Tehran Residents React To Obama's SOTU →

January 26, 2012

At a time of heightened tension between the West and Iran with the US more determined than ever to prevent the Islamic state from becoming nuclear-armed Iranians are uncertain about the future they face. Local residents in Tehran's northern district are divided over the comments of US president Barack Obama, who, in a State of the Union address, warned Iran the United States would keep up pressure on its disputed nuclear program with "no options off the table" but said the door remained open to talks for a peaceful resolution. Obama said on Tuesday (January 24) Tehran was isolated and facing "crippling" sanctions that he said would continue so long as the Islamic Republic keeps its back turned to the international community.
- Reuters

Authorities Round Up 104 Suspected Mexican Mafia Members In So. Cal. →

January 26, 2012

Authorities arrested more than 100 members and associates of the Mexican Mafia street gang in southern California as part of investigation into a wide range of offenses such as racketeering, kidnapping, attempted murder and drug trafficking, federal officials said. The arrests were made primarily in San Diego County and were the culmination of three major investigations on gang activity in the area, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said Wednesday.

Alaska Airlines To Stop Giving Out Prayer Cards →

January 26, 2012

Alaska Airlines is ending decades of giving passengers prayer cards with their meals, saying Wednesday the decision was made out of respect for all passengers. Airline spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said the airline heard from customers who preferred not to mix religion with transportation. "Some customers were comforted by the cards and some didn't feel religion was appropriate on the plane and preferred not to receive one," she said. The cards offer a short excerpt of a psalm from the Old Testament printed on a beautiful photograph. One current example includes this excerpt printed over a beach scene: "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures forever."
- AP

Palestinians Refuse Peace Talks Without Designated Borders →

January 25, 2012

The Palestinian Authority will not restart direct peace negotiations with Israel unless Jerusalem recognizes the borders of a Palestinian state, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday according to the Palestinian News and Information Agency (WAFA). The most outstanding issue preventing the resumption of high-level direct negotiations is the continued expansion of Israeli settlements, especially in "occupied" Jerusalem, Abbas said according to the report. Israeli officials took a more positive tone, saying Tuesday they were confident the Palestinians would continue the talks being held in Jordan beyond the January 26 Quartet deadline, which Israel contests.
- The Jerusalem Post

Full Text Of State Of The Union →

January 24, 2012

The full text of President Obama's 2012 State Of The Union speech can be found at the above link. We will give perspective on the speech in next week's eNews.
- National Post


2016 Strategic Perspectives Conference

by Various Speakers

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2016 Strategic Perspectives Conference by Various Speakers


Muslim Brotherhood Takes Egypt's Parliament - (Print)

The Muslim Brotherhood won elections in the new Egyptian government with 235 seats in the 498 seat interim People's Assembly earlier this month. The Brotherhood is reportedly not as extreme as other groups like the hardline Salafists, but Islamists as a whole took nearly three-quarters of the assembly seats. The new chamber speaker, Saad Katatni, will lead the way in this ancient country with its influence in the Middle East.

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood has long concerned many moderate Egyptians because of the group's heavily conservative Islamic views on shariah law and women's and minority rights. Formed in 1928, this powerful political force in Egypt has the credo, "Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."

After the 2011 revolution in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood formed the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which has "the same mission and goals, but different roles" than the Brotherhood. The hardline Islamist Nour Party won 29 percent of the assembly seats in the elections, followed distantly by the secular party New Wafd and the Egyptian Bloc coalition. The top two parties in Egypt's parliament are therefore fundamentally Islamic in their positions on important issues.

Egyptian publisher Hisham Kassem, expressed surprise at the success of the Islamist groups, saying, "I never was so off-track as I was with my forecast for the parliamentary elections. I didn't see the Salafi party having any presence. I forecast 10 seats for them and I didn't think the [Muslim] Brotherhood would exceed 20 percent."

The Nour Party, Egypt's fundamentalist Salafi party, wants to roll back the clock for Islamic peoples, returning them to the time of the generations just following Mohammed. They want Muslims to live, to interpret the Koran and worship in the same manner as the immediate descendents of Mohammed's Companions 1500 years ago. The Muslim Brotherhood holds some positions in common with the Salafis, but the two groups disagree on other points. The Brotherhood has stated that it will not push an extreme agenda and has demonstrated an interest in putting the international community at ease. This is not a particularly stable time in Egyptian history, and the Muslim Brotherhood knows it cannot afford to shake things up too much. Not right away.

Omar Ashour, professor of political science at Britain's University of Exeter, notes, "Any confrontation with the international community will reflect badly on the economy and a clash with the military will reflect badly on politics. So, I think what they will try to do is avoid a clash with these two big entities ... They are trying to avoid being in the front line, too visible and holding direct responsibility," he said.

The parliament met for the first time Monday to elect the new speaker. Saad Katatni, Secretary-General of the Freedom and Justice Party won the seat with 399 votes, while the runner up, Essam Sultan, the deputy leader of Al Wasat party, had 87 votes. This newly elected interim parliament will be responsible for selecting a 100-member panel to draft a constitution, and the world is watching to see how much it is based in strict shariah law. The new government has a lot of major issues to deal with, and balancing power with the military will take great care.

