Archive for December, 2015

Signs of the Times (12/29/15)

December 29, 2015

With ISIS Rising in Europe, Queen Elizabeth Boldly Declares Faith in Christ

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth focused on what she called the light of the Christian faith in her annual Christmas message on Friday, after a year marked by militant Islamist attacks across the world. Elizabeth, 89, the head of the Church of England, quoted the Bible and spoke of millions of people lighting candles of hope. “It is true,” she said, “that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services: ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.'” She reminded her audience that Christianity’s unchanging message “was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another.” She added: “There’s an old saying that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Department of Education Says Britain is a Christian Country

British schools will not be required to teach atheist worldviews on par with Christianity, according to an order from the Department of Education. Christian Today reports that the order declares Christianity to be the primary religion in England and asserts that it should be prioritized over atheist views such as humanism in the classroom. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said, “This government is determined to protect schools’ freedom to set their own religious studies curriculum, in line with the wishes of parents and the local community. The guidance I have issued today makes absolutely clear that the recent judicial review will have no impact on what is currently being taught in religious education.”

  • If only the U.S. schools would education system would similarly stand up against the activist judicial system in the U.S. that is forcing its secular humanist agenda upon our children in public schools

Massachusetts Court Tells Catholic School It Must Hire Homosexuals

The Fontbonne Academy, a Catholic Girls Preparatory School, has just earned a place in American history. This past week a Massachusetts court decided that religious institutions like Fontbonne had no right to “discriminate” against homosexuals by choosing not to hire them. The court said that the religious freedom of those attending the Fontbonne Academy was not as important as the “right” of a homosexual to work for the school. The court found that there is “minimal risk” that hiring homosexuals would “significantly and seriously burden [Fontbonne’s] expression” of its faith.

  • Think the government will force Muslim mosques and organizations to hire homosexuals? Of course not. The war is only against Christianity and the One True God.

Planned Parenthood Killed 323,999 Babies in 2014

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America abortion business released its annual report today covering its activities for 2014 and the abortion company indicated it killed 323,999 babies in abortions. Meanwhile, while the abortion corporation, which bills itself as a health care provider, actually delivered health care to fewer patients in 2014 than the year before. The newest annual report shows the number of abortions done at Planned Parenthood centers fell from 327,653 in 2013, but lifenews.com says the numbers still make Planned Parenthood the largest abortion business in the nation, by far. The 2,500,000 patients Planned Parenthood saw in 2014 is the lowest annual number reported by Planned Parenthood since 1998.

Terrorists are Winning says CNN Poll

More Americans say that terrorists are winning the war against the United States than they have at any point since the 9/11 attacks, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. The public is broadly unhappy with the nation’s progress against terrorism, with nearly three-quarters of Americans saying they are not satisfied with how the war on terror is proceeding. That figure, following terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, this fall, is well above the previous high of 61% who said they were dissatisfied in August 2007. Dissatisfaction with the war on terrorism crosses party lines, with even a majority of Democrats, 59%, expressing frustration with how the Obama White House is responding to terrorism. Seventy-nine percent of independents and 86% of Republicans also say they are dissatisfied with how the war on terror has fared.

Belgium Arrests Two Terrorists for New Year’s Eve Plot

Belgian police detained two people Tuesday on suspicion of planning attacks in Brussels on New Year’s Eve. The nation’s federal prosecutor’s office said an investigation uncovered “the threat of serious attacks that would target several emblematic places in Brussels and be committed during the end-of-year holidays.” While police seized military clothing and propaganda materials from the Islamic State group, no weapons or explosives were found, the prosecutor’s office said. Six people were taken in for questioning, but four were later released without charge. The prosecutor’s office said the probe was not connected to the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more. Several of the perpetrators of that incident, including presumed ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud and fugitive suspect Salah Abdeslam, had connections to Belgium.

More Terror Warnings

An unnamed “friendly” intelligence service has warned several European cities of possible terror attacks, according to a statement released Saturday by police in Vienna, Austria. The attacks would involve explosives or guns and occur sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, according to the statement. The warning included the names of several possible attackers the Vienna police have investigated without finding “concrete further results.” In response to the terror threat warning, Vienna and other police in Europe have heightened the security alert by increasing police observation and surveillance at public venues, especially at key events and high-traffic areas.

As U.S. Focuses on ISIS and the Taliban, Al Qaeda Re-Emerges

Even as the Obama administration scrambles to confront the Islamic State and resurgent Taliban, an old enemy seems to be reappearing in Afghanistan: al Qaeda training camps are sprouting up there, forcing the Pentagon and American intelligence agencies to assess whether they could again become a breeding ground for attacks on the United States, reports the New York Times. Most of the handful of camps are not as big as those that Osama bin Laden built before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The scope of Al Qaeda’s deadly resilience in Afghanistan appears to have caught American and Afghan officials by surprise. Until this fall, American officials had largely focused on targeting the last remaining senior Qaeda leaders hiding along Afghanistan’s rugged, mountainous border with Pakistan. “I do worry about the rebirth of AQ in Afghanistan because of what their target list will be — us,” said Michael Morell, the deputy director of the C.I.A. until two years ago.

First of 17 Detainees to be Released from Gitmo Next Week

The first of 17 detainees scheduled to be released from the Guantanamo Bay prison in January will be transferred next week, as the Obama administration continues to reduce the population at the controversial detention center, a senior U.S. official said Monday. Another three detainees are slated to appear before a review board during January to determine if they can also be considered eligible for transfer to another country, the official added. Defense Secretary Ash Carter notified Congress earlier this month that 17 detainees would be transferred to other countries in January. The 17 are more transfers than Carter has approved all year, and they will reduce the total detainees at Guantanamo to 90, with 31 still eligible for transfer. In the 10 months since Carter took office in February, he transferred 15 detainees out of Guantanamo.

Week of Severe Weather Leaves at least 43 Dead Across 7 States

Blizzard conditions and flash flood warnings hit the already-ravaged residents of the heartland Monday after a string of severe storms left at least 43 people dead across seven states during the previous four days. Hundreds of thousands of people lost power Monday — including more than 120,000 in Oklahoma. Parts of 11 states were under a winter storm warning Monday from a weather system that spawned tornadoes in Texas and flooding in Missouri. At least 24 people were killed after tornadoes barreled through Texas. The Dallas area was ravaged by at least nine tornadoes that killed 11 people Saturday night. Five people died in a flash flood in Illinois, and eight deaths have been confirmed in Missouri. It’s the latest tragedy in what has become a week-long outbreak of severe weather. The storms hit Dallas suburbs Saturday evening, with Garland suffering the most casualties. Forecasters say a tornado that struck Garland, Texas, may have had winds up to 200 mph. In some neighborhoods, the storms ripped facades off houses, leaving gaping holes. Cars that had been in driveways ended up inside homes after the tornado barreled through. The NWS also said damage in nearby Rowlett indicated it was likely an EF3 tornado when it hit the town, with winds up to 165 mph. City officials said 23 people were injured by the storm.

Guinea, where the Ebola Outbreak Began, Declared Free of the Virus

The World Health Organization declared Guinea Ebola-free on Tuesday, an important milestone for the West African nation where the worst outbreak of the deadly virus began two years ago. A country is declared Ebola-free after 42 days — double the 21-day incubation period for the virus — have passed since the last confirmed case. Guinea now enters a 90-day period of “heightened surveillance” to help identify any new cases quickly, the WHO said in a statement. More than 2,500 people have died from Ebola in Guinea since late December 2013. The virus later spread to neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia. Overall, more than 28,000 people were infected and 11,300 died from the disease in West Africa.

The Wealthy Created a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes, reports the New York Times. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means. Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions, and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.

Working Poor Still Without Health Insurance

As many as five million Americans remain not only poor but also uninsured, despite an array of state and federal policies specifically intended to help them get health care. They are the working poor toil in America’s fast-food restaurants, call centers and retail stores. These people are caught in a health care netherworld. Their employers classify them as part-time workers or independent contractors, therefore avoiding any obligation to provide health care. They reside in one of the 20 states whose governments have not expanded Medicaid to include low-wage earners. And government mandates established a standard for “affordable” coverage that is not affordable at all for these families, according to a USA Today analysis of the Affordable Care Act.

Saudi Arabia’s Economy Crushed by Low Oil Prices

Saudi Arabia’s finances are getting slammed by the crash in oil prices. The government spent way more than it collected in 2015 — leading to a budget deficit of nearly $100 billion. Oil accounts for 75% of Saudi Arabia’s revenue, and when crude prices were sky high, the country enjoyed frequent budget surpluses. Now oil has collapsed below $35 a barrel, compared to over $100 in mid-2014. As a results, cuts are coming: The budget calls for a 14% reduction in budget cuts. The Ministry of Finance confirmed it is “reviewing” a change to government subsidies on energy, water and electricity. The country hopes to boost revenue by introducing a previously-approved VAT tax and by adding fees to “harmful goods” like tobacco and soft drinks.

Economic News

Consumer confidence closed out 2015 on a high note amid solid job growth and falling gas prices. The Conference Board said Tuesday that its index of Americans’ confidence climbed to 96.5 in December from 92.6 the previous month. Regular unleaded gas is cheap, recently dipping below a nationwide average of $2 a gallon, and employers added 211,000 jobs in November after a robust 298,000 gains the previous month. Such developments typically brighten consumer perceptions of the economy and their finances.

U.S. home prices rose 5.2% in October, compared to a year earlier, as the housing market maintained its momentum, according to a key benchmark released Tuesday. Average prices rose in all 20 major markets tracked by the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, reflecting rising consumer confidence in the economy throughout the country. One factor propping up prices is a low number of homes for sale. Lower supply fuels quick sales and a competitive bidding environment. The market has had an average of five months of inventory for the last year or so, a level that indicates a fairly tight market with limited supplies.

The number of companies with the lowest level of credit ratings and negative outlooks jumped to 195 in December, the highest level since March 2010, says Standard & Poor’s. The biggest culprit for the jump in these so-called “weakest links” is the oil and gas sector, which accounts for 34 of them. But financial companies are close behind, representing 33 of the weakest links, says S&P. The U.S. distress ratio – a measure of the amount of risk the market has priced into bonds – hit 20.1% in November, which is the highest level since hitting 23.5% in September 2009 during the last recession, says S&P.

Persecution Watch

Boko Haram militants killed 16 people in Nigeria, including children, in a raid on Christmas Day. According to the Christian Post, the Islamic extremist group raided the Kimba village, located in southern Borno State. The group set houses on fire and kidnapped people. Some members of the village fled to nearby Biu where they were housed in a refugee camp. “Not a single house was spared in the arson,” said Musa Suleiman, a local citizen who is helping the military in their campaign to eradicate Boko Haram.

Fulani Muslims in Nigeria attacked a Christian pastor while he was still in his church; they took also his wife and daughter, and hacked all three of them with a machete, they then tied all three of them with rope and set the entire house on fire. The three of them were burned to ashes in the living room of the pastorate.

Middle East

Attackers wearing Santa suits and gas masks attacked the town of Bethlehem starting on Christmas Eve and continued through the weekend. Palestinians killed at least 20 Israelis and a U.S. citizen during the attacks, according to Christian Today. Angry Muslims also reportedly threw firebombs and rocks at Israeli soldiers near the wall at the West Bank.

Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians on Sunday after an alleged stabbing attack at the Hawara checkpoint in the West Bank, according to various news reports. The incident took place at a gas station near the Hawara checkpoint, south of the city of Nablus. The two men approached a group of Israeli soldiers and began stabbing one of the soldiers in the face. news organization reported. The Israeli troops shot at the alleged assailants, killing them, and also wounded a soldier who was caught in the crossfire. Earlier Sunday, an assailant stabbed a soldier near Jerusalem’s central city bus station. The assailant was taken into police custody. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the Palestinian Authority for the attacks which, he said, “encourages and incites” them, leading to numerous stabbing attacks over the past couple of months.

Islamic State

Iraqi government forces retook central parts of the key city of Ramadi on Monday from Islamic State militants, the military said. The operation’s success was subsequently confirmed by the Pentagon. While the Iraqi military declared the city had been “fully liberated,” Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar Province, clarified that parts of the city remained under Islamic State. Iraq’s government has been trying to recapture the city for weeks. It fell to the Islamic State in May. ISIS leader Charaffe al Mouadan, who coalition says had direct contact with ringleader of Paris attacks, was killed in airstrike in Syria Tuesday.

The Islamic State group on Saturday released a new message purportedly from its reclusive leader, claiming that his self-styled “caliphate” is doing well despite an unprecedented alliance against it and criticizing the recently announced Saudi-led Islamic military coalition against terrorism. In the 24-minute audio, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said airstrikes by the international coalition only increase his group’s determination and resolve. The message was al-Baghdadi’s first since May, and comes amid battlefield setbacks that IS has recently faced. Meanwhile, a U.S.-backed coalition of rebels in Syria — including Syrian Kurdish, Arab and Christian groups — captured a major dam on the Euphrates River from the Islamic State group as part of the coalition’s march on IS-held areas in northern Syria. Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition and Russia in Syria have also destroyed Syrian oil facilities and killed several IS leaders in recent weeks.

Afghanistan

Top Afghan and American officials have begun to voice increasingly grim assessments of the resurgent Taliban threat, most notably in a previously undisclosed transcript of a late-October meeting of the Afghan National Security Council. We have not met the people’s expectations. We haven’t delivered,” Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive, told the high-level gathering. “Our forces lack discipline. We haven’t taken care of our own policemen and soldiers. They continue to absorb enormous casualties.” With control of — or a significant presence in — roughly 30 percent of districts across the nation, according to Western and Afghan officials, the Taliban now holds more territory than in any year since 2001, when the puritanical Islamists were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks. For now, the top American and Afghan priority is preventing Helmand, largely secured by U.S. Marines and British forces in 2012, from again falling to the insurgency.

Philippines

According to the Christian Post, conflict between the Islamic rebels and government forces occurred in three separate provinces across the country on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Those killed include nine villagers who were gunned down by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter rebels. Military forces have in turn killed five of the rebels. Those killed include nine villagers who were gunned down by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter rebels. Military forces have in turn killed five of the rebels. A military spokeswoman said that there were as many as 200 Islamic rebels carrying out the attacks.

Iran

A Russian ship left Iran on Monday carrying almost all of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, fulfilling a major step in the nuclear deal struck last summer and, for the first time in nearly a decade, apparently leaving Iran with too little fuel to manufacture a nuclear weapon. The shipment was announced by Secretary of State John Kerry and confirmed by a spokesman for Russia’s civilian nuclear company, Mr. Kerry, in a statement, said the ship, which Russian officials said was the Mikhail Dudin, carried 25,000 pounds of nuclear material. That included, Mr. Kerry said, the fuel that was closest to bomb-grade quality: It had been enriched to 20 percent purity… For face-saving purposes, Iran is calling the uranium shipment part of a ‘fuel swap.’ But the fuel it is receiving, partly from Kazakhstan, is natural uranium, which would require substantial processing to be used for either a nuclear reactor or a weapon. Mr. Kerry’s statement said that with the removal of the fuel, Iran’s ‘breakout time’ – the time needed to produce a weapon – had already moved from two to three months to six to nine months. Before the deal goes into effect, that time is supposed to extend to a full year.”

  • Let’s keep in mind that Russia and Iran (Persia) are end-time allies according to Ezekiel 38. With Russia’s increased belligerency toward the U.S., the risks of some shenanigans here are more than a little.

Vietnam

To win friends and open new markets for Chinese companies, Beijing is offering its Asian neighbors tens of billions of dollars in loans and investment. But in Vietnam, the effort is falling flat. China’s aggressive assertion of its maritime territorial claims has alienated many here, and President Xi Jinping’s grand vision of a new Silk Road with China at its center is greeted with scorn and suspicion rather than excitement, reports the Washington Post. The relationship has turned so bad that Vietnam’s Communist Party is tilting more and more toward an old enemy, the United States. China wants to help its fellow Asian countries build the infrastructure their economies desperately need, under the banner of re-creating ancient Silk Road trade routes and partly channeled through a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Vietnam needs the money but fears a hidden agenda.

China

It’s official. Starting January 1, 2016 China will allow two children for every couple. Chinese lawmakers rubber-stamped the new legislation Sunday during a session of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, which governs the country’s laws. This effectively dismantles the remnants of the country’s infamous one-child policy that had been eased in recent years. “China will fully implement the policy of ‘one couple, two children’ in a proactive response to the issue of an aging population,” the ruling Communist Party said.

Earthquakes

A moderate earthquake shook the Oklahoma City area Tuesday morning, waking residents and knocking out power in a state that was already dealing with an ice storm and severe flooding. The 4.3-magnitude tremor was centered about 5 miles east-northeast of Edmond, Oklahoma, and about 16 miles north-northeast of Oklahoma City. The earthquake occurred at 5:39 a.m. CST Tuesday morning, and a 3.4-magnitude aftershock was reported nearby 10 minutes later. There are no reports of injuries. The City of Edmond said about 4,400 customers lost power immediately after the main temblor.

Weather

As of early Sunday morning, snow and wind gusts over 40 or 50 mph were ongoing in the southern Highs Plains. Winter storm Goliath dumped up to 16 inches of snow on Cloudcroft, New Mexico, where strong winds created drifts to 3 feet and caused numerous power outages as well. Goliath will continue to spread a swath of snow and ice accompanied by strong winds through the Midwest and portions of the Plains Monday. Parts of 10 states are under winter storm warnings from northwest Texas to Michigan.

Days of unrelenting rain have caused at least 10 deaths and led to the evacuations of at least 150,000 people in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil in what officials are calling the worst flooding event in the area in 50 years. El Nino rain led to the swelling of three major rivers, the Paraguay river, the Uruguay river, and the Quarai river. ‘Unprecedented’ flooding is also soaking the United Kingdom. Thousands are without power and hundreds of people have been evacuated in England, Scotland, Wales. Flood warnings remain in effect Monday as residents deal with the aftermath of weeks of persistent rainfall.

Signs of the Times (12/26/15)

December 26, 2015

81% of All Abortion Clinics Open in 1991 Have Shut Down

The total number abortion clinics in America continues to decline, following a nationwide trend extending back to 1991. In 2015, abortion clinics closed at a rate of more than one per week with 53 abortion clinics shutting down or halting all abortion services, reports lifenews.com. In all, 81 abortion clinics closed or reduced services in 2015. Currently, there are 517 surgical abortion clinics and 213 medication abortion clinics remaining active in the U.S., the lowest numbers in decades. In 1991, which is considered the high water mark for the number of abortion clinics, 2,176 surgical facilities offered abortions. Since then, 81% have closed with new ones failing to make up for the loss. In 2015, 21 new facilities began performing abortions.

