Monday, December 8, 2008

Change of Address

This blog is now located at

Friday, December 5, 2008

Signs of the Times

WHO, CDC Report Drop in Measles Deaths Worldwide

ATLANTA (AP) — Measles deaths worldwide declined dramatically to about 200,000 a year, continuing a successful trend, global health authorities reported Thursday. From 2000 to 2007, annual measles deaths dropped 74%, largely because of vaccination campaigns, according to a report from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations. Measles has long been a leading cause of death of young children globally and still kills more than 500 a day. But health officials estimate 11 million deaths were avoided in the decline. The most dramatic improvements were seen in Africa and in Greater Middle Eastern countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, where measles deaths dropped by about 90%.

India: Abducted Pastor Escapes

ASSIST News Service reports that Gospel for Asia missionary N. Chauhan has escaped from his abductors after spending a day in captivity and torture. Chauhan was in a marketplace in Madhya Pradesh, India, when a group of anti-Christian extremists began questioning him. Chauhan could feel their animosity and refused to answer their questions about his ministry. The angry group dragged him to a secluded house and beat him. Hours later, the mob brought in a Bible and tried to force Chauhan to stomp on it. The missionary refused, and was rewarded with more severe beatings. Chauhan managed to escape when captors untied him by a dark road to let him relieve himself. He ran nine miles to another Christian's home, where he was able to contact worried Christian leaders.

Poll: Calif. Gay Marriage Ban Driven by Religion

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Voters' economic status and religious convictions played a greater role than race and age in determining whether they supported the Nov. 4 ballot measure outlawing same-sex marriage in California, a new poll shows. The ban drew its strongest support from both evangelical Christians and voters who didn't attend college, according to results released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California. People who identified themselves as practicing Christians were highly likely to support the constitutional amendment, with 85% of evangelical Christians, 66% of Protestants and 60% of Roman Catholics favoring it. Age and race, meanwhile, were not as strong factors as assumed. According to the poll, 56% of voters over age 55 and 57% of nonwhite voters cast a yes ballot for the gay marriage ban. The poll also showed that the measure got strong backing from voters who did not attend college (69 percent), voters who earned less than $40,000 a year (63 percent) and Latinos (61 percent).

TV More Gay than Ever

NEWSMAX — The number of gay and lesbian characters on television has more than doubled this season on American broadcast networks. There are currently 16 gay characters regularly featured on network scripted shows. Gays and lesbians now comprise 2.6% of the network TV universe, up from 1.1% in 2007 and 1.3% in 2006. Conservative Family Research Council’s Peter Sprigg says that he is “convinced that for the most part, these characters are placed on TV for propaganda purposes, to persuade people to be more accepting of homosexual conduct.”

Conservatives form Rival Group to Episcopal Church

WHEATON, Ill. (AP) — Theological conservatives upset by liberal views of U.S. Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans formed a rival North American province Wednesday, in a long-developing rift over the Bible that erupted when Episcopalians consecrated their first openly gay bishop. The announcement represents a new challenge to the already splintering, 77-million-member world Anglican fellowship and the authority of its spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The new Anglican Church in North America includes four breakaway Episcopal dioceses, dozens of individual parishes in the United States and Canada, and splinter groups that left the Anglican family years ago. It is unprecedented for an Anglican national province to be created where any other such national church already exists. But traditionalists say the new group is needed to represent the true historic tradition of Anglican Christianity.

  • JJ Commentary: We need more conservative Biblical fundamentalists to leave liberal un-Biblical churches and denominations and stand up for the absolute truth of God’s Word. It’s time, or even past time, to take a stand.

Fertility Patients Unsure what to Do with Leftover Embryos

USA TODAY — Perhaps half a million embryos lie frozen in U.S. clinics, and many are likely to continue to do so because fertility patients feel they don't have satisfactory options for dealing with embryos left over from their treatment, research out Thursday suggests. In what they describe as the largest and only multi-center study of its kind in the USA, researchers surveyed patients with frozen embryos at nine fertility clinics. Only about two-thirds of the 1,020 respondents said they were likely to use their embryos. But whether they reported wanting another baby or not, more than half of the respondents said they were "very unlikely" to donate extra embryos to another couple trying to have a baby. That finding contradicts the conventional wisdom, says lead author Anne Lyerly, a Duke University obstetrician/gynecologist and bioethics researcher. The most popular option was donating the embryos for research, the survey found. Among patients who reported they didn't want a baby, four out of 10 said they'd be "very likely" to donate their leftover embryos for research. The problem, Lyerly says, is that a ban on federal funds for research involving embryos prevents most fertility patients from choosing that option.

Americans Pass Economic Woes to Churches

A new study from the Barna Group shows that fears and disruptions in the economy have induced one in every five households to decrease donations to churches or other religious centers. Over the last three months, 22 percent have stopped giving entirely, and even 48 percent of givers in "upscale" housholds were likely to have reduced their donation. The report found that families with "serious financial debt, "downscale" households, and those who lost 20 percent or greater in their retirement fund or stock portfolio value were most likely to cut back. Among the 20 percent total who cut back at least somewhat, 28 percent had reduced their gifts by half or more. Christian Post reports that George Barna, head of the Barna Group, said, "The giving patterns we're witnessing suggest that churches, alone, will receive some $3 billion to $5 billion dollars less than expected during this fourth quarter." Churches can usually expect greater giving in the last quarter, Barna said, but need to prepare for a 4 percent to 6 percent dip below usual.

