Signs of the Times

Gideons Mark 100 Years of giving Out the Bible

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) — Long before cable television, spa treatments and eco-friendly soaps and shampoos became staples in hotel rooms, there was the Bible — the Gideon Bible. And the book with the familiar two-handled pitcher and torch on its cover that most guests find inside hotel nightstands doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Gideons International is celebrating its 100th anniversary distributing Bibles and has begun efforts to hand out more Scriptures in the U.S. to boost a distribution rate that’s remained relatively flat in recent years. Nearly 76.9 million Gideon Scriptures were given out in nearly 85 languages in 187 countries last year. Close to 1.5 billion Scriptures have been distributed since 1908, when the Gideons first began to place Bibles in hotel rooms. Since then, the nondenominational evangelical group run by businessmen has spread its tremendous reach, also giving out free Scriptures at hospitals, schools, prisons and in the military.

“This is not a church-sponsored, clergy-led effort,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group for evangelical churches and organizations. “It’s individuals that go around and distribute Bibles. It’s an astonishing accomplishment.” “What it’s done is actually changed our culture. People expect there to be a Bible in a hotel room. There’s hardly anything that’s parallel to it.” Because the Gideons were founded by Christian traveling salesmen who spent a lot of time away from home, the group sought to put Bibles in hotel bedrooms to spiritually nurture themselves and others. The Gideons have about 176,000 members, plus their wives, who distribute Scripture around the world.

Gay Bishop Doesn’t Plan to Use Bible at Inaugural Event

CONCORD, N.H. – The first openly homosexual Episcopal bishop will offer a prayer at the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural event for president-elect Barack Obama. The selection of New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop Vicki Gene Robinson for Sunday’s event follows weeks of criticism from homosexual-rights groups over Obama’s decision to have the Rev. Rick Warren give the invocation at his Jan. 20 inauguration. Warren backed the ban on same-sex “marriage” that passed in his home state of California on the November ballot. Robinson said he doesn’t yet know what he’ll say, but he knows he won’t use a Bible. “While that is a holy and sacred text to me, it is not for many Americans,” Robinson said. “I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation.”

  • JJ Commentary: We swear in elected officials and witnesses in court with the Bible. An Episcopal Bishop who doesn’t use the Bible is like a construction worker who doesn’t use a hammer. Robinson is not a true Christian.

U.S. Pledges $700K to rebuild Babylon

WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States has pledged $700,000 to help preserve and restore ancient Babylon. In a news release, the U.S. State Department says “‘The Future of Babylon’ project exemplifies the American people’s commitment to the preservation of human heritage and their respect for the cultural heritage of Iraq.” The State Department says the funding will allow the World Monuments Fund and Iraq’s Board of Antiquities and Heritage to plan for Babylon’s “conservation, study and tourism.” In the Bible, Isaiah prophesies that Babylon “will never be inhabited, nor will it be settled from generation to generation.”

  • JJ Commentary: Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. While this appears to be a minor matter for our State Department, symbolically it demonstrates how our nation as sold out to Baal in these latter days.

Indian Supreme Court Orders Protection of Christians

Religion News Service reports that India’s Supreme Court has told the state government of Orissa that it will not “tolerate persecution of religious minorities” and if the state government cannot protect Christians, “then quit office.” A three-judge panel of the Supreme Court issued the warning Monday (Jan. 5) following a petition filed by Roman Catholic Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, who requested protection for his flock in Orissa and compensation for church properties that have been damaged in the ongoing violence. Such rulings by judges of Indian courts may not always have the force of law, but they carry considerable weight and often influence the future actions of lawmakers and government officials. Approximately 500 people, largely Christians, have been killed in the violence since August, with tens of thousands more displaced.

Religious Schools Fail to Prepare Clergy for Sexuality Issues

A new study of 36 prominent seminaries and rabbinical schools shows that future pastors are largely left to decide sexuality issues on their own, as most degree requirements do not include any sexuality-based course. The Christian Post reports that the study was conducted by Union Theological Seminary in New York and the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing. The study measured content in curriculum, institutional commitment to sexuality and gender equity, and advocacy and support for sexuality-related issues. “With so many congregations embroiled in controversy over sexual orientation issues, or struggling to address teenage sexuality, or concerned about sexual abuse, there is an urgent need for ordained clergy who understand the connections between religion and sexuality,” said the Rev. Debra W. Haffner, director of the multi-faith Religious Institute.

Chorus call for New World Order

THE AUGUSE REVIEW — In economic and financial desperation, leaders around the globe are openly calling for the creation of a “New World Order,” including prominent “old guard” members of the Trilateral Commission. Is the baby about to be born? It’s not accidental that so many of the original members of the Trilateral Commission, all of whom are now well into their 80’s, have returned to dance in the limelight once again. TC Members like Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paul Volker and Brent Scowcroft, for instance. On January 5, 2009, Henry Kissinger was interviewed by CNBC on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  His voice still raspy and spoken with a thick accent, he responded to a question about President-elect Obama’s first actions as President: “He can give new impetus to American foreign policy … I think that his task will be to develop an overall strategy for America in this period, when really a ‘new world order’ can be created. It’s a great opportunity. It isn’t such a crisis.”

Israel Pounds New Hamas Targets

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli warplanes pounded the homes of Hamas leaders and ground troops edged closer to the Gaza Strip’s densely-populated urban center Monday, as Israel stepped up the pressure ahead of deciding whether to escalate its devastating two-week offensive. From downtown Gaza City black smoke could be seen rising over the eastern suburbs, where the two sides skirmished throughout the night. Despite the tightening Israeli cordon, however, militants still managed to fire off a rocket Monday morning which fell near the southern town of Kiryat Gat but caused no casualties. The army announced Sunday that it had begun sending reserve units into Gaza to assist thousands of ground forces already in the territory. The use of reserves is a strong signal that Israel is planning to move the offensive, which already has killed some 870 Palestinians, into a new, more punishing phase.

Former Terrorist says West Ignoring real Hamas Agenda

A former Palestinian terrorist says the West continues to pursue a failed idea that somehow terrorism against Israel will stop when the Palestinians get their own homeland. Walid Shoebat is a former member of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a convert to Christianity. He now runs the Walid Shoebat Foundation, which is an organization that cries out for the justice of Israel and the Jewish people. “The core issue is not an issue of land whatsoever. It’s an issue of wiping the state of Israel out. If you look at even suicide bombing — historically, if you look from 1980 until 2003, let’s say — 224 suicide bombings out of 300 existed in Islamic countries with no occupation whatsoever,” he notes. “So it’s not simply the desire to create a Palestinian state. It is the desire to destroy the Jewish state.”

U.S. Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site

WASHINGTON (NEW YORK TIMES)— President Bush deflected a secret request by Israel last year for specialized bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear complex and told the Israelis that he had authorized new covert action intended to sabotage Iran’s suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons, according to senior American and foreign officials. White House officials never conclusively determined whether Israel had decided to go ahead with the strike before the United States protested, or whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel was trying to goad the White House into more decisive action before Mr. Bush left office. But the Bush administration was particularly alarmed by an Israeli request to fly over Iraq to reach Iran’s major nuclear complex at Natanz, where the country’s only known uranium enrichment plant is located. The White House denied that request outright, American officials said, and the Israelis backed off their plans, at least temporarily.

To Cut Deficit, Calif. to Close State Offices Twice a Month; Workers Unpaid

Starting next month, most California state offices will be closed on the first and third Fridays of each month to help close a projected $42 billion deficit. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says that by forcing state workers to take unpaid furloughs twice a month, the state will save about $1.3 billion through June 2010. Exceptions: prisons, hospitals, parks and some other agencies, mostly those that generate money for the state.

Boeing to Cut 4,500 Jobs as Economy Slows

PITTSBURGH — Boeing, the world’s second-largest airplane maker, is planning to cut about 3% of its work force as jetliner demand falls, hurt by the global economic downturn. The Chicago-based company on Friday said it expects to cut about 4,500 positions from its passenger jet business, which has factories in the Seattle area. Many of the cuts will be in areas not directly associated with aircraft production. The news comes a day after Boeing reported a 15% decline in passenger jet deliveries for 2008, when it faced an eight-week strike by union workers and shrinking airline demand. The lower deliveries ensured Boeing’s archrival, Europe’s Airbus, retained its rank as the world’s top plane maker.

