Archive for December, 2008

Signs of the Times

December 31, 2008

Parents Plus Church Equal Success for Children

ASSIST News Service reports that children who live with their married biological mother and father and attend church once a week or once monthly have fewer problems in school, home and their personal lives, a new study says. The Family Research Council’s Mapping America Project found that children in these circumstances “are five times less likely to repeat a grade, less likely to have behavior problems and more likely to understand other’s feelings and be cooperative when necessary.” The FRC study mirrors findings about the benefits of marriage and church in multiple other studies.

Spirit of Giving Lasts All Year at New Church

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — The members of Waterfront Community Church attend weekly services in a high school auditorium. Their contemporary Christian music rock band practices at someone’s home. And the pastor relies on a laptop and Starbucks for an office. The nondenominational suburban Chicago church operates on a shoestring budget and under an unusual financial setup so it can stick to a mission: Give 100% of offerings gathered from the collection plate to those in need. Churches typically use at least part of the money collected at worship services for administrative costs, including heating the sanctuary and paying the pastor’s salary. Not only does Waterfront give away what it collects, it also develops relationships with the people who benefit. Since the church started in October, it has raised about $11,500 for a 29-year-old single mother to help her get on her feet, a cause church members chose together. For Christmas, they also decided to help a single mother of two who recently had her salary cut in half, and a woman who needs brain tumor surgery.

  • JJ Commentary: This is more like the first century Church reported in Acts which should become the model if we hope to have more of an impact in the world around us. Too much money goes into maintaining expensive buildings and paying salaries. The Apostle Paul continued to make tents to support himself.

Atheists: No Praying at Inauguration!

WorldNetDaily — Atheists are planning to crash the inauguration invocation, claiming the government is choosing between “believers” and “those who don’t believe” and imposing religion on atheists and agnostics.Michael Newdow, a California attorney who pushed a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in an unsuccessful effort to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, is joining Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in a lawsuit to stop the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s sponsorship of prayer on Jan. 20. Their 34-page grievance, filed Monday in Washington, D.C., District Court, names Supreme Court Justice John G. Roberts Jr., officials in charge of inaugural activities, Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, pastor Rick Warren and others as defendants. It also aims to prohibit Roberts from using the phrase “So help me God” in the traditional oath of office, Fox News reports. “We’re hoping to stop prayer and religious rituals at governmental functions, especially at the inauguration,” Barker said. “The inauguration is not a religious event. It is a secular event of a secular country that includes all Americans, including those of us who are not Christians, including those of us who are not believers.”

Crisis in Gaza Rages On

WASHINGTON — The White House’s call for a cease-fire Monday in the Gaza Strip went unheeded as Israel broadened its attacks against key targets of Hamas power in Gaza, and Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel. The war of words also escalated. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told parliament, “We have a war to the bitter end against Hamas,” the militant group ruling the 25-mile-long Gaza, home to 1.5 million Palestinians. And Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, said the goal of the offensive against Hamas is to “destroy completely” what she called a “terrorist gang.” She told the Associated Press that returning to the recent cease-fire with Hamas that expired Dec. 19 would not be enough.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told reporters Israel is “committing a holocaust as the whole world watches and doesn’t lift a finger to stop it.” The four-day death toll rose to at least 390 Gazans with over 1600 wounded, according to the U.N. The Israeli Defense Force said four Israelis have died by rocket fire from Gaza. Rocket fire into Israel intensified after Hamas declared an end to the six-month truce, triggering the Israeli offensive, which began Saturday. Israel turned Monday to destroying symbolic sites for Hamas: part of International Islamic University, a security compound and a house next to the residence of the Hamas prime minister, AP reported. Monday, Israeli warplanes smashed a Hamas government complex, security installations and the home of a top militant commander.

Palestinian militants, armed with deadlier missiles than ever before, kept up their rocket assaults on Israeli border communities on Tuesday, despite relentless Israeli air attacks against Gaza’s Hamas rulers and unwelcome word from Egypt that it would not bail them out. Israel rejected international pressure to suspend its air offensive against Palestinian militants whose rocket barrages are striking close to the Israeli heartland, sending warplanes Wednesday to demolish smuggling tunnels that are the lifeline of Gaza’s Islamic Hamas rulers.

Iraqis to Take Charge of Green Zone in 2009

BAGHDAD — When the calendar flips to 2009 on Thursday, Iraq’s government will gain control over the Green Zone and its own airspace and some jurisdiction over security contractors under the terms of a deal that will fundamentally change how the United States operates here. The changes, outlined in a landmark security agreement the Bush administration signed in November. The most visible changes will take place in the Green Zone, the fortified section of Baghdad that has been the U.S. headquarters since the invasion in 2003. The changes represent “a palpable shift in power,” said Daniel Serwer, former executive director of the Iraq Study Group, a panel appointed by Congress in 2006 to assess the situation there.

Troop Deaths at Lowest Levels in Iraq/Afghanistan

BAGHDAD — As 2008 ends, U.S. troop deaths for the year in Iraq and Afghanistan are the lowest combined total since the Iraq war began in 2003. In December, at least 15 U.S. servicemembers died of combat and non-combat injuries suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, the lowest combined monthly toll since the Iraq war began, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Pentagon data. The previous low was 18 in November. Deaths for the year as of Tuesday were 467 in both wars, lower even than the partial year of 2003, when fighting in Iraq began in March. Bombings remain a daily threat in Iraq, mostly hurting civilians. Military deaths have gone down significantly in Iraq since the buildup of U.S. troops in 2007 and a push to recruit former Sunni insurgents into Iraq’s security forces.

Christian Refugees from Iraq Pack Pews in Lebanon

The Chicago Tribune reports that Iraqi Christians with enough means are fleeing to Lebanon, preferring the longer journey for the greater freedom at the end. Lebanon’s population is 40 percent Christian – much greater than Syria or Turkey, where many Iraqi refugees go. Rev. Joseph Malkoum in Beirut says the number of refugees is only increasing. “There was a period when we felt the numbers were going down, but after the recent troubles in Mosul the movement is picking up again,” said Malkoum, who holds a special mass every Sunday for Iraqi Chaldeans. “Five years from now there won’t be any Christians left in Iraq. It’s happening quietly but also very quickly,” said retired Gen. Michel Kasdano, a researcher and spokesman at the Chaldean Archbishopric.

Roadside Bombs in Afghanistan Doubled in 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The number of roadside bombs and kidnappings doubled in Afghanistan in 2008 from the year previous, the U.S. ambassador said Tuesday, grim statistics that underscore the country’s deteriorating security situation. The number of roadside bombs rose from roughly 1,000 in 2007 to 2,000 in 2008, while the number of kidnappings jumped from about 150 to 300, said Ambassador William Wood. Violence has risen and the Taliban insurgency is spreading once again throughout southern Afghanistan. Because of that, the U.S. next year will send up to 30,000 new forces to the country to reinforce the 32,000 American soldiers already there.

Taliban militants are beheading and burning their way through Pakistan’s picturesque Swat Valley, and residents say the insurgents now control most of the mountainous region far from the lawless tribal areas where jihadists thrive. The deteriorating situation in the former tourist haven comes despite an army offensive that began in 2007 and an attempted peace deal. It is especially worrisome to Pakistani officials because the valley lies outside the areas where al-Qaeda and Taliban militants have traditionally operated and where the military is staging a separate offensive.

400 Dead in Congo Massacres

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ugandan rebels have killed more than 400 people in northeastern Congo since Christmas, an aid agency said Tuesday. The Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group and the Ugandan government have accused each other of being behind recent attacks in the remote area, where the rebels have bases. The allegations are the latest reports of attacks in the area near where the armies of Uganda, Sudan and Congo began an offensive this month to root out the Lord’s Resistance Army. On Monday, officials and witnesses said attackers had hacked to death scores of people who sought refuge at a Catholic church the day after Christmas, and the United Nations said the rebels had killed a total of 189 people in three villages in the area on two recent days.

Russian Leader Signs Law Extending Presidential Terms

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a law extending presidential terms from four years to six, the Kremlin said Tuesday, a move seen as paving the way for Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. Medvedev’s final endorsement of the legislation follows its quick approval by the Kremlin-controlled parliament and all of Russia’s 83 provincial legislatures. Putin, who remains very popular, was barred constitutionally from seeking a third straight term as president. He tapped his longtime protege Medvedev as his favored successor, ensuring Medvedev’s landslide election in March. Putin then became prime minister and leader of the United Russia party, which dominates the Duma, and he is still seen as the man calling the shots in Russia.

  • JJ Commentary: Why is this important? Putin has worked closely with Iran, taken anti-America positions, dismantled democratic reforms and waged war in Georgia to begin restoration of the U.S.S.R. These are all end-time alignments prophesied by Scripture.

After Getting $5B in Federal Aid, GMAC Expands Lending

DETROIT — GMAC said Tuesday it will begin providing auto financing for more consumers, after announcing late Monday that it received $5 billion from the government, selling that much in warrants to the Department of Treasury through the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP. On top of that, Treasury will lend $1 billion to General Motors so it can invest that money in GMAC. GMAC said it will immediately provide financing to retail buyers of cars and trucks who have credit scores of 621 or higher. In October, it had restricted loans to borrowers with scores of 700 or higher as the credit crisis deepened. Many analysts consider a score of 620 to be the dividing line between “subprime” borrowers and those considered more creditworthy. Credit scores generally range between 300 and 850.

December Consumer Confidence Wilts to All-time Low

NEW YORK (AP) — Consumer confidence hit an all-time low in December, dropping rapidly in the face of layoffs and deteriorating markets for housing, stocks and other investments. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index fell to 38 in December from a revised 44.7 in November. The present situation index, which measures how respondents feel about business conditions and employment prospects, fell to 29.4 in December from 42.3 in November. It is now close to levels last seen after the 1990 to 1991 recession. Those saying business conditions are “bad” increased to 46.0% in December from 40.6% in November, while those saying business conditions are “good” declined to 7.7% from 10.1%.

Home Prices Continue to Drop

NEW YORK (AP) — A closely watched index shows home prices down by the sharpest annual rate on record in October. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city housing index released Tuesday was off a record 18% from October last year. Prices are at levels not seen since March 2004. Prices in the 20-city index are down more than 23.4% from their peak in July 2006. None of the 20 cities saw annual price gains in October — for the seventh consecutive month.

Philly to Close 11 Libraries to Cover Budget Deficit

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter drew a loud chorus of “boos” when he announced that the city will close 11 libraries this week because of a budget deficit, but hopes to turn at least five of them into public-private “learning centers,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Nutter told a news rowdy news conference Monday that the city will lease the buildings to  new operators, which include community groups, foundations, corporations and others, that will provide funding and staffing for the facilities. He pledged that the new public centers will include free computer access, the paper says. The Associated Press quotes the mayor as saying he expects books, computers and other materials to stay at the “knowledge centers,” but  could not say if they will be staffed by librarians.

Off-Road Vehicle Use Fuels Tension, Violence Across U.S.

Clashes over the sport of off-roading are becoming more violent for riders, property owners and law enforcement officers as conflicts about the use of all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) escalate, federal officials, landowners and advocacy groups say. Property owners across the country report that they have been threatened and their homes vandalized by off-road-vehicle users. In Nevada, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, rangers say riders have punched them or charged them with their vehicles. Riders also are becoming victims. In June, 13-year-old Nicholas Parisot of Wilton, Conn., died of neck injuries after riding his two-wheel dirt bike on private property and hitting a rope tied between trees. Wilton police are investigating whether someone sabotaged the trail. “We see a growing amount of aggressive and lawless behavior taking place on off-road vehicles,” says Harrison Schmitt, executive director of Responsible Trails America, a national group that calls for off-road vehicles to use designated trails. “We’re starting to see people tired of the abuse and beginning to take the law into their own hands.”

Yellowstone Quake Swarm Worries Scientists

CHEYENNE, Wyo. —  Yellowstone National Park was jostled by a host of small earthquakes for a third straight day Monday, and scientists watched closely to see whether the more than 250 tremors were a sign of something bigger to come. Swarms of small earthquakes happen frequently in Yellowstone, but it’s very unusual for so many earthquakes to happen over several days, said Robert Smith, a professor of geophysics at the University of Utah. “They’re certainly not normal,” Smith said. He said the quakes have ranged in strength from barely detectable to one of magnitude 3.8 that happened Saturday. A magnitude 4 quake is capable of producing moderate damage.

Winter Storms Continue to Pound Northern USA

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane residents were trying to dig out Tuesday after a record-breaking month of snow collapsed roofs and clogged streets. Bismarck, N.D., also set a snowfall record. The center of a snow-laden supermarket roof in north Spokane collapsed Monday evening, prompting the evacuation of that store and adjacent businesses. A fire official said only one minor injury was reported. Two more collapses were reported Tuesday morning, at a church gymnasium and a hardware store. No one was injured. The collapses came as Spokane set a monthly record for snowfall, at 59.7 inches, after 8.3 inches were recorded in the 24-hour period ending at 4 p.m. Monday.

In Bismarck, North Dakota, the National Weather Service said the overnight storm brought the city’s December snow total to 33.5 inches, more than any month on record. Grand Forks and Fargo each set records with more than 30 inches of snow for December.

Signs of the Times

December 29, 2008

Israel Continues to Pound Gaza

USA TODAY — Israel’s air force obliterated symbols of Hamas power on the third day of its overwhelming Gaza assault Monday, striking a house next to the Hamas premier’s home, devastating a security compound and flattening a five-story building at a university closely linked to the Islamic group. Israel’s defense minister said his military is fighting a “war to the bitter end” against Hamas. Over the weekend, Israel launched its deadliest airstrikes ever against the militant Palestinian group Hamas inside the Gaza Strip, a 25-mile-long powder keg along the Mediterranean Sea that is controlled by Hamas and symbolizes the Middle East’s most pressing problem: the lack of a Palestinian homeland. By late Sunday, nearly 300 were dead — most of them Hamas security forces — and more than 800 wounded, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

The attacks by Israel were in response to Hamas’ repeated violations of a six-month cease-fire by sending rockets into southern Israel and smuggling weapons through tunnels under the border wall that separates the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Israel’s response was a matter of time. It came 13 months after the Annapolis, Md., peace conference that President Bush hoped would lead to a historic agreement brokered by the United States and monitored by moderate Arab states. Instead, the new spate of violence “will empower every anti-Israel, anti-U.S. and extremist movement in the Middle East and the Islamic world,” says Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Thousands Take to the Streets to Protest Israel’s Air Assault

BEIRUT (AP) — Crowds of thousands swept into the streets of cities around the Middle East Sunday to shout down Israel’s air assault on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. From Lebanon to Iran, Israel’s adversaries used the weekend assault to marshal crowds out onto the streets for noisy demonstrations. And among regional allies there was also discontent: Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called the air assault a “crime against humanity.” Two days of protests have been free of violence except for one in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday that became a target for a suicide bomber on a bicycle. The Arab League announced a gathering of foreign ministers Wednesday would focus on the attack, said the organization’s chairman Amr Moussa.

New Poll shows Decline in Believers

According to the latest Harris Interactive poll, the percentage of Americans who believe in God declined from 90% in 2003 to 80% in 2008. Similarly, the belief in Heaven declined from 82% to 73% with just 62% now believing in hell and only 59% in the devil , down from 69% and 68% respectively in 2008.

  • JJ Commentary: Has the “great falling away” begun?

Green Bible Creates Controversy

In this day and age, you can buy a Bible aimed at almost any demographic imaginable. There are Bibles for everyone from toddlers to teenage girls to recovering addicts. There are even Bibles on disc, narrated by James Earl Jones and Johnny Cash. But it’s the recently published Green Bible that is causing a stir in the religious community. Supporters of the book, which highlights verses related to what believers call “God’s creation” and his desire for humans to protect it, say they hope it will encourage more Christians, particularly evangelicals, to embrace environmentalism. “In every book of the Bible, there are references to the world and how we should take care of it,” said Rusty Pritchard, editor of Creation Care Magazine, an eco-friendly publication for evangelicals. “When you look at it through that lens, it really jumps out at you . . . that God is calling us to care for the world around us.”

