Signs of the Times

Praise Reports

The Christian Post reports that thousands of high school and college students are using their spring breaks to help someone else. Many of them are choosing to head to areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, or areas in the Midwest affected by flooding. “This week is different because these students have a choice,” said Torey Kittleson, a Disaster Response Services staffer for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee. “They’re free for a week of vacation — and they choose to help people in need rather than go to the beach and lie out in the sun.” College ministry Campus Crusade for Christ led a trip of 2,600 students to Panama City Beach to share the Gospel with people out on the sand.

Christian Post also reports that one charity and one megachurch are forming a unique partnership — actually, a merger. Gleaning for the World, a little-known but highly effective supplier for humanitarian projects, will merge with the 22,000 member Thomas Road Baptist Church, founded by the late Jerry Falwell. Both groups are based in Lynchburg, Va. “We expect to double the organization and supplies we’re placing in the field,” said Davidson, who left his position as pastor of a 1,200-member church to start GFTW in 1998. “That’s what this merger means to us. We’re simply going to reach a lot more people.” Both sides said they hope the move generates more awareness, enthusiasm and support of the charity. Last year, the group “gleaned” $42 million in medical and essential supplies to distribute worldwide.

China issued a human rights action plan for the first time Monday with pledges that range from curbing the torture of prisoners to boosting the number of female officials. The two-year plan for the communist nation long known for denying basic rights to citizens, promises better living standards, stronger legal rights and expanded channels to complain about the government. Human rights groups welcomed China’s new initiative but complained it lacks concrete targets to improve civil and political freedoms in the one-party state where political opposition isn’t tolerated.

  • Words are nice, action is better. It remains to be seen whether China follows through on its limited commitments

As political leaders debate President Obama’s decision Monday to significantly alter U.S. policy toward Cuba, the wide-ranging order wipes out the restriction that limited Cuban Americans to one trip every three years to the island. They can now fly down as often as they want. Also under the new policy, Cuban Americans can send unlimited amounts of money to relatives in Cuba. The Bush policy limited these remittances to $1,200 a year.

  • Whether this turns out to be a good move or not will depend on what direction the new government in Cuba takes in the future

Rick Warren’s ‘Backsliding’ on Marriage Damages Church

Rick Warren said Monday on CNN’s Larry King Live that he has “never been and never will be” an “anti-gay marriage activist,” and made a point to inform the program’s host that he apologized to his homosexual friends for comments he made in October to his church in support of Proposition 8 in California. Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., with the High Impact Leadership Coalition, a Washington, DC pastor and outspoken opponent of same-sex “marriage” says California mega-church pastor Rick Warren has done “tremendous damage” by apologizing for his support last fall of California’s marriage protection amendment. “This man who’s been called the next Billy Graham, who I really respect with all my heart and love what he’s doing in Africa, is falling into a trap that is emblematic of the problem that the entire church is facing in this generation,” Jackson states. “And that is that we love the applause of men more than we love the work of God and the gospel. Jesus…told us that we are to honor God first, and that we are not to fear men but we’re to fear God.”

  • As I’ve pointed out before, Rick Warren is the anointed pastor of the New World Order, so this is no big surprise.

Media Ignoring Other Side of Same-Sex Marriage Story

The Center for Arizona Policy reports that the media is ignoring the real trend in same-sex marriage. Thirty states have constitutionally protected one-man, one-woman marriage and a total of 43 states have some form of legal protection for one-man, one-woman marriage. No state has legalized same-sex “marriage” through a vote of the people, and each state that has asked its voters to define marriage has successfully defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

Economic News

Retail sales fell unexpectedly in March, delivering a setback to hopes that the economy’s steep slide could be bottoming out. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that retail sales dipped 1.1% in March. It was the biggest decline in three months and a much weaker showing than the 0.3% increase that analysts expected. A big drop in auto sales led the overall slump in demand. Sales also plunged at clothing stores, appliance outlets and furniture stores.

Regulators have shut down Cape Fear Bank — the first North Carolina bank to collapse since 1993, and the 22nd U.S. bank to fail this year, nearing the total for all of 2008, when 25 U.S. banks were seized by regulators.

The unprecedented glut of vacant homes — one in nine homes across the USA, according to the Census Bureau — will change the real estate landscape for years. Already, rock-bottom prices in the hardest-hit markets are attracting first-time home buyers who could not afford a home during boom times. Some areas may see real estate values stabilize by the end of this year, as buyers seeking bargains begin to reduce the backlog of homes for sale. At the same time, the availability of rental housing will widen, potentially pushing down the cost of renting. “We overproduced by 1 million new units,” says Edward Glaeser, economist at Harvard University. “Now we have to work our way through the stock.”

States Slashing Social Assistance Funds

Battered by the recession and the deepest and most widespread budget deficits in several decades, a large majority of states are slicing into their social safety nets — often crippling preventive efforts that officials say would save money over time. President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package is helping to alleviate some of the pain, providing large amounts of money to pay for education and unemployment insurance, bolster food stamp programs and expand tax credits for low earners. But the money will offset only 40 percent of the losses in state revenues, and programs for vulnerable groups have been cut in at least 34 states, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a private research group in Washington.

