Signs of the Times (1/20/12)

Adult Stem Cells Save Man’s Life

Thanks to adult stem cell research, a Baltimore cancer patient now has a new trachea. The 30-year-old man was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in his windpipe. “They tried chemotherapy and radiation, but they just couldn’t get rid of this tumor,” Dr. David Prentice of the Family Research Council  reports. “They couldn’t take it out because they had nothing to put back in in terms of his windpipe, and it was slowly going to choke him to death.” But Christopher Lyles found Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, an Italian who is a visiting professor at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Macchiarini had developed a technique using the patient’s own bone marrow adult stem cells to build new tissue and save many lives. In this case, adult stem cells were used on a sort of scaffold. “The cells started to grow. They realized they were supposed to be windpipe because that was the position they were in his chest,” Dr. Prentice explains. “They grew a whole new windpipe for him.”

  • The case adds to the more than 70 different ways in which adult stem cells have successfully been used in a medical treatment. Meanwhile, research using human embryos has produced no usable results.

Nearly 60 Percent of Young People Leaving the Church

A recent study by the Barna Group found that almost 60 percent of Christian young people ages 15 to 29 have distanced themselves from active involvement in church, CBN News reports. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, says a few reasons behind the mass exodus include young people finding churches “shallow,” feeling that God is missing from services, and feeling that church is not a safe place to express doubts. He added that in many cases, churches have failed to equip young people to live “in but not of” the world. “[Young people] tell us that … Christianity has become so hip, so watered-down, so about entertainment — and they’re looking for something of more substance,” Kinnaman said. However, not all is lost: Kinnaman said this has led some young people to begin attending more traditional, conservative churches. “They want to feel that their faith matters, that they’re learning the truth of Scripture,” he said.

NYC’s 40 Percent Abortion Rate Highest in the U.S.

According to a recent report released by the local health department, the abortion rate in New York City is more than double the national average, CBN News reports. Statistics show that 40 percent of all pregnancies in the city end in abortion, the highest rate in the United States. More than 83,000 abortions were performed in 2010, down 1 percent from 2009. The report showed that the abortion rate was highest in the African-American community, with 60 percent of all pregnancies ending in abortion, and that pregnant teenagers had abortions 63 percent of the time.

Pro-Life Activists Call for Support of ‘Sanctity of Human Life Sunday’

This Sunday, January 22, is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, and pro-life activists are calling for national support. In a Jan. 13, 1984 proclamation, then-president Ronald Reagan designated the third Sunday of January as “National Sanctity of Human Life Day,” a date chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in America. In the now almost 40 years since Roe v. Wade, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that more than 50 million abortions have taken place in the U.S. Christian singer, author and pro-life activist Rebecca St. James is calling on Americans this Sunday to remember the pro-life cause and the mission of crisis pregnancy centers, who every day “empower women to choose life,” she said. Recent statistics show Americans are increasingly supporting the pro-life agenda, she added, and emphasized the need to let their voices and funding make a difference.

Obama Rejects Keystone Pipeline from Canada to Texas

President Obama’s rejection Wednesday of rapid approval of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas triggered Republican and business community objections but also signs from Obama and the pipeline company that the issue was far from over. Obama said House Republicans forced his decision by including a provision in last month’s legislation for a short-term extension to the payroll tax cut that required him to either issue a permit to allow the 1,700-mile pipeline to be built or explain why it was not in the national interest by Feb. 21. Obama said he rejected the permit application now based on the State Department’s recommendation, which concluded there wasn’t enough time to vet alternate pipeline routes. Obama was putting politics ahead of jobs and the nation’s energy security by rejecting the pipeline now, Republicans and oil industry leaders said. TransCanada, the pipeline’s builder, said the company would reapply for permitting and asked for the application to be processed in time to get the pipeline online by 2014.

Under Obama, Oil, Gas Production on Federal Lands Down 40%

A new Heritage Foundation report on energy production reveals that oil and gas production on federal land, over which President Obama and his appointees have jurisdiction, is down 40 percent. In Obama’s announcement this week torpedoing plans for the Keystone XL pipeline, Obama claimed under his administration “domestic oil and natural gas production is up.” But the Heritage Foundation’s report on “The Foundry” shows that the House Natural Resources Committee unveiled figures showing under Obama, there were the fewest onshore oil and gas leases issued since 1984. Overall energy production increases are coming from private projects on private lands – and those are the driving force behind the hottest spots in the American economy right now – North Dakota with a 3.4 percent unemployment rate, Alaska with its perennially low unemployment and Texas, which has by the numbers created more jobs in recent years than the rest of the country.

House Passes Symbolic Rejection of Debt Hike

The GOP-controlled House on Wednesday kicked off another session with a protest vote against raising the government’s borrowing cap by $1.2 trillion, but the maneuver amounted to political theater under a process stacked on purpose in President Obama’s favor. The nearly party-line 239-176 vote puts the House on record against Obama’s use of unprecedented authority — awarded to him through a mechanism devised by the Senate’s top Republican — to unilaterally raise the so-called debt limit unless Congress can muster the votes to block him. The Senate is sure to kill the measure next week, and Obama’s veto power serves as a final guarantee that the increase will go through as intended and that the nation won’t face another debt crisis like last summer.

  • The political machinations over the debt crisis have grown ludicrous at best

Support for Anti-Piracy Bills Wanes

Bowing to the power of the Internet, several key lawmakers withdrew support for anti-piracy legislation after a 24-hour blackout by thousands of websites Wednesday, likely quashing any chance the bills would pass in their current form. Members of Congress faced a barrage of concerned and sometimes angry calls and e-mails from constituents made aware of the protests when they sat down at their computers Wednesday. Thousands of websites — ranging from Wikipedia, Moveon.org and Reddit to small sites and individual blogs — went dark Wednesday, urging their users to call or e-mail their lawmaker representatives’ offices and tweet en masse against the twin bills. The legislation — the Stop Online Piracy Act (a House bill commonly called SOPA) and the Protect IP Act in the Senate (called PIPA) — would allow U.S. attorneys general and copyright holders to enforce punitive actions against websites selling counterfeit goods or violating intellectual property rights.

U.K Occupy Camp Must be Removed

An Occupy London protest camp that has sprawled outside the city’s St. Paul’s Cathedral for three months must be removed, a British judge ruled Wednesday. High Court Judge Keith Lindblom backed local authorities who are trying to evict the protest against capitalist excess, inspired by New York’s Occupy Wall Street movement. It has been encamped outside the 300-year-old church since mid-October. The City of London Corporation, successfully argued that the right to protest does not justify a semi-permanent campsite affecting the rights of worshippers, businesses and tourists.

Business/Consumer Debt Down, Government Up

Debt as a percentage of the U.S. economy totaled 279% in the second quarter of last year, far below Japan’s 512% and the U.K.’s 507%, and on par with Germany and Australia. While U.S. federal debt rose through the recession, companies and consumers have deleveraged briskly. Household debt, the biggest part of U.S. debt, fell by $584 billion, or 4% — two-thirds of which is due to defaults on home loans and other debt — to $13.2 trillion. financial firms’ debt fell from $8 trillion to $6.1 trillion — equal to 2000 levels as a percentage of GDP— though half the drop can be traced to the demise of Wall Street firms such as Lehman Bros. Corporations are already at healthy debt levels.

Economic News

Weekly unemployment benefit applications sank 50,000 to 352,000 for the week ended Jan. 14, the lowest level of claims since April 2008. The Labor Department says the 50,000 decline is the biggest drop in the seasonally adjusted figure in more than six years. The four-week average, which smooths out fluctuations, dropped to 379,000. That’s the second-lowest such figure in more than three years. When weekly applications fall consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to push down the unemployment rate.