But others fear the new Bible, which has been endorsed by secular groups such as the Sierra Club and the Humane Society, will mislead Christians. There is a healthy amount of “skepticism” among mainstream evangelicals toward the new Bible. The debate over the Green Bible’s virtues and weaknesses underscores the growing tension within the evangelical community: those who think Christians should be embracing environmental causes as part of their stewardship, and those who worry that such activism distracts believers from their mission to literally follow and spread the word of God.

  • JJ Commentary: I haven’t seen the “green” Bible, but I have no problem believing that God wants us to be good stewards of the earth. That is Biblical. Spreading the word of God is, of course, our primary mission, but does that preclude all others? I don’t think so. The fact that this would cause Christians to come into alignment with secular organizations is not a problem, but rather an opportunity to spread the word of God in places of darkness.

40% Fewer Police Officers Killed by Gunfire in ’08

USA TODAY — The number of police officers killed by gunfire in 2008 dropped to its lowest level in more than 50 years, says a report out today by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Forty-one officers were shot and killed in 2008, down 40% from 68 in 2007. That’s the lowest number since 1956, when 35 officers died from gunfire. The U.S. population today is 305 million, compared with 169 million in 1956. The high number of police deaths in 2007 spurred a new emphasis on officer safety training and equipment, says Memorial Fund Chairman Craig Floyd. More officers are wearing body armor and using stun guns to protect themselves, he says.

Fewer Illegal Immigrants Caught Sneaking into U.S.

EL PASO — The number of people caught trying to sneak into the USA from Mexico is at its lowest level since the mid-1970s, signs of tougher enforcement and a weaker U.S. economy, officials say. The Border Patrol caught 705,000 people along the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2008, which ended Sept. 30, according to new agency figures. That’s nearly 2,000 a day and the lowest number since 1976, when 675,000 people were caught entering illegally between San Diego and southern Texas, the figures show. The Border Patrol has long used the number of apprehensions as an indicator of how many people try to cross U.S. borders illegally. The latest figures show that recent steps — including building a fence, adding more Border Patrol agents and prosecuting more people caught sneaking across the border — are deterring illegal crossings, officials say. The weak U.S. economy also is discouraging migrants, officials and analysts say.

AZ Employers busted by Illegal Immigrant Hiring Law So Far: 0

ARIZONA REPUBLIC — When the state’s employer-sanctions law took effect nearly a year ago, it threatened to shut down businesses that hired illegal workers. But not a single employer has been taken to court in Arizona, mainly because the landmark law is too difficult to enforce, authorities say. In Maricopa County, where the law led to raids on a dozen businesses and the arrest of 159 workers and a manager, investigators have not been able to assemble enough evidence showing that employers actually knew the arrested workers were illegal, which the sanctions law requires. As a result, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas wants the Legislature to give prosecutors subpoena power to investigate cases under the employer-sanctions law, which is enforced by filing a civil lawsuit. That would make it easier for investigators to force employers to turn over records.

Bogus Money Increasing

USA TODAY — Amid a sour economy, one business appears to be thriving as the year comes to a close: counterfeiting. Arrests for making fake money have hit a five-year high. As the economy sags, regular folks are trying to pass off fake bills to pay everyday expenses, joining what is typically the province of drug dealers, federal authorities say. Counterfeiting arrests in the USA jumped 28% this year over 2007 — the highest number since 2004, according to the Secret Service, a division of the Homeland Security Department that safeguards the nation’s currency. Counterfeiters passed $64.4 million in fake cash into the economy, a 5% increase over 2007 and also a five-year high, says Special Agent Darrin Blackford, spokesman for the agency. “It’s not just the criminal element, but we’re also seeing more students that maybe use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy pizza or someone trying to do it to purchase gas to get to work,” says Brian Marr, Secret Service special agent in charge. Marr says reports of fake bills spiked this year when gas prices hit record highs.

U.S. States Consider Selling off Roads, Parks

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) — Minnesota has a huge budget deficit, but the state still owns a premier golf resort, a sprawling amateur sports complex, a big airport, a major zoo and land holdings the size of the Central American country of Belize. Valuables like these are in for a closer look as 44 states cope with budget deficits. Like families pawning the silver to get through a tight spot, states such as Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts and Illinois are thinking of selling or leasing toll roads, parks, lotteries and other assets to raise desperately needed cash. Massachusetts lawmakers are considering putting the Massachusetts Turnpike in private hands. That could bring in upfront money to help with a $1.4 billion deficit, while also saving on highway operating costs. In New York, Democratic Gov. David Paterson appointed a commission to look into leasing state assets, including the Tappan Zee Bridge north of New York City, the lottery, golf courses, toll roads, parks and beaches. Such projects could be attractive to private investors, including foreign firms.

Hospitals Ill from Bad Debt, Credit Troubles

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Many U.S. hospitals are being squeezed by tight credit, higher borrowing costs, investment losses and a jump in patients — many recently unemployed or otherwise underinsured — not paying their bills. All that has begun to trigger more hospital closings — from impoverished Newark, N.J., to wealthy Beverly Hills, Calif. — as well as layoffs, other cost-cutting and scrapping or delaying building projects. Industry consultants predict that more closings and mergers are on the way. Most endangered are rural hospitals and urban ones in areas with excess hospital beds and lots of poor, uninsured. Hospitals, which employ 5 million people, are reporting that donations and investment returns are down, patient visits are flat and profitable diagnostic procedures and elective surgeries are declining as people with inadequate insurance delay care. But those patients are turning up later at ERs, seriously ill, making it tough for hospitals to lay off nurses and doctors.

Bangladeshis Vote for 1st Time in 7 Years

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladeshis formed long lines at polling stations even before voting began Monday to choose a new prime minister and restore democracy after two years of emergency rule in the country’s first election in seven years. Authorities deployed 650,000 security forces across the country to prevent violence and vote fraud in the election, seen as crucial to restoring democracy in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, which has a history of military rule and political unrest. But both of the leading candidates — former prime ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina — are facing corruption charges and many fear the election won’t bring the reform the impoverished country of 150 million desperately needs. The two have traded power back and forth for 15 years in successive governments marked by corruption, mismanagement and paralyzing protests.

Somalia‘s President Resigns

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — The president of Somalia’s U.N.-backed government resigned Monday, saying he had lost control of the country to Islamic insurgents and could not fulfill his duties after four years leading the violent and impoverished nation. Abdullahi Yusuf is the latest leader to have failed to pacify Somalia in two decades of turmoil and deadly violence. Somalia has been beset by anarchy, famine and a steady influx of weapons from abroad. More than a dozen attempts have been made to form an effective government since the last one collapsed in 1991. Within hours of Yusuf’s resignation, mortars shells were raining down near the presidential palace in the capital, Mogadishu.

Weather Signs

DETROIT (AP) — Crews were working to restore electricity to nearly 200,000 Michigan homes and businesses early Monday. Meanwhile, flood warnings were posted throughout the Midwest as temperatures rose after a week of heavy snowfall. Forecasters said flooding was possible in areas of Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and northwest Ohio. In Michigan, winds gusting more than 60 mph knocked out power Sunday. Avalanches killed two snowmobilers over the weekend in Colorado and a skier in Wyoming.

Signs of the Times

December 27, 2008

Israeli Strikes Hit Gaza, 145 Killed

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli warplanes destroyed dozens of security compounds across Hamas-ruled Gaza on Saturday in unprecedented waves of air strikes, killing at least 155 people and wounding more than 250 in the single deadliest day in Gaza fighting in recent memory, Palestinian medical officials said. The strikes came in response to renewed rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli border towns in which two schoolgirls were killed Friday. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said “the operation will last as long as necessary” but it was not clear if it would include a ground offensive. The strikes caused widespread panic and confusion as black clouds of smoke rose above Gaza. Some of the missiles struck in densely populated areas as children were leaving school and women rushed into the streets frantically looking for their children. Gaza militants fired several Grad-type Katyusha rockets at southern Israel in response to the strikes, the military said. One hit in the border community of Netivot, killing a woman and wounding four people, Israel’s rescue service reported.

  • JJ Commentary: The next major end-time sign will be escalating warfare in the Middle-East, if not now then soon.

Pakistan Moves Troops to India Border

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan told India on Saturday it did not want war and would use force only if attacked — a move apparently aimed at reducing tensions after Pakistan moved troops toward their shared border. Intelligence officials said Friday that the army was redeploying thousands of troops from the country’s fight against militants along the Afghan border to the Indian frontier — an alarming scenario for the West as it tries to get Pakistan to neutralize the al-Qaeda threat. Islamabad also announced it was canceling all military leave — the latest turn of the screw in the rising tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors following last month’s terror attack on the Indian financial capital of Mumbai. India has blamed Pakistani militants for the terrifying three-day siege.

Gallup: Americans See Religious Influence Waning

RELIGION NEWS SERVICE — Two-thirds of Americans think religion is losing its influence on U.S. life, a sharp jump from just three years ago when Americans were nearly evenly split on the question, according to a new Gallup Poll. Sixty-seven percent of Americans think religious influence is waning while just 27% say it is increasing. That perspective demonstrates a continuing downward trend, Gallup said. Those who regularly attend worship services are more likely to say religion is losing its influence; three out of four weekly attenders (74 percent) said religious influence is falling, compared to 24% who thought its influence is on the rise. The latest poll also finds that the percentage of Americans believing that religion “can answer all or most of today’s problems” has reached an all-time low. Slightly more than half of those surveyed — 53% — held that view, while 28% say it is “largely old-fashioned and out of date.”

  • JJ Commentary: What pollsters and respondents mean by “religion” is part of the problem. The presumption that all religions are equally valid undermines belief in the One True God. Minimization by obfuscation.

U.S. Sides with Traditional Marriage…For Now

ONENEWSNOW.COM — The United States has refused to sign on to a United Nations declaration on sexual orientation. In all, 67 nations have signed the declaration submitted by France that called upon recognition of two new categories in human rights, one based on sexual orientation and the other one on gender identity. The statement’s purpose is to decriminalize homosexual conduct. In spite of homosexual marriage being illegal in 70 nations, many believe it will achieve international acceptance eventually. While the United States did not sign on to the declaration, the incoming Obama administration might think differently.

Religion News Service reports that the Vatican called for the decriminalization of homosexuality, but said a proposed United Nations declaration on gay rights is vague and excessively far-reaching. The statement by the Holy See’s UN delegation was a response to the “Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” presented to the UN General Assembly on Thursday. “The Holy See appreciates the attempts made in [the declaration] to condemn all forms of violence against homosexual persons as well as urge states to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against them,” the statement said. But the Vatican said that the UN declaration “goes beyond this goal and instead gives rise to uncertainty in the law and challenges existing human rights norms.”

One-Third of Top Aides become Lobbyists

WASHINGTON — More than a third of top congressional staffers who left their public service jobs this year went to work for private lobbying firms or other groups seeking to influence the government, according to a USA TODAY analysis. Under an ethics law passed last year, the House and Senate for the first time must list the names of departing staffers earning $127,000 or more per year. So far this year, 32 of the 193 top staffers who left government registered as lobbyists and another 42 went to work for consulting firms, law offices, interest groups and trade associations, the analysis showed. Publicizing names of departing staffers gives the public notice that “they’re cashing in on their expertise,” says James Thurber, an American University lobbying expert. Former congressional staffers are free to become lobbyists or otherwise work to influence the government as long as they follow ethics laws, including a cooling-off period. The new rules prohibit former Senate aides from lobbying anyone in the Senate for a year after they leave.

  • JJ Commentary: Now there’s a recession-proof occupation! Create the problems and then advise how to deal with them. Lobbyists join lawyers as one of the few groups continuing to do well or better during this economic meltdown. And let’s not forget that most politicians and lobbyists are lawayers.

Economy: No Tidings of Great Joy in Latest Reports

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The number of workers filing new claims for unemployment benefits jumped 30,000 to a 26-year peak last week, as the country’s year-long recession continued to chill the labor market. Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 586,000 in the week ended Dec 20th. Jobless claims are considered a timely, if volatile, indicator of the health of the labor markets and broader economy. A year ago, initial claims stood at 353,000.

New orders for long-lasting manufactured goods fell 1% in November, a less severe drop than expected, although it followed a steeply revised plunge in October. The Commerce Department now estimates that October orders plummeted 8.4% instead of 6.9% it previously reported, for the biggest monthly decline since a 14% drop in July 2000.

Consumer spending fell for a fifth month in November, the longest weak stretch in a half-century, while incomes declined under the weight of job layoffs. Americans’ incomes fell a worse-than-expected 0.2%. It was the first decline since July and reflected in part the fact that more than a half-million jobs were cut in November.

Despite some of the deepest price cutting ever seen before Christmas, retail sales still plunged 2% to 4% for the holiday season. Online sales, which were expected to be far better than those in stores this season, were only a little better with a 2.3% decline. Despite the dismal results, Amazon.com reported Friday that it had its best holiday season ever and discounter Wal-Mart is defying economic trends with monthly sales increases while most others show big declines.

In a year when stocks in general, measured by the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, are down 41%, the luxury players are down even more. Saks’ stock is down 81%, Sotheby’s, 79%, and Tiffany’s, 51%. That’s quite a change from a year ago, when luxury companies were viewed as being immune from the downturn because their customers didn’t have subprime loans. But now, the wealthiest consumers are beginning to feel the pressure as their portfolios shrivel and jobs in the financial sector vanish in a reverse wealth effect.

Foreign Auto Makers Hurting Too

TOKYO (AP) — In more bad news for Japan’s auto industry, Toyota said Wednesday its global vehicle sales plunged 21.8% in November, the biggest drop in eight years. Rival Nissan said its worldwide sales sank 19.8% and global production nose-dived a record 33.7% on depressed sales in the United States. Japan’s No. 2 carmaker, Honda Motor Co., also said Wednesday its global production in November tumbled 9.9%, the biggest fall in five years. The dismal data comes two days after Toyota, Japan’s biggest automaker, predicted that this fiscal year it would report its first operating loss in 70 years.

Iraq Parliamentary Speaker Resigns

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi parliamentary speaker resigned on Tuesday, ending a long-running power struggle and allowing lawmakers to authorize British and other non-U.S. foreign troops to remain in the country into 2009. Lawmakers applauded with the resignation of Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni who has clashed repeatedly with Kurdish and Shiite lawmakers in recent years. The enmity reached its peak last week in a shouting match over the detention of the journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush. Within a half-hour of his resignation, parliament approved the troops measure in a voice vote — just a week before the U.N. mandate authorizing foreign troops was to expire. The new measure will allow Britain’s 4,000 soldiers and smaller contingents from several other countries to stay through and assist U.S. troops until the end of July. The Americans can remain until the end of 2011 under a separate security agreement.

Greek Police Bus Attacked; 3,000 at Rally

ATHENS (AP) (AP) — More than 3,000 protesters chanting “Cops, Pigs, Murderers” marched through Athens on Tuesday amid fears of continued violence over the death of a teenage boy in a police shooting. Earlier Tuesday, shots were fired at a riot police bus in Athens. None of the 19 officers on board was injured, authorities said, but the attack raised concern that violence against police could escalate. Tuesday’s march kept many stores in downtown Athens closed. A group of youths overturned a police car, but the incident ended without further violence.

Homeland Security Forecasts 5-year Threat Picture

WASHINGTON (AP) — Intelligence officials also predict that in the next five years, terrorists will try to conduct a destructive biological attack. Officials are concerned about the possibility of infections to thousands of U.S. citizens, overwhelming regional health care systems. There could also be dire economic impacts caused by workers’ illnesses and deaths. Officials are most concerned about biological agents stolen from labs or other storage facilities, such as anthrax. The terrorism threat to the United States over the next five years will be driven by instability in the Middle East and Africa, persistent challenges to border security and increasing Internet savvy, says a new intelligence assessment obtained by The Associated Press. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks are considered the most dangerous threats that could be carried out against the U.S. But those threats are also the most unlikely because it is so difficult for al-Qaeda and similar groups to acquire the materials needed to carry out such plots, according to the internal Homeland Security Threat Assessment for the years 2008-2013.

