Signs of the Times (1/27/12)

An Entire Christian Library in the Palm of Your Hand

Bible League International and the Digital Bible Society are partnering to create thumbnail-sized chips containing an entire seminary library and distribute them to Christians in countries where possessing unapproved religious materials can result in punishment or death, such as Saudi Arabia and China, the Religion News Service reports. “It’s like a miniature Christian bookstore,” said Robert Frank, global CEO of Bible League International. Each chip includes a library’s worth of multiple versions of the Bible, Bible commentaries, Bible studies, Christian books, movies and worship music, and leaves no traces on the computer of its use, unlike the trails left by accessing websites. They are available in Arabic, Farsi, Mandarin and other languages in areas where Christians are persecuted. “Pastors in these countries want to be trained, but they have no seminaries,” said Melany Ethridge of the Bible League.

Survey Reveals ‘Cultural Divide’ Between White House, Churchgoing Americans

The annual Spiritual State of the Nation survey by Truth in Action Ministries of more than 6,800 evangelical Americans found deep disagreement with the Obama administration’s policies and an overwhelming mistrust of the president, according to TIAM’s John Aman. Just 2 percent of respondents said they trusted President Obama, and only 9 percent trusted the government to keep the nation safe. Ninety-eight percent opposed giving taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood, 99 percent opposed same-sex marriage, 85 percent opposed allowing open homosexuals to serve in the U.S. military, and 95 percent favored a federal amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Jerry Newcombe, co-host of Truth That Transforms said: “This survey reveals a gaping cultural divide between our current White House and ordinary church-going Americans who embrace biblical morality and want traditional values reflected in our nation’s laws. It’s no wonder that so many in the Christian community deeply mistrust the president.”

World Economic Forum Chairman Declares Capitalism Outdated

The World Economic Forum is holding its annual meeting this week with 1,600 economic and political leaders attending, including forty heads of state. On the night before the conference began, Forum founder and chairman Klaus Schwab said, “We are in an era of pro­found change that urgently requires new ways of thinking instead of more business-as-usual… cap­i­talism in its cur­rent form, has no place in the world around us. He further describes the cap­i­talist system as “out­dated and crumbling.”

  • The New World Order folks are socialist elites who do not want the masses to have the opportunity to acquire wealth and, therefore, see free-market capitalism as a threat to their ongoing control

Canada an Economic Role Model?

Canada faced up to its debt problem in the 1990s when both the Liberal and Conservative parties agreed to cut government spending by $7 for every dollar in tax increases. Canada’s debt burden has fallen from 67% of gross domestic product (the U.S. is currently just over 1005) to 29% without ruining the job market. With less debt, Canada was not as affected by the global recession as the U.S. was. Its dollar had been worth less than 70 cents of ours a decade ago, but has climbed back to even par.

  • Are our leaders blind or just plain obtuse? Neither. They are socialists.

Obama, Brewer Have Tense Exchange in Arizona

President Obama and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer had what was described as an intense encounter on the tarmac after the president arrived in the Grand Canyon state on Wednesday. Brewer greeted the president as he arrived off Air Force One. “He immediately took umbrage with my book, ‘Scorpions for Breakfast,’ and was somewhat disgruntled by the way he was portrayed,” Brewer later told Fox News in an interview with Greta Van Susteren. “He’s very thin-skinned.” Reporters who witnessed the exchange described that the two spoke “intensely” and chatted longer than the typical meet and greet on the runway, with Brewer jabbing her finger angrily at Obama. Obama walked away from her while they were still talking. The encounter sent “Jan Brewer” to No. 8 on Twitter’s trending topics in the U.S. and online sales of Brewer’s book “Scorpions for Breakfast” exploded.

Gov. Jan Brewer on Thursday evening made public a copy of the letter she handed President Barack Obama during their high-profile encounter a day earlier. The one-page letter was written in cursive script on Executive Office stationery. The letter touches on job creation, the state’s budget, and Brewer mentions visiting the border. “You’ve arrived in a state at the forefront of America’s recovery — and her future,” she wrote. “We both love this great country, but we fundamentally disagree on how to best make America grow and prosper once again. I’d love an opportunity to share with you how we’ve been able to turn Arizona around with hard choices that turned out to be the right ones. And, of course, my offer to visit the border — and buy lunch — still stands.”

  • Perhaps Obama should listen to Brewer, since Arizona is leading the way with a budget surplus for 2012

New Pentagon Plan: More Drones & Special Ops, Less Traditional Forces

The Pentagon plans to expand its global network of drones and special-operations bases in a fundamental realignment meant to project U.S. power, even as it cuts back conventional forces. The plan unveiled by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday calls for a 30% increase in the U.S. fleet of armed unmanned aircraft in the coming years. It also foresees the deployment of more special-operations teams at a growing number of small “lily pad” bases across the globe where they can mentor local allies and launch missions. The utility of such tools was evident on Wednesday after an elite team—including members of Navy SEAL Team Six, the unit that killed Osama bin Laden—parachuted into Somalia and freed an American woman and Danish man held hostage for months. The shift follows the U.S. troop pullout from Iraq in December, and comes alongside the gradual U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, where a troop-intensive strategy is giving way to an emphasis on small, secret operations in place of larger wars.

