about whether the government would act while President Hugo Chavez remained out of sight in Cuba recovering from cancer surgery. By boosting the bolivar value of Venezuela’s dollar-denominated oil sales, the change is expected to help ease a difficult budget outlook for the government, which has turned increasingly to borrowing to meet its spending obligations.

Weather

Snow totals from the nor’easter that struck New England this past Friday and Saturday measured 2-3 feet. Five states had locations that recorded 30″ or more (Conn., N.H., Mass., Maine, N.Y.). Hamden, Conn. came in with the top total of 40 inches. All-time snowfall records were set in Portland, Maine (32”) and Hartford, CT (25”). Peak wind gusts over 60 mph were recorded throughout the region with the highest gusts reported in Cuttyhunk, MA (83mph), Westport, CT (82mph) and Mt. Washington, NH (81mph). Roads across the Northeast were impassable and cars were entombed by snow drifts on Saturday. Hundreds of drivers spent a fearful, chilly night stuck on highways in the blizzard that plastered New York’s Long Island with more than 30 inches of snow, its ferocity taking many by surprise despite warnings to stay off the roads. Some people found the snow packed so high against their homes they couldn’t get their doors open.

The strong winds led to significant coastal flooding from New England to parts of the Mid-Atlantic Seaboard.  Hardest hit was coastal Massachusetts. Mid-morning Saturday, just over 664,000 customers were without power, mainly in Massachusetts.  One of the outages was at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Mass.  Authorities said there was no threat to public safety. About 400,000 homes and businesses remained without power early Sunday. At least nine deaths in the U.S. were blamed on the snowstorm, including an 11-year-old boy in Boston who was overcome by carbon monoxide as he sat in a running car to keep warm while his father shoveled Saturday morning.

Residents shaken by a tornado that mangled homes in Mississippi were waking up Monday to a day of removing trees, patching roofs and giving thanks for their survival. More than a dozen in the state were injured. It appears a single tornado caused the damage in Forrest, Marion and Lamar counties. Hundreds of homes are damaged in Forrest County, along with a couple dozen in the other two. The sheer scope of the damage was slowing officials’ assessment.

Blizzard conditions in western Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas snarled traffic and closed schools and businesses Monday. The storm, part of the same system that spawned tornadoes in the South on Sunday, dumped a foot or more of snow in some areas. Several highways were closed in Minnesota, including Interstate 94 and Highways 10 210. Sheriff’s deputies in Grant and Douglas counties assisted drivers who became stranded. In the Dakotas, Interstate 29 remains closed between Sioux Falls, S.D. and Grand Forks, N.D. I-94 in North Dakota is closed between Fargo and Jamestown, and I-90 in South Dakota is closed between Sioux Falls and Wall. No travel is advised in other parts of the region.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more and more extreme

Signs of the Times (2/8/13)

February 8, 2013

Half Million Tell SCOTUS: Leave Marriage Alone

At the beginning of the second term of a president dubbed the most pro-homosexual president in United States history — who refused to continue the obligatory legal defense of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) during his first term — traditional marriage advocates might have gotten just the shot in the arm that they need. A friend-of-the-court brief was filed by The Manhattan Declaration, Inc. with the U.S. Supreme Court last week in a lawsuit to defend marriage as between one man and one woman. The organization serves as the voice of more than half a million Evangelical, Orthodox and Catholic Christians set out to preserve not only traditional marriage, but other foundational principles of America, including the sanctity of human life and religious liberty. “Natural law, the nature of the human person, and common sense provide ample reason to preserve marriage as it has always been understood,” argues Chicago attorney John Mauck of the law firm Mauck & Baker. He submitted the amicus brief on behalf of the Manhattan Declaration.

Boy Scouts Delay Decision on Admitting Gays

A decision on whether the Boy Scouts of America will end its ban on gay members and leaders will not be voted on until the organization’s annual meeting in May, the national executive board said Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. Deron Smith, the BSA director of public relations, said the executive board would prepare a resolution to be voted on by the 1,400 voting members of the national council. “After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy,” Smith said. The meeting will take place in May in Grapevine, Texas.

Catholic Bishops Reject New Contraception Proposal

The nation’s Catholic bishops on Thursday (Feb. 7) rejected the Obama administration’s latest proposals to broaden accommodations for religious groups in regulations that require insurance companies or employers to provide free birth control and abortion pill coverage. The new accommodation contained a more expansive definition of what constitutes a religious group. It also detailed how faith-based institutions that may not be exempt – especially religiously affiliated hospitals and universities – would be shielded from any involvement in providing contraceptive coverage; under the new rules, the insurance companies themselves would arrange that with the individual employee. But New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the proposals fail to address or ease all of the hierarchy’s concerns, and said the bishops would continue to press ahead with efforts to overturn the mandate in court.

Fewer Americans Will Have Employer Health Insurance

As “Obamacare” kicks in, a growing number of Americans will move away from employer-provided health insurance plans, according to the latest forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office. Some 7 million people are expected to lose or drop their employment-based coverage by 2022, according to CBO. Around 170 million Americans currently have heath insurance tied to their jobs. Those who lose that coverage won’t all be joining the ranks of the uninsured or the unemployed, though. Many are expected to shift into the health insurance exchanges being set up under the Affordable Care Act. The number of people participating in those exchanges is projected to grow from 7 million in 2014 — the first year they’ll be available — to 24 million in 2016.

