Signs of the Times (6/1/12)

Court Strikes Down Key Part of DOMA

A key part of the law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage was struck down as unconstitutional by a U.S. appeals court Thursday. The Defense of Marriage Act — known as DOMA — defines marriage for federal purposes as unions exclusively between a man and woman. At issue is whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can legally marry. The 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, based in Boston, did not rule on the federal law’s other key provision: that states that do not allow same-sex marriages cannot be forced to recognize such unions performed in other states. Marriage between two males or two females is legal in seven states and the District of Columbia. Many other states have legalized domestic partnerships and civil unions for such couples, including New Jersey, Illinois, Delaware, Rhode Island and Hawaii, a step designed in most cases to provide the same rights of marriage under state law. But other states have passed laws or state constitutional amendments banning such marriages. The appeals court said it recognizes how divisive the issue is, and noted it may ultimately be up to the Supreme Court to decide.

Washington Reports at Least 70 Assisted Suicides

Washington state may already have surpassed Oregon as the leader in legal physician-assisted suicides. According to data released earlier this month by the state’s Department of Health, at least 70 Washington residents died in 2011 as a result of taking lethal drug doses prescribed by doctors, Baptist Press reports. The total may have been higher, however; it is uncertain if five other people who died after receiving prescriptions of lethal medication did so after taking the drug. Another 19 people who received the prescription died without taking the medication. Oregon set its record of 71 assisted suicides in 2011, and has recorded 596 since it became the first state to legalize assisted suicide in 1997. Washington, which legalized the practice in 2009, has reported at least 157 such deaths. As in Oregon, the three leading concerns expressed by Washington residents who received lethal prescriptions in 2011 were reduced ability “to engage in activities making life enjoyable” (89 percent), loss of autonomy (87 percent) and “loss of dignity” (79 percent).

Eight States get Waiver from No Child Left Behind

Another eight states are gaining flexibility from the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday. The Education Department has approved waivers for Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. Eighteen other states and Washington, D.C., also applied for a waiver and could receive approval in coming weeks. President Obama’s administration is granting waivers in exchange for promises from states to improve how they prepare and evaluate students. In all, 19 states have been given waivers so far. “These states are getting more flexibility with federal funds and relief from NCLB’s one-size-fits-all mandate in order to develop and implement locally tailored solutions to meet their unique educational challenges,” Duncan said.

America’s War on Baby Girls

The pro-life investigative group Live Action says its latest probe has found that some Planned Parenthood clinics are willing to do abortions based on the sex of the unborn child. Lila Rose, head of Live Action, notes that an estimated 160 million preborn girls have been killed through abortion in countries such as China and India. She was asked: She says it is happening in America as well. “We actually went undercover into Planned Parenthood and non-Planned Parenthood abortion clinics across the country, posing the scenario of a late-term, sex-selective abortion of a baby girl,” she describes. “And we uncovered — and we have documented — Planned Parenthood clinics across the board encouraging the late-term abortions of little girls just because they are girls.” Rose notes that several countries have banned the practice, but it is completely legal in most of the United States. The ACLJ is actively supporting Rep. Trent Franks’ bill to make it illegal to abort a child based on his or her gender.

‘Distinctly Christian’ Lord’s Prayer Banned in Delaware Council Meetings

A U.S. district court judge in Delaware ruled that members of a local city council who had been reciting the Lord’s Prayer at every meeting for six years must stop because it violated the Constitution, the Christian Post reports. Four Sussex County residents filed suit last year, claiming the prayer violated the First Amendment. The city council argued that the Lord’s Prayer was not exclusive to Christianity since it did not make a specific reference to Jesus, but judge Leonard P. Stark said in his decision, “The fact that the Lord’s Prayer has been the only prayer recited at the beginning of council meetings for over six years is likely to be found to demonstrate that the council gives Christianity an unconstitutionally preferred status.” Judge Stark’s injunction to stop the prayer takes effect June 15, meaning that any council meetings after that date that begin with the Lord’s Prayer would be in violation of the order. “Whatever happened to freedom of speech?” asked councilman Sam Wilson. “I don’t know how we’re gonna get around it, but we’re gonna have to find a way.”

