"Am I therefore become your enemy,because I TELL YOU THE TRUTH...?"
(Galatians 4:16)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Light the Highway Holiness Initiative

CNN Features Light the Highway Holiness Initiative. The word is spreading about Light the Highway. CNN, one of the most popular national media organizations, featured an interview with Cindy Jacobs yesterday on the front page of CNN.com. Interviewed by CNN correspondent, Gary Tuchman, Cindy shared the vision of Light the Highway and the necessity for holiness both on our highway and in our nation. This interview, showcasing the Holiness Initiative, was scheduled to air on the Anderson Cooper 360 Show on late Wednesday evening, December 19, 2007, but is available here.
To view the full article highlighted on CNN's front page, read it here.

As in the days of Noah....

Missile Defense Goes Worldwide

The Dec. 17 interception of a ballistic missile by a Japanese Aegis destroyer off the Hawaiian Island of Kauai is a milestone in the U.S.-Japan missile defense collaboration.The Bush administration's goal of global missile defenses is becoming reality, but to effectively protect the Eastern United States defenses in Europe are needed.For years, representatives of Japan and a number of other countries attended missile defense conferences. They regularly announced plans to study the need for missile defenses. Each year they said the same, but there was little sense of urgency and no sign of progress, except in Israel and the United States.The United States developed the Patriot PAC-2 to stop short-range missiles just in time to defend U.S. troops and Israel in the first Gulf war. Then Israel, surrounded by enemies, developed and deployed its Arrow missile interceptor in record time.Land-based Patriots were sent to defend U.S. forces and allies around the world, but the ABM treaty prevented the U.S. from developing either a national missile defense or ship-based defenses. The problem became critical in 1998 when North Korea launched a Taepodong missile over northern Japan. It was a blatant threat to Japan and its three stages meant it also had the potential to reach the United States. Tokyo began deploying defenses.Japan placed 27 Patriot PAC-2 batteries around the country, put in orbit its own spy satellites, bought Aegis radar systems for six new destroyers, joined the U.S. in developing a longer-range ship-based missile interceptor, and allowed the U.S. to put an X-band radar in northern Japan. Last March, Japan began deploying more capable Patriot PAC-3s at 16 locations to protect major cities, military installations and other potential targets.Japan also is modifying its four operational Aegis destroyers to carry SM-3 missile interceptors. The destroyer Kongo, which made the successful intercept on Monday, is the first non-U.S. ship to shoot down a ballistic missile. The U.S. Navy already has shot down 11 in 13 attempts with ship-based interceptors.By the end of 2008 the United States will have 18 Aegis warships equipped for ballistic missile defense. Japan eventually will have six, and Australia, South Korea, Taiwan and others also likely will put missile defenses on their ships. Ship-based defenses can be coordinated with land-based defenses, including the various models of Patriots in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense when it is ready in a few years.Ship-based SM-3s can intercept missiles outside the atmosphere. Any that get through can be stopped inside the atmosphere by the land-based interceptors. Such defenses can both protect against North Korean missiles and reduce intimidation by China, which has nearly 1,000 missiles opposite Taiwan.For decades the Soviet missile defenses around Moscow were the only defenses against long-range missiles anywhere. The Russians are now modernizing those defenses against the kind of missiles being developed by Iran. Even though Russia claims Iran is no threat, in August Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin, commander of the Russian air force, announced activation of the first S-400 interceptors as part of Moscow's missile defense.Russian reports claim the S-400 can reach out 250 miles and stop missiles with ranges greater than 2,000 miles. This covers both Iran's Shahab-3 and the new solid-fuel Ashura, the development of which Tehran announced three weeks ago, claiming a range of 1,250 miles.With the constraints of the ABM treaty removed by President Bush, the United States is putting missile defenses in Alaska and California, at U.S. bases abroad, and on ships at sea. Other countries also are developing and buying missile defenses. India, surrounded by nuclear missile-armed Russia, China and Pakistan, plans to deploy its own two-tier missile defense in a few years. On Dec. 6, India conducted a successful intercept within the atmosphere, while a year ago it killed a ballistic missile outside the atmosphere.Proliferating missile defenses diminish the value of the nuclear-armed ballistic missile. In the Middle East, Israel is expanding its missile defenses, while Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Turkey have bought or are seeking to buy such defenses. In Europe, Britain and Denmark are hosting early warning radars.The Polish and Czech governments are resisting Russian pressure and are expected to sign basing agreements early next year. Meanwhile, the threat continues to grow as Iran develops new longer-range missiles. Ship-based defenses in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean can help, but to effectively protect the U.S. East Coast and Europe, bases in Europe are needed.Sea-based defenses now are advancing quickly. It is time to move forward with land-based defenses in Europe.

As in the days of Noah....

Evangelicals for Hezbollahstan

Evangelicals have long been a mainstay of U.S. support for Israel. But the Evangelical Left is trying to push Evangelicals into a more neutral position towards Israel.“An Evangelical Statement on Israel/Palestine,” which seems to have originated mostly with Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA), benignly urges “all evangelicals, all Christians, and everyone of good will to join us to work and pray faithfully in the coming months for a just, lasting two-state solution in the Holy Land.” Organizers of the Evangelical statement have couched their initiative in language of support for the Annapolis peace process. The prominent Religious Left endorsers, such as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and ESA’s Ron Sider, are better known for harsh condemnation of U.S. policies. But their stance is politically shrewd, as they posture as reasonable-minded Evangelicals in contrast to stereotypes about Evangelical Zionist zealots. The statement reassuringly speaks of “our ongoing support for the security of Israel” and asserts that “unless the situation between Israel and Palestine improves quickly, the consequences will be devastating.” It notes that “Palestinians–especially the youth who have no economic opportunity–are increasingly sympathetic to radical solutions and terrorism,” which generates an enhanced “threat to Israel’s security.”Threats to “America’s national security” are also greater because “so many of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims see America through the prism of Israel-Palestine,” the Evangelical statement warns. The current situation will create greater “anti-American attitudes, policies, and terrorist activities will increase dramatically among Muslims worldwide.”The Bible’s demands for “justice” have persuaded these Evangelicals to work “for a fair, negotiated solution for both Israelis and Palestinians” that will include peace, democracy and flourishing economies both for Israel and a Palestinian State. “We believe that the way forward is for the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a fair, two-state solution,” the statement equitably surmises. From the Evangelical statement, it is not at all clear why this seemingly easy two-state solution is not already achieved. These Evangelicals note that the “Israeli and Palestinian governments have officially endorsed a two-state solution and that polls demonstrate that solid majorities in both Israel and Palestine embrace this path.” If so, then who is blocking the way? The Evangelicals mysteriously decline to say.Instead, the Evangelicals conclude: “We are strengthened by the truth that Christ will return some day to complete his victory over sin and injustice, and we are empowered by the knowledge that until He comes again, He summons us to support the things that promote peace and justice for everyone in the Holy Land.” But what are the hindrances to this vision of peace and justice between Israelis and Palestinians? Again, the Evangelicals are silent. Seemingly, the acrimony between Israelis and Palestinians is mostly only a misunderstanding.This November 28 statement from Evangelicals follows a July 27 letter to President from the same organizers, more explicitly asserting moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians: “Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other. The only way to bring the tragic cycle of violence to an end is for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a just, lasting agreement that guarantees both sides viable, independent, secure states.”A “viable, independent, secure” Palestinian state seems to be the magic solution to the chronic Israeli-Arab conflict, according to these Evangelicals. Who then stands in the way? As these Evangelicals admit, the Israeli government has accepted the principle, and the U.S. is pushing for a Palestinian state. Perhaps the main obstacles to peace in the Middle East, in the minds of these Evangelical Left paladins, are conservative pro-Israel Evangelicals in the U.S. In their public media comments after their July 27 letter to Bush, Ron Sider and other organizers contrasted their reasoned stance to the Zionist zealotry of dispensationalist Evangelicals, who see Israel as an instrument of Christ’s Second Coming. Sider and other organizers told The New York Times earlier this year that they dreamed up their Middle East activism while visiting the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, where supposedly Muslims were pleasantly “shocked” to meet Palestinian-friendly Evangelicals. Evangelical promotion of a Palestinian state will supposedly mollify Muslims enraged by traditional U.S. Evangelical partiality towards Israel.Evangelical Left activists like to apologize for and stereotype pro-Israel Evangelicals as Scopes Monkey Trial naifs who want to ignite the Apocalypse. But in their eagerness to win public relations points with Muslims internationally and with America’s secular culture, they avoid addressing the unpleasant Islamist theologies that impede an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Why are even Palestinian “moderates,” not to mention Hamas fanatics, so incapable for fully accepting Israel’s existence, except when talking to Western news cameras? Islamists believe that any territory “lost” to infidels must be retrieved for Islam. This helps explain the almost irrational rage throughout the Islamic world against Israel as the “crusader state.” Such Islamist doctrine, which genuine Muslim moderates dispute only at great risk to themselves, is not likely rebutted by endless concessions but by firm persuasion that their cause cannot prevail.Many of the organizers of the Evangelical statement are pacifists, so their ostensible affirmation of Israel’s “security” rings hollow. But more revealingly, many of them are more distressed by pro-Israel Evangelicals in the U.S. than by anti-Israel and anti-U.S. Islamists in the Middle East. The former are largely comprised of SUV driving soccer moms who attend suburban churches. The latter are comprised of suicide bombers and terrorist-supporting theocrats. Who is really more disturbing? And who are the real obstacles to Middle East peace?

