Signs of the Times

Israel Ground Troops Invade Gaza, Allow Hundreds of Palestinians flee Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli ground troops and tanks cut swaths through the Gaza Strip early Sunday, bisecting the coastal territory and surrounding its biggest city as the new phase of a devastating offensive against Hamas gained momentum. Thousands of soldiers in three brigade-size formations pushed into Gaza after nightfall Saturday, beginning a long-awaited ground offensive after a week of intense aerial bombardment. Black smoke billowed over Gaza City at first light and bursts of machine gun fire rang out.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel allowed several hundred Palestinians with foreign passports to flee Gaza on Friday, even as its warplanes bombed a mosque it said was used to store weapons and destroyed homes of more than a dozen Hamas operatives. The evacuees told of crippling shortages of water, electricity and medicine, echoing a U.N. warning of a deepening humanitarian crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip in the seven-day-old Israeli campaign. The U.N. estimates at least a quarter of the 400 Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes on Hamas militants were civilians.

SDEROT, Israel — Israeli troops continued pressing into Gaza on Monday, as they took control of three mid-rise buildings on its outskirts on the 10th day of its aggression against Hamas militants. Israeli Defense Mininster Ehud Barak vowed that the violence would continue until “peace and tranquility” could be achieved for the people of southern Israel. The latest escalation took place one day after Israeli troops pressed deep into Gaza, opening a bloodier and much riskier phase to the offensive against Hamas. Israeli tanks and infantry occupied Gaza’s main highway and set up positions around its biggest city, essentially cutting the crowded strip of Palestinian land in half. Undeterred,

Hamas militants continued firing missiles into Israel, sending residents of southern cities such as Sderot scurrying for cover as air-raid sirens blared. Despite reports of more than 500 deaths in Gaza, calls for a truce from around the world and potentially severe long-term damage to the Middle East peace process, there was no sign the fighting would end soon.

U.S. Blocks U.N. Statement Calling for Gaza Cease-Fire

UNITED NATIONS  —  The United States late Saturday blocked approval of a U.N. Security Council statement calling for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, diplomats said. The U.S., Israel’s closest ally, has designated Hamas a terrorist organization. U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the United States saw no prospect of Hamas abiding by last week’s council call for an immediate end to the violence. Therefore, he said, a new statement “would not be adhered to and would have no underpinning for success, (and) would not do credit to the council.”

Arizona May Run Out of Money in February

Arizona could run out of money to pay its bills as early as next month, state Treasurer Dean Martin says. And unlike last spring, when the treasurer issued a similar alarm, this time there won’t be reserves to cover the bills. Martin says the state will be forced to borrow money in the short term – the first time since World War II – and adds that there is little that lawmakers can do to avert it. “No matter what they do with the budget, we’ll be negative in March or April,” Martin said. “Essentially, the state is broke,” said House Speaker-elect Kirk Adams, R-Mesa.

Lawmakers begin their regular legislative session Jan. 12 and are expected to get to work immediately on a budget solution. The state’s $9.9 billion budget is at least $1.2 billion out of balance. Spending has continued while revenues from sales and income taxes have fallen far short of projections. The state Constitution requires a balanced budget by the time the fiscal year ends June 30. The deficit would trigger the first borrowing the state has done to cover daily bills since the state’s tax structure was revamped around World War II to rely on sales and income taxes, instead of property taxes alone.

Stocks Ring in New Year with Gains as Dow Jumps Back above 9000

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks began the new year with a big rally Friday as investors, brushing aside a disappointing report on manufacturing, sent the Dow Jones industrials up more than 250 points and to their first close above 9,000 in two months. All the major indexes shot up more than 6% for the week. The market lived up to the hopes of many analysts that it would have a fresh start in the new year after a horrific 2008. But many traders were also waiting to see how the market fares next week; they’re cognizant of the fact that post-holiday volume was light and therefore Friday’s trading might not be the best indicator of market sentiment. Still, the market held to its recent pattern of taking bad economic news in stride, a pattern that began to emerge after it touched multiyear lows on Nov. 20.

The Economist: U.S. In Depression, Not Recession

Renowned financial publication The Economist reports that, based on the characteristics of the current financial crisis, the U.S. is in a depression, not a recession. The admission marks the first time that a major international financial news outlet has acknowledged that the scale of the economic mess is unlike anything seen in recent decades. A depression is characterized by “falling asset prices, a credit crunch and deflation,” according to the article, all factors that we see unfolding in the current crisis. “A depression is the result of a bursting asset and credit bubble, a contraction in credit, and a decline in the general price level,” according to the article. “In the Great Depression average prices in America fell by one-quarter, and nominal GDP ended up shrinking by almost half.”

