Signs of the Times (1/2/16)

Founder of Pro-Abortion Feminist Group Becomes Pro-Life

In October, a violent mob of Femen abortion activists attempted to desecrate an Argentine cathedral and threw stones and bottles at Catholics praying the rosary in front of the church. Feminists from Femen also showed their hostility by hurling objects at Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela as he attempted to enter a local Catholic Church before Mass in Spain. But now, the founder of the Brazilian chapter of Femen has become pro-life and is apologizing for her actions, reports lifenews.com. Sara Fernanda Giromin Winter is reportedly upset with how the feminist movement “uses women as objects” and “covers up pedophilia in its ranks.” While Sara’s own religious beliefs are not clear, she did apologize to Christians and referred to feminism as “a religious sect.” Winter is now pro-life. Sara aborted her first child, but gave birth to her second, a son. It was he who helped her change her attitude on abortion. In October she repented and asked for forgiveness. She also implored “women who are desperate to abort” to “think carefully about it.” Sara was “very sorry I did it” and said “I don’t want the same for you.”

Obama to Announce New Executive Action on Guns

President Barack Obama is expected to announce in the coming days a new executive action with the goal of expanding background checks on gun sales, people familiar with White House planning said. Described as “imminent,” the set of executive actions would fulfill a promise by the President to take further unilateral steps the White House says could help curb gun deaths. Plans for the action are not yet complete, and those familiar with the process warn that unforeseen circumstances could delay an announcement. But gun control advocates are expecting the new actions to be revealed next week, ahead of Obama’s annual State of the Union address, set for January 12. The National Rifle Association said that Obama’s “gun control agenda was rejected by Congress. Now, he is doing what he always does when he doesn’t get his way, defying the will of the people and using executive action.”

New California Law Allows Seizure of Guns Without Notification

Gun-safety legislation going into effect in California on January 1st will allow authorities to seize a person’s weapons for 21 days if a judge determines there’s potential for violence. The new law provides family members with a means of having an emergency “gun violence restraining order” imposed against a loved one if they can convince a judge that allowing that person to possess a firearm “poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself or another by having in his or her custody or control,” reports the Washington Times “The law gives us a vehicle to cause the person to surrender their weapons, to have a time out, if you will,” Los Angeles Police Department Assistant Chief Michael Moore told a local NPR affiliate. “It allows further examination of the person’s mental state.” “It’s a short duration and it allows for due process,” he continued, adding: “It’s an opportunity for mental health professionals to provide an analysis of a person’s mental state.”

190 Muslim Workers Fired over Prayer Dispute in Colorado

About 190 workers, most of them immigrants from Somalia, have been fired from a Colorado meat packing plant after walking off the job during a dispute over workplace prayer. The workers walked off their jobs at Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan. Jaylani Hussein with the Council on American-Islamic Relations says that depending on the season, the Muslim workers prayed at different times of the day. The workers say that earlier in the month, the plant’s policy towards allowing them to pray on the job was changed, which made some of them unable to pray at all. Cargill said their attendance and religious accommodation policy had not changed. “While reasonable efforts are made to accommodate employees, accommodation is not guaranteed every day and is dependent on a number of factors that can, and do, change from day to day,” the company said. “Prayer is the first priority to every Muslim. We can sustain without a job, but we cannot sustain without prayer,” according to Khader Ducal, who is assisting the Somali workers file for unemployment.

Jihadists Collaborating in North Africa

Many of the extremist groups in North Africa are affiliates of Al Qaeda, which has had roots in North Africa since the 1990s. With the recent introduction of Islamic State franchises, the jihadist push has been marked by increasing, sometimes heated, competition. However, analysts and military officials say, there is also deepening collaboration among groups using modern communications and a sophisticated system of roving trainers to share military tactics, media strategies and ways of transferring money, reports the New York Times. Their threat has grown as Libya which has become a hub of operations for both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State to reach deeper into Africa. As Africa’s jihadists come under the wing of distant and more powerful patrons, officials fear that the reach of the Islamic State will further expand.

Terrorism Update

An ex-convict seeking to prove he was worthy of joining the Islamic State terror group planned to carry out a New Year’s Eve attack at an upstate New York bar using a machete and knives provided by an FBI informant, federal authorities announced Thursday. Emanuel Lutchman, 25, of Rochester, was charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorists, prosecutors said. Officials said he was caught in an FBI sting involving three paid informants. Lutchman is a self-professed convert to Islam who claimed to receive direction from an overseas ISIS member. Lutchman was arrested Wednesday.

