Friday, October 31, 2008

Signs of the Times

Christianity to be restored in U.S. Capitol

WorldNetDaily — Documentation of the Christian heritage of the United States will be restored, at least partly, to a new $600 million Capitol Visitors Center in Washington which earlier had been scrubbed of references to the religious faith and influences of the Founding Fathers. The plans drew objections from members of Congress. The new 580,000-square-foot center, mostly built underneath the grounds just east of the U.S. Capitol to protect the scenic views of the historic building, is about three-quarters the size of the Capitol itself, has exhibition galleries, theaters, a 550-seat cafeteria, gift shops and myriad other features. But according to members of Congress, the project run by the office of the architect of the Capitol was on course to lack a full picture of the U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., organized a letter eventually signed by 108 members of Congress expressing concern the historical content simply was inaccurate. Now he's announced that the Committee on House Administration and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee have agreed to include references to the nation's religious history in the new project.

Wow! It's still OK to Pray in Jesus' Name

WorldNetDaily — The judges on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have used a case from Cobb County, Ga., to proclaim that praying "in Jesus' name" is acceptable at county board meetings when other constitutional provisions are followed. The ruling this week sets up a conflict with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which concluded in an opinion written by ex-Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor that city officials properly excluded from a rotation of leaders for opening prayers at a municipal meeting a pastor who prayed "in Jesus' name." "Finally an appeals court with some common sense has ruled what I've been saying all along. The government cannot parse the content of anybody's prayer, nor forbid prayers offered 'in Jesus' name' in legislative bodies, or by government chaplains," said Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt. Klingenschmitt was discharged from the U.S. Navy in a dispute with his commander over praying in uniform "in Jesus' name," although he later won a victory in Congress that now allows other chaplains to pray as their conscience dictates.

Archaeologist Finds 3000-Year Old Hebrew Text

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An Israeli archaeologist has discovered what he says is the earliest-known Hebrew text, found on a shard of pottery that dates to the time of King David from the Old Testament, about 3,000 years ago. Professor Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem says the inscribed pottery shard -- known as an ostracon -- was found during excavations of a fortress from the 10th century BC. Carbon dating of the ostracon, along with pottery analysis, dates the inscription to time of King David, about a millennium earlier than the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, the university said. The shard contains five lines of text divided by black lines and measures 15 by 15 centimeters, or about 6 inches square. The site of Khirbet Qeiyafa is located near the place where the Bible describes the battle between David and Goliath -- the Elah Valley, which shares its name with the fortress. "The chronology and geography of Khirbet Qeiyafa create a unique meeting point between the mythology, history, historiography and archaeology of King David," said Professor Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

20% of Homeowners Owe More to Lenders than their Homes are Worth

NEVADA (AP) — Here's a shocker: almost half of Nevada homeowners with a mortgage owe more to the bank than their homes are worth. Nationwide, almost one out of every five homeowners with a mortgage owes more to their lender than their properties are worth. However, just a few states account for 60% of the total – Nevada, California, Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Michigan. If you subtract those states, the rate drops to about one in 10. Some experts predict the problem will get much worse. Nationally, home prices are already down about 20% from their peak in mid-2006. By the time the housing market hits bottom, prices may be down 40% from the top, leaving 40% of homeowners underwater, according to Nouriel Roubini, economics professor at New York University.

USA TODAY — The government is weighing a plan to restructure hundreds of billions of dollars in home mortgages, its most ambitious effort yet to curb high foreclosures. The plan is expected to help 2 million to 3 million homeowners at risk of losing their homes and cost the Treasury Department $40 billion to $50 billion, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The plan is still being finalized, and the details could change, the sources said. Under the proposal discussed, banks, thrifts and other mortgage servicers would stave off foreclosures by restructuring loans based on a homeowner's ability to pay. They could do so by lowering homeowners' principal balance, reducing interest rates or changing the loan terms.

  • JJ Commentary: Why weren’t such mortgages based on “a homeowner’s ability to pay” in the first place? And why do we taxpayers have to bail out banks and borrowers for their stupidity?


WASHINGTON — The economy shrank July through September, as consumer spending fell by the most in nearly 30 years and businesses pulled back, the government said Thursday in a report that lends weight to widespread fears that the nation is in a recession. The Commerce Department said gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the country, shrank at a 0.3% annual rate in the third quarter. Consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of economic activity, shrank at a 3.1% annual rate. The new figures mark the worst performance since the July-September period of 2001, when the economy, mired in recession, shrank at a 1.4% pace. During the far steeper downturn of 1990-91, economic activity slid at a much steeper 3% annual rate in one quarter.