November Retail Sales are Worst in 30 Years

Retailers took another battering in November with sales that slumped worse than they had in decades, making continued dire predictions for December seem all the more likely. Even Black Friday promotions that lasted through much of November couldn't stop the bleeding. The Goldman Sachs-International Council of Shopping Centers index of 37 stores reported that sales dropped 2.7% for November, making it the worst month since at least 1969, when the index started. Target's monthly sales were down 10.4%, Macy's dropped 13.3%, Kohl's declined 17.5% and Nordstrom was down 15.9%. As has been the pattern during much of the downturn-turned-recession, Wal-Mart remained the only winner, with a 3.4% increase in same-store sales over the previous year.

60% of CEOs see Job Cuts as AT&T, DuPont, United slash thousands

AT&T, United Airlines and DuPont joined the layoff parade Thursday, as the number of people drawing unemployment benefits hit a 26-year high. AT&T announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs, about 4% of its work force. DuPont says it will cut 2,500 jobs, mostly in its businesses that serve the U.S. and European auto and construction markets, plus 4,000 contractors. United Airlines plans to furlough 1,088 workers at bases around the country, according to layoff notices and the unions that represent the workers. Those announcements came as the Labor Department said the number of people claiming unemployment benefits reached a 26-year high 4.09 million, the most since December 1982, when the economy was in a steep recession. And a survey by the Business Roundtable showed that 60% of CEOs polled said they plan to cut workers the next six months, up from 32% in the third quarter. The CEOs also became gloomier about capital investments and sales. Fifty-two percent said they plan to cut capital expenditures in the next six months, up from 10% in the third quarter, while 45% said they expect their sales to drop, up from 7%.

The Labor Department says U.S. employers cut 533,000 jobs last month. That's the biggest cuts we've seen since December 1974. The unemployment rate rose from 6.5% in October to 6.7% in November. All told, 10.3 million Americans were unemployed during the month. The report points to a rapidly deepening recession. Adding in those who have given up looking for work and people working part-time because they can't find full-time work, unemployment was 12.5% in November, up from 11.8% in October and highest since the department began tracking the number in 1994.

Phoenix - The state will hire 45 new employees at its unemployment benefits office here to handle the soaring number of claims. The positions are exempt from a state hiring freeze imposed by Democratic Gov. Napolitano because they are federally funded. Some laid off workers are waiting nearly a month to get their first unemployment insurance check rather than the usual 10 days.

Union to Big 3 Auto-Makers: We will make Sacrifices

DETROIT - Worried about their jobs and warned that failure could lead to a depression, hundreds of leaders of the United Auto Workers voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to make concessions to the struggling Big Three, including all but ending an often-derided program that let laid-off workers collect up to 95 percent of their salaries. Leaders also agreed to let the cash-starved automakers delay billions in payments to a union-administered trust set up to take over health care for blue-collar retirees starting in 2010. In addition, they decided to let the Detroit leadership begin renegotiating elements of contracts signed with the automakers last year, a move that could lead to wage concessions.

  • JJ Commentary: Unions killed the U.S. auto industry making it impossible to compete against foreign manufacturers

European Central Bank makes its Biggest Ever Rate Cut

FRANKFURT (Reuters) — The European Central Bank cut interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point Thursday, its biggest move ever, as inflation plummets and the euro zone economy sinks deeper into recession. The move takes the ECB's main refinancing rate to 2.50%, lowest in nearly 2-1/2 years and marks the third cut in barely two months amidst signs the financial crisis is biting hard into the economy. Other central banks have taken even more aggressive moves, with the Swedish central bank cutting by a record 175 basis points or 1.75 percentage points, while the Bank of England cut rates by 100 basis points to 2.0%, their lowest level since 1951.A basis point is one-hundreth of a percetage point.

Oil hits near 4-year Low on Weak Economic News

VIENNA (AP) — Oil prices sank Thursday to lows last seen nearly four years ago as more bleak news from the world's largest economy boosted views that crude could tumble below $40 by the end of the year. Oil prices have tumbled about 69% since peaking at $147.27 in July. But trader and analyst Stephen Schork suggested that the price decline had some ways to go before bottoming out, despite the arrival of the cold season in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Western hemisphere, which traditionally drives up demand. Investors were dismayed at more poor economic news from the U.S. The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday its services sector index fell to 37.3 in November from 44.4 in October. The reading was significantly lower than the 42 the market expected. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has signaled it plans to lower output quotas at a Dec. 17 meeting, adding to a production cut of 1.5 million barrels a day in October.

Canadian Prime Minister Shuts Down Parliament

OTTAWA (AP) — Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper shut down Parliament on Thursday in an unprecedented attempt to keep his government in power, fending off a no-confidence vote he was all but certain to lose. Less than two months after winning re-election, Harper successfully asked the unelected representative of the head of state for the power to close down Parliament until January, hoping to buy enough time to develop a stimulus package that could prop up the economy. Three opposition parties have united against Harper, charging he has failed to insulate Canada from the global financial crisis.

  • JJ Commentary: People want someone to blame and the person at the top becomes the target. But neither Harper nor Bush nor any head of state is directly to blame for the financial crisis. Greedy banks, realtors and mortgage buyers bear the immediate blame, while decades of government debt-producing policies are the long-term culprit.

U.S. Combat Deaths Hit Five-Year Low

USA TODAY — U.S. combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan last month dropped to the lowest combined level since the United States began fighting the two wars more than five years ago. Eleven American servicemembers died in combat in the conflicts in November. Seven others died in non-hostile incidents. The highest monthly total for combat deaths in both wars was 129 in November 2004. Security in Iraq has improved dramatically over the past year, despite a number of high-profile bombing against civilian targets in recent weeks. Afghanistan is a more complicated picture. There was only one U.S. combat death in November, the lowest level since February. However, 11 other coalition troops died there last month. Fighting in Afghanistan tapers off in the winter when snow makes much of the terrain impassable.