As in the days of Noah....

A Valentine for Vladimir

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must be kicking himself. In the last year alone, the Iranian president has captured British sailors and humiliated their home country. He has lectured the United States about civility and human rights from a podium at Columbia University. He has sneered at the international community and forged ahead with a rogue nuclear program. He has done it all, moreover, while cracking down on opposition activists, students, and pro-democracy campaigners. For all that, he has been passed over for Time magazine's coveted "Person of the Year" award in favor of Russia's Vladimir Putin. What does an aspiring dictator have to do to get noticed?Apparently, he has to bring "stability" to his country. Such at any rate was Time's rationale for crowning Putin with its top editorial honor.It is, on the face of it, a curious justification. Even as the issue bearing his scornfully unsmiling likeness is making its way to newsstands, Russia is in the midst of a chaotic behind-the-scenes turf battle to determine Putin's successor in the winner-take-all contest that Russian politics has become on his watch. Pitting veterans of the notoriously corrupt FSB security service, the so-called siloviki, against comparably corrupt Kremlin apparatchiks and status-seekers, the cutthroat clash has already produced several high-profile arrests and murders. The slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the poisoned expatriate dissident Alexander Litvinenko are but two of the most prominent examples of the tragic cost of challenging Putin’s Mafioso regime its FSB enforcers. (It is a measure of the lawlessness in Putin’s Russia that the chief suspect in the Litvinenko murder, former KGB thug Andrei Lugovoi, was recently promoted to the State Duma, where he enjoys parliamentary immunity from prosecution.) Adding to the national confusion, Putin himself has tapped a longtime loyalist, Dmitry Medvedev, to succeed him as president, fueling speculation that he intends to wield power from behind the scenes. Given that the stakes are nothing less than full control of the Russian ship of state, to describe this ruthless scramble for absolute power as "stability" is to rob the word of all meaning.As always when their choice stirs criticism, Time's editors protest that the title "is not an endorsement." This is both true and stunningly disingenuous. Let us concede that the award is not intended to confer approval. It is entirely possible that the magazine did not mean to hail Hitler when it made him its man of the year in 1938, just as he was beginning his Anschluss of Austria. Grant, too, the possibility that the selection of Stalin the following year and of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979-in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis-were judgments on their geopolitical importance and not tributes.None of this alters the fact that the title is invariably taken as an accolade by its recipients. Accordingly, Putin's surrogates have rushed to pronounce Time's award as a validation of his autocratic rule. "It's very good news for us, very good news," a Kremlin spokesman said of the award this week. "We treat it as an acknowledgment of the role that was played by President Putin in helping to pull Russia out of the social troubles and economic troubles of the 1990s." Translation: "Thanks for the endorsement!"Aside from its utility as propaganda, another problem with the choice of Putin is that it is a missed opportunity to spotlight some truly deserving candidates. General David Petraeus, the intellectual architect of the successful "surge" strategy in Iraq, would have been a logical choice. Instead, the man who is working to build democracy in Iraq has to play "runner-up" to the man who is eroding it in Russia.Alternatively, since Time editors are determined to focus on Russia-"history lives in Russia" they pompously exclaim-they would have done a public service by highlighting the struggles of Gary Kasparov. The former chess grandmaster could have had a comfortable life in the West, where he has no shortage of friends and supporters. He has instead chosen to wage a lonely struggle to restore democracy and the rule of law to his country.Often he has stood in harm's way. In late November, for example, Kasparov took part in a demonstration against the government's decision to bar candidates from his political party, Other Russia, from standing in parliamentary elections. That earned him a five-day stint in jail. Earlier this month, Kasparov was forced to abandon his utopian bid for the presidency after his party was prevented from renting a hall for its nominating convention as stipulated by Russian law. There are daily threats on his life, and he has become a persona non grata, but Kasparov at least retains his sense of humor. Of Time magazine's decision, he noted with mock approval that it was "almost in tune with the official Kremlin propaganda."As it stands, the closest that Time came to recognizing Russian dissenters is to give an honorable mention to J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter series. It may be recalled that in 2003, the Russian government's lawyers threatened to bring a lawsuit against "Dobby the house elf," the computer-generated creature who starred in the film version of Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Dobby's big-eared, bug-eyed features were taken to be a deliberate slight to Putin, though wags pointed out that, if anything, the elf was the wronged party.Ultimately, of course, it is pointless to object to the magazine's choice. The "Person of the Year" award is about cash not content. It is a cynical gimmick designed to drum up the perennially flat circulation of a newsweekly that has lost its former influence. If putting a dictator on the cover achieves that end, the substance is immaterial. Much the same could be said of Putin's Russia. There, a great deal of money is waiting to be made, at least by anyone prepared to turn a blind eye to the increasingly authoritarian character of the government. Perhaps Putin belongs on Time's cover, after all.
By Jacob Laksin
As in the days of Noah....

Godtube.com Launches the World's First Virtual Video Bible and Virtual Video Prayer Wall

"The Virtual Video Prayer Wall will enable people around the world…to join together virtually and pray for those in need, from U.S. soldiers far from home to children in hospitals to families who have lost their homes in the recent wildfires and floods."
GodTube.com, the website which set the record as the #1 fastest growing website in the U.S. according to ComScore during its first official launch month, today brought the Bible into the digital age with the launch of the first Virtual Video Bible and the world's first Virtual Video Prayer Wall, offering the 2.1 billion Christians around the world a whole new way to experience their faith this Christmas season.Coined "Bible 2.0", the world's first online interactive Virtual Video Bible provides an interactive way to experience the Bible through videos, photos and real life experiences uploaded by millions. The Virtual Video Bible offers the entire text of the Bible—from Genesis to Revelation—brought to life by accompanying videos for every chapter. Line by line, the Bible comes to life using GodTube.com's 800,000 hours of video, which range from music videos to comedy to sermons and to a wide array of user-generated content. When a user scrolls over a verse or passage in the Virtual Video Bible, videos, pictures and comments related to that specific Scripture appear on-screen. With more than 10 million people logging onto GodTube.com, the Virtual Video Bible offers the world's largest Bible experience.Also in time for Christmas, GodTube.com is launching the world's first Virtual Video Prayer Wall, which will enable people around the world—from China to Afghanistan to Arkansas—to join together virtually and pray for those in need, from U.S. soldiers far from home to children in hospitals to families who have lost their homes in the recent wildfires and floods.Patterned after the popular Christian practice of prayer chains and vigils that involve millions of people, GodTube.com takes the prayer wall high-tech. The revolutionary Virtual Video Prayer Wall allows users to post a prayer request on GodTube.com where it could be seen by millions and answered. The Prayer Wall enables people to post prayer requests through a video prayer blog and add home videos and pictures for those in need of prayer. Individuals can respond to prayers posted on the prayer wall by entering text, uploading pictures and even uploading video responses.
To visit the website, follow the link provided.
Source: Lesley Burbridge-Bates – Christian Newswire, GodTube.com

As in the days of Noah....