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso has announced a 30 trillion yen ($300 billion) stimulus package and credits to bolster the country's economy. Aso said Thursday the package would include loans and credits for small and medium-sized businesses, a reduction in highway tolls and 2 trillion yen ($20 billion) fixed-sum benefits to households. Aso said he was also considering raising consumption taxes.

USA TODAY — It's a measure of the global economy's current frailty that the prospect of a financial meltdown in nuclear-armed Pakistan is almost getting lost amid an ever-lengthening list of countries in trouble. In Europe, Hungary and Ukraine require multibillion-dollar International Monetary Fund rescues while Standard & Poor's lowers neighbor Romania's credit rating to junk status. Argentina's government is trying to close a financial gap by putting private pension funds under government control. And Asian nations with unsustainable finances such as Vietnam and the Philippines are braced for harder times. If the first wave of the financial crisis hit the United States hardest, the second blow seems set to punish foreign lands. Global pain now is spreading from the United Kingdom, where the economy already is shrinking, through Middle Eastern oil producers pinched by crude's price plunge, to Japan where the government said Tuesday that September's retail sales were lower than a year ago. Suddenly, after six consecutive years of expansion, the world economy appears to rest on quicksand.

  • JJ Commentary: That “quicksand” Jesus warned about is comprised of greed, speculation and debt.

NEW YORK ( -- Exxon Mobil Corp. set a quarterly profit record for a U.S. company Thursday, surging past analyst estimates. Exxon Mobil, the leading U.S.oil company, said its third-quarter net profit was $14.83 billion, or $2.86 per share, up from $9.41 billion, or $1.70, a year earlier. The company's earnings were buoyed by oil prices, which reached record highs in the quarter before declining. Oil prices were trading at $140.97 a barrel at the beginning of the third quarter, and had fallen to $100.64 at the end.

  • JJ Commentary: In a free-market, companies are free to make as much money as they can. However, it is an illusion to believe that we actually have a free-market anymore. Global collusion trumps free-market forces all the time nowadays.

Meltdown Hits Small Towns, Retirees and the Rich as Well

As the nation's economy worsens, workers are being laid off by thousands Georgia has been especially hard-hit. From August to September, this state shed 22,300 jobs, more than any other state except Michigan. Most of Georgia's job losses came in the carpet-producing region of north Georgia, says state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. Plant closings in small towns have a greater impact than in urban settings and can alter the demographic fabric of a community, says Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Demographer Johnson says small towns that lose their main employer often fade into obscurity.

USA TODAY — F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that "the very rich … are different from you and me," but in the current financial meltdown, the rich are cutting back like the rest of us. Not to say their suffering is quite the same. A reader survey in Elite Traveler magazine, distributed on private jets and at yacht clubs, found more than 90% planned to spend the same or less until 2009. The merely wealthy worry more than the fabulously wealthy. Among families worth $1 million to $10 million, 76% planned to cut spending. Of those who are worth at least $30 million, only 29% planned to trim.

Older Americans are watching their retirement savings evaporate as the economy slumps and the stock market falters. Some have lost 35%-40% of their 401(k) savings due to the stock market crash. "We're seeing that those funds were never guaranteed, that the stock market can go down and stay down and that the fees can erode earnings and contributions so that people end up with less than they put in," says Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economics at the New School for Social Research in New York.

Car Sales Going from Bad to Worse

Charting the rise and fall of car and truck sales is a simple way to gauge the health of the economy. When we feel good about our prospects, we buy. When fearful, we hold back. Vehicle sales have dropped so sharply that one analyst wonders how many people are just going to hold on to their vehicles until they fall apart. In September, taxable sales of new and used motor vehicles were down 29.8 percent from a year earlier, the Arizona Department of Revenue reported Thursday. The skid in sales puts pressure not only on automakers, auto dealers and their employees, but on state and local governments, which count on the sales-tax revenues. This decade, vehicle sales have run about 16 million to 17 million units a year. J.D. Power and Associates, a marketing-information services firm, predicts sales will fall to about 13.6 million units this year and 13.2 million units in 2009.

Company Layoffs Increase

NEW YORK — Motorola posted a hefty loss in the third quarter Thursday, citing the continued troubles of its cellphone division. The maker of communications gear said it would get rid of 3,000 jobs by April. In a stark acknowledgment of the tough times ahead in the credit card industry, American Express said Thursday that it plans to cut 7,000 jobs, or about 10% of its worldwide work force, in an effort to slash costs by $1.8 billion in 2009.