The al-Qaeda terrorist network continues to focus on U.S. attack targets vulnerable to massive economic losses, casualties and political “turmoil,” the assessment said. Earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction remains “the highest priority at the federal level.” Speaking to reporters on Dec. 3, Chertoff explained that more people, such as terrorists, will learn how to make dirty bombs, biological and chemical weapons.

Hawaii Island of Oahu without Power

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaiian island of Oahu lost power during heavy rain and lightning, blacking out the population of some 800,000 people and thousands of tourists including vacationing President-elect Barack Obama. Residents were advised by the power company and civil authorities to stay home after the Friday evening outage and to conserve water. Several radio stations broadcast emergency information. Gov. Linda Lingle said Hawaiian Electric Co. was taking an emergency generator to the compound on the east side of the island where Obama has been staying.

Winter Storm Pounds West as Ice Wreaks Havoc in Midwest

RENO, Nevada — Yet another snowstorm closed highways in parts of the West on Friday, the latest in a tiring week of bad weather, and a dangerous sheet of ice in parts of the Midwest contributed to a looming flood problem. Up to 20 inches of snow was forecast in parts of the Rockies, along with wind gusts of up to 80 mph. A Utah avalanche killed two people earlier in the week, and a snow slide in California’s Sierra Nevada killed one man Thursday. Wisconsin officials Thursday classified a vehicle crash death Tuesday as weather related. After enduring days of cold Arctic air and freezing rain, the Midwest was threatened Saturday with rain, fog and rapidly rising temperatures that could cause flash flooding. Roadways lacquered with ice that have contributed to dozens of deaths were thawing, but mountains of melting snow and falling rain were creating hazardous pools of water.

Ø JJ Commentary: Ahh, global warming, what a treat!

Signs of the Times

December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Jesus!

Church Sermons Inspiring Hope for Holidays

ARIZONA REPUBLIC — The Christmas season has long been centered on hope. Ministers use their holiday sermons to preach that Jesus came to Earth to bring light in darkness and to give people something to have faith in. And with just about everything seeming unbalanced in the world today – from job loss to recession, and Wall Street to our streets – clergy are using the original Christmas story this year to regenerate hope in people. They want to use the Christmas story to let people know that even though Jesus came 2,000 years ago, the celebration of that day still offers the same hope. What the recession has affected is prayer requests. What used to be prayers for health and marriage have turned into prayers for jobs and money to make rent. The Rev. Jon Mac- Kinney of Chandler Bible Church says Christmas reminds people what they should put their trust in. The ministers say Christmas is the best time to remind people that they aren’t trudging through their current situation alone. “In times like this when everything is going crazy,” said Tom Quaid, with Vineyard Church, “the one thing Jesus came to do is to give us a solid rock to stand on.

Churches in USA more Diverse, Informal than a Decade Ago

USA TODAY — Worship services may still be the USA’s most segregated hour, but fewer congregations are now completely white, finds a study comparing churches, synagogues and mosques last year with a decade ago. The National Congregations Study says 14% of primarily white congregations reported no minorities in their midst last year, compared with 20% in 1998. Such steep change in a short period is noteworthy because “religious traditions and organizations are widely considered to be remarkably resistant to change,” says sociology professor Mark Chaves of Duke University School of Divinity, the lead researcher. “There’s movement in the right direction.” The increase in diversity is only among primarily white churches; majority black churches are as segregated as ever, Chaves says. Among primarily white congregations, the number reporting at least some blacks rose from 27% in 1998 to 36% in 2006-07; those reporting at least some Hispanics rose from 24% to 32%.

Prayer Sites Developing a Devout Cyber-Congregation

ARIZONA REPUBLIC — This week, people across the world will take time to pray. They will ask for God’s help and trust that he hears their voice And then they will hit enter. Online prayer sites are prospering. They are places where people ask for prayers regarding physical health, mental well-being and, increasingly, financial solvency. There is no church, but there is a digital gathering of people together in need and in faith. Online prayer represents a change in the way people pray. But not necessarily why they pray. “Humankind has always sought its creator. This is a new way to do it,” said the Rev. Marian Fortner of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Phoenix. “It’s a modern response to an ancient quest.”  Visitors log on to a site, type up a prayer and post it to the Web page. When somebody offers a prayer in response, the person who first posted the prayer is notified by e-mail. ipraytoday.com advises visitors: “Pray how you like and to whom you like. We are not here to define your God, but rather to unite the resources of those who believe in a Divine Source and showcase the power of prayer.” Wheeler believes that all prayer is good and that it only becomes more powerful when different religions come together.

  • JJ Commentary: The concept is good and many of the prayer sites are truly Christian. But this is another way that religious syncretism is diluting Christian influence and promoting New Age “tolerance” and “inclusiveness”

Sacred texts: Vatican Embraces iTunes Prayer Book

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican is endorsing new technology that brings the book of daily prayers used by priests straight onto iPhones. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications is embracing the iBreviary, an iTunes application created by a technologically savvy Italian priest, the Rev. Paolo Padrini, and an Italian Web designer. The application includes the Breviary prayer book — in Italian, English, Spanish, French and Latin and, in the near future, Portuguese and German. Another section includes the prayers of the daily Mass, and a third contains various other prayers. The application costs $1.10, while upgrades will be free. Padrini’s proceeds are going to charity.

New Health Regulation Permits `Conscience’ Exceptions

Religion News Service reports that a new federal regulation will allow healthcare workers to abstain from performing abortions or any service they object to on religious or moral grounds. The regulation, introduced Thursday (Dec. 18) by the Department of Health and Human Services, is directed primarily at shielding those with religious or moral objections to abortion or sterilization. But its scope could be much wider, including those opposed to assisted suicide, sex change operations or even vaccinations and family planning. The rule says healthcare workers cannot be discriminated against for refusing to participate in objectionable procedures. The definition of workers is defined broadly, to include volunteers as well as janitors and others not directly engaged in the procedures. The regulation goes into effect in 30 days.

Indonesian Village to be Rebuilt Following Islamic Rampage

Compass Direct News reports that government officials in Central Maluku, Indonesia, yesterday promised to reconstruct before Christmas two churches and a number of houses set ablaze last week during sectarian rioting in Letwaru village, Masohi district. The promises came after hundreds of activists from a local youth organization protested in the streets of nearby Ambon on Dec. 15, holding these officials responsible for failing to maintain law and order, local media reported. Allegations against a Christian schoolteacher accused of making an anti-Islamic comment also promoted 500 protestors to gather outside the education agency office and police headquarters on Dec. 9, and the protest quickly escalated into a full-scale riot. Enraged Muslims destroyed 69 buildings, including two churches, 42 homes owned by Christians, four shops and a village hall. They also inadvertently struck 16 homes owned by Muslims.

Orissa’s Persecuted Christian Get Some Relief

The Baptist Press reports that about 2,100 Christian families driven from their homes in India’s Orissa state are receiving badly needed relief supplies from Southern Baptists’ world hunger and general relief funds. Tens of thousands of Christians have been forced from their homes since a Hindu swami and four of his followers were murdered in late August. Though Maoist insurgents took credit for the killing, Hindu extremists blamed Christians and mounted mob attacks against them. Dozens of people have been killed, hundreds injured and thousands of homes, churches and businesses have been burned. Four men, one of them “a hardcore Maoist,” were arrested for the swami’s murder in early December, according to news reports. The Christians receiving the aid have fled to camps operated by the government, police officials and private groups.

Rick Warren to Deliver Invocation at Obama’s Inauguration

CNN reports that megachurch pastor Rick Warren will deliver the invocation prayer at President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration. Obama’s pick has generated controversy from pro-choice and gay marriage supporters, who say there is “no substantive difference” between Warren and Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who fervently opposed Obama during the election cycle. Obama defended his choice, saying Warren represents one of “a wide range of viewpoints that are presented” at the inauguration. Warren, pastor of Saddleback megachurch and author of the best-seller “The Purpose Driven Life,” has been open about his policy disagreements with Obama while maintaining a friendship with him.

Paul Proctor writes in NewsWithViews.com that Purpose Driven Pastor Rick Warren with his Global P.E.A.C.E. Plan and President-elect Barack Obama with his Global Poverty Act and Universal Service Plan [are] men who apparently have no aversion to working with any or all of the world religions or non-religions to save the planet – which may explain, at least in part, why Warren is scheduled to lead the invocation at Obama’s upcoming inauguration……..

  • JJ Commentary: Pastor Warren is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a card-carrying member of the New World Order. He is their pastor of choice because he supports a one-world government. Whether he is duped or complicit is hard to say.

Former President Bill Clinton Unveils Foundation Donor List

NEW YORK TIMES — Former President Bill Clinton has collected tens of millions of dollars for his foundation over the last 10 years from governments in the Middle East, tycoons from Canada, India, Nigeria and Ukraine, and other international figures with interests in American foreign policy. Lifting a longstanding cloak of secrecy, Mr. Clinton on Thursday released a complete list of more than 200,000 donors to his foundation as part of an agreement to douse concerns about potential conflicts if Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is confirmed as secretary of state in the Obama administration. The donor list offers a glimpse into the high-powered, big-dollar world in which Mr. Clinton has traveled since leaving the White House as he jetted around the globe making money for himself and raising vast sums for his ambitious philanthropic programs fighting disease, poverty and climate change. Some of the world’s richest people and most famous celebrities handed over large checks to finance his presidential library and charitable activities.

With his wife now poised to take over as America’s top diplomat, Mr. Clinton’s fund-raising is coming under new scrutiny for relationships that could pose potential conflict-of-interest issues for Mrs. Clinton in her job. Some of her husband’s biggest backers have much at stake in the policies that President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration adopts toward their regions or business ventures. Saudi Arabia alone gave to the foundation $10 million to $25 million, as did government aid agencies in Australia and the Dominican Republic. Brunei, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar and Taiwan each gave more than $1 million. So did the ruling family of Abu Dhabi and the Dubai Foundation, both based in the United Arab Emirates, and the Friends of Saudi Arabia, founded by a Saudi prince.

  • JJ Commentary: Bill Clinton is one of the leaders of the New World Order and it is quite disturbing that Hillary will now have so much influence on our global policies.

Calif. AG Urges Court to Void Gay Marriage Ban

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The California attorney general has changed his position on the state’s new same-sex marriage ban and is now urging the state Supreme Court to void Proposition 8. In a dramatic reversal, Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a legal brief saying the measure that amended the California Constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman is itself unconstitutional because it deprives a minority group of a fundamental right. Earlier, Brown had said he would defend the ballot measure against legal challenges from gay marriage supporters. But Brown said he reached a different conclusion “upon further reflection and a deeper probing into all the aspects of our Constitution. Brown, who served as governor from 1975 to 1983, is considering seeking the office again in 2010.

  • JJ Commentary: Brown didn’t change his mind due to “further reflection” but rather because he caved in to enormous pressure as a politician who wants to be governor once again.

Christ Isn’t Allowed in Christmas

A public school teacher in Mississippi marked down an eleven-year-old’s Christmas poem assignment and told the boy to rewrite it because he used the word “Jesus,” which, the instructor explained, is a name not allowed in school. Liberty Counsel, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, reports that sixth-grader Andrew White of Hattiesburg, Miss., chose to write the poem on the assignment “What Christmas means to me.” Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law, expressed dismay that despite many legal clarifications on the issue, there are still educationl officials that mistakenly believe students can’t speak of their faith at school. “Some educators need education that the story of Christmas is not banned from public schools,” Staver said in a statement. Staver says he was “horrified that a sixth-grader was told by his teacher, ‘we can’t discuss these types of things in school.’ I don’t understand why some people don’t get it. Christmas is a state and federal holiday. Schools are closed to celebrate this holiday. Obviously, Christmas is constitutional.”

The principal at White’s Thames Elementary School agreed with Staver. After White’s parents encouraged Andrew to turn in his first, unedited poem, Principal Carrie Hornsby changed the boy’s grade to a 100 and conceded that there was nothing improper in using Jesus’ name. Hornsby also coordinated a mailing to all the school’s parents, explaining that students’ religious expression is permitted under federal guidelines.

  • JJ Commentary: While this individual case was successfully resolved, the effort to remove Christ from Christmas grows more successful every year as even Christians buy into secular aspects such as Santa Claus who has become the replacement for Jesus.

Cougars Preying in the Classroom

WorldNetDaily — According to a major 2004 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education – the most authoritative investigation to date – nearly 10 percent of U.S. public school students have been targeted with unwanted sexual attention by school employees, and in those cases, 40 percent of the perpetrators were women. Titled “Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature” by Virginia Commonwealth University Professor Charol Shakeshaft, the report brought to light staggering statistics. Shakeshaft’s study estimates that roughly 290,000 students experienced some sort of physical sexual abuse by a public school employee between 1991 and 2000 alone. If female employees are responsible for 40 percent of those crimes, that means America could be facing an average of more than 11,000 instances of women abusing students in school each year – in other words, more cases in one year than were reported in 50 years of Catholic priest abuse.

  • JJ Commentary: This study did not receive much, if any, media attention in 2004. In coming to light now it underscores even more so that our public schools have become a cesspool of immorality and godlessness.

7 students Suspended for Refusing Anti-Christian Class

Seven Christian students in Quebec have been handed suspensions in the last few days – and could face expulsions – for refusing to participate in a new mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture course that, according to a critic, is a “superficial mishmash of trendy theoretical platitudes” with the goal of convincing children that “all religions – including pagan animism and cults – are equally ‘true.'” Canada’s National Post has reported on the developing confrontation between educators who have ordered students to take the course and students and their parents who object to what they see as a virtual indoctrination into a social and moral relativism. While seven students already have been targeted for punishment, hundreds more are demanding to be relieved of the obligation to attend the classes, and several parents have begun legal actions over the course.

Where’d the Bailout Money Go? Banks Aren’t Saying

WASHINGTON (AP) — Think you could borrow money from a bank without saying what you were going to do with it? Well, banks borrowing from you don’t feel the same need to say how the money is spent. After receiving billions in aid from taxpayers, the USA’s largest banks say they can’t track exactly how they’re spending it. Some won’t even talk about it. “We’re choosing not to disclose that,” said Kevin Heine, spokesman for Bank of New York Mellon, which received $3 billion. Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase which received $25 billion in bailout money, said that while some of it was lent, some was not, and the bank won’t say exactly how the money is being used. “We have not disclosed that to the public. We’re declining to,” he said. The Associated Press contacted 21 banks that received at least $1 billion in government money and asked four questions: How much has been spent? What was it spent on? How much is being held in savings? And what’s the plan for the rest? None of the banks provided specific answers.

New and Existing Home Sales Fall Again in November

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of existing homes plunged 8.6% in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.49 million, from a revised 4.91 million rate in October, according to the National Association of Realtors. It was the slowest pace in nearly 18 years. The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $181,300 in November, down 13.2% from November 2007, when the median was $208,800, the NAR said. A second report said sales of new single-family homes also fell in November, to the weakest levels since 1991, according to the Commerce Department.

Economic Woes Extend Beyond Auto Industry in Motor City

DETROIT (AP) — One measure of how tough times are in the Motor City: Some of the offenders in jail don’t want to be released; some who do get out promptly re-offend to head back where there’s heat, health care and three meals a day. “For the first time, I’m seeing guys make a conscious decision they’ll be better off in prison than in the community, homeless and hungry,” said Joseph Williams of New Creations Community Outreach, which assists ex-offenders. Even with no hurricane to blame, Detroit has, by many measures, replaced New Orleans as America’s most beleaguered city. The jobless rate has climbed past 21%, the embattled school district just fired its superintendent, tens of thousands of homes and stores are abandoned, the ex-mayor is in jail for a text-messaging sex scandal.

