Signs of the Times (2/1/16)

NY House Passes Bill Allowing Non-Doctors to Shoot Poison into Full-Term Babies

The Empire State has long been known for its pro-abortion laws, but the latest bill passed by the NY House takes it to a whole new level, reports TodayChristian.net. AB 6221 passed the State Assembly 94-49, and if it passes the Senate and becomes law, the wording of the abortion statute would allow full-term abortions as long as it’s “relevant to the well-being of the patient.” Relevant reasons include emotional, familial, age, physical, or psychological. In other words, almost any excuse to kill a full-term baby will do. In addition, the bill would allow non-doctors to inject poison into the full-term fetus’s heart to stop it.

Freedom Fading from the World

The level and quality of freedom in the world has been eroding steadily over the past decade, says the Freedom House’s “Freedom in the World 2016” report. And 2015 marked the sharpest decline yet. Freedom House, which describes itself as an independent democracy watchdog, rates dozens of indicators, including real-world assessments of freedom of expression, freedom of religion, whether there is a level playing fields for opposition parties, equality of opportunity for women, the rule of law, transparency of government operations. The resulting score, from 0 to 100, produces three categories: Free, Partly Free, and Not Free. Worldwide, of 7.3 billion people, only 40% live in countries judged Free, down from 46 percent a decade ago. Of 195 countries, only 86 are rated Free. In 2015, the level of freedom deteriorated in 72 countries, and advanced in just 43, the worst performance since the decline set in a decade ago, undoing the enormous advances seen in the last quarter of the 20th century. The freest regions in the world remain the Americas and Europe, along with India, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

State Department Acknowledges Top Secret Info in Hillary’s Emails

The State Department acknowledged for the first time Friday that “top secret” information has been found in emails that passed through the private email server Hillary Clinton used while leading the agency, elevating the issue in the presidential campaign three days before the hotly contested Iowa caucuses. The information was contained in 22 emails, across seven email chains, that were sent or received by Clinton, according to a State Department spokesman. The emails will not be disclosed as part of an ongoing release of Clinton’s email correspondence from her years as secretary of state, even in redacted form because of their highly sensitive nature. The finding is likely to complicate Clinton’s efforts to move past the controversy, which has dragged down her poll ratings in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. And it comes as her potential Republican rivals have called for Clinton to be prosecuted for what they say was her mishandling of national secrets.

Most Oregon Occupiers Now in Jail

A federal judge on Friday denied bond for Ammon Bundy and other members of a group that occupied a federal wildlife facility in Oregon. o far 11 people have been arrested. Four members of the protest group remain inside the refuge. In a YouTube video posted Friday, a man said they would leave when they and all defendants were pardoned. Group leader Ammon Bundy stood in court and told the judge why he and others took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon in early January. “I do love this country very, very much,” he said. “I love the people in it. And my only goal from the beginning was to protect freedom for the people.” But Judge Stacie Beckerman denied bail bond for Bundy and his followers. On Thursday, during a traffic stop, law enforcement officers shot and killed LaVoy Finicum, one of the protest group’s most prominent members. The FBI said that Finicum reached his hand toward a pocket on the inside of his jacket, at least twice, before he was shot. Finicum was found to have a loaded handgun in that pocket.

WHO to Hold Emergency Meeting about the Zika Virus

World Health Organization officials will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the Zika virus, which WHO officials have said is “spreading explosively” throughout the Americas. The WHO could classify the Zika outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern,” which requires a coordinated global response. WHO officials said they’re particularly concerned about a link between the virus and a spike in cases of microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with unusually small skulls and incomplete brain development. CDC laboratories have developed a test that can confirm Zika in the first week of illness or in a sample from an affected child. However, diagnosing a prior infection with Zika is much more challenging, so CDC scientists as well as private companies are working to develop tests that can do this accurately.

