Signs of the Times (1/23/12)

Annual March for Life Grows

Today’s March for Life marks the 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States, and one pro-lifer says the annual event continues to gather support. Tens of thousands of people are in the nation’s capital for the solemn march to the Supreme Court building, where the decision was handed down January 22, 1973. An estimated 54 million unborn babies have been killed in the womb in the U.S. alone since the legalization of abortion in 1973.

Bryan Kemper, who serves as youth outreach director for Priests for Life, points out that the country is entering its 40th year of legalized abortion. But each year has brought a noticeable increase in the number of young people participating in the March for Life, he notes. “Even someone from Planned Parenthood noticed that and wrote an article about that,” Kemper reports. “They were blown away by how many young people [are engaged in this movement]. And this year, the pro-abortion movement needs to stand up and take notice because this generation is pro-life, and they are going to be the generation that will end abortion.”

American Voters Not Influenced by Candidates’ Faith

A national survey from LifeWay Research, a Nashville-based Christian research agency, finds a candidate’s religious life is not a major motivating factor for five in six voters. According to a survey of 2,000 Americans, conducted last fall, LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer says: “It appears most Americans will be more concerned with a candidate’s policies than his Prophet.” However, Lifeway found that those who call themselves born-again or fundamentalist Christians were almost twice as likely to choose candidates based on their faith. The most overtly religious candidates of the GOP pack, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, have crashed out of the race.

  • The secularization of America is almost complete, with evangelicals outnumbered and highly marginalized

Congress Shelves Anti-Piracy Bills

The controversial anti-piracy legislation that fueled a wide-scale Internet protest earlier this week is on life support as Senate and House leaders retreated Friday and called for a compromise. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was postponing a vote set for Tuesday “in light of recent events.” House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who introduced the House version known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also called for a delay. Large and small Internet companies, including Google and Facebook, say current laws are sufficient and that the proposed legislation will lead to censorship and kill the entrepreneurial spirit that fuels technology innovation.

Human Trafficking a Growing Crime in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking has become the second fastest growing criminal industry in the U.S.— just behind drug trafficking — with children accounting for roughly half of all victims. Of the 2,515 cases under investigation in the U.S. in 2010, more than 1,000 involved children. And those are only the ones we know of. Too often, authorities say, victims stay silent out of fear, so no one knows they exist. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center estimates it’s a $32 billion industry, with half coming from industrialized countries.

Over the last decade, numerous human trafficking cases have been prosecuted in Michigan. The court dockets detail the horror stories: Children being sold for sex at truck stops, servants held in captivity and forced to clean for free, and women forced into the sex industry, forfeiting their earnings.

Homeland Security Is Reading and Recording Every Keystroke

The Department of Homeland Security’s National Operations Center (NOC) released its Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative and in that report the intelligence-gathering arm of the DHS, the Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS) gives itself permission to “gather, store, analyze, and disseminate” data on millions of users of social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) and business networking sites (Linkedin). The report defines the target audience as anyone who may use “traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.” Prior to this new initiative, operative guidelines instructed NOC to collect data only “under authorization set forth by the written code,” whereas these new provisions permit agents of the NOC to track the online movements and postings of every level of writer or commentator from Brian Williams to nearly anonymous bloggers. This unconstitutional, unwarranted search of private information is designed by DHS “to provide situational awareness and establish a common operating picture” of target audiences.

  • Big Brother is marshalling its resources and gathering information for future crackdowns on free speech under the guise of preventing “hate” crimes

Ominous Cyberweapons on Horizon

Stuxnet, a piece of malicious computer code called a “worm,” brought Iran’s Bushehr power plant to its knees almost a year ago. The worm – a type of damaging code like a virus – also was suspected of halting Iran’s plans to enrich uranium by damaging the computer controls of the uranium enrichment centrifuges. Cybersecurity specialists worry about the worm because Stuxnet made the transition from the virtual digital world into the real world. Stuxnet was the first cyberweapon designed to cause physical damage to an industrial piece of equipment. And now there are members of a new class of cyberweapon that have the capability to reprogram industrial control systems that run electrical generating plants, oil refineries, and gas pipelines and other parts of the national infrastructure.

The final goal would be to manipulate the physical equipment operated by the industrial control system so the equipment acted in a manner contrary to its intended purpose. The most obvious results could be sabotage, industrial espionage, or cyberwarfare. Evidence is coming to light that Stuxnet and its close cousin, Duqu, could be just the tip of the iceberg in the cyberweapon development process. Stuxnet and Duqu appear to be the first products of a larger cybersecurity weapons program with code that can be modified easily by an individual user with intermediate skills.

