Signs of the Times

Praise Reports

Fewer teens are sniffing glue, lighter fluid, spray paint, shoe polish and other easy-to-find substances, a government study said Monday. Almost 1 million youths aged 12 to 17 used some kind of inhalant in 2007, according to the study by the Department of Health and Human Services. That represents 3.9% of adolescents, compared with about 1.1 million — or 4.4% — in 2006. Experts have attributed the drop to ongoing efforts to educate teens about the dangers of inhalant use and encourage parents to discuss the issue with their children.

Advances in public attitudes are sweeping Iraq. Citing the latest ABC News/BBC/NHK Poll, the network says optimism is lifting because of declining violence, rising economic well-being and improved services. The poll finds that 84% of Iraqis now rate security in their own area positively, nearly double its August 2007 level; 78% say their protection from crime is good, more than double its low. Three-quarters say they can go where they want safely – triple what it had been.

U.S. combat deaths in Iraq have flattened at the lowest level since the war began six years ago Thursday. In January and February, 15 U.S. service members were killed in hostile action. That compares with 60 for the same period in 2008 and 149 in 2007. In all, through Tuesday, there have been 4,260 U.S. service members killed in Iraq, 3,424 in combat, since the war began in 2003. Lower combat deaths match the overall drop in violence levels throughout Iraq, military officials and analysts say. In February, there were 340 attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — the top threat to U.S. troops — the lowest number since October 2004, according to Pentagon figures.

U.S. to Sign U.N. Gay Rights Declaration

The Associated Press has learned that the Obama administration will sign a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that President George W. Bush had refused to endorse. U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the French sponsors of the declaration that the administration wants to be added as a supporter of the declaration. The Bush administration was criticized in December when it was the only Western government that refused to sign.

One of the nation’s most prominent dictionary companies has resolved the argument over whether the term “marriage” should apply to same-sex duos or be reserved for the institution that has held families together for millennia: by simply writing a new definition. The new definition references “marriage” as the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife. But the definition also includes “the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage.”

  • Who knew dictionary writers had such power!

U.S. Births Break Record; 40% Out-of-Wedlock

More babies were born in the United States in 2007 than any year in the nation’s history — and a wedding band made increasingly little difference in the matter. The 4,317,119 births, reported by federal researchers Wednesday, topped a record first set in 1957 at the height of the baby boom. Behind the number is both good and bad news. While it shows the U.S. population is more than replacing itself, a healthy trend, the teen birth rate was up for a second year in a row, and births to unwed mothers reached an all-time high of about 40%, continuing a trend that started years ago. More than three-quarters of these women were 20 or older.

  • The trend is part of an overall breakdown of society into a Godless morass of misguided morality.

Pope Denounces Condoms

The Vatican defended Pope Benedict XVI’s rejection of condoms as a way to stop HIV after international criticism Wednesday that he was weakening the fight against the disease. France and Germany sharply critiqued Benedict’s declaration that distributing condoms “increases” the AIDS problem. The French foreign ministry said the statement could “endanger public health policies and the imperative to protect human life.” Two German ministers said on Benedict’s first full day as pope in Africa, a continent ravaged by HIV, that it was irresponsible to reject condoms. The U.N. agency charged with fighting AIDS also spoke out in favor of condom use.

  • The Pope didn’t express himself well about this complex topic. He’s right in the overall sense that condom distribution is part of a social dynamic that promotes sex. He’s wrong in the short-term micro viewpoint, because condom use does prevent the spread of all kinds of STDs, including AIDS.

German School Shooter Calls Killing Fun

A man held hostage by a teenager on a shooting spree said in an interview published Wednesday that the boy described killing 12 people at his former high school as “fun” and wanted to attack a second school.

  • Not surprising since violent video games promote killing as entertainment.

