Signs of the Times

‘Widow’s Might’ Wins $101K Prize at Christian Film Fest

The 2009 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival just keeps getting bigger. This year’s festival welcomed more than 2,400 attendees, a record 250 entries, and giant first prize: $101,000 to go with the “Best of Festival” award. This Jubilee award is the largest single cash prize in America to a single filmmaker, signaling the Festival’s intentions to propagate future Christian films. The winning film “The Widow’s Might,” the story of a community coming to the rescue of a widow about to lose her home, was written and directed by 19-year-old John Moore. The Christian marriage film “Fireproof,” which made the highest grossing independent film in 2008, won the “Best Feature Film” category. “Our goal with the Jubilee Awards is to reward the work of Christian filmmakers who have artfully communicated a Christian worldview through their film production,” explained Doug Phillips, founder of the SAICFF.

Peanut-Butter Recall Grows as Arizonans get Sick

The scope of a nationwide salmonella investigation mushroomed Tuesday as manufacturers recalled dozens of snack products popular with children and young adults. More than 470 people in 43 states, including 10 here in Arizona, have fallen ill in recent months. The Food and Drug Administration believes they all consumed peanut butter or peanut-based products that were made at a Georgia plant owned by Peanut Corp. of America. Six of those who fell ill in Arizona were under the age of 20, the state Department of Health Services said. Health officials are asking residents to avoid all snacks that contain peanut butter and to throw out any recalled products. So far, that includes Famous Amos Peanut Butter Cookies, Private Selection Peanut Butter Passion Ice Cream, sold at Fry’s Food Stores; several varieties of Keebler peanut butter sandwich crackers and a host of nutritional bars manufactured by Clif Bar and Co. Safeway Inc. also is pulling some fruit and vegetable snacks with peanut butter, and PetSmart has recalled one of its brands of dog biscuits. Federal health officials say the salmonella recall now involves about 31 million pounds of peanut butter and peanut paste.

Huge Natural Gas Find off Israel Coast

WORLDNETDAILY — A huge deep-water natural gas find off the coast of Israel promises to be a boon to the Jewish state’s economy as well as a stimulus to other developers searching for offshore oil and natural gas in the Mediterranean. The find is significant for those who believe the Bible indicates Israel is sitting on a massive oil reserve that would reshape the geopolitical structure of the Middle East. The find also lends support to the abiotic theory of the origin of oil that holds oil is created naturally within the mantle of the earth, not by biological origins.

Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Passes House Committee

CENTER FOR ARIZONA POLICY — Wednesday, the House Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-0 to pass HB 2400 to ban partial-birth abortion. Never medically necessary, partial-birth abortion is the brutal and gruesome procedure where everything except the head of an unborn baby is delivered and then the baby’s brain is vacuumed out. This horrific procedure blurs the line between abortion and killing a newborn infant. The proposed state law tracks the federal law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The state law is necessary to enable the ban’s enforcement and to make certain partial-birth abortions are not available in Arizona.

Abortion Foes Find New Climate in Washington

WASHINGTON — Thousands of abortion opponents marched here on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade Thursday, but for the first time in 14 years, they found themselves out of step with both the president and the party controlling Congress. On the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Democrats control the White House and Congress for the first time since 1995. That has given hope to abortion-rights activists that restrictions enacted by President Bush and his Republican allies will be reversed. President Obama on Friday is expected to lift a ban on federal funding for international groups that promote or perform abortions, reversing a policy of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Planned Parenthood: Force Doctors to Do Abortions

WORLDNETDAILY — Experts for the Alliance Defense Fund and Christian Legal Society are gearing up to defend three laws that allow medical professionals to follow their conscience and not participate in abortions. “Medical professionals should not be forced to perform abortions against their conscience,” said Casey Mattox,  litigation counsel with the CLS’s Center for Law & Religious Freedom. “Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and their pro-abortion allies are seeking to punish pro-life medical professionals for their beliefs,” Mattox said. “Far from arguing for ‘choice,’ these lawsuits seek to compel health care workers to perform abortions or face dire consequences.” The public-interest legal groups have filed motions to intervene in three separate lawsuits that seek to invalidate a federal law protecting medical professionals from discrimination because they refuse to participate in abortions.