Iraq approves U.S. Security Pact

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's three-member presidential council on Thursday approved a security pact with the United States that sets out a three-year timeframe for the full withdrawal of American troops, a spokesman said. The panel's approval was the final step for the agreement, which replaces a U.N. mandate that expires on Dec. 31. It came one week after Iraq's parliament signed off on the deal following months of tough talks between U.S. and Iraqi negotiators that at times seemed on the point of collapse, and then days of hardscrabble dealmaking between ethnic and sectarian groups. The agreement provides a legal basis for American troops in Iraq after the expiration of the U.N. mandate, but it includes the caveat that it should go before voters in a referendum to be held by the end of July. The agreement provides a legal basis for American troops in Iraq after the expiration of the U.N. mandate, but it includes the caveat that it should go before voters in a referendum to be held by the end of July.

10 killed, more than 100 Hurt in Iraq Truck Blasts

BAGHDAD (AP) — Two suicide bombers in explosives-laden trucks took aim at police stations in the former Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah on Thursday, killing at least 10 people and wounding more than 100, Iraqi officials said. The apparently coordinated blasts struck within minutes of each other outside the concrete barriers surrounding two police stations in different sections of Fallujah. Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, is in Anbar province and saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war before local Sunni tribal leaders joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaeda in Iraq. The city, which is largely sealed off by checkpoints, has been relatively peaceful in recent months but attacks have continued. Thursday's bombings came three months after the U.S. handed control of the province to the Iraqi government. Political tensions also have been high in Anbar as rival Sunni groups jockey for power before Jan. 31 provincial elections.

India: Evidence shows Pakistani Muslim Militants Linked to Mumbai Attack

MUMBAI, India (AP) — India has evidence that two senior leaders of a banned Pakistani militant group orchestrated the 60-hour siege of India's financial capital that killed 171 people, Indian officials said Thursday. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met in Islamabad with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who said he will take "strong action" against elements in his country that were involved in last week's terrorist attacks. The nearly three-day assault was carried out by 10 suspected Muslim militants against upscale hotels, a restaurant and other sites across Mumbai.

Zimbabwe Declares National Health Emergency

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe has declared a national emergency over its cholera epidemic and the collapse of its health system due the country's economic crisis. "Our central hospitals are literally not functioning," Minister of Health David Parirenyatwa was quoted as saying by the state-run Herald newspaper on Thursday. The United Nations puts deaths from the cholera epidemic at more than 500. The outbreak is blamed on lack of water treatment and broken sewage pipes in a country that once had a sophisticated infrastructure. The European Commission said Wednesday it was providing more than $12 million for drugs and clean water while the International Red Cross was also releasing more funds to deal with cholera in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has been paralyzed since disputed elections in March. President Robert Mugabe and the opposition are wrangling over a power-sharing deal. The country is suffering from the world's highest inflation and Zimbabweans face daily shortages of food and other basic goods.

Riots Were Religious, Not Political, Nigerians Say

The Christian Post reports that Christians in Jos, Nigeria, resent the international media's spin on the riots that rocked the city Friday, saying that election results had little to do with the violence. A local source told Christian Solidarity Worldwide, "As usual they took Jos by surprise, and are now hiding behind election results to launch and excuse their mayhem." Rioters targeted Christian businesses, churches and clergymen's homes early Friday morning, armed with guns, spears and machetes. The Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Plateau State, the Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, said, "We were surprised at the way some of our churches and property were attacked and some of our faithful and clergy killed," he continued. "The attacks were carefully planned and executed. The questions that bog our minds are why were churches and clergy attacked and killed? Why were politicians and political party offices not attacked if it were a political conflict? Why were the business premises and property of innocent civilians destroyed?"

Earthquake Hits Northern Japan

TOKYO (AP) — The Meteorological Agency says an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.1 jolted the coast of northern Japan. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. The agency said the quake hit off the coast of Miyagi, about 180 miles north of Tokyo, at 8:23 a.m. on Thursday. It said there was no danger of a tsunami from the quake. Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Signs of the Times

India Church Leaders Commit to Peace after Mumbai Siege

Christian Post reports that church leaders in India believe the attacks by Islamists in Mumbai aimed at "spreading fear and projecting the country as unsafe." Although attacks on Christians by Hindu extremists are common in more rural Orissa and neighboring states, Mumbai had been peaceful. Now, "The terror attacks have shaken the church in the city," said Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum. Dias said his group will try to comfort victims while helping thwart terrorist efforts throughout India. The attacks on 10 locations killed 155 people and wounded 327 more in what was the deadliest attack in India since the 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai, which killed 257 people.

Seniors with 'Purpose' Win Prizes

USA TODAY — The winners are a diverse lot: a former movie industry worker who used his skill to invent an inexpensive peanut sheller to help the poor in the developing world; a retired professor who's organized volunteers to help teach English to refugees; and a former New York executive who is helping give life skills and job guidance to ex-prisoners. They're among the top winners of the third annual Purpose Prize by San Francisco based Civic Ventures, a think tank and an incubator. The prizes honor social entrepreneurs over 60 who make a difference. The six top winners each get $100,000. Nine other winners each get $10,000.