UFO CRAZE WATCH:UFO debate invades Japan

Tokyo - A debate over flying saucers has kept Japanese politicians occupied for much of this week, ensnaring top officials and drawing a promise from the defence minister to send out the army if Godzilla goes on a rampage."There are debates over what makes UFOs fly, but it would be difficult to say it's an encroachment of air space," Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba told a news conference on Thursday."If Godzilla were to show up, it would be a dispatch for disaster relief."His remarks came after the top government spokesperson was asked on Tuesday about an opposition politician's demand that the government confirm the existence of unidentified flying objects."Personally, I definitely believe they exist," chief cabinet secretary Nobutaka Machimura said, drawing laughter from reporters.Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda took a more guarded stance later in the day, saying he has yet to confirm their existence.The debate started on Tuesday when the cabinet issued a statement in response to the opposition lawmaker's question, saying it could not confirm any cases of UFO sightings.Not all lawmakers are enthralled."Give me a break," ruling party lawmaker Toshihiro Nikai was quoted as saying by the Yomiuri newspaper. "There are many (other) things politics has to respond to."

As in the days of Noah....

AU:Ivory Coast peace on track

Addis Ababa - The African Union on Friday praised progress towards peace in Ivory Coast and called for increased efforts to draw up electoral lists in preparation for polls.The West African country has been split in two since a 2002 rebellion against President Laurent Gbagbo, with international peacekeepers holding the line between the two sides.The statement said the AU's Peace and Security Council had endorsed recent peace accords between Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro, leader of the rebels holding the north of the country, who is now prime minister.The council hailed "the encouraging developments occurring" in Ivory Coast, "in particular the efforts aimed at promoting confidence" such as the removal of a buffer zone across the country, the deployment of joint police units, and the establishment of an integrated command centre for implementing military and security aspects of the accords.It urged the two sides "to take all steps required" to complete voter registration, disarm and dismantle militias, re-establish state authority throughout the country and unify and restructure defence and security forces.

As in the days of Noah....

PERSECUTION WATCH:Sisters of faith remembered

Memorial Service for Sisters Shot at Colorado Church Draws 3,000...
"Live life on purpose. Every day matters. Every hour matters. Every relationship matters. Every friendship matters."
David,Marie and Laurie Works (left)grieve and cry during the Memorial Service in honour of their two daughters slain at New Life Church in Colorado,last week......
To read these news and more,go to:
As in the days of Noah....

'Christian God is not to blame'

RELIGION has been unfairly blamed for conflicts around the world in recent years, but Christians should remember the benefits of their devotion, Sydney Catholic Archbishop George Pell has said.In his Christmas message, the archbishop reminds Christians that the birth of Jesus is a symbol of helplessness and hope.
"Christians believe that the almighty God has visited us, not just through prophets, saints and humanitarian heroes, but through sending his son to be born of a virgin in Bethlehem...," Cardinal Pell has said."Babies are vulnerable, more helpless initially than any of the animals.
"So too was the son of God, but every birth inspires hope, even when it is only hope against hope."The archbishop has said God and his believers are not to blame for the world's wars or crimes and Christians should remember the benefits of their devotion."...God has been attacked angrily here and there in the English-speaking world and believers have been accused of causing most of the wars and crimes in history," Cardinal Pell has said."This is an exaggeration as the moral monsters of the twentieth century Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were atheists and Hitler bitterly hated Jews and Christians."But all believers have to acknowledge the downside of their long story, while asking that their positive contributions are also recorded."In July, more than 500,000 Christians will descend upon Sydney in celebration of World Youth Day and a papal visit.Cardinal Pell has said followers would travel much further than Mary and Joseph did for the birth of their baby son Jesus in Bethlehem."I ask you all to welcome them into your hearts and perhaps, as at the Olympics, into your homes," he said."As we celebrate again the birth of the helpless newly-born Christ child, we should remember the sick and the sad, the lonely and the angry and reach out to help them."

As in the days of Noah.....

BIG BROTHER WATCH:FBI Prepares Vast Database Of Biometrics;$1 Billion Project to Include Images of Irises and Faces

CLARKSBURG, W. Va.-The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad.Digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already flowing into FBI systems in a climate-controlled, secure basement here. Next month, the FBI intends to award a 10-year contract that would significantly expand the amount and kinds of biometric information it receives. And in the coming years, law enforcement authorities around the world will be able to rely on iris patterns, face-shape data, scars and perhaps even the unique ways people walk and talk, to solve crimes and identify criminals and terrorists. The FBI will also retain, upon request by employers, the fingerprints of employees who have undergone criminal background checks so the employers can be notified if employees have brushes with the law."Bigger. Faster. Better. That's the bottom line," said Thomas E. Bush III, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which operates the database from its headquarters in the Appalachian foothills.The increasing use of biometrics for identification is raising questions about the ability of Americans to avoid unwanted scrutiny. It is drawing criticism from those who worry that people's bodies will become de facto national identification cards. Critics say that such government initiatives should not proceed without proof that the technology really can pick a criminal out of a crowd.The use of biometric data is increasing throughout the government. For the past two years, the Defense Department has been storing in a database images of fingerprints, irises and faces of more than 1.5 million Iraqi and Afghan detainees, Iraqi citizens and foreigners who need access to U.S. military bases. The Pentagon also collects DNA samples from some Iraqi detainees, which are stored separately.The Department of Homeland Security has been using iris scans at some airports to verify the identity of travelers who have passed background checks and who want to move through lines quickly. The department is also looking to apply iris- and face-recognition techniques to other programs. The DHS already has a database of millions of sets of fingerprints, which includes records collected from U.S. and foreign travelers stopped at borders for criminal violations, from U.S. citizens adopting children overseas, and from visa applicants abroad. There could be multiple records of one person's prints."It's going to be an essential component of tracking," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project of the American Civil Liberties Union....
To read more go to:

As in the days of Noah....

Hoover had plan for mass arrests

WASHINGTON - Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had a plan to suspend the rules against illegal detention and arrest up to 12,000 Americans he suspected of being disloyal, according to a newly declassified document.Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, less than two weeks after the Korean War began. But there is no evidence to suggest that President Truman or any subsequent president approved any part of Hoover's proposal to house suspect Americans in military and federal prisons.Hoover had wanted Truman to declare the mass arrests necessary to "protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage," The New York Times reported Saturday in a story posted on its Web site.The plan called for the FBI to apprehend all potentially dangerous individuals whose names were on a list Hoover had been compiling for years."The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven percent are citizens of the United States," Hoover wrote in the now-declassified document. "In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the writ of habeas corpus."
Habeas corpus is the right to seek relief from illegal detention, and is a bedrock legal principle.
All apprehended individuals eventually would have had the right to a hearing under Hoover's plan, but hearing boards comprised of one judge and two citizens would not have been bound by the rules of evidence.The details of Hoover's plan was among a collection of Cold War-era documents related to intelligence issues from 1950-1955. The State Department declassified the documents on Friday.

As in the days of Noah....

