Signs of the Times

Faith-Based Charities May Fare Better than Other Non-Profits

Christian Post reports that although 43 percent of Americans are trimming their giving to non-profits, faith-based organizations may not experience so many donation cuts as other non-profits will. According to a new study by Wilson Research Strategies, 81 percent of those who attend religious services more than once a week have no intentions of cutting their donations, and may actually give more. These donors form the base group for most religious charities. “There’s little doubt that most charities are in for a bit of a rough ride. However, for faith-based charities, I believe the picture is much brighter,” Rick Dunham, president and CEO of Dunham+Company, which helps ministries with their fundraising, marketing and media strategies.

Mississippi Most Religious, Vermont Least, Survey Says

RELIGION NEWS SERVICE — A new Gallup Poll, based on more than 350,000 interviews, finds that the Mississippi is the one where the most people — 85% — say yes when asked “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” Less than half of Vermonters, meanwhile — 42% — answered that same question in the affirmative. Joining Mississippi in the top “most religious” states are other notches in the Bible Belt: Alabama (82%), South Carolina (80%), Tennessee (79%), Louisiana (78%), and Arkansas (78%). New England predominates in the top “least religious” states: Following Vermont are New Hampshire (46%), Maine (48%), Massachusetts (48%), Alaska (51%) and Washington (52%). Arizona is at 61%

NBC Trashes Pro-Life Ad featuring Obama

NBC has rejected a pro-life ad that celebrates President Barack Obama’s mother’s decision not to abort the first black American president for its Super Bowl lineup – even though the video has skyrocketed in popularity with almost 750,000 hits on YouTube. The commercial, sponsored by the pro-life Catholic group Fidelis and its CatholicVote website, begins with an ultrasound image of a baby moving in his mother’s womb. “This child’s future is a broken home,” it says. “He will be abandoned by his father.” “His single mother will struggle to raise him.” “Despite the hardships, he will endure,” the ad states. “This child will become the first African American president.” It features a photo of President Obama and concludes, “Life. Imagine the potential.” After days of discussion, an NBC representative told Fidelis that NBC and the NFL will not run commercials involving “political advocacy or issues,” Fidelis said in a statement Friday.

Cost of Senate’s Stimulus Plan hits $888B

WASHINGTON — The cost of President Obama’s economic stimulus package rose to $888 billion in the Senate on Wednesday, even as an $819 billion version passed the House without any Republican support. The House vote, 244-188, was expected to be along party lines. Republicans voted against the plan as too expensive, including too much in spending and not enough in tax cuts. They ridiculed the inclusion of unrelated items and they got Democrats to drop money for family planning and restoring the National Mall. Eleven Democrats also voted against their party’s package. The Democratic bill includes tax cuts for about 95% of working Americans — $500 for individuals, $1,000 for couples — and for small businesses. The major Senate addition: $70 billion to protect about 24 million Americans from paying higher taxes under the alternative minimum tax. Obama’s chance of winning some GOP Senate votes next week is considered better than in the House.

Even before the Stimulus Plan is signed into law, some lawmakers and outside budget analysts already are worrying about how to stop them from becoming permanent. Many of the initiatives in the $819 billion stimulus plan approved by the House were campaign pledges made by Obama, such as tax cuts for 95% of working Americans. During the campaign, he didn’t say they’d be temporary. Aid to state and local governments as well as individuals also could be difficult to eliminate once the economy improves, lawmakers and analysts say. Among the initiatives that could be hard to roll back: Health insurance subsidies for unemployed workers, $40 billion; An effort to computerize records at doctors’ offices and hospitals, $17 billion; Expansion of the earned income tax credit for low-income workers, $4.7 billion; and a $500 increase in the maximum Pell grant for needy college students and increases in federal aid for special education.