Obama Planning First Visit to Israel as President

President Obama is planning his first trip to Israel since taking office in 2008, CBN News reports. The trip is planned for the spring, but the White House has not yet released the date or details about the itinerary. While in the region, Obama will also make stops in the West Bank and Jordan. Obama last visited Israel during his 2008 campaign, and his lack of visiting the Jewish state during his first term as president has drawn criticism from some pro-Israel groups who say the administration isn’t supportive of the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East. The president visited other countries in the region during his first term, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Power Plant Carbon Pollution Declines

Heat-trapping gases from U.S. power plants fell 4.6 percent in 2011 from the previous year as plants burned less coal, the biggest source of greenhouse gas pollution, according to a new government report. Power plants were responsible for 2.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2011. The reduction from 2010 reflects a relative decline in the use of coal, the dominant U.S. energy source, and an increase in natural gas and renewable sources that produce lower amounts of greenhouse gases. Power plants remain the largest stationary source of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, producing roughly two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources.

  • While the generation of greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, it is more of a natural cycle of warming earth has experienced before – except this time, it’s an end-time super cycle

States Fight Back Against Drones

Lawmakers in at least 11 states are proposing various restrictions on the use of drones over their skies amid concerns the unmanned aerial vehicles could be exploited by local authorities to spy on Americans. Concerns mounted after the Federal Aviation Administration began establishing safety standards for civilian drones, which are becoming increasingly affordable and small in size. Some police agencies have said the drones could be used for surveillance of suspects, search-and-rescue operations, and gathering details on damage caused by natural disasters. Virginia lawmakers on Tuesday approved a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by police and government agencies. Proponents of the legislation say the unfettered use of drones could infringe on Virginians’ privacy rights.

Young Adults the Most Stressed

Stress levels for Americans have taken a decidedly downward turn across the USA — except for young adults, whose stress is higher than the national norm, says a survey released Thursday. Those ages 18-33 — the Millennial generation — are plenty stressed, and it’s not letting up: 39% say their stress has increased in the past year; 52% say stress has kept them awake at night in the past month. And more than any other age group, they report being told by a health care provider that they have either depression or an anxiety disorder. January statistics show unemployment among 18-29-year-olds is 13% and suggest that as many as 1.7 million young adults aren’t even counted as unemployed because they’ve given up looking.

Overall, the survey finds that 20% of Americans report extreme stress, which is an 8, 9 or 10 on the stress scale. Still, the extreme-stress report has declined since 2010, when the number was 24%. Also on the decline are unhealthy coping behaviors. Since 2008, eating to manage stress dropped from 34% to 25% in 2012. And drinking alcohol as a stress reliever dipped from 18% to 13%.Top stressors include money (69%), work (65%) and the economy (61%).

Postal Service Loses Less, but Still in Trouble

In the final three months of last year, the agency lost $1.3 billion — considerably less than the $3.3 billion lost in the same 2011 period. The service was hurt as the volume of first-class mail, which most consumers use to pay bills and stay in touch, decreased by 4.5.%. But it got help as shipping and package volume increased 4% compared to the prior year. Still, the service is in trouble. The key culprit remains a 2006 congressional mandate, under which it has to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees. The USPS has been borrowing billions of dollars from taxpayers to make up for the shortfalls.

Postal Service to Stop Delivering Mail on Saturdays

The financially struggling U.S. Postal Service says it plans to stop delivering mail on Saturdays, but it will continue delivering packages six days a week. In an announcement scheduled for later Wednesday, the government agency is expected to say the cut, beginning in August, would mean a cost saving of about $2 billion annually. The move accentuates one of the agency’s strong points. Package delivery has increased by 14% since 2010. The delivery of letters and other mail has declined with the increasing use of email and other Internet use.

30% of Small-Businesses Fear Closing in 2013

The latest Gallup Poll indicates that many American small-business owners are anything but optimistic when it comes to the way the Obama administration is leading the nation. In fact, they’re downright fearful. According to the recently released Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index, when small-business owners in the United States were asked why they weren’t hiring new employees, a striking 61 percent said that it is because they are “worried about the potential cost of healthcare.” And 30 percent of owners say they are not hiring because they are worried they may no longer be in business in 12 months. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed expressed that they were “worried about new government regulations” and how such interference could jeopardize the livelihood of their businesses.

Economic News

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed sharply in December because oil imports plummeted and exports rose. The Commerce Department says the trade deficit fell nearly 21% in December, to $38.6 billion, smallest in nearly three years. Exports rose 2.1% to $186.4 billion. Exports of oil and other petroleum products rose to the highest level on record. Imports shrank 2.7% to $224.9 billion. Oil imports plunged to 223 billion barrels, the lowest since February 1997.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 366,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped to 350,500, the lowest in nearly five years. The average is low because of seasonal factors, which reduced applications sharply last month. It’s a sign that joblessness is not getting worse although there’s little evidence that job creation is improving enough to boost economic growth.

The number of Americans out of work at least six months fell to 4.7 million in January, down from 5.5 million a year ago and the lowest since June 2009. The 4.7 million total is still more than three times the pre-recession level. The long-term unemployed represented 38.1% of all jobless Americans last month, vs. 43% in January 2012.

The productivity of American workers dropped at the fastest pace in a year in the first quarter, the Labor Department reported Wednesday, underscoring how difficult it has become for U.S. businesses to squeeze more work out of current staffing levels. Non-farm productivity decreased at a 0.9 percent annual pace in January through March. Productivity has declined in three of the last five quarters. Productivity grew rapidly as the economy emerged from the 2007-09 recession. The gains were driven by companies’ cutting costs, particularly for labor.