  • The secularists’ war on Christianity continues to gain end-time steam

U.S. Broadening Cyberwarfare Strategy

The Pentagon is turning to the private sector, universities and even computer gamers as part of an ambitious effort to develop technologies to improve its cyberwarfare capabilities, launch effective attacks and withstand the likely retaliation. The previously unreported effort, which its authors have dubbed Plan X, marks a new phase in the nation’s fledgling military operations in cyberspace, which have focused more on protecting the Defense Department’s own computer systems than on disrupting or destroying those of enemies. Plan X is a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon agency that focuses on experimental efforts and has a key role in harnessing computing power to help the military wage war more effectively. Military officials say that cyberweapons are unlikely to be used on their own. Instead, they would support conventional attacks, by blinding an enemy to an impending airstrike, for example, or disabling a foe’s communications system during battle. The five-year, $110 million research program will begin seeking proposals this summer.

Debt Tsunami Set to Crash Economy

Just as you thought things couldn’t get any worse, credit markets are about to be hit by a veritable tsunami of maturing corporate debt. Standard & Poor’s estimates that companies in Europe, the US and the major Asian economies require a combination of refinancing and new money to fund growth over the next four years of between $43 trillion and $46 trillion. The wall of maturing debt is unprecedented, raising the prospect of further, extreme difficulties in credit markets. With the eurozone debt crisis still at full throttle, the Chinese economy slowing fast and a still tepid US recovery, it’s not clear that the banking system is in any position to deal with this incoming wave of demand.

  • The world’s central banks will continue to print money until the entire system implodes

Economic News

U.S. employers added just 69,000 jobs in May–the fewest in a year– as payrolls gains were disappointingly tepid for a third month. Businesses added 82,000 jobs, while governments cut 15,000. Economists called the result “shockingly low” and the stock market took a steep, early dive.

The nation’s unemployment rate rose to 8.2% from 8.1% as 642,000 Americans surged into the labor force, the Labor Department said. Monthly job growth averaged 252,000 from December through February, raising hopes that a halting job market was finally kicking into a higher gear, but job growth has slowed down below the level required to reduce overall unemployment.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to a five-week high, evidence that the job market remains sluggish. Weekly applications for unemployment aid rose 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 383,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased for the first time in a month to 374,500 (375,000 is considered the threshold for reducing unemployment).

The government said Thursday that the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.9% in the first three months of the year, slower than first estimated. Consumers and governments spent less than first estimated, businesses restocked more slowly, and the U.S. trade deficit grew sharply.

U.S. consumer spending edged up modestly in April, but personal income growth was the slowest in five months, raising concerns about the ability of Americans to keep spending in the future. Consumer spending increased 0.3% in April following a revised 0.2% gain in March. Americans’ income grew 0.2% in April, the poorest showing since incomes fell 0.1% in November.

The latest global financial jitters are producing big savings for the U.S. government, homeowners and other long-term borrowers, but tough times for savers. The yield on the closely watched 10-year Treasury note — which helps set mortgage rates — swooned to a record low of 1.62% Wednesday. Five years ago, it was 5.03%. Low rates are a huge savings for U.S. taxpayers because they’ll save billions of dollars on the cost of repaying some of the federal debt. A 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was at an all-time low of 3.78% last week.

Homes in some stage of the foreclosure process saw their share of overall U.S. home sales grow in the first quarter even as sales of bank-owned homes fell. The increase was driven by a spike in short sales, or homes that sell for less than what the owner owed on their mortgage. Short sales make up the vast majority of homes sold while still in the foreclosure process. Those that aren’t sold or auctioned off typically end up being repossessed by banks. In the first quarter, short sales grew 25% from a year earlier, hitting a three-year high. In contrast, sales of bank-owned properties declined 15% versus the first three months of last year.