Medicare Drug Plan Spending Drops $6B in 2008

In a rare bit of good news for taxpayers, the cost of the Medicare prescription drug program fell $6 billion this year — savings driven by the widespread use of low-cost generic drugs. The prescription drug program for seniors has cost about one-third less — about $50 billion — than originally estimated since it started in January 2006. When the program started, the Congressional Budget Office had predicted it would cost $74 billion a year by 2008. Medicare actuaries predicted even higher costs. Seniors have seen savings, too. The monthly premium for basic drug coverage was $26.70 in 2008 — a third less than forecast. The drug plan was the most expensive new federal program since the 1960s, until the current financial bailout. About 32 million seniors are now enrolled.

FDA Ignored Evidence when Calling BPA Safe

The Food and Drug Administration ignored evidence when concluding that a chemical in plastic baby bottles is safe, according to an expert panel asked to review the agency's handling of the controversial substance. The excluded studies suggest bisphenol A, or BPA, could pose harm to children at levels at least 10 times lower than the amount the agency says is safe, according to the report written by outside scientists. The scientists took the FDA to task for basing its safety decision in August on three industry-funded studies. The expert panel also found the FDA underestimated how much BPA babies ingest on several counts. For one, the agency failed to consider the cumulative effect of being exposed to BPA from dozens of products, a fundamental error that "severely limits the usefulness" of the FDA's safety estimate.

  • JJ Commentary: Unfortunately for us, the FDA has consistently used industry-funded studies to justify their safety rulings. Not surprisingly, such studies routinely support allowing tainted products to enter the marketplace. Greed and cronyism rear their ugly heads once again.

U.S. Deaths in Iraq on Track for Record Low

As of Thursday, the Pentagon had reported 13 U.S. troops killed in combat and non-combat incidents this month in Iraq. If the number holds, it would tie July for the lowest monthly U.S. death toll of the 5½-year-old war. Security has improved in the Iraqi capital and elsewhere thanks to truces by sectarian militias, more effective U.S. counterinsurgency strategies, and a dramatic increase in the size and effectiveness of Iraqi forces. Militant groups such as al-Qaeda have shifted their base to Afghanistan, where U.S. fatalities in October were higher than those in Iraq for the second consecutive month.

At Least 77 Dead Following India Blasts

GAUHATI, India (AP) — A series of coordinated blasts tore through India's volatile northeast on Thursday, killing at least 61 people, wounding more than 300 and setting police on a frantic search for any unexploded bombs. The largest blast was near the office of the Assam state's top government official, leaving bodies and mangled cars and motorcycles strewn across the road. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the blasts that went off within minutes of each other, but the region is torn by dozens of militant separatist groups that have long fought the government and one another. At least 300 people were injured in the 13 blasts, most caused by bombs and at least one from a hand grenade.

  • JJ Commentary: This cauldron of chaos is typical of the mindless mania stirred up by Satanic fury as his days grow short.

China's Animal Feed Tainted with Melamine

BEIJING (AP) — Animal feed producers in China commonly add the industrial chemical melamine to their products to make them appear higher in protein, state media reported Thursday, an indication that the scope of the country's latest food safety scandal could extend beyond milk and eggs. The practice of mixing melamine into animal feed is an "open secret" in the industry, the Nanfang Daily newspaper reported in an article that was republished on the websites of the official Xinhua News Agency and the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily. Publicizing such a problem is rare for the Chinese media and appears to be a tacit admission by China's central government that melamine contamination is widespread. The news comes after four brands of Chinese eggs were found to be contaminated with melamine, which agriculture officials have speculated came from adulterated feed given to hens. The discovery of the tainted eggs followed on the heels of a similar crisis involving compromised dairy products that sent tens of thousands of children to the hospital and was linked to the deaths of four infants. Health experts say ingesting a small amount of melamine poses no danger, but in larger doses, it can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure.

Turkish Ship Hijacked off Somalia

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Pirates have hijacked a Turkish freighter carrying 20 crewmembers and a load of iron ore in the waters off Somalia, Turkey's maritime authorities said Thursday, the latest of dozens of piracy incidents in those troubled waters. The waters off Somalia are considered among the most dangerous amid a renewed outbreak in piracy. Somalia is caught up in an Islamic insurgency and has no functioning government, no navy and no coast guard to police its coast. This week, the European Union announced details of its planned anti-piracy patrols off Somalia's coast, saying at least four warships backed by aircraft would begin policing there in December. NATO sent three ships over the weekend into the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy patrols and escorting cargo vessels. Several warships of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet have also been deployed off the Horn of Africa. About 20,000 vessels pass annually through the Gulf of Aden, which links the Indian Ocean with the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. The Gulf of Aden is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Pakistan Quake Toll Rises to at Least 300

WAM, Pakistan (AP) — Authorities scrambled to help earthquake survivors in the frigid mountains of southwestern Pakistan on Thursday as the death toll rose to 215. The 6.4-magnitude quake hit an area of Pakistan's Baluchistan province near the Afghan border before dawn Wednesday, demolishing an estimated 2,000 homes in a string of villages. Hospitals were still treating dozens of seriously injured people. The army airlifted supplies and medical teams into the hard-hit Ziarat district, where an estimated 15,000 people were left homeless in the region, which is some 2,000 meters (6,561 feet) above sea level.