Oceans Turning Acidic

Man-made pollution is acidifying the world’s oceans at unprecedented rates and is threatening corals and other sea life, an international team of researchers report Monday. Scientists have found that human-caused carbon dioxide emissions, from the burning of fossil fuels in the last 100 to 200 years, have already raised ocean acidity far beyond the range of natural variations. Based on computer modeling and observations, they say these emissions, which increase water acidity by reacting with saltwater, may significantly reduce the calcification rate of marine organisms such as corals and mollusks. “In some regions, the man-made rate of change in ocean acidity since the Industrial Revolution is hundred times greater than the natural rate of change between the Last Glacial Maximum and pre-industrial times,” the report notes.

Economic News

Home sales in December reached the highest pace in nearly a year. The gain coincided with other signs that the troubled U.S. housing market improved at the end of 2011. Analysts caution that sales remain historically low and it will take years for the home market to return to full health. Still, the third straight monthly sales increase was encouraging. And economists noted that conditions are in place for further gains this year.

Some 98,000 federal workers, including those in Congress, the postal service, military and the executive branch, owed $1.3 billion in back taxes in 2010. According to IRS statistics, about 4 percent — or 684 employees — of the 18,000 congressional staffers, are in arrears, owing $10.6 million. Civilian employees of the Defense Department were the worst with some 25,000 owing $225 million.

Orange juice prices rose the daily limit on Friday and near a record high, and were up 7 percent in the options market, amid speculation the United States may ban Brazilian juice imports which had used an illegal fungicide.

Nigeria

Coordinated attacks claimed by a radical Islamist sect killed at least 143 people in north Nigeria’s largest city, a hospital official said Saturday. Soldiers and police officers swarmed over streets Saturday in Kano, a city of more than 9 million people that remains an important political and religious hub in Nigeria’s Muslim north. Gun shots could be heard near a state police command in the city, remnants of a wide-ranging attack launched by the sect known as Boko Haram. Attackers targeted five police buildings, two immigration offices and the local headquarters of the State Security Service, Nigeria’s secret police.

Assailants kidnapped a U.S. citizen leaving a bank in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta Friday, the first such attack targeting foreigners in the restive region for several months. Investigators believe the assailants trailed the man to the bank and waited outside before kidnapping him. Kidnappers later made contact with authorities and demanded a $333,000 ransom. The attack occurred where foreign firms have pumped oil out of the country for more than 50 years. Despite the billions flowing into Nigeria’s government, many in the delta remain desperately poor, living in polluted waters without access to proper medical care, education or work.

Somalia

Gunmen kidnapped an American man in the northern Somali town of Galkayo on Saturday, officials said. The gunmen surrounded the man’s car shortly after the man left the airport, then forced the American into another vehicle. The kidnapped man is an American engineer who came to Somalia to carry out an evaluation for building a deep water port in the town of Hobyo. The gunmen severely beat the foreigner’s Somali companion when he begged them not to take the man. In October, gunmen kidnapped an American woman and a Danish man working for the Danish Demining Group from the same town. They are still being held. Kidnapping for ransom has become increasingly common in Somalia over the past five years. Currently, at least four aid workers, a French military official, a British tourist taken from Kenya and hundreds of sailors, are being held captive.

  • The end-time spirit of lawlessness is spreading rapidly across the globe

Egypt

Final results on Saturday showed that Islamist parties won nearly three-quarters of the seats in parliament in Egypt’s first elections since the ouster of authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak. The Islamist domination of Egypt’s parliament has worried liberals and even some conservatives about the religious tone of the new legislature, which will be tasked with forming a committee to write a new constitution. Overseeing the process will be the country’s Mubarak-era military generals, who are still in charge. A coalition led by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood won 47 percent, or 235 seats in the 498-seat parliament. The ultraconservative Al-Nour Party was second with 25 percent, or 125 seats.

Syria

The Arab League observer’s mission in Syria has been extended for another month, officials from the 22-member organization said on Sunday. The League decided to add more members to the mission and provide them with more resources. The U.N. will further train the observers. Many in Syria’s opposition movement have complained that the observers have failed to curb the bloodshed in the country as the regime cracks down on a 10-month-old uprising against it.

A string of explosions struck a police truck transporting prisoners in a tense area of northwestern Syria on Saturday, killing at least 14 people, state media and an opposition group said. Government troops also battled defectors in the north in fighting that left 10 people dead. The 10-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad has turned increasingly militarized and chaotic in recent months as more frustrated regime opponents and army defectors arm themselves and fight back against government forces.

Libya

Hundreds of angry protesters on Saturday stormed the transitional government’s headquarters in the eastern city of Benghazi, carting off computers, chairs, and desks while the country’s interim leader was still holed up in the building. Libyans have grown increasingly frustrated with the pace and direction of reforms in the country more than three months after the end of the civil war that ousted longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The head of Libya’s transitional government suspended delegates from Benghazi, the city that kicked off the movement that toppled Gadhafi last year. The move follows protests in Benghazi accusing the body of corruption and not moving fast enough on reform. The body’s deputy head, Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga, resigned in protest over the suspensions. Another delegate, Fathi Baja, called the move “illegitimate.” It shows the splits plaguing Libya’s new regime. Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council, said he had appointed a council of religious leaders to investigate corruption charges.

Iraq

Iraq’s Shiite-led government cracked down harshly on dissent during the past year of Arab Spring uprisings, turning the country into a “budding police state” as autocratic regimes crumbled elsewhere in the region, an international rights groups said Sunday. Security forces abuse protesters, harass journalists, torture detainees and intimidate activists, Human Rights Watch said. “Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for the New York-based group.

Iran

The European Union adopted an oil embargo Monday against Iran and a freeze of the assets of the country’s central bank, part of sanctions meant to pressure the country to resume talks on its nuclear program. Diplomats said the measures, which were adopted in Brussels by the EU’s 27 foreign ministers, include an immediate embargo on new contracts for crude oil and petroleum products, while existing contracts will be allowed to run until July. EU diplomats are calling the measure part of a twin track approach toward Iran: increase sanctions to discourage what they suspect is Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons but emphasize at the same time the international community’s willingness to talk.

Pakistan

A suspected U.S. drone fired missiles at a house and a vehicle in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, Pakistani intelligence officials said, killing four alleged militants in an attack that could signal the program is picking up steam after strained relations halted strikes late last year. The U.S. held off on carrying out drone attacks in Pakistan for nearly two months after American airstrikes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two posts along the Afghan border on Nov. 26. The deaths outraged Pakistan, which retaliated by closing its border crossings to supplies meant for NATO troops in Afghanistan and kicking the U.S. out of a base used by American drones. Monday’s strike in North Waziristan’s Deegan village was the third since the attacks resumed.

Yemen

President Ali Abdullah Saleh left Yemen’s capital Sunday for medical treatment in New York City but vowed to return to lead his party and apologized “for any failure that occurred” during his 33- year rule. Saleh gathered top political, military and security officials and announced promotion of Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to the rank of marshal. In November, Saleh signed a power transfer deal but had balked at actually leaving. Thousands of Yemeni protesters took to the streets of the capital, Sanaa, on Sunday, calling for the parliament to reverse its decision to pass a law granting Saleh immunity.

Earthquakes

A magnitude-5.0 earthquake has struck Hawaii. The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake struck near Kae’na Point in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island at 4:36 p.m. Sunday, at a depth of five miles. It was immediately followed by several aftershocks, the largest of them a magnitude-3.0 about 10 minutes after the original quake. There were no immediate reports of damages or injuries.

Wildfires

The wildfire that destroyed 29 homes near Reno is contained. Thousands of evacuees are back home. And the family of the woman found dead says there’s no point in prosecuting the remorseful man who accidentally started it. An elderly man discarding fireplace ashes accidentally touched off the brush fire that raged south of Reno, destroying 29 homes and forcing thousands of people to flee the flames. Fueled by 82 mph wind gusts, the blaze burned nearly 3,200 acres and forced the evacuation of up to 10,000 people Thursday. On Friday, the “extremely remorseful” man voluntarily admitted his role in improperly disposing of the ashes at his home.

Weather

Two people were killed in the Birmingham, Ala., area as storms pounded the South and Midwest, prompting tornado warnings in a handful of states early Monday. Some roads are impassable, there are a number of county roads where debris and trees are widespread, with damage to many homes.

Tens of thousands of Pacific Northwest residents endured a chilly weekend after a powerful storm brought snow and ice and left a tangle of fallen trees and damaged power lines. Several Oregon counties saw their worst flooding in more than a decade. Nearly 230,000 customers were without power late Friday night in Western Washington. Several warming shelters have been opened in the area to aid people whose homes are without heat.

The PGA Humana Challenge golf tournament in La Quinta, CA, in the Palm Springs area, suspended play midway through the third round Saturday after high winds caused damage on all three courses, toppling trees, blowing balls off the greens and knocking a scoreboard into a lake.

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