Signs of the Times

Praise Reports

During the apartheid era, the whites who governed South Africa used to justify their grip on power by claiming black majority rule would plunge the country into chaos and tribal bloodshed and open the door to communism. So far, history has confounded them. Fifteen years after Nelson Mandela became president, the country is heading into its fourth parliamentary election, and next month it will get its fourth post-apartheid president. Since 1994, over 3 million houses have been built for 14 million people. In the townships where blacks were confined and neglected under apartheid, schools have been built and roads paved. The poor get free water and electricity. Soweto, Johannesburg’s biggest township, is a hive of construction sites and road works. The economy has grown at an unprecedented 5% in the past three years, and next year comes a crowning act of international respect when South Africa hosts the soccer World Cup, the most-watched sporting event on the globe.

Baptist Press reports that despite popular reports that young people aren’t interested in spiritual matters, newly released survey data shows the opposite to be true. LifeWay Research and the Center for Missional Research found that 73 percent of unchurched 20- to 29-year-old Americans consider themselves “spiritual” because they want to know more about “God or a higher supreme being.” That figure is 11 percent higher than among unchurched individuals who are age 30 and older. Sixty-one percent of 20somethings also said they would be willing to study the Bible if a friend asked them to — that’s about 20 percent more than older generations. “They are interested (in spiritual things), but they are looking for spirituality often in every place except the church,” Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research.

One Million Attend Tea Parties in All 50 States

An estimated 1 million Americans participated in at least 1,000 tea parties, according to reports by organizers tabulating the nationwide numbers, with documented protests held in 50 states. Tax Day Tea Party national event coordinator Amy Kremer told WorldNetDaily she has confirmed that more than 850 parties took place. She has at least 100 more reports in her e-mail inbox that have not been posted. Asked how many people attended the events, she responded, “I would estimate it at over 1 million. I’m waiting on more numbers to come in from organizers right now. I can tell you it is absolutely over 750,000 right now.” The largest protests occurred in Atlanta, Ga., with 15,000 participants. As many as 10,000 protesters participating in Sacramento, Calif., and Overland Park, Kansas. An estimated 20,000 attended Tea Party events in Arizona, with 10,000 at the state capital in Phoenix, 3,000 in Tucson and 2,000 in Prescott.

Perhaps it’s a new “If you can’t beat ’em, bad-mouth ’em” strategy on the part of some news anchors to denigrate the grass-roots Tea Parties that blanketed the United States this week. Yesterday, anchors for MSNBC and CNN repeatedly used a sexually suggestive term commonly associated with homosexual sex to deride the “tea party” theme adopted by hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens protesting a federal government they say is grabbing more authority, spending more money and proposing to collect more taxes than ever before. Media Research Center President Brent Bozell released a statement asserting the coverage was biased and the language egregious. He called on the networks to apologize. “What an utterly embarrassing and crude display by MSNBC and CNN. It appears they’ve decided that since they can’t be any more biased in their coverage, they’ll ramp up the vulgarity instead,” he said.

  • While the nationwide mainstream media outlets (except for Fox) ignored or slandered the story, the Tea Parties made large impacts in local media. Perhaps this time the public will wake up to the obvious liberal bias.

Cloner’s Ark

Researchers in Dubai made news this week by announcing the arrival of the world’s first cloned camel, a singular achievement in a region where top racing camels are prized. Iran followed two days later with the birth of the country’s first cloned goat, though many other cloned goats have been born elsewhere. Most cloned mammals now lead regular lives, but as recently as 10 years ago they often died young of lung malformations, a problem that appears to have been largely overcome. Healthy cloned dogs and cats are the most recent significant achievements. Many researchers are getting closer and closer to human cloning by trying to clone monkeys. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, all attempts at cloning monkeys from adult donor cells have failed, with one researcher deeming the resulting embryos “a gallery of horrors.”

  • They might clone a human body, but never the soul and spirit thereof.

Obama Surprises on Gun Control

In a visit to this country racked by drug-related violence, President Obama said Thursday that he would not seek a U.S. ban on assault-style weapons, but instead will push better enforcement of existing laws to stop guns from being taken across the border. Mexican President Felipe Calderón has been urging the United States to renew the ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004 and prohibited sales of certain semiautomatics with military features. Calderón says such gun sales are arming Mexico’s increasingly violent drug cartels. “I have not backed off at all from my belief that the assault weapons ban made sense,” Obama said at a news conference with Calderón. “But none of us is under the illusion that reinstating that ban would be easy. So what we have focused on is how we can improve our enforcement of existing laws,” Obama said.