United Kingdom

UK lawmakers took a big step Tuesday toward legalizing same-sex marriage, an issue that has prompted widespread rebellion within Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party. In a 400-175 vote, MPs approved the second reading of a bill legalizing such marriage, indicating a significant majority of members support the measure. However, it must go through several more stages before it can become law. The bill faces another vote in the House of Commons and a vote in the House of Lords. The legislation passed the House of Commons with the support of lawmakers from Labour and the Liberal Democrats. The latter are in a coalition government with the Conservatives. The Church of England is among the religious bodies opposed to the legislation.

Middle East

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried Thursday to entice Egypt into a new alliance that could reshape the turbulent Middle East, speaking of forging “comprehensive” and “unfettered” relations after decades of distrust. A warming of ties between the two regional heavyweights could have uncomfortable repercussions for the U.S. and its wealthy Gulf allies, giving Iran a foothold to spread its influence in Egypt. In turn, Egypt could gain an avenue to influence the fate of Syria, a key ally of Iran, as well as economic benefits. Ahmadinejad’s visit is the first by an Iranian president in 30 years and he used it to launch a charm offensive to woo Egyptians and their leadership. He offered to extend cash-strapped Egypt a credit line and investments

Syria

Syrian troops and rebels clashed again Thursday in the capital Damascus, a day after what activists described as the heaviest fighting in months in President Bashar Assad’s seat of power. The clashes were inching closer to the heart of the city, but still were focused in outlying neighborhoods. Heavy fighting between rebels and President Bashar Assad’s forces broke out in parts of Damascus on Wednesday in some of the worst violence to hit the Syrian capital in weeks. Activists said the clashes were focused in the city’s western districts. Damascus has not seen the scale of violence that has destroyed whole neighborhoods in Syria’s other urban centers like Aleppo and Homs. While the government has lost control of parts of those cities, it has kept a tight grip on the capital despite the rebels’ attempts to storm the city center from their enclaves in its outskirts.

Iraq

Car bombs struck two outdoor markets in Shiite areas of Iraq on Friday, killing at least 31 people and wounding dozens in the bloodiest day in nearly a month, as minority Sunnis staged mass anti-government protests in a sign of mounting sectarian tensions. Tens of thousands of Sunni protesters rallied in five cities against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite accused of monopolizing power. Sunnis also complain of official discrimination. Sunni protester leaders have rejected a recent call by an al-Qaeda-linked group in Iraq to take up arms against the government, but there is concern militants are trying to exploit the discontent.

Tunisia

A Tunisian opposition leader critical of the Islamist-led government and violence by radical Muslims was shot to death Wednesday. The killing is likely to heighten tensions in a country whose path from dictatorship to democracy has been seen as a model for the Arab world. A leading member of a leftist alliance of parties known as the Popular Front, Chokri Belaid was shot as he left his house in the capital, Tunis. Belaid had been critical of Tunisia’s leadership, especially the moderate Islamist party Ennahda that dominates the government and accused authorities of not doing enough to stop violence by ultraconservatives who have targeted mausoleums, art exhibits and other things seen as out of keeping with their strict interpretation of Islam. Chanting loudly and waving flags, tens of thousands of people turned out Friday for the funeral of Belaid, whose assassination has sparked political uncertainty and violent protests.

Mali

A monthlong French offensive has killed “hundreds” of Islamist fighters in Mali, the French defense minister said, as his troops prepare to start withdrawing next month. France told the local Metro newspaper that it expects to begin withdrawing its troops out of Mali in March and leave African forces in control. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said despite the withdrawal, troops will continue operations to flush out militants in “some terrorist havens” in northern Mali. French-led troops now control Timbuktu and the city of Gao, along with a swath in between the two that was an Islamist stronghold for almost a year.

Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake off the Solomon Islands triggered a tsunami of up to 5 feet that damaged dozens of homes and killed nine people in the South Pacific island chain Wednesday. The death toll was expected to rise. Four villages on Santa Cruz were impacted by the waves, with two facing severe damage. The tsunami formed after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck near the town of Lata, on Santa Cruz in Temotu province, the easternmost province of the Solomons, about a 3-hour flight from the capital, Honiara. Temotu has a population of around 30,000 people. Strong aftershocks rattled the Solomon Islands, hampering relief efforts to tsunami-ravaged villages. A 7.1-magnitude earthquake rattled the Solomon Islands on Friday.

Weather

Tens of millions of people face travel nightmares, widespread power outages and potentially record snowfall from the fierce blizzard on track to batter the Northeast this weekend. New England and New York are forecast to take the hardest hit, but others around the country could feel the ripple effect from canceled flights out of New York and other airports along the Eastern Seaboard. As of Friday morning, more than 3,000 flights have been cancelled. The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings for the entire New York City metro area, Long Island, all of Connecticut and Rhode Island, eastern Massachusetts and coastal sections of New Hampshire and Maine. Some parts of New England should see more than 2 feet of snow, and some coastal areas could see hurricane-force winds of up to 74 mph, the weather service says.