Fast forward to the start of 2009 and house prices have fallen by at least 17 per cent over the last two years with that number only set to plunge further over the coming 18 months. Overall, American homeowners have lost $2 trillion of equity during what has become the worst housing slump since World War II. U.S. GDP in the fourth quarter last year fell an estimated six per cent, but that number is expected to accelerate through 2009. The Economist piece makes the argument that the current crisis is far closer to a depression than a recession and that the only question remaining is how deep the downturn will be.

Investors Dump $89B in U.S. Securities in Historic Fire Sale

The deep river of private money that helped knit together the global economy has abruptly dried up, new government figures show. As the global financial crisis grew more severe this summer, foreigners sold almost $90 billion of U.S. securities — the greatest quarterly fire sale by overseas investors since the government began keeping track in 1960. “We’ve had a global panic. Everyone is pulling their money home,” says economist Adam Posen of the Peterson Institute in Washington, D.C. That’s bad for economic growth in the U.S. because it threatens to starve capital-hungry companies and entrepreneurs. The reversal of private capital flows signals an abrupt end to a nearly two-decades-long era of financial globalization, says economist Brad Setser of the Council on Foreign Relations. It’s especially serious for emerging-market countries that rely heavily on outside financing. Capital flows into countries such as South Korea, Turkey and Brazil were evaporating even before the mid-September Lehman Bros. bankruptcy made things worse.

Auto Sales for ’08 Plunged by 3M Vehicles

DEARBORN, Mich. — Auto sales likely dropped a breathtaking 3 million vehicles in 2008, the largest decline since 1974, said Ford Motor’s head of sales analysis Friday. The last time sales fell that much, the country was embroiled in the 1973 to 1974 oil embargo crisis, with drivers lining up outside gas station waiting for fuel.

Stimulus Unlikely before Obama’s Inauguration

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Democrats said Sunday that President-elect Barack Obama probably will have to wait until next month before getting the chance to sign an economic stimulus bill his team once hoped would be on his desk by his inauguration on Jan. 20. Obama said Congress should pass a plan designed to create 3 million jobs. The Democratic president-elect has not announced a final price for it, but aides said the cost could be as high as $775 billion. Congressional aides briefed on the measure say it probably would blend tax cuts of $500 to $1,000 for middle-class individuals and couples with about $200 billion to help revenue-starved states with their Medicaid health insurance programs for the poor and other operating costs. A large portion of the measure will go toward public works projects and include new programs such as research and development on energy efficiency and an expensive rebuilding of the information technology system for health care.

Women CEOs slowly Gain on Corporate America

USA TODAY — Ellen Kullman replaced Chad Holliday at DuPont Thursday to start 2009, which brings to 13 the number of female CEOs running the USA’s largest 500 publicly traded companies. That’s a record. But it’s only one more than last year, a year when Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin missed becoming the first female president and vice president, and a year when frustration continued to mount on the corporate side over the plodding progress of women. It’s not just that the number of female CEOs is barely inching up. Women now receive about six in 10 college degrees, yet near the top there remains slow progress in the number of female directors, officers, highest paid. As recently as 1996 there was only one female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, co-CEO Marion Sandler of Golden West Financial, acquired by Wachovia in 2006. Separate studies in 2008 by Catalyst, an organization that supports expanded opportunities for women at work, and management consultant McKinsey & Co., found that companies with more female executives and directors perform better.

Home Schooling Grows

The ranks of America’s home-schooled children have continued a steady climb over the past five years, and new research suggests broad reasons for the appeal. The number of home-schooled kids hit 1.5 million in 2007, up 74% from when the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics started keeping track in 1999, and up 36% since 2003. The percentage of the school-age population that was home-schooled increased from 2.2% in 2003 to 2.9% in 2007. Traditionally, the biggest motivations for parents to teach their children at home have been moral or religious reasons, and that remains the top reason when parents are asked to explain their choice. The category of “other reasons” rose to 32% in 2007 from 20% in 2003 and included family time and finances.

Ø JJ Commentary: Christians need to remove their children from public schools which are centers for religion instruction in Secular Humanism.

