Signs of the Times (4/28/12)

Arizona Bans Funds to Abortion Providers

The Legislature once again demonstrated why Arizona has become one of the most pro-life states in the country. On Wednesday, the Senate passed HB 2800. This bill prohibits federal dollars that pass through the state for family planning from going to abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood. Despite being Arizona’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood claims this bill will deny women access to other medical procedures including cancer screenings and women’s health services. However, the bill does not reduce overall funding – it simply prioritizes the funding to healthcare providers who can provide more comprehensive services. There are plenty of options for women to access care in Arizona.

Abortion Restrictions Gain Momentum

New restrictions on abortion are sweeping through legislatures from Virginia to Arizona, and voters in some states could see proposed constitutional amendments on November ballots that would define life as beginning at conception. The abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America is tracking 235 bills in legislatures that it says would restrict abortion. The group says a dozen have passed so far this year. Some proposals would put new restrictions on when women can have abortions. Some would prevent insurance coverage of abortions. Some are aimed at funding or activities of the reproductive health organization Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions as one of a broad array of women’s health services.

The 2012 anti-abortion push is not even as heavy as last year, when legislators in 24 states, many elected in the 2010 Republican tide, passed a record 92 laws restricting abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a group that conducts sexual and reproductive health research, policy analysis and public education. Ten major court challenges in seven states are underway against some of the new laws, and they may take four or five years to resolve. A Texas law requiring women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound was upheld in a court challenge.

Connecticut Abolishes the Death Penalty

Capital punishment has been abolished in Connecticut, the 17th state to end executions. The repeal does not apply to the 11 men on death row, who “are far more likely to die of old age than they are to be put to death,” the governor said in a statement. The repeal comes two days after a California measure to abolish executions qualified for the November ballot. The repeal came the same day that a new poll showed that Connecticut voters overwhelmingly support capital punishment.

Congress Passes Unpopular CISPA Bill

The House on Thursday approved cybersecurity legislation that privacy groups have decried as a threat to civil liberties. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, passed on a vote of 248 to 168. Its goal is a more secure internet, but privacy groups fear the measure breaches Americans’ privacy along the way. The White House had weighed in on Wednesday, threatening a veto unless there were significant changes to increase consumer privacy. The bill was amended to provide more privacy protections, but it was not immediately clear whether the Senate or the White House would give the amended bill its blessing. The measure allows internet service providers to share information with the government, including the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, about cybersecurity threats it detects on the internet. An ISP is not required to shield any personally identifying data of its customers when it believes it has detected threats, which include attack signatures, malicious code, phishing sites or botnets. In short, the measure seeks to undo privacy laws that generally forbid ISPs from disclosing customer communications with anybody else unless with a court order.

Settlement OK’d over Mojave Cross on U.S. Land

A federal judge has approved a land-swap to settle a lawsuit over a remote site in the Mojave National Preserve where war memorial crosses have been erected for decades. The settlement announced Tuesday calls for the site at Sunrise Rock to be turned over to a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Barstow, California, in exchange for five acres of donated land. The National Park Service said it hopes to complete the swap by year’s end, allowing the VFW to once more erect a cross on the site. The most recent permanent cross was stolen and a replacement was removed to comply with a court injunction.

China Plans to Eradicate House Churches

China’s government is engaged in a three-phase campaign to eradicate Protestant house churches, according to a statement released April 20 by the China Aid Association (CAA), reports Compass Direct News. The government’s strategy was clearly outlined in a document released last September during a training class for “Patriots in the Christian Community” run by the State Administration for Religious Affairs. From January through June of this year, the document called for local authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of house churches nationwide and create dossiers on each of them. In phase two, for the following two to three years, authorities would strongly encourage unregistered churches to affiliate with the government-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), and in phase three, to be completed within 10 years, churches refusing to comply would be shut down. Officials would also ban the words “house church” and all reports on house churches from websites and other media and replace the term with “house gatherings” — a term that would refer to groups meeting in sites affiliated with the TSPM. In a recent survey, more than 95 percent of house church leaders said they had already felt the impact of these investigations, and 85 percent said local religious affairs departments had already created a dossier for their group. “Since the beginning of 2012, we have noticed an increase in the frequency of persecution,” the CAA said.