First Dec. 25 Xmas tied to pagan shrine

ROME - [[[The church where the tradition of celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25 may have begun was built near a pagan shrine as part of an effort to spread Christianity, ]]]a leading Italian scholar says.Italian archaeologists last month unveiled an underground grotto that they believe ancient Romans revered as the place where a wolf nursed Rome's legendary founder Romulus and his twin brother Remus.A few feet from the grotto, or "Lupercale,"[[[[ the Emperor Constantine built the Basilica of St. Anastasia(picture left), where some believe Christmas was first celebrated on Dec. 25. Constantine ended the frequent waves of anti-Christian persecutions in the Roman empire by making Christianity a lawful religion in 313. He played a key role in unifying the beliefs and practices of the early followers of Jesus.In 325, he convened the Council of Nicaea, which fixed the dates of important Christian festivals. It opted to mark Christmas, then celebrated at varying dates, on Dec. 25 to coincide with the Roman festival celebrating the birth of the sun god,]]]] Andrea Carandini, a professor of archaeology at Rome's La Sapienza University, told reporters Friday.[[[[The Basilica of St. Anastasia was built as soon as a year after the Nicaean Council. It probably was where Christmas was first marked on Dec. 25, part of broader efforts to link pagan practices to Christian celebrations in the early days of the new religion, Carandini said."The church was built to Christianize these pagan places of worship," he said. "It was normal to put a church near these places to try to 'save' them."Rome's archaeological superintendent Angelo Bottini, who did not take part in Carandini's research, said that hypothesis was "evocative and coherent" and "helps us understand the mechanisms of the passage from paganism to Christianity."]]]]Bottini and Carandini both said future digs could bolster the link between the shrine and the church if structures belonging to the "Lupercale" are found directly below the basilica.The Basilica St. Anastasia was the first church to rise not on the ancient city's outskirts, but on the Palatine Hill, the palatial center of power and religion in imperial Rome, Carandini said. Though little known today, at the time of Constantine it was one of the most important basilicas for Christians in Rome, he said.The "Lupercale" shrine-named after the "lupa," Latin for she-wolf — is 52 feet below ground. So far, archaeologists have only been able to see it by inserting probes and cameras that have revealed a vaulted ceiling decorated with colored marble and a white imperial eagle.Though some experts have expressed doubts that the grotto is in fact the mythological nursery of Romulus and Remus, most archaeologists believe the shrine fits the descriptions found in ancient texts, and plans are being drawn up to excavate the structure further.

As in the days of Noah....

Australian, French leaders in Kabul to stress support

KABUL-The leaders of France and Australia paid surprise visits to Afghanistan Saturday, stressing support for efforts against terrorism after the bloodiest year of a Taliban-led insurgency. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd met their Afghan counterpart separately in whistlestop visits and also held talks with the commander of a NATO-led military force, US General Dan McNeill.
Sarkozy told journalists who travelled with him from Paris that the international community could not afford to lose the "war against terrorism" in Afghanistan.The various nations with troops here must be united and committed in their efforts to build Afghanistan so it can withstand insurgents linked with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, he said."It is absolutely necessary that Afghanistan does not become a state which falls in the hands of terrorists, as we saw with the Taliban," he said.The Taliban were removed from power in late 2001 in a US-led invasion weeks after the September 11 attacks by the Al-Qaeda network, which had training camps here and is still allied with the Afghan militant movement.Sarkozy said his visit, on which he was accompanied by his defence and foreign ministers and other officials, was to assess the situation in Afghanistan.France would "take a number of decisions" in the coming weeks, Sarkozy said, adding it would "reinforce" the personnel it has here to train the Afghan army and police.France has about 1,600 troops serving with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that is involved in efforts to defeat a Taliban-led insurgency and build Afghanistan's security forces.Australia has about 900, most of them in the south-central province of Uruzgan-one of the most volatile in Afghanistan and a former Taliban stronghold-where Rudd started his trip before travelling up to Kabul.He told reporters after talks with Karzai that his country was committed to Afghanistan for the "long haul.""Over the next several months, I would also be encouraging other friends and partners and allies in NATO to continue their commitments to this country and where possible extend them," he said.Australia has denied media reports last weekend that it would keep its troops in Afghanistan longer than the scheduled end of their mission in August next year, saying no decision had been made yet.But Rudd's Labor Party had "indicated for some time that they would consider further reasonable requests for military assistance in Afghanistan," a spokeswoman said then.Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi is expected in the coming days, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates also visited in recent weeks.The flurry of trips comes at the tail end of the bloodiest of the Taliban-led insurgency, with around 6,000 people dead-most of them rebels-and a spike in suicide and other bombings.The Australian, a daily newspaper, reported Monday that Rudd's new government had warned NATO and its allies that they would lose the war against hardline Taliban forces unless they urgently changed tactics.The United States has also announced that a review is under way.Karzai has been calling for more focus on militant bases outside of Afghanistan, notably in Pakistan, while there has been increased emphasis this year on training the Afghan forces and promoting reconciliation. A NATO summit in Bucharest in April is set to review efforts to help Afghanistan end the insurgency and establish democracy.

As in the days of Noah....

Thailand heads to first post-coup polls

BANGKOK-Thailand heads to the polls Sunday in an election meant to restore democracy more than a year after the military ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose shadow looms large over the balloting.About 45.7 million Thais are eligible to vote in the first post-coup election, in which opinion polls predict that neither of the kingdom's two leading parties will win a clear majority of the 480 seats in parliament.Voting stations were to open at 8:00 am (0100 GMT) and close at 3:00 pm (0800 GMT). The Election Commission said voter turnout would likely reach 70 percent, with unofficial results due by midnight Sunday.Frontrunners are the People Power Party (PPP), which was taken over by allies of Thaksin's disbanded Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party, and the Democrat Party, Thailand's oldest political outfit.Although the junta dissolved Thaksin's party and banned him from politics for five years after they seized power in a bloodless coup in September 2006, the former premier remains a dominant and divisive figure in Thai politics.Analysts predict the outcome of the election will be unlikely to resolve deep divisions between anti-Thaksin urban dwellers and the rural masses, who remain loyal to the deposed leader.PPP draws most of its support from farmers, the majority of Thailand's 64 million population, who remember efforts by the self-made billionaire Thaksin to boost the rural economy during his five-year rule.The Democrat Party is popular among Bangkok's middle-class, who spearheaded anti-Thaksin protests that culminated in the coup."The poll this Sunday is a continuation of our ongoing political crisis," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, political science professor at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University."This election shows the struggle between pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin forces," he said.While the polls are meant to return power from the military to civilian rule, observers question how free and fair they can be as more than one-third of the country, including Thaksin's strongholds, is still under martial law.During its 15 months in power, the military has tried to ensure it will maintain influence over the government even after Sunday's election.The military tossed out Thailand's 1997 constitution, which had been widely hailed as the most democratic the kingdom had ever known, and put an army-backed constitution to a referendum in August.The passage of the constitution paved the way for Sunday's polls, but critics warn the charter will encourage weak coalition governments while returning real authority to the military, the bureaucracy and the royal palace.All three institutions have played key roles in most of Thailand's turbulent political history, which has seen 24 prime ministers and 18 coups over the past 75 years.Thaksin has been living in exile in London since the coup, but PPP announced in front of cheering supporters on Friday that he would return to Thailand on February 14 for the first time.Coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin has said he will respect the outcome of the election, and a victory by the pro-Thaksin PPP in the polls would not cause "chaos" in the kingdom.Meanwhile, the United States said Friday that it "looks forward" to the election. Washington "eagerly awaits the return of democracy to Thailand so that we may resume our close and abiding relationship with this important ally," White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto said before the vote.

As in the days of Noah.....

Former PM Blair converts to Catholicism

LONDON-Former British prime minister Tony Blair has converted to Roman Catholicism, his spokesman told AFP Saturday.Matthew Doyle confirmed British media reports that the 54-year-old politician converted during a ceremony in central London on Friday night.Blair's conversion from Anglicanism to the faith of his wife, Cherie, and four children, had been widely expected. A report in The Tablet Catholic newspaper on November 9 said the ceremony would take place "within weeks".There had been frequent speculation during his 10 years as prime minister, which ended on June 27 this year, that he would convert after stepping down.One of Blair's last acts as premier was to visit Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, which fuelled rumours that a switch in faith was imminent.A spokesman for the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, confirmed that Blair had been "received into full communion with the Catholic Church".Murphy O'Connor, who took the ceremony at Archbishop's House in central London, said in a statement: "I am very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church."For a long time he has been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he has been following a programme of formation to prepare for his reception into full communion."My prayers are with him, his wife and family at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together."Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi said, "Catholics are glad to welcome into their community someone who has followed a serious and reflective path towards Catholicism."He added, "It is good news, that we welcome with respect, like every personal decision."The leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, wished Blair well."A great Catholic writer of the last century said that the only reason for moving from one Christian family to another was to deepen one's relationship with God," he said."I pray that this will be the result of Tony Blair's decision in his personal life."The extent of Blair's religious faith and how far it influenced his political decision-making was of regular interest in Britain, although his former spokesman, Alastair Campbell, once told reporters: "We don't do God."Blair was once asked by an interviewer whether he prayed with US President George W. Bush and appeared to suggest in another interview that he would be judged by a higher power for his controversial backing of the 2003 Iraq war.He was known to carry a Bible with him wherever he went and attended Sunday church services even on overseas trips.It had been claimed that Blair wanted to convert sooner, but that could have affected his position in delicate negotiations between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.Conversion could also have put Blair at odds with his government's stance on stem-cell research, abortion and gay rights as well as raised questions about the prime minister's role in appointing Church of England bishops.In a recent three-part BBC television documentary on his premiership, Campbell said Blair "does do God in quite a big way" but both he and his former boss feared overt religiosity would not play well with voters.Blair told the same programme his faith was a "hugely important" part of his premiership but unlike, for example, the United States, British politicians rarely talked about their religious convictions."You talk about it in our own system and, frankly, people do think you're a nutter," he said.Blair is currently the international community's special envoy to the Middle East.

As in the days of Noah.....

2 dead as blinding snowstorm hits Plains

AMARILLO, Texas - A blinding snowstorm blew across the Plains on Saturday, causing at least two deaths and dozens of injuries in numerous multi-car pileups and forcing authorities to close portions of several major highways.One person died in a chain-reaction pileup involving more than 50 vehicles, including several tractor-trailer rigs, on Interstate 40, police said. Authorities said it would take a few days to determine exactly how many were involved.Eighteen people were taken to hospitals, two with life-threatening injuries, Sgt. Michael Poston said.
"There were cars crashing while they (firefighters) were there," Fire Department Capt. Bob Johnson told the Amarillo Globe-News for its Sunday editions. "They could hear them (the crashes), but they couldn't see them."Many in the pileup were holiday travelers, including families with small children not dressed for the weather, Sgt. Shawn McLeland. Other drivers spotted them and opened Christmas presents to provide warmer clothing for the children.The tangle of twisted cars and trucks shut down the interstate for most of the day. Authorities believe the pileup was caused by blowing snow and the resulting zero visibility.In northeast Kansas, at least one person was killed in a 30-car pileup on Interstate 70, prompting authorities to close a 40-mile stretch of the highway. The pileup occurred about 30 miles west of Topeka.The fierce snowstorm caused another wreck involving 20 to 40 vehicles, including three tractor-trailer rigs, on Interstate 29 in St. Joseph in western Missouri. Police closed about 100 miles of I-29 to the Iowa state line.The Plains storm also blew heavy snow across Oklahoma and parts of Nebraska and Iowa, a region still recovering from a severe ice storm early last week that knocked out electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses."We may see some whiteouts in the open areas," said Craig Cogil, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa. Parts of the state could get between 6 and 10 inches of snow by Sunday morning.Strong winds could make traveling hazardous all weekend, Cogil said.Wind was blowing at sustained speeds of 25 to 35 mph with gusts to 45 mph in Oklahoma, where U.S. 412 near Mooreland in western Oklahoma was closed after 15 to 20 cars slid off the road or had been involved in collisions, authorities said.The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said a six-car collision on U.S. 64 in the state's northwest corner involved an ambulance that was carrying victims from the scene of another accident. Low visibility forced the closure of some highways.Farther west, Colorado roads remained icy in spots following a storm Friday. Eastbound I-70 was closed about 20 miles east of Denver for more than two hours after a wreck in which five people, including an 8-year-old girl, were injured.The storm also impacted flights at airports in the Midwest, as the busy pre-Christmas weekend travel was getting underway. The delays rippled across the country, affecting flights in the New York region.In Chicago, flights in and out of O'Hare International Airport were delayed an average of two hours, and about 100 flights were canceled, airport spokesman Gregg Cunningham said.Flights departing from Newark Liberty International Airport for O'Hare were delayed about three hours.

As in the days of Noah....

Turkey bombs Kurd rebel bases in Iraq

ISTANBUL, Turkey-Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq on Saturday in the third confirmed cross-border offensive by Turkish forces in less than a week, the military said.The U.S. Embassy in Ankara said it was informed before the assault took place, but gave no further information. The United States and Iraq both have urged Turkey to avoid a major operation in the area, fearing it could destabilize what has been the calmest region in Iraq.The bombing lasted nearly a half-hour on Saturday afternoon, and was followed by shelling from inside Turkish borders, the military said in a statement posted on its Web site. It did not say how deep into Iraqi territory the warplanes penetrated, or which areas were shelled. Security forces in northern Iraq said the bombs fell about 75 miles northwest of Dahuk. There were no casualties reported, said Jabar Yawar, a spokesman for Kurdistan's Peshmerga security forces in northern Iraq.It vowed to continue military operations on both sides of Turkish-Iraqi border "no matter how the conditions are."Turkish jet fighters on Dec. 16 launched the first confirmed air assault on Iraqi soil since the U.S.-led invasion, bombing bases in northern Iraq held by the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.Two days after the first air assault, Turkey sent hundreds of troops into northern Iraq, but withdrew them later in the day. The military said the two operations dealt a major blow to the rebels.In Saturday's statement, it said hundreds were killed in the operations, citing "intelligence gathered from various sources." It said footage showing the results of the operations would be released in coming days.Turkish forces periodically have shelled across the border, and sometimes have carried out "hot pursuits"-limited raids on the Iraqi side that sometimes last only a few hours.The rebels have battled for autonomy in southeastern Turkey for more than two decades, and use strongholds in northern Iraq for cross-border strikes.After a surge in rebel attacks in the past months, Turkey has said it can no longer tolerate the attacks on its troops, and in October Turkey's Parliament authorized the military to strike back at the rebels inside Iraq."The terrorist organization of the PKK will see and understand that there is no secure place left Iraq's north, and it will understand that it has no chances against the Turkish Republic," the Turkish statement said.In a Nov. 5 meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Bush declared the PKK a "common enemy," and promised to share intelligence on the group.Washington has been providing Turkey with intelligence to go after the rebels, and a coordination center has been set up in Ankara so Turks, Iraqis and Americans can share information.But the U.S. Embassy declined to say whether American intelligence was involved in Saturday's offensive. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that more than 1,800 people fled their homes in parts of northern Iraq, and Iraqi officials have complained that Turkey's actions are a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. They have also said they recognize the threat posed by the PKK.

As in the days of Noah....