Eurozone

European voters furious that they are not being consulted about how to solve a debt crisis are threatening to derail the plans of political elites at the ballot box in coming weeks. The Irish vote Thursday on a deal negotiated by European Union financial ministers in Brussels that will force nations that use the euro as currency to adhere to strict spending and borrowing limits or be penalized. The fiscal compact, which surrenders sovereignty on budget matters to the European Union, is being demanded by richer nations who are funding bailouts of debtor nations. But whether increasingly angry voters will go along as Europe heads for a summer of elections is a big question.

French voters go to the polls in June in parliamentary elections, and media polls indicate they will vote heavily against candidates who supported the spending cuts known as austerity measures. The German parliament must vote on the fiscal compact in early summer. Chancellor Angela Merkel is a prime backer of the compact — her party has lost significant support in recent elections to the Social Democrats. She may have to agree to allowances for more public spending to get approval. The entire continent is holding its collective breath for June 17 elections in Greece, when Greeks vote for the second time in two months on whether to hand the government to anti-austerity leftists who vow to default on the nation’s debts rather than enact the compact. Such a move could roil financial markets worldwide.

Syria

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Syria on Thursday to stop its attacks, saying the U.N. observers monitoring the cease-fire were not there to watch the killing of innocent people. The warning came as activists reported that Syrian troops again shelled the country’s central region of Houla where more than 100 people were massacred last week. The latest shelling and sniper fire killed at least one person and made scores flee in fear of more government attacks.

Iran

Iran’s key oil industry was briefly affected by the powerful computer virus known as “Flame” that has unprecedented data-snatching capabilities and can eavesdrop on computer users, a senior Iranian military official said Wednesday. The comment is the first direct link between the emergence of the new malware and an attack inside a highly sensitive computer system in Iran, which counts on oil revenue for 80 percent of its income. It would be the latest high-profile virus to penetrate Iran’s computer defenses in the past two years, boosting speculation that Israeli programmers could have struck again. Experts see technological links between Flame and the highly focused Stuxnet virus, which was tailored to disrupt Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in 2010.

“Iran has significantly stepped up its output of low-enriched uranium and total production in the last five years would be enough for at least five nuclear weapons if refined much further”, a U.S. security institute said. The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a think-tank which tracks Iran’s nuclear program closely. Friday’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a Vienna-based U.N. body, showed Iran was pressing ahead with its uranium enrichment work in defiance of U.N. resolutions calling on it to suspend the activity. It said Iran had produced almost 6.2 tons of uranium enriched to a level of 3.5 percent since it began the work in 2007 – some of which has subsequently been further processed into higher-grade material. This is nearly 750 kg more than in the previous IAEA report issued in February, and ISIS said Iran’s monthly production had risen by roughly a third. ‘This total amount of 3.5 percent low enriched uranium hexafluoride, if further enriched to weapon grade, is enough to make over five nuclear weapons,’ ISIS said in its analysis.

Egypt

The official results of the first round of the Egyptian presidential elections are in, and the run-off will be between Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy and independent candidate Ahmad Shafik, former president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister. ASSIST News Service reports that many Islamists, fearing Shafik if he comes to power — especially after he vowed to bring back order and security within one month of his election — are blaming Coptic Christians for voting for him and bringing him to second place. Copts have been accused of being “traitors” and “anti-revolutionary” for voting to bring back the old regime. “These accusations are part of a terror and intimidation campaign to prevent them from voting again for Shafik, or even boycotting the elections altogether, which would be the same as voting for Morsy,” said Egyptian writer Saad Namnam. Coptic human rights lawyer Athanasious Williams says that regardless of who wins the election, persecution of Christians will continue in Egypt — the question is just how bad it will be. “I am expecting the worst in all cases,” he said. “If the Islamists take over, we will be like Iran, and they will enforce sharia law, and there will be no freedom of religion. There will be no freedoms of any kind. … If Shafik takes over, it will be the same way it was before.”

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber detonated a vehicle full of explosives outside a district police headquarters in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing five policemen. The attack in Kandahar province’s Argistan district also wounded six policemen. Kandahar is the spiritual heartland of the Taliban and has been one of the most heavily contested areas between the militants and Afghan and foreign forces. The U.S. poured tens of thousands of additional troops into Kandahar and other areas of the south in 2009 and 2010 to reverse the Taliban’s momentum. While violence has fallen in some areas, attacks still occur frequently.