Canada Offers $3.29B Auto Bailout

TORONTO (AP) — The federal and Ontario governments will provide the Canadian subsidiaries of the Detroit Three automakers with $3.29 billion in emergency loans, the prime minister said Saturday. The announcement follows a pledge Friday by U.S. President George W. Bush to offer $17.4 billion in emergency loans to General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada’s bailout plan, the equivalent of 20% of the U.S. aid package, will help keep the plants afloat while the automakers restructure their businesses to retain one the country’s most important economic sectors. Canada’s automotive industry represents 14% of the country’s manufacturing output, 23% of manufactured exports, and directly employs more than 150,000 Canadians. The country’s largest industry within the manufacturing sector, it has been suffering from its slowest sales in 26 years and dwindling operating cash.

More Nations Want the Euro as their Currency

LONDON — The euro is the Miss Congeniality of world currencies right now. Icelanders are clamoring to adopt it. Danes and Swedes are having second thoughts about snubbing it in the past. The Poles and Hungarians are accelerating plans to make the euro their money. Even in Britain, which has held to the pound with bulldog-like ferocity, there’s talk of possibly joining the euro. These countries’ stand-alone currencies have been so buffeted by a global financial meltdown and recession in recent weeks that long-standing opposition to joining with the 15 other European countries that use the euro is dissipating

  • JJ Commentary: Just what the New World Order folks wanted

Gates OKs Deployment of 3,000 Troops to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Robert Gates has approved the deployment of a combat aviation brigade to Afghanistan early next year, as the military begins a substantial buildup of forces there, The Associated Press has learned. The decision will send close to 3,000 additional U.S. forces into the country and will begin to meet an urgent need for combat and transport helicopters, senior defense officials said Friday. They said that further announcements about the deployment of more ground troops, including U.S. Army or Marine Corps combat units, are expected early next year. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. and NATO forces, has asked for at least 20,000 more troops to combat the escalating violence, particularly in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

Iran Sends Warship to Somali Waters

TEHRAN, Iran —  Iranian state radio says Iran has sent a warship to the coast of Somalia to protect its cargo ships against piracy. The Saturday report says the ship arrived in Somali waters. The Iranian ship would join vessels from the U.S., Denmark, Italy, Russia and other countries in patrolling the Gulf of Aden, which leads to the Suez Canal and is the quickest route from Asia to Europe and the Americas.

  • JJ Commentary: Imagine that, Iran and the U.S. working together. However, it won’t change Iran’s role as the Persian foe of Israel in Ezekiel 38-39

Rioters Clash Anew with Greek Police

ATHENS (AP) — Hundreds of rioters battled police in central Athens on Saturday, fire-bombing a credit reporting agency and attacking the city’s Christmas tree two weeks after the police shooting of a teenager set off Greece’s worst unrest in decades. The rioters, using the National Technical University of Athens as a base, launched attacks against police, throwing rocks and petrol bombs and erecting roadblocks.

Winter Weather Blasts Nation from End to End

SEATTLE (AP) — A fierce winter storm blew in from the Pacific, bringing up to 2 feet of snow, icy wind and a nightmare for holiday travelers already stymied by winter’s dance across the northern half of the country. Snow, sleet and freezing rain caused treacherous driving conditions throughout the Pacific Northwest. Sections of two major highways — Interstate 90 in Oregon and Interstate 84 in Washington — were closed late Saturday night, and authorities asked member of the public not to drive unless it was an emergency. As of Saturday, the December snowfall total in Bismarck, N.D., nearly equaled the 19.3-inch mark for of all last winter Gov. John Lynch of New Hampshire, where more than 20,000 homes and businesses were still in the dark Saturday, noted the long wait and the specter of further power failures wrought by up to 16 inches of snow forecast for the southern part of the state. Friday’s storm in the Northeast continued to wreak havoc where it blew through earlier, including Indiana, where more than 77,000 customers remained without power.

Several thousand travelers remained stranded Monday after a rare weekend snowstorm walloped Seattle. “We haven’t seen accumulation like this in 12 years,” said Seattle-Tacoma International Airport spokesman Peter McGraw. The National Weather Service said 6 inches of snow fell in the area Saturday and Sunday, leaving some travelers trapped at the airport. McGraw estimated that “several thousand” people were still stranded, but said an exact number of travelers or of flights canceled because of the weather was unavailable. Airport officials handed out 2,000 blankets Sunday night, and the American Red Cross delivered 200 cots, he said.

NASA: Global Warming to Increase Severe Storms, Rainfall

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — The frequency of extremely high clouds in Earth’s tropics — the type associated with severe storms and rainfall — is increasing as a result of global warming, according to a study by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. For every 1.8-degree (F) increase in average ocean surface temperature, the team observed a 45-percent increase in the frequency of the very high clouds. At the present rate of global warming of 0.23 degrees per decade, the team inferred the frequency of these storms can be expected to increase by six percent per decade.

6.5-Magnitude Quake off Japanese Coast

TOKYO, Japan (CNN) — A strong earthquake centered about 90 miles off Japan’s east coast, measuring a 6.5 magnitude, was recorded by seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on Saturday. There were no immediate reports of damage from the quake, which happened at 7:29 p.m. (5:29 a.m. ET). The quake was centered at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) underground and 170 kilometers (105 miles) east of Mito, on the main Japanese island of Honshu, the USGS said. Tokyo is about 255 kilometers (160 miles) west-southwest of the quake’s center, the agency said.

Signs of the Times

December 19, 2008

Support Plummets for Plan to Criminalize Christianity

WorldNetDaily — The Islamic nations whose leaders want Christianity criminalized sustained a severe blow at the United Nations today when the momentum on their religion “anti-defamation” proposal suddenly shifted. WND previously reported on the plan that has been in the works since 1999, sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The “anti-defamation” law was proposed ostensibly to protect religions from criticism and attack. However, the plan mentions only Islam as needing protection. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, has assembled a petition opposing the plan that has been signed by about 400,000 people already. He said today’s U.N. General Assembly vote, which was 86 yes, 53 no and 42 abstentions, was a dramatic shift from the vote from one year ago, which was 108 yes, 51 no, and 25 abstentions.

  • JJ Commentary: If the proposal is broadened to include religions other than Islam that need anti-defamation protection, this type of international law will eventually be used to clamp down on Christian evangelism.

Palin Church Burning – ‘Hate Crime’ Virtually Ignored?

OneNewsNow — A religion columnist and journalism professor says the mainstream media’s coverage of the fire that gutted Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s home church has been thin, but it’s hard to say exactly why it’s been underplayed. Investigators say the fire that destroyed Wasilla Bible Church in Alaska on December 12 was likely the work of an arsonist, but the mainstream news media, with the exception of The Associated Press, has largely ignored the story. Terry Mattingly is the editor of the website GetReligion.org, a Scripps Howard columnist, and director of the Washington Journalism Center. He says believes a regional bias could be at play, but adds that he has no doubt that if a fire occurred at the church of a socially accepted victim group, the coverage would have been more extensive.

  • JJ Commentary: Hate crimes and tolerance only apply to “socially accepted” groups, not to Christians.

Many Beliefs, Many Paths to Heaven?

USA TODAY — Most American religious believers, including most Christians, say eternal life is not exclusively for those who accept Christ as their savior, a new survey finds. Of the 65% of people who held this open view of heaven’s gates, 80% named at least one non-Christian group — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists or people with no religion at all — who may also be saved, according to a new survey released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. This means 52% of Christians do not agree with the doctrines many religions teach, particularly conservative denominations. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, calls the findings “a theological crisis for American evangelicals. They represent at best a misunderstanding of the Gospel and at worst a repudiation of the Gospel.”

Pew’s new survey also found that many Christians (29%) say they are saved by their good actions; 30% say salvation is through belief in Jesus, God or a higher power alone, which is the core teaching of evangelical Protestantism; and 10% say salvation is found through a combination of behavior and belief, a view closer to Catholic teachings. The number of those who said actions determine who attains heaven, was lowest (11%) for white evangelicals, highest for white Catholics (47%). The number of people saying theirs is the only faith that can lead to eternal life increased slightly, from 24% to 29%, between 2007 and 2008. The biggest increase was among white evangelical Protestants — up from 37% to 49%.

  • JJ Commentary: Sad, sad, sad. A Christian is not a Christian without believing that Jesus is the only path to salvation based on faith not works because that’s what He and the Bible say.

Southern Baptist Evangelism Plan to Counter Losses

For the Southern Baptist Convention, 2008 was filled with bad news. Baptisms reached a 20-year low. Church membership dropped, prompting fears the Nashville-based Baptist body was on a downward slide. And its outgoing president warned that within 20 years, more than half of Southern Baptist churches could die off. In response, the Baptists announced a new national evangelism strategy called “God’s Plan for Sharing.” Nicknamed “GPS,” the new strategy would spread the Gospel throughout the U.S. and Canada by 2020, said Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board.

1 in 10 Adults Are Caregivers, Studies Find

Baptist Press reports that 11 percent of the people who participated in a LifeWay Research survey said they or an immediate family member are the primary full-time caregiver to an elderly parent or a special needs child, a statistic also shown in two other national studies. “This research should open our eyes to the number of people in our churches and communities that are looking for people to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said. “Many American church leaders and members that I know reject the idea of increased government involvement in establishing universal health care. But, for the most part, the American church continues to ignore the emphasis that Jesus Himself placed on the poor and the sick.”

Government Offers Loans to Automakers

USA TODAY — President Bush just announced that the U.S. government will provide up to $17.4 billion in loans to the nation’s troubled automakers. “The only way to avoid a collapse of the U.S. auto industry is for the executive branch to step in,” he says. “The American people want the auto companies to succeed, and so do I.” The president blames the decline of the Big Three on rising costs, shrinking market share and declining profits. But Bush says allowing the market to sort out these problems “would almost certainly lead to disorderly bankruptcy and liquidation for the automakers.” The money for the loans will come from the existing bailout package. Reuters is reporting that General Motors and Chrysler, the weakest of the Big Three, are expected “to access the money immediately.” The automakers have until March 31 to prove they are viable, and President Bush said Friday that if they are unable to do that, the money must be returned to the government and General Motors and Chrysler, the two companies seeking the loans, will be forced into bankruptcy court.

Obama Looking at $850 Billion Jolt to the Economy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Eager to jolt a worsening economy back to life, President-elect Barack Obama’s aides are assembling a two-year stimulus package that could cost $850 billion with a blend of new jobs, middle-class tax relief and expanded aid for the poor and the unemployed. Obama is promoting a recovery plan that would feature spending on roads and other infrastructure projects, energy-efficient government buildings, new and renovated schools and environmentally friendly technologies. There would also be some form of tax relief, according to the Obama team, which is well aware of the political difficulty of pushing such a large package through Congress, even in a time of recession. Any tax cuts would be aimed at middle- and lower-income taxpayers, and aides have said there would be no tax increases for wealthy Americans.

Aetna, Cooper Tire, Western Digital Announce 4,900 Layoffs

A growing number of companies are sending workers a grim holiday message: Head for the unemployment line. Health care provider Aetna, Cooper Tire & Rubber and Western Digital, which makes computer hard drives, said Wednesday they would cut a combined 4,900 jobs. And Eastman Chemical said it would cut an unspecified number as it tries to slash costs by $100 million in 2009. The downturn has spread far beyond the housing and banking businesses where it began, battering workers in nearly every sector of the economy. “Things are changing so rapidly, and deteriorating so rapidly, that firms don’t have a choice,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist of IHS Global Insight. Falling sales are squeezing companies’ cash just as tighter credit makes it harder for them to borrow to fund operations, Behravesh said. The combination means this time, some companies can’t afford to wait until after the holidays to cut jobs.

FedEx Cuts Employees’ Pay, Suspends 401(k) Payments

NEW YORK (Reuters) — Package delivery giant FedEx is cutting pay for salaried personnel by 5% and suspending retirement plan contributions as it slashes costs because of a bleak economic outlook. CEO Fred Smith will take a 20% pay cut and other senior executives will take pay cuts of 7.5% to 10% starting Jan. 1. It also suspended company matching contributions to its 401(k) retirement plan for at least one year as of Feb. 1. The company says its cost-cutting will reduce expenses $800 million by the end of its fiscal-2010 year. “Our financial performance is increasingly being challenged by some of the worst economic conditions in the company’s 35-year operating history,” Smith said.

198,000 Arizonans Now Without Jobs

Arizona‘s unemployment rate for the month rose to 6.3 percent from 6.1 percent in October. Metropolitan Phoenix’s rate rose to 5.7 percent from 5.5 percent. Unemployment nationally stands at 6.7 percent. The Arizona Department of Commerce reported Thursday that the state lost 83,100 jobs, a 3.1 percent decrease, between November 2007 and November 2008. A drop like that is rare. The last time a decrease of that size occurred in a November-to-November period was 1949.

More Low-Income Families Need Food Aid

The economic downturn has left many low-income Americans struggling with hunger for the first time, a survey out Thursday by Feeding America shows. The hunger relief group, formerly known as America’s Second Harvest, found that 36% of low-income households say they ate less or skipped meals because they didn’t have enough money for food, and 40% say they chose between food or paying for utilities in the past year. “We’ve never seen anything like this,” says Vicki Escarra, the group’s president. “We’re seeing more people come (to food banks) who’ve never come before.” The number of people receiving food stamps jumped from 26.9 million in September 2007 to a record 31.6 million in September 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One in Seven Homeowners “Underwater”

Nearly one in seven homeowners is underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. That’s about 12 million homeowners, nearly double the number underwater at the end of 2007, according to Moody’s Economy.com. Most are homeowners who bought between late 2003 and 2007. Home prices are projected to drop on average another 10%, bringing to about 14.6 million the number of homeowners who will be underwater on their mortgages by fall 2009, says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com. By contrast, about 2.5 million homeowners had negative equity in their homes in 2006. Increasingly, job seekers find that their homes are albatrosses imperiling their ability to relocate for higher incomes or more secure job opportunities. In fact, the greatest drop in home prices, in many cases, is in areas with the sharpest rise in unemployment.

IMF Warns of Economic Riots, Police Ready for Civil Unrest

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn has warned that advanced nations could face civil unrest during distressful economic times “[S]ocial unrest may happen in many countries – including advanced economies” if the economic crises are not properly dealt with, Strauss-Kahn said. He added that violent protests could break out in countries worldwide if the financial system was not restructured to benefit everyone rather than a small elite,” London’s Guardian reported. In a recession where consumer spending is plummeting, foreclosures are rampant, workers are losing jobs, credit is tight and markets are strained, some are warning about a worst-case scenario.

Youths Attack French Institute in Athens

ATHENS (AP) — Rioting youths attacked the French Institute in Athens with firebombs Friday as Greek police braced for more protests a day after extensive clashes between demonstrators and riot police. “Spark in Athens. Fire in Paris. Insurrection is coming,” read one slogan spray-painted onto the building’s walls in French. Another, written in Greek, read “France, Greece, uprising everywhere.” Athens has seen near daily hit-and-run attacks by youths throwing firebombs in the past two weeks, after the fatal police shooting of a 15-year-old sparked the worst riots Greece has seen in decades. The rage unleashed by the Dec. 6 shooting has lifted the lid on years of dissatisfaction over social inequality, poor employment prospects for young people, and increasing anger with the conservative government’s economic policies.

Orissa Christmas Will Be Fearful, Says Minister

The Christian Post reports that Christians in Orissa, India, will face a “very threatening environment,” said Dr. Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA. Moeller reports that the forced shutdown of the social system for which Hindu extremists have called ensures that Christians in Orissa will be “extremely fraught” with fear, even though the state government has declared the shutdown to be illegal. So far, however, government promises have done little to protect Christians from attack. Moeller fears that Christians who leave their homes to worship together on Christmas may be vulnerable to attack for violating an extremist-enforced shutdown.