GDP Down 3.8% in Q4, Biggest Drop since ’82

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The economy shrank at its fastest pace in nearly 27 years in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday. Commerce said gross domestic product, which measures the total output of goods and services within U.S. borders, shrank at a 3.8% annual rate, worst showing since the first quarter of 1982, when output contracted at a 6.4% annual rate. The report showed consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of economic activity, fell at a 3.5% rate in the fourth quarter after declining 3.8% in the third quarter, the first consecutive drops since 1990 and 1991. Spending on durable goods, such as cars and furniture, plunged at a 22.4% rate, steepest decline since the first quarter 1987. In response to the slump in demand, investment by business slumped 19.1%, sharpest pull-back since the first quarter 1975. Residential investment plummeted 23.6%.

Fed Keeps Interest Rate Near 0, Tries Other Ways to Fix Economy

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that it will hold a key interest rate near zero as long as needed to bolster the staggering economy, and it is ready to expand its use of non-traditional tools — including possibly purchasing longer-term U.S. Treasury bonds. Fed officials offered a stark assessment of the economy at the conclusion of their two-day meeting. Not only are business conditions rapidly deteriorating, inflation has fallen to the point that the central bank is alarmed about possible deflation — a widespread, sustained fall in prices that can wreak economic havoc. The Fed has exhausted interest rate cuts, its traditional tool, and must rely on untested policies, like buying up mortgage-backed securities and lending to banks against sometimes shaky collateral.

A Record 4.78M Get Jobless Benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people receiving unemployment benefits has reached an all-time record, the government said Thursday, as layoffs spread throughout the economy. The Labor Department reported that the number of Americans continuing to claim unemployment insurance for the week ended Jan. 17 was a seasonally adjusted 4.78 million, the highest on records dating back to 1967. The total released by the department doesn’t include about 1.7 million people receiving benefits under an extended unemployment compensation program authorized by Congress last summer. That means the total number of recipients is actually closer to 6.5 million people.

Airlines in Financial Crisis, Aviation Group Says

USA TODAY — Airlines around the globe are in their most widespread financial crisis since World War II, the world’s largest aviation trade group said Thursday. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 230 airlines worldwide, reported that December’s international air passenger traffic fell 4.6% year-over-year, and only about 74% of plane seats were sold. International air cargo volume fell an unprecedented 22.6% year-over-year, a sign of plummeting consumer spending. In all, the IATA said airlines worldwide lost $5 billion last year, and will post more losses this year. This is the first time in memory that airlines in virtually every region of the world have been simultaneously hurt by falling ticket sales and cargo loads, the IATA said.

More Losses, Layoffs & Closings

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — Ford Motor said Thursday it lost $5.9 billion in the fourth quarter as auto sales slumped, but it said it has no plans to seek federal aid unless economic conditions worsen. The second biggest of the Detroit 3 said Thursday that it lost $14.6 billion, or $6.41 a share, for 2008, up from a loss of $11.8 billion, or $5.03 a share, the year before. The U.S. automaker said it burned through $5.5 billion in the quarter, less than the $7.7 billion it used in the third quarter. Ford also announced that its credit arm would cut 20% of its workforce, or 1,200 jobs.

SEATTLE — Starbucks, hammered by the contracting global economy, is taking the ax to its once unstoppable coffee empire. CEO Howard Schultz on Wednesday announced painful plans to cut jobs, close stores and slow growth around the world after reporting 2009 first-quarter results that showed U.S. same-store sales down a stunning 10%. Starbucks will close 300 underperforming company-operated stores worldwide — about 200 in the U.S. These closings are in addition to the 600 U.S. stores and 61 in Australia announced last year. Overall, that’s nearly 1,000 announced store closings in less than two years. Store closings and fewer openings in 2009 could result in up to 6,000 store positions being eliminated, the bulk of which will be in the U.S.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Eastman Kodak said Thursday it is cutting 3,500 to 4,500 jobs, or 14% to 18% of its workforce, as it posted a $137 million fourth-quarter loss on plunging sales of both digital and film-based photography products. Sales slumped 24% to $2.43 billion, hit by weakened demand for digital cameras, lower royalties from patents and unfavorable foreign exchange rates.

NEW YORK (AP) — Time Warner Inc.’s AOL business is cutting up to 700 jobs, or about 10% of the Internet unit’s work force, in a bid to cut costs. AOL Chief Executive Randy Falco told employees in a memo Wednesday that AOL plans to cut the jobs in the next several quarters. He also said that AOL will skip merit pay raises in 2009.

TOKYO — Sony said Thursday its net profit plunged 95% in the October-December quarter from a year earlier as poor sales of TVs, digital cameras and mobile phones sent its core electronics division into the red. The Japanese electronics icon said net profit sank to $115.6 million (10.4 billion yen) from 200.2 billion yen a year earlier during the fiscal third quarter. Revenues fell 25% to 2.15 trillion yen from 2.86 trillion yen.The company forecast it would report its a net loss for the fiscal year through March, its first annual loss in 14 years.

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese electronics giant NEC Corp. said it will cut 20,000 workers worldwide as it tries to stanch widening losses from semiconductors and other businesses that have been hard hit by competition and the global economic slump. NEC’s net loss for October-December swelled to $1.46 billion from 5.2 billion yen a year earlier, it said Friday.

Obama: $18B in Wall St. Bonuses Outrageous

WASHINGTON — A day after claiming victory in the House vote on the stimulus, President Obama blasted Wall Street executives for giving themselves $20 billion in bonuses during this time of economic crisis. “That is the height of irresponsibility,” Obama told reporters in the Oval Office. “It is shameful.” The president said his administration will be talking to the business community — especially those that receive government assistance — “to underscore that they have to start acting in a more responsible fashion if we are to, together, get this economy rolling again. There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses. Now is not that time”

Obama Signs Equal-Pay Bill

WASHINGTON — President Obama signed his first bill Thursday, a gender pay equity law that had been a hallmark of his campaign for the White House. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act makes it easier for workers to sue companies for pay discrimination and effectively reverses a 2007 Supreme Court decision that had given workers 180 days to file a lawsuit after the pay inequity allegedly first took place. “It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign … we are upholding one of this nation’s first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness,” Obama said. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Ledbetter had failed to file a discrimination suit against the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in a timely manner, citing the 180-day deadline.

Obama Hosts Labor Leaders; Will Undo Bush Orders

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Obama is playing to one of the Democratic Party’s most reliable constituencies — organized labor — reversing a number of his predecessor’s executive orders that critics regard as anti-union. Obama was abolished four Bush-era directives that unions opposed and then introduced Vice President Joe Biden’s task force focused on the middle class. Both were meant as a way for the new administration to connect with workers at the end of a week that has seen U.S. companies announce thousands more jobs cuts. “Over the last 100 years the middle class was built on the back of organized labor. Without their weight, heft and their insistence starting in the early 1900s we wouldn’t have the middle class we have now, in my view,” Biden told CNBC on Thursday. “So I think labor getting a fair share of the pie is part of it.”

FBI: Burgeoning Gangs Behind up to 80% of U.S. Crime

USA TODAY — Criminal gangs in the USA have swelled to an estimated 1 million members responsible for up to 80% of crimes in communities across the nation, according to a gang threat assessment compiled by federal officials. The gang population estimate is up 200,000 since 2005. Bruce Ferrell, chairman of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association, whose group monitors gang activity in 10 states, says the number of gang members may be even higher than the report’s estimate. The report says about 900,000 gang members live “within local communities across the country,” and about 147,000 are in U.S. prisons or jails. The major findings in a report by the Justice Department’s National Gang Intelligence Center, which has not been publicly released, conclude gangs are the “primary retail-level distributors of most illicit drugs” and several are “capable” of competing with major U.S.-based Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.

Gene Therapy Cures Form of ‘Bubble Boy Disease’

NEW YORK (AP) — Gene therapy seems to have cured eight of 10 children who had potentially fatal “bubble boy disease,” according to a study that followed their progress for about four years after treatment. The eight patients were no longer on medication for the rare disease, which cripples the body’s defenses against infection. The successful treatment is reported in Thursday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine and offers hope for treating other diseases with a gene therapy approach. Bubble boy disease is formally called severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID. This genetic disorder is diagnosed in about 40 to 100 babies each year in the United States.

