Israel ‘Welcomes’ End to Fighting

JERUSALEM — Israel ordered a pause in its Gaza offensive for three hours Wednesday to allow food and fuel to reach besieged Palestinians, and a government spokesman said it “welcomes” an Egyptian-French cease-fire proposal as long as Hamas halts militant rockets and weapons smuggling. Hamas said it would only support a deal that included an opening of Gaza’s borders. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in Paris that both Israel and the moderate Palestinian leadership in charge of the West Bank had accepted the truce proposal. And in Turkey, a diplomat said that country will be given the task of constructing an international force for Gaza. However, Israel said it would support the proposal only if it halts “hostile fire” from Hamas in Gaza and includes measures to prevent the militant group from rearming. With criticism rising of the operation’s spiraling civilian death toll and Gazans increasingly suffering the effects of nonstop airstrikes and shelling, Israel’s military opened “humanitarian corridors” to allow aid supplies to reach Palestinians.

Israeli forces engaged in battle with Gaza hit a United Nations school on Tuesday. A Palestinian rocket on this 11th day of the offensive by Israel against Hamas injured an Israeli infant. The United Nations reported three civilians died in the airstrike on its school, where Gaza City refugees had gone to seek protection from the attacks. “There’s nowhere safe in Gaza,” said John Ging, the top U.N. official in Gaza. “Everyone here is terrorized and traumatized.” Ging added his voice to the growing number of world leaders — including the Pope and French President Nicolas Sarkozy — calling for an end to the violence. The international Red Cross on Monday warned that Gaza is now in the midst of a full-blown humanitarian crisis.

Report: al-Qaeda No. 2 blames Obama for Gaza Fight

CAIRO (AP) — al-Qaeda’s No. 2 leader lashed out at President-elect Barack Obama in a new audio message Tuesday, accusing him of not doing anything to stop Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip, according to an intelligence monitoring center. The recording purportedly by Ayman al-Zawahiri was al-Qaeda’s first comments on the Gaza crisis since Israel launched its offensive against the Islamic militants of Hamas on Dec. 27. In the comments, which were posted on a militant website and obtained by the SITE Monitoring Service, al-Zawahiri described Israel’s actions in Gaza as a “crusade against Islam and Muslims” and called it “Obama’s gift to Israel” before he takes office later this month. “This is Obama whom the American machine of lies tried to portray as the rescuer who will change the policy of America,” al-Zawahiri said, according to SITE. “He kills your brothers and sisters in Gaza mercilessly and without affection.”

Homeschooling goes Boom in America

WorldNetDaily — A homeschooling movement is sweeping the nation – with 1.5 million children now learning at home, an increase of 75 percent since 1999. The Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reported homeschooling has risen by 36 percent in just the last five years. “There’s no reason to believe it would not keep going up,” NCES statistician Gail Mulligan told USA Today. Parents who report that they homeschool to provide religious or moral instruction increased from 72 percent to 83 percent from 2003 to 2007. Research has shown the positive effects of homeschooling through the years. While some critics say teaching children at home may stunt their social growth, studies indicate homeschooled students fare well or better than public and private school students in terms of social, emotional and psychological development.

Less than 10% Believe Abortion should be Legal, Unfettered — A nationwide survey commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops underscores the public view of abortion. The poll involved a cross-section of Americans — not just Catholics. “Four out of five American adults — 82 percent — think abortion should be either illegal under all circumstances or with limited legality, and only nine percent said that abortion should be legal for any reason at any time during pregnancy,” assistant director Deirdre McQuade explains. McQuade contends the results ought to send a message to Washington as the most pro-abortion president America has ever had is about to be sworn into office. “It shows that the Supreme Court is out of touch with mainstream America,” she contends. “It shows that, certainly, [the] pro-abortion advocacy groups are out of touch with mainstream America, even out of touch with people who describe themselves as pro-choice.”

Bob Barr: Repeal Defense of Marriage Act

Former Republican Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, author of the Defense of Marriage Act signed into law by President Clinton, now says the statute overreaches the federal government’s constitutional power and needs to be repealed. The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, establishes the definition of marriage for federal purposes as only between one man and one woman and further clarifies that no state need recognize a same-sex marriage from any other state. Barr introduced the law to the House of Representatives in 1996, but now says – regardless of any opinion on same-sex marriage itself – that the law gets in the way of states that do wish to legalize homosexual unions. “Even more so now than in 1996,” Barr writes in a Los Angeles Times editorial, “I believe we need to reduce federal power over the lives of the citizenry and over the prerogatives of the states. It truly is time to get the federal government out of the marriage business. In law and policy, such decisions should be left to the people themselves.”