Iraqi Christians Still under Siege at Christmas

Mission News Network reports that Iraqi Christians will face another isolated Christmas in 2008. “Christians in Mosul over the last few months have been particularly targeted for extermination by the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq. This Christmas is one of great stress and difficulty for these believers,” said Carl Moeller with Open Doors. Celebrations of Christmas, once held in family courtyards and complete with candles and bonfires, have disappeared since “any bonfire attracts suspicious persons… Fires are now linked with explosions and attacks,” MNN reports. Iraq’s once-large Christian community has dwindled significantly since 2004, and many Christians have left Iraq for Syria, Jordan, Turkey or the West.

Gaza Front Heats Up as Hamas Declares End of Truce

As cross-border attacks ratcheted up again along the Gaza front on Thursday , Hamas declared that the six-month ceasefire with Israel due to expire Friday was already officially over. “The calm, which… expires on December 19, is finished because the enemy did not abide by its obligations,” said Hamas member Ayman Taha, who represented the group in talks with other Palestinian factions. “The calm is over.” His comments came as Israeli forces and Palestinian terror militias continued to trade blows on the eve of the expiration of the ‘lull,’ as more than a dozen rockets struck the western Negev today and IAF planes and helicopters targeted launch cells and rocket factories.

West Digs Out from Record Storm

SPOKANE (AP). — Road crews worked around the clock to remove 2 feet of snow from Spokane streets early Friday as the winter storm that set records in the West moved through the Great Lakes region and bore down on the Northeast. Spokane city officials declared a “Condition Red” snow emergency, meaning crews were working 24 hours a day to complete a full city plow, with private contractors brought on to help. The 19.4 inches of snow that had fallen at Spokane International Airport Thursday morning was the most in a 24-hour period since record keeping began in 1881. Another 4 inches had fallen by Thursday afternoon. “It has eclipsed any previous records by a significant amount,” said John Livingston, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in eastern Washington.

Flights resumed in and out of Las Vegas, but schools and highways were closed Thursday after a record-setting snowfall coated marquees on the Strip, weighed down palm trees and blanketed surrounding mountain areas. The storm that left 3.6 inches at McCarran International Airport. It was the biggest December snowfall on record there. “Snow is not unknown in the Las Vegas valley. On average we get 1/2 inch of snow a year,” Jacques said. “But this amount made it a significant storm. We haven’t had this amount of snow since 1979.”

Earthquake Hits Chile Coast

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — The U.S. Geological Survey says a strong, 6.3-magnitude earthquake has rattled Chile’s coast near the city of Valparaiso. USGS geophysicist John Bellini called it a strong quake but said it “would not be expected to cause large, widespread damage.”

Signs of the Times

December 17, 2008

Physicians Rally Against Assisted Suicide

A campaign to stop physician-assisted suicide is now going to physicians nationwide. Physicians for Compassionate Care in Oregon and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition have joined forces to seek pledges from medical personnel, agreeing not to take part in doctor-assisted suicide. Spokesman Alex Schadenberg explains the cause. “The ‘Take the Pledge‘ campaign is specifically oriented to medical caregivers and those who are in caregiver positions to encourage them to take the pledge against assisted suicide,” he says. According to Schadenberg, the pledge campaign in Washington State, where physician assisted suicide was legalized in November, has received enormous support in the medical community.

Faith a “Private Eccentricity” in England, Says Catholic Cleric

Religion News Service reports that the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales warns that liberalism has turned Britain into a nation where religious belief is seen as a “private eccentricity” and atheism is becoming increasingly more “vocal and aggressive.” Writing in a book released this week, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor came down hard on what he said was Britain’s growing degeneration into a land free of morals and hostile to Christian values. The book, called “Faith in the Nation,” was published by the Institute for Public Policy Research and counts among its supporters Prime Minister Gordon Brown, himself the son of a hard-line Church of Scotland minister. Murphy-O’Connor cites “serious tensions” between Christians and secularists in his book. The result, he said, has become an “unfriendly climate for people of all faiths” that has, as a result, united Britain’s three major faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

New Statement May Eliminate China House Churches

Baptist Press reports that China’s ministry of civil affairs has issued a statement calling for the elimination of the Chinese House Church Alliance, a move some say “could well cause the abolishment of all the Christian house churches” in the communist country. The alliance, led by Pastor “Bike” Zhang Mingxuan, was established in 2005 and has been engaging in Christian missionary work and charity activities, according to the U.S-based China Aid Association Dec. 9. News of the crackdown follows harsh rhetoric by Zhou Yongkang, the leader of the Central Political and Legislative Committee within the Communist Party, who in recent months called for “extraordinary measures to be taken against house churches.” News reports did not indicate whether the two occurrences were directly linked.

Fed Cuts Interest Rates to Near Zero to Combat Economic Recession

USA TODAY — The Federal Reserve Tuesday cut its target for a key short-term interest rate to a record low range of zero to 0.25%, from the previous 1%, and vowed to maintain “exceptionally low rates” for “some time”. The dramatic move sent stocks soaring as the Dow Jones industrial average surged 4.2% and broader indexes jumped more than 5% after the central bank said it would accelerate its use of nonconventional tools to stimulate the economy, like buying mortgage-backed securities or Treasury notes. “The Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth and to preserve price stability,” the Fed said. “In particular, the committee anticipates that weak economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for some time.”

IRS Helps Homeowners Sell or Refinance by Easing tax Liens

USA TODAY — In an effort to slow the rate of foreclosures, the IRS announced Tuesday that it will make it easier for financially distressed homeowners who are behind on their taxes to refinance or sell their homes. The IRS issues more than 600,000 tax liens a year against taxpayers who are delinquent on their taxes. When these liens are attached to homes, they can make it difficult for homeowners to refinance or sell their homes, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said. Shulman said the measures will focus on taxpayers who have historically paid their taxes but have fallen behind because of economic hard times. “The IRS is doing whatever it can, under the constraints of the law and common sense, to avoid getting in the way of people trying to save their homes or sell their homes,” he said.

Consumer Inflation Index Plunges

WASHINGTON (AP) — Consumer prices in November as measured by the consumer price index plunged by the largest amount on records going back 61 years, and the construction of new U.S. homes plummeted in November by the largest amount in almost a quarter-century. The Labor Department reported Tuesday that the consumer price index fell 1.7% in November, surpassing the previous record decline of 1% set in October. Both drops were the largest one-month declines on records dating to February 1947. The big declines reflect the severe recession gripping the country and raise the pressure for the Federal Reserve to act decisively to guard against a debilitating bout of deflation. Core prices, which exclude food and energy items, were flat in November after declining 0.1% in October. On a year-over-year basis, consumer prices were up 1.1% after a 3.7% increase in October. It was the smallest rise since mid-2002. Energy prices plummeted 17% last month, almost double the 8.6% fall in October. It was the largest monthly decrease in energy prices since the department started monthly records in 1957.

Housing Starts Also Plunge

In the housing report, the Commerce Department said that housing starts fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 625,000 from a downwardly revised level of 771,000 in October. That is a drop of 18.9%, the steepest since March 1984. Applications for building permits, considered a good sign of future activity, fell by 15.6% to 616,000, from an upwardly revised figure of 730,000 in October. The housing starts and permit figures are at all-time lows, breaking records that were set last month.

50M barrels of oil in supertankers may spur OPEC production cut

OPEC meets meets tomorrow in Algeria, and the oil cartel is expected to announce its biggest production cut ever to prop up prices. One big sign of the crude glut: At least 50 million barrels of oil are being stored offshore in supertankers, the Financial Times says. That’s as much oil as France imports in a month. The floating storage, the biggest since 2001, costs significantly more than storing oil on land. “Everybody is supporting a cut,” OPEC’s president, Chakib Khelil, said yesterday. OPEC powerhouse Saudi Arabia said Wednesday that the group will slash a record 2 million barrels from its daily production as of Jan. 1 to try to put a floor under prices, while Russia and other OPEC outsiders announced their own cuts.

Declining Oil Prices Threaten Iraqi Stability

Plummeting oil prices may force Iraq’s government to slow ambitious reconstruction plans, and the country could face a budget shortfall by next summer, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. The trend worries U.S. officials who say a strong economy is needed to lock in the security gains made over the past year. “The long-term stability of the country heavily depends on a vibrant economy,” said Paul Brinkley, who leads Pentagon efforts to aid Iraq’s economy. Iraq, which sits on the world’s third-largest oil reserves, gets at least 90% of its revenue from oil sales. Crude oil prices have dropped about 70% since July when they topped $147 a barrel.

Iraq’s Parliament Speaker Says He’ll Resign over Shoe Thrower Incident

BAGHDAD (AP) (AP) — Iraq’s parliament speaker says he’s resigning after legislators argued about the journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush. Iraq’s parliament erupted into chaos on Wednesday as lawmakers argued over whether the journalist should be freed from jail. The speaker’s announcement comes as the reporter, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, saw a judge Wednesday in his jail cell, his brother says, alleging he may have been too seriously injured to appear in a courtroom. “That means my brother was severely beaten and they fear that his appearance could trigger anger at the court,” the brother added. About 1,500 demonstrators took to the streets Wednesday in the Baghdad Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah to demand his release.

Baghdad Bombs Kill 18, Wound 52

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi police say the toll from a double-bombing in eastern Baghdad that targeted traffic police has increased to at least 18 people dead and 52 others wounded. An Iraqi police official says the first blast Wednesday morning was from a car bomb. Moments later, a roadside bomb went off nearby targeting people rushing to the scene. The U.S. military says a roadside bomb exploded near an American patrol hours earlier in the same area but that there were no deaths or injuries.

Islamists drive Christians out of Nineveh

Hundreds of thousands of Assyrian Christians, a minority people who live principally in northern Iraq, have fled the country under murderous threats from Islamic militants that have grown so bad, a U.S. government entity has now labeled Iraq “among the most dangerous places on earth.” In a report released today, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federally-funded advisory team created and appointed by Congress, recommends that Iraq be designated a “country of particular concern” in light of ongoing, severe abuses against the country’s religious minorities – stating that the situation is “particularly dire” for ChaldoAssyrian Christians. In the first century, Assyrians were among the first Gentiles to follow Christ, and to this day many Assyrian Christians still speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. They are also the people of ancient Nineveh, the city that was visited by the biblical prophet Jonah and that lies today near the modern city of Mosul, Iraq.

Gaza Militants Fire 9 Rockets at Israel

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel’s army says Gaza militants have fired nine rockets at Israel. Wednesday’s rocket fire came just two days before militants say a truce along the Gaza border is to expire. The rockets were fired by three small militant groups and caused no injuries. Gaza’s Hamas rulers say the truce with Israel ends Friday. Israel says there’s no expiration date. In any case, the cease-fire has been badly shaken, as both sides try to dictate new terms. Hamas wants Israel to keep its crossings open. The borders have been mostly sealed since Hamas seized power of Gaza last year. Israel wants to be able to conduct incursions into Gaza’s border areas.

Greek Youths Call for More Protests

ATHENS (AP) — Protesters hung two giant banners off the Acropolis on Wednesday, with slogans calling for mass demonstrations across Europe and “resistance,” after days of violent protests sparked by the fatal police shooting of a teenager in Athens. About a dozen protesters held the pink banners over the walls of the ancient citadel, Greece’s most famous monument, one bearing the word “Resistance” written in large black letters in four languages: Greek, English, Italian and German. The other called for mass demonstrations across Europe on Thursday. The riots that followed the teenager’s death are the worst Greece has seen in decades, feeding off widespread dissatisfaction with the unpopular conservative government and anger over social inequality and economic hardship.

Over 2 Trillion Tons of Ice Melted in Arctic Since 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 2 trillion tons of land ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska have melted since 2003, according to new NASA satellite data that show the latest signs of what scientists say is global warming. More than half of the loss of landlocked ice in the past five years has occurred in Greenland, based on measurements of ice weight by NASA’s GRACE satellite, said NASA geophysicist Scott Luthcke. The water melting from Greenland in the past five years would fill up about 11 Chesapeake Bays, he said, and the Greenland melt seems to be accelerating. The news was better for Alaska. After a precipitous drop in 2005, land ice increased slightly in 2008 because of large winter snowfalls, Luthcke said. Since 2003, when the NASA satellite started taking measurements, Alaska has lost 400 billion tons of land ice.

2008: Coolest Year of this Century

The year 2008 is officially the coolest year of this century – but U.N. climate change alarmists are sticking by their arguments for global warming. World temperatures have dropped to levels not seen since 2000, the World Meteorological Organization, or WMO, reports. However, the WMO, has been vigilant in informing global warming skeptics that temperatures still remain about 0.3 degrees Celsius above 1961-1990 averages. WMO scientists say the trend is due to La Nina cooling the globe and reducing water temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean. They predict temperatures will increase again one year after La Nina’s cooling trend.

Cold Snap Threatens California Citrus Crop

USA TODAY — Already battered by an early winter storm that delivered heavy rain, snow and low temperatures, California is bracing for more unseasonably cold weather that poses a threat to the state’s big citrus crop. Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, the industry trade association, said temperatures could drop to the upper 20s by Wednesday night, leaving the potential for enormous economic damage. About 85% of the 64 million cartons of fruit produced annually in California’s San Joaquin Valley are still on the tree, he said. California’s winter storm was not isolated, as most of the country west of the Mississippi River was pounded by snow, rain and record-setting cold. Chinook, Mont., broke a 44-year-old record with a low of minus 35 on Tuesday; Elgin, Ore., broke its record at minus 12.

  • JJ Commentary: Yes, polar ice is melting. Yes, record cold is also happening. End-time weather will continue to grow more chaotic.

California Storm Collapses School Roof, Snarls Travel

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California took a pounding Monday from a powerful storm that collapsed the roof of a trade school, made roads treacherous and forced residents from homes out of fear of mudslides from fire-stripped hillsides. Interstate 15, the main route connecting Southern California and Las Vegas, was closed by heavy snow in a mountain pass east of Los Angeles. Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles was snarled by snow that forced the California Highway Patrol to shepherd motorists over another pass. About 20,000 customers lost power across the state, utilities reported.

Robert Schuller’s Son Leaves Crystal Cathedral

GARDEN GROVE, California (AP) — The Rev. Robert A. Schuller has resigned as senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in southern California two months after his father yanked him from the church’s long-running Christian television program, Hour of Power. Schuller, who resigned last month, plans to start his own ministry, according to a press release on the Crystal Cathedral’s website. Juan Carlos Ortiz, founder of the Crystal Cathedral Hispanic Ministry, will take over as senior pastor until a permanent replacement is found. The upbeat Schuller, who stresses harnessing God’s help through positive thinking, began broadcasting his weekly sermons on hisHour of Power program in 1970. He opened the Crystal Cathedral in 1980. In a much heralded announcement nearly three years ago, he named his son to succeed him as the 10,000-member cathedral’s senior pastor. He removed his son from the Hour of Power broadcasts in October, however, after the church said the younger Schuller had refused his father’s requests to rotate the show’s preaching duties with other ministers. The church said “lack of shared vision” led to the split between the younger Schuller and his 82-year-old father.

Signs of the Times

December 15, 2008

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — After eight bleak years, Jesus’ birthplace finally has a Christmas season to cheer about. Hotels are booked solid through January, Manger Square is bustling with tourists, and Israeli and Palestinian forces are working to make things go smoothly. Bethlehem’s economic fortunes are closely tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tourism blossomed in the 1990s, when peace hopes were alive, but was crushed by the outbreak of fighting in 2000. Christmas after Christmas, tourists were scared off by Palestinian violence and Israeli travel restrictions. With calm gradually returning to the West Bank, Bethlehem has again become a magnet for Christmas pilgrims. Palestinian officials say 1.3 million tourists have visited the West Bank this year, nearly double last year’s level. The total for 2008 could rise to 1.6 million. The tourism boom has created 12,000 new jobs, said Palestinian Information Minister Riad Malki.

Human-Smuggling Ring Broken Up by Investigators

ARIZONA REPUBLIC — Investigators have broken up a Phoenix smuggling ring that transported as many as 10,000 illegal immigrants in two years around the country, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard announced Friday. Goddard called the network “the Greyhound bus lines of human smuggling” because the smugglers hauled immigrants in as many as 10 vans from Phoenix-area drophouses to 22 other states. They did business mostly in cash, collecting hundreds of dollars for each immigrant from employers and relatives in other states on arrival and, after taking a cut, smuggling payments to cartels across the border in Mexico, authorities said. Driving bags full of cash south across the border has become a key smugglers’ tactic to skirt an Arizona crackdown on wire-transfer payments. Authorities arrested 21 suspects, including a person suspected of being a local kingpin. Thirty-five have been indicted by a state grand jury, and investigators are seeking dozens more. All but two of the suspects identified Friday were in the country illegally, prosecutors said.

170 Arrested in Global Child Porn Investigation

WASHINGTON (CNN) — More than 170 people around the globe, including at least 61 in the United States, have been arrested in a major operation targeting international child pornographers, officials said Friday. So far, Operation Joint Hammer has rescued 11 girls in the United States, ages 3 to 13, who were sexually abused by child pornography producers, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and representatives of the European Union said at the Justice Department Friday. Dozens more were located in Europe, including several young female victims in Ukraine. Authorities found connections between producers, distributors and customers in nearly 30 countries as a single investigation grew to a global inquiry into the dark corners of brutality and child abuse.

India Navy Arrests 23 Pirates in Gulf of Aden

NEW DELHI (AP) — The Indian navy says it has arrested 23 pirates who threatened a merchant vessel in the Gulf of Aden. Navy spokesman Commander Nirad Sinha says Indian forces repulsed the pirates Saturday as they were about to board the merchant ship. He says the pirates are from Somalia and Yemen, two countries surrounding the Gulf of Aden. Somali pirates have become increasingly brazen, and recently seized a Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil.

Will United Nations Cave to Homosexual Pressure?

France has introduced a resolution before the United Nations General Assembly to decriminalize homosexuality. The decision represents just one step in the overall plan of homosexual strategists, according to Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel. “It’s a brave new world out there, and homosexual activists have infiltrated the ranks of the United Nations. So I will not be surprised if this resolution does in fact pass,” he contends. With the Obama administration taking over in January, Barber believes America’s ambassador to the U.N. will support homosexuality, and with a particular purpose. “The whole idea here, of course, being to silence opposition of homosexual behavior, particularly religious opposition rooted in sincerely held religious beliefs,” he adds. If the resolution succeeds, Barber fully expects a push to begin for recognition of homosexual “marriage” that could become a party of international treaties, binding signatory nations to recognition.

Ice Storms leave New Englanders in Dark

FITCHBURG, Mass. — A vicious ice storm that snapped power lines and tree limbs across New England has left hundreds of thousands of people in the dark and cold and it may be weeks before electricity is restored everywhere. Throughout New England, convoys of utility trucks were working through the night to reconnect power lines cut by ice-laden tree limbs that sagged into the lines or fell on them. Hotels overflowed with people looking to keep warm and find food. The storm knocked out electrical service to 1.4 million homes and businesses late last week. More than 570,000 customers still lacked power Sunday afternoon in Upstate New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

As New Englanders scraped their way out of the devastating ice storm, Arctic air slid into the Upper Midwest on Sunday night. The frigid front could bring a crippling blizzard with it, according to the National Weather Service. The wind chill — which gauges how wind speed makes one feel colder than the temperature — had fallen to minus 37 at Devil’s Lake, N.D., by late Saturday, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Forks. The wind chill could fall to minus 55 by this morning across the region, according to the service. The temperature at Denver International Airport plunged to minus 15 degrees, breaking a 107-year record.

Heavy Rains Pound Italy; Rome Declares Emergency

ROME (AP) — Rome declared a state of emergency as the swollen Tiber river threatened to flood Friday and the death toll from the heavy rains battering much of Italy rose to four. The Civil Protection Department said the Tiber had risen about 16 feet in the past two days and warned it might burst its banks. Officials evacuated Gypsy camps along the Tiber’s banks and boats broke loose from their moorings in the surging water. The smaller Aniene river, which flows into the Tiber, already overflowed, forcing officials to close down some streets in Rome and evacuate hundreds of people. “It is as if there has been an earthquake,” Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno told the daily La Repubblica. Italy has been hit by days of bad weather, and TV footage has shown entire neighborhoods flooded or submerged by mud.

White House, Treasury say they Won’t Let Automakers Fail

WASHINGTON — The White House and the Treasury gave strong indications Friday that the U.S. government, at least temporarily, would help prop up the American auto industry. “Because Congress failed to act, we will stand ready to prevent an imminent failure until Congress reconvenes and acts to address the long-term viability of the industry,” Treasury spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin said. And White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the administration is considering using the Wall Street rescue fund to prevent the USA’s strapped carmakers from failing.

Sweden Plans $3.4B Auto Bailout; Won’t Buy Saab, Volvo

STOCKHOLM — The Swedish government on Thursday unveiled a 28 billion kronor ($3.4 billion) support package for the nation’s ailing auto industry but insisted it won’t buy Volvo or Saab from their U.S. owners. The plan offers credit guarantees, emergency loans and research funds to boost companies in what’s called the “Swedish automotive cluster,” the center-right government said. Carmakers Volvo and Saab have appealed to the Swedish government for support because of the financial woes of their U.S. owners, Ford Motor and General Motors, which are focusing on saving their American brands.

GM to Temporarily Close 20 Plants to Slash Output

NEW YORK (AP) — General Motors said Friday it will temporarily close 20 factories across North America and make sweeping cuts to its vehicle production as it tries to adjust to dramatically weaker automobile demand. GM said it will cut 250,000 vehicles from its production schedule for the first quarter of 2009. Many GM plants will be shut down for the whole month of January, he said, and all told, the factories will be closed for 30% of the quarter.

Fifth Georgia Bank Closed, 24th Nationwide Failure in 2008

NEW YORK — Regulators on Friday closed Haven Trust Bank, marking the 24th U.S. bank failure this year, and the fifth in Georgia. The FDIC said Winston-Salem, N.C.-based BB&T has agreed to assume all of the bank’s deposits, including those that exceeded the insurance limit. The FDIC estimated that the resolution of Haven Trust Bank will cost the federal deposit insurance fund $200 million. The 24 U.S. bank failures so far this year compare with three for all of 2007 and are far more than in the previous five years combined. It’s expected that many more banks won’t survive the next year of economic turmoil.

Job Cuts Adding to Growing Number of Housing Defaults

USA TODAY — Unemployment is now the cause of almost half of all foreclosures on conventional mortgages, raising concerns that mounting joblessness will stall any housing recovery and could cause more foreclosures next year. The increase in unemployment as a cause is a significant shift from 2007, when foreclosures were primarily driven by the large number of homeowners who had taken on risky loans. Many were first-time home buyers or those who bought during the housing boom that ended in 2006. Now, layoffs and the recession are playing the pivotal role in driving mortgage defaults. The 4.3 million people collecting unemployment is the most since 1974, the Labor Department says. During the first half of the year, about 46% of the 90-day delinquencies on conventional, conforming loans were because of a loss of income, vs. 36% in 2006, according to mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Job losses exacerbate the situation for homeowners with risky mortgages.

States’ Funds for Jobless Are Drying Up

NEW YORK TIMES — With unemployment claims reaching their highest levels in decades, states are running out of money to pay benefits, and some are turning to the federal government for loans or increasing taxes on businesses to make the payments. Thirty states are at risk of having the funds that pay out unemployment benefits become insolvent over the next few months, according to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Funds in two states, Indiana and Michigan, have already dried up, and both states are borrowing from the federal government to make payments to the unemployed. Unemployment taxes are collected by states from employers, but the rate varies from state to state per employee. In good times states build up trust funds so that when unemployment is high there is enough money to cover the requests for benefits, which are guaranteed by the federal government.

U.S. homes lose $2 trillion in value during 2008

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — American homeowners will collectively lose more than $2 trillion in home value by the end of 2008, according to a report released Monday. The real estate Web site Zillow.com calculated that home values have dropped 8.4% year-over-year during the first three quarters of 2008, compared with the same period of 2007. Some 11.7 million Americans are now “underwater,” owing more on their mortgage balances than their homes are worth.

Ø JJ Commentary: Home prices were way over-valued, which people then borrowed against. A deadly combination when the bubble bursts.

After-School Cuts Stir Fears of Kids Home Alone

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Directors of after-school programs around the nation fear the deepening recession will force more children to spend afternoons home alone or on the street as cash-strapped governments slash funding and donations shrink. Several Boys & Girls Clubs in South Carolina announced plans to close Friday and many of the group’s 4,300 programs are trimming hours, consolidating locations and cutting field trips to get by, said Kirk Dominick, an executive vice president with Boys & Girls Clubs of America. After-school programs of all kinds are hurting nationwide, especially in rural areas, at a time when parents need affordable care more than ever, said Jodi Grant, executive director of Washington-based Afterschool Alliance, which is pushing for federal support.

Gov. Palin’s Home Church Damaged by Arson

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Gov. Sarah Palin’s home church was badly damaged by arson, leading the governor to apologize if the fire was connected to “undeserved negative attention” from her failed campaign as the Republican vice presidential nominee. Damage to the Wasilla Bible Church was estimated at $1 million, authorities said Saturday. No one was injured in the fire, which was set Friday night while a handful of people, including two children, were inside, according to Fire Chief James Steele. Authorities didn’t know whether Palin’s connection to the church was relevant to the fire.

Signs of the Times

December 12, 2008

U.S. now only 2 States away from Rewriting Constitution

WorldNetDaily — A public policy organization has issued an urgent alert stating affirmative votes are needed from only two more states before a Constitutional Convention could be assembled in which “today’s corrupt politicians and judges” could formally change the U.S. Constitution’s “‘problematic’ provisions to reflect the philosophical and social mores of our contemporary society.” “Don’t for one second doubt that delegates to a Con Con wouldn’t revise the First Amendment into a government-controlled privilege, replace the 2nd Amendment with a ‘collective’ right to self-defense, and abolish the 4th, 5th, and 10th Amendments, and the rest of the Bill of Rights,” said the warning from the American Policy Institute. “Additions could include the non-existent separation of church and state, the ‘right’ to abortion and euthanasia, and much, much more,” the group said. The warning comes at a time when Barack Obama, who is to be voted the next president by the Electoral College Monday, has expressed his belief the U.S. Constitution needs to be interpreted through the lens of current events.

Tom DeWeese, who runs the center and its education and grassroots work, told WND the possibilities stunned him when he discovered lawmakers in Ohio are considering a call for a Constitutional Convention. He explained that 32 other states already have taken that vote, and only one more would be needed to require Congress to name convention delegates who then would have more power than Congress itself. “The U.S. Constitution places no restriction on the purposes for which the states can call for a convention,” the alert said. “If Ohio votes to call a Con Con, for whatever purpose, the United States will be only one state away from total destruction. And it’s a safe bet that those who hate this nation, and all She stands for, are waiting to pounce upon this opportunity to re-write our Constitution.”

USA‘s Warming Due to both Man-Made and Natural Causes

USA TODAY — Climate change – due primarly to human-produced greenhouse gases but also because of natural variability – is the cause of most of the temperature increases observed in the USA since 1951, according to a new report released Thursday by the federal U.S. Climate Change Science Program. The report found that average surface temperatures over the USA have increased about 1.6 degrees since 1951, nearly all in the last 30 years. More than half of the warming averaged over all of North America is probably the result of human activity, the report states.

  • JJ Commentary: This is significant because it’s the first time the scientists have admitted in a major study that natural causes have anything to do with global warming. Now they say it’s a little less than half the cause. Soon they’ll see that it’s the primary cause, with human activity the secondary cause.

Regulator: Mortgage Rates could slip Below 4%

WASHINGTON — Government efforts to provide easier credit to consumers and jump-start flagging home sales could push mortgage rates “well below 4%,” a federal regulator says. Treasury Department officials have been considering a program to lower mortgage rates, which would not apply to refinanced loans. Real estate agents and builders have been lobbying intensely in Washington for government efforts to spur home sales to try to stem the severe decline in the U.S. housing market. Rates fell sharply after the Federal Reserve announced plans late last month to buy up to $600 billion of mortgage-related securities and other debt issued by Fannie, Freddie and the Federal Home Loan Banks. Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half the $11.5 trillion in U.S. outstanding home loan debt. On Wednesday, the national average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 5.49%. Lower mortgage rates also could prevent housing prices from dropping as much as they otherwise would.

Auto Bailout Talks Collapse in Senate over Union Wages

WASHINGTON — A $14 billion emergency bailout for U.S. automakers collapsed in the Senate Thursday night after the United Auto Workers refused to accede to Republican demands for swift wage cuts. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was “terribly disappointed” about the demise of an emerging bipartisan deal to rescue Detroit’s Big Three. He spoke shortly after Republicans left a closed-door meeting where they balked at giving the automakers federal aid unless their powerful union agreed to slash wages next year to bring them into line with those of Japanese carmakers. Republican Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio, a strong bailout supporter, said the UAW was willing to make the cuts — but not until 2011. The implosion followed an unprecedented marathon set of talks at the Capitol among labor, the auto industry and lawmakers who bargained into the night in efforts to salvage the auto bailout at a time of soaring job losses and widespread economic turmoil.

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — World stock markets plunged Friday as the U.S. Senate’s rejection of a $14 billion deal to rescue Detroit’s ailing automakers stoked concerns that the recession in the world’s largest economy will be even longer and deeper than projected. U.S. stock index futures pointed to a big sell-off later on Wall Street as well. The bankruptcy of any of the big American automakers would deal another blow to the world’s largest economy, already in recession. Hopes for the U.S. auto industry now appear to rest with President George W. Bush agreeing to tap the $700 billion Wall Street bailout fund, or TARP, to aid the carmakers.

Federal Share of Economy Soaring

USA TODAY — The government’s spending surge to ease the financial crisis and a worsening recession is increasing the federal share of the nation’s economic activity close to $1 out of every $4, the highest level since World War II, an analysis of current and projected payments shows. Emergency rescue plans for financial institutions and increased benefits for needy individuals are mounting, as Congress considers President-elect Barack Obama’s call for a massive public works program that could exceed $500 billion and a $14 billion bailout of the auto industry. Economists warn that the fast pace of government spending could spell trouble in the future: slower economic growth, higher interest rates, and the likelihood that tax increases or spending cuts will be needed to tame a budget deficit headed toward a record $1 trillion. The government reported Wednesday that the deficit for the first two months of the 2009 fiscal year was more than $400 billion.

  • JJ Commentary: Egads! $400 billion in two months! Welcome to the land of socialism.

New Unemployment Claims Reach 26-year High

WASHINGTON — New claims for unemployment benefits reached their highest level in 26 years last week, as companies cut workers at a rapid pace. The Labor Department said Thursday that initial applications for jobless benefits in the week ended Dec. 6 rose to a seasonally adjusted 573,000 from an upwardly revised figure of 515,000 the previous week. The four-week average, which smooths out fluctuations, was a seasonally adjusted 540,500, highest since December 1982, when the economy was emerging from a steep recession. The number of people continuing to claim jobless benefits also jumped much more than expected, increasing 338,000 to 4.4 million.

Bank of America to Slash 35,000 Jobs over 3 Years

NEW (AP) — Bank of America said Thursday it expects to eliminate 30,000 to 35,000 jobs over the next three years, as it faces a deteriorating economic environment and tries to absorb Merrill Lynch. It said the cuts will affect workers from both companies and all types of businesses. Thursday’s announcement of job cuts was hardly unexpected, considering the merger and the wave of job losses seen in the banking industry and in other sectors over the past few months. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch have already eliminated thousands of investment banking jobs over the past year, as have other banks, in an effort to lower costs as they face increasing defaults in mortgages, credit card debt and other loans.

