Signs of the Times (8/16/13)

NSA Spying Broke Privacy Rules Many Times

The National Security Agency broke privacy rules or overstepped its legal bounds thousands of times each year since Congress granted it broad new powers in 2008, according to news reports published Thursday night. An internal audit of the agency based in suburban Maryland turned up almost 2,800 illegal incidents within a year, according to a report by The Washington Post. The majority of the incidents involve unauthorized spying on Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States. The report was based on documents provided earlier this summer to the Post by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor wanted by the United States for leaking secrets regarding NSA intelligence gathering. “We’re a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line,” a senior NSA official said.

  • Humans are flawed beings in a world of good and evil. Thus any system or program can and will be used in mistaken and nefarious ways. All the more reason to limit government’s reach.

Al-Qaeda Has Grown Much More Powerful Under Obama Administration

Al-Qaeda has successfully evolved into a franchise organization under the overall leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri, making the terrorist organization even more dangerous and more difficult to track, according to intelligence experts as reported at Since the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, al-Qaeda has decentralized its hierarchical cell structure and improved financing methods, attack approaches and communication techniques to counter new intelligence efforts. The group is responsible for four times as many terrorist attacks today as it was before the Sept.11, 2001, attacks. Al-Qaeda is still aiming to establish an Islamic caliphate, and is establishing training camps around the world toward that end.

Georgia Bans Abortions Funded by Employee Insurance Policies

Georgia taxpayers will no longer pay for some abortions. The state Department of Community Health (DCH) on Thursday voted to restrict employee insurance policies from paying for abortions. The change is scheduled to take effect in January. Under the current plan, 75 percent of abortion coverage is funded by tax dollars. Gov. Nathan Deal said “Today’s vote by the Department of Community Health Board shows our state’s commitment to reducing the number of abortions in our state by ensuring that state taxpayers aren’t paying for a procedure that many find morally objectionable.” In Georgia alone, state employees got 366 surgical abortions and 47 medical abortions in 2011. This cost nearly $223,000 — most of which involved taxpayer funds.

California Court Denies Bid to Revive Gay Marriage Ban

Those trying to reinstitute Proposition 8 — the voter-backed referendum to ban gay marriage in California — lost once again in court on Wednesday, meaning no stop to such legal unions that resumed a few weeks ago. One appeal was brought by, the group that’s led legal efforts defending what’s known as Prop 8, and the other came from a San Diego County clerk who’d argued the state had put him in an “untenable position” by compelling him to sign off on marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples. Fifty-two percent of voters backed Proposition 8 to halt gay and lesbian marriages.

26% of U.S. Women Still Choose Not to Work

Sixty years ago, American women began heading off to the workplace in droves. But in the last couple of decades, that trend has completely stalled out. In 1950, only 37% of women ages 25-54 participated in the labor force — meaning they had a job or were looking for one. The number rose rapidly, climbing to 74% by 1990. But then the trend stopped. Today, still only 74% of women are active in the U.S. workforce, little changed in the last 25 years. As of last year, America ranked 27th out of 37 developed countries for women’s labor force participation. The United States remains the only major industrialized country in the world that doesn’t mandate some sort of paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, entitles workers to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but only applies to about 58% of American workers.

  • The New World Order folks would rather have all women working, leaving child-rearing (indoctrination) up to the government

More Women Finding Jobs in Tech Sector

Even with advances, a gender gap still exists. An executive summary prepared for Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce notes that women represent 23% of the workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics professions. But women make up 48% of workers in all occupations across the board. Men out-earn women in the tech industry sectors, $95,900 compared with $87,500 for women. However, the compensation gender gap has narrowed, with average salaries equal for male and female tech pros with comparable levels of experience and education and parallel job titles.

Anti-Fracking Protests Delay U.K. Drilling

Plans for massive protests by anti-fracking campaigners have led a U.K.-based oil and gas exploration company to suspend its drilling in southern England. Cuadrilla has vowed to resume drilling once it is safe, as the company searches for ideal sites to conduct hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. The latest developments illustrate the backlash oil and gas explorers face as they search for suitable fracking sites in a densely populated island nation. Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground at high pressure to crack shale rock and allow oil or gas to flow. The process is currently being used in various locations across the United States and has led to an American shale oil boom. Fracking has been so successful in the U.S. that the International Energy Agency predicts that the nation will overtake Saudi Arabia to become the world’s biggest oil producer before 2020.

Economic News

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits dropped 15,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 320,000, the fewest since October 2007 — a sign of dwindling layoffs and steady if modest job growth. Applications, which reflect layoffs, have fallen 14% this year. That’s a sign that companies are cutting fewer workers. But hiring is still sluggish.