Ø JJ Commentary: It’s hard to be a true conservative in today’s socialistic society. Conservatives should always be for less federal government and greater states rights. However, when liberal politicians and judges are busily creating new socialistic laws, conservatives find themselves between a “rock and a hard place.” The lesser of two evils right now is to stand against laws that compromise God’s absolute moral values whether at the national or state level.

Teen Birth Rates Up in 26 States

USA TODAY — The latest data on teen birth rates shows significant increases in 26 states, according to government data out today, which suggests that the rise in teens having babies is geographically broad-based and represents most regions of the USA. “To see 26 states with statistically significant increases is fairly remarkable,” says Paul Sutton, a demographer with the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the data. “We’re seeing increases in both the number of teens having births and also the rate at which they are having births. Both of them are going up.” The federal data — largely from birth certificates — shows widespread statistically significant increases for 2006, the most recent year for which data are available. In the two previous years — from 2004 to 2005 and from 2003 to 2004 — only one state in each year (Tennessee and South Dakota) had a significant increase. The new state-by-state data gives credence to the idea that this marks the reversal of the downward trend, says Kristin Moore, a senior scholar at the nonprofit Child Trends.

2008 was Phoenix area’s 14th Wettest Year

MESA, Ariz. (AP) — The Phoenix metropolitan area had its 14th wettest year on record in 2008 with the most rainfall since 1998. The National Weather Service said the Phoenix area had an official precipitation total of 9.58 inches last year — 25% more than the average of 7.66 inches. Most of the rain could be credited to a soaking monsoon season. From mid-June through the end of September, the Phoenix area’s official gauge took in 5.7 inches. That made last summer the wettest since 1984 and the 10th-wettest overall. Arizona has been in a drought since the mid-1990s with nine of the last 13 years seeing below-average rainfall.

Ø JJ Commentary: Prayer is working. Keep up the good work!

Russia Cuts Gas to Europe by Two-Thirds

MOSCOW (AP) —Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered Gazprom to stop all shipments of natural gas to Europe through Ukraine in a sharp escalation of a struggle over energy that threatens Europe as winter sets in. Gazprom has blamed Ukraine, saying Russia has delivered the gas but Ukraine has shut down the pipelines and is stealing gas intended for Europe. Sixteen countries have stopped receiving Russian gas or have seen a sharp drop in supplies. Europe depends on Russia for a quarter of its gas, 80% of which goes through Ukraine.

India: Pakistanis “Must Have” Backed Mumbai Attack

NEW DELHI (AP) — Pakistani authorities “must have had” a hand in the deadly Mumbai siege, India’s prime minister said Tuesday, stopping just short of directly accusing Islamabad of aiding the gunmen. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeated India’s allegations that the attack was carried out by the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. But in his most forceful speech since the November attacks, he also said “there is enough evidence to show that, given the sophistication and military precision of the attack, it must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan.” The careful phrasing seemed aimed at keeping tensions between the bitter rivals at a low burn, and reflects the widespread belief that there are multiple power centers in Pakistan. The overwhelmingly Muslim nation’s civilian government is relatively new and weak, while its military-controlled spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, is thought to have a high degree of independence.

U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Inaugurated

BAGHDAD (AP) — The United States inaugurated its largest embassy ever on Monday, officially opening a fortress-like compound in the heart of the Green Zone as a testament to America’s commitment to Iraq. Addressing an inauguration ceremony under tight security, Ambassador Ryan Crocker said the $700 million embassy was testimony to America’s long-term friendship with Iraq, where about 146,000 U.S. troops are deployed. During the ceremony at the new embassy, U.S. Marines raised the American flag over the building, which sits on a 104-acre site and has space for 1,000 employees. The adobe-colored buildings resemble a corporate campus surrounded by huge walls of reinforced concrete. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a longtime Washington ally, praised President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, who was executed two years ago. “The building of this site would not be possible without the courageous decision by President Bush to liberate Iraq,” said Talabani, a Kurd.

Global Accounting Rules Coming

USA TODAY — In a regulatory sea change that could cost billions of dollars, thousands of U.S. companies — plus foreign corporations that do business here — will adopt global financial reporting rules within five years if regulators have their way. Whether U.S. companies like it or not, the new era of global accounting appears unstoppable, and businesses that ignore the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) will fall behind. The long march to IFRS would be grueling and the preparations expensive to carry out. Companies would need two to three years to upgrade their communications and software systems and to train many thousands of financial professionals. Regulators, CPAs and investors would need to intensely study global accounting principles. Business schools would have to teach students the new accounting. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox has called the move “a revolutionary development” that will streamline global reporting standards and create “a true lingua franca” for accounting. Business leaders such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say it would help the USA compete in the world economy, leading to more cross-border commerce.