Christian Leaders Urge Global Solidarity Against HIV

The Christian Post reports that several Christian leaders spread a message of love and compassion yesterday on the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, encouraging the church to fight the epidemic and help those suffering from the disease. "Faith leaders should hence commit themselves to working towards achieving a generation without AIDS, and show loving care and support for those infected," former leader of South Africa's Anglican church Archbishop Njongo Ndungane said. Dr. Rick Warren, who launched the first church-based HIV/AIDS conference with the support of his church in 2005, honored President George W. Bush for his commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which has funded more than $18.8 billion in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention since 2003.

Thai Airports Reopen after PM Ousted by Court

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — The first commercial flight in a week arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday as anti-government protesters ended their siege of the country's two main airports, declaring victory after Thailand's prime minister was ousted by a court ruling. Thousands of jubilant protesters streamed out of the Suvarnabhumi international airport in cars and trucks, while others cleaned up the mess that had accumulated during their week-long takeover. Similar scenes were witnessed at the domestic Don Muang airport. The departure of the People's Alliance for Democracy from the airport ended the country's immediate crisis, which had virtually severed Thailand's air links to the outside world for a week, and stranded more than 300,000 tourists. In swiftly unfolding developments Tuesday, the country's Constitutional Court brought down the government by disbanding the three top ruling coalition parties, finding them guilty of electoral fraud. It also banned Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and other top leaders from politics for five years. The ruling satisfied the People's Alliance for Democracy, which has been campaigning for months to topple the government. But the alliance warned it would be on the streets again if a new government tried to return to its past policies.

1 in 5 young adults has personality disorder

CHICAGO (AP) — Almost one in five young American adults has a personality disorder that interferes with everyday life, and even more abuse alcohol or drugs, researchers reported Monday in the most extensive study of its kind. The disorders include problems such as obsessive or compulsive tendencies and anti-social behavior that can sometimes lead to violence. The study also found that fewer than 25% of college-aged Americans with mental problems get treatment. Experts praised the study's scope — face-to-face interviews about numerous disorders with more than 5,000 young people ages 19 to 25 — and said it spotlights a problem college administrators need to address. Counting substance abuse, the study found that nearly half of young people surveyed have some sort of psychiatric condition, including students and non-students.

  • JJ Commentary: The increased immorality of our society opens the door to increased mental/emotional disorders that, in turn, are exacerbated by demonic influence.

The World is Moving Past USA in Higher Education

USA TODAY — The USA has made modest gains since the early 1990s in preparing students for college and providing access, a report says today. But other countries are advancing more quickly, and if trends continue, the picture is only going to get worse, the authors warn. "The rest of the world is moving past us," says Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the non-profit California-based group that released the report. Measuring Up 2008 is the fifth in a series of biennial state-by-state report cards on six key measures of educational performance: preparation for college, participation, affordability, completion, benefits and learning. Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, whose members include the world's most developed countries, show that between 2003 and 2006, the USA slipped from fifth to seventh in the percentage of adults ages 18-24 enrolled in college, and from seventh to 10th in the percentage of adults 25-34 holding an associate's degree or higher.

30-Mile Debris Pile in Texas shows FEMA Delays

SMITH POINT, Texas (AP) — A 30-mile scar of debris along the Texas coast stands as a festering testament to what state and local officials say is FEMA's sluggish response to the 2008 hurricane season. Two and a half months after Hurricane Ike blasted the shoreline, alligators and snakes crawl over vast piles of shattered building materials, lawn furniture, trees, boats, tanks of butane and other hazardous substances, thousands of animal carcasses, perhaps even the corpses of people killed by the storm. State and local officials complain that the removal of the filth has gone almost nowhere because FEMA red tape has held up both the cleanup work and the release of the millions of dollars that Chambers County says it needs to pay for the project. FEMA, whose very name became a bitter joke after the agency's botched response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said it is working as fast as it can considering the complex regulations and the need to guard against fraud and waste in the use of taxpayer dollars.

Economy Cripples Galveston's Comeback after Hurricane Ike

GALVESTON, Texas — Two months after Hurricane Ike ravaged this GulfCoast city, Galveston is struggling to resurrect itself amid a sour economy. Before Ike slammed ashore in the early hours of Sept. 13, Galveston was a bustling port and regional beach destination that drew in $700 million a year from tourists, according to its visitors bureau. It also had one of the largest teaching hospitals in the state, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which employed 12,000 people. Then came Ike, which caused 17 deaths in Galveston County, damaged 85% of the island's houses, flooded its hospital and crippled its tourist industry. As Galveston begins anew, money for construction loans is tight. Texas, feeling its own economic pinch, has decided not to restore Galveston's hospital complex — the city's largest employer — to its pre-storm strength. Ike also severely damaged Galveston's second biggest employer, the Port of Galveston. The port, which employs about 3,000 people, will need two to three years and hundreds of millions of dollars to restore it 100%. Many neighborhoods, including in the West End, remain desolate.

Recession is Official, Economists Say

WASHINGTON — It's official: The USA is in a recession that started in December 2007. The peak of economic activity in December marks the end of the expansion that began in November 2001 and the beginning of a recession. December 2007 is the last month in which U.S. employers added jobs. Since then, businesses have shed workers. The responsibility for defining U.S. recessions falls to economists who are members of the Business Cycle Dating Committee at the private, non-profit National Bureau of Economic Ressearch in Cambridge, Mass. The organization has been dating business cycles since 1929 and first formed the all-volunteer committee 30 years ago. While recessions are often described as two consecutive quarters of decline in economic output, that's not the official definition. Instead, the panel looks at a multitude of economic data, including gross domestic product, income, employment, industrial production and retail sales. The economy contracted in the July-September quarter at the fastest pace in seven years.