Australia tells U.S. it Won’t Accept Gitmo Detainees

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia has told the United States for a second time that it will not resettle detainees freed from the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, the acting prime minister said Saturday. Julia Gillard said President George W. Bush’s administration was told Friday that a request made in early December to resettle an unspecified number of detainees had been rejected. “Assessing those requests from a case-by-case basis, they had not met our stringent national security and immigration criteria and have been rejected,” said Gillard. She said the government had rejected a similar resettlement request in early 2008. The Bush administration made the latest request after President-elect Barack Obama promised to close the prison.

Female Bomber Kills at least 35 in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) — A female suicide bomber blew herself up on Sunday among a crowd of pilgrims worshiping at a revered Shiite shrine in northern Baghdad, killing at least 35 people and wounding at least 65, the Iraqi army said. There were fears the death toll could rise further. The attack during one of the holiest periods for Shiite Muslims came just as Iraqi forces took the lead on security under an agreement with the United States that went into effect on New Year’s Day. Under that agreement, U.S. forces take a back seat on security issues in much of the country following the Dec. 31 expiration of a U.N. mandate for foreign troops. The bomber blew herself up a short distance from the shrine of Imam Mousa al-Kazim, one of the holiest men in Shiite Islam, the army said, adding that many Iranian pilgrims were among the casualties.

India asks Pakistan to Hand Over Mumbai Suspects

GAUHATI, India (AP) — India’s prime minister demanded Saturday that Pakistan hand over suspects in the Mumbai attacks — raising again an issue that has heightened tensions between the longtime rivals. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated that India does not want war with Pakistan “but it must hand over the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks.” Last month, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee asked Islamabad to hand over 40 suspected militants who are free and living in Pakistan. The list includes some that India believes were involved in the three-day siege that killed 164 people in Mumbai, India’s financial capital. It also lists some who have committed “other crimes” against India in the past. India blames Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned militant outfit, for the Nov. 26 attacks. India’s foreign ministry says authorities have handed over evidence to Pakistan linking the deadly Mumbai attacks to Pakistani “elements.” The evidence included material from the interrogation of the lone surviving gunman, details of conversations between the gunmen and their alleged handlers in Pakistan, recovered weapons, and data satellite phones.

Sri Lanka Bombs Rebels after Seizing their HQ

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan air force jets and helicopters bombed a series of rebel targets in the north and northeast, the military said Saturday, as soldiers pressed deeper into Tamil Tiger territory a day after capturing the insurgents’ de facto capital. The fall of Kilinochchi on Friday dealt a devastating blow to the insurgents’ 25-year campaign to create an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils. It has squeezed them into 620 square miles (1,605 square kilometers) they still hold in the northeast. The rebel-affiliated TamilNet website said the Tamil Tigers had moved their headquarters before the town fell.

Opposition Leader Wins Presidency in Ghana in Peaceful Election

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Opposition leader John Atta Mills was declared Ghana’s next president Saturday in a peaceful ballot that secured the West African nation’s place as a beacon of democracy on a volatile continent. The country is one of the few in Africa to successfully transfer power twice from one legitimately elected leader to another, proof that Ghana’s democracy has truly matured after an era of coups and dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. But tensions still ran high in what became the closest vote in Ghana’s history, and some feared violence could erupt as it did earlier this year in Kenya — an East African nation that also was a model of stability until a similarly tight 2007 ballot unleashed weeks of tribal bloodshed.

Somali Insurgents Take Over Police Stations

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Islamic insurgents appeared to be scrambling for power Saturday, taking over several police stations in the capital as Ethiopian troops who have been propping up the government began to pull out, witnesses said. Many fear the Ethiopian pullout — and last month’s resignation of Somalia’s president — will cause Islamic militant groups to fight among themselves for power, bringing even more chaos to this beleaguered Horn of African nation. The most powerful insurgent group, al-Shabab, has taken over most of Somalia. The United States accuses al-Shabab of harboring the al-Qaeda-linked terrorists who blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Many of the insurgency’s senior figures are Islamic radicals; some are on the State Department’s list of wanted terrorists.

Deadly Indonesian Quakes Kill 4

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A series of powerful earthquakes shook remote eastern Indonesia on Sunday, toppling or badly damaging more than 100 buildings and leaving at least four people dead and dozens injured. One of the quakes — a 7.3-magnitude tremor — was felt as far away as Australia and sent small tsunamis into Japan’s southeastern coast. The first 7.6-magnitude quake struck at 4:43 a.m. local time about 85 miles from Manokwari, Papua, at a depth of 22 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was followed by dozens of aftershocks.

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