Consumer prices were unchanged last month, the latest sign that inflation remains tame. Lower gas prices offset rising costs for food, medical care and housing. The consumer price index was flat in December for the second straight month. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, so-called “core” prices rose 0.1%.

The Commerce Department says builders started just 606,900 homes in 2011. That’s up slightly from 587,000 in 2010 and 554,000 in 2009 — the worst year on records dating back 50 years. In a healthy market, economists say, about 1.2 million homes are started each year.

Middle East

The Jerusalem Post reported on Thursday that the IDF has received intelligence that the Iranian backed Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah, which controls Lebanon, has taken advantage of the chaos in neighboring Syria to acquire stocks of highly sophisticated military equipment, including highly accurate air-defense and long-range surface-to-surface missiles. IDF chief of the general staff, Lt. General Benny Gantz warned of the proliferation of advanced weapons to terrorist groups during his address at the NATO summit in Brussels on Wednesday.

Sources from the Palestinian Islamist terror militia Hamas and the even more violent Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group have announced that they are in negotiations to merge into one faction. “An in-depth dialogue has actually begun, both internally and externally, with the aim of uniting,” PIJ spokesman Daud Shihab told AFP, adding that previous attempts to merge the groups have failed but that the current effort is being conducted at the highest levels of leadership in the two groups, including the leaders being held in Israeli jails. The talks have caused a stir among observers of Palestinian politics, which are still in flux due to the ongoing efforts of Hamas to form a unity government with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, despite warnings from Israel and the West that such a move would mean the end of cooperation and financial support.

Syria

A former Arab League observer sent to monitor an end to government violence against democracy protesters said that Syrian officials tried to intimidate him and his colleagues and that only military aid to the rebels will end the conflict. “Right now, the country is poised for ultimate civil war.” Rather than rely on sanctions, the U.S. and other countries should arm Syrian rebel forces to stop the kinds of slayings he witnessed, Malek said. U.S. officials have uncovered an effort by Iran to help mask its oil exports and evade an American and European embargo, in a potent new sign of Tehran’s campaign to bolster Syrian President Bashar al Assad

Syria’s powerful allies in Russia vowed Wednesday to block any Western attempts to intervene militarily in Syria as Damascus fights off an increasingly chaotic 10-month-old revolt against President Bashar Assad. The support came as Assad was showing fresh confidence that he can ride out the uprising with the help of a small — but influential — set of friends in Russia, China and Iran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the West against encouraging anti-government uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, insisting that such attitudes could lead to “a very big war that will cause suffering not only to countries in the region, but also to states far beyond its boundaries.”

  • These are just the set of conspirators Ezekiel 38-39 warns against in the latter days

Afghanistan

The Obama administration is moving ahead with plans for negotiating with the Taliban, confident that talks offer the best chance to end the 10-year-old war in Afghanistan. But the military worries things are moving too fast, and intelligence agencies offered a gloomy prognosis in their latest Afghanistan report. The diplomatic, military and intelligence branches of the U.S. government differ over the value of talks with the Taliban or whether now is the right time to so publicly shift focus away from the ongoing military campaign that primarily targets Taliban insurgents. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and some uniformed military leaders have recently sounded some of the strongest notes of caution. The latest Afghan National Intelligence Estimate warns that the Taliban will grow stronger, using the talks to gain credibility and run out the clock until U.S. troops depart Afghanistan, while continuing to fight for more territory.

France is suspending all training operations for Afghan troops and threatening to pull its entire force out of Afghanistan early after an Afghan soldier shot and killed four French soldiers Friday. The attack was among the most deadly for French forces in the 10 years they have been serving in the international force in Afghanistan. French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed the death, which brings to 82 the number of French troops killed in the Afghan campaign. A big part of the French role recently has been training Afghan troops ahead of an expected pullout of the around 4,000 French troops currently there in 2014.