Signs of the Times (2/5/13)

February 5, 2013

Obamacare Opt-Out Expansion an Accounting Gimmick

The Catholic Association is adding its voice to those who remain unimpressed with the Obama administration’s so-called compromise on employers providing free contraceptives in their employee health insurance plans. The Obama administration claims to have expanded its opt-out provision for non-profit religious organizations due to the ongoing litigation and widespread public outcry against the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that requires employers to provide health insurance that includes coverage for free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacients. The new regulation reportedly attempts to create a barrier between the religious groups and the coverage by having insurers or a third party give women free access to contraception. But Ashley McGuire, senior fellow of The Catholic Association (TCA), asserts the changes are simply accounting gimmicks. The HHS mandate, she says, is still a violation of civil rights, religious freedom and First Amendment rights. Other conservative and religious groups panned the Obama administration’s long-awaited “accommodation” meant to spare religious-affiliated groups from the so-called contraceptive mandate, calling a proposal unveiled Friday “radically inadequate.”

Obamacare to Cost $20,000 per Family

Participating in ObamaCare will cost the average American family at least $20,000 per year. The IRS (which is charged with enforcing the onerous penalties and fines of the President’s healthcare “reform” law) has finally released a cost analysis based on ObamaCare regulations showing that the cheapest healthcare plan in 2016 will cost average American families of four or five members $20,000 per year for the so-called “bronze plan.” Under Obamacare, Americans will be required to buy health insurance or pay a penalty to the IRS.

According to a recent Gallup report, many employers just aren’t hiring, and sixty-one percent of America’s small business owners cite “the potential cost of healthcare” as a major influence on their hiring decisions.  Shortages of doctors are predicted to become the norm, as will lengthy waits for treatment.  Small medical practices will likely be forced to consolidate to stay in business, according to Liberty Counsel.

Children Conceived Through Rape Open New Front in Abortion Wars

Standing before the throngs at the March for Life on Jan. 25, Ryan Bomberger admitted that he was the poster child for one of the most difficult aspects of the abortion debate: his mother had been raped. “I’m the fringe case that even pro-lifers have a hard time embracing,” said Bomberger, an anti-abortion activist whose mother chose to continue the pregnancy and put him up for adoption. Forty years after the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion, children who were conceived through rape — and women who were raped and chose to end the pregnancy — are speaking out, opening a new front in the often-fraught discussions of a decades-old culture war. According to the website of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 10,000 to 15,000 abortions occur annually among women whose pregnancies resulted from rape or incest.

Media Ignores Life, Covers Non-Life

The major broadcast networks gave literally seconds of coverage to last month’s annual pro-life march in Washington, DC — but more than 500 times that amount to an imaginary woman. A new study from the Media Research Center shows the three major broadcast networks gave overwhelmingly more coverage to Manti Te’o’s fake dead girlfriend than given to more than half a million real people who attended the March for Life in Washington, DC. The study from MRC finds ABC, NBC, and CBS devoted close to two-and-a-half hours to the Notre Dame linebacker’s drama — but a mere 17 seconds to the March for Life. According to Matt Philbin, managing editor of MRC’s Culture and Media Institute, “This is basically censorship. They tell the story they want to tell; they don’t tell something that’s inconvenient,” he shares. “And what could be more inconvenient to liberal news media than 500,000 to 700,000 people protesting one of the worst [court] decisions that we’ve ever had in the United States?”

Feds: Drone Strikes on Americans Legal

A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S. The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes. The secrecy surrounding such strikes is fast emerging as a central issue in this week’s hearing of White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, a key architect of the drone campaign, to be CIA director.

  • This is the backdoor opening to eventual drone strikes against a broader spectrum of those the government deems harmful to U.S. interests

World Cancer Day Dispels Stereotypes

Cancer now kills more people worldwide than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, and more than half of deaths are in developing countries. Yet many people, including policymakers, still harbor the misconception that cancer is a concern only for industrialized nations, rather than developing countries. Cancer activists tried to dispel such myths Monday, as they marked World Cancer Day, an annual event organized by the Union for International Cancer Control, a global health group. Organizers planned more than 200 events around the world. Some cancers are more common in poor countries partly because access to health care and preventive services is lacking. For example, 85% of cervical cancer deaths are in developing countries. Cancer rates are increasing in developing nations for many reasons. As poor countries industrialize, people are exposed to more hazardous chemicals. Nearly 80% of the world’s 1 billion smokers live in low- or middle-income countries. Yet developing nations are often ill-equipped to care for cancer patients.

Flu Attacking Elderly at Historically High Rates

There are currently three main flu strains circulating nationwide. H3N2 is the predominant one. It appears to be especially dangerous for the elderly. Although the flu is beginning to wane nationally, it is sickening and killing seniors at rates “higher than we’ve ever seen,” a CDC flu expert said Friday. Last week, people older than 65 who died from a laboratory-confirmed case of influenza died at a rate of 116 per 100,000. Those numbers are expected to go higher still. Hospitalization — and, in some cases, death — follows several weeks after a person first gets sick. Each year, between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans die from influenza-related cause. So far this season, 45 children have died as a result of the flu.

Army Suicides in 2012 a Record

The U.S. Army reported Thursday that there were 325 confirmed or potential suicides last year among active and nonactive military personnel, the highest on record. The grim total exceeds the number of total U.S. Army deaths (219) and total military deaths (313) in Afghanistan. The toll comes despite what the military touts as extensive support and counseling programs. 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.

