Signs of the Times (2/12/16)

National Sex Trafficking Sting Nets 600 Arrests before Super Bowl

Law enforcement agencies in 17 states arrested nearly 600 people and rescued 68 victims of human trafficking during a sting in the lead-up to Super Bowl 50, police said. As part of the “National Day of Johns” sex trafficking sting, spearheaded by the Cook County, Ill., Sheriff’s Office, police said that they captured hundreds of men and women attempting to hire prostitutes through websites such as Backpage.com and Craigslist. Police also said they rescued dozens of women who said they had been forced into prostitution. “Sex trafficking continues to destroy countless lives, and this broad national movement should send a strong message to prospective johns that their ‘hobby’ is much more than a ‘victimless’ crime,” Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart said in a statement. “It’s particularly meaningful that this sting culminated on the day of the Super Bowl, which unfortunately has emerged as a prominent haven for sex trafficking.”

Human Trafficking Victims Seek Help in Record Numbers

The number of human trafficking victims in the U.S. who reached out for help has reportedly gone up this past year, according to worlmag.com. More than 1,600 human trafficking victims sought help in 2015, a 24% increase over 2014, according to an annual report released by Polaris, an organization that provides resources and a hotline to call to help human trafficking victims. “From the domestic servant forced to work for little pay who required emergency shelter to the young girl made to sell sex online against her will who texted us for crisis support, survivors of human trafficking are reaching out to the national hotline more than ever,” said Polaris CEO Bradley Myles. Polaris’ report helps to quantify the extent of human trafficking in the U.S. Thirty states now require certain businesses such as strip clubs, motels, and truck stops to display National Human trafficking hotline numbers in prominent places.

Pro-Abortion Group Protests Doritos Commercial ‘Ultrasound’

Some viewers laughed, while others were a little put off by the “Ultrasound” ad, which showed a fictitious fetus moving around in the womb as the expectant father munched on Doritos. But few took the advertisement as seriously as NARAL Pro-Choice America, which tweeted that the Doritos ad humanized fetuses. “If NARAL is scandalized by the notion that a human fetus is human, then they are scandalized by science,” Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, said in a statement to FoxNews.com.

  • This demonstrates how delusional and irrational pro-abortionists have become about the murder of babies

Supreme Court Blocks Obama Climate Change Rules

The Supreme Court on Tuesday dealt President Barack Obama a blow by moving to temporarily block his administration’s rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Reacting to a lawsuit from 29 states, as well as the energy industry, justices blocked the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan from going forward while the rule is challenged in court. Obama has pushed action on global warming as a key part of his legacy, an effort that reached its peak with the deal at the U.N.-led talks on climate change in Paris in December. The court decision means that Obama now has two major legacy actions — immigration and climate change — stuck in the court system with the specter of a Republican taking over the White House in January.

Illegal Immigrants Received $750M in ObamaCare Subsidies

Illegal immigrants and individuals with unclear legal status wrongly benefited from up to $750 million in ObamaCare subsidies and the government is struggling to recoup the money, according to a new Senate report obtained by Fox News. The report found that as of June 2015, “the Administration awarded approximately $750 million in tax credits on behalf of individuals who were later determined to be ineligible because they failed to verify their citizenship, status as a national, or legal presence.” The review found the credits went to more than 500,000 people who are illegal immigrants or whose legal status was unclear due to insufficient records.

Life Expectancy in U.S. Lower than Other High-Income Countries

Americans die younger than people in other high-income countries, with drug poisonings, gun injuries and motor vehicle crashes largely to blame, a study finds. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compared U.S. death rates in 2012 with those of a dozen other countries with similar economies, including the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany and other European countries. The researchers found that men and women in the United States lived 2.2 fewer years than residents in similar countries. American men and women could only look forward to a life expectancy of 76.4 and 81.2 years, respectively, compared with the 78.6 and 83.4 years of their peers abroad. Researchers found that drug poisonings, gun injuries and motor vehicle accidents were responsible for 48% of the gap in men’s life expectancy between the United States and similar countries. An earlier study found that death rates among middle-aged white Americans, unlike other age groups, have been on the rise since 1999, largely because of increases in rates of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide.

Oregon Occupiers Surrender, Cliven Bundy Arrested

The weeks-long standoff in Oregon over land rights has ended. Now the drama moves to the courts. The four final holdouts will be arraigned before a federal judge in Portland on Friday following their arrests the day before at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore. Their surrender capped a five-week ordeal that included the arrest of almost a dozen protesters and the shooting death of one. Meanwhile, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the father of Ammon Bundy, the leader of the occupation at an Oregon wildlife refuge, has been arrested after flying into Portland International Airport. The 74-year-old, who intended to travel to Burns, close to the wildlife refuge, faces federal charges related to a standoff at his ranch with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 2014, The Oregonian reported. The newspaper, which said Bundy owes $1 million in grazing fees and penalties, said he faces a charge of conspiracy to interfere with a federal officer and weapons charges. His sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy and several others were arrested on Jan. 26 after occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge during a land-rights protest. One protester was killed during a traffic stop.

Justice Department Sues Ferguson, Missouri

The Justice Department is suing the city of Ferguson in an attempt to forcibly overhaul the city’s troubled police and court operations, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Wednesday. The decision comes hours after city leaders sought to revise a long- negotiated settlement, citing prohibitive costs of executing such a deal. “Painstaking negotiations lasted more than 26 weeks as we sought to remedy literally years of systematic deficiencies,” Lynch said of the government’s action. “Last night, the City Council rejected the consent decree approved by their own negotiators; their decision leaves us no further choice.” Lynch said the residents of Ferguson have been waiting “decades for justice,” having endured civil rights breaches that established a pattern and practice of racially biased policing. Earlier Wednesday, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles signaled that the city was ready to take on the Justice Department in federal court.

Migrant Update

Tantalizingly close to Turkish soil, thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing an upsurge in violence have gathered at their neighbor’s border. They can see Turkey’s flag fluttering in the distance, the safety they long for painfully near but closed to them. Long lines of tents provide some shelter from the elements but not the new life they were seeking. “We did not come here to get tents. We do not need food or water,” one refugee told CNN. “We want to get through and provide security for our children.”

NATO on Thursday said it would deploy three warships to the Aegean Sea to help stop the smuggling of migrants between Turkey and Greece. The military alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the move was aimed at countering human smuggling and criminal networks, and was not about stopping or sending back boats. “This is about helping Greece, Turkey and the European Union with stemming the flow of migrants and refugees and coping with a very demanding situation,” Stoltenberg said.

Zika Update

A new report paints a heartbreaking portrait of the damage suffered by babies with microcephaly, a normally rare birth defect linked to the Zika outbreak in Brazil. Babies with microcephaly have abnormally small heads, a condition that often signals incomplete brain development. New research suggests that the damage can go far beyond the size of a baby’s skull, and that babies with microceophaly who survive their infancy may need a level of intensive care that is in short supply in the developing countries and territories hardest hit by Zika. “It is not simply a problem of a small brain,” said Nassim Zecavati, an assistant professor of pediatric neurology at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington. “There are significant brain abnormalities.” Zika may also be linked to serious eye abnormalities that could lead to blindness in Brazilian newborns with microcephaly, according to a study published in JAMA.

Persecution Watch

The name of Jesus is not welcome in the Johnson Space Center newsletter, according to a complaint filed on behalf of a group of Christians who work for NASA. The JSC Praise & Worship Club was directed by NASA attorneys to refrain from using the name ‘Jesus’ in club announcements that appeared in a Space Center newsletter. “It was shocking to all of us and very frustrating,” NASA engineer Sophia Smith told Todd Starnes of Fox News. “NASA has a long history of respecting religious speech. Why wouldn’t they allow us to put the name Jesus in the announcement about our club?” Liberty Institute, one of the nation’s largest religious liberty law firms, threatened to file a federal lawsuit unless NASA apologizes and stops censoring the name ‘Jesus’.

Economic News

The global stock rout rolled across Asia on Friday. Major Asian stock markets sank as investors continued to dump riskier assets. Japan’s Nikkei tumbled 4.8%, bringing its losses for the week to more than 11%.The falls in Asia follow drops in U.S. and European markets on Thursday amid worries over low oil prices and the health of the banking sector. Stocks in Tokyo have been hammered this week as investors turned to assets considered safer bets, like gold, government bonds and Japan’s currency, the yen. However, the Dow jumped more than 150 points on Friday morning fueled by a 10% surge for oil prices and a big rebound for banks.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen sees warning signs ahead for the U.S. economy. In prepared testimony to be delivered to Congress on Wednesday, Yellen acknowledged that there are several risks to U.S. economic growth — borrowing costs are rising, stock prices have declined a lot so far this year and the dollar continues to strengthen against its global counterparts. “These developments, if they prove persistent, could weigh on the outlook for economic activity and the labor market,” Yellen said in her remarks at the start of a two-day testimony. Already many oil companies have filed for bankruptcy and defaults are skyrocketing. These concerns will play a role in the Fed’s decision to raise rates again this year.

There were 5.6 million job openings in December, just shy of the all-time record of about 5.7 million set in July, according to Labor Department data published Tuesday. American companies are hiring, despite all the concern surrounding the U.S. economy. The number of job openings now is almost three times the 2.1 million during July 2009, just after the recession ended that June. However, the number of job openings could be a reflection of companies not finding the right candidates. Many Americans don’t have the skills that those available jobs require. It’s called the job skills gap, and it has become a serious problem in the U.S.

Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week in a sign of a stable job market despite the slowing global economy hitting stocks and commodities. Weekly applications for jobless aid fell 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 269,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The relatively low number suggests that companies are holding onto workers and possibly looking to hire more.

More people are falling at least two months behind in making payments on their auto loan, a new report showed Tuesday. As more borrowers have qualified for loans amid higher national employment rates, and with new-car sales booming as a result, the total amount of auto loan debt climbed to $987 million in the fourth quarter, up 11.5% from the same quarter in the previous year, reports Experian Automotive. The credit-reporting service says that the total is the highest since it began keeping track in 2006. Along with the rising auto loan tallies has come growth in serious delinquencies. The percentage of people who are at least 60 days behind on their payments rose to 0.77%, up from 0.72% in the same period in 2014. Experian says it’s still short of a record. Sixty-day delinquencies reached 0.94% in 2009 after the recession.

At least 67 U.S. oil and natural gas companies filed for bankruptcy in 2015, according to consulting firm Gavin/Solmonese. That represents a 379% spike from the previous year when oil prices were substantially higher. With oil prices crashing further in recent weeks, five more energy gas producers succumbed to bankruptcy in the first five weeks of this year, according to Houston law firm Haynes and Boone. “We fully anticipate it’s only going to get worse,” said Buddy Clark, a partner at Haynes and Boone

The world is once again growing nervous about the health of big banks — especially those based in Europe. Not only are bank stocks plummeting at an alarming pace, but investors are raising their bets that some could even default on their debt if the global economy sinks into recession or the crash in oil prices deepens. The cost to insure Deutsche Bank’s (DB) debt has skyrocketed 182% over the past three months to the highest level since the 2011 sovereign debt crisis, according to FactSet. Credit Suisse (CS) is also under fire, with the cost to insure its debt doubling.

Islamic State

The Islamic State militant group will “almost certainly” remain a threat to the U.S. homeland and seek to launch or inspire attacks on American soil in 2016, a top U.S. intelligence official warned Tuesday. Attacks in the United States by the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, “will probably continue to involve those who draw inspiration from the group’s highly sophisticated media without direct guidance from ISIL leadership,” James Clapper, director of national intelligence, testified in a rare public hearing on Capitol Hill about intelligence threats facing the nation. Testifying with Clapper were the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart; CIA Director John Brennan; FBI Director James Comey; and Navy Adm. Michael Rogers, who heads the National Security Agency. Clapper called the Islamic State the “pre-eminent terrorist threat.” It can “direct and inspire attacks against a wide range of targets around the world.”

Syria

Humanitarian aid may soon head to Syria, just hours after diplomats reached a deal that could lead to a cease-fire. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the temporary “cessation of hostilities” in Munich ahead of a security conference here that got underway Friday. Dozens of world leaders and senior diplomats were attending. Kerry described the effort to achieve a cease-fire as “unanimous” and “ambitious.” Syrian opposition groups questioned how the international community would enforce the truce, given that Russian warplanes will be allowed to continue bombing the terrorist groups Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra. Syria’s five-year-long civil war has killed more than 250,000 people, driven more than 4 million people from the country and led to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Aleppo is a city on edge. Shelling pounds the key battleground daily, an unrelenting and terrifying reminder of Syria’s five-year civil war. Earlier this month, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime cut off access to the main road from Aleppo to the Turkish border, in turn hampering any movement by rebels fighting his government but also NGOs who are trying to bring supplies to the city’s beleaguered populace. It’s estimated some 320,000 people still live, or subsist, in the city under continual bombardment. Residents are suffering in many ways. They are hungry. There’s a shortage of fuel. And getting out has become as risky as staying.

Afghanistan

For the first time since combat operations were declared over at the end of 2014, a battalion of 500 U.S. Army infantrymen is being sent to southern Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand Province where the Taliban have made a comeback, Fox News has learned. The decision, confirmed by defense officials, is a sign of military escalation in the country even as the Obama administration tries to draw down. The battalion is meant to relieve a company of 150 soldiers, giving the U.S. Army nearly 350 more soldiers to prevent the Taliban from taking over volatile Helmand province. The additional soldiers will provide increased “force protection” for a team of special operations forces training and advising the Afghan Army’s 215th Corps, which has suffered from desertions and poor leadership.

Iran

A State Department official told lawmakers Thursday he was unsure of the precise location of tons of low-enriched uranium shipped out of Iran on a Russian vessel as part of last summer’s nuclear agreement. Ambassador Stephen Mull, the lead U.S. official overseeing the deal’s implementation, said during testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the stockpile is a Russian custody issue. Critics of the nuclear deal seized on the shipment’s status as an example of the agreement’s flaws. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said in a statement that it’s “outrageous and unbelievable” that Russia is being trusted to be the repository for such sensitive material. Russia is a close ally of Iran, said Smith, who added that’s he unaware of any requirement in the nuclear agreement that requires Russia to declare where the material will be stored and how it will be safeguarded.