Christmas Tourism Up in Bethlehem But Christians Still Troubled

Bethlehem, West Bank-Tourism is expected to be higher than it was last Christmas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, but the increase won't be enough to slow the exodus of local Arab Christians from the city where Jesus was born, local residents said.Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh, himself a Roman Catholic, said tourism is on the upswing because of the promotion efforts of church officials, the Palestinian Authority and the Bethlehem municipality."Last year, tourism was only about 10 to 15 percent of the normal, but fortunately this year things have improved. Pilgrimage and tourism have gone up to about 60 percent of our normal. Last month we had about 80,000 tourists coming to the city," Batarseh told journalists this week in his Bethlehem office.Tourism used to be the primary source of income for Bethlehem. It was a booming industry for shopkeepers, souvenir manufacturers, hotel and restaurant owners, tour guides as well as support services. But seven years of Palestinian political unrest and violence, coupled with Israeli crackdowns on terrorism, left the city's economy in shambles and accelerated the departure of native Christians from the city.(Some Western and Israeli sources say that friction between Muslims and Christians is also a major factor in the exodus of the Christian population in Palestinian areas, but Palestinian Christians rarely admit it publicly.)An estimated 35 percent of the city of Bethlehem's 32,000 residents are Christian, a decrease from the estimated 92 percent in 1948. The rest are Muslim.Seated next to a full-sized Christmas tree decorated with red bulbs and lights, Mayor Batarseh said twice as many pilgrims as last year -- up to 40,000 -- are expected in Bethlehem over the holiday.One of the complaints over the last few years has been that the tourists venturing into Bethlehem weren't brave enough to spend the night there. They visited holy places but did not stay long enough to spend much money. But even that could be changing. According to Batarseh, hotel occupancy last year was just 10-15 percent. This year it is expected to be about 45 percent, with the city's 2000 hotel beds fully booked for the Christmas period. Unemployment is down to 50 percent from around 65 percent last year, he said.Quartet envoy Tony Blair recently spent a night at a Bethlehem hotel in an effort to allay security fears and promote tourism.A week before Christmas, there were not too many tourists in Manger Square facing the Church of the Nativity, built over the place where some Christians believe Jesus was born. Decorations were sparse, though Batarseh said the city had received $50,000 from the P.A. for decorations."We hope that peace will come, because if we have peace then the economy will get better for sure," Batarseh said.
Some local Christians say they feel like they have been abandoned by their fellow believers in the West.Samir Qumsieh, a Greek Orthodox Christian businessman, has been running the only local Christian television station in the Middle East for the last 11 years. Though he had nearly a million viewers in the West Bank and Jordan, he was forced to close it down at the end of October because it was losing money.After one month, Qumsieh re-opened the station - due to popular local demand, he said-but he will have to close it permanently if he can't raise the money to keep it operating. Though the international community has just pledged $7.4 billion to help Palestinians, he said he is not likely to see any of that money.Qumsieh said he has appealed to Christians abroad for help, but so far to no avail. He said he is most worried about Christians leaving Bethlehem. He said there may not be any Christians left in the city 15 years from now if the trend continues. In his own family, Qumsieh said, four of his six brothers-all of them educated-now live abroad. According to Qumsieh, the reasons why Christians are leaving are mixed but one of the major ones is economic."I wrote all the heads of churches," Qumsieh told journalists visiting his television station. "I told them, 'For God's sake, initiate projects, housing projects, find jobs for the Christians...keep them rooted.'" But he said the church leaders have not heeded his appeals."There is a shameful default throughout the Christian world," he said. But if peace would prevail, it would be paradise, he said.The current increase in tourism is "too late," Bethlehem Evangelical Pastor Naim Khoury told Cybercast News Service. It might help owners of large souvenir shops and some others if it is sustained over a number of years, he added, but there is little hope for the younger generation."There is no future for the young generation in the present time," Khoury said. "If the situation remains like this, I don't think this generation...will ever have a better opportunity for living."No one has exact details on how many Christians have left, but tens of thousands have fled the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the years, including an estimated one thousand for each of the last seven years of the Palestinian intifadah. Khoury said 10 families from his church of 200 members have left in the last few years, some vowing never to return.He said the "instability of the political situation" has had a big impact on the economic situation, probably scarign away hundreds of thousands of tourists over the last seven years."How do you expect tourists to come while they are fighting and shooting and killing?" he asked. "There is no way."Khoury agreed with Qumsieh that investment by Western Christians in creating housing and employment for Bethlehem Christians would change the whole situation. Nevertheless, he was not optimistic."I see a dark future. Maybe some people disagree," said Khoury. The wound is so deep between Israelis and Palestinians. It is even deeper among Palestinians as seen in the fighting between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza, he said.Khoury said he would never be among those to leave Bethlehem. For Christmas, he said he is hoping and praying that Jesus will come to dwell in the hearts and minds of the leaders of the land. "Because there will be no peace outside of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is my belief. This is my conviction," he said.

As in the days of Noah....

Islamic Bloc Scores 'Defamation of Religions' Resolution at UN

Alongside a resolution adopted by the U.N. General Assembly this week calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, the world body passed a raft of other human rights-related motions. One of them, introduced by Islamic nations, focuses on combating the "defamation of religions."Resolutions on the human rights situation in North Korea and Iran also passed, although dozens of countries-including human rights violators Cuba, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe-voted against the motions.An annual resolution on "the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination" also passed by an overwhelming margin, with only the United States, Israel, and three small Pacific island nations voting "no." There were four abstentions. The motion on defamation of religions has been a priority for the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) since 9/11. It took on new impetus following a Danish newspaper's publication in 2005 of cartoons satirizing Mohammed.Introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, it passed on Tuesday by a 108-51 margin, with 25 abstentions.As with many of the other votes, the U.S. lined up with democracies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere against developing nations, including repressive regimes. Although the resolution refers to defamation of "religions,"Islam is the only religion named in the text, which also takes a swipe at counter-terrorism security measures.It expresses alarm about "discrimination" and "laws that stigmatize groups of people belonging to certain religions and faiths under a variety of pretexts relating to security and illegal immigration."Muslim minorities are subjected to "ethnic and religious profiling ... in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001," it says.The resolution decries "the negative projection of Islam in the media" and voices "deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism."OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu earlier this month addressed an international conference on "Islamophobia," held in Turkey, and told the gathering that freedom of expression was being used as a cover in the West to promote anti-Islam sentiment.The OIC soon will release its first-ever annual report on "Islamophobia."
'Flawed and divisive'
On a number of the General Assembly resolutions passed Tuesday, the U.S. stood in the minority, including one dealing with practices that contribute to "fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance," and another on a report on preparations by the U.N.'s Human Rights Council for a major conference on racism, scheduled for 2009.The international conference is intended to review progress achieved on a program of action adopted at an earlier racism conference, held in Durban, South Africa in 2001.The Durban event was marred by controversy, with attempts spearheaded by Arab and Muslim states to equate Zionism with racism. The U.S. government sent a low-level delegation and then recalled it midway in protest against the attacks on Israel.On Tuesday, only the U.S., Israel and the Marshall Islands voted against the resolution on preparations for the Durban review conference.In an earlier explanation of vote, American envoy Grover Joseph Rees told member-states that although the U.S. supported the stated objectives of Durban gathering, "the outcomes of the conference were deeply flawed and divisive.""The resolution now before us endorses that flawed outcome and is therefore itself seriously problematic," he said.Rees said the Human Rights Council should be concentrating on the role for which it was created - "addressing human rights situations around the world, particularly emerging situations."At the same time, countries should be focusing on implementing existing commitments, rather than on following-up "a flawed instrument" or creating of new ones.Specifically, he said, states should be ratify and effectively implement the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Countries that have not ratified the 1965 treaty include Burma, North Korea, Malaysia, Angola, Singapore and a number of small Pacific island nations.

As in the days of Noah....