  • So he still believes in greater gun control, but isn’t pushing it now because it would be hard to do right now, presumably because he’s still struggling with opposition to his socialistic, big government economic plans. Perhaps the Tea Parties had some unexpected fallout.
Are You a Rightwing Extremist?
According to news reports, the Department of Homeland Security is warning law enforcement officials about a rise in “rightwing extremist activity,” labeling citizens opposed to new firearms restrictions, returning veterans and conservatives as “rightwing extremists” and associating them with white supremacists and violent antigovernment groups. it appears that the Obama Administration, and especially the DHS under Janet Napolitano, is trying to demonize political dissent. And it’s no big surprise who’s directly in their crosshairs: supporters of the Second Amendment, including veterans and gun owners.

Why are they worried? Because since November, more than 7 million people have applied for criminal background checks in order to buy weapons. And as far as the Obama administration is concerned, buying guns equals “weapons stockpiling,” buying ammo equals “hoarding of ammunition,” and expressing concern about Congress passing gun control legislation qualifies someone as part of an “extremist group.”

Texas Governor Raises Secession Thought

Texas Gov. Rick Perry warned that people in his state could become so frustrated with the federal government that they could demand that Texas secede from the union. Speaking at a rally at Austin City Hall on Wednesday — “Tax Day” — Perry charged that Washington officials have abandoned the nation’s founding principles of limited government and said the federal government is burdening Americans with taxation and debt. The Republican said when Texas, an independent republic, entered the union in 1845, it was with the understanding that it could secede — a right held by no other state. Despite Perry’s comment, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission says Texas negotiated the power to divide into four additional states at some point, but not the right to secede. Perry spurned $550 million in federal economic stimulus money aimed at aiding the state’s unemployment trust fund, saying the money would come with strings attached that would force Texas to pick up the tab if the federal money ran out.

Al Gore in Stem Cell Venture

Former vice president Al Gore is entering the stem cell arena with an announcement today of a $20 million biotech venture in the hot area of “induced pluripotent” stem cells. Induced cells are attracting interest from researchers and biotech firms as an alternative to embryonic stem cells. Induced cells are made by inserting four genes into ordinary skin cells, and they offer a new path for “regenerative” medical treatments. Human embryonic stem cells are controversial because their creation requires the destruction of early-stage embryos. Induced cells do not, making them attractive test beds for analyzing the effect of new drugs on diseased cells.

  • Imagine that, Al Gore leading the way away from embryonic stem cells.
Obama Releases CIA Interrogation Material
Baring what he called a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” President Barack Obama on Thursday released a collection of secret Justice Department documents that provided graphic guidance to the CIA on how far it could go to extract information from terrorism suspects. The memos provide the most detailed account to date not only of the interrogation methods the CIA employed against suspected al-Qaida captives in secret prisons around the world but the legal arguments that the Bush administration constructed to justify their use. At the same time, Obama assured CIA employees and other U.S. operatives that they will be protected from prosecution or other legal exposure for their roles in the nation’s counterterrorism efforts over the past eight years. “This is a time for reflection, not retribution,” Obama said in a message delivered to CIA employees Thursday, explaining his decision to release a collection of documents.

The former head of the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush warned Friday that the release of documents detailing harsh interrogation methods holds major risks for U.S. security. “Whenever you release material that secretly relates the way we conduct operations against terrorists you run two risks. One is that you’re giving terrorists insights into things they need to prepare for, and they do prepare. And the second thing is you’re sending a message to our allies that we’re not reliable in terms of safeguarding confidential information,” former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Budget Woes Sharpen Political Differences in States

Democrats in state legislatures are seeking to raise taxes on the rich, and Republicans are trying to cut taxes for business — a replay of the fierce budget battles that have divided Congress. The classic fight over taxes is especially stark this year because states are struggling to balance budgets during the recession. More than 40 states are working on budgets for fiscal years that start July 1 in most states. New York took the lead this month, hiking its top income-tax rate from 6.95% to 8.98% on incomes of $500,000 and above. A dozen other states have proposals to raise taxes on the affluent. Georgia’s Republican Legislature used a different strategy. It cut business and capital gains taxes in an effort to generate jobs. “We’re trying to create a contrast to the overspending and overtaxing in (Washington,) D.C.,” says Georgia Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers. Stagnant budgets have sharpened philosophical differences about how to distribute limited funds.