Benefits Proposal Outrages Veterans

An Obama administration proposal to bill veterans’ private insurance companies for combat-related injuries has prompted veterans groups to condemn the plan as unethical and powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill to promise their opposition. Nevertheless, the White House confirmed Tuesday that the idea remains under consideration, and a meeting to discuss it further is scheduled for Thursday between chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and leaders of veterans groups.

Obama Secretly Ends Program that let Pilots Carry Guns

After the September 11 attacks, commercial airline pilots were allowed to carry guns if they completed a federal-safety program. No longer would unarmed pilots be defenseless as remorseless hijackers seized control of aircraft and rammed them into buildings. Now President Obama is quietly ending the federal firearms program, risking public safety on airlines in the name of an anti-gun ideology. The Obama administration this past week diverted some $2 million from the pilot training program to hire more supervisory staff.

  • Great. More bureaucrats, less safety. Isn’t socialism grand?

Violence along Border has D.C. Looking Closer

As the Obama administration prepares to send more than 100 federal agents to the U.S.-Mexican border, congressional committees are holding hearing after hearing to learn more about the violent Mexican drug cartels. The latest hearing came Tuesday as Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the public-safety threat posed by cartels smuggling drugs into the United States and U.S. assault weapons into Mexico.

Economy

New jobless claims fell more than expected last week, but continuing claims set a record for the eighth straight week and few economists expect the labor market to improve anytime soon. The Labor Department said Thursday that the tally of initial requests for unemployment insurance dropped to a seasonally adjusted 646,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 658,000. But continuing claims jumped 185,000 to a seasonally adjusted 5.47 million.

G-20 finance officials from rich and developing countries pledged Saturday to do “whatever is necessary” to fix the global economy, including supervision of freewheeling hedge funds and restoring bank lending by dealing with the shaky securities burdening their finances. But officials remained cool to a U.S. push for more coordinated government spending to stimulate economies. They called instead on the International Monetary Fund to assess the individual government actions already taken and what more might be required, rather than laying out definite plans to ramp up spending. Officials are wrestling over whether to spend or regulate the way out of the global downturn.

U.S. housing construction showed unexpected gains in February, but economists warn that the battered sector may suffer more before hitting bottom. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that construction of new homes and apartments jumped 22.2% in February compared with January. The gain in housing starts was the first in eight months. Even with February’s big increase, housing starts were 47% below their level the same time last year, the Commerce Department said.

The number of Americans who think another Great Depression will occur within the next year is on the rise, a poll released Tuesday shows. Forty-five percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey said another depression is likely, up from 38% last December.

The Bank of England says that the U.K. is displaying early symptoms of being trapped in a so-called “debt deflation trap” where families find themselves pushed further and further into the red every month. The stark warning will cause serious concerns, since it was this combination of falling prices and soaring debt burdens that plagued the US in the 1930s. The Bank is using its Quarterly Bulletin to highlight the threat posed to the economy by deflation – where prices fall each year rather than rise.

Economic Consequences

Companies that specialize in church mortgages report that foreclosures and delinquencies for congregations are on the rise as the tough economic times start to make their impact at the offering plate. With credit scarce, church construction sites have gone quiet, holding shells of sanctuaries that were meant to be completed months ago. Congregants have less money to give, and pastors who stretched to buy property in the boom are struggling to hold onto their churches.

The government says the U.S. trade deficit plunged in January to the lowest level in six years as a deepening recession cut demand for imported goods. The Commerce Department said Friday that the trade imbalance dropped to $36 billion in January, a decline of 9.7% from December and the lowest level since October 2002. Crude oil imports dropped to the lowest point in three years. Demand for a wide variety of other foreign goods from autos to heavy machinery and household appliances also declined.

  • At least one deficit is down.

Led by Republican Governors Association chairman Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a group of conservative GOP governors has rejected or considered rejecting the unemployment money or other funding from the $787 billion stimulus package. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and Bob Riley of Alabama also have rejected the unemployment money. Texas Gov. Rick Perry rejected $555 million in federal stimulus money that would expand state unemployment benefits, saying the money would have required the state to keep funding the expanded benefits after the stimulus money ran out.

