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

Vietnam Churches Growing, In Need of Bibles

Mission News Network reports that despite government intervention and intimidation, Christianity is flourishing in Vietnam. “A large church that actually had about 1,000 members was burned to the ground recently by the government. But in spite of the persecution, the church continues to grow,” said Patrick Klein, president of Vision Beyond Borders. “It seems like the Central Highlands and the north are very much persecuted. In the south, they’ve backed off because there’s a strong foreign presence. But the Central Highland and the north are very much persecuted, especially the tribal Christians.” Klein reports that Bibles are in critical demand in Vietnam, where the shortage is as well-known as in places such as China.

Church Leaders: Christians Can Help Rebuild Iraq

The Christian Post reports that Iraqi church leaders at a meeting in Lebanon last week said Iraqi Christians should not be encouraged to migrate, but remain in their homeland with an aim toward rebuilding it. “The solution to current conditions lies not in emptying Iraq of its human resources,” said the church leaders. The February 10-11 meeting was organized by the World Council of Churches. The dozen representative called on Christians in Iraq “to stay in their homeland and participate actively in its rebuilding and development” despite severe persecution in recent years that has included kidnappings, death threats, and murders. The meeting also emphasized the importance of dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Iraq. The Christian population in Iraq is now about half of what it was before the U.S. led conflict in 2003.

Ray Comfort Offers Atheist $10K to Debate Him

WorldNetDaily — Ray Comfort, author of the new book, “You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence but You Can’t Make Him Think,” is challenging celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins to a debate – and sweetening the offer by offering him $10,000, win, lose or draw. “Richard Dawkins is arguably the most famous living atheist, now that Anthony Flew doubted his doubts and backslid as an atheist,” said Comfort, bestselling author and co-host, along with actor Kirk Cameron, of the award-winning TV show “The Way of the Master.” “Flew said that he simply followed the evidence. I would like to see Richard Dawkins follow his example.” Comfort has spoken at Yale University on the subject of atheism. In 2001, American Atheists, Inc. flew him from his home in California to Orlando, Fla., to be a platform speaker at its national convention. He debated atheistic evolution on ABC’s Nightline in 2007, and early in 2009 debated on the BBC. He is the author of some 60 other books including “God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists,” “How to Know God Exists,” and “Evolution: the Fairy Tale for Grownups.” He is the publisher of “The Evidence Bible” and more recently, “The Atheist Bible (Unauthorized Version)” and, “The Charles Darwin Bible.” His booklet, “The Atheist Test” has sold over a million copies.

‘Moderate Muslim’ Murders Wife Islam-style

OneNewsNow — An Arab Christian and Islamic critic says the recent brutal beheading of a Muslim woman by her husband in New York should be a wake-up call to all Americans. Authorities say the woman had recently filed for divorce from her husband, Muzzammil Hassan. Brigitte Gabriel, founder and president of ACT! for America and author of They Must Be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam and How We Can Do It, says this incident is more than just domestic violence. “He killed her according to the Islamic way,” she notes. “And this is the guy who was being touted as the moderate Muslim. He is the president and founder of Bridges TV, where he was trying to create bridges between the Muslim world and the Western world, trying to show the Western world what Islam is truly about, to go against the stereotype what Muslims are all about.” And Gabriel says Hassan was honored by the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR. “CAIR gave him an award. And we know that CAIR — just like many other Islamic organizations — is nothing more than a front for the Muslim Brotherhood operating in the United States,” she contends. She is also surprised that authorities have only charged Hassan with second degree murder.

Ø JJ Commentary: It’s also surprising that none of the major TV networks have run this story. Well, maybe not so surprising. After all, they had each run past stories about this bridge-building “moderate” Muslim who spoke eloquently about the “peaceful” Islamic religion.

Tax Dollars to Fund Abortions?

Focus On The Family — The Obama Congress is moving quickly to funnel hundreds of millions of our tax dollars to the abortion industry. In recent years, Congress has attached special annual funding provisions called pro-life “riders” to the spending bills to ensure that taxpayers aren’t forced to fund abortions here and overseas. Well, a move is underway to strip those “riders” from the spending bills and all this could happen in the next few weeks. Focus on the Family Action has just launched a citizen petition to oppose this latest phase in the radical, pro-abortion agenda, as well as the effort to force you and me to pay for it. As you know, President Obama has already reversed President Reagan’s pro-life “Mexico City Policy,” which prevented U.S. funds from going to overseas abortion providers. Now, Congress is set to strip pro-life “riders” from the appropriations bills. This move will force you and me to pay for abortions and services from abortion providers through our taxes. Please take a moment to sign Focus Action’s new petition to keep your tax dollars from funding abortion.