Men Losing Jobs at Higher Rate than Women in Recession

USA TODAY — Women are holding onto their jobs more than their male counterparts in the recession as the types of jobs women hold generally offer more stability, albeit at less pay. In the year since the recession began in December 2007, the jobless rate for men rose from 4.4% to 7.2%. At the same time, the jobless rate for women rose from 4.3% to 5.9%. The market for jobs typically held by women has been far better than those typically held by men. Three-quarters of the workers in the health care and education sectors are women, according to economic consulting firm IHS Global Insight. Employers added 536,000 workers in those two fields in 2008, a 2.9% gain. At the same time, men represent 93% of workers in construction and 72% in manufacturing. Employers cut 632,000 construction jobs in 2008, an 8.5% drop, while 791,000 manufacturing jobs were cut, a 5.7% decline.

Price of Gas Up Nearly 12 cents after Long Slide

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) — The average national price of gasoline rose nearly 12 cents in the past three weeks, marking the first price hike after six months of steady decreases, according to a national survey released Sunday. The average price of regular gasoline Friday was $1.78 a gallon, oil industry analyst Trilby Lundberg said. The increase was the first since July 11, when the average national price peaked at $4.11 a gallon.

Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Peanut Butter

USA TODAY — The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Dept. of Health on Friday issued the product advisory for King Nut creamy peanut butter after preliminary testing found the presence of salmonella in a 5-pound container of the sandwich spread. The cause of a national outbreak of salmonella typhimurium which has infected 399 people in 42 states is still unknown, but state officials in Minnesota are certain enough that a brand of peanut butter sold primarily to nursing homes, hospitals and schools is the culprit that they’ve issued a warning advising state establishments not to use it. The brand of peanut butter that tested positive for salmonella in Minnesota and is possibly connected to a nationwide outbreak has been voluntarily recalled by its distributor, King Nut Companies of Solon, Ohio.

FDA Melamine Guidelines Unsafe, Consumers Union Says

The decision by the Food and Drug Administration to allow U.S.-manufactured infant formula contaminated with melamine or its byproducts onto store shelves is “seriously flawed” and medically risky because parents may feed their babies more than one product, scientists at the nonprofit group Consumers Union said Friday. The FDA detected melamine and its byproduct cyanuric acid separately in four of 89 containers of infant formula tested in the fall, but never at the same time. A can of milk-based liquid Nestle Good Start Supreme Infant Formula with Iron contained traces of melamine while three different cans of Mead Johnson’s Enfamil LIPIL with Iron had traces of cyanuric acid. The FDA says studies show potentially dangerous health effects from the industrial chemicals only when both are present. The lack of dual contamination is key, say agency officials, and thus there have been no recalls of the tainted formula. In a letter Friday, consumer advocates told FDA that they were concerned the FDA was assuming parents would never feed their babies more than one type of formula. They said they had heard from a concerned mother who routinely fed her baby two different formulas because “one caused constipation, and one caused loose bowels, but together the baby’s digestion seemed just right.”

Airlines Go Two Years with No fatalities

For the first time since the dawn of the jet age, two consecutive years have passed without a single airline passenger death in a U.S. carrier crash. No passengers died in accidents in 2007 and 2008, a period in which commercial airliners carried 1.5 billion passengers on scheduled airline flights, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal and industry data. Going without a crash fatality for a full year has been rare. Only four years since 1958 have passed without a passenger fatality, the analysis found. That makes the two-year string even more impressive. Technology improvements, more reliable aircraft and better training have helped reduce accidents.

Toxic Coal Ash Piling Up in Ponds in 32 States

WASHINGTON (AP) — Millions of tons of toxic coal ash is piling up in power plant ponds in 32 states, a situation the government has long recognized as a risk to human health and the environment but has done nothing about. An Associated Press analysis of the most recent Energy Department data found that 156 coal-fired power plants store ash in surface ponds similar to one that ruptured last month in Tennessee. On Friday, a pond at a northeastern Alabama power plant spilled a different material. The man-made lagoons hold a mixture of the noncombustible ingredients of coal and the ash trapped by equipment designed to reduce air pollution from the power plants. The AP’s analysis found that in 2005, the most recent year data is available, 721 power plants generating at least 100 megawatts of electricity produced 95.8 million tons of coal ash. About 20% — or nearly 20 million tons — ended up in surface ponds. The remainder ends up in landfills, or is sold for use in concrete, among other uses. Coal ash ponds are subject to less regulation than landfills accepting household trash, even though the industry’s own estimates show that ash ponds contain tens of thousands of pounds of toxic heavy metals. The EPA estimates that about 300 ponds for coal ash exist nationwide.