  • Sending soldiers on repeated and extended tours into combat zones is the likely culprit, something the military doesn’t want to admit

Chinese Cyber Attacks are Widespread

Allegations that Chinese hackers infiltrated the computers of two leading U.S. newspapers add to a growing number of cyber-attacks on Western companies, governments and foreign-based dissidents that are believed to originate in China. According to one recent report, one in every three observed computer attacks in the third quarter of 2012 emanated from China. The United States was a distant second, originating 13% of observed attacks, followed by Russia with 4.7%.

Happy Birthday Federal Income Tax

On February 3rd, 1913, one of the two most historic events in US history took place: the ratification of the 16th amendment, which established Congress’ right to impose a Federal income tax on Americans, and overturned Article I, Section 9 of the US Constitution which explicitly prohibited a general income tax. The amendment was brief and to the point, and read as follows: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” And with that, the US Federal Income Tax was born and has been with us for precisely 100 years.

Economic News

A healthy jump in tax collections is letting states spend money on things they haven’t been able to afford since the recession struck five years ago. Big spending turnarounds are underway this year in education, tourism promotion and worker pay. Since hitting bottom in 2009, income and sales tax collections have risen about 15% nationwide. During that time, states, cities and school districts have been frugal. Total spending rose 1% last year and 6% since 2009. The result: Most states have budget surpluses.

Banks are slightly loosening standards for many kinds of loans, and cutting into their own profit margins to try to make more loans, especially to businesses and real estate developers, the Federal Reserve says. More than half of surveyed banks said they are accepting interest rates that are closer to what banks themselves pay for deposits, or other sources of money they lend out, according to the survey released Monday.

The average time Americans spent unemployed dropped a record 2.8 weeks in January … but that’s not a good thing. The reason is likely because many people ran out of unemployment benefits so they stopped looking for work, experts said. People are getting frustrated and are giving up. The average duration of unemployment was 35.3 weeks in January, down from 38.1 weeks in December and 40.2 weeks a year earlier

Americans are pumping about 4% of their incomes into buying gasoline, according to a government report. The Energy Department said on Monday that U.S. households spent an average of $2,912 on gasoline last year, the highest level in four years. The percentage reached similar levels in 2008, when a red-hot global economy and panic over dwindling supplies sent gas prices through the roof. But before then, the percentage hadn’t reached these levels in nearly three decades. But Americans are actually buying less gasoline than they have in the past because they are heading to the pumps less often as cars become more fuel efficient.

Middle East

The Shin Bet (Israel Security service) and IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) announced on Thursday that they had broken up a large cell of operatives working for the Islamist terror militia Hamas. Twenty terror operatives were arrested in the city of Hebron, in the southern part of the Palestinian Authority administered West Bank. The arrests, which were carried out over the last few months, were accompanied by seizures of weapons and the discovery of plans to kidnap Israelis in order to exchange them for Hamas operatives in Israeli prisons.

Egypt

A fire erupted at the entrance to Egypt’s presidential palace Friday night as protesters hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon. One person was fatally shot during clashes. The nation has been rocked by violence since last week’s second anniversary of its revolution. Protesters have fumed over the slow pace of change and recent edicts by President Mohammed Morsy, who imposed a 30-day curfew on areas engulfed by violence” The continued attacks suggest a real breakdown in central power, we’re coming close to that,” said Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “None of the political forces have control over the people in the streets.”

Iran

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Egypt on Tuesday for the first visit by an Iranian leader in more than three decades, marking a historic departure from years of frigid ties between the two regional heavyweights. Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi gave Ahmadinejad a red-carpet welcome. Ahmadinejad’s three-day visit, which is centered around an Islamic summit, is the latest sign of improved relations between the countries since the 2011 uprising ousted Egypt’s longtime ruler President Hosni Mubarak and brought an Islamist government to power in Cairo. Such a visit would have been unthinkable under Mubarak, who was a close ally of the U.S. and shared Washington’s deep suspicions of Tehran.

Syria

The recent horrors of finding yet another mass grave in an Aleppo canal are part of what’s driving more people toward Syria’s borders, Mission Network News reports. After 22 months of civil war, the death toll now exceeds 60,000, and the United Nations can’t keep up with the “unrelenting flow” of families fleeing violence. The number of documented refugees has topped 700,000 — and more than 3,000 crossed into Jordan on Monday alone. “Food is scarce, children can’t go to school, families can’t live, for fear of their lives,” says Jeff Palmer, CEO of Baptist Global Response. “So, now we have more people flooding outside the country. We have more internally displaced people inside the country and it’s just chaos.” If nothing changes, there will be over a million internally displaced people and over half a million scattered throughout the border countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. “When this started over a year ago, everybody thought it was going to be short-lived,” Palmer said. “Here we are, well over a year into it, and it just continues to grow and escalate.”

Pakistan

Militants attacked an army post in northwestern Pakistan with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and suicide vests before dawn on Saturday, killing 23 people including 10 civilians. Twelve attackers were also reported killed in the assault. The raid followed a suicide bombing at a Shiite Muslim mosque in the northwest on Friday that killed 24 people. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks. The group has been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for years and also has sometimes targeted country’s minority Shiite sect.

Iraq

A suicide car bomber joined by other suicide attackers on foot assaulted a provincial police headquarters in a disputed northern Iraqi city on Sunday, killing at least 18 people and wounding 90 others. Police killed all the militants before they could enter the building. The blast in Kirkuk appeared to be a fresh attack by militants seeking to undermine government efforts in maintaining security nationwide. Car bombs and coordinated attacks are favorite tactics for Sunni insurgents such as al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch.