Police in Turkey detained two suspected Islamic State extremists thought to have been planning suicide bombings during New Year celebrations in the country’s capital of Ankara Wednesday. The state-run Anadolu Agency said the two Turkish nationals were detained during a raid on a house in Ankara. The news agency said police seized suicide vests and that the suspects planned to detonate the vests at two locations. Police in Germany said Friday a New Year’s Eve terror alert that closed two busy Munich train stations was prompted by the threat of suicide attacks linked to ISIS. The stations were evacuated on Thursday evening and service stopped for around eight hours.

A 10th person arrested in connection with the terror attacks in Paris last month was charged on Thursday with terrorist murder and participation in activities of a terrorist group. The Belgian national identified only as Ayoub B., who was born in 1993, was detained Wednesday after police searched an address in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek, where several of the attackers in the Nov. 13 assaults lived. The Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office said that no weapons or explosives were found in Wednesday’s raid, but around 10 cellphones were seized. Officials in Brussels on Wednesday canceled their annual New Year’s Eve fireworks display due to fears of a terrorist attack.

Migrant Update

After taking in more asylum seekers per capita than any other nation in Europe, Sweden’s welcome mat now lies in tatters. Overwhelmed by the human tide of 2015, the center-left government is deploying extraordinary new border controls and slashing benefits in an unmistakable signal to refugees contemplating the long trek to Sweden in the new year: Stay out. “We’re willing to do more than anyone else,” said Swedish Migration Minister Morgan Johansson. “But even we have our limits. Those limits can be readily seen in a tent camp where dozens of migrants are bedding down in the frigid Nordic winter and at the train station where many new arrivals are turned back within minutes of setting foot on Swedish soil, reports the Washington Post. In 2015 Sweden received 155,985 applications for asylum, up from around 10,000 in 2014. The country’s dramatic shift threatens to wreak havoc all the way down Europe’s migrant trail in 2016

Microbead ban signed by President Obama

President Obama has signed a bipartisan bill that prohibits selling and distributing products containing microbeads. The bill is intended to protect the nation’s waterways. A microbead is any solid plastic particle that is less than 5 millimeters and is used for the purpose of exfoliating or cleansing. These tiny plastic beads have become ubiquitous in hundreds of products ranging from body scrubs to toothpastes. They provide an exfoliating sensation for users and are designed to wash down drains. But because they are made of plastic, microbeads do not dissolve and may pose a threat to the environment. Microbeads have contributed to a greater increase in microplastic polluting the planet’s oceans and lakes, researchers say.

Economic News

U.S. markets finished 2015 mostly in the red: The Dow was down 2.2%. The S&P 500 ended the year down 0.7%. It was the worst year for those two indexes since markets collapsed in 2008. The Nasdaq finished 2015 up 5.7%. However, it had double digit gains in the three years prior. Volatility thrashed investors left and right in 2015. The three big concerns this year were falling oil prices, China’s economic slowdown and the seemingly never ending speculation about when the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates. Greece’s debt crisis, the European Central Bank’s stimulus plan and fears of a broader slowdown in emerging markets kept investors on their toes too.

More Americans requested unemployment benefits last week, but the level remains near historic lows. The Labor Department said applications for jobless aid jumped 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 287,000. The less volatile 4-week average climbed 4,500 to 277,000. Despite the increase, jobless claims have stayed below the key level of 300,000 for nearly 10 months. Any figure lower than that threshold typically corresponds with monthly job gains in excess of 200,000.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude inventories rose by 2.6 million barrels last week. That was a lot worse reading than expected. Analysts had predicted crude stockpiles would decline. “At 487.4 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories remain near levels not seen for this time of year in at least the last 80 years,” the agency said in a statement. The global oil glut is rising, as OPEC countries keep pumping record levels of oil in order to defend their market share. Slowing demand from China and other countries and abnormally warm temperatures in the eastern U.S. are making the situation even worse. U.S. oil producers are suffering. Their production costs are higher than those of producers in the Middle East, and they are getting squeezed by the collapsing prices.

The low oil prices are good news for consumers taking advantage of cheap gasoline. Consumers reaped a windfall from cheap gasoline in 2015. And that’s likely to continue in 2016, due to a global crude oil glut that’s expected to ease only marginally. Unleaded regular gas averaged $2.40 a gallon this year, about 94 cents less than in 2014 and the lowest since 2009, AAA said Thursday. Each driver saved an average $550 in fuel costs compared to 2014, a bonanza that helped power increased consumer spending. On Thursday, the national average was $2 a gallon, the lowest on New Year’s Eve since 2008, according to AAA.