Pakistan: 40 Militants Killed in Attack

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — At least 40 militants were killed and scores of others wounded Sunday as security forces repulsed an attack by about 600 fighters in northwestern Pakistan, a military official said. Six security forces were also killed and seven wounded in the pre-dawn attack in Mohmand agency. Insurgents attacked the Pakistani Frontier Corps’ camp at about 2 a.m. with mortars and rockets, then used small arms to fire on a checkpoint near the Mohammad Ghat camp. The attackers were eventually driven off, but scattered skirmishes continued. The Mohmand agency lies along the volatile Afghan border and the military official said the bulk of the militants crossed over from Afghanistan and later joined with Pakistani allies. The lawless and remote mountain region is believed to be used by pro-Taliban militants as a launching pad for attacks into Afghanistan. Pakistan has deployed tens of thousands of troops to police its tribal regions, but Western and Afghan officials say that has not deterred militants.

Thousands Across World Protest Gaza Violence

BERLIN (AP) — Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in cities across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East Saturday, shouting protests against the Israeli offensive in Gaza. Protesters burned Israeli flags in Sweden and threw shoes at the U.S. consulate in Edinburgh, Scotland. In central London, three officers were hurt when demonstrators hurled shoes and placards at police outside the Israeli Embassy. One officer was knocked unconscious. Some 180 people were arrested in Paris. But in Innsbruck, Austria, volunteer security personnel arranged by the Islamic organizers of a demonstration moved quickly to surround and protect an elderly man after he suddenly unrolled an Israeli flag in the middle of the protest. The 3,500 Innsbruck marchers carried banners calling for “Freedom for Palestine” and saying “Stop the Israeli Terror.” A crowd of 12,000 gathered in London’s Hyde Park carrying placards marked “Gaza: Stop the massacre” and chanting “free, free Palestine.”

Russia, EU Sign Gas Transit Deal

NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia (AP) — Russia and the European Union signed a deal Saturday on the deployment of EU observers to monitor the flow of natural gas across Ukraine, clearing the way for restarting Russian gas supplies to a freezing Europe. Russia said it wants the written deal in place before resuming shipments, but it also needs to be signed by Ukraine to come into force. Saturday’s signing followed Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s talks with visiting Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency.

2008 was USA’s Coolest Year since 1997

The USA’s 2008 annual temperature of 53 degrees was the coolest since 1997, federal climate scientists announced Thursday. Central and southern parts of the country had below-average temperatures, while above-average temperatures were felt in the West, Southwest and Northeast. Although cool compared to recent years, the nation’s temperature was still 0.2 degree above the long-term average, making it the 12th consecutive warmer-than-average year. Only three out of the past 23 years have been cooler-than-average in the USA. Since 1895, the nation’s annual average temperature has increased at a rate of 0.12 degree per decade, and at a faster rate of 0.41 degree per decade during the last 50 years. Nationwide, the average precipitation for the U.S. in 2008 was 30.48 inches, which is 1.34 inches above average.

Winter Storm Wallops Midwest, Northeast

CLEVELAND — A powerful winter storm blasted large swaths of the Midwest and Northeast with snow and freezing rain on Saturday, grounding flights and stranding vehicles along icy roads. Nearly a foot of snow fell in some Midwest states, and more than half of the morning flights at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport were canceled or delayed. Ten inches at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport forced the cancellation of about 100 flights. Freezing rain in Indiana caused five salt trucks to slide into ditches Saturday as they worked to deice roads. Tow trucks stopped responding to accidents because they were sliding off icy roads when they tried to pull vehicles from ditches. Blizzard warnings were posted across the Northern Plains early Monday as a bitterly cold wallop of snow threatens the region, while residents of the Midwest and Northeast dug out after their own tussles with weekend storms. Parts of the Midwest and Northeast were already trying to handle up to a foot of snow that caused two large vehicle pileups — a 59-vehicle crash in New Hampshire and another in Connecticut that involved 13 vehicles.

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