Falling energy prices kept a lid on U.S. wholesale inflation in July after a jump in gasoline boosted prices in June. Wholesale prices showed no change last month compared with June, when they rose 0.8%.Energy costs fell 0.2%, after June’s 2.9% surge. Gasoline prices dropped 0.8%, and natural gas costs slid 3.9%.Excluding volatile food and energy costs, so-called core prices rose just 0.2%. Core wholesale prices are up 1.2% over the past 12 months, the smallest one-year increase since November 2010.

Housing starts trended up in July but not as much as many forecasters expected. Starts rose 5.9% from June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 896,000 from June’s revised figure of 846,000, the Census Bureau said Friday. But single family housing starts were down 2.2% from June, at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 591,000. Builders said attractive lots remain in short supply in many markets given that little land development was done during the housing downturn. In addition, higher interest rates may be affecting buyers,

Foreclosure filings last month — including default notices, auctions and bank repossessions — increased 2% from their 78-month low in June but were still down 32% from a year ago. Foreclosure starts — the beginning of the process — were up 6% from June but 38% lower year over year. While down nationwide, foreclosure starts actually increased from a year ago in 15 states. Year over year, foreclosure starts were up 275% in Maryland, 137% in Oregon, 89% in New Jersey, 37% in Connecticut and 27% in New York.


The longest-ever recession to afflict the Eurozone came to an end in the second quarter of the year, official figures confirmed Wednesday. Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics office, said the 17 European Union countries that use the euro saw their collective economic output grow by 0.3% in the April to June period from the previous quarter. That’s the first quarterly growth since the eurozone slipped into recession in the last three months of 2011. The ensuing recession of six quarters was the longest since the euro currency was launched in 1999.

Persecution Watch

A judge on Tuesday acquitted two men charged with unlawful protest for reading the Bible outside a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office in Hemet, Calif., WORLD reports. Riverside Court Superior Judge Timothy Freer ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Pastor Bret Coronado of Reconciled Christian Fellowship and church elder Mark Mackey needed to obtain a permit before reading the Bible. Police arrested the men more than a year ago after Coronado started reading the Bible out loud to the people standing in line waiting for the DMV to open. A California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer grabbed the Bible from Coronado and handcuffed him, saying he was not allowed to preach to a captive audience. The penal code does not forbid preaching to a captive audience, so the officer claimed they were “obstructing or intimidating those attempting to carry on business.” But that code also did not apply because the men were standing 40 feet from the building on public property and the DMV had not opened yet. When Advocates for Faith and Freedom filed a lawsuit against the CHP for unlawful arrest, the Riverside County district attorney changed the charge again to trespassing on state property: But Advocates for Faith and Freedom attorney Robert Tyler said the men’s actions did not match the definition of a demonstration and also argued that the law violated the First Amendment.

Kashfi and Jalaudin, two Christian brothers, were sentenced to three years in prison on Aug. 2, 2013, after being convicted of “evangelizing Muslims,” Voice of the Martyrs reports. On March 20, 2013, their home was attacked by an angry mob of about 200 Muslims. Police stopped the attack on their home and then arrested the two brothers. The brothers were convicted despite their lawyers’ insistence in court that the trial violated their human rights. Five other families associated with the brothers’ ministry were forced to leave the area for their own safety. Release International has provided support to help these families resettle elsewhere. Kashfi and Jalaudin, along with others in their team, have led more than 100 Muslims to Christ. They plan to appeal their conviction.

Angry Muslims tossed gasoline bombs into a Christian church and four Christian homes in southern Egypt over the weekend, wounding 15 people, CBN News reports. Officials say the incident began Sunday, when two families started fighting after a Muslim tried to stop a Christian neighbor from building a speed bump in front of her home. Tensions between Egypt’s Muslim and Christian communities have been high ever since Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was ousted from power last month.

Egypt’s Christian minority was attacked by Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi across the country on Wednesday with several churches and Christian owned homes and businesses being burnt and dozens of individuals assaulted. “These attacks on the Copts is unprecedented in the modern era,” Bishop Anba Suriel, the bishop for the Coptic Orthodox Church in Melbourne, wrote on Twitter. Attackers appeared to be indiscriminatory in their attacks, targeting Christian facilities as diverse as the Bible Society’s modest shop in Cairo to the Virgin Mary church in Minya, which was built in the 4th century AD.

Middle East

Israel’s Red Sea resort city of Eilat, which has been the focused of an increased alert by the IDF in recent weeks, was targeted by two terrorist rockets overnight Monday. Both rockets were intercepted by IDF Iron Dome air defense batteries. A jihadist group calling itself Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the attacks, declaring in a statement that “this was a response to the latest crimes by the Jews, who used a drone to attack and kill four of our fighters in Sinai.

At least 22 people were killed and hundreds injured when a car bomb rocked a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon’s capital. The bomb Thursday was in an area known as a stronghold of the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, the Lebanese Army said. At least 228 others were injured. After the blast, a YouTube video surfaced in which three masked men holding weapons claimed they are part of a group responsible for the attack. They stood before a large Arabic sign containing the Islamic creed, “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah.” In its YouTube post, the group called Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah a “pig” and said he works on behalf of Iran and Israel.


Over 600 people were killed in clashes across the country that erupted Wednesday when Egyptian security forces cleared out thousands of people at sit-ins demanding the return of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. Health Ministry spokesman Khaled el-Khateeb put the number of the injured on Wednesday at 3,717. It was by far the deadliest day since the 2011 popular uprising that toppled longtime ruler and autocrat Hosni Mubarak — a grim milestone that does not bode well for the future of a nation roiled in turmoil and divisions for the past 2 ½ years. In Cairo, smoke spread across the sky from fires smoldering in the streets where two sit-ins were largely abandoned, heaped with charred tent poles and tarps.

Clashes erupted Friday between security forces and protesters as tens of thousands of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood took to streets in defiance of a military-imposed state of emergency and despite the death of more than 600 people from two days of violence. The protesters poured out of mosques after traditional mid-day prayers, responding to the Muslim Brotherhood’s call for a “Day of Rage” to demonstrate against the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi in July. Armored military vehicles sealed off main squares in the Egyptian capital and troops with machine guns stood at the ready on key junctions.


A wave of car bombs in the Iraqi capital on Thursday killed 31 people and wounded dozens, the latest attacks in a months-long surge in violence. More than 3,000 people have been killed in violence during the past few months, raising fears Iraq could see a new round of widespread sectarian bloodshed similar to that which brought the country to the edge of civil war in 2006 and 2007. There was no claim of responsibility for Thursday’s bombings, but Sunni extremists such as al-Qaeda’s Iraq arm that seeks to undermine the Shiite-led government are usually behind attacks targeting civilians. Iraqi forces have imposed tight security measures in and around the capital since two brazen jailbreaks in July, but so far these measures have failed to stop the attacks.


Al-Qaeda militants have killed three Yemeni soldiers in the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula in what the military said Tuesday was an attempt to capture the provincial capital city of Hawtah in Lahj province. The battle there between militants and the army killed three soldiers, one of them by sniper fire. Four others were wounded. The U.S. considers the local al-Qaeda branch, also known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to be the world’s most active.


Westerners hoping Iran’s new president will help lead Tehran in a more moderate direction won’t find much support in the cabinet Hasan Rowhani has assembled. Rowhani’s 18-member, all-male, all-Shiite Muslim panel of close advisers includes hard-line holdovers, infamous former intelligence officers and one former justice minister known for ordering mass executions of political prisoners. The picks belie Rowhani’s claims during the election that he would be more moderate than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. ‘His cabinet reflects who he is,’ said Mark Wallace, chief executive officer of United Against Nuclear Iran. ‘He is a savvy political operator who uses the balancing of a variety of different forces to maintain the status quo.’


Strong earthquakes shook central New Zealand on Friday, damaging homes and roads and sending office workers scrambling for cover in the capital. No serious injuries were reported. A magnitude-6.5 temblor struck just after 2:30 p.m. near the small South Island town of Seddon, with at least six aftershocks of 5.0 magnitude or stronger. Several homes near the epicenter were severely damaged, with chimneys collapsing and roofs caving in. A bridge was severely damaged on the main highway near Seddon, with rocks and debris fallen onto the road.


A lightning-sparked wildfire fanned by high winds has destroyed at least a dozen homes as it threatens hundreds of others near a Utah resort town where firefighters prepared to battle the blaze for a second day Wednesday. The fire burning near Park City had destroyed the homes in a subdivision about 10 miles northeast of town and burned at least 15 other structures such as vehicles, sheds and boats. The fire has grown to 4,000 acres, or more than 6 square miles. It is 5 percent contained. In west-central Utah’s Skull Valley, more than 20 structures were threatened by the Patch Springs Fire that covered some 16 square miles. No evacuations had been ordered

The blaze was among several others in the West, where fires have devoured dry grass and brush and burned to the edges of small communities in several states. In about a dozen Western states, crews were actively fighting fires where drought has dried out landscapes and contributed to extreme fire behavior. Nationwide, there were 35 large (over 100 acres) active wildfires burning Tuesday.


Downtown Los Angeles finally reached the 80s on August 13, ending the longest non-80s streak to start August on record, according to the National Weather Service. The surprisingly cool weather over the past two to three weeks prompted complaints from beachgoers in Southern California. Daytime highs at the beach have been stuck in the low 70s, coupled with morning fog and patchy drizzle. Global warming seems to have forgotten about L.A.


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