Chronic Drug Shortages Forcing Hard Decisions

In recent years, shortages of all sorts of drugs — anesthetics, painkillers, antibiotics, cancer treatments — have become the new normal in American medicine, reports the New York Times. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists currently lists inadequate supplies of more than 150 drugs and therapeutics, for reasons ranging from manufacturing problems to federal safety crackdowns to drug makers abandoning low-profit products. But while such shortages have periodically drawn attention, the rationing that results from them has been largely hidden from patients and the public. At medical institutions across the country, choices about who gets drugs have often been made in ad hoc ways that have resulted in contradictory conclusions, murky ethical reasoning and medically questionable practices, according to interviews with dozens of doctors, hospital officials and government regulators.

Watchdog Places Wounded Warrior Charity on Watch List

The Wounded Warrior Project, the charity for wounded veterans, has been placed on Charity Navigator’s watch list over accusations of using donor money toward excessive spending on conferences and parties instead of on recovery programs, according to CBS News. Charity Navigator is a watchdog organization that evaluates charities in the U.S. According to the charity’s tax forms, obtained by CBS News, spending on conferences and meetings increased from $1.7 million in 2010, to $26 million in 2014, which is the same amount the group spends on combat stress recovery. Army Staff Sergea nt Erick Millette, who returned from Iraq in 2006 with a bronze star and a purple heart, told CBS News he admired the charity’s work and took a job with the group in 2014 but quit after two years. “Their mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors, but what the public doesn’t see is how they spend their money.” Millette said he witnessed lavish spending on staff, with big “catered” parties.

IRS Identity Theft and Scams on the Rise

Reports of identity theft shot up in 2015, largely driven by an increase in tax- and wage-related fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission. People made 490,220 identity theft complaints to the FTC in 2015, up from 332,647 (a 47% increase) in 2014 and 290,102 in 2013. From 2014 to 2015, there were 51% more complaints related to tax and wage identity theft, which isn’t all that surprising. All thieves need is a Social Security number to file a fraudulent tax return. According to the General Accountability Office (GAO), the IRS paid out 5.8 billion dollars in bogus refunds to identity thieves for the tax year 2013 and, according to the GAO the real figure is probably significantly higher because of the difficulty of knowing how much income tax fraud remains undetected. If you are the victim of income tax identity theft, it still takes an average of 278 days to resolve your claim and get your refund although the IRS routinely tells taxpayers that they can expect their claims to be resolved within a still too long 180 days.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA)is warning taxpayers to be on “high alert” for scammers posing as IRS agents who call unsuspecting taxpayers and threaten them with heavy fines and even jail time if they do not immediately pay these scammers the demanded money. According to TIGTA, it has received approximately 896,000 complaints since October 2013 of these phone calls and knows of at least 5,000 victims who have paid more than 28.5 million dollars to the scammers. Unfortunately, Congress has passed legislation that requires the IRS to hire private collection agencies to go after taxpayers who owe money to the IRS. So after years of the IRS telling taxpayers that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by telephone and that therefore if someone calls you, attempting to collect money for the IRS it is a scam; now taxpayers will be receiving calls on behalf of the IRS attempting to collect overdue taxes.

Economic News

U.S. consumers kept their spending flat in December and instead boosted their savings rate to the highest level in three years. The Commerce Department said Monday that consumer spending was unchanged in December after rising 0.5% in November. Incomes increased 0.3%, in December, matching the November gain. The rise in incomes and flat spending pushed the savings rate to 5.5% of after-tax income in December. That was the highest level since December 2012. Weak gains in consumer spending dragged the U.S. economy in the final three months of the year. Overall growth slowed to a meager 0.7% rate in the fourth quarter.

The Dow rose nearly 400 points Friday to cap a turbulent month on an upbeat note after a surprise interest rate cut by the Bank of Japan and despite a report showing weak fourth-quarter U.S. growth. It was a dreary month for stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average, kicked off the final trading day of the month down 7.78% for 2016 and it’s still in correction mode, or down more than 10% from its peak. Whether Friday’s bounce lasts remains to be seen, as prior bounces for the blue-chip Dow have faltered amid fresh selling sparked by a new diet of negative headlines. U.S. stocks pulled back Monday as fresh signs of weakness in China’s manufacturing sector added to concerns about slowing growth.

