Evangelists Say Muslims Coming to Christ at Historic Rate

Despite intense persecution for Muslim apostates, pastors say that Muslims in the Middle East are converting to Christianity at record rates and in supernatural ways. “Probably in the last 10 years, more Muslims have come to faith in Christ than in the last 15 centuries of Islam,” said Tom Doyle, Middle East-Central Asia director for e3 Partners, a Texas-based missions agency. According to Charisma Magazine, more than 200 former Muslims were baptized last month in Europe, led by Iran-born evangelist Lazarus Yeghnazar. Radio, television and Internet-based Christian programming to Muslim nations now reach millions. But Doyle says many Muslims come to faith after having dreams and visions of Jesus. “I can’t tell you how many Muslims I’ve met who say: ‘I was content. I was a Muslim, and all of a sudden I get this dream about Jesus and He loved me and said come follow Me,” Doyle said.

World Vision Wins Right to Hire, Fire Based on Religion

World Vision, the Christian humanitarian organization, can fire employees who disagree with its theological tenets, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday. In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that World Vision is a “religious corporation.” As such, the organization is exempt from a federal law that bars faith-based discrimination, Religion News Service reports. “I am satisfied that World Vision has met its burden of showing that the `general picture’ of the organization is ‘primarily religious,'” wrote Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain. “World Vision is a nonprofit organization whose humanitarian relief efforts flow from a profound sense of religious mission.”‘ Three employees, two of whom had worked at World Vision for 10 years, were fired in 2006 because they did not believe in the divinity of Jesus or the doctrine of the Trinity.

Huge Losses Put Federal Flood Insurance Plan in the Red

A growing number of repeatedly flooded properties – whose owners have collected billions of dollars from an insurance program regulated by Congress and run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.— have put the federal program in the red. FEMA‘s National Flood Insurance Program is the nation’s main flood insurer, created by law in 1968 as private companies stopped covering flood damage. The program insures 5.6 million properties nationwide and aims to be self-sustaining by paying claims from premiums it collects. Instead it’s running deeply in the red. A major reason, a USA TODAY review finds, is that the program has paid people to rebuild over and over in the nation’s worst flood zones while also discounting insurance rates by up to $1 billion a year for flood-prone properties. The generous benefits have forced the program to seek an unprecedented $19 billion taxpayer bailout.

  • Yet another federal government boondoggle.

Special Report: Katrina — Another Tale of FEMA Failure

While stories of the Federal Emergency Management Agency‘s contaminated trailers and the Army Corps of Engineers’ inability to shore up levees captured headlines in the aftermath of the deadly storms of 2005, the bungling of the SBA, lead federal agency helping people rebuild their homes and businesses, has largely been untold. The SBA failure represents an ominous harbinger of things to come as the agency prepares to play a similar role in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. The SBA failed in many ways, including applications for low-interest disaster loans that should have been approved but were not, of applications deleted from the SBA computer system for no valid reason, of impossible-to-meet deadlines manufactured to clear backlogs, and of a process so chaotic and painful that thousands simply gave up.

An Associated Press investigation based on more than 200 interviews, thousands of pages of public documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act and a first-ever detailed computer analysis of SBA data from hurricanes Katrina and Rita found that despite obvious need, 55% of homeowners and businesses that applied for help after the hurricanes were turned away. Only 60% of the loan money approved by SBA ultimately reached applicants. Of the money SBA did distribute, $357 million — nearly 6% — has never been repaid. More than a dozen people whose loans were charged off told the AP that the agency hasn’t contacted them about repayment. Homeowners and businesses in higher-income areas were more likely to get a loan than those in lower-income areas, according to AP’s analysis of SBA data by ZIP code. A disparity also existed along racial lines.

  • It’s not Obama, it’s not Bush, it’s bungling bureaucrats motivated by avarice and complacency and safe in their civil service jobs

School Districts Still Waiting for Federally Approved Funds

For months, pink-slipped teachers across the USA have waited for long-sought federal funding to save their jobs. And Congress finally appropriated $10 billion this month to bring back thousands of teachers, nurses, bus drivers and others. But as the school year begins, many educators are still waiting for the phone to ring. Many school districts might not get the money in time to bring back teachers. Others, fearing even worse economic times over the next two years, are simply planning to put a large share of their money in the bank to ward off further cuts next spring. The timing of the aid — states face a Sept. 9 deadline to apply for their share — makes it unclear whether they’ll get money in time to save many jobs this fall. And rehiring thousands of teachers may, in fact, produce its own set of problems, says Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy. “It’s a real dilemma, because if you bring somebody back, you may have to lay them off again next year.”