Nigeria

A camp that was supposed to be a shelter from terrorism and violence instead became an instant death zone for dozens in Nigeria this week. At least 58 people were killed and another 78 injured when two female bombers detonated their suicide vests, according to emergency relief officials. The victims were in a camp for people who had been displaced by Boko Haram violence in Nigeria’s Borno State. As horrendous as the attack was, it could have been worse. One of the bombers backed out at the last minute. More than 53,000 people fleeing Boko Haram attacks from six districts are sheltered under military protection.

Korea

South Korea on Wednesday said it would stop work at an industrial complex it jointly runs with North Korea in response to the recent rocket launch and nuclear weapons test by Pyongyang. The Kaesong Industrial Complex, which is 31 miles northwest of Seoul, just over the border, is the last remaining symbol of reconciliation between Pyongyang and Seoul. Some 124 South Korean companies at the complex employ more than 54,000 North Korean workers, who make items including clothes and utensils. North Korea on Thursday declared the industrial complex a military zone and said it was pulling out all its workers. North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear weapons test last month and on Sunday, fired a long-range rocket over Japanese airspace in what is widely believed to be a test of a new missile system that could reach as far as the United States. Both actions are banned by United Nations resolutions.

Earthquakes

A strong undersea earthquake has hit off the coast of eastern Indonesia, but no injuries or serious damage was reported immediately. The Indonesian Meteorology and Geophysics Agency said the temblor Friday had a magnitude of 6.6 and was unlikely to trigger a tsunami. The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake measured 6.5 and struck about 94 kilometers (58 miles) west of Waingapu, a coastal town on Sumba island in East Nusatenggara province. It said it was centered at a depth of about 30 kilometers (19 miles). Indonesia is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. In 2004, a massive earthquake off Sumatra triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

Volcanoes

Three different volcanoes erupted, all in different countries Sunday. Soputan in Indonesia provided the largest spectacle of the trio. Restless since the middle of 2015, Soputan produced a lava fountain that left ash hazards for residents near the vent. The blast plume reached heights of 8,200 feet, and exclusion zones reached as wide as 4 miles outside the volcano. In Guatemala, Santiaguito produced several impressive explosions that blasted ash nearly 19,000 feet high, prompting nearby areas to post both aviation and respiratory/water alerts. The eruptions could be heard from over 15 miles away. Turrialba in Costa Rica produced an eruption that only lasted 10 minutes and reached 1,600 feet at the peak of its plume, but the ash it generated was exceptionally thick. Strong winds surrounding the volcano brought the ash into a widespread area.

Weather

Winter storm Mars brought snowfall between 6 and 10 inches to New England Monday. New Haven, Connecticut and Southampton, NY received 6 inches while Boston got 6.4 inches and northern Maine had 10 inches. On Tuesday, winter storm Nacio took aim at the Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic, dumping more than a half-foot of snow in some areas. The coldest air of the season is poised to plunge into the Northeast this coming Valentine’s Day weekend. This Arctic blast will not only flirt with some daily records, but will also bring subzero cold to parts of the Midwest and reinforce the cold in the Southeast. In addition to the bitterly cold temperatures, wind chills are expected to plummet into the 20s and 30s below zero from parts of the Midwest into the Northeast.

Despite the recent swarm of winter storms across the East, winter in the U.S. is off to one of the warmest starts on record. All of New England, New York, New Jersey and Florida set their warmest November to January periods on record. This is according to the latest report from NOAA, including records dating back to 1895. In all, 33 states from the Plains to the East Coast observed a top seven warmest November to January on record, including every state along and east of the Mississippi River. Overall, this was the fourth-warmest November to January period for the Lower 48 states.

After a cool and stormy start to the winter season across California, a complete flip-flop in the weather pattern has caused record heat to surge across the state. A nearly steady string of storm systems through the late fall and early winter brought much-needed rain to the region. Unfortunately, the current warmth is being accompanied by a stifling dry spell, putting drought-relief on hold. Dozens of record highs have been been toppled since Monday across the Golden State, as many locations have risen into the 80s and 90s. The warmth has been a staggering 15 to 25 degrees above average.

  • Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat. (Revelation 16:8-9a)

Nearly 13,000 homes are without power after Storm Imogen’s first blows slammed parts of southern Britain Monday with dense rain and strong winds, reaching up to 96 mph, according to BBC News. Some parts of the region are expected to see an entire month’s worth of rain in a single day. By the end of the week, parts of Britain could see a whopping three months’ worth of rain, according to the Telegraph. Blizzard conditions are also possible in parts of Scotland.

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