Franklin Graham Quits the GOP over Planned Parenthood Funding

Evangelist Franklin Graham has announced he is abandoning the Republican Party in disgust over the move by the GOP-led Congress last week to pass a budget that Graham said was “wasteful” and provided funding for Planned Parenthood, which he compared to the Nazis. The federal government provides $528 million in funding for Planned Parenthood, about 40 percent of the organization’s annual budget. Social conservatives have long fought to strip taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood, and after the release of a series of undercover videos by anti-abortion activists earlier this year, those calls ramped up to a fever pitch. In the wake of that white-hot controversy, there was wide expectation that with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, Congress would eliminate funding for 2016. But the shooting massacre at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic late last month by a lone gunman, Robert Lewis Dear, who proclaimed himself “a warrior for the babies,” seemed to change the calculus. The new budget deal funds Planned Parenthood at previous levels, a development that has enraged many on the religious right, including Graham.

Muslims Protect Christian Passengers in Kenyan Bus Attack

Christian leaders hailed Muslims for their bravery and selflessness Tuesday after they shielded Christians from suspected al-Shabab gunmen who attacked a passenger bus. The gunmen sprayed the bus with bullets Monday, killing two. But when they asked the Muslim passengers to help identify the Christian passengers, they told the militants to kill everyone or leave. The Associated Press reported that Muslims also helped dress non-Muslim passengers in scarfs to try to conceal their identity. Defeated, the militants left hurriedly, according to witnesses. The gesture is uniting Christians and Muslims in Kenya, which lies along the country’s northern border with Somalia. Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of Mombasa congratulated the Muslims for their selfless act of bravery and said. “This is the true meaning of religion.”

Christianity Growing in India Despite Hindu Hostility

Missionaries in northern India say Hindu extremists are increasingly trying to entrap them with trumped-up accusations of forced conversions. But the rise in persecution isn’t dissuading true converts, who are turning to Christ in larger numbers, according to new census data. People have the freedom to change their religion in India, but forced conversions are illegal. Christians are allowed “to profess their faith,” but cannot “convert somebody, coerce somebody, or lure someone to convert,” said Raju Sharma, CAM’s South Asia director. Missionary Kanak Chauhan (not his real name) says people call about once a week trying to goad him into saying something that could get him in trouble with authorities in Chandigarh, where officials are especially hostile toward religious conversions. Christians in the north face violent persecution in an attempt to limit the spread of the gospel. In mid-November, Hindu extremists attacked a Pentecostal congregation during a worship service, beating parishioners with sticks and demanding they return to Hinduism.

A Record 60 People in U.S. Arrested for Terrorism in 2015

The Justice Department has charged at least 60 individuals this year with terrorism-related crimes, an unprecedented number that officials attribute to a heightened threat from the Islamic State and the increasing influence of social media on potential recruits. Last week alone, prosecutors charged three people and convicted two others on terrorism-linked charges. “The common connection we’re seeing is — in almost every case — a tie to social media,” said John P. Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, at a conference last month hosted by the news site Defense One. He also pointed out that many of the cases involve young people, who are at ease building relationships online. More than 55 percent of those charged are under 25 years old. Most troubling, Carlin said, about one-third are 21 or younger. “That’s not the same age demographic that we saw with al-Qaeda,” he said.

Deportations Plummet During Obama’s Second Term

For the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. who stay out of trouble, the chances of being deported are less than 1 percent, according to new figures released by the Department of Homeland Security. The new figures show a dramatic four-year decline in the number of deportations carried out by the Obama administration, from more than 409,000 in 2012 to just 235,000 in fiscal 2015, the fewest deportations since 2006. Obama ha emphasized throughout his two terms that he is focused on deporting “criminal aliens.” Yet the new numbers show criminal alien deportations declined 27 percent from last year, from 86,923 to 63,127 in 2015.

U.S. Plans Raids to Deport Families Who Surged Across Border

The Department of Homeland Security has begun preparing for a series of raids that would target for deportation hundreds of Central American families who have flocked to the United States since the start of last year, reports the Washington Post. The nationwide campaign, to be carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as soon as early January, would be the first large-scale effort to deport families who have fled violence in Central America, those familiar with the plan said. More than 100,000 families with both adults and children have made the journey across the southwest border since last year. The ICE operation would target only adults and children who have already been ordered removed from the United States by an immigration judge. The number of families fleeing Central America has surged again, with the homicide rate in El Salvador reaching its highest level in a generation. people to flee Central America last year has surged again, with the homicide rate in El Salvador reaching its highest level in a generation.

Over 1 Million Refugees Reach Europe in 2015

With just days left in 2015, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday that more than 1 million migrants and refugees have crossed into Europe this year. It marks more than a four-fold increase from last year. The IOM said. More than 455,000 Syrians crossed into Greece from Turkey this year and over 186,000 from Afghanistan. Some 3,695 migrants drowned or remain missing trying to reach Europe.

Corruption Rampant in Africa

Seven out of 10 people in Liberia say they have had to pay bribes to access basic services like healthcare and schooling, according to Transparency International, a global watchdog. In the latest poll — which the NGO conducted with Afrobarometer, an organization which publishes surveys on African governance — 58% of Africans said they thought bribery was increasing. “Corruption creates and increases poverty and exclusion. While corrupt individuals with political power enjoy a lavish life, millions of Africans are deprived of their basic needs like food, health, education, housing, access to clean water and sanitation,” said José Ugaz, chair of Transparency International, in a statement.

Economic News

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week, reflecting a job market that continues to look moderately healthy. The Labor Department says applications for jobless aid declined 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 267,000. Claims have been below the critical threshold of 300,000 for the past 42 weeks, a level that generally points to monthly job gains in excess of 200,000.

Some 12 states alone are expected to increase their minimum wages on January first, including California and Massachusetts, which are going up to $10 an hour. The District of Columbia was the first to exceed the $10 minimum, but several states have incremental plans to raise their wages even further by 2018. Despite unsuccessful attempts to raise the wage at the federal level, many states have acted.

A state budget that was a point of Alaskan pride — and envy from around the nation — lies in tatters as revenue that flowed from selling crude oil from Prudhoe Bay over the past four decades has been swept away. With oil prices down along with oil production, the state is facing an Alaska-size shortfall: two-thirds of the revenue needed to cover this year’s $5.2 billion state budget has dried up. Alaska is the nation’s least-taxed state, where oil royalties and energy taxes once paid for 90% of state functions. Oil money was so plentiful that residents received annual dividend checks from a state savings fund that could total more than $8,000 for a family of four

Persecution Watch

Christmas attacks by Muslim rebels against Christian communities in the Philippine’s volatile south have left at least 14 people dead. The dead included nine Christian villagers gunned down by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter insurgents and at least five rebels killed by government forces in clashes in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and North Cotabato. Around 200 rebels took part in the attacks. The rebels broke off from the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front when the latter entered into peace talks with the government.

Middle East

Israeli authorities said Thursday that three Palestinians were killed after they carried out attacks against Israelis across the West Bank. The three separate incidents were the latest in a three month-long wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence and came as revelers were gathering in the West Bank city of Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations. In the first incident, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the attacker approached the entrance to an industrial zone in the Ariel settlement and stabbed two security guards, wounding them moderately, before they shot and killed the attacker. Shortly afterward, the Israeli military said another Palestinian wielding a screwdriver was shot dead after he tried to stab security forces in the West Bank city of Hebron, a frequent flashpoint for violence. Later, in another incident, the military said a Palestinian was shot and killed after he rammed his car into soldiers, wounded one slightly. Near-daily Palestinian attacks have killed 20 Israelis and an American student. Israeli fire has killed 123 Palestinians.

Islamic State

The Iraqi military is about a mile from the ISIS-held government compound in Ramadi in Iraq’s battle to retake the key city from the terrorist group. “Thousands of improvised explosive devices were planted in the district by Daesh,” said Col. Mohammed Ibrahim said, using another name for ISIS. “Each one needs at least 30 minutes to be dismantled.” Soldiers are moving slowly through Ramadi’s liberated neighborhoods looking for ISIS terrorists amid the IEDs. With the help of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Iraqi forces are continuing a coordinated attack on Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad. ISIS took over Ramadi in May after a year of fighting there, spurring tens of thousands of civilians to flee.

A wave of attacks across Iraq killed at least 15 civilians on Wednesday, government officials said. In the Shiite-majority town of Khalis, about 50 miles north of the Iraqi capital, two explosives-laden cars were detonated. The first car was parked inside a bus station and that explosion killed three and wounded 10. The second car bomb exploded at the town’s outdoor grocery market, killing four civilians and wounding eight. In and around Baghdad, five bombs went off in commercial areas, killing eight civilians and wounding 35. The attacks came a day after Iraqi security forces reported progress in recapturing some areas in Ramadi.

Syria

Russia’s air campaign in Syria has killed hundreds of civilians and caused massive destruction in residential areas, according to a report released Wednesday by Amnesty International. The rights group claims the pattern of attacks “show evidence of violations of international law.” Russia has been engaged in a military campaign in Syria in support of embattled President Bashar al-Assad since September. Moscow says its operation is aimed at defeating “terrorist targets” there, but the United States claims the Russian airstrikes are targeting Syrian opposition forces rather than ISIS, which has taken control of large parts of the country.

An airstrike near the Syrian capital of Damascus on Friday killed one of the most powerful rebel commanders attempting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. The killing of Zahran Allouch, leader of the Saudi-backed Army of Islam, comes a month before peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition are scheduled to begin in Geneva. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an airstrike hit an Army of Islam meeting near the Damascus suburb of Otaya, killing five rebel commanders, including Allouch, as well as eight rebel fighters. It was unclear whether the strike was carried out by the Assad regime or Russia.

France

In France, the West’s biggest supplier of foreign fighters in Syria, the loss of sons, daughters and grandchildren to Islamic State has been a slow-motion tragedy. For some French families, the Paris attacks, while deepening the wedge between militants and the West, were a painful reminder of their ties to the enemy. The French wife of Foued Mohamed-Aggad—who along with two others killed 90 people in Paris’s Bataclan concert hall on Nov. 13—is living in Islamic State territory and ready to give birth soon. “An alarming number of young men and women are leaving France to start a family in Syria,” said Alain Ruffion, director at Unimed, a group that works to prevent the radicalization of residents around the southern French city of Nice. The French government estimates that about 50 children have been taken to Syria since 2012.

Afghanistan

Afghan forces holding out against a Taliban assault on the district of Sangin are reportedly running out of weapons and supplies, and there have been no reinforcements despite pleas for help to the central government in Kabul. Sangin is a key district in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province. December marks one year since NATO handed over security operations to the Afghans. Before that, British and American forces struggled for years to hold on to Sangin. It is strategically important because it links Lashkar Gah, the Helmand capital, to districts in the north. If the Taliban gain control of Sangin, they will control supply routes to the districts.

Iran

Republicans on Monday blasted Secretary of State John Kerry for suggesting in a letter to his Iranian counterpart that the administration could help the country get around new visa restrictions passed by Congress. “Instead of bending over backwards to try to placate the Iranian regime, the White House needs to be holding it accountable for its recent missile tests, its continued support for terrorism, and its wrongful imprisonment of Americans,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said in a statement. At issue are tightened security requirements for America’s visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. without visas. Under changes in the newly signed spending bill, people from those countries who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan in the past five years must now obtain visas to enter the U.S. Top Tehran officials, however, complained the changes violate the terms of the nuclear deal, which says the U.S. and other world powers will refrain from any policy intended to adversely affect normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran. Kerry responded to these concerns in a Dec. 19 letter and suggested the administration could simply bypass the rules for Iran.

  • The arrogance, duplicity and stupidity of the Obama administration is unprecedented

Russia

Russia has bolstered its military and asserted itself on the world stage with a forcefulness not seen since the Cold War, ratcheting up tensions with the West, reports the New York Times. Russia is reinvesting in its bases in the Arctic, building new ones, expanding old ones and deploying personnel to operate them. Analysts say Russia’s efforts in the Arctic are driven in part by climate change, as the country seeks to exploit and defend maritime trade routes as well as oil and natural gas resources in areas made more accessible by melting ice. Russia has made big increases to its military budget, including a jump of nearly $11 billion from 2014 to 2015. Russia has also scheduled mobilizations of more than 100,000 troops and has repeatedly entered or skirted the airspace of other countries, including the United States. In several regions, Russia has exerted its military authority, rattled its rivals, and seeded instability to preserve its influence. Russia’s role in the Syrian war escalated in September 2015 when it started airstrikes to support the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. In early 2014, Russia sent special forces troops into Crimea, when Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president was ousted. Crimea then joined Russia in a referendum that Ukraine and Western leaders consider illegal.

  • Russia will play a significant role in the end-time war against Israel (Ezekiel 38)

Brazil

Brazilian health officials are dishing out some unusual advice these days: Don’t get pregnant. That’s the message for would-be parents, especially in the country’s northeast, after officials linked a mosquito-borne virus called Zika to a surge in newborn microcephaly, a neurological disorder that can result in incomplete brain development. More than 2,400 suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported this year in 20 Brazilian states, compared with 147 cases last year. Doctors are investigating 29 related infant deaths. In Pernambuco state alone, more than 900 cases have been reported. Most of the affected mothers reported having Zika-like symptoms during early pregnancy — mild fever, rash and headaches.

Landslides

Dozens of people are missing and feared dead after a landslide struck a remote jade mining region in northern Myanmar, the second such incident in a month, officials said Saturday. The landslide occurred Friday in Kachin state’s mining community of Hpakant. The steep terrain was complicating search efforts. A Nov. 21 landslide in the same region killed more than 100 people and highlighted the perilous conditions created by a breakneck effort to dig up the world’s richest deposits of jade. Most of the victims in last month’s disaster were itinerant jade pickers and their families who made a living scavenging for scraps of jade in the debris left behind by mining companies. Kachin state is home to some of the world’s highest-quality jade, and the industry generated an estimated $31 billion last year, with most of the wealth going to individuals and companies tied to Myanmar’s former military rulers.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake rattled cities from Afghanistan to India late Friday, injuring dozens as they slept and forcing residents out of their homes. More than 30 people were injured as houses or walls collapsed in the northwestern Pakistan city of Peshawar. The magnitude-6.3 quake was centered near Feyzabad in Afghanistan and struck at 7:15 p.m. local time. The quake was also felt in the Kashmir region. In Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, some residents remained outside their homes despite the chilly winter weather, fearful of aftershocks.

Wildfires

Parts of two of Southern California’s most well-known highways shut down early Saturday due to a wildfire that has burned hundreds of acres and spurred mandatory evacuations. Traffic along U.S. Highway 101 and the Pacific Coast Highway — which run alongside each other on the West Coast — was closed off in Ventura County due to the Solimar Fire. Winds drove flames through drought-stricken vegetation and within striking distance of area beaches. People in the Solimar Beach area have been ordered to leave their homes. Roughly 1,000 acres had been burned as of Saturday.

More than 100 houses were destroyed by a Christmas Day wildfire that tore through a stretch of coastline popular with tourists in southern Australia, forcing thousands to flee their homes, officials said Saturday. Cooler weather and light rain on Saturday eased the immediate threat from the blaze along Victoria state’s scenic Great Ocean Road, but officials warned that it could continue burning for weeks. No one was killed or injured in the fire. Hundreds of firefighters spent Christmas battling the blaze, which was triggered by a lightning strike.

Weather

Unseasonably warm weather helped fuel more storms and floods across the South on Christmas Day. A separate system is forecast to bring snow and ice to the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico and Kansas over the weekend. Drenching rain on Christmas Day led to flash floods across Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi, where residents were still recovering from tornadoes and severe storms that left 14 people dead Wednesday and Thursday. In Birmingham, trees were down and people were trapped inside damaged houses. Several people were taken to hospitals for treatment of minor injuries.

December 2015 is on track to be the warmest December on record at many stations across the Great Lakes, Midwest and Northeast, southward toward the Gulf Coast and Florida. On Thursday, locations such as Burlington, Vermont and Richmond, Virginia not only experienced their warmest Christmas Eve on record, but also all-time record highs for the entire month of December. From 82 degrees in Savannah, Georgia, to 79 in Norfolk, Virginia, to 68 in Philadelphia, to 62 in Portland, Maine, cities up and down the East Coast tied or smashed record high temperatures for Christmas Day. After record warmth dominated much of the East through the majority of December, cooler air will return to the region to wrap up the month.

Because of the warm, moist fall, there is a “full-blown mosquito outbreak” across southeastern Louisiana. As long as the rain continues and cold temperatures remain at bay, it’ll take drastic measures to control the population of these blood-thirsty insects, reports the Weather Channel. This year, the rain keeps falling and water levels keep rising, and that means more baby mosquitoes in Louisiana than they usually see this time of year. What the state, and much of the South, needs at this point is cold, dry weather to end the insect invasion.

Signs of the Times (12/21/15)

December 21, 2015

ACLU Sues Christian Hospitals for Their Refusal to Perform Abortions

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has volunteered to defend Trinity Catholic Hospitals after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Hospitals in October for their refusal to perform abortions. Trinity Health operates 86 facilities in 21 states. The ACLU lawsuit is asking the court to force Trinity Health and its staff to commit abortions regardless of their religious and pro-life objections. ADF already represents the Catholic Medical Association, Christian Medical and Dental Association, American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Concerned Women for America. “Patients should always have the freedom to choose a health care facility that respects life and to choose doctors who do not commit abortions,” stated ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman.

Messianic Group: Vatican is Wrong; Jews do Need Jesus for Salvation

The executive director of Jews for Jesus said that the Vatican’s statements that Jews do not need to believe in Jesus Christ to be saved are “egregious.” The statement from David Brickner, the executive director of Jews for Jesus, comes after the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews released a document last week about Jewish salvation. The Committee’s document says that God has never revoked his covenant with his people Israel.” Brickner states, “We believe that the Apostle Paul, whose name is invoked frequently in the Vatican document, would be horrified at this repudiation of the words with which he started his letter in Romans: ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.'”

  • Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

CDC Report: Homosexual Lifestyle Extremely Violent

The Center for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey is a first-of-its-kind study geared to determine the difference between the victimization of men and women by sexual orientation, reports OneNewsNow.com. The results show that men and women involved in homosexual behavior undergo much higher rates of sexual violence than men and women who are heterosexual. According to the study, 44 percent of lesbians were either raped, experienced physical abuse, and/or were stalked by their intimate partners during their lifetime. Even more shockingly, 61 percent of bisexual women endured such violence from their partners. It is also reported that 37 percent of bisexual women indicated they were stalked, which is more than double the rate that heterosexual women experience from their male partners.

Tragically, 48 percent of bisexual women who reported that they were raped said that their first experience of being raped occurred when they were adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17. The research also shows that 26 percent of homosexual men experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by their intimate partners. It’s even higher for bisexual men, who experience these types of assaults at a rate of 37 percent. Refuting many of the claims by LGBT activists that homosexual behavior is a natural biological condition, the CDC report found that a large percentage of homosexual transgenders and bisexual women experienced sexual violence during their childhood years, which could have likely resulted in their choices in adulthood to adopt a homosexual lifestyle.

ISIS Creates New Type of Jihadist: Part Terrorist, Part Gangster

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have brought into sharper focus the rise of a new breed of jihadists, one that blurs the line between organized crime and Islamist extremism, using skills honed in lawbreaking in the service of violent radicalism, reports the Washington Post. The Islamic State is constructing an army of loyalists from Europe that includes an increasing number of street toughs and ex-cons. Before he became the notorious ringleader of last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 28, was linked to a den of radicalized thieves led by a man nicknamed “Santa Claus.” The gang — including young men who would go on to fight in Syria and Iraq — robbed tourists and shoplifted, forming a petty-crime operation in the service of the Islamic State, authorities say. ISIS recruiting strategy is distinctly different from the development of al-Qaeda, which relied heavily in its early years on ostensibly pious recruits and wealthy foreign sponsors.

Confidence in Gov’t Response to Terrorism Falls to Post-9/11 Low

According to a recent national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, Americans’ confidence in the government’s handling of terrorism has plummeted to an all-time low in the post-9/11 era. President Obama’s job rating on terrorism has also declined to a new low since assuming the Oval Office. Since the start of this year, the share of Americans who say the government is doing well in reducing the threat of terrorism has fallen by 26 percentage points – from 72% to 46%. Approval of the way Barack Obama is handling the threat of terrorism also has declined with just 37% approving of the way Obama is handling terrorism while 57% disapprove, the lowest rating of his presidency for this issue. Data also show that public concerns regarding whether anti-terrorism policies have gone too far in restricting civil liberties have fallen to their lowest level in five years (28%).Twice as many (56%) now say their greater concern is that these policies have not gone far enough to adequately protect the country,” Pew reports.

Canada to Resettle Thousands of Muslim Refugees

As a U.S. backlash against letting Muslim refugees into the country is festering, Canada will be welcoming tens of thousands of Syrian refugees over the next few months. Newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will allow 25,000 refugees to resettle in the nation by February, with up to another 25,000 by the end of 2016. The plan gives priority to women, children, families and persecuted groups such as lesbians and gays. Millions of Syrians have fled their country’s nearly 5-year-old civil war that helped spawn the Islamic State. “The U.S. is concerned about extremists … Therefore (the U.S.) processes in a much more careful manner,” said Kyle Matthews, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “In Canada’s case, this is a political promise in an election.” Trudeau, who won a majority government in October, campaigned on a promise to resettle thousands of refugees.

Newly Discovered Hack has U.S. Fearing Foreign Infiltration

A major breach at computer network company Juniper Networks has U.S. officials worried that hackers working for a foreign government were able to spy on the encrypted communications of the U.S. government and private companies for the past three years, CNN reported Saturday. The FBI is investigating the breach, which involved hackers installing a back door on computer equipment, U.S. officials told CNN. Juniper disclosed the issue Thursday along with an emergency security patch that it urged customers to use to update their systems “with the highest priority.” The concern, U.S. officials said, is that sophisticated hackers who compromised the equipment could use their access to get into any company or government agency that used it. Juniper sells computer network equipment and routers to big companies and to U.S. government clients such as the Defense Department, Justice Department, FBI and Treasury Department. The breach is believed to be the work of a foreign government, U.S. officials said, because of the sophistication involved.

Cholera Outbreak Threatens World’s Largest Refugee Camp

Kenya’s cholera epidemic has reached the world’s largest refugee camp and doctors worry the outbreak could spread even further. Seven people have died in Dadaab, in northern Kenya near the border with Somalia, since the outbreak was declared in November, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders said in a statement. Dadaab is home to more than 330, 000 refugees, the majority of them fleeing violence and insecurity in neighboring Somalia. In the last three weeks, more than 300 patients have been admitted to treatment centers, and 30% of those patients were children under twelve. Lack of proper sanitation and education of the population are among the main challenges in halting infections. There are not enough pit latrines in the camp for the size of its population, and people often allow their children play in the mud or in flood water. The infection spreads through contaminated water or food, and is accelerated by poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation.

Drug Overdose Deaths Reach All-Time High in U.S.

Despite efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, deaths from drug overdoses reached an all-time high in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths from overdoses of prescription drugs and heroin continue to be the leading cause of unintentional death for Americans, rising 14% from 2013 to 2014. Last year, 47,055 people died from drug overdoses — 1.5 times greater than the number killed in car crashes. Opioids are involved in 61% of all drug overdose deaths. The latest CDC data finds that deaths from natural opiates such as morphine, codeine and semisynthetic prescription pain killers like oxycodone and hydrocodone jumped 10% from 2013 to 2014. Deaths from heroin overdoses rose 26%. The biggest increase in deaths was from synthetic opioids, which went up 80%. Prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine are derived from the same poppy plants as heroin.

Groundwater Depletion Contributing to Global Sea-Level Rise

Increasing amounts of water are being depleted from the world’s aquifers, and scientists have estimated that a large portion of the water ends up flowing into the oceans. So much groundwater is being pumped from wells that researchers say it is contributing significantly to global sea-level rise. The quickening rate of global depletion adds an alarming dimension to scientists’ findings, based on satellite measurements, that reveal widespread declines in aquifers around the world. And as that water flows off the continents, it is adding to the problem of rising seas.

  • Water is ultimately a recycled resource. The problem is that it is being recycled back into the oceans and into rainy areas that already have sufficient water supplies.

Obamacare’s Cadillac Tax under Attack

Companies want to kill it. Unions hate it. Republicans want to eliminate it. Some Democrats agree. It’s the much-reviled Obamacare Cadillac tax, which is set to levy a hefty 40% excise tax on employer health plans that are considered generous. The tax suffered its first setback last week, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreeing to delay its implementation until 2020, instead of 2018, as part of Wednesday’s budget deal. President Obama has even said he’ll sign it, which would make it the first significant change to Obamacare that Congress would get past his desk. Companies will have to pay the levy on the value of policies above a certain cap, which for 2018, is slated to be $10,200 for an individual and $27,500 for a family. The goal is to control the growth of health care spending: Eliminating pricier benefit plans would supposedly curtail excessive health care usage.

Illinois and Pennsylvania 170 days Overdue on Budget

Illinois and Pennsylvania are rivals for the title of “most dysfunctional state in America,” reports CNN. States are required to pass budgets each year. Most got their budgets done by the July 1 deadline. But not Illinois and Pennsylvania. They are now 170 days overdue. Both states have the same problem: Republicans and Democrats who can’t work together. Illinois has a brand new Republican governor who is fighting a state legislature controlled by Democrats. Pennsylvania has the reverse: a new Democratic governor battling a Republican-led legislature. Unlike the federal government, states are required by law to pass balanced budgets. Both the states are largely stuck over how to close budget shortfalls: by raising taxes or making cuts? Schools and programs that serve the poor, vulnerable and elderly are scaling back or closing altogether. Trash hasn’t been picked up for several weeks. Schools, county governments and nonprofits have been shutting programs down and trying to get loans from banks and donors.

Economic News

The Dow tumbled a whopping 367 points to 17,129 Friday and capped off its worst two-day slide since August, largely because oil fell below the critical $35-a-barrel threshold this week and investors are worried what that weakness will affect the global economy. Lower oil prices have taken their toll in areas of the U.S. that had been taking advantage of the oil-production boom. In oil-rich Texas alone, 60,000 energy-related jobs vanished form the peak at the end of 2014 until now.

After mortgages, student loans represent the biggest debt being shouldered by U.S. households. Americans owe $1.21 trillion in student loans — that’s an average of $47,712 for each household in debt, according to a new study by NerdWallet. Over 70% of this debt is owed to the federal government, making Uncle Sam the largest holder of non-revolving American consumer debt, with $932 billion owed. As recently as the third quarter of 2009, auto loans and credit cards outranked student loans in terms of their burden on American households — and the federal government held just a small part of that debt.

The U.S. has surprisingly low taxes compared to other developed nations, according to new data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. With an overall tax rate of 26%, the U.S. has the fourth lowest tax rate of 34 developed countries, who average 34.4%. The data includes all federal, state and local taxes – including income, payroll and property taxes, along with corporate taxes and value-added taxes, among others. However, U.S. taxes are lower than most other nations, in part, because the federal government doesn’t impose Value Added Taxes on its population. Instead, retail sales taxes at differing levels are imposed at the state and local level. Those would lift the U.S. closer to the OECD average.

The percentage of U.S. homes with high-speed broadband Internet service has significantly fallen for the first time, as a growing number of Americans are relying solely on mobile broadband service via smartphones. Overall, about 67% of U.S. homes have broadband connectivity, down from 70% in 2013, according to the new Home Broadband report, out Monday from the Pew Research Center. On the rise: those who connect to the Net using only smartphones, now at 13%, up from 8% two years ago. That boosts the total Americans with broadband via home and mobile connectivity at 80%, compared to 78% in 2013.

Persecution Watch

A campaign to convert African Christians to Islam has claimed to have converted more than 4,000 Christians to Islam in just one week this month,” reports The Blaze. Videos posted on the Internet reveal that Muslim missionaries have been teaching Christian men, women and children in Africa to chant, ‘I attest that Jesus is the slave of Allah and His Messenger.’ That chant is an embellishment to the classical Muslim testimonial of faith: ‘I attest that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger.’ Muslims cannot persuade converts by using words, so they must use force. Islam rules by fear. In the Christian faith, people voluntarily choose Jesus because they are drawn to His selfless love.

Despite the packed pews at Gaza’s Church of Saint Porphyries just weeks before Christmas, Christianity is not booming there. Rather, the worshippers at the 1,600-year-old shrine believe they may be the last group of Christians in Gaza, where believers have lived and prayed since the birth of Christ. The ongoing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the highest unemployment rate in the world are prompting Christians to leave the besieged area in droves. Dozens of Christians are allowed to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem during Easter and Christmas, and some take the opportunity to never return home so they can start a new life. The population of 3,000 Christians in Gaza just a few years ago has dwindled to just 1,200. Israeli sanctions on Gaza have made freedom of movement and goods almost non-existent in order to protect themselves from radical Palestinians who seek nothing short of Israel’s complete extermination.

  • While Christians are exhorted to support Israel and pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), Israel is no friend of Christianity, neither the orthodox Jews nor Israel’s secular leadership. We need to be praying for the Jews to come to Jesus.

Islamic State

The Pentagon is considering more aggressive cyberattacks on the Islamic State’s computers in an effort to decrease its propaganda on social media and prevent potential terror attacks, according to the Los Angeles Times. The report states that military hackers at Cyber Command in Fort Meade, Md. have created malware that could be used to curb the terror group’s capabilities on the Internet. However, the military’s fight against the extremists’ online communications faces blowback from the FBI and other intelligence officials who say that constricting the Internet in Syria and Iraq may shut the window into the militants’ whereabouts and intentions. The White House has directed top Pentagon officials to prepare for an increase in cyberwarfare after the investigation into the San Bernardino, Calif. terror attack showed that Sayed Farook and Tashfeen Malik had been inspired from extremist propaganda online to carry out the attack that killed 14.

For months, the United States military has known that the Islamic State uses the city hall in Raqqa, Syria, as an administrative center and a dormitory for scores of fighters. Some American officials even believe that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader, may have been in the building at times. Yet, despite the American air campaign against the Islamic State, the white, three-story building remains standing because it also houses a jail. Its inmates are mainly victims of the extremist group — men caught sneaking a cigarette, women spotted with clothes that reveal even a hint of skin, shop owners who failed to pay their bills — and for American officials, the risk of killing any of them in an airstrike is too high. The same is true of six other nearby buildings, including a mosque and court complex, which, together with city hall, compose the closest thing the Islamic State has to a headquarters. Obama acknowledged the dilemma the United States and its allies face in Raqqa and other urban areas in Syria and Iraq, noting that the Islamic State “is dug in, including in urban areas, and they hide behind civilians.”

  • The strategy of hiding behind civilians is the primary means through which the Islamic State is able to maintain its evil caliphate. They also employ that strategy here within the U.S. with sleeper cells hidden deep within our free society. The question is whether or not to employ a Hiroshima strategy in response, sacrificing some civilians in order to protect greater numbers of future civilian losses.

Belgium

Police in Belgium have arrested five people in their investigation into last month’s Paris terror attacks, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office announced Monday. Police arrested two brothers and a third person Sunday in Brussels based on phone records. Two more people were arrested Monday morning in Laeken. Police said no guns or explosives were found at either location. A worldwide search is underway for key suspect Salah Abdeslam, 26, who is thought to have been the driver of a black Renault Clio that dropped off three suicide bombers near the Stade de France the night of November 13.

Syria

The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution Friday that calls for talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups as well as a cease-fire in the nation’s 4-year-old civil war. However, the resolution doesn’t mention what role Syrian President Bashar Assad will play. The Syrian leader is supported by close ally Russia, but the United States has said it would like to see him removed from power. The disagreement has been a contentious issue in discussions on resolving the conflict, and Syrian opposition groups have said they will not participate in a cease-fire unless Assad agrees to step down as president. Friday’s resolution says elections must be held in the next 18 months but makes no mention of whether Assad will be able to run. Delegates from across the world had gathered in New York earlier Friday to discuss the conflict, which has left 250,000 dead and caused millions of Syrians to flee, intensifying the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe.

Iraq

Turkey announced Saturday it would move its troops from Iraq after weeks of tensions over its military presence near the city of Mosul, according to a statement from the country’s Foreign Ministry. Turkey said its troops had been deployed to the Bashiqa military base in northern Iraq earlier this month to protect a mission to train and advise Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS. However, Iraq’s government has insisted that it never invited the Turkish forces and that their presence constituted a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Iraqi President Fuad Masum said Turkey violated international laws when its military entered the country.

Afghanistan

NATO says that six of its soldiers have been killed in a suicide attack near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Three foreign troops were also wounded in the attack. It is the deadliest attack on foreign troops since August. The patrol squad was rammed by the explosive-laden motorcycle as they moved through a village near Bagram Airfield, 28 miles north of Kabul. The Taliban claimed responsibility. Bagram is the biggest U.S. military base in Afghanistan. It is the first major attack on a NATO military convoy since August 22, when three American contractors with the RS base were killed in a suicide attack on their convoy in Kabul.

Yemen

Fierce fighting and airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition pounded northern Yemen on Saturday, as the two main parties in the country’s conflict continued to violate a ceasefire agreement and undermine already tenuous peace talks in Switzerland. The clashes in Hajjah Province near the Saudi border between rebel-allied units and pro-government Yemeni forces have killed more than 75 over the past three days. Most were killed by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition that dominates the skies in Yemen. Coalition troops advanced across the border from Saudi territory after training there for months. Yemen’s fighting pits the internationally recognized government backed by a Saudi-led, U.S.-supported coalition against the rebels, known as Houthis, who are allied with a former president and backed by Iran. Local affiliates of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have exploited the chaos to grab land and exercise influence.

Spain

Spain braced for weeks of political uncertainty Monday after voters ended decades of two-party dominance by electing a fragmented Parliament made up of multiple parties. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s ruling conservative Popular Party took the most the seats, 123, in Sunday’s election, but it still fell far short of the 176 majority needed to govern alone. That meant it will need to form a coalition government with one of the country’s other political parties. It has no obvious partner for that. King Felipe VI, who will broker the process, plans to consult with each party before nominating a prime minister. That nomination must then be approved by Parliament. The lawmaking body has two months to elect a prime minister or call fresh elections. Spain’s stock market index, Ibex 35, dropped over 2.5% in the wake of the results, illustrating the extent to which the election has unnerved the country’s investors.

China

More than 91 people are missing after a massive landslide struck an industrial park in Shenzhen, China on Sunday collapsing and burying buildings in its path. Just seven people were rescued overnight and 13 overall were hospitalized. More than 900 people had been evacuated. At least 33 factory buildings were buried or damaged, involving 15 companies, including two workers’ dormitories. The soil that slid down onto the area had been piled up against a 100-meter (110-yard) -high hill after being dug up in the past two years in construction work.

Weather

A week before Christmas, the season’s first measurable snow finally arrived in Buffalo, New York, ending the city’s longest wait for a season’s first snow in records dating to the late 19th century. But it wasn’t much – just 0.1 inch. This year’s El Nino (the warming of the Pacific Ocean off California) is one of the strongest and is forecast to produce more precipitation than normal over the southern half of the U.S. while the northern half will get less.

Winter Storm Ferus will bring potentially damaging winds, heavy snow and rain to the West for the start of Christmas week. Some snow from Ferus will also spread into the northern Plains early week. A second round of widespread warmth that has been so prevalent in December will dominate much of Christmas week in the central and eastern United States, possibly bringing the warmest Christmas Days in decades.

A massive avalanche came crashing down on Norway’s archipelago of Svalbard on Saturday, killing at least two people and sending eight others to the hospital. The avalanche came down from Sukkertoppen Mountain around 11 a.m. and tumbled straight into the remote arctic region’s main settlement of Longyearbyen where it knocked houses off their foundations, flipped vehicles and buried residents in yards of snow.

Signs of the Times (12/18/15)

December 18, 2015

More Uncovered Infiltration of Islamic State in U.S.