Stimulus Assessments Overly Optimistic

The Obama administration claimed this week that $100 billion invested in innovative technologies under the economic stimulus law is “transforming the American economy” by putting the nation on track for technological breakthroughs in health care, energy and transportation. But a Newsmax examination of details in the 50-page report unveiled Tuesday by Vice President Joe Biden reveals something a bit different: a collection of rosy projections that ignore many of the challenges, pitfalls and economic realities in all those areas. The claim: Thanks to the stimulus, the U.S. is on track to “doubling U.S. renewable energy generation capacity and U.S. renewable manufacturing capacity by 2012.” The facts: While the Recovery Act has helped increase renewable energy, the fact that it is a one-time jolt makes it difficult to project that the growth will continue for the next couple of years.

US, Mexico Fail to Stem Flow of Drug Money South

Mexican drug cartels are moving tens of billions of dollars in profits south across the border each year, according to a report in The Washington Post. U.S. and Mexican authorities are seizing just 1 percent of the illegal cash flow, according to a Post analysis. The Obama administration has proposed a $600 million ramp-up in spending and personnel, including additional scanners and dogs, to capture more of the cash going from U.S. drug users to Mexican mafias. Meanwhile, the drug traffickers and their suppliers smuggle $20-25 billion in U.S. bank notes across the southwest border annually as they seek to circumvent banking regulations and the flags sent up by large cash deposits.

Economic New

The economy grew at a much slower pace this spring than previously estimated, mostly because of the largest surge in imports in 26 years and a slower buildup in inventories. The nation’s gross domestic product — the broadest measure of the economy’s output — grew at a 1.6% annual rate in the April-to-June period, the Commerce Department said Friday. That’s down from an initial estimate of 2.4% last month and much slower than the first quarter’s 3.7% pace. The widening trade deficit subtracted nearly 3.4 percentage points from second -quarter growth, the largest hit from a trade imbalance since 1947.

In the latest reminder to investors that any money invested in stocks has been dead money for more than a decade, the Dow Jones industrial average, which first closed above 10,000 in 1999, finished Thursday back below the key milestone. The Dow and the broader U.S. stock market have been under heavy selling pressure since early August, when a steady stream of weaker-than-expected economic data on jobs, housing and manufacturing caused investors to question the sustainability of the economic recovery.

New requests for unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, the first decline in a month. The drop comes after a steep rise the previous three weeks that sent claims to their highest level in nine months. Even with last week’s decline, the four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 486,750, the most since November 2009. Claims remain much higher than they would be in a healthy economy. Employers are reluctant to hire as economic growth appears to be slowing.

States across the USA are taking steps to deal with an armada of derelict boats abandoned by their owners in a tough economy. Fines for abandoning boats in state waters vary. In Massachusetts, it’s $10,000. In South Carolina: $475. States try to charge owners for removal costs, but one in five abandoned boats have all the identifying marks removed. Twelve states, including Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee, have passed laws on abandoned boats which streamline the process of taking title and disposing of boats when owners cannot be found.

North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il granted former President Jimmy Carter’s request to “leniently forgive” Aijalon Gomes, the official Korean Central News Agency reported, and Carter and Gomes were due back in Boston later Friday for a reunion with his mother. Gomes was the fourth American in a year arrested for trespassing in North Korea, a communist nation that fought against the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War and does not have diplomatic relations with Washington. Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested last March and released only after former President Bill Clinton made a similar trip to Pyongyang to plead for their freedom. Activist Robert Park deliberately crossed into the country from China in December but was expelled some 40 days later after issuing an apology carried by North Korean state media. Aijalon Gomes, who had been teaching English in South Korea, attended rallies in Seoul in January calling for Park’s release. He was arrested in North Korea just two weeks later.

Iraq

Democracy is alive in Iraq. Under Saddam Hussein, those who spoke out against the government may have been visited by the secret police for their remarks and then never seen again. Today, no one fears for their lives for simply speaking out. Yet many Iraqis are not pleased with life. Unemployment is 35%, according to Iraq’s development ministry. Electricity is spotty. Terrorist bombings are almost a daily event. Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds are still arguing over who should be prime minister nearly six months after parliamentary elections were held. Many are still mourning the thousands who died in the violence that followed the defeat of the Baathist regime; a number the Iraq health ministry estimates at 87,000. And although violence has declined from a peak in 2007, it is a constant threat. The seven years of fighting cost the lives of more than 4,400 Americans. The financial cost of the war for the United States has been more than $748 billion, making it the most expensive U.S. war apart from World War II in current dollars.In a USA TODAY Poll, 60% of Americans say “No,” when asked “Do you think the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over?”

Insurgents killed six members of a government-allied Sunni militia in an ambush northeast of Baghdad on Thursday, police said, offering no respite to a nation still reeling from a spate of attacks on police and soldiers a day earlier that left at least 56 dead. Government-allied fighters, known as Sahwa or Awakening Councils, were driving near the town of Muqdadiyah around 1:30 a.m. when their car hit a roadside bomb. The Sahwa are a government-backed Sunni militia that joined forces with U.S. troops against al-Qaeda in 2006 and helped turn the tide of the war. Since then, the Sahwa fighters have become frequent targets of insurgent attacks. The early morning ambush comes on the heels of a string of attacks a day earlier that struck at least 13 Iraqi cities. The attacks made August the deadliest month for Iraqi security forces in two years.