U.S. OKs First Stem Cell Study for Spinal Injury

NEW YORK — A U.S. biotech company says it plans to start this summer the world’s first study of a treatment based on human embryonic stem cells — a long-awaited project aimed at spinal cord injury. The company gained federal permission this week to inject eight to 10 patients with cells derived from embryonic cells. The patients will be paraplegics, who can use their arms but can’t walk. They will receive a single injection within two weeks of their injury. The study is aimed at testing the safety of the procedure, but doctors will also look for signs of improvement like return of sensation or movement in the legs. Whatever its outcome, the study will mark a new chapter in the contentious history of embryonic stem cell research in the United States — a field where debate spilled out of the laboratory long ago and into national politics.

Ø JJ Commentary: The Obama administration has wasted little time in enacting their liberal agenda.

Evolution Debate Unfolds before Texas Education Board

AUSTIN, Texas — Experts and activists concerned about the way evolution is taught in Texas’ public schools made their case before the state’s board of education. Dozens of people, including a six-member expert review panel, lined up to testify as the board considers new science curriculum standards that will be in place for the next decade. The standards adopted also will dictate how publishers handle the topic in textbooks. The crowd — as well as the review panel — was sharply split on the proposal to drop language in the current curriculum that requires teachers to address “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theory. Critics say the use of the word “weaknesses” has been used to undermine Darwin’s theory of evolution and promote creationism — or intelligent design. Critics of dropping the “weaknesses” mandate blame “left-wing ideology,” for trying to stifle free speech.

Feds to ‘Rethink’ License Mandate

WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday afternoon that she will “rethink” a program that requires every state to issue more secure driver’s licenses by the end of the year. The new licenses, required under a 2005 federal law, aim to prevent criminals and potential terrorists from getting fake IDs. But the licenses have been opposed by many governors, who cite the cost. Added opposition comes from the American Civil Liberties Union, which says the cards are, in effect, a national ID card. “It really has taken the form of a huge unfunded mandate on states which are struggling with huge cuts right now,” Napolitano said Thursday. Napolitano, the governor of Arizona until Tuesday, noted that she had signed a bill in June barring the state from complying with the license law.

Jobless Claims Match 26-year High; Housing Starts Sink

The Labor Department reports new jobless claims rising more than expected to 589,000, matching 26-year high. First time applications for state unemployment insurance benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 589,000 the week ended Jan. 17 from a revised 527,000 the prior week. The Commerce Department says new-home construction plunged to an all-time low in December, capping the worst year for builders on records dating back to 1959, the Associated Press reports. The housing report said starts fell 15.5% in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 550,000 units, lowest on record, New building permits, which give a sense of future home construction, dropped 10.7% to a rate of 549,000 units, also an historic low.

Gasoline prices rise for third straight week

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Gasoline prices increased for the third week in a row, jumping another 6.3 cents per gallon due to higher crude oil costs, the government said Wednesday. The national price for regular unleaded gasoline averaged $1.85 a gallon, the highest since Nov. 24, but down $1.17 from a year ago, the federal Energy Information Administration said in its weekly survey of service stations.

Companies Slash Jobs

Microsoft it will slash 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months as it reported an 11% drop in second-quarter profit. The software giant said Thursday the moves were driven by deteriorating global economic conditions and lower client revenue, resulting from weakness in the PC market and a shift to lower-priced notebook models.

Industrial parts and systems maker Eaton, based in Cleveland, said it is cutting an additional 5,200 jobs because of a drop in demand for its products amid the global economic downturn. Wireless equipment maker LM Ericsson said it would cut 5,000 jobs. Mining giant BHP Billiton announced plans to slash 6,000 jobs, or about 6% of its global workforce.

Intel said Wednesday it is consolidating its manufacturing operations as a part of a restructuring bid that will affect thousands of jobs from the U.S to the Philippines. Between 5,000 and 6,000 employees will be affected, though some may be offered posts at other facilities, the company said. The world’s largest chipmaker is closing two assembly test facilities in Penang, Malaysia and one in Cavite, Philippines and will halt production at a plant in Hillsboro, Ore. It will also end wafer production at a facility in Santa Clara, Calif. All five are older factories, the company said.

Harley-Davidson said Friday it will cut 1,100 jobs over two years, close some operations and consolidate others as it grapples with a slowdown in motorcycle sales. The company also reported its fourth-quarter profit fell nearly 60%, and said it is slashing motorcycle shipments in 2009 to cope with reduced demand.

What do Tropicana Casino and Resort, Avis and the White House have in common? They’re all freezing the pay of some of their workers. It’s part of a growing trend by employers facing the fallout — economic and political — from a brutal recession. In some cases, employers are imposing pay freezes or cuts to avoid immediate layoffs. President Barack Obama, ordered a pay freeze for White House employees earning over $100,000 a year.

U.N. Humanitarian Chief: Gaza Devastation ‘Shocking’

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The U.N.’s humanitarian chief Thursday launched a first-hand examination of the devastation wrought by Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip so that the organization can begin providing desperately needed relief to the territory’s 1.4 million people. U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes called the steep Palestinian casualty toll “extremely shocking” and suggested the United Nations might ask Israel to compensate it for wartime damage to U.N. compounds in Gaza. Hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid were destroyed by an Israeli shelling of the main U.N. compound.

U.S. Missile Strike Kills 10 in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Missiles fired from a suspected U.S. spy plane killed ten people Friday in Pakistan just east of the Afghan border, a lawless region where al-Qaeda militants are known to hide out, security officials said. At least five of the dead were identified as foreign militants, an intelligence officer said. The strike was the first on Pakistani territory since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, but the latest in a barrage of more than 30 since the middle of last year. Pakistan’s pro-U.S. leaders had expressed hope Obama would halt the attacks, which have reportedly killed several top al-Qaeda operatives but triggered anger at the government by nationalist and Muslim critics.

Ex-Gitmo Detainee now al-Qaeda’s No. 2 in Yemen

CAIRO (AP) — A Saudi man who was released from Guantanamo after spending six years inside the U.S. prison camp has joined al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen and is now the terror group’s No. 2 in the country, according to a purported Internet statement from al-Qaeda. The announcement, made this week on a website commonly used by militants, came as President Barack Obama ordered the detention facility closed within a year. The Yemen branch — known as “al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” — said the man, identified as Said Ali al-Shihri, returned to his home in Saudi Arabia after his release from Guantanamo about a year ago and from there went to Yemen. The Internet statement, which could not immediately be verified, said al-Shihri was the group’s second-in-command in Yemen and his prisoner number at Guantanamo was 372.

Mexico Fires up $550 Million Wind Farm

LA VENTOSA, Mexico — Mexico inaugurated one of the world’s largest wind farm projects Thursday as the nation looks for alternative energy, in part to compensate for falling oil production. Mexico is trying to exploit its rich wind and solar potential after relying almost exclusively on petroleum for decades. The new, $550 million project is in a region so breezy that the main town is named La Ventosa, or “Windy.” It’s on the narrow isthmus between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, where winds blow at 15 mph to 22 mph, a near-ideal rate for turbines. Gusts have been known to topple tractor trailers. It will produce enough energy to power a city of 500,000 people, while reducing carbon monoxide emissions by 600,000 metric tons each year.

Tree Deaths Soar in Western U.S.

USA TODAY — Tree deaths, spurred by global warming, have more than doubled in older forests across Western states, federal scientists reported Thursday. Droughts and pests brought on by warmer temperatures have killed firs, hemlocks, pines and other large trees in particular over the past 30 years without allowing replacements to sprout, the study published in the journal Science finds. “Very likely the mortality rate will continue to rise,” says lead author Phillip van Mantgem of the U.S. Geologic Survey. In the American West, temperature increases have led to longer summers, drought and the survival of tree-killing beetles at higher elevations. These beetles are widespread in outbreaks reaching to Alaska. A research team analyzed unmanaged, old-growth forest records at 76 sites across Western states from 1955 to 2006. Tree death rates increased at 87% of the sites. Pacific Northwest forests were particularly hard-hit, with death rates doubling in the past 17 years

Florida’s freeze chills crops, tropical fish

USA TODAY — Several days of the coldest temperatures South Florida has seen in years are threatening to ruin orange groves, cucumber fields and tropical fish ponds across the state. “This is peak harvest season for many Florida crops, so damage at this time could have significant consequences stretching far outside Florida’s borders,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said. Freezing temperatures hit South Florida on Wednesday night for the first time since January 2003, said Amy Godsey, deputy state meteorologist. Interior areas such as Lake Okeechobee saw temperatures as low as 23. Florida supplies 70% of domestically grown fruits and vegetables during the winter months, and many of them are still in the field, including oranges, strawberries, blueberries and tomatoes.

2008 was Globe’s Coolest Year of the Decade

Climate reports from two separate government agencies found that 2008 was the Earth’s coolest year this decade. At the same time, data from both agencies (NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center) identified 2008 as one of the 10 warmest years on record globally.

Ø JJ Commentary: Keep in mind that records only go back to 1880. That’s not much data to make conclusions about earth’s temperature cycles over thousands of years.

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