America is wasting little time getting back into the oil exporting business. Just weeks after Congress lifted a 40-year ban on exporting oil, the first shipments of the domestically-produced oil left U.S. ports for Europe last Friday. The first freely-traded shipments of U.S. crude are symbolic of the country’s newfound role as a leading producer of oil. America’s entry into the world market is viewed with relief by those worried about potential supply disruptions, since most of the big oil producers are located in volatile parts of the world.

Migrant Update

The number of migrants who died trying to reach Europe by sea surged in January, according to a group that tracks people crossing the Mediterranean. The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration said 244 people died attempting to reach Europe by boat in the first 28 days of 2016, most of them en route from the western Turkish coast to Greece. That was three times the 82 people who died making the treacherous voyage during the same period in 2015. In January 2014, 12 people perished at sea. The group estimates 55,528 migrants made crossings to Europe so far this year — nearly 2,000 per day. The most popular access point is Greece’s Aegean Sea, followed by a central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy. Many are fleeing war in Syria and other countries, while others are seeking better economic opportunities.

About 10,000 migrant children who traveled to Europe are currently unaccounted for, the European Union’s police agency said, raising concerns that some of those missing might be vulnerable to human trafficking. “We think it’s shocking that we are now learning that there are so many unaccompanied minors exposed to trafficking and other dangers,” said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration. “That is another tragic twist in the latest story of migration to Europe and the need to protect vulnerable young people who find themselves at loose without friends in Europe and therefore vulnerable without proper mentoring and leadership.” More than 1 million migrants entered Europe last year.

On January 21, more than 30 babies were born in RUN Ministries’ Community of Hope Refugee Camps and their “open sky” areas in northern Iraq. It was a brutal winter night, and nearly half of the babies died because of the cold mountain winter. RUN leaders are doing everything they can to help these babies survive. They just don’t have the resources needed to provide shelter and warmth for every refugee who needs it.

  • Help these babies survive by donating to org

Middle East

France threatened to recognize a Palestinian state Friday if Israel and the Palestinians cannot settle their long-festering differences following a peace conference planned by summer. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he will invite Israel, Palestinians, Arab nations and others to a peace conference to seek a two-state solution. “If this attempt to achieve a negotiated solution reaches a dead end, we will take responsibility and recognize the Palestinian state,” Fabius said. He added that continued Israeli settlement construction on land that Palestinians want for a future state threatens a political agreement and requires a French response. “We must not let the two-state solution unravel. It is our responsibility as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council,” he said.

Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian on Sunday after he opened fire at a West Bank checkpoint and wounded three people, the military said. Medics said two of the wounded were in serious condition. The attacker got out of his vehicle and opened fire near the Jewish settlement of Beit El. Palestinians identified the gunman as Amjad Sukkari, a 34-year-old policeman who worked as a bodyguard for the Palestinian attorney general. A post on his Facebook page from just hours before the attacks read, “there is nothing worth living on this earth as long as the occupation strangles our breaths.” Palestinians have killed 26 people on the Israeli side and wounded dozens more since mid-September, mostly in stabbings. Israeli responders have killed 150 Palestinians during that timeframe. The Israeli military partially closed off the main Palestinian city in the West Bank on Monday, sealing off roads out of the city. Citing “situation assessments,” the military said only residents of Ramallah could enter and only residents of other cities and humanitarian cases were allowed to leave until further notice.

Islamic State

The Council of Europe has officially recognized the Islamic State’s persecution of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East as genocide. Christian Today reports that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution entitled “Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq.” The report states that ISIS has “perpetrated acts of genocide and other serious crimes punishable under international law.” The resolution passed 117 votes to one. Under international law, genocide is considered the severest crime. The designation of genocide also has actual implications for Christians and other minorities being persecuted by ISIS as it will put pressure on the United Nations Security Council to also issue a genocide resolution which will encourage countries to take action to stop the genocide.