Business News

General Electric, which has a stake in almost every sector of the economy, from light bulbs to locomotives, said Friday its first-quarter earnings fell 36% on sharply lower profits at its troubled finance arm.

General Motors Chief Executive Fritz Henderson says bankruptcy isn’t the company’s preferred option, but it’s probable given the restructuring goals GM must meet to get more government loans.

Citigroup’s problems are far from over, but Friday it reported its smallest quarterly loss since 2007. The bank posted a first-quarter loss to common shareholders of $966 million after massive loan losses and dividends to preferred stockholders. However, before paying those dividends, which were tied to the government’s investment in Citigroup, the bank earned $1.6 billion. A year ago, Citigroup suffered a loss of more than $5 billion, or $1.03 a share.

The sky isn’t falling at Google. While the search giant’s first quarter revenue of $5.51 billion slipped 3% compared to the last quarter of 2008, year over year revenue rose 6%. And first quarter net profits hit $1.42 billion, an 8% climb over the same year-ago period. “People are searching more but buying less,” CEO Eric Schmidt said.

Gannett Co. the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, posted a 60% drop in first-quarter profit Thursday on lower advertising revenue, kicking off what might be one of the worst quarters yet for newspaper publishers.

Once relentlessly profitable Southwest Airlines reported its third-consecutive quarterly loss Thursday. The discount airline reported losing $91 million, or 12 cents a share, in the first three months. It ordered a hiring freeze and offered employee buyouts.

Nokia Corp. on Thursday said its profits plummeted 90% in the first quarter as demand for mobile phones continued to weaken amid a slump. Sales fell 27%.

Arizona Jobless Claims Swamp Agency
As the ranks of Arizona’s unemployed swell, state officials find themselves falling further behind in processing the thousands of new claims for jobless benefits. The unemployment rate jumped to 7.8 percent in March and could hit 10 percent by the end of the year. Arizona has added staff, and employees have worked nights and weekends, but a processing backlog persists. Last week alone, the DES received 13,722 new claims for new and extended unemployment-insurance benefits, on top of 12,356 claims the week before. The department almost doubled its staff to 232 last year and is now hiring an additional 95 by July.
  • Fewer private sector jobs, more government jobs. Not a good equation.

Somali Government Knows Details on Pirates

Somalia‘s prime minister says his government has identified many pirate leaders but needs more resources and the help of other countries to go after them. Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke said he was willing to share that information and work with other governments including the United States. “We have information on who is behind this, who is involved,” Sharmarke said. “There is a lot of money flowing in … we are following very closely how money is distributed here.” He was referring to the fact that Somali pirates can earn $1 million or more in ransom for each hijacked ship. Forty-two ships were hijacked by Somali pirates last year, and so far 19 have been taken this year.

Donors Pledge $5B to Stabilize Pakistan

International donors, led by the United States and Japan, pledged more than $5 billion Friday to stabilize Pakistan’s troubled economy and fight the spread of terrorism in the Islamic nation and neighboring Afghanistan. The U.S. and Japan started off the one-day conference by pledging $1 billion each. Saudi Arabia added $700 million and the EU $640 million. The total pledged was $5.28 billion, according to Pakistan’s foreign minister. The donors said their contributions would be focused on improving the economic climate in Pakistan through infrastructure and other projects, and stressed that stability in Pakistan is key to averting the growth of terrorism throughout the region.

Earthquake Signs

Two earthquakes shook eastern Afghanistan early Friday, collapsing mud-brick homes on top of villagers while they slept and killing at least 21 people. The quakes hit four villages in the high mountains of the eastern province of Nangarhar, about 30 miles from the Pakistan border. The quakes destroyed or damaged an estimated 100 houses in the four villages in Sherzad district.

Weather Signs

The Earth’s temperature from January-March 2009 was the 8th-warmest on record, according to data released Thursday from the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. The global temperature of 55.04 degrees for the year’s first three months was almost a full degree above the 20th-century average of 54.1 degrees.

Peru‘s civil defense says a mudslide has buried 25 homes in two towns in the northern highlands. As many as 30 people are missing. The region has been battered by heavy rains.

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