Sales, Inventories Plunge in October

WASHINGTON — Sales at the wholesale level plunged 4.1% in October, largest decline on record As a result, wholesalers cut back their inventories by the largest amount since the period following the 2001 terrorist attacks. Analysts predict more grim news in months ahead as the recession deepens. The huge declines in inventories and sales provided further evidence that the economy is in a steep recession. Many analysts believe the recession, which has already lasted 12 months, will drag on until the middle of next year. If it lasts past April, it will be the longest recession in the post-World War II period, surpassing recessions in the mid-1970s and early 1980s that both lasted 16 months.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Retail sales fell for the fifth straight month in November as mounting job losses last month curbed consumers’ ability and willingness to spend money in stores. The Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales fell 1.8% last month, compared with a revised 2.9% drop in October, the worst monthly sales on record. November is a crucial sales month for retailers since it marks the start of the important holiday shopping season. Combined sales for November and December can account for as much as 50% of merchants’ annual profits and sales.

With Loans Elusive, Debt Levels for Households Fall for First Time

WASHINGTON (AP) — Households, hit by declining net worth, have cut back on their debt levels for the first time on record as loans remain scarce. The Federal Reserve on Thursday released its latest quarterly look at consumer and business finances showing that households reduced their debt levels 0.8% at an annual rate in the July-September period, the first drop on records that go back more than 50 years. The decline in household debt levels is evidence of the severe credit squeeze that is occurring as banks, saddled by billions of dollars of losses in mortgage debt, have tightened lending standards and made it harder for people to get loans. Mortgage debt fell at an annual rate of 2.4% in the third quarter, the largest decline on record. Mortgage debt had fallen at an annual rate of 0.1% in the second quarter. Those two quarterly declines are the first such drops in the Fed survey that dates back to 1952. The Fed report also showed that households’ net worth fell 4.7% in the third quarter, the fourth consecutive quarterly decline.

Foreclosure Numbers Tumble to Lowest since June

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of American homeowners dragged into the housing crisis fell last month to the lowest level since June as new state laws lengthened the foreclosure process, RealtyTrac reported Thursday. “We’re going to have a pretty significant spike in January,” said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac’s vice president for marketing. Nationwide, more than 259,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice in November, down 7% from October, but 28% higher than a year ago, RealtyTrac said. More than 78,000 properties were repossessed by lenders last month, said the company. The Federal Reserve predicts that new foreclosures this year will reach about 2.25 million, more than double pre-crisis levels.

Homeless Turn Foreclosures into Shelters

USA TODAY — For Max Rameau, a vacant, boarded-up home is more than just a symbol of the national housing crisis. It’s an opportunity to house the homeless. Rameau, a homeless advocate, runs a controversial program in Miami that helps families squat in homes vacated because of bank foreclosures. Using Internet listings and a team of volunteers, Rameau and his Take Back the Land foundation matches homeless families with empty homes. Take Back the Land is just one of several grass-roots efforts — some legal, some on the borderline — that are emerging to confront the sprawling housing crisis. As the federal government tries to stem the growing problem, non-profit groups and advocates are taking matters into their own hands. Advocates in Cleveland are trying to use city money to buy abandoned homes and rent them to the homeless. Homeowners in Atlanta pay homeless residents to sleep in their foreclosed homes to safeguard the houses. And in Boston, protesters have joined arm-in-arm in “eviction blockades” against sheriff’s deputies. With 44% of the nation’s 744,000 homeless unsheltered, it’s not surprising that people want to take over homes, says Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Obama, Others to Blagojevich: Resign

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama called on Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to resign Wednesday as U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. denied involvement in the Democratic governor’s alleged attempt to sell Obama’s open Senate seat. Obama agrees that “under the current circumstances, it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois,” spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement. Blagojevich was charged Tuesday with trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Obama, soliciting money from people with state business and pressing the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who had criticized him. Jackson, son of the civil rights leader and one of several Illinois Democrats vying for the job, told reporters in Washington on Wednesday he did not offer to raise money for the governor in exchange for the Senate appointment. Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan said Obama “should immediately disclose” communications between his transition team and the governor’s office. “Obama’s promise of transparency … is now being tested,” he said.

Businessmen with ties to both Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson discussed raising $1 million for Blagojevich to help persuade him to appoint Jackson to President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, according to a published report. Citing unnamed sources, the Chicago Tribune reports in a story for Friday’s editions that businessman Raghuveer Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi told attendees at an Oct. 31 meeting that they needed to raise the money for the governor to ensure Jackson’s appointment. Jackson spokesman Rick Bryant told the Tribune that while Jackson discussed the Senate seat with Nayak, he never asked him to do anything.

Oil Imports Push Trade Deficit Up Again

WASHINGTON (AP) — The USA’s trade deficit unexpectedly rose in October to $57.2 billion as a spreading global recession dampened sales of U.S. products overseas and oil imports surged by a record amount. The deficit with China jumped to an all-time high. The average price for a barrel of crude oil did drop a record amount, but that was offset by a record surge in the volume of oil imports. That sent the total oil bill up by 3% to $37.7 billion.

More Brigades to Afghanistan by Summer

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — The Pentagon is moving to get three of the four combat brigades requested by commanders into Afghanistan by summer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday as he traveled here to meet with military leaders. In his most specific comments to date about how soon he will meet the call for up to 20,000 more troops in Afghanistan, Gates said he will not have to cut troop levels further in Iraq to free up at least two of those three brigades for Afghan duty. At the same time, Gates said a key “course correction” in the Afghanistan war for the administration of President-elect Barack Obama will be to build the Afghan army and better cooperate with Kabul on security operations.

Greek violence spreads across Europe

TIMES ONLINE — Suspected anarchist protests which have dogged Greece for the last week spread outside the country today, with mobs causing violent scenes in Italy, Spain, Russia, Denmark and Turkey. Greek diplomatic missions were vandalised in the attacks, while police, local authority and media representatives were also targeted in what appeared a co-ordinated escalation. Today, mobs pelted 20 police stations with rocks and bottles, overturned cars and blocked streets in central Athens. Police responded with tear gas as sporadic violence persisted amid Greece’s worst rioting in decades. In Denmark, a total of 32 people were arrested in Copenhagen after protests turned violent while, in Madrid and Barcelona, several police officers were injured and 11 people were arrested following clashes. The violence also spread to Turkey, where a dozen protesters were reported to have painted the Turkish-flag red on the Greek consulate. In Moscow and Rome, meanwhile, petrol bombs were reported to have been aimed at Greek Embassies.

Nigeria: Six Pastors Killed, 40 Churches Razed

Compass Direct News reports that he murderous rioting sparked by Muslim attacks on Christians and their property on Nov. 28-29 left six pastors dead, at least 500 other people killed and 40 churches destroyed, according to church leaders. More than 25,000 persons have been displaced in the two days of violence, according to the National Emergency Management Agency. What began as outrage over suspected vote fraud in local elections quickly hit the religious fault line that quakes from time to time in this city located between the Islamic north and Christian south, as angry Muslims took aim at Christian sites rather than at political targets. Police and troops reportedly killed about 400 rampaging Muslims in an effort to quell the unrest, and Islamists shot, slashed or stabbed to death most of more than 100 Christians killed.

Violent Storms Batter Southeast

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A night of unseasonably warm weather generated torrential rains and tornadoes that damaged two schools and dozens of homes in the Southeast, and some states were bracing for snow and sleet as temperatures drop Wednesday. Sleet was possible in areas of Louisiana and the National Weather Service issued a winter weather watch for parts of Mississippi, warning that a rare snowfall accumulation was possible. The winter precipitation threatened to hit before many people could clean up the mess left by powerful storms and likely tornadoes that damaged at least two schools and dozens of homes in Alabama and Mississippi a day earlier. There were reports of damaged homes and trees on roadways across Mississippi and reports of large hail. At least three tornadoes touched down in the Alexandria area on Tuesday

NEW ORLEANS — The Big Easy awoke Thursday to a rare sight: a blanket of fresh snow. An early winter snow shower fell across New Orleans and surrounding communities, dropping up to 2 inches of snow across the city and as much as 8 inches in parts of southern Louisiana. By Thursday afternoon, southern Louisiana had accumulated more inches of snow this winter season than Boston, Philadelphia and New York City — combined. “Definitely an unusual situation,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Wagner in Slidell, La.

Signs of the Times

December 10, 2008

Record Number of Evangelical on College Campuses

NEWSMAX Evangelical Christianity is surging on college campuses as never before, even at some of the most left-leaning Ivy League schools, researchers report. A mere decade ago, students and faculty who openly professed the gospel of Jesus Christ appeared to be an endangered species. Traditionally, only about 15% of evangelicals held college or graduate degrees. The picture has changed dramatically. The number of students involved with Campus Crusade for Christ increased 163% during the past 20 years at Brown University, by 500% at Harvard, and by 700% at Yale.

Woman Returns $100K Found at Restaurant

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A Murfreesboro, Tenn., woman chose not to follow the old saying “Finders keepers, losers weepers” when she discovered nearly $100,000 in a bag at a local Cracker Barrel restaurant. But it wasn’t that the thought didn’t cross her mind. “Satan will tempt you,” said Billie Watts, 75. “I have been having real bad teeth problems. I thought, ‘I’ll get my teeth fixed.’ “She ultimately decided to return the money she found in a bag in the women’s restroom to its rightful owner. The money, the owner told Watts, was the proceeds from the sale of her home and all the belongings in it. “She was going to start her new life in Florida with her son,” said Watts. The woman offered to pay Watts $1,000, but Watts refused it.

Feds: Governor Tried to Sell Senate Seat

CHICAGO — Corruption has tainted politics here since Al Capone’s heyday, but the arrest Tuesday of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich revealed alleged conspiracy and bribery schemes so brazen that veteran investigators and prosecutors could barely contain their revulsion. “The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. In breathtaking detail, the criminal complaint describes the efforts of the Democratic governor and his chief of staff John Harris, who also was arrested, to “sell the U.S. Senate seat” once held by President-elect Barack Obama for a high-paying job, promises of campaign funds, a Cabinet post or ambassadorship or corporate-board seats for Blagojevich’s wife, Patricia. FBI agents were “disgusted and revolted” by the evidence they heard on wiretaps of Blagojevich’s phones, said Robert Grant, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office.

The corruption arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich is raising questions about what Sen. Barack Obama knew of the Illinois Democrat’s alleged activities, including his apparent offer to appoint Obama’s preferred candidate to serve in the U.S. Senate in return for “private sector” help from Obama. “This is a burgeoning crisis for Obama that should shake his presidency to its core,” said Tom Fitton, chief of the Judicial Watch organization. “The criminal complaint filed today indicates that Obama and his team knew about Blagojevich’s efforts to sell Obama’s Senate seat,” he said.

Newsweek: Bible Supports Same-Sex Marriage

In its cover story for next week, Newsweek magazine declares “religious conservatives” have been wrong all along – because the Bible supports same-sex marriage. The cover of the Dec. 15 issue features a large black Bible with a silver cross on the front. A rainbow ribbon – a popular symbol for homosexual pride – bookmarks its pages. Editor Jon Meacham expected a backlash from the article, so he released a note on one of the magazine’s front pages. It states: Religious conservatives will say that the liberal media are once again seeking to impose their values (or their “agenda,” a favorite term to describe the views of those who disagree with you) on a God-fearing nation. Let the letters and emails come. History and demographics are on the side of those who favor inclusion over exclusion.

The piece, written by senior editor and religion columnist Lisa Miller is titled “Our Mutual Joy.” It declares “Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.” Miller describes the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual sex in Leviticus as “throwaway lines in a peculiar text given over to codes for living in the ancient Jewish world …” After the scriptural references, Miller states, “Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition (and, to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument).”

  • JJ Commentary: Anti-Christians always quote Leviticus and point out other “abominations” that are no longer considered such. But these are all Jewish ceremonial and cultural laws that Jesus “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). What they and even Christians fail to quote is Romans 1:26-27: For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” 1Corinthians 1:9-10 further states, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

Sony Slashing 8,000 Jobs amid Global Downturn

TOKYO — Sony is slashing 8,000 jobs, or 4% of its global work force, aiming to cut costs by $1.1 billion a year as an economic downturn and a stronger yen batter profits at the Japanese electronics maker. Sony Corp., which has 185,000 employees worldwide, said Tuesday it will complete the job cuts — all in the electronics sector — by the end of March 2010. The company will close several plants, including one in Dax, France, cut investment in electronics and outsource some work. Sony’s announcement comes amid similar news from other Japanese manufacturers, which face plunging demand at home and abroad, as well as falling gadget prices and currency fluctuations.

Anheuser-Busch InBev will Cut 1,400 U.S. Jobs

BRUSSELS — Anheuser-Busch InBev said Monday it will cut some 1,400 U.S. jobs — another 6% of its U.S. work force — to help save the world’s largest brewer at least $1.5 billion a year. It said three-quarters of the jobs will go from Anheuser’s North American headquarters in St. Louis, both downtown and its Sunset Hills campus. The job cuts go beyond plans Anheuser-Busch announced this summer to streamline costs, before it agreed to be taken over by Belgium-based InBev. Anheuser-Busch provides half of America’s beer, but it has not expanded around the world as fast as InBev — a Belgian-Brazilian hybrid that owns hundreds of local brands but few real stars.

3M Cutting 1,800 Jobs in U.S. and Elsewhere

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — 3M said it is cutting 1,800 jobs and ordering some workers to take vacation or unpaid time off the last two weeks of the year. 3M, whose products include cellphone circuits and Post-It notes, also said and lowered its 2008 outlook due to the global economic downturn. The company cut the jobs in the fourth quarter, mainly in the United States, Western Europe and Japan. 3M spokeswoman Jackie Berry told the Star Tribune that the worsening economy forced the cuts. The manufacturer had earlier announced 1,000 job cuts in the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30.

Office Depot Closing 126 Stores, Distribution Centers

NEW YORK (Reuters) — Office Depot said Wednesday that it plans to close 126 stores and has further cut its store opening plans for 2009 as the economic downturn affects demand from small businesses and retail customers for office supplies. Office Depot plans to close 112 underperforming retail stores in North America over the next three months. In addition, 14 stores will be closed in 2009 as their leases expire or other lease arrangements are completed, it said. The retailer will also close six of its 33 distribution centers in North America. The decline in office supply sales has also hurt peers OfficeMax and industry leader Staples.

Tribune Files for Bankruptcy Protection

USA TODAY — In yet another dire sign for the newspaper industry, the Tribune Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday. Tribune — the nation’s second-largest newspaper company and owner of eight metropolitan daily papers including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times — is wrangling with “dramatic” declines in ad revenue and massive debt. The bulk of Tribune’s $12 billion in current debt came when it went private last year in a complicated employee-owned structure. That deal was led by real estate tycoon Sam Zell, who is CEO. Zell said in a statement that “a precipitous decline in revenue and a tough economy coupled with a credit crisis” made it “extremely difficult to support our debt.”

Advantage Rent-A-Car Files for Bankruptcy

NEW YORK (Reuters) — Car rental chain Advantage Rent-A-Car filed for bankruptcy protection Monday and closed about 40% of its U.S. retail locations, citing a decline in the travel industry. The company said it laid off 440 workers, or almost half its workforce Advantage said it will continue operating at its remaining locations during the bankruptcy, and is exploring strategic alternatives, including a possible sale or merger. Rental car companies, like Advantage, Hertz Global Holdings and Avis Budget Group, have been hurt by the slowing economy as customers cut their discretionary spending on travel, translating to lower rentals.

Gas Price Lowest since February 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The average retail price for gasoline dropped 11 cents in the last week to $1.70 a gallon, the cheapest price since February 2004, the Energy Information Administration said Monday. The national price for regular unleaded gasoline is down $1.30 from a year ago, the EIA said in its weekly survey of service stations. Even with cost of gasoline declining, the American Public Transportation Association said ridership on public transit was up 6.5% in the third quarter from the same period in 2007 — the largest quarterly ridership increase in 25 years.

