Signs of the Times (9/17/12)

New Wave of Muslim Protests Turn Violent

Hundreds of Afghans burned cars and threw rocks at a U.S. military base as a demonstration against an anti-Islam film that ridicules the Prophet Muhammad turned violent in the Afghan capital early Monday. And in Jakarta, Indonesians angered over the film clashed with police outside the U.S. Embassy, hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails and burning tires outside the mission. At least one police officer was seen bleeding from the head and being carried to safety by fellow officers.

Demonstrators scaled the walls of U.S. embassies in Tunisia and Sudan, torching part of a German embassy and clashing with police in violence that left at least four dead. Amid the turmoil, Islamic militants waving black banners and shouting “God is great” stormed an international peacekeepers base in Egypt’s Sinai. Egypt’s new Islamist president went on national TV and appealed to Muslims to not attack embassies, denouncing the violence earlier this week in Libya that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.

Riot police clashed with about 200 protesters at the U.S. Consulate in Sydney on Saturday as demonstrations spread to Australia. Network television news showed a policeman knocked unconscious as the mostly male crowd hurled bottles and other missiles. Many of the protesters were wearing Muslim dress. Police used pepper spray against the protesters, who chanted “Obama, Obama, we love Osama” and waved placards saying “Behead all those who insult the Prophet.”

Obama Team Claims Embassy Attacks “Spontaneous”

The Obama administration is doubling down on its theory that the attack a week ago on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was a “spontaneous” act, despite the Libyan president calling that idea “preposterous.” The sharply divergent views on what led to the deadly strike in eastern Libya played out across the airwaves Sunday and are sure to generate more questions this week. In two interviews over the weekend, Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif joined other members of his government in declaring the attack a planned assault, possibly by an Al Qaeda-tied group. But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, in a string of interviews, stood by the administration’s position that the Libya attack was just part of the wave of protests over the anti-Islam video circulating on the Internet. Three days before the deadly assault on the United States consulate in Libya, a local security official says he met with American diplomats in the city and warned them about deteriorating security.

  • Islamic passions are easy to inflame, something Al Qaeda is quite good at. They are the igniters behind this rash of protests. And once again, Obama is more interested in image than truth.

Some Libyans Express Remorse

As anti-American protests swept across North Africa and the Arabian Gulf, a counter-protest of apology emerged. Photos of Libyans carrying hand-lettered signs condemning the violence and expressing contrition for their countrymen appeared on Facebook. “Sorry” became the trending mantra of Libyans on Twitter. At one counter-protest, an unidentified man carried a crude sign phonetically written in English with blue marker on lined notebook paper, “Sorry People of America this not the Pehavior of our ISLAM and Profit.”

Feds Interview Islam Filmmaker

A southern California filmmaker linked to an anti-Islamic movie inflaming protests across the Middle East was interviewed by federal probation officers at a Los Angeles sheriff’s station but was not arrested or detained, authorities said early Saturday. Federal officials have said they had been already investigating the activities of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who has been convicted of financial crimes. If the probation department determines Nakoula violated terms of his release, a judge could send him back to prison.

U.S.Investigates Embassy Killings

The U.S. is sending more spies, Marines and drones to Libya, trying to speed the search for those who killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, but the investigation is complicated by a chaotic security picture in the post-revolutionary country, and limited American and Libyan intelligence resources. The Libyans have barely re-established full control of their country, much less rebuilt their intelligence service, less than a year after the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Romney Condemns Obama’s Response

Mitt Romney’s campaign sent out a statement last night criticizing the Obama administration for its response to the protests that led to American deaths, triggered by the anti-Islam film posted online in the United States. “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” Romney said in a statement. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

  • Obama’s Muslim background and sympathies have been evident for some time and have now been exposed for all to see

Christians in Egypt, Libya Could Face More Persecution After Attacks

The attacks on U.S. embassies could have severe consequences for already marginalized Christians in the Middle East and northern Africa, according to Open Doors USA. “It illustrates how hot the fuel is that one spark ignites it so suddenly,” said Open Doors spokesman Michael Wood. “At some point we heard that people were protesting because of a film not even knowing what movie this was all about. And as was the case with the publishing of the Danish cartoon several years ago, the movie has been on the internet several months. But it is the unpredictable momentum that suddenly creates a wave of protests and anger. Many of the Muslim fanatics link the U.S. with Christianity. So that puts believers in these hot spots such as Libya and Egypt directly in the line of fire.”

Roberts’ Ruling a Poison Pill for Obamacare?

