Signs of the Times

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.

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