  • JJ Commentary: It would have been a lot more helpful if these economists could have identified the economic downturn shortly after it started instead of waiting 11 months to make a backward declaration. Instead, the media and hopeful government economists kept saying it wasn’t a recession. Are they going to apologize now that they’ve been officially declared wrong? No, I don’t think so either.

Prices Falling, a Boon and a Problem

WASHINGTON — Everything is on sale. And that's not a good thing. Consumer prices in October fell at the fastest pace in more than 60 years, sucked down by the rapidly deteriorating economy. The prices of oil, food, cars, clothing and electronics have all plunged. Home prices continue to swoon and so do stock prices. As the early reports from the holiday shopping season suggest, the nationwide fire sale might seem like a boon for consumers. But it's increasing the risk that the economy could become mired in a dangerous deflationary spiral — a widespread, sustained reduction in prices. That's something that hasn't happened here since the Great Depression. Economists say it's too early to tell whether deflation has set in — and many say the government's aggressive responses to the credit crunch likely will prevent sustained deflation. Others aren't so sure. Ultimately, higher unemployment and lower demand create a self-reinforcing cycle that further depresses profits, growth, wages and prices.

Mortgage applications more than doubled in the holiday week ended Nov. 28 from the week before, as interest rates plunged, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday. The association's index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, was up 112% on a seasonally adjusted basis from the week earlier. The refinance index increased 203% from the previous week and the seasonally adjusted purchase index increased 38% from one week earlier. The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 69% of applications from 49.3% the previous week. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages fell to 5.47% from 5.99%, with points dropping to 1.16 from 1.23, including the origination fee, for 80% loan-to-value (LTV) loans.

Abysmal November Auto Sales fall 31%

Auto sales in November plummeted to the lowest monthly total in a quarter century as consumers hold back for better economic times. Sales tallies released by Autodata Tuesday showed a 36.7% drop in car and truck sales overall in November compared with the month last year. The 746,789 total sales marked the first time the industry failed to sell 750,000 vehicles in a single month since January 1982, Autodata said. Every big automaker, foreign and domestic, took a drubbing. General Motors' sales tumbled 41.3%, Ford Motor's fell 30.5%, and Chrysler's were off 47.1%, adding to the deep financial distress on the day their CEOs presented plans to Congress to make their case for a bailout.

Maricopa County Copes with Blight left by Shut Stores

As big-box retailers like Circuit City and Mervyn's shut down stores amid a troubled economy, Arizona cities are preparing for the aftermath: falling sales-tax revenues and an onslaught of vacant storefronts. By early next year, experts expect that close to 2 million square feet of retail space, about twice the size of an indoor shopping mall like Arizona Mills or Arrowhead Towne Center, will have been vacated in Maricopa County as a result of the economic downturn. By late next year, more than 75 stores are expected to close, resulting in a loss of nearly 2,000 Arizona retail jobs. The closures also have city officials scrambling to cover revenue shortfalls and deter commercial blight. Arizona is affected by the retail bloodletting more so than other states. It has a growth-based economy, and the state's general fund relies heavily on sales-tax revenue.

Job Cuts at Highest Level Since '02

NEW YORK ( -- Jobs took another painful hit in November, with planned cuts rising to the highest level in seven years, according to a report released Wednesday by an outplacement firm. Job cut announcements by U.S. employers soared to 181,671 last month, up 61% from October's 112,884 cuts, and 148% higher than the same period a year ago, when 73,140 job cuts were announced, according to the report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. November's total represents the second highest on record, shy of the 248,475 planned layoffs in January 2002, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Financial and retail industries were hit the hardest.

JPMorgan will Cut 9,200 Jobs at Washington Mutual

NEW YORK — JPMorgan Chase said Monday that it will cut 9,200 jobs at Washington Mutual, which it acquired Sept. 25 after Washington Mutual became the nation's largest bank to fail. Of the 9,200 jobs being eliminated as JPMorgan integrates Washington Mutual, 4,000 will be cut by the end of January, a JPMorgan spokesman said. The remaining 5,200 employees will remain with JPMorgan through a transition period, but will lose their jobs by the end of 2009. Washington Mutual had 41,500 to 42,000 employees nationwide when JPMorgan took over the bank at the end of September. Washington Mutual was weighed down by deep exposure to the crumbling mortgage market, which has been the hardest hit area of the markets since mid-2007. As mortgages increasingly defaulted, Washington Mutual was forced to set aside billions to cover losses.

Factory Closures, Layoffs Stir Unrest in China

BEIJING — A wave of often violent protests poses a challenge to China's ruling Communist Party, as people take to the streets on issues ranging from factory closures to government land grabs. Thousands of taxi drivers in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou went on strike Monday during rush hour. It was the ninth city hit by a cab strike over the past month. The "recent mass incidents are the biggest political test the ruling party has faced since the 1989 incident" at Tiananmen Square, says Mao Shoulong, professor of public policy at Beijing's Renmin University, referring to the pro-democracy protests that year. "Social unrest is spreading, and China's leaders are worried about these problems." The global financial crisis sparked several protests last month as the slowdown in growth hits China's export-dominated economy. Zhang Ping, China's top economic planner, said last week that "excessive bankruptcies and production cuts will lead to massive unemployment and stir social unrest." And police chief Meng Jianzhu warned of "lots of social problems affecting stability under the current circumstances."

Iran's President Acknowledges Economy in Danger

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is acknowledging publicly for the first time that tumbling oil prices are gouging the country's fragile economy. The official IRNA news agency is quoting the increasingly unpopular president as saying Iran will be forced to trim spending and generous subsidies and raise taxes. It's a sensitive admission for the Iranian president, who is seeking re-election in June. Oil prices have plunged from $147 a barrel in July to under $50, adding to the pain of Iran's rising inflation and unemployment.

