Signs of the Times

Tanzania: 3 Million Will Get Bible in Native Language for First Time

The Christian Post reports that Wycliffe Associates plans to translate the Bible for 3 million people in the Tanzanian highlands before next autumn. The project aims to reach those in the Mbeya region, whose people speak and read Swahili only functionally, thus inhibiting their ability to access Scriptures. The new project will combine ten language translation projects. “This has a huge and positive impact on a culture, both spiritually and intellectually,” said Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Wycliffe Associates. “When a larger and nationalized language like Swahili is bearing down on a people group with a different language and identity, that group tends to have its importance in society diminished; and subsequently, their spiritual journey stunted,” he explained.

Licensing Proposal could Require Lawyers to Endorse Homosexuality

WorldNetDaily — One of the top lawyers in the nation in the battle to protect traditional marriage, historically Christian lifestyle choices, parental rights and the key freedoms provided by the U.S. Constitution is warning that there eventually could be no lawyers left to take up those disputes. That’s because of a recommendation before the State Bar of Arizona – the organization that licenses attorneys – to require all new lawyers to swear they won’t let their personal religious perspective on homosexuality affect their representation of any client. Mathew Staver, chief of Liberty Counsel, warns that the proposal is just the “tip of the iceberg.” According to reports in Arizona, the state bar is considering a major change to its existing oath that requires lawyers to affirm they won’t “permit considerations of gender, race, age, nationality, disability or social standing to influence my duty of care” to clients. The proposal in Arizona is to add “sexual orientation” to that list.

Baghdad‘s Green Zone Passes to Iraqis

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military ceded control of the Green Zone and Saddam Hussein’s former presidential palace to the Iraqi government Thursday, marking the start of a year when the U.S. presence in Iraq is set to be largely scaled back. Poetry readings from local children, a march by a military band and speeches by U.S. and Iraqi officials celebrated the hand-over as a broad, long-term security agreement between the two governments formally took effect. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki heralded the day as a benchmark in Iraq’s recovery from a long war and deadly insurgency. He said he would push to make Jan. 1 a national holiday. More than 14,000 U.S. troops and foreign contractors work in the highly fortified, 4-square-mile Green Zone complex, which houses the Iraqi parliament, the U.S. Embassy and other facilities located in the center of the capital.

Afghanistan Copes with Taliban Insurgency

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. is preparing to pour at least 20,000 extra troops into southern Afghanistan to cope with a Taliban insurgency that is fiercer than NATO leaders expected. The new troops will augment the 12,500 NATO soldiers — mainly British, Canadian and Dutch — in what amounts to an Afghan version of the surge in Iraq. The Army Corps of Engineers will spend up to $1.3 billion in new construction for troop placements in southern Afghanistan. Violence in Afghanistan has spiked in the last two years, and Taliban militants now control wide swaths of countryside. Military officials say they have enough troops to win battles but not to hold territory, and they hope the influx of troops, plus the continued growth of the Afghan army, will change that.

Israel destroys Hamas Homes, Flattens Gaza Mosque

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel bombed a mosque it says was used to store weapons and destroyed the homes of more than a dozen Hamas operatives on Friday, the seventh day of a blistering offensive in Gaza and the day after an airstrike killed a prominent Hamas figure. In what appeared to be a new Israeli tactic, the military called at least some of the houses ahead of time to warn inhabitants of an impending attack. In some cases, it also fired a sound bomb to warn away civilians before flattening the homes with powerful missiles, Palestinians and Israeli defense officials said. Israel launched the aerial campaign last Saturday in a bid to halt weeks of intensifying Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza. The offensive has dealt a heavy blow to Hamas, but has failed to halt the rocket fire. New attacks Friday struck apartment buildings in a southern Israeli city. No serious injuries were reported.

Egypt would not be surprised if Hamas has a number of rockets in the Gaza Strip capable of reaching Israel’s main nuclear power station, an Egyptian intelligence official told WorldNetDaily. The official’s estimates, which could not immediately be confirmed by Israeli defense sources, are instrumental since Hamas routinely smuggles weaponry in tunnels that snake underneath the Gaza-Egypt border. He said he believes Hamas could have rockets that can reach Israel’s nuclear plant in Dimona, which is about 40 miles from the Egypt-Gaza border. Hamas is known to possess 122mm Katyusha rockets, which have a range of about 18 miles, and has fired improved 122mm Katyusha’s, with ranges up to 30 miles. The Egyptian intelligence official said Hamas may be saving larger, 220mm rockets, with ranges in the vicinity of 44 miles, which would place both Dimona and Tel Aviv within range.

The Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist organization is studying whether to join Israel’s conflict with Hamas by launching an attack from the Jewish state’s northern border, according to an Egyptian intelligence official speaking to WorldNetDaily.  The official said for the moment Hezbollah is confident Hamas can face Israel independently, believing Hamas’ continued rocket fire from the Gaza Strip amid Israel’s intensive air raids against the terror group’s Gaza infrastructure is working to maintain Hamas’ deterrent posture. Hamas’ rockets have been fired deeper and deeper into Israeli territory. But Hezbollah is watching events closely and is concerned about a possible large-scale Israeli ground invasion, the Egyptian intelligence official said. He said Egyptian embassies in Beirut and Damascus have collected information indicating Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, is studying whether to join the conflict.

U.N.: Gaza Faces ‘Alarming’ Humanitarian Situation

UNITED NATIONS — Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are facing an “alarming” humanitarian situation under constant Israeli bombardment, with the main power plant shut down, overcrowded hospitals struggling to cope and very limited food supplies, U.N. officials said. The power plant shut down on Tuesday because Israel has blocked fuel delivery through the main pipeline since Dec. 26, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said Wednesday. This has forced hospitals to use generators, which have limited fuel supplies, and left many of the 650,000 people in central and northern Gaza with power cuts of 16 hours a day or more, he said. Karen Abu Zayd, commissioner of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which helps Palestinian refugees, told reporters by video link from Gaza that the agency has not distributed any food for two weeks because of the shortage of supplies and the Israeli bombardment.

Zimbabwe Health Crisis Further Deteriorates

The Christian Post reports that Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic is spreading rapidly, as is the problem of child malnutrition. At least 1,564 people have died of cholera, and the number of reported cases has increased to 29,131 as of Sunday, reaching all 10 provinces of Zimbabwe. The World Health Organization warns that as many as 60,000 could contract the disease unless humanitarian conditions improve. Many do not have access to clean water, a problem exacerbated by the start of the rainy season. Meanwhile, child aid organization Save the Children ports that cases of acute child malnutrition have risen by almost two-thirds in the past year. About 5 million people in Zimbabwe need food aid.

Ebola Death Toll Rising in DR Congo

BBC News reports that 11 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo have died in an outbreak of Ebola. Aid workers with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) are treating another 24 suspected Ebola cases, and are monitoring more than 100 others who may have been exposed. The killer outbreak began in Western Kasai province in late November, and has since contributed to the fear and confusion faced by displaced refugees in Congo’s civil war. Workers report that this is only the fourth outbreak of the virus in the Congo since 1976. According to BBC, Ebola is a highly infectious bleeding fever that kills 80 percent of those it infects. There is no known cure.

Sri Lanka says Troops Captured Rebel Capital

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Government forces captured the Tamil Tigers’ de facto capital in northern Sri Lanka on Friday, dealing a devastating blow to the rebels’ quarter-century fight for an independent state, the president said. But in a sign the rebels retained their ability to strike back, a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide attacker on a motorcycle detonated a bomb near the air force headquarters in the heart of Colombo during Friday’s afternoon rush hour, killing two airmen. The blast pierced the festive mood that had swept across the capital after President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced the fall of Kilinochchi in a nationally televised speech. Across Colombo, people lit firecrackers, danced in the streets and waved Sri Lankan flags.

Many Illegal Immigrants Live in Public Housing

Untold thousands of illegal immigrants live in public housing at a time when hundreds of thousands of citizens and legal residents are stuck waiting years for a spot. The issue made headlines in November with news that Zeituni Onyango, an aunt of President-elect Barack Obama, was living in Boston public housing while in the country illegally. The federal government, which funds the lion’s share of the nation’s public housing, requires only that illegal immigrants share a home with at least one family member who is in the country legally and pay their share of the rent. While there are no hard numbers on illegal immigrants in public housing, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that 29,570 people — 0.4% of all those in federally funded housing — are “ineligible noncitizens.” Some may be on temporary visas, such as highly educated workers or college students, but many are believed to be illegal immigrants.