Peanut Butter Recall Expanded to 2 Years’ Worth of Products

The recall of peanut butter and paste products made at a Georgia plant was expanded Wednesday to include two years of production, making it one of the largest recalls ever, the Food and Drug Administration says. The expansion will engulf many more products beyond the 432, including crackers and cookies, already on a list kept by the FDA at www.fda.gov. PCA’s peanut butter was sold to institutions. Major-brand peanut butter sold in stores is not affected, the FDA says. PCA’s peanut paste or butter went into hundreds of products such as crackers, cookies and ice cream.

Cold, Dark Nights Ahead in Wake of Deadly Ice Storm

More than a million households remain without power after snow and ice slammed the country from Texas to Maine, disrupting hundreds of flights and forcing Kentucky state troopers to use four-wheelers to find stranded residents. From northern Arkansas through Kentucky, as much as 1 to 2 inches of ice burdened trees and power lines.

Iraq‘s Economy Sputters as Oil Prices Drop

USA TODAY — For the second time in less than three months, the Iraqi government announced this week that it would slash government spending in 2009 because of tumbling oil prices. As Iraqis head to the polls Saturday to elect provincial councils, which are the equivalent of state legislatures, there is rising anxiety about Iraq’s unsteady economy — even more than security issues from years of war and sectarian violence. Iraq’s finance minister, Bayan Jabr, has cautioned government workers repeatedly over the last several weeks that “hard times” are ahead. He urges them to make saving a priority. The U.S. military has said Iraqi leaders must improve basic services — like electricity, water and roads — and combat high unemployment in order to maintain the security gains made over the past year.

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Iraq’s foreign minister has told The Associated Press his government is very encouraged by reassurances from the Obama administration that there will be no quick withdrawal of U.S. forces. Hoshyar Zebari says it is “very, very critical” that American troops remain in Iraq in 2009 as the nation begins holding a series of elections, starting with provincial voting Saturday.

U.N. Seeks $613 Million in Aid for Gaza War Victims

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — The United Nations has launched an emergency appeal for $613 million to help Palestinians recover from Israel’s attack on Gaza. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says help is indeed urgently needed. Ban says the appeal covers the requirements of U.N. and other aid organizations for the next six to nine months. It will help provide everything from medical care to clean water. The Israeli offensive in Gaza killed nearly 1,300 Palestinians. The U.N. estimates at least 5,300 people were wounded and 21,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged. Ban told reporters at the World Economic Forum on Thursday that an appeal for longer-term needs will be launched later.

UN to Organize Effort to Help Stabilize Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan says the United Nations will help organize an international effort to overcome the country’s massive security and economic problems. Pakistan faces a dangerous combination of rising Taliban militancy and slowing economic growth, raising concern about the security of its nuclear weapons. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Thursday that the U.N. has agreed to help organize programs to be funded by countries including the United States and Germany. Donors formed a group called the Friends of Pakistan last year to boost Pakistan’s security, economic and social development and energy supplies. Pakistan also took a $7.6 billion bailout last year from the International Monetary Fund.

North Korea Rescinding Agreements with South Korea

SEOUL (AP) — North Korea declared all military and political agreements with South Korea “dead” Friday, warning it would not honor past accords if Seoul continues to push the Koreas to the brink of war. The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea accused South Korean President Lee Myung-bak of raising tensions on the Korean peninsula with his hard-line position on Pyongyang. It warned that Lee’s stance would only draw “a heavier blow and shameful destruction.” Tensions between the two Koreas, which fought a bitter three-year war in the 1950s and remain divided by one of the world’s most heavily armed borders, have been high since Lee took office in Seoul nearly a year ago. Lee, a conservative, pledged to get tough with Pyongyang, questioning the wisdom of his predecessors’ “sunshine policy” of nurturing reconciliation by handing over aid to the nuclear-armed North unconditionally. Pyongyang responded by cutting off all reconciliation talks with Seoul and ratcheting up the rhetoric. Pyongyang is the capital and largest city in North Korea.

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