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.

No comments: