Signs of the Times (posted Mon/Weds/Fri)

Ministry Reports 9M Conversion Since ‘Jesus Film’ Partnership

The Christian Post reports that since the first release of the “Jesus Film” project in 1997, 9,018,540 people have come to Christ through the film and ministry surrounding it. The film, based on the Gospel of Luke, is the most translated and widely distributed film in history. “Over the last 11 years, team members [of the Jesus Film Harvest Partners ministry] have shared thousands of stories of triumph from across the globe,” JFHP reported this month. “These stories tell of answers to decade-old prayers, freedom from witchcraft, understanding the love of Christ, salvation following persecution, release from addictions, and hope to the dying, among many others.” The project is the brainchild of Campus Crusade for Christ’s partnership with the Church of the Nazarene’s World Mission Department.

Obama Tries to ‘Balance’ on Church State Tightrope

(AP) — President Barack Obama, signaling early in his administration that religion belongs in the public discourse, has promised to open a big tent to voices from across the spectrum of belief without crossing boundaries separating church and state. The Democrat’s inaugural pomp was steeped in prayer, and one of his first proclamations included a shout out to “an awesome God.” Last week, Obama used the platform of the National Prayer Breakfast to unveil a new-look White House Office on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that features a team of policy advisers from both religious and secular social service circles. Analysts say the first weeks of the Obama era show there’s little question that both major political parties believe religion should be a significant factor in shaping policy. “There’s clearly not going to be any kind of dropping off the cliff in terms of the importance of faith and politics,” said David Domke, a University of Washington communications professor who studies religion and politics. “There was some sense (President George W.) Bush was going to be this high water mark — or low water mark. With Obama, faith is going to have an important role, but with a much broader breadth to it.”

$800 Billion Spending Bill Awash in Broken Promises

WorldNetDaily — In the era of YouTube accountability, President Obama has been caught pledging one course of action before the election, while pursuing another once in power. In campaign comments captured on the popular Internet video site, Obama promised that as president, “When there’s a tax bill being debated in Congress, you will know the names of the corporations that would benefit and how much money they would get, and we will put every corporate tax break and every pork barrel project online for every American to see; you will know who asked for them and you can decide whether your representative is actually representing you.” The president’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as H.R. 1 or the nearly $800 billion stimulus package, however, contains massive amounts of funding widely viewed as pork barrel spending, without any account of who will benefit or who proposed it.

Federal Obligations Exceed World GDP

WorldNetDaily — As the Obama administration pushes through Congress its $800 billion deficit-spending economic stimulus plan, the American public is largely unaware that the true deficit of the federal government already is measured in trillions of dollars, and in fact its $65.5 trillion in total obligations exceeds the gross domestic product of the world. The total U.S. obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits to be paid in the future, effectively have placed the U.S. government in bankruptcy, even before new continuing social welfare obligation embedded in the massive spending plan are taken into account. The real 2008 federal budget deficit was $5.1 trillion, not the $455 billion previously reported by the Congressional Budget Office, according to the “2008 Financial Report of the United States Government” as released by the U.S. Department of Treasury. The numbers in the 2008 report are calculated on a GAAP basis (“Generally Accepted Accounting Practices”) that include year-for-year changes in the net present value of unfunded liabilities in social insurance programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Banks Halt Foreclosures; Obama to Outline Plan

WASHINGTON — The biggest players in the mortgage industry are halting home foreclosures while the Obama administration develops its plan to help struggling homeowners. The White House said Friday that President Barack Obama will outline his much-anticipated plan to spend at least $50 billion to prevent foreclosures in a speech Wednesday in Arizona, one of the states hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced a revised effort to stabilize the financial system on Monday. It contained outlines of a foreclosure-relief effort, but few details. Though lenders have beefed up their efforts to aid borrowers over the past year, their action hasn’t kept up with the worst housing recession in decades. More than 2.3 million homeowners faced foreclosure proceedings last year, an 81% increase from 2007, and analysts say that number could soar as high as 10 million in the coming years, depending on the severity of the recession.

Regulators Close Banks in Neb., Fla., Ill.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Regulators on Friday closed Sherman County Bank in Nebraska, Riverside Bank of the Gulf Coast in Florida, and Corn Belt Bank and Trust Co. in Illinois, marking 12 failures this year of federally insured institutions. Twenty-five U.S. banks failed last year, far more than in the previous five years combined. There were only three bank failures in 2007. It’s expected that many more banks won’t survive this year amid rising unemployment, falling home prices and tighter credit.

Benefits Neglected for Civil Servant Retirees

State and local governments have set aside virtually no money to pay $1 trillion or more in medical benefits for retired civil servants, a USA TODAY survey found. With bills coming due as Baby Boomers start to retire, states, cities, school districts and other governments may be forced to raise taxes, cut benefits or both — a task made especially difficult in an economic downturn. State governments have unfunded obligations worth $445 billion to subsidize health insurance for teachers, judges and other civil servants after they retire. Cities, school systems, park districts, water authorities and other local governments have even bigger obligations, in excess of $500 billion, although the exact number isn’t known.