Bank of America Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis said that the largest U.S. bank was profitable in January and February and should be able to ride out the recession without new help from the nation’s taxpayers. Also, Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons said the bank does not need any more capital injections from the government and expressed confidence that Citi will remain in private hands.

American International Group gave its executives $165 million in new bonuses even though it received a taxpayer bailout of more than $170 billion dollars. Insurance giant AIG will have to return to the Treasury Department the $165 million it just paid out in executive bonuses, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Tuesday in a letter to congressional leaders. “We will impose on AIG a contractual commitment to pay the treasury from the operations of the company the amount of the retention awards just paid,” Geithner wrote. “In addition, we will deduct from the $30 billion in assistance an amount equal to the amount of those payments.” ·

  • Any company that suffers losses should not be paying out bonuses for failure, let alone one that accepts government bailout money

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has chronicled the news of the city since logs slid down its steep streets to the harbor and miners caroused in its bars before heading north to Alaska’s gold fields, will print its final edition Tuesday and shift entirely to the Web.

As the dismal economy spawns desperate measures, some Americans are resorting to a hazardous practice: stealing electricity. Many utilities say energy theft has risen sharply during the economic downturn. Culprits include residential customers whose power is turned off when they fall behind on their bills and small businesses struggling to keep their doors open.

While new car sales continue to fall, many dealers are finding buyers are willing to spring for a good used car instead. The volume of used cars sold through dealers rose 3.1% in February compared with last year, the first year-over-year increase in 12 months. By contrast, new car sales slid 41.4% in February from a year ago.

The number of mortgage fraud reports among loans made last year grew 26% from a year earlier, according to a study released Monday by the Mortgage Asset Research Institute. The increase came as lenders dramatically tightened their standards, making it more difficult for borrowers to qualify for home loans without large down payments, solid credit and proof of their incomes.

A global fall in the demand for milk has dropped wholesale prices so low that Arizona dairy farmers have begun slaughtering cows to stay in business. The lower demand, last year’s high grain prices, increased production from other countries and last year’s scandal in China involving milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine are all causing Arizona dairymen to lose about $100 per cow per month, experts say.

Across the nation, the deepening financial crisis is forcing dramatic changes in the hard-line, punishment-based philosophy that has dominated the USA’s criminal justice system for nearly two decades. As 31 states report budget gaps that the National Governor’s Association says totaled nearly $30 billion last year, criminal justice officials and lawmakers are proposing and enacting cost-cutting changes across the public safety spectrum, with uncertain ramifications for the public. While some analysts believe the philosophical shift to behavior modification and softer sentences is long overdue, others fear it could undermine public safety.

State and local governments are turning to user fees to raise quick cash — from increases on hunting licenses to fees for enrolling in the Little League. One town is considering charging accident victims who need to be extricated from their cars. As cities and states struggle with sinking property values and declining sales tax revenue, many see raising fees as more acceptable to voters than increasing income taxes and sales taxes.

Sagging endowments and other shrinking revenue streams are challenging the status quo at the nation’s seminaries, most of which aren’t cushioned by a link to an endowed university. Among the 175 “free-standing” institutions in the Association of Theological Schools, 39% were “financially stressed,” with less than a year’s worth of spendable assets, a fall 2008 report says. That’s up from 26% a year earlier. Making matters worse, enrollments at ATS schools have dropped 4% since 2006, marking the first consecutive-year decline in more than 20 years.

A new wave of nationwide strikes by angry French workers demanding that President’s Nicolas Sarkozy do more to fight the economic crisis hit France on Thursday. Rail traffic was disrupted throughout France. About one-third of medium-haul flights were affected at Orly, Paris’ second airport. Schools, hospitals and the postal service and public transport also were affected as many teachers, medical workers and letter carriers did not report for work.