  • JJ Commentary: The lower oil prices are also hurting other OPEC nations, most of them Muslim and all of them anti-America. The hand of God?

Iran Holding Massive Naval Maneuvers near Persian Gulf

Iran on Tuesday launched a large-scale, six-day naval maneuver in the Sea of Oman, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, which will involve about 60 warships and numerous aircraft, the official news agency IRNA, reported. This type of "maneuver has been rare in the past 30 years both in its size and commissioning of new weapons," IRNA quoted the maneuver's spokesman, Adm. Ghasem Rostamabadi, as saying. Iran regularly holds war games in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, which are linked by the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway through which 40 percent of the world's crude oil passes. Tehran has repeatedly warned that it would close the narrow strait if the US or Israel attacked its disputed nuclear program. Israel’s former deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, said on Tuesday that "Iran's unprecedented naval activity is actually a drill for taking over the Gulf all-important oil route. "The Iranian aggression is a threat to the entire world and should not be passed over quietly," warned Sneh.

Panel Warns Biological or Nuclear Attack Likely by 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States can expect a terrorist attack using nuclear or more likely biological weapons before 2013, reports a bipartisan commission in a study being briefed Tuesday to Vice President-elect Joe Biden. The report suggests the Obama administration bolster efforts to counter and prepare for germ warfare by terrorists. The commission is also encouraging the new White House to appoint one official on the National Security Council to exclusively coordinate U.S. intelligence and foreign policy on combating the spread of nuclear and biological weapons. The report of the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, led by former Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and Jim Talent of Missouri, acknowledges that terrorist groups still lack the needed scientific and technical ability to make weapons out of pathogens or nuclear bombs. But it warns that gap can be easily overcome, if terrorists find scientists willing to share or sell their know-how. The commission believes biological weapons are more likely to be obtained and used before nuclear or radioactive weapons because nuclear facilities are more carefully guarded. Civilian laboratories with potentially dangerous pathogens abound, however, and could easily be compromised.

NATO backs U.S. Missile Shield

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday confirmed their support for U.S. plans to install anti-missile defenses in Europe despite Russia's strong opposition. The ministers said the planned U.S. defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic will make a "substantial contribution" to protecting allies from the threat of long-range ballistic missiles. Russia has vehemently opposed the deployment, threatening to respond by placing short-range missiles in its westernmost region, Kaliningrad, which borders Poland. The U.S. insists the defenses are aimed at potential attack from Iran and pose no threat to Russia's ballistic arsenal.

Israeli Riot Police Move into Hebron

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli security officials say hundreds of riot police have been sent into the volatile West Bank town of Hebron after several days of unrest. Extremist Jewish settlers have been attacking Palestinians and Israeli soldiers there. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says the paramilitary border police will replace soldiers on duty in the area. He says the police are better trained to deal with the recent clashes. The unrest has taken place around a house where settlers have holed up in defiance of an Israeli Supreme Court eviction order. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that the eviction order would be enforced. Jewish settlers and Palestinian protesters clashed in the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday morning after some 1,500 supporters of the settler movement poured into the area following rumors that the IDF would soon move to evict the nine families living in the disputed Beit Hashalom apartment building.

Cholera outbreak out of control in Zimbabwe

Cholera has spread to more than 11,700 people in Zimbabwe since August, according to the United Nations. The disease, a diarrheal illness that spreads through contaminated water, has reportedly killed at least 484 people in recent months. Deutsche Press-Agentur reports that the outbreak is crossing international borders, with cholera deaths now being reported in South Africa. The World Health Organization says the fatality rate reached 50% in some parts of Zimbabwe. "Cholera outbreaks in Zimbabwe have occurred annually since 1998, but previous epidemics never reached today's proportions," WHO says.

Haitians Still in Need after Hurricane Season

Mission News Network reports that the eight hurricanes which slammed Haiti this year are still felt among the country's people. According Craig Dyer with Bright Hope International, "Right now, as best we can estimate, there are about 1,000 families that are still in shelters around the city of Gonaives. There's about three-quarters of a million people who are receiving some sort of food aid, and of course pastors and churches have all been in the center of that." Bright Hope has assisted with food, funds to reach clean water, and shelters for families. Some families that lost their homes months ago are still sleeping inside local churches and gaining all their resources - spiritual and physical - from these local establishments.

Dry conditions could fuel fires in South

NEW ORLEANS — Wildfires have burned more than 2.3 million acres across the South so far this year, and the region has accounted for more than half the fires reported across the country, according to a report issued Monday. The one-year high for the South was 2006, with 2.6 million acres burned, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The fire center, in an outlook released Monday, says dry conditions in parts of south-central Texas and Oklahoma are expected this winter to help create or worsen an above normal potential for significant fires, or fires that need additional, outside resources to fight.

Venice Faces Worst Flooding in 20 Years

VENICE, Italy (AP) — Venice could use a bailout. The city built on water has too much of it. Residents and tourists waded through knee-deep water Monday as they navigated the city's narrow streets and alleys, and its historic St. Mark's Square was inundated. Boxes of tourist merchandise floated inside the flooded shops around the square and even the city's famed pigeons sought refuge on rooftops and windowsills. One of the highest tides in its history brought Venice to a virtual halt, rekindling a debate over a plan to build moveable flood barriers in an effort to save the lagoon city from high tides. City officials said the tide peaked at 61 inches, well past the 40-inch flood mark, as strong winds pushed the sea into the city.