Weather

After a very slow start to the season, Chicago has now seen four consecutive days of measurable snowfall. A clipper system was moving through the Great Lakes region Monday bringing a couple of inches to the Windy City. While it’s no major snowstorm, it is bringing a taste of winter to Chicago. Chicago had an an unusually mild winter in 2012, like much of the nation. They received 19.8″ of snow in the 2011-12 winter season.  The average seasonal snowfall is 36.4″.

Signs of the Times (2/1/13)

February 1, 2013

Baptist Leaders Predict ‘Mass Exodus’ From Boy Scouts

The Southern Baptist Convention expressed extreme disappointment to news that the Boy Scouts of America will likely end a longtime ban on gay members, with SBC officials predicting a mass exodus out of Scouting by Baptist churches, the Christian Post reports. A vote on the matter by the BSA is planned during an executive meeting the first week of February. Dr. Richard Land, head of SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said: “This is a catastrophic decision for the Boy Scouts of America. In order to placate their East and West Coast appendages, they are tearing out the heart of their Midwest and Southern support. This decision will lead to a mass exodus of traditional, orthodox Christianity from the Boy Scouts.” SBC’s president, Fred Luter, a former Cub Scout and Boy Scout, also expressed disappointment. “To now see this organization that I thought stood on biblical principles about to give in to the politically correct thing is very disappointing.”

Leading U.S. Cardinal punished for Role in Abuse Coverup

One of the most powerful Catholic leaders in the USA, Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, has been relieved of his public roles for covering up for sexually abusive priests — a role the current archbishop called “evil.” Just hours after a court-ordered massive release of priest personnel files revealed the extent of Mahony’s role in covering up for known sexual predators, Archbishop José Gómez announced Thursday night that he has relieved Mahony of his remaining duties. This is the first time since the massive abuse scandal exploded in 2002 hen there were direct repercussions for top church officials. In December 2002, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned his post as archbishop of Boston when protesters and priests called for him to step aside.

Obama Secretly Pledges to Divide Jerusalem

Now that he has secured his second term, President Barack Obama has already secretly pledged to the Palestinians he will press Israel into a new round of so-called land-for-peace negotiations, a top Palestinian Authority negotiator told WorldNetDaily. The negotiator said top members of the Obama administration told the Palestinians the U.S. president will renew talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state in the so-called 1967 borders – meaning in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and, notably, eastern Jerusalem. The negotiator further revealed when it comes to dividing Jerusalem, Obama wants to rehash what is known as the Clinton parameters. That formula, pushed by Bill Clinton during the Camp David talks in 2000, called for Jewish areas of Jerusalem to remain Israeli while the Palestinians will get sovereignty over neighborhoods that are largely Arab. Palestinians are building illegally in Jewish-owned areas of Jerusalem, changing facts on the ground and resulting in Arab majorities on certain neighborhoods.

Cost of Illegal Immigrant Citizenship could Outweigh Fiscal Benefits

Any immigration reform plan that allows the roughly 11 million individuals now in the United States illegally to stay in the country would bring with it a mix of new revenues and increased costs. And as President Obama and a bipartisan group of senators separately press the issue this week, past studies suggest it is doubtful that the fiscal benefits of such policy changes would outweigh the costs. By legally joining the workforce, the immigrants in question would generate additional and much-needed income tax but also would become eligible for a certain level of government assistance. Research shows creating a path to citizenship for so many illegal immigrants would result in significant costs to state, local and federal governments.

The latest Fox News poll shows a majority (66%) of American voters believes illegal immigrants should be given a chance to apply for citizenship, as long as they meet certain requirements, such as paying back taxes, learning English and passing a background check.

Amnesty Plan Equals ‘Unlimited Future Illegal Immigration’

An agreement over a sweeping overhaul of immigration law reached by a bipartisan group of leading senators has quickly drawn its critics. The outline of the plan covers border security, guest workers and employer verification, as well as a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, tells Newsmax that the agreement is no different than existing law that the federal government repeatedly fails to implement. “When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration,” U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, Republican from Texas said. “By granting amnesty, the Senate proposal actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration.”

Drones Now In Place Over America

From news reports as of a couple of weeks ago, 348 drones were approved for domestic use, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Sixty-nine percent of the applications came from the Defense Department. Homeland spying by the military is ramping up quickly under the guise of searching out terrorists.

DHS Adds 200,000 Rounds to its 2 Billion Round Stockpile

Last year, it was reported that the Department of Homeland Security had purchased 1.6 billion rounds of hollow point ammunition of various calibers for reasons that the agency refuses to reveal. On Wednesday, the DHS announced that it would acquire another 200,000 rounds from a company known as Evian Group, Inc. reports WorldNetDaily. Not only is the reason for the agency’s stockpiling of nearly 2 billion rounds of ammo shrouded in mystery, but so too is the Evian Group. For one, it seems that the Evian Group was formed on December 12, 2012, just 5 days before the announcement of the solicitation. The price that the agency paid for the rounds is suspect too, less than half of what the other manufacturers are charging. Also suspicious is the company’s address of 105 South Eastern Ave, Las Vegas, Nev., which doesn’t appear to be the kind of place that could produce that much ammunition and then ship it anywhere.

  • Homeland Security is preparing to quash dissent in the U.S. when the economy falls apart

Economic News

The U.S. economy posted a decline of 0.1% at an annual rate last quarter, shocking experts. The economy grew 3.1% in the third quarter of 2012, 1.3% in the second and 2.0% in the first. Growth has averaged less than 2.5% since the recession ended in mid-2009. That’s below what many economists say is needed to create jobs and bring down unemployment quickly.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment benefits leapt 38,000 to a seasonally adjusted 368,000. The increase comes after applications plummeted in the previous two weeks to five-year lows. Employers added 157,000 jobs in January, and the unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9%, the government reported Friday. January’s job growth was weaker than in December when employers added 196,000 jobs.

Consumer confidence plunged in January for the third straight month, erasing all of 2012’s gains, the Conference Board reported earlier this week.

A government watchdog says U.S. taxpayers stand to lose $27 billion from the 2008 financial bailout, up from an estimate of $22 billion made in the fall. The special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program says the estimate is higher because of increased losses for the Treasury Department on sales of shares in bailed-out companies.

Nearly half the states have increased their minimum wage this year or are considering plans to hike it. In nine states, automatic wage hikes took effect, adding 10 to 35 cents per hour to state minimum wages. In a 10th state, an increase approved by the Rhode Island Legislature last June raised the state’s minimum from $7.40 to $7.75 as of Jan. 1. It was the state’s first increase since 2007. Thirteen other states are weighing wage increases.

As of Sunday, stores in most states could start charging a “checkout fee” when you pay for something with plastic. The new fees stem from a multi-billion dollar settlement announced in July between credit card issuers and millions of merchants. Visa, MasterCard and nine major banks agreed to a $7.25 billion deal to settle charges that they were fixing credit card processing fees..

Persecution Watch

An armed Islamic movement calling itself the “Brigade of Muslims” released a statement on Saturday threatening Egypt’s Coptic Christians and asking them to pay tribute, the Christian Post reports. “Egypt is an Islamic country and will be ruled according to sharia,” the statement said. The movement threatened all Egyptian media professionals who “mock religion and Islamic rule,” warning that their persistence in mocking would result in the “shedding of their blood in the ugliest way.” The movement said it was established because of the strife being plotted against the country and the plans of enemies of Islam, both at home and abroad. It noted its approach was jihad, and that it would fight the Egyptian army and Interior Ministry if they did not stand up to “Copts and their helpers.”

The University of Michigan is accused of kicking an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter off campus because the group requires its leaders to be Christians – an apparent violation of the university’s non-discrimination policy. The group was directed to either revise its constitution – or else be forced off campus.

Middle East

Syria and Iran have threatened to retaliate for an Israeli air raid near the capital Damascus. U.S. officials said Israel launched a rare airstrike inside Syria on Wednesday, targeting a convoy believed to contain anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah. The Syrian military denied the existence of any such shipment and said a scientific research facility outside Damascus was hit. The Israelis blew up the convoy because the weapons would have altered the balance of power in its ongoing conflict with the terrorist group, challenging the ability of Israel’s air force to carry out daily surveillance flights over southern Lebanon and eastern Lebanon along the border with Syria

Egypt

Egypt’s army chief has warned of “the collapse of the state” if the political crisis roiling the nation for nearly a week continues. The warning by Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, also the defense minister, comes as the country sinks deeper into chaos and lawlessness. Attempts by the Islamist president to stem a wave of political violence appear to have made no headway. Some 60 people have been killed in the unrest that began last Thursday. Anti-government protesters ignored Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s curfew order in cities along the Suez Canal and clashed with police and troops, state-run media reported Tuesday.

On January 22nd four of the proposed 20 F-16 fighter jets were delivered to Egypt. The jets, decorated with Egypt’s flag on their tails, are part of a $213 million “gift” from the United States, including 200 Abrams tanks. The highly questionable “gift” of such military might was originally intended for Hosni Mubarak in 2010. Hosni Mubarak is no longer in power in Egypt; Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood is and they are intent on destroying Israel.

  • Once again, we are arming our declared enemies.

Turkey

A suicide bomber attacked the U.S. Embassy in the Turkish capital of Ankara, killing one Turkish security guard along with the bomber. A woman visiting the embassy on business was also injured. Turkey, a member of NATO, has come under attack from a number of groups operating on its territory including Kurdish separatists, leftists and Islamist militants. It is not yet known what the motive for this bombing was.

Iran

After the devastating explosions at Iran’s Fordow nuclear site, Tehran informed the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog it was going to install thousands of modern centrifuges at another of its nuclear facilities in an apparent move to restore its bargaining position. In a letter to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, Iran said it plans to install thousands of its upgraded centrifuges at the Natanz facility. The White House called Iran’s decision “provocative.” Iran, whose economy has been battered by the international sanctions brought by its illicit nuclear program, apparently has lost much of its negotiating position since the incident at Fordow.

Mali

France plans to leave northern Mali soon, now that its troops have retaken northern Mali from jihadist militias. Its strategy relies on handing control of an area the size of Texas to an African force that is unprepared and has yet to fully materialize. About 2,500 French troops took part in the operation alongside the Malian military, which was overrun last year by Tuareg and Islamist militias that outnumbered and outgunned it. An international coalition of neighboring African countries has also committed troops, but there are serious questions about their number, training and experience for the mission.