New World Order Signs

Russia published its priorities Monday for an upcoming meeting of the G20, calling for the creation of a supranational reserve currency to be issued by international institutions as part of a reform of the global financial system. The Kremlin has persistently criticized the dollar’s status as the dominant global reserve currency and has lowered its own dollar holdings in the last few years.

The International Monetary Fund is poised to embark on what analysts have described as “global quantitative easing” by printing billions of dollars worth of a global “super-currency” in an unprecedented new effort to address the economic crisis. Alistair Darling and senior figures in the US Treasury have been encouraging the Fund to issue hundreds of billions of dollars worth of so-called Special Drawing Rights in the coming months as part of its campaign to prevent the recession from turning into a global depression. However, economists warned that the scheme could cause a major swell of inflation around the world as the newly-created money filters through the system.

A U.N. panel will next week recommend that the world ditch the dollar as its reserve currency in favor of a shared basket of currencies, a member of the panel said on Wednesday, adding to pressure on the dollar. Currency specialist Avinash Persaud, a member of the panel of experts, told a Reuters Funds Summit in Luxembourg that the proposal was to create something like the old Ecu, or European currency unit, that was a hard-traded, weighted basket.

  • So many different proposals about the dollar. One thing is clear though: the NWO folks want to diminish the influence of the dollar and, therefore, the USA.

Reports question U.S. shield of Europe

After 24 years and more than $100 billion spent to develop a U.S. missile defense, an American-operated system proposed for Europe would cost billions more to deploy and still may fail, a series of independent reports concludes. The type of ground-based interceptors that would be deployed in Europe failed to hit targets in five of 13 tests, according to the Pentagon. They have not demonstrated an ability to detect decoys, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says. The Europe system has not been tested.

  • Typical government ineptitude.

Israel

Before heading into a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana insisted that the 37-nation alliance would seriously consider a re-evaluation of its relations with Israel if incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to pursue a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian conflict.

Israel rounded up 10 Hamas leaders in the West Bank early Thursday, two days after indirect talks between Israel and the Islamic militant group on a prisoner swap broke down. Hamas in the West Bank has been the target of a crackdown by Israel and the security forces of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the past two years, ever since the militants seized Gaza by force.

Iran

Russian news agencies say a top defense official has confirmed that Russia has signed a contract to sell S-300 air-defense missiles to Iran but that none of the weapons have been delivered. Supplying the powerful S-300s to Iran would markedly change the military balance in the Middle East.

Iraq

American forces will still conduct joint combat operations even after they pull back to bases outside Baghdad and other cities as part of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement. Brig. Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, a deputy commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, said the redeployment to the periphery will actually help improve security in the capital because U.S. troops can help stop militants from using bases in rural areas to stage urban attacks.

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber wearing a police uniform blew himself up inside a police headquarters in southern Afghanistan, killing nine people and wounding at least 24 others. Police official Kamal Uddin said eight of those killed and 21 wounded were police officers.

In a poll taken Saturday and Sunday, 42% of respondents said the United States made “a mistake” in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30% in February. That’s the lowest mark since the poll first asked the question in November 2001 when the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban government that sheltered al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks.

Pakistan

Hundreds of U.S. soldiers recently deployed near the Afghan-Pakistani border have seen clashes and attacks double in early 2009 compared with 2008. A suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy in Kabul last Sunday but instead killed two passersby. Up to 50 militants attacked a terminal for trucks carrying supplies to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan early Monday, in the second such assault in northwest Pakistan in two days.

Rising Taliban attacks have raised doubts about the reliability of critical supply routes through Pakistan, prompting the U.S. and NATO to seek alternatives.

A suicide bomber blew up at a busy bus terminal near the Pakistani capital Monday, killing at least nine people and wounding 18 more.

Pakistan’s government relented in a major confrontation with the opposition Monday, agreeing to reinstate a fired Supreme Court chief justice whose fate had sparked street fights and raised fears of political instability. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s announcement also promised the restoration of a handful of other judges who had remained off the bench since then-President Pervez Musharraf sacked them in 2007. He further ordered the release of activists arrested over the past week and appealed for political reconciliation in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation that also faces an economic crisis.