Earthquake strikes Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — TaiwanTaiwan's Central Weather Bureau says the magnitude 6.0 quake struck just offshore, near a sparsely populated area about 20 miles north of the city of Taidung. Buildings shook in Taipei, about 90 miles to the northwest of the epicenter.authorities say a powerful earthquake has struck the southeastern part of the island.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Signs of the Times

Power may Shift to Anti-Abortion Side in AZ

One by one, the Legislature has approved bills barring the use of state funds for abortion, requiring that prospective patients be notified of the pain their fetus would endure and otherwise making the procedure less accessible to women and minors. And, one by one, Gov. Janet Napolitano has vetoed them - sometimes the same provisions more than once in a legislative session. Along the way, the two-term Democrat has earned a reputation as a staunch defender of abortion rights. Since taking office in 2003, Napolitano has vetoed at least nine measures limiting abortion. But opponents of the procedure are hopeful the legislative blockade will soon be at an end. Napolitano is expected to join the incoming Obama administration as secretary of Homeland Security. In her place would step Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer, an abortion opponent more in line with GOP legislative leaders. The potential impact of GOP control of the state House, Senate and Governor's Office isn't lost on abortion-rights advocates.

In Arizona, Napolitano has stood as a bulwark against anti-abortion measures, but "everyone's aware there would likely be a shift (under Brewer's leadership)," said Len Munsil, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for governor against Napolitano in 2006. Munsil, who founded the socially conservative Center for Arizona Policy, called Napolitano "way out of the mainstream" on matters of abortion, especially regarding her rejection of limitations on late-term abortion. Beyond abortion, there is also speculation that Brewer would rescind a new state policy that awarded state benefits to the domestic partners of state employees. The controversial move, which Napolitano supported, was accomplished through an administrative rule change rather than via the Legislature. State employees began signing up for the expanded benefits last month.

  • JJ Commentary: Goodbye and good riddance to Napolitano. Arizona is reaping the rewards of being a national leader in prayer.

Abraham's Children: An Unquiet Grave in the West Bank

HEBRON, West Bank (AP) — With its dueling street names, barbed wire barricades and the tomb of a shared patriarch split between two religions, the city of Abraham takes the feud between Israelis and Palestinians to its outer limits. Even a humble olive harvest is a cue for violence in Hebron, where 600 of Israel's most radical citizens have carved out an enclave bristling with guns and watchtowers in the midst of 170,000 Palestinians. Yet for all the city's complexities, the essence of Hebron's anguish is simple: one forefather, one city and two peoples — one feeling invaded, the other convinced it has come back to its biblical birthright, right down to the deed of sale recounted in the Book of Genesis, when Abraham purchased a burial plot for 400 silver shekels.

Jews and Arabs both claim descent from the biblical patriarch, but their relationship in Hebron is anything but brotherly. Fearful of a peace deal that would lead to their evacuation, the settlers are growing increasingly violent, throwing rocks, assaulting farmers and even taking on Israeli soldiers — all to show their government how difficult any withdrawal from the West Bank will be. According to Islamic, Jewish and Christian belief, Hebron, in the southern West Bank hills, is where not only Abraham — Ibrahim to Muslims — is buried, but also the patriarchs Isaac and Jacob and the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. But two massacres define the city as much as religion. In 1929 rampaging Arabs killed 67 Jews, and in 1994 a Jewish extremist named Baruch Goldstein shot dead 29 Palestinians praying at the mosque surrounding Abraham's grave.

  • JJ Commentary: This ancient feud between the relatives of Ishmael (Abraham’s first son by the Egyptian handmaiden Hagar) and Isaac (the son God promised the 90-year old Abraham and his wife Sarah) is the source of all Middle East conflict. Ishmael fathered the Arabs, Isaac the Jews. However, this feud has been rendered irrelevant by Jesus Christ who bought a new covenant to reconcile all people to God the one true Father. Unfortunately, the Bible says this feud will eventually fuel the Great Tribulation.

Stocks Rise for Fifth Straight Day

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks finished higher Friday, wrapping up its biggest five-day rally in more than 75 years, even as investors digested signs of a bleak holiday season for retailers and fears that a flurry of reports next week will show more economic distress. The market got big boosts over the past week from President-elect Barack Obama naming his economic team, the government propping up Citigroup, and the Federal Reserve deciding to buy massive amounts of mortgage-backed securities. These efforts reassured the market that broad efforts are still being made to fight the financial crisis that intensified in September with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.

  • JJ Commentary: There will be a temporary respite in the economy as the bailout frees credit and props up the financial system. However, this is only a tiny patch on a debt-ridden economy that will collapse as part of the unfolding end-time scenario.

Cities Cut Back, Expecting Shortfalls

USA TODAY — Battered by record foreclosures and falling tax revenue, cities are laying off workers, raising fees and closing libraries and recreation centers. "Almost every city in the country is feeling the impact," says Chris Hoene, director of policy and research at the National League of Cities. A survey in September found that city finance officers expect revenue from property, sales and income taxes to decrease 4.3% this year, Hoene says. The problem will be worse next year, he says, because there is a lag between current economic conditions and when they affect city revenue. The survey found that 79% of cities expect their finances to worsen in 2009. The U.S. Conference of Mayors is asking Congress for a $90 billion stimulus plan to help cities with infrastructure projects, the creation of green jobs and community development.

Economic Downturn has More Folks Stashing their Cash

USA TODAY — The personal saving rate, which measures how much people save out of disposable income, was 1.3% in the July-September quarter. Although that's low in comparison with other countries and a far cry from the double-digit percentages seen most recently in 1985, it's more than twice last year's rate. But economists predict that once the economy improves, Americans will return to their shop-till-you-drop ways. And it's unclear how much Americans are cutting back. A USA TODAY/Gallup survey conducted in early November found that only 32% of Americans are saving more as a result of the economic downturn.