Single-family house prices in nearly 40% of 401 metro areas were at or above their pre-recession peak in the third quarter, according to an analysis of CoreLogic Case-Shiller home-price data by Moody’s Analytics. Moody’s projects nearly half of the regions will be at or above that milestone at the end of 2016. Nationally, home prices are still about 12% below peak – up from a nearly 30% deficit in early 2012. Areas that are already 15% to nearly 50% above their pre-recession pinnacles include Dallas, Denver, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Bismarck, N.D.

Middle East

Two people died Friday and at least seven were injured when a masked gunman dressed in black opened fire in a bar in Tel Aviv, Israel, police said. The motive behind the shooting wasn’t immediately clear. The shooter remains at large. The police are investigating if the shooting was criminal or terrorist. The shooting follows more than three months of lone-wolf attacks by Palestinians against Israelis.

Islamic State

Along the vast, zigzagging perimeter of the Islamic State’s self-styled state, the militants are steadily being pushed back as the forces­ ranged against them gain in strength, reports the Washington Post. A war seen by the United States as primarily aimed at preventing future terrorist attacks in America is being prosecuted for very different reasons by the diverse assortment of Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni fighters battling in both Iraq and Syria, often in pursuit of competing agendas. In northern Iraq and Syria, Kurds are busily carving out the borders to new Kurdish enclaves. Shiite militias, now the most powerful force in Iraq, are extending their reach deep into traditionally Sunni areas of northern Iraq. The Syrian government is focusing its energies on reclaiming land seized by its opponents during the five-year-old rebellion against it, while deeply divided Syrian rebels in turn are fighting a two-front war to hold their ground against both the government and the Islamic State.

  • What a mess.

Iraq

After retaking most of the key city of Ramadi from ISIS militants, Iraqi leaders say they are setting their sights on an even bigger prize: Mosul Iraqi forces have driven ISIS jihadists out of the heart of Ramadi, which the Sunni extremist group seized in May. Significant pockets of ISIS resistance remain in Ramadi, still controlling as much as 25% of it as of Tuesday, local tribal leaders said. The Iraqis say roughly 1,000 families remain trapped in Ramadi’s eastern districts, some of which is still controlled by ISIS. The government believes they are being used as human shields. But that didn’t stop Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi from visiting the shattered city and raising the national flag. Next year “will be the year we drive ISIS out of Iraq,” he declared.

Iran

The United States on Wednesday accused Iran of carrying out rocket tests near American warships and commercial traffic in the Strait of Hormuz last week. The accusation raises new tensions between the two nations following a landmark nuclear deal to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval vessels fired “several unguided rockets” about 1,500 yards from the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, the USS Bulkeley destroyer and the FS Provence, a French frigate, on Saturday. Commercial sea traffic was nearby at the time, but the missiles weren’t fired in the direction of any ships. Much of the oil from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait passes through the narrow strait, which runs between Iran and Oman, connecting the Persian Gulf to the rest of the world.

Pakistan

At least 26 people were killed in a blast Tuesday in the northern Pakistani city of Mardan, police said. Several other people were injured in the attack. The explosion took place at the city’s National Database and Registration Authority offices — where Pakistanis get ID cards and passports. Police believe a suicide bomber drove his motorcycle into the office building. Shortly afterward, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban — the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan Jamaat ul Ahrar — claimed responsibility.

Saudi Arabia

— Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday it had executed 47 prisoners convicted of terrorism charges, including al-Qaida detainees and a prominent Shiite cleric who rallied protests against the government. The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr is expected to deepen discontent among Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority and heighten sectarian tensions across the region. Meanwhile, the execution of al-Qaida militants convicted over deadly bombings and shootings in Saudi Arabia raised concerns over revenge attacks. Islamic scholars around the world hold vastly different views on the application of the death penalty in Islamic Shariah law. Saudi judges adhere to one of the strictest interpretations, a Sunni Muslim ideology referred to as Wahhabism.