The owner of a Rochester pizza shop, who was one of the first Americans accused of recruiting for the Islamic State, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to trying to find recruits for the terrorist network. Mufid Elfgeeh, 31, pleaded guilty to two criminal charges — one for recruiting a Rochester-area man and one for recruiting a man living in Yemen — but also acknowledged that he tried to recruit a second Rochester-area man. A naturalized citizen originally from Yemen, Elfgeeh admitted that he worked with two would-be recruits to persuade them to travel to Syria and join the Islamic State as it fought to establish a caliphate in the Middle East. He also shipped money to the Yemeni recruit.

A 30-year-old Maryland man faces a series of terror-related charges involving his alleged receipt of nearly $9,000 in wire transfers in recent months from Islamic State terror group contacts in Egypt and Syria, federal authorities said Monday. Mohamed Elshinawy of Edgewood, Md., is accused of receiving the payments in small amounts between March and late June and was allegedly instructed to use the funds for “operational purposes,” according to court documents. Elshinawy allegedly sought to disguise the scheme as an eBay business for selling printers. “Mohamed Elshinawy received money he believed was provided by ISIL in order to conduct an attack on U.S. soil,” Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said.

  • Just as the San Bernardino terrorist received wire transfers, so too are many other “sleeper cells” that are now entrenched within the U.S.

Feds Don’t Know Where Thousands of Potential Terrorists Are in U.S.

The Obama administration doesn’t know the whereabouts of thousands of foreigners in the U.S. who had their visas revoked over terror concerns and other reasons, a State Department official acknowledged Thursday. The admission, made at a House oversight hearing examining immigrant vetting in the wake of major terror attacks. Michele Thoren Bond, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, said the U.S. has revoked more than 122,000 visas since 2001, including 9,500 because of the threat of terrorism. Committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, pried at that stat, pressing the witness about the present location of those individuals. “I don’t know,” she said. The startling admission came as members of the committee pressed administration officials on what safeguards are in place to reduce the risk from would-be extremists.

  • Obama’s weak stance on immigration and terrorism has already allowed terrorists to establish a strong presence within our borders

Syrian Immigration to U.S. over 100,000 since 2012

A proposal to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States has ignited a bitter debate in Washington, but more than 10 times that number of people from the embattled country have quietly come to America since 2012, according to figures obtained by FoxNews.com. Some 102,313 Syrians were granted admission to the U.S. as legal permanent residents or through programs including work, study and tourist visas from 2012 through August of this year, a period which roughly coincides with the devastating civil war that still engulfs the Middle Eastern country. Experts say any fears that terrorists might infiltrate the proposed wave of refugees from United Nations-run camps is dwarfed by the potential danger already here. “The sheer number of people arriving on all kinds of visas and with green cards, and possibly U.S. citizenship, makes it impossible for our counterterrorism authorities to keep track of them all, much less prevent them from carrying out attacks or belatedly try to deport them,” said Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Demand for Guns Soar in Sweden due to Muslim Invasion

An influx of 190,000 unskilled and unemployed migrants are expected this year in Sweden — equivalent to 2% of Sweden’s current population. The number is as if 6.4 million penniless migrants who did not speak English arrived in U.S. in a single year. And the Swedes are preparing: demand for firearms licenses is increasing; more and more Swedes are joining shooting clubs and starting vigilante groups, reports Vision to America. According to police statistics, there are 1,901,325 licensed guns, owned by 567,733 people, in Sweden. Add to this an unknown number of illegal weapons. To get a gun permit in Sweden, you need to be at least 18 years old; law-abiding; well-behaved, and have a hunting license or be a member of an approved shooting club. In 2014, 11,000 people got a hunting license: 10% more than the year before.

  • Sweden is considered a model European country and is now an indicator of where the Muslim invasion of the EU is headed

Seeking Action on Guns, White House Turns to Governors

Even as he prepares to take action on gun violence on his own executive authority, President Obama is turning to another source of potential source of executive action: the nation’s governors. The White House is in talks with governors and other state and local officials as part of a bottom-up strategy to better enforce gun laws at both the state and local level. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Vice President Biden has been leading the talks, which are focused on “steps they can take to try to reduce gun violence in their communities.” The state-and-local approach to guns is another example of a strategy that’s been a unique part of the “fourth quarter” of the Obama presidency. Unable to get his policies through Congress, he’s increasingly using aggressive outreach to states and cities to raise the minimum wage, require paid time off, expand preschool programs and offer more affordable college options.

On Tuesday, the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group, released a report outlining 28 things governors and other state and local executives can do to better enforce gun laws already on the books. Sometimes governors can do things the federal government can’t. Unlike federal law, Connecticut law already requires a permit to purchase or own a firearm — giving the executive branch the authority to issue or deny a permit. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said last week that authority could allow him to issue an executive order banning people on the federal terror watch list, known as the “No Fly” list, from buying a gun.

At Liberty University, Guns and God go Hand in Hand

At Liberty University, the conservative Christian school founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, talk these days in hallways, cafeterias and arenas flows easily from God to guns, reports the Washington Post. University President Jerry Falwell Jr. kick-started the conversation with a fiery call for the campus community to take up arms to deter terrorist threats following the mass shooting in San Bernardino. Many students, faculty members and administrators said they agreed with his views. Hundreds said they planned to take free classes from Liberty police on gun safety, a step toward obtaining a state permit to carry a concealed weapon. “It’s not about Christians waving guns around,” one student said. “It’s about protecting yourselves from some people who want to kill you.” “The day they take our guns away is the day we lose our religious freedom as well,” a training officer said. Then police led the crowd in prayer before starting a lesson on muzzle and trigger-finger discipline. With 14,000 students in Lynchburg this fall and 66,000 more connected from afar via computer, Liberty is one of the largest universities in the country and is known as an innovator in online education.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Undermines U.S. Interests

Once shrouded in secrecy, President Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is now becoming public, and what we’re discovering is absolutely frightening, reports the Conservative Tribune. Chapter 11 of the deal allows foreign investors the rights to acquire American land, businesses, ports, natural resources, infrastructure and other property. Chapters 28 and 29 give foreign investors the ability to work around U.S. courts and sue the United States before a dispute tribunal if they feel U.S. law violated their “rights” under the deal. Whereas the U.S. government previously had unfettered power to protect its national security interests as it deemed necessary, the TPP agreement reverses this power. As a consequence, other countries could maintain that U.S. security interests violate the deal and they could then insist the United States pay billions of dollars in damages.

  • Disarming the masses is a key strategy for the socialistic one-world government cabal in order to prevent resistance and rebellion when they impose their draconian anti-Christ laws

House, White House Agree on New Budget Deal

House Republicans announced a deal Tuesday night between the GOP-led Congress and the White House on a trillion-dollar, year-end tax and spending package to fund the government through fiscal year 2016. Capitol Hill lawmakers have worked overtime on the legislation, passing one temporary-spending resolution and needing a second after missing their initial Dec. 11 deadline, when the government technically ran out of money. With temporary financing of federal agencies expiring Wednesday at midnight, congressional leaders planned to approve a stop-gap bill preventing a government shutdown through next Tuesday, giving lawmakers time to finish the long-term spending legislation. The legislation includes increases in domestic and defense spending. And it increases the federal deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars by extending numerous, popular tax credits without paying for them. It also includes their proposal to lift a four-decade-old ban on exporting U.S. crude oil.

The House passed a bill Thursday to provide $622 billion in tax breaks for businesses, families and individual taxpayers. The bill includes a permanent extension of the child tax credit and a delay in taxes that help pay for Obamacare. All but a handful of Republicans voted for the bill while a majority of Democrats voted against it. However, more than 70 Democrats joined with Republicans to approve the legislation. The tax and spending package is the last major legislation that Congress will pass before it adjourns for the year. It was the first big budget compromise negotiated under new House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

  • As it stands now, the budget bill will fully fund Planned Parenthood, despite Republicans holding a solid majority in the House.

Obamacare Premiums, Deductibles Soaring

Consumers buying health insurance through federal and state exchanges will see their monthly premiums for the popular silver-level plans jump by an average of more than 11%, while also likely facing higher deductibles, a new analysis of exchange data by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows. These increases will hike the cost of health insurance especially for customers who don’t receive federal subsidies to buy insurance, which may also limit the number of people insured under the Affordable Care Act. Average health insurance premiums for silver plans rose to nearly $300 a month for a 27 year old male, while deductibles were up 8%.The increases are even more dramatic in the gold-level plans, which have higher premiums but require consumers to pay less out of pocket for their care. These plans’ premiums increased nearly 14%, but deductibles dropped just under 1%. A lot of the insurers said they’d priced plans too low and claims exceeded premiums for a lot of them, so there’s been an adjustment, reported the RWJ Foundation.

Cutting the Cord: Streaming Up, Pay-TV Down

Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu are already nearly as popular as traditional pay-TV services from cable and satellite, according to a recent survey from Clearleap, a digital-video tech firm that helps content companies such as HBO, the NFL and Verizon deliver streaming video to multiple screens. More than seven out of 10 (71%) of the 1,111 adult U.S. consumers in Clearleap’s survey from earlier this year said they had used a streaming service, either currently or previously. Slightly more consumers (79%) said they currently subscribed to pay TV. Among those ages 18-29, more than 70% use a streaming service, but only 64% have a pay-TV subscription. And one-fourth of them (26%) have never had pay TV. More than half (58%) of those under the age of 30 have watched streaming video on their laptops, and more than one-third (39%) watch on their smartphones. About 30% use Internet-connected TVs and tablets, while 22% use video game consoles to stream video.

New EU Privacy Rule Could Cost U.S. Firms Billions

U.S. tech firms that don’t adequately warn users in Europe how their information is going to be used could face fines in the billions of dollars under a new European privacy protection directive. The directive requires tech companies clearly inform users what information about them is being collected and how it will be used, and get their consent to that use. It has been in the works for several years and will replace a patchwork of laws from the 1990s. The new directive will also give E.U. residents the legal right to require companies to correct any information about them that is outdated or incorrect. Users also will have the right to have their information deleted. For example, if they choose to delete their Facebook account, Facebook would have to also delete all the information it had collected about them. A sticking point of recent discussion has been the penalties companies would pay if they were found to not be in compliance with E.U. requirements. The European Commission proposed 2% of a company’s global revenue as a fine, while the European Parliament has asked for 5%.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve raised its key interest rate on Wednesday from a range of 0% to 0.25% to a range of 0.25% to 0.5%. The rate hike is a small one, but it will affect millions of Americans, including investors, home buyers and savers. Savers should eventually see a little more interest on their deposits at the bank, but big banks didn’t make any increases Wednesday. Mortgage rates will gradually rise. Big banks will start charging more interest for loans tomorrow. The move was widely expected. It is a sign of how much the economy has healed since the Great Recession. The central bank believes the U.S. economy is strong now and no longer needs crutches and that the move “marks the end of an extraordinary period” of low rates designed to boost the recovery from the Great Recession.

Gold prices tumbled 2.5% on Thursday to $1,049.60 an ounce — the lowest level since October 2009. It was gold’s worst day in nearly two months. The precious metal is down 11% so far this year. The latest blow to gold was sparked by the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates which lessens the chances of severe inflation. The rate hike also sent the U.S. dollar sharply higher on Thursday as it signals Fed confidence in the health of the American economy. None of that is good for gold, which tends to rise when people are worried about inflation or the stability of the economy.

Falling gasoline prices left inflation unchanged in November but a key measure edged higher, the government said Tuesday. Core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy items, increased 0.2%. Core prices are up 2% over the past year, the largest rate in 18 months. Gasoline prices fell 2.4% amid oil’s crash. Food prices dipped 0.1% and apparel declined 0.3%. Those were offset by increases of 0.4% in medical care prices, 0.2% in rent, and 1.2% for airline fares.

American drivers have an average of $540 more in their pockets this year thanks to low gas prices. That savings comes as gas prices averaged about $2.40 a gallon in 2015, down from an average of $3.34 a gallon last year. Gas is currently at a nationwide average of $2.01 a gallon — its lowest price in nearly seven years. Since most U.S. households have two drivers, many are saving twice as much — about $1,100 per household.

Several local officials in China’s Northeast region admitted they had faked economic data in the past few years to show high growth when the real numbers were much lower, the China Daily website reported. Officials in the region acknowledged they had overstated data ranging from fiscal revenue and household income to GDP, according to the report.

Persecution Watch

In Northern Ireland (once the mainstay of Protestant Christianity), an evangelical preacher is now on trial for saying something that other people find offensive. In a sermon from May of 2014, Pastor James McConnell told congregants at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle “Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic.” The prosecutor on the case, David Russell, told the court this past week that the case had “nothing to do with religion or freedom of expression.” No, instead Russell argued that Pastor McConnell was guilty of characterizing “the followers of an entire religion in a stereotypical way. And that’s grossly offensive and that’s not protected from saying it from a pulpit.”

  • Russell is wrong. This case has everything to do with religious freedom and freedom of speech. It is indicative of how the end-time anti-Christ spirit is stirring up delusional hostility against all things Christian

Middle East

A day after US Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Israeli policies in an interview with The New Yorker, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that it is the Palestinians, not Israel, who are at fault for the current diplomatic stalemate. “It is time that the international community understands that the reason there are no negotiations and no progress toward peace is not because of Israel, it is because of the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said in Beersheba. “Repeated, multiple polls in the Palestinian Authority have demonstrated that 75 percent of the [Palestinian] public rejects the two-state solution and about 80 percent condone stabbing attacks [targeting Israelis],” he said.

Eleven people were wounded by a vehicle ramming attack on a bus stop at the entrance to Jerusalem Monday afternoon including a child who lost a leg and is otherwise in stable condition. The Palestinian driver of the vehicle was shot dead by police on the scene as he attempted to get out of his wrecked vehicle while holding an axe which he apparently intended to use to attack other people.

Islamic State

American-led airstrikes killed at least 180 Islamic State fighters as local Kurdish forces­ scrambled to repel a bold, multi-pronged assault by the militants, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday. At least four coordinated attacks by more than 300 heavily armed militants kicked off the most intense fighting that northern Iraq has seen this year, illustrating the extremist group’s continued potency despite a year-long air campaign by the United States and its allies. It is an indication of the challenges that Iraqi forces and their U.S. backers will face as they seek to reclaim Mosul and other areas under Islamic State control in Iraq and Syria.

Four ISIS suicide bombers killed seven Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces and injured five others early Wednesday in two locations near Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq. At the same time, ISIS fighters launched dozens of mortar rounds on a training camp in Bashiqa near Mosul, where Turkish forces have been training Sunni Iraqi troops. Turkish fighters are training for an offensive they hope will recapture Mosul, the largest city that ISIS controls in Iraq. The area is a key location near the Mosul Dam, which controls a large portion of the water and power supply to northern Iraq.

Iran

UN experts issued a report to the Security Council Tuesday declaring that the recent test launches by Iran of medium-range ballistic missiles violated UN sanctions. The report follows a request by the US, UK, France and Germany in October to take action on Iran’s ballistic missile activities. “This council cannot allow Iran to feel that it can violate our resolutions with impunity,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told a recent council meeting. Meanwhile, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors announced on Tuesday that it is shutting down an investigation into allegations of Iran’s past work towards building nuclear weapons, declaring that the time has come to stop looking for evidence of past illegal actions by Iran and instead focus on cooperation with the Islamic Republic under the auspices of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which Teheran has still not ratified or given any signs that it intends to do so.

Pakistan/Afghanistan

Violence continues unabated along the Afghan-Pakistani border that Afghan and Pakistani Taliban fighters routinely cross, analysts say. Just this past Sunday, a bomb exploded in remote Parachinar, killing at least 23 people and wounding dozens more. Police arrested two Taliban suspects after the attack. This year, Pakistani authorities have hanged more than 300 people on terror-related crimes and other offenses, according to Amnesty International. The Pakistani military has succeeded in clearing militant sanctuaries in the northwest and forced some Taliban to flee. But the police force and the judicial system remain very weak. The oversight of religious schools that teach extremism and mosques that preach militancy is practically non-existent. Some critics say the government has used the death penalty to target political opponents instead of just extremists.

Yemen

United Nations-mediated peace talks between envoys for Yemen’s government and Shiite Houthi rebels began in Switzerland on Tuesday as a cease-fire also took effect. The talks would seek to “pave the way for a return to a peaceful and orderly political transition.” Yemen is the Middle East’s poorest country and the United Nations estimates over 5,800 people are estimated been killed in the conflict. Iran-backed Shiite Houthi militiamen are fighting to oust Yemen’s internationally recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is backed by a coalition of fellow Sunni partners including Saudi Arabia. The United States supports the coalition.

Cuba

Under an agreement announced Thursday — the one-year anniversary of the historic shift in relations between the United States and Cuba — airlines can begin operating regularly scheduled commercial flights between the two nations. Thomas Engle, the U.S. State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for transportation affairs, said there could be up to 110 round-trip flights a day under the new agreement. That includes 20 flights a day between the U.S. and Cuba’s capital city of Havana, and 10 a day between the U.S. and nine international airports spread across the island. Engle said the U.S. was pushing for unlimited flight opportunities, but the Cubans wanted to establish a limit due to concerns their airports could not handle such a high volume of passengers.

Environment

Residents in Flint, Michigan, have been getting sick, and the water is so tainted that it even damaged car parts at a General Motors plant. The problem with the water supply, officials said, is lead. In 2014, Flint switched its water supply to the Flint River and studies of the city’s children have revealed dangerously high blood lead levels. GM had to truck in water because the Flint River water was corroding the engines while they were assembled. Mayor Karen Weaver declared an emergency in hopes that state and federal assistance will put a stop to this “man-made disaster.” The emergency declaration allows the city to use millions in state funds for items like water filters, and also to reconnect Flint to the Detroit water system. Now, it’s up to county commissioners to approve the measures needed to bring clean water back to the city.

  • But nobody seems to be investigating how the Flint River became so contaminated

Weather

Earth’s hottest period was before humanity existed, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). People’s main disagreement over global warming was never regarding whether the climate changes. The main contention has been whether humans are the main cause of that change. An Aug. 12, 2014 article posted on climate.gov titled, “What’s The Hottest The Earth’s Ever Been,” stated, “Earth’s hottest periods—the Hadean, the late Neoproterozoic, the PETM—occurred before humans existed.”

  • It’s a bit reckless to assume that humanity is the cause of global warming (or climate change as it is now called) given this historical record. However, the socialistic one-world government cabal is pushing this issue as a foundational reason for global governance

According to preliminary data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), at least 1,426 record daily highs were tied or broken across the U.S. during the first 13 days of December. Temperatures soared up to 25 degrees above average into Thursday.