Syria

A triple bombing claimed by the extremist Islamic State group killed at least 45 people near the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday, overshadowing an already shaky start to what are meant to be indirect Syria peace talks. Syria’s state news agency SANA said that the blasts went off in Sayyda Zeinab, a predominantly Shiite Muslim suburb of the Syrian capital. The attackers detonated a car bomb at a bus stop and then two suicide bombers set off more explosives as rescuers rushed to the area. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 47 people were killed in the explosions, and that the death toll was expected to rise because a number of people were seriously wounded. An IS-affiliated website said the blasts were carried out by members of the extremist group, which controls large areas in both Syria and Iraq.

The main Syrian opposition delegation arrived in Switzerland Saturday night, however it remained unclear whether the delegation would actually participate in U.N.-sponsored peace talks aimed at ending Syria’s civil war. The indirect peace talks began here Friday with a meeting between the United Nations envoy and the Syrian government delegation. The main opposition group, the Higher Negotiations Committee or HNC, boycotted that session saying it won’t take part until a set of preliminary demands are met: releasing detainees, ending the bombardment of civilians by Russian and Syrian forces, and lifting government blockades on rebel-held areas.

Turkey

Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan warned Moscow that continued airspace violations by Russian jets would result in “consequences” after reporting a fresh border crossing Saturday. Speaking to reporters in Istanbul, Erdogan said another Russian warplane violated its airspace Friday despite repeated warnings. The incursion comes two months after NATO-member Turkey’s military shot down a Russian jet for crossing over its territory. “We regard this infringement which came despite all our warnings in Russian and in English as an effort by Russia to escalate the crisis in the region,” Erdogan said. “If Russia continues the violations of Turkey’s sovereign rights, it will be forced to endure the consequences.”

Afghanistan

A suicide bomber killed at least nine people and wounded 12 in an attack on a police base in Kabul on Monday, an Afghan official said. The attacker joined a line of people waiting to enter the local headquarters of a branch of the national police after having lunch and praying outside. The bomber detonated his payload after being spotted near the gate. The majority of the killed and wounded were civilians. The attack targeted the Afghan National Civil Order Police, a militarized force that often fights on the front lines of the war with the Taliban. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. The insurgents, who have been at war with the government for 15 years, often target local security forces.

Nigeria

Members of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram apparently burned children alive as part of an attack in Nigeria that killed 86 people. The incident happened Saturday night in the village of Dalori in northeastern Nigeria. Two nearby camps housing 25,000 people who have fled Boko Haram were also attacked. The Associated Press said it spoke to a survivor who watched Boko Haram extremists firebomb huts and heard the screams of children burning to death. A solider at the scene told the AP three female suicide bombers blew themselves up as part of the assault. Mohammed Kanar, the area coordinator of Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency, said 86 bodies, many of them charred and riddled with bullets, were collected by Sunday afternoon.

Myanmar

After more than five decades of isolation and repressive military rule, Myanmar on Monday swore in hundreds of lawmakers in its first freely-elected parliament since the army took power in 1962. The inaugural session marked the start of a new era for Myanmar (formally known as Burma). It follows an election on Nov. 8 that saw Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party win two-thirds of available parliamentary seats and effectively rout the country’s military leaders. But there is a long road ahead before full democracy comes to Myanmar. The military has retained 25% of seats in parliament — giving the generals an effective veto over any changes to the constitution — as well as control of key sectors of the economy and ministries such as defense, interior and border affairs. The army can still take over the government under emergency legislation. Parliament will pick a new president over the next few weeks but Suu Kyi is barred from the post because her children are foreign nationals.