A suicide attacker blew himself up at an entrance to Kandahar Air Field in southern Afghanistan Thursday. At least six civilians died in the explosion. The attacker, who was on foot, tried to get close to the gate of the massive air base, which is used by U.S.-led coalition forces, and detonated his explosives. It was the second suicide bombing in as many days in the southern Afghan province, which is the birthplace of the Taliban insurgency.

Pakistan

The US State Department is reporting today that a request to allow Special Envoy Marc Grossman to visit Pakistan has been turned down by the Pakistani government, citing the “prevailing situation” in the nation. The exact “why” of this rejection has been the subject of considerable speculation, with some suggesting the move is a function of the strained relationship between the US and Pakistan since the November attack on Pakistani military bases by US warplanes. But some officials suggest it might be more a function of the deteriorating internal political situation than the long-standing gripes with the U.S.

  • Nuclear-armed, terrorist-riddled Pakistan is coming apart at the seams and bodes major future trouble

Laos

Seven Christian leaders who were detained and tortured for nearly a month in southern Laos have been released, but concerns remain about the confiscation of church buildings in the area, according to International Christian Concern. The Christians, who were arrested for violating their village’s local traditional customs and spirit beliefs because of their Christian faith practices, were held in wooden stocks, sometimes combined with exposure to red fire ants as a form of torture, and forced to pay steep fines, said Sirikoon Prasertsee, director of the Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom. While pleased the church leaders were released, Prasertsee said he remained concerned about churches being confiscated nearby. Authorities have barred Christians from entering two church buildings in Savannakhet province, and 23 others are at risk of government seizure. The Christian minority in Laos is generally viewed as a threat to the communist government, although officials repeatedly deny human rights abuses against minorities.

Earthquakes

Iran’s state TV says the number of people injured by a Thursday earthquake of moderate strength affecting the northeastern city of Neyshabour has increased to around 230. Many residents of the city camped out overnight in subzero weather in streets and parks, fearing further tremors. Since Thursday afternoon’s magnitude 5.5 earthquake, some 75 aftershocks have jolted the city of 220,000 about 550 miles northeast of the capital Tehran.

Wildfires

A raging wildfire pushed by high winds raced across a tinder-dry landscape south of Reno on Thursday, destroying an undetermined number of homes and other buildings as firefighters raced to save property in harm’s way. Winds from an approaching storm fanned an explosive fire, forcing the closure of U.S. 395 south of Reno and prompting Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to declare a state of emergency in response to the rare winter blaze. The Washoe Drive Fire burned more than 3,700 acres and was zero percent contained Thursday night No injuries were reported, and the fire’s cause was not known late Thursday.

Weather

A strong La Niña lowered the world’s average temperature last year to its second-coolest reading of the 2000s, federal scientists announced Thursday. The release of the two primary climate data sets both show the Earth as warmer than average, but not as warm as recent years have been. The climate center reported that the globe had its 11th-warmest year on record.

A monster Pacific Northwest storm coated Washington with freezing rain on Thursday and brought much of the state to a standstill as the Seattle airport temporarily shut down, tens of thousands of people lost power and hundreds of cars slid off roads a day after the region was hit with a major snowfall. The storm claimed at least one life — a child whose body was pulled from an Oregon creek where a car was swept away from a grocery store parking lot. Freezing rain and ice pellets caused numerous accidents in the Seattle area, where drivers are mostly inexperienced with driving in snow or ice. The last widespread freezing rain in Seattle was in December 1996. Authorities are also worried about flooding in the coming days as temperatures warm up. The intense winter storm was just the first in an onslaught of powerful storms forecast to hammer the northwest into next week.

Avalanches have killed at least 29 people in Afghanistan’s mountainous northeast as rescuers struggled to reach the worst-hit areas cut off by heavy snows. At least 40 more people have been injured in a series of avalanches since Monday in Badakhshan province. Roads outside the provincial capital of Faizabad are blocked by at least 6 feet of snow.

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