A winter storm was responsible for more than 150 flight cancelations at Denver International Airport on Tuesday morning. To the north, Interstate 80 eastbound was closed from Rock Springs, Wyoming, to Rawlins on Tuesday morning. The storm brought a foot of snow or more to the ski resorts. Huge snowfall totals – as much as 26 inches, through Monday morning – were reported in Idaho’s higher elevations. Nearly two feet of snow fell on parts of western Montana, and the wintry weather led to at least 90 accidents statewide on Monday.

Powerful Typhoon Nona (also known as Cyclone Melor) made landfall in the Philippines Monday after undergoing a last-minute spurt of intensification. Nona reached its peak intensity (145 mph estimated sustained winds) before its eye scraped ashore in northern Oriental Mindoro Tuesday. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated in the central Philippines, where the fierce storm is lashing coastal areas with heavy wind and rain. At least 17 people been killed by Typhoon Melor as it battered the Philippines, cutting power to large areas. More than 132,000 homes were damaged by the typhoon, according to the Philippine government. Of those 109,000 or so houses, more than 23,000 were classified as totally destroyed. Floodwaters up to 45 inches deep were observed on some streets in Pasay City, part of the National Capital Region. A small number of roads have been reported blocked by mudslides and landslides nationwide. Before the storm hit, nearly 750,000 people were evacuated into safer areas.

Signs of the Times (12/14/15)

December 14, 2015

Bible Translations Increasing Despite Persecution

Currently there are 3,377 languages across the globe that need a Bible translation project started, according to Wycliffe Associates. A Bible translation is now in progress for 2,195 languages worldwide. Of the 2,883 languages in the world that have the Scriptures, 531 have an adequate Bible, 1,329 have an adequate New Testament and 1,023 have at least one book of the Bible. Wycliffe announced that it launched or re-launched 203 translation projects worldwide in 2015. The organization is currently engaged in a large effort called Vision 2025, a plan to have a Bible translation started for every language that needs it by 2025. According to the news release, Vision 2025 is a worldwide endeavor that involves national Bible translators, translation consultants, volunteers, and financial donors.

The start of these new translation projects has not been easy. The organization has reported intense persecution of Bible translators in some areas, including a Bible translator in India who was dragged from his home in the middle of the night and shot 17 times. The same week, a Bible translator in the Middle East was arrested, jailed, and tortured. Within a week, three more translators were arrested. Since then, more than 12 Bible translators have been jailed. “In the aftermath, in the agony of grief,” said Smith, “we remembered the truth: we are engaged in spiritual warfare.” Despite the persecution, Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Wycliffe, says, “We have seen dramatic breakthroughs like this all around the world this year, He added, “I was exhilarated to witness God at work like this. We were stymied in our own power-yet when we prayed, when we acknowledged God’s power, God opened the door.”

San Bernardino Cover-Up Revealed

Last Thursday, a San Bernardino whistleblower came forward, reports WesternJournalism.com. Phillip Haney, a former Department of Homeland Security investigator, says he could have likely prevented the attacks in San Bernardino if the government had let him do his job. Three years ago, Haney had developed surveillance that revealed a global network of jihadists had infiltrated the United States. Haney, one of the founding members of Homeland Security, had been transferred to the Intelligence Review Unit and it was in that capacity that he discovered the global network of jihadists at work in the U.S. It was at that point when Haney said he was visited by officials from the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security’s Civil Rights Division who told Haney that tracking the jihadists was “problematic” because they were Islamic groups. Haney said his investigation was shut down and 67 of his files were deleted. One of the files that was deleted was an investigation into the mosque that the San Bernardino terrorists frequently attended. Haney claims that he was targeted, reassigned, and eventually lost his security clearance, even though he had received a commendation letter for locating 300 known terrorists in the U.S.

Americans Fearful of Homeland Terrorism

Americans are more fearful about the likelihood of another terrorist attack than at any other time since the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, reports the New York Times. In the aftermath of attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris and in San Bernardino, Calif., a plurality of the public views the threat of terrorism as the top issue facing the country. A month ago, only 4 percent of Americans said terrorism was the most important problem; now, 19 percent say it is, above any other issue. Forty-four percent of the public says an attack is “very” likely to happen in the next few months, the most in Times or CBS News polls since October 2001, just after the deadliest terrorist assault in the country’s history. Seven in 10 Americans now call the Islamic State extremist group a major threat to the United States’ security, the highest level since the Times/CBS News poll began asking the question last year.

  • Guns aren’t the problem, terrorists are.

Homeland Security Warns of Bogus Syrian Passports

Fake Syrian passports aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, but they can be had for as little as $200, according to a report from the Department of Homeland Security that could call into question the ability to screen Middle East refugees fleeing to the West. The 18-page report, circulated to law enforcement agencies across the nation, warns that a certain batch of Syrian passports – those issued since June 2014 from two regions under the Islamic State control, Deir- ez-Zour and Raqqa – are likely to be phonies. The report also asserts ISIS is using its own passport printing machines to generate the bogus documents with covers printed in Russia, and then selling them for between $200 and $400. Intelligence agencies have already flagged some 3,800 counterfeit Syrian passports, and will add data on another 10,000 fake Syrian passports recently intercepted in Bulgaria on the way to Germany. The sheer volume of fake passports flooding the market as refugees – or terrorists posing as refugees – flock into Europe has investigators on edge. The fake Syrian passports will add to an already challenging problem of vetting Syrian refugees

Authorities Missed Terrorists Social Media Posts

Tashfeen Malik, who along with her husband killed 14 people in Southern California, reportedly passed three background checks by American officials before she moved from Pakistan to the United States and none of them found her social media posts about jihad. The New York Times reports U.S. law enforcement officials discovered old and previously unreported postings as they investigated Malik and her husband Syed Rizwan Farook. Immigration officials don’t usually check social media posts as part of their background checks, according to the newspaper. Malik’s path to the U.S. highlights the inadequacy of the U.S. government’s immigration vetting practices. The Obama administration is reviewing the program, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said.

Paris Teacher Stabbed by Islamic State Lone Wolf

A schoolteacher in a Paris suburb was stabbed Monday by a man who invoked the Islamic State, French police said. The masked assailant attacked the pre-school teacher in Aubervilliers with a box-cutter and scissors. French media said the teacher, a man, 45, was injured but was expected to survive. He was stabbed in the throat. The attacker remains at large, according to police. Children were not at the Jean-Perrin preschool at the time of the attack. The incident comes as France remains under state-of-emergency anti-terrorism legislation following the attacks on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people. On Sunday, France’s anti-immigration National Front party failed to make expected gains in regional elections.

Threats, Harassment, Vandalism at U.S. Mosques at Record High

Gunshots fired into a mosque in Connecticut. Armed men protesting the “Islamization of America” outside Islamic centers in Texas. Death threats called in to mosques in Florida, Maryland and Virginia. 2015, a year bookended by murderous attacks carried out in the name of Islam, has been one of the most intensely anti-Muslim periods in American history. Through December 8, American mosques and Islamic centers have been the victims of vandalism, harassment and anti-Muslim bigotry at least 63 times this year, the Council on American-Islamic Relations says in the study conducted with CNN. That’s a threefold increase over last year. Death threats and vandalism appear to be spiking again since December 3, when a Muslim couple killed 14 people and injured 21 more in San Bernardino, California.

Ohio AG to seek injunction against Planned Parenthood

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine plans to file court papers seeking an injunction Monday that would prevent Planned Parenthood from disposing of fetal remains in landfills. Attorney General Mike DeWine’s report that facilities in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland improperly disposed of fetal remains. The move comes after a four-month investigation of three Planned Parenthood facilities in the state. The probe began after undercover videos surfaced that allegedly showed Planned Parenthood representatives negotiating the sale of fetal organs. The investigation found no evidence the organization sold aborted fetuses, but DeWine said Planned Parenthood hired a company that heats the tissue to kill bacteria and then disposes of the remains in a Kentucky landfill. Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit to “protect abortion access” in Ohio, and called DeWine’s allegations false and inflammatory.

Vanishing Groundwater a Worldwide Crisis

Much of the planet relies on groundwater. And in places around the world – from the United States to Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America – so much water is pumped from the ground that aquifers are being rapidly depleted and wells are going dry. Groundwater is disappearing beneath farms in California, cornfields in Kansas, rice paddies in India, asparagus farms in Peru and orange groves in Morocco. As these critical water reserves are pumped beyond their limits, the threats are mounting for people who depend on aquifers to supply agriculture, sustain economies and provide drinking water. In some areas, fields have already turned to dust and farmers are struggling. Even as satellite measurements have revealed the problem’s severity on a global scale, many regions have failed to adequately address the problem. Aquifers largely remain unmanaged and unregulated, and water that seeped underground over tens of thousands of years is being gradually used up.

Climate Negotiators in Paris Reach ‘Historic’ Draft Agreement

The 195-nation U.N. climate summit concluded with delegates adopting the Paris Agreement, the first-ever global climate deal of this sweep and ambition. The 31-page draft, called the “Paris Agreement,” sets a global goal of peaking global greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible.” It also calls for achieving a balance between man-made emissions and the Earth’s ability to absorb them by the second half of this century. The draft includes a target of limiting the temperature rise since pre-industrial times to 2 degrees Celsius, with the aim of working towards a 1.5-degree limit. Under the terms of the draft text, countries will have to revise their emissions pledges every five years.

The differing responsibilities of developed and developing nations are made clear throughout the agreement. One article of the draft agreement said wealthy nations should continue to provide financial support for poor nations to cope with climate change, at least $100 billion a year. The agreement formally asks the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change the U.N. climate science and research body, to issue a special report in 2018 detailing steps needed to reach the 2- and 1.5-degree Celsius targets. However, the agreement carries no sanctions or penalties for noncompliance. Thousands of protesters held hands beneath the Eiffel Tower and denounced an impending Paris climate accord as too weak to save the planet.

U.S. Leads the World in Combatting Climate Change

With the new accord to fight global warming reached Saturday, Americans need not brace for a raft of new onerous regulations, laws and restrictions imposed as a result, experts say. Even though the U.S. is second only to China as a climate polluter, many of the initiatives needed to keep global temperatures in check over the long term are already being implemented. The U.S. has gone through two two rounds of regulations to boost automakers’ average fuel economy in the cars they produce. Better fuel economy works in tandem with lowering carbon emissions. Appliances have become more efficient. Costs of LED light bulbs and solar panels have fallen, fostering greater acceptance. Less electricity is being generated by coal-fired power plants. Since the climate-accord goals are shaped around many current or planned initiatives, the agreement is unlikely to result in new rules being imposed on Americans.

Report Cites 241 Near Collisions between Aircraft & Drones

There has yet to be a confirmed U.S. collision between a drone and a manned aircraft, but there’s a growing number of close calls as drones fly where they least belong — near airports. A report released Friday counted at least 241 reports of close encounters between drones and manned aircraft that meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s definition of a near-collision, including 28 incidents in which pilots had to veer out of the way. The analysis by Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone found that 90 of the close drone encounters involved commercial jets. Most of the incidents occurred within 5 miles of an airport and at altitudes higher than 400 feet. Those are spaces in which the FAA prohibits drones from flying, raising questions about the effectiveness of the rules.

Economic News

Stocks plunged Friday. The Dow fell 310 points, a nearly 2% decline. It finished the week 3% lower. The continued collapse in oil prices was clearly putting investors in a foul mood. Crude fell 3.5% to a new seven-year low and dipped below $36. Weaker-than-expected retail sales for November didn’t help ether. CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index, which looks at seven gauges of investor sentiment, hit Extreme Fear mode Friday.

Retail sales rose a modest 0.2%, the Commerce Department said Friday. But excluding volatile autos and gasoline, sales increased 0.5%. Gasoline sales fell 0.8% as a result of the continuing fall in prices and auto sales declined 0.4%. But other categories climbed sharply as the holiday sales season officially kicked off with Black Friday. Sales jumped 0.6% at electronics and appliance stores, 0.8% at clothing stores, 0.7% at general merchandise outlets, 0.8% at sporting goods stores, and 0.6% for online retailers. Furniture stores saw a 0.3% drop after recent increases.

Nearly half of renters in the U.S. are struggling to afford their monthly payments. Experts generally recommend keeping housing costs around 30% of monthly income. But the number of “cost-burdened” tenants — those who spend more than 30% of their income on rent — rose to 21.3 million people last year, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Of those, more than 26% are “severely cost burdened” and spend more than half of their income to cover rent. rents are increasing much faster than wages. Inflation-adjusted rents increased 7% from 2001-2014 while household incomes dropped 9%, the report showed.

A college degree is getting so expensive that it might not be worth the money anymore, according to Goldman Sachs. Many students are better off not going to mediocre colleges — ones that rank in the bottom 25% of all universities — Goldman says in a new report. They earn less, on average, than high school graduates. But even those who attend mid-tier universities might want to reconsider. “The average return on going to college is falling,” Goldman researchers wrote. In 2010, the typical college student had to work 8 years to break even on their bachelor’s degree investment, Goldman found. “The choice of college and major are more important than ever to students given the changing return profile,” says Goldman.

OPEC’s strategy of pumping as much oil as it can to force other producers out of the market appears to be working. The International Energy Agency, which monitors energy market trends for the world’s richest nations, said non-OPEC production rose by just 300,000 barrels a day in November. At the start of the year, production from countries outside the cartel was rising by 2.2 million barrels a day. Growth will evaporate completely early next year, with non-OPEC supply expected to fall by about 600,000 barrels per day in 2016, largely due to a decline in U.S. shale production. The global supply glut continues to swell and oil prices have plunged to their lowest level in seven years.

Islamic State

President Obama said Saturday that U.S. air strikes are hitting the Islamic State “harder than ever” amid a stepped-up U.S. campaign in Iraq and Syria. “We’re taking out more of their fighters and leaders, their weapons, their oil tankers,” Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday. “Our special operations forces are on the ground, because we’re going to hunt down these terrorists wherever they try to hide. In recent weeks, our strikes have taken out the ISIL finance chief, a terrorist leader in Somalia and the ISIL leader in Libya.” Much of the recent effort has been directed at the oil smuggling that is the source of much of the Islamic State’s revenue. The National Security Council says coalition airstrikes have destroyed 283 oil trucks, 120 oil storage tanks, and a “significant amount of oil field infrastructure” in eastern Syria since Nov. 17. The United States has about 15,475 combat troops deployed to fight the war on terror, about 2,650 more troops than six months ago.

ISIS buys bombs and pays fighters with the billions of dollars it makes from the oil fields, mineral mines, and banks under its control. ISIS also imposes taxes on the people living inside its territory in Iraq and Syria. ISIS raked in $2 billion in 2014 alone, reports CNNMoney. It ditched Al-Qaeda’s old model of relying on rich donors in the Arabian Gulf. Instead, the Islamic State is a self-funded powerhouse. “The Islamic State is certainly the best financially endowed terrorist organization in history, notes Andreas Krieg, a military scholar at King’s College London in Qatar.

Saudi Arabia

At least 17 women have been elected to public office in Saudi Arabia, according to preliminary results published in state media Monday. Saudi Arabia women voted in municipal elections Saturday, marking the first time they have been allowed to cast ballots in the conservative nation. Women in the conservative religious kingdom are being allowed both to run for office and to vote this year, although critics have said restrictions on both activities have made it difficult on would-be women candidates and voters. Among other things, women have complained of difficulties proving identity and residency and a limited number of registration centers, according to Human Rights Watch. Female candidates also were barred from speaking to male voters and required to segregate campaign offices. In the end, 979 women candidates and 130,637 women voters registered to participate in the election, according to Saudi election officials. More than 1.3 million men have registered to vote and a total of 5,938 men are running for the local offices, which mostly oversee planning and development issues. Voters will fill half of the seats. The King selects the other half.

Cuba

A group of 4,500 Cubans are stranded in Costa Rica as they try to reach the USA by land. They suffered a new blow this week when one more Central American country refused to let them pass. Nicaraguan police forcibly stopped them from crossing the border last month, and Guatemalan officials announced last week they would not let the Cubans fly into their country to continue their journey north. Belize this week scrapped a planned “air bridge” that would have let the Cubans fly into the country and continue their march. Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís said the Cubans can return home if they want, but he assured them they would be treated with dignity in his country and nobody would forcibly deport them. Cubans have long reached the USA by braving the 90-mile journey at sea, riding rickety boats and rafts across the dangerous, shark-infested waters of the Florida Straits. More Cubans started taking advantage of another route in the past year after the Cuban government eased travel restrictions for its citizens. They can fly to countries such as Ecuador without a visa to start the long journey to the USA by land.

Brunei

From 21 to 40 dead people were reported killed as political violence surged Saturday in Bujumbara, the capital of the central equatorial African nation of Burundi, after police responded to attacks carried out Friday against military installations. The Associated Press reported that 21 bodies were found in one neighborhood of the capital city with gunshot wounds to the head and some victims were found with hands bound behind their backs. Residents of one neighborhood told Reuters that young and middle-aged men were gathered up by police and taken away from their homes and killed. The nation of 10 million people has historically been the setting of violence between Hutu and Tutsi tribal members. At least 240 people have died since this recent spate of Burundi unrest began in April and 215,000 have fled the country. Burundi, one of the poorest nations in the world, has been immersed in unrest since an attempted coup in May and protests that followed President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term in a disputed election where he prevailed in July. Foreign observers and opponents in Burundi contend Nkurunziza’s actions were unconstitutional and violated a peace accord. The treaty ended a civil war that left 300,000 dead between 1996 and 2006.

Environment

Rarely can the average beachgoer do their grocery shopping just by walking along the beach, but baffled beachcombers spotted everything from coffee to laundry detergent along Florida’s shores last Friday. Pet food, wine, paper towels and more washed ashore a day after thousands of coffee cans were discovered in Indialantic, Florida. Unfortunately, not all items were of grocery store quality. Water seems to have gotten into at least some of the packages, leaving food soggy and coffee salty. The United States Coast Guard identified the cargo barge Columbia Elizabeth as being responsible for the random items washing ashore. The ship reported missing several containers – as many as 25 – in the waters from Cape Canaveral to Palm Beach.

Weather

Up to 20 inches of snow have fallen in parts of California, Oregon and Idaho as of Monday morning. The heavy snow is now moving on to other Western states. The heaviest snow will be across the Rockies, including valley locations such as Salt Lake City. Tuesday into Wednesday. The snow will significantly impact travel in parts of the northern Plains and Upper Midwest, with some areas picking up more than a half-foot.