2008 a Nightmare for Wall Street

For 2008, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 33.8%, the broader S&P 500 fell 38.5% and, topping the bottom of the charts, the technology-heavy Nasdaq was 40.5% lower, it’s worst annual showing ever. The Dow fell the most since 1931. The S&P’s closing came within a bear’s breath of its worst recorded year, 1937, when it lost 38.6%.

Manufacturing Index Drops to 28-Year Low

NEW YORK (AP) — A private group’s measure of manufacturing activity fell more than expected in December, hitting the lowest reading in 28 years as new orders and employment continued to decline. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, said Friday its manufacturing index fell to 32.4 in December from 36.2 in November. Any reading above 50 signals growth, while a reading below 50 indicates contraction. The index has fallen steadily for the last five months as the economy deteriorated.

Steel Industry, in Slump, Looks to Federal Stimulus

New York Times — The steel industry, having entered the recession in the best of health, is emerging as a leading indicator of what lies ahead. As steel production goes — and it is now in collapse — so will go the national economy. That maxim once applied to Detroit’s Big Three car companies, when they dominated American manufacturing. Now they are losing ground in good times and bad, and steel has replaced autos as the industry to watch for an early sign that a severe recession is beginning to lift. The industry itself is turning to government for orders that, until the September collapse, had come from manufacturers and builders. Its executives are waiting anxiously for details of President-elect Barack Obama’s stimulus plan, and adding their voices to pleas for a huge public investment program — up to $1 trillion over two years — intended to lift demand for steel to build highways, bridges, electric power grids, schools, hospitals, water treatment plants and rapid transit.

Government to Get 5 Million Preferred GMAC Shares

DETROIT — The federal government will get 5 million preferred shares of GMAC paying 8% interest in exchange for its $5 billion capital injection to help the troubled lender avoid bankruptcy. GMAC disclosed the terms of the deal in a filing Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. GMAC is the financial arm of General Motors and is responsible for making car loans and financing dealer inventories. The government also exercised a 10-year warrant to buy 250,000 more GMAC preferred shares for a penny each, according to the filing.

  • JJ Commentary: So now the government partially owns banks and automobile companies. Socialism here we come.

Motorists’ Habits Spur Call for Tax Increases

WASHINGTON (AP) — Motorists are driving less and buying less gasoline, which means fuel taxes aren’t raising enough money to keep pace with the cost of road, bridge and transit programs. That has the federal commission that oversees financing for transportation talking about increasing the federal fuel tax. A 50% increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes is being urged by the commission to finance highway construction and repair until the government devises another way for motorists to pay for using public roads. The National Commission on Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing, a 15-member panel created by Congress, is the second group in a year to call for increasing the current 18.4 cents a gallon federal tax on gasoline and the 24.4 cents a gallon tax on diesel. State fuel taxes vary from state to state.

  • JJ Commentary: No matter what we do, it usually results in new taxes. When the price of gas was high, the government urged us to drive less. Now that we do, they want to punish us for doing what they recommended.

USA‘s Trashed Electronics Makes Toxic Mess

USA TODAY — Hong Kong intercepted and returned 41 ship containers to U.S. ports this year because they carried tons of illegal electronics waste from the U.S., according to the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department. By turning the containers away, Hong Kong thwarted attempts by U.S. companies to dump 1.4 million pounds of broken TVs or computer monitors overseas and an estimated 82,000 pounds of lead, a known toxin, in the devices. But thousands of other shipments probably slipped through, says Jim Puckett, head of the Basel Action Network, or BAN, an environmental non-profit that over eight years has become a respected watchdog over the rapidly growing electronics recycling industry. Puckett expects much more e-waste will be exported from the U.S. once the broadcasting industry switches to digital signals on Feb. 17 and millions of households junk their old analog TV sets. That’s one reason BAN and other activists have ramped up efforts to slow the unfettered export of the USA’s e-waste to poorer countries.

Weather Signs

SEATTLE — Falling snow and a high threat of avalanches prompted officials to close three main east-west mountain passes in Washington state on New Year’s Day and at least two of the highways were expected to remain shut down into Friday. Another storm was expected to dump as much as 18 inches of new snow on the Cascade Mountains overnight, keeping avalanche danger high. Spokane finished December with 61.5 inches of snow, far eclipsing the previous one-month record of 56.9 inches set in January 1950. Snowfall records in the area have been kept since 1893.

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