China

A US Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles or within the territorial waters of an island claimed by China in the South China Sea, in a sign of increasing tension in the region days after Secretary of State John Kerry visited Beijing attempting to settle long standing territorial disputes. Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the island as well. Tension in the region has been building for months. “This operation was about challenging excessive maritime claims that restrict the rights and freedoms of the United States and others,” said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

Cuba

U.S. law allows any Cuban who reaches U.S. soil to apply for political asylum and stay. In 2014, 17,470 Cubans presented themselves at U.S. land ports along the Mexican border, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In 2015, that number nearly doubled to 30,966 and officials say they expect that trend to continue. Many of those journeys came to a halt in November, when Nicaraguan officials prevented Cuban migrants from passing through their country. That forced neighboring Costa Rica to house and feed the growing number of Cubans stranded there. At one point, the Costa Rican government estimated that up to 8,000 Cubans were living in schools, gymnasiums and other makeshift shelters built along the border. Costa Rica started negotiating with countries farther north — including Belize, Honduras and Mexico — to see if they would accept the Cubans. Finally, Guatemala agreed to help, and on Jan. 12, the first flight of 180 Cubans took off. From that point, the Cubans can continue their journey north. That provided hope to thousands of Cubans still in Costa Rica. The next scheduled flight departs Feb. 3, and more will follow.

Mexico

A cross-border raid by U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials resulted in the arrest of 24 Sinaloa cartel members, authorities said. The sting occurred around the Arizona border with Mexico on Friday. It also netted “assault-type weapons” and hundreds of pounds of narcotics. The raid, dubbed Mexican Operation Diablo Express, targeted “high-level” Sinaloa cartel members who operate in the United States and Sonora state, Mexico. Mexican federal officers were brought in to the United States to ensure safety during the operation. Those arrested are in the custody of the Mexican government, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said they will seek their extradition. “The targeted Sinaloa cell has been responsible for the importation of millions of pounds of illegal drugs, including marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, into the United States from Mexico,” ICE said.

Weather

Severe storms hammered California over the weekend, killing one person and leaving tens of thousands without power. A 48-year-old woman was killed Sunday in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego when a large oak tree was knocked over by strong winds, crushing her passing car. The storms also knocked out power to some 140,000 customers in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas Sunday night. The National Weather Service office in Oxnard, California, reported thunderstorm wind damage west of Santa Paula that took down two or three trees, trapping six cars near the intersection of Briggs and Faulkner roads. Winds gusted as high as 91 mph in Southern California over the weekend. In Los Angeles, flash flooding was reported in the Burbank area at Interstate 5 and wind gusts blew a roof off of a home and onto nearby power lines near South Ditman Avenue. The National Weather Service also reported several downed trees close to Mulholland Highway and Highway 2. Near Santa Barbara, there were reports of flash flooding with mud and rocks across Highway 154.

Winter Storm Kayla will deliver a swath of snow across the country from the West to the Great Lakes to start the week. Kayla has already moved into the Southwest and Rockies. As low pressure develops over the southern High Plains, heavy snow will progress northeast from the Front Range of the Rockies across the central Plains, Upper Midwest and parts of the Great Lakes Tuesday into Wednesday. Widespread snowfall amounts of 6 inches or more will be common in these areas, particularly the mountains in the West and a swath from Kansas and Nebraska into Iowa and Wisconsin. With low pressure rapidly intensifying over the Plains and Mississippi Valley, strong winds will develop around the storm. Blizzard warnings have been posted in parts of the Plains as winds will increase to 25 to 40 mph with gusts to 50 mph possible Tuesday and Tuesday night. There will also be areas of strong winds over mountains and lower elevations of the Desert Southwest.

Warmer air has spread from the South and central U.S. into the northeast into early this week, bringing spring-like temperatures to the Deep South and Florida. Record highs were set from the Ohio Valley, to south Texas, to New Jersey and the Hudson Valley Sunday. The warm, humid air is moving northward into parts of the south, including the Lower Mississippi Valley, Tennessee Valley and Southeast where there will be an increasing threat of severe thunderstorms, including possible tornadoes, on Tuesday. The greatest tornado threat is focused on parts of the Lower Mississippi Valley and Tennessee Valley.

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