The Liberty Amendment

AMERICAN VISION (by Dr. Archie Jones) — No fundamental provision of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights is more neglected—or thoroughly violated—today than the Tenth Amendment. It is violated in spirit and in practice. Its violation is advocated implicitly and explicitly: in the teaching of American history and government, in legal theory, in what passes for “Constitutional Law,” and in the functioning of everyday American politics and government. Our Constitution—as the very words of the Tenth Amendment make clear—was intended to be a delegated powers document. The Tenth Amendment reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution or prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The states which formed and ratified the Constitution were free and independent states—nations—which delegated certain authority and powers to the new central or national government created by the Constitution. They delegated—and manifestly intended to delegate—only those powers stated in the Constitution: and no more. They forbade themselves certain other powers which they also stated in Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution. By clear intention and unmistakable logic the several states entrusted no more authority or powers to the central government which their representatives had created. All other authority and powers which the states had had before they ratified the Constitution they retained to themselves—and intended to retain to themselves.

Ø JJ Commentary: This is why we have a bloated, debt-ridden federal government. States rights have been trampled to death and our Constitution is nearly dead. It’s like violating God’s laws which results in curses. We have cursed our country by violating both the Constitution and God’s laws.

Some Governors Might Reject Funds

USA TODAY — Although President Obama’s stimulus package provides about $144 billion directly to state and local governments, a few Republican governors are suggesting they might reject some of the money. No state has yet refused any of the funding from the $787 billion stimulus package, which Obama signed into law on Tuesday. But Republican governors, including those in South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana and Alaska, have said they are looking closely at the strings attached to the federal funding before they decide what to do with it. Two of their concerns: The restrictions on some of the money could further crimp state budgets, and programs created or expanded with stimulus funds may have to be cut once the stimulus funds are depleted.

Ø JJ Commentary: “Unfunded mandates” are another example of the way the federal government imposes on states’ rights. They mandate new programs and sometimes provide initial funding, as in the stimulus plan. But later it’s the states that must pony up the money to keep the programs going whether they wanted the programs or not. The tail is indeed wagging the dog.

Millions Could Get Help, but is Foreclosure Plan Fair?

USA TODAY — The Obama administration’s $275 billion housing rescue plan promises to help millions of financially struggling homeowners keep their homes, but it may be too little and too late for millions of others. More than 3 million owners have lost their homes during the past three years, and almost 5 million more could follow this year through 2011, according to Moody’s Obama’s plan calls for measures that will allow up to 9 million homeowners to reduce their mortgage payments through government-backed refinancing arrangements. Just how that will work isn’t clear. The administration said that on March 4 it will provide more details on the plan and when it will go into effect. The Obama plan reaches out to those at risk of default, rather than just those already facing foreclosure. On Capitol Hill, some Republicans — amplifying criticisms by homeowners who didn’t buy more expensive houses than they could afford and have paid their mortgages on time — challenged the fairness of an expensive bailout.

Fed Offers Bleak Economic Outlook

NEW YORK TIMES — The Federal Reserve cut its economic outlook for 2009 on Wednesday and warned that the United States economy would face an “unusually gradual and prolonged” period of recovery as the country struggles to climb out of a deep global downturn. In gloomy economic projections released by the central bank, the Fed’s Open Market Committee said it expected that the economy would contract by 0.5 percent to 1.3 percent this year, that unemployment would rise to 8.5 to 8.8 percent and that inflation would remain under greater pressure. Bleak economic data reflecting a sharpening slide in housing, trade, industrial production, spending and employment rates “more than offset” any potential impact from an economic stimulus plan, the Fed said, forcing it to cut its economic outlook.

Jobless Claims Stay High; Gas Pushes Wholesale Inflation Up; Auto Sales Continue Decline

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two reports delivered more gloomy economic news Thursday. Government reports say: inflation at the wholesale level surged unexpectedly in January, reflecting sharply higher prices for gasoline and other energy products; The number of people receiving unemployment benefits jumped to an all-time high 4.99 million, setting a record for a fourth week, while new jobless claims were unchanged at 627,000 in the most recent week. The acceleration in wholesale inflation was led by a 3.7% surge in energy prices, as gasoline prices jumped 15%, biggest gain in 14 months. Consumer prices rose by the most in six months in January, propelled by higher energy costs. But over the past year inflation has been flat, the lowest reading in more than a half-century.