Ø JJ Commentary: Globalization will eventually impact nearly every facet of life in some way. It is coming and can’t be stopped because that’s what Revelation 13 tells us will happen. That’s not good news because the devil is going to use it to further his own anti-Christ objectives.

Bankruptcy Filings Jump by One-Third in 2008

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — U.S. consumer bankruptcy filings jumped nearly 33% in 2008 amid a recession that’s expected to keep filings rising into the new year. Overall consumer filings reached 1,064,927 last year, up from 801,840 in 2007, according to data collected by the National Bankruptcy Research Center and published by the American Bankruptcy Institute, an Alexandria-based research group. A recession that began in December 2007 has stretched many consumers who are turning to bankruptcy protection amid job losses, mortgage foreclosures and heavy personal debt. Filings by consumers, rather than businesses, make up the vast majority of all bankruptcies.

AZ State budget woes worsen

Arizona would have to borrow between $2.5 billion and $5.7 billion as early as February to bridge the state budget through a cash-flow crunch caused by a shortfall. That’s the estimate of state Treasurer Dean Martin, who on Monday said that the state may have to borrow money for the first time in decades. “It’s like . . . using your Visa to pay off your MasterCard,” Martin said at an afternoon news conference. The loans would add to the state’s financial woes. The current $9.9 billion budget is already $1.2 billion in the red, and many expect it to worsen. Any borrowing would have to be repaid, with interest, a circumstance that is not contained in the current budget.

Alcoa to Cut 13,500 Jobs, about 13% of its Workforce

PITTSBURGH — Alcoa, the world’s third-largest aluminum maker, said Tuesday it will cut 13,500 jobs, or 13% of its work force, and slash spending and output to cope with the global economic slowdown. The Pittsburgh-based company also said 1,700 contractors will be cut as part of a broad-based plan to reduce costs that includes the planned sale of four business units and a global salary and hiring freeze. As part of the plan, Alcoa said it would divest its electrical and electonic systems, global foil, cast auto wheels and European transportation products businesses.

Obama calls for swift tax cuts

WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama plunged into rare pre-inaugural crisis talks with congressional leaders Monday, declaring the national economy is “bad and getting worse” and embracing tax cuts now expected to reach $300 billion. He predicted lawmakers will approve a mammoth revitalization package within two weeks of his taking office. If the two-year plan was enacted, workers would see larger paychecks almost immediately because taxes withheld by the government would drop. The break would be retroactive to Jan. 1, and couples receiving a $1,000 tax cut would begin receiving an extra $40 in twice-monthly paychecks as the government tries to spark more consumer spending. Obama’s proposal to stimulate the economy includes tax cuts of up to $300 billion, including $500 for most individuals and $1,000 for couples if one spouse is employed, as well as more than $100 billion for businesses.

Islamists Attack Two Churches in Pakistan

ASSIST News Service reports that Islamist fundamentalists in the Pakistani city of Karachi in the province of Sindh attacked two churches on the eve of New Year. Unidentified militants forcibly entered in Christ Awami Church located in Rasool Shah Colony and told congregants to stop worshiping in the church. When congregants resisted, the militants desecrated Bibles, a cross on the wall, as well as hymn books, besides smashing windows and a door of the church. Islamists also attacked a protestant church in Zia colony in Karachi. They broke church’s door and windows and also threw garbage into the church. Police promised stern action against the culprits, but so far have only lodged an information report.

Earthquake Deaths Highest since 2004

USA TODAY — Earthquakes killed 88,070 people in 2008, the highest figure since 2004, reports the U.S. Geological Survey and the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The year’s strongest quake was in Sichuan, China, on May 12. At least 69,185 people were killed, 18,467 left missing and presumed dead, and 374,171 injured as a result of the magnitude-7.9 quake. The deadliest year for earthquakes since the 1970s was 2004. That year, 228,802 were killed as a result of quakes, the majority — 227,898 — in Asia because of tsunami waves generated by an undersea earthquake near Indonesia on Dec. 26. In 2008, killer quakes hit 13 other countries on four continents, including Algeria, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, and Rwanda.

Spokane Buried under Snow & Rain

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Roof collapses continued in the Spokane area, as rain falling on a record snowpack created massive weight loads. The Spokane area has been buried by 6.5 feet of snow since the middle of December. That included 7.5 inches that fell at Spokane International Airport on Monday, a record for the date. The roof at the Five Mile Business Park collapsed Tuesday morning, and a building behind it is also in danger of collapsing.

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