Signs of the Times (4/20/12)

Photos of Troops with Corpses Roils Military

Photos of U.S. soldiers posing with dead Afghan insurgents published Wednesday were another blow for a military still recovering from the release of images of U.S. troops desecrating bodies, the alleged murder of 17 Afghan villagers by a soldier and reports that troops accidentally burned Qur’ans. The images, like those of a video showing Marines urinating on insurgent corpses that surfaced in January, demonstrate a lack of discipline among troops, according to one military analyst. Military officials, meanwhile, condemned the soldiers’ actions and denounced publication of the photos, saying their appearance endangered U.S. forces.

  • War is hell and opens the doors to satanic influence of all concerned

Internet Snooping ‘Dangerous to Human Rights’

The Guardian (UK) reports that “Extension of surveillance powers a destruction of human rights.” The government’s con­tro­ver­sial plans to allow intelligence agen­cies to mon­itor the internet use and dig­ital communications of every person in the UK suffered a fresh blow on Tuesday when the inventor of the world wide web warned that the mea­sures were dangerous and should be dropped. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web Foundation and director of the World Wide Web Consortium, says the extension of the state’s surveillance powers would be a “destruction of human rights” and would make a huge amount of highly intimate information vulnerable to theft or release by corrupt officials. The government ran into a storm of criticism earlier this month when it emerged that it was planning to monitor all communication on social media, Skype calls and email communication as well as logging every site visited by internet users in Britain.

New Federal Agency OFR Stirs ‘Orwellian’ Fears

It is the most powerful federal agency you’ve never heard of — and lawmakers from both parties on Thursday vowed to keep abreast of its astonishing growth and rein it in, if necessary. The Office of Financial Research, or OFR, was created by the Dodd-Frank financial services overhaul that President Obama signed into law in July 2010. Technically housed under the Treasury Department, the agency has until now received its funding not from the Congress, but directly from the Federal Reserve. Starting in July, the OFR Fiscal Year 2013 budget, estimated at $158 million, will be funded entirely through assessments — also known as taxes — on bank-holding firms with consolidated assets worth at least $50 billion. But as became clear at Thursday’s hearing by the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, a close reading of the law the president signed provides no limit on the growth of OFR’s budget, nor on the taxes the agency can impose on big banks to fund it. Congress holds no power of the purse over OFR. Detractors call it “the CIA of financial regulators,” and conjure “Orwellian” visions of “an omniscient Soviet-style central risk manager.”

  • Through executive orders and other sneaky, indirect methods, the Obama administration has laid a lot of groundwork for socialistic, even dictatorial, control over federal and economic affairs

Mandatory ‘Big Brother’ Black Boxes In All New Cars From 2015

A bill already passed by the Senate and set to be rubber stamped by the House would make it mandatory for all new cars in the United States to be fitted with black box data recorders from 2015 onwards. Section 31406 of Senate Bill 1813 (known as MAP-21), calls for “Mandatory Event Data Recorders” to be installed in all new automobiles and legislates for civil penalties to be imposed against individuals for failing to do so. Although the text of legislation states that such data would remain the property of the owner of the vehicle, the government would have the power to access it in a number of circumstances, including by court order, if the owner consents to make it available, and pursuant to an investigation or inspection conducted by the Secretary of Transportation.

EPA Issues Air Pollution Rules for Fracking Wells

Federal regulators issued first-ever air pollution rules for “fracking” wells on Wednesday, requiring that drillers burn or capture the gas and its smog-producing compounds released when the wells are first tapped. Environmental Protection Agency official Gina McCarthy announced the long-anticipated rules, the first to cover some of the 13,000 wells drilled yearly nationwide that use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to collect natural gas and oil from deep shale layers. In a compromise with the industry, regulators said the drillers can flare, or burn off, the gas for now, a process that can last for weeks. But starting in 2015 they would lose that option. Instead, they’ll be required to collect it — so-called green completion of new fracking wells.

More Sharia Law in U.S.

In yet another example of the Judicial Islamicization of America, a U.S. federal judge in Ohio has enforced “Sharia” Muslim law forbidding Christian prisoners from eating pork in prison. To accommodate Muslim complainers, an Ohio Prison Director Gary C. Mohr banned pork from all kitchen in all prisons under control of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.  The Muslims had threatened a lawsuit to demand “halal” meals and kitchens, so ODRC entirely removed pork and forced all Christian prisoners to eat Muslim food. One brave Christian prisoner, James Rivers, filed a lawsuit opposing the enforcement of Muslim “Sharia” law upon all the prisoners, and demanded his right to eat pork. Sadly, the federal judge James S. Guin threw out the case, ruled against all Christian prisoners, and enforced Sharia Muslim dietary law in all Ohio prisons.

Foreclosures Affect 10% of U.S. Children

One in 10 U.S. children has been or will be affected by the nation’s surge in foreclosures, a new report says. Five years into the foreclosure crisis, an estimated 2.3 million children had lived in homes lost to foreclosure. Another 3 million children live in homes at risk of foreclosure because home loans are in the foreclosure process or are seriously delinquent. And 3 million children lived or live in rental homes lost to foreclosure or at risk. e crisis. In Nevada, almost 1 in 5 children lived or live in owner-occupied homes that were lost to foreclosure or are at risk of being lost. In other high foreclosure states, the percentage of children affected were 15% in Florida, followed by 14% for Arizona and 12% for California. In Alaska and North Dakota, only 2% of children were affected, the lowest rates in the country.

Women Missing Out on Jobs

More jobless Americans are finding work these days, but they are mainly male. The “mancession” has morphed into the “hecovery,” leaving women workers largely in the dust. The share of adult women who are employed is lower than it was two years ago, while men have seen an upturn. Women were generally spared the worst of the recession, accounting for only one-quarter of the jobs lost. Men, on the other hand, were hit hard by the devastation in the construction and manufacturing industries. While the private sector picked up nearly 2.9 million jobs over the course of the recovery, women secured only 23.5% of those positions.

Rising Fears That Recovery May Once More Be Faltering

Some of the same spoilers that interrupted the recovery in 2010 and 2011 have emerged again, raising fears that the winter’s economic strength might dissipate in the spring. In recent weeks, European bond yields have started climbing. In the United States and elsewhere, high oil prices have sapped spending power. American employers remain skittish about hiring new workers, and new claims for unemployment insurance have risen. And stocks have declined. The breadth of the recent weakening of activity shows that the economy remains fragile. Europe remains the central concern. In a report released this week, the International Money Fund’s economists said that financial institutions in the European Union would shrink their balance sheets by up to $2.6 trillion by the end of next year, reducing the availability of credit for businesses and households by as much as 1.6 percent.

Economic News

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits dipped last week but remained higher than in recent weeks. The Labor Department says weekly applications declined 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 386,000 last week. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 5,500 to 374,750, the highest in nearly three months.

Hiring slowed in March after a fast start this year. Employers added only 120,000 jobs in March — half the pace of the previous three months and substantially less than required to reduce unemployment.

Short sales outnumbered foreclosure sales in 12 states in January, indicating that more homeowners are finding an easier way out of a distressed home loan. Short sales — which occur when a lender agrees to a home sale for less than what’s owed — were up 33% in January over a year ago.

Revenue from Internet advertising in the U.S. hit a record $31 billion last year. That’s up 22% from $26 billion in 2010, the previous record. The fastest-growing category was mobile, with revenue of $1.6 billion in 2011, more than double the $600 million a year earlier. It’s still a small part of overall Internet advertising, however.

Syria

Syrian troops shelled a rebel-held neighborhood and sent reinforcements to border areas as the opposition called for fresh protests Friday after the United Nations accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of failing to honor a peace plan that went into effect a week ago. Earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Syria was not honoring a cease-fire, which took effect last week, and that violence was escalating. Syrian security forces opened fire Thursday on anti-regime demonstrators surrounding the cars of a U.N. team meant to monitor a shaky cease-fire, sending the observers speeding off and protesters dashing for cover. The shooting, which wounded at least eight people, could also complicate the deployment of a larger U.N. mission to help a cease-fire take hold between President Bashar Assad’s forces and opposition fighters.

Iraq

Bombings struck several areas in Baghdad and to the north Thursday, killing at least 30 people in the first major attacks in Iraq in nearly a month. The violence stoked fears that insurgents were trying to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government amid rising sectarian tensions. In all, officials said extremists launched 12 attacks in the Iraqi capital and seven other cities. At least 117Syrian troops shelled a rebel-held neighborhood and sent reinforcements to border areas as the opposition called for fresh protests Friday after the United Nations accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of failing to honor a peace plan that went into effect a week ago.  people were wounded in the rapid-fire explosions that unfolded over an hour and 15 minutes. Half of the bombs struck at security forces and government officials — two frequent targets for insurgents still seeking to undermine Iraq’s efforts to normalize after years of war and violence. Iraq’s al-Qaeda branch claimed responsibility Friday for the attacks.

Egypt

Hundreds of Egyptian demonstrators briefly blocked a main Cairo bridge over the Nile river Thursday to back their call for an end to military rule, a sign of growing concern that the generals might try to cling to power. An organizer told a private TV station that the move was an escalation ahead of a larger rally planned Friday by Egyptian political and revolutionary groups to protest the ruling military council’s handling of the transition period and calling for their quick exit. Egypt’s military took control after longtime President Hosni Mubarak was deposed in a popular uprising in February 2011. The generals have pledged to turn over power to a civilian government by the end of June, but created turmoil in upcoming presidential elections by banning three popular candidates.

Saudi Arabia

As Saudi Arabia’s highest Islamic authority has recently called for the destruction of all the churches on the Arabian Peninsula, religious rights groups are wondering why there hasn’t been a global outcry over the persecution, CBN News reports. Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, wrote in a recent Townhall.com column: “Imagine if Pat Robertson called for the demolition of all the mosques in America. It would be front-page news. It would be on every network and cable news program. There would be a demand for Christians to denounce him, and denounce him they would — in the harshest terms. The president of the United States and other world leaders would weigh in too. Rightly so. So why is it that when … the Grand Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia declares that it is ‘necessary to destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula,’ the major media do not see this as even worth reporting?” May added that he believed U.S. leaders and others had kept quiet on the issue to avoid promoting the notion of “Islamophobia,” but warned that “the world cannot stay silent much longer.”

Africa

The Nigerian religious sect Boko Haram had been sporadically attacking police stations and people for years with machetes and sometimes guns to create an Islamic state in its corner of Africa’s largest nation. Then, in 2010, the group exploded into violence with suicide bombings, car bombs and coordinated assaults, months after al-Qaeda got involved. Now Nigeria is headed for possible civil war in what experts say is an emerging strategy by al-Qaeda to convert local rebellions across sub-Saharan Africa into part of a global terror front against the West. The pattern is seen not just in Nigeria, but also in Somalia and Mali, where al-Qaeda is prompting independence movements to broaden and heighten attacks.

Yemen

The CIA wants to be able to launch drone strikes on terrorism suspects in Yemen even when it does not know the identities of those being targeted, U.S. officials have told The Washington Post. The “signature strikes,” which have been used by the CIA in Pakistan for years, target locations where the agency’s intelligence sources identify suspicious behavior. An example would be a strike carried out after satellite imagery showed pictures of militants gathering at Al Qaeda compounds. CIA Director David Petraeus has requested permission to use the strikes against Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate in a move that would likely accelerate the number of drone strikes in the country. There has already been eight in the past four months.

  • The very concept of the CIA waging war in any form is extremely troublesome, especially in a country where we are not officially ‘at war’

Sudan

The Arab League said Thursday it would hold an emergency meeting over the increasing violence between Sudan and South Sudan. The south reported new skirmishes even as Sudan’s president increased his threats of war toward the south. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir said the recent violence has “revived the spirit of jihad” in Islamic Sudan. Christian South Sudan said it had repulsed four attacks from Sudan over a 24-hour period as fighting on the border showed no signs of slowing.

Myanmar

EU officials say the bloc will suspend most sanctions against Myanmar, also known as Burma, while it assess the country’s progress toward democracy. The sanctions will be suspended for a year, with the possibility of a review in six months. They target more than 800 companies and nearly 500 people. Myanmar, long a dictatorship, appears to be undergoing a remarkable transition. Last year, the junta ceded power to a new government that has embarked on widely praised reforms.

South Asia

Reports of Islamic extremists attacking people of different faiths in South Asia have been growing in recent years, resulting in beatings and even beheadings, the Christian Post reports. In March alone in India, a Christian church was attacked, an elderly widow beaten and a 22-year-old woman driven from her village for giving thanks to Jesus. In neighboring Pakistan, the religious persecution is just as bad, where Christians are targeted even by government officials. Islamic militants in Pakistan have also targeted Sikhs, with recent incidents of kidnappings and beheadings. Attacks by Muslims against religious minorities are so common that they are at most condemned by authorities, and rarely punished — and violence continues to spread throughout the region.

Vietnam

A group of thugs stormed a Christian orphanage in a late night raid in Vietnam, beat the children and, with help from the police, destroyed the building. The attack on the Agape Family centre in the capital, Hanoi, started shortly after midnight on 14 April. The offenders cut the electricity before throwing stones and other objects at the building to frighten the children. Around 200 policemen arrived, but rather than protect the children and round up the offenders, they helped the mob to destroy the centre. Witnesses said that it was the police and local authorities who sent the thugs to carry out the initial attack; it appears to be part of their ongoing campaign to harass and intimidate the country’s Christians.

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