Meanwhile, sales of new cars and trucks this month are collapsing almost too fast to track. The February sales pace through the first half of the month appears to be at an annualized rate of fewer than 9 million. That’s well off January’s 9.6 million pace, which had been considered about as bad as things could get. It was the first month with an annualized rate below 10 million since August 1982 when the U.S. population was substantially smaller. General Motors’s Swedish-based subsidiary Saab went into bankruptcy protection Friday so the unit can be spun off or sold by its struggling U.S. parent. The move comes after Sweden turned down GM’s request for government help for Saab. GM said in a statement that Saab will continue operating normally. Fearing that parts suppliers would stop shipping, GM said it will make sure they are paid. The move would give Saab protection from creditors while it restructures in a process similar to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S.

Costs Soar for Individual Health Plans; Employers Fear Health Costs for Jobless

USA TODAY At a time when more people are forced to buy their own health insurance because of job losses, costs for many individual policies are soaring. The Golden Rule Insurance Company, a part of UnitedHealth Group, says sales of individual policies are up 24% in the past two months. A website that links people with insurers, eHealthInsurance, says applications are up 18% in the fourth quarter, compared with a year ago. Anthem Blue Cross in California has notified about 80% of its 800,000 individual policyholders of double-digit increases, many above 30%. Spokesman Ben Singer says rising medical costs are prompting the increases. Blue Cross of Michigan is seeking state approval for a 56% increase in individual premiums. Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon will raise rates for approximately 10,000 Washington state customers by 27.1% on March 1.

A new subsidy that goes into effect March 1 could make health insurance more affordable for millions of laid-off workers. But some businesses fear it could also raise employer health care costs. The stimulus package signed into law this week by President Obama subsidizes 65% of their COBRA health insurance premiums for individuals laid off between last Sept. 1 and the end of this year. Employers, and the companies they hire to manage their COBRA programs, are scrambling to meet the March 1 deadline to notify employees, Dennett says. But an even greater concern for employers is how higher COBRA enrollment will affect their insurance costs.

Vallejo, California Declares Bankruptcy

VALLEJO, Calif. — California may still seem to be the dreamy land of movie stars and swimming pools, beautiful beaches and endless summer. But the reality — and perhaps the future — of the nation’s largest state looks more like this gritty city on San Pablo Bay north of San Francisco, where past extravagance has collided with economic recession and the collapse of home values to push it into bankruptcy. “We were first to the bankruptcy door, but there are numerous cities right behind us and watching,” says Osby Davis, Vallejo’s mayor. “I think it’s just a matter of time before many (California) municipalities go to the bankruptcy court.” The troubles in Vallejo reflect what’s happening up and down California, tarnishing the Golden State’s image as a land of opportunity, innovation and good living. In Vallejo, a city of 115,000 people, 1,700 homes are in foreclosure or owned by banks. The highest foreclosure rate in the USA — 9.5% last year — was in the California city of Stockton, which Forbes magazine declared as America’s “most miserable city.”

Bank Woes Force Germany into Nationalization Law

REUTERS The German cabinet approved a law on Wednesday letting it nationaliZe banks, setting aside a reluctance to seize private property in the latest government intervention worldwide to tackle the financial crisis. It set aside a postwar commitment to respect private property, becoming the latest government to edge away from free market policies, instead using state support to prop up flagging banks and industries. Other countries, including Britain and Ireland, have already seized control of banks, justifying this by pointing to the nature of the crisis and the need to protect taxpayers. The latest welter of government intervention has done little to reassure financial markets.

Swiss Bank to Pay $780M for Helping Rich Americans Hide Wealth, Dodge Taxes

Switzerland’s largest bank will pay $780 million to settle U.S. allegations that it helped thousands of rich Americans hide their wealth and dodge taxes on nearly $20 billion held in Swiss accounts. The settlement means that criminal charges will be dropped against UBS if it complies with the terms of the agreements with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Under the accords the bank must pay $400 million in tax-related payments and hand over $380 million from its coffers. The bank collected about $200 million annually by establishing sham entities as tax havens in Switzerland, Panama, British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong and Liechtenstein, Bloomberg says. The bank continued these and other schemes even after it signed a 2001 agreement to report account holders and their income to the Internal Revenue Service.

Real-World Police Forensics don’t Resemble ‘CSI’

WASHINGTON — The investigators on the hit CBS show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation make it look easy, but the science employed by real crime labs has “serious deficiencies,” according to a federal report requested by Congress. “CSI is television. This is reality,” says Constantine Gatsonis of Brown University, co-chairman of the National Research Council team that crafted the report. Though judges allow prosecutors to present unreliable scientific evidence as “free from error,” he says, “many forensic science disciplines have low or non-existent reliability standards.” Released Wednesday, the report calls for a “massive overhaul” of the science tools behind criminal convictions. In particular, the report finds that fingerprint science “does not guarantee that two analysts following it will obtain the same results.” In addition, Shoeprint and tire-print matching methods lack statistical backing, making it “impossible to assess.” Hair analyses show “no scientific support for the use of hair comparisons for individualization in the absence of (DNA).” Bullet match reviews show “scientific knowledge base for tool mark and firearms analysis is fairly limited.” Bite-mark matches display “no scientific studies to support (their) assessment, and no large population studies have been conducted.”