Afghanistan

President Hamid Karzai on Thursday criticized the U.S. plan to begin withdrawing troops starting next July and said the war on terror cannot succeed as long as the Taliban and their allies maintain sanctuaries in Pakistan. Karzai’s statements were made during a meeting with visiting U.S. congressmen and come at a time when the Obama administration is ratcheting up pressure on the Afghan leader to do more to stamp out corruption. The Afghan government maintains that the U.S. should be doing more on other fronts, including pressuring Pakistan to shut down the insurgent sanctuaries. Karzai said President Barack Obama‘s announcement that he would begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan in July 2011 has given “the enemy a morale boost” because they believe they can simply hold out until the Americans leave.

Insurgents killed eight Afghan policemen in a raid early Thursday on a checkpoint outside the northern city of Kunduz. Police suspected the raid was carried out by militants from Russia‘s restive Chechnya region who are active in the surrounding province. Kunduz has seen an increasing number of attacks on Afghan and foreign coalition forces who rely on a supply line running south through the province from neighboring Tajikistan. Foreign fighters from Chechnya, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf are smuggled into the area over the rugged mountainous border with Pakistan to the east.

Yemen

U.S. officials believe al Qaeda in Yemen is now collaborating more closely with allies in Pakistan and Somalia to plot attacks against the U.S., spurring the prospect that the administration will mount a more intense targeted killing program in Yemen. Such a move would give the Central Intelligence Agency a far larger role in what has until now been mainly a secret U.S. military campaign against militant targets in Yemen and across the Horn of Africa. It would likely be modeled after the CIA’s covert drone campaign in Pakistan. The U.S. military’s Special Operation Forces and the CIA have been positioning surveillance equipment, drones and personnel in Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia to step up targeting of al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Haiti

Even as signs of commerce have reappeared in the six months since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake of Jan. 12, Port-au-Prince residents are forced to scrounge for life’s basic necessities. Baptist Press reports that seas of tents and blue tarps form makeshift cities covering open fields, barren lots and river beds as the nation grapples with providing housing for the estimated 1.5 million homeless. Those in the tent cities must cope with daily seasonal rains that soak their belongings and leave them susceptible to diseases and pneumonia. Yet a spiritual movement is gaining momentum as Haitians cry out to the Lord, said Phito François, the Confraternite Missionaire Baptise d’Haiti (CMBH). “There are no places to sit in the churches, more benches are needed to hold the people.”

Nigeria

All of Nigeria is at risk in a cholera epidemic that has killed 352 people in only three-months time, health officials warned Wednesday, as the country’s rainy season continues to spread the water-born infection. The nation’s Health Ministry issued a statement saying Nigeria has had more than 6,400 cases of the disease since June. Doctors now have detected it in 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states. Cholera is a fast-moving infection that causes diarrhea in victims, leading to severe dehydration and possible death. The infection is highly contagious yet easily preventable with clean water and sanitation.

Wildfires

Families looked for valuables, pets and mementoes Wednesday in the ashes of 11 homes destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire while a homeless man accused of starting the blaze sat in jail. Other people at a homeless camp along Interstate 5 just outside the city limits saw John Thiry running from the initial fire Tuesday afternoon. The fire immediately burned an abandoned barn where homeless people sleep, and the embers blew across the freeway, touching off the blaze that raced through a subdivision.

In southern Idaho, firefighters hoped calmer, cooler weather would help them gain ground on a wildfire that scorched more than 510 square miles. The lightning-sparked fire was fueled by strong winds Sunday and Monday, blackening more than 306,000 acres. So far, crews have contained 40% of the fire burning across a desolate, flat landscape of sagebrush and cheatgrass. Full containment was forecast for the weekend.

Meanwhile, firefighters planned an aerial attack on a 1,300-acre wildfire that temporarily forced the evacuation of 200 homes in Kern County, about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Low temperatures and higher humidity allowed crews to close in on the two-square-mile fire overnight.

Weather

Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis were fleeing a southern district Friday after the bloated Indus River crushed a levee and flooded new areas, officials said. The U.N. said as many as 1 million more people have been displaced in the south since midweek. More than 8 million people are need in of emergency assistance across the country. U.N. aid agencies along with a host of other relief groups have been rushing people and supplies to affected regions as the flooding has lashed Pakistan over the past month. The latest evacuations came after the Taliban issued a veiled threat against foreign aid workers helping out after the floods, a development that stands to complicate one of the largest relief efforts the world as ever seen.

California sweltered through the third day of a heat wave on Wednesday with highs expected to reach triple digits again and set records in the valleys and deserts. The weather service issued excessive heat warnings for a dangerous afternoon combination of high temperatures and humidity in Central and Southern California mountains and Southern California valleys and deserts. A lesser heat advisory was in place for San Jose and interior valleys around San Francisco Bay. Several locations tied or broke record highs.

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