Signs of the Times

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.

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