Weather Signs

Mission News Network reports that more than 270,000 people in Honduras have been forced to flee their homes again due widespread flooding and mudslides caused by unusually heaving rains. The flooding has devasted vulnerable areas and destroyed bean and maize crops. The country was just finishing rebuilding from Hurricane Mitch in 1998. "We've got people on the ground there now who are helping us become more specific in what the needs are," said Myles Fish with International Aid. The organization also responded to Mitch. "Our first attempts will be with healthcare supplies, some food, and we're sending our water filters down because we've heard that many of the water systems have been broken." Many in Honduras were already struggling to make ends meet before their harvest was destroyed.


The Marteen wildfire in Arizona (northwest of Williams) has scorched 9,500 acres. No structures have burned or are being threatened in this remote area, so the fire is being allowed to burn itself out.


DALLAS (AP) — Two minor earthquakes have shaken the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but no significant damage has immediately been reported. The U.S. Geological Survey says an earthquake with a 2.5 magnitude was reported at 11:25 p.m. Thursday, centered in the Grand Prairie area. The agency says a slightly stronger quake, at 3.0 magnitude, occurred at 12:01 a.m. Friday, centered in Irving about 10 miles west of Dallas. USGS geophysicist Randy Baldwin says aftershocks could last several days.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Signs of the Times

How Former Witches Want You to Celebrate Halloween

If you are looking for lurid tales of infant sacrifice or ritual rapes of 13-year-old virgins, you won't find them recounted here. Those horrors may have happened somewhere on October 31st, but the tragedy remembered by some former witches is that Halloween traditions and symbols often can provide too handy of a gateway to the occult. And some children are simply spiritually unprotected because no one ever prays for them. Writes one former witch on the Exwitch Ministries website: "Many kids get their first exposure to the occult at horror movies at Halloween parties. After the initial exposure to the occult some children are attracted to the occult because of the power it offers them. Others see it as the ultimate means of rebelling against their parents." Exwitch Ministries was founded to reach occultists, Wiccans, Witches, Pagans, and others through consistent witness, the demonstration of Christ-like character, apologetics, and genuine love and concern. They also support those who choose to embrace Jesus through discipling, networking, and fellowship.

But Halloween doesn't have to be a trapdoor to hell. And many former witches don't want to see the holiday left in Satan's hands to be used for his own purposes. They want to see the day redeemed. And if not redeemed, then they would like to see the trapdoor a lot less child-friendly. Mark Bishop, a self-described former "eclectic witch," said in a recent interview that when he first came to faith in Christ, he really hated Halloween because of his sensitivity to the occult symbolism associated with it. "As the costumes got more and more grotesque and more celebratory of darkness, it bothered me a lot. I knew what was on the other side and I knew it was real."

Over the centuries, there have been numerous attempts to redeem the holiday, most notably led by the organized church. Somewhere in the seventh century-although by some accounts attempts were made as early as the fourth century-commemoration of the Celtic new year celebration of Samhain was replaced by Pope Boniface IV AS All-hallows or Halloween. Remembering saints and martyrs, October 31 was passed in prayer and fasting with November 1 and 2 becoming All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, respectively. "Halloween was once a night of prayer, praise, and sacrifice," reminded one former witch. "This is one night when the world beats a path to your door. Be prepared to bless each and every precious child by praying God's protection over their souls. It may be the only time all year anyone prays for that child."

'Fireproof' Passes $20 Million Mark

The Christian Post reports that the Christian marriage film "Fireproof" has hit $20 million in its four weeks in theatres, grossing 40 times as much as the movie cost to make. "We are thrilled with Fireproof's astonishing reception and grateful that audiences all over America are raving about this entertaining and inspirational film," said Meyer Gottlieb, president of "Fireproof" distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films, in a released statement. Director Alex Kendrick said positive feedback has continually keeps coming to Sherwood Pictures, the movie-making ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church, which launched Sherwood Pictures after a 2002 Barna Group survey revealed how movies have become one of the leading influencers in American society while churches have lost much of their influence. "We know we have a lot of growing to do as filmmakers, but we will always look for the 'God' idea that inspires and motivates people," Kendrick stated.

Climate Change Affects Yellowstone & Walden

From Walden Pond in Massachusetts to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, climate change has begun to dramatically affect the flora and fauna of these American treasures, according to two studies in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The studies show that the warming of the Earth's atmosphere over the past few decades has caused a loss of many of the flowers that Henry David Thoreau recorded in his book Walden and also has contributed to a decline in several species of native animals once common in Yellowstone. Thoreau first recorded the plants and flowers of the Concord, Mass., area in 1854. Since then, Concord's average annual temperature has risen by 4.3 degrees and 27% of the species documented by Thoreau have been lost, and 36% exist in such low numbers that their local extinction may be imminent.. Hardest hit are species that don't respond well to temperature increases, including buttercups, dogwoods, lilies, orchids, roses and violets, says Harvard University biologist Charles Davis, lead author of the article. The research points to climate change as the sole culprit.

In Yellowstone, researchers report that climate change and the resulting droughts and lack of snowpack have caused four species of amphibians — including three species of frogs and one of salamander — to go into severe decline. "Amphibians are a bellwether for environmental degradation, even in natural ecosystems such as Yellowstone … where species have been actively protected longer than anywhere else on Earth," writes lead author Sarah McMenamin of Stanford University. The findings are based on climate data going back 60 years and remote-sensing data from the past 20 years. Climate change is again fingered as the sole cause. "There is no other reason for the regional aquifer to be drying up, at exactly the same time we're seeing this change in climate," McMenamin says. McMenamin adds that "amphibian declines, population crashes and extinctions of entire amphibian species are becoming increasingly common."

Ø JJ Commentary: Once again we point out that global warming is a real phenomenon, but not solely caused by humans. Natural warming and cooling patterns have been going on for thousands of years. However, this time it is part of the end-time tribulation.

Economy (The Third Horseman)

LONDON (AP) — Iceland's central bank raised its key interest rate Tuesday by a stunning 6 percentage points to 18%. Iceland has seen its currency plunge after its banking sector collapsed earlier this month. An increase in interest rates will also make the krona more attractive to foreign investors, helping its value. "This rate will obviously be very hard on the public and businesses. It should not come as a surprise given the enormous blow when 85% of the banking system collapses," Governor David Oddsson said.

WASHINGTON — The government has cleared the way to ship $125 billion this week to the country's largest banks, beginning the biggest government bailout in history. Not only is the money ready to be sent to nine major financial institutions, including Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, but the government is reaching preliminary agreements with more than a dozen major regional banks, who will share an additional $125 billion the government hopes to pump into the banking system. Before the end of the year, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson intends to have spent $250 billion of the $700 billion bailout package buying ownership stakes in U.S. banks. The goal is to improve their balance sheets so that they will resume more normal lending practices and prevent the country from sliding into a deep recession. Another $100 billion is earmarked to be spent buying troubled assets from banks such as bad mortgage loans as another way to spur banks to resume lending.

The Federal Reserve says it will supply New Zealand's central bank with up to $15 billion, part of an ongoing effort by the Fed to break through a global credit clog. Under the new "swap" arrangement, the Fed will provide dollars to the Reserve Bank of New Zealand in exchange for that country's currency. "This facility, like those already established with other central banks, is designed to help improve liquidity conditions in global financial markets," the Fed explained. The goal is to spur banks and other financial institutions to lend more freely, something that will help the U.S. and global economies.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The International Monetary Fund, the European Union and World Bank Tuesday agreed to a $25.1 billion economic rescue package for Hungary to help it cope with the global financial crisis, the IMF said. The agreed financing by the IMF is more than 10 times Hungary's IMF quota, way above the limit of three times the quota for countries in trouble. Each IMF member is assigned a quota based on its size in the world economy.

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index fell to 38 from a revised 61.4 in September, significantly below analysts' expectations of 52. That's the lowest level for the index since the Conference Board began tracking consumer sentiment in 1967, and the third-steepest drop on record. A year ago, the index stood at 95.2. "Consumers are extremely pessimistic," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center. "This news does not bode well for retailers who are already bracing for what is shaping up to be a very challenging holiday season."

As the economic slump deepens, more companies are expected to join General Motors in suspending matches of contributions to their employees' 401(k) retirement accounts. GM last week became only the latest on a list of well-known companies trying to conserve cash to weather the downturn by halting 401(k) account matches. Also among them are Goodyear, Frontier Airlines, commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, broadcast group Entercom and rental car agency Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group.

The Christian Science Monitor said Tuesday it will become the first national newspaper to drop its daily print edition and focus on publishing online, succumbing to the financial pressure squeezing its industry harder than ever. Come April, the Boston-based general-interest newspaper — founded in 1908 and the winner of seven Pulitzer Prizes — will print only a weekend edition and turn its focus to the internet. The paper is not the first but is the most prominent to scale back its print version in favor of online news. In April, The Capital Times, of Madison, Wis., switched to publishing mainly on the Internet. The Daily Telegram in Superior, Wis., announced in July that it would print only two issues a week and its website would become the primary source for daily news. In Ohio, several local papers plan to print their final Monday editions next week.

Economic troubles are forcing states to scale back safety-net health-coverage programs — even as they brace for more residents who will need help paying for care. Many cuts affect Medicaid, which pays for health coverage for 50 million low-income adults and children nationwide, including nearly half of all nursing home care. The joint federal-state program is a target because it consumes an average 17% of state budgets — the second-biggest chunk of spending in most states, right behind education. "Medicaid programs across the U.S. are going to be severely damaged," says Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association. He expects some hospitals nationwide may drop services and some hospitals and nursing homes may lay off employees.

Arizona State University plans to cut 200 or more faculty associates and dramatically boost the size of some classes as state funding shrinks because of the economic slowdown. Some lecture-style classes could increase from 300 to 1,000 students. ASU, with more than 67,000 students, faces $25 million in additional state budget cuts on top of a previously announced $30 million.

Panic gave way to pleasure Tuesday on Wall Street, but even the powerful 11% gain in stock prices couldn't quiet concern that this — like all recent rallies — could quickly flame out. Adding to a month of nearly daily triple-digit moves, the Dow Jones industrial average surged 889 points, or 11%, to 9065 in its second-largest point gain and sixth-biggest percentage gain ever. The gains restored $1 trillion in stock value, taking some of the sting out of the $6.6 trillion that's been erased from stock portfolios this year.

Gas prices fell for the 42nd-straight day today, according to a nationwide survey of credit card swipes at gasoline stations. The average price of unleaded regular gas dropped 4 cents to $2.589 a gallon, according to the survey released by motorist group AAA. The last time gas was this low was Aug. 18, 2005. Gas has fallen every day since since Sept. 17, a few days after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike battered the Gulf coast. Prices are now down 37.1%, or $1.485, from the record high price of $4.114 a gallon set on July 17. Even with falling prices, demand for gas continues to drop. Americans are driving 5.6% less than last year, according to a recent U.S. Department of Energy report.

Two Powerful Earthquakes Hit Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — A second strong earthquake has been felt in southwestern Pakistan, some hours after an initial and powerful quake struck the same region of the country before dawn Wednesday, killing at least 150 people as they slept. The initial quake obliberated hundreds of fragile mud-and-timber homes. The U.S. Geological Survey says the second earthquake had a magnitude of 6.2. The first one was measured at 6.5. Officials warned that the death toll could rise once reports arrived from remote areas of the affected province of Baluchistan, an impoverished area bordering Afghanistan where the quake struck at 5:10 a.m. With roads blocked by landslides, officials said the army was ferrying troops and medical teams on four helicopters to villages in the quake zone and airlifting a field hospital as well as thousands of tents and blankets to the area. Wednesday's quake was the deadliest since a magnitude-7.6 quake devastated Kashmir and northern Pakistan in October 2005, killing about 80,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.

Ø JJ Commentary: Earthquakes are a key sign of the end-times according to Jesus (Matthew 24:7) and many other Biblical prophets – and they have been on the increase. Jesus calls this time period the “beginning of sorrows.”

Weather Signs

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A tropical storm lashed Bangladesh's coast, killing at least 15 people and injuring 200 more, rescue officials said Tuesday. The storm, spawned by a depression in the Bay of Bengal, struck late Monday, inundating hundreds of villages, leveling several thousand huts and knocking down electricity poles, officials said. Dhaka's Ittefaq daily reported that the storm flooded parts of Bhola island, trapping about 10,000 people in their homes.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Thousands of utility customers around the Northeast awoke without power Wednesday morning, a day after the season's first big snowstorm blew through the region. The wet snow fell on trees still covered in fall leaves, and its weight, combined with gusty winds, sent limbs crashing down on power lines. In upstate New York, more than 40,000 customers were without power Wednesday morning, most of them in the Mohawk Valley, Adirondacks and the Catskills. The National Weather Service reported snowfall totals ranging from 6 to 8 inches in northern New York, to a foot or more along the northwestern edge of the Catskill Mountains. In New Jersey, crews were working to restore power to more than 30,000 customers, mainly in the northern part of the state. Accumulations from the unusual wintry weather include about 14 inches at New Jersey's High Point State Park. A lake effect snow warning has been posted for northwestern Pennsylvania Wednesday, with accumulations of up to 12 inches possible in higher elevations. There was even snow in western North Carolina. One school system in the state's mountains was closed Wednesday because of slick roads after 1 to 3 inches of snow fell a day earlier.

Ø JJ Commentary: We will continue to see wilder weather extremes, both on the hot and cold side.


WASHINGTON — Drug-resistant staph bacteria picked up in ordinary community settings are increasingly acquiring "superbug" powers and causing far more serious illnesses than they have in the past, doctors reported Monday. These widespread germs used to be easier to treat than the dangerous forms of staph found in hospitals and nursing homes. Now, the germs causing outbreaks in schools, on sports teams and in other social situations are posing a growing threat. A CDC study found that at least 10% of cases involving the most common community strain were able to evade the antibiotics typically used to treat them. "They're becoming more resistant and they're coming into the hospitals," where they swap gene components with other bacteria and grow even more dangerous, said Dr. Keith Klugman, an infectious disease expert at Emory University. "It's really a major epidemic."

The germ is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. People can carry it on their skin or in their noses with no symptoms and still infect others — the reason many hospitals isolate and test new patients to see if they harbor the bug. MRSA mostly causes skin infections. But the germ can be life-threatening if it gets into the bloodstream, lungs or organs. Pneumonia, sinus infections and even "flesh-eating" wounds due to MRSA are on the rise, doctors reported Monday at an infectious diseases conference in Washington.

Ø JJ Commentary: Pestilence (e.g. AIDS, SARS, bird flu, MRSA, etc.) is one of the end-time signs

15% of Female Veterans Tell of Sexual Trauma

About one out of seven female veterans of Afghanistan or Iraq who visit a Veterans Affairs center for medical care report being a victim of sexual assault or harassment during military duty. More than half of these women have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study is the first of its size to screen veterans for sexual assaults and harassment. Mental disorders are more prevalent among those who had sexual traumas in the military, says Rachel Kimerling, a psychologist at the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the VA. Women with military-related sexual traumas had a 59% higher risk for mental health problems. A General Accounting Office report in July said training to prevent military sexual assaults isn't consistently effective, some commanders don't support the programs and more than half of victims don't report the incidents.

FBI Reports Anti-Gay Crimes Up

Hate crimes against gays increased in 2007, up 6% from 2006 even though the overall number of hate crimes dropped slightly, the FBI reported Monday. There were 7,624 hate crimes reported in 2007, down 1% from 2006. Crimes based on sexual orientation — 1,265 in 2007 — have been rising since 2005. Race-related incidents, 51% of the reported hate crimes, fell 3%. Incidents against Latinos increased for the fourth year, from 426 in 2003 to 595. Bias incidents against Asians increased by 4% from 181 to 188. Crimes against Muslims declined 26% to 115 incidents, considerably down from 481 in 2001.

A Rise in Kidney Stones Is Seen in U.S. Children

NYT — To the great surprise of parents, kidney stones, once considered a disorder of middle age, are now showing up in children as young as 5 or 6. Pediatric urologists and nephrologists across the country say they are seeing a steep rise in young patients. Some hospitals have opened pediatric kidney stone clinics. The increase in the United States is attributed to a host of factors, including a food additive that is both legal and ubiquitous: salt. Though most of the research on kidney stones comes from adult studies, experts believe it can be applied to children. Those studies have found that dietary factors are the leading cause of kidney stones, which are crystallizations of several substances in the urine. Stones form when these substances become too concentrated. Forty to 65 percent of kidney stones are formed when oxalate, a byproduct of certain foods, binds to calcium in the urine. (Other common types include calcium phosphate stones and uric acid stones.) And the two biggest risk factors for this binding process are not drinking enough fluids and eating too much salt; both increase the amount of calcium and oxalate in the urine. Excess salt has to be excreted through the kidneys, but salt binds to calcium on its way out, creating a greater concentration of calcium in the urine and the kidneys.