According to the National Weather Service, at least nine locations across the Pacific Northwest reported more than two feet (24 inches) of total rainfall so far this month, as of Friday evening. The top rainfall total so far is 28.20 inches at Baring along Washington’s western slopes of the Cascades. Parts of coastal northwest Washington have seen more than a foot of rain, while interior locations have seen 4 to 8 inches since last weekend, including Seattle. Rivers topped flood stage at over two dozen river gauges in western Washington and northwest Oregon.

A very mild weather pattern by December standards has engulfed eastern half of the Lower 48 states, setting hundreds of record highs and record-warm daily lows. Temperatures will soar up to 30 degrees above average into Monday, setting even more records as the mild air spreads to the East Coast. According to preliminary data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, at least 574 record daily highs were tied or broken across the U.S. during the first 10 days of December.

Signs of the Times (12/10/15)

December 10, 2015

2015 a “Watershed” Year as States Enacted 47 Pro-Life Bills

Nearly 400 pro-life bills were introduced in state legislatures nationwide in the last year, and 47 passed, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) in its “2015 State of the States” report. These included laws ranging from a ban on abortions for children capable of feeling pain, to defunding Planned Parenthood, to mandatory waiting periods and parental consent laws. One state stood out above all others in the CRR report. The Arkansas legislature enacted the highest number of new anti-abortion laws by a state this year, including a parental consent bill, which requires the notarized consent of one minor’s parent, except in medical emergencies.

CRR is actually a pro-choice (i.e. pro-abortion) group, so they see these pro-life wins as “onerous.” They touted “successes” such as the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act (AB 775), signed by California’s Democratic Governor Jerry Brown in October, which requires women’s pregnancy centers to tell mothers where they can obtain abortions. The group praised Illinois pro-choice Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner for signing a bill allowing “advanced practice nurses (APNs) to provide prescriptions for certain medications, including oral contraception and emergency contraception,” which can act as an abortifacient.

  • The momentum is beginning to shift toward pro-life so keep the prayers coming

Planned Parenthood Shooter Proclaims his Guilt in Court

During a court hearing today where prosecutors brought formal charges against alleged Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear, the accused shouted out during the hearings that he is guilty. Dear reportedly mentioned “baby body parts” when arrested at the scene of the crime, but he has no connections with the pro-life movement and has a long criminal record and is described by those who know him best as someone with clear mental health issues. Dear shouted and interrupted the proceedings, saying, ““I am guilty there will be no trial. I am a warrior for the babies.” “You’ll never know what I saw in that clinic. Atrocities. The babies. That’s what they want to seal,” he said, according to AP. Dear appears to have no association with the pro-life movement and those who know him say he is an awkward man who never discussed religion or abortion.

  • It makes no moral sense to take life to protest the taking of lives. Dear is clearly deranged and does not in any way represent the pro-life movement.

Feds to Indict Friend Who Bought Guns for San Bernardino Terrorists

Federal authorities are expected to bring charges against a former neighbor of San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook who bought two of the guns used in last week’s terror attack, Fox News reported Thursday. Enrique Marquez, who legally purchased the AR-15 rifles that Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik used to kill 14 people and injure 21 others at a social services building Dec. 2, will likely be indicted after having provided substantial information to investigators about Farook, Malik and their acquaintances. Law enforcement officials believe Farook and Marquez discussed executing an attack somewhere in the Los Angeles area in 2012, but decided not to do so after four people were arrested in nearby Riverside County in an unrelated terror case. Investigators believe Marquez bought the rifles and gave them or sold them to Farook in preparation for that planned attack. It is not clear what the target of the attack would have been.

Did San Bernardino Terrorists Act Alone?

During President Barack Obama’s prime-time Sunday night address to the American people, he made the claim that while the attacks certainly appeared to be terror-related, there was no evidence pointing to a “conspiracy” involving other people on either the domestic or international level. However, that claim may have just been disproved by the revelation of an unusually large deposit into the shooter’s bank account two weeks before the attack, according to Fox News. A $28,500 deposit was made to Syed Farook’s bank account from WebBank.com on or about Nov.18, some two weeks before he and his wife Tashfeen Malik carried out the San Bernardino massacre. On or about Nov.20, Fox News is told Farook converted $10,000 to cash, and withdrew the money at a Union Bank branch in San Bernardino. Afterwards, in the days before the shooting, there were at least three transfers of $5,000 that appear to be to Farook’s mother.

Minnesota Men Accused of Conspiring to Help ISIS

Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame, 20, of Eagan, Minnesota, was charged Wednesday by criminal complaint with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Court documents allege Warsame tried to help other young men from Minnesota’s Somali community travel to Syria to fight for the Islamic State. Nine others in that group have already been charged, authorities say. The documents allege Warsame and others settled on a plan of going to Syria by way of Mexico. FBI spokesman Kyle Loven said Warsame was arrested Wednesday night and is in custody. Five Minnesota men are scheduled to stand trial in May on charges including conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to commit murder outside the United States, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

More Mass Murders Under Obama than the Previous Four Presidents Combined

Using information compiled via a database with incidents, fatalities and injuries from real mass shootings in the United States, FreedomOutpost.com reports that during President Obama’s term of office, 162 mass murders and shootings with 864 fatalities have occurred. In comparison to previous Presidents: Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) saw 11 mass shootings with 101 fatalities; George H. W. Bush (1989-1993) saw 12 mass shootings with 94 fatalities; Bill Clinton (1993-2001) saw 23 mass shootings with 141 fatalities; and George W. Bush (2001-2009) saw 20 mass shootings with 158 fatalities. The total for the four previous Presidents is 66 shootings with 494 fatalities, much less combined than under Obama. The data was compiled by TruthStreamMedia.com via several sources.

  • Why? Obama has coddled Islamists and undermined U.S. security while claiming guns are the problem

Amnesty Report: ISIS Armed with U.S. Weapons

A new report from a prominent human rights group has found that ISIS has built a substantial arsenal, including U.S.-made weapons obtained from the Iraqi army and Syrian opposition groups. Amnesty International’s 44-page report, released late Monday, found that much of ISIS’ equipment and munitions comes from stockpiles captured from the U.S.-allied Iraqi military and Syrian rebels. The findings come as President Barack Obama has recommitted to leaning on regional forces, including the Iraqis, Kurds and Syrian opposition, to try to wipe out ISIS rather than committing significant numbers of U.S. ground troops. The Amnesty International report, however, concluded that it was from these local forces that ISIS acquired its arms.

  • This is nothing new. For decades the leading arms dealer in the world (the U.S.) has been inadvertently arming its future enemies

72 Homeland Security Employees on Terrorist Watch List

The Washington Free Beacon reported that at least 72 employees at the Department of Homeland Security are listed on the U.S. terrorist watch list, according to a Democratic lawmaker. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.) disclosed that a congressional investigation recently found that at least 72 people working at DHS also “were on the terrorist watch list.” “Back in August, we did an investigation—the inspector general did—of the Department of Homeland Security, and they had 72 individuals that were on the terrorist watch list that were actually working at the Department of Homeland Security,” Lynch told Boston Public Radio. Lynch added that DHS continues to fail inspections aimed at determining the efficiency of its internal safety mechanisms, as well as its efforts to protect the nation.

  • Either the terrorist watch list is poorly constructed or DHS isn’t much of a protector

Mentally Ill 16 times More Likely to be Killed by Police

At a time of heightened concern over police shootings, a new report estimates that people with mental illness are 16 times more likely than others to be killed by police. About one in four fatal police encounters involves someone with mental illness, according to the report, released Thursday by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, which focuses on the needs of people with serious mental illness. The problem stems from a lack of police training, as well as a lack of treatment for those with serious mental illness, said John Snook, the report’s co-author and executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. In many cases, people with serious mental illness are unable to get treatment until their behavior attracts the attention of the police. Nearly 8 million Americans suffer from a serious mental illness that “disorders their thinking,” such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, according to the report. On any given day, half of these patients are not taking medications or receiving other care.

Rate of Growth in Carbon Dioxide Emissions has Slowed

The rapid spread of renewable energy and improvements in energy efficiency across the globe may have paid off in a big way this year. Researchers are projecting that for the first time in history, the rate of growth in global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels will decline even as the global economy continues to grow. That decline could eventually lead to a peak in carbon emissions in the next decade or two, according to research led by Stanford University and published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. In 2014, global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels grew by just 0.6 percent. “This year we expect total emissions to flatten or drop slightly, despite strong growth in gross domestic product worldwide,” notes Rob Jackson, lead author of the report.

President Signs Bill Overhauling K-12 Education Policy

President Obama has signed a new federal law that overhauls K-12 education policy and ends more than a decade of strict federal control over schools. The Every Student Succeeds Act was passed by the House last week and the Senate approved it Wednesday It replaces the expired No Child Left Behind law and focuses less on standardized testing, making states once again responsible for fixing under-performing schools. Student performance will still be measured, but against new, locally designed standards. It’s the first major rewrite of elementary and secondary school policy since President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind in 2001. The Senate vote was 85-12 to pass the compromise measure, which won plaudits from conservatives and liberals alike. It passed the House 359-64 a week ago. No Child Left Behind expired in 2007 but stayed on the books because previous attempts at a rewrite failed.

Middle Class Rapidly Declining

Middle class Americans now comprise less than half, or 49.9%, of the nation’s population, down from 61% in 1971, according to a new Pew Research Center report. Pew defines middle class as those who live in households earning between two-thirds to two times the nation’s median income. In 2014, that ranged from $41,900 to $125,600 for a three-person household. For decades, the middle class had been the core of the country. A healthy middle class kept America strong, experts and politicians said. But more recently, middle-class residents have struggled under stagnating wages and soaring costs. Presidential candidates on both sides of the political aisle are campaigning on ways to bolster the nation’s middle class and increase opportunities to climb the economic ladder. The steady decline of the middle class is yet another sign of economic polarization, said Rakesh Kochhar, associate director of research at Pew. Not only are more Americans shifting into the upper and lower classes, but they are moving into the higher range of the upper class and the lower range of the lower class.

  • Minimizing the middle class is a socialistic one-world government strategy

Economic News

Oil prices have tumbled to the cheapest levels since the Great Recession. Oil tumbled another 6% on Wednesday to under $37 a barrel, its weakest level in almost seven years. A massive supply glut has wiped out two-thirds of oil’s value after it peaked at nearly $108 a barrel in June 2014. OPEC produced 31.7 million barrels a day in November, its latest monthly report shows. That is the highest output in over three years and 1.7 million barrels a day over its former production ceiling.

Energy companies that loaded up on debt during the oil boom are likely to have trouble paying back those loans. Oil prices have collapsed over 65% since the middle of last year. That’s fueling financial turmoil on Wall Street with Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service recently warning that a stunning 50% of energy bonds are “distressed,” meaning they are at risk of default. Overall, about $180 billion of debt is distressed. It’s the highest level since the end of the Great Recession.

China’s big cash pile is rapidly dwindling. On Monday, China’s central bank reported $3.4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, the lowest level since early 2013. November was one of the biggest drops ever. Many Chinese see better opportunities abroad, whether it’s real estate in New York or London, pricey art, or stocks and bonds in other countries. Exact data is hard to come by from China, but Capital Economics forecasts that November set a record for people moving money out of China.

Persecution Watch

Barnabas Fund reported that 25 Christian hostages held by the Islamic State in Syria were released on 9 December. The group appears to comprise 23 men of various ages and two young boys. All 25 have now safely arrived in Tel Tamar village, in north-eastern Syria where they are being cared for by Barnabas Fund. These hostages are among a group of 253 believers who were captured in late February when militants raided the mainly Assyrian villages along the Khabur river in north-eastern Syria and have endured nine months at the hands of brutal jihadists. IS has been releasing some of the hostages, mainly the elderly, in small groups. A total of 120 of the group have now been released. In a shocking video released in early October, militants executed three male hostages and threatened to do the same with the remaining hostages if their ransom demands were not met. In total, 130 continue to be held.

Armed Muslim Seleka militants attacked a camp for internally displaced people in Central African Republic on 3 December, killing eight Christians and wounding one UN peacekeeper. Some of those who were wounded in the attack were taken to the community hospital in the capital city, Bangui, a local Christian leader told Barnabas. The attackers are supporters of Ali Darras, leader of the Seleka militants in Bambari. Thousands of people have been killed since Muslim Seleka seized power of the Christian-majority country in 2013.

Migrant Crisis

Germany has taken in 1 million asylum-seekers so far in 2015, according to the social minister for Bavaria, the southern German region where the vast majority of them arrive. The astounding figure shows how Germany has taken a front seat in Europe’s most serious refugee crisis since World War II. Germany’s total for this one year is way more refugees than the United States has resettled over the past 10 years. Asylum registration procedures are in place — even if they lag behind for years — and the quality of local accommodation is high. Volunteers have played an important role in welcoming the new arrivals. Labor officials have made it clear that the rapidly aging country could benefit from some new workers. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s efforts to keep Germany open to immigrants were partly what made Time magazine name her 2015 Person of the Year on Wednesday.

Middle East

A Palestinian terrorist stabbed and wounded an IDF soldier and a civilian Wednesday afternoon near Beit Hadassah, a building that houses Jewish families in the West Bank city of Hebron. The attacker was shot dead by nearby security personnel. In related news, security forces arrested five young Israeli-Arabs in Nazareth this week on suspicion that they were preparing to carry out terrorist attacks in the name of the Islamic State (IS) terror militia. The men, aged 18-27, were found to be in the possession of weapons and admitted under questioning to becoming supporters of IS after consuming IS media content on the internet.

Islamic State

An escaped teacher from Raqqa, Syria spoke to CNN about life in the ISIS capital: ISIS has turned Raqqa — once liberal and prosperous — into a nightmare. The group’s extreme interpretation of Sharia law enforces brutal violence. Decapitated heads line the main square. Lifeless bodies left in the streets. Despite ISIS’s attempts to portray their so-called Islamic State as a paradise, daily life became unbearable for Suleiman’s family. “ISIS gives anything for free to people who join them. The rest of us get nothing. There is no food, electricity or money. The people join ISIS out of hunger. They also put pressure on people to join by going after their livelihoods, saying ‘You are with us or against us.'” About the U.S.-led coalition’s airstrikes, Suleiman says, “There’s little impact (from the airstrikes) because most areas are empty, or ISIS evacuated before the strikes,” Suleiman said. “Generally, the strikes kill a relatively low number of ISIS fighters. When we were in Raqqa city, for example, the court (was) hit three times. It was empty.”

ISIS actually wants the United States to send in ground troops because that would fulfill sacred prophesies stating that Islam will be victorious worldwide after an apocalyptic battle to be set off once Western armies come to the region. In fact, when the United States first invaded Iraq, one of the most enthusiastic proponents of the move was the man who founded the terrorist cell that would one day become the Islamic State, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He excitedly called the Americans’ 2003 intervention “the Blessed Invasion,” reports the New York Times. The Islamic State’s propaganda is rife with references to apocalyptic prophecy about the last great battle that sets the stage for the end times.

  • Both Islam and Christianity foresee an apocalyptic battle in the Middle East, a final showdown between Isaac and Ishmael. The prophecies differ on who is the ultimate winner, Mohammed or Jesus Christ. Beforehand, however, the anti-Christ will arise to form a one-world government and bring temporary peace. (Revelation 11, Ezekiel 38-39)

Afghanistan

At least 46 people died and hostages were taken after the Taliban attacked an airport in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. Another 35 people were wounded. The Taliban targeted the homes of government employees and the joint Afghan-NATO military base on the airport complex. Fourteen insurgents attacked the complex Tuesday evening wearing security forces’ uniforms. The Taliban said it carried out the attack and is holding hostages in homes and at a school, the BBC reported.

Iran

Iran has carried out a new medium range ballistic missile test in breach of two United Nations Security Council resolutions, a senior U.S. official told Fox News on Monday. Western intelligence says the test was held Nov. 21 near Chabahar, a port city in southeast Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province near the border with Pakistan. The launch took place from a known missile test site along the Gulf of Oman. The missile, known as a Ghadr-110, has a range of about 1200 miles, and is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Iran appears to be in a race against the clock to improve the accuracy of its ballistic missile arsenal in the wake of the nuclear agreement signed in July.

Ukraine

Fighting between Ukraine’s military and separatist forces in the east has escalated with scant notice this fall as world attention is focused on increased terrorism and a refugee crisis caused by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Fighting that dropped off in September after Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists agreed to a new cease-fire plan picked up again in November, causing multiple deaths and injuries to Ukrainian troops. The fighting and a failure by Russia-backed separatists to implement measures of the cease-fire agreement make it unlikely the two sides will meet a self-imposed year-end deadline to end the conflict. NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned of renewed war. “Russian-backed separatists have not yet withdrawn their troops and equipment. Illegal groups in eastern Ukraine have not been disarmed. And Ukraine has not been able to re-establish control over its border,” Stoltenberg said.

North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says his country has developed a hydrogen bomb, state media reported Thursday. However, information related to the highly secretive nation of North Korea, which has nuclear weapons, is extremely difficult to independently confirm. A report by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said the country is now a “powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate a self-reliant A-bomb (atomic bomb) and H-bomb (hydrogen bomb) to reliably defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation.” Thermonuclear bombs, or hydrogen bombs, are far more powerful than conventional nuclear weapons.

China

At least six people were killed in a massive pileup in China that involved 33 cars and was blamed on the country’s thick, choking smog. The crash occurred in Shanxi Province, southwest of Beijing, on an expressway near the town of Taiyuan. The smog created horrendous driving conditions as visibilities plummeted Tuesday morning, the report added. Northern China has seen some of the worst smog pollution on record in recent days. The dangerous smog has reached levels 40 times worse than what is considered safe, leading to the closure of schools, factories and construction sites. The local government ordered an odd-even license-plate system for vehicles, keeping half of Beijing’s automobiles off the roads

Weather

A very mild weather pattern for early-December standards has engulfed a large swath of the Lower 48 states. Temperatures will soar up to 30 degrees above early-December averages through this weekend as the mild air spreads from the western and central states to the East Coast. For some locations, the low temperatures this week will be as warm or even warmer than the average high for this time of year.