WTC1 Scales New Heights

Soon the iconic Empire State Building will no longer be the king of the city skyline. By Monday, the rising steel frame of One World Trade Center is expected to surpass the 1930s vintage skyscraper, passing the title of tallest building in the city — and in the Western Hemisphere— to lower Manhattan. Weather permitting, the heir to the title of tallest building in New York, which was held by the Twin Towers from the early 1970s until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, will return to the original site. At 1,776-feet and 104 floors, the new tower will be 408 feet taller than the Twin Towers. The tallest building in the world remains the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 2,717 feet. Construction of One World Trade Center is on track and won’t be completed until early 2014. The structure is about 55 percent leased and is “poised to be a commercial success.”

  • The real success is replacing what the terrorists destroyed, making the statement that “we will not be overcome.”

Economic News

The economy grew at a 2.2% annual rate in the first quarter, the government said Friday, as a pickup in consumer spending was partly offset by shrinking government and sluggish private investment. The pace was slower than the 3% growth in the fourth quarter last year. Auto manufacturing accounted for half the economy’s growth.

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits remained stuck near a three-month high last week, a sign that hiring has slowed since winter. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000, above the 375,000 level required to reduce unemployment. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 381,750, also the highest in three months.

Orders for long-lasting factory goods fell by the largest amount in three years in March, mostly because demand for commercial aircraft plummeted. But companies also ordered less machinery and other equipment, a sign manufacturing output may be slowing. Orders for durable goods dropped 4.2% in March, steepest fall since January 2009. Excluding transportation equipment, orders declined 1.1%. That’s the second drop in that category in three months.

  • Meanwhile, the total federal deficit continues to increase by $2,500,000 every minute!

Eurozone

The hole in Spain’s economy is getting deeper. The government reported Friday that unemployment rose to 24.4% in the first quarter — compared with 22.9% in the fourth quarter — and that more than half of Spaniards under 25 are now without jobs. The bleak employment came one day after ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s debt. The Spanish economy is in recession for the second time in three years as the damage from a housing bust persists. Foreclosures are rising, Spain’s banks are in worse financial shape and the government’s deficit is hitting worrisome levels.

The U.K. economy shrank in the first quarter as Britain slid into its first double-dip recession since the 1970s. Gross domestic product fell 0.2 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011, when it declined 0.3 percent, the Office for National Statistics said Monday in London. A technical recession is defined as two straight quarters of contraction.

Syria

Two weeks into a cease-fire agreement, there still was no peace in Syria: Security agents in Damascus collected the remains of 10 people killed in a suicide bombing. Activists reported troops firing on protesters. Video showed a crowd carrying a slain boy to U.N. observers as proof of regime violence. Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets across Syria for weekly anti-regime marches after Muslim noon prayers Friday. The head of the United Nations said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s continued crackdown on protests has reached an “intolerable stage,” and that the U.N. will try to speed up the deployment of up to 300 monitors to Syria. Only 15 are there now. A Syrian state-run newspaper accused U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday of encouraging “terrorist” rebel attacks by focusing his criticism on the government.

Yemen

An Islamist militant group in southern Yemen linked to al-Qaeda is threatening to begin executing 73 government soldiers who were captured in a raid on the militant stronghold last month. The militant group Ansar al-Sharia, or Partisans of Sharia Law, killed 185 soldiers and wounded more than 150 when the government raided their battalion base near Zinjibar on March 5. The group, which is intertwined with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or, AQAP, warns in posters distributed to residents of Abyan province that it would start killing the soldiers 10 at a time each week starting Monday. In a statement in March, AQAP demanded the release of al-Qaeda prisoners in exchange for the soldiers, adding that “full responsibility’ for the fate rests with U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein and Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi “who insist on escalation, launching an unjustified war against the mujahideen of Ansar al-Sharia in Abyan.”

Pakistan

The first concentrated high-level talks aimed at breaking a five-month diplomatic deadlock between the United States and Pakistan ended in failure on Friday over Pakistani demands for an unconditional apology from the Obama administration for an airstrike. The White House, angered by the recent spectacular Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, refuses to apologize. The Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, left the Pakistani capital Friday night with no agreement after two days of discussions aimed at patching up the damage caused by the American airstrikes last November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghanistan border. The negotiations are complicated by a complex web of interlocking demands from both sides. Without the apology, Pakistani officials say they cannot reopen NATO supply routes into Afghanistan that have been closed since November.

Iran

Iran is busy acquiring the technical know-how to launch a potentially crippling cyber-attack on the United States and its allies, experts told a congressional hearing on Thursday, urging the US to step up its defensive measures. “Over the past three years, the Iranian regime has invested heavily in both defensive and offensive capabilities in cyberspace,” said Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council. “Equally significant, its leaders now increasingly appear to view cyber-warfare as a potential avenue of action against the United States,” he told a House Homeland Security subcommittee. Patrick Meehan, Republican chairman of the committee, also sounded an alarm over the cyber-security threat posed by Iran to western nations. “As Iran’s illicit nuclear program continues to inflame tensions between Tehran and the West, I am struck by the emergence of another possible avenue of attack emanating from Iran — the possibility that Iran could conduct a cyber attack against the US homeland,” he said.

Malaysia

Police unleashed tear gas and chemical-laced water Saturday at thousands of demonstrators who staged one of Malaysia’s largest street rallies in years, demanding fair rules for national elections expected soon. At least 25,000 demonstrators swamped Malaysia’s largest city, hoping to pressure Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition — which has held power for nearly 55 years — to overhaul electoral policies before polls that could be held as early as June. Authorities insist the elections will be free and fair, rejecting activists’ claims that the Election Commission is biased and that voter registration lists are tainted with fraudulent names.

Ukraine

A series of blasts rocked an eastern Ukrainian city on Friday, injuring 27 people, including 9 teenagers, in what authorities believed was a terrorist attack. The violence undermines Ukraine’s security weeks before it hosts the European football championships in June. Ukraine has not been afflicted with political terrorism but there have been previous explosions connected to criminal extortion.

China

A blind legal activist who fled house arrest in his rural China village is under the protection of U.S. officials and high-level talks are taking place between the countries about his fate, an overseas activist group said Saturday. The whereabouts of Chen Guangcheng— amid unconfirmed reports that he sought protection at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing — could be a major political complication for the two countries as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top U.S. officials are due in China this coming week for the latest round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

Columbia

Colombian officials said eight people have been killed in two separate attacks they blame on leftist rebels. One of the dead is a 9-month-old girl. The military said that rebels used homemade mortars to attack a police station in the southern town of Puerto Rico, and that three civilians died in that attack. It said children, ages 7 and 9, were wounded in a neighboring home. In the second attack, five soldiers were killed while on patrol in the municipality of Florida. The area has a strong presence of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels who have been trying to overthrow the government for years.

Earthquakes

A moderate earthquake rattled Southern California on Saturday morning, shaking homes across the Inland Empire region and causing buildings to sway in downtown Los Angeles. The magnitude 4.1 quake struck at 8:07 a.m. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was centered along the San Andreas Fault about two miles northwest of Devore, in San Bernardino County. Some buildings swayed in downtown Los Angeles, about 60 miles to the west. A small 2.0 magnitude aftershock hit about a half-mile away about two minutes later

Weather

At least seven homes and a hog farm were destroyed after rare nighttime tornadoes reportedly ripped through sparsely populated counties on the southeastern Colorado plains. Overnight tornadoes are rare in Colorado, where cooler nighttime temperatures usually don’t create severe weather.

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