Faces or Finances? Economy Cuts into Cosmetic Procedures

USA TODAY — The economic meltdown isn't pretty. Literally. Fewer people are dishing out dollars in recent months for the beauty perks of cosmetic procedures, particularly major surgical procedures, according to plastic surgeons, dermatologists and consumer surveys. Some practices are down by as much as 15% to 30%. In a poll by the society in October, 59% of women said the economy had influenced their plans for cosmetic procedures

  • JJ Commentary: A frivolous item perhaps, but an indicator of where we’ve been as a society. So now there’s two good things about the meltdown (gas prices the other).

Students Cheat, Steal, but Say They're Good

NEW YORK (AP) — In the past year, 30% of U.S. high school students have stolen from a store and 64% have cheated on a test, according to a new, large-scale survey suggesting that Americans are too apathetic about ethical standards. The Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute, surveyed 29,760 students at 100 randomly selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. Cheating in school is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four percent of students cheated on a test in the past year and 38% did so two or more times, up from 60% and 35% in a 2006 survey. Despite such responses, 93% of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77% affirmed that "when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."

  • JJ Commentary: That’s the trouble with relativism – people compare themselves to each other instead of an absolute standard leading to a downward spiral of moral decay.

Hillary Clinton Named Secretary of State

WASHINGTON — She'll bring global star power, a long-standing commitment to improving the status of women and children around the world and muscular promises of military action when U.S. interests are crossed. The question for Hillary Rodham Clinton, named secretary of State on Monday by President-elect Barack Obama, is whether she can forge the sort of close relationship with a former rival that is crucial to giving the nation's top diplomat the credibility to get things done. She will be taking the lead on a crushing set of global challenges, including repercussions from last week's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, which threaten a conflagration on the nuclear-armed subcontinent. In collaboration with other administration officials, the incoming secretary of State will deal with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, efforts to turn around the war in Afghanistan, nuclear programs in such rogue nations as North Korea and Iran, the challenge from a resurgent Russia and growing concerns about global climate change.

  • JJ Commentary: This is the key position demanded by the New World Order folks to further their cause of a one-world government. Obama is an unwitting but willing dupe.

100,000 Stranded in Thailand after Airports Shut

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — The vacation is over for tens of thousands of tourists in Thailand. But they can't go home. The Hotel California-like drama began Tuesday when anti-government protesters shut the country's primary international airport. The following day they moved in on the capital's domestic airport, grounding all commercial flights in and out of the city. About 300,000 people have been stranded by the closures, dealing a severe blow to the country's reputation as a safe and reliable vacation destination. Protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy and police reinforced their presence at Suvarnabhumi airport on Saturday, but there was no word on when airports would reopen.

Mumbai Struggles to Heal

MUMBAI, India (AP) — With corpses still being pulled from a once-besieged hotel, India's top security official resigned Sunday as the government struggled under growing accusations of security failures following terror attacks that killed 174 people. Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who has become highly unpopular during a long series of terror attacks across India, submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who accepted it, according to the president's office. The Cabinet reshuffle comes as a chorus of criticism about the government's handling of the Mumbai attacks grows louder. A day after the siege ended, authorities were still removing victims bodies from the ritzy Taj Mahal hotel, where three suspected Muslim militants made a last stand before Indian commandos killed them in a blaze of gunfire and explosions. On Sunday, the waterfront landmark, popular among foreign tourists and Indian high society, was surrounded by metal barricades, its shattered windows boarded over.

The rampage was carried out by gunmen at 10 sites across Mumbai starting Wednesday night. At least 239 were wounded A previously unknown Muslim group called Deccan Mujahideen — a name suggesting origins inside India — has claimed responsibility for the attacks that killed more than 170 people. Rakesh Maria, a top police official in Mumbai, said the only gunman in custody confessed to being a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group. Lashkar is banned in Pakistan and listed as a terrorist organization by the United States. Pakistan denied it was involved and demanded evidence. The assaults have raised fears among U.S. officials about a possible surge in violence between Pakistan and India. The nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars against each other, two over the disputed region of Kashmir.

Death Toll over 300 in Nigerian Riots

JOS, Nigeria (AP) — Mobs burned homes, churches and mosques Saturday in a second day of riots, as the death toll rose to more than 300 in the worst sectarian violence in Africa's most populous nation in years. The fighting began as clashes between supporters of the region's two main political parties following the first local election in the town of Jos in more than a decade. But the violence expanded along ethnic and religious fault lines, with Hausas and members of Christian ethnic groups doing battle. The violence is the worst since the May 2007 inauguration of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who came to power in a vote that international observers dismissed as not credible. More than 10,000 Nigerians have died in sectarian violence since civilian leaders took over from a former military junta in 1999. Political strife over local issues is common in Nigeria, where government offices control massive budgets stemming from the country's oil industry.

Report: Russia to Upgrade Missiles

MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian military will upgrade its missiles in response to U.S. plans for weapons in space, a top Russian general reportedly said Monday. Interfax news agency quoted Russia's Strategic Missile Forces chief, Col.-Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, as saying that Russia's intercontinental ballistic missiles will be modernized to protect them from space-based components of the U.S. missile defense system. The upgrade will make the missiles' warheads capable of flying "outside the range" of the space-based system, Solovtsov was quoted as saying.

  • JJ Commentary: Back to the future of Cold War politics.