Environment

Smog-choked residents of New Delhi welcomed the new year on Friday by largely complying with dramatic new driving restrictions designed to pull millions of cars off the roads and improve air quality. The temporary measures allow private vehicles to operate only on alternate days. Additional traffic cops were deployed to ensure only cars with odd-numbered license plates were on the roads Friday. Violators face a 2000 rupee ($30) fine if caught. Vehicles with even-numbered plates will be allowed to operate on Saturday. The World Health Organization released data on air quality levels in 1,600 cities around the world, and Delhi was found to have the highest concentration of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, also called PM2.5.

India’s capital city, which is home to more than 20 million people, averaged PM2.5 readings of 153, compared to 14 in New York and 20 in Los Angeles. Beijing, which receives the bulk of bad-smog headlines, clocked in at 53. PM2.5 particles are exceedingly small, but go deep into the lungs and cause chronic health problems. Scientists say coal-fired power plants, vehicles, construction dust, crop burning and cooking fuel use all contribute to high pollution levels in Delhi.

Earthquakes

A 4.2 magnitude earthquake centered north of Oklahoma City hit Friday morning, the latest in a series of quakes that’s prompted state regulators to call for more restrictions on oil and gas operators. The quake occurred at 5:39 a.m. in an area 3 miles northeast of Edmond and 16 miles north-northeast of Oklahoma City. There were no immediate reports of injury or damage. Oklahoma has become one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the world, with the number of quakes magnitude 3.0 or greater skyrocketing from a few dozen in 2012 to more than 800 in 2015. Many of the earthquakes are occurring in swarms in areas where injection wells pump salty wastewater — a byproduct of oil and gas production — into the earth.

Weather

The next series of storms to impact the West Coast will be a bit different than what the region has experienced in recent months. This go around, even Southern California can expect a decent helping of much-needed rain. For parts of the Cascades, Siskiyous and Sierra, as well as parts of the Four Corners and Desert Southwest, expect hefty amounts of snow to pile up into the coming week. Dairy producers in Texas and New Mexico have estimated that the number of animals that died during the recent Winter Storm Goliath will climb to more than 30,000. Winds created drifts as high as 14 feet and pushed animals into fenced corners where they suffocated, according to The Associated Press.

December’s record-shattering mild spell, which peaked during Christmas Week, is finally coming to an end as more seasonable air occupies the eastern half of the U.S. to start 2016. More than 2,000 record daily highs and more than 2,000 record-warm daily lows were tied or broken during the final nine days of 2015, beginning Dec. 23. As a result, most areas east of the Rockies did not have a white Christmas. Savannah, Georgia, tied its daily record high of 80 on Dec. 31st. Key West also set a record high temperature for New Year’s Eve by reaching 84 degrees. Tampa had an eighth consecutive day of record heat with a record-tying high of 83.

Record flooding along some tributaries after torrential post-Christmas weekend rain has sent the Mississippi River to levels not seen since the Great Flood of 1993, and that excess water will continue to flow downstream triggering flooding in the Lower Mississippi Valley into mid-late January. At Cape Girardeau, Missouri, about 115 miles south-southeast of St. Louis, the Mississippi River has risen above the previous record flood crest there from the Great Flood of 1993, with a broad crest this weekend potentially rising to over a foot above that August 8, 1993 crest. Floodwaters all over Missouri, southern Illinois, eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas, have already pushed thousands of residents from their homes, leaving at least 20 dead, affecting about 17 million residents. “This is probably one of the earliest we’ve seen flooding on the Mississippi River,” said Marty Pope, senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service office in Jackson, Mississippi.

From the top of the world to near the bottom, freakish and unprecedented weather has sent temperatures soaring across the Arctic, whipped the United Kingdom with hurricane-force winds and spawned massive flooding in South America, reports the New York Times. The same storm that slammed the southern United States with deadly tornadoes and swamped the Midwest, causing even greater loss of life, continued on to the Arctic. Sub-tropical air pulled there is now sitting over Iceland, and at what should be a deeply sub-zero North Pole, temperatures on Wednesday appeared to reach the melting point — more than 50 degrees above normal in some locations. Residents of Iceland braced for conditions to grow much worse as one of the most powerful storms ever recorded blasts through the North Atlantic. This rare “bomb cyclone” arrived with sudden winds of 70 miles per hour and waves that lashed the coast. Thousands of miles south, in the center of Latin America, downpours fueled by the Pacific Ocean’s giant El Niño pattern have drenched regions of Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. In what’s described as the worst flooding in a half-century, more than 160,000 people have fled their homes. 2015 is set to go down as the warmest year in recorded history (from the late 1800s).

 

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