Switzerland: No more Secrecy in Tax Evasion Cases

The Swiss government says it will cooperate on cases of international tax evasion, breaking with a long-standing tradition of bank secrecy. The Finance Ministry under President Hans-Rudolf Merz said Friday that it will adopt standards set by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for countries working together against tax havens. Switzerland had refused to commit since the standards were written in 2000. Switzerland is hoping to avoid being blacklisted when world powers meet in April to discuss stepping up their fight against tax cheats.

Sudan to Throw Out Aid Workers

Having already ousted 13 foreign aid groups from the Darfur region, Sudan’s president said Monday he would expel all international aid workers from the country over the next year, a move that threatens to cut off millions from their only source of food and water. The announcement by Omar al-Bashir, who this month became the target of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity relating to killings in Darfur, prompted new calls for President Obama to respond to what the United Nations calls a looming humanitarian disaster. The United Nations has said that 1.1 million people in Darfur refugee camps will soon be without food and medicine.

Bin Laden Rallies Somali Militants

Al-Qaeda’s chief Osama bin Laden urged Somali militants to overthrow the country’s new president in a new Web audiotape posted Thursday, trying to torpedo a new push for peace in a lawless African nation where many fear al-Qaeda is gaining a foothold. The 11 1/2-minute audiotape aimed to rally Islamic militants at a time when the new president, moderate Islamist Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, is working to split their ranks and pull in some to support his government. For years, Islamic militant groups — including ones linked to al-Qaeda — have battled the feeble U.N.-backed central government, which controls only a small part of the capital, Mogadishu.

Madagascar

Madagascar’s highest court has accepted the army’s decision that the toppled president’s rival should replace him. The State Department on Tuesday ordered all nonessential staff at the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar and the families of all American personnel there to leave the country due to the uncertain security situation after the ouster of the Indian Ocean island’s president.

Needs Increasing in Haiti

Mission News Network reports that Haiti’s people face an increasingly dire situation, as unemployment, food costs and shortages and abandoned children continues to rise. “Things have changed for the worse,” said Tom Froese, field director for Kids Alive International. “There are a few things that change for the better temporarily, and they take a couple of steps backward. But basically things are pretty rough in the community.” Kids Alive currently houses 21 children, but the need is astronomical. “We have seen fuel costs rise as high as $5 a gallon. Food costs have risen. Rice prices, for a bag of rice has tripled. That’s put big expense on our ministry to try and meet those costs with the budget that we have… I believe the Christian church is the only hope for this country. It’s so morally bankrupt that there is a need for strong Christian influence.”

Weather Signs

Agriculture officials said that ranchers in the nation’s largest cattle-producing state have already lost nearly $1 billion because of Texas’ ongoing drought. Officials said cattle raisers have lost $829 million since last summer, $569 million of that since November. Recent rains across much of the state, though welcome, came too late. Ranchers have spent substantial money on hay and supplemental feed, the cost of trucking in additional hay. The drought losses also include failed wheat crops usually used for grazing and has forced ranchers to sell off herds of cattle .

Pestilence

At least 3% of Washington, D.C., residents are HIV-positive or have AIDS, triple the threshold for a “generalized and severe” epidemic, The Washington Post reports. Shannon Hader, director of the District’s HIV/AIDS Administration, told the Post that “every mode of transmission” — men having sex with men, heterosexual and injected drug use — is on the rise.

Environment

Ten times more oil than originally thought leaked from a ship to blacken miles of white sand beaches along Australia’s northeast coast. Queensland state Deputy Premier Paul Lucas told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio Saturday that officials originally thought between 5,300 and 7,900 gallons of oil had leaked from the ship. Lucas said it is “now apparent” that the amount of oil spilled was around 60,700 gallons Queensland officials accused the company of initially misleading the government about the size of the spill.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: