Signs of the Times (11/30/15)

Abortions Decline to Historic Low

The Centers for Disease Control released its national abortion report last Wednesday and the new figures how the number of abortions in the United States has declined to a historic low. Although approximately 699,000 babies lost their lives in abortions in 2012, the latest year CDC has produced figures for, that represents a decline of about half since the highs of more than 1.5 million in the late 1980s, when the effect of legalizing abortion in 1973 took its full effect. That is a decline from the 730,322 babies who died from abortions in 2011, according to CDC’s report last year. “The abortion rate for 2012 was 13.2 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, and the abortion ratio was 210 abortions per 1,000 live births,” the report indicated. Approximately 1 in 3 pregnancies ended in an abortion in the 1980s.

Politically Incorrect Georgia Welcome Sign Stirs Up Controversy

A sign put up by a sheriff in a small town in Georgia has created quite a stir on social media. The controversial sign reads: Welcome to Harris County, Georgia! WARNING: Harris County is politically incorrect. We say: Merry Christmas, God Bless America and In God We Trust; We salute our troops and our flag. If this offends you… LEAVE ! The Harris County sheriff said he paid for the sign himself. Jolley told WLTZ-TV that he has just as much right to voice his opinions as anyone else under the First Amendment. “I spent 20 years in the Army to give everyone the right not to agree with it and to voice their opinion if they’re not, and that’s fine.”

U.S. Issues Worldwide Travel Alert

The United States issued a worldwide travel alert for Americans amid concerns that terror groups and individuals plan more attacks after the Paris massacres. The State Department warned that groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram “continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions.” It also warned of the possibility of individuals carrying out their own attacks. “These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics, using conventional and non-conventional weapons and targeting both official and private interests,” the department said in issuing a travel alert that expires on February 24, 2016. The alert does not instruct Americans to avoid travel, but it does urge U.S. citizens to “exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation.”

German Officials Warn of Homegrown Islamists Radicalizing Refugees

German authorities are growing increasingly concerned that newly arrived refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East are being recruited by radical Islamists once they arrive in the country. The Wall Street Journal, citing interviews with security officials from across Germany, reports that an increasing number of refugees are attending services at mosques that investigators believe attract extremists. The report brings into focus a different dimension to the possible security risk posed by asylum-seekers who have flooded into Western Europe for months. Some of the ISIS terrorists who killed 130 people in Paris earlier this month posed as refugees from Syria’s civil war to slip into Europe and meet their co-conspirators.

FBI Tracking 48 High-Risk ISIS Suspects

With as many as 1,000 active cases, Fox News reports that at least 48 ISIS suspects are considered so high risk that the FBI is using its elite tracking squads known as the mobile surveillance teams or MST to track them domestically. “The FBI together with law enforcement agencies across the country are engaged in this. It takes enormous amount of manpower to do this on a 24-7 basis. It takes enormous amount of money to do this,” said Republican Sen. Dan Coats who sits on the Select Committee on Intelligence. With at least a dozen agents assigned to each case, providing 24/7 coverage, this high level of surveillance reflects the severe risk associated with suspects most likely to attempt copycat attacks after Paris.

Turkey Downs Russian Warplane

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey will have “tragic consequences” for ties between the two countries. Turkey said Tuesday that it shot down a Russian warplane after it ventured into Turkish airspace but Russia’s defense ministry said the aircraft remained within Syria. Putin said the plane, a Su-24 attack aircraft, was downed by an air-to-air missile launched from a Turkish F-16 fighter jet. The Russian aircraft posed no threat to Turkey, Putin said. The incident is being investigated and comes amid tense relations between Turkey, Moscow and the West over the conflict in Syria. Russia ramped up the threat of a military confrontation between Turkey and Moscow Wednesday by announcing that a state-of-the-art air defense missile system will be deployed at a Russian air base in Syria and that all its bombers will now be escorted by fighter jets on their missions. The Kremlin issued economic sanctions against Turkey on Saturday brushing off a fence-mending bid by Turkey’s president who expressed regret over the incident.

Planned Parenthood Attack Leaves Three Dead, Nine Injured

An alleged shooter remains in custody Saturday, a day after he barricaded himself inside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., and went on a shooting spree. The suspect, Robert Lewis Dear, was arrested Friday night, hours after a shooting at the clinic killed one police officer and two civilians, officials said. The dead officer was identified as 44-year-old Garrett Swasey of the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs police department; he had been assisting Colorado Springs police in the incident. The names of the two civilians have not yet been released. Nine other people, including five officers, also were injured in the shooting. Robert Lewis Dear, the alleged gunman, was described as an odd and aggressive individual often living on the fringes of society, according to the USA Today. Dear, 57, had moved from a North Carolina shack to a Colorado camper, leaving a trail of run-ins with police and neighbors. Dear told authorities that he has anti-abortion and anti-government views. Operation Rescue, the Christian Defense Coalition and many other pro-life groups have denounced the violence.

Hundreds Protest as Chicago Releases Video of Cop Shooting Teen

Hundreds of protesters chanting “16 shots” wove their way through downtown streets Tuesday night after the city released a dramatic video showing a white police officer firing a fatal barrage of 16 bullets at a black teenager. Police and elected officials are bracing for more possible backlash and strong public reaction, even after the officer was charged with first-degree murder. The video went viral on social media. The announcement of the charges against Officer Jason Van Dyke come as the city faced a court-ordered Wednesday deadline to release video from a squad car dashcam of the Oct. 20, 2014 incident.

Americans Say Racism on the Rise

In a new nationwide poll conducted by CNN and the Kaiser Family Foundation, roughly half of Americans — 49% — say racism is “a big problem” in society today. The figure marks a significant shift from four years ago, when over a quarter described racism that way. The percentage is also higher now than it was two decades ago. But is racism actually on the rise in the United States? Or, has our awareness changed? Or is it a problem that’s been blown out of proportion? No one knows for sure, but this much is clear: Across the board, in every demographic group surveyed, there are increasing percentages of people who say racism is a big problem.

Half of Obamacare Co-Ops Failing

The fate of a network of alternative “co-op” health plans started under ObamaCare remains uncertain going into 2016, after half of them collapsed amid deep financial problems. The co-ops are government-backed, nonprofit health insurers propped up with over $2 billion in taxpayer loans. Twelve of the 23 co-ops established under the Affordable Care Act, though, have gone or are expected to go under by the end of the year, leaving customers who used them scrambling for coverage and taxpayer money at risk. Kevin Counihan, insurance marketplace CEO at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, described the co-op failures and other changes as simply “inevitable” in the health care industry. “This was a fairly risky exercise to begin with,” Ed Haislmaier, senior research fellow in health policy at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News.

Paris Climate Change Conference Underway

Activists took to the streets around the world as more than 140 world leaders gathered in Paris to discuss how to approach climate change issues. negotiators from 196 countries are seeking to develop an accord reducing man-made emissions to limit rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather. Held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, the conference is under extra-high security after the Paris attacks earlier this month. President Barack Obama , among scores of other leaders are in attendance. According to an early draft of a climate-change initiative, governments participating were pledging to double their clean energy research and development spending in the next five years, AP reports. The central goal of the gathering is to forge an agreement that would set the world on a path to ultimately restrict planetary warming to less than two degrees Celsius.

Glass bottles and even candles were thrown at police in the Place de la Republique, after two peaceful demonstrations earlier in the day, according to AP. Police fired tear gas and clashed with demonstrators. According to the Paris police chief, about 100 people were detained. Events took place all around the world on the eve of the Paris talks. People in countries such as Spain, Brazil and the Philippines marched to urge government leaders to halt climate change.

Climate Scientists Dispute Manmade Theory of Global Warming

A group of prominent climate scientists have attacked liberals’ alarmist view of global warming. The Daily Caller reported. The scientists slammed policies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as “nonsense,” and they criticized politicians and activists for claiming the world was on the path for catastrophic global warming. “The most important thing to keep in mind is — when you ask ‘is it warming, is it cooling’, etc. — is that we are talking about something tiny (temperature changes) and that is the crucial point,” Dr. Richard Lindzen, a veteran climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Policies to slow CO2 emissions are really based on nonsense,” Dr. Will Happer, a physicist at Princeton University, said during the panel Thursday hosted by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. “They are all based on computer models that do not work. We are being led down a false path,” Happer argued. The earth goes through climate cycles in the same way that it goes through seasons. The fact that the climate changes is nothing new, the scientists say.

Bill Gates Launches Multi-Billion Dollar Clean Energy Fund

Bill Gates has pulled together a multinational band of investors to put billions into clean energy. The Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist announced his latest endeavor, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, at the climate change summit in Paris alongside President Obama and French President Francois Hollande. “We need to bring the cost premium for being clean down,” Gates said Monday in an interview with CNN’s New Day. “You need innovation so that the cost of clean is lower than the coal based energy generation.” Lowering the cost of clean energy to make it competitive with fossil fuels is the best way to get poor countries to make the switch without sacrificing economic growth, Gates said.

NSA Ends Bulk Phone Data Collection

The National Security Agency is ceasing its bulk collection of telephone metadata starting this week. The government will move to a more “focused and targeted” approach in gathering intelligence, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement. The shift comes more than two years after details about the program were leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. President Barack Obama in June signed a reform measure that took away the National Security Agency’s authority to collect in bulk the phone records of millions of Americans. The USA Freedom Act requires the government to obtain a targeted warrant or court order to collect phone metadata from telecommunications companies. The government accessed times calls were logged, to what number and their duration – their metadata, but not content.

Millennials’ New American Dream

Millennials are no longer looking at home ownership as the American dream, and this generation’s changing desires are affecting how younger people live, work, and consume in the free market. Millennials are far more interested in renting apartments and living in urban areas compared to previous generations. They rent property for practical reasons. The difficulty millennials have experienced recently in the U.S. job market is compounded by crippling student debt and a housing market that still caters to families with children. Many millennials are waiting until their mid-30s before considering the possibility of having children. Because of the high costs associated with mortgages and lack of funds for a down payment, many millennials opt to rent homes. Renting a home is often less expensive than a mortgage, largely because of the high maintenance costs associated with home ownership, and many students would much rather pay off student loan debt than pay for a mortgage. The student debt crisis has become such an important part of the millennial experience, paying off student loans has now become the new American dream.

Economic News

Many shoppers said “no, thanks” to wild crowds over the holiday weekend as more people opted to shop online than in stores, initial data show. As retailers seamlessly transitioned from Black Friday deals to Cyber Monday deals as early as Saturday, they were riding the tailwind of a shopping weekend that found more than 103 million people say they had or planned to shop online Thursday through Sunday. That’s compared to nearly 102 million people who shopped in stores during the four-day period.

The economy grew by 2.1% between July and September, according to the Commerce Department. That’s better than its initial estimate of 1.5%. The report comes just weeks after the best report on jobs growth of the year in October. However, U.S. retail sales were only up 1.7% in October, creating uncertainty about whether the economy is slowing down or not.

Everyone in the energy industry is suffering as crude oil prices have slumped. But some oil producing countries are hurting more than others. In the United Kingdom, it costs $52.50 to produce a barrel of oil — which is trading right now around $42. Oil production in Brazil costs nearly $49 per barrel. Production costs around $41 a barrel in Canada. In the U.S., production costs are $36 a barrel — still below the trading price, reports CNN.

Over the six months through September, more than $110 billion of auto loans have been originated to borrowers with credit scores below 660, the bottom cutoff for having a credit score generally considered “good,” according to a report Thursday from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Of that sum, about $70 billion went to borrowers with credit scores below 620, scores that are considered “bad.” The amount of super-low-quality auto lending is now surpassing the totals of dubious lending that peaked in 2006.

  • Another debt bubble building up and getting ready to explode

Environment

A wave of toxic mud has reached the Atlantic Ocean after escaping a collapsed dam and traveling the length of the Rio Doce river in Brazil. Concerns of severe pollution have arisen. The waste took a 310-mile path down the river after the iron mine dam collapsed two weeks ago. The toxic brew was found to contain substances like mercury, arsenic, chromium, and manganese at high levels that exceed human consumption. Samarco, the owner of the mine, made attempts to protect plants and animals by placing barriers along the banks of the river. Samarco has insisted the sludge is harmless, an obvious lie.

Islamic State

Russian President Vladimir Putin told French President Francois Hollande on Thursday that he is willing to work more closely with the U.S.-led coalition that is battling the Islamic State in Syria. The diplomatic development came as Hollande traveled to Moscow as part of a week-long effort to bolster support for the fight against the militant group responsible for the Paris attacks that killed 130 people on Nov. 13. Hollande also visited the White House Tuesday to press for a stronger coalition to combat the terrorist group, which says it carried out the attacks in Paris that killed at least 130. President Obama has pledged to amplify U.S. strategy, which stresses airstrikes and training local forces to carry out the fight in Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Iraq, rather than sending in American ground troops.

France

Nearly 1,000 people have been denied entry into France since the deadly terror attacks in Paris earlier this month, the country’s interior minister said Saturday. Tight border controls, additional border checks and more surveillance went into effect with a state of emergency declared immediately following the Nov. 13 attacks that left 130 dead at a concert hall, stadium and multiple restaurants and cafes in the French capital. The state of emergency was extended for three months by the nation’s legislature last week. “Since we brought back border controls, nearly 1,000 people have been denied entry to the national territory because of the risk they represented,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a speech in Strasbourg, AFP and Reuters reported.

Saudi Arabia

More than 900 women are campaigning for public office in Saudi Arabia — a first in the kingdom’s history. The December 12 municipal election will be the first opportunity for Saudi women to vote or run for office since a 2011 order by the now deceased King Abdullah that granted women some opportunities for political participation in the ultra-conservative Sunni kingdom. Women will only participate in elections at the municipal level. Just three months ago, Saudi women were allowed to register to vote for the first time.

Iran

The nuclear deal signed between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 Powers in July is not legally binding and Iran did not even sign it, as President Barack Obama did not require them to so, a State Department official conceded in a letter to Congressman Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), the National Review reported last week. “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document,” wrote Julia Frifield, the State Department assistant secretary for legislative affairs, in the November 19 letter that was obtained by the National Review. Meanwhile, Iran is reducing its nuclear activities under the deal, but a senior UN official says he cannot guarantee that everything it is doing is peaceful. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano says he is “not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran,” and thus cannot conclude that “all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

Four months after a historic accord with Tehran to limit its atomic ambitions, American officials and private security groups say they see a surge in sophisticated computer espionage by Iran, culminating in a series of cyberattacks against State Department officials over the past month. The surge has led American officials to a stark conclusion: For Iran, cyberespionage – with the power it gives the Iranians to jab at the United States and its neighbors without provoking a military response – is becoming a tool to seek the kind of influence that some hard-liners in Iran may have hoped its nuclear program would eventually provide. Over the past month, Iranian hackers identified individual State Department officials who focus on Iran and the Middle East, and broke into their email and social media accounts, according to diplomatic and law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation. The State Department became aware of the compromises only after Facebook told the victims that state-sponsored hackers had compromised their accounts.

Mali

A mortar attack on a United Nations base in northern Mali early Saturday left at least three people dead, including two peacekeepers, U.N. officials said. Another 20 people were injured in the attack, which happened around 4 a.m. local time when rockets were fired at the base. At least four of the wounded had serious injuries. A contractor was also killed. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which came just eight days after 20 people were killed in an extremist attack on a luxury hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako. Three Islamist groups, including two affiliated with al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the hotel assault.

Nigeria

At least 21 people were killed and dozens more were injured Friday in a suicide attack targeting a symbolic Shiite Muslim march passing through a village in northern Nigeria’s Kano state. The bomber detonated his explosives after running into the crowd in the village of Dakasoye. The march is an annual ritual observed by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a major Muslim group based in northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria is largely Sunni-dominated but there is growing number of Shiites, most of whom were converted from the Sunni branch. The Islamist terror group Boko Haram has frequently conducted attacks throughout Kano state.

Ukraine

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated further on Wednesday as Ukraine decided to stop buying Russian natural gas — hoping to rely on supplies from other countries — and closed its airspace to its eastern neighbor. Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and its support for separatist rebels in the east brought relations between the two countries to a post-Soviet low. The fighting between Russia-backed rebels and government forces in eastern Ukraine killed more than 8,000 people and left parts of Ukraine’s industrial heartland in ruins. Ukraine still has no access to the territories under rebel control as well as hundreds of kilometers of the Ukrainian border with Russia.

Earthquakes

A major 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck near the Peru-Brazil border Tuesday night. The deep tremor shook a sparsely populated area near Iberia, Peru. Reports of damage or injuries were not readily available. A 5.9-magnitude aftershock was reported just five minutes after the initial quake.

A magnitude-4.5 earthquake shook portions of northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas just days after Oklahoma’s strongest earthquake of 2015 hit the same area. The latest quake struck just before 4 a.m. local time to the south of the Kansas/Oklahoma border. The earthquake was shallow, 5 kilometers deep, causing social media to light up with many reports of people feeling the tremor. There are no reports of damage or injuries so far.

Weather

Over the past 20 years, 90% of major disasters have been caused by weather, and the United States was the hardest-hit country, according to a new U.N. report. Worldwide, there have been 6,457 recorded floods, storms, heat waves, droughts and other weather-related events since 1995. More than 600,000 lives have been lost and 4.1 billion people have been injured, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance as a result of those disasters. Economic losses – including earthquakes and tsunamis – are between $250 billion and $300 billion annually, the report estimated. The five countries with the highest number of disasters are the U.S., China, India, the Philippines and Indonesia. On average, there were 335 weather-related disasters worldwide each year between 2005 and 2014, an increase of 14% from the 1995 to 2004 period, and almost twice the level recorded between 1985 and 1995. Nearly half (47%) of all disasters were floods, which affected 2.3 billion people and killed 157,000. But they weren’t the deadliest — storms were, resulting in 242,000 deaths, or 40% of all weather-related deaths. Almost 90% of these deaths occurred in lower-income countries.

A deadly storm that has caused flooding and coated parts of the southern Plains in ice during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend dumped more rain on already swollen rivers in parts of North Texas and Arkansas on Sunday and made driving dangerous in parts of Oklahoma. The band of storms that has been moving through parts of the Plains and the Midwest since Thursday has been blamed for at least 14 deaths, including eight in Texas and six in Kansas.

A developing storm is expected to dump heavy snow on parts of the Northern Plains early this week, the National Weather Service said. Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for all 77 counties due to the wintry weather tormenting Oklahoma. About 100,000 homes still didn’t have power Sunday as a result of freezing rain, ice and sleet that began Thursday.

Winter Storm Delphi will continue to dump snow, possibly heavy at times, along with some sleet and freezing rain from the Plains into the Upper Midwest through Tuesday. As of Monday morning, the National Weather Service had posted winter storm warnings in parts of five states, including central Kansas, eastern Nebraska, eastern South Dakota, southwest/south-central Minnesota and the northwestern half of Iowa.

Tropical Storm Sandra became the eighteenth named storm of the 2015 eastern Pacific hurricane season early Tuesday morning. Not only is Sandra one of the latest named storms on record, but it’s also expected to become an exceptionally rare late-season hurricane, and, while weakening, may limp ashore in Mexico this weekend.

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