Clinton Aims to Boost U.S., Muslim Ties

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton moved Wednesday to boost U.S. ties with the world’s most populous Muslim nation and its neighbors, pledging a new American willingness to work with and listen to Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia. Her message was received warmly by officials in Jakarta, the childhood home of President Barack Obama, although small and scattered protests were held in several cities, with some Islamic hard-liners setting tires on fire and others throwing shoes at caricatures of Clinton. She said her choice of Asia for her first overseas trip as Obama’s top diplomat was “no accident” and a sign of the new administration’s desire for broader and deeper relations with the continent on regional and global issues.

Kyrgyzstan Issues Eviction Notice to Key U.S. Base

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — Kyrgyzstan ordered U.S. forces on Friday to depart within six months from an air base key to military operations in Afghanistan, complicating plans to send more troops to battle rising Taliban and al-Qaeda violence. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, however, that he believed the base was not a “closed issue.” The United States has said it would consider paying more rent to keep the base open. Pakistani militants have stepped up attacks on convoys traveling the primary supply route to Afghanistan in recent months pushing U.S. officials to secure alternative, northern routes through Central Asia. The United Staets announced a small victory in that hunt Friday — saying neighboring Uzbekistan had granted permission for the transit of non-lethal cargo to Afghanistan. Washington has received Russian permission for non-lethal cargo to be shipped across Russia. Central Asia’s largest country, Kazakhstan, has also agreed.

Lieberman Support gives Netanyahu Edge to Become Israeli Leader

JERUSALEM (AP) — Far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman endorsed Benjamin Netanyahu for Israeli prime minister on Thursday, all but guaranteeing that Netanyahu will be the country’s next leader. The divisive Lieberman emerged as the kingmaker of Israeli politics after the Feb. 10 election produced a deadlock between its two largest parties, and his backing of Netanyahu could be the basis for a hardline government. Such a government could freeze peace talks with the Palestinians, hurt Israel’s standing in the world and place it on a possible collision course with President Barack Obama, who has said Mideast peacemaking will be a top priority of his administration.

Ø JJ Commentary: The Bible Code book prophesies that Netanyahu will be assassinated. That prediction comes out of its computer-driven analysis of codes within the Hebrew Old Testament and was made several years ago. It appeared to be wrong when Netanyahu disappeared from the political scene only to be resurrected once again. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Israel’s President Shimon Peres: ‘I was Wrong about Disengagement’

Just as the whole nation is hanging on his every word in connection with the current election impasse, Israeli President Shimon Peres used the intense spotlight on Wednesday to admit that he had erred in supporting Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. “Whatever will happen in the future, we shall not repeat the mistakes we made in leaving Gaza,” Peres said in a question and answer session with a group of American Jewish leaders. “It should have been done otherwise. I was for leaving Gaza. I consider myself as one of the persons mistaken.” The revealing remarks come three years after Israel’s unilateral evacuation of the volatile coastal strip, which has since been seized by Hamas. The dovish leader, who has long been a champion of Israeli territorial withdrawals, said that although “lessons must be drawn” from the Gaza pullout, demographic and democratic considerations still necessitate the creation of a Palestinian state. “It doesn’t change the fact that there is a [demographic] reality,” he told the annual Israel meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “I want to make sure that the state we have remains Jewish.”

Ø JJ Commentary: This is exactly what we and others warned would happen when secular Israel traded their God-given land in a vain attempt to establish peace through human means. All they did was bring Deuteronomy curses upon themselves.

Climate Change Threatens Brazil’s Top Coffee Crop

BRASILIA, Brazil — The future for Brazil’s mighty farm sector could be grim, with hotter temperatures pushing crops past its borders, uphill into the Andes and toward the tip of South America. So Brazilian scientists and agronomists are rushing to deter the effects of climate change on the world’s biggest coffee producer and second-ranking soybean grower, a country crucial to the international food supply. Experts in tropical agriculture are developing genetically modified coffee, soy beans and other crops that can withstand higher temperatures in Brazil’s expanding northeastern desert, new pests and diseases and more flooding in low-lying areas.

California still Needs More Rain, Snow to End Drought

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Water officials say Northern California still needs a lot more rain before there’s any chance of ending the state’s drought. Even though rain fell steadily throughout the region and the mountains saw heavy snow during the last week, the state Department of Water Resources says water levels are still well below normal. Even with more rain in the forecast, a senior meteorologist with the department says by March 1 water levels may be only about 77% of normal.

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