SIGN of the TIMES:Numerous Nativity Scenes Vandalized Nationwide

With Dec. 25 only days away, a central image in the celebration of Christmas-the manger scene featuring replicas of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus-has become the focus of attacks by vandals and leaders of "the secular Left," Christian groups charged on Wednesday.While the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights was erecting a nativity scene in New York City's Central Park, the group issued a news release condemning three dozen instances in which manger scenes were vandalized or stolen from Antioch, Calif., to Leesburg, Va., this Christmas season."In perhaps the sickest incident, a public school coach in Marietta, Ga., drove students around the area in his pickup truck, instructing them to thrash Christmas displays after dark," League said.During their Dec. 8 vandalism spree, 46-year-old John Hayes and several middle school students damaged a number of Christmas displays, let the air out of inflatable figures and rearranged plastic reindeer into X-rated sexual positions.According to the WGCL TV, Hayes has been charged with trespassing, contributing to the delinquency of minors and reckless conduct. In addition to physical attacks, nativity scenes are "part of a larger war that the secular Left is waging on all things Christian," said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) - which describes itself as "a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation" - in a news release.During the past week, ADF attorneys have offered to defend free of charge two cities in Wisconsin that faced legal action from the secularist Freedom from Religion Foundation (FRF) if those governments did not remove nativity scenes from their public holiday displays.In Green Bay, City Council President Chad Fradette - acting as a private citizen - received permission from Mayor Jim Schmitt to place a nativity scene on one of the overhangs at the entrance to City Hall, McCaleb stated.And officials in Peshtigo allowed private businesses or individuals to place displays for the holiday at Triangle Park, a small municipal park in that city, he said. The holiday display included a nativity scene placed by the Chamber of Commerce, as well as displays of Christmas trees, reindeer, Santa Claus and a rescue squad car.While affirming that such exhibits are constitutional, McCaleb quoted Annie Laurie Gaylor, FRF co-president, who recently declared in an interview that the state of Wisconsin "cannot have a Christmas anything.""The American people, common sense and the U.S. Constitution are clearly winning the war on Christmas," McCaleb said in his statement. "These battles against Christmas are out of touch with the 95 percent of Americans" who celebrate the holiday."Such attacks are simply part of a larger war that the secular Left is waging on all things Christian," he added.
'Bullying tactic'
But on Wednesday, Rev. Barry Lynn, executive of director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), said government officials can recognize the holiday season without trampling on the U.S. Constitution."Christmas and the Constitution can easily co-exist," Lynn said in a news release. "We are simply urging government officials to follow the law, which bars government from promoting one religious faith over others. "If officials decide to put up holiday decorations at Christmas, they must do so in a way that does not give government support to Christianity," he said. "America is an incredibly diverse nation, and government should never send the message that one faith is the officially preferred one."The federal courts have held that nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus may not be displayed on public property in a way that appears to give government approval to Christianity," Lynn noted. "What is so complicated about that?" In his statement, Lynn said that AU has received complaints from coast to coast regarding displays on government property that are "clearly more suited for a house of worship than city hall."For example, Macon County, N.C., officials erected a large, illuminated nativity scene on their county courthouse lawn. No other holiday decorations accompany the display. In a Dec. 6 letter to county commissioners, AU urged that the religious display be removed or that secular items be added. Citing federal court precedent, the group said it is "impermissible to erect a display in which religious elements predominate or that otherwise communicates a message of governmental endorsement of religion."However, in his Dec. 13 letter to Peshtigo Mayor Tom Strouf, ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley called the demand that the city remove its nativity scene "simply a bullying tactic that is clearly out of step with the law and the facts of this case.""The Constitution protects private religious speech," Stanley wrote. "It is a fundamental principle of constitutional law that municipalities may not suppress or exclude the speech of private parties simply because the speech is religious or contains a religious perspective."The city does not violate the Constitution by treating private religious speech on equal terms with private secular speech," he added.Also on Wednesday, the owner of a funeral home in Bangor, Pa., told the Easton Express-Times that pieces of a nativity scene stolen from the front porch earlier this month are irreplaceable.John Fiore has been displaying the nativity scene outside Fiore Funeral Home for 21 years, and now, the baby Jesus and a nesting lamb are missing."Where has the Christmas spirit gone that they would stoop so low as to steal the baby Jesus from a nativity scene?" Fiore asked.

As in the days of Noah....

Plan for Creationist Theme Park Draws Fire

London-A British charity has drawn national attention-and come under attack-over plans to build a theme park, including a television studio, to promote creationism.The AH Trust said in its annual report that it wants to build a $7-million interactive studio to produce Christian films and television shows, partly to draw British teenagers away from anti-social behavior, including binge drinking.The charity said its members, several of whom are drawn from the media sector, had become disgusted at the sex and violence available on British television, along with the decline in churchgoing in society.In fighting that trend, the planned studio is projected to attract 5,000 people nightly for tapings of Christian-oriented shows, as well as give teenagers a chance to learn TV production skills.The AH Trust also plans to use the studio to promote the account of the creation recorded in the biblical book of Genesis and to combat what it sees as the malign influence on society of Darwin's theory of evolution."Evolution has falsely become the foundation of our society," the report said. "We need the studio to advocate Genesis across this land in order to remove this falsehood which presently is destroying the church foundation."In a short statement released on Tuesday, the charity said it had not yet chosen a site for the theme park. It said it had received more than 1,000 abusive emails since news of the studio first broke in a Sunday newspaper and would refrain from comment for the time being. Though Britain is regarded as one of the most secular countries in Western Europe, the issue of teaching of creationism in schools has entered the public debate over the past few years.City academies sponsored by millionaire businessman Peter Vardy have come under fire for reportedly teaching creationism, and the British government drew further heat earlier this year by including it in the national school curriculum.Under government policy, neither creationism nor intelligent design - the anti-evolutionist belief that the universe is the result of an ultimate plan or design - are considered scientifically valid.Schools are forbidden from teaching them in science classes but now have the option of including lessons dealing with them in religion education classes, which are compulsory throughout Britain.Hanne Stinson, head of the British Humanist Association, said Wednesday he was surprised at how much attention creationism had received in the past few years.In part, he put this down to a growing distrust of science among some people, and he said there was a need to improve the teaching of science in schools.Also, some Christian groups were becoming increasingly organized, as well as being very well funded. "There's an increase in how vocal religious groups are getting," he said. "Ten years ago, people didn't discuss religion at all."Although Britain does not have Christian theme parks of the type that exist in the United States, it does have a thriving Christian media sector, with companies producing radio and television shows for domestic and international audiences.In London, Premier Christian Radio broadcasts worship music and shows from an evangelical perspective. It has proven popular and has gone on to start an online television-on-demand service.But Liz Jepson, an organizer with theMediaNet, a group for Christians working in the media, said Wednesday that she doubted if the studio planned by the AH Trust would be a success. Creationists were generally viewed by the British religious mainstream as "lunatics," she said, and the charity would likely have trouble attracting audiences."Who's going to go to that thing?" Jepson asked. "People who want their views supported or those people who want a laugh?"

By Kevin McCandless
PS:I have news for the scoffers and the mockers.....The Lord himself will bring the people and they will hear the Word of God and if nothing and in the end they choose darkness....when they are in the pit they will remember that those "lunatics" spoke the TRuTH to them and they wilingly choose to laugh and mock and don't believe it......I think this idea will bring forth much fruit and the same thing they said about the Creation Museum in Kentucky here in the US...and they were all wrong.....!!!
As in the days of Noah....

Friday, December 21, 2007

China taps into U.S. spy operations

China's intelligence service gained access to a secret National Security Agency listening post in Hawaii through a Chinese-language translation service, according to U.S. intelligence officials. The spy penetration was discovered several years ago as part of a major counterintelligence probe by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) that revealed an extensive program by China's spy service to steal codes and other electronic intelligence secrets, and to recruit military and civilian personnel with access to them.According to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, China's Ministry of State Security, the main civilian spy service, carried out the operations by setting up a Chinese translation service in Hawaii that represented itself as a U.S.-origin company.The ruse led to classified contracts with the Navy and NSA to translate some of the hundreds of thousands of intercepted communications gathered by NSA's network of listening posts, aircraft and ships.NCIS agents discovered that the translation service, which officials did not identify by name, had conducted contract work for the National Security Agency facility at Kunia, an underground electronic intelligence post some 15 miles northwest of Honolulu that conducts some of the U.S. intelligence community's most sensitive work.Kunia is both a processing center and a collection point for large amounts of Chinese- and other Asian-language communications, which are translated and used in classified intelligence reports on military and political developments.Naval intelligence officials familiar with the Chinese spy penetration said the access to both "raw" and analyzed intelligence at Kunia caused significant damage by giving China's government details on both the targets and the sources of U.S. spying operations. Such information would permit the Chinese to block the eavesdropping or to provide false and misleading "disinformation" to U.S. intelligence.The officials did not say how long the Chinese operation lasted before being detected.
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As in the days of Noah.....