Economy puts Emergency Readiness in Peril

WASHINGTON — The economic crisis is jeopardizing the nation’s ability to handle public-health emergencies and possible bioterrorist attacks, according to government leaders and a new report. Federal and state governments are cutting programs that help communities respond to disease outbreaks, natural disasters and bioterrorism incidents, and that “could lead to a disaster for the nation’s disaster preparedness,” a report released Tuesday warns. Federal funds are down, 11 states have already cut public-health budgets, and more could follow as the economic crisis worsens. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff underscored the concerns in an interview Tuesday with USA TODAY editors and reporters. His top concern, Chertoff said, is a “mass event: a big outbreak of plague or some other kind of biological weapon or a nuclear explosion.”

Economy Forcing many Mexicans to Leave United States

USA TODAY — The collapse of the U.S. economy — particularly the housing industry — has forced the Mexican government to start preparing for an influx of returnees in the months ahead. Besides the faltering economy, tighter border enforcement and increasing numbers of police raids on undocumented workers have contributed to a modest decline in the USA’s illegal immigrant population — the first such drop in recent memory, says Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank. If the trend accelerates, it could eventually ease some of the strain that illegal immigrants place on services such as schools and hospitals in border areas of the United States, says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, another Washington think tank. Many of those who return undergo a kind of culture shock after spending so many years in a more developed country.

Britain to Begin Withdrawing Troops from Iraq in March

LONDON — British troops will begin pulling out of Iraq in March and be largely gone by July, Britain’s leading newspapers and television stations reported today. Britain was the U.S. government’s closest ally during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and has remained so since. It liberated southern Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s forces and has kept a presence there second only to the United States military in size. Reports in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and the BBC said that all but about 300 to 400 of the roughly 4,100 British troops in Iraq would be pulled out by the end of June. There are no plans to replace them unless the situation in Iraq deteriorates substantially and new bloodshed breaks out.

N. Korea Nuke Talks hit Wall

BEIJING (AP) — The U.S. envoy to talks on ending North Korea nuclear programs says discussion have reached a stalemate. Christopher Hill said Wednesday’s talks with envoys from North Korea and four other nations made no progress on the tricky issue of verifying the country’s accounting of its past atomic activities. Progress on that issue would be seen as a major step in the disarmament process. Hill said the sides could not agree on a draft verification proposal submitted by China, the host of the six-nation talks.

Greek Riots Persist Unabated

ATHENS (AP) — Masked youths and looters marauded through Greek cities for a fourth night Tuesday, in an explosion of rage triggered by the police shooting of a teenager that has unleashed the most violent riots in a quarter century. The nightly scenes of burning street barricades, looted stores and overturned cars have threatened to topple the country’s increasingly unpopular conservative government, which faces mounting calls for Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to resign. The rioting — which has engulfed cities from Thessaloniki in the north to the holiday island of Corfu and Crete in the south — threatens the 52-year-old Karamanlis, who already faced growing dissatisfaction over financial and social reforms at a time of deep anxiety over growing economic gloom. Opposition Socialist leader George Papandreou called for early elections, charging the conservatives were incapable of defending the public from rioters.

  • JJ Commentary: With the economy souring worldwide and the spirit of lawlessness spreading in these end-days, we can expect to see more such rioting – often over relatively trivial matters.

WHO: Cancer to be World’s top Killer by 2010

ATLANTA (AP) — Cancer will overtake heart disease as the world’s top killer by 2010, part of a trend that should more than double global cancer cases and deaths by 2030, international health experts said in a report released Tuesday. Rising tobacco use in developing countries is believed to be a huge reason for the shift, particularly in China and India, where 40% of the world’s smokers now live. Cancer diagnoses around the world have steadily been rising and are expected to hit 12 million this year. Global cancer deaths are expected to reach 7 million, according to the new report by the World Health Organization. An annual rise of 1% in cases and deaths is expected — with even larger increases in China, Russia and India. That means new cancer cases will likely mushroom to 27 million annually by 2030, with deaths hitting 17 million.

Signs of the Times

December 8, 2008

8 Million Christmas Shoeboxes Sent to Kids Worldwide

The Christian Post reports that Operation Christmas Child has collected 8 million shoe boxes packed with Christmas gifts for needy children in more than 100 countries this year, another landmark for the world’s largest Christmas project, which is sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse. “The cool thing about these boxes is that each of these will be filled with toys but they’ll also have a gospel tract in the language of the people that will be receiving it,” says pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif. The organization sent off three shipments this week, starting the distribution process. According to the Christmas Post, OCC utilizes more than 100,000 volunteers worldwide, and receives donations from 10 other countries besides the U.S.

Church Comforts, Aids Victims in Jos, Nigeria

Baptist Press reports that at least 12 Nigerian Baptists were killed and five Baptist churches burned during Thanksgiving weekend riots sparked by local election results in Jos, Nigeria. International Mission Board workers in the area and several Nigerian Baptist congregations are reaching out to comfort and house those left hurting and homeless. News agencies report more than 300 people killed and thousands injured in fires and riots. Dozens of churches, mosques, businesses and homes were burned. One local pastor’s church is housing some of those who have lost their homes. Other local Baptist churches are doing the same. Church families also are helping to house boarding students evacuated from the Baptist high school there. “Everyone is sad and afraid, but we have faith,” the pastor said, noting rumors swirl that the fighting may start again. “We can only do our part to help. We will find out more about the damages in coming days and find out what we can do.”

Montana Judge Rules Assisted Suicide OK

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana judge has ruled that doctor-assisted suicides are legal in the state, a decision likely to be appealed as the state argues that the Legislature, not the court, should decide whether terminally ill patients have the right to take their own life. Judge Dorothy McCarter issued the ruling late Friday in the case of a Billings man with terminal cancer, who had sued the state with four physicians that treat terminally ill patients and a nonprofit patients’ rights group. “The Montana constitutional rights of individual privacy and human dignity, taken together, encompass the right of a competent terminally (ill) patient to die with dignity,” McCarter said in the ruling. It also said that those patients had the right to obtain self-administered medications to hasten death if they find their suffering to be unbearable, and that physicians can prescribe such medication without fear of prosecution. Attorney General Mike McGrath said Saturday that attorneys in his office would discuss the ruling next week and expected the state will appeal the ruling.

  • JJ Commentary: Regardless of how you feel about assisted suicide, the runaway judicial branch of government should not be the one to establish new laws, that’s solely up to the legislature according to the Constitution.

Poverty Dramatically Affects Children’s Brains

USA TODAY — A new study finds that certain brain functions of some low-income 9- and 10-year-olds pale in comparison with those of wealthy children and that the difference is almost equivalent to the damage from a stroke. The study adds to a growing body of evidence that shows how poverty afflicts children’s brains. Researchers have long pointed to the ravages of malnutrition, stress, illiteracy and toxic environments in low-income children’s lives. Research has shown that the neural systems of poor children develop differently from those of middle-class children, affecting language development and “executive function,” or the ability to plan, remember details and pay attention in school. Such deficiencies are reversible through intensive intervention such as focused lessons and games that encourage children to think out loud or use executive function.

Climate Change, Drought Strains Colorado River

SALT LAKE CITY — Seven Western U.S. states will face more water shortages in the years ahead as climate change exacerbates the strains drought and a growing population have put on the Colorado River, scientists say. “Clearly we’re on a collision course between supply and demand,” said Brad Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado. Although there is some disagreement about when the most dire conditions will materialize, scientists at a conference in Salt Lake City said they expect less water to be available in the coming decades. Without fundamental shifts in water management, the result will be shortages and difficult decisions about who in the seven states the river serves will get water and who will go without. The changes are already being seen in reduced water flows, higher air temperatures and an unrelenting demand on the Colorado, which snakes across more than 1,400 miles (2,250 kilometers) and provides water for farms, businesses, cities and homes. The river serves Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah, an area where 30 million people live.

Dow Chemical will Cut 5,000 Jobs, Close 20 Plants

MIDLAND, Mich. (AP) — Dow Chemical is cutting 5,000 full-time jobs, closing 20 plants and selling businesses in an effort to cut costs. The job cuts represent 11% of the company’s workforce. The company, based in Midland, Mich., will also idle 180 plants temporarily and cut about 6,000 contractors globally as a result of the reduced operations. Dow says the action, which comes less than a week after U.S. rival DuPont announced cutbacks, were an acceleration of its “transformational strategy” that will lead to annual cost savings of $700 million by 2010. “The current world economy has deteriorated sharply, and we must adjust ourselves to the severity of this downturn,” Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris said.

Troubled Home Loans set Another Record in September

WASHINGTON (AP) — A record one in 10 U.S. homeowners with a mortgage were either at least a month behind on their payments or in foreclosure at the end of September. The Mortgage Bankers Association said Friday that the percentage of loans at least a month overdue or in foreclosure was up from 9.2% in the April-June quarter, and up from 7.3% a year earlier. Distress in the home loan market started about two years ago as adjustable-rate loans reset to higher interest rates. But the latest wave of delinquencies is coming from the surge in unemployment. The U.S. tipped into recession last December, a panel of experts declared earlier this week. Since the start of the recession, the economy has lost 1.9 million jobs.

FDIC Shuts Bank in Georgia, 23rd Bank Failure this Year

WASHINGTON (AP) — Regulators on Friday shut down First Georgia Community Bank, the 23rd U.S. bank failure this year. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was appointed receiver of the bank, located in Jackson, Ga. It had $237.5 million in assets and $197.4 million in deposits as of Nov. 7. The FDIC said all the failed bank’s deposits will be assumed by United Bank of Zebulon, Ga. The FDIC estimated that the resolution of First Georgia Community Bank will cost the federal deposit insurance fund $72.2 million. The 23 U.S. bank failures so far this year compare with three for all of 2007 and are far more than in the previous five years combined. It’s expected that many more banks won’t survive the next year of economic tumult. The pressures of tumbling home prices, rising mortgage foreclosures and tighter credit have been battering many banks nationwide.

Obama: Economy to Get Worse Before it Improves

McCain: Afghanistan Situation will get Harder

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Barack Obama says the U.S. economy is going to get worse before it gets better. There are about six weeks before his inauguration and Obama says his top priority is to have an economic recovery plan that is equal to the task ahead. Obama also wants to make sure the domestic auto industry does not disappear. But he says that if taxpayer money is at stake in a rescue plan, there must be some guarantee of a viable industry that emerges.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Sen. John McCain said Sunday that the situation in Afghanistan will get more difficult before it gets easier — “just like the surge in Iraq was.” The former Republican presidential candidate visited the southern province of Helmand, where he said NATO forces are at a stalemate with insurgents. McCain said the U.S. will be paying more attention to that part of the country with an influx of troops. The top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan said Sunday that 2009 will be a “tough fight” in Afghanistan and the United States will need nearly twice as many troops for up to four years to stabilize the country.

  • JJ Commentary: They’re both right that things will get worse. It’s problematic whether they will then improve.

Quake Hits inland Southern California

LUDLOW, California (AP) — A moderate earthquake struck a sparsely populated area of California’s Mojave Desert on Friday night The shaking was felt from Southern California to the fringes of Nevada and Arizona, but there were no immediate reports of damage. The 5.1-magnitude temblor struck just outside Ludlow on Interstate 40 in San Bernardino County, about 120 miles east of Los Angeles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The initial reports measured the quake at 5.5 magnitude. The quake is the second one above a magnitude-5.0 to hit Southern California this year. In July, a magnitude-5.4 quake centered in the hills east of Los Angeles was the strongest to rattle a populated area of Southern California since the 1994 Northridge disaster.

World Bank Warns Gaza Banks may Collapse

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The World Bank and International Monetary Fund warned Saturday that Gaza’s severe cash shortage may cause local banks to collapse. It was the most serious warning yet regarding the consequences of Israel’s continued refusal to allow new money infusions into banks in the Palestinian territory. Israel has not allowed money to enter Gaza since October, barring Palestinian banks from transferring cash to their Gaza branches. It is part of a larger blockade imposed on Gaza in response to Palestinian rocket attacks from the territory controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas. The cash shortage means around 77,000 Palestinian civil servants will not be able to withdraw their salaries before a Muslim holiday early next week. The cash shortage also forced the United Nations in November to halt cash payments to thousands of Gaza’s poorest residents.

Amsterdam to Close many Brothels, Marijuana Cafes

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — Amsterdam unveiled plans Saturday to close up to half of the famed brothels and marijuana cafes in its ancient city center as part of a major cleanup operation. The city says it wants to drive organized crime out of the district, and is targeting businesses that “generate criminality,” including prostitution, gambling parlors, “smart shops” that sell herbal treatments, head shops and “coffee shops” where marijuana is sold openly. The city said it would also reduce the number of business it sees as related to the “decay” of the center, including peep shows, sex theaters, sex shops, mini supermarkets, massage parlors and souvenir shops. The city said there were too many of these and it believes some are used for money-laundering by drug dealers and the human traffickers who supply many of the city’s prostitutes. “I think that the new reality will be more in line with our image as a tolerant and crazy place, rather than a free zone for criminals” said alderman Lodewijk Asscher, one of the main proponents of the plan.

  • JJ Commentary: Amsterdam almost sees the light of truth, but they need to fully realize that a “tolerant and crazy place” will always open the door to more wickedness, because evil always attracts evil.

U.S., China Agree on Free Farm Trade

SHANGHAI (AP) — The United States and China agree on the need to resist protectionist farm tariffs even in the face of the world economic crisis, the U.S. agriculture secretary said Saturday, while urging action on a world trade agreement. Ed Schafer told reporters that both countries are aware the tough economic times could lead to a protectionist backlash and are committed to guarding against one — a stance that could nudge along a seven-year effort to lower global trade barriers known as the Doha Round. Asia-Pacific leaders meeting at their annual summit agreed to send trade ministers to Geneva this month to try to break a logjam over farm trade. While analysts say they are not optimistic, U.S. officials say they are making a strong effort to get a final agreement.

Afghanistan, Pakistan Agree to Joint Strategy to Fight al-Qaeda

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) — President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan says his country and Pakistan have agreed to draw up a joint strategy in the battle against al-Qaeda. The pledge came as the leaders of the two nations met Friday for Turkish-sponsored talks aimed at reducing tensions over militant attacks along their lawless border. Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of failing to take action against al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents based in that country’s tribal region, and even colluding with them.

Car Bomb Kills 20 in busy Pakistani City

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A car bomb devastated a busy street in this northwestern Pakistani city on Friday, killing 20 people, injuring scores more and unnerving a region already dangerously on edge following the attacks on India’s commercial capital. Further adding to the tension, a suspected U.S. missile strike reportedly killed three people in a stronghold of the Taliban and al-Qaeda near the border with Afghanistan. Escalating violence is destabilizing Pakistan’s northwest just as the country faces accusations from archrival India that the gunmen behind the carnage in Mumbai last week were trained in Pakistan and steered by militants based there.

More than 160 U.S., NATO Vehicles Burned in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Militants blasted their way into two transport terminals in Pakistan on Sunday and torched more than 160 vehicles destined for U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, in the biggest assault yet on a vital military supply line, officials said. The U.S. military said its losses in the raid near the northwestern city of Peshawar would have only a “minimal” impact on its operations against resurgent Taliban-led militants in Afghanistan. However, the attack’s boldness will fuel concern that Taliban militants are tightening their hold around Peshawar and could choke the supply route through the famed Khyber Pass. Up to 75% of supplies for Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan pass through Pakistan after being unloaded from ships at the Arabian sea port of Karachi. NATO is already seeking an alternative route through Central Asia.

Somalia Fighting Kills 12, Wounds 20

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Witnesses say mortar shells have rained down on homes and a small market in Somalia’s capital, killing 12 people and wounding 20. Local resident Abdi Wali says Friday’s fighting started after an insurgent attack on an Ethiopian military base. He says he saw 12 corpses after shells landed on the market and a residential area. A doctor at Daynile Hospital says about 20 wounded people, including women and children, have been admitted there. Somalia has been without an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a dictatorship and then turned on one another. The transitional government, formed in 2004, relies on Ethiopian troops for protection, but Islamic insurgents have gained steady power and launch near-daily attacks.