U.S. Military Hands 13th Province Over to the Iraqis

KUT, Iraq (AP) — The U.S. military on Wednesday handed over security responsibility for the southern province of Wasit to Iraqi authorities in a step that acknowledges the growing capability of the country's fledgling security forces. Wasit province is the 13th of Iraq's 18 provinces to return to full government control. Iraqi authorities are now in charge of security throughout the country's mostly Shiite south. U.S. and Iraqi forces have been jointly seeking to shut down arms smuggling routes from Iran that use Wasit as a transit point before the weapons are taken elsewhere in Iraq. The weapons are thought to be going to Shiite militant groups. U.S. forces will remain in the predominantly Shiite province to assist the Iraqis when needed.

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's government decided Tuesday to formally ask the United States to reopen negotiations on a proposed deal to keep American troops here past the end of the year. The U.S. suggested it may not be ready to offer more concessions. That cast doubt on whether the agreement can win parliamentary approval by the end of 2008, when the U.N. mandate expires — and with it the legal basis for the U.S. military to operate in Iraq. The U.S. has warned that without an agreement or an extension of the mandate, military operations would cease, including not only combat operations but also infrastructure projects and aid to Iraq's government. For nearly two weeks, Iraqi politicians have been considering the draft agreement, which would keep U.S. troops in Iraq through 2011. The draft would also give the Iraqis a greater role in supervising U.S. military operations and allow Iraqi courts to try U.S. soldiers and contractors accused of major crimes off duty and off base.

Pakistan Tells U.S. to Stop Missile Strikes

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan's government summoned the U.S. ambassador on Wednesday to urge an immediate halt to missile strikes on suspected militant hide-outs near the Afghan border. Missile attacks have killed at least two senior al-Qaeda commanders in Pakistan earlier this year, putting some pressure on extremist groups accused of planning attacks in Afghanistan — and perhaps terror strikes in the West. However, a marked uptick in their frequency has badly strained America's seven-year alliance with Pakistan, where rising violence is exacerbating economic problems gnawing at the nuclear-armed Islamic republic's stability. The attacks were resulting in the loss of "precious lives and property" and "undermine public support for the government's counterterrorism policies," the Pakistani statement said.

Afghanistan Troop Buildup Could More than Double

WASHINGTON (AP) — Military planners now think they may need to send more than double the number of extra troops initially believed necessary for the war in Afghanistan. The increasingly violent campaign could now amount to more than 20,000 additional troops. Officials had been saying for months that they needed more trainers and two more combat brigades — some 10,000 people.

U.N. Attacks Rebels in Eastern Congo

GOMA, Congo (AP) — In a chaotic day of fighting and fear, U.N. peacekeepers used helicopter gunships against rebels in eastern Congo on Monday, trying to halt a rebel advance as government troops hastily retreated and civilians attacked U.N. headquarters demanding protection. U.N. spokeswoman Sylvie van den Wildenberg said the peacekeepers in helicopters fired at rebel forces surging on Kibumba, about 28 miles north of the provincial capital of Goma. Rebel leader Gen. Laurent Nkunda has threatened to take Goma in defiance of calls from the U.N. Security Council for him to respect a U.N.-brokered cease-fire signed in January. In what appeared to be a major retreat, hundreds of government soldiers pulled back Monday from the battlefront north of Goma — fleeing in tanks, jeeps, trucks, commandeered cars and on foot. Nkunda says he is protecting the region's minority Tutsi population, about 3%, from a Hutu militia that fled to Congo after helping to perpetrate the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which a half million Tutsis were slaughtered. Tens of thousands of civilians abandoned their homes ahead of the rebel advance.

Twenty-Two Dead in Somalia Suicide Bombs

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Suicide bombers struck a United Nations compound and several other targets in northern Somalia on Wednesday as international leaders in neighboring Kenya held talks about the deadly crisis in Somalia. At least 22 people died in the attacks, officials said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings, but in the past Islamist rebels have launched such strikes to coincide with U.N.-led efforts to end the turmoil in this impoverished Horn of Africa nation. Somaliland President Dahir Riyale Kahin's secretary died in the blast, but the president was not hurt. Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991, when clan warlords ousted longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. The current government was formed in 2004 with the help of the United Nations, but has failed to protect citizens from violence or the country's poverty.

N. Korea Threatens to Turn S. Korea into 'Debris'

SEOUL (AP) — North Korea's military warned Tuesday it would attack South Korea and reduce it to "debris" if Seoul continues what it says are confrontational activities against the communist country. The threat comes a day after North Korea demanded during brief talks at the border that South Korea stop the flow of propaganda into the communist North — even as activists sent tens of thousands of anti-Pyongyang leaflets fluttering north Monday. Relations between the two Koreas have been tense since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's conservative government took office in February pledging to get tough with Pyongyang.

Ø JJ Commentary: Wars and rumors of wars.