Perhaps nowhere have the cuts been more disruptive than in Arizona which has one of the nation’s highest deficits in relation to its budget. Arizona expects a $3 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year out of a $10 billion budget. As revenues sank late last year, forcing across-the-board cuts this spring, the child protection agency stopped investigating every report of potential abuse or neglect, and sharply reduced counseling of families deemed at risk of violence. Some toddlers with disabilities like autism and Down syndrome are not getting therapies that can bring lifelong benefits. And here, as in other states, the drive to help disabled people live at home has been set back.

A ‘Tsunami’ of Boomer Teacher Retirements Coming

More than half the nation’s teachers are Baby Boomers ages 50 and older and eligible for retirement over the next decade, a report says today. It warns that a retirement “tsunami” could rob schools of valuable experience. The report by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future calls for school administrators to take immediate action to lower attrition rates and establish programs that pass along valuable information from teaching veterans to new teachers. Over the next five or six years, we could lose over a third of our teachers, the report says.

Calls Mount for Solutions to Somalia

President Obama basked in the success Monday of the naval operation that freed an American hostage from Somali pirates, and a key senator and several regional experts urged his administration to tackle piracy’s root causes by helping Somalia’s weak government gain control of its territory. Somalia’s government, which came to power after Ethiopia invaded in 2004 and deposed an Islamist regime, doesn’t control the capital, Mogadishu, let alone the northern regions from which pirates operate. About 1,000 African Union troops are deployed in Mogadishu, but that didn’t stop insurgents from firing mortars at a plane carrying Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., as he was leaving the country Monday. He was unharmed. “A modest amount of assistance from the world community could do a great deal to help stabilize this government,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a leading voice in Congress on Africa.

Undeterred by U.S. and French hostage rescues that killed seven bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the key waterway that’s become the focal point of the world’s fight against piracy. The latest trophy for the pirates was the M.V. Irene E.M., a Greek-managed bulk carrier sailing from the Middle East to South Asia On Monday, Somali pirates also seized two Egyptian fishing boats in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia’s northern coast, according to Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, which said there were 18 to 24 Egyptians onboard at the time.

Iran Tries U.S. Journalist behind Closed Doors

A jailed American journalist charged by Iran with espionage stood trial behind closed doors and a verdict is expected within weeks, Iran’s judiciary spokesman said Tuesday. Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old dual American-Iranian citizen, was arrested in late January and initially accused of working without press credentials. But an Iranian judge leveled a far more serious allegation against her last week, charging her with spying for the United States. Judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi said Saberi was tried Monday in Iran’s Revolutionary Court, which handles national security cases. It was unclear why the trial was moving at such a fast pace — especially because the charges leveled against her were so serious.

Pakistan Puts Area under Islamic Law

Pakistan‘s pro-U.S. president signed a regulation to put a northwestern district under Islamic law as part of a peace deal with the Taliban, going along after coming under intense pressure from members of his own party and other lawmakers. Asif Ali Zardari’s signature late Monday was a boon for Islamic militants who have brutalized the Swat Valley for nearly two years in demanding a new justice system. It was sure to further anger human rights activists and feed fears among the U.S. and other Western allies that the valley will turn into a sanctuary for militants close to Afghanistan.

Pakistan could collapse within months, one of the more influential counter-insurgency voices in Washington says. The warning comes as the US scrambles to redeploy its military forces and diplomats in an attempt to stem rising violence and anarchy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we’re calling the war on terror now,” said David Kilcullen, who was a specialist adviser for the Bush administration and is now a consultant to the Obama White House.

N. Korea to Boycott Nuclear Talks

North Korea vowed Tuesday to restore nuclear facilities it has been disabling and boycott international talks on its atomic weapons program to protest the U.N. Security Council’s condemnation of the country’s rocket launch. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it “resolutely condemns” the action by the United Nations, which it said infringes upon the country’s sovereignty and devalues the dignity of its people. “We have no choice but to further strengthen our nuclear deterrent to cope with additional military threats by hostile forces,” the statement said.

Thailand Unrest

Leaders of demonstrations that plunged the Thai capital into chaos said Tuesday that they were calling off their protests following rioting and clashes that left two dead and more than 120 injured across Bangkok. The unrest had continued after demonstrators forced Thailand to cancel an Asian regional summit, another humiliating setback for a country that markets itself as a friendly tourist destination. Just five months ago, another series of protests shut down the new Bangkok airport, stranding thousands of travelers for a week. Thailand is bitterly divided between supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin is beloved by Thailand’s rural poor, upon whom he lavished inexpensive medical care and subsidized loans. During his first term, poverty rates dropped dramatically — from 21.3% in 2000 to 11.3% in 2004, according to the World Bank. But Thaksin is detested by the Bangkok middle and upper classes, who see him as corrupt and authoritarian.

Weather Signs

A swath of severe weather moved across a storm-weary South on Monday, killing at least two, downing trees and cutting power to thousands of homes. The storm system that hit Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and northern Florida brought torrential rain, flooding, hail and gusty winds to states still reeling from strong storms and tornadoes last week.

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