The number of Afghan civilians killed has dropped 36% so far this year compared with last, the U.N. said Wednesday, the first time the death toll has declined over multiple months since the United Nations started keeping track. The senior U.N. envoy for the country, Jan Kubis, called the trend promising but cautioned that too many civilians were still being caught up in the violence as insurgents fight Afghan and foreign forces. Kubis’ office said 579 civilians were killed in the first four months of this year, down from 898 killed in the same period of 2011. The number of wounded dropped from 1,373 to 1,216 in the January to April period.

Iraq

Bombs exploded at a crowded Baghdad restaurant and a near police patrol Thursday, among attacks that killed at least 18 people and wounded 53 in Iraq’s bloodiest day in more than a month. Five blasts hit the capital, and the northern city of Mosul was the scene of a fatal shooting attack. Violence has fallen in Iraq since a wave of sectarian bloodshed in 2006 and 2007, but insurgents carry out frequent attacks on security forces and civilians to undermine the Shiite-led government. The violence threatens the stability of the country following the pullout of U.S. forces in December.

Nigeria

Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), has raised the alarm over silent and unreported killings of Christians in the northern part of the country, according to AllAfrica.com. As violence against Christians by the Islamist group Boko Haram continues to escalate, Oritsejafor called on CAN leaders across the nation to organize times of prayers and fasting, adding that it was imperative for Christians to be security-conscious at all times. Oritsejafor said a pastor in Maiduguri had contacted him complaining that the “killing is going on from door to door, shop to shop, church to church. … But these things are no longer heard on television. Nobody talks about it. It is only when police station is burnt or bomb explosion that catches people’s attention.” Oritsejafor declared June 16 as a special day of prayer and fasting for Nigeria.

Wildfires

A massive wildfire that has burned more than 300 square miles in the Gila National Forest has become the largest fire in New Mexico history. The erratic Whitewater-Baldy blaze grew overnight to more than 197,000 acres. The Gila forest fire is also the largest currently burning in the country. It formed last week when two lightning-sparked blazes merged in an isolated mountainous area in southwestern New Mexico, where it has destroyed about a dozen homes and prompted evacuations of nearby towns and health alerts for some of the state’s largest cities. About 1,200 firefighters from around the state were battling the growing blaze, but that they continue to face low humidity and shifting winds in their efforts. It is only 10% contained. Twenty structures have been destroyed, but the blaze so far has threatened few communities and was burning away from many of New Mexico’s largest towns and cities. But state officials issued air quality alerts for cities as far as Albuquerque, nearly 170 miles away.

Officials say a wildfire burning across more than 30 square miles of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has destroyed nearly 100 buildings, but there have been no reports of injuries. The Duck Lake Fire has burned more than 22,000 acres, or 34 square miles, in Luce County. The fire is 57% contained and officials are warning people to stay away from the nearby Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

Weather

The remnants of Tropical Storm Beryl spun off a tornado that destroyed three homes and damaged dozens of others near the North Carolina coast Wednesday as the system sped toward the Atlantic. Between 40 and 50 homes were damaged near Peletier in the western part of Carteret County. There were no reports of injuries. The remnants of the storm were skimming the North Carolina coast and prompting flood watches in eastern North Carolina. Beryl was expected to gain strength again over the Atlantic.

Even by the standards of the typically torrid Desert Southwest, the heat expected over the past couple of days has been excessive and record-breaking. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for parts of Arizona, California, and Nevada for Thursday and Friday as temperatures are expected to reach up to 119 degrees in some areas. Bullhead City, Arizona, reached 118 degrees Thursday.

The world’s air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant. Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. It’s been at least 800,000 years — probably more — since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, the scientists said. Carbon dioxide is the chief greenhouse gas and stays in the atmosphere for 100 years. Some carbon dioxide is natural, mainly from decomposing dead plants and animals. Before the Industrial Age, levels were around 275 parts per million.

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One Response to “Signs of the Times (6/1/12)”

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