Israel Looking to Boost Population Through Immigration

Jerusalem-There is a potential for 100,000 American Jews to immigrate to Israel over the next 10 to15 years, a former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. said on Friday. Such an influx would have a positive impact on the economy and political system here as well as on the already close Israeli-U.S. ties, Ambassador Danny Ayalon told Cybercast News Service. Ayalon, who was ambassador to Washington from 2002-2006, is now co-chairman of Nefesh B'Nefesh (NBN), an organization founded in the U.S. in 2002 to help North American (and later British) Jews immigrate to Israel.The quasi-governmental organization responsible for immigration, the Jewish Agency, credits NBN with boosting the number of North Americans coming to the country in the last six years.According to preliminary statistics released on Thursday by NBN, an estimated 19,330 Jews have immigrated to Israel this year. That is down from 21,305 last year.The 2007 number marks the lowest immigration to Israel since 1988, before Jews were allowed to leave the former Soviet Union. Some 900,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union have immigrated to Israel since 1990.The numbers from North America are much smaller than those form the former Soviet states, but they have been growing steadily since 2002.This year nearly 3,200 North American Jews - about the same as last year -- are expected to immigrate to Israel, including nearly 200 who will arrive on an NBN charter flight next week.Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has relied on immigration of Jews from around the world to augment its population. Since then, some 3 million Jews have moved to the country.According to Israeli law, every Jew in the world is allowed to become a citizen of Israel, provided he or she does not pose a security or health threat to the nation.The issue of demographics has played an important role in Israeli politics during the last few years. Because the Jewish birthrate is generally lower than that of the Palestinians, many Israelis on the political left believe that Israel must remove Jewish communities from the West Bank (land many Jews believe God promised as an eternal inheritance in the Bible) in order to make way for a Palestinian State and retain the Jewish character of Israel.Others say the demographic argument is a propaganda tool.The Jewish community in the United States is the largest in the world outside of Israel, with about 7 million Jews. It is only natural to try to tap into that reservoir, said Ayalon. (France has the third largest Jewish population in the world at around 500,000.)"There is a potential of about 100,000 Jews who would like to [immigrate] because of family ties, ideology and connection to the land of Israel," Ayalon said.Still, 100,000 immigrants is only about 1.5 percent of the total of American Jews. Ayalon said that American Jews (and Americans in general) are used to a high standard of living. "American Jews are very comfortable in America. They feel American first and Jewish later," he said. It takes a bold step for them to move to Israel, he added.Israel provides a certain minimal amount of help and benefits, including free Hebrew classes to new immigrants. But the red tape and financial burden can often be daunting.NBN provides generous grants to Jews wanting to immigrate to Israel from the U.S. and Canada as well as assistance in finding a job and navigating through the Israeli bureaucracy.NBN maximizes the potential of immigration for Western Jews, Ayalon said.Ayalon said American emigration to Israel strengthens the kinship between Israel and the U.S. and would also help to build a "human bridge" between the two "natural allies" that share "common values."Among the benefits for Israel, he said, would be a greater impact on the "political culture."In the last few years Israel's political system has been shaken by numerous corruption investigations into its leaders and lawmakers. Many Israelis agree that the political system needs an overhaul, but it won't happen from the inside out.The political system here won't change overnight, Ayalon said. It will only change as a result of a grassroots effort, and the more Americans that come here and get involved in that effort, the better, he said.

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Couch Cushions the Blow of Anti-Christmas Message

While there was no room for Jesus at the inn, it appears there's even less space for Him on government property. In a story making headlines across America, the season of peace has been anything but for several Oklahoma City employees whose boss circulated an "Anti-Christmas Memo" banning nativity scenes, crosses, angels, cherubs, and other religious symbols from city offices. Manager Jim Couch insists that his employees should "maintain neutrality" and "avoid promoting one religion over another." Refusing to be intimidated, two workers filed a federal lawsuit with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), rightly asserting that the city had violated their first amendment rights. Among other things, they object to the cancellation of the office's annual Christmas party, the removal of a Bible from a breakroom, and the removal of personal holiday displays. When city officials learned about the suit, Couch back-pedaled, issuing a new memo to employees this week, claiming that his mandate only pertained to decorations in public areas not individual work spaces. The clarification did little to ease employees' minds, many of whom say they are more concerned about the "bigger picture." While Oklahoma City has backed off, plaintiffs Christopher Spencer and Kenneth Buck do not plan to return the favor. Yesterday, they told local reporters that they will proceed with the suit. As well they should! Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that men and women of faith must check their religious beliefs at the workplace door. Obviously, this is part of a meanspirited attempt to snuff out Christianity in the public square--an attempt that is, and will continue to be, a dismal failure.
As in the days of Noah....

Iran makes Magog a Present-day Reality

Netanyahu: The Jewish State is the front line of the Christian West. As soon as Islam has broken through the Jewish front line in the Middle East, it will conquer the West. Israel is the Christian West’s security wall...
US President George Bush’s recent warning of a possible third world war in connection with Iran’s atomic program caused worldwide unrest. Only a few months earlier, Israel’s former Mossad chief, Ephraim HaLevy, also warned of a looming outbreak of a third world war.In Europe politicians barely give credence to the threat of a World War III and say instead that “rhetoric,” such as HaLevy’s comments, endangers a peace process. Meanwhile, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls UN sanctions against his country useless.“The resolution of the UN Security Council is not worth the paper on which it is printed,” Ahmadinejad shouted on the Iranian TV while publicizing that his country is capable of firing 11,000 rockets per minute on Israel.Israeli politicians and scientists warn that a world war in the atomic age would spell the end of mankind. Israeli combat jets had bombed a Syrian atomic reactor, whose construction began three years ago with the help of North Korea and was held under strict secrecy, according to reports in the foreign media. Six weeks later, the Israeli army called on the people of Israel to prepare security rooms and bunkers just as during the first gulf war of 1990. Even though the army emphasized repeatedly that there was no imminent threat of war, a state of preparedness seems to be necessary.Israeli physician and former general Professor Yitzhak Ben Israel believes that the first Iranian atomic bombs will be ready for use within three to five years—three years earlier than predicted. Israel Today spoke with leading politicians, rabbis, academics and Messianic Jews about the possibility of an end-time world war. All three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, mention a great war of nations under the names Gog and Magog. In the Bible it is mentioned in Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 12-14, Jeremiah 30, Daniel 11-12, Joel 2, Obadiah 1 and Revelation and in the Koran in Suras 18, 97 and 21,96....
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QUAKEWATCH:4 quakes hit Alaska's Aleutian Islands

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Ariane rocket orbits satellites for Africa and N. America

KOUROU, French Guyana-An Ariane-5 rocket blasted off from French Guyana on Friday putting into orbit telecommunications satellites for Africa and North America, the six Ariane mission this year.The rocket was launched from Europe's space base in Kourou, on the northeast coast of South America, at 6.41 p.m. (4:41 p.m. EDT), space officials said.Twenty-seven minutes after lift-off the rocket placed into a preliminary orbit RASCOM-QAF1 a telecoms satellite designed to provide service throughout Africa.Six minutes later the rocket released Horizons-2 for Washington-based operator Intelsat. This satellite will serve the United States, Canada and parts of the Caribbean.

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PERSECUTION WATCH:Police target Christmas services to arrest believers in China

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NAZI REVIVAL WATCH:Dog's Nazi salute lands owner in jail for five months

As a dog lover, Hitler would no doubt have been flattered-"Adolf" the part Alsatian mongrel was not only his namesake but also meticulously trained by his Berlin owner to raise his right paw in a Nazi salute every time the command "Heil Hitler!" was uttered.But in a country where giving the Nazi salute even in jest has been strictly verboten since 1945, Adolf's canine tricks did not amuse the police or the judiciary. Yesterday his owner, a pensioner named as Roland T, was starting what seemed like a draconian prison term of five months for repeatedly displaying banned Nazi symbols.His pet was dispatched to one of the city's animal homes.The dog was pictured in newspapers and on Der Spiegel magazine's online site sitting in a kennel with the name "Adolf" chalked across its entrance.Evamarie K├Ânig, a spokeswoman for the kennel, said she hoped the animal would find a new home soon."He is healthy and obedient and we think he will find another owner quickly because he is so famous," she said. The dog is to be renamed Adi.Roland T and his dog first attracted the attention of police in 2003 when the dog saluted as part of his owner's provocative public repertoires of banned Nazi gestures, including wearing Hitler T-shirts and chanting "Sieg Heil".Earlier this year, judges ruled that Roland T should serve a prison term after suspended jail sentences and fines failed to dissuade him from continuing to display Nazi symbols.Months before going to jail he had threatened to have the dog put down after claiming that he could no longer afford dog food because of the fines. He said the dog, which he claimed had been born on Hitler's birthday, would be put down on the anniversary of the Nazi leader's death.The ban on Nazi symbols has been felt even by anti-Nazi activists, who last year were punished for using a swastika with a red slash across it.

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