Even if the strictest of shariah law is not imposed, however, businessmen in Egypt fear that there may still be enough of it to cause grief. Forbidding alcohol consumption, segregating women from men, or forcing the financial sector to employ Islamic banking practices could have a serious effect on the country's economics. The Muslim Brotherhood has worked to keep people's fears down, but those who do not trust their newly moderate tone are finding ways to steal out of the country.

In the meanwhile, defense attorney of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak made his closing argument Monday before the court, stating that Mubarak was still the president and could not be tried under the (suspended) Egyptian constitution. The ailing 83-year-old Mubarak has been on trial since August 3 for the deaths of protestors during the uprising last February and could face the death penalty. The former head of Egypt's State Council, Judge Mohamed Hamed el-Gamal doesn't think the argument will fly. "He will be judged by Egyptian law like any other Egyptian because he is not president."

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns reached out to Egypt's Islamists earlier this month when he met with Mohamed Morsi, the head of the Freedom and Justice Party. The FJP has stated it would abide by the international agreements Egypt has made.

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Getting Fuel From Bacteria - (Print)

Marty McFly: "Wait a minute, what are you doing Doc?"
Doc Brown: "I need fuel!"

At the end of the 1985 film, Back To The Future, Doc Brown famously starts picking through Marty McFly's trash for materials to drop into a Mr. Fusion device attached to a DeLorean time machine. The Mr. Fusion is used to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity needed to run the flux capacitor and the time circuits for the time machine so that the doctor no longer has to steal plutonium from the Libyans. In other words, the makers of Mr. Fusion have figured out how to convert common garbage (matter) into energy. Sadly, the engineers of the world have not yet given us Mr. Fusions to power our time machines or our toasters or anything else.

While we cannot convert any old matter directly into energy, however, some innovators have been working to make the most of the easily-available energy resources in what would otherwise be common waste matter, and they are using bacteria to do the work.

Anaerobic Digestion:
Sharp's Brewery in Cornwall, UK, is currently installing an anaerobic digestion system that will use bacteria to convert the brewery's liquid waste into power and keep it from pouring into the local water treatment plant. All that liquid wastewater will be diverted into a "digester" tank where anaerobic bacteria (the kind that don't need oxygen) will eat the organic material in the water and produce loads of biogas. Generally, anaerobic digesters are useful simply for their ability (like big composters) to break down waste matter and recycle nutrients. Because the brewery is using anaerobic digestion to deal with its waste matter on a large scale, the biogas produced can be collected and used like natural gas to provide heat and energy. According to Brian Scheffe, associate director of H2OK Water and Energy, the company installing the system, 300 cubic meters of brewery waste per day should generate more than 1300Nm³ a day of biogas.

Biogas produced in anaerobic digesters contains high amounts of methane (50%–80%) and carbon dioxide (20%–50%), along with trace levels of other gases such as hydrogen, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen sulfide. Methane is the major component of natural gas, and when biogas is burned, the number of BTUs it yields depends on the percentage of methane it contains.

Dairies are another source of liquid waste that is well suited for anaerobic digestion. BV Dairy in Dorset, UK has a system for processing the liquid residues and food waste from the dairy's food and drink processing sites. When the dairy makes cheese, for instance, the whey heads into a digester, where anaerobic bacteria are kept at the optimum temperature to happily convert the particulates into biogas. Not only is the dairy cutting down on its sewer costs, it is generating energy that can be used on site.

Waste management systems that harvest biogas can be useful in a large number of sectors, including HVAC, food, chemical, pharmaceutical, and municipal water supply.

Converting Carbon Monoxide:
LanzaTech, a company based in New Zealand, specializes in converting factory waste emissions to biofuels and biochemicals. Anaerobic bacteria come into the picture again, this time using a gas-liquid fermentation process to create ethanol from carbon monoxide emissions.

In large amounts, carbon monoxide is a harmful gas that will attach to hemoglobin, preventing it from carrying oxygen through the blood stream to the cells. LanzaTech technology captures the carbon monoxide before it escapes from steel mills, factories, or oil refineries and pumps the emissions into a bioreactor mixed with liquid and nutrients. Bacteria feed on the mixture, producing ethanol, which can be used as a fuel.  LanzaTech is also working to produce jet fuel from industrial waste.

Gas From Seaweed:
Move aside corn. A young biotech start-up called Bio Architecture Lab is working to produce energy from brown seaweed. The company uses a designer strain of E coli to produce ethanol from the sugars in macro algae from the ocean. Not only does seaweed cost radically less than corn to grow and harvest, but according to the company, the seaweed can also yield 1500 gallons of ethanol per acre– three times as much as corn.

One major difficulty with using seaweed as an energy source is that it produces a significant amount of alginate, which most bacteria cannot digest. In fact, there are only a few ocean microbes that can metabolize this specific sugar. To deal with this problem, a team of Bio Architecture Lab researchers did a bit of genetic engineering to take genes from an ocean microbe that metabolizes alginate and spliced them into the genetic code of E coli so that it too can digest alginate and produce fuel. Depending on its exact genetic programming, the E coli could be used to produce ethanol or jet fuel or butanol.

While we often associate bacteria with stuffy noses and sore throats, these vital one-celled creatures provide a host of necessary benefits and allow life on Earth to persist. They aid in digestion and produce important nutrients in our guts, they give us wine from grapes and cheese from milk curd, and they break down our garbage so that it doesn't pile over our heads. What's more, as they digest our waste, their own waste matter can be collected to produce fuel for our heat and energy needs. The world may have high energy requirements and no Mr. Fusions available just yet, but when oil supplies run low – at least we still have bacteria.

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Croatia Votes To Join Troubled European Union - (Print)

Sixty-seven percent of voting Croats cast ballots Sunday in favor of joining the European Union. If the existing member states agree to approve Croatia's membership, the Balkan country will enter the EU on July 1, 2013. While the referendum passed by a wide margin, however, the voter turnout was only about 45 percent, demonstrating a lack of enthusiasm about EU membership. As the EU struggles to work Greece, Italy and others out of their financial self-destruction, Croatia is heading in a direction to give up its sovereignty and state currency in hopes that EU membership will provide more benefits than new difficulties.

The people of Croatia may be headed into the EU, but not without uncertainty. Croatia will have several years of time to adopt the euro, giving the troubled currency a chance to regain some of its sparkle. Even if it does not, however, Croatia is on its way to joining the financial quagmire of the EU. It isn't just the political and economic troubles of Europe that concern many Croats, though. Small business owners do not want more regulation and fishermen do not want Italians to be free to fish in their waters. The nationalists of Croatia fear that they will lose their state sovereignty, a prize that many living Croat soldiers fought for when Yugoslavia broke up two decades ago.

"Croatia will not lose its sovereignty or natural resources, nor will it be ruled by the EU," President Ivo Josipovic said in a written statement. "Europe will not solve all our problems, but it's a great opportunity."

There is a price to pay for joining the EU. Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria have all had tussles with Brussels over economic policy and reform, not to mention corruption in the former Communist states. The EU recently threatened to hold back a loan to Hungary over the country's reluctance to accept new laws that govern it media, courts, and central bank.

"Croatia joining is certainly positive for the EU, but people see that the benefits of membership may have been overstated," says Pawel Swidlicki, an analyst at London-based think tank Open Europe. "They see the current situation with the eurozone crisis and the fiscal pact and worry that they may lose out. After the war, they are reluctant to give up sovereignty. The fisheries policy has been a disaster, and Croatia is a maritime nation, while the EU places a heavy burden on SMEs [small and medium enterprises] in particular. But overall, people in Croatia do see the benefits of membership."

Benefits include greater access to EU funding, more freedom of movement across Europe, and improved employment opportunities for Croats. Croatia's economy has suffered like most of Europe and a cash infusion is hoped to help, besides the symbolic value EU entrance would have for the once war-torn country.

Even while Croatia is in a position to receive some benefit from the union, neighboring Bosnia fears an economic hit as a result of Croatia's EU entrance. Because of stricter EU rules on food quality, Bosnia could lose out on exporting almost 200 million euros' worth of food and goods if it cannot live up to the EU's quality control standards.

"If Bosnia does not set up a quality control that complies with European standards between now and January 1, 2013 (six months before Croatia is due to formally enter the European Union), we will not be able to export animal or vegetable-based products like milk, eggs, meat and honey," warned Duljko Hasic an economic expert with the Bosnian chamber of commerce.

In the meanwhile, the crisis of Greek debt continues. EU finance ministers want to ensure that the proposed restructuring of Greece's private-sector debt will get the country back on its fiscal feet. Greece has to make the deal by the end of January so that Greece can offer a bond exchange in a bit of quick-footwork to avoid a default on a major bond redemption. The political leaders of Greece must be able to convince the country's major lenders that the country will stick to strict reforms regardless of what happens in upcoming elections. The country is in danger of default on loans coming due in March if it doesn't get another bailout, officials have warned, but even under strict economic guidelines, Greece's growth and recovery will take some time. A Greek default would seriously destabilize the eurozone.

Greece is working to keep its newly issued bonds below 4 percent, which does not please bondholders, but will help keep future Greek debt down.

New EU rules force governments with high debt levels to reduce that debt along a timeline. Countries with debt larger than 60 percent their GDP will have to chop off five percent of that debt per year. New Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said the rules have "elements of flexibility", but are still a "burdensome constraint." Since Italy is almost 900 billion euros in debt over that limit, it would have to reduce its debt by 45 billion euros per year, a daunting requirement.

Monti said, however, there appeared to be signs of improvement in Europe's financial situation, and "contours of a way out from the euro crisis are starting to take shape."

Croatia certainly hopes so.

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