  • In the age of global terrorism, this is a necessary adjustment in tactics

Program Reducing Numbers of Homeless Vets

In what the administration calls an unprecedented effort, the Housing, Veterans Affairs and Labor departments and a network of federally funded community service agencies are working together to move every homeless veteran into permanent housing by 2015. The population of homeless vets fell 12% last year — from about 76,000 in 2010 to 67,000, according to a federally sponsored annual count of homeless people, including vets, taken on a single night in January 2011. This year’s count is under way and the results will be available later this year. According to the Congressional Research Service, homeless veterans numbered nearly 196,000 in fiscal 2006. Advocates say the homeless vet population is always undercounted. About 1.5 million veterans are at risk of ending up on the streets because of poverty and other problems, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. HUD statistics show the program has distributed nearly housing 38,000 vouchers to the most vulnerable homeless vets over the past four years. Administration officials are optimistic the number of homeless vets will continue to decline, but funding for that effort is already being cut.

Mass Transit Ridership Increasing

Mass transit ridership is up nationally, and experts don’t know why. The increasing ridership reflects a national trend that is forcing transit planners to rethink basic assumptions about the reasons people either ride buses and trains or stop using them. For decades, transit agencies saw that in recessions, people rode less because they had less money and fewer jobs. But something else has happened during this economic downturn. But a recent survey of riders, and what Ketcherside has gleaned from customer comments, suggests one answer: People are more willing to use transit. The American Public Transportation Association agrees, saying changing demographics, shifting habits and technological innovations are steering more people onto buses and trains.

Lunches to Have More Veggies, Fruits

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday unveiled new nutrition standards that will require schools to add more fruits and vegetables to lunch while gradually reducing the amount of sodium and trans fat. The rules also set calorie limits for the millions of meals served annually through the National School Lunch Program. The changes, which will be phased in over three years beginning July 1, are the first major revisions the agency has made to the federal lunch program in more than 15 years. The switch is part of a national focus on childhood obesity and the associated risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

Gates Injects $750M in Troubled Global Fund

Bill Gates rode to the rescue of a beleaguered health fund Thursday by pledging $750 million to fight three of world’s killer diseases. The Microsoft founder says the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s donation to the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria comes on top of $650 million it contributed to the fund over the past decade. Gates said his pledge at the World Economic Forum — a magnet for the world’s business elite — is meant to encourage other potential donors.

Economic News

The nation’s economy grew at a 2.8% annual rate the last three months of 2011, falling short of expectations as spending by consumers, businesses and governments came in below economists’ projections. Adjusted for inflation, the economy grew just 1.7% last year, almost half of 2010’s 3% growth. Americans spent more on cars and trucks, and companies built up their stockpiles. But growth in the October-December quarter was held back by the biggest annual government spending cuts in four decades.

The Federal Reserve, declaring that the economy would need help for years to come, said Wednesday it would extend by 18 months the period that it plans to hold down interest rates in an effort to spur growth. The economy expanded “moderately” in recent weeks, the Fed said in a statement released after a two-day meeting of its policy-making committee, but jobs were still scarce, the housing sector remained deeply depressed and Europe’s flirtation with crisis could undermine the nascent domestic recovery.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to a seasonally adjusted 377,000, after a nearly four-year low the previous week. Applications have trended downward over the past few months. The average has fallen about 9% since Oct. 1. The four week average, a less volatile measure, is down to 377,500, a level that could sustain moderate improvement in the jobs market.

Orders to factories for long-lasting manufactured goods increased by 3% in December after businesses stepped up spending on machinery and other capital goods. The second straight monthly gain offered more evidence that the economy has begun the new year with some momentum.

Egypt

Egypt appears to be back at square one. Hundreds of thousands of protesters who took to the streets across Egypt on Wednesday demanding more freedoms and justice, which they say have not followed the toppling of dictator Hosni Mubarak. In Tahrir Square, the center of revolutionary protests a year ago, members of the long-banned but now politically ascendant Muslim Brotherhood blared religious songs and chants of “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”). A dozen large marches organized by secular groups converged on Tahrir from various parts of the city, chanting “Down with military rule!” and filling boulevards. The “non-Islamists” swarmed into the downtown plaza before sunset, jam-packing it to outnumber the Islamists.