The penalties Americans will be required to pay under Obamacare for going without health insurance were declared constitutional in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that hinged on Chief Justice John Roberts’ assertion that the assessments are taxes. But a legal challenge to the federal government takeover of health-care decision-making says that’s a problem because Obamacare was initiated in the Senate, not the House. The Constitution requires any tax bills to begin in the House. The demand for an explanation is being raised in an amended complaint filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Wisconsin Judge Strikes Down Collective Bargaining Law

A Wisconsin judge has struck down nearly all of the state law championed by Gov. Scott Walker that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most public workers. Walker’s administration immediately vowed to appeal the Friday ruling, while unions, which have vigorously fought the law, declared victory.  But what the ruling meant for existing public contracts was murky: Unions claimed the ruling meant they could negotiate again, but Walker could seek to keep the law in effect while the legal drama plays out. The law, a crowning achievement for Walker that made him a national conservative star, took away nearly all collective bargaining rights from most workers and has been in effect for more than a year.

Stand Up for Religion Freedom Rallies Planned

Just 17 days before Election Day, American voters of all faiths will take to the streets in the name of religious freedom and in protest of the Obamacare contraception mandate  – with one of the major protests unfolding on President Obama’s doorstep. On Oct. 20 at 12 noon, more than 100 “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rallies sponsored by the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Coalition will take place in cities coast to coast, including Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and others. The White House protest, which is sponsored by the Christian Defense Coalition and Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, is scheduled for Sept. 30 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Occupy Wall Street Movement Sputtering

Protesters will mark the anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement today with rallies in more than 30 cities around the world, including a march on the New York Stock Exchange, not far from the park where the movement was born. On Monday, a couple hundred protesters converged near the New York Stock Exchange. About 300 people marched in New York on Saturday, the first of three days of rallies, teach-ins and other events. At least a dozen were arrested then, mostly on charges of disorderly conduct, police said. But as the last of its urban encampments close and interest wanes in a movement without an organizational hierarchy or an action agenda, it’s unclear whether Occupy’s first birthday will be its last.

A week ago, Occupy protesters abandoned their spot in front of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus after getting an eviction notice from the city for failing to obtain a $100 permit and lay down a security deposit of at least $500. In Tampa, Occupy members on Saturday moved out of a private park where they’d been ensconced for eight months with permission from its owner. Neighborhood residents complained that the tent city had become an eyesore populated mostly by the homeless. At the political conventions this summer, Occupy’s ability to mobilize large street protests was minimal.

NASA Has Space Problem

A recent review of NASA’s land holdings on earth revealed a new challenge for the agency: poorly maintained, aging facilities once used for research and development or space vehicle construction, now essentially useless. NASA spends about $1.1 billion annually on maintenance and upkeep of its more than 5,400 buildings, landing strips and other unique sites; but approximately 9 percent of its real property assets aren’t being used, NASA told The solution, according to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG): lease them. “Few incentives exist for NASA to identify underutilized property as unnecessary to its mission needs,” Paul K. Martin, NASA Inspector General, concluded in the August report.

Economic News

Consumers’ out-of-control debt loads helped spark the recession, but households are rapidly getting their balance sheets back into shape. Consumers went into the recession carrying debt of nearly double the nation’s gross domestic product. That’s down to below 85% now, and on pace to approach 75% by late next year, Moody predicts. Revolving debt, mostly credit cards, has fallen 19% since 2007. In addition, low interest rates have pushed the ratio of consumers’ monthly rent and debt payments to their income to the lowest level since 1984. Economists hope that this will translate into greater consumer spending in 2013.

The income of American households continued to shift dramatically in 2011, falling sharply for middle-income and working-age people while rising for top earners and seniors, the Census Bureau reported last week. Overall, median household income fell 1.5% to $50,054 last year, the fourth consecutive annual decline after adjusting for inflation, the bureau said. The typical household has lost ground in seven of the past 10 years and now takes in less cash than it did in 1996 when adjusting for inflation. The income for the top 5% of households — those making $186,000 or more — rose 5.3% last year. Big losers: people in their prime earning years. All age groups between 25 and 64 suffered income drops in 2011.

A prominent ratings firm downgraded the U.S. Government’s credit rating from “AA” to “AA-” one day after the Federal Reserve announced it would pump more money into the economy by buying more than $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities per month until the economy improves. Ratings firm Egan-Jones said it cut its credit rating on the U.S. government because it felt the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing “would hurt the U.S. economy and the country’s credit quality” by devaluing the the dollar while doing nothing to “raise the U.S.’s real gross domestic product.”

The United States on Monday filed a broad trade case against  China at the World Trade Organization, alleging unfair subsidies for exports of  cars and auto parts. Hours after news of the American move began to circulate, but before the trade case was actually filed in Beijing, China’s commerce ministry announced in a statement on its Web site that it was filing its own W.T.O. case against the United States, alleging unfairness in how the United States calculates the penalty tariffs in anti-subsidy cases. W.T.O. cases typically take a year and a half before a final decision is reached, and sometimes longer.


Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards arrived in Madrid on Saturday to attend a rally organized by Spain’s two biggest unions to tell Spanish leaders: “Enough is enough.” European nations such as Spain, France, Greece, Italy and others are wrestling with financial woes brought on by reckless spending and lack of economic growth that is causing some nations to fall deeply in debt. New political leaders have turned to austerity programs, which include reductions in spending and public sector jobs, to heal the situation. But the measures have not created a quick turnaround of the economy and unions and the unemployed are getting impatient. As Spain is entering its second recession in five years, they want jobs, benefits and no more concessions.


Missiles fired by Syrian warplanes hit Lebanese territory Monday in one of the most serious cross-border violations since Syria’s crisis began 18 months ago. Four missiles fired by two Syrian jets hit a rugged and remote area on the edge of the Lebanese border town of Arsal. There were no immediate reports of casualties. The Syrian forces were believed to be chasing rebels in the area. Arsal is a predominantly Sunni Muslim town, like the majority of Syria’s opposition that is trying to oust President Bashar Assad, a Shiite, from power.


The U.S.-led NATO military coalition says it is assessing damage to a sprawling British base in southern Afghanistan that was attacked by insurgents, killing two U.S. Marines and wounding several other troops. Sixteen Taliban fighters were also killed. The coalition said in a statement Saturday that the overnight attack focused on Camp Bastion, a huge British base adjacent to Camp Leatherneck which houses U.S. Marine operations in southern Helmand province. Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, was one mile away from the site of the attack and was uninjured.

At least one Afghan police officer turned his gun on NATO troops at a checkpoint in southern Afghanistan before dawn Sunday, killing four international service members before escaping. A man believed to be a member of the Afghan Local Police shot and killed two NATO troops on Saturday. Attackers disguised in U.S. uniforms toted automatic rifles, grenades and suicide vests, NATO said. They killed two Marines and destroyed six jets at the military camp where Prince Harry is based. The rising number of insider attacks is complicating plans to train Afghan forces so that most foreign troops can withdraw from the country by the end of 2014. So far this year, 47 international service members have died at the hands of Afghan soldiers or policemen or insurgents wearing their uniforms.


A roadside bomb killed 15 passengers in a van and wounded 12 others in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border on Sunday. Officials said they did not know who set off the bomb, but such attacks are common in the country’s remote tribal regions, where militants from both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are active. the vehicle was not carrying any tribal elders, militia commanders, or others from the area frequently targeted by militants.


Protests against Japan for its control of disputed islands spread across more than a dozen cities in China and turned violent at times Saturday, with protesters hurling rocks at the Japanese Embassy and clashing with Chinese paramilitary police before order was restored. Thousands of protesters gathered in front of the embassy in Beijing. Hundreds tried to storm a metal police barricade but were pushed back by riot police armed with shields, helmets and batons. A few made it through but were quickly taken away by plainclothes police. Protesters also threw rocks and burned Japanese flags. Protests were more orderly in most other cities, though in the southern city of Changsha protesters smashed a police car made by Mitsubishi, a Japanese brand.


The first major protest against President Vladimir Putin after a summer lull drew tens of thousands of people, determined to show that opposition sentiment remains strong despite Kremlin efforts to muzzle dissent. Leftists, liberals and nationalists mixed with students, teachers, gay activists and others as they marched down Moscow’s tree-lined boulevards chanting “Russia without Putin!” and “We are the power here!” Many wore the white ribbons that have become the symbol of the protest movement. Putin has shown less tolerance for the opposition since his inauguration in May. New repressive laws have been passed to deter people from joining protests, and opposition leaders have been subject to searches and interrogations.


A Norwegian court has upheld a ban on the display of tobacco products in stores, handing a defeat Friday to the Philip Morris company. Norway, which has had a ban on cigarette and alcohol advertising since 1975, in 2010 banned even the display of tobacco products at their point of sale. Shops must keep cigarettes in unmarked cabinets or special vending machines with no visible logos. Customers wishing to buy tobacco must actively ask merchants for it. Philip Morris sued the Norwegian state, arguing that the display ban interfered with the free flow of goods and broke international agreements which Norway has signed.


A volcano has erupted in eastern Indonesia, spewing clouds of thick, gray ash. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. Mount Gamalama in the Molucca Islands sprang to life last week. It unleashed two strong eruptions over the weekend, sending volcanic ash high into the atmosphere. Villages have been blanketed with thick ash but no evacuations have been ordered. Gamalama last erupted late last year, and its mudflows killed four villagers two weeks later.


A strong typhoon lashed Japan and southern South Korea with strong winds and heavy rains Monday, leaving more than 100,000 homes and businesses without power and causing cancellations of many flights and ferries. One South Korean was injured in a landslide and 20 people were left homeless, but there have been no reports of deaths. A Japanese man drowned Sunday while swimming in high waves off the southern Japanese island of Ishigaki. In North Korea, which reported heavy casualties from another powerful typhoon last month, heavy rain is the worry. About 127,500 acres of farmland were flooded, buried or washed away by the previous storm.

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