A section of the Miami zoo meant to mimic the rainforest got a little too much rain this past week, forcing the zoo to close to the public on Monday. A lagoon in the “Amazon and Beyond” attraction flooded, along with public walkways and exhibitors in other parts of the zoo, due to unusually rainy weather. More than 14 inches of rain has hit parts of the Miami area over the last week, which is 13.64 inches above the average for the entire month of December.

Monday was the wettest calendar day in recorded history in Portland, and the rain was expected to stick around for days. Nearly 2.7 inches of rain on Monday. The previous record was set on Nov. 19, 1996. The storm caused floods, numerous landslides, road closures and even a sinkhole. Roads in Portland, Oregon, have been left impassable by flooding that ejected manhole covers, while mudslides broke sewer pipes and sent sewage into the streets. Torrential rains pummeled parts of the Pacific Northwest again early Wednesday causing mudslides and flooding roads, leaving two women dead in Oregon and sweeping seven people into a Washington river, where they were rescued.

Signs of the Times (12/7/15)

December 7, 2015

FBI Finally Admits San Bernardino Massacre was Terrorism

A day after federal officials revealed that a woman who took part in the mass shootings in San Bernardino had pledged support for the Islamic State, that extremist group reported over its official online radio service that the man-and-wife team who killed 14 were supporters of the organization. “Two followers of Islamic State attacked several days ago a center in San Bernardino in California,” the group reported on its Al-Bayan daily broadcast, according to Reuters. U.S. officials reported Friday that Malik had pledged support for Islamic State terrorist group and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a posting on Facebook immediately before she and her husband opened fire on a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino Wednesday. Farook reportedly had contacted at least two foreign terrorist organizations before he and Malik went on their rampage. In addition to killing 14 people, most of them Farook’s co-workers at a county agency, 21 were injured.

San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook shared ISIS’ ideology, wanted to see the establishment of an Islamic caliphate and was fixated with Israel, Farook’s father told an Italian newspaper. “My son said that he shared [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] Al Baghdadi’s ideology and supported the creation of the Islamic State,” said Farook’s dad, also named Syed Farook, who lives in Corona, Calif., with another son who is a Navy veteran. “He was also obsessed with Israel.” “I told him he had to stay calm and be patient because in two years Israel will not exist anymore,” the elder Farook told La Stampa.

Obama Addresses Nation About ISIS

President Barack Obama on Sunday issued his most passionate denunciation yet of ISIS, vowing to “destroy” the group in a relentless, strong and smart campaign that is consistent with the nation’s values. But the speech — intended to reassure a nervous nation — didn’t announce an overhaul of a policy that critics have branded insufficient to take on the evolving threat. Obama, speaking in the symbolic surroundings of the Oval Office, unequivocally told millions of television viewers in prime-time that last week’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, was a terrorist attack by a couple who had gone down the “dark path of radicalization” and embraced a “perverted” form of Islam. Obama said. “We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us.”

A new intelligence report commissioned by the White House says that the ISIS terror group will grow in numbers and gain ground unless it suffers significant losses in Iraq and Syria, reports Fox News. The findings sharply contradict previous statements by President Obama and other White House officials that the Islamic State has been “contained” by a program of U.S.-led airstrikes and the deployment of approximately 3,500 U.S. forces to train and otherwise aid moderate Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters.

  • Obama weak response to Islamic terrorism has allowed ISIS to flourish and yet he still does not respond with anything but empty words

ISIS Confirms Strategy of Creating “No-Go” Zones

In a recently uncovered manifesto, ISIS brags that it has been using Western refugee programs to sneak terrorists into Europe with the aim of creating no-go zones. Perhaps even better described as Sharia-dominant mini-caliphates, Da’esh’s intent is to use the areas as bases from which to launch attacks such as the November 13 Paris massacre and the jihadist killings in San Bernardino, reports minutemennews.com. In the 99-page manifesto entitled Black Flags from Rome, the social-media-savvy Da’esh boasts, “There were small armies of the Islamic State within every country of Europe by late 2014, and the intelligence agencies didn’t even know about it!” Three of the Paris attackers have been confirmed as coming into France among the Syrian refugees.

At Least 22 Islamic Terror Training Camps in U.S.

While the Federal Bureau of Investigation continues to investigate 1,000 ISIS-tied individuals in the United States, there are at least 22 paramilitary Islamic communities in the US that they know of, but are not doing anything about, reports FreedomOutpost.com. The groups are operated by Jamaat al-Fuqra, a Pakistan-based group, who main front group is Muslims of the Americas. Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, a Pakistani cleric, heads up the group in Islamberg, New York. The communes operated by the organization are in mostly remote areas of California, Georgia, South Carolina, New York, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Michigan, Tennessee and other states. The Clarion Project reported on these camps: “The organization says it has a network of 22 “villages” around the U.S., with Islamberg as its main headquarters in New York. Clarion Project obtained secret MOA footage showing female members receiving paramilitary training at Islamberg. It was featured on the Kelly File on FOX News Channel in October.”

Homeland Security Unveils New Terror Alert System

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Monday his department will unveil a new national alert system in the coming days to reflect the “new phase” of the terror threat. Johnson said the new alert system will reflect the current security environment when “not having a specific credible piece of intelligence specifying a plot isn’t the end of the story.” A much-maligned color-coded terror alert system was put in place following the September 11, 2001, attacks and phased out in 2011 under Johnson’s predecessor. It was replaced by the two-tier National Terror Advisory System that has such a high threshold it has never been used.

Senate Votes to Defund Planned Parenthood

In a historic vote Friday, the U.S. Senate passed a reconciliation bill that guts major portions of Obamacare and bars Planned Parenthood from receiving Federal tax dollars in Medicaid reimbursements. This would effectively defund Planned Parenthood to the tune of nearly $500,000 each year. The final vote was 52-47. “The pro-life movement, including Operation Rescue, has fought for years to halt public funding to the nation’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood. With this victory in the Senate, and guaranteed passage in the House, we have achieved an unprecedented political victory!” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman. “Operation Rescue understands that the bill will be vetoed by President Barack Obama, a radical abortion supporter. However, if a Republican President is elected next November, there is now every confidence that a similar bill will finally accomplish the defunding goal. This makes the next presidential election of critical importance for those who oppose tax funding of abortion businesses or abortion itself.”

Supreme Court Declines to Review Laws Banning Assault Weapons

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to review the ability of cities and states to prohibit semiautomatic high-capacity assault weapons that have been used in some of the nation’s most deadly recent mass shootings. The justices decided not to reconsider a lower court’s decision in a case from the city of Highland Park, Ill., near Chicago. But seven states — Maryland, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — have similar bans, and all of the prohibitions remain in place. The court’s action Monday continues a pattern in which the court has avoided all cases that might clarify the second amendment’s rights to bear arms. Gun rights advocates say cities and states continue to put unreasonable restrictions on the constitutional right. Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia said the court should review the ban, which “flouts” the court’s Second Amendment jurisprudence. They criticized lower court decisions that have allowed jurisdictions and impose what Thomas called “categorical bans on firearms that millions of Americans commonly own for lawful purposes.”

Gun Violence Actually Declining in U.S.

Premeditated mass shootings in public places are happening more often, some researchers say, plunging towns and cities into grief and riveting the attention of a horrified nation. In general, though, fewer Americans are dying as a result of gun violence — a shift that began about two decades ago, reports the Washington Post. In 1993, there were seven homicides by firearm for every 100,000 Americans, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2013, that figure had fallen by nearly half, to 3.6 — a total of 11,208 firearm homicides. The number of victims of crimes involving guns that did not result in death (such as robberies) declined even more precipitously, from 725 per 100,000 people in 1993 to 175 in 2013. This decline in gun violence is part of an overall decline in violent crime. According to the FBI’s data, the national rate of violent crime has decreased 49 percent since its apex in 1991.

Climate Change Deal Reached

Negotiators from 195 countries agreed Saturday on a blueprint deal aimed at reducing global carbon emissions and limiting global warming, a significant but far from conclusive step in the multinational effort to keep climate change in check, reports CNN. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) posted on its website a copy of the draft agreement, which officials have been working on intensively for some time. Officials will now work through next week at the COP21 conference in Paris to craft a complete, final agreement.

Obama Administrations Demands Syrian Refugees be Given Food Stamps

In a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the state of Georgia’s social service agency, Obama gave an ultimatum: issue food stamps to Syrian refugees or face dire consequences for disobeying federal laws. According to Breitbart, Jessica Shahin, associate administrator of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at the USDA, said in the letter that if an applicant follows the proper procedure in applying for the welfare benefit, the state must issue the food stamps. “Refusing to accept applications based on a household’s national origin is in violation of these vital requirements. FNS would like to clarify that all refugees, including Syrian refugees, are considered qualified aliens and are able to receive SNAP,” she wrote.

Syrian refugees arrive in Texas despite lawsuit

Two Syrian families are scheduled to arrive in Texas on Monday, despite the state’s efforts to block the resettlement. A family of six is slated to settle in Dallas and a second family of six in Houston. Nine other refugees are expected to arrive in Houston on Thursday. Last week Texas withdrew a request for an immediate order blocking the refugees’ arrival, but the state is moving forward with a lawsuit arguing that the Refugee Act of 1980 requires the federal government to consult with governors and mayors before relocating refugees. Texas argues that Syrian refugees in the United States will nearly double the cost of federal resettlement programs over the next two years, which will largely be borne by the states.

Economic News

The crash in oil prices has OPEC so divided that the only thing the cartel can agree on is not to agree at all. In a surprise, OPEC failed to reach an official decision Friday on how much oil to produce. The lack of an official quota followed a marathon meeting in Vienna and effectively leaves output steady at 30 million barrels a day. Ultimately, OPEC leader Saudi Arabia decided not to answer desperate pleas from less affluent members like Nigeria and Venezuela to cut production. This non-decision does nothing to resolve the massive supply glut weighing heavily on prices. “The cartel is basically broken,” said Matthew Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData, which tracks global crude shipments.

America has added 12 million jobs since the recession ended in June 2009. Unemployment has fallen from a peak of 10% down to 5%, and even wages are finally starting to go up. Yet America’s central bank still looks like it’s in crisis mode, notes CNNMoney. Interest rates are at historic lows near 0%. They have been that way since December 2008 when the Federal Reserve was doing everything it could to jumpstart the economy, banking sector and housing market in the recession. Today, the economy is no longer in a state of emergency, and many argue interest rates shouldn’t be either. The job market’s strength, especially in the face of a global economic slowdown, is why the Federal Reserve will likely raise interest rates on December 16. It would be the Fed’s first rate increase in nearly a decade.

Thanks to low gas prices, more Americans are buying big, gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs. Sales of both jumped 10% this year, according to sales tracker Autodata. That’s nearly twice the increase in overall vehicle sales. Meanwhile, sales of some fuel efficient cars have plunged, even as the industry is on pace for record sales this year. Sales of Toyota (TM)’s Prius, the hybrid that pioneered that market, are down 12% this year, while sales of the Chevrolet Volt, one of the first mass market plug-in electric cars, are down 23%. The sales shift to SUVs and trucks has trimmed the average mileage of all vehicles sold in the U.S., according to Michigan’s TRI. The average in November was 25 mpg, down about 1 mpg from the record high reached in August 2014, before gas prices started to slide.

Islamic State

The Russian military produced an impressive array of evidence that clearly shows that ISIS oil is being smuggled into Turkey on an industrial scale. The evidence included photographs taken by satellite and during aerial reconnaissance missions. There is no way in the world that a endless parade of trucks carrying ISIS oil could have marched through Turkish border checkpoints without the cooperation of the central government. This explains the ramp-up in tensions between Russia and Turkey after Turkish forces downed a Russian military plane bombing ISIS.

ISIS buys bombs and pays fighters with the billions of dollars it makes from the oil fields, mineral mines, and banks under its control. ISIS also imposes taxes on the people living inside its territory in Iraq and Syria. ISIS raked in $2 billion in 2014, reports CNNMoney. It ditched Al-Qaeda’s old model of relying on rich donors in the Arabian Gulf. Instead, the Islamic State is a “self-funded powerhouse.” Soldiers earn $400 to $1,200 a month, plus a $50 stipend for their wives and $25 for each child, according to the Congressional Research Service. Highly skilled engineers and technicians can make upwards of $1,500 a month, according to an investigative team of UN researchers.

When ISIS took over Iraq’s second largest city last year, it stole nearly $450 million from Mosul’s central bank. That included unknown, vast quantities of gold bullion, according the International Business Times and several military experts keeping track of ISIS. ISIS believes the global economy’s current system of paper money is a disaster. A video produced by the ISIS propaganda media unit condemns the rise of bank notes like the U.S. dollar, which started as “a mere claim to gold” and are now “a worthless piece of paper.” For ISIS, only pure gold currency will do — even though economists say an ISIS gold currency is doomed because the population would most likely want to hoard gold rather than use it as currency.

Yemen

Officials said the governor of the province of Aden in southern Yemen and six of his bodyguards were killed in a massive explosion Sunday that was claimed by a local Islamic State affiliate. Gov. Gaafar Mohamed Saad was traveling to his office when his convoy was hit in the Rimbaud area of the city. An affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in an online statement that referred to Saad as a “tyrant,” and said a bomb was hidden in a parked car along the convoy’s route. Saad was appointed governor in October after playing an important role in liberating Aden from Shiite rebels known as Houthis.

Chad

A deadly attack took the lives of at least 27 people in Chad, Africa. A local market on the island of Koulfoua, in was struck, injuring at least 90 people. A Chad police spokesman said three female suicide bombers carried out Saturday’s attack. The Lake Chad region straddles the borders of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. The area has been attacked repeatedly by the Boko Haram militant group, and the region is under a state of emergency. As many as 17,000 people have been killed in the area since 2009, when Boko Haram began fighting authorities in a bid to impose Islamist rule in Northern Nigeria.

Iraq

RUN Ministries reports that, “We were just told that six children have died over the past several days because of the cold weather in northern Iraq. Thousands who survived the terror of ISIS are sleeping in open fields, struggling to endure frigid temperatures because they’re still without shelter or even a blanket.” Thousands more are arriving daily. RUN provides heavy-duty blankets to these refugees at a cost of $12 each. Go to runministries.org to help RUN rush emergency aid to persecuted Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities in northern Iraq.

Venezuela

Venezuela’s fractious opposition won a crushing victory in legislative elections Sunday over President Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist Party as the country’s voters rejected the socialist revolution created by the late leader Hugo Chávez. The National Electoral Council said early Monday that preliminary results gave the opposition’s Democratic Unity coalition at least 99 of the 167 seats in the National Assembly compared with 46 for Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Twenty-two seats were too close to call. If those projections hold true, the Democratic Unity coalition would have the two-thirds super-majority needed to rewrite laws, call an assembly to rewrite the constitution, and start a recall referendum against Maduro.

Environment

What used to be one of the richest cities in Peru is slowly being destroyed by the same mine that supported it economically for decades. A massive open-pit mine is slowly swallowing Cerro de Pasco in the Andes, one of the highest cities in the world. More than a mile wild, the pit is as deep as the Empire State Building is tall and has been causing widespread lead poisoning in residents for decades, according to Vice.com. “The center of the city once had foreign consulates and historic homes,” Congresswoman Gloria Ramos Prudencio told National Geographic. “For many years, we were Peru’s second city. The tajo (pit) took all that. These days, even the neighborhoods built in the 1960s to get away from the pit are falling into it.”

Beijing issued its first-ever red alert for smog on Monday, urging schools to close and invoking restrictions on factories and traffic that will keep half of the city’s vehicles off the roads. The red alert — the most serious warning on a four-tier system adopted a little over two years ago — means authorities have forecast more than three consecutive days of severe smog. Readings of PM2.5 particles climbed toward 300 micrograms per cubic meter on Monday and are expected to continue rising before the air begins to improve with the arrival of a cold front on Thursday. The World Health Organization designates the safe level for the tiny, poisonous particles at 25.

Volcanoes

Sicily’s Mount Etna had one of its biggest eruptions in the last two years Thursday morning, spewing lava and ash into the air that even produced some lightning. Etna hasn’t seen a full eruption of this size in two years, but it came as little surprise to scientists that have observed increased seismic activity nearby for the past month. More than 25 percent of Sicily’s population lives on the slopes of Etna.

Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake has shaken Tajikistan, sending shockwaves to other Central Asian nations. Authorities in Tajikistan nor in Kyrgyzstan would immediately comment on the possible damage. The quake shook buildings in cities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The U.S. Geographical Survey said the epicenter of the 7.2- point earthquake was located in the east of Tajikistan, 75 miles from the nearest village.

Weather

A fierce, wet Atlantic storm soaked parts of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland with flooding rain, storm surge flooding and winds locally over 100 mph during the weekend. A peak gust of 112 mph was clocked atop Aonach Mòr in the north of Scotland. Shap, located just outside of Lake District National Park in the north of England already picked up 6.06 inches of rain from Storm Desmond as of midday Saturday. Nearby Keswick measured 5.58 inches in that same 24-hour period. Authorities in Britain have closed roads, evacuated homes and issued severe flood warnings as stormy weather hits the country. Britain’s army was called in to help put down sandbags and evacuate people from their homes Sunday. Many rivers burst their banks in the central England county of Cumbria, where the city of Carlisle and hundreds of homes have been submerged. Northants Fire reports that at least 76 people have been rescued by the boat squad in Carlisle. Alerts for heavy rain or flooding were also posted in southern Norway and southwest Sweden. Eik Hove, Norway, had picked up 7.91 inches of rain over 48 hours through Saturday evening.

It has not felt much like December so far across parts of the United States, but by next week practically nobody will feel like December in the Lower 48 states as above-average temperatures take over virtually the entire country. Although parts of the Northwest and Midwest saw some wintry weather to start the month, it may be quite some time before the next widespread, significant winter storm threatens the Lower 48 states.

Signs of the Times (12/4/15)

December 4, 2015

Islamic Terrorists Kill 14 in San Bernardino

Federal investigators believe there is a “very serious” possibility that Tashfeen Malik, one of two shooters who murdered 14 people and wounded 21 others in San Bernardino, Calif. Wednesday, radicalized her husband and co-assailant, county restaurant inspector Syed Farook, Fox News has learned. Investigators also believe that the couple had planned a second attack after the shooting at a social service center for the disabled when they were killed in a shootout with local authorities approximately two miles away. a U.S. official confirmed to Fox News that the two met and became engaged after Farook traveled to Saudi Arabia in September 2013. Malik, a Pakistani citizen, applied for a K-1 visa at the American embassy in Islamabad in May 2014 and Farook traveled to Saudi Arabia that July to bring her to the U.S. Both listed their religion as Muslim. Investigators believe that on at least one of those trips to Saudi Arabia, one or both members of the couple made contact with suspected Al Qaeda terrorists.

Wearing black tactical gear and wielding assault rifles, Farook, 28, and Malik, 27, sprayed as many as 75 rounds into a room at the Inland Regional Center, where about 75 of Farook’s co-workers had gathered Wednesday morning. Among the weapons found were three rigged-together pipe bombs at the social service center, each equipped with a remote-control detonating device that apparently malfunctioned; more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition and multiple pipe bombs in the rented SUV where they died; and 12 pipe bombs, tools for making more, and over 3,000 additional rounds of ammunition at a family home in the nearby town of Redlands.

  • Obama and the mainstream media continue to try and spin this tragedy as another gun rampage

ISIS Adherents Praise San Bernardino Massacre

ISIS extremists began celebrating the mass shooting in San Bernardino hours after the massacre, creating the hashtag #America_Burning, Vocativ discovered. The Islamic State, however, did not take credit for the shootings in the ghoulish postings. Vocativ deep web analysts discovered the sickening ISIS posts on web forums where the extremists frequently share information. “California streets are full with soldiers with heavy weapons. The Unites States is burning #America_Burning #Takbir.” But the hashtag was primarily used on Twitter where one ISIS extremist taunted the United States with a tweet that read “Let America know a new era #California #America_burning.” Another ISIS supporter posted in reference to the shooting on Twitter, “God is the greatest. May god spread fear in the homes of the Crusaders.”

Unprecedented Support for ISIS in the U.S.

Support for ISIS in America has reached an unprecedented level with several thousand U.S.-based sympathizers and more terrorism-related arrests in 2015 than any year since 9/11, according to a report by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. While the U.S. only saw 15 arrests for ISIS related activities in 2014 that number has more than tripled with at least 56 people being charged in the U.S. so far in 2015. The report noted that the average ISIS recruit is male and around 26 years old. It identified at least 300 Americans who actively support ISIS on social media and spread propaganda on the terror group’s behalf, with Twitter being the preferred platform. In addition to those supporters, the FBI has previously said that they also have 900 open investigations into homegrown violent extremists, a majority being ISIS related. The hardest task for federal law enforcement tracking these threats is prioritizing those they think are actually at risk of carrying out attacks over those that only engage in propaganda.

Swedish Village Descends into Open Warfare as Citizens Fight Back against Muslim Invaders

A small Swedish village has descended into open warfare after furious locals clashed with migrants in a chilling warning of the dangers associated with mass migration, reported the Express UK on November 29. Outraged protestors threatened children and hurled stones at sheltered housing in apparent retaliation for vandalism and burglaries carried out by newly arrived Muslim refugees. Meanwhile aid workers helping the refugees say they have been terrified by racist attacks which have left them too scared to leave their homes. Sweden is at the heart of Europe’s migrant crisis, with 10,000 asylum seekers arriving in the sparsely populated Scandinavian country every week. In Tärnsjö outraged locals say the problems began when 20 refugee families arrived and were linked to a crime wave in the village. Villager Tobias Willhall said: “The immigrants have caused all kinds of trouble for us. I have friends whose storage spaces have been burgled by immigrants and bicycles have been stolen.

Illegal Immigrants Sue Oregon over Denial of Driver’s Licenses

A group of illegal immigrants is suing the state of Oregon to overturn a voter-approved initiative that denied them driver’s licenses. The lawsuit, brought by five illegal immigrants, comes after Oregonians passed Measure 88 last year with a strong two-thirds majority. Thirty-five of Oregon’s 36 counties voted against licenses for undocumented residents, as did every congressional district in the state, most of which are represented by Democrats. But the lawsuit alleges Measure 88 is unconstitutional because it “arbitrarily” denies driving privileges based on membership in a “disfavored minority group.” It alleges Oregon voters were motivated by “animus toward persons from Mexico and Central America.”

More Than 179,000 Criminal Illegal Immigrants Roaming Free in U.S.

More than 179,000 illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes, including violent ones, continue to roam free across the United States, with reports indicating that these illegal immigrants commit new crimes “every day,” according to lawmakers and the director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, also known as ICE. Sarah Saldana, ICE’s director, disclosed to Congress on Wednesday that the agency is apprehending and removing fewer illegal immigrants than in past years. Somewhere around 179,029 “undocumented criminals with final orders of removal” from the United States currently remain at large across the country and are essentially untraceable, according to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who disclosed these numbers during a Wednesday hearing.

Corporate America Hiding Hacks

The backbone of America — banks, oil and gas suppliers, the energy grid — is under constant attack by hackers. But the biggest cyberattacks, the ones that can blow up chemical tanks and burst dams, are kept secret by a law that shields U.S. corporations, reports CNN. You could live near — or work at — a major facility that has been hacked repeatedly and investigated by the federal government. But you’d never know. A CNNMoney investigation has reviewed public documents issued by regulators that reveal widespread problems. There are plenty of examples, and all “posed a serious or substantial risk” to portions of the electrical grid, these documents say. In early 2013, hackers attacked several natural gas pipelines in the Midwest. Last year, a hacker got into the network that controls industrial equipment at a public utility — but the Department of Homeland Security won’t even say where it is in the United States.

Record 185K Gun Background Checks

More Americans had their backgrounds checked purchasing guns on Black Friday than any day in the on record, according to data released by the FBI. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System processed 185,345 requests on Nov. 27. This was an approximate 5% increase over the 175,754 background checks conducted on Black Friday 2014. Licensed sellers deny sales to failed background checks based on a variety of factors including criminal backgrounds, domestic violence convictions or restraining orders.

China’s Renminbi Is Approved by I.M.F. as a World Reserve Currency

The Chinese renminbi was anointed as one of the world’s elite currencies on Monday, a milestone decision by the International Monetary Fund that underscores the country’s rising financial clout as the world’s second largest economy. The move will help pave the way for broader use of the renminbi in trade and finance, securing China’s standing as a global economic power. Just four other currencies — the dollar, the euro, the pound and the yen — have that I.M.F. designation. The I.M.F. designation, an accounting unit known as the special drawing rights, bestows global importance. Many central banks follow this benchmark in measuring their reserves, which countries hold to help protect their economies in times of trouble. By adding the renminbi to this group, the I.M.F. effectively says that it considers the currency to be safe, reliable and freely usable.

  • This additional reserve currency further weakens the U.S. dollar’s domination of world finance, a chief goal of the one-world government proponents

Global Corporate Defaults Climb to 6-Year High

Standard & Poor’s reports that companies have defaulted on $95 billion worth of debt so far this year, with 2015 set to finish with the highest number of worldwide defaults since 2009. Strategists are warning that corporate defaults will only continue to skyrocket as the Federal Reserve prepares to hike rates and oil and commodity prices remain stalled, the Financial Times reported. “The amount of debt owed by U.S. companies relative to the size of their profits has been increasing, according to Alberto Gallo, macro credit strategist for RBS. Corporate defaults occur when a borrower misses the payment on a bond, exchanges distressed debt for new notes, or files for bankruptcy protection.

Economic News – Domestic

Employers added 211,000 jobs in November as the labor market turned in a solid showing for the second straight month, likely cementing a decision by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this month for the first time in nearly a decade. The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, was unchanged at 5%, the Labor Department said Friday. A rise in employment was offset by an increase in the labor force. Businesses added 197,000 jobs., led by construction, professional technical and services, and health care. Federal, state and local governments added 14,000. Also encouraging is that job gains for September and October were revised up by a total 35,000.

Wage growth slowed a bit after picking up sharply the previous month. Average hourly earnings rose 4 cents to $25.25 and are up 2.3% over the past 12 months. Pay increases have averaged a sluggish 2% for most of the recovery but economists are expecting an acceleration in the months ahead as employers boost pay to compete for fewer available workers in a tightening labor market. That would spur higher inflation snd give the Fed confidence to nudge up interest rates.

The Federal Reserve is cutting its lifeline to big banks in financial trouble. The Fed officially adopted a new rule Monday that limits its ability to lend emergency money to banks. In theory, the new rule should quash the notion that Wall Street banks are “too big to fail.” Under the new rule, banks that are going bankrupt — or appear to be going bankrupt — can no longer receive emergency funds from the Fed under any circumstances. If the rule had been in place during the financial crisis, it would have prevented the Fed from lending to insurance giant AIG (AIG) and Bear Stearns.

Online shopping is surging in popularity. Total digital sales in the U.S. topped $11 billion over the five-day period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, according to Adobe. Even with all the concerns about the strong U.S. dollar making American goods expensive, foreigners were still shopping. Overall, non-U.S. buyers represent about 5% of online sales during the big U.S. shopping days after Thanksgiving.

The national average gasoline price was $2.04 on Tuesday, according to AAA, down more than 25% from a year ago. Nearly two out of every three gas stations nationwide have gas below $2 a gallon. The national average could break the $2 mark for the first time in almost seven years by this weekend, depending on the outcome of the OPEC meeting later this week.

Aa lot of America still is massively in debt, especially in the lower rungs of the income ladder. Wealthy families have been able to pay off a lot of their debt in recent years, but poorer families have not. The situation is so bad that Morgan Stanley says the middle class is “eroding.” It’s a trap they just can’t get out of. Wages aren’t growing for those at the bottom, making it hard to pay off debt. In Europe, the amount of debt people have increases as their income rises. The poor don’t carry a huge debt load, the researchers found. It’s the exact opposite in the U.S. The lower middle class and poor came into the Great Recession with a lot of debt and they haven’t been able to pay it down since.

The Dow dropped 252 points on Thursday after the European Central Bank shocked investors by failing to deliver the dramatic stimulus moves they expected (see below). The move also rocked the normally quiet fixed-income industry. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield surged to 2.328%, its biggest one-day move since July 2013, according to Dow Jones.

Economic News – International

The European Central Bank on Thursday cut interest rates by 10 basis points to minus 0.3% and extended its massive bond-buying program as it attempts to inject life into the Eurozone’s creaking economy. President Mario Draghi said the central bank’s 60 billion euros ($64 billion) asset-purchase plan would be extended until at least March 2017. He also said it would be broadened to include regional and local debt. The rate cut is intended to push the region’s bank into making more loans and so support economic recovery. In the third quarter, GDP slipped across the economies of the 19 nations that use the euro currency to 0.3% from 0.4% three months earlier.

  • A negative interest rate means the debtor does not have to repay the full amount of the loan. This is the opposite of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s plan to increase rates from the current 0% for inter-bank loans.

China’s all-important factory sector continues to lose steam, with manufacturing activity slumping to a three-year low in November, as concerns grow over the economy. The official purchasing managers’ index hit 49.6 in November, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, down from 49.8 the previous month. Any number below 50 represents a deceleration in the manufacturing sector. The data underscores growing worries over the health of China’s economy, the second-largest in the world.

Middle East

A public opinion poll published last week conducted by the Watan Center for Studies and Research, found that 48% of the Palestinians interviewed believe that the real goal of the recent “intifada” against Israel is to “liberate all of Palestine.” In other words, approximately half of Palestinians believe that the goal of the “intifada” should lead to the destruction of Israel. As the current Palestinian campaign of terrorism against Israel is about to enter its third month, it is still not clear to many what the Palestinians are trying to achieve. The Palestinians cannot even agree on a name for their campaign. Some are referring to it as an “intifada,” while others are describing it as a “Habba Jamahiriya” (i.e. “flurry”). The Palestinians also have not been able to agree on the motives behind the stabbing, shooting, firebombing and car-ramming attacks.

Islamic State

The U.S. is sending more special operations forces to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling ISIS, as well as capture or kill senior leaders of the terror network in Iraq and Syria. A U.S. official told Fox News that approximately 200 troops would be sent to Iraq within the next few weeks part of a “specialized expeditionary targeting force” announced by Defense Secretary Ash Carter in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday. A second U.S. official told Fox News that capturing senior ISIS leaders would also be an important component of the new assault force’s mission to learn more about the group’s structure and any affiliates. The U.S. military conducted similar operations in Iraq to take out senior Al Qaeda leadership.

British Royal Air Force Tornado fighter jets conducted airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, the country’s defense ministry said Thursday. The bombing campaign came shortly after Prime Minister David Cameron held a vote in the House of Commons late Wednesday on whether to support the operation. Lawmakers backed the government by 397-223. The warplanes struck six targets near Omar inside Syria’s eastern border with Iraq where the militant group, also known as ISIL, has extensive oilfields, the ministry said. Germany on Friday became the latest nation to agree to a request from France to join an international coalition fighting the Islamic State in Syria. The U.S. Air Force has fired more than 20,000 missiles and bombs in the air war against the Islamic State, depleting its stocks of munitions and prompting the service to scour depots around the world for more weapons and to find money to buy them, according to records obtained by USA TODAY. The Air Force efforts come as the Pentagon has stepped up airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic State claims to be more than a militant group, selling itself as a government for the world’s Muslims that provides a range of services in the territory it controls. But that statehood project is now in distress, perhaps more so than at any other time since the Islamic State began seizing territory in Iraq and Syria, according to a range of interviews with people who have recently fled. Under pressure from airstrikes by several countries, and new ground offensives by Kurdish and Shiite militias, the jihadists are beginning to show the strain, notes the New York Times. Some fighters have taken pay cuts, while others have quit and slipped away. Important services have been failing because of poor maintenance. And as its smuggling and oil businesses have faltered, the Islamic State has fallen back on ever-increasing taxes and tolls imposed on its squeezed citizens.

Yemen

Hundreds of al Qaeda fighters seized two major cities in Yemen after hours of clashes, part of the terror group’s effort to expand its presence in southern regions of the war-torn country. According to three senior security officials in Abyan, al Qaeda militants on Wednesday took over Zinjbar, the capital of Abyan province, and Jaar after fierce clashes with groups loyal to Yemeni President Abdurabu Hadi amid the absence of the armed forces in the province. Abdulatif Said, the head of pro-government committees, said their forces evacuated during the fierce clashes and that both Jaar and Zinjibar are now in the control of al Qaeda. Al Qaeda destroyed the headquarters for the popular committees in Jaar and killed at least 4 senior popular committee commanders.

Ukraine

The United States has delivered more than $260 million in non-lethal military equipment to help the government of Ukraine in its fight against a Russian-backed insurgency, but some of the U.S.-supplied gear meant to protect and transport Ukrainian military forces is little more than junk, reports the Washington Post. “If the Americans are going to send us equipment, don’t send us secondhand stuff,” said one Ukrainian special forces commander. The decaying state of U.S.-supplied equipment on Ukraine’s front lines has bred distrust and lowered morale among Ukrainian troops, soldiers said. Experts said the low quality of the gear also calls into question the U.S. government’s commitment to a war that is entering its second year, with well-equipped Russian-backed separatists still firmly entrenched in Ukraine’s eastern region.

Turkey

Turkey has begun a defacto blockade of Russian naval vessels, preventing transit through the Dardanelles and the Strait of Bosphorus, between the Black Sea and Mediterranean. From the Black Sea, and from the Mediterranean Sea, there is a small cluster of ships under the Russian flag, just sitting and waiting. In addition, shipping inside the Black Sea from Novorossiisk and Sevastopol in the direction of the Bosphorus, no Russian vessels are moving. This is part of the Turkish response to trade sanctions imposed by Russia over the downing of a Russian warplane, escalating the tensions between these two countries.

Environment

China is dealing with a blanket of smog in Beijingso thick that authorities Tuesday ordered schools to keep students indoors. A day after Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Paris with other world leaders at a climate change conference, Beijing grappled with its fifth consecutive day of air pollution. The smog blocked views across the capita and, closed highways because of low visibility. China, which emits 6 billion tons of greenhouse gases per year, is the largest producer of emissions in the world, according to Reuters. China’s president said Monday that his country would “strive to achieve” reductions in its emissions “as soon as possible.”

Nearly a third of the world’s cactus species are on the brink of extinction, according to a new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. During a study that examined 1,478 species, 31 percent were determined as endangered due to factors like conversion of wilderness areas to farming and ranching, urban development, and the harvest of cactus seeds and plants for trade and private collection. “We show that cacti are among the most threatened taxonomic groups assessed to date … demonstrating the high anthropogenic pressures on biodiversity in arid lands,” the report stated. The report pinpointed endangering hotspots all across the Americas, ranging from the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul and parts of Uruguay to the Mexican states of Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Oaxaca, and Puebla.

Weather

Thursday’s storm in the Pacific Northwest brought locally damaging winds, some snow and locally heavy rain to parts of Washington, Oregon, California, and it’s only the first in a parade of Pacific storms extending through the week ahead. At least a few wind gusts exceeded 100 mph from this latest Northwest wind event. Mount Lincoln in the Sierras of California reported a gust to 106 mph, with sustained winds as high as 74 mph. Squaw Peak in southern Oregon recorded a wind gust of 107 mph, with sustained winds of 80 mph. The greater Reno area had reported just over 5,000 power outages around midday Thursday, most of the power had been restored by Thursday evening. Winds were strong enough to partially blow off a metal roof from a structure near Montague, California. In Brookings, Oregon, the National Weather Service relayed reports of down fences, blown in window panes and other minor damage.

Torrential rain has triggered massive flooding for the second time in about two weeks in the southern India state of Tamil Nadu. Thousands have been forced to leave their homes, schools and offices due to the floodwaters. In addition, a regional airport in the area was closed for a second day Thursday and the main train station was also shut down because of heavy flooding. At least 269 people had been killed in the state since heavy rains started in the beginning of November. Chennai, formerly known as Madras, the capital city of the state of Tamil Nadu and India’s fifth largest city, picked up 10.04 inches of rain Tuesday, then another 9.92 inches Wednesday, smashing the previous 24-hour December rain record with 13.6 inches total.

Fifteen hours of intense, steady rainfall led to major flooding in the San Martin region of Peru left at least 1,000 people homeless in recent days. Water levels at the Huallaga, Huayabamba, Tonchima and Saposoa rivers rose rapidly, damaging some 2,000 homes nearby. “From 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (Wednesday), we have registered some 5,000 families affected by the rains,” a Nuevo Chimbote civil defense official told Peru Reports. “Their mat roofs cannot withstand torrential rainfall.” Among the structures damaged by the floods were four schools and two health centers. As many as 39 schools were damaged by flooding in San Martin in February.