Several foreign civil rights workers in Egypt, including six Americans, are not being allowed to leave the country while officials decide whether to charge them for their work with democracy activists. The workers, who include Sam LaHood, director of the International Republican Institute’s Egypt program and son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, work for democracy organizations that provide training on setting up political parties, civil rights groups and elections. Egyptian police raided the offices of 10 foreign civil rights organizations last month, including three U.S. organizations. Police seized computers, files and cash.

Iran

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran is ready for new nuclear talks with the West. The Iranian president’s comments come as the United States and Europe have begun tightening sanctions against Iran in an attempt to convince it to halt uranium enrichment, which they worry could lead to weapons-grade material.. Ahmadinejad’s remarks follow other indications that Tehran is ready to a new round of talks with the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany. The last round of talks was held in Turkey last January, but the negotiations ended with no resolution.

  • Iran only ‘talks’ as a means of stalling. They remain fixated on producing nuclear weapons.

Syria

A “terrifying massacre” in the restive Syrian city of Homs has killed more than 30 people, including small children, in a barrage of mortar fire and attacks by armed forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, activists said Friday. Videos posted online from activists showed the bodies of children wrapped in plastic bags lined up next to each other. The Syrian uprising began last March with largely peaceful anti-government protests, but it has grown increasingly militarized in recent months as frustrated regime opponents and army defectors arm themselves and fight back against government forces. Syria has a volatile sectarian divide, making civil unrest one of the most dire scenarios. The Assad regime is dominated by the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, but the country is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.

Afghanistan

A suicide car bomber targeting a NATO-sponsored reconstruction team killed four Afghan civilians, including a child, and wounded 31 on Thursday in southern Afghanistan. Three civilian international members of the aid team — two men and one woman — were among the wounded. The bomber detonated his explosives-laden vehicle Thursday morning as a convoy of a NATO Provincial Reconstruction Team passed by in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province.

Attacks with makeshift bombs hit a record high of more than 16,000 in Afghanistan in the past year. The number of improvised explosive devices that were cleared or detonated rose to 16,554 from 15,225, an increase of 9% over 2010. Insurgent reliance on IEDs as their No. 1 weapon meant a rise in concussions and severe wounds to U.S. servicemembers who have been operating on foot to root out Taliban fighters in remote areas. Civilians were increasingly becoming the main victims.

Iraq

A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed car near a funeral procession in southeastern Baghdad on Friday, killing at least 28 people. The predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniyah, where mourners had gathered for the funeral of a person killed the day before. Another 61 people were wounded in the attack. Iraqi officials say insurgents also bombed a house belonging to two policemen and their families in central Iraq, killing 10 people inside it. The house where the two policemen brothers lived was leveled when insurgents planted bombs around it. Both policemen and two children under one years of age were among the dead. At least 200 people have been killed in a wave of attacks by suspected insurgents since the beginning of the year, raising concerns that the surge in violence and an escalating political crisis might deteriorate into a civil war, just weeks after the U.S. military withdrawal.

Earthquakes

An earthquake with preliminary 5.2-magnitude shook Greece’s southern Aegean Sea islands Friday, the second in two days. Civil protection officials said no damage to buildings was reported, but two people were slightly injured trying to flee their homes on the island of Crete. The undersea earthquake occurred at 3:33 a.m. Friday about 46 kilometers southwest of the popular tourist resort island of Santorini, and 247 kilometers south southeast of the Greek capital, Athens. A 5.3 magnitude earthquake hit the same area on Thursday morning, causing no damage or injuries.

Weather

Heavy rain and powerful winds that spawned several tornadoes have swept across Texas, forcing drivers to abandon cars on flooded roads but not dropping enough water to make up for the state’s historic drought. Storms pounded Dallas and Fort Worth overnight Wednesday. Record rainfall drenched the Austin area, which last summer suffered the most devastating wildfires in Texas history. Tornadoes touched down near Austin, San Antonio and Houston, damaging homes and businesses. No injuries were reported.

The National Weather Service has now documented paths of destruction from at least 10 tornadoes in the outbreak of storms across central Alabama early Monday. Tornadoes struck in Perry and Chilton counties, including an EF-2 tornado that left a nearly 40-mile path of damage. That twister destroyed the sanctuary of the historic Ephesus Church. It also tore apart trees in the Talladega National Forest, toppled a radio tower and damaged homes and businesses just north of downtown Maplesville.

It is now safe to plant new species in many parts of the nation, according to a new government map released Wednesday showing new growing guidelines for the first time in decades. A gradual northward warming trend makes it possible to plant trees and other perennials that would have perished in colder zones. Pennsylvania’s growing zone was considered risky for southern magnolias, according to the old government map dating to 1990. But the new map, based on updated weather statistics from 1996 to 2005, puts Pennsylvania, like much of the Northeast, in a warmer growing zone.

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