Niger

The United States has signed a deal with the central African nation of Niger to host American troops and surveillance drones to keep tabs on Islamic militants in the region, officials from those countries said Tuesday. Niger is next door to Mali, where France joined the fight against Islamic rebels earlier this month. Niger’s ambassador to the United States, Maman Sidikou, told CNN that his government has agreed to let U.S. drones operate from its territory.

Asian Space Race

South Korea said Wednesday that it had put a satellite in orbit for the first time, giving a lift to its homegrown space industry and matching a feat achieved last month by its hostile neighbor, North Korea. Wednesday’s successful effort comes at a delicate time on the Korean peninsula: North Korea said last week that it plans to conduct a new nuclear test and carry out more rocket launches after the U.N. Security Council voted to tighten sanctions on the secretive regime. Although the North’s rocket launch last month managed to put an object in space, it was widely considered to be a test of long-range ballistic missile technology.

The Washington Times says, “North Korea is a mortal nuclear threat to the United States – right now.” The real concern is that North Korea now has miniaturized nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery and armed missiles with nuclear warheads that could destroy the U.S. in a single blow with an EMP attack that would send the U.S. back to 19th century technology.

In the second half of 2013, China will shoot for the moon with the aim of landing a rover vehicle on its surface; building on exploration milestones in 2003 and 2012 with the first man, then woman, in space. India plans to send an unmanned probe into Mars orbit this November. Last July, Japan’s government set up the country’s first-ever Cabinet-level office for space strategy. According to official Iranian news reports, a monkey was strapped snugly into a Pishgam rocket and launched 75 miles into the sky on Monday. He returned back to Earth sometime later, looking shell-shocked but alive.

China

Thick, off-the-scale smog shrouded eastern China for the second time in about two weeks Tuesday, forcing airlines to cancel flights because of poor visibility and prompting Beijing to temporarily shut factories and curtail fleets of government cars. The capital was a colorless scene. Street lamps and the outlines of buildings receded into a white haze as pedestrians donned face masks to guard against the caustic air. The flight cancellations stranded passengers during the first week of the country’s peak, six-week period for travel surrounding the Chinese New Year on Feb. 10. The U.S. Embassy reported an hourly peak level of PM2.5 – tiny particulate matter that can penetrate deep into the lungs – at 526 micrograms per cubic meter, or “beyond index,” and more than 20 times higher than World Health Organization safety levels over a 24-hour period.

Slovenia

Tens of thousands of Slovenes have taken part in organized protests, including students, workers, academics and those who helped establish the country’s independence more than 20 years ago. They’ve shut down schools, theaters, hospitals and border crossings, and they plan to do so again next week. Slovenes had been complaining for months about corrupt politicians living well while people were subject to austerity measures, such as benefits cuts and higher taxes, to accommodate deficit targets of the debt-laden European Union.

Weather

The deadly storm that stretched across 1,700 miles Thursday caused havoc in the South brought flooding to the Mid-Atlantic, and downright wacky weather to northern New England. Three people died because of the massive storm system that marched across the U.S. — tornadoes killed one each in Tennessee and Georgia, while floodwaters killed a third in Maryland. Many people lost their homes and were left with little else a day later.

The storm’s most destructive element struck Wednesday in Adairsville, Ga., where authorities believe a tornado swelled to 900 yards wide and as it tore across northwest Georgia for nearly 22 miles. The twister had an estimated wind speed of 160 mph when it demolished a large manufacturing plant in Adairsville, about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta. The tornado destroyed more than 60 buildings in Bartow and Gordon counties.

Tens of thousands were without power at the storm’s peak as a cold front sent what had been unseasonably high temperatures plummeting to near-freezing depths. Dangerous wind blanketed the nation’s midsection, with subzero temperatures and wind chills recorded in the Dakotas. In Detroit, icy roads were blamed for a massive chain reaction wreck involving about 30 vehicles on Interstate 75. At least three people died there, and another pileup involving more than 40 vehicles near Indianapolis closed a stretch of Interstate 70 in both directions.

Other areas closely watched rivers swollen by torrential rains, and officials opened flood gates to ease pressure on dams in Maryland. Hundreds were evacuated to higher ground. In Anne Arundel County, one person apparently drowned in a flooded camp where homeless people live in tents. In Laurel, Md., More than a hundred homes and businesses in Laurel, Md. were evacuated Thursday afternoon after heavy rains prompted the opening of nearby dams. Roads in Montgomery County, Md. are closed, and some are even buckling, due to the heavy rain and high water.

In New England, the region was hit with thick fog, heavy rain, record warmth, ice jams and wind gusts topping 70 mph that caused numerous power outages. It was capped off with a pendulum swing back to colder temperatures. Wind gusts up to 81 mph were clocked in southern New England early Thursday. At the height of the storm, winds knocked out power to more than 200,000 customers in New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

The catastrophic drought in the central USA — which has cost the nation at least $35 billion, according to a report last week — shows no signs of abating as the nation enters the final full month of winter and moves toward spring. A warm, dry spring seems likely: Unfortunately for the western Plains and eastern Rockies, forecasters believe the drought is going to persist, and it is going to be strong going into the springtime.

Heavy flooding in Australia caused by torrential rains has forced mass evacuations from towns along the country’s east coast, with critically-ill patients and newborns from one hospital being airlifted to safety. The floods, which came in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Oswald, have killed four people so far. Bundaberg, a coastal town about 220 miles northwest of Brisbane, was particularly hard hit, with more than 2,000 homes inundated with water. Some of the town’s roads were under five feet of water and some one-story houses were completely covered.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more extreme