Crude Oil is Getting Cheaper – So Why are Gas Prices Up?

ARIZONA REPUBLIC — Crude-oil prices have fallen to new lows for this year. So you’d think gas prices would sink right along with them. But that’s not happening. On Thursday, for example, crude oil closed just under $34 a barrel, its lowest point for 2009. But the national average price of a gallon of gas rose to $1.95 on the same day, its peak for the year. The recession in America has dramatically cut demand for crude oil, and inventories are piling up. Refiners have slashed production to avoid taking losses on gasoline no one will buy. Result: Higher gas prices.

Japan‘s Economy Shrinks at Fastest Rate in 35 Years

TOKYO (AP) — Strangled by the collapse in global export demand, Japan’s economy shrank at its fastest rate in 35 years in the fourth quarter and shows no signs of reversing course. Japan’s gross domestic product contracted 3.3% from the previous quarter, or an annual pace of 12.7%, in the October-December period, the government said Monday. That was worse than expected and the steepest slide for Japan since the oil shock in 1974. It is more than triple the 3.8% annualized contraction in the U.S. in the same quarter.

US now Sees Iran as Pursuing Nuclear Bomb

The Obama administration believes Iran is currently pursuing nuclear weapons capabilities, a departure from the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate which concluded Tehran stopped those efforts four years ago, according to The Los Angeles Times. The report quoted a news conference this week in which US President Barack Obama cited Iran’s “development of a nuclear weapon” before correcting himself and saying that the Islamic Republic was merely “pursuing” the bomb. Asked about Iran’s quest to develop nuclear weapons in a nomination hearing on Capitol Hill last week, CIA director-desinate Leon E. Panetta also stated: “From all the information I’ve seen, I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.” Issued in November 2007, the NIE was a cross-agency review that caught even the Bush Administration by surprise and took the steam out of a U.S. and European campaign for stricter international sanctions to pressure Iran into shutting down its nuclear program. U.S. officials now maintain there is a growing consensus that the 2007 estimate provided a misleading picture and that Iran is poised to reach crucial bomb-making milestones this year.

Israel Takes Control of More West Bank Land

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has taken control of a large chunk of land near a prominent West Bank settlement, paving the way for the possible construction of 2,500 settlement homes, officials said Monday, in a new challenge to Mideast peacemaking. Successive Israeli governments have broken promises to the United States to halt settlement expansion, defined by Washington as an obstacle to peace. Ongoing expansion is likely to create friction not only with the Palestinians, but with President Obama, whose Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, has long pushed for a settlement freeze. Obama has said he’d get involved quickly in Mideast peace efforts.

Islamic law to be Imposed in Parts of Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — The government agreed to implement Islamic law across a large swath of northwest Pakistan on Monday in a concession aimed at pacifying a spreading Taliban insurgency. The decision was announced after talks with a pro-Taliban group from the Swat Valley, a one-time tourist haven in the northwest where extremists have gained sway through brutal tactics including beheadings and burning girls’ schools. Laws that do not comply with Islamic texts had been suspended effective from Monday. Several past deals with militants in northwest Pakistan have failed, including one in Swat last year. The U.S. has warned such pacts simply give insurgents time to regroup, but the country’s civilian government insists force alone cannot defeat the extremists wreaking havoc in Pakistan and attacking U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan: Suspected U.S. Missile strike Kills 27

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Dozens of followers of Pakistan’s top Taliban commander were in a compound when a suspected U.S. missile attack hit Saturday, killing 27 militants in an al-Qaeda stronghold near the Afghan border. The strike appeared to be the deadliest yet by the American drone aircraft that prowl the frontier, and defied Pakistani warnings that the tactic is fueling extremism in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation. In an interview unrelated to the attack, President Asif Ali Zardari said the Taliban had expanded their presence to a “huge amount” of Pakistan and were even eyeing a takeover of the state.

U.S. to Route Afghan Shipments through Russia

MOSCOW (AP) — The shipment of U.S. military supplies for Afghanistan through Russia will begin soon, news agencies quoted Russia’s foreign minister as saying Saturday. Supply routes to Afghanistan for the U.S.-led international military operation have become an increasingly critical issue in recent months amid growing militant attacks on the land routes through Pakistan that carry about 75% of U.S. supplies. The U.S. plans to send around 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan this year.

Chavez Term Limits Eliminated in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez won a referendum to eliminate term limits Sunday and vowed to remain in power for at least another decade to complete his socialist revolution. Opponents accepted defeat but said Chavez is becoming a dictator. “Those who voted ‘yes’ today voted for socialism, for revolution,” Chavez said. He called the victory — which allows all public officials to run for re-election indefinitely — a mandate to speed his transformation of Venezuela into a socialist state.

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